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Healing Highlands

A Soul-Healing Voyage to the Highlands
by Terry Cochran

2001 was a terrible year for me and my family and that’s an understatement. My husband Greg, was told he was terminally ill with throat cancer and he lost his battle on August 30. Then, Sept. 11th happened and none of us will ever be the same (incidentally, that date would have been Greg’s 45th birthday). I also lost 9 friends at the Pentagon in a split second. Then, Oct. 19th, I was informed I was laid off of my job of nearly 15 years. That was too much for me to take. This lady packed up and headed for the wild Highlands of Scotland to heal a terribly wounded soul. Yes, I went by myself.

I landed in Manchester, England and drove up to Carrbridge, near Aviemore. There I was hosted by Andrew Kirk of the Cairn Hotel. It’s a nice, cozy place and Andrew is an absolute dear. I’d recommend it (shared bathroom, but very clean and good food). A piper by the name of Spud Fraser came by while I ate dinner and piped for us all! Carrbridge, or Drochit Carra in Gaelic, was once the only way to cross the Dulnain!

Then, curiosity got me and with the help of a Scottish Tourist Board map, I went down to Bruar House off the A9 and took a long walk in the woods, then on to Blair Castle; quite a beauty it is, too. Extensive gardens and peacocks greet you there!

After leaving Carrbridge on the third day, I went in search of my mother’s ancestral town of Farr. It’s in a remote area, but I found it near the East side of Loch Ness not far from Loch Duntelchaig! I also found ancestors buried at the Dunlichity kirkyard; Farrs, Frasers, McKenzies to name a few! So, I’ve now filled in dates in my genealogical charts and at the only church in town, located the Farrs who came to America during the Clearances and settled with the Cherokee in the NC Appalachian Mountains.

I headed up the A862 across the Caledonian Canal through Inverness at the top of Loch Ness, which skirts the Beauly Firth to the seat of the Frasers of Lovat; the town of Beauly. Mary, Queen of Scots once remarked that the town was "beau" or beautiful. The name stuck. I stayed at the Priory Hotel, named for the famous Beauly Priory (a ruin of a centuries old church that has the tomb of Sir Kenneth McKenzie of Kintail there).

The owner of the Priory Hotel was wonderful. He treated me to a pint of Guinness one evening, introduced me around and gave lots of moral support. He pointed the way to a good place to heal the soul – anywhere around Kiltarlity to Eskadale to Kirkhill would do nicely! Besides, my Fraser ancestors lived in those towns, so there’s family everywhere. He was right. After exploring the town of Beauly, I went out into the countryside down one-lane roads still lined with blooming heather, rose bushes with ripe rosehips, blackberries still in fruit, and harebell in bloom. I drove and walked miles through woods, by breathtaking waterfalls and streams. I looked across emerald green fields dotted with sheep and Hieland Coos (Highland Cows). The remoteness of the Highlands gave me the solitude I needed to weep, scream, think, and heal. By the way, in the Highlands, most crime is relatively unknown, so as a woman alone out there, I was perfectly safe. It helped immensely and the "want" ads I found on my bed to help with the job search was a nice gesture. The food at the Priory was excellent, whether dining in the restaurant or in the eatery by the pub!

The next day, I decided to backtrack a bit down the A9 to Culloden Moor, which is in the city limits of Inverness, and just stop anywhere else that looked interesting. I stopped first at the Tomatin Distillery and took the tour (one must do at least one whisky tour!). I must say I am a Scotch drinker, so brought back a lot of it with me to the states! Then, stood and just marveled at the Findhorn River for a bit. It winds lazily along the flat fields into the Monadliath Mountains and is just breathtaking.

I drove back up the A9 to the Culloden exit, and visited the stark, boggy moor where the last of the Highland clans fell in April 1746. Though the Ross clan didn’t participate officially, I did see the stone of my father’s clan, Fraser. Someone had placed flowers on the stone that stands where many Frasers are buried in a common grave. It’s still well mounded and that stunned me. I am fortunate to be here, as I’m descended from one of these warriors who survived to escape with his family into France after hiding a long time, then making a run for it. Everyone of Scottish ancestry should visit and learn.

