Well, we’ve just spent the past seven days in Scotland. The first half was a bit ‘off the beaten track’ with friends in Gartly, Aberdeenshire and then we drove to Inverness’s largest hotel – The Kingsmills – for the remainder. Not sure if that makes me a (temporary) ‘Highlander’ or not!? 🤔
Although we’ve been to Bonnie Scotland before, this time, we felt we got to know the people and the places more thoroughly.
So, what did we learn?
As a country, the people and places are very COVID19-Aware
The scenery is spectacular
The locals are very friendly
If you’re coming to Inverness at this time of year, bring a vest (or preferably 3!)
If you want to use your mobile phone, bring a mast (preferably 20!)
We solved the mystery of where all UK’s public toilets have gone – they’re in Scotland! (much to Ann’s delight!)
No one makes chips like they do up here
Someone stole all the dolphins!
Parking in many towns and villages was completely free
Would we come back? Of course! 👍
WORDS TO THE WISE: Don’t expect Inverness Airport to have a petrol station so that you can top up your hire-car’s tank before handing it back! The nearest seems to be Tesco, some six miles away! 🤔
9.05am: With the hire-car parked and the keys deposited in AVIS’s ‘dropbox’ we whizzed through Security into one of the UK’s smaller airports.
Our plane is on-time and we’ll be home mid-afternoon. Farewell Scotland, see you next time! 👍😁
Click on the button below to see all our photos from this trip…
Thanks for all your good wishes, cards and gifts! They’re mostly all back at home and I’ll enjoy them all when we’re back tomorrow! 😁
Here we are then, in Bonnie Scotland, on the occasion of my 64th.
It’s another day of discovery today and we’ve got 3 locations in mind:-
Nairn – a well known seaside town on the Moray Firth with 2 golf courses
Fort George – a large 18th-century fortress …and for my birthday lunch, The Cawdor Tavern in (not surprisingly) the village of Cawdor.
8.05am: Looking at how busy the Hotel was yesterday evening, we decided to take breakfast earlier today to avoid the potential queues.
9.10am: We’re off! A quick dash to the petrol station en-route to fill-up with juice (what a novelty, I haven’t been in a petrol station for well over a year!). Our first stop is only 16 miles and 25 minutes away…
9.45am: Nairn is an ancient fishing port around 17 miles east of Inverness. Well, this visit certainly woke us up! In spite of a vest, two coats and gloves, (and the car saying the outside temperature was 10.5℃) it felt more like MINUS 10… it was f-f-f-f-freezing with a biting north wind! 🥶🥶
10.05am: And if the Harbour was freezing, then Nairn’s beach-front was even colder! But hey! In order to show that we weren’t lilly-livered southern-softies, we walked along the front (and a bit further inland). Another memorable birthday experience!! ⛄ More information about Nairn HERE.
The car-heater and its heated seats have never had so much use! We were SO pleased to be back in the car! 😁
11.05am:Fort George is a large 18th-century fortress to the north-east of Inverness. It was built to control the Highlanders in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745, replacing a Fort George in Inverness constructed after the 1715 Jacobite rising to stamp out any further rebellion. The current fortress has never been attacked and has remained in continuous use as a garrison ever since. More information HERE.
This was the highlight of the day for us and much larger in real life than the photographs we’d already seen when planning this break. Yes, it was WIDE, but it was also DEEP – it seemed to go on forever!
There’s the great ‘Highlanders’ Museum’ full of memorabilia associated with all the Regiments here through the years.
But there are plenty of reminders that it’s still in use!
…and the mobile signal is as crap here as most of the Highlands!😉😉
Plenty of these little fellas to keep the undesirables at bay! 😮…
…in all shapes and sizes!
The Cawdor Tavern
1.25pm:The Tavern and its food had some excellent reviews and whilst staying with our friends earlier in the week, Richard had also recommended it.
