Author Archives: Fred Coutts

Silent upon a peak in Darien

Well I know it’s not Darien – it’s the little hill at St Catherine’s Dub at Collieston.  But these words from John Keats’ poem, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer came to my mind when I looked at this picture.   Poppy is unusually still, staring out to sea ‘like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes  he star’d at the Pacific’.

When I try to pose Poppy in a picture she will often choose to look to the side rather than straight to camera. If I call to her, she will move towards me away from the carefully placed position I have chosen for the picture.   And getting two dogs to look at me at the same time…..well more work needed I think.


On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
By John Keats

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Trying out the van

Maisie our grandaughter was excited when she saw our new motorhome.  What better way to try it out than go for a picnic to Collieston beach.   She loved sitting at the table in the van as we made our way there, delighted that her booster seat let he see quite clearly out of the side window.

Lunch was great, but the sun was out and the sand was calling.   I don’t think we have been here at low tide in the sunshine before. We have been more used to stones than sand.  Maisie loved it, running on the sand with the dogs, climbing up the rocks with granny, drawing and writing in the sand, and of course climbing up to the look-out point where you could clearly see the multi-storey flats in Aberdeen on the horizon.

A great trip in the van.

On Stirling Hill

There is a wonderful network of paths all over Stirling Hill, thanks to the hard work of the Boddam Community Association.  I often stop there with the dogs on the way to and from Peterhead.  We weave our way through the remains of the quarry workings where once Peterhead convicts were put to hard labour.  But for us it is the glimpses of the sea, the sun on the heather, the gorse,  the sparkling pink granite and the views over Peterhead and the Buchan coast that is our focus.

Despite the strong wind we explored a little further than our usual circuit of the hill.  Lily and Poppy dutifully posed for me on the granite bench by the viewpoint.


Then it was off down a long straight path towards the site of the RAF Buchan radar station, with its distinctive golf ball “Radome” which can be seen from all around.

The hill has sprouted masts of all sorts, not just the military, Mobile phone providers have found this a useful place for their transmitters.

We explored down a track we had never visited before.  Poppy loved it, darting here and there, but always keeping an eye on where I was.  The track took us to another quarry working that I had never visited before.  It was full of water, and was fenced off, with not the usual warning sign of steep cliffs, but to take care because this pool is very deep and is used by divers.   There was a long length of rope there, and the rubber hood of a diving suit mounted on a fence post to confirm the signs.

Once home I read up about this site which is a favourite with divers because of its relative safety for training dives.  It goes down to a depth of 24 metres, and proudly boasts a submerged burger van to explore.

It is amazing what is there to discover on Stirling Hill, including highland cattle!

Nature walk

The internet is a wonderful thing:  you can find out about almost anything you want.  I have passed that gate countless times as I drive to and from Peterhead along the main road, but it was only when  I was looking up information about the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at  Longhaven Cliffs that I discovered there was now a parking place for visitors close to the village.   The new parking area has recently been created and the road to the old quarry where visitors used to park has been closed off by a locked gate because of people dumping rubbish up at the quarry.

A great place for a walk with the dogs.  So I followed the road up to the quarry and then onto the cliff top path.  The dogs loved it, despite the wetness of the ground.  Poppy particularly loved exploring.  She seems to have no hint of vertigo,   There was quite some swell, and waves were crashing on the rocks below.  The light was quite good, not the blue sky and sea that I had experienced last week, but still sunny and good enough for some pictures.

My big surprise was when I spied a group of grey seals resting on the rocks in a sea cave.  It was really an arch, with both ends open to the sea, forming a curve so that you could not really see through it.  There was just the hint of some waves at the sea end, while the seals were resting on the rocks now exposed by the receding tide in the gully below me.

Further on it was some Fulmars which got my attention as they  circled over the cliff top.  I managed a few pictures, and as I look at them, it always seemed to be the same bird I caught with my camera.  A broken wing feather marked him out quite distinctly.

 

Too early yet for many flowers, but I did see one primrose in bloom, and the promise of some daffodils later.  But it was the patch of snowdrops sheltered among the prink granite rocks that took my attention as we returned to the car.

You can see the pictures I took on my Flickr Page.

On the cliff top

In a few weeks time the cliff tops at Longhaven will be a blaze of colour as the Thrift and the Red Campion come into bloom.  No flowers today, though, just a bright blue sea and sky.  Just a hundred yards or so from the busy A90 Peterhead road and you are in a different world.

