400 – 401: Gin, but in Search of Water

400 –  Making and Using Everything

We awoke to news of Brexit – deal done – grrrrr from us but that’s what the UK voters want – so it’s now fixed – still a major shock – instability in the markets and uncertainty all around. It will take 2\3 years to negotiate our Grrrrexit !

Fog just cleared so we’ll Drexit (exit Dunnet Head) while it’s safe – and on to our next adventure….. and moments in time – they just keep on coming!

Mary Anne’s Cottage!  We arrived just as the staff opened – we expected to stay for half an hour or so – small building.  We stayed for over 2 hours after a hugely entertaining and historic visit – a time capsule – Mary Anne left it intact, on her explicit instructions, on her departure in 1990 at the wonderful age of 93 years young!  A chap did the our buildings and grounds, holding up implements for us to guess their purpose.   The animal medicinal horn had us – no idea.  The cottage tour was performed by Sheena who used to visit Mary Ann:  she explained Mary Ann’s reaction to new fangled devices and inventions in Scottish dialect that used lots of substitute words and verb endings.  We had to really pay attention to understand her.  She threw in some of her own recollections:  the best two being:

1. Sheena and her sister had the job of opening gates to get the cows in for milking … The cattle knew the drill and headed off for the milking parlour as soon as released from their field.  Her sister said don’t look around, we’ve a problem (-Houston, not really!).  The Queen with young Charles and Margaret were being driven in a cavalcade of Land Rovers to Castle Mey (Queen Mum) and the cattle had blocked the road!  Apparently the Queen and Anne looked on – “unamused”, Charles leaning out the window trying to stroke the beasts as the Range Rover wended its way through the beasts!  If they’d only waited 2 mins, the cattle would’ve tuned up the lane off the road!

2.  Quite young at school and the snow came down heavy.  Knock at the school house and Da arrived, but she and her 2 school age siblings did not recognise him.  All wrapped up in sou’ westers with his face not visible.  He’d come to take them home.  He explained they’d go across the fields as the road was not passable.  He lifted Shenna over a wall into a field of … snow.  She was up to her armpits and let out a wail.  He said don’t worry, I’ll move you.  He did.  But her boots remained behind in the snow.  She said she’d never been so tired or so cold in her life before or since.

Again one of those moments in time that are sheer magic.

As always, K’s excellent photos explain it all – it is typically a Scottish gem… and run by volunteers.  Our cost £3 each and so well worth it.

Once again, our overnight stay was out of this world – a secluded harbour at Castletown – all on our own – with the tides and the birds and the harbour wall sheltering us from the sort winds.  It is a derelict small hamlet with a Heritage Centre.  The info boards explained that a man called Trail, saw profit in flagstones and had several quarries in Caithness.  He created a factory to dress them and had a harbour built to export them.  Built a massive house, which burned down the 70’s.  The hamlet was gradually left to nature from about 1902 as concrete killed off the flagstone industry and is now a load of semi roofless buildings.  The atmosphere is quite romantic tinged with loss and sadness.  But eerily beautiful.

A couple of lads cycled into our harbour,  Connor and Duncan.  On being asked – they said they knew nothing about the local history!  Suddenly, non-boring Duncan gave us a half hour lecture – about? Local history !and his favourite places in Scotland!!  K had to run back to Chard to collect pen and map to take notes!  His Dad is a teacher….. and we got a lecture!  We chuckled that he said he ‘bores; Connor’s family (he was unstoppable) – we wondered if his own parents encouraged his friendship with Connor!  

A truly magic day.  One of those unplanned moments in time.


Mary Ann’s Corft left exactly as it was when she left it in 1990, aged a mere 93.  She resided for a further 6 years in a Nursing Home.  Her grandfather had built the cottage and her son and grandchildren all resided in Aberdeenshire.


The hook used to twist straw to make rope.  It was then used to tie down hay ricks.


Mary Ann with James her husband and Donald, the son, making rope.


The Iron Horse was 6hp, which replaced two horses. I think it came in about 1950, and was loaned out to neighbours.


The Gents toilet in the stables, the Ladies was the trench in the cow byre, until a toilet was installed in the 1950s.  Mary Ann refused to have a proper bathroom, as what did she need with a bath … costing all the money!? Tsh Tsh!


Until running water in the 50’s, drinking water was collected from the well, a fair walk away.  The frame prevents the buckets swinging and spillages.


Turnip drill.  The animal horn on the right was used to force feed animals their medication.


Not a wooly condom!  A scratchy string slipper.  Mary Ann, a local Women’s Institute founder, won prizes for her slippers.


