Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day 14 - Culloden Battlefield, Tollie Red Kites and Urquhart Castle

6.17  I looked out the window to find a bright sunrise and with a flock of birds flying across it. That’s special. Still looking out the window I see a squirrel run across the yard. It’s body is very red, tail is strongly grey. The cry goes up. Squirrel!!  My plan for the early morning is immediately settled. I’m going looking for red squirrels.  I quickly dress and grab the camera. I can’t get out the door and down the stairs quickly enough. There’s no sign of any squirrel where I’d seen the earlier one so I go wandering.  Down near the onsite cabins there’s a small lake lined by pines. Scooting about under the pines is a red squirrel. Strong red body. Strongly red tail. Cute and small, this is definitely a red squirrel. Oh God. Quick get a photo of it. I switch the camera on. What the?  No battery?!  Aaaaaaaaghhh. I have a good look at this beast in case it’s not here when I get back and then race back upstairs, complete the mandatory moaning and whinging. I never take a battery out without putting a charged one in immediately. Hubby just takes the battery out and waits for it to be charged to put the same battery back in. Aaaaaaggggh! This is why you don’t do that and why I carry three batteries!  You never know when a photographic emergency will arise. Naturally the squirrel is gone by the time I get back. Oh well. Perhaps we’ll see one on Skye or Mull that I can photograph.
There’s a feeder hanging on the tree. It’s empty. Every feeder anywhere on the property is empty other than a couple that I guess must be specifically for the squirrels attached to the actual tree trunk out the front at the busiest part of the property.  It wouldn’t bother me except they were empty when we arrived as well and they sell this property by ramping up the references to the squirrels and birds. I should think the feeder stations should be a priority. Yes, I know I may be being unreasonable and people who aren’t tearing around the country like mad things might not mind the bird feeding happening at some random point later in the day when the owners get round to it. If they get round to it. Still. It’s very disappointing. There’s plenty of birds around there’s just no reason for them to come in here where I can admire them. The red squirrel appeared to be checking out what seed might have been left on the ground under the feeder. I loiter watching a robin near one of the cabins and try to get a picture of something I guess might be a lark perhaps and slowly make my way back inside.
We skip in house brekky again and this time our hosts seem truly distressed by the situation. They have the griddle hot at 8 am which was considerate of them and they’re clearly trying hard. They’re still worried by our croissant to go yesterday morning and being a bit defensive about it. I ask if we can do the same today and of course that’s fine and a couple of sandwich containers are provided to make sure the pastries don’t get squashed. But they are definitely crestfallen. Really, it’s nothing personal, it’s just that Culloden Battlefield opens at 9 am and we want to get there at opening time as we have a lot on the agenda today. Slippage will be a significant problem. It’s all a bit awkward and consequently it’s quite a relief to get away. Big breakfasts aren’t really a thing for your average Joe in Australia other than maybe for brunch on weekends, or maybe breakfast meetings at a café near work. Work days in Aus start at 9 at the latest for most people, and for many it’s much earlier. Hubby usually starts work at 6:30 am and I’m usually finished my long commute and at my office by 7:40 am. Seriously, a quick brekky on the run is fine and actually normal for us. Don’t give us a hard time about it. I reassure them that I know the breakfast situation is down to us and they did say we should tell them if we need something earlier. Sheesh. I leave them standing in the nice conservatory looking like the dog just died. Probably I should have broken the news last night, but I didn’t realise it would be such a big deal. We’re off.
I had toyed with the idea of taking the long way to get to Culloden, but looking at the time I decide perhaps we’ll just retrace our steps of yesterday for much of the route and go straight there.  I’m pleased as I check the time we drive into the car park. 9:05 am. Excellent.
More free entry here with our membership/s we start working our way through the exhibition centre.  On one wall they tell the story from the Government’s point of view and on the other from the Jacobite’s point of view.  They make the point that people had a range of motivations for joining with the Jacobite cause, some thought that a restored Stewart King would also restore Scottish Parliament, for others it was an matter of religion or other issues. Still others were forced to fight on the Jacobean side.  The Government asserted that the Stewarts believed in the divine right of Kings and that this was a bid for a takeover by a tyrant.  The Hanoverian King was of course restricted by the constitution and Parliament.  Along the way there are listening posts where we can select from real characters from history and listen to their testimony. Everyone from soldiers fighting on one side or another to diarists who witnessed the arrival or departure of the Jacobites from various places. The speakers are immediately above us as we are at the individual screen and it really seems like the person is there with us speaking. It’s really well done. There are also interesting artefacts, relevant to the stage of the story we’re up to, that we can examine along the way. It’s a very good way to present the history and museum pieces. There’s even somewhere to sit here and there, which Hubby really appreciates as he can rest his foot.  There’s one section I seriously disliked and that was inside a curved semi-open space where you listen to some people arguing. It’s loud and as we tried to take in the displays beyond it, the noise from that made it hard to concentrate.
