Ok everyone, this is my last post about my vacation to Scotland. If you missed the other two posts, feel free to go back and read about Edinburgh and Culloden Battlefield. I know I’ve been talking about Scotland a lot, but the thing is, it was such a wonderful experience!
Vacation is meant to be a break from regular life, to try something new, and to relax and recharge from the stresses of work. Unfortunately sometimes when you get back home life hits you like a ton of bricks and it feels like you never went away at all. But this trip has stuck with me. We’ve been back over a week and I still feel at ease. I feel better about work, about the hot sticky temperature of the tube, about our tiny flat, about chores, and about all the tiny things that bug the regular life version of myself. Scotland was so lush, green, sunny, and friendly. It was such a great holiday and I’m just not over it yet.
The last bit of site seeing we did in Inverness before heading back to London via Edinburgh was to Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness. Urquhart Castle is situated in the valley between some very large rolling hills, but still sits somewhat high above the sparkling blue water of Loch Ness. As you can image, Loch Ness is the reason a lot of tourists go to visit this area of the Highlands. Who can pass up an opportunity to see Nessie?
In fact, Ryan and I may have seen Nessie. Here’s the story: In general I like the idea of fantastical creatures and wish they did exist (or that I believed they existed). Ryan is logical and realistic and does not believe in those kinds of things. However, as we stood at the top of the hill and leaned on the railing overlooking the water surrounding Urquhart Castle Ryan noticed some splashing in the water. There wasn’t a boat nearby or anything else that we could see, and the waves looked somewhat sizable. Was it the wind? A fish? An eel? It was Ryan who suggested it could be Nessie. And since we were on vacation and in good spirits, we said that yeah, probably it was Nessie. We don’t have any proof, but I think it’s fun to believe.
While we were by the Castle, I had also hoped to look around the town and check out one of the Nessie exhibits. My Rick Steves’ guidebook said there were two, with one being cheesy and one being slightly less cheesy. But, Ryan and I had been dropped off at Urquhart Castle by the bus, which only came a few times per day, and the walk back up to town was steep so we didn’t make it. If you’re in the area and you have a car you would definitely have enough time to do both the castle and the Nessie exhibits in one day.
Urquhart Castle though is a clear crowd pleaser. I mean, look at these pictures! It’s the most gorgeous place in the most gorgeous setting. Beautiful stone, rolling hills, lush greenery, and shimmering blue water?! Nature is obviously showing off. And it worked, I was impressed.
In the visitor’s center is a small exhibit about Urquhart Castle, who lived there, the work they did, and where they would have been. The name of the Castle comes from a mix of Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. Additionally, there is a short film that goes over the history of the Castle. At the end of the film the projection screen rolls up and we got a panoramic view of the Castle and Loch. It’s a little heavy handed at making you feel wonder and awe, but it works because the view is breathtaking.
The ruins of the Castle date from the 13th-16 century. However this site may have been occupied much earlier as the introductory film says that St. Columba visited the site in about AD 600. Anyway from the 1200’s to its demise in about 1692 the castle served as a military stronghold and did see a lot of action. Apparently over it’s long history control of Urquhart passed back and forth between the hands of the English and the Scottish. Most notably, the Castle was in English hands after King Edward I of England invaded in 1296. Then in the 1300’s it was part of the Scottish struggle for independence and was under control of Robert the Bruce who became King of the Scots.
What I liked best about visiting the Castle is that we got to wander around on our own. We could get up close to the stones and peer through windows and really explore. Back in the visitors center there had been a model of the Castle in its heyday which marked how different areas would have been used. As we walked around in the Castle there were small signs that let you know what might have been a kitchen, bed room, or hall and built on what we had learned inside. I liked that I could stand in the place and imagine what it might have been like. I liked the minimal signage because it was enough to help me create a picture but not so much that it took away from the experience of being in the Castle, the place that witnessed the history. I think it’s a good museum practice that you can allow people to interact with very little text, but that the text that does exist is really evocative and informative.
For example, in the model I had seen a representation of the kitchen and learned a bit about food preparation. From what I had seen inside I knew that there would have been lots of people working with various roles, all with the aim of creating big feasts for the rich. Then outside in the Castle, there was just a small sign giving brief information about the kitchen and then they had a small info graphic showing how cooks could have used one cauldron to make 3-4 different dishes at a time. It was simple, informative, and brought the history to life. An empty building in ruins can potential be hard to connect with, but I thought the Historic Scotland (the branch of government that cares for the site) had done an excellent job of bringing the history alive without being invasive to the Castle structure.
We ended our visit by walking down the hill towards the waters edge. I put my fingers in the cold water just so I could touch just a little bit of Loch Ness. I love the water and want to get in it any chance I can. We walked up the hill to the cafe. Ryan and I had a pot of tea, shared a scone, and enjoy the perfect weather as we waited for our bus. It was a shining, beautiful way to end our Scottish vacation. I can’t recommend this experience enough.