Top 5 magical moments in the Scottish Highlands
I KNOW THE SECRET of the Loch Ness monster. I spent about four or five days in Inverness and on the banks of Scotland’s most famous loch. I saw it from the shore, from an ancient castle that presides over it, and from a boat that took me up and down the length of it. I stayed in a quaint village and walked the streets and forests that surround it. I breathed the sweet highland air, mixed with moisture and peat, felt the drops of fresh rain, and drank the local whisky.
After several days of imbibing Loch Ness, and finding myself mesmerized by the deep waters and the rugged beauty of the surrounding highlands, I feel certain it is the innate mystical quality of this region that has given rise to the myths and legends. There is a haunting timelessness to the way the mist hangs over the loch, obscuring details and colours from the scene.
Very quickly, I stopped looking for Nessie. Instead, I allowed myself to soak up the highland atmosphere. There’s a reason people are flocking to Inverness after watching the series Outlander. In the first episode, the heroine Claire is bewitched by modern-day Druids dancing around ancient stones in a forest under the moon. She returns and, touching one of the stones, falls through to the 18th century.
The magical quality of the region is captured beautifully in Outlander, which is what’s inspiring so many tourists to visit. And the mystical quality is captured in the myth of the Loch Ness monster, another reason tourists flock here. These stories spring from the earth here … and I’m sure many visitors find their own stories. Here are some of mine. These were my top five special moments in Inverness and Loch Ness, Scotland. You can also check out some other excursions from Inverness here.
1. Staying in the village of Drumnadrochit
I have dreamt of romantic Scottish villages probably from the time I saw the film Brigadoon as a young girl. In the film, a sophisticated New Yorker, played by dancer Gene Kelly, stumbles on a village that’s lost in time in the highlands of Scotland, while he’s out hunting. He falls in love with the simplicity of the village, the warmth of the people and of course a beautiful woman.
I felt similarly about Drumnadrochit. It’s a charming village about halfway up the length of Loch Ness, very near magnificent Urquhart Castle. I stayed at the Loch Ness Inn, a simple place with a few small rooms and stunningly good food in their Lewiston Restaurant. On my first evening, it was drizzling as the sun went down, and I sat in a window seat watching the darkening sky, drinking the local whisky and reading The Hound of the Baskervilles.
It was a bit chilly and I found drinking the whisky warmed me up — which gave me some profound insights into the culture of the Scottish Highlands as well as a memorable experience. This was one of those perfect travel moments — where I fully experienced the culture and ambience, and sensed that I came close to the essence of the place.
2. A cruise on Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle
If you go to Loch Ness, you must go on a cruise on the loch. It’s the only way to get the full-on experience of this special place. I went out twice on Jacobite Cruises, and totally enjoyed it. They play a video with lots of interesting information about the loch, as well as the myth of the monster Nessie and how it came to be. I was very surprised to learn that Loch Ness is the second largest and second deepest loch in Scotland, and contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.
The story of the Loch Ness monster, Nessie, is a fascinating one with some stories dating back to the sixth century. The modern myth begins in 1933 when there was a reported sighting, and in 1934 a London surgeon took what is probably the most famous photo of the creature. This photo, and stories of the sightings, went viral in the 1930s – inciting fierce debate about the monster’s existence that continues to this day.
The highlight of the cruise was a stop at Urquhart Castle. The 800-year-old castle, in picturesque ruins, sits on a jut of land like a presiding deity. Perfectly well maintained, with just enough curation to give you a sense of the historical significance and everyday life, Urquhart Castle is a place to wander and allow your imagination to soar. Also ideal for photographers, especially at sun rise and sun set, when the veil is thin …
3. Savouring local delicacies
Though the village of Drumnadrochit is small, it houses at least two fine eating establishments. I ate modern and locally sourced Scottish food at the Lewiston Restaurant in the Loch Ness Inn one night, and more traditional fare at the Fiddlers Highland Restaurant the other.
The Lewiston at the Loch Ness Inn has a very simple, traditional décor, heavy on natural materials, and locally sourced foods. The menu indicates exactly where the fish, meat, game and produce comes from. A fish eater, I was in heaven with Applecross Bay Prawns for starters and seared scallops served with Bombay potatoes for my main. The bar list includes several local hand-crafted, artisanal gins so I was in heaven there too. The simple surroundings belie the sophistication and high quality of the food — kudos to the chef!
The next night, I was delighted to walk into Fiddlers Highland Restaurant, which has a lively, pub-like atmosphere. Here I savoured smoked salmon and felt compelled to try the lamb chops. I eat meat about once or twice a year, and it must be lamb. As this is a local specialty, I felt I was honouring the culture by sampling it. There is nothing like a hearty, fresh and well cooked meal on a drizzly night in the Scottish Highlands to make all things well.
4. Walking in the forest to see Invermoriston Falls
I would not have missed the experience of walking alone in the woods near Loch Ness for anything. I parked my rental car near at Invermoriston, near the picturesque stone bridge dating from 1813, in a parking lot designated for tourists. From here, I followed a trail into a dark and moist forest that ran along a raging river, past rapids and waterfalls.
It was here in the forest that I felt the natural world of the Scottish Highlands come to life. There is a tradition of fairy folk in the Celtic culture, and it was easy to feel the spirit of nature here at Invermoriston Falls.
5. Learning about kilts in Inverness
Inverness is a quaint town situated near the northern end of Loch Ness. There are loads of cafes, shops and places to stay because it’s a tourist destination. But it retains its charm and there are many fine vistas along the River Ness, which runs through it. Inverness also seems to be a centre for Highland culture. I spent an afternoon walking through the streets of the town centre, up to the castle, and in and out of a couple of stores that specialize in kilts and other Scottish cultural artifacts.
In Chisholms Highland Dress I learned all about kilts, tartans and the traditional accessories that go with them. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of tartan patterns, some new, some old. Each clan name, such as my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name, McIntyre, will have a range of tartans as well – not just one. At a place like Chisholms, you pick the tartan you want from a book of samples and then order the kilt to be made. These days, they are worn mostly for weddings and other formal occasions.
The video below is a walk through Chisholms and the kilt making process.
Thanks so much to Visit Britain for hosting me on this trip to Scotland and England. More blogs to come and many more memorable #OMGB moments to relate!
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