Two country towns….and a brewery

Coming north to the West of Scotland involves, after crossing the Border, simply changing from the M6 onto the M74. You would not even know you had crossed a Rubicon if it were not for the road signs. As you travel about 80 miles, from the Border, you start to drive through the County of Lanarkshire. It is a county of two halves…..the northern, industrial part (now mostly decimated by the changes in the steel economy), and the rural Southern farming community.

Lady of the House  headed out for the day towards a little town called Strathaven (pronounced Strave-in), which we know quite well. Over 50 years ago, I would get two buses on a Sunday to play the organ at Rankin Parish Church, and my wife-to be, and I, would have ‘tea’ in a local cafe, and had walks. But we didn’t get to know it well, as many of the shops were shut. We have passed through many times and had coffee etc, but this was to be an exploratory day. It was not a brilliantly-sunny day, but reasonable for photos.

As in many of our town/villages, the car takes a lot of space, but the good Burghers have provided ample parking in a large car park adjacent to the shops. So first, to the Strathaven Gift Shop in the Common Green (the town centre) for some items to go with us to the Netherlands (success accomplished), and the items were beautifully wrapped by the lovely lady who served us.P1050784

 

A few yards’ walk took us for lunch at the Tudor Coffee House. This is a lovely little eatery with only six or seven tables, so best to go outwith the busy times. YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY MISS IT!

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They offered a Senior’s lunch, which was excellent. A large glass of fruit juice, followed by steak pie, chips (I do like chips!) and peas, with a massive pot of tea (in china cups) satiated my hunger, whilst Lady of the House had chicken goujons, chips (she also likes chips!) and salad.

I went down into the kitchen, and was able to have a chat with the lady doing the cooking, to give her some compliments on the meal. She noted that we had been there before, with our Dutch friends last May! We must have made some impression! It is well recognised as one of the best local restaurants.

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We were also on the hunt for a local speciality….Strathaven Toffee. The little place where it had been made had disappeared from the main street, but we were told it was available up a side street, in a small sweetie shop, quaintly named Vintage Violet. It was a treasure trove of old sweeties, and was run by an enthusiastic lady, who was happy to pose for me.

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I asked about Jap Desserts, but she confirmed that the company who made it had discontinued them. …..Is there an business opportunity for someone here? It has a lovely view over a park and little burn  (for non-scots, this is a very small stream, sometimes only a trickle of water).

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The water in the burn was low, (although locally-placed sandbags were evident that there had been a spate.) A pleasant row of trees guarded it nicely, with lights for the evenings, and clumps of crocuses.

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An interesting piece of architecture can be seen from the park looking at the back of some of the houses. i would love o know which room is built in the rounded bit….or maybe it is a spiral staircase.

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A 5 minute walk took us past the Rankin Parish Church where I started playing the organ in 1963 when just 18, and then into the local park, for our daily perambulation. There were plenty of snowdrops and other flowers in evidence, and it is an extremely well-cared-for. The only jarring aspect was the ruined house which had been a Museum gifted at the same time as the park was gifted to the town. Seemingly it was being sold off and builders were doing unsafe removal of walls and the work was stopped. It now sits as a mess marring the lovely environment. Very sad!

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But the afternoon was moving on and we set off for Lanark by a spectacular rural B road. Suddenly Lady and I spied a notice announcing  something interesting, and which we did not know existed…..

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We drove into what looked like a farmyard, but had been a mill, with its wheel powered by the local river. As the notice said, we were made very welcome. It is a three-generation family business producing six speciality beers, presentation packs, and beer-flavoured fudge in conjunction with a local farm. You can also see some of their products on Aldi shelves. You will also find them on social media, including Trip Advisor, so they are moving with the times. We took away some of said products, and tasted them with the experience of my next-door neighbour…… lovely!

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We could not stay there for ever, so onward to the Burgh of Lanark, which is a busy county town, including the farmers’ market. It is also the birthplace of Lady of the House, so she feels attached to it. It would be a lovely place to retire to, were it not for the steep Main Street, and the possibility of being cut off in Winter with the approcah roads all being easily iced-up.

The most well-known building in the centre of the town is the  wonderful St Nicholas Parish Church at the lower end of the main street……..P1050788

…….and tucked- in to one side is the kind of marvellous hardware shop, which used to adorn every High Street, and is a dream for many a house-maker. And more interestingly for me, and something  which attaracts us for a day out……a little cafe……..

