To the beautiful north of Scotland, Day 3…Inverness to Thurso

We set off from Kingsmills Hotel Inverness on the Tuesday, fortified by a large breakfast, and Kessock Bridgeknowing that the weather was likely to be a bit unpleasant. Fortunately we had not had the terrible gales and rain which England and Europe had experienced the previous day, but still, it might not be nice. The east of Scotland is usually colder but drier than the west, which has the Gulf Stream to influence it , but not this time.

The road north takes us along the continuing A9, over the Kessock Bridge. This divides the Beauly Firth and Moray Firth (sea lochs), but joins the ‘mainland’ with the Black Isle Peninsula. The Isle does not deserve this description, as it is a  bright, flat, lush. area, criss-crossed with many pretty roads,  with a long coastline, and villages and small towns such as Cromarty (of weather forecast fame), Rosemarkie, Jemimaville and Fortrose. When crossing the bridge, luckily the weather was OK but showed signs of worsening weather.

We were now travelling in an area well-known to our family, as these were the lands of the Foulis castleMunros of Foulis Castle in Ross-shire. Born in N Ireland, I claim descent from Prince Ocaan of Fermanagh (of about 1000AD) the chief of a Scots clan which had been driven from Scotland in the fourth century, by the Romans, to Ireland. The clan had lived near Loch Foyle on the River Roe near Londonderry (from whence the name Munro, or Monroe, was derived). His son Donald then took the clan back to Scotland, and after fighting for King Malcolm 2nd in 1025, he was given a Barony (which he named Foule or Foyle) and was granted lands in Ross-shire. Hence the name Foulis Castle at the town-land of Evanton. There is normally a wonderful view of it from the Black Isle, but not today. I described the view, and called the castle a beacon, in a poem I wrote for the Clan Gathering, many years ago. If any Monroes or Munroes want a copy I can get it to them or post on the clan FB page.

A number of years ago the Clan Chief Storehouseestablished a rather pleasant eating place and shop just as you come off the Black Isle. Called ‘The Storehouse of Foulis’ it presented good food and information about the Munros, and the usual momentoes for those interested. It has now passed into other hands but is still an excellent location for a stop.

As you can see the weather, had started to break down, and so we sat in what was a bit like a marquee for our hot chocolate, and looked out on what is called Seal Point. At the right time, many seals can be spotted coming into the shallow area to catch fish. We were there on a beautiful night some years ago at a Clan Gathering with fireworks going off, and since there is a minimum of light pollution there, it was very spectacular.SAM_0442

But we still had some distance to go, and the storm clouds were gathering. Farewell to the area, and hoping to be here again next year at the next gathering, we sallied forth. We were going to an area where road fuel is sold only in a limited number of places, so were astonished to discover that at our first petrol station it was available cheaper than we get it at home…..so filled-up at Tain.
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Round the corner of the Dornoch Firth, is a small town called, not surprisingly,
Dornoch. It has a rather sophisticated and dignified appearance with a lovely large square with Courthouse, Jail, and Police House…..obviously a peace-loving area!
It also boasts a Church of Scotland Cathedral……one of only a few. We were  fortunate and privileged some years ago to be asked to do work on the sound system and it was a very-pleasant experience. So we had to pop in and were delighted to see SAM_0447that our original wiring was still there. The photo looks toward where the altar would be in an Anglican cathedral, but here it is simply an entrance door. It is a beautifully-light area with large stained-glass windows. Unfortunately the weather was worsening and we had no chance to spend much more time in what is a delightful town.
It is a great holiday/fishing/countryside/seek-the-Scottish ancestors, sort of place, so it is well-catered-for with regard to hotels and guest-houses. As a curiosity there isSAM_0450 local accommodation called www.fourpenny.net. So you may like to look at it.
North of this is where the scenery becomes really spectacular as the coast road allows us views of great  headlands and deep valleys, or glens….when weather permits, of course. It was not terribly kind to us in that regard, so we called-in at Golspie for some nourishment, at ‘Poppies’. The tablecloth design says it all!
We passed through Brora, Helmsdale, Berriedale, Latherton etc, but with poor views due to mist and cloud, before arriving at Wick. It had meaning to us as we once were asked to come and sort a problem in a Church sound system (we had not put it in!). We travelled from near Glasgow one Sunday, sorted the problem the next morning, and returned home on the Monday! Not to be recommended!
John O’Groats was but 20 miles north of this, but we preferred to go to Dunnet SAM_0457Head, which is the true most-northerly-point on the mainland. The shades of evening were descending but the cloud formation was spectacular. We could not stay long at the sands as the light was fading fast and so we made tracks for our overnight stop in Thurso, Pentland Lodge House.
Because of the proximity of the sea, almost all restaurants advertise themselves as the ‘Best Seafood Restaurant in the north of Scotland’. We decided not to go into the town to eat, so dropped down to the local fishing harbour of Scrabster, where we found the Ferry Inn, and ‘Upper Deck’ Restaurant. SAM_0463
It nestles into the local cliffs, and commands a view over the harbour. I can’t pretend that it is looks exactly a beautiful or ostentatious building; in fact it almost looks like a giant set of wooden packing cases! It was gratifying, then that when we went in, we saw a clean, airy, immaculate restaurant, with cheery staff and a good menu. You probably do not need two guesses as to what we ate……yes, fish!
Then off to bed…..for we were about to have our longest day trip on the morrow…..
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To the Beautiful north of Scotland…Brodie Castle

