Co-ordinates: 57° 41 ’ N – 04° 09’ E
Air temperature: 11° C
Wind: 4 knots
We arrived at our first stop on mainland Scotland, the town of Invergordon at 6:00 in the morning. It was a grey overcast day and some rain showers spattered on the deck of the ship as we pulled into this small town on the Cromarty Firth. A few oil rigs sat in the firth, some of which had been there apparently for years, others waiting for repairs. The surrounding landscape of rolling green hills speckled with flowering purple heather made an attractive backdrop.
Shortly after breakfast the buses were loaded and the tour headed off for the famous Loch Ness and a visit to Urquhart Castle. It was a beautiful drive through the countryside passing through the very picturesque small town of Alnes on the way. Full of flower pots and hanging baskets, this small town had won many competitions for being the most decorated and blooming town in Scotland and even in the world one year.
Passing along the shores of the Cromarty Firth we spotted quite a few common seals lying on the sandy banks or rocks. Many raised their heads and hind flippers to pose with a classic “banana” shape as we drove by.
Nobody held their breath to see whether the Loch Ness Monster or “Nessie” was showing herself once beautiful Loch Ness came into view. But the views of the lake were wonderful and driving along the winding road that followed the edge of the lake was lovely.
Urquhart Castle is mostly the ruins of what was once an impressive and beautifully situated castle dating back to at least the early 13th century. Records from the life of St Columba in the 6th century also mention a fortified settlement here where St Columba stayed on his way to Inverness, so the castle may be even older than supposed.
Today the stone walls and remains of this castle at the edge of the lake were a lovely place to explore. With views out onto the water and of the green sloping hills behind, it would have once been a magnificent place. The castle came to a dramatic end in 1692 when it was blown up in order to stop it falling into Jacobite hands. We walked around the old walls and admired its faded glory while imagining what life must have been like here during the many hundreds of years that the castle stood here and was occupied.
On our return journey we passed through the picturesque village of Beauly and had some time to explore on our own and look into the wool shops and various cafes as well as the old 13th-century priory that lies in the center of the town. Then we returned back to the ship in time for lunch.
In the afternoon everyone had time to do whatever they liked. Many chose to wander into the town of Invergordon to explore shops and pubs or to wander along the waterfront in search of bird life and further seal sightings.
Later in the afternoon before sailing, a group of local musicians came on board to entertain us. Girls danced traditional Scottish dances including the hornpipe, a bagpiper played tunes and there was singing and joking to entertain us all. Afterwards a pipe band stood on the pier below us to serenade our departure from the wharf. This was followed by our usual evening’s Recap & Briefing and another marvelous dinner as we headed back north towards the Orkney Islands.