Thursday 13 June 2024

Wick & Sinclair castle NC500 #3

I booked a hotel in Wick as that would give us enough time to explore the eastern coastline before arriving at the famous John o' Groats

I did not know too much about Wick & it was a surprising overnight stop. The little seaside museum at the boat heritage centre at Dunbeath had an old image of a thriving fishing town of Wick & in their heyday, these seaboard towns would have been a hive of activity. 



A walk around Wick revealed the shortest street in the world according to the Guinness book of records. Ebenezer Place is just the tiny front of a diagonal building, just one number making up its street address. I love quirky things.

The town was laid out by the well known Scottish engineer Thomas Telford & it has two sections.  We looped around the river, crossing the bridge back in to town & along the street. 

An imposing church caught our eye with huge metal gates so we crossed over to explore. What an interesting churchyard it was. Most of the old stones dating back to early 1800's were laid flat, with no space between them, meaning that they formed part of the pathways between the headstones. These were interspersed with standing headstones, many family ones giving evidence of the short lifespans that were common 200 years ago.

There were also many women who outlived their husbands by 20-30 years; how tough life was in those times. It was sad to see how many children were listed who did not make it to adulthood. We take it fore granted that we will see our biblical 'three score & ten' years - how different it was then.

Cemeteries really are a place where you can get the social history of a town & the imposing headstones hark back  to a time when there was much prosperity & opportunity in this little seaside town.

It was interesting how many of the headstones were family ones commemorating 6 or more people which really gives you a family history of that time

The harbour is no longer the fishing village, it had large ships in with what looked like wind turbines. The changing face of places. 

This coast line is rather special with the north sea's icy grip on it. 

The next morning, before heading north, we set out for the Castle Sinclair which is not far from Wick. The path leading to the castle passes by fields of sheep & leads to the coast where suddenly the castle, for me, took second place to the amazing sea stacks. I studied geography & these really are special. The waves ebb & flow around them , flat rocks visible just under the water & then the stacks with vegetation on them, proof that seabirds have taken advantage of the prime position. I had to tear myself away from the mesmerising scene to the castle nearby. 


Castle Sinclair was owned by the same family I came across at Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh last year. The family are famously mentioned in Dan Brown's book of The Da Vinci Code.  They were certainly an influential family with their home near Edinburgh & this amazing castle in a prominent position on the eastern coast.

The castle perches on the hillside with commanding views over the sea as well as the approach to it. The wind whipped up from the sea & standing at the drawbridge gave a feeling of olden days, of a time warp, of entering a place that has a long history. 


The grandeur is gone, leaving only a shell, a hint of how it once was, but a feeling that this was special. 


We carefully picked our way around the paths, read the notice boards & felt the cold wind on our cheeks. The views out over the ocean are special; supply boats used to navigate the path between the sea stacks to tie up in a sheltered cove before delivering goods to the bustling castle. The sizeable castle would have had hundreds of people working, living, trading with it. They would have had to protect themselves in times of strife, to literally pull up the drawbridge - such interesting thoughts of life there. 

I pulled some sheep wool bits from the fence as a keepsake & will probably add it to a sewing piece, a little reminder of a fabulous castle visit, of two places - Rosslyn Chapel & Sinclair Castle, converging in my memory. 


This was definitely a highlight for me ... 

I reluctantly took leave of it - definitely worth a visit, even on a windswept day. 

Dee 🏰🌊🐏

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Easter Ross along the NC500 #3

I hope you are finding our North Coast 500 trip interesting. We did east to west, the west supposedly the more interesting side. That was not my experience as I loved the wildness of the east coast - I am getting ahead of myself so ....

This east coast is known as Easter Ross  & it has a  long history of the ancient Picts  - who were early inhabitants of the northern Scottish regions. 

This part of the Easter Ross has many pretty fishing villages, including Balintore with the Mermaid of the North statue along the seaside. I have been to the one in Copenhagen, this one is larger & she has a commanding view out to sea. 

