We’re staying in what can only be described as a quirky little hotel. Unusually, there is no TV set in our room. Not that we watch TV when away from home (except for the Tour de France), but how pleasant. Instead, there is a radio.
Our bathroom is not en suite. We have to leave the room, walk down the corridor to use the facility, which is ours alone, but we need a key to get in. Neither of the doors can be closed quietly however hard you try.
We can open the windows in our room but it was touch or go whether they would move. In fact, one of the latches was already broken: we weren’t the first guests to struggle. The curtains are nice and thick though, so the midnight light didn’t disturb us. No, I think what kept us up so late was the caffeine in the coffee, plus nearby doors being closed as quietly as possible. In other words, loud bangs.
But it is an old building, obviously. The lounge area looks out over the town and towards some mountains. We can look at paintings, some good, some just put up so as not to offend the artist, maybe. In the kitchen area, there are facilities to make tea and coffee (free) plus a variety of alcoholic beverages (paid for). And books. There are books everywhere: in the lounge, in every room. The book shop downstairs has a wide selection of books about Scotland, Scottish history, Scottish fiction and children’s books and, so far, as I write this, I’ve only visited twice.
Breakfast was good. Instead of black pudding, we veggies are given fruit pudding. This reminded me of mince pies whereas Liesel thought it was more like thinly sliced malt loaf.
We watched the family of seagulls. The chicks were begging for food, but the parents didn’t feed them while we were watching.
There’s a certificate on display in the lounge saying this place was voted by its employees as one of the top ten tourism employers in the Highlands and Islands. That’s great! In very small print, it’s dated 2008. I’m sure it’s still a wonderful place to work.
No venturing far afield today, we just spent time mollachin aboot this fine toon o’ Ullapool. It was a little cooler than yesterday, but still very pleasant. We passed by people, yes, people, in the streets, but we didn’t freak out. If we can’t handle this many people in a small town like this, how will we cope back in Manchester? Or London?
Thankfully, we didn’t need to go into this particular shop. All the other shops seem to have their entrances more conveniently located at ground level.
Here’s a new pier and when it was constructed, they left rock pools at three different levels to encourage interest in the local sealife.
After our morning constitutional, we had coffee at the hotel, sitting outside, at table 48, since you ask.
After a rest (a rest!) in our room, we went out for the ice cream we’d promised ourselves. I went for the licorice flavour, Liesel the banoffee. Imagine the look on Liesel’s face when she realised, half way through the first lick, that she’d picked up the wrong cone.
There was a time when I would have gone along in the dead of night with a bottle of Tippex and removed that superfluous apostrophe. Well, not really, I’m not a vandal. I would have sent my wife.
My task today was to do the laundry. But, because of Covid rules, we’re not allowed to operate the machines ourselves. Instead, we pay the lady in the shop to wash and dry for us. She provides a very good service and we should now have enough clean clothes for the rest of our trip. Unless, as I told Liesel, we have a number of messy accidents.
For the second night in a row, we dined out. Well, this time, we dined in, in our hotel. While eating, the England football team were beating Germany in the Euros. Or, if those fellow diners were Scots, maybe they were cheering for the Germans. We later found out that England had indeed won.
Sadly, littering is a problem everywhere, but Ullapool is a really clean and tidy little town compared with some I could mention.
In the ice cream shop, I also bought a bottle, a glass bottle, of Irn Bru. Another disappointment. I knew about the sugar, but it also contains Aspartame and Acesulfame K, two artificial sweeteners. Bleurgh. It had approximately the flavour that I remember, but this is not the secret recipe they’ve been using since 1901, like it says on the label.
No, I won’t be making that mistake again. So that;s Mars bars, Edinburgh Rock and Irn Brum childhood delicacies that I can no longer tolerate. What a shame. Maybe I’m getting old.
Thanks to all the correspondents who have been asking to see a pair of dancers made from chicken wire. Here they are, tripping the light fantastic in our hotel.
To round this relatively quiet day off, we’re watching today’s exciting stage of the Tour de France. And finally, a quick check on the seagull chicks: all present and correct.
All good things come to an end and that includes our first ever experience of glamping, here at Durness. Glamping? Yes, even though we were staying inside a modern day shepherd’s hut, it qualifies as glamping. No yurts here, or big tents with all mod cons.
Part funded by the European Union. I wonder what you’d have to do to join such an organisation. We couldn’t bid farewell to our host Sandra because, overnight, she had to take her husband to hospital. In Inverness. Let’s hope he recovers soon, that’s a long way from home. Many of the photos today will be of the spectacular highlands scenery. There are not enough superlatives to describe the place. It’s big, it’s stunning, it’s almost overwhelming.
We thought we’d fill our flasks with hot chocolate. But, the first disappointment of the day was finding that Cocoa Mountain is closed on Mondays. And so to Ullapool, about 90 miles south. We didn’t stop at Smoo Cave in the end, we just pointed the car in the right direction and followed the one-lane road with passing places.
It was bright and sunny but quite windy. The further south we drove, the warmer it became and the wind died down a bit too. But looking at the scenery genuinely does put real life into perspective. These mountains will still be here long after our current inept government has been forgotten.
During the day, I was reminded of a few works of art that have entertained us over the decades. Here at Keoldale for instance is the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There were very few trees and bushes, which I think makes the landscape appear more rugged. Plenty of sheep and lambs around but we realised that other than on warning signs, we haven’t seen any deer yet. Then we saw on Twitter that that bloke from Location, Location, Location has been shooting them all.
This could easily be somewhere dark and menacing from Lord of the Rings.
We stopped briefly near Scourie. From about this point, the road had two lanes including white lines down the middle. It’s funny how you get used to using passing places, you miss them when there aren’t any more.
This selfie was taken from Kylestrome, looking over, we think, Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. Sometimes, we just don’t know exactly where we are, which is a shame.
You’re driving along, gasping at every new vista, and suddenly, even something manmade can jump out, someting with a ‘wow’ factor.
This bridge should look out of place, but it really fits in, as minimalist as a bridge can be, not attempting to draw attention from what nature has to offer.
Everywhere you look, there is something stunning, almost out of this world. The next scene took us back to New Zealand.
Nothing to do here except wait for the slow one at the back to catch up.
We pulled into laybys a couple of times, just to look around. Sometimes there’s a map. Here’s a tip to whoever produces these maps: please don’t put South at the top. We’re all used to North at the top. There’s no good reason for it, other than to wreak havoc and cause confusion amongst visitors and tourists.
Lunch was taken by the cool, clear waters of Loch Assynt.
Another couple stopped at about the same time as us, and, being British, we each complimented the weather and engaged no further in conversation.
From our picnic position, we could look over at Ardvreck Castle. Why didn’t we stop and have a closer look at the castle? Mainly because everybody else had.