Time comes for us to go into the little theatre room but the system isn’t working. There’s an engineer on the job fixing it and before we’ve had time to look at the displays of weaponry from either side and items discovered on the site during archaeological digs they have it up and running and the announcement is made that it’s about to start. We head in with about 4 other people. We seem to be standing in the middle of no-man’s land before the battle starts. There’s four walls consumed by huge screens. The battle joins and the combatants stand or charge as is appropriate to their role. It’s a little confusing but I suppose the battle would have been too.
We collect our audio guide and step out onto the battlefield. I ask Hubby if he wants to skip this bit if his foot is sore, but no, he’s coming around too.  We follow the listening posts sequentially up to about point three I think it was.  Then there’s an option to walk over to the Blue (Jacobite troops) flags or we can continue with the main route and follow the Red (Government troops) flags.  That’s an interesting choice of flag colours. The exhibition centre was emphasising that the battle of Culloden was just part of a wider European conflict and that the French, that is Louis XV, was opportunistically supporting domestic rebellion in Britain to further French ends in the conflict more broadly. A similar point has been made to us by an Englishman recently with conclusions drawn about the recent referendum. Drawing a bit of a long bow really. Anyway, those flags. So if the conflict wasn’t England against Scotland (Scots fought on both sides and there were also English Jacobites) why are the Jacobite flags blue and the Government flags red today on this battlefield? I guess it makes it easy to remember who is who. After all we all immediately understand that the Government side is England isn’t it? The Scottish blue are the rebel enemy? No? The symbolism is a bit conflicted at times perhaps, even after the passing of centuries.
Well, I’m here with my daughter of Scotland hat on, so I follow the trail to the Blue Flags and then make our way back across to the Red flags in the distance. As I head back along the circular route, I am following the route back to front.  It’s clear that I’m supposed to be doing the government side first and the Jacobite side as the optional add on. 
Damn! My moth and butterfly book doesn't include a photo of this guy. I wonder what it turns into...
Over a large area of the site there’s some regeneration happening. It looks like lovely heathland habitat. We finally reach the area where there are numerous burial mounds and markers, just in front of the Government lines. The physical mounding of earth gives a more tangible sense of the loss of life than memorial stones or markers. It's a moving area to contemplate. 

Hubby is limping a bit. I leave him on a comfortable seat while I go in the direction indicated to find the grave marker for clan Donald.  Just my luck that the Donalds were down the back behind the bog. The poor bastards never got to get into the other side at all due to the terrain.
We head by what we think is the shortest route back to the information centre and hand in our audio guides. The final displays are about the aftermath of Culloden and the brutal suppression of the people and their culture conducted by “Butcher Cumberland”.  Clearly a well-earned epithet.
The displays in this section also make the point that the Battle of Culloden continues to be studied and the causes and consequences argued about and that the story of this battle is far from over.  This is obviously true.  The thing in this section that struck me was one of the characters whose testimony we listen to. He’s someone (Duncan?) Forbes I think, and he said that he expected to be asked after the conflict about how best to keep the peace and obtain the loyalty of those that had been on the Jacobite side in the conflict but that his advice was not sought. He said he felt the measures proposed un-necessary and un-reasonable or words to that effect. That’s really the crux of it isn’t it. The Battle itself and the Jacobite cause, whatever it was, is not really the most historically significant factor perhaps. The “Government” forces won the battle but they absolutely comprehensively and spectacularly lost the battle for hearts and minds that followed.
As we’ve toured Scotland’s historic sites over the last couple of weeks. One young Scottish lass commented to us that Scotland will be getting their Stewart Kings back at least to some extent because Princes William and Harry have Stewart blood in them through one of the daughters of Charles II, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket. It’s something that people are apparently aware of.  Even today at some level, people seem to have at least some sense of a divine right to rule. That’s what coronation is isn’t it? Officially anointing God’s chosen king and the monarch making vows before God?
