Inverness – May 2017

Inverness – May 2017

Inverness Take Two…

Armed with our bags full of teabags (essential) and sweets (even more essential) we set of for our second trip to Inverness, Scotland. I decided when my Gran passed away in March 2016 that I would make sure I visited somewhere she loved and had often spoke fondly of before the year was out. This meant talking Nathan into a trip to Scotland – renowned for its constant raining and the awful sound of bagpipes! Luckily Nathan was up for the adventure and we visited Inverness in October 2016. After having a great few days there, we came home and almost immediately booked some more cheap flights back for May 2017. We gathered the weather would be nicer by then (we should have known better) and we would have another exciting Scottish adventure, catching up on all the things we had missed the first time around…

No Cheddar in Cheddar…

Cornwall to Inverness is over 11 hours and 680 miles by car; clearly that wasn’t going to entice us to the highlands so we bagged flights from Bristol Airport which is only a couple of hours drive and then a short flight to Inverness. Flights from Bristol are as cheap as £30 if booked in advance – you can’t really argue with that! We found that the cheapest flights meant departing Bristol at 7am – we didn’t fancy an early hours drive to the airport to then have to find somewhere to pay to park the car for five days so decided a B7B that offered parking and transfers to the airport would be ideal (ideal wouldn’t quite turn out to be quite the word).

So we set of with Nathan in charge of the wheel to Bristol. We thought we would take a leisurely drive up and stop off at Cheddar Gorge en route. After a couple of hours driving and Nathan mastering the motorway we arrived in Cheddar. What a cute looking town; we parked up (for free, yay) and walked past the rows of ice cream and cheese shops to the entrance to the attraction of Cheddar Gorge. It appeared it would cost us £19.95 each to get in; something we weren’t prepared to pay for given it was later afternoon and everything would be closing in a few ours – we didn’t feel we could do the entrance fee justice. Instead we carried on walking, mostly uphill, following the road sweeping around the cliff tops, ignoring all the signs warning us that “rocks from the cliff face might fall at any time”. After a good half an hour of walking and the road getting steeper and steeper, we stopped and thought – what if there isn’t actually anything at the end of this road – no view of the gorge or beautiful landscape? We decided to walk back down (which was much quicker than the way up) and get our first ice cream of the holiday. Whilst eating our double scoops we contemplated driving up the big uphill windy road as Nathan thought it would be “a cool road to drive up”. This is exactly what we did, to find that the road did in fact lead nowhere really and didn’t take us to a stunning view of the gorge as hoped – I was bloody glad we hadn’t carried on walking! We didn’t even try any cheddar either!

             

We punched in the postcode for the Bristol Airport B&B we had found and arrived within half an hour. We were greeted by Geoff the host of Stoneleigh B&B and sought out a local pub to go to for dinner. The Prince of Waterloo was our second choice pub of the evening (the first being fully booked for tables) but was adequate in providing us with some good pub grub and Nathan’s first experience of watching an infamous Morris Men performance outside of the pub. Home to Stoneleigh for an interesting and rather itchy sleepless night…

To Inverness and beyond…

Nothing beats the horrible dread of hearing your alarm waking you up before realising you are up so early because you are going on holiday. I am notoriously bad at getting up in the morning (I roll out of bed at 8.20am for a 9am start at work most days) but was able to rise and shine ahead of our flight to Inverness and some Scottish adventures that laid ahead.

We were taken to the airport but the owner of the B&B who handed us a paper bag with our packed up breakfast / lunch in. It always amazes me how busy airports are during the early hours and how theirs an odd buzz of excitement in the air. The plan to Inverness was without adventure and we landed safely a little past 8am set for a day of exploring the city.

Belted up in our hire car – a Vauxhall Corsa – we first headed for a cruise with Jacobite. You park at the Clansman Hotel, which is opposite the departure port for the boat, for free (you do have to dodge a round a few coaches and a hoard of oblivious tourists). We arrived just as a boat was leaving and so booked for the next available tour (they run hourly). We decided to talk a walk along the shore of Loch Ness and found a seat on a big rock and watched the gentle waves.

                                    

Jacobite offers a few different cruises varying in length and ranging in price. We went for the ‘Inspiration Cruise’ which allowed us a round trip on the Loch Ness with views of the Loch and Urquhart Castle.  We were one of the first in the queue which enabled us to choose front seats on the upper deck of boat. We enjoyed great views of the Loch and I enjoyed the commentary that tells you all about what you can see and various tales of the Loch Ness Monster (Nathan zoned it out and listened to none of it – think the bagpipes at the beginning put him off!). We cruised to Urquhart Castle where lots of people got off and then others got on, we were able to get good sightings of it and after seeing it was mostly ruins were glad we hadn’t paid extra on the boat to see it plus the entry fee at the castle. We cruised back with it being slightly windy on the return journey!

