Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 26: Loch Ness & Culloden

A comfortable breakfast and a return to the seat in front of the fireplace made it very hard to leave our hotel. A smattering of rain troubled me but Loch Lochy gave way to an even more stunning area under the veil of legend - Loch Ness!

Cazy bore my chosen playlist with patience and zero complaints. I put him through Silly Wizard all day - a must for highland driving! Cazy pointed out that the lyrics of "The Ramblin' Rover" matched our intended journey in reverse, i.e. "frae Orkney down to Dover". We passed event walkers and irritating weekend drivers then arrived under lessening rain at Urquhart Castle. The view of the loch was glorious even under a struggling sky.

After entering Historic Scotland’s entrance and finding relief in the bathroom, I led Cazy out of the gift shop/cafe onto the platform overlooking the ruins of the castle (an exhibition inside had furnished our expectations of the layout).

We descended the ramp to enter the ruins via the dugout moat and rain began to strike back with a vengeance. My broken umbrella was useless so I went with what works - the rain jacket. We were intrigued by the trebuchet reconstruction (a world first that took place in 1998) then went through the gatehouse. Limited shelter offered me a chance to bemoan about my SLR’s large lens surface. You can climb modern stairs up to the next level.

Loch Ness beckons you into the ruins of Urquhart Castle.

The Grant Tower to the left retains its narrow stone steps for three out of five levels. When the wall failed me on my ascent, I could easily pull myself up on the steps. 

The view from the Grant Tower

The rain continued as we explored other less sheltered parts of the ruins, including the Water Gate through which I imagine the Lords of the Isles gained access to the castle when they raided it. Urquhart Castle was breached in many raids so I wonder if they should have foregone the Water Gate all together.

Maybe the Loch Ness Monster was their first defence! :D

The Water Gate scandal of the 1500s ;)

We hastened to the cafe and warmed up before hitting the gift shop. I wish I’d bought that purple woollen scarf but I already have a silk one at home!

We drove from there, sadly never sneaking a glance at the fabled Nessie - unless you count the many pictorial signs and sculptures dotted about the towns nearby.

We passed through Inverness on our way to Culloden Moor. Snow covered the peaks in the not-so-distant horizon and wind battered us as we struggled into the visitor centre. The exhibition at Culloden is very good - one wall follows the Whig timeline and the other wall follows Bonnie Prince Charlie. Weapons and various items were showcased. My favourite parts of the exhibition were: 1) the four-walled cinema that smushed us right in the middle of the brutal battle between the Jacobites and the English military and 2) a floor screen outlining the battle Age of Empires style (except this one came complete with cloud cover!).

We joined a guided tour outside where we were hit with a stark reminder of the ghastly winds. It was surreal walking through scenery I had viewed on Two Men in a Trench and slightly exciting too - I was able to marry images of archaeological work with the apparently undisturbed scene before me.

Desolate and windy: let's totally pitch a battle here!

A farmhouse stands there at Culloden, marking the buildings used by the king’s men as shields. Red flags signal their line and blue flags wave from a little distance away, marking the Jacobite line. Perhaps because I knew a lot from Two Men in a Trench (which pioneered archaeology on the site), perhaps the guide was simply above average, but I really felt the battle, really sensed the sadness and anger and foolishness and pride.

Leanach Cottage

The clan cemetery is frighteningly large compared to the marker for the English (merely two small ditches nearby - the Mackintosh clan ditch alone was 30-50 feet). After the tour, I made sure Cazy took a photo of me beside the Cameron stone, which marks the grave of Neil Oliver’s kinsmen.

The clan grave markers stand ever vigilant.

We bailed shortly thereafter to the gift shop. In the car, I despaired that the satnav knew nothing of the nearby Clava Cairns but Cazy spotted signs for it before we’d even left the private road that lies on Culloden Battlefield. 

The cairns are Bronze Age in date and are still very substantial, stowed among mystical green-sprayed trees. One stone was on the opposite side of the road, completely separate from its fellows. The whole place reeked.

“Do you smell vomit?” Cazy asked me worriedly - he thought he’d stepped in something.

I allayed his fears. “Yes!”

It looks a lot better than it smells!

Everywhere we went in the cairns we smelled vomit. While I would have liked to linger and re-enter the centres of the round cairns, the stench forced us into a hasty retreat. The cairns cannot have been used to protect anyone - defences are usually built on hills and this is a wind-sheltered valley. Few bodies have been found here. It is so cold and so close to the battlefield. I wonder if a clansman hid here? Did the English find him and slaughter him among these trees? Was the last scent in his nostrils one that reminded him of vomit?

Ancient and mysterious.

Arrived at the hotel in Inverness - very pleasant. I lazily ordered room service.

Sleep sleep.

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