This morning we had to make an early start, because we had a lot of driving ahead of us. Since it’s peak travel season, we didn’t plan very well that the Scottish Highlands would have few vacancies for lodging. So, we had to settle for a day trip to Inverness from Aberdeen rather than spend a couple days in Inverness proper.
We decided to take a scenic route from Aberdeen to Inverness via the Cairngorms rather than take the more direct A96. We had already driven through the Cairngorms when we made our way to Aberdeen from Crieff, but the Cairngorms are just so fucking gorgeous that we had to go out of our way to see them again. And they certainly didn’t disappoint on a second drive through them.
Before we entered Inverness proper, we visited the Culloden Battlefield. This was a very sobering experience, as the battlefield is a giant memorial and burial site for thousands of soldiers.
The Battle of Culloden happened on 16 April 1746. It was the last Jacobite uprising, but they were solidly defeated by the government soldiers, so any hopes that the Jacobites could overthrow the House of Hanover in order to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne were quashed. The battle was very brief, lasting just a few minutes, but 1500 to 2000 Jacobite soldiers were killed while only 300 government soldiers (“red coats”) were killed.
The visitor centre has a very informative exhibit that details the events leading up to the battle. It was really very well done, wonderfully organized, expertly researched, and engagingly presented. The battlefield itself is a very somber walk. I spent about 45 minutes walking down the center of the moor and then back again down the southern path.
This walk allows you to view the memorial cairn that was erected in 1881, a tall pillar of stones stacked in a diameter of perhaps four meters in a column that stands six meters high. (Take these measurements with a grain of salt. I’m terrible at estimating these sorts of things.) You can also see headstones that were also erected in 1881, and they mark the locations of the mass graves of the clans. They also use tall flags to mark where the two opposing lines started, four blue flags for the Jacobites and four red flags for the government soldiers.
Visiting Culloden Battlefield was very informative and very somber. You learn a lot while you’re there (especially if you don’t know much about this history to begin with), and the scale of how many lives were lost in such a short amount of time is deeply upsetting which might make your visit slightly or somewhat trying.
Following Culloden, we made our way to Inverness. As I said, this had to be a day trip out of necessity, but I must say that were we to do this over again, we would definitely make sure to spend a good three days in Inverness to soak it all in. It’s an older city in the vein of Edinburgh, and it, too, has a castle towering over the cityscape. (Not as impressively as Edinburgh or Stirling, mind you, but how many cities can you name that have a castle towering over its cityscape?)
We only had time to view Inverness Cathedral (it was pretty cool; very ornate floor tiles), enjoy a small lunch at the cathedral’s cafe, walk along the River Ness, and do some shop window gazing along Bridge Street. As I said, we didn’t have much time, and I wish we did, because I think we would quite love Inverness had we had the time to really get to know it.
Our last stop for the day before we started to make our trek back south was Loch Ness. And oh my! What a treat it was to see Loch Ness! It’s long been a bucket list item for me to see Loch Ness, and we all found ourselves becoming quite excited to see it as we approached ever and ever nearer. When we finally did see it, how surreal it was!
I suggest you do what we did which was to take the A82 out of Inverness. It’s only a 15 mile drive or so, but you’ll eventually happen across the northern tip of the loch. The first roadside parking you see, grab a parking spot, make your way down a set of stairs, and enjoy the views of the loch from this northernmost edge right on its shores. It allows you to take in the sheer length of the loch while also seeing it from a classic vantage. Really, truly, remarkably a wonderful way to experience such an iconic landmark.
We then went to the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in Drumnadrochit. It was, er, fine. I think it’s more for children. The exhibit was, er, fine, I guess. A little dated, a little worn around the edges. The whole thing could do with an update. I can’t exactly recommend you visit the centre. I think it’s much more exciting to view the loch itself from the location I described and skip the exhibit all together, especially if you basically know the history of the monster: people supposedly seeing Nessie (in all likelihood, they didn’t actually see anything), how they faked all those photos, and how they use sonar and so forth to search the loch.
Alas, the day was running short, and we had to make our two hour trek to Braemar to our hotel. We got to drive through the Cairngorms a third time, and it was fantastic! As ever, the sheep! The mountains! The heather! The cows! The crazy roller-coaster roads! I just can’t stop thinking about the Cairngorms! They are just fantastic, and I highly recommend you spend the extra penny and drive through them yourself! Absolutely fantastic!
Our hotel for the next two nights is the Braemar Lodge Hotel, located right in the middle of the Cairngorms, and it is just lovely! The staff are super friendly, our evening meal was divine (I had a filo pastry filled with goat cheese and pineapple salsa, then a decadent sticky pudding, complete with two pints of crisp and golden beers by Cairngorm Brewery Conpany), the rooms cozy and comfy, and it’s all nestled in the middle of the gorgeous, gorgeous landscape of the Cairngorms.
1. Although I say it myself, I’m getting pretty good at driving on these ridiculous roads over here. A couple times in the Cairngorms, we went over some summits where you couldn’t immediately see the other side before you plunged down, just like a roller coaster, and it was quite exciting!
2. We’ve been on a mission to pet some sheep while we’re here, but so far, no luck. They’re very skittish animals, and they run away from humans in a dash.
3. I can’t believe it’s already been ten days of sheer bliss in Scotland. I’m starting to feel twinges of sadness that our time here is starting to come to a close, but we’ve still got three, full, glorious days before we head back home on Friday.