Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd February 2020
This weekend was taking us up North. We had received a gift for Christmas of a weekend stay in Inverness (thank you, you know who you are) so it was the perfect opportunity to try and get a more distant Munro undertaken in the Highlands.
However this weekends weather forecast was not looking promising with high winds on the agenda.
Inverness is a city on Scotland’s northeast coast, it’s the largest city in the Scottish Highlands and is known as ‘The Capital of The Highlands’.
It has many natural landscapes, quaint towns, medieval ruins and prehistoric sites and prehistoric creatures – yes, it is also home to our very own famous monster that inhabits Loch Ness – The Loch Ness Monster aka Nessie!
So after an approximate 3.5 hour, late, wet, windy and dark drive up from home after work we had reached our destination.
This weekend we were staying in The Kingsmills Hotel, a 17th-century mansion. It offers a variety of luxurious rooms, spa, indoor pool and fine dining…as long as its warm and dry I think I’d be happy with anything right now!
The Kingsmills Hotel is set in 4 acres of beautiful manicured gardens and Inverness city centre is only one mile away, an ideal location to take advantage of the many attractions the Highland region has to offer.
After arriving we dropped of our gear in the hotel then headed out to explore Inverness. We’ve visited Inverness several times before so we know the area to a certain extent.
Tonight we wandered along the lit up river bank and watched the bursting fast flowing River Ness. The castle, perched on a hill was in full view…it’s a pretty spot.
Inverness Castle can be seen from all over the city. The fortress dates back to the 11th century, but the current buildings were erected in 1836. This castle was once a stronghold for Mary, Queen of Scots and it features a statue of Flora MacDonald still awaiting the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Today’s plan was to hike a munro but the weather/Mother Nature dictated our next moves and unfortunately as more high winds were predicted, up to 75 mph at low level so imagine what that would be like on top of a mountain and with blizzards ‘Plan A’ was completely blown away…literally!
On to ‘Plan B’, we would stay low and explore…there was plenty to do and see.
And so…of course top of my list was going to be Nessie spotting…and we were off!
Loch Ness is 24 miles long, over 700ft deep and is most famous for its sightings of the Loch Ness monster. Nessie is Loch Ness’s oldest resident, first sighted back in the sixth century.
This Loch contains more fresh water than all lakes in England and Wales combined. Its not Scotland’s biggest loch, thats Loch Lomand or deepest loch, thats Loch Morar…but who knows what treasures it holds!
Today I think Nessie was feeling shy during our visit, or probably preferring to stay under water as temperatures in the loch throughout the year stay at approximately 6 degrees it’s certainly warmer in there then out here right now!
Even without catching site of Nessie this loch still provided us with what remains a prime example of austere Scottish beauty.
Gazing into the deep murky water of Loch Ness it was hard to shake of the feeling that something was staring right back at me!
Urquhart Castle sits beside Loch Ness and the great hills of the Great Glen.
It has a distinctly Highland Heritage and the site has witnessed some of the most dramatic chapters in our nation’s history. For a time, this castle was a strong-hold of Robert The Bruce.
This is even where St. Columba is said to have worked miracles in the 6th century.
Sadly it met its end in 1692, when English forces blew it up to thwart the Jacobites!
Although now just ruins, its easy to picture just how magnificent Urquhart Castle once was.
We were then off to visit The Munlochy Clootie Well, probably a more unusual tourist attraction in the area. Situated in the Black Isle, a short forest walk takes you to a clootie well which were places of pilgrimage in Celtic times. The tradition involved pilgrims leaving offerings at a holy well, often in the hope of having an illness or ailment cured.
‘Clootie’ or ‘cloot’ is Scots for a rag or strip of cloth. Some practices involved wetting a cloth belonging to the sick person in the well before hanging it nearby. It was believed (and still is by some) that as the cloth rots away, the illness would be cured. Other practices would simply involve tying a rag to a tree as an offering.
Today the forest surrounding the well at Munlochy is covered in cloots. These days I’m pretty sure they have been left by a mixture of those that continue to make a pilgrimage to the site and tourists that simply want to add their own contribution to the weird and wonderful collection.
I have mixed feelings about this ancient and magical site…and wandering around I was still trying to work out what my feelings were.
I suppose I totally respect those that have some belief about the healing powers of the well or regard the site as a holy one. However, and it’s one big however, one issue I do have is with the sheer amount of items that have appeared. Many are made of synthetic materials which won’t rot, going against the traditional beliefs about a cure. Also this has to be having a negative impact on the trees and by now you guys know my feelings about trees!
Having seen some of the items that have been left, I suspect the majority of clothing and offerings are being left by tourists who have no real understanding of the meaning of the site to those that have been making pilgrimages to the well for centuries.
So if you visit here and wish to leave a cloot as an offering then please make sure it is made of natural, biodegradable material. If you just visit out of curiousity then learn the history, enjoy the atmosphere, take pictures and leave nothing but footprints.
We were then off to island hop. Did you know it is possible to go island hopping in Inverness without leaving the city?
Ness Islands are a group of islands in the River Ness which have handily been connected by a series of pretty Victorian foot bridges. The result is a beautiful nature walk near the city centre.
The total circular walk is around 3 miles, although you can take short cuts if you don’t want to do the full thing. And today things were very flooded.
If you need a serene break from the urban city centre or just some peaceful respite, this lovely little oasis is where you can go to take some time out to recharge the batteries and their natural surroundings make them feel like they’re a million miles from the city.
Before leaving we quickly visited the Victorian Market, a historic shopping arcade that was built in 1890 after it’s predecessor was destroyed by a fire. It has some nice small independent shops to pick up a souvenir or two.
After enjoying a full Scottish breakfast we were back out fighting the elements for some more siteseeing.
We visited Culloden. I’ve been here many times before but this was Andy’s first time.
So it was right here on April 16th, 1746 that the last great battle was fought on Scottish soil and the fate of the Stuart’s – and Scotland – was determined. I always feel very patriotic and proud but extremely sad when visiting here…it’s so eerie.
The historic sites visitor centre is a must, with its first hand accounts of the battle, a 360-degree film realistically portraying the days event.
We walked in the footsteps of the fated Highland clans on the battlefield and today was as dreich a day as that day. It’s hard not to be moved when walking about here.
Culloden Moor is the site of one of Scotland’s bloodiest battles. The Battle of Culloden only lasted an hour, but left one and a half thousand Jacobite army members – many of them Scottish clansmen – dead.
We visited the gravestones of the Scottish clans, as well as the six meter high Memorial Cairn erected in 1881 to commemorate the battle.
Culloden is definitely a must visit for history lovers and those keen for a greater understanding of the Jacobite Rebellion.
From here we headed to Fort George which was built in the wake of Culloden. This 18th century fort remains one of the most impressive fortifications in Europe, and is still used by the British Army today.
Infact back in the day my dad was actually based here when he was in the army and again it’s not my first time visiting, but it is for Andy…I remember coming up here with my dad (not in his army days) and him pointing up to the window of his barracks.
Although Fort George never saw action, it is an incredible place to visit.
Our time in Inverness was coming to an end and although we never achieved what we set out to do (Ben Wyvis) we still had a fun packed time.
The drive back home was spectacular and passing the Aviemore area was so picturesque seeing the surrounding mountains covered in snow.