After four amazing days in Skye, we made our way to the picturesque river town of Inverness. We rented two apartments with lovely views on the banks of the river to use as our base of operations for the next five days. Here are some of the things we did and saw during our time there.
Obviously, the big attraction in the area is Loch Ness. While not the most beautiful loch in Scotland (according to the guidebooks), it nevertheless remains the most famous due to a mythical creature that purportedly inhabits its waters.
The funny thing is it doesn’t seem like anyone takes the idea of a Loch Ness monster seriously anymore, especially the people who run the tourism industry there. Instead, it feels like more of a wink wink situation: “Decide for yourself whether you believe the myth!”
Yet people keep visiting the area, the combination of natural and beauty and the faux legend seem to be enough. M’s grandmother had given her a stuffed Nessie the year before so we prepped her for the possibility of seeing the real Nessie. This could only end in disappointment and probably wasn’t wise (a new stuffed animal, “Jessie” aka Nessie’s cousin assuaged her disappointment).
A cruise company called Jacobite Cruises runs a variety of loch cruises throughout the day. They vary in length and some are coupled with bus tours to other local attractions; we opted for the 1h 45m cruise.
The cruise came complete with radar to search out Nessie; though it could have just been a video running on loop for all I know! Still, I really enjoyed the cruise – it was nice to be on the water and it was a beautiful day on the loch. If you’re a water person you won’t be disappointed. The narrated guide was fine (I’m not really into that thing so I’m not a great judge).
Apparently it can get super foggy on the loch which provides for some pretty dramatic views. Or terrible views, depending on your opinion of such things, so be aware.
The Oakwood Restaurant by the Dochgarroch Loch boat launch is well worth checking out. The food was excellent (more cuillen skink) and there were some very nice touches. For example, our vegetables were served over a candle to keep them warm. It had a very authentic feel to it; I’m not sure if it is family run but it felt like one of those kinds of places.
The service was a little bit slow for our family which was a bit frustrating with the kids (my parents were done eating half an hour before us). The owner took a bunch of things off our bill without us even complaining, though, which was unnecessary but thoughtful of him.
Loch Ness Experience
We also swung by the Loch Ness Experience. We probably should have read more about it before we went. We thought it was a museum about the Loch Ness monster, which I guess is true in a sense, but it’s not great for young kids.
It’s essentially six different rooms going through the history of the Loch Ness monster and analyzing the legend. Each room has a short video but there is very little to interact with. I had to bail with a cranky H in room 2 but Jess said I didn’t miss much.
There are some cool touches like a giant replica boat but when the gift shop is probably going to be the most interesting thing to a three year old. If you’re an adult wanting to know more about the history behind the area, however, it might be worth it.
Highland Wildlife Park
The Cairngorms, a national park, lie about one hour southeast of Inverness. They contain lots of sporty things to do (including skiing in the winter), but we made our way over there to see the Highland Wildlife Park.
I loved the concept of the Highland Wildlife Park, it combines a drive through safari with a more traditional zoo. They also have polar bears! You could easily spend an entire day there. The zoo area does require a good amount of walking so it’s probably best to bring a stroller.
There are various feedings throughout the day, we caught both the monkey and the polar bear feedings. Great for the kids! You can drive through the wildlife safari as many times as you’d like, we only went through once because we had to be somewhere but there are some cool animals to see.
I actually didn’t have very high hopes for this park because it wasn’t in any of the guidebooks and I hadn’t seen much about it anywhere. But I’m glad I found this place online and it serves as proof that you can find enjoyable things without the aid of tour books!
When Jess suggested we go to Scotland I immediately started scheming to get us to The Macallan. Step 1: Invite parents on trip. Step 2: Convince parents to drive kids home from wildlife park. Step 3: Make tour reservation. Step 4: Profit.
It was about an hour drive to The Macallan from Highland Wildlife Park and another hour and a half back to Inverness afterwards but the tour was well worth it. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the stills and such but they are fascinating, especially if you’re into science. It was also fun to appreciate the differences between Macallan and Talisker.
We didn’t really learn anything you couldn’t learn from the internet but I didn’t care. I enjoy seeing people take pride in their work and product and the people who work there obviously do. It was “quiet season”, the one month they aren’t producing, so we even got a discount on the tour.
The tour ends with a free tasting, pictured below. It was two 12 years, an 18 year, some special branded whiskey, and “new make spirit”. Lovely.
If we had been traveling without kids we probably would have spent two days wandering around all the various distilleries. I would have loved to try some random whiskeys I had never heard of. Next time.
While the scenery may not have rivaled that of Skye, Inverness served as a great home base to explore the Northern Highlands of Scotland. We continued touring at our relaxed pace (only one or two things per day) and really enjoyed our time there. We also managed to be in Inverness during the Highland Games, which was a great experience – next time.