I have Pict ancestry through my Mothers line - the benefit of doing ancestry online is that the many master profiles connect to you & this connection led me to the Pict kings of Scotland, 30-35 generations ago. It's fascinating to see how we are all woven together so I was keen to visit some of the Pict stones on the Pict trail that leads along this coast.

The Shandwick stone  is a well known carved Pict stone - it is encased in a glass case to protect it from the elements as it stands high above the harbour of Belintore.  This is some info on the stone 

Elements of the carving on the Shandwick Stone are complicated and unusual and occur also on the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, the Nigg Stone, and on fragments found at Tarbat


The Shandwick Stone or Clach a' Charridh stands encased in glass, in a magnificent location overlooking the sea near Shandwick, one of the Seaboard Villages on the east coast of the Peninsula.

This Pictish stone has origins dating back to 780 AD. It is a Class II stone, with the cross facing the seaward side, and the secular scene facing inland. The latter contains six panels, the first being a standard Pictish double-disc, the second being a Pictish Beast and the third being a possible hunting scene, with warriors depicted alongside an eagle, a boar, and various other creatures. The bottom three panels consist of woven patterns.

A layby has been provided not far away from the stone, and there is a path from the road.

How fascinating is it when there is so much ancient history in one stone? This forms part of the Pictish Trail 

Easter Ross gives way to Southeast Sutherland with its connection to the Vikings. It is characterised by moors, mountains, golden sands, fishing towns & cliffs. There is a feeling of space along this coast, of wild winds & the weather being in charge ... 

The 800 year old Dornoch Cathedral is Scotland's smallest cathedral & it was a good opportunity to stretch our legs & wander around this traditional  town. In 1224, Gilbert de Moravia became the Bishop of Caithness& began building the cathedral out of local stone & glass. He paid for it out of his own pocket & also built a bishop's residence alongside it; this is now the Castle hotel. 

This route out of  Dornoch took us along the interesting Loch Fleet nature reserve, past the small town of  Golspie,  suddenly a small sandbank close to the road revealed about 50 basking seals, as well as numerous sea birds. We stopped, got out the camping chairs & enjoyed watching these fascinating creatures swim & play on the sandbank. 

Helmsdale harbour with its pretty painted rows of houses, lobster baskets, fishing boats & a solid harbour wall protecting it from the wild weather was one of those attractive seaside towns that has hardly changed.

A second seaside statue of  Kenn & the Salmon from 'Highland River' caught our eye. The author Neil M.Gunn had been born in Dunbeath & this was in his honour. I love quirky things. The harbour had strong interlinking concrete shapes, known in Southern Africa as dolosse - the bones used traditionally but they interlink & offer protection against rough seas. It was interesting to see them along the harbour. 

Dunbeath castle is privately owned & sits high above the bay & harbour on the opposite hillside, visual with its light coloured building & grey slate roof. I'm sure it is very windswept in winter when the storms roll in. 

This part then brought us to Wick, our stop for the night. More to follow, thank you for stopping by, 

Dee 

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Exploring Scotland's NC500 #1 Black Isle

 I have neglected my blog because I have been on a little road trip around Scotland. The North Coast 500 North Coast 500 is a route that was set up in 2015 to take in the East, north & west coast of Scotland. It covers 516 miles of mainly coastline. 


I have looked at it several times but when hubby decided it is something he would like to do too, we booked hotels along the route & I cleared my student diary for a week (plus the weekends either side)

We decided to do the route east to west, heading up to Inverness for the first night. 

First stop in Scotland was the magnificent Stirling castle - you see it in the distance, standing proudly on the hillside, a symbol of strength & power. 


The queens bedchamber & the waiting room 

The Prince's walk with the graphic gargoyles & statues set against the walls 

The huge Chapel Royal in the castle grounds 


Living quarters for soldiers & servants within the castle walls 

A defended castle, perched high on the hill - The William Wallace memorial tower high on the hill opposite 

I learnt all about the importance of unicorns in the Coat of Arms of the royals from this chap. They have the head & beard of a goat, the body of a horse, the tail of a lion & the hooves of a goat - a composite animal with the best attributes of each animal. They feature prominently on the many tapestries  & coats of arms in the castle.  

