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Friday 13 April - Loch Ness, Eilean Donan and Skye

Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle and the Isle of Skye

Thursday 13 April - Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye
Loch Ness trip (2)

Loch Ness trip (2)


Words failed me for quite some time when I first saw the magnificent countryside. Then I struggled for the correct adjectives that would encompass all that Scotland's highlands portray.

I simply can't put into words, just how ruggedly beautiful and changeable this country can be. I could, and really want to ramble on about how wonderful it is and how it almost makes me cry it's so beautiful, but I won't do that. If you have been to the highlands, then you will certainly understand how I feel. If you haven't been, and have an appreciation for the magnificence that nature can offer, then Scotland is the place to visit.
Loch Ness trip - Rugged terrain

Loch Ness trip - Rugged terrain


I was tired and it was getting late when I arrived in Inverness. I had a quick look at the town as my taxi took me to my room at the Moray Park Hotel. The town had an old world feel about it and I could see that modern civilisation had not wrought too much chaos on the historic aspects of the city.

The Moray Park is one of many B&B's all over Inverness. I would hazard a guess and say that you probably couldn't walk more than three hundred metres without coming across one in most streets.
Inverness city - Ness River

Inverness city - Ness River


My hotel overlooks the river Ness. A very fast flowing, but relatively shallow river with the blackest water. The water flows so fast that it causes little rapids where it comes to a bend. The waters of some of the rivers in Scotland are black due to the high content of peat in the water. Peat
is still used by some people up in the highlands, but it is a relatively precious resource these days.

The Ness river is the shortest in the highlands, at only 8 kms long. It runs out of Loch Ness.
Loch Ness trip - Rugged beauty of the loch

Loch Ness trip - Rugged beauty of the loch


My room is lovely, warm and up two small flights of stairs. I have my own bathroom, which I have to go down four stairs and up three, basically across the landing. The bathroom is ever so swish. Shiny tiles, heated towel racks and the shower is frosted glass and lit up all blue by a strong blue down light. Sort of a new age TARDIS look. Even the droplets of water reflect the blue light when you have a shower.

Loch Ness trip - mountain stream

Loch Ness trip - mountain stream


The proprietor is a lovely lady and Andrew, her father is what I would describe as a 'kindly old man'. Very polite the Scottish. The breakfast room is well lit with the front bay window my favourite spot for breakfast as I look out over the little park and river.

I ate my scrambled eggs for breaky and then walked to the bus transit centre, just beside the train station. I had a general idea of where to walk and gave myself an extra half hour just in case I did lose my way. It was all uphill, but it was so lovely looking around that I didn't really notice the climb.

I walked up past Inverness castle, which was built in the 19th century. It was a fighting castle, used to protect the town, until it was blown up in 1745 during the final Jacobite uprising.

Inverness is the biggest town in the highlands. The population of Scotland is 12 million. There are 205,000 people living in the Scottish highlands, with 65,000 of them residing in Inverness. Inverness is ten times the size of the nearby towns. The highlands were broken up into 50 counties, but with the new government, the highlands are now divided into 12 large regions.
Loch Ness trip - clouds over the loch

Loch Ness trip - clouds over the loch


The town has no real factory industry. It has always been a trading town and now relies a lot on tourism.
The houses in and around the highlands are built of pink sandstone, which is very pretty. Most of the houses have a grey and pinkish tinge and look almost ageless.
Loch Ness trip - farm houses

Loch Ness trip - farm houses


Coming from Inverness, the Caledonian canal runs along the Ness road and joins up with Loch Ness, which is the start of the true highlands.
Caledonia is a very old name for Scotland. It is how the Romans referred to the country when it was habited by the Picts.

Loch Ness Loch view

Loch Ness Loch view


I found the bus station, walking through a very short and light snow shower to get there. It's cold, but I'm not finding it overly cold. I don't need gloves or a massive coat, but do find that you need a scarf and ear muffs as the face gets very chilly.

I met a young bloke with a red setter cross and got my fix of doggy attention. He was a beautiful dog and it made me miss my two boys terribly.

I boarded the coach and had the last single seat, right at the front. I've learnt to get in early and get the front seat as the view is much better for taking photos and general panoramic viewing.

Sandy, the tour operator was a crusty old guy who was lovely. Softly spoken with the melodic Inverness accent that I just can't get enough of.

We headed off up and around the town before heading down Loch Ness road. Driving along a windy and often steep sided road, the farmland gave way to the Loch and I watched in awe at the vista that appeared. Small mountains of forests, birch (known here as larch), American spruce and fir and other foreign trees in huge plantations. The birch and oak trees are about to come into bud and the stark white bark and pink tips contrasted against the green and blue pines to provide an awesome display.
Loch Ness trip - heather covered highlands

Loch Ness trip - heather covered highlands


The Loch is massive, 27 kms long, 1.5 kms wide in the widest place and 800 feet deep, which is deeper than the sea. It gives off a timeless and untouched feel, despite being dotted with farms and villages along the banks.

I took over 400 photos for the day, many of which will be deleted, but it was so wonderful and changed so often that you just needed to capture it all on camera.
Loch Ness trip - snow covered munros

Loch Ness trip - snow covered munros


During our trip around Loch Ness to Skye we went through farmland, rolling hills, granite mountains, metamorphic mountains, snow covered peaks, mist covered peaks, gorse, forests, heather, tree less terrain, habited and uninhabitable land. We had rain, sleet, snow and sunshine, all in the space of seven hours, giving you an idea of the constantly changeable nature and terrain of the highlands.

We drove along the road to Drumnadrochit (means bridge on the ridge), where you find the two Nessie centres. One is scientific, where they show you a huge display about why the monster does not exist, and the other one is pro Nessie, called Nessie Land, which gives you an idea of what it would be like. We didn't visit either of them.

Do I believe in the Loch Ness monster? After seeing the Loch, I think it's definitely plausible that something exists in the depths, whether that be a giant sturgeon, dugong or something more ancient.

