Posted on August 28, 2016
Scotland Part 1 – Highland Games and Inverness
So we absolutely fell in love with Scotland. 100%. 110%. 1000%. Like I would up and move there in a heartbeat. And since I love all my pictures and there’s a LOT of them (thanks to the Canon Rebel we bought as an additional anniversary gift to ourselves right before we left), I’m going to split our trip into a few parts.
We arrived in Glasgow on a Saturday morning, gritty eyed and tired but ready to hit the ground running (with the help of some coffee). We had rented a car for a week, feeling like pros since we drove a manual in Ireland (and had upgraded to an automatic for this trip) and were given this AMAZING Audi wagon that we both now want to own, complete with a built in GPS system that definitely had a learning curve.
We were actually able to check into our hotel room immediately upon arrival, which was a pleasant surprise considering it was 9:30 AM. We dropped off our bags, took quick showers, avoided laying down at all costs, and set off ASAP to a nearby highland games I had found in the town of Airth in order to fend off jetlag, which kicked our trash on our last trip abroad. The games kicked off officially with a great procession from a pipe band and the local clan chieftain.We honestly planned almost the entire trip with the help of the Rick Steves guidebook. Now, we LOVE Rick. A few years ago, we went to his yearly travel festival at Rick Steves’ headquarters in Edmonds, Washington. While he recommended taking in a highland games if you were able, he didn’t give specifics. I had found the games in Airth on my own. And it was literally one of the ONLY things on our itinerary that wasn’t delineated specifically in the guidebook. And look who we happened to run into while we were there:Yup, that’s Rick with his camera crew, filming for an upcoming episode. When we first entered the games, we took a stroll around the big grass track that stood as the centerpiece of the event. And Rick walked past us. And Shayne and I looked at each other and went, “Nah, it can’t be.” But it was. HOW WEIRD AND AMAZING IS THAT?! Contact me to plan all your European vacations. K thanks.
We were hungry after 24 hours of travel with random airplane food, so we pounded a latte and then delved into a bacon roll. Shayne took the attractive photo of me below. Fresh bacon straight off the flat-top on a King’s Hawaiian roll. Nothing else. It was incredible.There was SO much going on in Airth. Scottish dancing, solo piping, and all of the heavy events were going on simultaneously from the beginning. The piping venue wasn’t super picturesque, but I LOVE BAGPIPES so it was ok.
Watching the heavy events competitors was incredible. Everyone was super strong (and kilted) and just casually threw 50-70 pounds around like it was nothing. And javelin, and hammer throw…I wish we could have stayed awake until the caber toss, but we couldn’t quite hold out that long. Just casually throwing 56 lbs over a bar getting progressively higher like it wasn’t no thing. The games also had foot races on the grass track, as well as cycling. When they announced a special “International Visitors 200m” I knew I had to participate. I came in 4th out of 5 and didn’t win the bottle of whisky, but I had a blast. Also, at least two of the girls I competed against were wearing legitimate running attire, and not skinny jeans and hiking shoes, so **cough cough** UNFAIR ADVANTAGE **cough cough**. Whatever. Still fun.We went back to our hotel after spending a few hours at the games, walked a bit and found a place to grab a few beers and some food, and then laid down to take a brief nap at 7:30. We woke up from our brief nap three hours later and said “screw it” and just brushed our teeth and went to bed.
The next day, we woke up ready to take on a drive up to the “Capital of the Highlands,” Inverness. Thank you Shayne for basically letting me plan a vacation around all of my Outlander fantasies.