The rather understated entrance betrayed the great food that was yet to come for my Birthday Lunch 2020!! 😊😋
3.10pm: Wow! What a Birthday Lunch. Definitely another of those occasions where a short snooze would now be in order! Instead though, we headed in the general direction of the Hotel by way of the Culloden Battlefield (as you do!) 😉
We headed back to the hotel to start packing for our departure tomorrow. What an unforgettable day! Great places, great food… and hypothermia! We won’t forget my 2020 birthday celebrations in a hurry! 😊
Click on the button below for all our photos so far (and none of my chat!)
My last day of ’63-ness’ today, and we’re off to Loch Ness! Given our complete failure to spot any dolphins during this trip, I don’t hold out much hope for an encounter with Nessie! 🙄
KEY FACTS ABOUT THE LOCH 22 miles long Average depth of 433 feet Maximum depth of 744.6 feet 1.8 cubic miles of water 1 monster
We’re sticking to the west side of the Loch and plan to take in some of the sights along the way including… – Fort Augustus – Urquhart Castle – …plus anywhere else that makes a good photo!!!
10.10am: After a hearty breakfast, we set off from the Hotel. The weather forecast predicts slightly warmer weather than yesterday so we’re in for a treat. Mr Mercedes (our hire car) said it was already a scorching 8℃ 😮which was a massive improvement!
It’s a pretty straightforward route on the A82 today for the most-part. We’re taking a slight detour on the A887 at Invermoriston and then the A87 before re-joining the A82 later in order to soak up even more of the glorious vistas.
As a passenger, if you like the view on your journey full of the blues, greens and browns of Mother Nature, then this is a real treat!
From the Driver’s perspective, though, it’s a slightly different story. The road was all single-carriageway, alternating between dead straight short parts (with virtually no chance of overtaking) and twisty-turny sections that demanded your full attention (on a motorbike would have been even more fun!). The road also rises and falls with the landscape making our choice of an automatic-gearbox a wise choice! None of this is immediately obvious if you look at a typical map. 😉
The variation in terrain meant that those in charge of the vehicle needed to concentrate on the road at all times, missing out on some of the marvellous views…
…where the only way to really appreciate the scenery was to find a parking-spot in one of the numerous lay-bys.
12.10pm: Which is exactly what we did for our first stop (marked ‘1’ on the map above) at Glengarry Viewpoint. What we didn’t expect, was a Scot in full Highland Dress serenading the lay-by’s temporary residents on the pipes! 😮. Ironically, music aside, because the trees were still in ‘full foliage’, the best view across the water was a little obscured by the mass of greenery – still gorgeous though! 😊
Back in the car, we left the Piper to seduce the rest of his ‘guests’, whilst we headed for our second stop of the day – Fort Augustus – a further thirty-minutes drive away. The road continued to provide a wide variety of terrains, but after a few more short stops we eventually arrived where the temperature was now enjoying a ‘highland heatwave’ of 11½℃ 🥵
12.45pm: After parking the car (we had to pay this time for the first time this holiday!!) we took a short walk up and across the various lock gates that offered some exhilarating views across the area. The Caledonian Canal is approximately 60 miles long and was designed by the famous civil engineer, Thomas Telford. It was completed in 1822 and connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach near Fort William.
It may not have been the warmest day on record but it certainly LOOKED beautiful! Our fingers were feeling the reality of the climate, and we looked for somewhere for bite to eat and warm-up…
12.45pm:The Lock Inn was closest and doing a brisk trade! Perfect! 😁
It was difficult to know what to choose as there was so much on offer! We also had a scheduled visit to our final stop today at Urquhart Castle for 1.30pm, so it was going to be tight (however little we ate!). In the end, we decided to NOT rush things and present ourselves at the Castle ‘fashionably late’. Our food arrived in double-quick time and whilst Ann enjoyed the child’s portion of Macaroni Cheese (yes, they still call it by its ‘old name’ up here), I tucked into the exceptionally meaty burger with added cheese. Their chips maintained the tradition that Scotland (for us) serves the best chips ever, anyway! 😍
Just as we left, the heavens opened, and we said goodbye to the sunshine! Where did that come from? It was the cold, very wet and hard variety of rain that almost turned into hail. Well, it certainly helped quicken our step back to the car!!! 🙄
2.10pm: As expected, we WERE ‘fashionably late’ arriving at Urquhart Castle (and unfashionably wet). Our tardiness didn’t seem to make any difference, and we were ushered in to the car-park by the very friendly, damp security staff.
