When our January holiday to the sun cancelled for the second year running I decided to keep us in Britain. This trip was the official holiday to celebrate my 60th birthday, so it had to be a bit different. I wanted to go somewhere that would feel vaguely foreign. Where could we go where they speak funny and eat strange foods? Ah, Scotland!
My wife, Mo, knew we were staying in the UK, but I didn’t tell her where we were going. She didn’t know the original plan to visit Marrakech either; just that it was outside Europe and somewhere warm. Just a few weeks ago she had been told to expect sunshine and palm trees. I didn’t know how she’d react when we rolled into Inverness. If you look at a map you’ll see that Inverness is about as far from London as it is from Norway. The last palm tree she’d see would be well before Crewe, that’s for certain. Anyway, I put our DVD of Murder on the Orient Express on and got into the spirit of things before we set off into the unknown.
Friday January 7th
Train Arrive, Sixteen Coaches Long
On the sixteen-carriage train we went to inspect our quarters. It was smaller than Novak Djorkavic’s Melbourne detention centre room, but hopefully the food options would be better. There’s a sink. Behind the door to the right there’s a toilet and shower. Good luck with the shower, but you get free bottles of water, face cream, and a lavender spray for your pillows. The beds are small but comfortable.
We were told to see Dave in the lounge car to order our morning breakfast. Dave took our order, but said the lounge car was currently full (due to Covid restrictions). He said he’d call us when a table was free. After 45 minutes, a voice came from a speaker somewhere in our room saying we could claim a table. I try to avoid drinking past 10pm, but we shared half a bottle of red wine and had desserts. We retired to our room at 11.30 just as we pulled into Crewe.
I persuaded Mo to have the top bunk because I make regular lavvy calls in the night. The train rattled and creaked. I love it, though I’m more into the romance of overnight train and ferry travel than Mo is. I slept off and on, tending to awake when the train stopped. The first stop I remember was Edinbugh Waverley. I think the train splits into three different portions here.
We walked along the narrow corridor to the lounge car at 8.15. We both had the cooked Highland Breakfast. It was most civilised. It certainly wasn’t your average British Rail Super Sizzler experience. Shame it was still pitch black outside. We got a good view of the BP station at Aviemore, mind.
We pulled into Inverness at about 8.45. It was very cold, but bearable. Walking aimlessly in near-dark we found a river bridge and started to get our bearings. We couldn’t check in to the B&B Until 4pm, and there was nothing open. This was a job for Mr Wetherspoon!
I was disappointed to learn that The King’s Highway didn’t serve alcohol until 11am – Arrgh! Spoons offer unlimited coffee at 99p. I had my own mini coffee festival, trying out latte, mocha and cappucino. Cappucino remains my favourite. Latte is coffee for people who don’t like coffee. 11am was 90 minutes away, but suspecting no other pubs would be open before noon, we decided to stay. On the stroke of 11 I went to work with my Wetherspoon’s app and got the party started.
At noon, it was only a step next door for luncheon at the Black Isle Bar. I knew they served beer in thirds as well as pints and halves, so asked if they did a flight of taster ales. The young English bloke told me that they’re not allowed to give offers on alcohol in Scotland. What? I thought drinking was the national sport!
The wood-fired pizzas were excellent. Tasty beverages purchased to wash down the pizzas included a girly cider for Mo and two halves of ale for me. I wanted something traditional and local to sample. This was a serious alehouse, so my man knew exactly what I wanted when I asked for a wee heavy: a traditional dark Scotch ale. I didn’t really think I’d like it, but I did. The place filled up, mostly with young people. There could be life in this town yet.
The town appeared neither upmarket nor downmarket. It did have an end of the earth, out of season, feel. The river front was nice. I’d like to come again and take a boat trip along Loch Ness or to and to an island.
My original plan was to watch Inverness Caledonian Thistle play Raith Rovers, but Nicola Sturgeon’s restrictions had put paid to that idea. Mo missed out on sitting with 2,000 others overlooking the frozen coast of Norway, but not to worry, most of the pubs were all open.
No.27 is opposite the castle. The back was a bit gloomy and the front was like a café. Not very exciting.
Further down the road was The Castle Tavern, a traditional pub with a river view. This was more the ticket. The Irish manager had muted TVs on watching horse racing, which spoilt the ambience a bit. Well, it’s distracting isn’t it? TVs in pubs should never have been invented.
We walked along the river bank and crossed over the bridge towards the Torridon Guest House. The effusive landlord greeted us, and introduced his wife. I don’t remember much about it as the ale was kicking in.
After an old-age nap* we walked down to the Rocpool for my 60th birthday celebration. I’d booked in advance. The restaurant was packed at 8pm, and people were still coming in at 10pm when we left. I leave little to chance. I booked a table here as it sounded like a happenning place. We weren’t disappointed. The South African waitress was friendly and efficient, and happy to chat a bit. She was clearly well-trained in the wine list, commenting on my shortlist with a forensic detail. The meals were great. I loved my seafood linguine and Mo loved her cod. I’d never really enjoyed scallops before tonight.
*Previously Middle Aged naps
We considered going over the road to a pub. I thought of asking for a wee heavy, but in the average pub it’s probably like asking for a London porter in England. The pub was empty, so we went back to watch Match of the Day.
Our host brought out our pre-ordered cooked breakfasts. It was quality. He kept asking if we wanted any more. We got the impression he’d happily stay all morning frying up sausages and bacon for us. I apologised for leavig the haggis. I wanted to try it, but I didn’t like it. Anyway, we couldn’t sit around all day eating, we had a train to Edinburgh to catch at 9.40.
I’ll continue my trip next time…