Thanks once again to Cruise Critic, we were able to join a group taking an “Outlander Tour” through Highland Tours. Dougie, the owner, had a great idea to capitalize on the Outlander mania that is going on right now. I think he does essentially the same tour as a basic highlands tour, but points out places on interest from the Outlander series. We were part of a group of 8 that included a couple that we had met on our cruise from Rome to Dubai. Small world!
The ship docked in Invergordon (as opposed to Inverness) so we needed to drive through a small village or two before reaching the city. We had noticed oil rigs on the approach to port this morning. Dougie told us that they are not functioning as oil rigs any longer; their purpose is repair and maintenance as opposed to drilling. He drove us past the Dalmore Distillery (affiliated with Clan MacKenzie) which has been cranking out whiskey (.5 million liters/year) since the 1830’s. We passed through a village (not sure of the name) that is known as Little Glasgow. When oil drilling took off years ago, there were not enough qualified workers in the community so many from Glasgow moved to this town. About half of the population are originally Glaswegians (pronounced like Norwegians). The streets of the town were lined with beautiful flower baskets. All of the roads in the area are two-lane roads so if there is farm machinery in the road, things can get pretty backed up. Even the A9, the longest road in Scotland (nearly 270 miles long) is a two-lane road!
We crossed a bridge to Black Isle (technically a peninsula) where Inverness is located. During the 1700’s witchcraft was the most popular religion here.
A unique place that we visited was called the Clootie Well. A “cloot” is a cloth. Locals used to believe that to cure illness you would dip a cloth in the well and then wash your face, hands and neck with the water. Then you would hang (or tie) the cloot to a tree. During the night the faeries would come to remove your illness from the cloth. Young mothers would tether their sick infants to trees and leave them overnight for the faeries to cure. Fortunately this no longer occurs but given the number of cloths and items of clothes that were tied to the trees, some people still believe in the legend.
On the way to the next stop Dougie told us the legend of the magic flag of the MacLeods. The queen of the faeries married the head of the MacLeod clan. After a year she had to return to the faeries so she left a magic flag behind. It would protect the MacLeod clan in battle 3 times. Twice, the clan was overpowered in battle and the flag was unfurled. The MacLeods were victorious in both battles. The flag is still kept by the clan and has one more “use” before its magic is all gone.
Much of the historical information of the day centered around Simon Fraser, aka “The Fox”. He was the head of clan Fraser and though he shows up in the Outlander novels, is an actual historical character. We passed by an old cemetery where Lord Lovat (Simon Fraser) drove cattle into the graveyard to graze on the grass around the graves. The oldest graves in that particular cemetery were from the mid to late 1500’s. Simon was not exactly a well-liked fellow and came to a miserable end (I will describe it later in this blog post).
We entered the old part of Inverness on Church Street, the oldest street here. The churchyard is a graveyard that the British government commandeered for Jacobite prisoners. Most were shot and killed in the churchyard. The British used the heart-shaped and shoulder-shaped graves to rest their muskets to kill the Jacobites. We were able to enter the Old High Church (Church of Scotland). Outside of the church is the Fraser mausoleum. The church and yard are located by the River Ness which flows all of the way to Loch Ness. Until the 1950’s you were allowed to salmon fish right out of this river.
We drove past St. Andrew’s Cathedral (site of the original Highland Games) on our way to the castle of Inverness. This particular castle was built in 1834 and houses municipal offices. The previous castle was destroyed by Bonnie Prince Charlie during the failed Jacobite uprising. After the Battle of Culloden, he was rescued by Flora McDonald and taken to the Isle of Skye before continuing on to France where he spent the rest of his days. There is a statue to honor Flora McDonald in front of the current castle. Mary, Queen of Scots also laid siege to this particular castle when she was refused admittance. Don’t piss off a Scot!
On our way out of town we passed by the statues of Faith, Hope and Charity that mark the spot where witches were executed. We made a brief stop at Culloden House which was owned by Duncan Forbes, Chief Justice of Scotland. Bonnie Prince Charlie sheltered here with his troops before the battle of Culloden. He had been turned away by the people of Inverness and so he and his troops had gone three days without food before the battle. Culloden House is now used as a hotel.
We were on our way to the Culloden Battlefield, but had one important stop to make first, the Clava Cairns. Though in the Outlander books, Claire goes through the standing stones at Craig na Dun, in actuality, the standing stones outside of Inverness are here at the Clava Cairns. Unlike most standing stones, these are aligned with the winter solstice as opposed to the summer solstice. Unlike the standing stones we saw in the Orkney Islands, these have burial cairns in the center of the stones. Dougie pointed out the stone that is supposedly the “Jamie stone” where Claire passed through time to meet Jamie. Of course, I had to have Clayton take a picture of me there. Oddly enough, there are women who hold seances at the site in order to conjure Jamie Fraser. Apparently these women are unaware that the books are works of fiction?!