Closer to our picnic site though was what’s left of Calda House, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
It doesn’t look like there’s enough rubble there to rebuild the other two walls, so I suspect a lot of the stone has been recycled into other buildings.
Did I mention Lord of the Rings? Well, we found a place called Elphin. In fact, we stopped at Elphin Tearooms for coffee and cake, and sure enough, all the locals have pointy, elfin ears.
Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve is just a short distance along the road and by the time we arrived, we were well fortified, full of beans and ready to go. Why? Because the elfin barista made non-decaffeinated coffee for us by mistake, and it would have been churlish for us to reject it. We just tweaked her ears instead.
If you’re interested in geology, this is the place to come. So many different kinds of rock to study but first, we looked at the deer much higher up the hill, behind a fence unfortunately, but it was exciting to finally see some in the wild.
No, I don’t know if Spot is really his name.
The rocks here have been accumulating for over a billion years.
There is a beautiful hike here up to the top of the crag. There are slopes and steps made from the local rocks, and the whole track is reassuringly solid. Hard to believe that the views can become even more spectacular as you climb, but they really do take your breath away.
The geological history of Scotland over 600 million years is fascinating. It’s certainly moved about over the millennia.
Inevitably some people will look at 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled Scotland, and they’ll think, huh, nothing’s changed then. Not us, of course.
Up and up we go, stopping to look around every so often.
It was hard work climbing some of these steps, plus it was a lovely warm day. We certainly felt like we were getting to know the crag. It’s high and mighty and again, makes you realise that something like not having a wifi signal is not really a big problem in the great scheme of things. Not having a 4G signal here though, what a disaster. Here’s a tip: if you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no realistic chance of acquiring a 4G signal, put your phone into aeroplane mode, otherwise it’ll drain the battery as it keeps searching for non-existent radio signals.
There came a time when we had to turn back. A number of factors combined to help us make the decision. I felt bad about not going any further with Liesel, but she said she was beginning to feel uncomfortable too:
I’ve never been too keen on heights, and I suddenly realised I was too high, well outside my comfort zone;
It was surprisingly hot, even at this altitude, and we’d brought no water with us;
After some short flights of steps, my legs were shaking, and taking a couple of minutes to recover;
Similarly, I was getting a bit out of breath;
Even though we wanted to climb to the top, we just couldn’t see how much further there was to go.
Do something scary every day, they say, and this was quite scary for a while. Really glad we got as far as we did, though, it was a physical challenge and the view from such a great height was definitely rewarding. Photos just can’t give a realistic idea of the scale of it all. But they’re a great reminder of a fabulous adventure.
Another surprise was seeing this homage to the Alaska pipeline.
And here we are, back in ‘civilisation’. Ullapool always reminds me of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, because the Martians’ death cry is ‘Ulla’. (Sorry, spoilers.) We’ve been in the footsteps of Susan Calman to a certain extent, as featured in the TV series Secret Scotland. She tells the story of when she went on holiday as a child, with her parents, in a campervan. The only cassette they had to play in the van was War of the Worlds. Where was I? Oh yes, back in civilisation. How do we know? There are way too many people in the streets of Ullapool. Plus, there are double yellow lines on the roads.
This clock is the lovechild of Cogsworth and Lumiere from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
We wandered down to the harbour to watch people. So many to choose from. One family group were putting on their waterproofs, about to embark on a hair-raising, fast, boat ride. This guy from the Orkney Islands was very busy mending ropes.
Well, I hope his name is George, but I didn’t ask. (I did ask if I could take his picture.) He loves it here in Ullapool, but he’d rather be reading a book and looking at the view.
We found our accommodation, Ceilidh Place, hotel, bar and restaurant, bookshop. After settling in, we went for a walk and joined the queue (yes, a queue) outside the chip shop. We took away our supper and ate al fresco, on the grass opposite our place. Very nice, very tasty.
Now, back in our room, I’m writing, Liesel’s crocheting, I’m listening and Liesel’s (occasionally) watching the Tour de France. There is a family of seagulls outside, three cute, fluffy chicks, and we’re glad their parents haven’t yet told them how to steal chips from tourists.
After posting yesterday’s edition, we broke into the bottle of whisky bought a few days ago at Glenmorangie Distillery. Very smooth and a good way to end the day. Only it wasn’t really the end of the day at all, oh no. I wanted to see the Sun set over the ocean which was about 10.30.
We had a couple of visitors late at night. They weren’t at all disruptive or noisy. In fact I think they were more surprised to see me than I was to see them. They weren’t bothered about the sunset though. Which was, to be honest, not as spectacular as I’d hoped. But the clouds looked pretty.
Waking up at 2.00 am, I was surprised at how light it still was. There’s a nearly full Moon but this light is from the Sun barely dipping below the horizon.
Unfortunately my internal body clock failed to wake me up on this occasion, so I missed the Sunrise by at least half an hour. Oh well, there’ll be another one tomorrow.
Liesel crocheted and I gazed at a Sudoku while we listened to the radio: Broadcasting House on Radio 4, the only news show we deliberately choose to listen to, then Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music. At noon, we watched Jessica Lee Morgan on YouTube singing the songs from Mary Hopkin and Morgan Visconti’s 10-year old album You Look Familiar, and very enjoyable that was too. Here’s a gripe. On my PC, I can leave YouTube playing and do other things at the same time. If I dare try and look at something else while YouTube’s playing on my phone, it just stops. It demands 100% of my attention.
In today’s unbelievable news, we can confirm that yesterday, Liesel managed to get sunburnt. It was pleasant outside on the beach, not too hot. The UV levels were low, apparently. But Liesel’s shoulders are radiating their own heat. Take care out there, folks.
This puffin is coming home with us.
I went for a bit of a walk this afternoon, just a solo jaunt on this occasion. In the craft village, there’s the Durness Deep Time exhibition explaining the local geology and displaying the various rocks found locally and the minerals they’re composed of. There’s way too much information to absorb in a quick visit, but the subject is always fascinating.
In the opposite direction from our temporary home is the bustling metropolis known as Durness.
I was glad to be reminded about Smoo Cave: Liesel and I talked about it a few days ago. I sent a message but Liesel declined the invitation to join me. I passed another lovely beach, but resisted the temptation to go down and investigate. My mind was now focussed on finding a cave.
There’s a lovely garden next to Durness Village Hall. It was put together by 40 local volunteers. One of the highlights is the John Lennon Memorial.
John used to come to Durness on holiday between the ages of 9 and 16, staying with his aunt, whose grave we saw yesterday, and cousin Stan Parkes. The gorgeous song In My Life is partly inspired by John’s memories of this place, according to Stan.
