Warning - it's a long one!!
|Dunnet Head Lighthouse|
There’s really no more stark a reminder that the perfectly quiet, remote, only sound is the crashing of waves on the cliffs at the end of the field in which your rented cottage is located, holiday is over than being woken up at 3am on Monday morning by the (choose your own colourful descriptive word) teenage boy next door having a get-together with his pals in his back yard – right below our fricking bedroom window! Cue lots of tutting, sighing and wishing fervently to be back in said idyllic cottage where the neighbours mostly consisted of William the cockerel and his truly free-ranging hens and the world’s friendliest pigs - known only as ‘The Pigs’ as the owner advised me not to get too attached as they would be Christmas dinner :0(
Anyway, to say that our road trip to the North of Scotland was brilliant would be an understatement. We had the best week ever. (I know I say this after all our mini-adventures but this was truly perfect!)
The only way is up
After a 3am ferry crossing we arrived in Cairnryan harbour and drove up to S’s dad’s house in Glasgow for a cup of tea and a sit down. The sun was strangely splitting the sky as we were leaving Glasgow and, what with it being March, and this being the UK, I hadn’t packed sunglasses so we had to make an unscheduled stop at the nearest shop to buy a new pair!
We made a few pit stops en route to stretch our legs and let the dogs do their business. At Pitlochry we decided we should also spend a penny. However on arriving at the public loos I discovered that the cost the call of nature has increased dramatically and I’d now have to spend 30 pennies. Unfortunately I only had a ten pound note in my purse. The toilet attendant was an African gent, not accustomed to the Northern Irish bank note which is still British sterling (sigh). Once I explained this to him, he still refused to give me change so I could pay him 30p to use the facilities. Perhaps if I was 20 years younger with long blonde hair to flick coquettishly over my shoulder whilst simultaneously batting my eyelashes, he may have let me nip in without paying. As that sadly wasn’t the case, we reached an impasse which resulted in me storming off and muttering ‘well, I’ll just wet myself then, shall I’ as a parting shot over my shoulder. I don’t think he cared. Anyway, I had the last laugh as we found a forest park a couple of miles later with free toilets – take that, jobsworth toilet attendant!
We reached Ocean View Cottage just before 5pm on Saturday. Imagine, the cutest, quirkiest, little crofter’s cottage, with a wood burning stove, wood panelling and beams, with rooms that lead straight through each other to the next and you’ll come close to Ocean View. I never wanted to leave.
|the cosy living room|
|Brodie in her favourite chair so she can see out the window|
It’s a working croft so there were fields at the side that the owner was turning over for the next crop and a massive sty where the pigs I mentioned earlier lived. They would come running when we called them and I made a point of visiting them everyday and feeding them with the vegetables we brought with us (they loved potatoes but didn’t even touch the carrots which shows that the notion of greedy pigs is surely a sweeping generalisation!)
|William the Cockerel|
|Some of William's girls.|
|This was the pigs running towards us as soon as we called them!|
|Look at that adorable mucky face!|
|Me and the lady pig bonding!|
We were staying in an area called Brough ( pronounced bruff) which was about 15 miles away from John O’Groats and the same distance from the town of Thurso. A short drive from the cottage brought us to Dunnet Head lighthouse where S spent many an evening trying to capture the perfect sunset, Dunnet Beach – a mahoosive 2 mile stretch of beautiful sandy beach backed by big grassy sand dunes and Dunnet Forest Trail. Needless to say the dogs were in walkies heaven!
|sunset on our first day|
|Dunnet Forest Trail|
For those who don’t know, John O’Groats is the most North Eastern point of the UK. Folk walk and cycle from there to Lands End (the most South Western point) as it is the furthest possible distance in the UK. There’s a sign post there that is sort of the most recognisable landmark there. Well, when we got there we discovered the post but no sign. Turns out that the sign post is owned by a private business and in order to have your photo taken there you have to pay said business £10. Call me old fashioned but I don't expect to have to pay to stand under a signpost. We were both really quite disgruntled at this, yet another sign (no pun intended) that humans just can’t help sticking the arm in if there’s a chance to make a quick buck. Hence our renaming it Con O'Groats. There was another signpost on the wall further down so we made do with taking our own photos there, just to prove we’d been!
|The famous John O'Groats |
|A 'sign' of the times?|
On the Wednesday we drove right across the North coast which took up the best part of the day what with all the wee stops for photo opportunities en route. We stopped at a beach called Sandside which was quite close to a nuclear power plant and came with its own warning. We decided to brave it anyway!.