The dogs loved it, freedom to roam and explore.  I took the opportunity to practice the sit, stay manoeuvre with them and they seemed to get the message, though they did misinterpret it when I put my camera up to my face…surely that was the sign to run to me and get a treat?

There may have been no flowers out today, but there is a whole row of fence posts with some spectacular lichen.  The sharp eyed among you will perhaps notice traces of lorries and cars passing by, along the horizon.  It shows how close  this nature reserve is to the the main road.

I have marked down a place to come back for a photograph.  I noticed a clump of daffodils appearing on the cliff top just above a spectacular cove below.  In a wee while they will be in bloom and all I have to do is wait for the sunshine, and make sure that I visit about the middle of the day when the sun will be in the right place.

Spring sunshine

The weather forecasters on the television have been telling us that yesterday (1 March) was meteorological spring.  This afternoon it certainly felt like it, with a pleasant, light breeze and lovely sunshine.  It has been a long time since we walked along the sands at Cruden Bay.  We used to be regulars there, but Poppy’s nervous nature and her reaction to other dogs have led us to seek more lonely spots for walks.

I’m glad we took our courage in both hands and paws today, and set off over the Ladies’ Bridge onto the sands.  The tide was about at its highest with the waves just a few feet from the dunes, but it was gradually retreating.  I remember one day long ago nearly being caught by a high tide there, and having to cling onto the steep sides of the dunes to make our way back to the bridge.

I’m a big dog!

As we made our way along the beach I remembered the other reason that beach walks are not so much in favour now – Lily absolutely adores barking at the waves.   But today, she seemed to know that was not required, despite the fact that there were white-crested waves rolling in.

To bark, or not to bark?

After passing just one lady with her two dogs who was heading back to the bridge, we had the beach all to ourselves.  Can you imagine it, a whole beach, spring sunshine, and not too much wind.  Idyllic!!

Crazy legs

Enticement

I decided to stick with the wide-angle lens which was attached to my Canon.  The wind and the sand and the spray could get into the works of the camera if I tried to change the lens on the beach.  The set of pictures I have came back with show the broad sweep of the bay;  no close ups of dogs today, just carefully placed canine props in the foreground of the photographs.

You can see my set of pictures on my Flickr Page.

Sit, stay!

The old and the new

A beautiful sunny February day saw us visiting the village of Whitehills in Banffshire.  Our main purpose was to visit our favourite fish shop there and stock up the freezer.

Although we have visited there once or twice we had never visited the harbour area.
A sunny day with a bright blue sea was just what we needed to do a little exploring.  Once upon a time the harbour would have been full of fishing boats.  Indeed I remember two brothers who were members of Buckie North Church in the 1970s when I was minister there who from Whitehills.  I am fairly sure theirs was a fishing family and their ancestors probably fished out of Whitehills.

The harbour was full during our visit, but now it is a marina, with yachts of all sizes, together with a few small lobster boats. It changed to a marina in 2000 due to the downturn in the fishing industry and the rising popularity of leisure sailing.  Whitehills is unique as it is the only harbour in the area catering for leisure sailors that is accessible for all but very large boats at all states of the tide.  Quite a contrast to Port Erroll Harbour at Cruden Bay with which I am much more familiar.

I walked along the pier to the light at the harbour mouth with camera in hand and managed to get one or two interesting shots.

 

 

Then we strolled along the shore to the old Blackpots harbour with its interestingly shaped sea wall and views over towards Banff, Macduff and Troup Head in the distance.  It’s just the sort of place that Poppy loves, especially walking along that sea wall…and so did Mary on this occasion!

Mary collected a few bits of sea glass in the sand, and reported lots of pieces of brick and pipe.  I have now read that Blackpots was the location of a brick and clay pipe works.  The Whitehills caravan site now occupies the place where once the brick works stood.

Beating the drum and kicking the ball

One of the joys of doing family history research is coming across interesting stories and people…..and then one things leads to another, with often quite unexpected results.

David Penman (1925)

That’s what happened to me this week.  While trying to fill in some gaps in the family tree of my wife’s grandfather (Pop), Andy Fraser from Tullibody in Clackmannanshire, I came across a wonderful photograph of his great uncle, David Penman, that would be my wife’s great great great uncle.   David (1854-1946) was miner who lived in the Carronshore area, near Falkirk.  The family seem to have had connections with the mining village of Kinnaird.  Nothing unusual about that, most of that branch of the family were miners in this area.

