Our Scotland Adventure – Day 4

I’ll be wrapping up recounting our Scotland adventures this week, starting with Day 4 which includes Inverness and Sterling.  Since we had arrived to our lodging after dark the day prior I made sure to get a shot of the building in the morning before we left.  I’m sure at some point it was a grand home, but it has been retrofitted to house guests and functions.  Before we left town I requested that we stop by the castle, which I had spotted on the way back from Loch Ness the evening prior.

Situated on the highest point it’s quite imposing.  Today it is used as the regional court house, so it’s not open to the public for tours but there are plans to convert it into a tourist destination when a new court is constructed. It’s been the scene of several dramas over the course of history including being seized by Bonny Prince Charlie’s forces before the battle of Culloden.  And when Mary, Queen of Scots visited in 1562 and the castle had been entrusted to the Governor’s Captain, who refused Mary entry.  This caused great offence, which led to his execution and head being displayed on the castle wall for all to see.

I circled the castle, enjoying the views of the quiet streets and quaint shops below which had yet to open for the day.

On the other side of the castle was the river Ness which flows to Loch Ness and more views of the city.  While on this side I found a tour group that we had spotted at Culloden the day prior.  I trailed behind them catching bits and pieces of the guide’s descriptions of the local history including stories of Nessie sightings.   He shared the history of St. Andrews Cathedral which is visible across the river.  It was the first new Protestant cathedral  completed in Great Britain after the Reformation. There were supposed to be spires on the two front towers but a lack of funds delayed that portion of construction and they were never completed.

Looking the other direction down River Ness was more shops and pubs, including the Highland House of Fraser, which made my little Outlander fan heart do a pitter patter. 🙂

We had other sights to see so we left Inverness behind and headed toward Sterling, further into the highlands.  Along the way we saw numerous fields of grazing sheep and several more castles poking above the treelines.  I would have loved to stop and investigate them all but we didn’t have time.

We quickly realized that this highway is a major agricultural transit route, as evidenced by the tractors and massive produce loads we spotted along the way.

A few hours later we arrived at Sterling and headed straight for the castle.  It took us a few tries to figure out the right road to be on as the GPS seemed a bit confused.

On our way up the hill toward the castle we spotted this young musician playing the bag pipes in traditional Scottish attire.  We also chuckled at the decal on the back of the tour bus who arrived at the gate just ahead of us.

As we headed inside the castle we had to pause as the guards let a car pass through the narrow tunnel in the fortress’ thick wall.

We purchased our tour tickets and headed inside through another fortified wall.

Inside the castle was a lovely courtyard where activities for children were being held as part of “living history month” including jousting and shinty.

We opted to leave the courtyard to the kids and check out the architecture instead, like this rounded turret lookout.

We headed inside the castle to the rooms inside the outer walls, which each had displays of court life.  Along the way we spotted these fire hooks which would be used to pull down burning beams to keep the fire from spreading.

Down the hall was a display of clothing worn by the King and Queen featuring exquisite fabrics and adornments – including a suggestive addition to the King’s lower half!

There were additional outfits on display further inside the castle.  These were likely worn by courtiers or nobility who were at court.

We headed over to the great hall which had a similar roof structure to the one we’d seen at Edinburgh Castle.  There were several people dressed in period attire as part of the living history activities so we watched them interacting with the other tourists and waited our turn for a photo op.  I got to meet Mary, Queen of Scots and sit at the table next to her for a brief moment.

Next we toured the rooms inside the main building of the castle.  One area held the  crown jewels and relics in a large display case inside of a vault, but no pictures were allowed in this area but you can see a glimpse of it in this clip done by the Scottish historical preservation society.  We also toured Queen Mary’s apartment including the small side room where her son was born.   Several of the other areas where photos were allowed boasted ornately decorated ceilings with carved busts and symbols.  These spaces were part of the procession of rooms that guests would travel through before seeing the King and were meant to impress and showcase his authority, wealth and right to rule.

The throne room was filled with elaborate replica tapestries depicting the hunt of the unicorn beneath the ceiling painted with busts of the King’s heritage.  The tapestry showing the unicorn in a small enclosure is one I remembered as the cover of a historical novel I read a few years ago.

The unicorn symbol continued in other designs around the castle including these paintings above the fire places.  It was often featured with the lion of England to symbolize the joining of the two countries.

Beyond the thrown room was the bedchambers of the King and Queen.  We learned that these spaces were also ceremonial and meant to showcase wealth rather than function. The royals usually did not sleep in these beds, and used smaller chambers attached to the space with less elaborate decor.  One of the side bedrooms had a bed that was not dressed and it was interesting to see it’s construction of rope supports.

We also toured the newer chapel – the last building constructed at the castle.  It was sparsely furnished so I didn’t take many photos here but I was intrigued by this display sign that described the chapel built just outside the castle for James VI’s baptism.  Displays in a museum section of the castle depicted other changes made to the castle over the centuries and changing monarchs.

The displays also included several replicas of the wooden busts seen on the ceiling in the King’s chambers and this interesting quote about nobility.

