New Year 2016 Trip : The Enchanting Inverness

 

riverness

Stunning view of River Ness from the top of Inverness Castle

Nearing the end of 2015, most of our friends were already packing south down to London for a new year’s vacation. It was an excellent idea I think, because down south it would be likely a wee bit warmer than here, and of course lots of fun London has. Checking on Scotrail site for tickets for the four of us, I was left sighing to myself, seeing that it would cost more than GBP 200 for all of on rail tickets alone to get to London and back, I didn’t even want to check the hotel fare.

So, I began to look for any place near Edinburgh, to spend our new year’s holiday. There were two options, Newcastle or Inverness. Since the magic of the Loch Ness legend had been too great to ignore, Inverness it was.

Scotrail advance booking for 2 adults and 1 child only cost us GBP 35 return, even more appealing when I checked the hotel, I found a bargain at Waterside Hotel Inverness via Agoda for GBP 78 for two nights twin beds room. Just over GBP 100 and we got a 2-day vacation, it was just a no brainer!

On 3 January, I saw on twitter, that some railways around Aviemore was submerged with flood. Storm Frank had been showing its action apparently. Scotrail confirmed that the journey will be terminated at Perth, then would be continued by bus. I was about to cancel the trip, but if we cancel it, then we weren’t going anywhere for the whole holiday! So I thought, well, let’s just give it a go then.

Day 1

4 January early morning, train was scheduled by 6.38 am, we planned to go to Haymarket station, which was “just” a 10-minute walk from our flat, by 6 am. But, the fact that we were a “big travelling circus” with two little daughters, we managed to get out from the flat by 6.25 am, followed by a sprint in the dawn by the four of us. Luckily, we just got there on time, safely boarded to the train.

The train was barely half full, though I could see many of the seats were marked as reserved. I guessed not too many people think it was worth the hassle to go out in the havoc of Frank. We changed train in Stirling when it was still dark completed with drizzle and wind blowing. The good thing was, Scotrail has a free onboard WiFi, so you can browse or watch YouTube (very handy with two kids along).

Arriving at Perth, we were greeted by a torrential rain on a Monday morning. There were only several people insight on the station, with most of them were on the same train as us and were also waiting for the replacement bus provided by Scotrail to get us up to Inverness. There were two buses available, one straight to Inverness station and the other stops at every station between Perth and Inverness. We boarded the straight bus to Inverness, with around 10 other people.

The bus journey was okay, I was prepared to a more congested traffic as I always had in Jakarta, but clearly this is nowhere near Jakarta, so traffic was good. 30 minutes after we hit the road, we started to see what Frank had done to the countryside. Gone was the lush greenery with sheeps scattered around eating grass, replaced by massive amount of water flooding the green field. It was devastating really how it will affect the surrounding communities.

flood

Flood covering the once a lush greenery

With the kids sleeping, I didn’t realize I had dozed off until 30 minutes to Inverness. When I woke up, I can see some of the hills top were covered by snow, it was beautiful. It made me wonder what I am going to find in the city later.

The bus reached Inverness train station in 5 minutes since we enter the city, I can see Inverness is not a very big city, even smaller than Edinburgh but it held the same charming feeling. We drop off the bus and decided to walk to the East Gate Shopping Center, a nearby shopping center to eat some lunch. It was a good size shopping center with good choices of shops, from clothes, electronic to a decent sized food court. Having our lunch finished, we decided to walk to the hotel, and stopped by some attractions on the way, like Inverness Museum and Inverness Castle.

inverness_castle2

The front of Inverness Castle overlooking River Ness, on the right the statue of Flora MacDonald

Unfortunately since it was a bank holiday (I was just realized that Scotland had an extra holiday since the Boxing Day came on Saturday, how great was that?), the museum was closed. We then decided to walk to the adjacent Inverness Castle, through a stairwell led to its back yard. The castle itself was not open to public, but the ground was. We walked around the castle ground that sit above a hill overlooking the city and took some pictures, portraying a charming city with the dramatic gray sky above it. We moved to the front of the castle and greeted by a very stunning scene of River Ness. It felt so peaceful and harmonious, how the building looked well preserved and stand side by side with nature. We found rabbits chasing around each other on the castle ground, some birds also approaching us. The kids gave them some bread crumbs and they flocked around in a bigger number.

feedingbirds

Feeding the seagulls

Satisfied with the scenery, we continued to walk to the hotel, just a 10-minute walk from the castle. On the way to the hotel, we were frequently greeted by locals, a warm welcome to the highland.

