Alyssa Reimenschneider, Study Abroad – London, England

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As a nature-lover and beauty-seeker born on the east coast of the United States, I have a special place in my heart for the scenery of North America. I love the fields and forests of Pennsylvania, the marshes of Delaware, the pines of Maryland, the rocky shores of Maine, the wide skies of Carolina and the palm trees of Florida.

But never in my life have I experienced such beauty and wonder as I found in the rise and fall of the Scottish Highlands.

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For the first part of my fall break, I decided to take a short trip that included Edinburgh and a coach journey up and down the Highlands, making stops at landmarks and in villages along the way. Trying to choose where to go during my break was a complicated and frustrating process, because I felt overwhelmed by the prospects of what seemed like a hundred countries surrounding me, the pressure to visit them all, the impossibility of doing so, the careful planning and expense that was involved in visiting any, and the ticking of the clock as the weeks drew closer to my break while I continued to deliberate. To be honest, although I had been back and forth in considering it, I almost didn’t book that trip to Scotland. It was three days before the departure date when I finally told myself it was now or never and decided to just do it.

It may have just been one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

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My night in Edinburgh was magical and exciting. It was invigorating to explore another city, one that felt mysterious and ancient, like an elven fortress carved into a mountainside. I saw rugged castles and spindly turrets, walked the Royal Mile, watched men in traditional kilts play bagpipes in the streets, and tried Haggis (I had to – just once). I saw the café where J.K. Rowling dreamed up Harry Potter, stepped inside a candlelit cathedral, absorbed the rich sound of Scottish accents, and climbed to the top of a windblown hill to see the spread of city lights under the night sky.

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But the most magic, the kind that comes only from the powerful forces of nature, lay still north, where the rolling green hills gave way to jutting mountains and slopes in vivid shades of purple and orange. From the top of Stirling Castle on my second morning, I could see them rising in the distance, but the sight was nothing compared to what I would witness among them, deep in the Highlands.

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The two-day bus ride through the mountains, from Glencoe to Ranach Moor, past Loch Ness and other bodies of water, to Inverness and Cairngorm Mountain and back down, was a spiritual, ethereal experience. The mountains swept so majestically from the ground, plummeted so high into the clouds. The terrain was so raw and rugged and wild, the heather so overgrown, the contrast of natural shades so stark. The wind ripped through the long grasses and over the jagged mountains and sloping valleys so freely. Sheep clung to the precipitous edges of cliffs, houses stood isolated on the banks of wide lochs, and trees grew thick in all varieties and colors, emulating the rough terrain of what could have been California or Canada or Montana but was even more. A double rainbow appeared over the expanse of a saltwater loch as the weather changed from stormy to sunny and back again.

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Autumn was made to dress the wilds of Scotland, and it was absolutely breathtaking.

Words and photographs cannot come close to describing the sheer beauty I witnessed in the Highlands or the way I felt as I stood at the base of the Three Sisters or at the top of Cairngorm Mountain, surrounded by miles of untouched wilderness and buffeted by the unrelenting, unrestrained force of the wind. I had never felt more small, more alone, more mortal than I did in the face of something so vast and powerful and raw. I had never felt more alive.

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I screamed and laughed and fell into the wind, and it held me up from the highest point of the Highlands.

 

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