Friday, 15 November 2019

Another Birthday

They come along all too often. Sue had another birthday this week, and over the last several years, we seem to have developed a tradition of going somewhere that is new to us to celebrate.

For this year's birthday, as Sue had never set foot at John o' Groats, we chose to go to Caithness. We rented a cottage just a couple of metres above the sea shore in a fishing village 2 miles north of Wick. On our arrival - the weather was not great. Huge waves rolled in from the North Sea, blown by a fresh north easterly wind, and the temperature hovered just a few degrees above freezing.

We are bonkers, aren't we...???

Seashore Cottage - Yup - that's an appropriate name..
(Click on any picture to open a full-screen gallery)
But - we have the right kind of weather-wear, and Cupar is waterproof-ish, so off we trekked. We soon ticked-off the 'been there, done it' compulsory photo at John o' Groats. What a shame the iconic signpost has been vandalised and defaced by the attachment of hundreds of silly stickers deposited there by visitors.


Quite nearby, is the much less visited but far more dramatic and scenic Duncansby Head, and its nearby massive sea stacks. For some reason, I did not have my camera with me for this expedition. Sue may post some of her photos later.

Then we trundled on to the most northerly place on the UK mainland. We were the only humans (and dog) to be there at the time. Wonderful!


But Caithness is not all beauty. The landscape is mostly flat and tree-less. Fences, not hedges, line the roads and divide the fields. Most land is pasture for hundreds of sheep. The small towns of Wick and Thurso are lively enough, and are not suffering from closed shops and derelict high streets. However, the bulk of the housing for the local population is not pretty. Brown cement render is the finish of choice for most of the houses, and very few people attempt to nurture a garden. Out of the towns, and surprisingly - there are farms and houses everywhere. Many are derelict. Some are brand new. It is a weird mixture, and it is a bleak and featureless place to live. But the coastal scenery is just awesome, with castles (most ruined) sprinkled liberally along the cliffs, and for the serous archaeologist in you - you trip over standing stones, chambered cairns, stone rows, brochs and assorted other neolithic remains almost anywhere that you wander.

Here's a few more of my photos from our holiday...

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe - simply stunning
... and again, with the sun shining...!!!
Ackergill Tower - not a ruin, but a private residence
Castle of Old Wick - oldest castle in Scotland
Some of that awesome coastal scenery...
... and some more...
My wife, at Latheronwheel Harbour, Caithness.
Happy birthday Soozie!

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Still In Love With Skye

Some of my recent posts in this blog may give a reader the impression that I am falling out of love with Skye. I will admit that the gentler landscape, kinder climate and easier access to services that we have at our little Strathpeffer cottage are appealing, and one day, I might like to own a larger property in the Strathpeffer/Dingwall area where we could live for some of our time, but Skye will for ever be our new-life 'home'.

Skye does everything in maximum drama-mode, far exceeding everything you can experience almost anywhere else in Britain.  On Skye, we get huge skies, huge clouds and stunning sunsets. We get a different landscape at every turn in the road - usually with water in the view as well.  We get huge jagged mountains and rounded hills - scenically snow-capped for several months a year. We get magic and faeries. We get huge weather, and the freshest and cleanest air. We get friendly residents and enthusiastic visitors. We get huge amounts of peace and quiet.

... and at a personal level - we have Roskhill Barn - cherished by us and lovingly re-modelled by us to be our 'perfect' home.

Our ten-plus years living here has never erased the gasp of awe at a sight of the spectacular Skye scenery, most especially when it is draped in long shadows of winter sunlight. Whenever I have been away, especially when I've been south to Devon and Hampshire, my heart beats faster when I return to again glimpse the Skye Bridge and the Cuillin Hills beyond. It is so good to be home.

Roag from Roskhill
As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post - I am conscious that having a less dramatic place to live might be a sensible option for our older age, and we are in the most fortunate position where we may be able to work towards owning two lovely homes - one in the softer eastern Highlands, and one here at Roskhill.  But we will never be permanently parting from Roskhill Barn, and providing my little oak tree continues to thrive where I have planted it on the edge of the allotment, then when my time comes, my earthly remains will be scattered around it, and I will then very contentedly rest on Skye for evermore.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Becoming an 'Eastern Softie' ??

In this blog, I occasionally tease as 'Southern Softies', those who languish in the balmy south and issue weather warnings as soon as gentle rain falls for more than half an hour, or the breeze rises above 20mph. And don't you risk venturing out if one centimetre of snow is forecast, let alone if any flakes should dare to fall!

We Skye dwellers are made of tougher stuff.  When a torrential wall of rainwater comes horizontally into your face driven by storm force winds of 70mph or more, we think about bringing in the washing. We keep two sets of waterproofs draped over the (permanently on) heater, so that there is a chance that one set will have time to dry before you need to pull them on again.

But.....

Since we have owned our cosy little bolthole in Strathpeffer, I am beginning to really take to the significantly calmer conditions and kinder climate to be found here in the shelter of the strath. Strathpeffer is actually a little further north than our home on Skye, but is on the far gentler eastern side of the Highlands.

I am in The Old Bakery today (our Strathpeffer cottage), here to meet a double-glazing surveyor, coming to measure-up for our new windows to be made. I left Skye yesterday afternoon in our normal storm-force wind and lashing rain, and by the time I had driven about half of the very scenic 110 mile journey, the wind and rain were left behind, glimpses of blue sky could be seen between the clouds, and the sunlight was glinting through the yellow and gold of the autumn foliage.

I really could get used to this softie living....

Skye....
Strathpeffer...

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Back To Brown

Aside from a few areas of improved land, mostly close to townships, the greater part of the vegetation on Skye is heather moorland. The improved land may well have once been cultivated - to grow potatoes or maybe oats - but today almost no-one grows crops on a large scale, and any surviving improved grassland is used for grazing sheep. Nomadic sheep and cattle also graze widely on the natural open moors.

So - with the bulk of Skye vegetation being of the moorland variety - spring brings forth a fresh growth of vibrant green shoots and a spectacular variety of wild flowers. The nomadic grazers soon remove most of the more obvious flowers, leaving the remaining predominant vegetation as grass, rush and heather. All of these plants are green (or green-ish) for about five months of the year. The heather flowers in September, providing a pleasing interlude of purple before winter begins.



Come October, the taller grasses have already turned ghostly, the heather has finished flowering, and the deciduous dwarf moorland trees and shrubs are losing their leaves. The landscape turns gold for a short but spectacular interlude. The leaves on any birch trees go yellow before they fall, and areas of bracken glow gilded in the scarce sunlight. A bright October afternoon on Skye is a wonder to behold!

But then, for almost six months, Skye is brown. The landscape sleeps, shivering beneath sombre skies and winter winds.

By day, the human Skye residents pull on their waterproofs and carry on with life. Come the evening - stoves are lit, and the dog does its best to push itself between you and the fireside - and maybe you let it win.

Brown is a wonderful time of year!