Scottish Musician Sarah-Jane Summers Shares the Best of Inverness

Kerry Dexter's picture

Sarah-Jane Summers is a fiddle player, composer, and educator whose love for music and teaching have taken her from fiddle camps in Colorado to concerts at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow to tutoring students in Norway. She’s recorded and played with Malinky (with Karine Polwart), The Unusual Suspects, and The Outside Track. She is a founding member of the Nu Nordic band Fribo, and has been the head tutor and director of the traditional music department of  Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’s Junior Academy. Her debut solo album, Nesta, is a fine and creative blend of Nordic music and Highland fiddle, and she’s working on a tutorial dvd.

Sarah-Jane Summers

Sarah-Jane is the fifth generation of her family from the Scottish Highlands. She grew up not far from Inverness. When Wandering Educators publisher Dr. Jessie Voigts said she would be spending time near Inverness on a family vacation this autumn, I knew Sarah-Jane was just the one to ask to give a Highland native’s perspective on things.

Scottish Musician Sarah-Jane Summers Shares the Best of Inverness

“I have lots of ideas for Inverness and surrounds,” Sarah-Jane said.

“To the East of Inverness: Clava Cairns is really close to Inverness. 

"It is one of my favourite places, as we went there often when I was wee,” Sarah-Jane said. “It's great for kids, as the cairns form lots of unusual shapes you can clamber over or walk into.  They're bronze age burial chambers, so it was mind-bending for me as a child to try to comprehend such a time-frame, given my own time reference was limited to just a few years and I couldn't even comprehend life before me! It was fun to see the different shapes of cairns and try to guess the status of each person buried within.  It's close to the road, so good for disabled people and it's in lovely, gentle scenery.

“Clava Cairns is not far from Culloden Battlefield, which is actually on part of my great-grandpa's farm, Leanach Farm,” Sarah-Jane said

Culloden is a historic place for a number of reasons. It’s the  site of the defeat of those who supported Prince Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charllie) by the troops led the Duke of Cumberland, in 1746. There were Scots on both sides of the battle.This was aa turning point in the history of Scotland and the Highlands.

Sarah-Jane reflects: “Culloden is wonderful if you think of the huge impact it has had on modern-day Scotland.  If the Scots had fought together instead of fighting against each other to try to settle local disagreements, cattle-stealing wars, and such could the face of Scotland be very different today?  Would we maybe be speaking a language other than English which, as its name suggests, belongs to the English rather than the Scots?”

Sarah-Jane also pointed out that Cawdor Castle, near Nairn, is not far away from Culloden. You might know the name from the play Macbeth, but Shakespeare borrowed it using dramatic license, as the castle was built some two hundred years after Macbeth’s time. Still it is one of the most visited castles in Scotland because of the Shakespeare connection.

Inverness is the largest town in the area, and is often considered the capitol of the highlands. It's also a music center “There is often good music to hear at Hootenanny's in Inverness,” Sarah-Jane points out.

To the west of Inverness, south of Loch Ness, there is
Dores Inn - totally lovely - and Falls of Foyers

On the north side of  of Loch Ness, Sarah-Jane suggests a visit to
Glen Affric. “It so, so, so beautiful, nice for walks,” she says, adding that neraby Cannich is worth a visit as well.

Still on the north and west of the great loch, Isobel Strachan has a lovely B&B, and her son has a recording studio in the garden,” Sarah -Jane points out.  “If your friends want real Highland culture, warmth, kindness, songs, music and paintings, of the kind you can only dream of, they should consider staying at her B&B, which is only a short drive from Cannich and Glen Affric."

Then there is Loch Ness itself, with is legendary monster “On the North side are touristy (and nice) places such as Urquhart Castle and The Loch Ness Exhibition Centre.  Drumnadrochit is where the exhibition centre is and it's lovely!”

There’s another route for adventure too. “From Drumnadrochit, you aren't far from Glen Affric and Cannich (above). From Glen Affric and Cannich, you can drive in a scenic circle to Beauly, taking in the beautiful Crask of Aigas and there’s Moniak Castle, near Beauly where you can buy wine for the night.

“Further South, but not far by car from Dores is Fort Augustus, from which you have access to many beautiful areas."

“Hmm, I think I'm getting a little enthusiastic here!” Sarah-Jane said. She continued. “On the above route, on the way out to Drumnadrochit, they could go to Abriachan, up a really steep wee hill and see where the Little Old Men of Abriachan lived. I just recorded that tune on my dvd... The tune was a song about how the Little Old Men of Abriachan would row across Loch Ness from Abriachan to Dores and go drinking at the Dores Inn!

“Of course, if your friends want to travel further, there's always The Isle of Skye, and the stunning North coast with its incredibly beautiful beaches around Durness and Bettyhill.

“Cromarty on The Black Isle (not far from Inverness) is one of the most quaint villages you'd ever hope to go to and they often have great gigs at The Old Brewery there.

“I have so many memories about learning the fiddle and life in general in the Highlands,” Sarah-Jane said. “I learnt the fiddle from Donald Riddell, who lived at Clunes.  I have many memories of going for my lessons there, dodging pigs when you got out of the car, trying not to step on a cat on the way into the house...Donald once said, when I was going to a competition where they play a very different, more classically-influenced fiddle style, that I was to ‘wow them.’  He instilled in me a huge love and respect for the tradition, something that's far more important and enduring than any number of competition cups with my name engraved on them.

“I think I should stop.  I realise I could go on and on and on and on!”

Highland fiddle style includes elements of Nordic and Celtic music as well as the unique flavors of the highland landscape. You can hear the way Sarah-Jane Summers approaches all that on her solo album, Nesta, on which she plays fiddle and Hardanger fiddle on traditional and original tunes.

Sarah-Jane and John Sikorski © Norman Chalmers

Sarah-Jane and John Sikorski © Norman Chalmers

Sarah-Jane Summers website

Sarah-Jane Summers

Sarah-Jane Summers © Archie MacFarlane


Read our tips on our companion site, Journey to Scotland: 10 days in Inverness


Kerry Dexter is the Music Editor for Wandering Educators.
Kerry’s work has also appeared in VH1, CMT,  Strings, Symphony,The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, and other print, broadcast, and electronic media. She also writes about the arts and creative practice at Music Road. You may reach her at music at wanderingeducators dot com.




Article photos courtesy of Sarah-Jane Summers. Word photo creative commons