Off Challenge: Drumnadrochit

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Drumnadrochit — No Rucksacks!

Loch Carron has treated us well but, to be honest, there’s not a great deal to do there when your movement is a bit limited. So now we have regained our orientation a little it was time to work out what to do. Kate was keen to stay in Scotland for a while and kept muttering things like “it will be like a real holiday”. Whatever next?

We struck on the idea of visiting places that we would have seen on the Challenge, only visiting them for longer. The only rule was that we wouldn’t go anywhere until the Challenge had gone through! How about that Drumnadrochit? It always seems nice on the Challenge and surely it never rains there?

There was no rush so we headed up to Inverness. On the way through we had stayed at the Waverley Guesthouse which was only a few minutes from the Station. The Waverley was presumably once a hotel but was unable to offer en suite in every room. It had been reasonably cheap hen booked ahead. It was comfortable and clean and offered pretty much everything we wanted pre-challenge. Checking on Booking.Com the price had risen at short notice and we looked for alternatives.

We found the Black Isle Hostel which is owned by the local Black Isle Brewery. At ground level there is a trendy bar selling craft beer and wood fired Pizza (the only food it did was pizza) The hostel is partially above the bar.  On the second floor a number of en suite bedrooms have been added. These were Scandinavian in their minimalism but they are very comfortable. There seemed little to do in central Inverness when mobility was limited. We paid homage to Leakey’s Bookshop which— if you’ve not been — is well worth a visit if books are your thing. In the evening the Black Isle Bar was heaving and so we strolled up the road to another place which featured the now standard Highland Menu (more about that later).

Next morning we hopped on the bus to Drumnadrochit and rather shockingly we found the bus journey only took 25 minutes or less.

We had booked into the Drumnadrochit Hotel. I’d booked on booking.com and as I pressed the confirm button a voice was nagging me at the back of my head. Surely some Challengers had stayed thee and reported back? There was no other option really when booking that way. The bus dropped us outside of the Post Office and we immediately crossed the bridge to the hotel.

The Drumnadrochit Hotel is a kind of modernist designed building (60s perhaps) which is band next to the Loch Ness Monster Museum. We had hoped to leave our packs in the hotel but fortunately our room was vacant. A rather cheerful chap who seemed to do everything took us up to our room. A had the feeling that most rooms were vacant. The rooms were a little tired and decorated in a brown and beige colour scheme. You need to be of a certain age now for that to resonate but it it does, yep it was like that. At least the sheets were not nylon as they had been the last time I stayed in a room with this colour scheme, a b&b in Blackpool but its probably past to skip over that quickly.

Packs deposited it was time dash/hobble in the village.

The weather was simply gorgeous. I stared into the window of the deli bistro. Something was missing. There was no Lee or Tony sitting in the window.

At the Fiddler’s Arms all as quiet. Weird. There was not a rucksack in sight. It was lunchtime. I’ve always enjoyed the Fiddler’s. Every time I’ve been here it has represented the first real food on the Challenge since starting. We ordered a burger (as usual). The whole things pretty underwhelming. Food simply doesn’t taste the same when you haven’t spent three nights wild camping. It was all a bit of a disappointment. Without Challengers you could see the place was pretty well set up for tourists. And in they came, Americans, Germans and especially the French — the French were everywhere on this min break. It felt as if they were all getting Scotland ticked off before the chaos of post Brexit lie became a reality (but I won’t mention any more).

During the afternoon I rested the knee while Kate went off and explored the woods and pathways that led down to the Loch. All I needed — with the state I was in — was a good wifi signal and at least the hotel had that.

In the evening we decided to eat in the hotel. The same cheerful guy who had greeted us at reception greeted us in the restaurant. Rather unusually on this trip he was a Scot. I mention all of this just in case you are tempted to book enduring the Challenge (or off Challenge). Now I’m not putting you off, I just want you to know.

The food was pretty terrible other than the Haddock and Chips. Long experience has told me that — when in doubt in the Highlands — order Fish and Chips. Kate plumped for some pasta thing which was dreadful to look at and even worse to eat. It may have been the vegetarian option. Never chose the vegetarian option in the Highlands unless you are one.

It was then I begun to realise that almost every menu we had seen was pretty much the same.  I began to develop a theory that in Inverness there is a cookery college which tells students, if you are working in the Highlands his is the menu you are obliged to serve!

The Highland Menu works a bit like this. To start there is always a soup of the day. It is often Leek and Potato but you may get lucky with something else. There is a prawn cocktail (if you are lucky it is not siting in water from he defrosted prawns — as it was here). There is often deep fried brie. You get the message; it is all a bit retro. For mains — apart from Haddock and chips — there is always Gammon (choice of pineapple or fried egg on top), chicken stuffed with Haggis in a Whiskey Sauce. And there was some kind of revolting vegetarian pasta — Arrabbiata seems to be a favourite. This is a simple sauce which should be wrong with tomatoes and garlic and punch from chilli. Often this will come from a prover such as Break Brothers; this seemed to be just a tin of tomatoes  thrown over some pasta. The only other customers were a French family. They looked suitably traumatised.