One thing I love about being away on holiday is the variety of breakfasts available. I like to serve myself and can try things for the first time. Having said that, I had a Full Scottish Breakfast every day! Presumably every British area has its version….but it is still probably based on egg, bacon, sausage, beans, black pudding, fried bread/hash etc,…… good healthy stuff! Much toast and coffee and I’m set-up for the day. The Kingsmills Hotel was our place of repose for the night, and next morning dawned with a blue sky, and you can see Lady of the House waiting patiently, and wrapped-up, for our SAM_0379friends to collect us for the day.

For those of you who don’t know the area, Inverness and north can be windy. When preparing for our trip, I looked at videos I had made over the years, and speech was often drowned by the wind. So that it makes the use of a even a modern video camera very difficult. So it was to be my still camera only.

We, and our local friends  have been members of the National Trust for Scotland for many years, and we make use of the facilities as much as poss. There is a variety of outdoor-nature-historic,-gardens to see but the further you go from areas of population, the options decrease.

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However, Brodie Castle is one of these places where you can spend equal time inside and out. We were blessed with bright, cold blue skies, and the extensive grounds were chosen for exploration while the weather held-up. Long wide avenues, tree-lined tracks, a well-populated duck- (and swan-) pond and a private family graveyard would give us plenty to see. Last time we were here was in 1996 and we met Ninian the 25th Brodie of Brodie, but he now passed away.

The castle itself was built in 1567, but the family presence there goes back to the granting of the lands around the castle stands in, during 1160, by King Malcolm IV.

SAM_0392But first of all we had to fortify ourselves against the bitter winds, and this was achieved by repairing to the warmth of the little tearoom in the castle. This is one thing which the National Trust for Scotland does well……they have volunteers who serve in the tearooms, and use local baking and cooking where possible.

So hot chocolate and highly- calorific cake were consumed avidly before we set-out. The gentleman in the picture (I use the word ‘gentleman’ for the sake of retaining his friendship) may well be known to watchers of Grampian Television News, as he provides signing for those with a severe hearing impairment.

The swans and ducks were very friendly – indeed they followed us along the towpath- but it SAM_0407may have been the desire for food! I can imagine both swans and ducks providing food in the early days, but now they are now just for show. Along the side of the pond was a narrow track with trees, whose leaves were turning in colour. I much prefer walking on non-manicured lawns, amongst untrimmed trees, and crunching on the leaves. And this was certainly possible here.

It was a wonderful time, not just because of the natural beauty, but also because there was no wind. We were well-protected amongst the trees, but still left with a ruddy glow to our cheeks.

One relatively-known fact is that Scotland, and especially the north, has superbly beautifulSAM_0425 beaches. You will see some more later, but just along from Brodie is the town of Nairn. famous for oatcakes, and as the holiday home of the singer Harry Lauder, A thriving town, but it was the beach we had come to see.

I think most of us love beaches, either because of childhood memories, the fact that there is a sort of ‘cleansing effect’ from sea-air, or we find some strange affinity with a vista which seems limitless.

So today we had seen three different environments…the castle, purely man-made…the gardens, nature tamed by man, and…..the sea and beach, still largely free from man’s interference, but for how long?

Off tomorrow up the rugged east coast to the most northerly point of Scotland’s mainland………come and join us….

To the Beautiful north of Scotland….Glasgow to Inverness

One of the delights of retirement is the ability to make sudden decisions about events or make alterations. And so it was that a two night visit to Inverness a week ago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary with friends, was extended into a trip much further north, and into the north-west of Scotland. As we are now ‘getting-on’, and creaking bones and stiff backs are now unlikely to get much better, we decided that it was a good a time as any to revisit old haunts, and take the chance to see new areas while relative fitness was still available. ‘carpe deum’ was the motto. the Good Lady has a love of Autumn, and if Canada was not to happen this year, then at least this would be ‘something’.

