Family Days Out
With five and a half acres of trees, grass and bushes to play in, it's easy to just open the caravan door and let the children run off and play outside.
For those occasions when you do fancy making a day of it, these suggestions are top of the list in our family, and might appeal to yours too!
Our current favourite is the Highland Aviation Museum at Dalcross, right beside Inverness Airport, which features a slightly surreal, open air collection of aeroplanes to explore. The attendant is very knowledgable, and obviously full of contagious enthusiasm, but never intrudes on your visit and you can try on hi-tech pilots' helmets, sit in the cockpits of real aeroplanes from Dalcross's recent past including RAF planes and even a Highland and Islands mail plane. Having driven past upteem times, this was a real surprise gem of a place and just as much a treat for the young adults! The location makes it perfect for a visit tied in with a trip to Inverness, Nairn or Cawdor Castle.
Landmark is about 40 minutes' drive from Druimorrin, but worth while as you can spend the whole day there. Once you have paid your admission to the park, quite a lot of the activities are free, such as the excellent water slides (you sit in a boat, thankfully), themed climbing play parks, swings etc, the woodland trails with viewing areas for birds and red squirrels, maze, treetop trail, viewing tower and demonstrations of sawing and heavy horses at work and the minibeasts exhibition. There is also a supervised climbing tower, battery powered vehicles, remote control vehicles and other activities you pay for, a tea room, outside café and picnic areas. We try to get there once a year and it's a major treat for the girls.
Fort George runs a very close second in the popularity stakes with us. On the South side of the Moray Firth, you'll need a whole morning or afternoon for a visit. The fort has a lot of historical significance in the area and it is still in use, even if the outer walls appear to be gradually sinking. Knowledgeable tour guides take you all round, dressed in period uniforms. You don't need to have an interest in history or the military to enjoy the visit, but if you have, then this is one you shouldn't miss.
The Highland Folk Museum in Kingussie can be like really stepping back in time. The emphasis is less on information boards and relics in glass cases and more on recreating life in the Highlands prior to the 1900s. The buildings are genuine period houses exactly as they would have been, and depending when you visit, you might see people in period dress baking scones, bannocks and pancakes, spinning or milking cows. They have also recreated farm fields and other community buildings, such as a church and school, at the Highland Folk Park, a little further down the road or short hike away. This is very popular with my younger daughter and we could easily spend whole days here. Admission is free.
Another free option, Inverness Museum and the Whin Park often make up a day out for my youngsters. The museum, on Castle Wynd, has just been refurbished into an organised and accessible natural history exhibition, with interactive activities and a "discovery centre" which is very 'hands on', with drawers to open, spy holes to peek through, games and puzzles. There's a tea room as well for a wee breather. The Whin Park is down by the river, right behind the Aquadome at the Bught. This is council-owned too and it has all sorts of climbing frames for wee toots right up to a sort of web thing for older youngsters. There's a boating pond, complete with ducks, a miniature train, big enough for children to ride, a kiosk selling sweets and ice-creams, picnic benches and all that sort of thing.
If you fancy making the most of the countryside and perhaps taking a picnic out, have a look at http://walking.visitscotland.com/walks/northhighlands/ for ideas on easy walks. Top of our list are Contin Forest, Rogie Falls and Black Rock gorge, not least because this last was filmed for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!
If you are happy to spend an hour or so in the car, head West to Gairloch and book a trip in the glass-bottomed boat, suitable for all ages except the very small. Stay in the village and pop up to the Strath for a meal at Na Mara restaurant, too, where you can have anything from a light lunch, tea and scones in the afternoon, an early evening "fish tea" or a full-blown dinner.
Along the road here is Balvraid Fruit Farm, where you can pick your own fruit in the Summer months.
A bit further away is 'The Larder' run by the Robertsons at Tomich Farm on the Beauly road out of Muir of Ord. It's easy to spot because of the straw giant in the field. Their shop stocks their own soft fruit in summer, Free Range eggs, cheese and dairy products, seasonal vegetables, preserves, game and gifts. Not least, they stock home baking by our cousin Caroline Patience from Avoch - lovely stuff!
In 2008, Robertson's Larder added a petting corner with small animals and a play area for younger children. Some of our guests went back a number of times during their week's stay because their children loved it so much.
Ryefield Farm at Tore has 'pick your own' fruit and a farm shop selling seasonal farm produce and preserves.
The Brahan Estate has an organic walled garden and they supply boxes of seasonal produce by order. If you are interested in having a box during your stay, be sure to ring them well in advance of your arrival (see the section on local Highland Estates, and Brahan's own website).
Dingwall and Inverness both have monthly Farmers' Markets, where local farmers and craftspeople set up stalls in the street selling anything from free range wild boar to hand-turned wooden bowls, which are usually on a Saturday.