We arrived in Invergordon, Scotland in the middle of the morning. This was not on our original itinerary, which listed the Shetland Islands (Lerwick) instead. But the captain explained it would not be possible to be processed through immigration quickly enough to be able to go on excursions at the Shetland Islands. At Invergordon, which is a larger port, the cruise line was able to get a large number of Scottish immigration officials to process our passports on board the ship. (The young man who processed my passport stated the obvious: "your hair looks different, you have more gray now!" -- yes I stopped coloring my hair. Almost everyone else is too polite to mention it!)
We chose an excursion to Cawdor Castle. Our guide was EXCELLENT, she shared history, current insights and had a wicked sense of humor. I loved some of the Scottish colloquial phrases -- when driving by one historic building, she explained the prior laird had quite a drinking problem, and his staff used to hoist him up to his room on a pulley when "he drank so much he was absolutely legless".
Our bus took us through the Scottish highlands and rolling hills and farms. We followed the Moray Firth, which is an inlet of the North Sea.
The castle was very historic, and surprisingly comfortably furnished. Legend stated it was built around a holly tree; and the remains of a holly tree were found in the basement. The tree was carbon dated to 1372. Portions of the castle were built in the 14th century, and portions were built in the 17th and 18th century. It remains occupied by the Earl of Cawdor's widow the Dowager Countess Angelika, who has renovated and maintained the property.
A major part of Angelika's work has been in restoring the extensive gardens that surround the castle. (She ended up in a lawsuit with her stepson, the current Earl; he moved onto the property while she was visiting the US, and she sued to prevent his plans to plant genetically modified rapeseed in the fields. Family disputes are so difficult!)
After Cawdor Castle, our guide took us an a route through Inverness. I really appreciated the chance to see a bit of Inverness, even though I saw it through the bus window!
Okay this next photo is primarily for fans of Outlander (guilty pleasure!) and Scottish history buffs. The field below is the site of Culloden battle, where the Jacobites were defeated in 1745. This was both a battle between religious sects (Catholic vs Protestant) and rivals for the throne (Bonnie Prince Charlie vs. the Hanovers). It resulted in the total defeat of the Scottish Jacobites, and subsequent oppressive measures such as the outlawing of their language (Gaelic), the break up of the clan system, and the outlawing of tartan plaids.
In Outlander, Jamie Frazier is injured at the Battle of Culloden, and his clan leader and most of his comrades are killed. The site looks barren, but it was marked with colored flags showing the position of the various troops, and included cairn memorials for the fallen.
Culloden battle site
And our port, Invergordon.
Mary Lou and Lee, friends who were also on the cruise, did not purchase any excursions in advance. They usually just hire a taxi or take a bus. Unfortunately this tactic backfired for them at Scotland; another cruise ship had arrived before us and NO taxis were available; and there was no bus system. So they just walked around Invergordon. I don't think any of us realized how far it was to Inverness or to the castle.
I'm curious about how others who go on cruises handle excursions. Do you purchase them in advance; or do you explore on your own?? Linda and I did about 4 pre-planned excursions (3 through the cruise line, and one through an outside vendor); and about 6 or 7 "on our own" explorations. I liked both experiences!
BTW Lee enjoyed the cruise so much! He was an accomplished musician, but had been deaf for seven years. A couple of months ago he got a cochlear implant, and he lit up with joy at each evening concert. I think we don't realize the blessings of normal hearing and sight, until we see someone who has regained one of these basic senses! It is truly a miracle of modern medicine.