View from the nearby pier looking across to the wide sandy beach and dunes at Dunnet Bay.


Our amazing home for the night.  They harbour was built in 1925 to ship flagstones worldwide.  The industry died when concrete became cheap and popular around 1902.

401 – 25th June 2016:  Distillery No. 2:  Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

We ran for the first time in a week – flat and slow paced – exactly right for us. Stornaway black pudding – last of this lot – we will buy more, certainly…

The Rose Gin Distillery opened in 2014 and has already established itself as a runaway success!  One of their gins is 56% proof!  We tasted and we immediately appreciated the reasons for the success. 18 local botanicals.  We naughtily purchased a bottle for a small further tasting – tonight?   Our lovely neighbours, Shirley and Margaret, at the Highland Gathering had come around the NC 500 and recommended the Distillery – who are we to argue?  Only irritated moment was when the chap also on the distillery tour said he’d voted OUT, but had not expected the vote to carry.  Didn’t he read the press about how close a call it was?  How irresponsible to use your vote as a protest vote and then be shocked at what happens after!!!  Grrrr!  And what I read is that so many people voted out, not expecting it to happen!   More Grrrs!

Short on water,  we spied a campsite – they would surely let us fill up – for a price.  No H2O from this source – their well was dry to us – only kept for residents!  Not the true camping spirit here – not on our Christmas card list!   Concerned, K bought additional bottles of drinking water nearby at Lidl – so love Lidl – £1.86 for 12 litres!

En route to Douneray Nuclear Power Station, we stopped at a public toilet and filled up with 25 litres of aqua bheatha (water of life) in our large bottles and new Lidl 15ltr container – we thought briefly of returning to the ‘nowaterforsaleheremate” campsite and pouring it over them – but it’s too precious!

We could have flown into Douneray Nuclear Power Station (the first Nuclear plant to be commissioned in Scotland and now nearly as long as in operation in decommissioning) in our private jet – but they closed the runway when they saw our flying Chard… The heavily armed police flew in to ‘greet’ us – but in good humour, thankfully…  We’d missed the visitor viewing area and gone too far.  Oops – we seem to have stimulated an anti terrorist response .. certainly judging by the armaments the two Police were wearing!!!   

Across the top of Scotland there are lots of single track well-surfaced road with Passing Places every couple of hundred yards.  There is a working efficient system – you see an approaching vehicle and pull into the next passing place, unless he is nearer a  passing place,  and then you flash your opposite (car lights only!!!) to let him know you’ve pulled in.  An approaching coach driver who was yacking as he approached us – missed the protocol and almost caused us a problem…he had the grace to give us a somewhat shamefaced grin!   Other road obstacles are the odd sheep and several lambs and a stunning specimen of cockerel and two chickens.  You can’t hurry a Murray here!

Stunning scenery again:  the mists battling with the sun and rollin in from the sea across the moorland.  Lumpy bumpy bits of rock and lazy bends,  J dozed… but awoke to a drive across a causeway with vans wild camped – right turn and into our (again) perfect overnight.   We are not actually on the causeway but over looking it … K being slightly nervous that mid estuary winds my disturb our night’s repose … nothing to do with our supper!

Camped now – gin appeared magically from it’s perch on our ‘booze’ bar – flung itself into our glasses in a ‘large’ measure !  It’s an ‘optical’ transfusion!  My good lady ‘gin’ – sorry – tonic – double apology – is feeling the gin warming her – ’somegin deep inside’!  The evening has just gebun – hic!


J with the still “Elizabeth” – the Queen Mum liked a wee dram with Dubonnet – Yuk!  K remembers meeting someone who visited the Queen Mum.  Apparently she’d lean over her landing and holler downstairs to her largely gay waiting staff “Would one of you queens downstairs bring an old Queen up here another gin”!


Bottles come from Germany … Grrrexit!  Apparently the UK cannot make stone bottles of consistent weight!


The Gin is Rock Rose as the root of this plant is used.


Doureay – all looking very 1960’s.  Apparently employment for hundreds until the site is free from radioactivity.  The visitor centre, which my ancient guide book said found ‘reasons’ for local Leukaemia and radioactive materials on the beach, shut some years ago!


Our lunch stop – Borgie Forest:  a Celtic letter tree spiral walk.


Name your animal thrusting from the earth.


The view from our pitch back up the Kyle of Tongue with Melrose Cemetery 


An awful lot of MacKays buried here with a fab view of the hills.


Several of these chirrped as I walked around the cemetery – no idea what … rubbish with birds.


Oystercatcher … know this one as the info board told me so!



Wonderfully sunny this morning – could be the Caribbean.