Considering the continued struggle for Scottish independence in a broader context gives pause for thought. I can’t help but see similarities with the ongoing struggle of Australia’s Indigenous people for self-determination and their continued resistance to assimilation imposed on them over the last 230 odd years. Scotland and those Scottish who crave their independence are very lucky. It’s a much more difficult thing to live in a modern western nation while trying to maintain your traditional Aboriginal values and cultural traditions. The cultural gulf is not so great for the Scots. At the same time, the inability of the dominant culture to understand the point of view of those dominated seems strikingly similar. In each case, on the victor’s side it’s a case of “It’s all in the past, move on and assimilate, we are all prosperous together” and on the dominated people’s side it’s more “We do not concede our sovereignty over our lands to you the victor.” passed down the generations, the slights unthinkingly made still smart. People abused or maltreated all those many generations ago aren’t anonymous they are family members modern generations still care about. I wonder how many Scottish families are still passing down stories of the days of the ’45 and their part in it.
Well, time comes to move along. We lunch on supplies we have in the car. Hubby donates his breakfast croissant to me and continues his consumption of his pork pies and we’re off to Tollie Red Kites to watch the Kites being fed.  We’re prepared for whatever comes because Duncan warned us yesterday that there’s no guarantee the kites will come in.
We arrive about half an hour early and make ourselves comfortable. The visitor centre is warm and dry and there are also some viewing positions along the wall outside.  This open air location is where some pretty high powered photographers have gathered. Their gear is something else. Birdlife paparazzi.  The RSPB staff arrive about 10 or 15 minutes before feeding time and talk to everyone about the feeding process. The gulls have also started arriving and a flock of about 5 or 6 pied wagtails is preparing the feeding platform. Nothing wrong with the bird’s timekeeping. The Kites are alleged to have a competitive streak in them because often they show no interest until the gulls start nicking the food.  I wonder if the Kites might be using the gulls as tasters. Birds of prey are persecuted here in the highlands with regular incidents of poisoning or shooting. Duncan has mentioned to us that there was a recent incident where 20 Kites were killed in preparation for a bird shoot.  These birds aren’t stupid. They clearly understand that this food is associated with humans. They’re not in a hurry to take it.  To stop the gulls taking all the food in double quick time, the RSPB staff plan to stand off a little way but in sight which apparently doesn’t bother the Kites but bothers the gulls rather a lot.
While we wait we observe a buzzard sitting on a pine tree in the distance. It’s visible with the naked eye as a small white blob. Through binoculars it’s still a small white blob, but I can see some darker markings on it as well.
This feeding platform is a long way from the viewing location
At 2:30 the RSPB staff walk down to the feeding platform which is some distance from the visitor centre. They fling bits of food over the table and step back.  Nothing doing.  They step back a bit further.  The gulls come in and take some food.  Nothing doing. Eventually the kites start making their way over. One flies over to take a closer look and clearly thinks. “Gosh, what’s the fuss? You gulls will eat anything.” The bird flies off and circles around for a while before moving away. I try to snap some sort of picture knowing it is highly unlikely to be good. A silhouette is as good as can be expected under the circumstances and the light with the gear I have got.
At 3pm, I decide it’s time we cut our losses. Hubby puts our payment/donation in the box and we make our way out. Opportunity cost is getting too great and we’ve seen the kites, albeit in the air. Time to go.
We’re on our way to Drumnadrochit and our route takes us steeply down from the higher ground to the Loch that resides along the bottom of the Great Glen. We’ve agonised long and hard before making a decision to skip a cruise and visit Urquhart Castle as our way of seeing Loch Ness. Now though, with his foot sore, Hubby’s thinking perhaps a cruise might be the easier option so we pop into a cruise joint (not the one I’d noted in the manifesto) to see what the odds of getting on a boat are at the moment. Right. Non-existant. Possibility they might run a trip at 6pm if there’s demand and note that no-one has vacancy this afternoon and please don’t enquire at the visitor information centre because they’ll refer us back here because the other operators are full with big tour groups this afternoon and it gets confusing keeping track of numbers etc if we make multiple enquiries. They take Hubby’s number. OK, that makes the decision simple. Urquhart Castle it is. No worries this is another freebie under our membership.
