It is a sunny day as we drive down the side of Loch Ness, with not a monster in sight. We pass on the opportunity to visit ‘Nessieland’ and wonder how many tourists have been fooled into thinking that they might see bears at ‘Highland Bear Lodge’. Maybe highland bears are akin to yellow tits and indeed the Loch Ness monster. We drive through pretty birch woods to Glen Affric. There are more sheep in the road; these are sitting down contentedly as if they were in a field. There are deer relaxing nearby, maybe they have evicted the sheep. We pass the Fasnabyle HEP plant, reminding us how important the energy business is to Scotland. We head back towards Inverness by a different route, with the River Glass on the right and a bluebell wood on the left to enter the Black Isle, between the Moray Forth and Cromarty Firth. This peninsula, previously named Ardmeanach, was given to Lord Darnley by Mary Queen of Scots. The views are glorious. I find this one of the most attractive parts of Scotland, yet I was expecting to prefer the west coast.
We head to Rosemarkie, which was notorious as a spot for burning witches. I seem to escape unscathed. We are now in the land of the Picts, who inhabited Rosshire until they were overrun by the Scots in the ninth century. Picts or ‘painted people’ are believed to have arrived in Scotland from northern Europe during the Bronze Age. No signs of houses remain, so it is assumed that they were wooden but hill forts survive. In 563 St Columba left Iona to begin the Christianisation of the Picts. We are able to see Pictish carved stones at the tiny Groam House Museum, most of these date from the eighth and ninth centuries. There are debates about the purpose of these large, carved stone slabs. It is thought that they are unlikely to be grave markers as they don’t record names but they may be indicative of alliances between groups. The designs include representations of animals, hunting and biblical scenes and geometric patterns. The carvings known as cross slabs depict crosses but the arms do not protrude beyond the sides of the slabs. The volume of carvings found in the immediate area lead historians to presume that there must have been a monastery here, although no remains have been found. The Museum also celebrates the work of George Bain ‘the Master of Celtic Art’.
A little way up the road is the RSPB reserve known as Fairy Glen. It isn’t the easiest to find but having located it we take a lovely stroll through the wooded reserve. There is a notable lack of birds and fairies but it is pretty boggy so any self respecting fairies are probably residing elsewhere.