Inverness is a great base for doing tours. From Inverness, you can get to any number of great tourist attractions, including Skye, the Orkeys and Lewis. You can also get on a bus that takes you to Culloden Moor, the site of the last battle fought in the UK, and Cawdor Castle (as in "MacBeth hath murdered sleep..." - that Cawdor).
I miss the first tour because I'm waiting to put my stuff into the Left Luggage at Inverness Station. The Left Luggage manager is a nice man, he does a very good Australian accent. He also tells jokes and shares his life story - he has seven grandkids, so it is a pretty eventful and complex tale, but worth a listen. He gets so caught up in the tale that he leads me to the garbage bins instead of the bus station - luckily, I've been to the bus station before and can find my own way back!
To while away the time before the second tour, I go to the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. The Museum is an eclectic selection of exhibits covering everything from prehistory to Scottish industry to the Clearances to natural history. The nature display includes some stuffed animals. Now I know what the huge raptors were that I saw in the Cairngorms and en route to Thurso - they are merlins. Nice to know what I've seen, even if I'd rather not see it stuffed as the centrepiece of a tragic looking tableau. The Art Gallery has some interesting pieces by local artists. My favourites were three knitted 'somethings' that wrapped around the neck like a scarf - sort of! They were knitted out of some sort of industrial material, wires, beads and I know not what else - they looked like colourful snakes.
I caught the second bus out to Culloden Moor. Culloden Moor is where Bonnie Prince Charlie (a Jacobite) had a red-hot go at taking the crown back from the Hanoverian kings (the Government). Most of his forces were wiped out and he died a lonely alcoholic exile in Rome. There is an exhibition and a film that explain the battle - the actual battle only lasted 45 minutes, but it led to all sorts of oppression as the government tried to ensure that the whole incident would never be repeated. Speaking Gaelic and wearing tartan were outlawed - Scots had to give up all their weapons - a lot of people emigrated because the new laws were so harsh.
The battle was unusually bloody, as the government side were given fake copies of the Jacobite battle orders before they went into battle. The faked orders said that government soldiers were to be shown no mercy - so the soldiers decided that they wouldn't show any mercy either - they killed any wounded they found after the battle, then wandered around raping and/or murdering anyone who showed up to look for their husband/brother/son on the battlefield once the shooting stopped. It was all pretty extreme.
There is a little cottage beside the battlefield that was there on the day of the actual battle. It is now the site for a historical re-enactment of medical first aid in the 1700s. I time my visit to avoid the demonstration...
The battlefield is basically a mucky swamp. Since the main thing the Jacobites had going for them was their charge, they were pretty much doomed from the start - you can't stage a terrifying charge through mud, water and weeds. All the paths are built up so that the tourists don't get their feet wet. Flags mark the two lines and stone markers show where each of the Highland clans cashed it in. Some markers show where a particular leader died - all in all, it is not a very cheerful place. See http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/inverness/culloden/ for more information.
I have two hours to fill in before the bus comes back. I can't spend that long on the battlefield, I'll slit my wrists. I go in, wander around the souvenir shop and drink coffee. Outside, the sky lours over the moor - later, I talk to a woman on the train who describes the Moor as a spiritual place, but I just find it depressing. What a waste of life, all because two blokes had something to prove.
The bus arrives and I go on to Cawdor Castle. The Castle has little plaques in each room which give you the history of the Castle and the artifacts in the room. The plaques break me out of my dark mood immediately - the writer obviously had a sense of humour and as you wander through the Castle, the commentary becomes more and more eccentric - by the end of the tour, I am laughing aloud. The gardens are also lovely - we have more sunlight today, so I walk around admiring the views. Three gardeners are working like maniacs to keep everything in condition as I wander about - having a garden that looks like one giant picture postcard is hard work! The Dowager Duchess is still in residence - I am terribly envious and I wonder if she can be persuaded to move out. I reckon if I got together about 500 mates, we could just about cover the cost... For more information, http://www.cawdorcastle.com/index.cfm has pictures, maps and also some good examples of the commentary style that had me so charmed.
Back to Inverness via Fort George - I don't have time to go in and look. The bus driver talks about moving to Australia. I tell him we have pretty much the same problems, except it is warmer and we don't have any water. He says he doesn't have anything to lose as he'll never afford to buy a place in Britain. I tell him he won't get one in Australia either unless he chips in with about five mates, plus we have all sorts of animals that are likely to kill him. It will be interesting to see what he eventually decides... I must keep an eye out for him when I next catch a bus somewhere...
Off to Glasgow, my final destination - the train goes past Balsporran B&B en route, I interrupt the woman I'm chatting to with a squawk of 'I stayed there and it's so lovely!!'.
Insight into Scotland 6
People are much more willing to chat on the train here than they are in the UK. So far, I've talked to a DJ who was moonlighting as a labourer to make ends meet, to a nice lady who was also on the Culloden Loop tour with her sons and to the trolley lad on two different rail services.
Insight into Scotland 7
It is just plain wrong to hire a toothless man to operate the snack trolley on a train.