Monday, May 21, 2018

A Day on Loch Ness! Urquart Castle, A Boat, A Canal and ... Nessie?

O Caledonia! Stern and wild, 
Meet nurse for a poetic child! 
Land of brown heath 
and shaggy wood, 
Land of the mountain and the flood, 
Land of my sires! 
What mortal hand 
Can e’er untie the filial band 
That knits me to thy rugged strand! 

~anonymous, translated from Gaelic

Our first full day in Inverness was not really in Inverness. We woke up in the morning, ate breakfast at our cute AirBnB, and went out into the rain to find Drumnadrochit! This interestingly named town was a short drive to the west on Loch Ness where we'd take our boat tour of the beautiful and mysterious lake.

My travel journal...

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Before ever leaving for Scotland, I did my research and found the best "tour" for us and purchased our tickets. I wasn't interested in a long tour that would stop at Urquart Castle, I wanted the freedom to do that on our own. What I wanted was to be out on the lake and at some point have a view of the castle from the water.

The company (Jacobite Tours) had several different excursions and you chose the boat you prefer. I didn't want the big modern boat. I wanted a more vintage and groovy boat so I chose the Jacobite Queen. (see below)

I couldn't find a boat ride without commentary, worrying that there would be a lot of cheesy talk of a  certain monster with incessant rambling, but our guide was great. He gave information, anecdotes and all with a "tongue in cheek" sense of humor. He was a true Scot, a great storyteller with a witty, hilarious sense of humor. I should have written down his name!

Heading out onto the Loch ...

There was a little snack bar below. We discovered something called a "Highland Hot Chocolate." It might be specific to this tour company but lets just say that it's surprising how whisky can cut the sugary nature of hot chocolate and turn it into a rather pleasant warming adult beverage. Thumbs up on the Highland Hot Chocolate.

It had been raining in Inverness and drizzling at the dock in Drumnadrochit but out on the lake it was a lovely mix of Scottish weather with painterly clouds and the lovely deep waters of Loch Ness! It's so large and so deep it is said that you could fit the entire world population inside it! While I'm not so sure that is true, it has the second largest surface area, 22 square miles, next to Loch Lomond. This is due to it's depth and being the largest body of water by volume in the British Isles. In fact, it holds more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.

Happy to be on the water!

This was definitely a hat trip. The cozy knit hat above, is one of the 3 hats I ended up with from Scotland and I still ended up getting a hat in Italy! I really did need this one. Tip for Scotland - have a hat that covers your ears for hiking and being on the water!

Sadly, I think we were in Scotland at the wrong time of year to see the puffins, but this was one great "No Smoking" sign!

Coming up to the Castle! The Scottish flag is pointing to it in the distance!

Urquhart Castle!

I took endless photos of the castle and did a quick scribble of the view toward the bow of the boat heading back to Drumnadrochit. 

Right by the dock there was the cutest little cottage! 

Their garden was so lovely, it made me want an outdoor space so badly! It really was the epitome of charm!

Can you see the bumblebee, below?

The purple flowers reminded me of Dr. Seuss! So whimsical!

Our guide on the boat recommended this cafe.

Cafe Eighty2
on the A82

It really was darling but there was a long wait to get a table, then it took quite a while to have our order taken and get our food. Cute place but be wary if you are in a hurry or have plans. Like I said, it was busy midday and took a while.

I got the pear and walnut frittata with blu cheese.

My mom ordered egg on toast but my dad had the order of the day. He got something more simple but it was the best. Smoked Salmon and Scrambled eggs. I wished I'd ordered it after he was sweet enough to give me a bite!

Another place in Scotland chocked full of charm!

Looking out from the cafe parking lot. 

We were going to head south to the Clan Cameron museum but there was traffic along the west side of Loch Ness and we ended up turning around knowing we'd never make it in time before the little museum closed.

We decided to go back and check out the Caladonian Canal at Fort Augustus. It is at the Southern tip of Loch Ness.

Fort Augustus

My dad, in his happy place below, standing on the canal bridge and enjoying the view of another engineering feat!

Loved seeing people out recreating on the canal! Can you see the row boats and rafts below?

Fort Augustus is tiny but very cute and had some wonderful little shops. We bought a beautiful red shawl for my sister in one of them!

After that we headed to Urquhart Castle! We realized we'd taken so long with lunch, driving south and then stopping in Fort Augustus, that we had very little time before the closing of the castle. On the up side it was a beautiful time of day!

Urquhart Castle
Present ruins from 13th - 16th Century
In use until 1692

Urquhart, at one time, was in the hands of Clan Grant so I definitely wanted to make it there for a visit.

We'd already visited the Scottish Borders where my Great Great Granfather's family had originated before coming to the States, but his wife Anna Whitney's family originated in the Highlands! Looking back at our ancestors on her line, it was filled with Grants and Camerons!

My dad has Grants in his family tree as well!

The light was so beautiful on the castle ruins! 

In the following photo, a bird looks to be flying over Grant Tower. Obviously, the bird is closer to us or it would be the size of a Pterodactyl.

It is well worth climbing the stairs of Grant Tower to enjoy the spectacular view! 

My parents heading up the tower! So cute. I love this photo of them!

"The present ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, though built on the site of an early medieval fortification. Founded in the 13th century, Urquhart played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. It was subsequently held as a royal castle, and was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald Earls of Ross
The castle was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509, though conflict with the MacDonalds continued. Despite a series of further raids the castle was strengthened, only to be largely abandoned by the middle of the 17th century. 
Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces, and subsequently decayed. In the 20th century it was placed in state care as a scheduled monument and opened to the public: it is now one of the most-visited castles in Scotland."
~ from Wikipedia 

I liked this illustration they had on the grounds to show life in the castle back when it was in use!

It seems a bit of a windy life up there for a spider but I suppose you can't beat the view!

"St Columba may have visited around AD 580. Adomnan, his biographer, tells of the saint’s encounter with a monster in the loch." ~from Historic Environment Scotland

A prison cell ...

The Grants blew up the tower to prevent its use by the Jacobites.

This was another place that our Explorer Pass gave us entry. 

Below is a big catapult. I'm pretty sure it is a replica of the type that was used.

The light was becoming more and more beautiful so we took a little detour along the A831 for a few miles...

We found a little dirt road and drove out into this beautiful little valley! Fortunately, we did not lose a tire! We hopped out of the car and took a few photos.

I got a little obsessed with taking photos of Scottish thistles!

Everywhere you looked there was another gorgeous view! Back on the main road, I took this photo out the front windshield...

Back in to lovely Inverness ...

OH... and how could I forget? We met a new friend on Loch Ness!

Everyone loves Nessie!!! She was first spotted in 565 AD when she gobbled up a farmer and was forced back into the Loch by Saint Columba! She must have mellowed since then. It's amazing how many documentaries have been made about her! ;-)

Here's a lovely quick video of the castle from above from YouTube!


Next up ... heading east to the Cairngorms and Speyside!

Blessings and Light!