Thursday, October 22, 2009

Our Holiday In Inverness VII

Days 7 & 8: Friday 9 and Saturday 10 October 2009

We had planned to go to Aberdeen for the day, but instead decided to visit lots of towns and villages near to the sea, with the idea of viewing houses for sale and seeing what the areas were like.

Our mammoth drive included:- Charlestown, Redcastle, Avoch, Alness, Dornoch (that's Henry on the beach again!), Clashmore, Tain, Rosemarkie, Cromarty, Balblair and Resolis. Although we are not really that serious about moving, it's nice to imagine what it would be like to live somewhere different - especially somewhere right next to the sea... We gave each place a star if we liked it and a 'black spot' if we didn't. One day we will go all the way round the British coast line and finally find our ideal house.

One place we stopped at to walk Henry was the Clootie Well walk. The cloot is a piece of cloth that is tied to a tree near the Well as you make a wish. As the fabric slowly rots away, your wish comes to an end. We were told the story by a man walking his terrier around the woods. He had lived in the area all of his life and had made his own wishes, but was a bit annoyed that people had started to use pieces of plastic to 'cheat' the spell. I see from a website that the well was initially for pilgrims wishing to cure someone of illness. A piece of their clothing was tied there, and as the fabric rotted the illness disappeared. There must have been some semi-naked people going about as there were trousers, under pants, socks and all sorts of clothing tied up around the Well!

Good coffee and cakes were later imbibed at the Sunflowers Cafe in Tain - a nice, small town, where I found some lovely buttons in a second hand shop.

Much later that night we went to Nairn, to the Dragon Pearl Chinese Restaurant.
JKW: vegetable wan tans, with chili dipping sauce (shared), stir fried vegetables in Kung Po sauce with egg fried rice (shared), pineapple fritters with ice cream, lager.
RJW: vegetable pancakes, vegetable chow mein, coke.
Cost: £32.00
Efficient staff and a relaxed atmosphere; several families with very young children were made welcome while we were there. The starters were the usual, unremarkable, deep-fried fare. The main courses were tasty, and included a good variety of vegetables, bean sprouts, mushrooms, cashew nuts etc. The fritters were hot, crisp, dripping with golden syrup and delicious. Recommended (if you're not on a diet).

Saturday came round all too quickly and we started off on the drive home. We stopped for lunch at one of our favourite towns in Perthshire: Dunkeld. It is very picturesque, with imposing buildings, the River Tay storming its way under the town's bridge and providing an attractive backdrop to the shops, cafes, delicatessen (Food For Thought - well worth a visit), a great hardware and kitchen shop, hotels and antique shops. The photo below was taken in March 2009.

We brushed shoulders with the rich and famous as we ate lunch in a cafe - Elaine C Smith of Rab C Nesbitt fame was also there!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our Holiday In Inverness VI

Day 6: Thursday 8 October 2009

We drove all round The Black Isle, and started with a visit to the Wildlife Park (entry is £6.50 for adults, with bags of food at £1 per bag). There were lots of animals to feed or look at - zebras, goats, racoons, pigs, geese, ducks, peacocks, deer, wallabies, coypu, meercats, rabbits, owls etc. I am always in a quandry about zoos, in that I love to see the animals, but hate to see any animal or bird caged, so always come away feeling a mixture of emotions.

The coffee in the Wildlife Park cafe was truly vile - like something out of a dodgy vending machine and yet cost £2.25!

Lunch was a picnic at Chanonry Point - a small, narrow peninsula with an attractive lighthouse at the end, a golf course on one side, and beach on the other.

You can see Fort George (a military base dating from the late 19th century) across the water on another peninsula. The tides look lively here and you could see the currents mixing. Another lovely day, with blue skies and dark blue sea.

We drove to the 'end of the road' at Cromarty - a fishing village looking out over the Cromarty Firth - famous for its mention in the shipping forecast. We liked Cromarty, which has a very nice bakery, cafe, shops, boat rides to see dolphins, and a beach. You can see a factory making oil rigs on a distant shore.

Dinner: The Highland Food Stop, near Croy
Good old veggie burger and chips, salad garnish, apple juice.
Eggs, chips and veg (carrots and peas), tea.
Cost: approx £12+
This busy roadside cafe was conveniently situated a few miles from our holiday cottage. Service was brisk and business-like, portions were generous and good value. A typical chip shop cafe with (almost) everything deep fried. Nice for a one off, but I wouldn't have wanted to eat there every night.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Our Holiday in Inverness V

Day 5: Wednesday 7 October 2009

Henry enjoyed his morning walk at Allt na Criche - a rather steep and invigorating forest walk.