 

Golf, gardens and grins…

If there’s one past time Nathan and I love it’s playing crazy golf! It’s such a simple activity yet you’d be surprised how much competition it can unleash between us – especially when there are ice creams at stake! The owners of this 12 hole course were super friendly and as it was quiet they said we could spend as much time on the course as we wanted so we went round twice.  As agreed the loser buys the ice creams although sadly that was me!

             

We ate our ice creams by the River Ness and then made our way to the Inverness Botanic Gardens. We mooched around these for a bit – lots of different followers to look at, but they were a bit smaller than I had imagined and maybe a tad disappointing given they are ranked so highly on Trip advisor for things to do in Inverness. Although they are free thought so really we shouldn’t moan.

      

We then thought it was about time to head to our first accommodation stop – to the castle!!

Staying in a Castle (well the Courtyard)…

We made it to Foulis Castle (albeit after me having to get out the car to open the railway crossing gates en route – much to Nathan’s amusement). What a beautiful place to stop for our first night and a lovely friendly owner too. The Courtyard is a stunning little holiday place – it had everything we needed and more and we enjoyed an evening stroll around the Castle’s grounds dreaming of what it would be like if we owned a place like this. The shower has to be mentioned for this place – it was the fanciest shower I’ve ever had – lights, music, jets and more. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent so long in the bathroom. Burgers for tea then a chill and bed.

                                                                              

Falls and dolphins…

We awoke after a comfy and full night’s sleep excited for the days adventures. First stop was Falls of Foyers – a 140 foot waterfall situated on the River Foyers which leads into Loch Ness. There’s free parking and an easily navigated steep path down to two viewing platforms overlooking the falls. We were there at a time when few others were and it felt like we could privately explore the views and take pictures privately. Nathan wasn’t too keen on getting too close to the edge and seemed to test the strength of the fences before getting any closer!

                                                                        

We made our way back to the car park and realised the time – we needed to get to Eco Ventures and it was a longer journey that flipping Google maps had originally thought. We raced across the highland roads and got to Cromarty for the Eco ventures trip just in time. We had a safety and information briefing from Sarah the boats skipper and were warned that we might not see any wildlife today – I was really hoping we would having come back to Inverness for this tour! We got kitted out in the huge waterproof trousers and jackets and put on our life jackets and goggle glasses – what a funny sight we all looked – I’m glad there wasn’t a mirror. Somehow Nathan and I ended up on the front seats of the RIB boat – something I think we later partially regretted. We sailed out onto the Cromarty firth and then picked up speed out to sea. It wasn’t too long before we spotted a pod of dolphins swimming along nearby – what a sight – I’ve waited years to see dolphins in the wild! They are my favourite animals and it really took my breath away to see them in their natural habitat and so close to the boat – it even made me stop feeling sea sick which was a bonus! We left the dolphins after while following and watching them as they began to feed, we turned to face the shoreline and saw an array of sea birds chilling on the shore. We stopped the boat and had hot chocolate and biscuits (well Nathan did, my sea sickness had returned). We had been out on the water nearly two hours and so returned to pass the oil rigs and catch a final glimpse of our elegant water friends before returning to the harbour to dock the boat. Needless to say given the wind, rain and the high speeds out of the water we were soaked! But happy, and I guess that’s all that matters!

      

(these pics are horrendous but they are the only ones we took!)

Given how wet and windswept we were and how the weather has turned quite miserable we thought it best to head to our second accommodation stop – and what a beauty it was.

No cabin fever here…

The Cabin at Strathpeffer was lovely – it felt like it was out in the middle of nowhere with a big grand drive leading up to it. Your neighbours are highland cows grazing in fields metres from the Cabin’s grounds yet it was so peaceful and quiet. The host was lovely and welcomed us and showed us around the cabin – it was like a home from home, lots of ornaments and bits and bobs in it but it had a really homely feel. We especially loved the few food bits left by the hosts including orange juice, croissants and the all-important milk for the cuppa tea our damp selves vitally needed. We chilled for a bit making the most of the lovely hillside views and watched Taken 2 on DVD – just one provided by the hosts. I say we watched, we didn’t, Nathan did and I snoozed in the rocking chair.

