A Scottish Odyssey: Part 2 – Loch Ness

Having exhausted many of the places to visit in the local vicinity, we wanted to venture further north so booked a hotel on Loch Ness. Getting there would be the good bit as it involved driving through the Cairngorms, the UK’s largest national park, to Inverness. There were other routes but the sun was forecast to come out again and this was the scenic one. To get to the national park we had to take the perilously twisty road over Cairn-o-mount, naturally stopping off to get some shots of the spectacular views back to the coast.

The first pit stop was a quaint little town called Ballater which has royal connections being so close to Balmoral. We parked up and had a stroll around enjoying a bridie from the local bakery (also with a royal crest). One thing Scotland has over England is free parking at most public places, south of the border you’re getting stung or fined whenever you want to leave the car anywhere.

The route north took us past a ski resort, over some spectacular landscapes, past some famous destinations on the highland whisky trail such as Tomintoul, Glenlivet, and Tomatin, and across the River Spey. We rolled down the northern side of Loch Ness in the late afternoon under a beautiful solid blue sky in search of The Clansman Hotel where we would be staying for the next couple of days.

For £120 a night (5,000 THB), we did expect a little more than the basic box room we got with a roof-obscured “loch view”, no cold water, and a shower cubicle that a Hobbit would have trouble squeezing into, however, I guess you’re paying for the location in these places. Since the sun was still out, we walked over to the loch edge, found a comfortable rock, and cracked open our box of red to enjoy the tranquility. The fresh water looked inviting but at an average temperature of six degrees, even dipping a toe was out of the question.

The next morning the mist had settled in as temperatures plummeted overnight, shrouding the loch and adding an eerie overtone that could almost justify the whispered Nessie stories that were shared over breakfast at the hotel. We went down to the jetty to get on the Jacobite Warrior tour which would take us down Loch Ness to the famous but uber-touristy Urquhart Castle. With such glorious weather, the boat was almost full, as was the castle grounds when we arrived.

The ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, and it was built on the site of an early medieval fortification to control access to the waters and further inland. Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its reoccupation by Jacobites (supporters of King James).

clan tartan

Clan Young tartan and crest

Upon return from the tour, we were ushered through the trinket shop loaded with Nessie toys and paraphernalia. It was here that I discovered racks of key rings, fridge magnets, shot glasses, books, and tartan for all the different names of the Scottish clans and that our own family name was listed among them. Each clan has its own area and historical time of dominance, coat of arms, and tartan colours, and this set me on a mission to find out more as I had no idea our family had Scottish roots.

With such glorious weather, we decided to use the rest of the day to explore the lochside towns, driving southwest to Drumnadrochit, and Invermoriston where we found a picturesque little bridge and waterfalls, and I had a chat and a strum with a local seeking some solace with his guitar on the river. We finished up at very touristy Fort Augustus for a fish n’ chips on the side of the Caledonian Canal watching the wealthy navigate the lock system in their yachts.

The next day we were on the move again, back towards our base but on the way, we stopped in Inverness to hunt down this elusive clan tartan. Naturally, of the ten or so dedicated kilt and tartan shops, we went into, none of them had ours because it was a smaller, relatively unknown clan not like the popular ones of Stuart, Fraser, Mackenzie, Macdonald, etc. Inverness also had more churches than I’ve seen elsewhere in the UK.

Back on the road, we decided to take a different route back via the beach town of Nairn and down the A96. This ended up taking just as long as going through the national park since most of it is a single-carriageway and traffic is held up by slow-moving trucks and tractors.