We spent our first night at my first AirBnb, a charming 1820’s cottage in the town of Colinton just outside of Edinburgh, the boyhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson. The cottage is the home of a retired teacher named Pam who we immediately adored and put us immediately at ease about the trepidation about staying in a stranger’s home. She chatted with her as she cooked us a delicious breakfast before we headed off to nearby Midhope Castle (Lallybroch to the Outlander fans). Mom is a Outlander book fanatic and I have enjoyed watching the TV series so I have incorporated several Outlander sites along the way on our trip.
After Lallybroch we went north to Culross, another Outlander site but quite simply a picture perfect coastal village. Culross has been used in film before because it is a perfectly intact living museum of sorts, a town that is a 16th century preserved historic village that feels like you have been transported back in time.
After Culross we headed 3 hrs straight north through the Cairngorms National Park and on to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. The drive was breathtaking, with fields of Gorse,
a vibrant yellow floral bush that smells like coconut that covers the entire landscape in most areas. It is a favorite flower for bees and supposedly makes delicious honey. You always hear about the field of purple Heather in the Highlands in the Autumn but in the late Spring it is this beautiful yellow.
Once in Inverness we again visited a few Outlander sites which are just fascinating historic sites on their own merit. We visited Culloden Moor battlefield, the site where in the 18th century Jacobite Scottish forces were decimated by the British in less than an hour in one of the most harrowing British battles in history. The effects of the battle were long standing as British troops scoured the Highlands disarming all citizens and making sure any signs of future threat were eliminated. The Highland Scottish culture was destroyed, the clan system broken down, the wearing of tartans outlawed, along with the speaking of their native Gaelic language, a hangable offense.
After Culloden we visited nearby Clava Cairns standing stones, the inspiration for Craig Na Dune of Outlander (stones that transport the main character back in time 250 years just by
Standing stones are stones set into the ground vertically with the most famous example being Stonehenge. They were put there by Neolithic people all around in the U.K. They are found in single standing stones, circles, lines or groups of them. Their dates are mostly from 4000 BC to 1,500 BC. It is generally thought they had both practical (meeting place) and ceremonial or religious uses but no one really knows what they were used for originally.
We spent the night at the Glasdair BnB along the river Ness, which feeds into Loch Ness. We had a traditional Scottish breakfast including haggis which I rather enjoyed but would never seek out on my own, Mom most certainly did not like it and took one nibble and looked as though she was going to vomit. Our tour guide said it best, no one questions or knows what is in hotdogs which include most of the same unsavory ingredients, you just need to try it with an open mind and palate. Haggis is a sausage that contains oatmeal, suet and an assortment of sheep organs to include heart, liver, lungs and stomach. Later we did a
brief walk around Inverness which is a pretty city with river Ness running through the middle of it.
Next was Loch Ness. Loch Ness is notoriously overrated and everyone says that there are so many more beautiful lochs (lakes) throughout Scotland, however it is an obligatory stop that I wouldn’t think of missing. The story of the monster can be traced back 1,500 years when Irish missionary, St Columba,is said to have encountered a beast in the River Ness in 565AD and it became part of the worldwide myth in 1933 when the famous photo was taken. As of 2 days ago there is DNA sequencing being conducted in the loch to determine if there is reptilian DNA in it’s waters. We stopped at a few tourist shops and the ruins of Urquhart Castle before we continued our journey north, beginning the famous NC500 route (north coast 500 km), the Scottish equivalent of Rt.66.
We drove several leisurely hours winding north up the coast through countless small villages and the terrain changed from dense forest and high mountains, to fields of Gorse along steep coastal cliffs and then finally a flat treeless green expanse
with sheep as far as the eye could see. This time of year the sheep are raising their newborn young so Mom “ooh’ed” and “aww’ed” with every sight of them, wanting me to stop at every inconvenient moment for roadside photos.
We went up to John O’ Groats, the most northeastern tip of Britain, stopping for photos at Duncansby Head sea stacks. The wind was cold and damp and I was thankful to have opted staying in rooms versus camping here. In spite of the weather being summer absolutely clear blue skies and gorgeous prompting locals to be in shorts and tank tops, it is chillier than we had anticipated (low 60’s), and Mom has been wearing every layer she had brought with her.
We eventually stopped for the night around 8pm in Scrabster at the Wee Hoosie, a BnB perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean right near the ferry terminal to the Orkney Islands, our next overnight stop and one of our most anticipated visits of the trip.
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