It was the favoured residence of the Steward Kings & there is just so much to see. We spent nearly 4 hours there, exploring the magnificent halls, rooms, gardens, castle walls with their line of canons & more. It was a treat as I didn't really know too much about it. My Scottish history is patchy because there is so much to learn & because the Kings have a different title in Scotland so you have to remember their two names. 

Inverness has interesting canals & harbours & we stretched our legs along them.  After a hearty Scottish breakfast we headed north along the east coast towards Wick via the Black Isle.


The Black Isle is an interesting route from Inverness as it takes in the pretty harbours & traditional towns along the way. 

We stopped in Fortrose to look at the ruins before heading to Chanonry Point, known as the spot to dolphin watch on the Scottish coast. No dolphins on a breezy morning but beautiful views.


We made our way along the Cromarty Firth towards the car ferry, known as the The King's Ferry , because King Kames 1V of Scotland took that route 18 times between 1493 & 1513.  


 We did not really know what to expect at Cromarty  but had a warming coffee & a tiffin at the seaside hut before a tiny ferry appeared. It can only take 16 passengers & 2 cars at the most as it is one of the smallest ferries about. We edged in behind a car, the ramp closing right behind our vehicle then it crossed the Firth with great views of several north sea oil platforms. 

I love wind in my hair & sea spray on my face - an exhilarating crossing that was over way too quickly as we arrived in Nigg. A careful reverse off the ferry then it was on its way back across the  water again. 

That is enough for now, more to follow. 

Dee 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Saturday 25 May 2024

Re-reading some books ....

The lighter nights are fabulous with longer evenings & warmer weather after a really grey winter. While tidying my books, I came across this stash again. I love to read & have been re-reading some of the books of the author Khaled Hosseini that I first read more than 15 years ago. 

The Kite Runner is often quoted - it is such a deep & beautiful book. 

And that's the thing about people who mean what they say. They think everyone else does too. 

There is only one sin, and that is theft... When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. 

For you, a thousand times over 

But better to be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie

Words were secret doorways & I held all the keys 

I am now reading And the Mountains echoed for the first time - sometimes it is enlightening to read a clutch of books from the same author at the same time, because the words just flow as they paint pictures in your mind - that is what good books do ... 

Hubby lived & worked in many of the countries mentioned as part of his engineering consultancy work so the images & time periods are something I can relate to personally. Many of the events described in A Thousand Splendid Suns happened in recent times & it is interesting to have this perspective.  It is one of those books that at times you just have to put it down to process the words described .... 

What are you reading & what do you recommend? 

Dee πŸ“šπŸ“–πŸ“™

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Calming Green ‘Forest bathing’ garden

The annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show has featured several winning gardens focused on green plants & structural plants like ferns, trees etc


I have made a concerted effort to plant a lot of green plants so that our garden retains its structure through our long winters. 

All of our back windows look onto the garden, framed by tall hedges & evergreens so it is pleasing to have a good view throughout the year, even in dull winter light. 


The large topiary balls are 25 years old, grown from topiary that was in the Dorset family garden. They are much loved ... 

There is a variety of shades of green as well as different leaf sizes & shapes & it retains this structure all year which makes it a welcoming space.  We have several David Austin roses - they have just won their 28th gold award at Chelsea. The rose against our house is Shropshire Lad & we also have the Jubilee & Elizabeth rose, bought in honour of our late Majesty. 

In Spring & Summer, there are pops of colour from bulbs, annuals & shrubs which are like little bursts of interest. This is balanced by several white flowering shrubs because they show up in low light at night. 

I studied the RHS Chelsea gardens & feel rather pleased that our garden is on trend & somewhere we love to be in; the intense greens are very calming & the hedges are the perfect backdrop to the space. We are blessed ...

Are you inspired by other gardens ? Tell all 

Dee 🌳🌺πŸͺ»πŸŒΉ