Exploring with the locals
It’s been over a year since we were last in the Highland capital. My partner and I fell in love there, where he grew up, so the city and its surroundings are like a planet we orbit around, its emotional pull growing with each return visit.
Last holiday weekend we were there to visit his family — and got extremely lucky with the weather! Here’s how we spent a few days up north in one of our favourite places in Scotland.
Lunch at Loch Morlich
After the usual blue-sky stream of A9 traffic we arrived on Aviemore’s high street. Rightly or wrongly, it brings to my mind the strip of an American ski resort, being quite unlike anywhere else in Scotland I’ve been. People breeze past in silky skiing kit or waxy walking jackets; the hills an omnipresent destination.
We pulled in at the Mountain Café car park, forever busy (although the addition of a buzzer system for waiting customers has taken the weight off the stairs). £18 later and we had two sandwiches and a brownie, all delicious though breathtakingly expensive, that we enjoyed on the banks of Loch Morlich’s stonier south side, the sun on our pale arms and the snow still grasping at the mountain gulleys.
From there we followed the dusty trail through forest and to the beach, full of bodies which had only recently discarded their winter wrapping. It was a beautiful if busy setting: a teenager doing flips on the sand in front of us; a family canoeing in the shallows; and dogs dotted along the strandline. Sitting on the dusty heather I thought, yes, being outdoors in a t-shirt is exactly how I intend to continue this holiday weekend!
Sampling the streets of Inverness
Like most Scottish cities, the pedestrianised streets of Inverness are static with tired tourists grabbing a meal after a day ticking Culloden, Loch Ness or Urquhart Castle off their travel list (hint — there’s more to this part of the world than what you see in the guidebooks, so make sure you veer off the trainer-worn track!).
Our usual Inverness haunt is Ness Islands, a leafy archipelago set just south of the main drag, but this time we spent most of our city seconds sampling the street food. We grabbed a late-night gelato in Miele’s Gelateria; veggie burgers at the White House; craft beers at Hootananny pub — where we also saw B’s mum perform with Highland Voices gospel choir — and as many coffees as hillwalks at Velocity Bike Shop and Café (it’s impossible to say no to a Creme Egg brownie on Easter Sunday).
Panoramic views from Ord Hill
Aside from our walk around the north-west shores of Loch Morlich, we also tested some of the Forestry Commission’s trails on the Black Isle, a large peninsula to the north of Inverness.
After browsing their useful website, we settled on hiking Ord Hill, a circular waymarked route that took in several viewpoints and the scree of an Iron Age fort. Despite not seeing any wildlife, the paths were precious to wander — soft leaves underfoot, gentle light through the boughs, and so many shades of sage made the greying day that much brighter.
After the wander, which ate up a few hours of our afternoon, we swung past the nearby Black Isle Brewery to stock up on some bottles.
Yes, totally hipster, but there’s a reason why so many folk rave about this craft beer — my favourite was the spice-infused Chai PA which we placed in a cardboard holster with a handful of others, clinking in the car as we made our way back to Fife for the weekday routine to start again with the sunrise.