The road to Plockton was one-lane. This was surprising considering its popularity. Of the 6 small Scottish towns I really liked, Plockton was my favorite. Like Luss, it was flower bedecked. Unlike Luss, cabbage palms were in almost every garden. Like Luss, it was a conservation village. Unlike Luss, it was not overrun by tourists even though that was its reputation. Like Luss, Plockton was a planned community with little, similar cottages strung along Harbour Street. Unlike Luss on freshwater Loch Lomond, Plockton was on a finger of land jutting into Carron, a sea loch where I watched locals in canoes and on sailboats enjoy a sunny afternoon.
Duncraig Castle was visible across the loch. Built by Alexander Matheson, who reportedly made his fortune in the opium trade, Duncraig is now owned by Suzanne Hazeldine, who is renovating. If you wait until 2015 to visit Plockton, you can stay in her castle.
The cottages along the waterfront were built by Sir Hugh Innes for his estate’s tenants who aspired to fish and farm. Most of the current owners maintain elaborate, well planned gardens.
While Plockton has been used as the setting for a couple of Scottish TV series, American audiences only saw it, so far, in the original The Wicker Man, 1973 version, which also shot in Dumfries.
Aultbea, Scotland, is a zigzag 75 miles north of Plockton on Loch Ewe. It’s so remote that there isn’t much to do besides walk around admiring its quaint, fishing village charm and wondering where the locals shop for groceries.
We stayed at the Aultbea Hotel, a better-than-averge old charmer without a lot of amenities but a welcoming staff and a large dining room overlooking the loch and serving good food. The next evening Trish tried haggis.
I was rather shocked to read that little Aultbea has a NATO base and that large ships refuel here. I saw no evidence of that on a profoundly quiet Saturday summer night.
Inverness is not, technically speaking, small. In fact, it’s considered the Scottish Highlands’ main town. Its population is just over 70,000 and it has the feel of a city if you just explore its core along the River Ness full of grey churches. Only 6 miles long, the River Ness connects Loch Ness to Moray Firth, home to bottlenose dolphins, and the North Sea.
Loch Ness is, of course, a major tourist draw thanks to the legend of the so-called monster in its depths. I was totally turned off by the hype surrounding Nessie and Inverness’ sad, grubby pubs, but I really like its Victorian Market (blogged in August, 2013, as Inverness’ Best Attraction), its pedestrian buzz, and a fine restaurant named Kitchen. Trish did not order haggis. Mustard Seed also has a stellar reputation and is under the same management. Inverness’ scenic castle sits on a hill overlooking city center but it’s a government facility not opened to the public. Too bad.