Sheep and lochs and hills, tick.
Rain, definitely tick.
But culture? Most well-heeled, well-informed and well-to-do Central Belters may think of it as a bit of a wasteland, the land of movies months delayed and third rate tribute bands. However, on closer inspection, they may have tae think again!
Contrary to common perception, there are more than enough reasons to make the infuriating A9 trip to Inverness in the near future; all in the name of feeding your inner culture vulture. In no particular order, here are five reasons to give the Highland scene a chance.
1. Embrace what’s great about the Highlands: the area’s remoteness. What better place to take in the Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour, celebrating the great outdoors in the truest sense of the action movie genre. With the Glasgow leg on 16 Feb already sold out, the Inverness instalments on 18 and 19 Feb are hosted by Eden Court Theatre.
2. For a village of its size, Cromarty punches well above its weight in The Wee Review terms. An easy 40-minute drive from Inverness, the route hugs the Moray Firth, home of Europe’s most northerly resident dolphin colony. Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend takes place Fri 22 – Sun 24 Apr when the heavyweights of the Scottish crime-writing crew join sort-of-local Ian Rankin. Visitors can attend for a full residential weekend package, complete with murder mystery dinner, talks, workshops and ceilidh evening, or attend writers’ workshops with tutor Morag Joss. Confirmed guests include Val McDermid, Dr Sue Black, Professor Niamh Nic Daeid and Caro Ramsay.
3. Ullapool festivals. No-one gave it much of a chance: a festival in late September in a remote village on the West Coast of Scotland, 60 miles from Inverness – but that was eleven years ago! Loopallu may be small as festivals go but it will return for its twelfth outing in the autumn. Time to get out the diaries and mark Fri 30 Sep – Sun 1 Oct 2016. If that’s too long to wait, literature lovers can make the pilgrimage in the spring instead: the Ullapool Book Festival runs 6 – 8 May and will feature Janice Galloway, Bernard MacLaverty, Doug Johnstone, and Helen Fitzgerald among others.
4. Eden Court Theatre. It is this fine facility above all others which draws Highlanders from as far as Durness and Thurso for a monthly culture fix. Situated beside the River Ness in the grounds of what had been the official residence of the Bishops of Moray and built in the nineteenth century for Bishop Robert Eden, it now comprises the Victorian Bishop’s Palace and 1976 theatre, both Grade A Listed, as well as a second theatre, two new cinemas, two dance and drama studios and three floors of purpose built dressing rooms. As the place where crowd pleasers such as The James Plays and Hairspray mingle with local productions, music and independent cinema, Eden Court is the natural starting point for anyone planning a visit to Inverness.
5. There can’t be many places where cultural participation is valued as it is the Highlands. From traditional music classes by Feis Rois to Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre at Moniack Mhor, from the Highland Print studio to dance and drama classes at Eden Court, no-one needs to remain unoccupied, unless by choice.
And given the pleasant riverside walk along the Ness Islands, decent pit stops for coffee along the High Street and the ample supply of serious scenery within easy driving distance from the city centre, you may be forgiven for choosing to remain unoccupied. For a while at least.