Heading north to restart the coastal tour

We began our circumnavigation of the mainland coast in April 2019. In that year we did three trips and covered South Queensferry to Dunnet Bay. The next two years involved the pandemic and moving house so in April 2022 we were at the point when we could recommence our journey. We set off, crossing the Forth, taking the M90 to Perth and then the A9 all the way to our destination. We split the journey into two days, giving us time to explore some of the places we pass enroute.

Our first stop was Newtonmore. We had a coffee in the Transport Café on the south side of the village where we discovered that one of the staff was from the Wirral. Newtonmore dates from 1820 when the English laird granted building leases near the junction of the Highland Road (now the A9) and the new Laggan Road. Three small croft houses were built and later two large ones. The first community consisted of a few small farmers and an innkeeper. New villagers came from people cleared from Glen Banchor and elsewhere.

In 1863 the railway opened and more residents gained an income through the shooting estates. Tourism increases through the 1890s when the golf course was built and by 1912 there were three churches. By the 1960s several shops had opened and two banks (now close), we saw the mobile bank. The Highland Games still continue and we saw the Buckie Fish van arriving as we left. The village hall was built in 1913 and in 2013 mosaics were added for the centenary.

There is also the Wild Cat Sanctuary which has dozens of painted wildcats around town to find.

On the north side of town is Loch Imrich, a kettle hole formed by a melting glacier which was previously used as a curling pond and ice-skating rink. The only birds we saw were Mallard Ducks which came up to us so I assume they were used to people feeding them.

Further up the road is the Highland Folk Museum which has numerous buildings and objects reflecting life since the 1700s. The black house is a reconstruction of one from Lewis and the scaffolding scattered around was there because it is due to be re-thatched.

There numerous old buildings including Lochanhully House with interiors,

Several farm buildings

And some machinery that James remembered his father using.

There was also an old Post Office and railway station

A sheep fank and shepherd’s hut

And horses

plus items from an old garage with a rusting car outside. There is a large museum at the back with smaller items which books visits for groups etc.

That night we stayed at an aire at Kingussie which backs onto the railway line. Kingussie is more of town than village with more facilities including a very good secondhand bookshop. There were still some patches of snow on the Cairngorms. Most of the trains that pass by including the Caledonian Sleeper are quiet so our sleep was not disturbed.

The following morning, we had a brief stop at the RSPB Insh Marshes reserve but did not see many birds.

The ruins of Ruthven Barracks also lie on the same B road

We headed back to the A9 and then north. All along the east coast of Caithness, the gorse was in bloom.

The A9 then turns inland and we reached our destination.

Heading south: single track roads to four lane motorways

Driving off the boat on Saturday morning We left Orkney’s single track roads with passing places and drove past Thurso in light rain but hardly and traffic. The A9 was straight with ample space and time to overtake very slow traffic. Nearer the coast at Berriedale, there were bends and a road described as ‘the most difficult, exposed and twistiest sections of the whole length of the road. The end of this stretch is marked definitively by the steep descent (including a gravel trap in case your lorry’s brakes fail) to a sharp corner which marks the start of an even steeper climb to the north: a climb that comes complete with hairpin bends’. The lack of trees in Orkney was more than made up here and I noted Berriedale as somewhere to return to. When we reached Brora, it was time to start the distillery photography at Clynelish where men were working on the chimney:

Clynelish June 2015 (1 of 1)

South of Dornoch I saw a sign to Meikle Ferry (no ferry) which raised a smile. I loved the orange barrels at Glenmorangie.

Glenmorangie 1 June 2015 (1 of 1)

We visited Dalmore near Invergordon & afterwards had a brief rest by the firth.

Going home 1 June 2015 (1 of 1)

On the Black Isle we visited Glenmore and pulling uphill out of Inverness, Tomatin. Over the Slochd and Drumochter and we were back in Perthshire with even more trees. On the M90 south of Perth, there were lupins by the side of the M90, presumably a garden escape. Soon we were in Edinburgh for an overnight stop and a meal with friends we had not see for a long time. The following morning we left Edinburgh by the A7. Since I worked in Midlothian, house-building in the former mining villages has exploded and one friend commented that he used to live in the country but now lives in a suburb. Festival time is in full swing and in Melrose the Borders Book Festival, a food festival and children’s’ football tournament were underway. We continued on via the A68 and over Carter Bar.

View from Carter Bar June 2015 (1 of 1)

In the Kielder Forest I spotted two roe deer hinds feeding but no red squirrels despite the warning sign. We dropped down into the Tyne Valley via Bellingham which had a Scarecrow festival underway and crossed the river near Haydon Bridge. Very soon were heading uphill again and on Hartside Summit where the cafe at 1,903ft is the highest in England. There were plenty of bikers and amazingly on our descent, we passed people cycling (or trying to cycle) up to the summit. We joined the M6 at Penrith and had a fairly easy run down as far as Junction 19 where everything slowed down. A Polish registered car was braver than us and drove down the hard shoulder to the exit. Once we reached it, a bit of local knowledge enabled us to get home fairly quickly.

