On October 6th, we left on a four day road-trip to the top of Scotland. We took a bus from Edinburgh to Inverness, which took about three hours and cost five pounds return. Can't beat that! We had that day to explore Inverness, which wasn't very exciting. When we were thinking about which city to move to, Inverness was one of our considerations. There are about 80,000 people living there, which makes it seem like a fairly decent sized town. The downtown area is rather small, with not a lot to do. There is a nice mall there (of course we had to check it out!) but since it closes at 5:30...yes, we said 5:30...we didn't have a lot of time to shop. In fact, all of the stores, besides restaurants, close between 5 and 6 (that includes Edinburgh and other cities we've been to) so we ended up reading in our hostel room for most of the night. Not a very exciting start to our trip, but at least we got a good nights sleep.
The next morning we took a taxi to Enterprise to pick up our rental car. Amy was the driver and was a little nervous about driving on the other side of the road and car. She did very well though, and Katie only had to tell her to get to the left side of the road a few times! Once you get past a certain town, most of the roads turn into one lane. There are 'passing zones' that you have to pull into if a car is coming the other way. Although it was kind of annoying to have to pull over all the time, at least Amy didn't have to worry about staying on the right (and by right, I mean left) side of the road! We spent most of the morning driving to the very top of Scotland. Our goal was to get to a town called Durness, where we knew there was a huge cave you can go in. When we got there, we were surprised that they were even allowed to call Durness a town. There were maybe five buildings in a cluster, most of them homes, and that was it. We don't even know if there was any kind of store. There was a beautiful beach in Durness, which we walked around for a while. The tide was coming in, though, so we had to leave quickly!
About five minutes down the road was Smoo Cave. There are three different caverns that you can go into. The first two you can walk to, the third you have to take a boat to get to. There was no boat available, but if there had been we probably wouldn't have taken it. The opening to the third cavern barely looked big enough for a small boat, and while doing research of the cave we read that passengers have to lie down as the boat is going into the third cavern or they won't make it. Interesting, but kind of scary! To get to the second cavern you walked along a wooden platform that was above the water. It was very dark and we could barely see anything. There was a waterfall, so it was also very noisy. The darkness, the deafening noise and the fact that we were the only ones in the cave freaked us out a little and made us get out of there rather quickly.
After leaving the cave we drove to our hostel in Tongue. It was really nice with beautiful views overlooking a lake. Tongue was another one of those towns with nothing to do so we stayed in the hostel and played Pictionary with two of our roommates. One was from Burlington, ON and the other was from Syracuse, NY. The were backpacking together and hitchhiking their way across the top of Scotland in the opposite direction that we were headed in.
The next morning we drove to Thurso to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. We were headed to Dunnet Head, which is the most northernly point on the mainland. We bought some lunch to go and two millionaire slices (amazing desserts...bottom layer is shortbread, then a layer of caramel, then a layer of chocolate) and drove to the point. The cliffs were amazing. Think Cliffs of Doom in Princess Bride. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we could see the Orkney Islands in the distance. Once again, we were the only ones there so we had the cliffs to ourselves. It did start to rain, so we ate our lunch and dessert in the car, with the ocean and a full rainbow in front of us.
The rest of the day was mostly spent in the car, with a few stops for pictures. We did stop at a few castles but because it was late in the season, they were closed. One castle we went to was open, though...our hostel for the night! We stayed in Carbisdale Castle, which was built between 1906 and 1917, so relatively new compared with most castles. We had read about this castle quite a few years ago and always thought it would be neat to be able to sleep in a castle for a night. We were quite excited to be able to fit it into our schedule. We spent most of the evening exploring the castle and trying not to get lost. It is said to be haunted, and they even have pamphlets for you to read, but we both decided we would wait until we left the next morning before reading them. We actually wanted to sleep that night! Two of our roommates were Austrailians who had been living in Edinburgh for about 5 months, so they told us about good places to eat and things to do.
The next morning we drove back towards Inverness. Before we dropped the car off we headed over to Culloden Battlefield, the famous moor where the Jacobite army fought the English in 1746. We have to confess that the reason why we know so much about this battle and why we are interested in it is, again, because of the Outlander series. However, when you are standing in the middle of the field you can't think about anything besides the thousands of men that fought and died there. There is a brand new visitors centre with lots of information about the events leading up to, during and after the battle. There are also cases full of artifacts that have been found on the moor during the years. Unfortunately, we had to get the rental car back so we didn't have as much time to look around as we would have liked.
While we were waiting for our bus back to Edinburgh we ran into the two North American girls we met at the hostel in Tongue. We had coffee with them and ended up on the same bus back to the city. We knew they didn't have a place to stay so we offered up the couches in our flat. They ended up staying for two nights and we had a lot of fun showing them around the city.