We left the harbor town of Mallaig early in the morning to begin our travels on Thursday, September 15th. You could feel autumn in the air and the changing of the seasons. We hadn’t traveled far when we spied the estuary of Morar Bay (above). We turned off the main road to enjoy the calm surfaces of the water and the white sands in the early morning light. Apparently, it was high tide that morning, because I found another picture on Wikipedia (at right) of the same place that looks totally different at low tide!
Before we returned to the main highway, we drove up a little side road a short distance under the bridges following a river upstream and discovered some mighty and beautiful waterfalls. I later learned that the River Morar is one of the shortest rivers in Scotland. It flows from the western end of Loch Morar to the estuary of Morar Bay. It is less than two-thirds of a mile long (at high tide). That river sure has a mighty punch of waterfalls for being so short!
The river is also crossed by three bridges: one for the A830 main road, an older bridge for the smaller side road, and one for the West Highland Railway, which the Jacobite Train runs on from Fort William to Mallaig, often called the Harry Potter Train. The railway viaduct dates from 1897. The railway line has been voted the most scenic railway line in the world for the second year running. More on that later…
After eating breakfast in the small quaint town of Morar, we returned to the main road once again following the 75-mile planned travel route for the day. It would take us inland from Mallaig toward Fort William, then north toward Fort Augustus, ending at a lovely spot on the east side of Loch Ness called the Falls of Foyers (Point C on the map below).
In the morning hours, we headed east on the A830 passing Loch Eilt, Loch Shiel at Glenfinnan, and Loch Eil. The drive offers lovely views to enjoy along the way and some impressive historical monuments to stop at as well.
I enjoyed stopping to visit the cairn marking the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie left the mainland of Scotland after the Battle of Culloden because I am very interested in the history of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
I also wanted to stop at Glenfinnan on Loch Shiel; however, everybody and their brother had the same idea but had arrived much earlier than we did. Every last possible place to park the car was already taken. People were even parked along the road on both sides of the roadway, and on either side of the monument for a good 1/2 mile or so. Needless to say, the Glenfinnan viaduct is extremely popular and quite scenic. The monument standing by the bay of Loch Shiel is also iconic. Still, it is also an absolutely fantastic place to watch the Jacobite Train pass by on the curved viaduct behind it as it makes its way from Fort William to Mallaig.
Since I couldn’t stop, I didn’t get any pictures. However, I did find a couple on Wikipedia so you can see what it looks like. You might even recognize it from the Harry Potter films.
The viaduct with its 21 arches is impressive in itself, but add an old steam locomotive, and it becomes downright idyllic & iconic! This year, when I return to Scotland for the summer, Lindsay and I have reservations on this Jacobite Train for his birthday in August. It will be an all-day roundtrip adventure for us and one that we are really looking forward to as you might well imagine!
Since we couldn’t find a place to park, we continued on down the road past all the tourists and continued to enjoy the beautiful landscapes passing by…
Around mid-day, we arrived at the junction where we would turn and begin working our way north for a spell. We stopped to check out the interconnected locks on the Caledonia Canal called Neptune’s Staircase.
According to Wikipedia: “It is a staircase lock comprising of eight locks. It was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822 and is the longest staircase lock in Britain. The system was originally hand-powered but has been converted to hydraulic operation.” The photo above is also from Wikipedia; I couldn’t possibly get a shot like that myself unless I was really good at flying a drone or something! However, I managed to get a couple of decent shots of it up close while walking alongside the locks, as shown in the photos below.
When we reached Fort Augustus, we turned right and passed the south end of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area (22 sq mi) after Loch Lomond. Because of its great depth, however, it is the largest by volume in all of the British Isles. Its deepest point is 755 ft, making it the second deepest loch in Scotland after Loch Morar. Evidently, it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined and is the largest body of water in the Great Glen, which runs from Inverness in the north to Fort William in the south. Needless to say, it is enormous and seems to go on forever. It looks like it empties right into the North Sea from this vantage point (below).
The road took us up into those hills on the right side of the loch (above), and we continued driving north through them. That part of the drive also offered up some breathtaking views as well, such as this spot looking toward Inverness.
In the mid-afternoon and about halfway up the east side of Loch Ness, we arrived at our final destination for the day – the Falls of Foyers. We hiked the trail down through the tree-filled canyon to the falls along this well-maintained stair-stepped trail.
After our waterfall hike, we relaxed at the Waterfall Cafe and grabbed something for a late lunch. Lindsay was “good” and ordered something hearty and healthy like soup with brown bread. At the same time, I indulged myself in something absolutely scrumptious and totally irresistible – homemade blueberry cheesecake – but not exactly hearty nor healthy! Oh well… sometimes you just have to splurge, don’t ya?
We spent the rest of the afternoon down along the shores of Loch Ness near the campground watching the ducks and boats pass by before we checked into our hotel, Foyers House, which was located just uphill from the cafe.