We checked in the Waterside Hotel, located on the side of River Ness. The check in was effective and in 5 minutes we were going up to our room in room 109. Given the money we paid with GBP 78 for two nights, we really didn’t expect much with the hotel, but we were quite surprised with our room. The room and shower room were decent sized. The shower room itself looked freshly refurbished so it was very clean. The room had two single sized beds, with the mattress that clearly needed to be changed, but it was okay to be slept on for two nights. Coffee maker facilities, heater, LCD TV were working properly. There was a cupboard to store your clothes and belongings, with large vanity mirror and table if you need to do some paperwork. The view however, was not so good, overlooking a parking lot, which was okay considering the amount we paid. Since it was beginning to dark, we decided to stay at the hotel and get some rest before going out and around all day tomorrow.

watersidehotel

Waterside Hotel Inverness Room 109

My husband was taking the rental car from Easydrive, just nearby Inverness train station. We got a small car rent for GBP 26 a day, with additional GBP 12 for a car seat and a non-UK driving license fee GBP 5. Riding car was preferable in Inverness, seeing there were not too many bus running to the tourist area such as Urquhart Castle, Clava Cairns or Culloden Battlefield. Those were the places that we were going to explore the next day.

Day 2

carhire

Getting ready for the fun!

 

The next morning, we managed to be ready at 9 am, it was a cold gray morning, no rain spotted though so it was good. We head out to the nearest location first, the Culloden Moor.

Cullodenmuseum

Culloden Moor Museum

When we arrived on the parking lot, there were not too many people in the area, maybe it was still too early. We head out to the museum, but again unfortunate since it was not open until the following day. We then continue to the battlefield monument.

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Culloden Battlefield

The grey sky and howling wind did wonders to the atmosphere. I was starting to imagine how would it had been when the battle was broken out, between Bonnie Prince Charlie who brought out the Jacobite rising and the British army. It was said that Culloden battle marking the end of the Jacobite rising, caused the rising leader himself flew to France after the defeat and brought highland back under British kingdom.

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One of the tombstones at Culloden Battlefield

There were several tombstone erected, some writing on those stones, I presume it was marking where the chief of the clan fought in the battle died. Some flowers were left on the tombstone, probably from some visitors. The big round stone monument stand on the field nearby the tombstones, with some writing on the monument explaining the bravery of the Highlands warriors fighting for Scotland and Prince Charlie.

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Culloden Moor Monument

We continued walking to a small cottage still on the field, there was no passage written on what or why the cottage was there. But I presume that the cottage was what the house looks like on the Culloden battle era, around mid 17th century. We took some pictures then prepared to leave and headed to Clava Cairns, just a 5 minute drive from Culloden Moor.

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An old cottage at Culloden Moor

I knew Clava Cairns from the infamous Outlander TV series, in the scene where Claire touch the standing stones at Craigh na Dun. I have read the first book of Outlander and it was probably the one of the reason why I loved being in Scotland very much.

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Clava Cairns

We didn’t see so many cars on the way to the site, and when we arrived there was only one other car parked and nobody else was seen around. It brought an eerie yet tranquil feeling to the surrounding. Clava Cairns was a burial site with large stones build together and shaped like domes, with giant standing stones surrounding the dome. It was dated back to the Bronze Age up from 3200 – 600 BC. The site was well preserved, given the fact that it was a free visiting site and only secured with a low wooden gates surrounding the site. The location itself was far from the main road, in the middle of farms and some houses.

