s u n d a y m a y 3 0 1 9 9 9
Moyness House is part of the Taste of Scotland scheme, but the proprietor’s husband, who does the cooking, injured is back and so no dinner. Breakfast, though, was good and they were both very pleasant. They were totally booked, and I’m amazed that we got a room at all here in town during the festival. Inverness is a pretty city, though, and our brief walk through the main street last night was pleasant. I wish we’d have been in earlier last night, so we could have wandered around a bit more. Most shops are closed this morning, so we just took a quick tour around town and headed out.
We went back to Culloden Battlefield today. They have a visitor’s center and ‘interpretive center’, but it’s all very well done. Oodles of people. How on earth could people enjoy a holiday from the back of a bus, I don’t know. Each time we find the huddle of tour busses, we think the same thing. The tourists all file out like sheep, stare in a kind of organized fashion at whatever they’re pointed at, and are hustled back into the coach to see something else.
Admittedly, we are also “monument hopping”, but we’re going our own way and seeing quite a few things that certainly wouldn’t be on a standard tour. Having to share my experience with 70 other people would be terribly wearying. I think I’d learn to hate these people, especially those little day-busses that offer ‘tours of Inverness, every 17 minutes’ on the side.
Culloden was very touching, in a horrible, wasteful sort of way. 5000 men…3000 dead because some puffed up egomaniac decided to have the battle in a bloody swamp. Most everyone on the Scottish side died — either in the charge or in the carnage afterwards, where the English soldiers were murdering the wounded. The video presentation portrayed the loser in this scenario, Bonnie Prince Charlie, pretty sympathetically. Sure, he made bad decisions, but it wasn’t really his fault, etc. I’ve read some accounts that he rather arbitrarily selected Drummossie Moor (a moor is a swamp, by the way) and had a tantrum when his able advisors told him it was a stupid idea. I supposed you don’t tell a Prince that he’s an idiot, but they’d have been better off if they’d walloped him on the head and left without him. It basically sounds like Charlie had a year long ego trip paid for in Highland lives. And he’s still a national hero? I can’t figure it out.
Only 400 English died. Nearly 3000 Highlanders. They have mass graves for each clan on the battlefield. Just simple, granite stones. Clan Cameron. Clan Macleod. Clan Fraser. Clan MacLean. The list is very long.
Mark is wondering why, if the Scots had a month to prepare, that hey had only 6 cannons. He agrees with me that this waste was caused by inept leadership. Guess that’s what you get when you raise someone from childhood to believe that he is a scorned king deprived of his rightful place. Charles went back to France where he died a penniless drunkard. The scots suffered for another generation — no kilts, no lands, no family clans. They got the potato, though. I suppose that’s a plus.
We walked around the field and left a bit depressed. It felt like it should have been raining, instead of sunshine. Rain would have been appropriate.
We didn’t go to the Loch Ness Visitors Center, which looked a little to much like a sideshow carnival. Everything has big plastic sea monsters on it or ‘Nessie this’ on it. Everyone was sort of clustered around the center, looking kind of eager and stupid. We drove right on by.
Of course, only moments later we were able to have our 15 seconds of ‘touristas idiotas’ by pulling way too far into a single lane bypass, so we blocked cars coming the other way. We sat like morons for a few seconds, then pulled into the gravel to let everyone pass. What idiots! But, on our way again and we’ll never see these people again, right?
The parking lot at Urquhart Castle actually had a police officer directing traffic and a polite line of cars queuing up to get the next space. We almost left, but we did manage to get a good spot and traipsed down the hill — me limping, since my ankle still hurt, and Mark shivering since he left his coat in the car. Ah, well.
Urquhart is quite large, and the views of Loch Ness are stunning. Of course, most people are here trying to see the monster, Nessie. Apparently, the first sighting of the creature was here, when a monk was snatched and depending on who you believe, either eaten whole or dropped back on the beach. The myth still has the monster living in the Loch.
