Highlands Distilled

Kilchurn Castle/Glen Coe/Gleneagles Hotel, Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom. [August 2018]

苏格兰高地 – 基尔亨城堡 – 科河谷 – 哥莱尼格斯酒店

I’ve seen Scotland at the bottom of my glass many times before – but for the first time, I see her clearly now, a dichotomy of contrasts, a place of legends.

Through the ever-present, ethereal morning fog our little Kia Ceed wound up the highways and one-ways out of Edinburgh awkwardly, steered by a red-eye survivor driving on the left side of the road for the first time. Hours later, through the verdant paths of Trossachs & Loch Lomond National Park, we discover the abandoned 15th-century Kilchurn Castle across a boggy swamp. A bit of difficult navigation later we finally land in the obscure parking lot connected to a little dirt path leading us into this forgotten treasure.

Kilchurn Castle Loch Lomond DNXB dongnanxibei Scotland
Kilchurn Castle, spotted from an impassable marshland

Next we navigate our way further north into Glen Coe, one of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever witnessed: rolling peaks that hide and seek in the strange clouds that hang impossibly close to the ground, beckoning one closer like a siren, obscuring what lies further beyond each bend and meander. A side road takes us into the heart of Glen Etive – made famous by James Bond and M as they retreat to 007’s (fictional) childhood home, Skyfall. Our Kia stood in majestically for Bond’s Aston Martin and Mom graced the photo shoot as M.

Glen Etive Skyfall 007 Scotland Highlands Coe DNXB dongnanxibei
Skyfall, starring Mom as M and Kia Ceed as Aston Martin DB5

And, oh yes, the falcon hunting at the majestic Gleneagles Hotel – a slice of impeccable old-world luxury hidden within the Highlands. Our three majestic hunting partners – Harris hawks, we were told – took turns and sat on our arms like teenagers: equal parts disinterested and dangerous. A short drive out on the Land Rover to gaming grounds, we took the birds out – they were ready to kill.

At first, the prizes were small: a frog here and there. But an hour in, a spooked baby deer sprang out of the bushes, and our brave eagles took chase, nipping viciously at a startled creature ten times their own size. They wrestled Bambi onto the ground, but without the help of experienced huntsmen the fawn mustered its survival instincts and escaped beyond the fences.

We continued the hunt, already exhilarated by the remote prospects of bringing organic venison back to the hotel, before the three hawks zoomed in on two defenseless pheasants a few hundred meters down the field. By the time we caught up with them, two hawks had already Mortal Kombated the head off one, fighting over pieces of meat in a frenzied bloodlust. Panting from the chase, we gently separate our soldiers, rewarding them with pieces of stripped grouse for their hard work – and the most incredible display of nature at work I’ve ever seen up-close and personal.

Gleneagles Falconry Holding Harris Hawk Hunting Scotland Highlands DNXB dongnanxibei
Holding my beloved hunting partner, before she turned into a cold-blooded killer
Gleneagles Falconry Harris Hawk Hunting Scotland Highlands DNXB dongnanxibei
Ready, set, kill

As I drink and wait for the two hour-delayed Icelandair flight to Reykjavik in Glasgow Airport it struck me: this three-day whirlwind tour through the Scottish Highlands was ultimately too short to savor, like the McCallan without an age expression in my hand. There was no time for the Loch Ness Monster. No Kelpies and Selkies. No King Arthur’s buried treasures. But the castles, the glens, the birds of prey…I think the evidence above makes it clear that the trip was still pretty Legend-, wait for it, -dary.


“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” -Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

“Long after the firefly had disappeared, the trail of its light remained inside me, its pale, faint glow hovering on and on in the thick darkness behind my eyelids like a lost soul.

More than once I tried stretching my hand out in that darkness. My fingers touched nothing. The faint glow remained, just beyond their grasp.” -Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood