Hamish MacChristmas – a Week in Scotland

 This was my second winter christmas; the first being about 14 years ago when I spent a wonderful white Christmas in Germany. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any snow this year, but we still had an amazing time!

The journey started at midnight on the friday before Christmas. Some friends and I met in a big London car park and all piled into a huge 15 seater van and began the long journey up north to Inverness, Scotland. Well apparently it was long, I managed to sleep practically the entire way!

We had booked a rather spectacular house to stay  in over the week. Craigwood Manor, we called it. I was particularly excited about the size of the dining table!

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For the first night, a few of us did the grocery shopping and I made a light meal of greek salad and haloumi for everyone, before we all crashed!

After driving so far the day before, on Sunday we did a short trip to the site of the Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising in 1745. It was the last pitched battle to take place on British soil. There was a superb museum on site, very well laid out with excellent information to read and things to interact with. We walked outside to the actual battle ground, where there are some marked graves, but we didn’t complete the walk because it was so icy cold!

Battlefield of Culloden

Battlefield of Culloden

The following day we visited the famous Loch Ness and the ruined Urquhart castle. Again, another fantastic visitor centre that shows the interesting history of the castle. Initially I was wondering why they would bother guarding a lake, but once I realised that they used waterways like we use roads, I understood. Loch Ness is very long, much like a motorway! The reason the castle is in ruins is because it was purposely destroyed to keep it out of Jacobite hands, and then fell into decay.
It was another cold day, threatening to snow on us but not quite making it. We could see snow on the hills behind the castle, making a spectacular view.

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On the way back we stopped for a quick pub lunch, where we all shared a Scottish favourite – deep-fried cheese. The Scottish do like to deep fry things, and we can thank them for fried chicken! It is believed that fried chicken was brought to America by the early Scottish immigrants who settled in the South. The Scots had a tradition of frying their chicken in fat (rather than bake it like the English), but they often used old tough birds and coated them in plain flour. It probably didn’t taste very nice! African slaves who became cooks helped with this by adding numerous delicious spices.

Deep fried Camembert

Deep fried Camembert

The following day was Christmas Eve, and a very windy day at that! Hayley and I went for a walk into Inverness town, and we nearly got swept into the river by a gust of wind. We went to look at the Inverness castle made from striking red sandstone, lying on the bank of River Ness. It is now the High Court and council offices so we couldn’t go inside. We did some last-minute shopping before Christmas, then spent a stormy evening inside drinking home-made eggnog and playing games. For dinner, Hayley made a Scottish meal of Haggis, Neeps & Tatties (or Haggis with turnip and potatoes to those who speak English). I made a brandy and cream mushroom sauce to go along with it. On first glance Haggis seems like it could be primal; made with offal and spices. However it has a high content of oats in it. I don’t like the idea of haggis, but it has a fantastic nutty texture and a great flavour.

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Christmas Day!! We started with some champagne cocktails and a big frittata for the gang, then opened our presents in the christmas stockings.

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Afterwards, we began to prep all the vegetables for the roast dinner while Alex got the turkey ready. It had been sitting in brine overnight, made with fresh herbs and wine, so today he dried it, slathered it with butter and wrapped it in bacon. Yum! I prepared the vegetables; honey and balsamic roasted parsnips and carrots, cheesy broccoli and cauliflower, creamy mashed potatoes, crispy roasted potatoes, roasted pumpkin, sweet potato, onions and garlic. Phew! I also made a Scottish themed stuffing; leftover haggis and whisky with bacon stuffing, as well as nearly two litres of gravy. After this feast, Lydia made a gorgeous Pavlova, and I did a sticky toffee pudding. Needless to say, we were pretty stuffed after our christmas meal!

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On boxing day, we decided to do a trip up north, to the north-eastern tip of Scotland – John O’Groats. It was a beautiful drive, along the coast most of the way in some gorgeous weather. As it was boxing day, not much was open but that didn’t matter.

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There is not much to the little town of John O’Groats; a few houses, one hotel, and signpost pointing out how far away you are from anything. We looked over some striking cliffs during sunset (2pm!) before heading back home.

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 Our final day in Inverness we spent doing a self-guided walking tour, which ended in an incredible old church-turned-bookstore and cafe. We browsed the old paintings and second-hand books for a while, before we went to the Inverness local museum and art gallery.

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It was really fascinating to learn about the history of Scotland; for example, it used to be completely separate from England, and attached instead to North America and Greenland. There was an ocean called the Iapetus that existed between Scotland and England. When they began to collide it was known as the Caledonian mountain-building event. It formed a mountain range possibly even bigger than the Himalayas, known as the Caledonian Mountains. The remains of this mountain range stretch from Norway to the Appalachian Mountains of North America! Who knew?! The glaciers from the ice age are what carved out Scotland’s hundreds of lochs, with Loch Ness being the biggest. We were very close to the River Ness, which flowed from the lake to the sea. The river had very high water levels while we were there.

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The next day was our last, and we started the journey back very early in the morning. Even so, Alex and I arrived back in Brighton at midnight! All that travel was worth it though :)