Nearby Culloden, just up the street in fact, and down a little road, is the famous Clava Cairns; ominous looking burial mounds from Celtic Pagan days, with standing stones!

Further on up the road toward Nairn is Cawdor Castle. It’s in a quaint storybook town, and the castle itself was closed, but the tiny shops and their keepers were wonderful hosts. I had passed Kilaverock Castle on the way and stopped while returning to Inverness. They don’t ordinarily host the public, but will invite you to high tea if you arrive at the right time! An acquaintance of mine lives there and I missed seeing him, but did meet his mum! Nice hospitality, beautiful gardens, lovely home! Thanks!

The next day was spent exploring Beauly some more. I love their village sprite topiary made of ivy! Highland arts & crafts are to be found at the Made in Scotland store in town. From jewelry to woven goods, pottery to books and foods – it’s worth the stop.

This was in October and although there had been some rain off and on, the sunshine was more abundant. However, the day I decided to go on down the scenic road along the West shore of Loch Ness down to Urquehart Castle (the scenic one most people see on post cards), it rained quite a bit. Well, Loch Ness and the castle looked all the more spooky. I spent a cold rainy afternoon in Dromnadrochit. I recommend driving the scenic road that goes from Dromnadrochit off to Milton, Balnain, Corrimony Cairns and Cannich. It’s the wild Highlands at their best with so many Kodak moments, you can’t count them!

A trip to the Highlands of Scotland isn’t complete until you’ve visited its capital, Inverness. After several days of being in rural areas, the traffic in Inverness actually rattled me! I drive in Atlanta, GA every day and that was a strange feeling. It’s hard to find a decent parking space in Inverness, so I parked in a garage near the bus station and decided to walk about the town. There were several nice shops, the city cathedral and the Inverness Castle Garrison, built by the conquering English after the ’45. The castle has only one small part that is a museum the public can visit. The rest of it is now a courthouse it appears. The people in the museum have a Garrison exhibit show that’s well worth the time to see. The castle even has its own label miniature scotch!

Enough of the city for me! Off I went up the A9 to the Black Isle toward Dingwall. The town of Tain was the next stop as it’s the seat of Clan Ross. It’s a sleepy town along the Cromarty Firth. Parking is easy and a stroll through the town is what I decided to take. The October air was very crisp, but not too cold, the sun was out and reflecting on the water. I found the Tain museum that is in the kirkyard of the Pilgrimage. Their exhibit is Tain Through Time, their staff is extremely helpful and friendly. The town appears to be very much as it was hundreds of years ago and is fun to explore. I wanted to get to see the hereditary castle of Clan Ross, Balnagowan, but Mohammed Fayed owns it and it’s closed to the public. The fine lady at the Tain museum told me the best place to get a good picture of it, though! It’s huge, with hardwood trees and ferns all around it! Did I mention the police in Tain are really nice? I met one who not only showed me a good parking place, but showed me the best Tandoori restaurant in the area!

With daylight fading, I went on up the A9 further to Dornoch. I’d heard that the castle there was worth seeing and the visitor center was excellent. Yes, on all counts! Dornoch was a surprise! Those thrifty Scots have made it into a hotel and jail!

On the way back to Beauly, I took a side road to go back through the Victorian spa village of Strathpeffer. The Victorian homes, shoppes, and spa hotels can’t be beat. I made a note to visit it again! There’s a tribute to Queen Victoria in the square.

With only two days left in Scotland, I had to finally begin the drive back toward Glasgow. It was leisurely with a drive along the East side of Loch Ness. It was sad to leave the Western Highlands and Beauly. It feels so much like home and the people are so nice. Just like our Southern Hospitality (where do you think I originated?). If you are driving down just south of Inverness on the Ness Bank, make sure you stop at Pringle Mills to see how tartan patterns are registered and made. They’ve got a huge tartan shop there worth seeing. The drive down the length of Loch Ness was peaceful and I had a feeling that things would be better for me, stress was somewhat relieved, and a feeling the best would be coming. I saw the sign for Foyers and had been told how beautiful the falls there are – that the woodland walk to them is worth the effort. The walk is out of a fairy tale in beauty and the falls are so big, I could stand on the cliff’s edge and feel the mist of it on my face. The National Trust of Scotland (or someone) has done the best job of preserving nature I’ve ever seen.

