A Staycation Tour Part 3.
8th October 2020.
Day 7 – 16th September 2020
We leave the town Dornoch with happy memories of a great afternoon and evening in this beautiful historic place. We cross the Dornoch Firth and pass the Glenmorangie Whisky Distillery on route to the lovely town of Beauly. The town sits on one of Scotland’s most renowned Salmon fishing streams, the river Beauly. The centre of town offers a range of excellent and varied shops, restaurants, cafes, hotels, and guest houses. We stop for morning coffee at the Corner on the Square, www.corneronthesquare.co.uk a deli and café packed with the finest food, drinks, treats and delicacies this side of Loch Ness! Our coffee and scones are freshly made, and quite excellent. Refreshed and happy we wander through the centre of town to the old Mercat Cross which displays a date of 1430, making it one of the oldest standing market crosses in Scotland. Next, we arrive at our reason for visiting this town – Beauly Priory. The priory was founded around 1230 for the monks of the Valliscaulian Order. The Valliscaulians came from Val-des-Choux (‘Valley of the Cabbages’) near Dijon in France, and followed strict ideals of poverty, chastity and obedience. Beauly, which means ‘beautiful place’ must have been such a peaceful and serene place for the monks to worship. The site was used for 300 years until the Reformation brought their way of life to an abrupt end. The ruined priory church offers an atmospheric and remarkably interesting visit. There are two Mackenzie tombs in the church, one to Alexander Mackenzie who died in 1479. Another tomb dedicated to Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail who died in 1491 still has its effigy intact. Beauly is the epicentre of the highland clan Fraser. The clan chief, Hugh Fraser, the 3rd Lord Lovat and his son are buried in the Priory. www.clanfraser.org
Our journey continues through the capital of the Highlands, Inverness and we are giving a shout out to one of our favourite restaurants here – Café 1 www.cafe1.net We are not stopping in Inverness today and we continue due east to two outstanding historical places – The Bronze Age Clava Cairns and Culloden Battlefield.
Clava Cairns are around 4000 years old and were built as burial cairns to house the dead. They were used for millennia and are, remarkably, still very much intact. The site offers a wonderful opportunity to wander in this ancient land. It is an incredibly unique experience to walk in to these ancient, opened topped tombs. There are not many places left where you can have such an experience. The tombs are circular and are themselves, circled by standing stones of varying size. One of the most fascinating facts about the cairns are that the entrance is aligned with the setting of the mid-winter sun. This winter solstice was an important time in the north, as the people who lived here could look forward to the spring climate.
After our look around this ancient cemetery we make our last stop of the day at Culloden Battlefield. This is where the Jacobite rising of 1745, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie was crushed by Hanoverian Government Troops in the last land battle to be fought in the United Kingdom, 16th April 1746. The story of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to overthrow King George II and the Hanoverian regime in favour of his deposed father the Stuart, King James VII is a fascinating one and has captured the imagination of Scots ever since that fateful day in April 1746. What makes this campaign so fascinating is that when Prince Charles Edward Stuart landed from France at Glenfinnan, in the west of Scotland in July 1745, he only arrived with seven troops! The army soon swelled as clan after clan joined up in the belief of a return of the Stuarts, and maybe a return to an independent Scotland. The Jacobite army (Jacob being Latin for James), who wanted to see the return of their rightful King – King James VII, soon started to show their force. And with their effective highland charge, it wasn’t long before they had the Government troops defeated, or on the run all over Scotland. The story of this campaign is told in an excellent display at the Culloden Visitor Centre. There are well designed display boards to read, interactive screens, videos, artefacts, short films, and pictures to look at. There are also costumed guides on hand giving displays and explanations of what went on at Culloden. You can walk out on the battlefield to see where the armies were lined up. You can see where fighting took place, and you can pay your respects at the many clan graves. The monument, which was erected in 1881 by Duncan Forbes, is a striking landmark on the battlefield.
After our visit, and much contemplation at Culloden, we make a drive into the Cairngorms National Park and our accommodation for the next two nights in lovely Grantown on Spey. Our beautiful 4-star guest house accommodation provided us with excellent en-suite rooms and public rooms fitting of this elegant Victorian house.
Day 8 – 17th September 2020
Our last day in the highlands provides us with beautiful blue skies and sunny, early autumn weather. This is perfect, as today’s drive will take us over The Lecht, an area so high it is a major ski resort in the winter months. I do love the Cairngorm National Park and even though the mountains don’t have as much character as the west coast peaks, this is an area of mountain wilderness and big skies. Across this vast mountain-scape there is an Alpine climate and, in the winter, an Arctic climate. Our journey takes us through the lovely village of Tomintoul before we climb and climb and climb as the road reaches 2090ft to the Lecht Ski Centre. Today the ski lifts sit still, and their wait will continue into December, if the snow comes by then. And, if it does, they will be churning skiers up and around the slopes, where they will enjoy some of the best quality snow, but only if it falls, and the conditions are good, such is the unpredictable Scottish Ski season. www.lecht.co.uk We stop just beyond the, quiet for now, ski centre and enjoy stunning views of heather covered mountains to the peak of Cairngorm mountain, which stands at 4085ft. We descend into an area known as Royal Deeside, named after the gorgeous river Dee and the fact that the British Royal Family have their highland retreat, Balmoral Castle here. The castle is closed (the royals must be in residence), but we are still awarded with lovely views of the River Dee. We make the short drive to the picturesque village of Braemar where we partake in some local shopping and, as the weather is still behaving, enjoy an al fresco lunch overlooking the Dee. We continue our look around Royal Deeside with a visit the beautiful village of Ballater. Again, we wander this delightful place as if we have all the time in the world. Life is going at a nice pace right now. We frequent a local gift shop and book shop then go for ice cream and let an hour or so drift by without a care in the world. After all this therapy we make the same drive back over the mountains to Grantown on Spey so we can look at some ancestral places for one of my guests who has links to Grantown. It is a wonderful end to a totally unique day.
We convene in the evening at the local’s favourite, The Craig Bar for their speciality – Pie and Chips and a pint. This day just surpassed epic!
Day 9 – 18th September 2020
Today we say goodbye to the Highlands and make the journey South to Edinburgh. We stop at the House of Bruar for fine quality shopping and then continue to historic Dunkeld for a walk by one of our favourite rivers – The Tay. After our walk we get the wheels in motion once again and glide happily further south, over the Firth of Forth and into Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh and, for my guests, home.
It has been an excellent staycation trip around Scotland and, I must say, it has been a privilege to show our country to local people. I, like other guides, take great pride in showing Scotland and recounting our history to overseas visitors, and I’m happy to say it was just as exciting and fun with our fellow Scots. I am fairly sure I may have repeat clients here! Of course, they will want their week in the Med in 2021 first…
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