Trails and trials of the writer who walks
I’d booked two nights at the youth hostel at Inverness so that I could have a day exploring, seeing as I’d travelled all that way. Inverness is the capital of the Highlands and one of Scotland’s seven cities although you don’t really get a sense of ‘old’ from its commercial centre (except my own reflection in shop windows that is). The River Ness is broad (‘inver’ means river mouth in Gaelic) and its waters were in an angry rush to get to the sea.I followed a short walk called the Ness Islands Walk which took me over a series of footbridges that link small islands from one bank to the other. On the other bank I skirted Queens Park and was already wet and cold enough to justify diving into Cobbs Café for a pot of tea and an ‘oatie cream’. Then I came across the great Caledonian Canal for the first time (although I got quite fed up with it later in the walk!). Down my way, canals are narrow for narrow boats. You could have sailed a cruise ship down this one. It’s like the Scottish Suez. I was lucky to see the A82 split asunder and swing sideways to make way for the boat in my photo.
I’m a paid-up Camra member, so always take an interest in the real ale on offer wherever I am. Today’s hidden gem (not all that hidden actually, on Academy Street) was the Blackfriars Highland pub. The pump sporting an Orkneys Brewery label immediately drew my interest: 4.7% Blizzard. Mmmm, one of my favourites. On the next pump was a Claverhouse Red Ale, from Strathmore Brewery. Trying to avoid all the tastin note clichés, I made a conscious effort to clear my tastebuds (difficult), blank my mind (not difficult), and grab the flavour of the first moment. Asparagus. It was lightly earthy in a healthy veg kind of way, not that swampy, boggarty aftertaste you sometimes get.
Is it just me that stands in ladies loos with my hands under the towel dispenser waiting for it to come on?
If you have yet to sample the delights of youth hostels (entirely populated by silver-tops outside school holidays), don’t delay. Here I am in the centre of Inverness for £15 a night, dinging my Morrisons Ready Meal in the Self-Catering Kitchen, chatting with two other solo silver-tops, opening a bottle of YHA house red (£9.95), and catching up with the news in the TV lounge. It’s all so delightfully informal and relaxing. And when I asked the lovely young receptionist where the Black Isle Brewery was, she Googled it for me and printed out a map.
Tomorrow my great walk of the Great Glen begins for real.