– Inverness, Scotland to Edinburgh, Scotland –
Huzzah! The weather has cleared. Scotland has decided to grace us with a lovely day. I must admit that after the last two days, I was scared to even mention the sunshine for fear of frightening it away. Luckily, it stuck around, and we only saw a few sprinkles today.
Inverness is a city that many people outside of Scotland have heard of. I know I’d heard of it before I visited. I originally thought that it had to be one of the larger cities in Scotland, but it’s actually 14th by population. I am unsure why more people would know about it. Perhaps because of its proximity to Loch Ness?
Inverness was a nice place, regardless of size. We had our run this morning on a towpath, which is a road or trail that runs along a river. I’m defining it for you here because I didn’t actually know what it meant until recently. The towpath used to be the path along which animals, vehicles, or people towed boats through canals and the like. The more you know, or something.
Our towpath runs along the Caledonian Canal, and we saw it called the Caledonian Canal Towpath and the Canoe Trail in various places. It seems like both are true. Maybe one name is only for that particular section? The towpath runs from Inverness to Fort William, a distance of more than 70 miles. Even after all of the rain yesterday, the path was relatively dry, and it had lovely scenery along the canal and the river on the other side. The wind was blowing and the air was cold, but it was still a great morning. I had a lot of fun.
Our hotel had a free breakfast, so once again we had a vegetarian-version of their breakfast, which seemed to be the full English breakfast, despite the fact that we were in Scotland. The menu didn’t have the unique Scottish sausages, and we didn’t get any tattie scones with our meal. Alas. It was still decent, though when I get home I hope I don’t have to see baked beans at breakfast again for a long time. Don’t get me wrong- I actually enjoy them. The problem is that the novelty wears off rather quickly.
We had planned for four castles today, in an effort to really get the most out of our castle pass, but we were not successful. We only got three. I feel like if we’d picked more that were earlier in the day, we could’ve gotten four, but we chose poorly, so we only managed three. It was too bad, too. The 4th required a boat trip and looked great in photographs.
From Inverness, we drove about an hour down the road to our first stop at Elgin Cathedral, which is a ruin of a Roman Catholic cathedral first built on the site in 1224. It isn’t precisely a castle, of course, but I’m just using that as a catch-all. Even if we’d seen the ironworks the other day, I’d still be calling everything a castle. The cathedral was finally abandoned in 1560, and it wasn’t repaired to preserve it until the 1800s. I find it amazing that the thing survived so long.
The most impressive thing to me was how very much it still looks like a modern Catholic Church. I’m not Catholic, so forgive me if I get any of this wrong, but I was under the impression that many Catholic churches are shaped like a crucifix, and from what I can tell, this one followed suit. You can very clearly see where all of the likely features would be by looking at the castle’s ruined walls.
Elgin Cathedral has two towers, both of which have staircases leading to their upper floors. One goes out to the roof, and the other stops a bit shorter, probably because more of it is ruined. Mark and I took all of the tiny, winding stairs all the way to the top. All of the doors in the cathedral are impossibly tiny. It’s a bit amusing watching Mark trying to traverse a staircase and a very low door frame all at once. His shoulders don’t even fit. I wonder how many people would’ve been too big for the doorways back when the place was built. Supposedly humans are getting taller, right?
Another interesting feature was the tombstones and effigies scattered around the place. My favorite memorial was for a woman who was married to a nobleman from the local community. Apparently the most notable thing about her life, the thing most worthy of putting on her tombstone, was that she was married to this lord and she bore him five sons. It felt like a tombstone for someone’s cow. “Here lies Dorabelle, prize milk cow to Farmer Bill. She had five fat babies before she died.”
Speaking of that, in one of the levels of the cathedral, we were looking at a carving of a peaceful-looking woman’s face that had survived the centuries. The description beside it noted that it was a turning point in religious art. Prior to that, women had been depicted with scowls and grimaces and other “evil” expressions, because women were largely viewed as sinful creatures of the devil. It took the rise of romantic poetry and the idea of courtly love to turn all of that around. Ladies, did you know that being female makes you inherently evil? Congratulations. If you’ll get in line, I can get you your broom and your black cat. See you at my house for Samhain. Bring your eye of newt.
After Elgin Cathedral, we were not long before we made it to Huntly Castle. This has so far been my favorite castle of the trip. It wasn’t particularly spectacular outside, so Mark and I were not expecting what it turned out to be. Huntly is much bigger than it seems once you get inside.
In fact, many of the rooms and levels are very much still intact, which is quite different from some of the other castles we’ve seen. This is the first castle that we’ve been in where you could really imagine how its inhabitants lived. The rooms are large, and they seem to serve familiar functions. It’s a lot more fun than looking at emptier ruins and trying to use your imagination.
