Week 5. The top of mainland UK

Saturday 31st August 2013

Moving day today, although we did consider staying put as the rain was raining and the wind was blowing when we got up but the new site was booked and only sixty miles or so north so when the rain eased a bit we got on our way. The route from the Brora site was almost entirely on the A9, what a great road for a drive, steep in places but always with great views. As we drove further north the harder the wind blew, nothing we could not handle but noticeably there.

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On arrival at the Dunnet Bay site we were instructed to set up with our nose or tail facing west, where the wind was coming from (the site staff had already had to turn a van into the wind to prevent it being bowled over) and to promise not to attempt to erect an awning until at least Monday by which time the wind would have moderated, but as we sit here snug as bugs watching a re-run of “Lewis” the van is rocking and rolling in the howling wind.

Sunday 1st September 2013

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For the first time since we left Essex five weeks ago the rain has rained all night while the wind has relentlessly tried to flip the van, not that it was in any way strong enough but is obviously enjoying bossing people around. The rain and wind has continued through the day but undeterred we went for a drive out to Dunnet Head (the most northerly point on mainland UK) this afternoon. I’m sure it is very nice, but we were far to busy trying to remain upright and hang onto our specs in the ferocious wind to enjoy it very much so, we went on to John o’Groats to enquire about the ferry, Pentland Venture, to The Orkney Isles. We were able to see the ferry tied up in the harbour because it was cancelled this morning and it’s already cancelled tomorrow because of those same winds, which we are told will calm down by Tuesday.

Monday 2nd September 2013

Rained all night, wind moderated a bit, but not much. Rained virtually all day.

Tuesday 3rd September 2013

We woke up this morning and it’s not raining! It still looks cloudy and grey but it’s definitely not raining.

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We re-traced our Sunday steps to Dunnet Head today, what a difference without the strong wind and horizontal rain, it is quite stunning looking out over the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands seeing the top of the Old Man of Hoy, and into Scapa Flow from a point where the views goes on for miles right around 360 degrees of the compass. Having to do some shopping after lunch we set off to Thurso, the nearest town but after a mile or two took a detour to follow a sign that tantalizingly pointed to a “Heritage Harbour”, just a short way away was the smallest, most idyllic harbour you could imagine. Built when a company started quarrying slabs from the foreshore it boasts just a farm adjacent and a few small small fishing boats. We had a grand chat to a family living in Northern Ireland (well some of them were) who were hoping to adopt our life style in a year or two - in fact we spent so long chatting we almost missed the butcher.

Wednesday 4th September 2013

Up at sparrow f**rt this morning, well 7.00 o’clock anyway, and off to John O’Groats to catch the JOGFerry to the Orkney Islands for a day excursion that included return ferry fare and coach tour round the sights of the islands. The ferry was small (despite recently having had an extra 6.4m ((21feet) added to it) and, from the evidence this morning, a still day with a fairly smooth sea, must rock and roll in an absolutely horrible manner with any sort of a sea running. The Pentland Firth is known for the strength of the tides and when we crossed in the morning the tide, which can in places run at up to 16 knots (thats 18.4 mph in real money), our mid tide route was dictated by the tide rather than the skipper, the water was black and very swirly with a lot of what looked like whirlpools, very exciting! On arriving on South Ronaldsay we found nothing more than the landing stage, toilets, a car park with four coaches and a narrow road snaking across the countryside, there was nothing else.

Boarding our coach we were delighted to discover our driver was Stewart - according to Tripadvisor he was a very knowledgable and chatty driver who gives good value. As we progressed Stewart gave us a history of the Churchill Barriers, built by Italian POW’s during the second world war after a U-boat, U-47, sneaked through the blockships sunk during the first world war to protect the eastern side of Scapa Flow and sunk the battleship HMS Royal Oak. They connect a series of islands from Mainland southwards to South Ronaldsay. Not completed until just after the war ended their primary use is as causeways linking five islands together. The linking of the islands in this way prevented the local fishermen from reaching the rich fishing grounds of the north sea so, ATS (according to Stewart) they went into egg production and by 1957 73 million eggs were being produced each year. Unfortunately a great storm hit and the chickens were blown away by the storm towards Norway (this is also, ATS, why the Norwegians invented continental quilts - cos they had so many feathers).

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After stopping for coffee and a comfort break in the island capital Kirkwall we carried on to Stromness where we had an hour and a half to explore and get some lunch before continuing on to the main item of the day Scara Brae. This stone age village was discovered in a remarkable state of preservation in 1850 when a violent storm stripped away the grass and sand that had kept it hidden for 5 thousand years. Skaill House, the home of the local laird on whose land Scara Brae was discovered is also open to the public and is also well worth a visit. Well back in the coach and on to the next item The Ring of Brodgar a 104m diameter stone circle thought originally to contain 60 stones only 27 now remain. Nearly leaving two passengers off we went again back to Kirkwall, this time to explore, we visited St Magnus Cathedral a most interesting building. Onward ever onward to our last visit of the day The Italian Chapel, built in two Nissen huts built in line by Italian POW’s it was the inspiration, skills and determination of one man - Domenico Chiocchetti. All that was left now was a return to the lonely landing stage and the ferry back to mainland Scotland. It was a long, tiring day but a fabulous introduction to a fascinating place that we hope to explore further one day.

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Thursday 5th September 2013

Moving day today, we have left the north east and come south west to Onich. It was an amazing drive from the flatish arable and beef farmland of the far north to the mountainous  western highlands with everything in between. We are now camped on the banks of Loch Linnhe. We walked to the waters edge to watch a stunning sunset and were almost deafened by clicking cameras, but did I have mine? Of course not - still perhaps tomorrow evening (which fortunately happened).

The temperature has certainly dropped over the last couple of days, we had the heating on tonight, still that does mean midges will be less of a problem than they might have been.

Friday 6th September 2013

We awoke to a glorious day and being a sad couple elected to do the laundry - it may rain tomorrow! so as the sunshine dried the clothes we then went shopping. What a sad town Fort William seems to have become with the main shopping street having more empty shops then occupied ones and Boots, W H Smiths, Tesco Metro the only "visit every day" type, national chains present, the others are mainly small local shops that seem to be struggling to survive. On this occasion we cannot, it seems, blame Tesco, their Metro store on the high street is as depressing as all the others. This time we must blame Morrisons whose large store is next door to both bus and railway stations and car parks, what chance do the independents have??

Before settling down for the evening with our dinner (two huge Aberdeen Angus steaks, salad and a bottle of red) we went for a drive to Glencoe but turned off when we saw a sign to “Seafood Restaurant and Shop” following a twisty, turney road with fabulous views over Loch Leven we eventually reached The Lochleven Seafood Cafe. The shop was obviously shut being 6:30pm but the restaurant was open and looked good with a short but inviting menu at reasonable prices. We will return.

Last Updated - Sunday 27th April 2014.             © Seve  Ghost 2014