The first sighting of Smoo Cave certainly surprises you, such a deep cleft in the rock. It’s easy to see that the cave may be inundated with sea water from time to time.
I walked down the steep wooden staircase to sea level and then, looking back, away from the sea, there is the 50-foot high entrance to the cave.
We can go on a tour of more chambers in the cave, for a fee, but, because they’re in a cave, they can’t get a phone signal, so electronic payments are out of the question. And, of course, I had no cash on me. Whether Liesel and I come back tomorrow for the tour is to be determined.
The cave has been inhabited in bygone millennia, but I’m sure any artefacts will have been taken away by now, to ensure their security.
I walked back up the 76 steps, which was harder that you’d imagine because the rise for each step is slightly higher than you’d normally expect. I pretended to study the back of thie sign while catching my breath.
What’s sad about this is that the stickers we ordered hadn’t come back from the printers by the time we left home. ‘Mick and Liesel’s Antics: NC500 Tour June 2021’ could have been plastered all over Scotland by now. Oh well.
The walk back to our hut was of course much faster, despite the fact that I ended up walking through the caravan park. Here’s another house where the occupants have a strange set of priorities.
I’ve come intae some money, hen, shall I get a new roof and some windaes?
Och, no, I’d rather have a satellite dish.
When I returned home, today’s stage of the Tour de France was about to finish. Somehow, I didn’t nod off until it had finished. No, I waited until Amy Lamé was playing some good tunes from past Glastonbury Festivals!
Here’s another moan from grumpy old Mick. I rarely imbibe soft, fizzy drinks: maybe once a year. Sometimes I’ll have lime and lemonade or maybe shandy in a pub, but that’s pretty rare too. Yet here I am in Scotland and I got the urge to sample the locally produced delicacy Irn Bru. So I put my mask on and entered the local Spar supermarket in Durness. I found bottles of Irn Bru rather than cans, but that’s ok. How much? £1.45 a bottle. How much? £1.45 a bottle. Or two bottles for £1.60. What a rip-off. Irn Bru might be made from girders but I’m not made of money, my internal, parental voice said. So I left the shop without a refreshing beverage and I didn’t buy anything else either. The tap water I drank back at the hut was perfect.
You can’t have a proper holiday without spending a day on the beach. And despite being in the far north of Scotland, that’s exactly what we did today.
I knew the day would be a good’un when Liesel brought me a cup of tea in bed. Followed by toast. The view from our bed is pretty good, so we just sat there and admired it for a couple of hours.
When we finally got up and set off for a walk, of course we went the wrong way. Well, it’s a 50-50 chance. Daisy soon put us right. She looks a bit full, but Liesel declined the offer of a drink of fresh milk.
We passed by a pretty loch: in fact, there are at least a couple nearby.
Past the craft village, past an old church and we found Balnakeil Beach. The wind had really calmed down since yesterday, and there were very few other people on the beach. Just the way we like it.
What a lovely expanse of sand to walk along. The sand dunes are a Sight of Special Scientific Interest so we’re asked not to walk on them. We thought this might be due to the presence of nesting birds, but other than a few ordinary gulls (no offence, ordinary gulls), we didn’t see anything of unusual ornithological interest today.
We had several attempts at taking a selfie with a decent background. This is the least worst.
Halfway along the beach, there’s a rocky outcrop. I investigated, with a view to maybe clambering over to the other half of the beach. This proved too difficult. I could have walked around it, but the tide was too high. So I walked back and around: the long, sensible route that Liesel had taken and I caught up with her having a sit down on a nice grass tussock.
There were lots of little beetles scurrying about on the sand. There are 400,000 species of beetle but I couldn’t quite put my finger on which one this is.
Actually, there was a flock of small birds out on the water, too far away to be able to identify, but some kind of marine duck. They were happy diving but then after a while, we realised they’d disappeared.
The texture of the sand varied. Soft and dry in some places, fairly solid sometimes, and occasionally soft and squidgy, we were leaving quite deep footprints. The sea was very calm today, and as it was unexpectedly warm, I wish I’d brought my swimwear. But until very recently, I never even thought about a sandy beach on the north coast of Scotland, never mind entering the cold Atlantic waters.
We sat down for a while and watched the people. by which I mean the two other people who arrived just as we sat down. They drew a picture in the sand so of course, when they’d wandered off to the other end of the beach, I had to enhance their artwork. After which, we beat a hasty retreat.
It’s the first day of the Tour de France so while on the beach, we watched it on my phone for a few minutes. What amazing technology, and really unexpected to have such a good 4G signal on the beach a couple of miles from the small town of Durness. You’re using up your 4G data allowance on watching TV, Mick? Yes, I know, strange huh? It’s a long story but I had to guess how much data I’d need for a couple of weeks here, knowing we’d be on Google Maps quite a lot. My previous allowance ran out on our first day here, so I just bought a reasonably big package. 80 GB since you ask. For a month. A week later and I only have 77.97 GB left. So squandering it by watching TV is not likely to cause problems later on!
We walked back along the beach, which was now becoming more busy. Nothing like Formby on a hot day, of course. We had a quick look at the old Balnakeil Church and its graveyard.
I am indebted to Captain Mackay John Scobie whose tomb I sat on while shaking the last of the sand from my shoes. He worked for the so-called Honourable East India Company and died nearby in Keoldale aged just 44 in 1818. Also here is the grave of Elizabeth Parkes, aunt of the famous Beatle John Lennon, according to the information panels.
And as if the day couldn’t get any better, our walk back home took us past the craft village and, oh dearie me, Cocoa Mountain. We enjoyed a coffee here plus some of their fine chocolate.
Neither of us wanted to spend a lot of time looking at all the arty crafty places in the village, but we did venture into Mudness, where Martina MacLeod has been producing ceramics since 1991. Liesel came away with a yarn bowl and a small puffin.
Back at our hut, we watched the rest of the day’s live coverage of the Tour de France on TV, not at all enjoying the two big crashes. Poor old Chris Froome always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s great to see Mark Cavendish back at the Tour.
I completed another really difficult Arrow Sudoku puzzle. This one took 75 minutes, a record that I’m not proud of, but I am proud that I solved it at all, in the end. We watched the bunnies, we listened to Classic FM, thanks Moira Stuart and Andrew Collins. Liesel’s crocheting project continues, but I do miss the clicketty-clack of knitting needles!
I may have been a bit scathing about the views from our Wick Airbnb, apparently. In fairness, not many places can have views to compete with those from our stay in Helmsdale. And even here in Wick, if you look away from the plain windowless walls of Nucleus, there’s a large field, filled with Queen Anne’s lace.
