The drive was fine, and there's some spectacular scenery even along the A9 route, passing through the Cairngorms. rwrylsin commented at one point that it was as if the glaciers had just stepped out for lunch - and that's what it looked like, mountains lining very wide flat-floored valleys, the valley floor treeless, but covered in ferns and brackens and other plants which I don't know the names of yet.
We reached Inverness at about 4:30 and went to the venue for the Open (the men's and women's foil events were held on Saturday). We got there just as the finals of the two events were run, and caught up with some of the Glasgow West End crew. They had found a place to stay which was somewhere well out of Inverness (about 20 miles away, some of that along single-track roads), and were planning to party wildly in the evening. We said we'd find our B&B, then find ourselves some dinner, then see if there was time to head out to their hotel and join in the fun.
We found the B&B (about 1 km from the venue) and checked in, then went for a walk, ended up walking along the banks of the River Ness for a bit, then around some back streets, then back to the Ness, and finally to the hotel whose food had been recommended to us. Dinner was very nice, and we slowly strolled back along the Ness a bit, then back to the B&B, where we decided that it would take an hour or so to find the rest of the GWEFC fencers' hotel, and that we wanted a good sleep before competing, so we just sat and read for a while before heading to bed.
The competition will be described in a separate post, since I'm sure it'll get longish.
Afterwards, we headed back to the B&B, showered and changed, and headed out for dinner, which again was good (steak and chips for me; just the thing after a hard day's fencing !), and another stroll along the Ness.
On Monday, we got up fairly early again, checked out of the B&B, and hit the road. First, we tried to visit Inverness Castle (which looks like a fairly recent building, maybe 18th Century) (aha, quick Googling says 1835, although it was built on the site of an earlier fortress (then again, just about everything in the UK seems to have been built on the site of someone's earlier fortress !) ), but it didn't seem to be a tourist site, or at least not open as one (and the Googling says summer months only, and only a small part of it is open anyway).
Then began the quest for petrol, since there would be some reasonably long stretches between petrol stations along our route to Glasgow. We had to hunt around a bit, but were finally fuelled up and ready to drive.
Our first planned stop was Beauly Priory, a ruined abbey/priory, about 15 miles west of Inverness. As usual, Mary Queen of Scots had visited the place before us - I'm sure one day we'll visit a castle that she didn't get around to, but I don't think it's happened yet. From there we headed southwest on the A831, which runs near the Rivers Beauly and Glass much of the way, through very green and pretty countryside. Even after our holiday here last year, and driving around the country a lot this year, rwrylsin and I are still impressed by the beauty of the landscape here. Wonder if this ever wears off ? We even saw a deer crossing the road ahead of us at one point on the drive.
We reached Cannich, and then headed east, still on the A831, for a few miles, until we came to a place called Corrimony, where there is a stone circle and chambered cairn (as you can see here ). I did crawl through the tunnel in to the central cairn, although it wasn't neccessary to do so as the top is open and it can easily be viewed from above.
After that we headed back east, until we reached Loch Ness (yay !), and visited Urquhart Castle, another spectacular ruin. In this case, it was blown up by its last occupants, the Grant clan, so that the Jacobites couldn't make use of it, and it has been in ruins since the (1691 or so). It is a large site, and in most of it only some walls are left, but the main tower house still stands four stories tall, and gives a good sense of how it might have looked when in use. We explored the site for a while despite the steadily increasing rain, and took plenty of photos (some may appear here, once developed and scanned). Eventually we got a bit cold and we were getting hungry, so we retreated through the Visitor Centre and then to the car, where various junk food disappeared very quickly.
Next we backtracked a bit, since we wanted to visit the Falls of Divach, marked on the map as being quite close to Urquhart Castle. A few twists and turns and another single-track road and we found the appropriate parking spot and walked down to the viewing area for the Falls. They were quite high and impressive, and we couldn't see the top or bottom among the trees. There was a group of people there when we arrived, and I overheard a few of them speaking Chinese as we approached. When we got to the viewing area I said "ni hao", and got answered ... in English, saying something about the weather (ah, the weather - it was still raining, of course). They left, we took photos and admired the view for a few minutes, then we moved on too.
It was time to head south again, so we passed the rest of Loch Ness, then Loch Oich and Loch Lochy (!), and finally got to the town of Fort William, where Inverlochy Castle was marked on the map. I managed to not get confused by a sign for "Inverlochy Castle Hotel" (a 19th mansion), and we arrived at Inverlochy Castle (built in the 13th century). It is in a fairly "classical" castle design, square in shape with round towers at each corner, and mostly in ruins now, although still interesting to walk around in. At the back of the castle is a river, and while looking out at it I saw what appeared to be an otter - it quickly turned and dived and disappeared, though. On the back walls of the castle, it looked like there had been further building attached to the castle walls - I spotted roof lines in places, and holes in the walls where wooden beams would have fitted. Watching Time Team so much must be starting to rub off on us.
It was still raining, and the afternoon was getting on, and we still had about 100 miles to drive to Glasgow, so we drove on down the A82, although we did stop at one point somewhere near Rannoch Moor, when I just couldn't resist taking a photo of the beautiful mist-shrouded mountains. Finally, we reached Glasgow and got home, and quickly ate dinner and collapsed in front of TV and LJ catch-up. All in all, another fun weekend in Scotland.
Next weekend, down near the town of Castle Douglas (there isn't actually a castle named "Douglas" there, as far as I am aware, but Threave Castle isn't far away) to visit my Aunt Jean and Uncle Bill.