Day 9 (Inverness, Scotland)
Today is the only full day we have in Inverness. To maximize our time we decided to take a tour called "Over the Sea to Skye" from Puffin Express Tours. This necessitated only a quick breakfast at the B&B before our departure so our "full Scottish breakfast" would have to wait a day. HOwever, our B&B hosts had extra black pudding on hand and offered us a taste. We were told before coming to Scotland to beware of the black pudding as its a blood pudding. But, when in Rome...OK, so now we can say we've had it and don't need to try that, again! Really, it isn't bad, but not something so exciting we would want it regularly.
We walked down the multitude of stairs from our B&B to the street below, around the corner to the tourist office where the Puffin Express van was waiting. We loaded up and were soon on our way across the highlands.
We drove through the Highlands, sometimes among Scots pines and other times across the barren moors. After about an hour we stopped at Achnasheen, which is, for the Highlands, a busy crossroads. By other standards, it is actually a very small village. We enjoyed a very strong, hot cup of coffee and some very picturesque views of the snow covered mountains. Then we continued across the moors to the mountains near Strome Ferry. In the past, the only way across was the ferry, operated by a family. Apparently, when they decided it was time to finish work for the day, the ferry was closed, and any waiting cars and trucks would have to find a place to spend the night, as the next ferry would be in the morning. There is now a new bridge to Skye.
As we passed across the mountains some were forested with Scots pines and other evergreens. Among them, we noticed bands of trees that looked as if they were dead. When we asked about this, we learned that the trees are not dead, but they are larch trees, the only coniferous tree to shed its needles in the winter. One of the benefits of these trees is that it acts as a fire break should any forest fire occur.
At Strome, we stopped for photos of Loch Carron, a large, salt water Loch, from high in the mountains above. The sun glistened off the snow and made for a beautiful panorama. We descended to the little town below and crossed the Skye Bridge to the Isle of Skye.
Most of the time on Skye we were either on narrow 2-lane roads or "single track" roads as we zig-zagged through the moors, often sharing the road with the local sheep. Our next stop was at the Clan Donald Centre. This is the home of the MacDonald clan museum and 13th Century family castle, Armadale. We walked through the grounds, admiring the castle ruins, and gardens. Then we toured the museum, learning much about Scottish history and the "risings" of the early 1700's. After a quick bite for lunch in the Clan Donald Centre, we returned to our tour van and continued to the Gaelic University and then turned on to another single track road and climbed up into the hills.
We wound around among the sheep and Highland cattle, and even saw a small herd of Scottish red deer grazing nearby. We turned one corner and were confronted by an entire herd of Highland cows and their new born calves grazing in and around the road. We stopped for photos, being cautioned, by our guide, to watch where we stepped. We were able to take a number of photos of Highland cows and their calves "up close and personal." The only near-incident came when Ruth got between a mother and her calf, and Mama started to look a bit agressive. However, the calf found its way home and all was soon well.
Back in our van we returned to the "slighly" larger roads and stopped at Castle Eilean Donan. This castle was destroyed years ago, and was rebuilt with faithful attention to detail, so that it appears to be of medieval construction. We stretched our legs a bit, and took pictures of the castle. Then it was time to bid good-bye to the Isle of Skye and we again crossed the Highlands, but by a different route. We stopped at one of the Thomas Telford bridges built in the early 1800's. Our driver dropped us off, allowing us to hike across the very picturesque bridge, take pictures and hike the few yards back to town.
Driving back to Inverness we drove many miles along the shores of Loch Ness, however, never catching a glimpse of "Nessie" (unless you count the plastic ones at the shops, designed to lure tourists).
Our guide returned us to the centre of town and provided a restaurant recommendation, which we took. We enjoyed some of the most flavorful, tender lamb chops we've ever eaten.