Special Six: My Memories of Inverness

During my student year in the UK, I had the opportunity to enroll for the Host UK programme. Since I was planning to visit Scotland during the summer, I decided to combine part of it with a stay with a local family and applied for it.  I was paired up with a family in Inverness. A lovely couple who had a long history of hosting foreign students and who actually agreed to host me in the last minute, when my original host in Inverness had fallen sick and they had been contacted on the day I was traveling to Inverness, as Host UK did not want to cancel out on me.

Based on my experience, I would highly recommend any foreign student in the UK to include a Host UK homestay experience as it does enrich your student experience and probably, the friendship that you build lasts beyond your student year.

The special six memories of my homestay experience in Inverness are the following:

(1) Getting to know Helena and David and their lovely neighbourhood:

Helena, with whom I spent the most time, was a retired teacher and an avid historian, loved to cook and was very proud of her garden. I enjoyed accompanying her on her walks around the woods in the neighbourhood, overlooking Loch Ness, short forays into her garden prior to cooking to get some garden produce. I remember planning and cooking a Sri Lankan dinner (they called it tea) once and wondering if her nieces who were not exposed to other cuisines would like it. Her interest in Sri Lankan history and culture and enthusiasm in sharing the Scottish stories was what I remember most about my stay with them.

(2) Culloden Moor

Helena said that I needed to visit Culloden Moor, as it was a place that meant a lot to Scottish people. The site of the 18th century battle was originally not something that I thought I wanted to visit as I have never wanted to visit former battlefields. However, seeing her keenness, I agreed to it. We set out the next morning after my arrival in Inverness, and went to the site. There is a little museum at the site. For me, it is one of the best museums I have seen to-date as it shows the perspectives of all stakeholders (civilians and officials) on both sides pieced together from their letters and journals. I understand there are other museums that have done this as well but this is the first that I have been to.


The museum then opens out into an open expanse, which you can walk about with an audio guide which talks about different points – such as the points that leaders of various Scottish clans fell.


The little cottage, which had been the makeshift hospital and neutral ground, evoked a sense of sadness before I learnt that even though the wounded soldiers made their way there to surrender, they had been killed.


Culloden Moor, a place that Scotland has decided to preserve as part of their heritage and learning, is a place that does raise a lot of questions on the purpose of battles and loss of lives and why human beings are unable to resolve power issues through other means.

(3) Dolphin watching at Chanonry Point:

Helena having taken me to her favourite place in the morning, David decided to take me to his favourite place that afternoon having learnt that I loved dolphins. We went in time for the low tide as apparently the Moray Firth bottle nose dolphins turned up soon after.

There were a few families that had turned up to watch out for the dolphins but though we waited till sunset, we didn’t see any that day.


(4) Munlochy Clootie well and tree

On the drive back from Canonry Point, we passed an area where there were trees with what looked like rags tied to them. It reminded me of the prayer cloths tied at trees outside Hindu and Buddhist temples. David stopped the car and we went to some of the closest trees. In pre-Christian times, it was believed that a healing spirit inhabited the well and people came to heal themselves with the water from the well and tie rags of cloth to the tree to make a wish of healing. Since Christian times, a Christian saint has replaced the nature spirit in the folk stories but the belief remains the same. And people continue to tie pieces of cloth rags to the trees.

For me, I have always believed in the power of people’s thoughts – to manifest something. That is why I have believed in the power of prayers to heal and to transmit positive thoughts across the oceans. So, whether people believe that something is manifested by their tying a piece of cloth on a tree or offering a puja, the main underlying aspect is the power of their thoughts.

(5) Corrimony Cairn:

The next day, Helena decided on a day out with a picnic to a couple of her favourite places. We first went to Corrimony Cairn. This is a burial chamber from 4000 years ago.


It is a collective tomb that was built and the passages have an astronomical alignment and orientation.

(6) Plodda Falls

Being a hiker and nature enthusiast, Helena took me to Plodda falls next. This is the highest falls in the area. We discussed the various trails and knowing my mobility issue, she chose the shortest trail that would allow me to see the falls with the least walking effort. It still wasn’t a short or easy walk though.

Returning back to the car park after we went on this short trail, we stopped by a stream and relaxed for a while simply chatting and taking in the fresh air of the forest.

