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(Old) Magical Mystery Tour: Days Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen (Inverness/Travel)

(Originally posted on June 12, 2012)

Day Eleven we said goodbye to our friendly Dutch hosts and got a bus to Inverness. On the way, we hopped off in what was supposed to be a Loch Ness town. It was really tiny, and over two miles from the Loch. So we didn’t really see anything other than the view from the buses. No sign of Nessie, sadly.

We took a cab to our B&B. We’d come in about 20 minutes before check in time usually was. This isn’t normally a problem. But there was no one in the B&B. I tried to call and couldn’t get anyone to answer. So we waited about 20 minutes. The lady came up with her armload of stuff from town, and was really surprised to find us there. She figured out that she had us written down on the wrong schedule, so she hadn’t been expecting us yet. Happily our room was ready, so we got to check in and drop our stuff.

From there we walked through town and explored a bit. Rick Steve had recommended Leakey’s Secondhand Bookshop. It is an old Gaelic church turned bookshop and coffeehouse. It was really awesome! Stuffed with shelves and books and maps. We had a tea, then I took forever going through the Scottish section looking for anything on prisoners of war or Edinburgh Castle. I did find a huge prisoners of war book… for the Napoleonic War. Sigh. Only a few years too late.

After that, we wandered through town some more, popping in a few shops. We walked down the River Ness, which was really beautiful. There are some islands down below the city that have bridges connecting them. We wandered around those for a while. I couldn’t help thinking how perfect they’d be for engagement photoshoots.

We grabbed tea on our way back to town. Then we went to rest for a few hours. We wanted to do trad music that night. We left early to get a table in the pub, but when we got there it was already full. So we went to a Turkish restaurant around the corner. Though initially Mom was a bit miffed because they didn’t want us to split a meal, we worked it out with them and the food was fantastic.

We went back to the pub as the music was starting. It was only a man with a guitar and a woman with an accordion, which was sort of disappointing. They were pretty good. But a lot of the people in the pub were already pretty sodding drunk. At one point a teenage boy grabbed a girl and did some traditional dancing with her, which was really fun to watch. But most of the time the drunk Australians were just hogging the main floor and being awkward. After a little while we left. I felt bad that Mom hadn’t gotten to see some really good trad music, but she seemed happy with the experience.

The streets were really crowded with a lot of drunk people (though it was only like 9:45) and a lot of hen parties. I was pretty surprised. I think it might have had something to do with the Diamond Jubilee, but still… it was more than I saw in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day! Long live the queen?

Day Twelve we went to Culloden Battlefield. This was in many ways the reason we came to Inverness, but for a little while we weren’t sure we would actually be able to make it out.

The internet wasn’t working in the B&B, so we left to find free WiFi. This proved harder than expected, as it was a Sunday morning. Eventually we ended up in McDonald’s. After our fill of that, we went to find the bus to Culloden. But the driver told us that the bus actually didn’t go to the battlefield, just the town. There’d still be a good three miles to go.

We went to the TI to ask them for recommendations. They said the only way to get out that day would be to take a cab. They gave us the estimated price, which wasn’t intolerable but was a bit steep. We talked it over and decided to go for it. I’m really glad we did.

Our cabby was very talkative and friendly, pointing out when there would be beautiful views. He got us there in good time. We paid the fee and went in.

If the Pencil Museum in Keswick was an example of how not to do a museum, this was an example of one of the most effective museums I’ve ever been to. The history leading up to the battle was presented on two different sides of the main hallway you walked along. Jacobites were on the right and British were on the left. You’d read a portion of the wall on one side, then drift across to read the same part of history from the opposite perspective. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, this presentation was very unbiased. Instead of trying to root for one side or the other, it beautifully showed both stories and allowed the viewer to judge for themselves.

There were some interactive bits with monologues from characters in history. My favorite was the coming of the Bonnie Prince into the city (I think it was Edinburgh). On one side, I listened to a British loyalist woman’s perception. Then on the other side I listened to a Jacobite woman. They also had some people in costumes with weapons that you could hold and ask questions about.

There was a reenactment room, which was four screens on the four walls. You stood in the center and watched as the British and Jacobites approached each other, then you were in the middle of all the fighting. It was very real and a little overwhelming–and quite a bit more gory than I think would have been allowed in the U.S. But it was an extremely effective way to show the battle.

One you have all the history up to the night before the battle, and some of the basic facts about the battle itself, you’re given an audio guide and ushered out onto the field. The guide was triggered by GPS, so as you wander it would tell you the stories about the place you were standing. There were some really nice monologues from characters on both sides of the field as well.

It was a really haunting place. The sky was brilliant white clouds and blues, and the grass was vividly green, shimmering silver in the wind. There were flowers blooming everywhere. The complete silence of the field was both peaceful and mournful. Walking by the mass graves was particularly sobering, not just as I thought about the soldiers slain but as I thought about the oppression and injustice the British brought on the survivors. Mom and I talked about it a bit–about what makes men kill each other like that. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand it.

I really wish they’d do something like this for Gettysburg, or other Civil War battlefields. An unbiased presentation with both sides’ stories, and a GPS guided audio guide would be so effective and perfect.

After we finished, we had lunch and hung out for a little while digesting what we’d seen. Then we called the cab and went back to Inverness.

That night we went to a bar (read: cheap restaurant) to have WiFi and a snack for dinner. We caught a bit of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee horse show thing, which was fun. Later that night, after Mom had gone to bed, I discovered that my phone was missing. I’d left it at the bar. There was some craziness with me trying to get Dad to talk with the restaurant people for me, as it was near midnight and I was half asleep in my PJ’s already. This also lead to me accidentally telling Dad we were staying at a B&B that apparently doesn’t exist. Oh well.

Day Thirteen we got up and tried to check my email to see what success Dad had had. But the internet wasn’t working again. So we had breakfast, checked out, and hurried to McDonald’s once again. We had a 9:40 train to catch, so timing was tight. I checked my email and saw that Dad had gotten through to the people and that we were supposed to call them and the guy opening the restaurant would get the phone to me. All excellent… except we didn’t have a working phone. Happily Mom made me just skype call the guy, and we got through to him. He came out and gave the phone to me, and was quite nice.

Then we got on a train to Edinburgh. I spent most of this ride sleeping. At Edinburgh we had a bit of a wait, so we grabbed lunch. Our train was canceled, so we got to wait for the next one. We got lucky when it was time to get on, and found nice seats before the train got overcrowded. The seats were nice and big. There was even WiFi! The ride down the east coast was beautiful. It actually reminded me a little of Wales in bits. Mom was practically in my lap trying to see out the window. We passed a lot of carnivals and such for the Jubilee.

It was a long train ride. Because of the Jubilee, all trains went only to London, so we were going to have to go through London to get to Reading. I was really dreading this. The Tube can be unpleasant enough, but add Jubilee celebrations and baggage and it could easily become a nightmare. But when we got down to the Tube, it was totally deserted. Paddington was also almost empty. I toasted the queen and thanked her for emptying the rail stations.

We finally arrived at Reading, worn out and exhausted, but glad to be on familiar ground.

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