There was a lot of gorse bushes growing up the slopes, all in flower early due to the unseasonally warm weather a couple of weeks ago.
Primroses also dot the hills, small pastel yellow flowers that are very pretty.
Loch Ness trip

Loch Ness trip


We stopped at Invermoriston (inver meaning where the river flows into - this being the equivalent of the Irish word Aber). I said hello to the highland cattle and gave one of the yearlings a pat. There had been two bulls in the paddock until one died last year. They were called Hamish and Hector, and I'm not sure which one died.
Loch Ness - yearling highland cow saying hello

Loch Ness - yearling highland cow saying hello


The red bull didn't come too close to the fence but the five black yearlings certainly did. The bulls have the horns facing more upward and out and the cows have horns facing more forward. The cows in the paddock were not for meat, but rather just pets of the owners. They are wonderful looking cows, as you can see from the photos in the photo gallery.
Loch Ness - yearling highland cows

Loch Ness - yearling highland cows


The cattle were getting a lot of attention from a couple of buses that had stopped in the same car park.
Loch Ness - Highland bull

Loch Ness - Highland bull


I said goodbye to the cows and wandered down the road to the Invermoriston river waterfull. Over the top of the small waterfall is a bridge, erecting between 1800 and 1819. It's a solid stone bridge which will probably be there fore another couple of hundred years.
Loch Ness - River Moriston waterfall

Loch Ness - River Moriston waterfall


Sandy, our tour guide was very helpful in explaining the gaelic meanings. A glen is a steep sided, v shaped valley, while a strath is a gentler sloped valley with a flatter floor. He gave good running commentary, despite the asians talking over the top of him.

The forests of pine are planted for commercial reasons. They are strip logged because any remaining trees would not be able to withstand the winds and fall over. Sandy explained that there is now a government incentive for farmers to replant Scottish pines, which are very slow growing and have a much more rounded top canopy. There were pockets of these growing throughout the highlands.

We travelled further around the loch towards our first castle stop. The mountains on the far side of the loch were now snow capped and getting larger. The highest mountain is Ben Nevis at 4500 feet, with anything over 3000 feet referred to as a munro. Mountain climbing is a big sport high with Munro Baggers always present. There are more than 200 Munro's and it is said to be quite something of an accomplishment for a mountaineer to bag all of them.

I couldn't believe how many people seemed to be out walking in the mountains, whether hiking or mountain climbing.

We drove past Urquhart castle but didn't stop as it's a ruin and there is much more to see at Eilean Donan castle.

We also drove past Plocton, which I would have liked to visit. Plockton, ring any bells with anyone? It was the village location where the fantastic series Hamish McBeth was filmed. It starred Robert Carlyle. If I get time, I may grab a bus there if one runs to my timetable.
My camera clicked away with each kilometre as the ever changing view became wilder and more rugged.
Eilean Donan Castle (20)

Eilean Donan Castle (20)


We arrived at Eilean Donan, the most photographed castle in Scotland, and immediately I could see why. With forest covered mountains behind it over the other side of the loch and the village of Loch Duich (pronounced Doo-ish) sitting prettily against the banks of Loch Ness to the side of the castle, who wouldn't want a picture.
Eilean Donan Castle (16)

Eilean Donan Castle (16)


Eilean Donan Castle (8)

Eilean Donan Castle (8)

How much you say, to get in to see such an icon? £5. Yep. I just can't believe how cheap everything is here, even when you convert it to Australian dollars.
Eilean Donan Castle (12)

Eilean Donan Castle (12)


Eilean Donan castle, strategically built as a fortress in the 13th century to guard the McKenzie Kintail lands from the Vikings. The castle was partially destroyed by the British in the Jacobite fighting of 1719. The British saw the castle as a stronghold of the Jacobites and like so many other castles, they destroyed it to stop the rising against the British throne.
Eilean Donan Castle (2)

Eilean Donan Castle (2)


John MacRae-Gilstrap, having married a wealthy woman from the Gilstrap family, brought the castle in 1919 and restored it to a habitable state. The family still use the castle at times and this part is closed to the public. However, they have provided a wonderful display in the kitchen, dining room and a couple of other castle rooms, with mannequins, furniture and a replication of how life may have been in the 1600/1700's.
Eilean Donan Castle (5)

Eilean Donan Castle (5)


I climbed all over the ramparts, up and down the towers and even on top of the portcullis. Bad knees be buggered, I wasn't going to let that stop me. The views from the battlements were amazing. The castle takes you back in time, drawing your attention to the world as it would have been.
Eilean Donan Castle (19)

Eilean Donan Castle (19)


It was wonderful. Simply wonderful.
Eilean Donan Castle (18)

Eilean Donan Castle (18)


I was sad to leave, but we pressed on towards Skye, stopping for a photo opportunity of the Skye bridge. The bridge was built in 1995 under the PPI scheme (Private, Public Initiative). Basically with bridge was built for the goverment by a private company. They company charged a toll to travel on the bridge, £40 one way per bus and the bus companies stopped going. Even the cars were expensive. Skye suffered and the residents complained bitterly for ten years.

It wasn't until the Scottish government came to power that they repealed all tolls on highways and bridges in Scotland that the Skye bridge became free to travel.

Skye is very big. 30 kms across with huge mountains all around. The mountains are unique as some are very young and made from granite, whilst the older mountains around Loch Ness are metamorphic, coming about through volcanic activity. They hold a great deal of geological interest for scientists.

We stopped for lunch at Broadford. I had lunch with Reece and Michelle, whom I met on the bus. Michelle is originally from Glasgow, with the broader burred accent, whilst Reece has the smooth Inverness speech. They were very nice and we hit it off well.
We pushed on to our ultimate goal, Algol, at the top of Skye. The road we travelled was very narrow, with signed 'passing points'. You pull over to let the other driver go by, which is sometimes a bit of a squeeze. There were a couple of marble quarries near Portree (Bay of the King) which are still in use, but only for marble decorative pebbles.
Isle of Skye - granite moutains

Isle of Skye - granite moutains


After a slow ascent winding up and over a couple of mountains, we headed down a steep incline to the very small village of Algol. The bay opened up onto the Atlantic sea, with the island of Rum and other islands visible on the horizon. Small fishing boats were in the harbour, fishing mainly for crayfish.
Isle of Skye bridge

Isle of Skye bridge


The area is a start point for the Cilliun mountains, with climbers beginning their ascent over the rough and jagged peaks. It was beautiful when we arrived, the peaks shrouded in cloud, which cleared to expose the mountains in all their glory against a sunny sky.
Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye - Cuilin mountains