Huntly has almost an entire floor remaining where the lord of the castle would’ve lived and entertained guests, then another where his wife would’ve done the same. Note that they did not share a bedroom, or even a dining room, though I am sure they must’ve visited one another from time to time for one thing or another.
You can easily see where the upper and lower servants lived, how the kitchen was cooked, and where the food was stored. All of the rooms have en suite latrines, which is not something we had seen prior to this. I realize it’s a strange thing to think about, but I know everyone does. Where did these people even go to the bathroom? Well, here, they had their own private throne. One dining hall even had two. It makes you wonder if one was for female guests, and one for men. I suppose we will never know.
It’s a lovely castle, as well. It isn’t a picturesque as some of the others, and it was a greater distance from the water, but it was fine. Water seems to make a castle seem much more dramatic. Aside from how large it was, it was also interesting for some of the things that remained in the courtyard.
My favorite thing was the stable. Horses of the period were much smaller than modern horses for the most part. In fact, they were what we would consider ponies now. The stable ruins are mostly just very low walls and a cobblestone floor, but from the way the stones are placed, you can see the size of the stalls. Each horse was in a narrow chute less than half the size of an average-sized modern stall. My horses would’ve gone stir-crazy within an hour, locked up in there. I’m not even sure a chubby horse would fit. A Welsh pony would fit, though.
We took our leave of Huntly almost regretfully, since it was a favorite. We were surprised by how few people were visiting, since the castle was one of the better ones we’d seen. When we finished, it was nearly two, and Mark was dying of starvation. I was hungry too, but Mark is much more vocal about missing a meal than I am.
It took us forever to find a sandwich. You wouldn’t think so, since we were driving through Aberdeen not long after our castle, but it is almost impossible to get food to go in the middle of a city. We were hoping to find a service station to grab a simple sandwich from on the edge of town, but it took about half an hour longer than that. It was almost 3 when I finally fed my husband, and I fear that if I’d waited any longer, he’d have gone feral on me. It’s a delicate balance.
Our trip from Aberdeen to our next castle in Perth was uneventful. We stopped once or twice for a break, but otherwise, we simply plowed on. We could tell we were running a little late to make our last castle, and we were already pretty sure we’d miss it. We made it to Elcho Castle in plenty of time, luckily, which made three for the day. Three is a respectable number. It isn’t the four that we wanted, but it wasn’t bad.
Elcho Castle is smack in the middle of somebody’s farm. It’s only open during the summer month’s, so it closes for the last time on September 30th, in just a few days. It won’t reopen until spring. The castle sits in the middle of a very old orchard, and the little shop where you enter the castle was selling seasonal fruit from the nearby farm. Mark’s dad would’ve had a field day.
Elcho Castle has quite a bit of its structure remaining as well, though it was built in the 1500s, which makes it slightly less impressive than it’s older peers. You can see quite a bit more wood remaining from its construction, I noticed. I don’t think we’ve seen any remaining wood at all in our previous castles.
Historic Scotland is working on the castle, though we couldn’t get a sense of what they were doing, exactly. They didn’t have a sign up, so we can only assume they were shoring up the masonry. No one has lived in it since the 1700s, and it has little history aside from the fact that a noble family resided there for several centuries. It’s strange to look at information about a castle that was never under siege or sacked and burned. I think that might be a first for us, as well.
With our last castle out of reach, we sadly made our way on to Edinburgh. It was still around 6pm when we got here, so I suppose it’s better that we didn’t spend another hour out traipsing around ruins. It would’ve been even later. Our hotel here in Edinburgh is near the downtown area, and it’s actually quite a large apartment, rather than a standard hotel room. Mark and I have been frolicking through our unlimited space like cooped-up little children being suddenly released onto a playground.
We bought yogurt for our breakfast for tomorrow, since our hotel doesn’t have any. It’s an apartment building, after all. Yogurt, though. Can you believe it? It’s been days, and I’m a yogurt fiend. I think Mark might’ve been concerned about how excited the idea of yogurt made me.
With all of our gear stowed in our apartment, we wandered around Edinburgh a bit, looking for our dinner. We ended up at NovaPizza Vegetarian Kitchen, which is a small vegan and vegetarian Italian place. It was pretty good, and I bet it is even more impressive if you are vegan. All Italian food has the potential to be vegetarian. Tomato sauce and spaghetti are hardly made of meat, after all. Vegan, though… That’s a bit more difficult, since cheese is so very important to the cuisine. They could make almost everything on their menu vegan or gluten-free.
Tomorrow we will get up and go for a run, then have breakfast in our room. Our goal is to be at Edinburgh Castle when it opens at 9:30. It’s a big deal, so it will be very popular and we’d like to beat the largest part of the crowd. After that, we’ve got a 6 hour drive back down towards London. Our plane leaves for home on Tuesday. I’ve enjoyed myself, but I’m definitely starting to feel ready to get home. I miss my dog and my own bed.
– Trip Total : 6,017 miles –