The tour continued with the kitchens, where sculptures showed the daily activities that took place here.

Signage in the space noted that kitchen work was performed by men rather than women and that there were two kitchens – one for the monarchs and principal courtiers and their servants and another for the rest of the castle’s population.  The signs also depicted the hierarchy of the castle ‘food chain’ and who got what portions.

Back outside we enjoyed a small garden at the back of the castle where Queen Mary likely wandered during her time at the castle.  The view from the walls of this garden were spectacular.

And off in the distance we could see the William Wallace monument, which was our next destination.

As we finished our lap of the castle I noticed these carvings on the newer section of the palace and thought it was interesting that sea creatures were depicted in such a permanent way so far from the coast.

Before we left we stopped into the little gift shop where I found this adorable Highland Coo.  He was quite pricey, but I couldn’t resist that face and so he came home with us, along with one of those gold bells you see in the background!

We headed over to the William Wallace monument but learned that it had closed about a half hour before we arrived. Luckily we soon realized that we could still access the uphill trail to the monument.  We decided to make the trek even though we wouldn’t be able to go inside the monument.

The hike to the monument was certainly UP HILL but there were these fun carvings at each of the switchbacks along the trail which gave us a good excuse to pause and catch our breath.  Each celebrated aspects of Scotland’s resources, history and culture.

I fell in love with the highland coo carving in this grouping.  If I could have fit it in my suitcase I would have brought it home and added it to my gardens!  Maybe I can find something similar online this season instead.

The view of the monument changed as we made our way up the hill, and seeing it through the trees just below the top of the trail was impressive.  We made the final portion of the climb huffing and puffing but satisfied.

Once at the top we took in the detail of the structure including the Victorian style statue on the side of the tower and the thistle design above the doors.

The view across the valley back toward Sterling Castle was breathtaking as the sun began to fade – and not because we were still winded from the trail!

After our bodies remembered how to breath normally, we headed back down the hill and decided to drive back toward the castle to get some photos of the cows we’d seen in the field below the stone walls.  The light was fading fast and the cows were completely uncooperative to my kissy noise calls and faux offers of treats.  Perhaps they knew I was a tourist since I didn’t have the accent in my voice.  Since I wasn’t willing to enter the field where they were at with out a property owner’s permission and there was no one around to ask, this was the best shot I could get.  It’s not horrible, but not exactly what I was wanting either.  It’s tough to work with uncooperative models! 😉

We headed to our hotel for the night to rest up for the next day – a trip to Doune Castle which is Castle Leoch in the Outlander series for a photo shoot with a local photographer.  I’ll be sharing that experience soon, but in the meantime stop by tomorrow for the following day’s visit to Roslyn Chapel!

Check out our other Scotland adventures:

And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

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Our Scotland Adventure – Day 3

Today we continue our Scotland adventures with Day 3’s activities.  That morning we left Edinburgh and drove toward the highlands because you can’t visit Scotland and not go to the infamous highlands – especially if you’re an Outlander or historical romance fan!  After a few hours on the highway we decided to try an exit to find some lunch.  We ended up driving a bit further from the highway than we’d anticipated and ended up in a lovely, tiny country town with lovely old homes.

We spotted this hotel which advertised food on the window so we stopped there.  While their dining room had the perfect highland hunting lodge look, it didn’t open for lunch so we moved on.

There was a small market near where we had parked and I noticed this dog patiently waiting for his owner who had gone inside.  A few school children passed by to pick up a snack and gave him a pat on the head.  Figuring there wasn’t much else around and not wanting to detour from the highway once we got back to it, we opted to find something simple here and take it with us.

The GPS indicated there was a historical park a few miles down the road and since it was such a lovely day I suggested we stop there to eat picnic style.  The park turned out to be quite large with numerous displays of historic buildings and machinery.  And when I heard that it had been an Outlander filming location we just had to explore a bit more.  There were stone and thatch structures from old farms and turn of the century shops which had been moved to this site for preservation.

There was also a woodworking shop bearing Jaime Fraser’s surname that I just had to investigate.  There was no sign of Red Jaime, but it was still interesting to see all the old tools.

The area where they had filmed the Outlander scenes was a small village toward the back of the property.  To get there we had a relaxing walk through the woods.

Along the way we spotted these various wildlife carvings.  I’m not sure who did them or why but I really enjoyed them.

The path led us to a small pond.  I could have relaxed here all day, but I had Outlander sights to see and that was more important.

Around another bend was a pen of these curly haired pigs.  I’d seen similar breeds before but the Hubs was quite intrigued by their coats.  They seemed less interested in us since we didn’t have any food for them.

Nearby there was an old saw mill, complete with a mannequin worker.

At last we arrived at the village site.  It was worth the walk and made you feel transported to another time.  I can see why they chose to use it in the “Collecting the rents” episode.

The village covered a fairly large area and there were only a few spots where the modern world had to be disguised, so the cameras could shoot in a variety of angles.

Inside the structures there were elements of what daily life would have been like here, including a basket of dung chips to keep the fire going.  Many of the buildings were quite dark inside due to the thatch roofs and limited windows, so I didn’t get many good pictures of those aspects.