Although it was still really sunny, it was really windy that day. We did attempt to walk along another beach at Balnakeil but the dogs nearly blew away!
En route we also stopped to take some photos of the locals - I love highland cows and there were little lambs skipping about all over the place!
|A hairstyle not dissimilar to those worn by the youth of today!|
|notice the elastic bands on the lambs' tails - a painfully slow way of docking them apparently.|
We finally got to the place where the car ferry operated over to Cape Wrath but there wasn’t a soul about and the tide was so far out that a ferry wouldn’t have worked anyway. We could almost have walked across. It would’ve been nice to have made it right over to the end but still, we got as far by land as we could.
|Looking across to Cape Wrath|
|another beautiful beach on the North Coast|
|the photo that inspired last week's rainbow window painting|
|Looking across to Cape Wrath|
In the Dunes
Thursday was another gloriously sunny day. Windy enough, but out of the wind it could nearly have been summer. We went dune walking and found a little sun trap in the dunes where we sat and discussed how much we wished we could stay there forever while the dogs took it in turns to patrol the perimeter to keep us safe from invaders (or seagulls).
|Reuben keeping one ear up (with the help of the wind) for suspicious sounds!|
|Brodie the guard dog!|
|Even the dogs took time to contemplate the beautiful beach!|
Hunting the lights
The night we arrived was perfectly clear and S spent much of it standing outside setting up his camera to try and capture the Northern Lights should they appear. And appear they did! Not as bright as we would've liked but there in the sky nevertheless. The next couple of nights were a little cloudy but after that we had clear skies right through until the day we left. We did catch another glimpse of the Northern Lights on the Thursday night but again it was more of a faint green glow than anything substantial. Unfortunately it turned out that although the weather played ball and the sky stayed mostly cloud-free the solar storms or whatever it is that causes the Northern Lights to appear (S did explain but I tend to glaze over when it gets too technical) just weren't active enough that week. Still, we did get a couple of little shows and it just means that we'll have to keep on searching for the perfect destination to make sure we see them in all their glory some day.
Huffin' & Puffin'
As well as a seal colony that had obviously relocated elsewhere for the duration of our visit, the area we stayed in is also home to puffins that live in burrows on the cliffs at Duncansbay Head. We spent Friday walking along the clifftops searching for these elusive little birds. On our walk we met a couple who said they'd seen one and pointed vaguely in the direction of yet more cliffs so off we traipsed. We saw plenty of seagulls and even some black guillemots but no chuffin' puffins! Still, it was a gorgeous day and we walked the legs of ourselves and the wee dogs!
Like all good things, our holiday had to come to an end. It seemed like we were away from the rat race for ages yet, despite that, the week flew by all too quickly and Saturday morning arrived and with it the impending sense of doom at having to return to our groundhog day lives and noisy neighbours. We took our time driving back down the length of Scotland to the ferry port and stopped off at Inverness for lunch and Stirling for a wander round the old castle walls with another stop at Faskally Forest Park near Pitlochry again to walk the dogs. We called in to see S's dad in Glasgow before finally heading to Cairnryan for the ferry home. The clocks went forward for British Summer Time so we lost an hour in the crossing finally getting home about 3am on Sunday morning.
If anyone ever gets the chance to visit Scotland I would definitely recommend the North East Coast - it's got the best of everything nature has to offer and we're now dreaming of being able to live in a wee cottage there with no teenage neighbours for at least 20 miles in any direction!