Clava Cairns and Culloden Field
Breakfast at Castle Stuart (Sunday, June 8th) was another special occasion. There was enough food on hand to feed both of the armies of Culloden, and only four of us on hand to eat it. We were served the best porridge that we’d had yet, in Scotland. (I think the secret is to use cream instead of milk.) There was a buffet table set up, with the usual eggs, sausage, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms, and they also offered us pancakes and pastries. There was lots of tea and coffee, and cream for the coffee, which we hadn’t always been lucky enough to encounter on previous breakfasts.
We said our goodbyes to Caroline, and then we were off. Our agenda included visiting the Clava Cairns and touring the site of the battle of Culloden, Drumossie Moor. Both of these were a short 10 minutes or so from the castle, and our lodging for the evening was in Inverness, so were feeling relaxed and unhurried.
We found the Clava Cairns with no trouble. There is a great mystery around the cairns. They are apparently older than the pyramids of Egypt. It is assumed that the large piles of rocks are meant to be burial mounds; also, scattered throughout the area are a myriad of standing stones. Not as big and majestic as Stonehenge, but pretty impressive nonetheless.
On a side note, for any of you “Outlander” fans who may be reading this, yes, it was at the Clava Cairns that Claire Randall innocently leaned on a stone and fell into history (literally), straight into the path of her one true love, Jamie Fraser. Reality at the Cairns was somewhat less romantic. The tour bus full of laughing and chattering vacationers kind of ruined the moment for me. And anyway, after a night spent under the blankets hiding from ghosts, I wasn’t really in the mood for any funny business with the rocks.
We left the Cairns and drove the short distance to the moor and Culloden Field. If you don’t know your Scottish history, the main thing to know about the battle of Culloden is that the Jacobite supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie lost the battle, and there was a great backlash in the Highlands, with the British troops eradicating the clan culture that had persisted in the Scotland for centuries. The tartan was outlawed, as were the bagpipes, and all men were required to give up their weapons. A way of life that had existed in the Highlands for centuries was completely erased in the course of about one hour.
There is a great visitor’s center at the site of the battle. We signed up for the guided tour of the field, and had some time before it started, so we took the time to walk through the center and examine the exhibits. My favorite was a video explanation of the battle from a “bird’s eye view”, that was shown on a large table-like screen, about the size of 2 ping-pong tables. The video explained troop movements and showed the progression of the battle.
The tour was actually very well done. Our guide was dressed in period clothing, and had a great knowledge of the events leading up to the battle, and the battle itself. The tour lasted about an hour. He took us around the field, explaining to us at each stop what would have transpired there in April of 1746. By the time the tour was over, we had a greater respect for the men who fought and died there, against such sorry odds. (And a great disgust for the leaders who sacrificed them.)
It was early afternoon when we left the battlefield. We still had plenty of daylight hours left, considering the fact that in the “Highland Summer” the sun doesn’t set until somewhere around 10:30 pm.
We headed to Inverness to check in to our lodging for the next couple of nights, the Bunchrew House.
The Bunchrew House is over 400 years old. The house itself is in a beautiful setting, with the Beauly Firth behind it. The Black Isle is to the north and Inverness to the east. We were staying here for 2 nights. If we had been staying longer, this house would have been the perfect base from which to explore the Highlands. Not as dramatic as Castle Stuart, but more realistic for an extended stay.
We were met by Peter, our host, butler and bartender for the next 2 days. Once again, upon seeing our room, I was convinced that Clans and Castles had arranged for us to have the best room in the house. We were not overlooking the firth, but we had a beautiful room that looked out onto the front garden. One thing that we enjoyed about Bunchrew House was the fact that it had a little bar in the lobby area, for guests. We appreciated the fact that we could relax in the evenings with a pint of ale or a dram of single malt. Speaking of which, Peter introduced me to my new favorite single malt, Bruichladdie (go with the 15 year variety).
After getting situated at Bunchrew House, we decided to go for a drive out on to the Black Isle, to look for seals and dolphins. Our host back at Ethie Castle, Yvonne, had told us that the Black Isle, especially right across from Fort George, was a good place for seal spotting. I really wanted to see them if we could, so we drove across the water to the Black Isle.
The Black Isle is actually not an island at all, but an out cropping of land that juts out with the Beauly and Moray Firths to the south, and the Cromarty Firth to the north. The western edge is connected to the mainland, between Beauly and Dingwall. Our destination was the village of Rosemarkie, which is situated directly across the firth from Fort George. The drive along the A832 was a contrast of hills and water. We saw many marinas along the way, and boats floating out in the firth. The villages along the A832 all looked like places that we’d like to live in – small and quaint, and situated on the water. Of course we were seeing this in the summertime; the winters might be a different story altogether.
We reached Rosemarkie and found a crowd of locals out enjoying the day, and apparently also looking for seals and dolphins. Some folks had been there all day, with their cameras and tripods set up in the sand along the edge of the firth. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any seals, but these guys were having a good time:
Soon we decided to head back to Inverness and do a little exploring. Since leaving Edinburgh, Inverness was the next biggest city that we’d encountered so far. (Not counting Dundee, which we’d only briefly driven through.) We were a little worried about losing our way, but we navigated toward the center of town, and didn’t have any trouble.
Inverness has one gigantic claim to fame: Loch Ness. The Loch flows through the center of town, and beyond. Standing on the bridge that night, we did look for Nessie, but honestly, there was no sign of a monster of any kind. And I did try to see her (or him). On the whole, I thought that Inverness was a really nice town, especially the walk along the Loch. We ate at a local pub, and walked around for a bit. Most of the shops were closed, so we decided to go back to Bunchrew House and relax with our beverages of choice. Turns out, we were just in time for a spectacular sunset.
The sweet smelling Highland air lulled us to sleep.
There were no ghosts here.
Day 6 had ended.