Isle of Skye - Cuilin mountains


A lot of Skye is barren, rocky terrain, covered predominently in heather. It's rough, wild and brown, but somehow very beautiful and unspoilt.
Having our fill of such a wild and wonderful landscape, we headed back to the mainland. We couldn't do a circular route back to Inverness due to land slides cutting off the secondary road. It didn't matter. We stopped for more pictures of the mountains as more snow had fallen on the peaks and they were bathed in late afternoon sunshine. Our tour guide was wonderful in affording plenty of stops for photos.
Isle of Skye - Elgol

Isle of Skye - Elgol


It was a long, but wonderful day which was etched into my memory as one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The harshness, wild and rugged mountains, with little or no vegetation were as memorable as the lush forest covered hills.
Inverness shopping centre

Inverness shopping centre


Michelle, Reece and I went to a small cafe for tea and enjoyed discussing the sights of the day. Michelle, despite being almost a local, had never been on this tour and enjoyed every bit of it. It was lovely meeting them.

Posted by kerry needs 14:21 Comments (0)

Saturday 14 April - Diana Gabaldon tour & Culloden memorial

I immerse myself into the clans of Scotland

Saturday 14 April 2012 - Diana Gabaldon Tour and Culloden memorial service

I was very happy, but ever so tired when I went to bed last night. I contemplated whether I was up to another bus trip, however nice, and considered not going on the Diana Gabaldon trip.
Culloden memorial

Culloden memorial


However, after a nice breakfast, full breaky consisting of bacon, baked beans, egg, tomato and some sort of sausage. Only small portions, but it was very nice, washed down with lovely coffee.

I expected a bus to pick me up but instead, it was a man dressed in full kilt attire in a people mover. There were four other people on the tour, two american couples. They were nice enough, but Americans don't have the same sense of humour we have and they are a bit dour. Having said that, we had a lovely day.

Hugh Allison, our tour guide, was both informative and entertaining. We drove initially down to the Clava Cairns, pulling up in the car park just as it started to snow.
Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns


A note on the weather here. I'm at a loss to explain how so many people rug up like snow bunnies, even the locals, and have been complaining about the cold. Yes, it's very chilly at 8-10 degrees each day, but no colder than a winter's day in Bendigo. I'm loving it. I keep taking my coat off because of the exercise making me warm. I haven't really been shivery cold at anytime.
Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns


Back to the Clava Cairns. For those of you that have read Diana's Outlander books, this is where Clare supposedly went through the stones.
There are three cairns, two chambered and one with just a hole in the middle and no entry point. No-one knows what purpose the pit cairn serves. The cairns are 4000 years old and the theory about their use is interesting.
Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns


Apparently when one of the villagers died their relatives would leave their body to be stripped of the flesh and then place the bones in a beaker. This is in contrast to the stories I had heard regarding the beaker people of Stonehenge, where the beakers were used to store food and drink for the dead. Not sure what to believe as there are a number of different stories from different tour operators. You just believe the one that sounds more plausible.

The bones are left until the next clear night on the winter solstice. if the night is clear, the burial beakers are placed into the centre chamber.
When the moon reaches the right point, the light from the moon lights up the chamber and the spirits of the dead travel along the light to their next destination. If the night is overcast, the ceremony is put off until the next year, with possibly multiple beakers waiting for the light. It's a lovely story, but we will never know for sure.
Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns


There are standing stones around earch cairn with large stones around the base of the each cairn. The pit cairn has raised, rubble covered mounds leading from a couple of the standing stones to the cairn. No-one has been able to prove why, but there are a number of theories about, eg they are in line with moon phases, they represent pointers to another site.
The cairns were in a lovely part of the country, surrounded by farm land, with a couple of hares running through the fields. The snow was only light and had stopped by the time we got back to the car.

Whilst driving Hugh advised us that he was an historian of note, having worked for some years at Culloden. This was proven correct when we later arrived at Culloden Battlefield and Hugh knew most of the clan chief's in attendance. He had, in fact, written a book called Tales from Culloden, which I purchased and had him sign.
Clootie well

Clootie well


Before we got to Culloden, Hugh took us to a well near the village of Cortin. In Diana's book, Dougal makes Clare drink from the well of truth. This well was different, but very interesting. It was a Clootie well. Clootie has a couple of meanings in gaelic, one of them means cloth.

Villagers would visit the Clootie well, believed to have powers to heal. They would tie a piece of silver to a tree branch with a piece of cloth and then drink from the well, asking for their ailments to be cured. They usually did this not expecting to be cured immediately. It was considered to be very bad luck to take the cloth that others had placed on the trees.
Clootie Well

Clootie Well


I thought it an interesting ritual and expected to see a small well of water in the forest. Imagine my utter suprise when we came across tree after tree covered with cloth of all sorts tied all over the branches. There were flags, socks, scraps of material, tinsel, shoes, t shirts and all sorts of unidentified stuff tied all over the place.

The well itself was bubbling up from the ground and tinkling down the hill. It was eerier and sort of spooky seeing all the material and I wouldn't have liked to be there at night. However, the majority of the material was synthetic, voiding the 'magic' of the ritual. To make the ritual work, the material needs to disintergraee with the weather and wind, just like buddhist prayer flags. This stuff will last forever, never making their requests come true.
Clootie well offerings

Clootie well offerings


The Clootie well was definitely one of the weirdest things I've seen, almost along the lines of a 'Blair Witch' moment for me. Very spooky.
We got back in the car and headed the short distance to the Culloden Battlefield. I had organised to go to a memorial service at midnight, but as it was snowing on and off, thought I would not be going. As it turned out, I didn't need to go at midnight.

When we arrived at Culloden, the car park was full and the information and display centre was fill to brimming with highlanders in full kilts and plaids. These included ladies, men, clan chiefs from a number of clans and even children and dogs.
Culloden memorial

Culloden memorial


The moor is very big, relatively flat and still boggy in places. It is marked by flags, red for English and blue for the Jacobites. There are numerous mass graves around, marked by clan headstones, and one for the English.

