Sunday, 5 June 2016

Our Scottish Tour - Part 3

Scotland Day 8
Wednesday 1st June 2016

We've had a wonderful day today!  We left Wick campsite by the same long rough single track that we'd entered on, and luck was with us again because we didn't meet anything coming the other way!  For our first port of call we needed to backtrack for about 6 miles south down the A99 because we'd realised we'd missed a spectacular sight - the magical inlet of Whaligoe.
To actually get into the bay we needed to negotiate 365 ancient steps but it was well worth the effort.

Image result for whaligoe pictures

Once we reached the bottom we were able to sit on a precarious rocky outcrop and watch nesting shags caring for and feeding their chicks (usually 3) in nests that were parked on small ledges above the crashing waves below.  We stayed put for quite a while, but eventually we couldn't put our ascent off any longer - we set to and re-climbed the precipitous grassy cliff, but as we did we spared a thought for how things would have been in times gone by. Apparently, catches of cod and haddock would be gutted by crews of local women and then carried up the steps in baskets!

Later, we retraced our tracks back to Wick and stopped off to refuel at their huge Tesco, and it was there that I had a little accident.  Those of you who read my previous post will know that we missed out on being able to make a purchase at the Pulteney Distillery, so while I was collecting one or two essentials from the store, a bottle of their 12 year old good stuff just happened to slip into my basket - we'll be enjoying a wee dram tonight!

Anyway, after that we were soon back on the road and on route for Duncansby Head where we planned to 'wild-camp' for the night.  Our journey was uneventful, but again, we had to negotiate about 2 miles of single track road before we were able to park up on the most north easterly point of mainland Scotland.  Our perch was high up above the ocean and allowed us far reaching views over to the Orkney Islands, but that was not all that this little gem had to offer.  Following a quick lunch we set off to walk towards the Stacks of Duncansby, and the further we went, the more magnificent the vistas became.

The above formations are called Thirl Door (left), Tom Thumb, Peedie Stack and Muckle Stack (right)

From our high vantage point on the coastal footpath we were able to easily spot numerous sea birds as well as seals as they basked on the rocks in the afternoon sunshine.  But then came a strange and eerie sound - it was the song of the seals as they called to each other, or maybe it was the mother seals telling their young not to get their feet wet -

-however, that was something that John managed to do!  The ground on which we were walking was very springy and peaty with occasional boggy areas in the dips.  In some of these areas it was possible to just nip across  very quickly to avoid sinking, but John trod more slowly and  found an area  that was wetter than most, thus resulting in him paddling with the water lapping around his ankles - I think he thought he could walk on water!

Once back in T4rdis2 he was soon dried out, and despite the wind howling around us, we stayed for the night as planned, but when we nipped out about 9.30 for another little walk  we were quite amused to find lambs sheltering under the front end of T4rdis2.

Also, we were quite amazed at how light it remained late into the evening - the picture to the left was taken at about 10.30, but this maybe hindered our ability to count the number of flashing lighthouses we could see from our windows.  There are 11 in the area but we could only spot 4!

Scotland Day 9
Thursday 2nd June 2016

Well, I'm not quite sure how to describe last night - the wind howled and the van rocked for most of the night, but we love our wild unofficial camp-site - probably so much that we'll stop for a repeat performance!

The morning dawned cold and damp, but actual rain wasn't forecast until about mid-day, so with that in mind we nipped off down to John O'Groats for a quick look around.

We couldn't resist taking the usual tourist pics - the End to Enders sign and the finger board indicating how far we'd have to travel to reach Land's End (amongst other places)

But our visit also provided  an interesting lesson about the dynamics of the ocean and it's effects within this stretch of water that is called Pentland Firth.  The information boards told us that the water here travels at some of the fastest speeds to be found anywhere in the world, pinched between the north-eastern tip of the Scottish mainland and the coast of the Orkney's, with the Pentland Skerries strewn in between.  Indeed, tidal rapids are often visible on the surface of Portland Firth, but less well known is the resulting activities beneath the sea.  Apparently,  large rolling boulders of up to 1.5 tonnes (about the weight of an average car) are regularly moved great distances across the seabed!

And the above facts inspired  2 Scottish environmental artists to create the sculpture to the right. The artists (Daiziel and Scullon) relocated three similar sized boulders that had appeared on a local beach after a fierce winter storm, and mounted them on a series of arching beams - maybe a replication of the massive waves that are so common in this area.
We also learnt that it isn't unusual to be able to spot killer and minky whales in this area, along with seals who often have their pups with them at this time of year.

We would maybe have explored more but then the rain started - and it didn't just come in a downward direction!  Therefore, we scurried back home and returned up the little winding road to Duncansby head to spend the rest of the day and another night in our perfect but windy spot!

Scotland Day 10
Friday 3rd June 2016

The morning dawned wet and cold with several vicious downpours washing over T4rdis2 - but to be honest we were quite glad of that, because being on the coast as we have for the last few days, the seagulls had left us little pressies on our roof and sky lights, and happily, the rain washed it all away!