Andy Fraser (Pop) about 1960

I found out the usual information about the family from census returns and births, deaths and marriages, but it was the photograph which opened a window on the life of Stirlingshire miners more than 100 years ago.  This was not the usual formal studio portrait of the time, but shows David proudly displaying the big bass drum which bears the inscription, Kinnaird and District Brass Band.   Clearly there was more to life for David that hewing coal.

The village of Kinnaird no longer exists, nor does the band, but there is some information on the internet about the competitions they entered etc.  The band seems to have been in existence in the first three decades of the 20th Century and it looks like David would beat the big bass drum.  When he retired from the Kinnaird Band in 1925, he was presented with an enlarged portrait (with his drum) and a wallet of notes.

Then the trail led to another member of the band, James Turnbull, also a miner, who played the trumpet.   He was the father of a Scottish footballing legend, Eddie Turnbull.   In the 1940s and 50s  Eddie played for Hibs (Hibernian Football Club in Edinburgh)  He was one of the famous five front line for Hibs, along with Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, and Willie Ormond, winning three league titles with the team.

“The famous five”

Eddie Turnbull

Eddie also had an international career: 1955 he was the first British player to score in a European club competition, the European Cup against Rot-Weiss of Essen.  Hibs were eventually knocked out in the semi finals of that competition by Rheims.

He played nine times for Scotland and played in the 1958 FIFA World Cup, in Sweden.

The next stage of his footballing career was as a manager, moving to Aberdeen in 1965 after a short time with Queen’s Park.  It was Eddie who introduced the iconic all red strip to the Dons, and he led them to a great victory over Celtic in the Scottish Cup final in 1970.  After that he returned to Edinburgh to become manager of Hibernian from 1971-80 where he won the 1972 Scottish League Cup Final against Celtic. He also masterminded their most famous victory, a 7 – 0 win over their Edinburgh rivals, Heart of Midlothian on 1 January 1973.

Eddie Turnbull died on 30 April 2011, aged 88.

But back to the band.   Eddie wrote an autobiography, Having a ball, in which he recounts his early years in Carronshore, and his father’s part in the band.   I wonder if David Penman played the bass drum at the same time?  In an early chapter of his book, Eddie gives wonderful pictures of life in the mining villages of the time and is well worth a read.  [Read Chapter 2]

Speaking about his father, Eddie wrote:  “Although he was no academic, like so many miners, my father had a life away from the pits which was full of culture. He had finished his formal education early, but he was a clever man and taught himself many things, including music. He played the trumpet and was a member of the local brass band, the Kinnaird and District Silver Band. As a child of a band member, I would share in the terrific excitement in the village when the band marched through Carronshore each Christmas-tide.”  (Having a Ball, Eddie Turnbull with Martin Hannan, Random House 2012)

I might have left the story there but for one thing that I noticed.  Pop’s grandmother was called Elizabeth Turnbull, born and brought up in Kinnaird village, as was Pop himself.   I wondered if there were any connections between Eddie’s family and ours?  But try as I like, I could not find a connection between Eddie’s father James and great great great grandmother Elizabeth.  I am sure there will be a connection, if I could only but find it.  There are more than a few Turnbulls in the Kinnaird, Carronshore area.

OS 1 inch Map 1891 (click on the map to enlarge it)

But I did manage to find a couple of connections, if only somewhat oblique.  Eddie’s uncle, James Jenkins emigrated to Canada in the years before the First World War, where he married a girl who hailed from the same village in Stirlingshire as him and who also had moved to Canada:   Margaret Penman. Margaret was David (the Drummer) Penman’s daughter.  They spent the rest of her life in Alberta, in Canada.

Margaret and James Jenkins (mid 1960s)

And there is another connection between the two families.  Eddie Turnbull’s aunt, Elizabeth Hunter (his mother’s sister) married Alexander Penman in 1878.  Alexander was Pop’s,
uncle, his mother’s brother.

So the footballer and the drummer are connected.   It may be of interest to my Aberdeen FC supporting children and grandchildren that there is a family connection to one of the great Aberdeen Managers of the past and I am sure we would all like to beat the big bass drum.

 

 

Afterglow

Sunset at Cruden Bay

We have enjoyed some spectacular sunsets here in Buchan recently.   After the sun has gone down, for a while there is a wonderful colourful light that transforms the countryside into something quite different and mysterious.

