Last autumn we headed to the Scottish Highlands for five days. It was the second part of a three week holiday which had been hastily rescheduled after our Caribbean cruise had been postponed due to the terrible hurricane weather. We spent ten days or so in Marrakech and then headed to Inverness for the second part. I had a hankering to visit the Highlands after binge-watching three seasons of Outlander on Amazon Prime and really was desperate to live out all my kilt fantasies.
We stayed in Inverness which makes a great base for exploring the Highlands at the Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel & Spa. It has a great view of Inverness Castle, much-coveted parking and serves a cracking bowl of Scottish porridge for breakfast.
My knowledge of Scottish history was like swiss cheese, distinctly holey. I don’t remember ever covering the history of this part of the British Isles at school (far too much time studying the Tudors) and shamefully, this gap had been plugged by Outlander. Culloden features quite heavily in the story of Claire and Jamie Fraser as it is at this point which marks the death of Highland clan culture.
The Battle of Culloden in 1746 (almost 100 years after the English Civil War) was the last battle fought on British soil and saw the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the end of the Jacobite rebellion. The Scots desperate to see a Stuart king restored to the throne were stamped out in one fell swoop – 1200 Highlanders were killed by government forces in just 68 minutes. The Duke of Cumberland, son of the George II, is infamous for his quite barbarous treatment of the defeated Scots and the soon-to-be Clearances.
The visitor centre at the battlefield is a wonderful resource showing the lead-up and aftermath to Culloden and is worth every penny of the admission fee. It also included 360-degree film experience to help visitors understand the ensuing mayhem that would have surrounded soldiers on the battlefield. It did a lot to fill in the holes. Perhaps in a good way, Outlander has peaked the interest of many fans in this period of history and many flock to the memorial stone for Clan Fraser.
After Culloden, the English were certain they weren’t going to have another Jacobite rebellion on their hands. But just to make sure, they commissioned Fort George in 1748, not far from the battlefield. Fort George is one of the finest artillery fortifications in Europe; it is still used to this day by the military. It was used as the base for George II’s army during their occupation of the Highlands and was finally completed in 1769 costing £1 billion in today’s money to complete. It sits on the headland guarding the narrows of the Moray Firth and has never seen action. This is probably the windiest place in Scotland and you can easily spend a day wandering around – it’s like a small city on the inside.
So what completes an Outlander orientated day – a trip to the Clava Cairns stone circle, believed to be partially behind the inspiration for Craigh Na Dun. The mystical stone circle that transports Claire to the 1700s. Clava Cairns, the large stone domed structures, is believed to be 4,000 years old and built as a cemetery in the Bronze Age. In the dappled Autumn light, it certainly felt sacred.
There’s a wealth of good eateries in Inverness and just down the road from our hotel is the Kitchen Brasserie with what the Lonely Planet describes as ‘a spectacular glass-fronted restaurant offering a great menu which looks over the River Ness.’ And it’s right to recommend that you try and book a table on the second floor by the window.
I had a super cauliflower steak and it does by far the best Cranachan in town (we tried Cranachans extensively.) A cranachan is a traditional Scottish dessert made with whipped cream, whisky, honey, fresh raspberries and toasted oatmeal soaked overnight in yet more whisky. We’ll get on to the whisky in the next post.