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So we had come to the end of our day out and this always has to be noted with a little bit of local baking……can life get any better? I will leave this for you to drool over…….

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True Independence…fact or fiction?

At one time, I think politics was simple….or at least simpler than it is now…..

I obviously can’t really comment on the era of the Whigs and the Tories, as they were only presented to me on the shiny pages of my history school books, so I can only relate to the mid-20th, and early 21st Century.

Basically it would start with our parents, and where they felt they were in the pecking-order of life. If you were in the upper echelons of employment or had a ‘profession’, you could be thought of as being ‘Conservative’. This was presumably that you wanted to retain the status quo. If you had dirty fingernails or had a ‘trade’, working for an employer, you believed in the concept of ‘collective negotiation’ to get better working conditions. You might well follow your parents’ choice, and wives might have followed their husbands…but not now methinks!

It was really as simple as that. You voted for the candidate whom you thought would help to fulfil your aspirations….one, or the other.

We were each part of a community, Local Council, United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Nations, Eventually were added the Western Alliance, NATO, European Union (originally called the Common Market), United Nations, O.P.E.C, and numerous others. The discussions and decisions to join these were mostly taken at Government level, with little or no input from the population at large. The exception which I remember was Ted Heath’s Common Market populist vote, which took us into what is, today, something quite different to what we voted-for.

So we were inextricably joined in a criss-crossing network of nations, striving to reach voluntary compromises,,..not perfect…but which allowed even the smallest of nations to have their say on the world stage.

There were other groupings of course, such as the great Russian empire, which started to crumble, when some of the nations wanted to break-away, with subsequent terrible violence, atrocities, and bloodshed. The opposite also occurred in places like the USA, and Italy which were properly formed as great nations, when all the warring areas handed-over some of their status to a greater centralised power to provide unity. Again, not perfect, but better together.

The decisions made in Great Britain to become part of each of these power-blocs were often passed across party lines, as it was realised the benefits of strength in unity. All the conflicting evidence for and against could be calmly analysed and assessed by all the experts involved, before a final decision would be taken in Parliament. They were therefore not part of electioneering every four years.

So let us get one thing straight. Almost NO country is ‘independent’. We all rely on other countries for our world-wide defence systems, rescue services, oil, raw materials, trade (both ways), places for holidays, breathing spaces to allow our over-worked environment to recover etc. We are not independent, we are all MORE inter-dependent than we ever have been!

We need to be at peace with our (world-wide) neighbours. If we do not get-along together, we will all fail together!

……..But politics and the Party system are now much more complex. The old walls of Boss v Working Man, have been greatly disfigured if not broken down entirely. The large change in the ethnic demography in these islands over the last 60 years has meant that our representatives in government have more complex problems relating to service provision, and employment prospects for those with language and cultural. differences. Many of our representatives in local, national, and international governance are from parents who were not born within the UK.

This diversity is to be welcomed, (because where would we be without the Indian and Thai curries, the Italian pizzas and pastas, as well as Chinese, Cantonese and Vietnamese food? ) But it does bring the realisation that the’ British Person’, (if ever such an animal existed) and the’ British Nation’, are not as we knew them 50 years ago. We have moved on, but not in an isolationist sense, where it is ‘Us’ against the ‘Rest of the World’.

I would repeat that we have all become more integrated whether we like it or not. The thought of untangling it all is awesome!

Other parties came into the frame such as Lib Dems, UKIP, Green Party, etc and all made your one vote much more valuable as you had more options, and with women freed from following what their husbands said, and younger people voting, we now had much more cross-voting. A fluidity of voting patterns, much more difficult to forecast, and pollsters’ projections did not hold the validity they once had…..Some folk changed their allegiance from Local and National elections, and were much happier to vote on the opinion of the candidate on a specific issue instead of the party they represented in general. What a mess…..

For many decades we have had, in the UK, political parties who wished to influence the Government of the day to provide funding and support for the history and culture of their specific nation. I have no problem with this, as this was well within their sphere of expertise and experience. Even without seats in any legislative assembly, they punched well above their weight, in the influence they could bring to bear. The Sinn Fein attempt to break up all of the UK failed, but now perhaps we are seeing a set of (faltering) steps in the path of peace with power-sharing. Plaid Cymru in Wales (left-wing social democratic) is still very much a minority party, but manages to make its point.

