Following our trip on Loch Ness on the Tuesday we went into Inverness to eat and get a beer, the food (a reasonable enough burger) was passable and the beer was by Innis & Gunn, which was nice. After this late lunch we returned to our cottage, got changed and set off to visit Loch Morlich, another body of water close to Aviemore, in an area called Rothiemurchus. I like this Loch, the road to Glen More skirts its northern bank but it’s surrounded by the Cairngorms on all sides, providing excellent views and the paths are mostly off road. On its western shore there’s a wide sandy beach and a wooden “sports centre” come cafe where kayaks, canoes & paddle boards can be rented and refreshments can be purchased. We walked a mile or so from the car park to the beach and I took a couple of pictures, always hoping, as usual, to get the “money shot” but never quite succeeding. Millie the dog was having the grandest of times, she does like a beach.
Back to the cottage for Scrabble and beers, before retiring. I had an early start planned for what I hoped would be one of the highlights of the trip. Just north of Inverness lies “The Black Isle”. It isn’t really an island as such, but that’s by the by. On it’s eastern side, between Fortrose and Rosemarkie sits Chanonry Point, unremarkable, you might think, were it not for the fact that a school of around 200 bottle nose dolphins live in The Moray Firth and Chanonry Point is the best place in the UK (allegedly) to view these animals. I did my research, an hour after low tide, according to everything I read, was the best time to see them, especially in late summer when the salmon are running. I left the cottage at 7.30, determined to get a prime position and looking forward to driving over the Kessock Bridge, at least the bridge didn’t dissapoint. It was a windy morning, but not too cold, although the point is well exposed to the elements. I set up the tripod, in what I hoped was the optimum spot and waited for the action to start; I knew I’d come to the right place, there must have been 100 people on the beach. Anyway, I waited, then I waited a bit more, after which I gave it a bit longer. Some people were starting to drift away, others were looking at fellow spotters a little sheepishly and I waited, another 30 minutes I told myself and then I’m off….
Needless to say, the dolphins were having a day out at sea, which I suppose they’re entitled to, although it wasn’t too much consolation to me. I consoled myself with a bacon sausage and egg roll in the Fortrose cafe, which was very nice if again a little pricey. The array of photographs of dolphins frolicking in the surf which adorn the walls of the cafe offered scant compensation. I’d take my own, thank you, or do without. I left the island, retracing my outward journey over the Beualy Firth via Kessock Bridge and returned to the digs for a cup of tea, followed by a decent hike along a couple of the local woodland trails in Carr-bridge.
It’s a little known fact that Carr-bridge is home to one open championship and one world championship. The Scottish Chainsaw Carving Open is held every September in the local park; there’s evidence all around the village and on the woodland treks of both the skill of the carvers and the quality of their work. On the 27th of October porridge makers from around the globe will be vying to get their hands on “The Golden Spurtle” at the world porridge making championships, which has been taking place here since 1996.
Thursday dawned fair with the possibility of showers later in the day, but an itinerary is an itinerary and “intrepid” hikers are never put off by a little thing like rain. We had a 6-7 mile walk planned, with a couple of miles of it over “rising and undulating” ground, but we’d done our training and felt ready for it. An Loch Uaine was the destination and, all things being equal, a second visit to Loch Morlich which is in the same vicinity. Neither the walk, the loch itself or the weather forecast disappointed. We’d just settled to our picnic when the heavens opened but we had found a fairly sheltered spot. For the next hour or so we were subjected to a number of squally showers but by the time we had descended the clouds had broken and we did the little extra walk to Morlich for ice cream and a bit of beach exercise for the dog. A very satisfying day.
We had showers, got changed and set off to eat dinner at the Carrbridge Hotel (their spelling), again a great disappointment, complete with mask hassle. To be honest, if I thought we could have found somewhere else in the area that was open I’d have walked out. The beer was fine, the wine was atrocious and the food was mediocre. It’s a wonder to me how such places manage to keep doing business. I might well have complained vociferously on another day, or if it had been earlier in the holiday and we’d been planning a second visit, but held my piece and put it down to experience.
Call me a glutton for punishment if you like, but I haven’t been given the sobriquet “Intrepid” for nothing and Friday saw me get up early again for another shot at dolphin watching. I convinced the other members of the household to join me, first by convincing them that a “no show” twice in 3 days was virtually impossible and secondly with the offer of a full Scottish at the Fortrose cafe. Fortunately for me, the cafe was open and able to offer us a table, albeit outside, due to the presence of Millie. What about the dolphins? I hear you ask, let’s just say that, including Wednesday, there’s six hours (or so) of my life that I’ll never get back. We were however able to get a couple of pictures of a lively but not so wild Highland bullock. Not quite the same as a frolicking school of dolphins, but beggars can’t be choosers.
We left the cafe and drove a short way through Rosemarkie and walked a couple of miles up to The Fairy Glen, a decent enough walk, with a rewarding end point. I’m sure the dolphins, said to be the largest of their kind in the world, are out there somewhere, maybe it’s English people they don’t care for. We dined at Number 7 Bistro in Grantown on Spey , the only really decent meal we had all week that wasn’t breakfast. Fresh fish and lobster, well cooked and nicely presented, although the decor left something to be desired. Be aware, from what I could see, that unless you’ve pre-booked a table, even in a pub, or you want to drink in the British Legion, everything closes by 9.30pm. Back to the cottage for a couple of drinks and a game of Scrabble before our last sleep in Scotland, at least on this trip. Having always tried to instill a bit of competitive spirit in my kids I can now inform you that my younger daughter has honed her word play skills and beats me (at Scrabble) on a regular basis. I’m not sure I really like this happening, but I can’t really complain.
One last stroll through the woods of Carr-bridge, as much for the sake of the dog as anything else, before we set off for home, planning a short detour into Falkirk to see both the Falkirk Wheel, an ingenious mechanism installed in 2002 to do away with the need for a series of locks at this junction of the Forth and Clyde canal and the Kelpies at Helix Park. Both, in their own way, great feats of engineering with more than a little artistic merit, if you appreciate that sort of thing. We took the trip on the wheel in a purpose built barge. Fine as far as it went, which was to the top, where we sat for around thirty minutes, before returning us to the starting point, at the bottom. I’m pretty certain the experience would have been much enhanced by a short trip along the aqueduct, but that wasn’t to be. The wait at the top seems to me to have been all about justifying the charge for the experience, rather than the experience itself, although it’s a tourist thing at the moment, as part of the canal itself is being repaired.
I really enjoyed the Kelpies, they’re placed at the entrance to the extension of the Forth and Clyde canal, they were designed by sculptor Andy Scott and completed in 2013. I was slightly disappointed by not being able to go inside either of the structures, another Covid inspired restriction, but hey, we all have to live with “The New Normal”. Traffic around Falkirk was light and we left around 3pm to finish our return home uneventfully. This was our second trip to Scotland in as many years and all in all it was very enjoyable. The weather and the stunning scenery helped, but I can’t help thinking that, in terms of the hospitality industry outside of the main urban areas, it needs to take a bit of a look at itself. Of course, it could be that we were unlucky in the venues that we chose, but there are only so many burgers one can eat in a week, even when on Covid mandated Staycation.
© Colin Cross 2020