Locations/activities covered in this blog:
Glenurquhart Highlands Games
Cairn Gorm Hike via North Corries
Day 17 Plans
We started the day off by catching the late morning ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool. The ride was smooth sailing despite the winds and choppy water. Once again we weren't taking any chances and used the Transderm patches to prevent motion sickness.
Once back on the mainland, we began our drive 90 minute drive to Aldurean, a small village east of Inverness and close to Loch Ness. It took us a while to get used to driving on 'busy roads' after spending 4 days in the Hebrides.
Per our usual routine, we unpacked the car, settled in the Airbnb and then went food shopping.
Day 18 Plans
Urquhart Highlands Games
What trip to Scotland would be complete without visiting the most famous loch of all - Loch Ness. To get the most out of our time, we planned a 2-hour sightseeing cruise of Loch Ness.
The Jacobite cruise departed from Dochgarroch Lock on the Caledonian Canal.
History of the Caledonian Canal
Stretching from Fort William to Inverness, the Caledonian Canal is 60 miles long. Only about 20 miles of the canal was actually dug out; the remaining 40 miles are the actual lochs that are connected by the canal. Even by today’s standards, its construction in 1822 was an amazing feat of engineering.
Starting from the Beuly Firth, the canal runs parallel to the River Ness past Inverness into Loch Dochfour and Loch Ness, then through Loch Oich and Loch Lochy. From Lock Lochy, a series of locks and aquaducts connect the canal to Loch Linnhe which provides access to the sea.
The canal would allow ships to travel through Scotland, rather than around it. However, by the time the canal was completed, many of the sailing boats had been replaced by steamships which were better able to negotiate the west coast waters - so traffic through the canal never really paid for itself.
For the Jacobite cruise we boarded the Maverick at a pier adjacent to the Dochgarroch Lock. This diagram shows our short path to Loch Ness.
Boats traveling through the Dochgarroch Lock
The canal was surprisingly narrow.
We navigated the River Ness into Loch Dochfour. At this point is was hard to determine where the river ended and the Dochfour began.
There was no doubt when we entered Loch Ness. Some interesting facts about Loch Ness.
Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area at 22 sq mi after Loch Lomond at 27.1 sq mi.
Loch Ness is the second deepest Scottish loch at 755 ft after Loch Morar which plunges to over 1,000 ft.
Loch Ness is not the longest loch, that records goes to Loch Awe at 34 miles.
So beside the beauty and tales of the Loch Ness monster, what makes Loch Ness so impressive? It is steep-sided and flat-bottomed, which is the result of its location on the Great Glen geological fault line. These factors contribute to make Loch Ness the largest volume of freshwater in the British Isles. In fact, Loch Ness contains more water than all the lakes, rivers and reservoirs of England and Wales combined.
The waters of Loch Ness are murky due to peat washed down from the hills.
A touristy gimmick was monitoring the sonar depth readings (742 ft) as we navigated around the loch. The captain also touted their ability to track the Loch Ness monster with sonar.
Cloudy weather didn't stop us from relaxing and kicking back with a tour guide handling all the responsibilities.
Some beach front cottages for rent?
No swimming for us; Loch Ness has a constant water temperature of 42°F/6°C. It doesn't even freeze over in the winter.
Lots of small to medium-sized sail boats on the water today.
We had great view of Urquhart Castle from the boat. The castle was our next stop after the cruise.
Once one of Scotland’s largest castles, Urquhart was the scene of many great conflicts during its 500 years as a medieval fortress.
Urquhart Caste (pronounced er-ch-ert) is the 3rd most visiting castle in Scotland after Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle; once you visit you'll understand why. Its prominent location on the shore of Loch Ness, the huge footprint of the castle ruins plus its storied history add to the appeal. There are those who believe the admission price isn't justified based on the quality and quantity of the ruins. I happen to strongly disagree. Use your imagination and picture this castle as it appeared during the 14-15th century. Urquhart was one of Scotland's greatest castle, a strategic and military stronghold, and a symbol of power for whomever controlled it.
FYI: The present ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries.
The first known castle was built by the Durward family around the 1230s after they were granted permission to do so by the Scottish King, Alexander II. However, there is limited archaeological evidence that during the late 6th century Urquhart was home to Bridei, King of the Picts, who may have constructed a residence here. The superb geographical position would have made it an ideal location.
Urquhart castle was at the center of a tug-of-war between the English and Scottish which lasted from the 14th to the 17th century.
In 1296 Edward I of England – ‘Hammer of the Scots’ – captured the castle. Stories of Edward I are also highlighted in the Southern Scotland blog.
In 1298 the castle was retaken by Sir Andrew de Moray for Scotland
In 1303 Edward I retook the castle during his military campaign in Scotland
In 1308, Urquhart Castle came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306.
