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Inverness, gateway to the Scottish Highlands, Part 1
Text and photos: Eckart Winkler, Bad Nauheim, http://www.eckart-winkler.de
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Inverness on the River Ness with its castle, churches, pubs and shops - Speyside Tour: Brodie Castle, Spey Valley and, of course, a visit to a whisky distillery

Travel data
Date of the journeyJuli 1994
Duration5 days
Report online since02.11.2019

Day 1: Inverness

Since one reads in almost every travel guide, Inverness is not very interesting or boring or has nothing to offer or whatever. Whether all of them copy from each other? And if ever one of the authors was there? Who knows. In any case, that's all nonsense! In truth, Inverness is very pretty. The city has 40,000 inhabitants, so it is still small enough not to sink into big-city bustle and traffic. And it's big enough to offer everything a traveler could wish for: easy access by public transport, excursions in all directions, shops, pubs.

Sure, the Pyramids of Giza or the Taj Mahal are in vain, but it's not far to the Whisky area of Speyside with the famous Malt Whiskey Trail, to the still mysterious Loch Ness and finally to the almost deserted, but spectacular Highlands.
Inverness Castle
The castle of Inverness. Here Macbeth is said to have killed his rival Duncan.

The city is divided by the River Ness, a fairly wide but very short river. Only a few kilometers long, it empties Loch Ness in the direction of the North Sea and completes the Caledonian Canal. The city center is east of the river. Visible from afar is Inverness Castle, and of course our tour begins here.

The castle can not be visited, it serves as an administrative building. But you have a nice view of the city and the surroundings from above. The current building is not necessarily historical, since it comes from the first half of the 19th century. In a previous building Macbeth should have killed King Duncan, whereupon he himself ascended the throne. Shakespeare immortalized this historical incident in his famous drama. However, where this actually happened is unclear. A few other castles also advertise it.
salmon anglers
Salmon anglers in the River Ness, one of the world's shortest rivers

Not far from the castle is the Tourist Information, where we book two excursions for the following two days, one in Speyside Whiskey, the other around Loch Ness. Then to the museum right next to it, that's not even uninteresting. It contains a bit of city history, but much more about the history of the Highlands, its flora and fauna, its colonization, its clans. The collection is completed by a small picture gallery, which of course can not compete with the well-known galleries in Edinburgh or even London.

Worth a visit is the Victorian shopping arcade, which is opposite the train station on Academy Street. You can see that shopping malls are not an invention of our time. Many small shops, the concept remains the same today. If you want to shop on a big scale, you can also go to the Eastgate Shopping Center, which is not far from here.

Inverness is rich in churches, that's noticeable. So the East Church on Academy Street or the Old High Church with its old cemetery right on the River Ness. Opposite St.Columba you will find the oldest building in the city, the Abertarff House, a former city palace of a rich family from the 16th century. On the other side of the river again a church, the Cathedral of St.Andrews, built in the 19th century style of Neo-Gothic.

We spend the late afternoon at and on the Ness Islands. These islands in the south of downtown are in the middle of the River Ness and are connected by a variety of bridges. Overall, a really large park with many trees and benches, which is well suited for walking and jogging.

At 7pm we find ourselves again on the esplanade in front of the castle. According to a brochure from the Tourist Information, a "Lone Piper", a lonely bagpipe player, is supposed to be playing here at this time. But he does not. Well, let's go eat something and then the usual pub visit.

Day 2: Speyside tour

At 9am our Speyside tour starts. The bus goes east. We pass the battlefield of Culloden, where in the 18th century Scotsmen and Englishmen beat their heads, as they had often done before in other places. And at 9:45am there is already the first stop, at Brodie Castle near the small town of Forres. A beautiful, just typical Scottish castle with a huge park.

The castle dates from the 16th century, but it was destroyed in the middle of the 17th century and rebuilt only from 1730. Today, it is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, which manages almost all the major Grade II listed buildings in Scotland. Inside there are furniture, porcelain and paintings. Everything old and very fine, of course, but the same in every castle.
Brodie Castle
Brodie Castle: In the area, it's not just whisky

It is much nicer in the park. Near the house a small botanical garden with many exotic plants. And the rest is usually not designed as an English lawn (we are not in England!!), but as a forest. Again and again, the trees reveal the castle, and at some point we come to the real highlight, the Rodney Stone.