We drove a short distance to the Culloden Moor where the short, but intense battle between the Jacobites and the British took place. In only 45 minutes, 1500 Jacobite soldiers were slaughtered. In the first four minutes alone, 600 were killed by cannon shot. ‘There is an excellent visitor’s center here that tells the story about who the Jacobites were and helps explain why they were so quickly overcome by the British troops. Part of this defeat can be laid at the feet of the troops not having any food for several days before the battle; part due to really poor decisions made by Bonnie Prince Charlie who insisted on fighting. This obviously turned into a very poor decision. There were two groups of troops, one Highland and one Lowland. The Lowland troops could not keep up in the rugged terrain and so lagged behind, allowing them to be discovered, so the British were ready and waiting for them. If they had escaped notice, the result may have been completely different.
One of the rooms in the visitor center had a video reenactment of the battle (videos on all four sides of the room). After viewing this, we walked out onto the battlefield itself. There are flags on both sides of the battlefield; red for the British (about 8000 soldiers) and blue for the Scots (about 5500 soldiers); red flags are where most of the hand to hand combat took place. The round cairn was erected in 1881 and marks an area known as the Graves of the Clans where there are around 1500 people buried in mass graves on the battlefield. The cottage is Leanach Cottage which was used as a field hospital for the Government army (British) immediately after battle.
Next, we headed to Loch Ness to see if we could be the lucky ones to spot Nessie. On the way, Dougie shared the meaning of various common phrases. Did you know that a shot is called a shot because the cost of a drink of whiskey used to be equal to the cost to make a bullet? You could leave a “shot” (bullet) to pay for a drink back in the day. He also explained that the phrase “raining cats and dogs” came from the days when Scots houses were divided into two parts – one for family and one for livestock. Cats and dogs would often embed themselves in the thatch roofs. When it rained really hard, the animals would fall through the roof! If you were dirt poor, you could only afford a dirt floor in your home. People used to collect their urine to sell to tanneries to use to tan animal hides. If you were too poor to afford the pot, you “didn’t have a pot to pee in”.
By now we were at Loch Ness. No sea monster in sight. However, there is a man that has set up a caravan (camper) right next to the lake and has spent the last 25 years looking for Nessie. However, as you can see, I did spot her as we headed towards our next stop!
We passed through the gates of Inverness. These gates were closed nightly at 10:00 pm. Now, the building is used as a Titanic museum. The owner built a replica on the Titanic in his backyard and it is now the third most popular tourist attraction in Inverness. Dougie then told us about the demise of Simon Fraser, the last nobleman to be drawn and quartered. Old Simon was not a nice man so many wanted to attend his execution. A special auditorium was built and tickets were sold to the event. So many showed up that the auditorium collapsed, killing many of the spectators. It is said that Simon thought this was so funny that he laughed before he was beheaded. Supposedly, this is where the saying, “laughing one’s head off” came from!
We had now arrived at Kirkhall, the Fraser mausoleum. After his execution, Fraser’s body parts were hung around the town. His followers collected these bones and they are buried here at Kirkhall. The door in the floor leads to where the bodies are buried.
We continued on up into the hills for a view of the Frasier lands. Simon Frasier (Lord Lovat) lost his lands and castle. Dunycastle was destroyed, even the foundation was removed so as to remove all traces. The castle was eventually rebuilt and is now owned by the Globus corporation. I also had to take a picture of some Heather…
Dougie told us of an ancient law where if the wife didn’t produce a male heir in the first year of marriage, she could be sent back. This apparently happened when the head of the McDonald clan married a woman from the MacLeod clan. Not only was she sent back, but was sent back with only one eye remaining. According to Dougie, she was sent back on a one-eyed horse with a one-eyed dog. . .starting a long feud between the two clans. There was even a Battle of the One-Eyed Woman! Now, he says the clans get along, but both clans hate the Campbells.
On to Beauly Priory, built in 1530. A 600-year old elm stands at the entrance, the oldest elm in Europe. The priory contains the grave of Kenneth MacKenzie. Oddly enough, the Priory stands on Fraser land. It is extremely unusual for a clan chief to be buried on another clan’s land.
Our final stop before returning to port was to visit a couple of Highland cattle (Heather and Katie) and Rambo. Of course, the two Heathers had to pose together!
Today was a thoroughly enjoyable day. Dougie was an entertaining and knowledgeable guide and did an excellent job.