Scottish Adventure: Culloden and Clava Cairns

For our last day in Scotland, we decided to stick close to home and explore the sites right near Inverness. It seems foolish to visit Inverness and not see Culloden battlefield, the site of the last Jacobite uprising and something that comes up again and again when Scots discuss their history. In fact, I had a woman describe a tartan pattern to me as being “from after Culloden,” referring to the period of time when tartans were outlawed. From there, we decided to visit Clava Cairns to see some history from even further back in the history of the isle. Of course, our Outlander-fan friends warned us to be careful around standing stones around Inverness, but we deemed it worth the risk.

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Culloden battlefield reminded me of a smaller-scale version of Gettysburg. It had the same feeling of quiet dignity, with historical information and monuments punctuating a landscape that had mostly reclaimed much of the physical marks of the battle. We opted to skip the indoor exhibit, in favor of walking the battlefield for a while, quietly contemplating the loss of life and the way a single battle changed life in Scotland so dramatically. The loop we took brought us around and to the main Culloden cairn monument and the individual clan grave markers toward the end of our trips. Despite the fact that more tourists had come into town the evening before for the beginning of the bank holiday weekend, the battlefield still held the sense of hush and respect that I appreciated on my walk.

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From there, we decided to walk to Clava Cairns, just a mile and a half away. It sounded like an easy walk, but the combination of unseasonable heat, and a route that took us along narrow roads, shared with vehicles, made it a slightly more exciting route than originally intended. But we made it. Clava Cairns is made up of two sites: Balnuaran of Clava, a four-thousand-year-old group of burial cairns built by some of the island’s original inhabitants; and Milton of Clava, a medieval chapel built on the remains of more cairns. The site is popular with Outlander tour groups, and we were fortunate to just miss one group before arriving, so we were able to see the sites in relative peace.

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We came first to the burial cairns. During the Victorian Druidic revival, the burial sites were reimagined as being set in an oak grove, and so the Victorians planted oak trees around the cairns. Despite their questionable historical accuracy, the trees were a welcome relief from the heat and sun. The site is still intact enough that you can walk into the passage graves, which provides an interesting view of the site. The other ring graves are open only at the top, and despite the obvious temptation, no one dared disrespect the site by climbing the cairns.

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From there, it is another short walk to the Milton of Clava, where another cairn was displaced by a medieval chapel. It’s interesting to see this kind of dynamic history. I commented to Mr. Tweed that it was fascinating to be in a country that has preserved so many of the sites that date back thousands of years before, rather than the mere hundreds that so many American sites claim. And then to see the clash of historical populations in the stones that still stand today, hundreds and thousands of years later is amazing.

After walking back to the car at Culloden, we made our way back into Inverness to prepare for our journey home the next day…

…except that’s not how it happened! It’s not something to dwell on, but many of those who follow me on social media may have noticed we got two “extra” days in the Highlands because our flight out of Inverness was canceled suddenly. Suffice to say, we got to see even the parts of Scotland that we thought had become familiar to us from yet another side, as we navigated last-minute hotels, buses, and taxis. Honestly, it made the arrival home all the sweeter, but also cemented in my mind that I will return to Scotland some day.

Scottish Adventure: The Black Isle Beer Brewery and Bar

One of my favorite impromptu afternoon excursions was our visit to the Black Isle Brewery, just north of Inverness. We ventured up here one afternoon when we’d finished our morning touring and our lunch, but hadn’t planned for the afternoon. Not only is the drive up gorgeous, but the brewery staff were a great example of the laid-back friendliness of Scottish people.

The brewery sits on the farm Allangrange in the Black Isle, which is famous for the quality of its malting barley. They grow their own malting barley, which is a switch from the breweries we’ve visited in the States, which often grown their own hops, but bring barley in. They also have a flock of about 200 black Hebridean sheep who get to eat the spent mash and provide wool for the jumpers they sell in their brewery shop. Upon entering the shop, the woman minding it offered to give us a tour of the brewing floor. It’s not a large operation, but she showed us their tanks and such. They even have a small rig that is a complete brewing test bed in a compact system, so that you can go from raw ingredients to bottled beer using equipment that sits on an approximately 24″x24″ footprint and is maybe 6-7′ tall. Very cool stuff.