Our time here in Wick is over. Time to move on. The road was narrow at times, with passing places, but what a glorious drive. Google Maps said we could cover the 92 miles in two and a half hours. We checked out at 10am so, theoretically, we could arrive by 12.30. But we’re not allowed to check in to the new place until after 4pm. Because of Covid, they need six hours to clean a place and leave it empty for three hours. That’s the rules. So somehow we had to ‘waste’ at least three and a half hours. It was not at all difficult. Such an interesting route, we stopped several times.
The day started with rain, but as this eased off, the wind strengthened and later in the afternoon, it felt quite cold. We didn’t let the weather dampen our spirits. You just have to gawp at the spectacular scenery and the weather becomes irrelevant. It’s a pity one of us has to drive. One day, we hope to afford a chauffeur or maybe driverless cars will be within our price range.
The first stop was a return visit to Wicker’s World where we filled our flasks with coffee for the journey. Even the girls in here were whingeing about the weather, which tells us it’s particularly bad right now.
Sorry to say, I ordered the usual coffee, although the cannabis tea might be worth trying one day.
The first beach of the day was at Scrabster.
Other than going down to the ferry port, we couldn’t see how to actually get out for a walk on the sand. The Orkney Islands were just visible in the distance and we could even look back at Dunnet Head.
In Thurso, we wanted to go and watch the surfers. The best place to do so apparently is close by Thurso Castle. Could we find a way to this landmark? Without going on private roads? Sadly, no. We don’t even know if there were surfers out today, but this is apparently the best place in the UK to participate in the sport. The waves of the Pentland Firth are quite challenging. Liesel and I don’t have our own surfboards as we don’t go surfing very often. When we do go though, we just cut the legs off the ironing board and use that.
Thurso did provide the opportunity for us to do something really special for the first time. We each paid 50p for a pee in the public toilets by using my phone and contactless payment. Ten shillings to spend a penny. There’s a sign saying that if the toilets continue to be vandalised, they’ll be closed. I wonder why people get so cross here?
There is a lot of energy in the north of Scotland, old and new technology in fairly close proximity. I’m surprised there aren’t more wind farms, there’s certainly plenty of wind to go around.
Meanwhile, just down the road, the UK’s first nuclear power plant at Dounreay is being decommissioned. They hope to finish by 2025. And as we now know, all the archives are stored at Nucleus in Wick. We couldn’t get too close to the power station. We weren’t scared of all the warning signs and threats and CCTV cameras. No, we just didn’t want to end up glowing in the dark because of the radiation.
Liesel suggested that this former fast breeder reactor site could be turned into a prison. The security infrastructure is in place already. Sounds like a good plan to me. Very soon after, Liesel drew my attention to the very large bull checking out a cow’s bottom. Nature is wonderful.
We stopped down by the water in Portskerra for lunch. We had the place to ourselves. A red van came down the hill, but we stared at them with our laser eyes and they drove straight back up the hill again. I think this picture gives an idea of how cold and windy it was at this point.
From Bettyhill viewpoint, we could just see the mountains through the murk. Mountains such as Arkle, Foinavon, Ben Tongue, The Watch Hill and Cranstackie. At least two of those were named after Grand National winning horses. Or vice versa. Or maybe it’s just a wonderful coincidence.
And of course, Bettyhill was named after my lovely Mum.
We passed many cyclists today, but they were all going in the opposite direction. If they’re riding (even a part of) NC500, they’re going clockwise whereas Liesel and I are travelling widdershins, anticlockwise. Maybe the prevalent wind direction dictates which way they go. Mostly men of course, but the women all got cheers from us.
There were lots of sheep in fields and by the side of the road. I started counting them but I kept falling asleep.
Somewhere near Swordly we saw a sign saying ‘Coast’. Coast? We’re nowhere near the sea here. But then, like a welcome oasis in the desert, we saw it. Coast is a mobile coffee vendor, parked up just off the main road. We stopped and I got the coffee. The barista is also retired and told us about the elderly couple who live nearby, both 85, who retired here from Salford 25 years ago. They’re hoping to see their family in Manchester this July, but given the rising number of Covid cases, who knows what further restrictions will come in?
The Kyle of Tongue sea loch was an interesting place to stop for a moment. We crossed the Causeway or the Bridge and stopped halfway across. It looks like a causeway, but water must get past it somehow when the tide ebbs and flows. Both terms seem to be used almost interchangeably: the Kyle of Tongue Causeway and the Kyle of Tongue Bridge.
The sand here is quite coarse so walking on it was a challenge. A few other people had trodden here earlier, so I knew it was safe, no quicksands, but the footprints were unusually deep.
Moine House is part of the Flow Country, the area of Sutherland and Caithness that is covered in very deep peat, thanks to the mosses that have been growing here since the end of the last ice age, 11,000 years ago.
It seems a local artist decorated the interior of this former dwelling some time ago. But from the outside, I think we can safely say nobody lives here any more.
Finally, we did find a beach to walk on. Ceannabeinne Beach is the home of the Golden Eagle Zip Line. You can fly at 45 mph over the beach while looking over at the Atlantic Ocean and screaming your lungs out. The ride was closed today because the winds were too strong but the gales didn’t stop us from venturing out onto the sand.
There were just a handful of other people around, and we all kept ourselves to ourselves. The geology here is fascinating, volcanic and with a lot of movement and upheaval, given the nearly vertical strata.
I don’t know if I was glad or disappointed that there was no bear lurking in this deep, dark cave. The other danger was posed by the sea, it was quite violent in the strong wind. No surprise then that there were no surfers here.
Having managed to occupy so much time en route, we arrived at our Airbnb in Durness at a reasonable hour. Sandra greeted us and we hauled the luggage to what will be our home for the next few nights.
Earlier in the week, we mentioned that we haven’t seen many rabbits in Scotland. We now know why. They’re all in the field next to us. Dozens, scores, nay, hundreds of them running and jumping about, flashing their scuts, having a grand old time. So far, we haven’t seen any birds of prey hovering, licking their beaks in anticipation.
Just down the road on a short perambulation, I found Balnakeil Craft Village and I’m sure we’ll spend some time there soon, but I couldn’t resist buying hot chocolate for us from Cocoa Mountain which I also came across by accident. So tasty, so chocolatey. We’ll be back! A perfect dessert following Liesel’s delicious risotto, thank you.
Liesel and I are are self-catering and Sandra told us there are only two places to eat out in Durness. And currently one of them is closed because someone tested positive for Covid.
Our entertainment this evening has been provide by Radio 2: Sara Cox and then Tony Blackburn’s Golden Hour. An old 6 Music show with Maxine Peake followed by some relaxing sounds while we wind down.
And to answer the question that’s been bugging you: yes, the view from our hut this evening isn’t too bad at all. We can see the sea over there, and mountains over there plus lots of sky.
