Tam's Tales
- Tam Goes North

Highland Scenery

Now that Spring has arrived after a particularly tough winter, I thought a little self-indulgence was in order and that a brief expedition to the Highlands would fill the bill.

First stop was Inverness - the capital of the Highlands and a new experience for me. There is an irony here, as when I was growing up we used to spend most summer holidays at Boat of Garten, which is a small village near Aviemore, about 20 miles from Inverness. But Inverness did not figure in these holidays which included golf, tennis, picnics at Loch Garten and sometimes a precious glimpse of the ospreys which nested in the forest next to the loch.

For my money, Inverness is one of the most interesting of Scotland's towns and cities. The River Ness runs through the town and adds a particular charm. I like cities that are bisected by rivers. Having a river run next to Main Street adds a certain quality and Dublin and Paris are favourites. Not only do they have rivers, they are completely central and easily crossed by foot. There are other examples such as Glasgow, Prague and London.

One thing that I had forgotten was how delightful the Inverness accent can be. Its soft rolling burrs make it very easy on the ear and it is sometimes said that it is the most popular of British regional accents.

Culture and Window Shopping

The afternoon was spent walking round the town and exploring some of the shops, including the charming Victorian Market. This has a range of quirky wee shops and cafes and I thought it had great style.

A trip up to Inverness Castle, which is now used as a court house was interesting and I admired the statue of Flora MacDonald. The castle commands an imposing view looking down on the town and the Ness and there has been a structure on the site since the 12th century. The present building dates from 1834, the previous building having been destroyed by Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Jacobite troops in 1746.

On the way down from the castle I toured the Museum. It had an excellent display showing the geology of the Highlands and how the various mountain ranges were formed. There were also a number of exhibits from the 19th and 20th centuries with an expected emphasis on Highland dress and music.

My favourite artefact was the Achavrail armlet dating from about 200 A.D. It is amazing, and rather wonderful, that this solid chunk of exquisitely crafted bronze has survived 1800 years in such good condition.. The armlet was found by a crofter in 1901. The man, who had been ploughing, nearly threw it away but fortunately it found its way to the museum, where it has been since 1987. I am always amazed to see the quality of this type of work which was produced about 1500 years before the industrial revolution. The tin used in the alloy would probably have been mined in Cornwall at the extreme southern tip of England, some 700 miles away

Urquhart Castle

The following day I took a bus to Urquhart Castle passing the splendidly named village of Drumnadrochit. The castle, which enjoys one of the most spectacular locations in this part of the world, presides over Loch Ness. It was largely blown up in 1692 but its location gives it lasting appeal and the adjoining visitor centre is worth a visit, although the film presentation was out of commission on the day of my visit.

A Good Trip
The journey home to Edinburgh was via a bus trip through spectacular scenery to Fort William, where I boarded a south bound train, which also afforded some gorgeous views of the Highland scenery. I was lucky. The weather was cloudy but with little rain. My trip was at the end of March and many prices were increased from the beginning of April. It was also pretty quiet. There was only a smattering of tourists at the castle and I saw hardly any at all in Inverness.

Having not been in Invernessshire for some years I was impressed at various improvements in the experience for visitors. The Bed & Breakfast I used was absolutely faultless. Despite its reasonable cost, the furnishings were new, the bed was comfortable and the breakfast was delicious. Top marks to the Moyness House, which is located about ten minutes walk from the river Ness.

The previous evening I had enjoyed a meal at the Mustard Seed, a lovely restaurant picturesquely located next to the river. I was amazed that in these straitened times the restaurant was full, even on a Wednesday evening, when few restaurants in Edinburgh or Glasgow would have had half as many customers. This is down to its combination of good food at a fair price combined with a great location and friendly and efficient service - recommended.

Part of the reason for going on this trip was to assess the sort of experience that a visitor to Scotland might get. In the past, I have felt that tourists in Scotland might get a pretty ropey experience, staying in accommodation with nylon sheets and eating expensive, but rather mediocre food. I think things have improved a lot, if my experience is anything to go by. Both food and accommodation was very good indeed.

The train back from Fort William to Edinburgh, via Glasgow, was not anything to write home about, however. Its carriages were rather down at heel and the train seemed better suited to a commuter route than long distance travel. Overall, I had a great little break and was heartened that visitors to Scotland can get a good blend of experiences for reasonable costs.

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Tam O'Ranter
April 2011

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