11 September 2009

Sightseeing in the Highlands: Inverness

(This is the first post in a multi-part series on our recent trip to Inverness, Skye, and the Black Isle in the Highlands.)

With our last week before the start of the term, Nana and I decided to play tourist a bit, and packed ourselves off for three days (two nights) in the Highlands.

The first stop on our trip, and our home base for the duration, was Inverness, the economic and administrative capital of the Highlands. As the major transport hub for the north of Scotland, Inverness is a good launchpad for day trips into the surrounding countryside.

Inverness gets its name from the Scottish Gaelic Ihnbir Nis, which means "mouth of the Ness." The River Ness flows out of Loch Ness and straight through the town, emptying into the Moray Firth to the northeast. There are a lot of Invers in the Highlands--the stress, we learned, is on the second, distinguishing part of the word (inver-NESS).

The modest  skyline of Inverness is dominated by the castle, a 19th-century throwback built on the site of several ancient fortifications. The castle, which overlooks the river, is made of Old Red Sandstone, a distinctive building material common in Scotland generally, but even more so in the eastern Highlands.

The castle is also a terminus of the Great Glen Way. The Great Glen,  or Glen More (Scottish Gaelic, Gleann Mòr, "Big Valley"), is a tectonic fault that slices diagonally across the middle of Scotland, from the Moray Firth near Inverness to Fort William near the western coast. Its most recognizable feature is probably Loch Ness. It's also the easiest route across the Highlands from East to West.

Inverness is a commuter town, drawing workers and shoppers from all over the Highlands. This means that, after August, when the tourist traffic is a bit slower, the streets are eerily empty at night.

In general, Inverness is a pretty town, with its fare share of restaurants and pubs--not much of a destination in and of itself, but a comfortable place to stay. A stroll along the river, and across one of the many footbridges, is a pleasant way to spend an evening.

If you do find yourself in Inverness, don't miss the excellent local history museum--free admission, in the same building as the tourist information centre, just down the hill from the Castle.

Sightseeing in Edinburgh: Arthur's Seat & Holyrood Park

The day before our excursion to Inverness and the Highlands (more on that later), I took what looks to be the first of several long strolls up Arthur's Seat and around Holyrood Park.

Arthur's Seat is the highest of a number of weathered old volcanoes dotting the cityscape (including the Castle Rock and Calton Hill).

It's also by far the wildest. Holyrood Park, which includes the royal palace of Holyroodhouse as well as the glens, mounds, and crags surrounding Arthur's Seat, is a surprisingly untamed little landscape--though it, like most hills, was overrun by Germans, even on a cool, blustery day.

From the couch in our living room, it takes about 40 minutes to reach the summit, if you take the direct route and don't stop for a break. I estimate it would take about an hour to go around and up the gentler east slope at a similarly brisk pace.

A view of the summit from the low glen to the southwest.
The peak isn't the only point of interest in the park, though. The flanks of Arthur's Seat are home to several scenic glens, three lochs, some dizzying cliffs, and even a ruined medieval chapel.
Looking down a glen towards St. Anthony's Chapel, with St. Margaret's Loch behind.

The view down the gentle eastern slope towards Duddingston Loch, with the Duddingston and Portobello neighborhoods in the background.

The obligatory heather, which I would see plenty more of in the following days . . .

A view towards the summit from St. Anthony's Chapel.

The ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel (15th century).

10 September 2009

Back from the Highlands; Internet Update

Got back to Edinburgh safe and sound last night. More details on the trip to follow!

And for those many folks who've been trying to reach us by e-mail, many apologies for how long it's taken us to respond. It turns out we won't have our broadband line installed at home until next Friday, so for now the university library is our only means of contact with the outside world . . . !

06 September 2009

Heading for the Highlands!

The Educated Burgher is headed for Inverness tomorrow--last chance to play tourist before the term begins. We'll be gone through Wednesday evening. See you then!

Sightseeing in Edinburgh: The Royal Botanical Gardens

Yesterday, Nana and I took the number 8 out to the Royal Botanical Gardens, on the north side of town. Despite the rather blustery weather, and a ludicrously puffed-up art exhibit consisting entirely of lacquered boxes in empty, whitewashed rooms, it made for an entirely pleasant--and free!--excursion.

The photos below, I think, will speak for themselves.

No, Nana. We're not in Asia anymore!
(This was part of an exhibit showcasing the mountain ecology of southern China.)

Take that!
(Coming soon: Nana and the GIANT HEDGE.)