The last couple of days, I’ve come out of the shower feeling decidedly disoriented. What’s going on? Is there something in the water? Something in the air? It finally clicked.
This map of the world is totally misleading. It’s on the window blind and it’s a repeating pattern, so that’s bearable, even if we do see Australia north of Siberia. No, what really messes this thing up is… well, look where the equator passes through the Americas. Just wrong. And you can’t avoid looking at it while cleaning your teeth. According to this erroneous cartography, we here in Wick are further north than Anchorage, Alaska, and we know that’s not really true. Not in this universe, anyway. In fact, we later discovered we’re at the same latitude as Juneau.
Musical entertainment while waiting for the rain to ease off a bit before going out was provided by Wythenshawe FM 97.2 for a while, then Guy Garvey’s show from last Sunday on BBC 6 Music. There’s a coffee making machine here, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go. The leaking water hasn’t affected the electric supply so far, and while Liesel’s Americano was bitter, my café au lait was alright. Any bitterness was disguised by the very sweet Edinburgh Rock that I bought yesterday. The sweetest substance in the known universe and my teeth have just gone on strike.
The rain is getting harder, not easing off at all. After consuming a 75g box of ‘A fruity assortment of chopped rock sweets’, I feel full of energy. They’re quite healthy really: 0% fat and 0% salt. But 0% protein and a mere 96.7% carbohydrate, ie sugar. I’ve been challenged to walk/run my 10,000 steps in the house today. Well, as I write, I’m up to 300, time for a sit down, I think. Liesel is crocheting and also looking forlornly out of the window every few minutes.
Our original plan when we knew it was likely to rain all day was to visit the Castle of Mey, mainly because it would be inside. Unfortunately for us, it’s fully booked. Oh well, more plans gang a-gley.
Guy Garvey just played four David Bowie tracks in a row, saying, quite rightly, that it has to be done from time to time. Hunky Dory is 50 years old this year. And it’s still as fresh as the day it was first released.
Well, this positive message on our bedroom wall caught my eye as I jogged around the house. Yes, it’s raining. Not mizzle, this is proper rain, and lots of it. I’ve looked for rainbows as suggested but you need the Sun for those and right now, we have 100% cloud cover, so that’s no good. Sometimes you look out of the window and marvel at the view. Sometimes you don’t.
I’ve no idea what this place is, but I just want to go out and paint a mural on that blank canvas. Some mountains or a sea view would be nice. If only I had some artistic skill. Oh, and some paint. But I don’t think we’ll be going out to buy paint any time soon. Time for more steps…
Up to 3176 now. Apparently my perambulation is in the manner of a silly walk. It’s not silly, I’m just taking very small steps so I can fit more into each trek up and down the length of the house. What else did I find on the wall here?
Yes, a paddle. Now that tells me we might need a paddle later, if this rain keeps up. In fact, it’s even harder now. I’ve been running around indoors like a BAF, like a numpty, but I haven’t found the boat yet. On the other hand, we can’t even find an oven glove, so they’re probably well hidden in the same place.
Guy Garvey is now playing four songs about rain. Just for us. Even though the show was broadcast four days ago, and recorded four days before that. Specifically for Liesel and Mick anchored down in Wick. And, speaking of anchors:
Yes, more evidence that there is a nautical theme to this abode. And what could be more nautical than a boat? Or an ark? I did think about moseying on into John o’Groats to look for my hat, but, well, call me a wimp, I don’t mind a bit of rain, but this is a bit extreme.
In other news, Liesel has decided to walk around after she completes each row of her latest crochet project. I keep looking at the clock and it still says it’s twenty to twelve. Yes, I’m tempted to wind it up but it looks like one of those old-fashioned ones with a really loud tick. Other than the sound of the rain pounding on the roof, we’ve enjoyed the sound of birdsong here, quiet a few house sparrows, plus the odd helicopter flying over.
Has today been a wasted opportunity? No, not really. It’s wonderfully therapeutic to be passing time in a strange house, with no commitments at all. Yes, we would love to have a better view out of at least one of the windows, but we’re warm and dry and content.
A couple of things I forgot to mention over the last few days though. Liesel and I were talking about the fact that we hadn’t seen any rabbits all the time we’ve been in Scotland, not even any droppings in the woods or fields or anywhere. Well, we finally saw a couple of bunnies in John o’Groats in a holiday camp that we drove through by mistake. And if they weren’t cool and cute enough, we also saw some chickens by the side of the road on the way to Duncansby Head. There were a couple of donkeys too, so they may all belong to a petting farm.
I’ve wasted passed a lot of time solving Arrow Sudoku puzzles on my phone. The latest one took me over 66 minutes. So far, I haven’t used the ‘Hints’ option because I want to solve the puzzle myself, but also, when I’ve looked at the Hints in other Sudoku apps, I haven’t really understood them. ‘Obviously this, therefore that…’ Well, it ain’t obvious to me, thank you very much!
Three hours passed in a haze of drugs, alcohol and debauchery. Oops, no, that’s our other blog. No, we read and crocheted and listened to Amy Lamé on 6 Music and it slowly dawned on us that it had, finally, stopped raining. We sent out a pigeon wild rock dove and it came back with an olive branch in its beak, so we knew it was safe to go out.
Castle Sinclair Glenigoe is a short drive from our palace along some dead straight but narrow roads, that could well have been built by the Romans, if they’d ever ventured this far north. Noss Head lighthouse is here too, and we notice that all the lighthouses around here are decorated in the same way: white, black and yellow.
Maybe there was a good deal on those particular paints in the local DIY shop.
The castles, for there are remnants of two different structures, are right on the edge of the precipitous drop into the sea.
There are more sea stacks here too with seabirds who seem to prefer nesting on the far side, facing the sea rather than inland. Maybe they just don’t like people much, either. I imagine they were delicious eating when the castles were occupied.
I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in structure between what’s left of the chimney stack and the sea stack.
Given the way the sea stack is being eroded, at the bottom, I don’t think it will be too long before before it crashes down into the sea.
One thing we didn’t expect to see on our walk around these ruins was the skull of a sheep. No idea where the rest of the beast is.
I mentioned the fact that we don’t have a particularly inspiring or exciting view from any of the windows here in our Airbnb in Wick. Well, if you were using the latrines in the castle, this is the awful sight that would greet you.
The other exciting place we visited was The Expensive Stinking Corporate Organisation, or Tesco for short. And I was amazed and delighted, not to say overawed to see this exciting new development ‘in-store’ as the marketing people but not real people like to say:
When will boffins stop inventing these amazing new things, eh? But what really irked me at this shoppers’ paradise was the fact that it has a better view than we do at our temporary residence.
