Category Archives: Scotland

Inverness & The Clan Gathering 2014

Day two of our UK summer adventure started off with a jolt. We woke late with the Parliament due to begin in 10 minutes downtown at the Town Hall.  John raced out the door, but no good can become of a day without coffee, so I set off to explore Inverness a little more slowly along the way. Downtown Inverness seems to have changed drastically over the 7 years since our last visit, with much more expansive shopping, dining, and many coffee houses. I picked up a couple semi-skim lattes before joining the clan. I was immediately impressed to find most people wearing their tartans, whether it was a full out kilt, vest and jacket, or tartan dress, skirt or scarves for the women.

Clan MacLennan Leadership

Clan MacLennan Leadership

Our clan chief is Ruairidh MacLennan, Scotland’s youngest. Over the next hour or so, Ruairidh worked his way through the parliament agenda discussing the MacLennan museum, future gatherings, and made well-deserved leadership appointments for Canada and Australia. There was a presentation from the clan genealogist regarding the new clan database and DNA testing. The parliament last met in 2009 but it was decided the next gathering will be in four years in 2018 to coincide again with the Commonwealth Games which attracts a lot of people to Scotland for Homecoming.

Alex Graham, the Provost of Inverness (Mayor) then welcomed and addressed the clan first in Gaelic, and then in English. He most generously offered an expansive buffet lunch his staff had prepared and set out in the council board room for us.17 townhouse

The Town Hall Inverness is a gorgeous 16 Town househistorical building with many plaques, paintings, flags and memorabilia that interest history and genealogy buffs such as us.

In 2007, we had been walking past the Town and came upon a children’s performance when we went inside to look at the WWI and WWII plaques. We enjoyed their dancing, piping and singing and their families welcomed us to their coffee and cookies social hour afterwards. The Town Hall always reminds me of the friendly folk of Inverness.

After lunch there were to be the mini Highland games in the Northern Meeting park. As it was starting to rain lightly, we decided to explore downtown and shop for John’s sporran, which was needed to complete his formal attire for the formal clan dinner.

3 the old high church



4 old high church





We stopped in the churchyard of the Old High Church to peruse the headstones, before making our way down through the raindrops to Leakey’s Secondhand Bookshop and Cafe. 4 LeakeysWe follow Leakey’s on Facebook and are treated to the day’s soup and sandwich menu from 3,600 miles away. I had been craving a bowl of their hearty soup with “a chunk of crusty bread or oatcakes” for over a month, but was no longer hungry after the Provost’s luncheon. Leakey’s occupies a former church and is warmed by a wood burning stove next to the cash register station. The second floor cafe and print selection are accessed by a metal circular staircase.5 Leakeys 15 Leakeys6 Leakeys latteWe enjoyed looking down on the stacks and stacks of books while enjoying perfected steamed lattes and sharing a piece of pecan shortbread tart. It was unusual to see all those books in one place as we usually read on our iPads. Even when we go to the library to enjoy the reading room, we have not seen the massive amount of books that Leakey’s has on their shelves. It was very cosy and I can imagine spending another rainy afternoon by the warmth of the wood stove skimming through the stacks. We did find two prints verified over 100 years old, with sketches of the MacLennan and Munro crests, so we scooped them up as souvenirs of Inverness.Munro printMaclennan print

7 the butcher








We continued to explore in the rain and found a wonderful old indoor Victorian Market. Huge black and white historic photos are displayed over many of the shop’s arched doorways. There were some expected touristy shops including one that sold Yankee Candles, a dentist, spice shop, hair salon, and an inviting coffee shop.14 Market

9 Victorian Markey








10 Vic Market

11 Vict Market










Marks & Spencers was close by, so we stocked up on wine and bottled water (travel essentials) and shopped around. It’s always fun to see what is on grocery stores shelves in other countries. My grand-cat Max might enjoy the cat milk?

11 Marks & Spencer cat milk 10 Marks & Spencer






The high street around the corner from Marks & Spencer and Eastgate Centre Mall is closed to cars for pedestrians to enjoy. Where we would have teenagers with guitars busking for change, we found delightful bagpipers in full Highland dress – across from McDonald’s…at least it sounds Scottish.

16 bagpipers

16 chisholms

Why can’t’ we have a purple tartan?

The search continued for the elusive sporran as it had to be authentic and created in Inverness. We shopped at Highland House of Fraser and Ben Wyvis, but the windows at Chisholm’s Highland Dress had caught our eye, so we ended our search there.

1 chisholms


Upstairs we found the perfect combination of old world craftsmanship, attention to detail, and with the help of a very knowledgeable and sweet saleslady, we found the perfect pewter silver thistle sporran made in Scotland. What about me you ask?  I did find a brooch for my MacLennan sash with purple amethyst-like stones as a remembrance of Inverness. Lovely.

2 chisholms

fine leather working


The perfect authentic sporran

Chisholm brooch

Made in East Kilbride






Later in the day, a shuttle delivered everyone to the Dores Inn  for pre-dinner drinks and socializing down by the shores of Loch Ness. Clansmen gathered with children, families, and new friends for photos, to raise a glass, and to gaze at the amazing scenery.