Next morning Kate ran the bath tap. The hot tap ran very hot but couldn’t be turned off. We tried in vain to wrestle it back into an off position. Hot steam spread through the room. Normally this would have set off smoke alarms. It didn’t here. Kate went down to reception to report the fault. orebody said they would be right up. They weren’t. we headed down to breakfast with magma hot water gushing out of the tap.

At breakfast the cheerful man was in charge of the café; fair dues to this guy he could be the hardest working guy in the Highlands. At the news of the tap he adopted his best Basil Fawlty posts, hopped about a bit and cursed the young woman who he said should have been up with a wrench.

So, to the café for breakfast. Yes, I know I should have thought this through but to be honest I couldn’t face another cooked breakfast and it looked as if I might find yogurt and fresh fruit. There was yogurt in flavour pots and some fresh fruit but not much. At least they fixed the leak though we were too scared to use the bath again while we were there.

So day 2 in Drum. There was nothing for it but to make the exhausting trip to the Loch Ness Monster, a good 30 seconds walk away. At the front door a group of workmen had tapped off the entrance. It looked as if the museum was closed. We went into the gift shop which was a curious thing, a combination of expensive luxury goods such as Harris Tweed and whiskey and Nessie soft toys and fridge magnets. We bought a cuddly Nessie and some Nessie chocolates. Well, why not?

Back at the Museum the workmen were still chattering but had been joined by a friend who had the gumption to ask if we were visiting the museum. He guided his in through the tradesman’s entrance.

Now, I know what you are thinking but …

Over 30 years ago I was on a trip to Stornaway for work. Our little party stopped at Inverness where I found a Loch Ness Monster Centre. Rather oddly none of my party wanted to go with me. I found it oddly engaging, if not completely bonkers. I remember a rather intense woman showing me a computer enhanced picture that had been taken underwater. It looked like a blur to me. Those of you of a certain age may remember Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra Album cover — it looked like that. Look she said, you can see there — it is clearly a flipper. I looked carefully. It was a blob. Indeed it may have well have been the original photo from Phaedra. Everyone there was lovely and nice but how can I say it, completely fecking bonkers.

I was hoping for a similar display eccentricity but was disappointed. The current museum at Drum simply sets out to tell the story of the monster and subsequent search expeditions. It is all treated very scientifically, indeed, it basically makes the point that the ecology of the Loch could simply not support a big monster. It was all very disappointing. There were stories of high sturgeon who had been found in fishing nets and who had seemingly swum up the loch in search of a mate. Indeed, it seems the natural food supplying the loch is so poor that it is very sparsely populated with any king of fish.

The only sense of the ridiculous came from video recordings of locals who claim to have seen the monster. You have to hand it to them. They are great story tellers. I looked closely. Each of these locals looked rather like the cheerful guy in the hotel/café/restaurant. I wondered. Could both Drumnadrochit and the Monster be basically family business? Back at the hotel some blue told us that the hotel owner’s family had long associations with the village — they were Cobb I think (as in the cafes). One member of the family had been killed on Loch Ness trying to break the power boat speed record.

It was time to explore again. The new post Office Tea Room was pleasant and nice. I looked hard but couldn’t see the cheerful guy from the hotel anywhere. Then it was time hop down to the bistro. This seemed new to me.I remember a café with Lee and Tony sitting in the window. This place didn’t look like a Lee and Tony place — there seemed to be little Guinness on tap. However, it was rather classy. It was obviously run by somebody who had not been to catering college in Inverness.

It was time for an afternoon rest again and for Kate to explore further. I popped into the Fiddlers to enquire whether we needed to book for the evening. We did.

That evening we found the Fiddler’s transformed. The place was buzzing. The staff efficient and friendly. I remind myself that everywhere popular with american tourists runs like this. The ambience was fabulous. On one side of us was a group of Scandinavians. On the other side a group of guys on a munro bagging trip. The menu wasn’t that much different but had  a few additions to cater for evening. I chose a rather splendid venison steak in a pepper sauce. we finished with some kind of whiskey taster thing and a desert. It was fabulous. It was so good I immediately wrote a hewing review on Trip Adviser. I don’t usually follow the tourists but on this trip this was a tactic that paid dividends.

To be honest two days in Drumnadrochit is one day too long. The whole place seems to turn over its visitors every day. We still had  a few days left. Where to now? We figured we should stay on a main train line. I fancied Newtonmore but Kate felt it too Challenge-y. We plumped for Aviemore instead!

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