396 – 399: Magic Moments Travelling to the North

396 – Monday 20th June 2016:  The Longest Day

Our morning run took us up the oh so long drive of Flichity House, which K had been a guest of her brother some years ago.  The driveway of over 1 km meant our run was well over 5k … a tall order given our weekend of food and booze excesses.  Sad in a way to leave the meet – we met some excellent people, hosted hospitably by the Marvellous Margaret and Awesome Angus – we plan to come again next year.

A short drive to Fortrose and an excellent simple church. The churchyard had a tombstone showing a family that lost 5 children from age 1 to age 20!

Our other stop of the day was to the Groam House Museum – informative about the Picts and their standing stones.  

We arrived in Cromarty with the intention of walking the town and doing the museum.  Too late for the museum so we only walked the town.  But some finds are magic and a bit different … the small church had been much extended due to the village enlarging and had 3 extra floors added.  The different sized and different levels of decoration and comfort pews, depending on your different status.

Our overnight parking was bliss:  A large grass area right on the shore.  The lighthouse behind and a 180 view of the Firth.  Oil rigs rising out of the water like ancient religious icons.  Peaceful and we heard the waves lapping at the shore – like at Vito Lo Capo in Sicily.  Dolphins obliges by performing a ‘pax de deux’ in sight of K’s lens – real magic again, and such a treat as there’d been none when we stopped at the North Kessock dolphin viewing area.  Incongruously the dolphins were followed by the sight of a massive Dutch cruise ship being led out by the pilot boat.  What, we wondered was there to see in the firth other than resting oil rigs.  We later discovered that they park up a Invergorden and the inmates are shipped by bus up to the Glenmorangie Distillery. 

Longest day?  A day early we were told due to the Leap Year … no-one proposed to me!  But some lovely evening light over the water.



C13 Fortrose Cathedral – we’d had a nanny nap in the carpark first.


Cromarty, as in the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast … perhaps we should make a tour of these?  The church was much extended by adding 3 mezzanines.


Our amazing pitch – water side and walking distance to the town.


How lucky were we?  Dolphins swimming out of the Firth … no time to put on the zoom lens.


At about 10.30 – the sun never really set.  Although the light quality is not as pure as at this time of year in Norway (where we were now last year).


The ship yard opposite all lit up – 24 hr shifts?


Cromarty Firth is home to oil rigs – we saw one being towed out to sea.

397 – Tuesday 21st June 2016:  Picts and Lidl!

K solo ran and pilates’d as J suffering sore toes!*!*!  Being such a lovely location and sunny we didn’t really want to move on, even though we’re conscious of how little time we have till our Cairnryan crossing to Belfast on the 7th July (K checked the crossing only to discover that we’re booked on the 0300 hrs.  Gulp!  (Must’ve been one of our economical moments of madness).  We lingered and did some small DIY jobs.  A few chats with some locals and other travellers, including some youngsters (who’d camped and were now paddling) who could confirm that the water was indeed very cold … we didn’t need to test it then!  How time flies … we even had our lunch soup there before setting off.  

We stopped in Dingwall Lidl to stock up on a few essentials … Booze £61, Food £35 … is this the right way around?   We bumped into a family at Balintore, who’d been in the Groam House Museum yesterday in a car park we intended overnighting in.  As we chewed the fat, local youngsters started hauling out skateboard kit from a trailer and building a skate park.  Youngsters + late nights = noise!  Their prerogative, but we were likely to be in the way … so we drove to the next parking just up the road, which proved to be really fortuitous.  Next to the beach and opposite a Memorial Hall.  K popped in to check that no-one would object to our overnighting there … another nice chat with a lady about (re)discovering exercise.

And we were next to a tennis court … the rusty rackets came out from under the bed and we had a knock about battling against, the uneven surface, a strong wind and our own rusty ineptitude.  Again we watched the light change the colours and mood of the rock and the sea.


398 – Wednesday 22nd June 2016:  Glenmorangie and Timespan

Morning tea was served M’lud by our trusty manservant Jamie MacNibbs Von Deafearsovski!  A retired Russo-Irish aristocrat from Dublinshire, Europe!  Lovely views – more tennis – another dead heat (wind stopped play) …fried Brekkie by M’Lady Mac Fallenondeafearsoffpistefromtimetotime… Wow, I’m feckin exhausted…

Fantastic offer of showers (free) by our lovely neighbourly ‘village people’ in the hall – water fills (free) – we left a suitable cash donation – what amazing people!  A pukka wet room newly installed for travellers at no charge. A sight issue in that K flooded the floor due the to shower high pressure, but had to argue with the lovely people to be allowed to mop it up herself!

Via Tain to Glenmorangie – pronounced “Glen-MOrangie – think of of “Orangey” – most impressive whisky production – now French owned – nothing against French ownership – free trade – EU pro – or con…?  We bought samples – small size for MacNibbs…

Our royal procession of aristocraps – sorry aristocrumbs – was re-directed by a tractor in front – we went the way he did not – minor Sat Nav change, so we did not see Dornoch.  We’ll see it next trip … did we mention we’ve already decided to spend much longer in Bonnie Scotland next year?

