Friday 20 December 2019


I recently traded-in my 65,000 mile 6-year old BMW X3 for a 17,000-mile 3-year-old version of the same model. I have to say that some of the improvements on the newer car are most worthwhile, and I am not sorry for making the upgrade... though next time will I go for a Jaguar...???


My new(er) X3,has had to go back to the dealer shortly after my purchase because the tailgate wasn't closing properly. I didn't expect to get my car back for a few days - so I will be staying a couple of  nights at The Old Bakery, which is close to the BMW dealer in Inverness.. I knew about this tailgate issue with my new(er) car when I took delivery, so - the upside is - as 'compensation for my inconvenience', I have been given a top-of-the-range courtesy car while my own car is being fixed. 

This means -  standing outside here just now, is a brand new  BMW X5 30D M-Sport with under 1000 miles on the clock. It is a dealership demonstrator, so is loaded with options. I ran it through the configurator, and with all its fitted extras, the retail price comes in at a tad under £70,000...!!

It has a 6-cylinder 3-litre euro-6 diesel motor with 280bhp and 8-speed silky-smooth auto gearbox. It weighs around two and a half tons (Yes.. TWO and a HALF TONS). It's a monster.

Does it look like it is worth £70,000? NO - it is a huge barge of a thing. There is no way I would buy one. When I parked it at Tesco, shoppers were diving for cover - I am sure they thought I was a gangster...

But, boy, does it have some high-tech tech....

Starship Enterprise?? No, just a BMW X5
This car has electrically adjustable seats, in every possible direction... in the BACK!! (as well as in the front - of course...) It also has an electric-opening/closing glass roof AND an electric opening/closing sun blind.... and that's only the start.... I have now discovered that you don't even have to lean into the back to fold down the rear seats - you press a button, and away they gently go, all on their own...squashing that fresh cream cake that you left on the back seat earlier..

If it is possible to attach a sensor to something, then in this car, BMW have attached a sensor to it. A ghost-like map of where I am kind-of unfolds on the screen behind the steering wheel as I go along. There's a more conventional map on the second huge touch-screen display in the middle of the dashboard. The speedo (which is part of the behind-the-wheel display) has an electronic needle, but there's also TWO digital speed displays - one of which is 'heads-up', rather irritatingly, on the windscreen just below my line of vision, and it flashes if I exceed a speed limit. The map pops up on the windscreen as well, if I turn-on the sat-nav.I'd actually prefer to look THROUGH the windscreen, rather than AT it.

There are assorted other icons on the dashboard displays, but I don't know what they all mean, and don't think any are terribly important. One message is telling me continuously that a rear seat is unlocked..  I guess that;s good to know.... urmm, but it doesn't tell me how to lock it, and I have to wonder why it needs to be locked in the first place. Do rear seats from X5s get nicked? However, I have spotted the bit which tells me how far I can drive before I need to add more fuel....will I get 30 mpg maybe? Here in rural Scotland - maybe yes!

Occasionally, the centre display changes to give me a front-view image. FRONT VIEW...??? I'm looking out the front -  why do I need to see the same view on a screen...??!! Maybe somewhere in the 3-inch thick handbook it will explain the reason - not that I need the handbook, as the whole document, searchable and with coloured pictures, is available via the middle screen on the dashboard. Something to browse when sitting in a traffic jam maybe.

When on the road, the  barge is reluctant to let me change lane unless I indicate first. If I dare to try, the steering wheel vibrates slightly and steering becomes noticeably heavier. Perhaps that's a good thing (after all, it IS a BMW...)  but it's un-nerving on first discovering this quirk.

Many of the car's functions can be voice-controlled. Now, my new(er) X3 also has this function - which is quite fun - so I am getting used to this. (I have discovered that it is not actually necessary to shout at the car in a mock German accent). But the £70,000 X5 also has 'GESTURE' control. Hmmm... I haven't tried waving two fingers at it yet. Though maybe tomorrow.... I wonder what other gestures will make the seat move or the tailgate open...?  Might be a good idea to keep very still... I daren't imagine the mayhem that might ensue if I energetically wave my arms about. Perhaps if I pull up outside a bank and rub together my middle finger and thumb the cash machine will immediately dispense a couple of hundred pounds, so I can afford to fill up the fuel tank again....??

Of course - this car doesn't have a key - it has a remote control device, a bit like a miniature of the one you use to work your TV. And when it is locked, and you approach it - it all lights up - everywhere - inside, front, back, even the door handles... If it was a dog, it would be wagging its tail.and barking. 

Can you imagine what it would cost to fix this monstrosity when it is seven or eight years old and it has a hissy fit and won't let you in, or the engine won't start? Depreciation has to be £10,000 per year.

I'd rather be driving Puss-the-Jaguar...

But tomorrow, I will go and play again , and on Wednesday, I will VERY gratefully give it back.

The parking spaces at Tesco aren't big enough for this car!

Tuesday 10 December 2019

How Did They Cope?

In the 1840's, the resident population of Skye was around 23,000 - that's more than double what it is today. Many of those 23,000 people fed themselves by fishing and working their own small patches of land. They lived in small, stone-built cottages, originally with reed-thatched roofs, heated by burning peat which they dug themselves from the moors. There were few horse-drawn vehicles, few roads. No electricity.

At this time of year, we are in the depths of darkest winter - less than a couple of weeks from the shortest day, when we only see full daylight for one quarter of every 24 hours. The wind has roared round the Barn, and rain has battered against the windows, since the middle of last night, and it is still the same, now, at mid-day.

As I reluctantly trudged through the storm to walk an equally reluctant Cupar at first light this morning, I glanced over the sodden moorland and past the ruins of one of those old stone-built cottages - they can be found everywhere on Skye.