There is a long stone wall on the side of the information centre. This wall has raised bricks on it, representing the dead on the battlefield. The English dead are represented by a couple of dozen bricks, then a space of no raised bricks before the rest of the wall, which is very long, has bricks for the Jacobite dead. In the first few minutes of the battle, about 30 English were killed and over 700 Jacobites.
Culloden memorial

Culloden memorial


The memorial service for the anniversary of the battle is held on the closest Saturday to the date. We were introduced to a number of clan chiefs by Hugh, who seemed to know everyone.
Culloden memorial service

Culloden memorial service


After a quick walk through the centre, which has a fabulous immersion and information display, we watched the pipers lead the way to the memorial cairn, followed by the chiefs and their clansmen. We joined the line and listened to the memorial service, which was in Gaelic and English. It was moving and included mention of the Black Watch unit that had just returned to Fort George from a stint in Afghanistan.
The clans then broke off and headed off to their own burial stones on the battlefield to hold their clan memorials.
Culloden battlefield memorial

Culloden battlefield memorial


The tartans, battle and formal dress was amazing and the day was icy cold, but the weather held for the service. It was a wonderful day for me, having such an interest in the Jacobite risings, and Culloden battle in particular.
Culloden headstones

Culloden headstones


Coming back in from the battlefield I had a whisky coffee to warm me up before we all departed for the rest of our tour.
Culloden memorial

Culloden memorial


I was very happy to have shared in the memorial service, an experience of a lifetime.

We travelled towards Dingwall. Dingwall has the oldest wound wooden clock tower in the world. The clock is wound three times a week. This little village was pretty, and was close to our next quick stop at the heart of the McKenzie land. Castle Leod, by Strathpeffer, (the inspiration for Castle Leoch in the books). This castle is indeed a Mackenzie stronghold, and the home of the Earl of Cromartie, chief of the clan MacKenzie.

We stopped on the long drive down to look at the castle as there was a Shinty match in progress on the field next door. Shinty is basically an early form of ice hockey, played with sticks that have a triangle head. Unlike hockey, the sticks can be raised high and therefore the game has lead to some broken teeth and black eyes in the past.

Hugh, our guide, explained that shinty was a very old game and was popular throughout the highlands. We took some photos of the castle and departed up the cromaity firth towards our lunch destination.

The two women on our tour were quite enthusiastic about the areas that seemed so close to Diana Gabaldon's books but I can't say the same for their husbands. They were interested in the historic significance, but obviously hadn't read the books.

We passed seals basking on the low tide rocks and arrived at the MacDonald storehouse for lunch. The storehouse was three storeys, one underground and was built in 1740 to house the stores that were received in payment for land rents. The MacDonald chief would trade the goods up river to Fort George and to other areas, turning the goods into money. The building survived the uprising of 1745 and has been converted into a restaurant.

Hugh advised that the restaurant was very popular with the locals, and he wasn't wrong,. We lined up for lunch and the huge building was full of people. However, the waiters and waitresses were very organised, coming done the line and finding out how many people were sitting together. They then reserved a table and you just got the food and had a table ready.

As we waited for lunch a small hail storm came over, dropping lots o f small hailstones against the window. To my delight, right after this came over, it started to snow reasonably heavily, the snow flying about in the air. I was pretty excited, and probably the only one in the building of about two hundred people, most of whom had seen lots of falling snow before.

It snowed most of lunch time, however it melted just as quickly, leaving the ground wet, not white.

We had a lovely lunch and I tasted the local soft drink, Irn bru (pronounced iron brew). It was very nice, soft of like creamy soda.
I struggled to eat my lunch with the Americans as they really annoyed me. They use their knife and fork in the most ridiculous way, stabbing the food and holding the fork like a spear. They then pull and cut the food up into bits and then spear it and eat it. Doesn't sound too bad? You should watch it, it's not pretty.
Highland Garron

Highland Garron

After lunch we headed out again, into bright sunshine after the snow. Travelling towards the heart of the Fraser land in the village of Beauly.
Travelling through farmland and light forest we came across the most beautiful horse, standing in a wooded paddock. It was lit up by the sun and looked almost magical. It also looked like it had just been groomed with a magnificent long mane and tail. Hugh obligingly stopped and explained that the horse was a Garron, a highland horse.
Highland garron

Highland garron


They are heavy set and big, similar to a clydesdale, but not as heavy. They are used in hunting to carry the carcasses of bagged deer as they don't mind the smell of the dead animals.

We drove through Dunbarton (dun meaning fort) and visited a lovely manor house which closely fit the description of Lallybroch in Diana's books. The house was found at the end of a very long driveway, behind the Ord distillery. We couldn't go inside as the owners had just returned from overseas, but we had a nice look around at the grounds. The house is called the Ord House hotel and would be a lovely quiet place to stay for a holiday.
highland gun circa 1740

highland gun circa 1740


And so on to our final destination in Beauly (meaning beautiful place). Fraser country. Hugh took us to a wonderful shop in Beauly, Campbell and Company. It was a tweed shop, supply bolts and bolts of lovely tweed material. They also measured and made tweed jackets and clothes and the shop hasn't changed one bit in the past fifty years. It was wonderful, the smell reminded my of my great grandfather. They had eftpos, but the receipts and everything else was done by hand.

I bought a scarf, which was very reasonably priced. The owner, Mr Campbell was a lovely man and we spent quite a bit of time browsing through the material and clothes.

We stopped for afternoon tea at a hotel and Hugh gave us a demonstration of highland weaponry. He had a replica targe, a war shield, which was made of two pieces of oak, placed so the grain ran in different directions. This was then covered on the back with deer hide with two wide leather straps to hold the arm in place. The front was covered with cow hide from the chest of the cow, as that is the thickest part. The front is then adorned with brass tacks. In the centre of the targe is a place to put a long spike, used to impaled at close range. The targe is tough enough to stop a musket ball.
Highland targe

Highland targe


The dirk, a very long and partially serrated blade, is held in the hand that goes through the targe. In the other hand, the highlander holds his broadsword.

This is not what I expected a broadsword to look like. The sword is not as wide or as heavy as I had imagined, It is sharp on both sides of the blade and the basket hilt is ornate and very practical. There are a number of areas on the basket hilt designed to stop the enemies sword from sliding off and cutting the highlander.