Loch Ness 2 Loch Loch 4

After an hour or so, Chief Ruairidh picked up his pipes and called us all to the street to march behind him and his colours to the Dores Parish Hall, where we were to have the traditional ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee).

Chief Loch Ness


John kicking up his man-skirt at the ceilidh

At the hall great room, we quickly found ourselves at the last vacant table and were seated with a fantastic couple, Jane and Dave from the area, and 3 wonderful new friends from Ontario, Marilyn, Leslie, and Kristin.

The catered dinner started with prawns and Scottish salmon appetizer and was delicious as all Scottish salmon usually is. When it came time for the main course, they had run out of food for our table so there was a fair amount of joking and teasing while we waited for the hotel to prepare and deliver the missing meals of stovies (Scottish meat stew) and cranachan, which is literally a huge container of whipped cream, honey, whiskey and fresh raspberries.

Creaky Dores provided music for dancing and our new friend Jane got my husband up on the dance floor to learn a reel. He had been hiding his prowess on the dance floor all these years, so there is definitely dancing in his cards soon! There were raffles for prizes and a very cool bottle of Scottish whiskey with a Clan MacLennan label and games with pitching coins.  A great evening was had by all. Soon it was midnight and time to drive back down the country roads in the moonlight to the Beaufort.

Tomorrow we travel to Eilean Donan Castle.








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MacLennan Scotland Homecoming 2014

Old Man of Storr

Hiking Old Man of Storr – August 2007

The first time that my husband and I traveled to Scotland was in August 2007 to experience Fringe Fest In Edinburgh.  We stayed downtown Edinburgh on the weekends, and Inverness and Isle of Skye on the weekdays. Being a huge Outlander fan, we cycled Culloden and Clava Cairns.  We cruised Loch Ness, visited Eilean Donan Castle, hiked the Old Man of Storr on Skye, and of course tasted some mighty fine whisky. We had a marvelous time exploring for a couple weeks, but did not have specific ancestral information to do a deep dive into my husband’s Scottish roots.

Uruquart castle

We have been members of Chicago Scots for many years. We volunteer at the Highland Games, attend the Robbie Burns dinners and the picnics at the Scottish Home, but until retiring, have not had time for the ancestral research that was necessary to plan a personal journey home to the UK. When we heard that Clan MacLennan was planning a 2014 Clan Gathering to promote our clan and to bring the global family together to celebrate customs and traditions, we decided to participate and make the UK our primary vacation destination in July 2014.

Clan MacLennan offered a jam packed 4 day program of activities which we eagerly signed up for and started counting down the days until we began our the first leg of our vacation in Inverness. Ancestral research flipped into high gear, and day by day planning of our vacation kept us busy finding interesting things to explore in each city we planned to visit over the course of our journey.  We had 17 days including travel time to fit in Inverness, Bristol, Bournemouth and London as our 4 major stops where we would stay multiple days, and walk or drive out from our hotels to explore.

UK Trip 2014

Planned UK Route

3 main courseDue to our aggressive frequent flier mile strategy and some fortuitous planning, our adventure started with a relaxing flight across the pond on United Global First class. We had a delicious meal and a few glasses of wine before stretching out on our lie flat beds with duvet coverlets for a few hours sleep before changing planes in Frankfurt for Edinburgh. (Thank you husband for all your required travel that helps us accumulate miles)

The drive from Edinburgh Airport to the Beaufort Hotel in Inverness took approximately 5 hours.  (New personal planning rule: multiply Mapquest and GPS time estimates by 1.75 in UK.)  The Beaufort was the chosen headquarters for the Clan gathering and we were happy to book a room right in the center of the action. We were given a well furnished, quiet room with double bed and nicely equipped bathroom with strong shower and a towel warmer…a welcome European treat.

Having not eaten during the drive up, we were eager for our dinner reservations at River House restaurant in downtown Inverness. Currently rated #2 of 184 restaurants on Tripadvisor, it is a very charming small restaurant in an old storefront right on the River Ness. 9 River House exteriorThe interior is adorned with floor to ceiling velvet curtains on the windows and front doorway, and the dinner specials are listed on a blackboard. It is a very cozy atmosphere. River House serves locally sourced, seasonal and sustainable meals so I chose a scrumptious grilled filet of sea bass with pancetta risotto, and my husband Prime Scottish sirloin steak Au Poivre with french fries. They had him at frites! A little warm rustic bread, a bottle of French white, and a crème brulee to share…life is good!

River House








By the time we walked back to the Beaufort, the clan meet and greet was over, but we were happy to go to bed early to try to adjust our bodies to the UK time zone.

Stay tuned for more photos and The Clan Gathering.

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Homecoming Scotland 2007

This year we decided to visit the country of John’s MacLennan ancestors…Braveheart & William Wallace. On August 16th we flew business class Luftansa to Edinburgh…a wonderful relaxing start to this 2 week hiking adventure in the mists of Scotland.