To Skerray via a couple of distilleries

Today was a perfect day for driving, blue sky and sunshine but not too hot. I could see the hills ahead even from the city bypass and Sounds of the Sixties on the radio gave me a few ideas for the Lincoln Highway playlist which is under construction. We passed the Kelpies near Falkirk and the very familiar Ochil hills. There was still some snow to be seen on the Trossach hills. Driving through Dunblane took me past the restaurant I used to work at (now an Indian restaurant) and the old school bus stop. There were a few new buildings around but many things had not changed much at all. James saw a collection of photographs of distilleries in an Edinburgh Reclamation company we visited a few weeks ago and had the idea of compiling his own collection. We will never have the wall space so I agreed it could be a photographic book on the distilleries of the British Isles. This meant was had to divert off the A9 to Tullibardine in Blackford. Driving on the old road through the village was reminiscent of finding old sections of Route 66 off the interstate two years ago. Inside the distillery, a purchase had to be made.

Tullibardine 30 May 2015 (1 of 1)

The Blackford Hotel is now defunct and James remembered stopping off for a drink there on a Dundee football outing heading further south many years ago. Back on the A9 there were numerous warnings about deer on the road (I saw one hind grazing on the embankment and two corpses by the road) and there are now average speed cameras most of the way. Inverness CT fans were heading to Hampden and we had a quick coffee stop at Gloagburn.

Perthshire Road 30 May 2015 (1 of 1)

North of Blair Atholl there was snow on the Grampians and over Drumochter we had to stop at Dalwhinnie.

Dalwhinnie 1 30 May 2015 (1 of 1)

Lunch was a brief stop in Aviemore and we could see recent snow on the Cairngorm Mountains. Afterwards we were soon over Slochd Summit and descending towards the Kessock Bridge having decided that a visit to Tomatin Distillery might have to wait for the return trip. The same applied to Glen Ord on the Black Isle. Back in the lowlands the gorse was in full bloom on both sides of the road and I spotted my first seal of the trip just after crossing the bridge over the Cromarty Firth. We took a B road over to Bonar Bridge and then the road towards Tongue getting some shots of the Dornoch Firth from Struie Hill on the way.

Dornoch Firth 1 30 May 2015 (1 of 1)

We were soon installed in our cottage near Skerray harbour and time for a walk down there to stretch our legs.

Skerray Harbour 2 30 May 2015 (1 of 1)

Misty morning

After a great evening at Scottish Opera’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola we had a fairly short sleep and were soon on the road this morning. Mist was hanging in the glens as we left Inverness and climbed the Slochd Pass.
Mist on Slochd Pass 9 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
By Dalwhinnie blue sky had reappeared and as we descended into Blair Atholl the tops of the mountains were reappearing. By the time we reached Pitlochry the cloud was higher and many crows were probing in the soft earth in stubble fields for worms.
Mist near Dalwhinnie 9 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
After a quick coffee in Perth we had a very nostalgic drive down the section of the A9 from there to Stirling. The Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle were silhouetted against the morning sun. Further south the southern uplands looked magnificent and it would have been a great day for a hill walk. By the time we got to Johnstone Bridge it was raining but after the border there were only a few more showers and no major problems despite lots of road works. Skeins of geese and a murmuration of starlings were a real reminder that winter is on the way. Nearer home the ‘Order your Xmas turkey now’ signs had appeared at local farms while we were away, whereas the Indian Restaurant keeps its options open by having a ‘Bank Holiday Monday Buffet’ sign up all year – Easter will be the next one.

Blue skies in the Highlands

On Friday we had lunch with a friend in the Scottish Arts Club and then left Edinburgh to drive to Inverness. As expected it took a while to get out of the city but we were soon at the Forth where the new crossing is being built. There are no longer any tolls on the road bridge and the rail bridge was looking great in the sunshine. Most of the leaves have gone from the trees but the colours in Perthshire were fabulous. The new average speed restrictions are now in operation on the A9 and many people had predicted problems but we found none. North of Dunkeld there was a lot of flooding in the fields and all the rivers were in full spate. There was, for the time of year, very little snow on the top of the Cairngorms and we descended the Slochd as the sun set and drove into Inverness. After a couple of drinks at the Heathmount we had a great dinner cooked by our friends as we plotted the next day’s walk. On Saturday we were up early and off the the Black Isle to walk near Cromarty. The sun was shining and the sea and the sky blue so we had a very pleasant walk along the shore and up into deciduous woodland with views across the Firth from the top of the hill.
Installation on shore Cromarty 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
We descended across some fields to a minor road and then sat by the harbour with coffee and some great cakes from the local bakery, watched closely by a pair of juvenile gulls who were begging for titbits. Now we are resting back at the house (the boys watching the rugby) before going to Scottish Opera’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola this evening.
Cromarty from the South Sutor 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)