Friday, April 4, 2014

A night in Inverness: the 'gateway' to the Highlands

Saturday, March 22 – Sunday, March 23

A couple of weekends ago, J and I both experienced the rare occasion of having a Saturday off (if you work in retail, you’ll get me) and so we decided to head off into the sunset – or in this case on a beautiful sunny morning in Edinburgh – we headed to Inverness.

Day One

We left Edinburgh at 8:25pm on a Megabus bus, which cost £38 for the both of us return. I originally wanted to go to the Cairngorms, but considering we only booked accommodation the night before, we didn’t have much choice, considering they were still getting a little bit of snow fall still.

We had a budget of £40 for the both of us, for the night. Even all the bed and breakfasts were all booked out around Aviemore, so there we were on the bus heading to Inverness.

We passed breathtakingly beautiful snowy landscapes and we were there within three and bit hours.

We walked to Bazpackers Hostel from the bus station, which was passed the Inverness Castle* and adjoining to the Castle Tavern. We were shown to our room by the some-what quiet host – then he showed us around and then left us to it.

The view from Bazpackers Hostel yard.

I changed my boots to a different pair and we walked back to Castle Street, turning left on the bridge to the other side of River Ness, passed Inverness Cathedral, following the river upstream, where we crossed over another bridge to Ness Island.

You could see where Salmon fishermen would stand usually, when it’s the right season, unfortunately they weren’t out when we were there. And apparently if you’re lucky you can catch glimpses of seals – again, it wasn’t the right season. 

On Ness Island
Now these footbridges are not ideal if you don’t have good sea legs and are walking across with someone like, let’s say J, who loved shaking the rails, making the bridge wobble and sway. All the while he had the cheekiest grin on his face, whilst testing the suspension of these old bridges to the limits.

One of the foot bridges over to Ness Island.

We couldn’t believe how fast moving the river was, an indication they had probably had a bit of rain up there recently. The river had swallowed a few patches of daffodils and some of Ness Island.

The Koi Carp in the pond at Floral Hall
We explored Ness Island, crossing three or four other bridges*.

Then we went to Floral Hall – a quaint botanical garden that had beautiful tropical flowers and a cool succulent/cacti garden, complete with a pond holding Japanese and Israeli Koi Carp. 

After looking around at the plants we sat down at the café for tea and coffee and cake; J had a carrot cake and I had a Victoria sponge. 

Then we walked back through Ness Island, back to the town centre. We popped into a Scottish chain shoe store* (I won’t give the name away because I work in the Edinburgh franchise) to see what the Inverness store looked like (nerd I know).

We then wandered through the Victorian Market, and old arcade full of different shops, I think when it was originally founded it was used as a fish market. We just wandered around as it was late in the afternoon and a lot of the shops had started shutting.

A clock at the Victorian Market

After popping into the Tesco Metro across the river, we headed back to the hostel to chill out in front of the fireplace in the lounge room. Then we got changed and we headed out for dinner across the road at La Tortilla, a Spanish tapas restaurant where we met up with a colleague of mine and where another one worked*.

J and I shared four tapas dishes; garlic chicken, tortilla, haloumi and courgette pakoras and salt and pepper calamari. I enjoyed this with a glass of red, and J with a pint of Estrella. It was delicious – I think my favourite was the garlic chicken, though you probably wouldn’t have wanted to get closed to me after I ate it. And to top it off J and I shared torrijas (similar to French toast) sprinkled with cinnamon and served with ice cream. It was something we had only tried once when one of our old Spanish flat mates had made it.

Afterwards J and I popped into the Castle Tavern, for a couple of night caps. We had a pint each to start with of Happy Chappy from the Comarty Brewery, which went down a treat. It was quite packed, so we stood at the bar chatting to the barman, who was telling us how majority of the patrons there that night were tourists and he even told us he was going to have a ‘scoop*’ himself after work (meaning he was going to have a pint).

Then we got a second pint each of Scabber and got talking to a lovely couple from Penrith in the Lake District (not in NSW), who were only in Inverness for the night also. But because they were over 50, they had got the train, which had only cost them £20, each return.

After we finished our second beers, it was a quick walk from the pub and around the back to the hostel. Very handy indeed!

