These are excerpts from my travel account (along with some photos) from my UK visit some 8 years ago. In this post, I focus on four extraordinary sites, namely Giant’s Causeway, Stonehenge, Brecon Beacon and Loch Ness.
I – Loch Ness (Scotland)
Skinny-dipping in Loch Ness is one of the most ‘painfully’ unforgettable experiences in my life. The water was so cold that I could not even scream. It was murky as well. So murky that you could not see your own hand when only 5 cm below the surface. I don’t know what I was thinking when I jumped in, but my body still aches whenever I remember. Then came the Loch Ness cruise on board the Royal Scott, equipped with every Nessie-related equipment imaginable, from underwater imaging system to sonar. Nessie (the name they give to the Loch Ness Monster) is obviously the big attraction here, and the locals take the issue seriously. While Loch Lomond is way more beautiful (to my taste), there is something enchanting about Loch Ness, and it’s not the monster, but rather the dead calm water and the feeling that something might really lie beneath.
II- Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland)
Legend has it that the causeway was built by the Irish giant, Fionn, who was challenged by the much ‘bigger’ Scottish giant, Benandonner. Benandonner crossed the causeway in search for Fionn, but was tricked into thinking that Fionn was way bigger than he really was, and he fled, ripping up the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow him. As I first visited Giant’s Causeway, I could see it was really the work of a giant…a giant called Nature. The tens of thousands of mostly hexagonal basalt columns are perfectly geometrical, stretching over a vast area from the hill foot and all the way to the sea (thousands of them are below the sea level). It’s the work of an old volcanic eruption, and it never fails to amaze.
Nearby, one gets to enjoy a typical Irish scene: green highland pastures dotted with sheep and ending in vertical cliffs against which the waves break hysterically. As I went back to my motel in Bushmills, I thought to myself that Giant’s Causeway was the most impressive thing that I would see in Northern Ireland. I was right.
III- Stonehenge (England)
Stonehenge needs no introduction: it’s one of the world’s oldest and most mysterious prehistoric constructions. That circle of stones is something that I had always dreamed of visiting ever since I was a young kid. Young as I was when I first read about it, just the though that a man-made construction is older than the Great Pyramids was simply intriguing, but little I knew. It is true that parts of Stonehenge are believed to be older than the Pyramids of Giza, but my surprise was great when I visited Stonehenge for other reasons. First of all, and even though it is a megalithic structure, it was smaller than I thought. Much smaller.
Second, some of the lintels, like the ones in the inner trilithons, are shockingly heavy: how could anyone at that time (over 4,000 years ago) raise a sarsen lintel weighing some 40 tons to balance it on top of two other stones?
Third, the typical question: what purpose did it serve? Burial ground? Astronomical observatory? Sacred ground? Meeting place? The question persists, and another question follows: why did they use bluestones that had to be moved to the site all the way from Preseli Hills in…Wales?!
IV- Brecon Beacons (Wales)
At a distance, one can see “King Arthur’s Seat”, formed by two soaring peaks: Ben y Fan and Corn Du. Funny that the mountains here can be ‘male’ or ‘female’. Brecon Beacons makes for an incredible hike: green valleys, red sandstone peaks, little streams and waterfalls…everything you would expect from a national park.
Back to “King Arthur”, why him? A Welsh friend explained it with a smile: “Why? Don’t you know that the dragon in our flag is supposedly his battle standard?” Well, no, but one thing I knew for sure: that I was going to love this part of the world.