The Cairngorms to Inverness

This morning we woke up in nice comfy beds to the sound of birds flying over the Highlander Hotel. Getting up and looking out the window and being surrounded by mountains and wildlife made me feel very far away from anything. In a good way. There were rabbits bouncing around on the lawn below the window and I could hear birds that I'd never heard before. One thing we weren't far away from however was the Highland Wildlife Park which was the activity we had planned for the day.

After a good breakfast in the hotel we packed up the car and headed to the wildlife park. It's amazing what a good nights sleep and a breakfast at a decent time can do for your organisation. We arrived at the wildlife park almost half an hour before the opening time. This was the only time on the trip so far that we didn't know what to do with our time. After sitting in the car for a bit (somewhat in disbelief of our promptness) we decided to drive into the Cairngorms a little way until the park was open. It was great to have those thirty minutes to just relax and enjoy the scenery with no particular agenda, and we returned to see the animals feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

Neither Ian or I had been to a Safari/Wildlife Park since we were much younger and we both went in with a slightly naïve mindset. We had consciously decided not to visit a zoo on our trip as we both feel that they don't have the animals best interests at heart. However, we thought a wildlife park in Scotland would surely be much more altruistic and have a stronger focus on conservation. Unfortunately, we were both proved wrong. We started off by driving around the open section where animals such as European Bison and Elk had plenty of room to roam around and graze as they would in the wild.

It wasn't until we started to look around the walking area that we began to question the motives behind keeping large predators such as Polar Bears, and even Snow Leopards in small enclosures that didn't resemble natural habitats at all. Of course, all of the signs around the park reported facts and figures about how everything they were doing was completely necessary to conserve the species, however, Ian and I left feeling largely unconvinced.

We spent most of the car journey up to Inverness talking about zoos and wildlife parks and the differences between them and whether any of them were really all about the animals. We concluded that neither of us knew enough about the subject to come to an answer but we both came away with the same feeling of unease at seeing great predators pacing up and down against chain-link fences while we watched them from the other side.

We have now checked in to our hostel in Inverness and I am writing this as I wait for Ian to finish showering so we can head out into town in search of dinner. This is our final stop before we start the North Coast 500 in the morning! It is a happy sad moment for both of us I think. It signifies the trip coming to an end but it's also the part we have both most been looking forward too. The North Coast 500 incorporates all the things Ian and I love most about travelling - driving down beautiful roads, amazing scenery, and being near the coast. We are also planning to wild camp for the last few days which I'm sure will pose it's challenges but I'm excited about the prospect of getting back into nature and soaking up everything the west coast of Scotland has to offer.

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