Here’s something to know about Inverness, Scotland. If you travel there by cruise ship you won’t actually dock in Inverness, but instead you’ll be docking in the Cromarty Firth at Invergordon.
The harbor in Invergordon is deep enough for large cruise ships and your ship will be able to dock rather than having to use tenders to ferry passengers to shore. However, this does leave you about 40 minutes away from Inverness. And from what I could tell there is very little to see in Invergordon. By the way, this is a fairly common practice in the cruise industry. Itineraries will often say ‘Paris’, ‘Rome’, ‘Florence’ and so on, but none of these cities are actually on the coast. Just a little thing to be aware of if you ever plan a European cruise.
In this case, this was no problem at all for us because this is the port where we chose to hire a private guide through Invergordon Tours. We try to hire a private guide at least once on every trip. In some places (Budapest, Prague) it’s more affordable than others. This guide came with a car and that definitely added to the expense quite a bit. So it was a pretty big splurge for us, but based on the cost of most of the ship’s shore excursions we only spent about $165 more for six hours with a guide and her car for just the two of us v. being on a bus with 60 other passengers for a 3 hour packaged tour.
We were able to go exactly where we wanted and spend as much or as little time in each spot as we wanted.
Our guide was a lovely woman named Alda. She met us at the pier with a sign with our name on it. She was parked just across the street, so she led us off to her vehicle which was roomy, comfortable and spotlessly clean. Once settled in the car, Alda reviewed our plan for the day (which we had arranged in advance via email). We could have made changes to it at that point, but we didn’t.
Our first stop was the Falls of Shin. Honestly, if I had a do-over I would have skipped this spot (although they did have nice, clean, brand new bathrooms).
Apparently when the salmon are spawning you can see them leaping up these falls, but there were no salmon that we could see. Honestly, the falls themselves are not very impressive, especially when compared to the gorgeous Gooseberry Falls near Duluth.
But that is the beauty of having a private guide! We were able to take a quick look at the falls and then say ‘let’s move on’. Had we been with a group we would have had to wait for 60 people to line up and use those brand new bathrooms.
Our next stop was the Big Burn walking trail in Golspie, Scotland. I had read about this trail online before our trip and thought it looked like a beautiful place. In Scotland, a ‘burn’ is a stream or brook.
Alda told us to take as much time as we wanted hiking the trail, she’d be waiting at the car when we returned. The trail follows a small stream (burn) up to the Big Burn Gorge, and then there are a series of footbridges that crisscross the gorge. It was so lush and green all along the trail.
I will always remember Scotland as a very green place!
The Scottish Bluebells were in bloom and there were fields of them everywhere.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day. We really enjoyed hiking this trail and were able to take our time enjoying the gorgeous sunny day.
After our hike we piled back into Alda’s car and headed towards Dunrobin Castle. But first we made a quick stop at Carn Liath, the remains of a Broch (a prehistoric fortified dwelling). Here are Mr. Q and our guide Alda on top of the wall of the Broch.
We had the place entirely to ourselves.
There was a gorgeous view of our next stop, Dunrobin Castle, from the top of the broch.
Although parts of Dunrobin Castle date as far back as the 14th century, most of it was built between 1835 and 1850 for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland. It has 189 rooms, and although at one point it started to feel like the tour included all of them, of course it really didn’t. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside so I can’t share any of those rooms with you. However, since we were on a private tour, we were able to spend as much time touring the formal gardens as we wanted to and I was free to take unlimited photos out there!
Remember, this was the end of May, so the gardens probably weren’t quite as lush yet as they would be later in the season.
But the allium was in bloom. Seeing this big clump of them makes me want to add more to my own garden.
And of course all of the formal shrubbery was looking lovely.
Once we’d seen enough of Dunrobin, Alda took us to her hometown of Dornoch, Scotland. It was the most charming little village.
She recommended we pop into the Dornoch Patisserie for a bite to eat. We just had some simple sandwiches and some ‘chips’ (what we call french fries), but they were delicious and no one was claiming that they were the ‘best of Scottish cuisine’. The people in the restaurant were so friendly, it was just a pleasure to be there!
After eating we walked around the Dornoch Cathedral where I was surprised to find this gargoyle peering down from above.
Does that guy remind anybody else of a certain large purple children’s character?
I know that gargoyles are meant to be frightening, I’m not sure they succeeded with that one. What do you think?
We walked around Dornoch a bit longer, and then hopped back in the car to make our way back to our ship.
After spending a totally enjoyable 6+ hours with our guide, I thought that our day could not possibly get any better. We had just returned to our cabin on the ship and were putting away our bags when I heard what sounded like distant bag pipes. I went out on our balcony and was met with the most amazing sight. An entire band of bagpipers and drummers marching down the pier towards our ship.
It was a pretty long pier, this photo gives you an idea …
The Sutherland Schools Pipe Band marched all the way down that pier playing the entire time.
Once they got to the end they formed a circle and kept playing. The drummers were so entertaining to watch!
They would spin and twirl those drum sticks over their heads.
Seriously, this was the coolest thing ever! I wish I’d gotten video, but since I didn’t you can check out this YouTube video instead.
And they just kept on playing the whole time our ship was preparing to sail away and as we finally pulled away from the dock.
This was definitely one of those magical moments that I will always remember! And once again, something we would have missed if we hadn’t had that balcony!
As we continued to sail away from Invergordon I admired the bright yellow fields of rapeseed, isn’t that some lovely countryside?
Overall this was one of the best days on our entire trip. It was well worth the splurge to hire the private guide. She catered to our every wish and made it so easy to see everything we wanted to see in the time we had on shore. We would definitely do this again on a future trip!
I hope you enjoyed this post about Invergordon, Scotland. Remember when I said it was going to take me all summer to post about our trip? I wasn’t wrong. We have two more ports of call remaining, Edinburgh and Newcastle, which will take us right through August 23. I’m not sure what I’ll do with my Wednesday’s after that, but I hope you’ll stay tuned.