LOVE TO WANDER
About 20 miles from Durness, via Kinlochbervie, the road turns off to the right towards Oldshoremore and leads to a car park at Blairmore where you can take a 4.5 mile walk to Sandwood Bay. We passed a troupe of 30 or more E Type Jaguars en route, driven by a jolly crowd of enthusiasts often wearing his and hers coloured hats/helmets. They honked and waved as we pulled into passing place after passing place along the single track road to let them pass. From the car park, the well formed path passes a series of pretty lochs through peat moorland all the way down to the coast. The lochs were a deep blue and the moorland shone with purple heather, glistening after the rain earlier in the morning.
At the end off the path, the moorland gives way to huge sand dunes which run down to a 2 mile long sandy beach. This is one of the few places left in the world where you can still go wild camping - no permit needed, just a "leave it as you find it" respect for nature. The path is well formed, so carrying all the necessary gear would be feasible - maybe next time?!
Britain's most recent sighting of a mermaid was allegedly recorded here in 1900. She is supposed to have red hair, green-blue eyes and a 7ft yellow body. She didn't make an appearance today. What did surprise us though was a short, sharp hailstorm which inflicted itself on us as soon as we arrived at the beach. It was soon over though and the sun shone through afterwards and dried us out pretty quickly.
Numark pocket tissues - they seemed like a good buy at 15p a packet, but disintegrated far too easily. Note to self - buy Kleenex next time!
En route to Durness, we stopped at the Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill (opens at 10). The museum gives excellent coverage of the Highland Clearances. It is hard to believe that the Clearances actually took place. They involved the forced eviction of inhabitants of the Highlands and western islands of Scotland, beginning in the mid to late 18th century and continuing intermittently into the mid 19th Century. The removals cleared the land of people primarily to allow for the introduction of sheep farming. Poor crofters' houses were torched with no regard for preservation of life or possessions. Crofters were expected to make a new living fishing, inhabiting land near the sea. As they only had experience of farming and livestock, this was no mean feat. Many emigrated to New Zealand, Canada and the States, but some ended up in the industrial cities like Glasgow instead. A sorry tale indeed.
The single track road to Durness wound through heather covered moorland all around the edge of Loch Eriboll - a huge, deep loch - up to 60m in places.
Durness is the most northwesterly village on the British mainland. The village sits above idyllic Sango Sands bay where John Lennon came as a teenager on family holidays and inspired the song "In My Life".
Orkney Gold ale - deeply satisfying after a long walk in the rain!
The bitter-sweet hot chocolate topped off by white chocolate at Cocoa Mountain in Balnakeil Craft Village.
Sango Sands Bay.
Smoo Cave a mile east of Durness - a limestone cave which promised to be an interesting stop, but was shut to tours due to adverse weather conditions the previous day.
Balnakeil Craft Village sounded much better than it actually turned out to be - hot chocolate aside. It is an ex-military installation which was turned into a craft complex in the 1960s, but there was very little there at this time of the year. It maybe that there were more stalls open in the Summer?
The tourist information centre in Durness had no maps and no walks leaflets. We managed to photocopy the maps that were pinned to the wall for tomorrow's walks - but buy your maps ahead to avoid disappointment!
A fabulous location with stunning views of the beach from the dining room and the bedroom. Our room had en suite facilities but several don't, so you would need to be careful about this when you booked. The restaurant has a good choice of bar type food and there were also curries on offer in the bar. Our room was nice and cosy - a new heating system had been installed last year. The beautiful beach is easy walking distance from the hotel. Highly recommended!
Dunnet Head on the route from Wick to Bettyhill is actually the most northerly point of mainland Britain. On a clear day, you can see the whole North Coast from Cape Wrath to Dunscansby Head. Today was not very clear, unfortunately - it was blowing a gale strong enough to send the waterfalls upwards!
Another stop en route worth taking the detour for is the RSPB Forsinard Flows (Flow - pronounced to rhyme with Now).. It is a 1544 mile squared expanse of blanket peat bog - the largest in the world. There are boardwalks and flagstone paths through the bog with informative signboards - useful if you have never visited an area like this before.
Sundew plants grow in the bog. They are carnivorous (they trap flies in a sticky goo substance they exude). They have adapted this way to survive in a harsh land that offers them little other food.
Arrival at Betthyill Hotel - the view from the bedroom across Farr Beach was stunning.
Rainbow over Farr beach.
Wish I had seen:
Puffins. There are plenty in this part of the coast in the Summer time, but by August, they have all left their nesting grounds and flown out to sea. Bottlenose dolphins also frequent these shores, but are a fairly rare sight.