Fort Augustus was our main port of call today. It is a very pretty village set on Loch Ness, with the Caledonian Canal running through it, (and 23 locks, apparently).

We ate an industrial piece of cheesecake, but better coffee in the Moorings Cafe.

On the whole, Fort Augustus was too touristy for our liking, with coachloads of tourists milling around and jostling each other in the shops. Last time we visited (some years back), we took out a boat on Loch Ness and motored around for an hour, which was a lot of fun. Sadly, we did not catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster, but she may be out there somewhere... The volume of water contained in the Loch is amazing: it is 23 miles long and up to a mile wide in places and very, very deep.
Here I am lurking next to the UK's smallest lighthouse - cute!

We had a scenic drive back via Dingwall, Dornoch, Embo, and Nigg. The castle below could be seen from Dingwall and was surrounded by a swirling mass of rooks when we were there.

Dinner: Pizza Express, Inverness
JKW: melanzane parmigiana (aubergine in a garlicky tomato sauce), toffee glory (ice cream, toffee sauce, fudge pieces); glass of red wine.
RJW: Romana Pizza (vegetarian toppings), tiramisu, coke.
Cost: £34.20
The restaurant was glass fronted with a view of shoppers rushing by. The atmosphere was cheerful and lively. The staff were very pleasant and service was fast. One of our favourite meals of the holiday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our Holiday To Inverness IV

Day 4: Tuesday 6 October 2009

We took Henry to the Little Garve River Walk, which was about 3 miles along a raging torrent of water with water falls - quite spectacular. We met a friendly man walking his dog, Dougal, a bearded collie, who was adorable. We had a long chat and he said he was over from Lochinver on the West coast doing his 'messages' (shopping) for his wife - a monthly trek from coast to coast.

After that we looked around Inverness, visiting the art gallery and museum and looking round the shops. The museum is small but very well curated, with all sorts of exhibits, from prehistoric stones marked with spirals, to a stuffed cougar (that had been found wandering loose, was captured and spent the rest of her life in a wildlife park), miniature bag pipes, clothing, textiles and much more. A very enjoyable hour or so spent browsing! We had a smashing cup of coffee in this cafe in the 'Victorian Market'.

Dinner: The Cawdor Tavern, Cawdor
Cambazola cheese, and spiced pear salad; baked portabello mushrooms, stuffed with brie, onion marmalade and spinach; lemon meringue stack; 2 glasses of red wine.
Goats' cheese and onion tart; broad bean risotto; french fries (shared); Belhaven beer.
Cost: £51.80
The waitress made us feel relaxed and welcome. The restaurant had an old fashioned ambiance, with dark wood furniture and textured orange/brown walls. This was rather at odds with the 80s pop music playing in the background!

I enjoyed all three of my courses; the mushrooms in particular were delicious. The pudding needed a dash more real lemon. Rob liked his starter which had a tangy onion marmalade topped with melting goats' cheese, but found the risotto too bland.
Yes, but would love to see some non-cheese options for vegetarians.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Our Holiday to Inverness III

Day 3: Monday 5 October 2009

Nairn was our first stopping point today. First, a run for Henry on the gorgeous sandy beach; then into the town centre for a coffee and cake, and a few purchases in the book shop and deli, before a picnic in the park under a miraculously blue and sunny sky.

Next stop was Findhorn, a 'new agey'/hippy sort of community with lots of weird and wonderful eco housing, a cafe, artists' studios, a really good food shop that also sold ethically produced clothing and gifts - interesting! The beautiful unicorn mosaic was upstairs in the cafe.

We drove all along the coastal route to Banff, stopping at an old fishing village called Cullen. This is the home of the soup known as 'Cullen Skink'. Cullen is very picturesque, with lots of small fishermens' houses packed together close by the sea; a harbour; disused viaduct; and nice shops.

12 years ago, we visited a brilliant indian restaurant in Forres. We decided to try and find the restaurant and see if it was still as good.

