THE C’S OF SCOTLAND: CAIRNGORMS, CULLODEN, CARRBRIDGE, CLAVA AND MORE
The Cairngorms must be Scottish for Beautiful Mountains. For my second week in Scotland, we traveled from our coastal cottage near the Isle of Skye to the breathtaking Cairngorms. The scenery changes dramatically as one enters Scotland’s mecca for hiking, skiing, kayaking, biking and eyeing. Yep, a big part of the treat here is to fill your eyes with magnificent vistas, charming villages and ancient castles, including Macbeths’ very own castle – Castle Cawdor. (We will talk more about the Castles in a post on Scottish Castles coming soon.)
There’s lots to see and do, so let’s get started…
Home base for this week is Carrbridge, very near Aviemore, where we stayed in a charming cottage on the grounds of Dalrachey Lodge and estate. The expansive lawns and sparkling river nearby made for enjoyable walks and leisurely relaxation. A short walk away is the Cairn Hotel and Restaurant – fabulous food including fish pie and haggis lasagna.
2. LOCHNESS MONSTER AND URQUHART CASTLE
We routed ourselves via Loch Ness on our way to the Cairngorms. Who can resist a shot at their very own siting of “Nessie” – the famed monster of the loch. Well, like thousands before us, we didn’t spot Nessie either but the fun of imagining you might is reward itself.
Loch Ness is beautifully situated along steeply rising cliffs upon one of which clings old Urquhart Castle near the village of Drumnadrochit (there’s a couple of names to get your highland tongue engaged)! Urquhart was once a Highland stronghold but now stands in ruins, standing guard over the loch and beckoning visitors to imagine her in her full glory. The visitor’s center has great information and scrambling atop the walls and walkways yields great views of the loch and allows you to conjure up visions of the past. If castle tours aren’t your thing, consider a boat ride on the loch – go in search of Nessie with a sonar equipped vessel and a guide that will regale you with stories.
3. CAIRNGORMS MOUNTAINS
Oh, yeah. This is indeed a mountain that harbors over 70 feet of snow in the winter to a skier’s delight. The best way up is via the funicular. Check out prices and available equipment for hire on this website: Cairngorm Mountain Funicular. We were here in the fall but I’ve definitely added this to my list of places at which I want to ski.
Not only is it a spectacular setting but it comes with its own legend of a yeti-like creature named Am Fear Liath Mohr or the Big Grey Man. He’s been scaring mountaineers and skiers senseless for ages. You’ll only hear his footsteps when he comes. As you know, it just wouldn’t be Scotland without a good ghost or fairy story. Be advised that conditions on this mountain can change faster than you can say Am Fear Liath Mohr…..no… even faster than that. Perhaps plunging temperatures and thrusting winds are enough to get anybody to hallucinate a monster.
4. BATTLE OF CULLODEN
It was here near Inverness in 1746 when all things Scottish nearly disappeared forever – an Outlander time warp? Read on – it’s a 45 minute battle that changed the history of Scotland and, for that matter, many parts of the world. The Culloden battlefield is preserved, interpreted and enhanced by the National Trust for Scotland. Learn more here about Culloden Battlefied.
The battle for Scottish independence went back centuries and was wrapped in long standing hostilities between England and France. It was lead by Bonnie Prince Charlie – an heir to the dispossessed Stuart monarchs who long sought restoration to the British crown. English troops thrashed the so-called Jacobite uprising leaving 1,500 to 2,000 bodies on this windswept moor. In the aftermath, Scottish plaid, weapons and customs were squashed. Jacobites were hunted down and either killed or shipped off to the colonies. You won’t be disappointed to spend at least a half day here. The visitor center offers demonstrations of weapons use, well curated collections of artifacts and complete step by step descriptions of the battle and the events leading up to it. It’s time well spent and can be enjoyed by all age groups. Yes there’s even plenty for kids to do. Touring the battlefield is an easy walk on flat ground and good trails.
If you have Scottish heritage and you’re an American, Canadian or Australian, you might want to investigate what forced your ancestors to leave. In my case, it was an earlier uprising, the restoration of Charles II to the crown that forced both the Munros and the Ross’s to be transported via prison ships to the shores of America. They were ardent supporters of the American Revolution – one was even part of the “shot heard around the world” at Concord.
5. CLAVA CAIRN
A short distance from Culloden – ask for directions at the visitor center and follow signage – is the Clava Cairn. It’s a Stonehenge like “village” in a quiet meadow. It was a burial and religious site for the ancients. As the wind sighs through the trees you can nearly hear the voices of the past. It’s a quick stop but an interesting look into the distant past.
6. HIGHLANDS WILDLIFE PARK
Lions, tigers and polar bears oh my!! What you talkin’ about Willis? There are no polar bears in Scotland! Oh but there are. After we came down from this mist filled Cairngorms sky, we went on a safari of sorts at the Highland Wildlife Park where you drive through a portion of the habitat and walk through a portion of the habitat. We photographed all kinds of animals including, yes, polar bears! You can’t get out of the car despite how much you might want to but I slid my little ass out the car window and used the top of the car as my tripod or rather my monopod and it was amazing!
7. HIGHLAND FOLK MUSEUM
A day spent at the outdoor Scottish Highland Folk Museum, near the town of Newtonmore shows you how the highlanders lived in days gone by. Imagine extended families of 20 to 30 people crowded into one of these thatched roof cottages. The floors are bare dirt, smoke from a sputtering fire permeates the room and livestock stroll through the open doors. Young women, aged 12, became mothers back then. These were tough people living in harsh conditions but life was short for most – living only into their 40’s. Contrast this with the luxurious life of the lairds. And, if these buildings look a little familiar, it’s because portions of the Outlander series was filmed here. The outdoor buildings and exhibits progress from these times (the 1700’s) to the mid 20th century. It gives you a real feel for life in these parts and is worth all the time you can spare. The school house from the 1930’s is particularly fun. The teacher had us practice our cursive writing. Needless to say, we came away with big homework assignments. Click the link that will give you more information on the Highland Museum:
8. RUTHVEN BARRACKS
We concluded our trip in the Cairngorms area with a visit to Ruthven Barracks which is just up the road from the museum. The “barracks” were actually used as a prison by the British after the first Jacobite uprising. At this place, following the Battle of Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie met with his troops and told them to go home as the revolution was over. Now in ruins, the buildings still give you a sense of how forlorn a life must have been atop this lonely hill and, trust me, how windy and freezing cold it would have been to be imprisoned or stationed up there.
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