It’s been years since this visit but we still keep in touch. I was happy to hear of the birth of their grandchildren in the years that have followed – one of whom actually shares my birthday, so I am not going to forget him.

I am not sure if I would have especially visited Inverness had it not been for Host UK, as I had other Scottish cities and islands on my priority list. I am also very sure that I would not have visited any of the above mentioned places had it not been for my host family actually taking me to the places that they loved and letting me experience them as well.

So I hope the above is of some help to those planning a visit to Scotland in helping plan a travel to Inverness.

A morning walk in Edinburgh

I had planned to have a full weekend in Edinburgh but unfortunately, having missed the train I had booked months in advance, I had to take the coach from London. Buying a train ticket on the day of travel in the UK can be incredibly expensive, as I found out that day. This meant that I spent Saturday on the road, reaching the city only in the evening. I was too tired to go out for one of the Edinburgh jazz and blues festival events taking place around the city that week.

So, my experience of Edinburgh was the early morning walk I took on a Sunday morning in July last year. Given that I was out early, there was hardly anyone on the road and despite the heavily overcast skies and the occasional drizzle, I enjoyed my walk in solitude.

I started at Greyfriars Bobby as I wanted to start my walk from this special place, which happened to be close to where I was staying at Grassmarket. The story of the little Skye terrier who sat guarding his owner John Gray’s grave for 14 years had touched me and I had wanted to visit the little fellow’s grave. I first came across the statue at a water fountain in front of the pub named after the dog. I walked into the church and came across the grave of Bobby at the entrance and quite near the grave of John Gray.


Statue of Greyfriars Bobby


Grave of Greyfriars Bobby at the entrance of the church

I walked over George IV bridge and onto High Street, part of the streets that make up the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. While St. Giles’ Cathedral considered Edinburgh’s principal place of worship for centuries was closed at that time in the morning, I did revisit later in the morning for the choir. The statue of Adam Smith, the pioneer of political economy and the author of the seminal work ‘The Wealth of Nations’, was close to the cathedral.


Statue of Adam Smith, Father of modern Economics


St Giles Cathedral


Along the Royal Mile

At the end of the Royal mile, opposite Holyrood Palace, I came across the new Scottish parliament building inaugurated in 2004.


New Scottish Parliament with Arthur’s Seat in the background

I walked a little bit along the slopes of Holyrood park before I decided to turn back as the paths were becoming more slippery and my legs were beginning to protest.


View, from Holyrood Park, of Holyrood palace and Colton Hill in the distance

I decided to walk back along Cowgate road, which was the street along which cattle were herded along during market days in medieval times. It was along this stretch of road that I passed this narrow street called Old Fishmarket Close. I had read about the interesting story of Maggie Dickson, a famous resident of this close, in the Scotland Magazine. Maggie was a fish hawker who had lived on this street. She had been tried in 1742 under the absurd Concealment of Pregnancy Act of 1690, for having tried to conceal her pregnancy, and sentenced to death. Though the doctor declared her dead after her hanging, moans were heard from her coffin as she was taken to the graveyard. She was allowed to live as her recovery was seen as an act of God.


Old Fish Market Close

Later in the morning, after breakfast, I decided to head towards the Scottish National Gallery and browsed through the collection. While I was enjoying my coffee on the terrace after finishing my tour of the gallery, I noticed that the monument to Sir Walter Scott was just close by. So, I walked up to the Gothic structure. I think I climbed up to the third level but not all 287 steps to the top and fourth level, as my fear of heights was beginning to kick in.


Edinburgh Castle


View from Scottish National Gallery


Scott Monument


View of National Gallery from the Scott Monument

I  had also wanted to visit the Scottish Storytelling Center, which had caught my eye, during my earlier morning walk. The bookshop of the center was open and I enjoyed going through the Scottish themed books. The Storytelling Center is an arts venue, which also hosts the International Storytelling Festival in October.

All too soon it was time for me to head towards Edinburgh Waverly Station for my return trip to London and not wanting to miss my train again, I made it to the station with lots of time to spare.

Hope you enjoyed the morning walk around Edinburgh with me!

Have you visited Edinburgh? What was your favourite experience of the city?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and City Tripping #50]
Wanderful Wednesday