Loch Ness and Dornoch, Scotland

You can’t go to Scotland and not go to Loch Ness.  At least that is what we thought when we booked our Insight Tour.  Our tour headed there from our hotel in Inverness.  Loch Ness is mostly famous for its monster, Nessie.  Although some people have devoted their lives to searching for Nessie, it is mostly a good tourist attraction.  I’m sure someone on Loch Mar or Loch Gary wishes they had come up with the monster angle.

The Loch Ness tour boat

We arrived early in the morning and climbed aboard our tour boat.  The boat was part of the Jacobite company and was called Maverick.  The 29 people on our tour were the only ones on the boat, which meant there was plenty of room to move around.  Tom and I headed for the open, top deck.  It was lovely while the sun was shining and we were in the canal.

In the canal

Once we moved into Loch Ness, however, the weather changed.  Weather changes frequently in Scotland.  The wind picked up and the sun disappeared behind the clouds.  We could see a rainstorm coming at us up the Loch.  As long as we stood in the shelter of the pilot house, we were warm enough.  If we moved away away from the pilot house the wind was strong enough to knock us down.

On Loch Ness

Tom looked a lot harder for Nessie than I did.  I enjoyed the scenery and the narration of the guide.  He pointed out points of interest as we passed them.  The boat turned around after 30 minutes.  We could see the rain coming toward us.  When we got back to the shore, Nigel and Dougie took us to a tourist shop we we could buy Nessie souvenirs.  There was also a Nessie cutout, so Tom and I posed for a picture.

Soon enough we were back on the bus.  We stopped in Dornoch, a small market town, for lunch.  Dornoch has about 1,500 people, but it has a Cathedral in the middle of town and is considered a seaside resort.  Tom and I got a meat pie from a bakery and a cookie from the chocolate shop.  We ate quickly so we had plenty of time to walk around the town.

Dornoch Cathedral

The Dornoch Cathedral is the centerpiece of the town.  The church was built in 1224 to honor St. Gilbert.  The church was built by his brother, William de Moravia.  It is a parish church of the Church of Scotland, which means it is Presbyterian.  Although the church is smallish, compared to some of the churches we have seen, it still had plenty of history. 

Inside the cathedral

There were two volunteers inside and I talked to them for a bit.  I thanked to them for having the church open for us to see.  I also asked them about parish life in a small town.  They said that church attendance had gone down.  But they said their parish had recently doubled in size.  Five of the neighboring churches had closed and now all the members of those churches were members of the Dornoch church.

Donate here

One of the things I have really appreciated about all the churches we visited was how easy they made it to donate.  They all had a money box of some kind.  In addition, they had a pay station where you could tap the screen on the amount you wanted to donate, and then tap your card. Simple.  We aren’t carrying much cash with us, so it was nice to be able to donate without using up our supply of pounds or euros.

Tom and I had time to walk around the entire town and see all of the historic sites.  Then we climbed back on the bus and headed for Old Pulteney Whisky Distillery.  The Old Pulteney Distillery is coming up on its 200th anniversary in 2026.  Tom and I do not drink whisky, so we refrained from trying the whisky or the alternative stroma.  But we were interested to learn how it was made.  We were especially impressed by the curing warehouse full of barrels of whisky.  Most of the barrels came from Jack Daniels distilleries and are being reused.  

Whisky casks in the warehouse

Later that day, our tour group had dinner together at the hotel in Inverness.  Then most of us went to the Auld Smiddy Inn for a Caelidh.  The Auld Smiddy was a blacksmith’s shop from 1843 until 1970. After the death of the last blacksmith, it was turned into a pub but still has a lot of items from the smiths decorating the inn.  It also had a peat fire going on the chilly evening.  

Peat fire

Caelidh means gathering, and it is a celebration of Gaelic or Celtic heritage.  The one we attended was led by a man named Raymond who told us stories and led us in songs. He was very entertaining.  His job was made more challenging by a member of our group who had a little too much to drink.  Linda had a smart response to every comment by Raymond.  At first it was funny, but as the evening went on, she got more outrageous.  I would have liked to hear more Raymond and less Linda. 

Raymond in the center and Linda on the right

One part of the Caelidh that I really enjoyed was two young pipers who came and played for our group.  They played wonderful Scottish tunes and then talked about playing bagpipes.  The brother and sister, 16 and 14 years old, are proud to carry on their heritage, even though it is considered uncool by their friends at school.

The Caelidh lasted until 10 pm, and we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow toward the end.  It was a fitting ending to a full and busy day.