Photography experts refer to the time just before sunrise and just after sunset as the “magic hour” when you can get some stunning pictures.   I have been taking advantage of the early December sunsets – about 3.30 pm here – to go chasing for the afterglow,

The sheep quietly grazing across the road from the layby on the main Peterhead road at the Longhaven cliffs is one example of the transformation that the afterglow can make to a picture – pink sheep!

My mind went back to earlier this year when Dana, a friend from Latvia, commented that my picture of sheep and snow which I had posted on Facebook, reminded her of a Joseph Farquherson picture.  [Click here to read my original post]  But the light he saw in the countryside at Finzean on Deeside is a warm gold. No pink sheep for him.

“Beneath The Snow Encumbered Branches” by Joseph Farquharson

By the way, the word afterglow came to me from the title that Farquharson gave to another of his pictures, depicting rabbits in snow among the trees in the Forest of Birse at Finzean.   This was painted in the tranquil days of 1912 before the lives of so many people would be turned upside down by war.   Earlier this year I stood beside the War Memorial at Birse, reflecting how the Great War would have transformed that little rural community which the Laird of Finzean had illustrated in his paintings.

Joseph Farquharson:  Afterglow.     Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

The light of the afterglow this week has been pink, orange and even red, much more dramatic than the gentle warm golds of that Edwardian winter more than  100 years ago.

Cruden Bay

Cruden Bay

You can see some more of my red and orange sunset pictures here.

 

 

Showing a light


I was walking along the seashore road at Roanheads in Peterhead the other day.  My eye had been drawn to the spray flying off the waves, with the oil supply ships beyond.  Then I heard the gull screaming from a chimney pot.  He posed rather nicely, even staying put, so that I could get him in silhouette.


 

Turning round I tried another shot of a tower with a little flagpole standing at the corner of the road leading up to the harbour, beside the breakwater.   But what was the tower?

Over a year ago I had heard about the planned improvements at the Peterhead Harbour, which included the relocation of an old lighthouse.  I marked it down as a possible photograph but had done nothing about it.

This was the old lighthouse (now in its new position) originally provided in the middle of the 19th century by Thomas Stevenson to mark the harbour entrance after a fishing boat disaster.   I did a bit of digging about on the internet and came across an old picture of the harbour which shows the lighthouse in its original place.  I have no idea what the picture shows, or when it was taken, but it looks like the early 1900s.  You can see the top of the lighthouse quite clearly at the top right of the picture

At that time, and up until the mid 1970s there was a north entrance to Peterhead harbour which is now closed off by a big new breakwater.   This entrance to the North Harbour was where Stevenson’s lighthouse stood proudly, shining its red and white light to guide the boats into harbour.

The current harbour development work meant that it had to go, but it is too important a structure to be lost, so it was moved stone by stone and re-erected in its present position at the end of Alexandra Parade.  You can read the proposal here.   It was officially opened in June 2016.

So that’s another, very different, lighthouse added to my collection.

Red sky at night

There have been some lovely sunsets here in the north east of Scotland over the past few weeks.  The setting sun lights up the underside of the clouds and the whole world seems to turn a range of colours from fiery red, through orange, to pink, while the blue of the clear sky can take on an apricot hue.

It was like that yesterday afternoon.  As I watched the orange ball of the sun sink under the horizon from Peterhead, I knew that there would be spectacular skies as I drove south-westwards, home to Hatton.  And I was not disappointed.   I stopped at the layby at the Longhaven Cliffs and took some pictures.

On the other side of the road the sheep were quietly grazing, lit up with a strange pink light.

Futher on I found a vantage point to capture the silhouette of the wind turbines and masts on Gallows Hill above Ardiffery farm.

Although the sky was getting darker now, I crossed my fingers and headed for Cruden Church.  There was just enough light and a redness in the sky to capture the church looking mysterious, shrouded with the bare branches of the surrounding trees.

Drawn to the light

It was a bright, crisp winter’s day as a drove back from Peterhead.  The sun was catching the colours of Buchanness Lighthouse, making it stand out against the bright blue sea and the cloudless sky.  The storms of yesterday were past.  I had a few minutes spare, so the dogs and I went for a little walk in Boddam down to the stone bench carefully placed on the cliff top to give the best view of the lighthouse.   It’s not a long walk, very short, actually, but Lily and Poppy enjoyed the scamper through he grass, stopping for the occasional sniff.

