We traveled to Inverness by rail from Edinburgh and found the train station was conveniently adjacent to our accommodations, The Royal Highland Hotel. First opened in 1854, I could easily imagine this place filled with Victorian ladies and gentlemen, coming and going with sweeping skirts down the grand staircase and through the beautifully decorated reception area. As we arrived too early to check in, we stored our bags at the hotel. Most, but not all hotels have a secure area where you can leave your bags until your room is ready. Be sure and check with the hotels if this is a feature you plan to use.
There’s a restaurant within the hotel, but we opted for afternoon tea in the cafe. It really hit the spot. I’d never been much of a tea drinker before this trip, but I don’t believe I had a single cup of coffee while in Scotland.
Please scroll to the end of this post to see more photos in the gallery.
Despite the similar architecture and the intertwined histories with the lowlands, you know you are in the Highlands when you’ve arrived. It’s hard to describe, almost intangible, but you notice it in small ways; in the cleanliness of the streets, flower baskets and boxes in bloom, local pride, people making eye contact and acknowledging each other, the polite straightforward manners, fresh air, and overall slower pace.
Inverness is from the Scottish Gaelic: “Inbhir Nis”, meaning “Mouth of the River Ness”. As the de facto capital of the Highlands, Inverness can serve you very well as a base of operations for exploring the outlying areas. From here we made excursions to Eilean Donan Castle, the Isle of Skye, Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns and Standing Stones, the Fort George Military Tattoo, Loch Ness, Corrimony Cairns, and Urquhart Castle.
Inverness is very walkable. There’s no shortage of cabs about though if it’s rainy or you are carrying too many shopping totes. 🙂 Speaking of shopping, if you take the time to wander a bit you’ll find a variety of establishments rather than a single street where it’s shop after shop after shop selling souvenirs. You’ll find shopping districts with the occasional chain or department store, and streets with banks, shoe stores, a Harris Tweed shop, Whisky, grocery stores, pubs, and restaurants.
We stopped for a bite at the Rendezvous Cafe on Church Street, where, in its previous incarnation as the Northern Meeting Ballroom, the Beatles played on May 21, 1960. There’s just an unpretentious sign in the window marking this location as having been part of rock and roll’s musical history. I took an outside seat and enjoyed some breakfast while imagining what it must have been like in the swinging ’60s.
Live music is everywhere. We saw young pipers playing with a cap on the street, a Sunday morning parade with pipe and drums weaving its way through town, then back again a bit later on. I’m not sure what that was about, but it included townspeople, military, school groups, and robed and costumed officials.
Ceilidhs are featured entertainment at several pubs around town. Ceilidh (kay-lee) is the Gaelic word for a party with music, dancing, and often storytelling. We tried just stopping by Hootananny and it was so packed we couldn’t get in. Another night we dropped into The Gellions pub, and while we were able to squeeze up to the bar and get a drink, we just caught the tail end of the show. That was a shame since the atmosphere and the band, Schiehallion was wonderful. I picked up a couple of their CDs and am making it a priority to catch their full sets when I go back next year! Make sure to check out the different venue’s showtimes to see if you have to get there early, or even make a reservation if you hope to have a seat.
Inverness Castle is an easily recognized landmark. It sits on high ground just above the River Ness. The site itself has been occupied for many hundreds of years. and seen many changes, being built upon, set ablaze, rebuilt, fought over, and survived sieges and hostile occupations. The medieval fortress was reinforced in the early 1700s to accommodate British Government Troops, then was finally destroyed by Jacobites at the command of Charles Edward Stuart, prior to the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
The current castle consists of two buildings. The one built in the 1830s and was used as a courthouse. The second finished in the 1840s, functioned as the prison. Most recently the castle has added a new feature known as Inverness Castle Viewpoint. It offers background historical information and stunning 360° panoramic views of the city and surrounding landscape.
Fort George Highland Military Tattoo
My thoughtful sister treated us to tickets to the Highland Military Tattoo in Fort George for my birthday last year. I am so grateful that she did, and that we had the chance to go, even more so in light of the fact that while researching some background for this post, I’ve learned that 2018 will be the last year for this event at this location. Fingers are crossed that they will find a way to revive this event.
For the record, this tattoo is not related to ink whatsoever. It’s an organized event featuring military and cultural displays and performances. Some friends and family were shocked when we told them we were going to the Highlands tattoo. They thought we’d be coming home with permanent skin art to remember the trip by. 🙂
Fort George is northeast of Inverness and was built just after the Jacobite rising of 1745. While Fort George isn’t terribly close to Inverness, there were buses arranged to take people back and forth, which made it very convenient. When we arrived we found ourselves in an active military base. Fort George has housed several historic regiments and is currently home to the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland.
The weather was not cooperating, but we had our layered clothing and raingear (and flasks) so wandered around and shopped, ate some fantastic fish and chips, and had a pint in the big tent while waiting for the show to begin. The rain let up by the time we took our seats, and we were treated to massed pipes and drums, flyovers, highland dancing, traditional music and songs, reenactments, and competitions.
Even without the military tattoo, Fort George is a site of historical significance and is open to the public year round. You can read more about the attractions and activities at Fort George on this Historic Environment Scotland site.
You know how when you’re in love and all you think about is your loved one, and when you’ll see them again, and what you will do then, and you talk about them to everyone else until they turn away and pretend they don’t see you when you walk towards them?
Yeah… you could say I’m in love with the highlands! There’s still so much more to see and do, that we’re planning to spend 9 nights of our 14-day Scotland vacation there next spring (2019). I have many fond memories to call upon until I return!