An ancient, nearly 2 m high stone tablet with Pictish symbols on the front and a Christian cross on the back. For explanation: The Picts are one of four tribes that formed the people of the Scots in the early Middle Ages. The Rodney Stone was not found here, they also argue about the origin of the name. A general named Rodney or a Pied Piper named Rottenay should be responsible. Incidentally, we had seen a copy of the stone in the Inverness Museum the day before. And that Rodney Stone is also a novella by Sherlock Holmes inventor Arthur Conan Doyle, we will learn later.

At 11.15 am drive to Elgin. The cathedral, originally from the 13th century, presents itself as a ruin. There are some beautiful townhouses in the High Street. However, we do not stay in the city for a long time, the journey continues initially in an easterly direction, to the small town of Fochabers. This is the seat of a cannery. But not some cannery. No, this is the famous Baxter's factory that supplies only the finest hotels and restaurants in the world. What would a New York Hilton be without Baxter's Red Bean Soup or a British Airlines flight without Baxter's original Bitter Orange Marmalade? No, seriously, the Baxter's canned food is really good, but it's a bit patriotic. Sure, you're proud of yourself and want to show it. The competition in the market is huge and Baxter's products are expensive.
Rodney Stone
The Rodney Stone with old Pictish symbols

You can watch a movie about Baxter's story, but you do not have to. And you can buy soups, stews, marmalade or honey in the original shop, but you do not have to.

From now on we drive up the Spey valley upstream. A picturesque area with lush green fields and the River Spey meandering through the countryside. You almost feel reminded of the Alps with their pastures and mountain rivers. A little flatter, of course. The road is part of the Malt Whiskey Trail, which travels 110 km along the country's most famous whiskey distilleries. We pass the Glen Grant Distillery, make a quick detour to Dufftown with the largest number of distilleries, including Glenfiddich and Mortlach, the Cardhu Distillery, and finally arrive at Carrbridge via Grantown-on-Spey.

Here one made a virtue out of necessity, because in the area nothing grew and grows more than heather, and thus one prepares and made from this heather everything one can imagine. And the Speyside Heather Center explains it. Starting with decorative purposes, one quickly came to the production of commodities such as braided baskets. Then you make all imaginable drinks from it. There's Heather beer, schnapps, whiskey and liqueur. We can also try the schnapps and the liqueur. Finally, the heather also undergoes medical use in the form of medicinal herbs. A truly universal plant!

Well, it's late afternoon, the inevitable visit to a whisky distillery. How could one leave this area without having looked at the production process and tasting the result! The scene of the event is the Tomatin Distillery, only 25 km southeast of Inverness. Tomatin is - let's hear and wonder - the largest Scottish distillery, but also the least known, because hardly anyone has heard of it so far. The reason, as explained to us, is that the Tomatin whisky is mainly used in blended whiskeys and hardly appears as a single malt on the market. But one after anonther.

First, let's try a few malt grains that are used here. And indeed, the malt taste is clearly felt. The first steps in whisky production differ little from those of beer production. Then it goes to distilling. For this, the "stills" are needed, these are the large tanks with round belly and narrow neck. The taste of the later whiskey depends very much on the shape of these stills. The result of this step is a colorless liquid with excessively high alcohol content, which is brought to a tolerable level by adding water.

Now the whisky is stored in barrels. 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. And only during this storage it gets its color and its characteristic taste. For storage already used barrels are taken only, sometimes they used to contain American whiskey, sometimes sherry, of course, always the same variety. We are shown a storage room, and indeed the oldest barrel dates from 1965. The quality of the whisky and also the price is measured by the age, which, of course, refers only to the storage time in the barrel. If you buy a bottle of 12-year-old whisky and put it in the cupboard for three years, you will not have a 15-year-old whisky!

Finally in the tasting room! Everyone gets a glass, but according to the motto: Everyone only a tiny sip! It is a single malt, which means that there is only one whiskey in the glass, just pure Tomatin. In contrast, the blended whiskys are mixed from several varieties, often with American whiskeys. These are then considerably cheaper, but still expensive enough.

By the way, to break up yet another confusion of languages: in Scotland thesy produce Whisky (plural whiskys), in the United States and Ireland Whiskey (plural Whiskeys). And of course you enjoy it only with water, never with ice (so do only the Americans allegedly, but whose whiskey is supposedly not so noble ??). However, would you like to drink a good red wine with ice?

In the evening we return to one of the pubs of Inverness. We catch an Irish Pub on Academy Street. There is live music there, because it's the weekend. Of course, mainly Irish songs are played, a few Scottish are also there.

Continue to Inverness Teil 2


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