During our two nights in Inverness, we stayed at Jean and Bill Munro’s home, which we booked through Airbnb, and it was perfect. Jean and Bill are both retirees and they have a spare room in the second floor of their home which they rent out to visitors. The room had a double bed, a telly, a washbasin, a well-stocked fridge, an electric kettle, plates, utensils, the works. We had our own bathroom right next door, which was also stocked with everything we might need. And there was WiFi, of course. The house itself is only a 5-minute walk from the Inverness train station and 10-15 minutes’ leisurely walk to all the pubs, shops, restaurants, and other establishments along the River Ness. If you are ever in the Inverness area and need a place to spend the night, I would highly recommend staying here.
They say it’s the journey, not the destination. On the train ride from Inverness to Kyle of Localsh, that’s certainly true.
The train journeys between Fort William and Mallaig and between Inverness and Kyle of Localsh are generally acknowledged to be among the best in the world in terms of scenery. More people seem to favor the former but — and perhaps it was the late afternoon timing of our ride from Mallaig to Fort William, or perhaps it was because we took it after we’d been to Skye, to whose landscapes most other things would pale in comparison — I actually loved the Inverness-Kyle of Localsh route more.
Mountains. Trees. Sheep. Streams. Near-perfect mirror images of the sky from lochs so brilliantly blue. Unlike the train ride that conveyed us to Inverness, which treated us to views the Scottish highlands in its moody finest, the ride that carried us away was done under blazing sunshine. Here’s a video featuring some of the sigh-inducing scenery from that journey…
…and for those who, like me, are sometimes too lazy to click on videos, here are a few of the highlights in roughly chronological (that is, Inverness to Kyle of Localsh) order.
Anytime fares from Inverness to Kyle of Localsh cost £22.60, while advance fares — which are sometimes still available the day before — can go as low as £13.30. From Kyle of Localsh, you can take a bus to the Isle of Skye, which is even more gorgeous, but that’s another post. Happy Monday everyone!
If you want to know a bit more about the Jacobite Rebellions, Andrew Ross MacDonald’s website is a good place to start. Andrew, of Hame Tours, is a local historian, folklorist and traditional Scots singer and his guidance was extremely valuable to us in understanding Scotland’s heritage and culture, including the circumstances surrounding and consequences of the battle of Culloden. It’s a tragically fascinating chapter of Scottish history and the events that followed were just horrible. If you take my land from me, give it to some Sassenach, break up my clan, forbid me from, basically, being myself, and replace me with freaking sheep, I think I would like independence too! (As a person from a country that was under cruel Spanish rule for over 400 years then sold to the Americans, ransacked by the Japanese, and then looted by our very own credentials-faking shoe-hoarding couple, you bet I can relate.) But that’s another issue…
Anyway, Culloden battlefield was, unexpectedly, the part of Andrew’s Highlands tour that touched me the most. Those three yellow flowers in front of the Mixed Clans gravestone are actually mine. If you are ever in the Highlands, don’t hesitate to give Andrew a call — (+44) 7742 011300 / (+44) 7768 180061 — or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scotland wasted no time being Scotland. Mere minutes after we pulled out of Edinburgh on our way to Inverness, the skies — already overcast to begin with — started dropping big beads of rain on the roof and windows of our train. No matter. The gloomy weather only enhanced the drama of the scenes unfolding outside. Mountains, moors, lochs, light, shadow, sheep, horses, heather. Scotland: strong, resilient, valiant, fierce, unfailingly beautiful.
Strangely enough, the cold, remote, sometimes desolate landscape secretly warmed my heart. Perhaps the bleakness outside called out in kinship to the bleakness within, to that part of me that still grieved for things lost. I looked at the gray skies and the near empty earth and thought: my sadness has found its home. I could be happily sad here for the rest of my life.
Sleeper trains can save you time and money, but of the ones I’ve had the opportunity to try, the most that can be said about their comfort level is that they’re tolerable. I’ve been on one of the top bunks of a 6-couchette compartment and I can tell you it’s no fun not being able to sit upright and sleeping with the ceiling barely a foot above my nose.
The Caledonian Sleeper, the overnight train service between London and Scotland, is by far the most luxurious sleeper I’ve ever been on. My sister and I took it both ways — from London to Inverness, and from Fort William back to London. (The photo above was taken at Fort William.)
On the Caledonian Sleeper, you actually feel kind of pampered. There’s a steward who comes to your compartment and orients you if it’s your first time on the sleeper. He also asks you what time you would be like to woken up, what drink you would like to have in the morning, and whether or not you want breakfast.
On the way from the Clava Cairns to Cawdor Castle, Andrew MacDonald (of Hame Tours) played us a few songs from Scottish musician Dick Gaughan. As I looked out the window, the landscape seemed to provide the perfect backdrop for the music and I could’t resist shooting a few clips. If you’re here quite often you know I almost never post videos, but this one I just had to share. It’s a short sub-minute mash of two clips, and the song is just as we heard it in the car so you’ll hear a few extraneous sounds every now and then. The song is called Outlaws and Dreamers — you can find the complete lyrics here.
They’ve called me an outlaw, they’ve called me a dreamer They said I would change as I aged and grew old That the memory would fade of the things I had lived through That the flash fire of youth would slowly turn cold
But I raise up my glass and drink deep of its flame To those who have gone who were links in the chain And I give my soul’s promise, I give my heart’s pledge To outlaws and dreamers and life at the edge
Dick Gaughan boycotted the opening night concert of the Celtic Connections festival earlier this year, in protest to what he perceived was BBC’s biased coverage of the recent independence referendum. In this article about the boycott, one commenter said, “Seems a shame that Mr Gaughan is disappointing both of his fans over an argument that was lost in September last year” and Dick Gaughan himself replied, “Who’s the other one?” 😀