We left Normandy, France on August 15 driving as far as Calais to spend the night. We arrived in Calais early enough to take a drive along the coast and see another war memorial high on the cliffs above the channel. Early on the morning of the 16th we took Dory on the ferry across the English Channel to Dover and began the drive northward. Between the poorer quality roads than in Europe, the questionable drivers, the pounding rain, and driving on the left with the steering wheel on the left, it made for a somewhat stressful start to our UK driving!
10 long hours later we stopped for the night in Penrith, at the northern end of the English Lake District. A great little town and a shame we only stopped for one night on our journey north. It looks like a nice place to visit however, for us, it was onward and northward. Our long drive the day before meant we had only a 5 hour drive on our final push for Inverness, arriving at our destination mid afternoon. This gave us time to pick up a few groceries before meeting our new landlord and getting settled into our latest home. Our apartment is the smallest one we have stayed in so far!! But, the location is great, on a hill high above Inverness with expansive views of Moray Firth and the city. Looking on a map this is the furthest North either of us has ever been 🙂 Not surprisingly the weather is a little colder than we are used too!!!
Our first day was spent walking around Inverness town center, mostly in search of a new electricity converter. The one we brought with us stopped working and finding a UK to USA step down voltage converter presented a bit of a challenge. We walked, and we walked, and we asked many shop employees for help until we found a place that had what we needed. Interestingly we went to the usual upscale shops where we thought we might find such an item but in the end we found one at the local “Nickel and Dime” store. As you can probably imagine this store was full of an assortment and odd bits of everything you can think of.
Shortly after our arrival in Inverness was Blair’s 60th birthday!!! It seems very fitting he is celebrating a milestone birthday in the country his paternal grandparents are from 🙂 We are also quite impressed with not having to spell or repeat “Blair” or “Kerr”…..everyone knows these names here in Scotland! With it being a Saturday night in tourist season, there were no restaurant reservations to be had so we postponed our celebration until Sunday evening. We spent Sunday driving out and about because the weather was forecast to be nice all day, and in Scotland you don’t sit around when the weather is nice. We started our day with a circumnavigation of Loch Ness, stopping along the way at viewpoints and places of interest. Loch Ness at it’s deepest point is 755ft deep and is the largest body of water in the Great Glen, a geological fault bisecting the Scottish Highlands.
Our first stop along the west side of the loch was at Urquhart Castle, or the remains of it, which date from the 13th through the 16th century. It sits on a headland overlooking Loch Ness with gorgeous views up and down the loch.
Next was Fort Augustus sitting on the southern end of Loch Ness and home to five locks on the Caledonian Canal system. It was busy with many tourists watching 5 boats travel up through the lock system, locks are always interesting to see in action!
Leaving Fort Augustus we traveled back to Inverness on the other side of Loch Ness which is not as busy a tourist route, one reason may be the very narrow one vehicle wide roads for long sections. It was a gorgeous drive through rugged highlands. We pulled over at one point where others were looking up at a ridge, and what we saw were 3 huge Red Deer Stag with large antler racks. Impressive!! Next we stopped at a viewing point 400 meters above sea level which led to a walking path to the top of a ridge. We hiked up the ridge and were rewarded with expansive views of the Highlands. Scattered around these moors are hut circles, the remains of prehistoric stone and turf houses.
We continued our drive eventually stopping at the Dores Inn on Loch Ness for a pub lunch. It was still early when we left Dores so we decided to take advantage of the good weather and visit the Culloden Battlefield. This was the site where on April 16, 1746 the Jacobite rising had their final confrontation with the British Army. The Jacobites were decisively defeated during a bloody hand to hand battle lasting only 1 hour, but claiming between 1,500 and 2,000 Jacobites. Today a visitor center is located near the site of the battle with a walking trail around the battlefield to view the memorial cairn and headstones to mark the mass graves of the clans.
Only 1.5 miles from Culloden are the Clava Cairns, a well preserved Bronze Age cemetery complex of cairns and standing stones. These burial cairns date back about 4,000 years and are a fantastic example of the distant history of the Scottish Highlands.
By the time we finished walking around Clava Cairns it was time to call it a day, head home and get fancied up for Blairs birthday dinner at a wonderful Scottish restaurant, Mustard Seed, serving local specialties 🙂 There are a lot of sheep in this part of Scotland so lamb is a popular menu item, as is salmon, highland beef and of course haggis……which we are not brave enough to try…..yet!!!!
