Monday 14 December 2020


 Well apologies for the tardiness of this birthday blog post..... only 3 weeks late!
We decided that a trip up to North Coast would be a good idea this year
as we had not travelled any further west than Dunnett Head
on our last visit to the North last year.
Below is a photograph taken as we travelled up the A9 on our first day.  

The journey north was spectacular;  we had some amazing weather and 
travelled through beautiful countryside!
We were lucky enough stop here at Loch Meadie to enjoy the
fabulous sky and resultant reflection....

The journey had spellbinding views - such as the one below of Ben Hope.

Coldbackie was our destination -  in a fabulous spot right by the sea.
Below is the view from just outside the holiday cottage we had booked!  Wow!

The following day we had a 'Beach Day'  - driving around the coastal 
roads into Midfield and the area known as Melness... the weather 
was rather overcast but we were still able to take a few atmospheric photographs!
Below are Richard and Cupar playing on Coldbackie Beach plus a shot of the fabulous
rock formations at one end of the shore.  Just amazing!

... We were both in awe of this great wall of compressed rock formations....

From here we drove westwards 
winding our way along single track roads and finally down to Melness harbour .........

..... and then past Melness Cemetary with Ben Loyal in the background. 
Yes, it was rather murky that afternoon!
From there we went on to Achininver Beach which was deserted with the 
exception of us and another couple with a dog!  Again, there were some
magnificent rock formations on the beach - some with marble clearly visible...

Richard and Cupar had great fun playing in the sand whilst I pottered around
taking photographs and just 'enjoying the moment'......

From the beach we set off for home - stopping briefly to take a 
few photographs of Melness Cemetery with Ben Loyal as a backdrop.

Day 2 was a lot brighter.   We'd decided to call it 'Ruins Day' and take a walk 
up to Castle Varrich in the morning and then across to an old, now deserted
settlement called Sletell afterwards.   
En-route up to the castle we came across this toppled tree.  It was enormous - 
probably about 60-70 ft. long!

It was an easy climb and the views were certainly worth it when arriving at the top!

Cupar obviously thought so too;  he was quite captivated it seems....!

The exact age and origin of the castle is unknown although one theory states 
that it dates back to the 1400's and was built on the remains of an old Norse fort.
Below Richard and Cupar pose for the camera in the sunshine!

Recently Historic Environment Scotland renovated the entire structure 
and installed a steel spiral staircase with a platform at the top - which of
course gives even more sensational views!   Must admit that I wasn't keen going up 
to the top though  ...!

I never did really have a head for heights but the views from up there were worth it!

Having descended it was back in the car and off to Sletell to the settlement.
The weather was still magnificent and the bright autumnal sky was lit by a low sun 
casting ever longer shadows as made our slow walk to and from the abandoned homes
not far from the seashore.

The path was very wet and mucky in places and the going quite rough at times
but the views were worth it...

Below is a view through a window of one of the ruined homes.  
This was what someone else would have seen all those years ago.....   

Little is known of this area with its three crofts, a few dwelling places 
plus their outbuildings although it is thought the area wasn't completely deserted 
until the 1950s....

By 4 p.m .we were in danger of losing the sun behind the hills so after this photo 
was taken we took our leave and quickly trudged back to the car.   
Below Richard climbs the hill that leads away from Sletell.

... .and then it was a short drive back to Base where we unwound in our 
comfortable kitchen and downloaded photos - then planned for Day 3!
Certainly our holiday cottage was extremely welcoming after such a long day.

On our final day we didn't travel too far from Base.
The weather was amazing once again - sunny ALL day!
From Tongue village we kept driving along the road that goes round the Kyle of Tongue.   
Richard had said he wanted to see one of the 'Cup Marked Stones' that was marked on our OS Map...
Before getting there we happened across Loch Hakel and made a slight detour!

A little further along the road was the Cup Marked Stone that I mentioned.
.   Richard paused to take a photograph or two of course!

With the weather being so wonderful we did a lot of walking towards Kinloch Lodge
and went to the top of Garbh Chnoc to take in the 360 degree views.

       Below are Richard and Cupar who take a wee break from our tramping about!

                            Another ten minutes down the road and we had this view.  Amazing!

We then walked back to the car and carried on driving.....
The shot below shows some of the vegetation alongside the road.  
The colours were beautiful in the sunshine....:)

We continued driving and just
couldn't resist taking more and more photographs as we went....

Below is a shot of a couple of old bridges plus a deserted cottage in the background.
It was getting quite late by then but we didn't want to miss this opportunity...

By the time we pulled over to take this photograph below the light was really fading fast
Afterwards it was straight back to Base again with departure for home the next day!

Our return journey went well and was enjoyable ... it was so quiet trundling down the 
B871 for mile after mile.....

 Turning right at Kinbrace onto the A897 it was then a very short time 
until we reached Helmsdale on the A9.
Below is one of our views shortly before we got that point....

Needing to stop for a quick lunch we managed to find some lovely woodland 
further down the A9 in Golspie.
The photo below is illustrative of the amazing autumnal colours that were 
all around us at the time.  What a wee oasis it was....!

The wood was a complete contrast to a lot of the scenery through which we had driven
over the last four days and it was very pleasant change of landscape.  
It was a lovely way to end our latest holiday in this amazing 'natural cathedral' !!

By 5 p.m. we were back at 'The Old Bakery' 'in Strathpeffer. 
It was lovely to be back again but we could have stayed a lot longer up in Sutherland.
We only skimmed the surface really - so there is still a vast area of unexplored coastline
awaiting our return next time!

Friday 11 December 2020

Dark Days

 This post title could easily relate to the disastrous and ongoing world-wide coronavirus pandemic that, in spite of punishing restrictions on socialising and hospitality, the human race seem little closer to getting under control now than we did nine months ago. Maybe the introduction of a vaccine, which is just now very gradually being rolled-out, will bring about some improvement in the situation, but I don't see a lot changing any time soon.

But, no - the dark days to which I refer here are the northern hemisphere winter-time days of short daylight that have happened every year since time began - and indeed, would have happened before time existed. It is about 4.30pm here now, and completely dark outside. It won't get light again until around 8.30am tomorrow morning. On cloudy or rainy days, it barely gets fully light at all. For something like a month every year, we pass through this period of perpetual gloom.  It is quite a challenging time - not least for the birds and animals that have such a short day to forage for enough to eat to keep them going through the long and often cold night. 

It was as recently as 1952 that a hydro-electricity scheme brought electricity for the first time to much of the Isle of Skye. Before then, it is hard to imagine how people coped with candles and oil lamps for their lighting, and no electrically-powered entertainment. It is little wonder that story-telling and the playing of fiddle, accordion, pipes and tabor were (and still are) so popular.

To offset the gloom - just occasionally we get a glorious day of winter sunshine, which very likely begins and ends with an orange, pink, purple and blue sunrise and sunset. Even at mid-day, the sun has only climbed a short way into the sky, so its dazzling rays shine directly through the windows of the houses and cast long shadows on the hills. It is a special and spectacular kind of light that really needs to be experienced to be understood. Sadly, sunlit December days are all too rare.

Of course, the bonus is that in six months time, we will bask in very long hours of daylight, with the sky never going fully black at all during much of June.

I wonder if by then, the dark days of coronavirus will also be behind us...?

Winter sunset, Loch Dunvegan