The highlanders traditionally place red material, cut from the English red coats, into the basket hilt to intimidate there enemies. The sword had both balance and grace when held, but I don't think I could wield it for more than a few minutes without it becoming too heavy to use.

Hugh's pistol, which was a one shot powder gun, and his broadsword, were both authentic and I'd hate to hazard a guess at their price. He was obviously proud of his heritage and proud of the highland spirit that is still apparent today.

Our final destination was the Beauly priory, erected in 1213. Now a ruin, this is a graveyard full of Fraser's. Although the highlanders spread across the globe after Culloden, those that stayed didn't stray too far and you can still find the majority of similar surnames living in their ancestral clan territory.
John Grey headstone

John Grey headstone


It was of particular interest to us that we found two graves in the priory grounds. One for Jamie Fraser and one for John Grey. Weird.

All in all, the tour was informative and interesting with a lot of information about the clans. Hugh was friendly and quite obliging if you wanted to stop and photograph or look at something of interest. It's a great trip for those who have read the Outlander books.
Jamie Fraser headstone

Jamie Fraser headstone

Posted by kerry needs 17:28 Comments (0)

Sunday 15 April - rest day in Inverness

Lazy day enjoying the city

Sunday 15 April 2012 - rest day in Inverness
Inverness - River Ness

Inverness - River Ness


I woke up, grateful that today I have no tours booked. Firstly, there is the small matter of laundry. I'm out of clean jeans and pants, so off I go to the laundrette. Next order of things is to wander around here in Inverness and the update the blog. I'm tired. The excitement of the tours and the fact that you are going all day takes it's toll.

After a leisurely breakfast and a chat to the Glasgow ladies that have been here regularly for the past few years, I wander down Ness road with my load of laundry. The walk is beautiful and so many people walk here along the riverfront. There are a few pedestrian swing bridges over the river but you can also walk across on the road bridges. The mountains are always visible, weather permitting and it's almost impossible to not feel relaxed as you walk along the waterfront.
Inverness

Inverness


There are a number of hotels and restaurants along the river walk and I decided that I would eat out tonight. I've found food to be very cheap, with most lunches costing me under £10. It is okay to leave a tip, so I've been tipping everyone. It's a bit of a novelty for us Australians, but I like to leave one when the service has been good.
Inverness

Inverness


The river is lovely to watch because it runs so very fast. It doesn't take me long to walk to the laundrette because I'm enjoying myself so much. The man in the laundrette was most helpful and I wandered off to Tesco's across the road to try to buy a new camera.
My camera had been playing up for a while. It has grit in it somewhere stopping it from opening the lens properly. It finally gave up the ghost but I manually opened it and got the last few photos I wanted from the tour yesterday.

It is very hard to take photos. There is so much to see and such beautiful scenery that before you know it you have hundreds of photos. I think it will take weeks to sort through them all, name them, and then put them in a slideshow or clip to watch.
Inverness

Inverness


I strongly suggest that you always take a small notebook with you when you travel. I've taken heaps of short notes on what the tour guides have said, place names and more importantly, the odd picture number to keep me abreast of just where the picture is taken. There isn't time to list every photo, so just jot down a photo number and where it is taken so you can remember. Believe me, there is so much to see you won't even remember the next day, let alone when you return home from your holiday.

The Tesco didn't sell cameras, only the bigger stores did, so I made up my mind to buy one on the next day in town.
Inverness

Inverness


I returned to the hotel along the opposite bank, past the old cathedral and the new theatre and cinema centre. The new buildings don't have any impact on the old look of the city. I noted that new and old buildings don't have eaves or verandahs here.

All the housing units are built exactly the same, out of granite. It's something I found all over Britain so far, whole towns and villages that have houses all the same.
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Even when they build new houses, they seem to keep in character with those already around them. It looks very asthetically pleasing to the eye.

My hopes of having all my blog up to date and uploaded were dashed when I arrived back at the hotel and crashed out on the bed. I slept like a log and enjoyed my relaxing afternoon. It was the first 'nanna nap' I've had here, so I've done pretty well.

Because my hotel room overlooks a small park and the waterfront, I have been able to watch the people walking their dogs. There is definitely a big need for some dog training here. Most dogs drag their handlers around, desperate to get to the next scent. Having said that, I've also seen some very well trained dogs, mostly because they are allowed to be taken pretty much everywhere. I've seen them on the buses, in the post office and other shops.

Having rested well, I rugged up and sought out a restaurant for the night meal. I chose Reflexions on the waterfront. The decor was modern and nice with a huge glassed in area to look over the water.
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I ordered Roast beef and yorkshire pudding with carrots, parsnips and turnips in herbs. All this was washed down with a 10 year old Macallam single malt whisky,

Whisky in Scotland is spelt without an e after the k. Irish whiskey is spelt with the e. The whisky was hot, so smoothand cleared the sinuses on the way down. That wonderful warm whisky fire started straight away and warmed my insides as only fine whisky can do. The price was very reasonable at $4.95 per glass.

The Glenfiddich I had when I arrived didn't even come close to the taste of this fine wee dram.

The view from the restaurant was wonderful, with the cathedral across the river. You don't even have to squint your eyes to imagine what Inverness looked like in the 18th and 19th century. It has always been a lovely city I'm sure.
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The people here are very friendly. They are all up for a chat about where I'm from and about their city.
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The river runs fast enough to have small areas of rapids in the odd spot. The water is very black and silky, made that way by the high peat content. No wonder Scotland has some of the great poets. It's an inspiring place. I'm happy to just walk around and soak up the atmosphere.
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  • I went to bed happy, but still tired and a bit headachy. My dry cough that had been annoying me for the past couple of days was getting slightly worse. I took some tablets before going to sleep to stave off anything that might be brewing.

