My last UK trip away from London was a weekend jaunt to the Scottish Highlands. One of my guests had his heart set on seeing Loch Ness, and I was only too happy to accompany him there.
We got more than I had expected, in the way of sight-seeing and scenery-appreciating opportunities, in spite of the fact that the short November days (at a higher latitude than I'd ever been to, outside of our trip to Alaska) limited our touring time. And also in spite of the fact that we didn't venture much more than 50 miles from Inverness (Inbhir Nis in Scots Gaelic). Lots to do and see packed into that small amount of real estate! Here are my two blog posts that cover what we saw: Scenery • History. And you can see many more of the photos I took in these Flickr sets: History • Scenery. If you want to follow along geographically with our ramblings, here's a map:
View a larger version of my Scottish Highlands map here.
For a special treat, watch this slide-show that Steve made of his U.K. adventures. About half-way through you can see video of me dipping my fingers in Loch Ness! There are some other locations featured in the show, but the majority of its two-minute running time is of the Highlands.
Of course the main attraction of the area is the Loch itself, and it's a very impressive and lovely body of water and very large and deep, containing more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. No Nessie sightings, however, although we toured a little museum near our hotel that had the requisite cheesy stuff but also a good bit of interesting information on the history of the whole phenomenon. Here's the sign to the museum, and another view out the front of our cozy and quite satisfactory hotel, named for the little town in which it's situated, the Drumnadrochit Hotel.
You'll be able to get an idea of the size of the Loch from these photos, and something of an idea of its beautiful setting, although you'll also see what sort of weather we had to deal with, the kind that kept us from getting good panoramic views. However, given the time of the year, we were thankful the weather wasn't worse. Driving on the wrong side of narrow roads was hard enough without ice and snow to deal with!
In addition to the Loch itself, there are all kinds of great scenery in the area, and plenty of trails to allow you to experience it. We took our first little hike before we even got to Drumnadrochit, in the lovely forest of Glen Affric—a short (an unfortunately rather damp) walk to Dog Falls. Here are a couple of shots of the falls, and one of the autumn trees along the river and the trail.
The next day, we took a drive around the Loch, and came across a trail to the lovely Falls of Foyers. Here are views of the falls, a panorama from the trail, and the well-maintained trail itself. The region is obviously a tourist-friendly zone, given the notoriety of the Loch, but since we were visiting in late fall, we had such sights as these pretty much to ourselves. I imagine in the summer the area would be crammed with hikers and others, not only hoping to catch a glimpse of Nessie, but wanting to enjoy the beautiful countryside.
Moving on from scenic highlights to historical ones, we were keen to explore the Culloden Battlefield site (once we realized where it was—just outside of Inverness—and were able to find our way there despite incomplete signage from the highway). It's a site of great significance in the long, and previously mostly unhappy, relationship between Scotland and England, as well as in Scotland's own internally bloody past. (The name in Scottish Gaelic is Cùil Lodair.) And its very well-designed new visitors' center explains this in rich and fascinating detail. You can learn as much, if not more, than we did, by perusing the National Trust for Scotland website linked above. Again, we had this prime tourist site almost entirely to ourselves, the emptiness of the moors lending to the tragic atmosphere of the site as we trod the battlefield. Here are some shots of the field: one with one of the marker flags that notes the position of some of the combatants, and another showing the path leading back to the (fortunately nice and warm) museum.
And here's more, one showing the memorial cairn from afar and one from closeup:
Not far from the Battlefield is another fascinating site, this one reaching much further back into Scottish history, or, actually, pre-history. We have Rick Steves to thank for alerting us to this out-of-the-way attraction: the Clava Cairns at Balnuaran. These simple and mysteriously beautiful stoneworks were fascinating to walk among, both the circular memorials? altars? shelters? and the ringed standing stones that surround the site (and made it seem like an Avebury in miniature).
Back at the Loch, Scottish history was still in full view. Just a bit southwest of Drumnadrochit is Urquart Castle, a picturesque ruin on the shores of the Loch. We didn't have time for a tour of the site, but took some photos and soaked in the romantic atmosphere before heading back to Inverness for the flight home.
All too soon our highland sojourn had to end, and we boarded our cute little FlyBe plane (decorated with former Southhampton footballer Matt Le Tissier's image, for some reason!) and headed back south to London. My appetite for the Highlands was far from satiated, however, and I hope to see more of it on a future trip.
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