The weather was now the worst we seen since we arrived. Colder, wetter and windier. I have a reputation for destroying umbrellas, but the weather was doing a fine job on its own.
Whichever way I pointed the umbrella, the very special Scottish wind got underneath it and managed to turn it inside-out on at least six occasions!
In truth, we didn’t spend as long here as we might have done if the weather had been kinder. It certainly didn’t improve, and within 30 minutes, we were ‘all done’ having only managed to capture a few photos in between the lashings of ginger beer rain. We headed back to base back along the road that we’d started out on. Now in addition, to the ‘ups and downs’and ‘twist and turns’ that began our journey, we now had rain, then sunshine, then rain, then more sunshine to cope with! 🤔
3.30pm: Just as we arrived back at the Kingsmills Hotel, out came the Sun, but more permanently this time (typical!!) 😣. A quick coffee in the Hotel’s Lounge brought us back to life, and we then headed back to the room to think about my birthday events for tomorrow.
Click on the button below for all our photos so far (and none of my chat!)
We have a grand plan today! We’re off to the large land-mass to the north of us that is the Black Isle – perversely named because it’s actually not an island and not particularly black! We won’t have time to cover it all, but we want to give it a damn good thrashing! 😃
Surrounded on three sides by water – a peninsular – one of the theories about its colour-attribute is that it remains snow-free whilst the surrounding mountains are covered in the white stuff!
I didn’t know that! 😮
It’s a cool start, but 11℃ by 11am is none-too-shabby for this time of year!
8.30am: But before all that, it’s breakfast – and our first experience of what Kingsmills has to offer in these crazy COVID-19 times!
The hotel was very well organised at breakfast with an invite-only-from-your-table-hot-brekky-buffet option together with table service for everything else.
For my non-UK readers, unlike the nearby Isle, a Black Pudding IS actually black, but just to keep it confusing, it’s NOT a pudding. 😳
9.45am: Off we go, and it’s spot the tourist! (us!!!) The locals are wandering around in shirt-sleeves – and we’re not! Typical woosy-Sassenachs ehh!! We jumped in the car for the short journey northwards with the car’s heating on ’11’ together with the heated seats set to ‘max’.
10.55am: Our first stop was Beauly – not the one for petrol-heads, the one with the Priory!
A splendid construction and in the now-familiar ‘red’ stone that seems to be all the rage round these parts.
Next port of call was the adjacent High Street. It had the sort of shops that hinted that this is an affluent area…
…including the rather well-known (apparently!) Campbell and Co, supplier of all things tweed for the ‘huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ fraternity! We noted the photo of Prince Charles ‘dropping by’ proudly on display inside! 😁
Fortrose was a bit of a ‘one-horse town’. We took a walk aroud the area, but it was pretty-much deserted and eerily quiet. Nice view across the water though…
12.55pm: Our third stop was Cromarty…
We found a car-park (free-of-charge again!) and found ourselves pretty close to the water-front. We were immediately struck by the numerous exceptionally large ‘oil rig’ type constructions, which felt like they were in touching distance!
Actually, on reflection, whether they were constructing or de-constructing was difficult to tell, but it was a hive of activity. The locals didn’t seem to be paying much attention, but to us, it all looked somewhat strange!
1.20pm: Looking back towards the land, we spotted the old lighthouse (de-commissioned in 2005) now looked-after by the University of Aberdeen (not ALL of them) for their Field Studies.