Our first day in Edinburgh, we headed up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, which is perched on top of a dormant volcano. We had tickets to the Military Tattoo that first night. There was a huge metal stadium constructed in the front courtyard of the centuries old castle. When night fell, we were huddled together at the very top of the stadium to view a spectacular display of military bands, horses, motorcycles, and fireworks.

There is so much to see in Edinburgh, especially during festival, so we planned to spend both weekends there enjoying the shows, pubs, & street performers.

On our second night we had dinner at The Witchery which is on the Royal Mile on the way to the castle. The Witchery is an elegant restaurant with superb food & wines. We had spent the day exploring all over Edinburgh & were too tired to go back to our B&B to change before our reservation, but it did not faze the staff when we showed up in jeans & raincoats. They were remarkably attentive.

During the week we traveled to Inverness, Loch Ness, Uraquart Castle, Culloden Battlefield, Cawdor Castle, Clava Cairns, William Wallace Memorial, Eilean Donan Castle, Isle of Skye, Dalwhinnie Distillery, and Glasgow.

Boat trip on Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
While staying at the lovely Inverness Marriott resort, we were picked up by Island Cycles and driven out to Culloden Battlefield as a starting point for our day long cycling trip. Island Cycles is a new startup business & the owner was just a great guy to talk to. It was a very reasonable cost, included new bikes, all the gear, pickup and drop off, & when Kathy’s new bike lock was stolen at our first stop, there was no charge. Luckily they didn’t take the bike!

Clava Cairns prehistoric Bronze Age burial ground

Clava Cairns (for those of you who read Diana Gabaldon) was our first stop on our cycling trip through the countryside around Inverness.
Our cycling adventure included a stop at Cawdor Castle, for a tour and a spot of tea.
Historial Peat Cottage at Culloden Battlefield
Our trip ended at the Culloden Battlefield moor where we enjoyed the museum & video reenactment of the battle. We walked around the battlefield and found the MacLennan markers where John’s ancestors were positioned for the last battle on Scottish soil.


We also took a side trip to Stirling to visit the National Wallace Monument. After a hike up to the monument, & then up many cramped stone circular staircases inside, we found ourselves overlooking the scene of Scotland’s victory at The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

The view from the top of the Monument looks out across the countryside towards Ben Lomond, the Trossachs, the River Forth, and the city of Stirling.
After 3 days in Inverness, we moved on to our next destination. We took a scenic drive along many deep & desolate lochs on our way to the Isle of Skye. The skies were overcast & the weather turned wintry.
This was our first stop entering the area on the drive to Eilean Donan castle. By this point John was an amazingly skilled driver, always remembering to stay on the left side of the road, which was easier because a great deal of the time, the road was only wide enough for one car!

Scotland’s most romantic castle
Eilean Donan Castle – MacLennans are Keepers of the Castle

MacLennan Plaque on the 2nd floor of the castle

Portree Harbour on Skye

Viewfield House is still in the family. It is owned & operated by Hugh McDonald, the last heir. One of his ancestors, Flora MacDonald, helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the country after the uprising, with him posing as her personal maid. We stayed at Viewfield two nights & had a delightful time. One particularly cold & rainy afternoon we lounged in the family drawing room, read magazines, & enjoyed tea and scones. One by one, the other guests joined us, all with the same thought in mind. Hugh came in to make a blazing fire & chat with us for awhile. It was a lovely afternoon & a relaxing respite from traipsing through the mist. Later we walked into town for our dinner reservation at the Chandlery Restaurant in the Bosville Hotel. They are known for their skilled chef & wine list, & neither disappointed. The second night we walked around town, stopping in a pub for a drink, & settled on Sea Breezes down by the harbour. We shared a table with another friendly couple down on holiday from London…more wonderful wine & appetizers. Most people associate Scotland with whiskey, but they do import many wonderful wines.

Hiking on Skye – The Old Man of Storr is the highest point on the Trotternish peninsula. We chose this Grade B climb after the young woman in the tourist office suggested we would be interested in a walk in the park near our B&B. Being skilled adventurers, outfitted with new hiking boots & Thorlo socks from REI, we were prepared for any climbing challenge, & it was quite an adventure. The 2-1/2 mile climb 1,000 feet up to the top of the Old Man was extremely wet & windy. After ignoring the safety notice & laboring on, pelting hail/rain threatened to blow us off the top. We are smiling in this photo because we are on our way down…

Fringe Fest Street performers

Royal Yacht HMY Britannia

Our second weekend in Edinburgh we continued to explore the other end of the Royal Mile – Holyrood Palace, more shows at the Gilded Balloon & the Udder Belly. We had tickets to Puppetry of the Penis, an Australian Eagles tribute band, and a group of Canadian women comedians. We also had lunch at a new little restaurant on the way to Holyrood Palace, near The End of the World Pub, called The Wedgewood. We highly recommend this for wine selection & a nouveau French menu.

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