In Scotland we have a devolved Parliament in Edinburgh controlled by the SNP, which has had very little experience in real power. Their sole raison d’etre seems to be Independence, Independence, Independence. They have been given an un-precedented amount of devolved portfolios, and are struggling badly trying to handle them…..and yet they want more. They have a poor grasp of financial, and international affairs (both very necessary in 2015!). A considerable amount of money has been spent on a ‘Scottish Marketing’ exercise involving Gaelic signs and language education. None of this is remedying the faults in the economy or the financial demands they have made. It appears to be for internal gratification alone, and gaining more votes….but why?

If you want to establish an independent nation (and a majority in 2014 said they did not want independence) you need to build relationships with all of those who pay the piper, and also other countries, and institutions. This they are blatantly failing to do, and by omitting them, they are making it even more difficult for the next administration to recover the lost ground, and bring us out of this quagmire.

Can I come back to my original question…….is true independence possible in the 21st Century? My assertion is that it is NOT possible to be totally independent and dictatorial in this day and age. It is also a universal truth, in business, that you can be promoted, or promote yourself, to your level of incompetence. What we currently have is such a scenario, where continual whining about how little comes from central funding and trying to operate in areas of their non-expertise, whilst ignoring the failings within their own financial capacity to handle, they are building up an enmity which may well take many decades to cure……..

I HAVE JUST LOOKED AGAIN AT THIS POST, IN JUNE 2018, AND THE SITUATION HAS WORSENED DRAMATICALLY, WITH SCOTLAND HEADING FOR AUSTERITY, AND NO SIGN AWAY FROM THIS. HATRED AND ENMITY, LIES AND MISREPRWSENTATION HAS BEEN THE HALLMARK OF THIS SNP ADMINISTRATION, AND THE SITUATION DOES NOT LOOK GOOD……

Keep right on to the end of the road…….

I don’t know about you, but I have a fascination with dead-end roads, especially in the countryside. In some ways the sign we use can be a bit disappointing, or even intimidating….’Not worth going down this road’…’There’s nothing to see’…….. ……’Better to turn round while you 7559_signs[1]have the chance’……you know what I mean.

However there usually is something to see…a beach, a loch, a little pier, a house, an old church, and often they have a lovely view. Someone obviously thought that it was worthwhile building and maintaining a road for good reason.

And so it was that yesterday, along with two of the ladies in my life, we set off for one of the loveliest dead-end roads in the west of Scotland. Skirting the historic City of P1010551Stirling, you take the A84 and A873 through Thornhill. There you will find the excellent restaurant ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ where you could stop for excellent refreshment. Continuing to head west and joining the A81, you pass  (or stop to admire), the only lake in Scotland, the Lake of Menteith. It is tiny, but the village is called  Port of Menteith, and it feels quite proud of its watery neighbour, and the Inchmahome Priory.

Just as you come to Aberfoyle, you enter the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, and head on the B829, which has the afore-mentioned ‘dead-end’ sign . The B designation is a good indication that this road is not for the faint-hearted driver, as it is single-track with passing places. P1040845But we managed to stop and pick some blackberries on the way, on the side of Loch Ard.

I should say here that it was not me driving, as medical advice was that I should not get behind a wheel for a little time yet. So it was the Lady of the House, who was in control. (She is, of course often in control when I am driving!) Daughter was in the front passenger seat helping with the negotiation of this nasty but lovely road.

Wonderful country houses abound along here with the sweeping drives, and gardens which would have engaged a number of full-time gardeners at one time. Lovely it must be to live in such locations, but what about the winter? 4WD vehicles would be more suitable than a flash car when the snow comes, or trees fall over the roads, or accidents block roads.

When you are able to stop to admire the vistas, Ben Venue, Ben P1040838Vrackie, and Ben Lomond all offer great views, so a camera, and binoculars are advised on this trip.

Water is not normally in short supply here, and so several lochs have been dammed and channelled to provide water for Glasgow and the Central Belt of Scotland. Besides Loch Ard, where got the berries, Loch Chon also is beside the road, and both offer boat fishing. The water here and ultimately fed to Glasgow is very pure and no lime-scale is produced in kettles or washing machines…….and it is lovely to drink, especially in a glass of amber liquid!