When the purchases were placed on the kitchen floor, the bags reminded us of other places that we dream of visiting again one day.
In order to reach my target step count for the day, I went for a quick walk outside, in what was now quite a strong wind.
Look at that poor old windsock straining against the wind, holding on for grim death. This airport is a mere 200 metres along the road from our current residence, but other than a couple of helicopters, we’ve not been disturbed by it at all.
I was delighted however to find a boat just round the corner.
I don’t think we’ll need it now it’s stopped raining, but good to know it’s so close. The bloke it belongs to is at home for a couple of weeks from the oil rigs and he’s looking forward to going fishing.
The ugly place next door whose identity I didn’t know earlier? Well, it’s Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives. There are two very different archives here, one ancient and one modern. Because of Covid, it’s currently closed to the public, but I’m sure it’s a fascinating place to explore, especially on a wet day.
It is home to the archives of the UK civil nuclear industry which dates back over seventy years and include plans, drawings, photographs, film, microfiche and documents. Dounreay, the site of the UK’s first fast nuclear reactor, is not too far away, we’ll probably drive close by it.
Nucleus also houses the historical archives of the county of Caithness which date from 1469 to the present day and consist of documents in different formats including charters, minute books, correspondence, maps, photographs and plans. These historic collections are available to members of the public for family and local history research.
For those viewers who are keeping notes, or maybe even a spreadsheet, today’s musical entertainment has been provided by the rest of Amy’s show, which we interrupted when we ventured outside and Jo Whiley on Radio 2. We Got It On with Bryan Burnett on BBC Radio Scotland, he played songs that cheer us up. And finally, we tuned into Claire Benson as she presents her weekly Happy Thursday show on Radio Northenden!
In the end, then, against the odds, we enjoyed a very rewarding day and a total of over 11,000 steps were taken, the most enjoyable ones being out in the fresh air of course.
We had a slow start to the day despite Liesel’s best efforts. She had the washing in the machine soon after 7.30 and one very long cycle later, we hung it up. Indoors. Because it was raining. I think they call it mizzle around here, a great word, somewhere between mist and drizzle.
The short drive to John O’Groats was spectacular. The views towards and over the sea are a continual reminder of what a big country this is. And of course photos, especially those taken with a phone, can never do justice to the vista.
No, this isn’t a realistic animal at all, is it, but it greeted us on arrival at John O’Groats. In the background, you can see the Orkney Islands. We’re missing them out this time, but they’re on the (growing) list of places to go back to one day.
Of course, we had to take a photo with The Sign. Just as I did 30 years ago at the end of a three-week bike ride from Lands End. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that? Yes, over 100 of us were in that group, and Liesel was delighted to see the field that we all camped in that night. The books that ‘end-to-enders’ sign are all in storage right now, but it is hoped they’ll be put on display soon, and maybe even digitised. It’ll be fun to see my 30-year old signature.
There’s a lot more here than I remembered, much more than just a hotel and a gift shop which is what I think I was expecting.
Dunnet Head is the most northerly point on the mainland of Great Britain. It’s a fabulous place for bird watching. Wild rock doves, they claim, are the wild ancestors of domestic pigeons. Well, I think the place has just been invaded by plain ordinary pigeons, they look the same to me!
There are plenty of other seabirds to choose from though, fulmars, gulls, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes but of course what everyone wants to see are the puffins. And we did! First puffins we’ve seen in the wild. We don’t know why they should be thought of as more cute than the other species, but they really are. Today for once, I did experience lens envy. The bloke with the three-foot long zoom lens undoubtedly achieved better photos than I did with my phone.
Dunnet Head lighthouse is off limits to the public, but I’m sure the view from the top would be stunning. There is a path leading to a 360° viewpoint, and you can see for miles out to sea and around the coastline.
Passing through John O’Groats for a coffee was a sad occasion. There will now be a two-paragraph silence in memory of the hat I lost in John O’Groats today.
Why do I keep losing apparel in this tiny place? The last time I was here, I managed to lose one of my cycle mitts. Anyway, we drove to Duncansby Head for another walk and a chance to see more seabirds.
It’s a very sandy place, and there are sheep living here. Just like Dunnet Head, there’s a lighthouse that we’re not allowed to visit. There’s also a trig point at both locations, without which our OS maps would be much less accurate.
The beach here looks very inviting, but nobody was taking advantage of it. Hang on, you’re thinking, I thought you lost your hat? I did. This is my number 2 hat, the waterproof one.
The path took us much closer to the nesting birds here. So close, we could smell them. A bit fishy, a bit ammoniacal, probably because of all the guano. There were a few puffins here as well, but mostly I think they’re fulmars. And pigeons. Oops, I mean wild rock doves.
We had a fun long walk here, it was nice and hilly, and you get used to the stench of wildlife after a while. We could see The Old Man of Hoy way over in the distance, another seastack. I said to Liesel, ‘Well, I can’t climb it again today, but maybe I can take its picture’. ‘You’ve climbed it?’ No, of course not. Turns out, I couldn’t take its picture today either, it was just too far away and too hazy.
Back at our place, we listened to James Taylor and Mary Hopkin while reading and writing and eating. A very nice way to end the day, thank you Liesel xx
I woke up at ten past four which was perfect. This was the time for sunrise and I was hoping to see the Sun emerge from the icy depths of the North Sea. But it rose more to the north-east, from behind a hill rather then the sea. It was still a pretty sight to see, but I think we’ll have to come back to Helmsdale in about September for optimum sunrise over the ocean opportunities.
I went back to bed of course: what a ridiculous time of day! We said goodbye to Ruth and before we left, I took down details of the place next door, which is ripe for development.
The asking price is a mere £95,000 but I suspect you’d need that much again to make it habitable.
Helmsdale harbour was all about fishing, which is why the place exists in the first, really.
We spent some time in the museum here, known as Timespan. Some folks had a hard time. Especially the women whose job it was to cut the heads off and remove guts from herrings. They could process up to 60 a minute. Yet in the census, they were just referred to as a fish-wife, the wife of a fisherman.
Also here, we saw a small, insignificant stone that was taken into space in 2019 by Scotland’s first astronaut, David MacKay.
We are now well on our way on the NC 500 tour, the 500 miles that takes visitors around the north of Scotland. The main road, the A9 goes up and down, more or less following the coast. It’s quite steep in a few places, so much so that there are emergency escape lanes. I can’t believe that 30 years ago, I was fit enough to cycle along this road, from Helmsdale to Wick. The views were stunning, on both sides: the sea and the mountains.
Dunbeath is a cute little place. We parked up by an old mill and went for a long walk by the side of a burn.
We walked across a pedestrian suspension bridge, designed by Thomas Telford. It was a bit wobbly, and it has been tethered to the banks presumably to remedy this.
