May 25-30: Nairn, Scotland
We said our goodbyes to cousin Jim and his wife Lorna, and left Cupar around 10am, driving up into the highlands along quieter roads. Erik is getting very comfortable with driving on the left and we are learning the ropes for driving on the narrow roads with the frequent passing places. We’ve learned that you pull over for oncoming traffic whenever you can, especially if they are bigger than you, and flash your lights so they know they can pass.
As we left the lowlands, the roads were pastoral, but soon we moved into more forested land, and then finally we climbed above the tree line where the surrounding landscape was stark and bare. We stopped briefly at Glenshee where there is a ski hill with a handful of runs and several chair lifts and no doubt it is a going concern in the winter. The pretty Clunie River runs along the road, and we crossed it a few times before we began to descend down into the treed valleys once again.
It took us about three hours to reach the small town of Huntly, where we stopped for lunch, before driving another 10km to Forgue for a tour of the Glendronach distillery, my favourite scotch whisky. Glendronach is a relatively small operation which still uses traditional methods to make their whisky, but it’s not particularly well known (for reasons I cannot fathom), and I rarely find it served in restaurants. I like it because it’s one of the few that use sherry casks (from Jerez in Spain which we visited a couple of weeks ago), and it has a soft sweetness to it. We were lucky to be alone on our tour and found it really interesting to see this amazingly complicated process. It was a little sad to learn that most of the 125 distilleries in Scotland have been bought out by multi-national companies. This link has some good information if you want to know more about how whisky is made.
Finally, we were back on the road to Nairn where we checked in around 5:30pm. It had been a long day but the sun was shining and the temperature was in the high 20’s – absolutely stunning! We had three days booked in the small town of Nairn, on the northern coast of the highlands, followed by two nights at a hotel in Inverness, 30 minutes further west, but once we arrived at our B&B, we decided to cancel our hotel and stay for five nights in Nairn.
The suite was roomy with a king size bed, a huge shower, a deck with table and umbrella, and a fridge full of food – we’ve never stayed in a place that left so much to eat! There was bread, butter, buns, cookies, eggs, bacon, sausages, a package of Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties, tea, coffee, milk, OJ, fruit – I could go on but I think you get the idea. Since we could easily make a day trip in to Inverness, we decided hanging tough for five nights would be awesome.
In the evening, we walked 1/2 km down the road to the seawall and walked along the beach as the sun set. Nairn sits on the edge of the Moray Firth, an inlet near Inverness which is well known for its dolphins. I kept my eyes peeled but never had any luck spotting any. However, the we had a gorgeous sunset at around 10pm, and I took a ton of pictures, then we came back and sat on our deck a little longer. I don’t think the temperature dropped below 20C all night, although our room was cool with the windows open.
While in Nairn, we had four full days to check out the sights, and our first order of business was to visit the Culloden Battleground and Interpretive Centre which was about 25 minutes away. It was covered by our NTS pass and we spent about an hour or so looking at the displays and learning about the history of the Bonnie Prince Charlie (Stuart House) and his Jacobite followers.
Obviously the Jackobite Uprising of 1745 was a much more complex situation than I am willing to write about, but suffice to say, Prince Charles didn’t listen to his advisers and made some poor decisions that resulted in over 1500 Jacobites (Scottish, Irish, French, and some British men) killed in the final one-hour battle that took place on Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.
My maternal grandfather’s ancestors (Mackintosh, Urquhart, Cumming, and Munro) were living in the Culloden area at the time, and it’s possible that some of them (most likely the Mackintosh clan) were involved in the battle.
During our time in Nairn, we visited several local parish church graveyards and looked for old family graves but it’s very difficult to find gravestones with clear writing on them once you go as far back as the 1700’s.
One day, we visited Brodie castle which dated back to the 1600’s, and once again, our NTS passes gave us free access. There was a very interesting guided tour and I think it was one of the best castle tours I’ve been on because so much of the original furniture, books, and decorations are still there.
On Sunday, we made reservations for the “Sunday Carvery Lunch” at the Golfview Hotel dining room down the road, and had a delicious two course dinner of melt-in-your-mouth roast beef, yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes and vegetables. We shared the starter and the dessert – smoked salmon cream cheese roulade and raspberry bread pudding with cream and had a table by the window with a lovely view of the sea. It was a perfect afternoon!
On our last full day, we took a peek at the exterior of Fort George, which is only 15 minutes away, and then drove into the larger city of Inverness. It was busy, but we managed to find an underground parking lot, and walked around for a while to check out some of the shops and then had lunch at the oldest pub in town.
We really enjoyed staying in one place for five nights and had lots of down time to read, write, and even play guitar! The fellow who owned the B&B happened to collect guitars and yet doesn’t play, so Erik was able to bring a couple back to our room. He even got to play an electric guitar once owned by a member of The Cure. We always miss having our instruments when we are travelling, so that was a really nice bonus. The last couple of days were more like typical Scottish weather – cooler and showery, but we’ve had so much good weather, that we really can’t complain!
Next up: Highland Folk Museum, Glencoe, Oban, and Iona Island.