    Posted by kerry needs 13:07 Comments (0)

    Monday 16 April 2012 - Battle of Culloden anniversary

    I revisit the battlefield and have a moving experience

    Monday 16 April 2012 - Culloden Battlefield anniversary

    Another nice day, bit cold, but still lovely and clear today.
    Culloden battlefield anniversary

    Culloden battlefield anniversary


    I jumped on a local bus and headed out to the Culloden battlefield. Today is the actual anniversary of the battle and I wanted to come back and spend some time alone looking through the display centre and walking the moor. It was lovely and warm with no clouds in the sky. The wind was still chilly, but it was a lovely spring day.
    Culloden battlefield anniversary

    Culloden battlefield anniversary


    I got to the battlefield at midday and made my way around the display centre. This battlefield is so very important. It is the site of the last battle ever fought on British soil. It was also the end of the Jacobite rising and brought about widesweeping and devastating changes for Scotland.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    The actual battle resulted in the slaughter of the Jacobite army in less than an hour and a half. The British were given the order to hunt down and kill those that escaped.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    What Charles Stuart had not known before he was persuadedd to turn his troops back to Inverness was that the King was preparing to flee London. Charles came within a hairs breath of regaining the throne.

    After the defeat at Culloden, the King passed drastic measures to ensure no further uprising by the Jacobites. Acts were passed to strip
    Scotland of the right to bear arms. No broadswords, dirks or targes. Tartan was no longer allowed to be worn as it was seen to be a form of calling for the highlanders. Many of the buildings and castles thought to be strongholds of the Jacobites were destroyed, including Eilean Donan castle.

    The bagpipes were also among the things banned, with the crown seeking to strip away everything that was Scottish. The act was not repealed until over thirty years later.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    The lands were also taken from the Scots and broken down into smaller holdings.

    In the immediate aftermath of the battle, the British soldiers hunted down and killed many Scottish highlanders, even those not involved in the uprising. Many women and children starved to death because they had no-one to provide for them and no means of living.

    The pressure from the English was so great that many Scottish people immigrated to other countries, including the Americas and Australia.
    Charles Stuart survived the battle of Culloden, fleeing back to France. He was a charming person, but was also a drunk and a womaniser. There are some people who wonder what sort or king he may have been and whether Scotland would have been any better off than they were under the Hanovarian crown.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    Jacobite supporters were a mixed lot. Some supported the cause through religious grounds, with the predominently catholic religion being overrun by the protestant king in England. Others didn't like a foreign king on the throne and wanted to see the return of James line back in England.

    There were also those fighting for the Jacobites that did so because they were loyal to their clan, not because they believed in what they were doing.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    This battle also pitted clan against clan, with some Scottish on both sides of the fight. The Jacobites were led by English and Scottish, which in part, added to the circumstances that may have caused their defeat.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    Today, the Scottish traditions are still celebrated and even Scot's Gaelic is making a slow revival. With Scotland now having their own parliament, I think it's a good thing to see the country support a more autonomous existance, although it is a slow and arduous journey for them.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    When you read about the Jacobite history you understand just how close, on more than one occasion, James and Charles Stewart came to regaining the English throne. It makes you wonder just how many things would be different had they succeeded. The French influence on our lives would be very prevalent as it was the French who supported the Jacobites, looking for instability in England and to possibly remove the threat the country posed to them. With a 'friendly bum' on the throne in England, France would have been able to establish a great deal of influence over the Stuarts.

    The display at Cullloden is well set up, with the English story told on the left side of the walls and the Jacobite story on the right. It is told in audio, video, some short reading and through artifacts. There is a moving 360 degree video room which gives you a feel for the way the Jacobites would have felt, so outnumbered by the English troops.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    Upon leaving the inside display, I donned an earpiece and handset, set with a GPS guide and wandered through the battlefield. As you get to a gps point, the audio kicks in and tells you where you are, what happened, and from what direction and then gives an audio re-enactment from the British and Jacobite point of view. Very informative.

    As I wandered over the field I could almost hear the noises of battle, but more than that, I could see the bodies and the blood. It was a very powerful experience. I walked to the well of the dead where the mass graves started. It was here where local villages were forced to bury the dead by the English.

    The path led down to the memorial cairn, flowers from Saturday's service laid around the bottom of the cairn.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    I'm not sure how long I was out there. Time seemed to stand still a little as I was led back in time. I couldn't believe how nice the day was and decided to have lunch before I headed back into town.

    I sat outside to have lunch, overlooking the mountains. An elderly lady asked to sit with me as the table was the only one in the shade. We got talking and I found her fascinating. Although she had a very 'proper' and distinguished English accent, she informed me that she was from the clan McDonald.

    She, like me, had attended the memorial service, but wanted to return on the actual anniversary. She could remember the 200th anniversary, 66 years ago when she was 17 years old. She said that her and her friend (who was a direct descendent of Flora McDonald, a very famour female Jacobite) were staying in the country somewhere in Ireland. They left their house in the small hours of the morning and took some porridge with them. She said that they spent the day creeping through the forest, much as the Jacobites had done 200 years earlier. It was there way of celebrating the anniversary.

    The lady also told me that 25 years ago there would only have been a handful of people at the memorial service but each year it becomes bigger and bigger. The service this year was attended by people from all over the world, ancestors of those who immigrated after the battle.
    I had a lovely talk with her and it was great to hear her stories. We have so much to learn from the older generation, it's a shame we don't take the time to listen.
    Culloden battle anniversary

    Culloden battle anniversary


    I jumped on the bus and returned to Inverness. I had contemplated not returning to the battlefield for the second visit. I'm extremely happy that I did. Anyone interested in historic events will find this site very informative and well worth a day's visit.

    I went out for tea, deciding to try out another restaurant on the river bank. I ate at the restaurant next to the one I had visited the night before. This one was very posh. Crocodile look leather tables. Wonderful service by the waiters and very nice food.

    I had the seared chicken with prawns on a bed of jasmine rice and shaved carrot, covered with Shrimp jus. Lovely. I washed this down with one glass of Malbec wine from Chile, then went for a second glass as it was so nice.

    There was a glitch with my card payment and it was voided, which they gave me the receipt for, then the payment went through. When I check my bank statement, it has been paid twice. I'll fix that up with the bank when I get to Edinburgh.

    I hit the pillow, very tired, but very happy, with thoughts of the courageous, if not somewhat misled, highlanders going around in my head. I felt that they had been led astray by men seeking different goals and if they had been more united and led by stronger men, history would be looking very different.

    Posted by kerry needs 13:47 Comments (0)

    Tuesday 17 April 2012 - John O'Groats

    I pick up a new tour and head up to the top of Scotland to see John O'Groats

    Tuesday 17 April - John O'Groats
    Dunrobin castle

    Dunrobin castle


    On Monday, I had visited the information centre before going to Culloden. I was interested in picking up another tour.