I dunno. I suppose where might have been a plesiosaur (or whatever it was) 900 years ago, but not anymore. I suppose it’s possible – they keep finding animals around that are thought to be extinct (like the coelecanth, some sort of bony fish), so having a prehistoric sea serpent isn’t totally out of the question.
Still, the celebrated photo looks to me like a person’s hand making shadow animals. People keep looking, though. I figure if the Royal Navy can’t find anything, there probably isn’t anything there.
As we were leaving, a lone piper climbed the battlements of the main gate and began to play. Remind me to be around only after the pipes are completely inflated. It was cool, and Mark got some really good pictures. I can see why the Highlanders were so successful in their battles — First, warn the enemy that you’re coming with wailing bagpipes. If you gave someone that much warning, you weren’t afraid and are probably fearsome and scary. Then, when you see the enemy, tear off your kilts and charge screaming Gaelic down the hill half-naked. It’d scare the bejeezus out of me! I bet it really threw the English for a loop — these people were quite civilized about warfare and the chaos must have been a bit unnerving.
We decided to drive around the Loch on General Wade’s military road. For a bit, we got behind a bus, but it was a lovely drive through Stratharrock.
We mailed postcards from Inverfairigaig — the entire town seems to be a postbox and a red phone booth in the middle of nowhere. [Of course, there really is more to the town — I got a very nice email telling me that Inverfairigaig is actually a quaint loch-side town with a few holiday homes and permanent residents, from someone living there! ]
You can’t find a phonebox in the center of a big town, but you’ll run across dozens of them out in the middle of a field. The British Phone company is replacing the classic red phone boxes with modern glass shells. I don’t think that the plan to replace all the phone boxes is well received, though. most people like the “old” boxes.
The drive back to Inverness took us over a beautiful pass, and we have some lovely pictures of the valleys. We went back to see Fort George before heading to Dornoch. Fort George is the largest artillery fort in Scotland, and it was designed to withstand an artillery barrage undamaged. It has three levels of earth berms around a sunken central fort — bristling with cannon and watch towers — on the landward side.
Bunkers under the earth walls housed the soldiers, and in the central square were barracks and other buildings. Of course, it was only effective for the time it was built (1756). Soon after, the ship and land cannons discovered attitude, and simply lobbed cannonballs over the wide embankments and bombed the interior. Not much use.
Still, Mark seemed convinced that it would be an easily defended fort even today, if you had enough missiles to knock down the helicopters. Fort George is still a manned army base — big signs all over warn you that you may be searched or ejected from the base at any time. We could still take pictures, except in the Queen’s Own Highlander’s Museum.
We snapped a few pictures of Castle Stuart from the road. The PRIVATE signs and barred gates kept us away. The castle is occasionally opened for guests and as a very impressive B&B, but was closed to the public today.
The Castle of Dornoch Hotel was interesting, it a bit old and shabby. Our room (all the rooms, really) are in a 20 year old addition that looks the same today as I imagine it looked in 1970. Ugh. It was dingy and tattered. Dinner was in the Bishop’s restaurant, which lies in the original castle kitchens. Don’t ever order Fried Whitebait. I should have been suspicious of anything with BAIT in the name, but I figured, hey, I ate haggis, how bad could it be?
They had little eyes and little lips. Whole battered and deep fried minnows. It was revolting. Mark actually ate his. I just stared at those little fishy eyes and battered fish lips and couldn’t touch them. I’m sure they had a good giggle in the kitchen when they took them back. “Didn’t you like them?” our very nice waitress asked us. “Um..they have EYES”. You could tell she wanted to laugh, but she managed to make it back into the kitchen before collapsing in mirth.
The rest of the dinner was less eventful, although I’ll probably avoid Stilton Cheese from now on. It’s strong and blue. I don’t understand the fascination with bleu cheese. Bleu = mold. Ugh! Supposedly, a good Stilton cheese is supposed to have rotted to the point where it’s actually runny.
The depressing thing was that the building was so ratty looking. The building itself — stone walls and towers — was nice, but the interior, including the owner’s quarters, dated right from the 70s. Original 70s work. Breakfast, too, was indifferent, and after a morning walk around town we continued up the coast.