As spring is approaching, slowly but steadily, it’s the best time to plan your first weekend trips. If you live in Scotland or by chance you will be in the Highlands soon, the first sunny days are a perfect excuse to visit the dolphins of Chanonry Point!
Chanonry Point, also known as Gob na Cananaich in Scottish Gaelic, is a spit not far away from Fortrose, quite near Inverness. The place is famous for frequent visits of sea fauna, including above all bottlenose dolphins, seals and porpoises, and a whole lot of different bird species. The views are best in the summer and during the salmon migrations, as the dolphins and other creatures have plenty of food and are willing to chase it spectacularly to the delight of crowds watching them. They are the main attraction and the whole place revolves around them. The University of Aberdeen has an important research spot there, and regular research is carried out in collaboration with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, which also operates the Scottish Dolphin Centre at the mouth of the River Spey and the Dolphin and Seal Centre near North Kessock. If you want to admire the dolphins off shore, there are several companies that will take you on a cruise. There is even a Dolphin Space Programme – members of this scheme are obliged to ensure they do not disturb the creatures, so if you care about the dolphins’ peace, it’s better to go with a company who is a partner of the programme. Before you go, also ensure you check the tide details – the best ones are quite low, but with a bigger difference between the lowest and the highest point. Those details can be verified at the research spots, and there is of course a gossip network during the summertime.
The dolphins are charming animals, but there are many more attractions in the neighborhood! This is especially the case for those who enjoy military and historical pursuis. Just across the Chanonry Point you’ll find Fort George – one of the mightiest artillery fortifications in Britain and Europe. Visiting the Fort is an outstanding chance to learn about 18th century weapons. Fort George was designed to be impregnable, and was built to prevent Jacobean unrest – which never came. Nevertheless, the Fort is still used by the army, and visitors are also welcomed. They say that you can see the dolphins from the ramparts and that the view is amazing!
Speaking of Jacobean unrest – Culloden Battlefield is also nearby. The Battle of Culloden was the biggest one during the Jacobite rising, and took place 16 April 1746. The Jacobean defeat was the end of dreams to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British Throne, with around 2000 Jacobean fatalities. Today, there is a tourist centre nearby, and there’s an exciting award-winning interactive exhibition to enable you to enter the 18th century battle atmosphere and tactics. The place has also a souvenir shop and a restaurant.
If you haven’t had enough of fortifications, we encourage you to visit Cawdor Castle – built by clan Calder (the original spelling of Cawdor) in the 14th century, and passed to the Campbells in the 16th century. The castle is associated with Macbeth – the title character is the Thane of Cawdor – although the castle itself was built around 300 years later. The castle is probably best known for its famous gardens – planted in the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s also a legend – the castle is said to be built around a horn tree, later classified as a holly, which can be seen up to this day in the castle’s dungeons. For the amateur aficionado of sophisticated sports – there’s also a golf course nearby. If you want to visit the castle do remember that it’s inhabited (the late Thane of Cawdor’s widow is the current owner and resident for part of the year) and the castle is only opened for visitors from May 1st till October 4th each year.
For those who value calm and sea breezes more than battlefields and forts – there’s the Chanonry Point Lighthouse. Built in the 19th century, it was designed as a one man facility, but now it’s operated automatically through Northern Lighthouse Board’s offices in Edinburgh. The tower is 13 meters high, and is one of the best places to observe the dolphins playing. There’s also another feature – the keeper’s cottages built in the Egyptian style, as preferred by the designer, Alan Stevenson, at that time.
Chanonry Point and its surroundings have every trait of a perfect weekend destination if you’re looking for a fine Highland trip. The attractions are easy to get to due to the proximity of Inverness, and buses and coaches operate often. The trip to see the dolphins is definitely high on our list of places to visit in 2015!