Monday, November 19, 2012

Scottish Hols–Inverness

The next place on our journey was Inverness or Inbhir Nis in Gaelic. Apparently it is one of Europe's fasting growing cities with a third of the Highland population living in or around the city.  In one of the highest quality of life surveys it came 5th of British cities. The Gaelic name means Mouth of the River Ness, for Inverness lies on the river where it reaches the sea at Beauly Firth.

How did we get here from Fort William you may ask – well we didn’t get here by train (Fort William, Glasgow, Stirling, Inverness – 8 hours 31 minutes). There isn’t a direct train line from Fort William to Inverness. The road journey of 65 miles takes around two hours by coach.  We might have been able to get a train from Fort William to Fort Augustus, which is about halfway between the two – but we were a bit late – it closed in 1903 and we would have had to change at Spean Bridge. (Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway) and then travel the rest of the way by road. So we travelled by coach – since this was a car-free holiday.

I suppose we could have taken a boat trip because Fort William and Inverness lie at teach end of the Caledonian Canal. It is 62 miles in length and one third is man-made and two thirds follows Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy along the Great Glen. Just like McCaig’s Tower it was a way of providing much-needed employment to the Highland Region. I could of course have cycled along it – except I didn’t have a bicycle with me. Maybe next time – my wife could walk it and I could cycle along it – with side excursions since a bike is faster, yes even at the speed I cycle.

One thing we did find was that coaches on Scottish Roads are very bouncy and swervy, especially at the back. Whilst the train journeys were more sedate they were much more comfortable.  Mind you the windows in the coach were bigger and cleaner! At one point we found ourselves near the back with a couple who took every stopping opportunity to smoke. So much so that the smell of smoke around them was rather strong. I could see that this was making my wife feel a bit nauseous, so to spare any hurt feelings I mentioned a few times just how bouncy the bus was at the back and that we would need to move forward.  Now I know what it is like to be on the TV program Coach Trip – you have to be very careful to get along and avoid unintentional slights. Otherwise they might have voted us off the trip!

Inverness in October was rather delightful, I can see why the city is highly thought of. It also seems to have loads of churches as well as Inverness Castle

This is the Catholic Cathedral – St Andrew’s Cathedral – although this link seems a little sparse on the history.

St Andrew’s Cathedral, Inverness

This is the River Ness looking down river – several Church spires immediately spring into view. The city has three road bridges, three pedestrian bridges and one railway across the bridge (according to the OSM map anyway). This is the Greig Street Footbridge. They are suspension bridges and rather bouncy when anyone walks across.  Which made taking pictures a little tricky from the bridge.  The water was right up to the banks and beyond and over the grass as well. The locals weren’t concerned though.

Greig Street Footbridge, River Ness, Inverness

This is the view up river alongside the road bridge – Ness Bridge.

The View Upriver - River Ness, Inverness

This pictures shows the  “centre” side of the river -  with the Free North Church (the tallest spire of the riverside churches) on the left, and Inverness Castle on the right. In the middle is what looks like a Church Spire being renovated (On the corner of Bridge Street and Church Street). It is the Steeple and had to be straightened after an earth tremor in 1816. It is all that remains of a tollbooth building erected in 1791. It is being restored with the help of a £241K grant having been damaged more recently by high winds.

As an aside for all you cyclists, NCN1 runs through Inverness (the same NCN1 that I rode from Hull to Kings Lynn a few years back).

Free North Church in the River Ness, Inverness

One of my childhood memories of holidays in Scotland is that of eating scotch pies. For you sassenachs that doesn’t mean that my Mum and Dad used to feed us pies laced with Scotch whisky to keep us quiet. It is a small double-crust pie filled with minced mutton, it is usually well spiced and they are delicious.

So as we walked around the city I kept my eyes open – it took ages. They don’t seem to be sold in cafes, rather they are the sort of thing you buy  at the bakers.   The rim at the top is to allow space for added accompaniments such as mashed potatoes (tatties) or baked beans. (The picture was taken on my phone in case you were wondering why it looks a little different.)

Scotch Pie

Suitably refreshed we then went walkabout – or rather we went for a walk up the river. Although we started on the right-hand side we switched to the left on the bridge in the background (Ness Bridge) and then crossed back a mile or so up river. You can see the river is right up over the grass on the bank in this picture.

Infirmary Bridge on the River Ness, Inverness

There were some small islands called the Ness Islands and a series of five bridges at different points. This picture was taken from one of the Ness Islands – I didn’t swim out into the Ness to get this picture. This is another footbridge – Infirmary Bridge. Once again the aforementioned Cathedral.

St Andrew’s Cathedral and Infirmary Bridge, River Ness, Inverness

By the end of the day walk the sky cleared which suggested that the weather for our next rail trip out to the Kyle of Lochalsh (back on the West Coast of Scotland) was going to be good.  Mind you the snow on the distant mountain peaks was a reminder that it could be cold. I think the peak to the left of the middle is Ben Wyvis  1046m height.

Snow on the Mountains seen from Inverness

After dinner  I popped out to take a picture of Inverness Castle illuminated up on the hill on the other side of the river. By now it was pretty cold with a clear night.  I used a bollard to rest my camera on to keep it still for the long exposure. This caused a passer-by to suggest to my wife that she ought to get me a tripod for Christmas. (I have already got one as it happens.)

The Castle now seems to be used for Law courts and there were some interesting characters hanging around earlier in the day – presumably waiting their turn to go in (and that was just the lawyers.)  I forgot to mention we also enjoyed a visit to the Museum and Art Gallery nearby where I learnt a lot more about Scottish history than I was ever taught in my Sassenach school.

Back on the rail again tomorrow.

Inverness Castle at night

Back on the rail again tomorrow.

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