20th July 2018 - 30th August 2018

Nairn

Here we are back in Scotland, not too far from where we were before but further East and in a town. After Berkshire this house is luxury, we have two bedrooms, two toilets a separate kitchen and a garden. We are close to the Whisky trail and will attempt to do as many whiskys as we can. This may cost a bit as we seem to buy a bottle everywhere we go.

We are very close to a few castles, but Ross seems to have gone off castles.

We did visit Fort George. Fort George is the finest example of 18th-century military engineering anywhere in the British Isles, though the army base never fired a shot in anger. Today, the fort would cost nearly £1 billion to build and equip. Strategically located on a promontory jutting into the Moray Firth, (which is great for dolphin watching, Ross saw some!) the army base was designed to evade capture. Fort George was built on a monumental scale, making use of sophisticated defence standards, with heavy guns covering every angle. The boundary walls of the fort housed: accommodation for a governor, officers, an artillery detachment and a 1,600-strong infantry garrison, more than 80 guns, a magazine for 2,672 gunpowder barrels, ordnance and provision stores, a brewhouse and a chapel.

The fort was built after the Jacobite Rising of 1745–6 proved to be the last attempt by the Stuart dynasty to regain from the Hanoverians the thrones of Scotland and England and Wales. Fort George was one of the ruthless measures introduced by the government to suppress Jacobite ambitions after the nearby Battle of Culloden. It was intended as the main garrison fortress in the Scottish Highlands and named after George II.

Lieutenant-General William Skinner was the designer and first governor of Fort George. He mapped out the complex layout of: the ramparts, massive bastions, ditches and firing steps.  Defences were heavily concentrated on the landward side of the promontory – the direction from which a Jacobite assault was expected. Long stretches of rampart and smaller bastions protected the remaining seaward sides.

Later in the 1700’s, when the Jacobite threat was over, the fort became a recruiting base and training camp for the rapidly expanding British Army. Many a Highland lad passed through its gates on his way to fight for the British Empire across the globe.  Between 1881 and 1964, the fort served as the depot of the Seaforth Highlanders.

Fort George is currently the home of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion - The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS). The Fort is huge and takes a couple of hours to walk around. The museum is a very comprehensive one, with lots of memorabilia from wars. It also has a full complement of muskets, this is believed to be the only full collection in the world.

We have also managed to visit a few distilleries we are on the start of the whisky trail. Surprisingly we have not visited that many yet, Dallus Du, which is no longer a working distillery, Benromach which is, and we have also visited Royal Lochnagar, when we were at Balmoral (see later). We are no longer doing the tours as one distillery is very similar to the next and the process is the same. We are just doing tastings and buying!!!

We have dropped into Brody Castle but did not visit so will have to return. I am always surprised about how expensive it is to visit Castles, but I guess upkeep is not cheap either!! Castles in Scotland are more like huge stately houses in large grounds and are always very interesting.

Stephen and Monica arrived for a few days with an invitation to visit Monica’s sister Pat and her husband Norman in Balmoral. I was very excited and checked out tours of Balmoral castle, unfortunately the Queen arrived at the same time as our visit; no tours when she is in residence.

We visited Calva Cairns which are bronze age burial mounds there was a series of them and other stone mounds. The stones all line up for the solstices and are quite amazing, one building, they think may have been a chapel. Very civilised for the bronze age. We also wandered around Grantown on Spey. A very old town were the market cross was used to whip unruly citizens. Not so nice.

A very surprisingly interesting tour was a tour of the Speyside Cooperage. The Speyside Cooperage is the only working cooperage in the UK. Since 1947, it has produced the finest casks from the best American Oak. In 2008 the Cooperage was sold to the French firm Tonnellerie François Frères.  Today the cooperage continues to work and produce the age-old product, still using traditional methods and tools. Each year, it produces and repairs nearly 150,000 oak casks used by the surrounding Speyside Whisky distilleries, as well as distilleries throughout Scotland and the rest of the world. The guys in the cooperage are paid on piece rates, and so they work fast amazing, earning lots of money according to the tour guide. One of them has the Guinness book of records for fastest barrel making 3 mins 3 seconds. He was not there when we were as he is also the fastest down the pub on a Friday afternoon. I did not think barrel making would be so interesting.

To get to Balmoral we crossed the Cairngorms; fantastic scenery and the heather was just coming out. We stopped at Braemar for lunch, it was not the best idea as it seemed to be closed we eventually got a sandwich in the pub served by a lass from Europe who must have arrived the day before. She was being trained and could not speak, English. We managed. Braemar in Scotland is much prettier than the one in NSW!

We got to the cottage in Balmoral which has a fantastic view across the highlands. It is in the middle of the countryside all beautiful. Pat and Norman took us on a tour showing us Prince Charles Holiday house. The gates of Balmoral and then we went into Ballater. Ballater was were Queen Victoria got off the train when visiting Balmoral, unfortunately the railway station burnt down, it has been restored and looks ready to open any day now. Prince Charles owns a restaurant in Ballater. On the way back, we stopped at Crathie Church. The church the Queen goes to.

The next morning saw myself, Monica and Pat at Crathie Church, in the rain, with about a hundred other people waiting for the Queen. Very excited she drove past slowly and waved to everyone. She looked lovely in pale blue.

Stephen and Monica left, and we settled into not doing too much. Ross goes for the newspaper and I then get up and have breakfast. I decided this was boring and we need to get out and about. How luck Saturday is the Highland Games in Nairn. One of the largest in Scotland and featuring the largest Pipe band, now isn't that lucky.

We drove to the car park in town and got a park by driving the wrong way into the carpark, Ross was not amused!

A short walk to the games. The fair was hilarious with stalls featuring raffled goods. The rest of the stalls were voluntary organisations and one stall selling two books one by the stall holders' daughter and one by the lady with him. We decided not to buy either although many people were and getting autographs. We found a good spot on the rise and watched the pipe bands parade around the grounds. A marathon was being run and everyone in the enclosure were told to keep out of the runners way. The pipe bands totally ignored this making the poor marathon runners run around them to get to the finishing line! The girls and boys doing the highland dancing were very entertaining and some were even very good. 

Lunch was a Haggis burger, very nice. Then we watched the stones and other objects being thrown at distances and over high jumps There was lots of races and jumping going on as well as tug of war. It was getting cold so we went home before the caber tossing.