We had 2 nights in Wick, which allowed us time to tick the box of visiting John O'Groats. We saw a family waiting to welcome back their Dad & his friend Phil - End to Enders - it is 874 miles to Land's End from here. If you headed straight down, it is 12,875 long miles to New Zealand ...
John O'Groats was actually a bit prettier than I had expected and Duncansby Head - 2 miles east - was worth the walk. There were seals swimming in the sea, a lonely lighthouse and spectacular cliffs with impressive sea stacks the smallest of which is affectionately known as Tom Thumb. Walking in the other direction brings you out on a lovely shell beach where - if you are lucky - you can find a groatie buckie shell. They eluded us today - you need groatie eyes to find them, apparently.
Wick Heritage Centre was worth the trip in the afternoon, It has a huge collection of old photos which capture the heyday of the fishing boom well.
Then, we walked up to Old Pulteney Distillery - the most northern distillery on the Scottish mainland. The whisky has a hint of sea air and a slightly salty taste - hence it is known as the maritime malt. You can sample all the bottling at the Distillery before you decide which one to treat yourself to. The old familiar bottle with the waves around the bottom is sadly going out of production. The 17 year old whisky will probably all be sold by Christmas (so we bought a bottle, for old times sake). The new marketing is focussing on 15 and 18 year old whiskies. The 15 year old tastes of Christmas spices and has a lovely long finish, so we had to have a bottle of that too. The prettiest bottle was the 40th anniversary whisky, bottled in blue glass with sterling silver waves blown into the base - stunning marketing. The website describes the taste in gushing terms: "All variants of Old Pulteney are intriguing but this 40-year old is uniquely complex. Its nose; fruit, butterscotch, oak, pears, cloves and spices; flood you like waves over Wick’s protective wall. Its taste; sweetness, spices, brine, orange, toffee and more butterscotch; the perfect storm. Its finish; sweet spicy, sherry and orange; as long as a trip to sea." At £1500 a bottle - we will just have to imagine the pleasure.
A walk along Reiss Sands with a rainbow over the waves and a couple of seals for company brought the day to a relaxing close. The friendly barmaid at the Mackay's hotel gave me a groatie buckie shell too which hopefully will bring me as much luck as if I had found it myself!
Cullen Skink - A tasty, creamy soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes and leeks.
Stroma - A whisky based liqueur with added honey made at the Old Pulteney Distillery.
Learning the language:
Ganzies - Fishermen's jumpers. There were some lovely inky blue examples in the Wick Heritage Centre. The stitch patterns get more complex the further North and more remote you go.
The hotel was a little tired around the edges with a rickety lift, but what it lacked in swanky decor was more than made up for with the warmth and friendliness of the welcome. The hotel is well located in the centre of Wick within easy walking distance of the Heritage Centre and Old Pulteney Distillery. The hotel has a nice little bistro with a creative menu offering a reasonable amount of choice at a fair price. The complimentary welcome tipples and after dinner liqueurs were a nice touch.
We stopped to photograph the Blackstairs, where Lowry painted his famous view in the 1930s.
We chased rainbows all the way along the A9 and found a stunningly beautiful one in the busy little harbour in Wick when we arrived. It disappeared just before I managed to get a shot of it in full glory arching over the colourful little fishing boats bobbing in the harbour, so you will have to put the photo of the rainbow and the boats together to imagine the scene.
Wick was in its heyday in 1862 when it was the busiet herring port in Europe with a fleet of more than 1100 boats. We stopped to photograph the Blackstairs, where Lowry painted his famous view in the 1930s.
In 1862, in just 2 days, 3500 fishermen gutted 50 million herring (known as silver darlings, for obvious reasons).
Up to 500 gallons of whisky could be consumed in just one day!
thankfully We start our trip in Dunblane - best known as being Andy Murray's hometown and - say - site of the 1996 shooting of 16 Dunblane schoolchildren and their teacher. It took us 5 hours to get here from Birmingham - an uneventful drive with the highlight being a stop at ever dependable Tebay Services for a fruit scone with clotted cream, eaten overlooking the pretty duck pond.
A really comfortable hotel with a well stocked bar offering a wide selection of whiskies to taste. The hotel has a pool with a sauna and steam room. Parking could be challenging when the hotel is being used as a conference centre, but we didn't have a problem during our stay.
Today, we embark on a long awaited drive around the North Coast of Scotland. we will cover over 655 miles over the course of two weeks.
The North Coast 500 website describes this trip as: "the ultimate road trip around the north coast of Scotland, showcasing fairy-tale castles, white sand beaches and historical ruins."
We are timing the trip to avoid the midges and traffic that July and August bring and are hoping for some stunning scenery and some reasonable weather. Fingers crossed on all fronts!
The GK Chesterton quote springs to mind: "The traveller sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he came to see." Let the journey begin ...!