                                                    

We got changed and took ourselves off the Dores Inn. The view was as beautiful as I had remembered from the first time I saw it in October and we spotted some baby ducklings and their mother frolicking on the pebbles. We had a nice dinner – lamb for Nathan and chicken for me, followed by a peanut butter chocolate torte to share which was to die for – I don’t think we stopped to breath until it had been demolished. Home for a comfy cosy night at the cabin.

               

Time for the Cairngorms…

After croissants and cereal we said goodbye to the cows and headed to the Cairngorms. The Cairngorm National Park was about an hours drive from where we were which wasn’t too bad. The Cairngorms National Park is stunning, it has mountain, lochs, forests and more. It’s twice the size of the Lake District apparently and there are loads of different things to do there. Our first stop was the beautiful Loch Morlich where we decided it would be a good idea to hire a row boat for an hour. Nathan told me he could row.. he couldn’t.. I told Nathan I could row.. I couldn’t.. I don’t think we need to say any more about that particular adventure. Things don’t always go quite as you had imagined do they?!

We swiftly moved onto the Rothiemurchus Visitor Centre as we were in need of some food to fill our bellies. We sat outside braving the cold and had hot drinks and warm bacon and brie sub rolls – delish! Rothiemurchus is an estate that offers loads of outdoor activities such as quad biking, clay pigeon shooting, tubing and various walks and talks. We didn’t fancy being more adventurous after out rowing disaster (and nor did our bank cards) and so decided to take a walk around Loch an Eilein. This is a lovely Loch surrounded by Rothiemurchus forest and woodland and is home to an old ruined castle which is a great spot for taking photos given the right weather. We watched a family in a blow up dingy boat paddle out to it and try to navigate getting onto the ruins – quite entertaining yet it sort of felt like an invasions on such a peaceful and natural place.

            

      

Bother at the Bothy…

The title of this section is possibly a little unfair but there were a few things that bothered us about the place we stayed at in the Cairngorms – notably the rules attached to staying there and the feeling of being overlooked by the hosts. However the Bothy had everything we needed – a kitchen in a cupboard and bit airy upstairs with comfy bed. No TV though so we actually had to make conversation (not really, we just played battleships and rummy!). We cooked fajitas and chilled out, all the driving and exploring makes us two old farts pretty tired it seems!

             

A second chance on the water…

Our final full day away loomed and after receiving a useful ‘tip for life’ from the Bothy owner we headed bright and early to the Highland Wildlife Park. Having not been to a zoo or wildlife park for years I was a bit dubious about whether we would enjoy it and had concerns I’d be worried about the animals being kept there. However we had a great few hours here. The ticket price includes a drive through safari element where you drive alongside the animals freely roaming – we saw all sorts and even went round again at the end of our trip and saw the animals had all moved which gave us a chance to see them up closer. There is a large walk around section which feature a tiger, polar bear, snow leopards and our favourite the snow monkeys. We watched the snow monkeys for ages whilst having a hot choc and tray bake each; they were proper entertaining to view.

                                                                                  

After leaving the animals to it we drove to Loch Insh. We decided to give ourselves another chance to redeem ourselves on the water but this time rented out a pedalo! Far easier to navigate and no rowing thank goodness. It was super quiet on the Loch and we had it to ourselves bar a group of children out on a canoeing trip. It was quiet and pretty but a bit of hard work too for the legs!

We finished the day’s adventures by heading up to the mountain tops near to where we got the Funicular train up the mountain last time we were here. We found a lovely, but very windy, viewpoint which gave us a great snapshot of the mountains and Lochs below. I just wished it hadn’t been quite as cloudy as I reckon we would have been able to see for miles.

      

Back to the Bothy for our final dinner of Nathan’s fave sausage and mash (and a rematch of battleships of course).

Home sweet home…

Too soon (and once we had found the bloody Bothy door key) it was time to drive back to Inverness, fill up the hire car with petrol and return it at the airport. It was time for us to depart the Highlands full of Scottish memories and a hope to return one day and explore more of what Scotland has to offer. Although we didn’t quite do all we had planned and not everything went as we had imagined we had a great time and felt like we saw different sights this time round and made new memories. I think we both felt, having visited Inverness and the Cairngorms twice now, at two different seasons, that we have seen the majority of what they have to offer and were pleased with the adventures we had explored. I’m not saying I’ll never return again but tis unusual for me to return to the same location twice so I think three times would be highly uncharacteristic and unlikely. After all, there’s still plenty more of Scotland to explore…

Have you ever been to Inverness? Visited the Cairngorms? Share your experiences with me below – I’d love to hear them!

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