Scotland – 4 – Up to the Top
We left Morvich and retraced out steps to where the road split for returning towards Fort William or heading towards Loch Ness/Inverness. It was a good day for travelling, not too sunny and not wet and we had a pleasant trip around the shores of Loch Ness. No Loch Ness monster was spotted.
We drove through Inverness and crossed the Cromarty Firth. Just after we had crossed and swung around to drive along the side of the firth we spotted a seal sunning himself (well at this point it wasn’t actually sunny but you know what I mean) on top of a large rock right next to the A9 main road. Of all the remote places we had been this was the most “wild” creature we had seen and in the busiest place.
We had about a half hour drive off the A9 to get to our certified location site in Bonar Bridge. The pitch is in a paddock, with 4 pitches, on top of a hill looking down the valley across Loch Migdale. Fabulous view and pleased we could see it as the weather wasn’t particularly good. We settled on to our ‘hardstanding’, plugged into the electric and were good to go. No facilities here except the hardstanding pitch, electric hook up, water and a point to empty the loo. Nice and quiet and although the last mile and half was on single track roads, I didn’t fret too much.
I had already spotted a leaflet for Dunrobin Castle when we were at Morvich and wanted to visit. It was along the A9 north of Bonar Bridge and on the way to John-o-Groats. I wasn’t disappointed. It was my favourite castle visit to date. Says a lot about the weather though when there was a roaring fire in the hallway in early July. The public only had access to a handful of rooms but there were really interesting and all the staff we engaged with were knowledgeable about the castle. I also liked that they had fresh flower arrangements in a lot of the rooms. Gave the place a lived in feel despite its 186 or so rooms. It hasn’t been lived in as a home since 1963 and everything that is in the castle is pretty much as the last Duke left it. The title died with the 5th Duke and the castle was inherited by his niece, the Countess of Sutherland who has never lived there although there are private apartments.
After our castle visit we headed up to John-o-Groats. Most north-eastern tip of the mainland UK – furthest point from Lands End. Not as busy as we may have expected but it was after 4pm and I guess most visitors had come and gone. Free parking (Land’s End should take note) which encouraged people to get out of their cars not just for a quick picture but to go the cafes and shops. I had the largest cheese scone ever. I’ve become quite partial to a cheese scone. Having had the inevitable photo next to the signpost we headed a bit further round the coast to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK mainland. It says a lot about the space and lack of people as we headed back to Bonar Bridge along the A9, the main road running north/south on the east coast of Scotland and we barely saw 6 other cars ahead of us in a 2 hour trip – at 6pm at night. Stopped in a large Asda superstore at Wick and virtually had the place to ourselves. There is a lot of room up here.
We visited Portmahomack which was another Tobermory/Plockton. Very well maintained seaside village with free parking and toilets maintained by the community. I know I have mentioned this more than once in my blogs but I think it makes a real difference to visitors. We are much more likely to stop in a small village/town and use the shops and cafes if we do not have to pay for parking or to go to the loo. I object to paying 40p to use council maintained toilets but don’t object to donating 5op/£1 to use community ones. I guess I feel that the council toilets are already being paid for and appreciate the effort communities go to in their own villages to keep facilities available to visitors. We have driven out of towns and villages in Cornwall without stopping due to parking charges.
We took a stroll around Tarbat Ness Lighthouse and visited the Tarbat Visitor Centre which was a museum about the early Picts in Eastern Scotland. We drove over to the west coast to Lochinver on a particularly miserable day although the visibility wasn’t too bad. Yes free parking and loos again so we went to the local craft shops.
We drove through Inchnadamph and I recalled the name from when I worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Regional Supervisor, Iain, was working to get a memorial cairn on a crash site replaced. In early April 1941 an Anson bomber crashed on Ben More, about 5 miles from Inchnadamph. The wrecked plane and the bodies of the crew, six airmen of the RAF, were not discovered until 25th May. Due to the inaccessibility of the place and the weather conditions at the time it was necessary to bury the six bodies at the scene of the crash. The grave was marked and protected by a cairn. Its position makes permanent maintenance and the erection of headstones impracticable. In 2012, the Commission decided to replace the existing cairn, which had deteriorated with a granite marker weighing 600kg, to identify and protect the burial site from becoming lost in the future. I remember Iain saying that it was a 3hour walk to the site from the nearest road and the local information tells you not to attempt it if you are not an experienced hill walker. As I recall a helicopter (possibly RAF) was used to drop the new stone at the site along with some of the equipment and tools needed. The airmen themselves are commemorated by a wall mounted Special Memorial Plaque located at the entrance to Inchnadamph Old Churchyard. We travelled back along a bit of the North Coast 500 route which headed over the mountains along the coastline through Stoer and Drumbeg. Lots of “wow’s” again and as there had been some rain, the water running down the mountains added to the grandeur.
We visited The Salmon Leap, a spot above the Falls of Shin. It is a bit early in the season but we watched and waited and saw a few salmon attempt the leap. However it had been raining the day before and maybe the falls were running a bit too hard. I guess they sit it out until the flow subsides or they just keep trying. We did use our midge head nets here. We wouldn’t have been able to stand so long to watch without them. A little bit more wildlife to add to our almost non-existent viewings.
Leaving Bonar Bridge was harder than it should have been. As I mentioned above it was just a small field with some spots marked for vans. When we got back to site one afternoon a caravan had arrived and had parked next to us. Not on the marked plot but about 3 feet nearer to us and 4 feet back from the end of his pitch. We hoped that this wouldn’t cause us too much trouble when we needed to leave. It reminded me a bit of anchoring in deserted bays. If you are there first the next one to arrive will always anchor too close despite having masses of room to anchor safely away from you. Seems it goes for caravans too. If the van had been on the marked pitch we would have not had a problem. Neil didn’t really have enough room to get the truck squarely in front of the hitch without knocking into the chaps van and had to manoeuvre back and forth dozens of time to inch over to where he needed to be. Not helped by the chap standing next to him with “helpful” suggestions on how we could place markers in the future so we would know where to place our truck! No apology about not parking his van in the correct place. How Neil kept his calm and didn’t tell the guy it was his fault we couldn’t get into position or to ** off I don’t know, but he did. We did manage to hook up and started on what would be our trip home – heading south.
Footnote – notice the clothes that were necessary in July!