The path alternated between grass and stones, some shingle, a few steep parts too, which were mostly OK, but next time, I’ll put trainers on rather than retain my sandals. Well, I didn’t think we were going to walk as far as we did! There was evidence of sheep but no rabbits, strangely. We investigated the remains of a broch, an old structure that was originally nine metres tall, with really thick walls and an entryway that you have to stoop to walk through.
We passed the remains of an old monastery too, saw a few standing stones and a now overgrown cairn. Best of all, we found a bench to sit on for a while.
It looks as though it would be too lumpy to sit on. But no. I think the time we spent here was the best half hour of the day. What could be more pleasant than spending time with the one you love, outside, on a beautiful day, in the middle of nowhere. The only sounds were small birds singing, some bees buzzing around, the leaves rustling in the trees and the water burbling and gurgling over the stones in the burn. This is what peace and serenity feels like, totally at ease with the world, away from people and everyday problems.
The walk back to the car was somehow easier and quicker Our picnic lunch today was enjoyed outside by the mill, not in the car! I was walking behind Liesel most of the time, and I stopped to make a new friend, so I was delayed.
She was very chatty and I think was protecting a chick in the bushes.
Before continuing our journey north, we stopped off at Dunbeath Harbour. The breakwater is comprised of hundreds of concrete cuboids, laid out as though it were a work of art. Another striking image was this sculpture.
Next stop: Whaligoe Steps. We didn’t know whether we’d follow in the footsteps of those hardy women who carried empty barrels down the 330+ steps, gutted herrings all day, then carried the barrels back up, now full of fish. Weights of up to 100 lb have been suggested. Well, the best laid plans of Mick and Liesel gang aft a-gley, as they say in these parts (I don’t think they do, really). The steps and the café were closed, disappointing us and several other visitors, one of whom may have jumped over the barrier when he thought nobody was watching.
We saw seabirds, gulls and possibly oystercatchers, making their homes in the cliff face. But no, we didn’t bother walking about thirty feet back to fetch the binoculars!
And so, we reached Wick, where we will stay near the airport industrial estate for a few nights. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound very inviting at first, but it’s a nice house, and the fact that the industrial estate and the council dump are close by, well that’s the yang to yesterday’s yin, the lovely view over the sea.
The place is called Wick, the coffee shop is called Wicker’s World, a play on the name of an old TV series in which Alan Whicker reported from all around the world. In Twickenham, there used to be a travel agent called Twicker’s World, so it’s a well-used pun.
Tonight, we listened to the soundtrack from the film Brave, Wynton Marsalis’s album Joe Cool’s Blues and some Scottish music from Eddi Reader, live in concert in Japan a few years ago.
Before we left home, we had a discussion about how to play the music from my phone. If we go alphabetically by artist, then we get all the Beatles songs together, for instance, and each day will be different but not very varied. We tried playing tracks in alphabetical order on a previous trip, and that ensures you hear everything, but you’ll hear, for example, four versions of Life on Mars? in a row. So, random shuffle is the best bet, you’d think. Except that it’s not totally random. Some tracks are repeated as if on heavy rotation, while others are totally ignored. The compromise so far has been to choose specific albums or artists each night. What a conundrum. As I think I said, if this is the worst problem we have to deal with, then we are very lucky people indeed.
What else has gone wrong? Nothing really, just a few more bug bites. Mick is obviously more tasty than Liesel, she hasn’t reported any bites so far, not even a tickle. It’s not nice being bitten, but it’s still sad to see so few insects around. We were talking about how, in bygone Summers, you’d arrive at your destination with a windscreen caked in dry, squished bugs. You’d have to scrape them off with a hammer and chisel.
The first exciting port of call after leaving our Inverness b&b was, wait for it… Aldi. Yes, already, we had food shopping to do. But it was nice to meet Dorothy, our host, just as we were leaving. She’s hoping for more guests later in the year as Covid restrictions are lifted.
Aldi, yes. The less said, the better, as the song goes.
We drove over a couple of bridges today that I cycled over way back in ’91. Kessock Bridge out of Inverness and Dornoch Firth Bridge. The latter was opened in 1991 by HM The Queen Mother, but two or three weeks before that, a group of us cycled over it on our way to John O’Groats from Lands End. We felt very privileged: I think it would have been a 60 mile detour without that bridge!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kessock Bridge was longer than I remembered and soon after the crossing, we stopped for a short walk. Path to North Kessock, the sign said, 100m. I hoped it was 100 metres rather than 100 miles, and so it was. Down steps. 146 of ’em, that we had to walk back up again.
While at the bottom, we had a quick chat with a couple of locals. They were saying that they used to see dolphins and seals all the time in this, the Beauly Firth. All we saw today was a man fishing. The other attraction here was a Costcutter supermarket. If only we’d known. We could have bought our shopping here instead of Aldi and lugged it all the way up 146 steps.
The first distillery we visited, Glen Ord of Singleton, was probably very interesting. We would have loved sampling the wares. But it was closed. It’s Monday. Oh well, onwards and upwards. Here’s a tip: check that places are open before you turn up unannounced.
We checked and the Glenmorangie distillery was open. And very popular. I tried one whisky and it was so smooth, we had to buy a bottle. I know, I know, we buy whisky faster than we drink it at home but, new year’s resolution: we will finish at least one bottle soon.
What is the significance of all the giraffes? There are pictures all over the place, and several models, all with extremely long necks. This distillery has the tallest stills in Scotland, which we could just see through a mesh, not ideal for taking pictures, so it’s a good job we’re not into industrial espionage.
Yes, I sampled about a quarter of a dram of whisky so of course I found it hard not to nod off in the car. The scenery is always spectacular of course, and we’re not even in the highest of highlands yet. But I’m sure I missed some beauty spots while resting my eyes. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Liesel was driving.
It wasn’t raining today, but we still ate our lunch in the car, admiring a field of barley or something like that. The seeds had spread far and wide, encroaching onto the precious space set aside for a lay-by off the A9 or wherever we were at the time.
Today’s castle was Dunrobin.
I found this one more interesting than the other two, partly helped by the fact that it was well illuminated. The Covid-inspired one-way system worked well too. Lots of stags’ heads on the walls, and lots of portraits of Dukes and Earls of Sutherland and their gorgeous wives. The portrait of Queen Victoria was I think the best I’ve ever seen of her, but not easy to take a picture of, unless you want to look up the royal nose.
The castle looks out over some well maintained gardens, and beyond those is the North Sea. We’d pay extra for an Airbnb with this view.
I’d like to say our selfie skills are improving, but this one disproves that assertion. If I lost some height or if I could persuade Liesel to wear extremely high heels, that might help. Still, we keep ourselves amused by trying.
