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Culloden

Started: 2014-05-29 20:41:38

Submitted: 2014-05-29 21:51:29

Visibility: World-readable

Monday, 19th May: in which the intrepid narrator explores the countryside surrounding Inverness
Country lane at Clava Cairns
Country lane at Clava Cairns

I woke up on Monday morning in Inverness without a clear idea what I wanted to do that day. In the taxi on our way to pick up the rental car at the airport, the taxi driver told us that a massive cruise ship was docking today and would be disgorging thousands of tourists, so we ought to avoid Inverness and Loch Ness until they departed. We ate breakfast at our hotel, which turned out to feature hot breakfast cooked to order, including a vegetarian Scottish breakfast with a 'sausage' that seemed to be mostly zucchini.

Once I came up with what I thought was a reasonable plan for the day, we set out in our rental car, with me driving and Kiesa trying to give me articulate and actionable feedback on my driving technique without complaining about every little thing. We headed east of Inverness along the A96, a major two-lane highway leading to the oil town of Aberdeen along the North Sea coast. With Kiesa navigating, we found Cawdor Castle. I spotted a number of busses in the car park and a handful of taxi drivers waiting for their passengers to emerge. We paid for admission and followed the self-guided tour through the castle. This was more of a country estate of the local minor nobleman than a first-class 'castle'; it wasn't intended to defend against an attack by any army armed better than a mob of farmers with pitchforks. The central stone tower dates from the fifteenth century, and has been expanded in the following centuries. The furnishings inside the house were the semi-random collection of the Dowager Countess Cawdor, who lives here in the winter and lets tourists traipse through her living room in the summer for £10 each.

Cawdor Castle and its gardens
Cawdor Castle and its gardens

The tour of the castle ended in the gift shop, and once we managed to extract Calvin from the shop (by letting him spend his allowance on a drawing of a castle with medieval soldiers he could transfer onto the drawing by rubbing on the back), we looked around the gardens, which had not yet come into full bloom

Calvin and Kiesa look at the fountain in Cawdor Castle's gardens
Calvin and Kiesa look at the fountain in Cawdor Castle's gardens

Our next stop was Culloden battlefield, the site of the last pitched battle on British soil in 1746, pitting the Jacobite supporters of the House of Stuart (who lost the crown of England and Scotland, for a second time, in 1688) against the supporters of the House of Hannover (on the throne in Westminster) for control of Scotland. Today the battlefield features a visitor's center with a cafe; we ate lunch before heading into the interpretive displays, showing the historical context from the Jacobites' perspective on one wall and the government's perspective along the other wall. Calvin kept trying to fit this into his world view where every fight has "good guys" and "bad guys", but this museum tried to avoid that simplification (despite the fact that the government won the battle and crushed the Jacobites, and its successors still control Scotland to this day). I was impressed by the immersive recreation of the battle, shown in a room with screens on all four walls putting the viewer right in the middle of the action, but I really understood the battle when I watched the animation of the battle on a large situation display, showing each sides' front lines, principally musket-armed infantry supported by field artillery and some calvary.

Kiesa and Calvin on Culloden Battlefield
Kiesa and Calvin on Culloden Battlefield

I picked up an audio guide to walk around the battlefield itself. The guide included a GPS receiver to automatically trigger the right recording, no matter what order I chose to walk around in. Much of the battlefield itself had been restored to some approximation of its state at the time of the battle, and the front lines on the battlefield were marked by flags, to give an idea of how far apart they started.

Calvin and Kiesa at Clava Cairns
Calvin and Kiesa at Clava Cairns

By the time we finished walking around the battlefield, it was the middle of the afternoon and I didn't think we'd have enough time to complete what I'd planned for the rest of the day, a drive up into the local mountains, so we stopped by nearby Clava Cairns, an odd assortment of piled stones that may have been a prehistoric burial ground, and then headed back to Inverness, with a brief detour to photograph the rail viaduct we'd passed over the day before. We parked at the hotel and walked to Leakey's Second-hand Bookshop. Kiesa and I enjoyed looking around at the poorly-organized used books (though the prices reflected the books' identity as historic first-edition hardbacks, rather than used books), but Calvin was not especially amused, and we arrived after the cafe closed. We left the bookstore (after buying only two books) and proceeded to wander the city of Inverness in a light rain, trying to find somewhere to eat. I got the feeling the entire city shut down at 17:00, aside from pubs and restaurants, and most of them didn't serve very much vegetarian food. We got a snack at Costa Coffee in the American-looking indoor shopping mall just before it closed, then wandered up and down the streets before coming back to Pizza Express for supper. Kiesa was not excited by the prospect of having pizza again but Calvin and I appreciated it.

After supper we walked back to our hotel, put Calvin to bed, and tried to figure out what to do tomorrow.

For more photos from Monday 19th May, see Photos on 2014-05-19. For Kiesa's parallel account, see Scotland – Day 5.

If you want to kiss the sky, you had better learn how to kneel.
- U2, "Mysterious Ways"