Dinner: Cardamon Spice Restaurant, Forres
JKW: Poppadom and pickles; onion bahjis; garlic chilli vegetable curry; boiled rice; 2 Cobra lagers.
RJW: Poppadom and pickles; vegetable samosas; vegetable balti curry; boiled rice; colcha nan bread (shared); coke.
Cost: £34.75
The restaurant was comfortable, the staff were friendly and the service swift. The poppadoms, pickles, starters and nan bread were excellent: the main curries were rather disappointing, though. Although the sauces were well spiced, they contained very few vegetables at all - mainly chopped cabbage. Seeing as there were aubergines, okra, mushrooms, cauliflower, potatoes and other vegetables offered in side dishes, I think that the chef could have spared a few for the main vegetable meals!
Recommended?: Yes, but order a few side dishes instead of a main curry to widen the appeal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Holiday In Inverness II

Day 2: Sunday 4 October 2009

We drove up the East coast to Dornock, and stopped for a beach walk with Henry, and a wander round the centre. (Yes, you do have to drive across that spindly little bridge!).

Dornock is a lovely town with nice shops, a deli, a bakery, a small supermarket, beautiful, mellow stone buildings, an old jail (now a shop) and a magnificent hotel with a castellated tower.

On the road up to Wick, the weather changed from sunshine to a dark, slate grey sky with the sun slanting beneath. The white walls of the few houses to be seen were dazzling, with their dark roofs covered in yellow lichen.

At Wick the rain finally came down and we dashed into a cafe for a coffee, before giving Henry a damp walk around the harbour area.

We had dinner that evening at a pub called The Snow Goose back on the outskirts of Inverness. It had been recommended by people in the 'Comments' book at the holiday cottage, but it was packed by marathon runners (there had been a couple of races in Inverness that day) and was right next to a busy hotel.

Dinner: The Snow Goose, Inverness
JKW: Spinach and mushroom lasagna, garlic bread; rhubarb and vanilla cheesecake; half pint of lager; mineral water.
RJW: Asparagus and sweet potato salad; sticky toffee pudding; half pint of cider.
Cost: £26.20
The staff were efficient and friendly, but the food was pretty poor. Rob had wanted the 'Goats' Cheese Wellington' but it had sold out. The salad had no protein in it to speak of, and consisted of a few roasted veg on top of mainly salad leaves. The lasagna was made up of garlic mushrooms (probably those also served as a starter) with spinach and bechamel sauce. Why is it that the vegetarian options always come with a measly bit of salad garnish or a limp piece of garlic bread instead of the vegetables and potatoes or chips that everyone else is served?! My pudding was the highlight of the meal: a base of ginger biscuit crumbs with a creamy, cheesy cake served with a vanilla cream and rhubarb compote.
Recommended?: Not for vegetarians - pleasant, well-trained staff; but limited, unsatisfactory choices for vegetarians; can be busy with queues out of the door.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Our Holiday in Inverness

Day 1:Saturday 3 October 2009
Journey up, Perth, and arriving at The Bothy, Croy

We set off at 9.25 am, stopping at Perth for lunch and a look round the farmers' market, finally arriving at The Bothy, Croy at around 5 pm.

Lunch: Goodfellow & Steven's Bakery/Cafe
JKW: jacket potato, cheese and coleslaw; lemon tea
RJW: jacket potato, cheese and beans; coffee
Cost: about £10
Also bought a cornflake/chocolate cake and a coffee tower (a gorgeous coffee eclair) downstairs in the bakery.
Recommended: Yes - nice food, quick service, good value and great cakes!

Perth Farmers' Market is a monthly event and well worth a visit.

We bought vegetarian pates from Findlater's Fine Foods, very tasty award winning pates; Anster cheeses from the St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company; Lime & Thyme soap from the Caurnie Soap Company; and Raspberry Wine from Cairn O' Mohr.

Thanks to excellent directions from the owners, we found the Balblair Cottages easily. They are situated 10 miles East of Inverness, near Croy. We stayed in The Bothy - a very cosy and well-appointed cottage with a gallery double bedroom reached via a spiral staircase; sitting room/dining area; kitchen and bathroom.

It is just right for two people, and the Strachans (the family that run the self-catering cottages) allow dogs, so Henry was able to come with us. There were home made cakes waiting for us, and the cottage had everything you could need for a self catering holiday - dishwasher, microwave, cooker, washing machine, bath and shower, comfortable sofa and bed, wood burning stove with plenty of free logs to burn. Soap, bed linen, towels, face cloths, iron and hairdryer were also provided, along with environmentally friendly cleaning products. They seem to have thought of everything. There was a nearby dog walk for Henry and he loved Trig, one of the Strachans' dogs who was very friendly and even came on walks with us.

We paid £276 for a week's accommodation (from 3 October, including £16 for the dog), plus £6.60 for electricity (charged on an 'as used' basis).

Here are a few photos of the interior of The Bothy.


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