Scotland Is Calling: Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle & The Black Isle

Nessie James Hat

Hang on to your hat, James!

While I love discovering the places that are off the beaten path, most trips with kids invariably involve visiting at least one known tourist trap. I knew that we had to visit Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle with Becky and James, even though Doug and I had been there before. Therefore, we spent the morning of our second day in the Inverness area driving down to Drumnadrochit to see both Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

IMG_4679

The Beatles must have been here too!

Since we’d been there nearly 20 years before, the Loch Ness Visitor Centre had been hugely updated and its now a five-star visitor attraction. We enjoyed it quite a lot–it presented the history of Loch Ness using high-tech, interactive scenes (you walked from room to room, and they used animatronics, lights, smoke, movies and sound) that were both fun and informative. We learned a lot about the loch and also came away with the feeling that the existence of Nessie was more possible than we had thought before the exhibit. Plus, there’s a lot more to the history of Loch Ness than the potential for a plesiosaurus to be living in its waters.

Me and NessieLast time around, Doug and I took some fun/hokey photos with a replica of Nessie somewhere in town. Doug went on a hunt for it so that we could take updated photos, while I thought “here we go” and likely rolled my eyes a few times. I’m proud to say that he followed a hunch and found her! (But not before he asked the Visitor Centre parking attendant, who promptly answered that he hadn’t been alive 20 years ago and had no idea. Thanks for making us feel like old-timers, fella!) The sad truth is that this is what rain does to my hair and the reason you won’t find me ever posting another photo of me with frizzy hair again.

Urquhart Castle is a usual stopping-off place for tourists in the Loch Ness area and probably the least thrilling castle we visited on the entire trip. It does, however, have a fascinating history, which you can read about here. There’s been extensive excavation and renovation of the castle since we saw it last, and it was cool to see the full-size replica of a trebuchet that stands on the grounds now. The site has also added a Visitor’s Centre (with the requisite gift shop and cafe) that shows a good film giving the castle’s history for those of us that prefer learning in that format over reading.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle: Our 2nd castle, for those of you keeping score at home…

After a lunch in Drumnadrochit, we headed back to Inverness for a walk around town. I was disappointed to learn that my plans for Castle #3–Inverness Castle–were thwarted by the fact that Inverness Castle is now the Inverness Sheriff Court and is not open to visitors. Though a castle was first built on the site in 1057, sieges and periods of upheaval led to the destruction of the original and many that followed. The current Inverness Castle was built in the mid-1800s.

IMG_4705I had planned for us to visit Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle and Inverness Castle that day, so we were still left with plenty of time on our hands after we’d done it all. We talked about going back to our hotel room and relaxing, writing in journals, playing a game, etc. but I just wasn’t sold. We were in Scotland, after all, and I was rarin’ to go explore. Plus, our room at the Premier Inn was small and hot and it was bad enough having to sleep there, let alone spend our waking hours there.

Luckily, Hertz had upgraded our rental car from a Volkswagen Passat to some type of Volvo SUV at the start of our trip, and the Volvo had all kinds of bells and whistles (including an alarm that sounded when Doug drove too close to anything on either side of the car–he disabled it after two days of hearing both its bing-bing-bing-bing and my “Honey, the left side, the left side, you’re too close!”). I simply used the Volvo’s nav system to ask it to find Tourist Attractions by proximity to us and then located a Distillery on the list. It was only 3pm: Why not?

IMG_4718And that’s how we found the Glen Ord Distillery on the edge of the Black Isle area, northwest of Inverness. Outlander fans will smile when I tell you that it was near Beauly AND it was originally founded by the MacKenzies of Glen Ord. The Black Isle, which isn’t really an island, is the portion of Scotland that juts out north of Inverness. It is bordered on one side by Cromarty Firth and the other by Moray Firth. Its soil is known to be quite fertile (hence the Black in Black Isle).

IMG_4712We pretty much had the Glen Ord Distillery to ourselves since we got there before closing time. They sadly informed us that there had been a problem earlier and the distillery tour was closed, but we were fine going through their small museum and getting right to the tasting. (The kids waited patiently–there were plenty of seats around and the distillery employees were very friendly towards them.) I’ll admit it right now: We should have bought more than two bottles.

Singleton of Glen OrdI’m not a huge Scotch drinker, but Doug is and we both really enjoyed the 12 year-old Singleton. We tasted the 15 and 18 year-olds as well, but the 12 was our favorite. It was smooth and balanced and warm, and we didn’t buy nearly enough. The Singleton of Glen Ord is distributed by Diageo and ONLY AVAILABLE IN ASIA. Or at the distillery. Nowhere else. It wasn’t cheap, so I limited our purchase to one for us and one as a gift. Ours is long gone, though Doug did his best to preserve it as long as possible. We hear that our gift recipient hasn’t even opened his bottle yet, so we’re in the planning stages of a raid to get it back…

I hope to return to the distillery some day and, even more importantly, to the Black Isle area. Surrounded by water on three sides and part of the Scottish Highlands, how could it not be beautiful? We drove across it the next morning on our way from Inverness to Golspie. Take a look…

Doesn't it make your heart soar?

Doesn’t it make your heart soar?

Scotland is simply spectacular

Scotland is simply spectacular

Next: Golspie/Dunrobin Castle, Ullapool & the Ferry to the Isle of Lewis

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