As we move northwest, we are travelling between two large lochs….Katrine (Glasgow’s main water supply) and Lomond (known the world over for the Bonnie banks). At a T junction you can turn right to Stronachlachar (an awkward-sounding word for non-Scots), with a Pier-head Tearoom.

P1040851However we were turning westward past the lovely Loch Arklet heading to the village, or more-correctly, the clachan of Inversnaid.

This is probably the most awkward part of the road as it drops sharply to the northern tip of Loch Lomond, and indeed the Banks are Bonnie as promised in the song. Suddenly, from a narrow country road we descend into a large car park, beside the massive Inversnaid Hotel, and situated beside the pier for boats cruising Loch Lomond.

So, you may ask, why has this large Hotel beenOld Photograph Inversnaid Scotland[1] built here in a remote area, and is obviously popular, with high-occupancy rates? The old photo shows how long it has been operational.

It was built in 1790 by the Duke of Montrose as a quiet hunting lodge. It achieved exposure to the world, when Queen Victoria visited there several times, for privacy. Whether the impropriety involved with John Brown, her ghillie, occurred here I do not know. It has obviously been extended over the years.

We had a very tasty meal in the hotel, chosing the Inversnaid Burger, which consisted of P1040865chicken, bacon and cheese. Afterwards, we went to examine the waterfall just beside the hotel. There has been no appreciable rain recently, so no  great torrent of water, which was a bit disappointing. There are lots of little walks in the area, which we could not explore due to time restraints.

The pier is a place of constant activity during the day, and P1040858no doubt, there is a fair bit of freight brought in by boat. Looking across the Loch, you can see the village of Inveruglas, and the large pipes of the Loch Sloy Hydro-electric Power Station on the hillside. They have a Visitor Centre about the area, so is well-worth visiting.

Two other facts about the area…….

Firstly……The local primary school was, in 2010, the most expensive/pupil in education costs, in the UK. It is said it was £54,000 per pupil! Presumably some may have been accommodation costs for those who could not commute each day, in the scattered community.

Secondly……The famous Rob Roy was basically an outlaw involved in castle-rustling, and in the Jacobite rising. He hid in a cave, close to the Hotel, and which can be only approached by water, and was well-hidden. No doubt the locationis pointed-out to all those on the cruise boats.

……so there you are, a true end-of-the-road journey, which provided on a very-pleasant autumnal day, a lot of visual excitement with the gorgeous scenery,  a trip on narrow roads, a pleasant meal, and plenty of blethering!…….

And the day was complete on our way home, as we popped-into a tearoom in Aberfoyle………pleasure complete……

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A Scottish Political Mystery

There is an element of ‘Follow-My-Leader, right or wrong’ in one area of Scottish politics, just now, which begs understanding. Attempts by the national and international Press and experienced commentators to explain what is happening have failed miserably, never mind indicate to the electorate, as to how it could be influenced.

The dramatic rise, and rise, of a Nationalistic Party in Scotland, must be viewed in the light of its inordinate failure to provide any evidence of competence, or co-operation with other countries (except those which have patriotism, nationalism, paternalism, centralisation as their main aim), or belief in discussion within the Party, or regard for other politicians who have a manifestly greater experience in real-politic, or a viable international policy, or a respect for the value of hard-earned tax-revenues, and a life where ‘self-doubt’ is obviously a phrase which does not belong in their vocabulary.

To many of us, the last few years have brought gasps of dis-belief in how such a small coterie of people could change, for the worse, a nation whose intellect, art and culture, energy and hard-work ethic, self-sufficiency, ability to settle all over the world, able to negotiate and get-on with people of every class and background made us the envy of the world. And what do we see now? The English-hatred from the SNP which has been stirred-up is un-believable, the inward-looking attitude (manifested in the £26M spent on road-signage in Gaelic), the nepotism which favours relatives and friends over knowledgeable advisers, the misuse of funds to dubious groups, with no Second Chamber to call them to account, the belief that Scotland could defend itself un-aided, in a time of international crisis, and the total absence of forward-looking practical policies except the concept of INDEPENDENCE… Now there’s a word to conjure with in an increasingly-close-linked world!

Scotland voted by a substantial majority in 2014 that they wanted to remain within a 300-year old alignment with England, Wales and N. Ireland. That should have been enough, but Edinburgh didn’t listen and still carry-on this demand for an elusive Utopia. For some reason, they are able to convince a sufficiently-large number of crosses on ballot papers that this is how Scotland should be going, with no road-map, or indication what would be at the destination.