Day Two

After a good night sleep (the bed was really comfy) we waited to use the shower, as there was only one on the second floor, though I realised later on that the bathroom downstairs was huge and three shower cubicles. Silly me!

Then we ate our breakfast (courtesy of Tesco Metro’s reduced section) and got talking to an Austrian and Latvian girl who lived in Cornwall and were spending a few weeks break from university, to backpack around Scotland.

We made our lunch, left our suitcase and headed out. I think what I like a lot about Inverness was all the street signs had a Gaelic translation, it just made you feel that you were in fact in a different country where they can speak a different language.

Not knowing exactly where to go we went to the Tourist Information Centre and asked a girl for her advice on what to see and do, since we only had until just after lunch and it was a Sunday, it left for little opportunity, as there is not a lot of buses running on a Sunday to take us outside the town.

She told us to go to the cemetery, in the Old High Church yard, about 10-minutes walk away, or go to the Culloden Battlefield, but to get to the latter we would have to get a taxi and then pay to get in as well, so we opted for the former.

We walked to the cemetery; the lady at the tourist office said it was a interesting and historical sight as a few of the tombstones were embedded with bullet holes, left by the Jacobites and you can see where executions of some had been carried out. The west bell tower is mostly what is left of the medieval St. Mary’s Church of Inverness, which became a prison for Jacobites after the Culloden.

The cemetery at the Old High Church

We had been walking around the cemetery for a few minutes when it started hailing/sleeting, it was coming down hard, so we went back towards the main strip, stopping at So Coco, a café, where we had macarons and ‘luxurious’ hot chocolates, which helped warm us up.
After that we decided to start walking to Merkinch Nature Reserve – which took about 20 minutes or so from town, we walked along the sea wall, looking out to Moray Firth; we even saw bunnies in the brushes and then we came to the Caledonian Canal.
Moray Firth

J was mesmerised by the feat of engineering* that it is – it runs between the Great Glen – a geological fault line that runs for 100kms east to west. After walking across the canal lock to the to the other side we ate our lunch, where we watched a group of adult swans and their cygnets. We were eating peacefully until one of the cygnet decided to get friendly, jumping out of the water and spooking us.
A canal lock on the Caledonian Canal

The cygnet who was being a bit cheeky

Walking along the canal we passed the ‘Titanic’ Museum – the Titanic Inverness Maritime Museum - a museum this guy had built in the back of his house with a 1:10 scale model of the maiden ship. After some urging from J, we walked through the back yard, resembling a collection of boats, even R2-D2 from Star Wars, with it all resembling, well a junk yard, though there were some awesome boats and even a mini submersible. Then we came to the actual museum part; we were greeted by who we think was this man’s son, after giving a donation (it was free to enter) we walked around the vast collection of movie posters, maritime objects and even a speed boat-simulation game, before we left. Those it was a bit ‘odd’ you could see this man had a passion and he was working hard to turn his dream into a reality.

He even asked if we wanted a cuppa at the little café set-up he had made inside the Titanic replica before we left. It is definitely worth the visit.
The 1:10 scale model of the Titanic

Welcome to the Titanic Inverness Maritime Museum

We then continued our walk along the canal, back through town, back over Ness Bridge and back to the hostel. Where we collected our suitcase and walked to the bus station.

On the way home we even saw deer, wandering around the snowy hills of the highlands.

I think Inverness was a great town, it is definitely the 'gateway' to the highlands. If we have another chance to go there, I'd definitely like to see Culloden Battlefield and we were thinking we would like to go up to the Orkneys from there as well. 


*Inverness Castle was completely different to the Edinburgh Castle, it was newer, since the previous castle was destroyed by the Jacobite rebellion and it is now the Inverness Court House.

*There probably wasn’t that many, but I lost count due to my dizziness caused by J shaking every single one.

*Probably shouldn’t give the name out for legal reasons, but it’s a great shoe store, you should check it out.

*From the store I can’t tell you the name of!

* We spotted a bunny in the garden next to the pub as we were walking in.

* He has been a little obsessed of late with watching the More4 programme - Great Canal Journeys – a four-part series about Prunella Scales (you may remember her from Faulty Towers) and her husband Timothy West.  

Now this weekend, we're off to Pitlochry for two nights. We're hopefully going to go to a whisky distillery and we might even go salmon fishing. Who knows! I'll post about that next week. Until then, drink lots x

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