…and if ‘oil rigs’ within touching distance wasn’t weird enough, how about the above? It was very tall ‘monolith’ with wording referring to ‘Cleopatra’. It all seemed a bit strange and a bit out-of-place, but later I did some research…
Apparently the 13ft construction is the “Cromarty Emigrants’ Standing Stone” with words by Cromarty’s most famous son, Hugh Miller. It relates to the vessel Cleopatra, one of 62 emigrant ships that set sail from Cromarty in 1831 for Canada. The actual wording is HERE.
1.50pm: No research needed for the next part! – the local hotel – The Royal Hotel – for a coffee-break! We were glad to be inside in the warm! 👍
The hotel had clearly seen better days, but the coffee wasn’t bad and the service was polite and efficient. We stayed for around half-an-hour thawing-out before heading back in the general direction of the car taking in a few more of examples of the local architecture…
2.15pm: Back on the road, we headed for our final stop of the day – the town of Dingwall, about a thirty-minute drive away.
2.55pm: Again, we parked for free! (I like it!) and we were soon in the high street. There were plenty of shops and plenty of people, but it all felt a bit less-affluent than our other destinations today. ‘Throbbing’ may be a bit of an over-statement, but the town’s shops seemed well-supported.
It was a pity that the local Museum wasn’t open as it apparently packed with lots of information about the town since the demise of the Town Council in 1975.
3.05pm: In fact, it was probably a good job the Museum WAS closed, otherwise our late lunch would have been even later! Luckily, we stumbled upon a small café, just off the high street called The Courtyard Café. It was (still) far too cold to eat outside, so we got table inside and enjoyed a quick bite! 😉
3.50pm: It was only as we returned to the car, we noticed a tower high on a a hill. We learned that it’s the MacDonald Monument. Built in 1907 dedicated to the memory of (deep breath!) Major-General Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald, KCB, DSO, ADC. It’s a fair distance away and a bit of a climb, so maybe we were lucky that it’s currently closed! 😊
Tomorrow, we’re heading in the direction of Loch Ness. Hopefully, a monster of a day! 😁
Well, that’s the first half of our Scottish break over – and it passed really quickly! After a relaxing and VERY enjoyable few days with Richard and Lynn in Gartly, we’re off to our next (and final) ‘home’ for the final four-days – the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness.
In some respects, our leaving was perfect timing, as just before we went to bed last night, we learned that the revised – and much tougher – lockdown rules up here (officially from Friday, but being encouraged immediately) would now have made our stay with Richard and Lynn impossible AND illegal – and so we’re glad we did it when we did! 😮
10.05am: After a full-on-fry-up, we said our rather tearful farewells to our hosts, loaded our bags and hit the road…
12.15pm: Although it was only about a 70-mile trip, most of the journey (west, along the A96) is just single-carriageway, with only the occasional double-lane for overtaking. As a result, our journey took just over an hour-and-a-half, eventually arriving at Inverness’s Eastgate Shopping Mall just after midday.
We parked the car in the very spacious (and spotlessly clean) underground car-park and headed for a quick mooch around the shops. We also wanted to soak up a few of the local sights prior to lunch. 😁
12.30pm: The Castle looked inviting but unfortunately, it was closed for renovation. 😮
12.45pm: Although it was a colder day, the blueness of the sky and water made for a very attractive view down the River Ness (no Photoshopping required!!) 🎨
1.05pm:We carried on mooching and although there were quite a few shops closed because of you-know-what, the 19th century Victorian Market Arcade looked splendid! 👍
1.15pm: We stopped for lunch at the rather under-stated restaurant ‘Prime Steakhouse‘, just over the bridge. Ann had the Venison Casserole whilst I chose the Cajun Chicken Burger (spicier than I thought it would be!). Both were excellent and we just (just!) managed to resist the temptation of dessert (as good as they looked) to leave enough room for our meal tonight in the Hotel.