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The Dome tombstones at the Clava Cairns

We wandered around for a moment, feeling the peaceful atmosphere below the grey clouds and howling winds. Later it got too cold for my kids and we decided to leave then headed to the last place to visit, Urquhart Castle and the infamous Loch Ness.

outlander_stone

“Sing me a song of a lass that is gone…”

It took about 30 minutes drives from Clava Cairns to Urquhart Castle. I felt so fortunate we decided to hire the car instead of going by public transport, since I was sure there was no bus I could spot on the way to Urquhart Castle. 15 minutes driving then we can view the lake, it was a big lake that shaped like a very wide river. We hadn’t spot the Nessie, yet. 15 minutes later we arrived at Urquhart Castle parking lot, the castle couldn’t be seen from the parking lot. We found out later that the entrance was below the parking lot through the main entrance building. It was beginning to rain when we arrived, but we were already there so we decided to give it a go.

The tickets for adult was GBP 8.50 and child was GBP 5.10. We walked down the stairs to a merchandise shop and then proceed to enter the theatre to watch the short movie about the castle. The movie was nice, mostly documentary described the history of the castle that dated back to 1200. At the end of the movie, there was a great and unexpected surprise,
****!!SPOILER ALERT!!****
when the screen was slowly pulled up and the lights were still off, suddenly the back wall of the previously located screen, which actually curtains, were slowly opened to the side revealing a big curved floor-to-ceiling windows showing the Urquhart Castle stood proudly with the Loch Ness as a background.
****!!END OF SPOILER!!****
We just couldn’t stop being amazed by that.

urquhart_castle

Urquhart Castle seen from the entrance building deck

We then went out from the theatre and going out to the castle grounds. There was a guided tour by 2.15 but looking it was still 30 minutes away, we decided to explore the castle by ourselves. First thing that we found on the way to the castle was a trebuchet. It reminded me to the computer game about the ancient war and civilization called Age of Empire. Trebuchet was a giant catapult used as a war weaponry. It can be mounted with a very big stones or flammable material and then thrown away to the opponent direction.

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Attack!!!!

Having had some pictures with the interesting trebuchet, we walked to the main gate of the castle, it was the best preserved part of the castle. Entering the main gate, we can see what was left from the historical castle.

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Castle Main Gate on the right side

There were many towers, some of them can still be climbed through the circular stairs. We explored all the castle remains and all the circular stairs. I felt like my knees were going to fell out! But the fun we had just made us kept on going. There was a “talking telescopes”, operated after we entered GBP 1.50 so we can see the closer view of the lake while some narration was played explaining the view. It wasn’t worth the money actually, but the kids were curious and they were happy trying the telescope.

deck

The deck on top of the one of the castle tower

Until the end of our exploration of the castle we still couldn’t spot the Nessie, blame the weather for being so dark, windy and rain on that day! Since the raining was started pouring, we decided to end our journey at Urquhart Castle and headed back to the city.

lochness

No Nessie insight

After returning the car we walked to the hotel, along the riverside at night. If the River Ness was beautiful at day, it felt magical at night. The sidewalk was wide enough to be decorated with benches and lamp posts, some decorative lights also being put on a tree. We stopped and sat for a while on one of the benches and enjoy the peaceful feeling from the sound of the river. We had so much fun that day, feeling the magical experience exploring this beautiful highlands. All happy and tired, we call it the night when we got to the hotel.

rivernessatnight

Enjoying the Riverside view at night

The following day, we packed and got ready to head back home in Edinburgh. With the railway still in disruption, we were going to ride by bus again up until Perth and continuing by train until Edinburgh. Finally our Inverness journey had to come to an end, and I could say that all of us have had a very sweet memories of this enchanting city. The tranquility, hospitality and beautiful scenery will never be able to be forgotten. For those who are planning to go to Scotland, a trip to Inverness is definitely a must!

Trip Summary :

  • Transport Cost (with Family & Friends) card GBP 35
  • Hotel Cost for 2 Nights GBP 78
  • Car rental 1 day GBP 43
  • Meals GBP 30
  • Total cost GBP 186

*when we got home, up until midnight I still couldn’t sleep, ended up searching for a train to London and got it for just GBP 75 return! So, London we will come!

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