Because of the rain we dawdled over our breakfast and we weren't ready to move off until about 11am, but then we had decided we would head for The Castle of Mey, which was not quite what we expected.

The Castle used to be the property of The Queen Mother until 1996 when she gifted it, along with an endowment, to The Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust.  When we arrived the choice was to either just buy tickets for the garden and animal centre, or you could opt for the slightly more expensive version and visit several rooms inside the castle as well.  We decided we would just settle for the garden, but this only really consisted of a walled area that was pretty but not exceptional, and a grassed area in front of the castle where a couple of cannons stood.

Therefore, it only took us about 30 minutes to complete this part of our visit, and to say the least, we were a little disappointed.  However, then we spotted the animal centre which didn't look overly interesting, but as we thought we needed to make the most of our visit, so we wandered over - and this was were John practised lots of new languages - I think he thought his name was Doolittle!

He spoke to the pigs in 'oink oink oink' and the donkey in 'bray', (he-aw, he-aw, he-awt to know better),

and the geese in 'honk, honk, honk'

he mooed at the cows and he baaaa-rd at the lambs, and he even went as far as to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool  - to which Mummy sheep replied Nahhhh -

It was very funny, but by this time he was becoming a 'little horse', however, it  made our visit well worth while, but maybe you had to be there to share the joke!!

Eventually, I managed to drag him away, (just before the man  in his little white coat turned up from the 'funny farm')!  And from there we headed on our way to The Caravan Club Site at Dunnet where we plan to stay for a couple of days so that I can get our washing done.  Again, we're right on the sea front, but this time surrounded by dunes and a huge stretch of sandy beach - where we passed the afternoon strolling in the warm sunshine.

Scotland Day 11
Saturday 4th June 2016

This morning we overslept - it was 8.45 when John woke me - and he hadn't even made me a cuppa!  Our goal this morning was Dunnet head, and as we wanted to do a bit more
bird spotting, we decided to walk - it was only about 11 miles return journey.

As usual we packed our picnic and filled our flask, and then off we set along the single track road that leads to the headland, but walking on the road wasn't a problem at all - the road only had very minimal traffic so for most of the time we had it entirely to ourselves.

And it was really lovely, much of it bypassed peat bogs where you could see both recent and ancient workings to remove the peat,  we passed numerous small lochs, and all this was made more splendid by the addition of numerous wild flowers and yellow gorse that filled the air with it's vanilla aroma.

In all it took us about two hours to get to the headland where there is another of this areas many lighthouses that were designed by Robert Stevenson, but we didn't linger long to look at that, because by now we were starving, so lunch was high on our agenda.

However, once that was consumed we were keen to pursue our main aim of the day, so with that in mind, we meandered down onto the cliffs to see what we could spot - and we were very quickly rewarded with sightings of puffins flitting through the blue skies as they headed out to sea to find food to  feed too their pufflings.  Then we walked a bit further and managed to spot several more puffins doing a bit of sun bathing on the cliff face - it really made our long walk worthwhile.

We watched the birds for quite a while, but eventually we decided we needed to head back, and it was a good job we left ourselves plenty of time because there was more to see and do on our homeward trek.

Our next stop was at Brough Bay - a little gem that is almost invisible from the road, but by following a track down you arrive at a slipway that was built in 1830 to provide a landing area for provisions needed to build the Dunnet lighthouse.  

More recently fishermen used it, but today it seems to stand deserted (but well cared for) except as another domain for sea birds.  However it provided a lovely coffee stop for us, and it even encouraged John to go foraging.

A Gulls leavings!

Then our final stop was at St John's Pool Hide, where there seemed to be quite a commotion going on.  The hide was renovated in 1992 when floating islands and nesting platforms were installed, along with a predator proof fence.   Since then it has become the home to a huge number of black headed gulls that had previously almost become extinct in this area.  From the hide we were able to watch the noisy gulls and their chicks, along with quite a few other water foul.

And from their we were soon back home in T4rdis2 for a very pleasant evening watching the final of Strictly! We both thought Kelly and Kevin should have won!

Scotland Day 12
Sunday 5th June 2016

We've been very lucky with the weather so far - only one wet day out of 12, and today is another corker with hardly a cloud in the sky!  We've decided to have an easy day today, and because we are heading further west into the 'wilderness' that are the Scottish Highlands, we've decided to stock up at the last Lidl in this area - and what a place that turned out to be.  It is located just outside Thurso, and has stupendous uninterrupted views over craggy coast line and out to sea!

Once the shopping was done and stowed away we continued out along the coast road where fantastic coastal vistas reviled themselves as we headed first past Dounreay Power Station, and then on towards Strathy Point with it's obligatory lighthouse, and where we thought we might be able to pinch another cheeky night 'wild-camping'.

To get there we negotiated another narrow single track road, but alas it wasn't a suitable spot  for us to spend the night, however, we while we were there we did enjoy another magnificent walk along the craggy cliffs.  And all was not lost, because a little earlier we had spotted a lovely parking area that we planned to return to if plan A failed.

So as I type this we're once again overlooking a magnificent coastal view and we're just about ready to sip a nice cool cider in this evenings sunshine xx