Thursday 02 June 2011

D-Day + 3

At Duncanby Head Light House

We slept well past dawn, which meant a reasonably early start. Mom popped over to Thurso to pick up a few things, mostly breakfast and coffee supplies. Some instant coffee had been supplied but we’re coffee snobs so Mom bought a press pot, ground coffee, and some cream. Oh, and some milk for the kids. The coffee turned out quite well and the cream (a “single cream”) was hefty. I can’t imagine what the “double cream” is like.

Sharon’s husband Morris showed up around 9AM while we were still trying to get ready for the day. We had talked about calling Sharon around that time and apparently that got mistranslated. Anyway we let Morris have coffee with more cream than usual and finally managed to get everyone ready to head out.

We all piled in Morris’ car and went off to the ruins of Sinclair Castle which is getting less ruined as restoration work proceeds. The kids actually had fun there, as they could walk through the ruins and climb on them a bit. Mom and I appreciated the grand views. One thing Alice and Charles found fascinating were the privies, which were just small rooms that hung out over the cliffs with a window and a hole in the bottom. They thought it was very interesting and funny.

My big mistake was pointing out the wool stuck on the nearby fences. It was roughly shearing time and the sheep were starting to shed, leaving clumps of wool all over their fields. The fierce winds then blow it around where it frequently gets caught on a fence, which rapidly accumulate more wool. I took a hunk off to show the kids so they could see raw wool. They were a bit too fascinated and started gathering all the wool they could find on the fences. Mom and I wouldn’t let them go running out in to the fields to gather from there. They stripped all the wool from the fences between the castle and the parking lot, then started up the road out. I went along to try to prevent them from being run over. While we were out the Earl of Caithness1 dropped by and talked with the rest of the family.

After reuiniting the family we drove over to Wick and had lunch. We had intended to meet Sharon there but we were so far behind schedule we missed her (and she’d left us her cell phone so we could call in the morning, which hadn’t worked out well).

To finish our outing we headed up to Duncanby’s Head which is the far north western tip of Scotland. We saw a light house there and walked around near sheep. Mom and I admired the views while the kids admired the sheep, collected wool, and rested. It was again a beautiful crisp day. I could have laid down in the heather and just basked for hours, but sadly I felt compelled to keep an eye on the children as they wandered near 100 foot cliff over bone chilling water.

The kids noticed that many of the sheep had big blotches of color on them. Morris told us2 that this was because the shepherd would put a vest with a marker on the ram for the flock and the ewes would be marked when he visited them. They’d change the marker color every few weeks and then use the colors as guides for when to expect lambs. Presumably it’s something easy to wash off the wool after shearing.

We visited Sharon’s house for some Loch trout caught just the day before by a friend of Morris. The kids did not, as far as I know, permanently damage the house or anything in it. Alice and Charles were impressed with Sharon’s raw wool bag which had a mound of wool larger than Charles in it.

In the evening we walked around the quarry a bit, enjoying the last of the day and staying up too late because it was still light.

P.S. Mom is starting to get withdrawal symptoms from being offline. We thought we’d find WiFi hotspots here, in restaurants or coffee shops, but so far no connectivity since we left Ireland.

1 He’s apparently well known and friendly. I mentioned that we’d missed meeting the Earl to a couple of other locals and they’d inevitably reply “Oh, Malcom”.

2 Laurie later confirmed this story as well, so it’s quite probably true.

Posted by Dad at 11:26 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks – Ping URL

Wednesday 01 June 2011

D-Day + 2

Today we traveled. We woke up at 4AM local time to get to the Dublin airport for a flight to Edinburgh. Once there we picked up our rental car and headed out north, to the wilds of Scotland, chanting “on the left, on the left” as we went. Except for the roundabouts it was a mostly uneventful drive up to Inverness, although Mom had a strong tendency to be a bit too far to the left.

Our first real stop was at Daviot Wood where we used the toilets and got some tourist information. It had some very nice looking hiking trails but we were pressing to get up to our destination so we passed them by. I bought a detail map of the roads at our destination but promptly forgot about it and didn’t remember it until we were almost ready to leave. Yay.

When we reached Inverness it was around lunch time. We were just a few miles from Loch Ness and the staffer at Daviot Wood had recommended the Dores Inn on the south (less touristy because of a smaller road) side of the Loch which we decided to give a try. It was a nice drive and a very nice lunch (the maccaroni and cheese was superb). Highly recommended if you happen to be driving around near the north end of Loch Ness.

We played on the shore for a bit but the water was far too cold and choppy to go in. The kids found a playground there and had some fun. The wind was very fierce.

Corwin contemplates Loch Ness

Next was a long drive on the A9 which passes for a major road in north Scotland. It’s a narrow two lane road with traffic both ways. As we found out later it’s one of the most dangerous roads per passenger mile in the UK. We were actually stopped for an hour or so around Golspie due to an accident, which, based on the car wreckage, was very likely fatal. It didn’t really affect Mom’s driving much, as she was already about as wound up as she could get. The kids, of course, had utter faith in Mom’s driving capabilities.

After a subsequently uneventful, if long with great scenery, drive we arrived at our lodgings, a small cottage which was all ready for us. We met the owner and our friend Sharon there, both of whom had stocked the refrigerator with some essentials (e.g., coffee and milk). The cottage is just in front of an abandoned quarry which we explored a little bit. The view out the front is in to another working quarry but the views out the back are spectacular, just like a fairy tale landscape. The quarry was used to get flagstone (for which the local area was famous) and you can see examples of it in the back yard fence of the cottage.

For dinner Sharon took us to a local restaurant in Castletown where everybody knew her name for a nice dinner. Afterwards we walked down the harbor and climbed out on to a quay. We explained lichen to Alice, which comes in a variety of decorator colors up here.

Then it was off to bed for us, even though it was still light. Corwin got a room on the first floor to himself while Alice and Charles shared a larger bed up in the loft (a converted attic that was rather cramped for adults but fine for our wee ones).

Vista from the cottage

Posted by Dad at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks – Ping URL