Scotland Is Calling: Inverness, Culloden, Clava Cairns & the Cairgorms

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As you head north, Scotland gets even more breathtaking.

As I was starting to plan our family trip to Scotland, two different friends asked me if I’d ever read Outlander. I hadn’t–didn’t even remember hearing about it, avid reader that I am. But two recommendations were enough for me and I went to the library to check it out (quite literally). The day I was planning our time in Inverness was the day I started reading Outlander. Those of you who have read (or watched) it, understand how serendipitous this is. I’m probably the only person you’ve heard of who was going to Scotland FIRST and THEN began reading Outlander, right?

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The skies clear over Inverness

Doug and I had been to Inverness during our honeymoon and had tried to visit on a trip before that, in a failed attempt to get to the Isle of Lewis in the wintertime. We had been car-less on the first trip (university students) and there was snow on the rail lines. The farthest we made it on that trip was Oban (west coast).Truthfully, Inverness is beautiful and quite picturesque. But I’m not sure we’ve ever given it enough exploration. This is twice now that it’s served as a traveling base for us. For this trip, our day in Inverness and at Loch Ness was the only really wet day of our entire trip. You can see the grey in the photos–all of our past Scotland photos had been tinged with this grey.

This time around, though we prepared the kids for both rain and midges, we were blessed with gorgeous, sunny days with just enough of a breeze to keep the midges away. We seriously couldn’t have ordered better weather, and it played a big part in how enjoyable the entire vacation was. While I accept rain as a constant in life, it does have a way of ruining things, especially if you have to drag soggy kids around.

IMG_4636I took us from Edinburgh to Inverness through the Cairgorms National Park to the east of Loch Ness. In the winter (and fall and spring), it’s ski country. Four of Scotland’s five highest points are in the Cairgorms. At first I thought we’d stay in Pitlochry or Aviemore when planning the trip, but time wasn’t on our side. Again, another visit.

The drive was beautiful and I became quite adept at “through the windshield” photos. Parts of the drive were slow-going, as huge lines of cars formed behind lorries lumbering up the mountains with not many places to pass. Truthfully, it was less the lorries and more the timid drivers in tiny cars that we could have picked up and moved by hand, or simply driven over. However, we were in no rush. It was vacation time!

IMG_4673I left it fluid as to whether we’d check into our hotel or stop at Clava Cairns and Culloden Battlefield beforehand so there was no pressure. We were staying at a rather non-descript Premiere Inn (there are four in the Inverness area) that, after the flat in Edinburgh, really was nothing much to write about. We did have a fire alarm go off while we were there though–just had to get a photo of the truck…

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Culloden Battlefield Visitor’s Centre

I’ve jumped ahead again, so back to Culloden and Clava Cairns–both recognizable to Outlander readers. I added them to the trip for that reason, but I also knew they’d be interesting to my history-loving-and-teaching husband and possibly the kids too. If you’ve been to Gettysburg, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that you feel a quiet reverence on the actual field. I’m usually not a fan of visiting battle sites (I’ve been to the D-Day beaches as well), for the same reason I don’t usually visit cemeteries to pay my respects to my personal deceased. They live on in my heart and my head and I don’t need a physical place to feel their spirit.

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Culloden, restored cottage

For those of you who haven’t read Outlander and don’t know Scottish history, read more about Culloden here. It was the last battle on British soil (don’t worry–the British had some pesky colonies that would grab their attention soon) and led to some long-term consequences for Scotland and some of its citizens’ hopes for autonomy. God rest their souls. Culloden Battlefield also has a very informative Visitor’s Centre and interactive exhibits that showcase both sides of the battle–the Jacobite and Hanoverian causes. I believe three out of four of us enjoyed it; the last being a pre-teen who wasn’t a big fan of reading timelines and such during summer vacation…IMG_4650

I admit: I would never have known about Clava Cairns or even looked for it if not for Diana Gabaldon. We already had the Callanais/Callanish Standing Stones on our itinerary for the Isle of Lewis, and those are three separate sets of standing stones that are the most pristine and intact of any stones in the U.K. with the likely exception of the ones found in the Orkneys. Clava is not a group of standing stones though; it’s a Bronze Age cemetery. It looked like an interesting side trip, so off we went.

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The closest thing to a standing stone at Clava Cairns.

It’s not overly easy to find and I can’t even imagine how an Outlander tour bus would make it down the rocky strips that stand in for country lanes leading to it. I loved that there weren’t many people there when we arrived; especially no tour buses. After figuring out how to enter through the confusing gateway, we simply walked around and got a feel for the place. Sometimes you can just feel history seeping in through your toes. Think of it: the Bronze Age! If the trees could talk…

Clava Cairns, side of a burial chamber

Clava Cairns, side of a burial chamber

Next: Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle & the Black Isle

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One thought on “Scotland Is Calling: Inverness, Culloden, Clava Cairns & the Cairgorms

  1. Excellent connection to Outlander, our past trip to Oban (could have used Aulay’s pub picture), and trips to Inverness. Would have used picture of you behind the stones

    D. H. MacAulay

    >

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