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A Day Exploring from Inverness

Hello wonderful forum!
My family which includes my husband and three daughters (10,13,16) are leaving for 10 days in Scotland on Tuesday. I'd love some help on one particular day. We are spending two nights in Inverness and on the middle day (6/19) we will first drive to Culloden at 9am (no official tour but just want to get there as soon as the Visitors Center opens) and then to Clava Cairns. Then I have collected many other possibilities from researching on this forum and I am hoping that someone can help me tease out a good plan for the rest of the day. Other interests are...
Cawdor Castle
Elgin Cathedral
Lossiemouth Beach
the town of Forres
Nairn and perhaps Strathnairn Beach

The only restraint are the first two things we have planned as mentioned and then a perhaps a short break in the hotel back in Inverness before our 7:30 dinner reservation at The Mustard Seed.

What makes the most sense and do you think would be the best plan for tween and teen girls?
Thanks in advance,

Posted by
6299 posts

I was not that impressed by Cawdor Castle, although the grounds/gardens were beautiful. The castle itself was sort of meh... That would be my first choice of places to knock off the list. :)

But I loved Elgin Cathedral - the ruins are magnificent and I think well worth a visit, as well as the nearby gardens. Any of the coastal towns would be lovely as well. Nairn was charming and I spent an hour or so there walking along the beach and getting some ice cream at the Strathnairn Beach Cafe. I did not make it to Findhorn, Forres or Lossiemouth but would have liked to have.

The distances between all those places are pretty quick so it just depends on how much time you want to spend there. I really would recommend Elgin Cathedral though if you are at all interested in history. I think your girls would find the ruins pretty fascinating. It doesn't take that long to see, although you can go up into some of the towers.

ETA: One of the benefits of the coastal route is that it is very flexible. You could start out from Clava Cairns, then head up to Nairn, walk on the beach and get some ice cream, then just go where the wind takes you. Start off at Findhorn, head down to Elgin then back up to Lossiemouth. The distances are very short - for example, it's only 12 minutes from Elgin to Lossiemouth. So you could very easily play this by ear and head out with no real plan but calculating what time you need to get back to Inverness.

Posted by
479 posts

Are your daughters (or you!) at all interested in sheep dogs? We stayed at Leanach Farm, less than a mile from the Clava Cairns. I highly recommend the sheep dog demonstrations! They are scheduled on request; more information is here.

If you continue driving past the Clava Cairns you will come to the Culloden Viaduct. In my opinion it is more impressive than the Glenfinnan Viaduct (of Harry Potter fame). There is a a pullout where you can stop for photos; we found zero crowds in May.

The official tour at Culloden Battlefield is excellent and well worth the time. Our guides were very engaging; they are accustomed to visits from school groups so would likely be skilled in holding your daughters' attention.

We visited the Cawdor Castle gardens-beautiful! There is also a cafe that serves pastries, sandwiches, and beverages. I can't speak to Elgin or Nairn as we ran out of time!

You will enjoy the Mustard Seed. If your girls are interested in books, Leakey's Bookstore is just a block away. Enjoy your travels!

Posted by
1834 posts

Like Mardee, I wsa less than impressed by Cawdor Castle. Yes the gardens are nice, but then so many gardens are. I would scrap this one . Have you thought about Fort George? It is the most amazing military construction built after the Battle of Culloden to control the Highlands and crush any future Jacobite rebellions. It is built on a promontory jutting out into the Moray Firth, with superb views across to the Black Isle and the white lighthouse at Chanonry Point. If you are lucky you may see Dolphins from the ramparts.

The scale of Fort George is impressive and it is virtually unchanged since it was built. It remains one of the largest and most impregnable fortifications in Europe. However by the time it was finished, the Highlands were relatively calm and no action was ever required from Fort George. There is a story, maybe apocryphal, that one shot was fired by a jittery soldier on night duty who thought he saw a Jacobite soldier creeping up to the fort and fired at him. Next morning the guards found the dead body of a cow....

The fort is still used by the military and soldiers are seen around the site.

Allow several hours for the visit as there is so much to see. Walk around the ramparts and check if there is a living history presentation, explore the old barrack blocks.... It would fit in well with a visit to Culloden.

You could always leave Clava Cairns to last. They are much more atmospheric in the late afternoon when the light is lower. Another advantage is there will be fewer people around then!

Posted by
1603 posts

We are currently traveling throughout Scotland. I recommend either Elgin Cathedral or Cawdor Castle. Elgin Cathedral ruins are majestic and very interesting, and we also enjoyed the biblical gardens right next to it .

I agree with Den about Cawdor Castle. We really enjoyed it. The rooms are very interesting and the gardens are stunning. There are 3 gardens: the walled garden, the woodlands, and the flower garden with the maze. Cawdor Castle is also very close to Culloden.

Posted by
22 posts

You've all given me so much to think about! We joined Historic Scotland for entry to Edinburgh Castle, St Andrew's Castle & Cathedral, Urquhart Castle and Elgin Cathedral. I see Fort George is on the list too!

Mardee, I read your trip report yesterday and it was so helpful.

This does seem like a day where we can be a bit more free flowing. I did grow up with Border Collies so the farm is interesting as well.

Does anyone have a lunch recommendation for the area?

Posted by
479 posts

I didn't eat there but the Cawdor Tavern was recommended by our B & B hosts.

Posted by
6299 posts

I grabbed a quick bite at the Strathnairn Beach Cafe in Nairn and it was quite good (as was the ice cream!). :) Elgin has lots of lunch choices and I'm sure you could find a good place to eat there.

We joined Historic Scotland for entry to Edinburgh Castle, St Andrew's Castle & Cathedral, Urquhart Castle and Elgin Cathedral.

Dabney, I did, too! It think I broke even just with Edinburgh Castle, Elgin Cathedral and Stirling Castle! By the way, you will find that the Historic Scotland employees at the sites are so thrilled that people become members. Pretty much everyone I showed my paperwork to thanked me for being a member and were just so happy about it.

Posted by
479 posts

I also joined HES-so worthwhile for admissions and support of these historic sites. Plus my card and book arrived the week after I returned from Scotland so I felt as though it encouraged a trip down memory lane!

Posted by
1603 posts

After we visited Elgin Cathedral, we walked to Johnston’s Cashmere Mill for lunch. This is a mill complex that includes a very nice restaurant where we had a delicious lunch. You can also have tours of the woolen mills if you are interested.