So why or how has this come to be. We have the right to vote but is this right always properly used? The right to universal suffrage was hard-won, and especially for women. With the value of hindsight, I think we can all agree that it was right and proper, because of the tenet that there should be ‘no taxation without representation’.

There are, however, two other points of thought which I believe are necessary, if we are to hold together our theory of democracy……

  • if you have the Right to vote, something comes with it called Responsibility. You have to use all of heart, head, emotions and pragmatism in thinking of how you use that vote. At one time, we would have voted how our parents voted, or how our friends, workmates, or business colleagues voted. This provided a stable, slowly-evolving, political landscape against which the various parties could display their beliefs and aspirations. It would not have been easy for us as a voter to move out of the mind-set of our environment and circle, or convince them they were wrong without animosity. Now-a-days, we see violence on our streets and in the media against those who would dare to stand against our Scottish masters…very dangerous for democracy. But it is now more imperative than ever to THINK, THINK, and THINK again about how our vote is to be used. We must read, listen, and look at as many aspects as possible about the possible result of the appointment of our parliamentarians on the way of life of our nation.
  • secondly, our elected members must realise firstly that they are the Servants of the people…it is the voters who put them in there and the voters who will eject them. They must learn to listen (which few do), and act on what they hear from all the electorate. And lastly they must accept that taxes and other incomes do not belong to them. They come from the people, belong to the people, and must be spent for the betterment of the people.

Perhaps out of all this latest disruptive nonsense will come a stronger, and more-wisely-thinking electorate and government in the northern half of the UK…..but I have yet to be convinced……

………Do we ‘own’ our country?………

Retirement has given the Lady of the House, and me,  the opportunity to travel round bits of our country at a rate which is bordering on dawdling.

Instead of cramming our travelling into a hasty run, we can now turn-off on side roads and let our Garmin ultimately guide us back to our intended destination. Yesterday, on a bright, warm, Autumn day, we had set our course for Tillicoultry. We headed over the River Forth using the old Kincardine Bridge, and went westwards through the back streets of the old village of Kincardine, now a town.

We had been through here many times before, over the  decades, but yesterday was somehow different. There was a strange nervous expectancy, and the streets had a  hushed fear of the future, as we were led along the banks of the Forth. As we were guided northwards, the flat countryside reminded us of our recent trip to the Netherland. But then, the Ochil Hills came into view. There are 60 hills in the Ochils, all over 300 metres.

Some of the most spectacular scenery in the Central Belt of Scotland is here as an East-West massif stands proudly as a barrier to the greater hills farther north. But as you drive along the road which follows this range, you suddenly realise how small you are.

We partook of afternoon coffee and scones at a lovely farm shop near Blairlogie ( http://www.blairmains.com/farm-shop ) and sat facing directly to the hills. The sun was perfect, the sky was cloudless, the shadows on the face of the hills accentuated the indentations worn by aeons of weather.

These hills have lasted for countless years, which makes our threescore-years-and-ten seem miniscule. Their height, extent, majesty, and sheer bulk make us see how we have to ‘fit-in’ with nature, and only succeed when we work hand in hand with our environment. The scenery in which we live does not ‘belong’ to us who live within easy travelling distance . We are entrusted with its care so that those from further away on these islands, and indeed from the rest of the world, can come and enjoy the beauty.

Surely it is not too big a step to see that this small  country of ours is only part of much-larger groupings, a bit like a Russian doll. We cannot be Independent in any kind of ancient sense, but we can become Separate. Even Clan Munro, to which I belong, had to continually forge alliances to stay in existence. Having done so it produced many great names over the centuries and is known world wide. Our countryside ‘belongs’ to the world, and our country belongs within the Union.

As an Irishman who has happily dwelt 52 years in the land of Scotia, I shall be voting on Thursday, to preserve the co-operation within which we have worked instead of breaking-up our extremely-interwoven world.

 

 

 

 

To the lovely north of Scotland…Day 4..Thurso to Lochcarron.

It was now Wednesday 30th October, and after another super breakfast, we SAM_0464were to head west from Thurso, on a gorgeous day.

When we ate last night at near-by Scrabster, it was dark, so we wanted to see the harbour in the light.   A simple place, but the lorries were leaving in numbers, with their marine cargo in refrigerated containers, to presumably the nearest station to continue their journey to the tables of London and beyond.

