Destination of my first student-organized trip: Inverness, Scotland and nearby Loch Ness. After a nine hour train ride 8 of us arrived in the thoroughly Scottish city on the mouth of the River Ness by the North Sea. By the time we arrived it was time for dinner (haggis!) and a visit to a few local pubs before Saturday, our only full day in the area.
Early Saturday morning I set out with a friend and the goal of finding the nearby Culloden Battlefield. I hadn’t really done any research on ‘how’ to get there; all I knew was that it was too far from the city to walk to. I started by asking the student hostel staff how most tourists get to the battlefield. They told me City Bus 5 was the one I wanted, and they said it departed from the Inverness city center. I borrowed a bus schedule from the hostel too, and sure enough Bus 5’s route had “Culloden” marked on it. I boarded Bus 5 and watched the city roll away as we headed into the countryside. However, judging by the one road sign I saw for Culloden Battlefield, Bus 5 was not the correct route. So, after a conversation with a very friendly driver I was instructed to get off, board Bus 2, and then get on Bus 3 which would take me where I wanted to go. Sure enough, I was able to follow these directions with a little help from the driver of Bus 2. However, in the instructions nothing was included about which direction to take Bus 3 in. I took a guess and loaded the next Bus 3 that came through.
Unfortunately, it was headed back to the city. This driver wasn’t as friendly, so at the end of the route I hopped off, walked back to the city center, and caught the next Bus 3. Once again, it bypassed the turn I needed. Even worse, the rest of the route was rolling through hills, towns, and along the coasts of the sea in such a twisted route I couldn’t tell how close I was to the battlefield. So, as the bus turned towards the city again I decided to get off and just walk around the area.
Although I never made it to my goal, I walked through the beautiful Culloden Forest, a place I would have never seen if my day went according to plan. I was on top of hills overlooking the North Sea and the city, so I had great views of the surrounding glen. Also, when time began to run short and I needed to get back to the city I walked through picturesque residential streets that I would not have seen otherwise. I continued until I found a bus stop heading back into Inverness. This stop was fairly close to the sign post directing tourists to the battlefield. At that point I was probably as close to my original destination as I ever was… and I was still 4 miles away!
Upon getting back into the city, I went to the bus station to pick up our ride for the Loss Ness tour. However, I went a little early to find which bus I should have taken that morning. As it turns out, Culloden is actually a nearby town, so numerous buses stop there. The answer: Bus 3 was correct, but only at specific times during the day. I hadn’t been able to board one of the few buses in that direction, and there were none left that I could take before going back to Cambridge.
Although I’m not likely to go as far north as Inverness again, and will likely not have a chance to see Culloden Battlefield, my unplanned adventure was still the highlight of the trip. I had a chance to see things I never would have had a chance to see otherwise. Also, I learned a lot about how to plan for trips. In the States, I can afford to be impulsive because I have a car, and therefore I can transport myself anywhere so long as my navigation skills and patience hold out. However, when relying on public transportation planning ahead is very important. The tour bus/boat trip we took to Loch Ness (unfortunately, no monster) and Urquhart Castle was very touristy, but having someone else plan everything for us was the best way to see the attractions. At the same time, allowing for spontaneity is the best way to create great experiences and memories to take with you.
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