Waterproofs were packed to add to the ‘dressy’ clothes, and off we set…in Imagebeautiful weather. Now this is not unusual in September and the beginning of October, but here we were, verging on November and the trees were beginning to change colour. we took the A9 to Pitlochry, with a famous theatre, and got our first shots of the changes.

Stopping on the A9 is not to be normally recommended but we found a suitable place just before the Pitlochry turn-off and began to see the delicate tones of Autumn. Luckily the clouds in the back-ground did not materialise as rain….at least not then. And the lower sun in the west gave a more-intense background for the colours

Pitlochry itself, is an old spa town, with lovely hotels, walks, and access to much beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, like many such Imageplaces, there is an air of sadness about, as small, niche businesses open and close, and the numbers holidaying abroad means there are fewer beds taken here. Whether the old days will ever return is uncertain, but there are still places where women can browse, often as a group (whilst their men wait outside!).

Of course, this was the day when a terrible storm was to hit middle England, but we saw nothing of this as we proceeded on through sunshine, and cloud towards Inverness. We had planned that we would not be travelling large distances every day so could ‘tootle along’ at a reasonable pace, but without hassle, or shattered nerves. we did see the occasional driving idiot, but mostly it was trouble-free.

It lies at the north end of the great split which divides Scotland into east and west. Known rightly as the Capital of the Highlands, it straddles the River Ness, with OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAglorious bridges. Much of it is flat so it is accessible for easy walks. The River is clean, bright, and wends like a silver thread through the city. You can cross it in many places so the opportunity for photography is endless. You can see Inverness Castle in the photo, but of course it is no longer a fortress.

It boasts excellent hotels and B and B’s offering accommodation to cover a wide Many fine restaurants are situated on its banks, so that dining-out can also be a visual delight. We were staying at the Kingsmills Hotel, courtesy of our son who had given us the weekend as a present……great!

A marvellous meal at the Italian Riva Restaurant (not an Italian on the staff!) with our old friends, and we were glad to lay our heads down in anticipation of the trip to Brodie Castle on the morrow………………………..

Beat that view!

My new header shows Inverness last weekend, taken from their version of the ‘shoogly bridge’. It was hot and sunny and we were able to walk everywhere.

It rivals Paris for the riverviews!….and they speak a lovely version of English!

Home from home?

This weekend was another holiday here, so there was the opportunity to head north with Young Lady of the House, and Daughter, to the Inverness area and beyond. Our first stop was at Spean Bridge, north of Tyndrum, where there is a beautiful viewpoint and a memorial to Commandos who had trained here service during the war. No matter how many times we see it, it still has the power to produce an emotion about events, just before our lifetime.

Spean Bridge Commano Memorial

We have long-established friends who have the  good fortune to live in the Inverness section of the Highlands……and we shared a couple of good meals with them. The City of Inverness straddles the River Ness (obviously) which is picturesque, although just now it is low with the lack of rain!

 

 

Sunday was so hot that we went to the head of Loch Ness (no sign of Nessie!), and watched the tourist boats going through the canal between the Loch and the river going to the sea.

But most of all we wanted to call again at Foulis Castle, our ancestral home, in Evanton near Dingwall. The photo here shows how well-preserved and beautiful it is. (You can ‘Google’ it and get a large amount of information about life in the time of the Scottish clan system) We have been here many times before, including one of the Clan gatherings a few years back. I had written the ‘calling poem’ for the last Gathering in 2007, and it was published in the Clan magazine. We had to cancel our attendance, unfortunately, at the last minute, and so it was time to get the ‘Clan-Family fix’.

It is still a lived-in home, and we met-up again with the mother of the Clan Chief. She is a very gracious Lady and has an in-depth knowledge of the Clan, and the Castle. We were particularly keen to see how her garden, in the large courtyard of the castle, was getting-on, as she has tirelessly worked on it over the decades since we were there first in 1969!

We weren’t disappointed in any way. At 83, her brain is still sharp, and knowledge of the clan is now even more detailed. She has reconstructed the old kitchen in the basement, and two wonderful self-contained apartments have been built, with a respect for the existing building and incorporating many of the old artifacts.  The garden in the courtyard has developed immensely, again  with the eye for detail.

The weather was beautiful, in contrast to south of the country, and so we returned tired, (special thanks to Daughter who did the long periods of driving in her new car), and very pleased with the visit to our ‘Home from Home’.