The Royal tour

Inverness 27 May
With only a couple of days left in Scotland we’ve spent most of the day in the far north. Our hotel “the Ulbster Arms” in Halkirk was probably the best we’ve had. Halkirk is a small village south of Thurso, it’s on the Thurso river which is a popular fishing river, in fact, in the lounge of the hotel is a stuffed salmon, caught in the river, which weighed 46 pounds. At breakfast this morning several men were wearing traditional sporting attire, plus fours and tweed, one gent has apparently been staying annually for 50 years. He is 93, had a dry sense of humour and was flirting with the staff.
The far north of Scotland is quite wild with peat bogs and heather covered moors but there is a surprisingly large population with occupied, and ruined, houses all along the coast and a few villages. But also wild places where the only signs of occupation are the wind turbines.

Our first stop was in Thurso, a small town but with several banks, a pedestrianised area, and a good museum showing the district from the fossils to the present. Particularly interesting were some Celtic crosses carved on standing stones.

The Castle of Mey
The Castle of Mey

It’s hard to sightsee in Scotland and exclude the castles so today’s was the Castle of Mey, which was owned by the Queen Mother who visited each August and for some time in October. She did this for 50 years from 1952 when she bought and renovated the place. The tour was conducted by a lady who had worked for the Queen Mother and focussed on personal aspects relating to her. The whole place had a more intimate feel than others we have visited with small rooms and lots of pictures, furniture and other items belonging to her. Prince Charles is the chairman of the trust which owns the castle now and stays for a week or so each July.

The other unmissable aspect of coastal Scotland is the small fishing harbour and today we visited two and saw others from the car. The first was at John o Groats, basically a rather bleak car park with the famous sign post and a dozen gift, coffee, and fish and chip shops. The harbour, which is right in the middle of all this is nice and looks out to the Orkney Islands. In summer you can catch a ferry across although the bigger boats depart from Scrabster (near Thurso) or Gills depending on which island you want to visit.

Duncansby head is the far northeastern point on mainland Scotland and not far from John o Groats, so on the recommendation of our breakfast waitress, we drove out to the lighthouse and took a fifteen minute walk out to view some massive sea stacks standing out from the cliffs, along the way we passed some deep ravines cut inland by the sea where masses of seabirds were nesting.

We’d booked a guesthouse in Inverness for tonight, about 106 miles from John o Groats so we started back about three pm. Initially the roads were narrow and slow but the improved and by the time we reached Inverness we were on a motorway. We stopped for a coffee at the harbour in Lybster but for at least 30 miles after that were held up by slow traffic. Then in Inverness our GPS (leading us to our guesthouse) persisted in rerouting us to go down a street which was closed by roadworks.
Great fun!

Thursday 28 May

Following another cooked breakfast we headed along the Ness river and into the centre of Inverness. The river is quite large (about 40 metres wide) and fast flowing with the city on both sides. There are a fair number of grand buildings. Paulette got some presents for the grandchildren and Quilliam a new jacket, a bit ironic as in two days we’re heading to what should be warmer countries.

The Ness River
The Ness River

Continuing the Royal theme we headed south to Balmoral. Our route took us over the Cairngorms and right through the base area of Lecht ski area at over 2000 feet. The trip was quite spectacular as was the whole day. Balmoral is obviously a popular tourist destination and visitors can wander around the estate (when the royal family are not in residence), view some exhibitions and enter the ballroom. All in all it’s quite some holiday home, it’s located amongst trees in a valley but it really is very remote with high moors all around.

Our accommodation tonight is in the Red Brolly Inn near Pitlochry, the best price we could find in the area at 54 pounds including breakfast, and it is very pleasant. But it was another fourty plus miles from Balmoral over a couple more high passes including through the base area of the Glenshe ski area.


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