Cups of coffee were taken here before we left for our final destination today: a cottage way up a hill, just south of Helmsdeep. No, not Helmsdeep, that was the site of a big battle in Lord of the Rings. We’re just south of Helmsdale. I was last there 30 years ago, on the same bike ride referred to earlier. We set up our tents on the beach, close to a shipwreck. In the morning, I noticed what must have been a rabbit hole between the inner and outer sheets of my tent. Do rabbits really burrow on sandy beaches?
Tonight though, after driving up the steepest road imaginable, we are indeed enjoying a beautiful view.
Over the water from left to right, there is Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and Scotland. We can only see the last one on that list of course.
After supper, I went for a quick walk. I couldn’t get much further up the hill because the vegetation was too dense. So I walked down.
The length of that shadow! And there are still three and a half hours until sunset. This is the day of the Summer Solstice, so days start getting shorter now. It’ll soon be Winter. Yeah, I know how to bring the mood down! And yes, that lump in the middle of the road is horse manure. That horse must have had 27 pints and a huge curry last night.
The yellow of the gorse was very nearly surpassed by the purple and the white foxgloves.
Our evening music was provided by Wings, the London Town album, and by Martha Tilston, as many albums as we can fit in before bedtime. We haven’t turned the TV on anywhere except briefly so we could listen to BBC 6 Music. I finished my book last night, a detective story that was good but, I think, a bit long, just one too many false leads being followed. But we’re in Scotland now and I am looking forward to reading Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, a depiction of more historical Scottish events that we don’t learn about in school. I loved her previous novel, The Mermaid and the Bear, so I know I’m going to enjoy this one, even if the use of the Scots language slows me down a bit!
Our host Ruth has left us these treats. Well, it would be rude not to. Cheers! Slàinte Mhath!
Yesterday I expressed a desire to see a red squirrel. That wish didn’t come true, but we did see a blue one.
We saw this chap just down the road, here in Inverness, one of a series known as The Go Nuts Art Trail, raising funds for the Highlands Hospice. This one’s design is based on Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Today we were tourists. Our first destination was Brodie Castle, named after the anti-hero from the American TV drama series Homeland. We saw a plume of smoke as we approached Inverness Airport and hoped it wasn’t another terrible incident on the road. No, just a harmless factory of some sort.
But nicer than that is the fact that the runways at Inverness Airport are configured to look like a snowflake when viewed from a suitable height.
Brodie Castle looks alright, so we thought we’d ruin the view by standing in front of it.
Each room had its own guide, and they spoke for up to ten minutes. The tour groups were kept separate of course. But it was quite dark inside. Actually, it was pretty dismal outside too. The library was probably fascinating: I would love to have studied the children’s books in case there were any that I remembered from my own childhood, but there just wasn’t enough light.
What could beat seeing a blue squirrel? Seeing the biggest white rabbit in the whole of Scotland, of course.
The sign said to download an app that would animate this large rodent, but I couldn’t get it to work. The playgrounds on the castle site are fantastic, it would be a great place to bring children, or grandchildren, one day.
We had a nice walk around the grounds but while wandering around inside the castle itself, it started to rain. What a shame. Also, we were too late in the year to see the daffodil collection, put together by Ian Brodie after his awful experiences in the Boer and First World Wars left him with what we now know as PTSD. But if we can’t see thousands of golden daffodils, we can enjoy seeing the biggest monkey puzzle tree we’ve ever seen.
It is a truth universally acknowedged that when Mick and Liesel go travelling in the UK, it is likely to rain. It used to rain when Mick and Sarah bed and breakfasted around the country too. We’ve enjoyed so many picnic lunches inside a car, watching the rain cascade down the windscreen while the windows fog up inside. Oh well, we tell ourselves, while chewing sandwiches in a car, in a car park, again, all this rain is what makes Scotland so beautiful.
According to William Shakepeare, Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor, resided at Cawdor Castle. Not in real life he didn’t, because the castle wasn’t built until 300 years after Macbeth died.
This isn’t the sort of caravan we anticipated seeing a lot of in Scotland. And no, nor is it our accommodation on this occasion. It’s outside Cawdor Castle, which was the next stop on our tour.
I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, as usual, but I did have a waterproof(-ish) jacket on too. The guide in the castle accused me of being dressed inappropriately. I pointed out that I was dressed correctly, it was the weather that was behaving badly.
For a moment, I thought we’d entered an American house.
Too many firearms for one wall. This castle is occupied by one lady for half the year, and the rest of the time, it’s open to us visitors. Again, lots of historic artefacts. But again, I think I enjoyed walking around the gardens more, despite the weather.
There’s a maze in the gardens, but we’re not allowed to enter it. Maybe they’ve lost too many visitors to the minotaur in the centre. We think it’s a minotaur, but we didn’t bring our binoculars with us today. Although they would have been useful as we watched some birds from a distance, finding something tasty on the path nearby. We saw a thrush, some chaffinches and a yellow thing that was too fast to identify.
What a brilliant work of art. From this angle, the sculpture is of a Mum and her baby having a cuddle, but from the other direction, it’s a pair of hands supporting them both. Very clever.
Another record breaker was this iris.
This is the deepest purple iris we’ve ever seen, and it looks spectacular with a few drops of rain water.
On the way back to our b&b, we stopped at Culloden Battlefield. We’d been before, with Liesel’s Mom and Dad, and the place has lost none of its sense of eeriness. We know the terrible story, how many lives were lost senselessly. The grey clouds were perfectly matched the feeling of foreboding.
I went for a walk around the site, trying to avoid the other visitors. To be fair, they probably weren’t that keen on me, either. I found a couple of the memorial stones that we’d missed last time.
This headstone marks the traditional site of a grave locally believed to be the resting place of the MacDonalds who fell in action during the battle. This stone was erected by members of the Clan Donald Society ‘to honour all MacDonalds killed at Culloden and in battle elsewhere’. A sad but salutory reminder of how lucky I am that I’ve never been involved in any conflict.
A very different day today, just pootling around rather than driving a long way to reach a destination. There’s plenty of that still to come of course.
So what’s gone wrong so far? My first injury was incurred yesterday when I was bitten on the ankle by some bug or other. I’d forgotten all about it until this morning after my shower when I noticed the wound was bleeding. The second injury was caused by hard furniture. My shin detected the coffee table in our lounge. It didn’t break the skin but there is a contusion, which, given we’re in Scotland, I’m naming Robert. Robert the Bruise.
As I write, we’re listening to the golden voice of Eddi Reader, but earlier we re-played my radio show from January, the one with Scotland as its theme. The one in which my microphone wasn’t working for a long time. Lots of fabulous Scottish music, but also an embarrassing amount of dead air.