Blair has enjoyed his scotch whiskey over the years so it is appropriate that for his birthday we arranged a tour of the Macallan Distillery. The 70 minute drive from Inverness deep into the Speyside region was a gorgeous drive through the heather coated highlands. Speyside is Scotland’s famous single malt whisky region with over half the distilleries in Scotland located here. Before we took the distillery tour we visited the Speyside Cooperage to learn about the thousands of years old craft of barrel making. I’m sure not many of us think about the quantity of barrels that are required worldwide in the liquor and wine business, millions!! Speyside Cooperage alone makes or repairs over 150,000 barrels a year and the apprenticeship program they offer takes 4 years before you emerge as a qualified cooper, it really is an amazing skill. The whole process was extremely interesting as we watched the coopers hard at work, and a good introduction before our whiskey tour.
The Macallan tour took us through the whole process of whiskey making from start to finish, including a history of the distillery, where they source the wood for their barrels, where their barrels are made, walking past the stills as barley, water and yeast are turned into alcohol, and finally placed in various barrels for ageing. It was an informative tour capped off with a nosing and tasting of 4 whiskies and the pure alcohol which forms the base of all whisky. It was a fun day with no battlegrounds or cemeteries 🙂
Almost 2 hours SW of Inverness is Fort William where we boarded the Jacobite Steam Train aka the Harry Potter train. The appeal of this tour was riding on a genuine coal powered steam engine train and passing over the Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter films. The journey takes just under 2 hours each way beside beautiful lochs and below highland hills before reaching Malaig, a busy fishing port and ferry terminal where we had just over an hour to wander around. The Harry Potter theme is evident by the souvenirs for sale on the train and a few shops in Malaig. I overheard a young girl on the ride home telling her parents she wanted to go to Hogwarts school in September 🙂
Nairn is an ancient herring fishing port just East of Inverness and it’s beach has been rated the #1 beach in the UK. The day we visited was windy and cold therefore the beach was empty save for a few hardy souls walking their dogs. This wide expanse of sand beaches were used extensively in training exercises for the Normandy landings during WW2.
Dunrobin Castle is a one hour drive North from Inverness and the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses. Dating from the 1300’s it is the largest house in the Highlands with 189 rooms. The entrance fees were very expensive so we walked around the exterior of the property enjoying the views of the castle and Moray Firth.
Near Dunrobin Castle is Carn Laith Broch which was probably built in the last century BC or the first century AD and is one of the best preserved broch’s in Scotland. We had an interesting walk around this ancient ruin. It does not seem to be on the popular tourist route as we were the only ones there 🙂
After lunch at the local chippy in Golspie, near Dunrobin Castle, we headed to the Big Burn Walk, a spectacular short walk up a gorge criss-crossed by footbridges ending at a pretty waterfall. The forest was thick and very damp, it seemed otherworldly and really peaceful. Our walk got cut a bit short after I fell on my backside in the mud so we headed home for a change of clothes. Despite my slip in the mud we enjoyed our trip up the East coast of Scotland which looks completely different from the West coast, much gentler and softer hills melting into the North Sea.
Shortly before we were scheduled to leave Inverness I picked up an infection and needed to see a Dr. After 4 hours of being given various instructions and sent various places we ended up back where we started, at the hospital’s after hours clinic (it was a Sunday). I mention this incident as information for other travelers because I was surprised after my visit with the Dr and being given a round of antibiotics, there was no charge! It seems the NHS has a policy of not wanting to bother with all the paperwork required to treat a non-resident for a minor medical issue. A more serious injury would most certainly be billed to the patient. Interesting, and a pleasant surprise 🙂
During our travels outside Inverness we noticed a number of offshore oil drilling rigs and wondered what that was all about. It turns out that due to the downturn in the oil industry, rigs from the North Sea that are not being used are brought here to Cromarty Firth to an “oil rig graveyard/parking lot” where they will sit until the oil industry recovers enough to make it worthwhile to start drilling again. Mothballing all these rigs has resulted in unemployment for the many tens of thousands of rig workers.
While in Inverness we had dinner with my cousin who we have not seen for a number of years, it was a wonderful evening catching up and reminiscing about our childhood escapades. And so begins the family time of our travels 🙂
While here the radio news was saying that Inverness is the #1 place people are moving to in the UK. We agree it is a lovely place, small and interesting with a lot to do within a short drive of the city…..but just too far North for our liking. Time to begin making our way South…..