CASTLES, WHISKY AND THE NORTHERN LIGHTS... KINDA

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So when I told people that the Blonde Kiwi and I were heading to Inverness for a long weekend, I was greeted with puzzled expressions or sometimes the odd 'um, why?' Turns out it's not the most appealing destination for Brits. But hey, a lake with a monster in it, castles, whisky - what's not to like?! So it's really effing cold like all the time... you can't have it all. 


On arrival we immediately made our way to a whisky tasting because well, whisky. We chose the Glen Ord distillery tour and it was great. The guide was obviously really passionate about the drink but also the process behind every bottle and we would have learnt a lot if I wasn't the type of person who nods along in enthusiasm but forgets about 80% of the content instantly. 


The Blonde one wasn't feeling very well when we got to the actual tasting bit so I took one for the team and finished off his samples. It really is the perfect way to warm up.

whisky distillery tour

Unfortunately said illness lasted for the rest of the trip so the responsibility of sight eating and drinking fell to me. I even had to have a glass of wine in the hotel bar alone. I tell you what, it's a hard life sometimes. 

Check out this view from the bar - and can I just point out that this wasn't some five star joint, we were in a Premier Inn. Inverness is just that pretty (and castle-y) from all angles.

Inverness castle

This particular castle (Inverness castle funnily enough) isn't open for tourism as it's still used as the town court rooms but will be opening to the public in the next year or so apparently. 

The next day we set out on a private tour of Inverness based on the ancestry of the Blonde Kiwi's clan. This was the main reason for the trip and I'll be honest, it didn't massively appeal at first. However, we had such a great day, namely because of our utterly adorable guide George. I knew we would be friends as soon as I saw him pinch a sneaky sausage at the hotel breakfast buffet while he was waiting for us to finish up. 

George drove us around so many incredible places that we would never have found on our own and his banter was top notch. He also had a bit of a cheeky side which I loved - we totally trespassed on this castle's grounds...


Castle Leod

This is one of the most popular castles to visit because it inspired the castle featured in Outlander, a book series and TV show that I had vaguely heard of (apparently it's huge in the states). For us, it was great just to explore the grounds and learn about the history. For example, here is a tree that was used to hang people. Charming.
Hanging tree

The grim weather helped set the scene for the tour but holy wow I was in need of some whisky half way through - it was SO cold. The beautiful landscape made it worthwhile though and reminded me a lot of New Zealand. That is, until you come across a big ass tower like this and remember how friggen old the place is!

Tower

George told us loads of stories about the people who had once owned the properties and being there brought them all back to life. It was particularly odd wandering around this plot...

Animal gravestone

Yep that's only a dog's gravestone from 1890. No biggie. Also RIP Spot. 

As the day progressed I started to wonder why the Blonde Kiwi didn't come with a castle. His ancestors sure owned/took a lot of them back in the day. I've come to the conclusion that I should basically be a princess. Just think, this could have been my humble abode.

Redcastle castle

Maybe not the most economical to heat in the winter but worth it for the bragging rights surely??

The tour wasn't all just castles mind you, we also wandered through some quaint little settlements that we would never have thought to explore without George. I would fully recommend him if you're ever in the area and fancy learning more about the highlands... or just feel like being driven around by a Scottish gent with great chat.

That night was pretty uneventful as the man flu was still upon us so we had a quiet meal at The Mustard Seed The main was forgettable but I had one of the best desserts EVER there. It was just a simple banoffee pie but done so well. One thing is for sure, the Scots know their sweets.

Banoffee pie

It was a good thing that dessert was a win that night as it also marked the biggest instance of travel FOMO that I have ever experienced. As we strolled home to the hotel in the unusually clear night I decided to snap this photo of the town. Notice anything unusual about it?

Northern Lights Scotland
 
I didn't examine it properly until the next day when someone gleefully asked whether we had seen the Northern lights last night. Um, I'm sorry - did you say NORTHERN LIGHTS? But we're in Scotland! This doesn't happen! 

Our naked eyes didn't pick them up with all the lights in town but it turns out we would have seen a spectacular show if we'd strolled a mere 20 minutes from our hotel. Fair to say I was gutted

That's the nature of travel though isn't it - you have to move on from the things you miss out on and just enjoy your short time in whatever exotic place you are... or drown your sorrows in more whisky and banoffee pie, whatever. 

 It wasn't all bad though, the following day we saw the Loch Ness monster! Jokes...but we did experience something almost as rare - a sunny day in Scotland - so we got on a boat didn't we?

Boat cruise

No Nessie but we did get to explore (yep you guessed it) another castle!!

Urquart castle

This is Urquart castle - well what's left of it after it was attacked multiple times throughout history. There's a visitor centre and information plaques everywhere so a bit more preserved than many of the decrepid places we'd seen with George (they would almost definitely crush you if you touched them).

We went with Jacobite tours and the trip included a visit to a Loch Ness Monster museum too. You could probably give that a miss to be honest as it felt like it hadn't been updated since 1990 and basically shattered my illusions of there being any doubt it was a hoax. Killjoys. 

So there you have it, the highlands - a place of immense history, tales about monsters, more castles than Game of Thrones and strong booze. Oh and sometimes the Northern Lights but let's never speak of that again.

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