In 1332, in the dark days following Robert I’s death, Urquhart was the only Highland castle to hold out against the English.
As the English threat faded, a new one emerged - the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles. Throughout the end of the 1300s and well into the 1400s Castle Urquhart exchanged hands between the Clan MacDonald Lords of the Isles, powerful rulers of a semi-independent kingdom in western Scotland and the Crown.
In 1509, the castle was gifted by King James IV to the Grant family. Warfare between the MacDonalds and the Grants culminating in the 'Great Raid' of 1545 where Urquhart was stripped of virtually everything of value.
Urquhart Castle was garrisoned for the last time in 1689, following the exile of the Catholic King James VII, and his replacement by the Protestant monarchs William II and Mary II. In 1692, the towering gatehouse was deliberately blown up so that the castle could never again be a military stronghold. The castle was not repaired, and about 25 years later it was reported that a wind storm blew down the southwest side of the main tower house.
Glenurquhart Highlands Games
As we were driving back to Aldureon from the castle, we saw signs for the 'Glenurquhart Highlands Games that were taking place today in Drumnadrochit, a village on the western shore of Loch Ness. The Glenurquhart games have been continually held since 1945.
If you are from the States, these games are a combination of a county fair and a local sporting event. Food and games for everyone.
Of course their was traditional Scottish music. The Pipes and Drums of the Royal British Legion, Inverness Branch were celebrating the 100th Anniversary of their formation.
There were numerous track and field events but the kilt race which was the most fun to watch. People of all ages participated.
The heavy events included the 'Weight Over Bar' competition. In this contest, competitors attempt to throw a 56-pound weight (equivalent to 1/2 bag of coal) over a bar. The game of strength continues until the bar has been raised to a height when only one athlete has successfully cleared the bar.
The second heavy event we watched was 'Tossing the Caber'. This event involves tossing an 18-foot tree trunk weighing approximately 150 pounds that has been tapers from about 9 inches thick at one end to about 5 inches at the other end.
The competitor lifts the caber by placing his interlocked hands under the narrower end, resting its length against their shoulder.
They then run as fast as they can.
They stops dead in their tracks and toss the end they hold up in the air so that the heavy end lands on the ground and the light end passes over it and lands pointing away from the competitor.
The winner is not the competitor who tosses the caber furthest, but rather the one who tosses it most straight. The competition is judged with the aid on an imaginary clock face. The competitor delivers the throw at 6 o’clock and tosses the caber so that it lands in the center of the dial. A perfect throw is one which goes straight over, with the light end landing at 12 o’clock precisely
Piecing all the steps together results in the following.
The games were an unexpected pleasure and were fun to watch.
Day 19 Plans
Cairn Gorm Hike via North Corries
Our day started out early with an 7.5 mile hike of Cairn Gorm via the North Corries. Click on the link to navigate to the hiking blog.
After finishing the hike, we drove to Cawdor Castle and luckily made it in time to take a quick guided tour of the interior and walk around the amazing gardens on the property. I should say that Goggle Maps was definitely not working in this area since it was sending us all over the place trying to find the entrance to the property. Let's just say we drove up to the entrance from a dirt path which was not part of any roadway, but we made it.
The earliest documented date for the castle is 1454, built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor. However, some portions of the 15th-century tower house or keep may precede that date. Architectural historians have dated the style of stonework in the oldest portion of the castle to approximately 1380.
The main focus of the house is the four story 15th-century tower.
The castle was expanded numerous times in the succeeding centuries. To the north and west of the tower is the three-story high 16th century building, rebuilt for Sir Hugh Campbell in the late 17th century.
Cawdor Castle was never attacked and what you see today is a complete and original building. Still home to the Cawdor family to this day, the castle is filled with antique furniture, fine portraits, and amazing tapestries. Pictures of the interior left to right:
The centerpiece of Cawdor is the Drawing Room. Originally the Great Hall of the castle, it was added in the 16th century. The last major alteration to this room was the insertion of a fireplace in 1684.
The Woodcock Room dates from the 1670s and was likely intended for use as a sitting room. It then became a dining room and finally a bedroom. The Sheraton four-poster was the 1789 marriage bed of Lady Caroline Campbell of Cawdor.
The fireplace in the Dining Room was installed in 1671. The mantelpiece commemorates the marriage between Sir John Campbell of Argyll and Muriel Calder of Cawdor in 1510.
in the 16th century, the young heiress of Cawdor, then aged 12, married a Campbell of Argyll linking the two families and estates together. The castle remains under the ownership of the Campbells and is now home to the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor.
The castle is surrounded by amazing garden some dating back to the 16th and 17th century.
Tomorrow was our last day in Scotland and we started the day off by castle hunting in Aberdeenshire County. With over 260 castles, stately homes and ruins, Aberdeenshire is known as 'Scotland's Castle Country.' There are more castles per acre there than anywhere else in the UK.