Simon at The Glenview on the Isle of Skye ensured we were fortified against the cool day with an ample and satisfying breakfast. We had a lengthy drive to Nairn, through some extraordinary countryside, but with our goal of getting to Inverness in time to indulge in regular tourist activities, we didn’t stop for photo opportunities (besides, it was rainy and cold).
A brief stop at Nairn for lunch at The Classroom (a gastro pub in the old school), provided some warming soup and Panini, fuel to finish our journey to a spot beyond Inverness – Brodie Castle, another National Trust property. No pics were allowed inside, which is always a disappointment, although, being on a tour with 17 other people would have impeded the creation of anything special. Our guide was…intriguing; the tendency to waffle gave the impression that she was making things up, as well as added half an hour to the one hour tour time. If that extra 30 minutes had have been filled with useful information, that would’ve been fine, but it wasn’t. In the end I gave up and did a dash for the loo to escape. Not our best National Trust property experience, but an interesting house. We were impressed by the library – it was a ‘borrowing library’ with over 1,600 books. The laird of the time encouraged his tenants to read, so made the books available to them. Very forward thinking.
It was a short drive to Inverness where we checked into our B&B – The Ness Guest House. The place was spotlessly clean, tastefully decorated with a very comfortable bed. Susan and Richard were lovely hosts, providing thoughtful extra facilities, such as a communal bar fridge in the breakfast room where guests could keep their provisions. Susan’s attention to detail in the breakfasts, catering to all tastes (including a vegetarian haggis), was another sign of how much they care about their guests. Our south facing bedroom was a pleasure to be in when returning from our explorations of the city and surrounding sites, and there were books and games in the breakfast room for diversion if we were too daunted by the weather to venture out.
The next morning promised another relentless, rainy day, but we braved the wind, rain and cold and headed to Culloden Battlefield. The visitor’s centre there was state of the art, with the interactive nature of the exhibit making for an engaging and informative experience. It told the story of the Battle of Culloden from both the Jacobite and Government sides. At the end of the exhibition, there was a large room where they displayed items found through excavation of the site, which is much larger than originally thought.
Fortunately, we were sitting in a central area listening to the audio guide that was supposed to accompany our walk through the field (which we attempted, but abandoned due to the weather), when a tour group arrived. Normally, we try and avoid the tour groups at historical sites, but there was a fun demonstration with people in costume about what a true traditional highland kilt was like, and how the highlanders fought in battle. AND we found out what they traditionally wore under their kilts – a shirt that had a long pointy tail that was brought up like a nappy when they had to fast march (5 paces walking, 5 paces jogging). This kept their junk from knocking about. It’s where ‘gird your loins comes from’ – getting ready to go into battle by strapping yourself in. Highly informative demonstration!
Cawdor Castle was next on our morning agenda. It immediately became a favourite, and not just because of the Macbeth connection. While it was a castle of significant size, it gave the impression of intimacy, cosy even, and very charming. Its appeal lay in the fact that it still looked very lived in, as though the Dowager Countess Cawdor had just stepped out for a moment, and would return soon to continue entertaining her guests in her stately home. There are many photographs throughout the castle of the Dowager Countess Cawdor, now in her 70s, looking young and gorgeous. The recent history of this estate and the family is quite spicy, with the deceased Thane and Earl breaking with tradition and leaving the estate to his second wife, not the current holder of the titles, his son, Colin Campbell. It’s all a bit tawdry, really.
Continued our Cawdor experience with lunch at Cawdor Tavern, a traditional pub with decent food and plenty of veggie options. Had the hand made falafel burger, in a toasted brioche bun, tahini hummus and feta cheese, served with coleslaw and a pot of chips. The second shared dish was chargrilled asparagus, courgette and feta salad with toasted sesame seeds and lemon dressing. The asparagus was slightly overcooked (and bore no evidence of a chargrill), but the rest was tasty. Shared a little trio of ⅓ pint beers to really get into the pub milieu.
Had planned on going to a local distillery for the afternoon, but on leaving the tavern discovered that the rain had stopped and so we utilised the clear sky (trying to ignore the frigid cold) to explore Inverness.
Our focus was the river walk. The air was so fresh (if a little too sharp in its edge) that we braced ourselves and enjoyed the sunshine while it was on offer. We wended our way from our hill top accommodation past Inverness Castle and Castle Tavern, down to the eastern bank of the River Ness. Not at all fatigued, we crossed Infirmary Bridge to continue the Ness walk on the west bank, past St Andrew’s Cathedral, all the way down to Greig St Bridge. The whole thing was bracing and beautiful.
I am sure that it is possible to get a bad Indian meal in Scotland, but we have not experienced it yet. For dinner we chose Indian Ocean on Academy Street. We had some dishes that we had not tasted before, and were happy with our choices – a shobji dal and a mixed vegetable karahi. The service, however, was another matter altogether – the waiter was a combination of Manuel from Fawlty Towers and Agador from The Bird Cage, schlepping with dragging feet, apathy oozing from every cell. Lucky the food was good!
The evening finished with another walk along the river, attempting to ignore the dropping temperature and drink in what we could of this delightful northern Scottish town before heading off on the next leg of our adventure.
Accommodation: The Ness Guest House, Inverness