My mind turned to how on earth the people survived in that cottage before it became a ruin. The roof probably always leaked. Draughts would have blown-in everywhere. Outside, the surroundings would have been muddy. How did they cope with just candles and oil lamps for lighting? How did they dry their wet clothes and boots with just one smokey fire for all their heating and cooking? What did they even DO during the long hours of darkness?

And we have the temerity today to moan about what's on TV, prices in shops, our health service, potholes in our roads.... and so on and so on...

 We seldom think on how lucky we are...

Ruin in Lorgill - this one was occupied until the 1960s.

Wednesday 4 December 2019



My apologies for the delay
but I have only just finalised sorting out my holiday photographs 
and have now posted a few below.
We had a wonderful, - although extremely damp and cloudy - few days
up on the North Coast. 
As Richard has already said in his earlier post
"the coastal scenery is just simply awesome."

Enroute to Strathpeffer we stopped at Glen Carron
to stretch our legs with Cupar.  Amazing sunset but brrrrrrr it was freezing!

We were staying at Sea Shore Cottage a mile or so
from Wick on the North East coast.
It's located right by the sea - which was both moody and
very lively a lot of the time we were there!

This was the view from the kitchen window on the first morning!
Yes .... bleak with a capital 'B'

But the above photograph was taken on the last morning
we were there when the weather was a little more favourable.

The Monday was my actual birthday and we enjoyed a fabulous drive
down the east coast stopping at the Helmsdale Museum
and later the Whaligoe steps during the afternoon.
The coastline was stunning....

The above shows some of the magnificent coastal scenery plus
a few of the famous Whaligoe steps - which date originally
from the mid eighteenth century and were used
by fisherwomen to drag the creels of herring up from
the harbour beneath.

Richard en-route back up having ventured about
half the way down.!

We also dropped into John O Groats and
got blown to smithereens!
The rather bizarre looking hotel on the shore had a
extremely bleak outlook that day!

A little later we found ourselves at Duncansby Head.
The unmanned lighthouse there is shown below.

Then, - battling gale force winds we headed towards the coastline
and spotted these amazing two sea stacks.
The strength of the wind was such we found it difficult to walk
and taking any photos was nigh-on impossible,
- hence the blurriness......!

From here we drove along westwards towards Dunnett Head
stopping occasionally for the odd coastal photo.....

Through long winding lanes and a desolate and dark landscape
we drove until we got to our destination.
Now this WAS bleak - and at times we were hammered by the driving rain!

See what I mean.....:(  !!!!
We had a wander round the old WW2 buildings that
stood silently there in the gloom -
as ugly reminders of the dangerous war years affecting the UK.

However the sun did eventually appear for a while - 
as we got as close as we could to the Dunnett Head lighthouse
that has been automated since March 1989 and is
now monitored from Edinburgh by the Northern Lighthouse Board.

We had a wander around the cliffs close by and came across
this view shown below.   Quite stunning!

Grey skies and gale force winds were the order of the following day
but it didn't stop us getting out and about along the north coast
giving Cupar a seaside stroll!   Another rather bleak shot below!!

... and then again here with that deserted and windswept beach ...!

But then we moved on to a slightly softer coastline and the rather
fairytale yet sad remnants of Castles Girnigoe and Sinclair
dating back to the 15th century.

Precariously balanced on the cliff edges these rocky tumbledown walls
are all that remain of two castles.
They were besieged and captured in 1690 and never inhabited
again owing to an inheritance dispute.
Post excavation work is ongoing and it is sponsored by the Clan Sinclair Trust.

Exploration of what is left of the interior is both fascinating and spooky.
You cannot but wonder the activity and people who trod these same
grounds and just how long ago!!! 
See if you can spot a couple of latest intrepid explorers above!

The ruinous castles lit up in the afternoon sunshine above.

With the castle remains on the right you can see just how close
it is to the crashing waves and the sea......

Closer to our temporary 'home' we stopped to do the
afternoon dog walkies!   What an amazing beach and sky that evening!

On our final day we decided to take a peek around the Castle of Old Wick
- again set high on cliffs above a magnificent coastline.
We had a beautiful sunny morning, frosty and cold,
and took ourselves along the footpath that skirted the cliff edges!

Frosted grasses are shown above;
this was taken just before noon illustrating just how cold the night before had been
and despite the summer sunshine was holding it's icy grip!

The little that is left of Old Wick Castle stands
proudly on the cliffs on this beautiful day.

We were so lucky to enjoy this amazing weather and see
this beautiful coastline at it's absolute best!
Richard and Cupar pose successfully for the camera below
after various abortive attempts..... :)

En-route home we moved southwards to visit
an extremely historical site called The Cairn o' Get
- an impressive chambered Neolithic burial cairn set amidst a landscape
full of rich and historical monuments.

The cairn shown above is estimated to be more than 5,000 years old
and was first excavated in 1866.
It was found to contain the remains of at least 7 people,
plus pottery artefacts and arrowheads in the main chamber.

Further on along the coast we had a final stop-off at
the village of Latheron and took some more photographs
of the harbour and the stunning coastline!  It was simply fabulous....

As you can see the sun was with us for the entire day.

One had to be careful when walking up there.  This blowhole
was not fenced off but it's position indicated by a plank of wood!

Look at those amazing colours!

Above Richard and Cupar by a rather unusual gate - 
although they seemed to have trouble getting through it 
at the same time....  We were there for ages!

Finally, back at The Old Bakery, Strathpeffer, that evening
Richard and Cupar have a cuddle in front of the stove.
They both look rather exhausted but then again we did have
an amazingly busy and very enjoyable few days.
Certainly we all had a birthday mini-break to remember!!!!