Much to our surprise, besides serving a delightful and delicious breakfast in the morning, they also had an onsite restaurant that served excellent fare for our evening meal as well. We were able to watch the setting sun in the west because we were perched up on the side of the hill overlooking Loch Ness. The name of their restaurant and bar is “The Wee Dram.” As the name suggests, you can sample and enjoy over 120 different varieties of Scottish Whisky listed on their Whisky Wall. We tried a couple with our outstanding meal, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We also slept really well that night!
In the morning, we awoke to another bonnie fine day with clear blue skies with a low cloud of fog hovering over the loch’s surface.
The hotel offered an excellent selection of delicious menu options for breakfast, besides the usual traditional Scottish breakfast, which was a nice change. I was very impressed. This hotel was also for adults only and didn’t allow children under the age of 18, so it was nice and quiet without a bunch of energetic and boisterous kids bouncing around to have to deal with. I highly recommend this hotel if you want a great place to stay in an off the beaten track location that offers fantastic views at a reasonable rate.
Once we finished our scrumptious breakfast, we climbed back in the car and continued heading north, hugging the shores of Loch Ness toward Inverness. The fog had lifted and disappeared altogether, and you could see the massive loch stretched out in either direction as far as you could see.
About an hour or so later, we made it to our first stop for the day – Cawdor Castle. It is located about 5 miles away from Inverness airport. I’ve toured the castle a couple of times before on previous trips, so we didn’t go inside. It’s a pretty cool castle, however, and I highly recommend touring it if you should happen to be in the area. It is a privately owned castle, and the owners still live in part of it and generously offer guided tours in the summer season to help fund the maintenance of the beautiful castle and its extensive well-kept grounds. There is even a golf course if you’re so inclined.
Instead of going inside the castle, we wanted to stay outside in the sunshine and enjoy the gardens. The castle has a couple of differently themed walled gardens to explore.
This one on the south side of the castle has lots of blossoms, busy butterflies flitting about, and some very appealing sculptures to enjoy, such as this unique metal birdfeeder below.
Or how about this ball made out of slabs of slate with water dripping over it into a pool below?
Or this globe made out of slabs of glass-like material? Beautiful, isn’t it?
The walled garden on the other side of the castle offered other surprises such as a giant maze made out of evergreen hedges with a half-man/half-bull statue planted at its center, hidden fountains, intricate box hedge formal gardens, and other unique features elsewhere within its boundaries…
A bright blue doorway in a wall leads to a bridge near the back of the castle. The bridge spans the Cawdor river below and leads to the nature trails in the nearby woodlands.
We had worked up an appetite, so before getting back on the road once again, we stopped at the Cawdor Tavern nearby to enjoy a nice lunch outside in the sunshine on the patio. My choice from the days’ specials was smoked salmon, homemade dilly cucumbers, and cream cheese filling with a fresh salad on the side. Yum!
In August, when we attended the Lonach Highland Games in Strathdon, we met a charming couple who enjoy dressing up in period Jacobite costumes. They frequent events and help to educate people about Scotland’s history and culture.
We had seen them at several events over the years, and this year I made an effort to introduce myself and make their acquaintance. Since we were in the area where they live, and they had given us their card with their contact information, we decided to give them a call to see if we could stop by to visit them as we made our way to Dingwall. We had invited them to meet us for coffee somewhere nearby, but they asked us to come to their house instead.
We had only planned on visiting with them for an hour or so, not wanting to wear out our welcome, but ended up spending the entire afternoon with them instead. Such an interesting and friendly couple, Sandra and Ed, are!
They welcomed us into their home, and we had great conversations about genealogy, the Scottish Clans, and about how they got interested in period clothing from the Jacobite era. Before we arrived, they had even done a bit of research about the surname Frew and shared their findings with us. That was so thoughtful of them!
Then they asked us if we might like to try dressing up as well. Sandra is a seamstress like myself and pulled out all kinds of examples of her handiwork that she is has created by repurposing used clothing she has found at thrift stores and estate sales. She’s quite resourceful and very talented indeed.
They have built quite a collection of pieces of period costumes, but also all the accouterments that go with it such as brooches, swords, old guns, you name it!
She assembled an outfit for me and began the process of dressing me up by starting with the undergarment and then added the rest of the layers until I was totally transformed into a rebel Jacobite! Such fun!
Next came Lindsay…
Ed dressed him up in a “Great” kilt. He started by laying out yards and yards of tartan on the hardwood floor and began meticulously folding it into pleats.
After he got it all folded just right, he had Lindsay lie down on top of it to put the kilt on him and then fastened it tight with a belt, draped the remaining loose tartan around the back and over his shoulder finishing it off by adding a brooch at his left shoulder to keep it in place. It was quite an educational process to watch and unfurl before my eyes.
Afterward, we all headed outside for a photoshoot! Lindsay kept commenting to me as we posed that I needed to put a serious face on and act the part of an angry, rebellious Jacobite wench. I really tried, but I was having so much fun I couldn’t seem to rid myself of my silly grin the whole while.
