Inverness, the capital of the Highlands! I really only had one full day to explore; I arrived in Inverness late at night, had one day, and then would leave early on the third day. So, again, I had to be very ruthless about what I could see and do within the space of one day, with public transportation.
How I got there:
My route was Edinburgh-Stirling-Inverness via train. It was a comfortable ride and a great way to travel. Inverness also has its own airport if you’d like to fly directly there.
To Culloden from Inverness, I took the 8C bus from outside the Post Office and paid £3.90 for a day-rider ticket.
My half-day afternoon tour of Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle cost £26 from Inverness bus station.
Where I stayed:
I picked the Bazpackers Hostel, which was about a 5-10 minute walk from the Inverness train station and quite centrally located. It was quite a cozy hostel and my stay was comfortable. The only tricky bit was that there was only one bathroom on the upper floor. But I was pretty much out really early in the mornings anyway, so it wasn’t a huge issue.
What I did:
It was so so tough to narrow down what I would do in my one day in Inverness. In an ideal world where I had a car, life would’ve been much easier and I would’ve had more freedom. Alas! But I made do.
My first stop was the tourist information centre in the middle of town; I wanted to confirm that details of some of the buses available and see if I could maybe fit in a half-day guided tour. I had some options in mind but wanted to see if they could give better suggestions.
So there were two things that I really wanted to do:
Firstly, I really wanted to go to Culloden. I’ve read so much about it in books, and to be an hour away and not go there just seemed like an utter waste. I thought it would be something I’d regret. The problem: the frequency of the buses. It takes about an hour to get to Culloden from the city centre and the bus only runs every hour. Oh boy.
The second thing I wanted to see: Loch Ness. Without a car, the only way to see it would be on a guided tour. I found a half-day guided tour which included a cruise on Loch Ness and a visit to Urquhart Castle.
The challenge: If I wanted to do both Culloden and the tour, I would only have a little over one hour at Culloden itself. So I had to decide: Culloden for 1 hour (plus 2 hours of commute to-and-fro) or no Culloden at all.
I picked Culloden for 1 hour.
I just had enough time to grab some brekkie and coffee before the next bus to Culloden, so I did. Then I headed to the bus station to catch my bus. The bus ended up arriving about 20min late! I was really bummed cos that would further cut into my actual time spent at Culloden. But the decision was made and so I just made the best of it.
You know how time seems to slow down when you’re anticipating something? That was exactly how I felt during that bus trip. Like, are we there yet??? I fairly ran off the bus once we arrived, haha.
Admission to Culloden costs £11.00 and includes an audio tour of the battlefield itself.
In case you don’t know (or don’t watch the tv series Outlander, haha), here’s the scoop on Culloden. The battle took place on 16 April 1746 and it was the battle that ended the Jacobite Uprising. It was a quick and bloody fight; though it lasted barely an hour, over 1,500 Jacobite soldiers were slain. But the real tragedy of the battle was that it essentially signified the end of the Highland way of life, thanks to the crackdown by the British forces led by the Duke of Cumberland.
Before getting to the field itself, you go through the Visitor’s Centre which has an interesting and very detailed exhibition on the history and the events leading up to the Battle of Culloden. Both sides of the conflict are represented and I found it so fascinating. There’s also a battle immersion film that gives you an idea of what it would’ve been like to be in the thick of it. Unfortunately, I was very aware of my time limitations so I couldn’t linger as long as I wanted.
Before the exit that leads to the battlefield, I picked the audio tour of the battlefield which was excellent. There’s a suggested route to follow and various stop-points to get the commentary on how the battle unfolded. So informative and it really helps you imagine how it went down.
The impression of Culloden that has stayed with me was how still it felt. I seriously got goosebumps; there was something just so still about the air and the atmosphere. Not even like a chilling vibe, but just stillness. For me, it was a feeling that felt unique to Culloden. As if the weight of the tragedy that happened there just froze the air.
Heart-heavy, I finished my visit just minutes before the bus arrived.
Then it was back to the bus station in Inverness, which was the starting point for my afternoon tour. I picked the Freedom Tour by Jacobite Cruises & Tour. It cost £26 for return transportation back to Inverness, a 1-hour cruise on Loch Ness and 1 hour at Urquhart Castle.
We had a lively guide who shared with us some info on the area and its history on our way to Clansman Harbour, where the cruise would depart from. It was about a 30 minute ride, if I remember correctly. While waiting for the boat to arrive, I got an insider tip from the guide on where to sit on the boat. She said to ignore everyone else going to the top deck and to sit at the front of the boat. She was right; this was the spectacular view!
Loch Ness was beyond gorgeous. It really did take my breath away; I don’t even know how to describe it. It was just immense, and so still and almost otherworldly. You could really imagine that a creature would live in those waters!
I was unexpectedly charmed by Urquhart Castle. Located on the northwestern shore of Loch Ness, this castle has a long history as a residence and military stronghold. It eventually fell in ruins after the military abandoned it and it only came into the government’s hands about 100 years ago. The present-day ruins date back to the 13-16th century.
Walking around the ruins, it just felt like such a shame that the castle was abandoned. You can only imagine how majestic it still would be had it been cared for over the years. Still, exploring the ruins was a lot of fun and afforded some fantastic views of Loch Ness and the surrounding areas.
There’s something very dramatic and atmospheric about Urquhart Castle. I really liked it!
On the drive back to the city centre, we passed by the Caledonian Canal. There are some tours that include the canal, and I wish I had planned better so that I could’ve done more. Once I was back in Inverness, I just roamed around and relaxed.
It was an action-packed day, but at the end of it, I felt really pleased with my decisions and what I got to experience.
There are so so many other sights to see in Inverness and its surrounds. I have to visit again!