My heart’s in the Highlands (3)

And so I come to the last volet of my Caledonian triptych. Perhaps I haven’t emphasised the weather enough in my previous ramblings, in good British tradition. According to the Salic laws of meteorology, hurricane Gertrude couldn’t inherit, so the blustery endowment passed to storm Henry, the family’s youngest. As we made our way from Ackergill, now covered with a silky layer of snow, back to Inverness, a new storm was brewing in the north. By the time we reached Culloden House, our last night stop, the clouds had gathered and were threatening their worst. Culloden, as anyone would guess, lies not far from the site of the famous battle of Culloden (1746), which saw the defeat of the last Jacobite rising, the submission of the Highlands by the English and the transformation of Scotland.

Culloden House is a Georgian mansion, now a family hotel, famous for having hosted Charles Edward Stuart, known a posteriori as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, the leader of the Jacobite party. The prince fled the battlefield, which lasted a little less than an hour.  The townhouse is now known for Charlie’s check-in, not check-out, and is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at.

The next day was our last in Scotland and we had until eight in the evening to make the most of our stay in the area. After a Gargantuan breakfast, we made for Ullapool, a west coastal town of around 1,500 whose phonetic resonance matched that of the waves crashing on its shores. Driving the fifty or so miles from Inverness to Ulapool felt like an epitome of Lord of the Rings scenery, where forests gave way to barren lands and snowy mountains. Ullapool fell silent under the gales. We had lunch at The Seaforth, a pub with a grim and cold feel to it, despite the fire blazing in the hearth. We found out that the town had had a golden age, where herring shoals would make regular pilgrimages to its shore, bringing wealth and pride to many. That golden age was over, we were told, and we couldn’t agree more.

From Ullapool, we thought there was enough daylight to make it a bit further north, in search of rugged cliffs and Turner-like seascapes, but we soon had to face the hibernal reality of illiberal day hours. Turning the car around, we chanced upon a herd of wild deer making it for the hills. The view was enchanting, and I remembered the Nenets of Siberia and their reindeer.

We made it back to Inverness just after sunset. By that time, our spirits were touching the ground. Clunking and rattling like an old steam engine, the sleeper made its way into the night, carrying us back to London.

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