Following the photo shoot, we went back inside for a toast with a traditional Quaich cup. It is the traditional toasting cup of welcome in Scotland or even good wishes upon farewell or parting and is truly Scotland’s Cup of Friendship. The Quaich was a common domestic utensil for centuries, which originated in the West Highlands of Scotland. It was the dish from which the Scot supped his porridge and drank his ale. These cups were very widely used in Covenanting times and are mentioned in the old Jacobite song:
‘Then let the flowing Quaich go round, and boldly let the pibroch sound, Till every glen and rock resound, The name o’ Royal Charlie. Welcome Charlie, o’er the main, Our hieland hills are a’ your ain, Welcome to our Isle again, Welcome Royal Charlie’
Then, as if they hadn’t already been the perfect hosts, Sandra brought out another couple of special seasonal treats… a homemade pumpkin pie with whipped cream and minced meat tarts!
Knowing I am American and it was going to be Thanksgiving soon, she made these especially for me. How thoughtful is that? Needless to say, they were a perfect ending to an ideal fun get-together with new friends! Lindsay had never tasted pumpkin pie before. I was amazed since it is such a staple in the States. He absolutely loved it.
We hated to part company with them and discard our magnificent garb of Highland dress, but when I glanced at the clock, I realized that if we didn’t get back on the road soon, we would be late for a dinner date later that evening with our good friends Pat & Ian MacLeod in Dingwall. So we reluctantly said our ‘fare thee wells’ and proceeded on down the road. It was a fun and eventful day full of surprises that we will long remember and hold dear to our hearts.
The following morning we awoke to yet another outstanding and brilliantly sunshiney day in Dingwall. We had stayed once again at the Old Tweed house B&B we stayed in with the girls when they had first arrived months earlier.
We met up with Pat & Ian, who just live down the lane from the B&B and spent the day together, exploring the Black Isle.
Our first stop in the morning was St. Clements Church in Dingwall to pay one last visit this year to the gravesite of our 2nd great grandparents – Thomas MacNaughton Frew and Christina Rose.
Afterward, we began our 45-mile loop tour of the Black Isle. Just across the Cromarty Firth, we could see Dingwall on the opposite shore.
Our first stop was a site Pat & Ian thought we both might enjoy, an ancient church and churchyard that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored by a dedicated group of local volunteers – KirkMichael.
The old church contained some fascinating old stones. They even raised the necessary funds to have new replications made of the most interesting and symbolic stones found on the grounds. These stones help explain all of the symbols and carvings often found on old stones, such as these in their interpretive displays.
It was a Saturday morning when the volunteers show up to do maintenance work and repairs. It was quite entertaining watching these two guys applying new mortar between the capstones on the fence. They sure are dedicated. It amazes me how many people, especially the older generation, spend so much time and effort to preserve sacred grounds such as these for future generations. Luckily, there are younger volunteers as well that are learning the fine art of restoration and maintaining proper records of our ancestors from the older community members so the work can continue in the future.
We drove a few miles further to the tip of the Black Isle and the town of Cromarty.
We found a handy place along Shore Street to enjoy our picnic lunch in the sunshine.
Then we made our way around the other side of the Isle to see the Chanonry Lighthouse and to watch for Dolphins frolicking in the Moray Firth…
…as well as visiting the cathedral at Fortrose nearby.
We spent the rest of the day back at Pat & Ian’s house visiting and enjoying their friendship and company in Dingwall. It would be the last time I got to see them until I’m lucky enough to return once again in the future.
On Sunday, we spent an uneventful trip driving back to Lindsay’s house in Aberdeen. We didn’t stop, nor visit any sites along the way, except for one spot that we had driven by many times in Elgin and had never noticed.
One of my really old great great great great…grandfathers, Alexander Stewart, “The Wolf of Badenoch” was from this area. He was quite the dastardly dude in his day and therefore wish he wasn’t my ancestor, but… If you have read any of my older blog posts from a couple of years back, you will know how I discovered his burial tomb (quite by pure chance) in the cathedral at Dunkheld much further south near the town of Perth.
While doing some research on Alexander over the past winter, I discovered, again by pure chance, that there is a statue of him in f Elgin. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’ve been to Elgin many times, toured the cathedral several times, and don’t ever recall seeing a statue of him anywhere.” I investigated further and discovered its location. Evidently, it is situated in one of the roundabouts that you drive through as you pass through town on the main highway.
On the way back to Aberdeen that morning, as we drove through Elgin and its many roundabouts in the center of town, sure enough, off to the side, all by itself was a statue with a massive broken arch over it which represents the ruined Elgin Cathedral. One of the acts he is infamous for is that he got furious at the Bishop because he wouldn’t grant him a divorce from his barren wife, and then Alexander proceeded to set fire to the cathedral, ruining it, and even tried (yet failed) to murder the Bishop! Talk about a guy with anger management issues!
Both Lindsay and I have driven past this statue more times than we can possibly count and never noticed it before! Guess we were too concentrated on navigating the roundabouts and the traffic to look at what’s nearby.
There he was in full size!
We spent the rest of our morning driving the rest of the way back to Aberdeen, reflecting all the while on the beautiful things we saw and the delightfully scenic places we visited during our 10-day Isle Hopping journey in the Western Hebrides and the Scottish Highlands. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that you will return once again to read about more adventures yet to come.