Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Scotland Part 2 of 3

Another early start on the 2nd of Jan, back to the mainland, via Kylerhea, which has been used onscreen in a few movies/tv shows, including 'Made of Honour' from last year. Yet again it was mighty cold, and Kent still made me take my top two layers off... but he forgot about my earwarmers, so I look a bit of a duffer in the photo.
We passed by Eilean Donan Castle again, and then drove towards Inverness, along the shores of quite a few different lochs, including Loch Ness, where, despite us both being smart enough to know better, we looked a few times to try and spot Nessie... ridiculous! We visited Urquhart Castle, which sadly was blown up by soldiers leaving it in 1692 - so the Scots couldn't use it - but is on a site where there has been people living since before 580AD, and the current castle, or parts of it, have been around since the 12oos. It's quite beautiful, and in such a great location right beside Loch Ness.
We drove pretty quickly through Inverness - it seemed fairly dreary, with not a heck of a lot to do at this time of year, so we headed straight on to our accomodation, in another wigwam. The frost that night was bloody hard again, so much so that we had to hang on to each other when walking to the showers as even the dirt path was slippery. The next day was windy -the kind of wind that will slice you into a thousand pieces given the chance, so it was a bit like being back in Invercargill!
We went to the Culloden battle site - which sounds like it's just a field, but this is probably one of the highlights of the whole trip... it's the site of the last ever battle on British soil, and marked the end of Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite rebellion. It was after this that the English banned Clan colours, kilts, bagpipes etc. The visitor centre is amazing, definitely the best we've seen and was packed with information, and the battle field itself seems very well perserved, with markers of where each site was and headstones for the individual clans (about 1,500 highlanders and only 300 english were killed). From there we drove around the corner to the Clava Cairns, ancient burial mounds, which were quite eerie. There are a few of varying types and ages, but the oldest is from about 2000BC - just incredible to be on the ground that has been walked for so long. They're very cleverly designed too, with quartz on the opposite wall of the boulder mound doorway, angled to shine in the sun on the shortest day... and we think we're clever!
After marvelling over this and getting progressively colder, we got back in the car and drove to Fort George, which was pretty big and cool, for a bit of a look at some military history.
The next day dawned a bit bleak, and we hadn't seen any snow as yet, so we thought a drive up a mountain was in order to put an end to that. We headed to Aviemore, in the Cairngorm National Park, and then drove up Cairngorm Mountain while it was snowing quite heavily, to ride up the funicular railway to almost the top of the mountain. Visibility was shot, so I was slightly concerned that we wouldn't a) be able to see anything and b) be able to get back down... I was bang on with the former, but thankfully not with the latter. To be honest, I wouldn't really recommend this as there is very little up the top and the visitor centre is very preachy and not especially informative. To make up for it, we did a drive-by of another stone circle in Aviemore on the way back, but stayed in the car as it was less impressive than the ones we've seen previously (that's us, stone cirlce snobs!), but did drive through the pretty village of Carrbridge, to see the spindly old stone bridge - very nice, over a small river with heaps of snow and ice in it.
After a what felt like a cross country wild goose chase, we took in an ancient Pictish Fort site at Burghead (the Picts were the early people in Scotland, after Neolithic people, but before the Scots), which was little more than some earthworks, but Kent did unearth what we think might be an old iron key, which may or may not be proper old... I've decided it is, as it's cooler in a history-geek way.
We left Invernessshire the next day, and headed for the one bit of the trip that I had requested ages ago - a trip on the train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is used in the first Harry Potter movie as part of the route on the Hogwarts Express. It is breathtaking in the movie, but in reality it's just soooooooo much better, I don't think words will really do it justice. Whilst I took in the sights on the train, Kent drove along and then climbed halfway up a mountain to take a photo of the train as it crossed the viaduct... such dedication! We met up in Arisaig, a sleepy little fishing village around the corner from Mallaig, and made our way to Oban, stopping off at a couple of monuments - the Prince's Cairn, where Bonnie Prince Charlie often sailed to Europe from, and the Prince Charles Edward Stuart Tower, both of which were set in some of the most stunning scenery. We stayed in a backpackers in Oban that night, ready for our 6am ferry crossing to the Isle of Tiree the next day...

Last installment on the way.
K & E x

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