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.