We only had one thing to do in Thurso itself; get a postcard for a niece and family. We have always done this and it HAS to be about the town.  Chatting with the shop staff, we mentioned that a nephew was married to a local girl, whose family still lived in Thurso. It was inevitable that they were known, and we might have enticed a few skeletons from the cupboard if more time had beenSAM_0473 available!

The A836 follows the north coast from John O’Groats in the east, to Tongue, and then heads south to the Dornoch Firth, through very-varied scenery. Not far from Thurso we met a lot of wind turbines (turning, or stopped as required), then the wave power of the north Atlantic. But most interesting was seeing the Dounreay Power Station, near Reay village, again after some 40 years, when it was at the height of its power generation. Now decommissioned, I fully expected to see a rusting hulk or half-demolished sheds. Pleasantly surprised at how attractive it still looked, whatever concerns we might have about nuclear safety…..and the sheep seemed quite unaware of the technology so close to them.

I wanted a photo of Dounreay  from another direction, and just past Portskerra, SAM_0479when a little track ran out onto Strathy Point, we took it. Up here the roads are in good condition, and I got my desired shot. Returning to the main road we saw work on a ‘bothy’ which is now used as an animal shelter.

For the next 20 miles, till we got to Tongue, we were treated to some of the loveliest scenery I have ever seen, with massive beaches, headlands, gentle valleys and deep clefts in the coastline.  I have let some photos speak for themselves, and then we will renew our journey…..

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After this beautiful scenery on the coast, the road went south just before Tongue, and we headed for Crask the-crask-innInn for lunch. It is a well-known place, not just in the area, but on Trip-Advisor. One is well-warned that it is not a ‘normal’ inn, as it is run by farmers, and takes a pragmatic attitude to serving food, drink, and accommodation. When we arrived about lunchtime, there were no cars about, so I parked opposite and went to the front door, opened and looked in. There was a nice little bar, but no-one about. Back to car, to be followed by a lady who asked if we had been looking for something. She didn’t seem worried t0 lose potential business…..and we drove off. However I’m sure it’s better in the evening!

Minimal lunch came courtesy of our cool-box in the car, and another 20 miles or so took us to The Cally Café, at Bonar Bridge, at the western end of the Dornoch Firth. It’s a pleasure going in here as the staff are so friendly, so hot choc and home-made cake refreshed us. They also have a little shop of local goods so some Xmas shopping could have occurred.

SAM_0489 The photos show the view from the window, the little shop and the Bridge itself.

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SAM_0490 Suitably refreshed, we turned round the end of Dornoch Firth, and then struck south onto one of the most170px-B9176_-_Coppermine_-_13619[1] infamous roads in Scotland…the B 9176 Struie Hill. I had never driven it before, but it is well-known on the weather forecast as one of the first roads in Scotland to be closed when snow hits. It is very twisty and steep so that it is bad enough negotiating it in good weather, but it must be a nightmare in December. Fortunately the snow-gates were open and we proceeded to some of the loveliest views in Scotland, down the Dornoch Firth……if you can find somewhere to stop, of course! The other problem was that there were a lot of dark clouds gathering, so the mid-afternoon light was not good, so we pressed-on  via Alness, Dingwall, Strathpeffer (with the Highland Museum of Childhood…..well worth a visit), Contin, Garve, Achnasheen, and down Glen Carron, to the village of Lochcarron, our stop for the night.

SAM_0497It’s not a big place, and is built on a main street, which separates it from the loch from which it takes its name. This time of the year most accommodation was closed for the season, so we were lucky to get booked at the Pathend House. The local Hotel was near enough to walk-to so we went along in the rain, for an evening meal.

The bar, like most of these places is an entertainment in itself, with a dog wandering about, several ‘worthies embibing, the quiet bar-staff, and the owner chattering with some of the locals through the base of a whisky glass. If you ever watch the TV Series Hamish McBeth, then you have it in essence. Big portions of everything, and transport costs are said to keep prices high, but the vegetables, and no doubt the beef and potatoes were local…..or maybe they just saw us coming!

It had been a long day….almost 200 miles over highland roads, and sleep was required……….but the SAM_0495rain, thunder and lightning, and the rich sauce of the steak and ale pie would intervene……

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…..