Kilts, Ceilidhs, and… Windsurfing? Oh My!

Last weekend was authentically Scottish with plenty of haggis (including some of the best vegetarian haggis in the world, according to one of the Scottish supervisors), bagpiping, kilts, Ceilidh dancing, homemade soup, and a variety of outdoor activities. It involved two nights spent in a cozy cabin on Loch Tay through a program organized by Arcadia at an outdoor activity center called Firbush in the southern Highlands of Scotland.

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On the first full day we went on a hike for more than six miles in the highlands. Scotland definitely lived up to its rainy reputation that day as we trudged over hills in soggy conditions. Luckily the center we were staying at had plenty of outdoor gear to rent out so that we could all stay dry- or at least pretend to. The hike was so long that by the end, we were all soaking wet yet beaming from ear to ear because we’d just experienced such spectacular scenery and seen more sheep than we’d ever imaged possible. The misty weather only made the highlands more beautiful as the clouds settled in the valleys. We even saw the silhouette of a stag standing in the distance. It looked like a scene straight out of the Disney movie Bambi.

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In the evening we were treated to a proper Scottish dinner, bagpiping, instructions on how to wear a kilt, a Scottish poetry reading, and lessons on how to dance at a Ceilidh (a traditional Gaelic folk dancing event). My friend Georgia plays the bagpipes back home and was given the opportunity to perform for us using one of the Scotsman’s bagpipe sets. We were all very impressed by her excellent talent!┬áThe Ceilidh songs were upbeat and the dances were easy to learn. There was a lot of twirling, awkward hand-holding and even a dance that involved sprinting down the length of the room Red-Rover style. Even if we looked a bit silly, I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the room was having fun by the end of the night.

Sunday brought more excitement- we were each allowed to choose a morning and and afternoon activity. The options seemed endless- windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, hiking, even a history tour for the less adventurous. I’d never been windsurfing before so I thought I’d give it a try. Studying abroad is all about stepping out of your comfort zone, right? After practicing on the demo-land-windsurf-board I started having second thoughts, and when I plunged in the chilly Loch water (despite sporting a wet suite) I had third thoughts. But after getting on my board, pulling my sail up and attempting to navigate, I realized I was making serious progress. Maybe too much progress, I thought, as I helplessly surfed away from my friends, guided by the wind. Luckily the instructor was on a safety boat and could come out to help me back to shore at any point in time. I thought New England weather changed quickly, but Scotland gives that a run for its money. It was misty when we first started out but by the end of the morning the view of the highlands from the middle of the lake was unlike anything I’d ever seen before- shades of lush green and brown against the clear sky reflecting against the deep blue water. Simply beautiful!

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I chose kayaking as my afternoon activity, which was less eventful as the sky clouded over but fun nonetheless. Chilly and tired from a day of activity, we were greeted back to the lodge by a dining room set with steaming pea soup and scones. I highly enjoyed my experience at Firbush and was sad to leave- it was a great getaway from the city and as a lover of outdoor sports, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my weekend any other way.

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