A Holiday in the Highlands – Part 1 City of the Highlands

Inverness 

There are only 7 cities in Scotland, 2 of them are in the highlands: Perth and Inverness. Recently we visited Inverness, which achieved its city status in 2000. Deemed the cultural capital of the highlands, we were informed that “Inver” means “mouth” and “ness” means “north”, so Inverness means mouth of the River Ness. 

Inverness Castle overlooks the River Ness. In the Medieval times it was destroyed by King Robert I aka Robert the Bruce, and later was supposedly the location of Duncan’s murder in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Unfortunately, the castle was closed when we visited.

Inverness is truly steeped in much history, myth, magic, wonder, and beauty. There was too much to write so I’ve divided our visit into three parts, and this is part one: City of the Highlands. 

Inverness is truly steeped in much history, myth, magic, wonder, and beauty. There was too much to write so I’ve divided our visit into three parts, and this is part one: City of the Highlands. 

 

Ness Walk

Just off the city centre of Inverness is the Ness Walk where you can walk along the River Ness. We saw Inverness Castle and waved at it as we continued walking up along the river towards the War Memorial at Cavell Gardens, named after nurse Edith Cavell who saved many lives in WW2. The flowers here were bright and colourful, it was quite peaceful too.

We walked onwards to Ness Islands, which had lots of trees to walk on or under. There were a fair few dogs here and it was very family friendly too. We then crossed to the west side of the river and saw a crazy golf course. As we continued walking along there was a small rocky beach.

Dogs were swimming in the river, people were skipping stones or sketching. It was so calm and peaceful here – utter bliss. Highly recommend this lovely walk. I loved the sound of the rushing water, it was so peaceful.

 

Leakey’s Secondhand Bookshop

Located in the old town area, this is Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop. There’s an open log fire in the middle, which I felt posed a bit of a fire risk, but it adds to the charm of the place.

There are some lovely old hardbacks upstairs and some paper backs on the ground floor. You can also find maps, non fiction, and old original prints. It was nice looking through all the shelves, you can really spend hours here if you love books.

 

Moray Firth

The River Ness flows into the Moray Firth, which is the largest firth in Scotland. You can hop on a tour boat and see bottlenose dolphins. Part of me wanted to go on a tour but we didn’t in the end. There are no guarantees of dolphin sightings, and though Moray Firth is considered the dolphins’ core habitat, they travel widely.

 

Cawdor Castle and Gardens

Cawdor Castle

We took a 30 minute taxi ride to Cawdor Castle and Gardens, which is just 14 miles north east of Inverness city centre. This was the only castle built over a tree. Legend states that the Thane of Cawdor wished to build a stronger tower. After a dream, he decided to build a castle wherever his donkey lay and the donkey rested under this very holly tree. By the 14th century, the tree had died.

In the 15th century, after the unexpected death of the 8th Thane of Cawdor, the still living 7th Thane of Cawdor tried to alter the line of succession to another son. He was unsuccessful and his granddaughter Muriel became the 9th Thaness of Cawdor. The infant Muriel was kidnapped, but prior to the kidnapping she was branded with a key and had her left little finger cut off – for future identification.

This reminded me of a character in Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, who also had her little finger cut offbut for different reasons. Of course Muriel ended up marrying into the family of her abductors, a Sir John Campbell, and this was how the Campbells were introduced to the Cawdor family and henceforth became known as the Campbells of Cawdor. 

As we rocked up I was impressed by the lush vibrant green grass. The castle is still lived in today. The Dowager Countess lives here in the winter when the castle is closed to the public. So the first bedroom in the tour is the very bedroom she sleeps in and uses in winter.

We followed the tartan carpet round the rooms, listening to the free audio guide. Quite a few tapestries on the walls were about Don Quixote, which was interesting. The bedrooms were massive and the living rooms had so much stuff in them.

The walls were also filled to the brim. One funny cartoon print on the wall was of Edgar Allen Poe which I enjoyed very much. I of course also noticed a painting of a dog in one of the very cosy living rooms. Queen Victoria had dognapped a friend’s dog to paint it as a gift for her and this was the very painting! How adorable. The rooms looked very cosy and I was mentally noting the interior positioning of furniture for maximum cosiness.

 

Flower Garden and Wild Garden

After a quick spot of lunch at the café, we walked over to one of the gardens. There was a passageway lined with arched branches, which I imagine would be amazing to walk through in the summer when the flowers are in bloom.

The grass was so bright and vibrant and lush. To see the castle peeping over the gardens was lovely. There were lots of pretty flowers too and I saw bumble bees for the first time in ages! It was raining when we visited, so I presume the bees were resting and getting some shelter.

There were some strange looking water features here that I had never seen before, such as a round fish squirting water into a trough. Unique, to say the least. There was also an odd tall sculpture. As we walked closer, I realised birds kept flying to it, taking water or bird feed. I thought it was nice that the garden was helping animals. Though I felt the quirky water features and very modern sculptures jarred with the historic cosiness of the castle. 