    The man in the centre was extremley helpful. He suggested a day tour to John O'Groats, which is the top north of Scotland. I explained that this tour clashed with the Jacobite tour of Loch Ness. He got onto the phone and spoke with both companies, moving my cruise to the following day and organising the John O'Groats tour to the following day.

    Tuesday dawned wet with the rain looking to settle in for the day. It wasn't heavy, but persistently steady.
    Dunrobin castle - family crests

    Dunrobin castle - family crests


    I put on my raincoat, packed my backpack and walked up to the information centre where I was to meet the coach. By the time I got there, about fifteen minutes later, the water was dripping off my hood and raincoats in a steady stream.

    The small coach arrived and it seemed that I was to be the only one on board. This was confirmed by Fiona, by tour driver. I offered not to go, but she said it was fine if I wanted to have a private tour. We agreed and off we went into the rain.
    Dunrobin castle - garden view

    Dunrobin castle - garden view


    I had been told that there was nothing much to do at John O'Groats, rather it was just the fact that it was the top north of Scotland and the
    jump off point to the islands. I didn't care, the drive up was supposed to be nice,
    Dunrobin castle - stairwell

    Dunrobin castle - stairwell


    Fiona, having just me to entertain, relaxed and we chatted as she drove. The tour guides are all wonderful, giving heaps of local knowledge as you drive through the countryside. There is so much that you hear that you just can't find on the internet or in a tour book.

    We travelled out past the Cromaity Firth ( pronounced cromarty, firth meaning inland sea). The crops here are predominently oats, barley and wheat. Canola is also grown.
    Oil rig in the Cromaity Firth

    Oil rig in the Cromaity Firth


    On the firth are a number of oil rigs, sitting up high in the distance. They are brought into the deep waters of the firth from the north sea to be repaired. There were four of them here when we drove by.

    There is also a big training base for the army located here.

    We drove past a distillery, one of the many to be seen in Scotland. The walls of the distillery was very black. 2 1/5 percent of alcohol is lost to evaporation in the distillery. The black walls help prevent further loss. The Scots call the evaporation loss the angels share.
    A large part of the land around the Cromaity Firth is owned by the Al Fyad's. Diana and Dodi visited the estate here. Dodi's father has brought a fair bit of wealth to the area.

    We passed by Glenmorangie whisky distillery. They use old sherry oak casks from Spain to age their whisky, giving it a distinct yellow tinge. The whisky is aged for 15 years and made my mouth water just to think about it.

    We travelled up through farmland and forests, leaving Cromaity Firth behind and approaching Dornach Firth. There were highland cattle dotted here and there along the way, some with young, gorgeous calves. The highland cows provided lovely meat, blood for black pudding and they are good mothers. They are slow growing and often crossed with Aberdeen angus.

    Many of the sheep are marked on the farms because the paddocks are shared with other farmers. It's lambing season and the lambs looked cold and miserable, with no shelter other than their mothers.

    We entered the lands of the Duke of Sutherland, which are substantial and hold a lot of forests. Fiona stopped at Dunrobin castle, the seat of the Duke, for morning tea. The castle looks out over the North sea and is surrounded by oak and larch forests. It was the Duchess of Sutherland in the 18th century who was a tyrant. She saw that there was more money to be had from hunting then rents from her crofters.
    They turfed a lot of the crofters off the land and charged a fortune for visitors to hunt and fish on Sutherland land. There is still a big business to be had for landlords, with many still employing gillies, beaters for pheasants etc. The average charge per week for fisherman to fish the rivers is £3000.
    Dunrobin Castle - The exit to the main driveway

    Dunrobin Castle - The exit to the main driveway


    The castle was very big, with it's own clock tower. When you entered the building the massive family crests dominated one of the walls, with armour and historic artefacts adorning the other walls. The enormous stairwell had a few deer heads mountain on the walls, with the stairwell culminating in a largre dome ceiling. The view from the first floor was marvellous, overlooking the sea with the manicured gardens below.

    The lady in the castle shop was very friendly and said that she loved living in such a quiet location. The place was cold, as no amount of heating would keep such a place warm, but it was wonderful to such so much history in a place that was obviously home to someone.
    We drove past the gatehouse on the way out and I could have happily lived in the gatehouse.

    The castle is overlooked by a huge statue of the Duke of Sutherland, situated on a big hill looking out to see. Not sure when it was erected, but the size of the statue was very impressive, even from such a long way away.
    North Sea

    North Sea


    We travelled through a number of small villages, each one having a post office, shop, inn or pub and a stream or river.
    We drove through Brora, which used to be known for making tweed, but this has now stopped,.

    Helmsdale was the next village, a fishing village, with boats going out to catch herring.

    As we travelled higher I noticed metal poles on both sides of the road. Fiona explained that these were snow poles. On the left were poles with red on them and on the right were white poles. This allowed drivers to see where the road edges were when driving through snow. It made me realize that the snow must get pretty deep here.
    Crofter houses

    Crofter houses


    We travelled down into a deep ravine, through the Braes (little hill), which were forest covered hills and a river at the bottom. It was beautiful, but too poor visibility to take a good picture.

    As we got closer toward John O'Groats we saw more heather covered hills and less forests. The heather is burnt to keep it low and fresh for the deer and other animals to eat. It was used by highlanders in the past for a number of purposes, including fuel, rope and jewellery.
    Leaving Inverness shire behind us we moved into Caithness shire and would then follow the coast to John O'Groats. There were lots of crofts houses here. Some still inhabited, some ruins. The croft houses were single story, with two windows. The crofter would live in these with their animals, the animals providing warmth in the winter.

    The modern crofters have two storied houses. Two windows upstairs and two windows downstairs, with many of them building annexes onto the houses.