From there, she offered us a taste of the some of the beers she had opened. Because we were traveling and couldn’t bring back beer on the plane, we satisfied ourselves to just buy a couple of single bottles of beers that would be best without refrigeration. But the woman who gave us the tour told us that if we were interested in drinking more of their beer, we should check out the Black Isle Bar in Inverness.

So a couple nights later, when we didn’t have other plans, we walked into town and found the bar. It’s a very hip place. You order at the bar, where they have multiple taps set into the wall, and a rotating list of what is being served from that tap on the monitors on the wall. They serve twenty-something drafts, plus some bottles (we stuck to draft!), small plates, and wood-fired pizza featuring local ingredients. One night, we tried a venison pizza and the next time we went, we tried the Hebridean pizza, featuring lamb meatballs made from black Hebridean lamb. Yes, this place had the distinction of being one that visited twice during our stay!

Despite the fact that the beer was excellent, my favorite part of the Black Isle Bar is that they offer 1/2 and 1/3 pints, so I could go in, taste three different beers, and still only have had one drink. Important for those of us with a lower tolerance for alcohol! So if you ever find yourself in Inverness, with a need for a good beer and a bite to eat, I would recommend the Black Isle Bar. And if you’re staying somewhat longer, and looking to fill a couple hours well, drive out to the brewery to meet the people there.

Scottish Adventure: The Beginning

Welcome to my series on our Scottish honeymoon! We spent nine days in the Scottish Highlands for our honeymoon and had a blast exploring the historical sites, as well as the local culture, food, and drink. Stay tuned for the next few weeks as I share our adventures.

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We arrived in Inverness on an overcast Sunday. We picked up our rental car, dropped our bags off at our guest house for storage, and then walked into town to explore. There was a bit of light rain at times, which I hear is rather usual for Scotland, but it was a lovely contrast to the growing spring heat in D.C. We found ourselves a lovely little cafe to grab a bite to eat, where Mr. Tweed had a steak sandwich and I got a full Scottish breakfast plate. Plus coffee (for him) and tea (for me).

Duly nourished, we set out to walk around the town. Inverness is sometimes called the gateway to the highlands and it was apparent that a lot of tour groups make their base in Inverness, as we had chosen to do. We did walk up to Inverness Castle, which offers a stunning view of the city. After browsing the city, we went back to the guest house.

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Ballifeary Guest House was the perfect “home base” for all our adventures. Bill and Morag were kind and hospitable and made our stay very comfortable. Morag served the breakfast every day while Bill stayed in the kitchen, and the spread was glorious. Every morning, we were offered cereal or fruit, coffee or tea, and a choice of hot entree. The first morning, we both tried the full Scottish breakfast, including black pudding, but as the week went on, we tried some of the other choices, including smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and smoked herring with poached eggs.

Everything was delicious and left us with very full bellies for a morning of site-seeing. In fact, it wasn’t until halfway through the week that I managed to learn how to tackle breakfast without coming away stuffed. Morag and I finally convinced Bill to serve me a “baby bear” portion of porridge, and then I had back bacon and two beautifully poached eggs. It was a perfect breakfast. And of course, I drank copious amounts of tea while Mr. Tweed had his own pot of coffee.

The room itself was small, but not cramped, with a lovely bathroom, and a tray of tea, coffee, and biscuits to accompany the electric kettle. I had tea in the room more often than we had tea out. It made a nice place to come back to after a day of wandering about the outer villages and countryside, and offered a ten-minute walk into town for dinner.

Friday, I’ll start in on our site-seeing, starting with Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness!