July 3rd, 2009 at 7:40 am (Travel)
There were a few things we wanted to see around Inverness, so we set off bright and early in the morning.
Our first destination was Urquhart Castle, on the west bank of Loch Ness. The road down had lots of stopping places to view the Loch, which looked lovely in the early morning mists. It was sufficiently early in the morning, that it was very quiet (there was one tour bus, but we had walked down a little path to the edge of the loch, and for some reason they all stayed in the parking area to take their photos).
We drove through the village of Drumnadrochit, declining to stop at any of the monster exhibitions, and got to the castle 20 minutes before opening times. There were a few people hanging around the carpark, but we decided to backtrack slightly and go to Divach Falls. They turned out to be not the most exciting waterfall in the world, but it was a lovely walk to get there and much better than sitting in the carpark.
When we got back to the castle, it was open but still fairly quiet. Before going to the castle, you watch a short film on its history (repeatedly sacked, damaged and rebuilt over the centuries, and finally blown up in 1692 to prevent Jacobites using it), and when the film finishes, the curtains open and there are the castle ruins before you. Quite effective. The ruins were nice to wander around, and the views of the Loch were spectacular.
We planned to go to Culloden Battlefield next, so we drove back up the Loch (the roads were more crowded by this time) but we arrived to find a police car at the entrance, and we were told the Battlefield was closed until 2:30. No explanation as to why. We speculated that there might have been some kind of incident, but it did seem rather unlikely that the police would know in advance exactly when they would be finishing up. Later, we learned that the Queen was visiting (though apparently she didn’t go onto the battlefield at all – just stayed in the new Visitor Centre and had lunch).
We therefore went off to nearby Clava Cairns – Bronze Age burial chambers. There were two ring cairns and two passage graves, which made an interesting contrast to (Neolithic) Maes Howe in Orkney. The passage graves were open rather than fully enclosed, so not grassed over, and there was a single passage into the middle, which was aligned with the setting sun. Each one was within a ring of standing stones.
We then had to decide between seeing Cawdor Castle and Fort George. In the end, we picked Fort George – we decided it would be a bit different (we will be seeing quite a few castles) and also it was included in our Historic Scotland ticket, whereas Cawdor Castle wasn’t. And Cawdor Castle doesn’t really have a Macbeth connection, as it only dates back to the 14th Century.
Fort George was built after the Battle of Culloden, as a base for George II’s army to quell any future Jacobite uprisings. This ultimately proved unnecessary, but it has been used every since as a military barracks (and still is today). Because it is still in use, some bits were off-limits, but much of it was open, with several rooms set up to show how they would have looked historically. The audio commentary (free) was very informative, and it was particularly interesting to walk around the walls and see how the changing nature of warfare had led to the Fort being built with ravelins (big ditches and earthworks to absorb the impact of cannon fire), rather than high fortress walls which could be shattered by a cannon ball
The weather had been a bit cloudier than the last couple of days, and at about 3:30 we noticed that it was starting to look like rain. So we thought it would be a good idea to go to Culloden before it hit. (As it turned out, although it sprinkled a bit, if there was full-on rain it went somewhere other than Culloden.)
The big fancy Visitor Centre (only finished in 2008) was quite informative about the events leading up to the battle, but to be honest I thought quite a lot of the presentation was basically fluff. They could have shown everything very nearly as effectively – and a heck of a lot less expensively – by just having information boards and diagrams, without the need for sound effects, computer screens, etc. And the money saved could have been spent on restoring the area to how it would have been for the battle (which they are also trying to do). We went on a short guided walk of the field, which was quite good, but annoyingly the GPS-driven audio guides weren’t available. For some reason, I found it all a bit less evocative that when we went to Bosworth Field (though admittedly that was over 10 years ago, so I could be mis-remembering). However, seeing the clan graves was quite moving.