The first shock is the size of the carpark and the number of people here. This is clearly a massively popular tourist attraction. None-the-less we have no difficulty obtaining a convenient car space and we head in. At this time of day (about ten past four) the advice is to head straight out to the castle and make sure we see the gatehouse and the tower as these are the first they lock up. We can come back up to the visitor centre to see the short video presentation.  We don’t need to be told twice. We’re off.  Once again there’s a long steep descent and corresponding rise. Many many stairs and lots of ruins to look at. We can take or leave the ruins themselves. We’ve seen ruins enough and I'm not that much into them. They’re sad places.  The site however is absolutely magnificent. Much more spectacular than the siting of Dunnottar Castle. Absolutely this has to be the best way to appreciate Loch Ness and the Great Glen.  The cruises that drop you off for an hour would be fine and probably the best and most comprehensive option. An hour is probably enough for the majority of people. We didn’t rush at all, read every information panel and we took 1 hour plus the video.  The video didn’t tell us much we didn’t learn on site so compressing the visit into video plus exploring would be OK.  
Standing at the top of the tower taking in the view, a “Coo-ee” goes up.. Aussies up on the battlements. 
There's a lot of investment in infrastructure to support the large numbers of tourists, concrete paths, metal stair cases. Rope handrails or stabilised walls with concrete mortor.  Some of the rope handrails have a black thread running through them. This identifies where the rope was made and suggests that perhaps they are made in a traditional way. I wish I could remember what the colour thread is for the ropery at Chatham Historic Dockyard. 
The tower isn’t the best view in the castle grounds. The best view is from the top of the older part of the castle, I think they called it the citadel if memory serves. But you cannot capture it in a photograph. I take a video, but really, it's something you have to experience.
Our explorations concluded we steel ourselves for the trek back up the hill. We browse the gift shop and when the next video is about to start an announcement is made and we head in. Hubby as usual notices the little things and puts his camera to use. It’s really useful having more than one person taking photographs. We each notice different things. It will be great for preparing the book of our holiday.  Now where were we.. ah yes.. They tell us to stay seated until the lights come on. There’s a reason for that which I won’t reveal, it’s better as a surprise, but let’s just say that if you’re planning a trip and you want the very best experience possible at Urquhart Castle try to arrive a bit earlier than we did and do the movie presentation first before exploring the site.
Well, we spend a bit more time in the gift shop and get a few things, among which is a CD of Scottish music which I’m hoping will add to my existing playlist for our driving. We have a lot of driving over coming days.
It’s a quick run into Inverness and we have no trouble finding our B&B which is in a gorgeous street full of what must have been upper middle class mansions when they were built. Hubby notices that almost every place is a B&B with a “no vacancy” sign up. We like Inverness right away so we’re not surprised it’s popular.
Our B&B is just lovely. What a beautiful, beautiful place to stay.  We have an early reservation so we just chill out for 20 minutes fill out our brekky order and walk down the hill to the river front. Once again we’re sorry we don’t have more time in the area. Our host has pointed out a place that has nightly live music sometimes traditional sometimes not and there’s plenty more major tourist attractions in this part of Scotland.
Our dinner destination tonight is, of course, The Mustard Seed and we have a reservation. Our waiter is Scottish (yay) and he’s friendly and very busy. This place is big. The ambience is nice and there’s clearly an international clientele. The bloke at the next table sounds American and is going on about some place where you can eat giraffe or impala or any sort of meat you want.
So it’s been a big day with lots to report. Let’s make this dinner report brief.  Hubby: Pot of Shetland mussels cooked in a Cairngorm Gold Beer and cream sauce £7.25 followed by Roast breast of Barberry duck served with crushed new potatoes and a spiced apricot, port and orange sauce £16.95. Moi: King prawn cocktail served with shredded baby gem lettuce dressed crab and lime mayonnaise £7.95 followed by eye fillet of highland beef set on a parsnip mash with garlic butter and a red wine jus £25.95.  We’re even. I didn’t feel like trying the mussels, but my prawn cocktail was pretty average.  Hubby’s duck was nice, but he would have liked it cooked a bit more. I won with the steak as one might hope given the price tag, even though it was cooked well done rather than the requested medium well. 
We skip dessert. Yes, again. We’re keener to get home to bed than spend another half hour here eating! Crossing the road to admire the riverfront. The bridge is all lit up and the colours change periodically. Disco lighting for the fish in the River Ness flowing silently by.
We turn up the street towards home and admire Inverness Castle in lights. It looks in good condition but this is because it's used. It's not somewhere we can tour even if we had the time. 

1 comment:

gclarkew said...

I hope you have put in a formal complaint about the tour. Your cracking me up about the midges.