Last day in Skerray

It was raining this morning so we set about packing up and cleaning the cottage for an early getaway tomorrow morning. Looking out the window, we could see that a coach was parked at the junction and the Stagecoach service bus was stuck behind it. The driver of the Stagecoach was walking down the road with his phone trying to get a signal so we invited him in to use James’s mobile which can make calls via the wifi as there is no signal here unless you are right down by the harbour wall. The driver told us that the coach was empty and that there was no sign of its driver. Cars could just squeeze past but there was no way he could get his bus past it. He had reported the problem to his company and left to wait for a response. James departed to get the paper and had to tell people standing at the bus stop in Bettyhill (hoping to get to Thurso) that they would be waiting for a while. Two hours later, after everyone passing had stopped to see what was going on, a car drove back and forth down to the harbour and eventually returned with two men who sheepishly got into the coach and drove off. I can only assume that they were having a lengthy smoking break or a coffee with folks in the campervan that was parked down there. After lunch the weather was improving so we had a short walk along the pebble beach and the first few cliffs, looking across to Neave Island and Eilean nan Rón. The abandoned houses on the latter are still visible, the people having been evacuated in 1938.

Coast near Skerray 5 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Eilean nan Ròn near Skerray 5 June 2015 (1 of 1)

We had dinner in the Bettyhill Hotel and enjoyed the warm evening finished off by a great sunset over the island.

Strahnaver 5 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Sunset Skerray 5 June 2015 (1 of 1)

A walk in the woods

With the temperature in double figures, sun in the sky and no wind for the first time this week it was definitely a day for a walk. As a change from the beach we did an almost eight mile circuit on tracks and paths in Borgie Forest. There was only one worker there and for most of the way it was just us, bird song and the smell of the conifers. We could hear two cuckoos and numerous other birds. Several wild flowers were on or close to the path.

Borgie Forest Flower 4 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Further south where some trees had been cut, there were good views across to the surrounding hills.

Borgie Forest View 4 4 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Back at the car park we had our picnic by the totem pole (we had not seen one of these since we visited the Totem Pole Park in Oklahoma). Inevitably no wind and being stationary brought out the midges and I got bitten despite slapping on the Deet before we set out. As we drove back the wind reappeared with increasing cloud cover so tomorrow will probably be spent getting organised for the next leg of the trip, to Orkney. Hopefully the forecast rain will allow even a short walk along the Skerray beach.

Borgie Forest totem pole 4 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Bus shelter greenhouse, bookshop and beach

This morning we had to go the Thurso for supplies and on the way passed the Skerray bus stop (which I presume is now defunct) and has been converted into a greenhouse.

Bus shelter greenhouse Skerray 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Nearer to Thurso We passed Dounreay nuclear power station and I recalled lorries of nuclear waste trundling down the A9 through Dunblane at night heading for reprocessing further south. It appears to be in the process of being closed which will decimate local employment opportunities despite being good for the environment. In Thurso we headed for the first bakery/cafe we saw to top up the caffeine levels and I overheard a conversation between a wiry 60-something cyclist from Northern England and the woman behind the counter. He was trying to offload all his small change but she reminded him that he might like it to weigh him down when battling the wind on his way to Tongue. I could not resist asking him if he had cycled all the way up here but no, he had taken the train to Elgin to stay with a relative and having been to John O’Groats was now heading for Durness and the west coast. I bid him good luck as he would be battling a strong headwind. Indeed we passed him later on as we drove up the hill out of Thurso.

I was very happy to discover that Thurso has a secondhand bookshop and found a first edition of a volume of the New Naturalist series that I collect. After that we left town and headed back along the coast wondering about walking out to the old lighthouse on Strathy Point. Having got as far as the car park the very high winds made it not safe to walk any further out to the end of the point and the lighthouse (only the third time I have abandoned a walk due to wind). Instead we had lunch back at the cottage and a walk on the more sheltered Torrisdale Bay.

Torrisdale Bay 1 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Torrisdale Bay 2 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)

A beach and back in time

After a slightly later start this morning we visited the Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill. It is situated in the 18th Century Parish Church of St Columba. Inside the member of staff who greeted us apologised for the lack of heating. I empathised as I do some voluntary work in a secondhand bookshop which is in an old Methodist Church and we have the same problems of heating a large space and fitting around the remaining church furniture. James had asked me why the name of the place ‘Bettyhill’ was so different from the Gaelic name on the road signs. It was named after the Duchess of Sutherland and was developed to house the people evicted from their homes in Strathnaver in the early 19th century. The museum has some neolithic finds but also document the clearances which came late to Sutherland (with contributions from local schoolchildren, videos and other oral history) and also the history and genealogy of the Clan McKay.

Old Croft Window Farr 2 June 2015 (1 of 1)

After a coffee at the nearby cafe which was next to an abandoned croft we then had a walk on Farr Beach. It was empty apart from a dog walker. I found three more pieces of sea glass but before we had finished walking it started to rain so we headed back to the cottage for a lazy afternoon reading in front of the fire.

Farr Beach 2 2 June 2015 (1 of 1)

A morning walk on Torrisdale Beach

We awoke fairly early and as the sun was shining, set off after breakfast for a walk on Torrisdale Beach. The recent heavy rain made the footpath down to the beach more like a stream but we had our boots on and slithered on down, jumping across some of the stretches of water without bridges and managed to avoid falling in the mud. The tide was out and beyond the dunes it was easy to see why the place is a favourite of surfers when the conditions are right. There was no one else around at all and only a few footprints on the sand. No sea glass here and no unusual shells or other finds. We picked up driftwood for the cottage fire and on the way back up to the car, heard some cuckoos. We have not heard them at home for the last six to seven years and only the other day, someone was commenting on this on our local Facebook page. Several grey lag geese were feeding in a field near Borgie and we spotted a buzzard sitting on a fence as we drove back into Skerray. I was planning to try and get some back-lit shots of the poppy buds in the cottage garden this evening but the wind is increasing in strength so flower photography will have to be postponed.

Torriesdale 6 1 June 2015 (1 of 1)Torriesdale 8 1 June 2015 (1 of 1)Torriesdale 10 1 June 2015 (1 of 1)Torriesdale X 1 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Sunshine and rain in Skerray

The forecast was rain today and rain it did. Having driven a fair distance yesterday we were quite happy to get up late and sit by the fire reading and planning some walks for later in the week.

Rain drops Skerray 31 May 2015 (1 of 1)

By early evening the rain had cleared and we ventured out to find several sheep in the road outside. As most of the sheep are fenced in here, I did wonder if they should be out but as I am away from home, have no idea who they belong to. At least there is not much traffic here.

The neighbours Skerray 31 May 2015 (1 of 1)

We wandered down to the beach for a spot of beachcombing and trying to photograph the oystercatchers we saw yesterday.

Oystercatcher Skerray 31 May 2015 (1 of 1)

The fishing boats were moored but on the other side of the harbour wall one was set up for an early start tomorrow. As the forecast is much better for tomorrow, we are hoping to be up fairly early to make the most of the good weather and walk around Torrisdale Bay.

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)