The drive itself was close to three hours, but we made a lot of stops on the way. The Highlands scenery was absolutely incredible, with huge craggy mountains (really probably hills by Northwest standards, but “munros” in Scotland) and a lot of green and fog. Our first stop was the Glencoe Visitor’s Centre, commemorating the Glencoe Massacre, in which Scottish clansmen were murdered by the English soldiers they had welcomed into their homes in 1692. There was a great little nature path with some outstanding views, and they were doing a little talk every half hour about traditional Scottish life. It was very informative, and we snapped this fun photo of Shayne with a traditional highlander. Then, we detoured a bit to head towards Glenfinnan, a quaint little village that not only holds significant historical import, but also served as a filming location for Harry Potter. We waited…but the Hogwarts Express didn’t come. I was sad, but maybe I’m too old to get my acceptance owl? Not sure. If you know Hogwarts’ policy on older students, please fill me in. Glenfinnan was also where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to officially kick off the Jacobite Rebellion. The monument below marks the place. It was absolutely beautiful on a cloudy afternoon. Just outside of Inverness lies the ruins of Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness. Built up in various stages since the early Middle Ages, the castle was reduced to ruins by 1715. After watching a quick, impactful video, guests are allowed to explore the ruins in their entirety. It had been raining off and on all day, and the atmosphere was amazing to explore such an ancient, historic place (plus great for playing with the new camera). I definitely had my fill of narrow, slippery stone stairs on this trip. I used to love spiral staircases. Not so much anymore. After Urquhart, we drove into Inverness to check into our bed and breakfast. Leanach Farm B&B was the home base for three nights of exploring the Scottish Highlands. I mean, just look at the view from breakfast! And then look at breakfast! I forgot how much I love a full English/Scottish/Irish breakfast until we came to stay at the B&B. Those eggs…just LOOK at the yolk color. And I love broiled tomatoes, as they remind me of my mom’s stewed tomatoes. European sausages are always my favorite, and here, we were introduced to something magical: the potato scone (the quesadilla-lookin’ triangle on the left). It’s like a thick potato pancake, but not shredded like a latke. Literally like a pancake that tastes like potato. I want them always.We celebrated our actual 5th anniversary in Inverness. I found a Caribbean restaurant with good Trip Advisor reviews (Caribbean Bar & Kitchen) and made us eat there in honor of our Caribbean honeymoon. I loved our pitcher of rum punch, our saltfish appetizer, and my curried skate(??? I think that’s what it was but because of the rum punch I can’t remember 100% and they have no current menu online). Shayne thought the flavors of his oxtail stew and red beans and rice were good individually, but perhaps not in combination. Either way, we left happy. And walked around the corner to a pub with live music where we witnessed a brawl so that was cool. On our first full day in the Highlands, my number one stop was Culloden Battlefield (because Outlander. And history). This was, without a doubt, THE best historical monument I have ever seen, anywhere. We spent a few hours inside the museum/exhibit, looking at artifacts, reading about the events leading up to the battle, which was the culmination of the Jacobite Rebellion, and learning about what happened to prisoners from some delightful historical reenactors who were working there that day. One of the most amazing things (for us) about Scotland was that almost every single place is dog friendly. We sat next to dogs at restaurants and bars all over the country. This historical battlefield had poop bag dispensers in the middle of it. HOW WILD IS THAT?! THIS COUNTRY IS MY DREAM LAND! After you tour the museum, you collect audioguides and head out to the battlefield itself to walk through all of the major points of the day. One highlight is the clan memorial stones, as the aftermath of the battle was a significant tamping of traditional Highland ways. People still lay flowers and clan tartans upon the stones, which mark gravesites of whole clans of Jacobite soldiers.The Clan Fraser stone was especially popular #outlander #jamiefraseriloveyou
We spent the rest of our day exploring the town of Inverness. Did you know that the national animal of Scotland is the unicorn? I didn’t. Did you know national animals could be fictional? I didn’t, but I like it. Along the River Ness. Leaky’s Bookshop, aka Marge & Shayne’s book wonderland. Books upon books upon books. After exploring town on foot, we stumbled upon a new taproom for Black Isles Brewing Co and had a DELICIOUS pint. This was some of my favorite beer we had the entire trip (I’ve even stopped at a good bottle shop since coming home to pick up an expensive bottle to share). Shayne had the Scotch ale, I had the blonde, both were amazing. They also had wood-fired pizzas and other bites, but we were still stuffed from breakfast.
Eventually we ended up at Culloden Moor Inn, right down the street from our B&B, for a few pints and some nibbles. Another Outlander must-see: Clava Cairns. Again, right down the lane from the B&B (did I mention that it was an AMAZING place to stay?). This ancient pagan burial ground served as the inspiration for Craig Na Dun, the standing stones through which Claire travels back in time. I tried (unsuccessfully, sadly) to time travel. Shayne was a sport and took my picture (but told me if I disappeared he wasn’t going to follow, NOR would he send the dog through, because he’s seen how they lived back then and isn’t super keen to experience it). It was super peaceful, not crowded at all. Definitely a mystical feel, as there were a number of burial cairns and numerous rings of standing stones.I’ll be back soon with more recaps of our Scottish adventures!