 

Maze and Paradise Garden

The garden on the other side of the castle appeared more traditional. There was a maze that the hubby wanted to go in, but when we visited it was closed to the public. There was a minotaur-looking bull in the maze’s centre looking towards the castle, which I thought was pretty cool.

There were interestingly shaped hedges in this garden and some impressive corridors lined with gnarly trees and tall hedges – really fun to walk through. All together an enjoyable trip to Cawdor Castle and Gardens, and really interesting visiting a castle that is still lived in and used to this very day. Definitely need a car or taxi to visit, as it is quite far away on public transport. 

 

Urquhart Castle

We took a 30 minute bus from the city centre to Urquhart Bay, near the village Drumnadrochit. Here lay the remains of Urquhart Castle, which was fought for between the Scottish and the English and between the Jacobites and the government army.

The Urquharts were Anglo Norman and in 1296, King Edward I of England aka Hammer of the Scots took the castle. Then King Robert I of Scotland aka Robert the Bruce took control of the castle in 1306. Not long after King Robert I’s death, Urquhart Castle was one of the few remaining castles holding out against the English.

Then came 150 years of struggle and control between the Macdonald Lords of the Isles and the Crown. When King James II and VII of England and Scotland went into exile and William and Mary jointly took the crown, Urquhart Castle was taken by the Catholic monarch-supporting Jacobites. By the late 17th century, the castle was too antiquated to serve as a noble residence and was abandoned, not to be attacked again. 

Although it is only a ruined castle, there was more to see here than I expected. The visitor centre inside is quite small but the shop was pretty decent, and the hubby got a small book about whisky. Outside there was a full sized working trebuchet and the castle was used as a filming location for the catapult scene in Robin Hood. 

As you walk towards the castle ruins you can see amazing views of Loch Ness. You are welcomed by friendly staff at the gate house, and there are many steps in various directions taking you to the remnants of the grant tower and citadel. There are spiral staircases leading up to ruined rooms, looking out into the deep loch. You can really imagine how the castle was back in the day. 

It was sunny when we visited, but still quite windy. Everywhere is paved with steps and bars prevent you from falling into the loch or over cliff edges so it is quite easy to walk around and see everything. Though it was not exactly disabled-friendly and bannisters might be helpful for those unsteady on their feet. Personally, I felt the wind was quite strong so I kept away from the edge!

 

Loch Ness

Instead of walking back towards the trebuchet we followed the path round to a rocky beach closeby, where the hubby touched Loch Ness. It was so peaceful here – and less windy. I love these small little rock beaches. We perched on a couple of large rocks, listening to the water lapping in and out, reflecting on our highland trip. It was pretty bliss.

Then ducks started following us – it was the closest I had been to a live duck. Nearby you can get hop on and off ferries or tours. They kept coming along and beeping, presumably to let people know they would be leaving soon. Definitely worth a visit to Loch Ness. It was so serene here. 

 

Food

Of course no visit would be worthwhile without a mention of the food. We had a quick brunch in a small place called Coffee Affair. These were probably the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever had, the hubby thought it was decent enough.

We had lovely classic meals in The Waterside restaurant along the River Ness on our first night. Lovely atmosphere and lighting, delicious food, and friendly staff. The only issue was that they were a little understaffed. We had haggis for the first time here. I thought it was ok; the hubby loved it.

The hubby wanted to try a lot of whisky on this trip. So I guess it wasn’t just coincidence that he wanted to visit Scotch and Rye restaurant, which has over 100 whiskies to try. The food was good – very American style. The staff were very friendly and helpful, suggesting various whiskies for the hubby. 

The Waterfront pub had good classic food. The hubby enjoyed the descriptions of whiskies to help him select drinks. He liked it so much that we ended up eating here twice due to the whisky flights they had. I would say their meat dishes were really delicious, but the seafood dishes weren’t as good. 

Other restaurants that were recommended to us but we didn’t manage to try out were: seafood restaurant Rocpool, Turkish restaurant La Le, and we heard good things about Johnny Foxes. Next time I’d like to try Rocpool. We were told that the mussels and scallops that you eat in the evening thought they would have a whole day ahead of them in the morning – that’s how fresh the seafood is there. 

 

Whiskies

We previously visited the whisky museum in Edinburgh, so for this trip to Inverness the hubby wanted to try a lot of whisky. And that is exactly what he did. 

The whiskies the hubby ended up liking were Dalmore (sweet and caramel-like), Highland Park (sweet, light, and vanilla-like), and Ledaig (very smokey). The hubby found it pleasantly surprising that every place in Inverness that served whisky served it neat, unlike down south – ice with everything. 

 

Conclusion

Inverness is very pretty and I absolutely loved the nature and fresh crisp air. But it’s true what people say: that Inverness as a city is quite small. You can definitely just visit the city in a few days, but it is a great place as a launching pad for day trips to various places. 

The restaurant and pub scene is pretty decent. And evidently there is plenty of whisky and haggis around. I’d say I wouldn’t mind coming back to Inverness. But I feel the magic is in the day trips, which I’ll write about for Part 2 and Part 3

2 thoughts on “A Holiday in the Highlands – Part 1 City of the Highlands

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s