We visited the Timespan Museum which is mainly dedicated to telling personal stories of the Clearances.  You discover the different perspectives of progress according to the landlord, or hardship for the tenants.  The Clearances starting about 1805 are when the Scottish landlords (many of whom mainly lived elsewhere i.e. down south) evicted their tenant farmers as they could get more money from sheep farming than the rents.  Thousands were forcibly removed from their longhouses to less fertile land, where they built crofts.  Some were given strips of land to farm.  These Runrigs were runs of about 15 feet: one on good soil and one on less fertile.  Many emigrated to Canada and America.  Others had to learn new trades such as fishing, especially Herring fishing which was booming at the time.  This area’s Clearances were some of the worst … the Countess of Suttherland owned millions of acres.  Between 1807 to 1821 about 15,000 people had their homes burnt as they left to prevent their return, left to scratch a living from acid soils.

Helsmdale – Harbour overnight stop with some other motorhomes.  K chatted to a local lass on the harbour wall and then we both chatted to a German chap – part in German and part English.  Really lovely to be able to just hook up a conversation with everyone and anyone.  It so helps to be able to speak the language … although the Scots do have word variations.  K has been asked where she comes form as she has no definable accent!  Apparently the well known La Mirage fish restaurant used to be run by a clone of Dame Barbara Cartland down to blonde hair and pink.  Evening entertainment was laid on when she, front of house, argued with her son the chef.  As we drove past, I peered in … a riot of kitch.

What a great day.  Another one … we still keep saying to each other that it does not get better than this and then it does!


Glenmorangie boasts the tallest stills … glowing copper.


Barrels are made from Americal white Oak and are used once for Bourbon, twice by Glenmorangie for their standard 10 year old malt.  Our guide then dismissively told us that the barrels (now past their best) are then sold to the whiskey blenders.  K spotted an advert selling designed sunglasses made with old barrel wood … can’t ‘see’ much demand!


He wants one of these?


Corporate colour scheme … not one for home.


The main Malts are the standard 10 year old, and then some of this is put into reused port, sherry or white wine barrels for a further two years.  The smells and taste are incredibly different as the main flavour comes from the barrels – we got to sniff the differences.


Helmsdale Harbour.  So lucky the gulls just took off and for once I had my camera in my hand.


Formerly a major Herring port, but now a mix of leisure craft and seafood fishing boats.  A fisherman came in with a basket of … he told me it was Haddock, used to bait the lobster pots, but that it was edible.  i probably should have asked if I could buy one, but we had sea bass planned for supper.  The sea bass was from Lidl … nice (served with broccoli and orange!), but I’m sure not a patch on fresh Haddock.



The local lady I chatted to pointed out the strips on the hillside – remnants of the small pieces of land given to the displaced tenants during the Clearances when landlords wanted the prime land for more profitable sheep grazing.


399 – Thursday 23rd June 2016: Dunnet Head – furthest north on the mainland

Our harbour side pitch provided more spectacular views over the sea.  We played tennis again on another local court with open access – Wimbledon beckons – not!  Less wind and a better surface than yesterday but I (K) still managed to loose to J 6 -2.  But it is the playing that matters, right?  We did have some good rallys though.

Brekkified, we met Roger from South wales (van next-door) – prospecting for gold in them tha’ar hills!  Suddenly, Pat from the Brin Meet popped up – and more neighbourly chats…  Pat quipped that my skirt (!) is longer than Katherine’s! James in a lady-skirt!  What’s next ? It’s my version of a sari or Middle East dish dash….

Finally we tore ourselves away to Badbae – sight of ‘post-clearance’ croft village – it must have been like Ireland during the ‘Famine’ years…  All that is left is a monument to some of the former residents and a few low stone walls.  Beautiful and still today, but apparently livestock and children had to be tied down in storms.

We’d planned to go to the Duncansby Stacks near John O’Groats, but K concerned that we’d just started our second bottle of LPG, checked where we could refill.  Watton was the ONLY place until we got right round to the west and down a bit – don’t the owner know it too £0.78 / ltr!   Watton is was then … and it made sense to skip the Stacks and head to Dunnet Head – most northern point in the UK.   Heavenly views and 360 degree sights – K set up the tripod for sunset but it got cold and windy later so retired to our Chard bivuac for a quiet evening of blogging – and vino…..

I ventured out for a wee at 3:00 am – Nordkapp-style peasouper fog and windy! We had a little rain ingress through the roof lights but nothing of consequence.


Alfresco breaky and we heard that there’s flash flooding and storms in London


More natural wildlife – I know wildlife is natural, but it was just there in front of us in the harbour.


Walk to Badbae, well, what is left of it.  A small community set up home on the windswept cliff edge after the Clearances.  Animals and children had to be tethered to prevent them being swept off the cliff.


Badbae monumant to some of the families that lived here.  Just a few rocks to show where the crofts had been.

P1110008Dunnet Head Lighthouse, built by Robert Louis Stephenson’s grandfather.


Should have had the zoom lens to see the birds (puffins, razorbills etc) nesting on the cliff, but it would have looked so pathetic compared the German and Austrian tourists who arrived by Merc Minibus or massive motorbike and they all had huge big ones!  The lens that is!!! 


So many wild flowers too.

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