Landmark is an outdoor adventure park, and had come highly recommended by older sister and her children as simply the place to go and visit in the Aviemore area. It started off well, we were amongst the first into Landmark which was all bedecked for Halloween and decided to go on the red squirrel nature walk. We instantly realised the place had been oversold to us - the 'really big and long' walk was less than a kilometre long. Missy was on point for the whole trek round and, when we did spot the red tail of a squirrel, she was thankfully behind a screen and unable to see it, despite clearly being able to smell it.
We took turns (no dogs indoors, although she was permitted in the big marquee beside he restaurant, so we were able to eat under cover) and did the little puzzle and optical illusions house, the butterfly and bird house and also the small roller-coaster and one of the water slides. There were loads of dogs accompanying their families and we took to opportunity to chat to some of them. By that point two coach trips of kids had turned up and the place was rammed with families and a further visit around the squirrel viewing walk showed that the glimpse of the tail was the best we were going to get as kids ran around screaming at each other (which I have no problem of children doing, but red squirrels are notoriously skittish, and will only be seen in absolute silence).
Impostor syndrome had hit hard and we decided that it was most definitely the kind of place kids would have a great time at, but I couldn't justify to myself waiting in a very long queue to have a shot on something when I was surrounded by masses of kids desperate to get on too. We decided to consider the experience as worth doing, but only to repeat when able to borrow some of my nieces and nephews!
The day took a downturn after that. Deciding that Missy would appreciate some peace and quiet, we decided on getting another Historic Scotland site out the way and visit Clava Cairns. Its one of the free sites that you just turn up at and, so long as everybody respects the rules, they are generally nice little sites. We'd got out the car and waited for another to park before making our way to the gate. No sooner had my hand touched the gate when the door of the car we'd waited to park popped open and, engine idling and finger wagging, some middle aged man started shouting at us that dogs weren't allowed in.
My temper gets the better of me in these situations and I invariably say something I shouldn't. I simply snapped back that the sign clearly stated dogs were permitted on leads and we recieved another tirade of abuse that is was a sacred site, the place was covered in dog muck (I barked back that I am a responsible owner and pick up after my dog) and he continued over me that dogs simply werent allowed and he knew 'the rules'.
My husband is far better in these situations. Calm as can be, he simply asked 'do you work here? Are you a groundskeeper?' and at the following response of 'what? No.' the hubby simply walked through the gate and we left the ghastly man behind. It was a lovely site but we took no enjoyment as Mr I-know-the-rules was stomping about the place also, clearly waiting for Missy to do something inappropriate like sniff a rock. Out of the safety of his idling car, he made no movement towards us again, but by that point the whole thing was rather ruined for us. The hubby told me off for trying to get Missy to pee on the mans car as we left and tried to figure out what to do with the day.
Stopping at the local shops to stock up on some ice cream and purchase a new Halloween costume for Missy, we decided to explore the site about the lodge we were staying at. We had been told there was a lake and weren't disappointed when we found the patch of water nestled in the trees. It was completely flat and still and, with the autumn colours in the trees, absolutely beautiful. Upon returning to our lodge, we tucked into the ice cream and made a bullet proof plan for our final day before playing some board games.
It was time to hunt down Nessie on the Jacobite Loch Ness cruise. The weather was to stay dry but it was one of those formidable days that threatens at rain with dark skies and banks of low lying cloud. Perfect for hunting monsters.
|A promising start on the hunt!|
The boat ride was dog friendly and the staff were more than happy to Missy come aboard. She made friends with an american tourist who was missing her dog and a couple from somewhere European and they simply insisted on cuddling and patting her. Deciding that the world was back in alignment and that things were how they should be, we settled down for the hour long ride and enjoyed the commentary about the history of the Loch and the lore of the monster.
|A formidable landscape|
After being told that Columbus had banished Nessie in 500AD, and how Nessie reappeared throughout the middle ages and through modern times, it was quite understandable to reason how such a stark landscape and vast body of water could spark imaginations and tales of monsters. Despite low cloud and dark skies, it was pleasant for Autumn as we rode on the top of the boat and discussed with the other tourists about how the highlands truly were the best landscape to be seen in the world.
The boat sailed to and around Urquhart Castle. Some people got off here to visit the castle and those from the earlier tour joined us. The site does not permit dogs and the reason is simple, in peak season 2000 people can visit the site per day, so its simply too busy and dangerous to allow them. Urquhart Castle was our plan for the day after sailing so, after discovering all the loch side walks flooded, we walked Missy in the woodland above the loch for an hour before heading over. Leaving Missy with food, water and a blanket in case it got chilly, we headed inside and explored the infamous site.
|That's not the jetty, that's meant to be a courtyard|
Urquhart has a long history, originally being the site of a pictish settlement before becoming the now-ruined castle it is today. With a full sized trebuchet upon entering the site, it certainly has lots to see and we explored the tower and the citadel whilst quoting Knightmare and filling in our kids quiz. The visitors centre was full of artifacts that had been found in the area and a ten minute film condensed more than a thousand years of history and explained how the castle had swapped hands and sides before being blown up by its very owners to stop it getting into Jacobite hands.
We returned to Missy and drove to the nearest village of Drumnadrochit to try and find a late lunch. Nowhere was dog friendly and also serving food, so we found a cafe with outdoor seating and laughed as we were one of six outdoor tables occupied by dog parents. Missy was treated to a buffalo ear as we had lunch before we popped into the information centre and enquired about local walks. A forest walk was indicated to us and we were soon trekking up an enormous hill through woodland. Missy ran about looking for squirrels and rabbits, all of whom were wisely out the way and we made it back to the car just as the weather broke.
And the weather certainly broke. With Storm Calum attacking Ireland, we had weather warnings for rain through the night and on our return trip. Deciding it wisest to just head home, we didnt have any outlandish stops but treated Missy to one of her favourite local walks upon arriving home.
And that was it! Why do holidays always pass so quickly? We've earmarked the highlands for another return visit, so it certainly wont be Missys last attempt at trying to find Nessie!