My last day of this trip and my last day in the north of Scotland for 2018. The previous day it had been wet and windy all day and I nearly didn’t walk anywhere at all. In the end, I went ahead with my planned walk, despite the weather.
Today I had a very poor nights sleep. I have moaned about the poor hotel I was staying at before but it certainly didn’t improve as on my last day the fire alarm went off at 2:30am. Waking with a start I was just getting out of bed to find my shoes when it stopped. Obviously a false alarm then, but the problem (well one of them) with this hotel is that every floor board squeaks, there is no sound proofing and every door closes with a loud bang. Of course everyone in the hotel had been woken up, so there then ensued a good hour of banging doors and squeaking floors making it impossible to get back to sleep. I’m not sure if I actually got back to sleep at all after that as a coach tour was also in the hotel and it seemed many of the people on that got up about 5:30am for some reason so it was impossible to sleep after then anyway.
When I did get up at my planned time, feeling very tired I looked out the window to see, as forecast, it was still pouring with rain and windy. I went and had breakfast in the hope the weather would improve (despite not being forecast too). Unsurprisingly, it didn’t. I had to get back to Inverness in the early evening to get a flight back to London Luton so I didn’t especially want to get soaked as I was travelling hand luggage only so would then have to carry a wet bag and clothes around the airport, and change clothes.
After the wet and windy day yesterday I couldn’t get together much enthusiasm for another day of road-walking in the wet and windy weather. I mean I was meant to be doing this for enjoyment and I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it much in those conditions.
I decided to abandon plans for walking. It was perhaps a mistake to come in October. However when I came to plan (and booked) this trip back in January I was very surprised to find the earliest I could get 4 nights anywhere in Ullapool was mid October! Unfortunately at the time it seemed everywhere in the Highlands gets booked up crazy early so I had little choice over dates. This coastal walk, at leas in northern Scotland, does take a lot of planning.
Having decided it wasn’t weather for walking that left me a free day to fill. Unfortunately whilst Ullapool is a nice town it’s a little short on things to do indoors. There isn’t a museum, a theatre, a cinema, for example. There is Tesco I suppose, but that was about it. So I headed to the rack of tourist leaflets in reception on the hunt for somewhere else I would enjoy to go. I grabbed a few and headed back to my room to decide where to go (fortunately this was in the days where you could just turn up at a tourist attraction and be welcomed rather than be expected to have booked in advance and turned away if not, as is the case now).
I found the Highland Wildlife Park of interest (I like animals) but of course much of that would be outside. Although it wasn’t very close to Ullapool it was not that far from Inverness where I’d have to go later to the airport anyway. Checking the weather forecast for that area it was much better. Mostly dry, with just the risk of showers but also some sunshine. Compared with the forecast for Ulllapool (wind and rain all day), it was much better. So I settled on doing that.
I headed down to reception and checked out. I couldn’t really be bothered to complain about the fire alarm. I’m sure the women there had heard all about it and I didn’t get the impression anyone at the hotel cared about what people thought about the place anyway. I headed down to the car park and set off for wildlife park, which is located off the A9 in the north edge of the Cairngorms National Park (somewhere I had also never been). I had to travel through Aviemore to get there, somewhere else I’ve never been to and it really did feel like a town in the Alps, lots of ski shops and wooden chalets and ski lifts.
I hadn’t realised it, but the park is associated with Edinburgh Zoo so presumably the larger animals are mostly located here where there is more space for them. On arriving I was a bit surprised that you drove in by car and paid from the car window. I hadn’t realised (it probably said in the leaflet) that in fact quite a bit of it is like a safari park that you drive through so you pay first and the car park is then inside.
I was driving a hired car. I suspected that driving it through a safari park was probably against the terms and conditions of the rental agreement (which, naturally, I hadn’t read). The drive through area did not contain monkeys however which in my experience tend to be the animals that cause the problems (I certainly saw that at Longleat Safari Park – where I opted to go through that bit on the parks bus!). So I decided to go ahead anyway and hope for the best. I mean lots of the animals in the drive through area are deer and there are lots of deer in Richmond Park in London which has public roads through it, so I’m sure it’s exactly the same, right? (Later when bored waiting at the airport I did read the terms and conditions and yes, as I suspected, driving through a safari park was not allowed).
So I started with the drive through bit (I actually went through it twice in the end), so here are a few photos I took there.
Fortunately none of the animals came to close to the car or caused any damage, so I got away with that one (when I returned the car as usual they found no additional damage, so I didn’t get any extra charges so that was all good).
It also turned out that the Cairngorms is really beautiful too, as there were some lovely views from the park itself.
With the weather much better here and the leaves turning red and orange, it was a lovely time to see it.
I then looked around the other animals, not in the drive through area. I was especially taken with the beautiful Scottish wild cats. It is nice to see the zoo has some local animals as whilst these wildcats do still live wild there are very few of them, so I’ve never seen any in the wild.
Absolutely beautiful and very cute. Of course there are larger cats too!
I don’t think this one likes having it’s photo taken much!
Of course, it wasn’t just types of cats here, there were many other animals as well.
One species of animal I got the impression the zoo was especially proud of was their Polar Bears.
In fact I believe only two zoos in the UK have polar bears (the other being Yorkshire Zoo). At the time they had a new arrival, Hamish, who had been born 8 months or so earlier and was the first polar bear to be born in the UK for 25 years. (He has since moved to Yorkshire Zoo).
I could see him playing though he was actually very brown from all the mud in the water and seemed to particularly enjoy playing with this blue barrel. Very sweet.
They had birds, including owls, too.
The park also had a view point from which to enjoy fine views of the Cairngorms National Park. It is really beautiful, certainly somewhere I want to come back to and explore further.
I had another look at the lovely wild cats again, too.
Before leaving I went around the drive-through area again before it was time to make a move and head back to Inverness. It was a really enjoyable day and well worth the money to come in. It was nice to see the animals had plenty of space and looked well cared for (and many of them had good views too). I think it was the right decision given how poor the weather was in the highlands.
I now headed for Inverness, stopping at the retail park near the airport for dinner at Pizza Hut first (the choice at the airport is very limited), before filling up the hire car with petrol and returning it.
The flight was, as usual, late but I got home eventually. Overall this had been an enjoyable trip. I’d had 2 excellent days of weather 1 OK day and 2 really poor days. I suppose one thing you can say about the weather in the area is it is certainly changeable!
I decided next year to try to plan a bit earlier so I didn’t end up doing the last trip in October, which I hoped would mean I’d come a bit earlier and have better weather next year. This was to be my last trip to Scotland for 2018 – but I would be back again the following spring.