September 21-23 2017
One of the lures of a destination wedding is the opportunity to visit a new place and extend the stay into a full blown vacation. With these happy thoughts, Leo and I planned this Grand Scotland adventure when we received and invitation to a wedding in York, England which is close enough to the Scottish border that the opportunity to explore Scotland could not be passed up.
After a short stay in London to get over the jet lag and get some excellent Indian food, we took a flight from Gatwick to Inverness to begin our tour. In retrospect we wish we could have taken the train, the airport experience was not the best, we flew on EasyJet (which was not so easy) and we arrived in Inverness late in the afternoon. The train would have been about the same amount of time if you added up all of airport transit time, flight, etc. But onto happier things, the weather cooperated as the clouds parted when we arrived at our guest house in Inverness. A lovely and expertly run guesthouse, The Trafford Bank. The owner, Lorraine Pun, had lovingly decorated this 1800’s era mansion with beautiful art, glass wear, pottery and textiles all from Scottish artists. Every room was filled with her lovely collection. This is one of two identical houses the original builder built in Inverness, the other, a private residence.
We had two objectives at Inverness, Leo wanted to try every malt whiskey in the Scottish highlands and I wanted to see some of the Outlander sights where Jaime and Claire roamed around. So we booked a private car the next day and told the driver our objectives and off we went. Our driver told Leo that he had been drinking highland whiskeys for most of his life and had only scratched the surface, so Leo adjusted his target list to a sizable number.
Our first stop was the Tomatin Distillery even though it was only 10am but before you judge us consider that it was just outside of Inverness and a convenient first stop. We tasted a few of their single malts and decided to purchase their 12 year old, which we laid to rest just a few days later, as it became a ritual nightcap for both of us.
From there we went to Balavaran of Clava Crains which is a group of standing stones (think Stonehenge) built over four thousand years ago as a burial ground and perfectly aligned to usher in the summer solstice. Here is where the inspiration for the fictional “Craig na Dun” stones in the series Outlander comes from. All fans of the series will want to touch the stones and see if they can travel back to the 1700’s to meet Jamie.
If successful traveling through time the visitor would have found Jaime engaged in a bloody battle at the fields of Culluden in 1745. We visited the memorial and visitor center where they had a very nicely presented timeline exhibit of the events leading up to the battle, the claim to the throne by Bonny Prince Charlie and the eventual defeat of the Scots and the total break up of the clan hierarchy. We walked the fields where stones mark the different clan names fallen and of course, I found the Fraser clan marker. Our driver told us that the Fraser marker had become very famous after the Outlander series premiered and people now lay flowers and pilgrimage there, paying homage to the fictional character of Jamie Fraser. The place is worth while visiting and a must for history buffs who want to understand the proud traditions of this country.
We returned to Inverness and walked around the old town (easy 10 minute walk from our guest house). During our walk we decided to wash off the road dust by stopping at The Malt Room, where we tried several flights of highland whiskeys and magically the entire afternoon seemed brighter and happier. Inverness is a beautiful city where the river Ness meets the Moray Firth, it is the largest city and cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. During our stay in this beautiful city we tried two local restaurants both excellent, The River House, and Rocpool. A hint for the newly arrived, the Inverness restaurant scene is hot and without advanced reservations you will not get into any worthwhile restaurants, so plan ahead.
The following day we started a new adventure of sorts, we rented car for our drive to Loch Ness, Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. Here I need to award a special commendation to my husband Leo for brilliantly navigating extremely narrow roads (more on that later) and driving on the left side which made for a white knuckle ride at times, but alls well that ends well, so no big problems (except for a little contretemps I’ll tell you about later) .
Our first stop was at the Clansmen Hotel which is right off A82 as you head south from Inverness, about a 30 minute drive. At the hotel you walk across A82 (via a tunnel) where you can purchase boat tickets for scenic lake and castle cruises offered by Jacobite Tours company. We bought a two hour combination tour of the lake and visit to the ruin of Urquhart Castle.
Loch Ness is the largest inland stretch of water and the second deepest lake in Scotland with a depth of over 700 feet. It has many fingers and islands and it is also the largest fresh body of water in Britain. The one hour trip to the castle ruins was truly spectacular and made even more so by blue, sunny skies which is a rare treat in this part of the country. The Castle Urquhart is perched high on top of a hill overlooking the lake built strategically for defense but unfortunately it was overtaken and burnt down by the British during the last Scottish uprising. The outside walls and ramparts still remain and we were able to climb to the highest points for beautiful views of the lake. The visitor center at the very top of the hill has fabulous gifts so I recommend this as a very desirable place to shop and have a cup of coffee or tea with breathtaking views. They also have a full sized medieval siege machine, which gives you a great idea of how castles were attacked in those times.
From Lochness we headed to our next stop for the night in Invergarry at Castle Glengarry. We were exited to get there since we booked the castle to celebrate Leo’s birthday, and the night promised to be stormy, one of Leo’s wishes for his Castle dinner. Everything was going great until the Big Blowout, Leo got too close to the left curb, hit it at a good speed, and that was all she wrote for the car’s tire. The only saving grace was that we were literary at the castle’s gate and limped into the castle parking lot with the destroyed tire barely hanging on to the rim. A quick call to Hertz and a mechanic showed up within an hour to fix the tire. Lesson here 1. You are driving on the left hand side and for us right handed drivers just don’t realize how close you get to the left curb 2. Get tire insurance (which we had) and all is well quickly.
The dinner was a success, rain and wind lashing at the castle’s dinning room windows, a great bottle of wine, with a delicious meal and a perfect end to a great day. Stay tuned to our next day adventure on our way to the Isle of Skye.