    You cannot buy and build on new land here, but if there is an existing croft house, you can buy and build on the same land that the croft house occupies. Way too rocky for crops, so the land is used for predominently sheep.
    Dunbeath Scotland

    Dunbeath Scotland


    We stopped at Dunbeath village to have a look at the harbour. It was icy cold, the coldest I have been in Scotland, with freezing wind whipping the rain into my face.
    Dunbeath harbour

    Dunbeath harbour


    The sea was wild and choppy, dark grey to match the grey sky. The harbour walls were thick and made of stone, providing a good barrier to the pounding waves. There were lobster pots stacked up against the rock wall and the warehouses were those used back in the 18th century. There was even a salt house, a storage area built back into the rock bed to provide dry storage for the salt used to preserve the fish.
    It must have been a bleak existance, with many fisherman not returning from the sea. Life would have been cold and lonely here, the weather keeping many people indoors for days at a time.
    Dunbeath harbour

    Dunbeath harbour

    Moving on, we travelled through East Clyth, the start of the land of the stones. There are a lot of standing stones in this area. Very little is known about why they are there and who put them there. They are not burial stones and the theory is that they may have been placed here by the Picts.

    We stopped at the Cairn of Get, just past Ulbster village. The stones are almost always on someones farm, and we go through a kissing gate, sort of like a drafting gate for sheep, to get onto the property. It was very wet and still raining lightly here, There were black faced sheep and suffolk sheep, all of which had lambs and were bleating loudly at our intrusion into their paddock.
    Suffolk mum

    Suffolk mum


    The stones were just a scattered pile of stones, which were surrounded by boggy ground which we couldn't get through to get close. With such little knowledge of the Picts, the enigma of these stones will probably never be solved.
    Stone circle of Get

    Stone circle of Get


    The farms here often have stone fences and even have gabbro (slate) slabs for fencing. The slabs look like headstones all lined up against the wire fencing.

    Arriving in Wick was surprising because all the other villages were small. Wick is in the North East and has it's own airport. The families here work mainly in the oil industry. There is even a very big Tesco's here. Not sure I'd like to live here as the town is quite isolated from the rest of Scotland.
    The Hill o Many Stanes at Clyth  - almost 200 small stones in this circle

    The Hill o Many Stanes at Clyth - almost 200 small stones in this circle

    Fiona stopped the coach at the Hanes of Stanes. This is a very weird stone circle. Believed to be put here by the Picts, there doesn't seem to be any sort of symmetry, or uniformity in the stones. They are in a sort of circle, but are not straight. The stones are less and two feet high and some are upright, whilst others are laying flat. They are all different shapes too. It's not a burial site, nor is it obvious that it's facing either the sun, moon or the sea. It's just there, with almost two hundred stones in the ground. Very strange, very weird and another enigma that will not be solved.
    Hill O Many Stanes - Clyth

    Hill O Many Stanes - Clyth

    Dotted all along the coast line, right back to the Duke of Sutherland's lands are lookout posts and castles. These were built back in the time when there was a threat of invasion from the Norse vikings. With Norway only about 80 miles from the coast, the Scots didn't want there life placed into upheaval by an invasion. I understand the theory behind the lookouts and castles, but I'm pretty sure they weren't that great at beating off all the people that ended up invading this country,

    We travelled through Keiss, with the castle of the Ross family visible on the cliff tops of above the sea.
    John O'Groats

    John O'Groats


    Our destination, John O'Groats was finally here, after almost four hours driving. The place was named after a Dutch man who would charge passengers a few groats to ferry them across to the islands.

    From here you can see the Orkneys in the distance, although visibility was very poor. Not too much rain, but the wind was appalling and we didn't go near the cliff tops as there was a fear, even for me, of getting blown off the edge. I got the giggles because I had to really struggle to walk against the wind and kept thinking of Marcel Marceau.

    There isn't much in the way of buildings, a couple of craft shops, an ice cream shop, a cafe and the most hideous deserted hotel I have ever seen. What on earth did the owners think about when they decided to paint the lovely old building I'm not sure. It looks like a weird circus exhibit. No wonder it's now deserted.
    John O'Groats

    John O'Groats


    I had a quick look around and found it fascinating that the ice cream shop was doing good business, even in the icy conditions. I headed for the cafe to thaw my frozen fingers and get out of the cold for a while.

    I was at the top of Scotland, and probably the highest northern point in the world I would ever be. This is why people come here. To be in this location and look out at the north sea. The weather was better than being sunny as it was more natural to be rough and cold than warm. It gave me an appreciation, once again, for the hardship and loneliness that farmers and fishermen face living out here. Even now, life would still be pretty hard.

    Despite the day, a bus load of visitors pullled in and the cafe was full. We left to head back and the clouds had lightened a little, providing a better view of the rugged coastline. It wasn't unlike the twelve apostle area in Victoria, although the rocks were more jagged and darker.

    Stone wall over the heather at Badbea

    Stone wall over the heather at Badbea


    On the way back we stopped at Auckengill to visit an old clearance village called Badbea. Fiona had never been here, but as it was only me on the tour, we stopped and had a good look. We walked over the heather covered moor, up and down hills towards the sheer cliffs of the water.
    Stone wall of Badbea village

    Stone wall of Badbea village


    I couldn't believe how close the ruins were to the actual cliff top. The stone wall was in very good condition, wending it's way up and down the hill slopes. The cottages were only ruins and faced directly out to sea. The harsh weather would have been terrible for these people and I wondered why they hadn't built further back amongst the heather.
    Clearance village ruins of Badbea near Auckengill

    Clearance village ruins of Badbea near Auckengill


    The villagers had been relocated from Badbea to another area, hence the name clearance village.
    Walking on the heather covered hills - near Auckengill

    Walking on the heather covered hills - near Auckengill


    On our return home we chatted about how things were down in Scotland compared to Australia. We talked about a lot of things, even car registration. Scotland pay about $120 per year to register their cars. The number plates are white on the front and yellow on the back, because they are more visible this colour. The registration numbers are letters, numbers and then more letters. They let you know what town the car was registered and what year. Makes sense.

    We arrived back in Inverness to sunshine and rainbows, late in the afternoon. After so much rain, wind and a short snow fall, it was a welcome sight.
    Rainbow over Inverness Bridge

    Rainbow over Inverness Bridge


    I bid Fiona farewell and it wasn't until I got back to the hotel that I realized I hadn't left a tip for her. I felt pretty bad as she had given me a fantastic tour.

    I had been cold all day and started sneezing mid afternoon so I knew my cough was developing into a cold. I headed for my room and rugged up with a hot coffee, pretty sure I wouldn't be going on the Loch Ness cruise the following day.

    Posted by kerry needs 23:49 Comments (0)

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