2.15pm: Truth-be-told, even though we’d not been nearly as ‘busy’ as our previous days here in Scotland, we could have easily just gone to sleep after the meal! Instead, we decided to walk alongside the Ness to walk off – at least part of – lunch! Again, the views were superb!
…and again, no Photoshopping required to ‘bring out the blue’ of the water. We walked all the way down to the next bridge and along the opposite side taking notes of any restaurants we saw that might be suitable for my Birthday celebration on Saturday (and there were plenty to choose from!) 😃
3.45pm: Fifteen minutes ahead of official check-in time, we blagged our way into the hotel early – The Kingsmills Hotel – and we were soon checked-in.
Room 300 is a generously-sized room! If Lynn’s cats were here, we could have swung BOTH of them, with room to spare! 😃
6.00pm: Just time to get depressed by the news before heading down to the hotel’s restaurant for our evening meal
6.35pm: Well that’s a first! No paper menus here. Simply point your phone camera at the QR code and up pops the latest menu on the screen. Naturally, I was in heaven, Ann, meanwhile was in confusion! 🙄. After one of the shortest coaching sessions I’ve ever done, our choices were sorted, and I chose the Grilled Chicken whilst Ann opted for the Salmon Fillet.
9.00pm: For whatever reason, we’re both shattered! We had just enough energy to think about options for tomorrow before crashing. We’re either going to take a trip in search of Nessie or exploring the Black Isle.
It’s our last full day here before we drive to Inverness tomorrow – and we’ve a busy one planned (nothing new there ehh?!) 😁. After yesterday’s adventure that took us to the rather beautiful areas of Banff, Portsoy and Cullen (ending with a drive through next-door Buckie) today, we’re soaking-up more of the area to the north-west of base-camp, including:-
Baxter’s Highland Village in Fochabers
Gordon Castle Walled Garden in Fochabers
Spey Bay (Dolphins!)
Elgin Cathedral (and the cashmere shop!)
(Not necessarily in that order! 😊😊)
10.15am: We arrived in town and were soon parked for our first stop of the day – a revisit to Huntly Castle (last visited in 2002/3?). We took the longer-than-we-thought walk down to the ruins and. First impressions? It was amazing how much was familiar considering we hadn’t been here for 20+ years!
The temperature was now a very pleasant 16℃ and we spent longer here than we planned. Next stop: The Walled Gardens at Gordon Castle.
Gordon Castle Walled Garden
12.05pm: The Walled Garden should have been easy-peasy to find. It wasn’t! 😠In spite of having the correct postcode and based on the reputation of the excellent signage to anywhere cultural in these parts, we should have been there in no time. As things turned out, we first ended up down a dirt-track leading to a farm. Then a crop of new-build houses – and neither was anywhere near where we SHOULD have been! We’re still not sure what went wrong, but we did get there eventually!
It was definitely worth the trip (as convoluted as it was!) – it all looked beautiful! 😎😎
…and even sweet-peas in September – Amazing!
Johnson’s of ElginCashmere Shop
12.35pm: This is the kind of shop only for people with bucket loads of cash (and who have clearly lost their marbles). How about a cashmere jumper for the bargain price of £715 (reduced from £1915)? We didn’t think it was our civic duty to buy it! 🙄
In complete contrast, the Restaurant was excellent value! Superbly well-organised and very COVID-19 compliant (as we tried to enter the EXIT door!). We tucked into Giant Haddock Goujons (Ann) and a Beef Burrito (me). And it would have been rude not to sample the Premier Cru in these parts that is… Irn Bru! 😋
1.45pm: We took the short walk (5 minutes) from the restaurant at the Cashmere shop to the Cathedral and for us, this next stop was probably the highlight of the day. The Cathedral, in ruins, dates back to the 13th century…
…and there was plenty to see here – inside and out! The staff were super-friendly and knowledgeable, and it made the visit extra-special. 👍👍. Read more HERE