Arriving into Inverness at just gone half past eight onboard the Highland Sleeper (read about that journey here), we had a good few hours until we could check into our hotel and so decided to repeat my explorations from my last visit to Inverness and jump onboard the next ScotRail service west along one of the UK’s most beautiful railways, to Kyle of Lochalsh.
Initially sharing its route with Far North services, the line follows the south shore of the Beauly Firth, then heads north to Dingwall before it and the Far North line split, with the latter following the Cromaty Firth, whilst the Kyle line heads west towards Loch Garve. Unfortunately, the weather was more miserable compared to my previous journey along the line and whilst the views were still amazing, they weren’t quite as awe inspiring as when the sun is illuminating the scenery.
We got slightly delayed along the line due to leaf fall causing adverse track conditions (leaf fall really isn’t a joke) and arrived into Kyle about 20 minutes late and getting off the train into a barrage of wind from the Hebrides. As with my last visit our stay in Kyle was brief, with just a couple of hours until the next train and so we decided to do the same as my last visit, grab some lunch and then head up to The Plock to take in the views.
With my visit being almost identical to last time, I’m not going to write about it in detail and will instead let you read the previous post (here) but we thoroughly enjoyed the short, very blustery visit, and boarded the train back making plans to visit the town, and the Isle of Skye, again in the future. Due to the ongoing track conditions, we were held awaiting the single line for a while at Achnasheen and took the opportunity to get a breath of fresh air, stand on the footbridge and enjoy the view across this small part of the Highlands.
Having arrived back into Inverness we didn’t have far to go to our hotel as we were staying in the Royal Highland Hotel which is attached to the station. It was our first time staying in one of the former grand railway hotels and whilst it was comfortable and convenient we did feel it was now trying to sell itself as a ‘grand’ hotel whilst in some areas it no longer was. The room was relatively cheap at £128 for two nights, however only the Continental breakfast was included with the cooked breakfast costing extra. On TripAdvisor it is rated 3.5* which I feel is probably fair given the breakfast situation and the very weak water pressure in the shower.
Unfortunately, our plan to eat at the hotel’s restaurant was scuppered by it being fully reserved and so we headed into town to see what the city centre provided us with. Less than five minutes into our walk, the White House caught our eye and having checked out the menu outside (all restaurants should do this) we headed inside and found that whilst it was clearly popular, they could easily accommodate our walk in.
Beth is going to write a guest post about all the food we had whilst in Scotland so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but we were extremely pleased with our choices of food and cocktails although it was very hard to choose given the wide range of options. With no plans for the evening, we took a leisurely pace and weren’t at all rushed by the staff despite the restaurant gradually getting busier.
With just one full day to explore Inverness unencumbered by our bags, we decided to make the most of it, enjoy the good weather and explore some of the city’s more far-flung sites on foot. Knowing we had a good amount of walking ahead of us, our first stop was one of the local buses to take us out to Carnac Point, where the River Ness meets the Beauly Firth. Whilst this is only about a half an hour walk from the centre of the city, the bus allowed us to save our energy for the rest of the day and cost just £1.80.
Having headed out to Carnac Point itself and revelled in the peacefulness provided, our next stop was the Merkinch Nature Reserve, which runs along the north coast of the island created by the River Ness and Caledonian Canal. The Nature Reserve is about a five-minute walk from Carnac Point and is actually at the terminus of the bus route.
The Merkinch Nature Reserve consists of tidal pools, marshes, reed beds and scrubland and is a haven for wildlife. Supposedly there is a good chance to see roe deer, owls, weasels, herons, cormorants and various wading birds, although we were only lucky enough to herons and wading birds during our visit. The main path of the nature reserve runs between the bulk of the nature reserve and the Beauly Firth and so there are two differing eco-systems on display to enjoy.
After exploring some of the wetland parts of the nature reserve, we crossed the Kyle/Far North line at a foot crossing and continued into the tidal part of the nature reserve. This bit was slightly less stunning as, with the tide out, it was essentially a large patch of smelly mud. Nonetheless it’s an important environment for specific types of wildlife and it was great to see this wonderful area of land given to nature.
The far end of the path through the nature reserve leads directly onto what was our next destination, the Caledonian Canal. If you read my Fort William blog (here) last year then you might recognise the name as somewhere we’ve visited before. Close to Fort William is the south-western end of the Canal at Neptune’s Staircase and some 100km to the north-east is the other end on the outskirts of Inverness.
Whilst the Inverness end of the canal isn’t quite as amazing from an engineering perspective (just a sea-lock, with a 3-step lock a bit further inland), the view is just as beautiful with a stunning vista over the Beauly Firth and back towards the railway crossing the canal at Clachnaharry. A short wait enjoying the view and fresh-air and I was treated to a ScotRail service from Wick crossing the bridge on the final leg of its journey into Inverness.
From Clachnaharry we decided to walk the 2.5 miles south along the canal towards the Ness Islands. Whilst an enjoyable walk, we had been spoilt by the scenery at the coast and so the views from the canal path seemed a little lacklustre and by the time we had reached the swing bridge at Tomnahurich we felt a bit walked out. After a bit of fun with a missing bus stop and Google’s bus times being wrong, we jumped onto another of the local buses back into the city centre, ready to grab a late lunch, do some writing and head out for dinner.
The bus dropped us off on Queensgate, right next to Inverness’ Victoria Market and so we decided to head in and have lunch at another place I’d eaten at on my previous visit to the city, Milk Bar. Again, Beth is going to write about this in her blog, but whilst nothing special, the food was cheap and cheerful and what was needed after a day of walking.
Following our late lunch, our afternoon was uneventful with Beth chilling in our room and me decamping to the station Costa to get some writing done. Having decided we were going to explore somewhere else by train the following day, one of our final stops in Inverness was to another restaurant I’d visited last time and had decided that we had to go back because I’d enjoyed it that much. On the east bank of the River Ness is The Mustard Seed restaurant, which is located in a former chapel, providing a large open dining space, including a mezzanine floor. Both the food and atmosphere are amazing, and it was just an all-round enjoyable meal to round off our visit to Inverness.
The final morning of our stay in Scotland, following a much better breakfast at Rendezvous Café, we were back at the station and met with a board showing our planned train as cancelled. We had intended to visit Nairn and Elgin but due to a failed train and some hurried replanning, we jumped onboard a ScotRail service bound for Edinburgh with aim of jumping off after a couple of hours, in another of Scotland’s seven cities, Perth.
I’m actually going to write about Perth in another blog post (either next week or the week after) as I feel despite our short visit, the city deserves a post of its own. Inverness once again blew me away with how beautiful it and its surroundings are and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Both my visits to the city have only been for a couple of nights and I think we both would like to stay for longer and make sure to see some other sites slightly further afield (such as Culloden). However if you’ve only got a couple of nights to visit somewhere, Inverness should definitely be high on your list!