We still had a few other sights still to see that day so we headed back toward the highway and further north to Culloden, the famous battlefield where the Jacobite Army suffered their massive defeat.  This battle is a central point in the Outlander story and is significant in Scotland history – much like America’s Gettysburg.

We paid our admission fee and toured the historical displays in the welcome center where no photography was allowed, then made our way out to the battle field.  The Leanach farmhouse stands at the corner of the battlefield, on the same location as a cottage that probably served as a field hospital for government troops following the battle.

At the time of the battle this was grazing land for the surrounding farms.  Today there are foot paths blazed through the history that now soaks this earth.

There are markers at various points to indicate where the opposing front lines were and turning points of the battle.

This line of flags indicate where the front lines of the government troops were located as the battle began.

As we wandered the paths, a storm started to roll in but it was preceded by a fantastic rainbow over the visitor’s center.  Perhaps both were symbols of the changes this land has seen.

In 1881 headstones were placed to mark the mass graves of fallen Jacobite soldiers by clan.  They sit along an early 19th-century road which runs through the battlefield.  There were several to see, but one in particular I was searching for.

And then I saw it.  The Fraser headstone.  It was obviously one of the most popular based on the flowers and coins left on the stone.  I wondered if that was because of Outlander’s popularity or if there were just more visitors of that heritage.

At the end of the row of headstones is this memorial cairn, erected in 1881 by Duncan Forbes, the owner of Culloden House and the descendant of a key figure on the government side in 1746.

I discovered this painted rock on the back of the memorial cairn.   It’s a reminder of the significance of this battle in Scottish history and the impact it still has today.

The storm was drawing closer, and we still wanted to make it Loch Ness before nightfall so we made our way back to the visitor center along the trails as the wind whispered through the brush.

Thanks to some speedy driving, we arrived at Loch Ness just before sunset.  Of course we had to had to have proof that this was the real Loch Ness and not just some random lake, so I had the Hubs pose with the sign and then enjoyed listening to the water lap at the shore as we watched for Nessie.

Nessie didn’t appear, perhaps because we were standing next to the Nessie Hunter station.  It was already closed up but I guess Nessie didn’t want to take any chances.

The remnants of an old dock and the shadows of the birds floating among them did make us look twice a few times as we walked the shoreline.

Sitting at the end of the lake, the Dores Inn was the first establishment we found along the road where we could park and access the lake.  They had a wonderful garden space in the back where guests can watch the lake as they eat during good weather.  The storm we had just missed at Culloden had apparently hit here first so everything was wet, but we didn’t mind since we had limited light to enjoy.

Next to the garden is this Nessie statue that points out toward the lake.  It’s quite a work of art, when you get up close to see all the individual pieces that make it up.

There was also a flower similar to fireweed blooming along the shoreline.  It made for a dreamy scene as the last rays of the sun faded.

I did a double take when I first spotted this piece of driftwood on the rocky beach of the house next to the Inn.  At first I thought it might have been Nessie’s tail slithering back into the bushes.

One of the Inn’s staffers was cleaning up in the outdoor area and noted that some of the best shots he’s seen of the sculpture were right up next to the head with the water in the back ground, so we gave it a try.  I’m not sure it’s quite life-like but it’s definitely a fun memento.

We watched the hills along the lake fade as the sun dipped below them, appreciating how lucky we were to be standing next to Loch Ness on a beautiful evening at sunset together.

With the last of the light gone, we headed around to the front entrance of the Inn to get dinner.  Apparently it’s a very popular spot with the locals and tourists and reservations are required for the dining room.  Our luck continued and we arrived just in time for a party leaving the bar where it was open seating.

There were so many options to choose from on the menu.  I giggled to see some had notations that they may contain shot!  I guess that means it’s fresh and local right?!

I couldn’t resist the opportunity and chose that for my entree.  The hubs chose a steak.  Both were delicious and we devoured them quickly.

Then came dessert.  I don’t remember what either of these were called but mine had a pear and ice cream with the creme filled cookie and I ate every last crumb in satisfaction.  The Hubs was a brownie with ice cream & sauce, which I sampled and approved of as well – although not as much as my selection.

As we had been eating I spotted several little Nessie figures available for sale on a shelf over the bar.  This one gave me the look so I introduced myself to find out how much he would be.  Because they are made by a local artist they require cash payment and we had just enough left, so he joined us at our table to await the hot chocolate I ordered because I just wasn’t ready to leave yet.

Little Ness sure thought my hot chocolate was impressive, and I confirmed that is was after the first sip.

We left the Inn and headed toward Inverness where we were staying for the night.  Our hotel was a renovated stone mansion with plaid carpet and a skeleton key for the front door!

We were quite tired from our day of sights and adventures and fell asleep quickly despite the rowdy celebration going on in the ballroom on the ground floor of the hotel.

I swear the whole night I dreamed about sitting next to Loch Ness listening to the waves and watching for Nessie.

Check out our other Scotland adventures:

And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.