I stopped for a bite to eat in Fort Augustus and saw the Clansman Centre there. It is a 17th Century museum, Celtic craft shop and Scottish armoury. There, I met Jon Gibson wearing the great kilt in 17th Century fashion! I speak Gaelic, so called the kilt by its Gaelic name and told him he’d fit in with my crowd in the USA (I own a business at the GA Renaissance Festival and do other Medieval and Renaissance fairs). He was startled and we got acquainted. After emails back and forth, it now appears he’s convinced to bring his show to the USA! With his humor, looks and talent, he’ll be a hit! See his website at I took a picture of Ft. Augustus and the Loch Ness boat just outside of the Clansman Centre. You never know when you’ll meet a friend!

Jon told me the best way to get to my hotel in a remote place called Kinloch Rannoch. I drove by Loch Laggan, Loch Lochy, Invergarry and came back out on the A9 at the Dalwhinnie distillery. Only an exit or two later, I got off toward Trinafour and Kinloch Rannoch. I stayed at the Dunalastair Hotel, recommended by a friend. The hotel was built in the 1700’s by English soldiers and has always been a hotel! There are antiques and pictures of the area from long ago on the walls. Dinner is elegant in my book, but not too formal to be stuffy. Excellent food! The room was small, cozy, and had ensuite bathroom. It was there another friend who lives on the Isle of Lewis caught up with me by phone. He’d been trying to catch up with me all along, but I moved too fast for him! We never did get together to tour, but did speak at least. By the way, the owner of the Dunalastair is interesting to talk to. The lounge is so very comfortable and guests can sit, talk over a pint, and get to know each other! If you go there, ask the owner to show you the costumes from the movie Rob Roy! They’re on the upper landing just up the stairs.

I explored the town of Kinloch Rannoch while there was daylight and until I looked around, didn’t know this was where the mountain Shehallion is located! There are mountains and water everywhere it seems!

Well, Sunday came and my plane would leave early Monday morning. I took good look around Kinloch Rannoch, the stark Rannoch Moorland (incidently, the end of the road is there; can’t get further toward Glencoe by car), and headed back out toward the A9. Jon Gibson had told me not to miss the Queen’s View. I didn’t. If there’s one place to see, go to the Queen’s View. You stand and look across I think 4 lochs through Rannoch to the famous Pass of Glencoe and the land of Clans McGregor and McDonald. It quite literally takes the breath away to stand there and look across the lochs to the bluish mountains. Being a Southerner, I realize so well why the Scots in America settled in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains so often; they look similar!

My thanks to Alastair McIntyre for hosting me at his home in Grangemouth and helping me with ideas to make an income. He really thinks on his feet! I drove with good directions from Grangemouth to Glasgow, barely slept 3 hours, then had to get to the airport to catch my early flight. The flying is the most exhausting part, I think.

Alastair, you’ve been so supportive (and still are), I don’t know how to thank you enough. My thanks also go out to Andrew Kirk, Andrew Fraser, Paul Fraser, Jon Gibson, Jamie McDonald, and Paul (I think) the owner of the Dunalastair. Thanks to my very supportive American family, Clan Fraser and Clan Ross. I especially thank my guardian angel who kept tabs on me via phone and email even from Africa to make sure I was ok and emotionally boosted; Leigh.

What’s going on now? Well, we had that heather gift special from my company for Electric Scotland members and that went well. I’m so glad many of you enjoyed it! Thanks also for the orders; they got me through Christmas, literally. I’m still looking for full time work, but finding none of it; even in the security field! So, I’m doing what consulting jobs I can find doing risk assessments, investigations, security/safety training, due diligence, etc. It’s been 5 months since the loss of my husband and there have been bad days and good days emotionally. I’m starting to pull out of the "fog" more each day and am fighting back with true Scot spirit (I’ve been told). The trip to the Highlands went a long way toward healing me emotionally and spiritually. I debated going after 9/11, but felt I’d be safest in Scotland (it’s already been pre-terrorized, but we won’t pick too much on the English) and that was true. I’ve been through fire, and will make it fine!

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