Inverness and everything in between

It’s 7.05pm here and it feels about 4 hours later. We have had another really full day and we’re all exhausted (in a good way). We were up and breakfasted and on the bus by 9am. We just did a day trip and are staying the night at Morag’s Lodge tonight as well. We drove up one side of Loch Ness to Inverness and back down the other side back to the hostel. Our first stop was a little town called Invermoriston (we learned today that ‘inver’ means ‘at the mouth of the river’. Hence, Invermoriston is at the mouth of the river Moriston, and Inverness is at the mouth of the river Ness). At Invermoriston we took photos with some resident hairy coos (Highland cattle, officially the greatest looking animals ever) and went for a wee walk down to some waterfalls. After this we had two short stops, one to take pics of Urquhart Castle and one a bit further down the road to go to a ‘Nessie’ gift shop, full of the cheesiest Loch Ness souvenirs you can imagine, and to see a big purple sculpture of Nessie on the bank. We also did an ancient and mystical ritual to summon the monster from the deep, that involved slapping our knees, pelvic-thrusting, and shouting stupidly. It was lots of fun. After this we drove to the Culloden Battlefield, the site of a terrible and bloody battle between the Jacobites and the English government that pretty much wiped out the Highlander clans. Despite the fact we were uncomfortably cold, this was an interesting place to walk around. It is essentially a mass grave, and monuments have been erected in the centuries since so it remains a place of solemnity. In nicer weather, I would like to walk further around here. After this, we drove to the Clava cairns, which are man-made burial chambers of stone that date back 4000 years. The architecture of these is mind-blowing; people 4000 years ago were able to make a structure that has never collapsed, perfectly in line for the winter solstice. Amazing. (Oh! Oh! And I saw a wild deer today. I also saw some on the way from Munich to Italy, but this one was much closer, bounding up a little hill.) Our final stop before Inverness was a clootie well, which is basically a well that’s been around for centuries, believed to have healing properties. They were often near a church and thought to contain holy water. People would take a piece of cloth or clothing from the sick person, dip it in the well, and tie it to a nearby tree. As the cloth disintegrated, it was believed the illness too, would fade away. As a result, the forest surrounding this clootie well was FILLED with pieces of cloth. It looked fantastic, all full of colours, but it was really freaky, standing in the middle of a forest full of sick people’s clothing. After this, we popped into Inverness for a leisurely and extremely filling lunch, before coming back down the other side of Loch Ness to the hostel. We only stopped once to take some quick photos because the wind had gotten a bit cold. We had chilli for dinner at the hostel and tonight will be treated to the smooth tunes of Donald from Skye, who is known round these parts as the human iPod. He has a harmonica, a guitar, a tambourine on one foot, and a microphone to use as a bass drum on the other foot and apparently does roaring renditions of such classics as ‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna, ‘Sex on Fire’ by Kings of Leon and ‘Donald, where are your Troosers?’ by Andy Stewart. Sweet!

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Haggis and whiskey

This morning began early, but I was impressed at how fast Sean and I got up, dressed and ready. We met our Haggis Tour up the street, checked in and were on the road before 9am. We have one guide/driver, along with a trainee guide and two even babier trainee guides. Our first stop was the Firth of Forth near Fife, and the enormous Forth Bridge. Next was Dunkeld, with it’s beautiful cathedral and tasty bakery. We drove about a minute down the road and went ‘for a wee stomp’ down to The Hermitage walk and waterfalls, which was quite picturesque and peaceful. Next was a quick stop in the town of Pitlochry, where I got ice-cream despite the weather. And I found a Christmas shop for Mum to visit! After this we went on a 45 minute tour of the Blair Athol whiskey distillery, taken by a really friendly guy who explained to us in detail about the process of making whiskey. And we saw otter footprints in the river of spring water! Afterwards we were treated to a complimentary ‘wee dram’ of 12-year-old Blair Athol single malt whiskey and it was incredibly fiery but smooth.
Then we drove to another picturesque walking trail Strathmashie Forest. It looks like Sherwood Forest (or, how I imagine Sherwood Forest to look) and is really lovely. The whole day on the coach we either had music playing, or one of the guides telling us about some Scottish culture and history. We stopped by Loch Laggan, where they film ‘Monarch of the Glen’ and drove to the Commando Memorial for soldiers who died in the war and where you can see Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain. After this we drove to Fort Augustus, our home for the next two nights on the banks of Loch Ness!! Too exciting! We were dropped at the Clansmans Centre, where our host, Ken, taught us about the history of the Scottish clans and the way they lived and battled. And dressed. We were seated in a hut (I’ve forgotten the word for it) about 7 metres by 3 metres. Often there would be around 20 people living in it, plus livestock during the night. It had a dirt floor and a roof that leaked when it rained and about a million other disgustingly unhygienic features that would have made life quite a bit more difficult than it is today. Ken took us through a detailed lesson in how to wear a kilt using my ever-patient (and de-trousered) boyfriend who modelled it for us. A girl in our group also modelled the women’s outfit and they looked extremely dashing. We were told after that the exact costumed worn by Sean and this other girl were worn by Mel Gibson, Guy Ritchie and Madonna. Wooo. Ken then gave us a particularly terrifying and gruesome lesson on weapons, using actual antiques that had been used in battle and killed people. Freaky stuff. These weapons are extremely heavy, but the people who used them would have been much fitter and stronger than us, having been used to a life of hard labour since they were children.
After our clan lesson, we walked to Morag’s Lodge, our hostel. We had Balmoral Chicken for dinner, which was Queen Victoria’s favourite dish. It is chicken stuffed with haggis in whiskey sauce with tatties (potatoes) and vegies. It was so good. I can’t believe I am saying this about haggis, but it really tasted nice. It tasted like slightly spicy mincemeat, and I would definitely have it again. After dinner there was a very long and involved pub quiz that involved lots of music and antics and Sean taking his top off, which means the tour has pretty much seen all of him before the end of the first day. We’re leaving early for Inverness tomorrow, so I’m off to bed now!