I was able to persuade the dogs up onto the bench and captured one or two pictures of them in the sunshine. I wish I had taken another lens with me so that I would have squeezed in the lighthouse in the background – but you can’t have everything!

 

Thank you to those who positioned this bench and organised the cutting of the grass path to make it a lovely little walk to the viewpoint.  I suspect it is the Boddam Community Association who have also now organised a network of paths on Stirling Hill.

Memories of days gone by

I opened the Topper, eagerly looking for one of my favourite strips, Wild Young Dirky.  How would my hero manage to escape the clutches of the evil Red Coats this week?  And there it was, on the horizon of the first picture in the story, behind Young Dirky fleeing the Red Coats, the familiar spire of Brechin Cathedral with its distinctive round tower.  Brechin had made it into the Topper!  This must have been in the mid 1950s.  The Topper was launched in February 1953, and carried several series of Wild Young Dirky stories, drawn by Dudley D Watkins, the famous cartoonist and illustrator who created Oor Wullie, the Broons and other well loved D C Thomson comic strips.   Not that I cared about authorship back then, it was having my home town appearing in the Topper that was memorable.

Wild Young Dirky from the Topper

Wild Young Dirky from the Topper

All this came to mind yesterday as I was sorting through some old black and white negatives, looking for pictures of my relatives.  I hadn’t looked at these pictures for many a year;  some I had completely forgotten about;  some I suspect I had never bothered to print out in those days gone by when I did my own developing and printing.

1965-muriel-mina-brechin-20

I came across a picture of my Auntie Muriel and her life-long friend, Mina on their way to Brechin Cathedral.  And then there were a few pictures of the Cathedral itself taken from the High Street round about 1965.  I posted one of these pictures on Facebook yesterday, and had a response from a friend about me being in short trousers back in 1965.  No so, I was at university in St Andrews, and indeed  I had a copy of the Cathedral picture pinned to my wall in the student residence.

1965-brechin-cathedral-2

 

 

1965-brechin-cathedral-3Looking carefully at the picture I could see how the cathedral was built above the gorge of the Skinner’s Burn which separated it from the Castle grounds, the graveyard supported by a huge wall.  My mind was not then on Wild Young Dirky escaping after Culloden, but on a Saturday morning, down beside the Skinner’s Burn, below the Cathedral, with the 10th Angus (Brechin Cathedral)  Scouts, practicing lighting fires.   In those days (the late 1950s) one of the tests you had to pass to gain your Second Class Scout Badge was to light a fire outdoors, using only natural materials (no paraffin!) and  using no more than two matches, quite a challenge!

A couple of years ago during a brief visit to the Cathedral, I retraced my Scouting steps down to the burn.  It looked so much more organised and civilised to the wild place I remembered from that Saturday morning expedition with the Scouts.

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower taken on a more recent visit

Round Girdle Ness and family memories

The sun was bright, the sky was blue and I had a few minutes to spare on my way home from a visit to Cove,  so I turned off the main road and drove round Greyhope Road past Girdle Ness Lighthouse.

As I passed the car park at the Bay of Nigg I remembered visits there with my son Donald and his friend Barry who were carrying out a project for Higher Georgraphy (or so they said!) measuring stones and counting them in meter squares.   There was no time to stop there today though, and anyway the car park looked very rough and churned up.  My eyes were on the lighthouse.

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Engineer Robert Stevenson oversaw the building project which was completed in 1833 after an appeal by the shipmaster of Aberdeen requesting that a light be established at Girdle Ness,  following the wreck of a whaling ship called the Oscar in 1813. There were only 2 survivors from a crew of 45.   The adjacent radio masts are part of a network for global positioning of ships at sea.

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I find my camera drawn quite often to lighthouses, but Girdle Ness is not one of my favourites.  I don’t find its shape as pleasing as the more classic shape of the Bell Rock or Buchan Ness.  Still the sun was out and the lighthouse stood out well against the blue sky.

My Auntie Irene was brought up in the nearby South Kirkhill Farm and I remember stories of regular visits to the farm by the neighbouring lighthouse families, just the other side of the Nigg golf course from the farm.  I also have a vivid memory of my uncle Sandy and Auntie Irene’s Wedding at the Royal Hotel in Aberdeen in November 1956.  Family from Brechin (including me)made the journey in the late afternoon by minibus to Aberdeen.  I remember being impressed by the city lights of Aberdeen as we drove down the hill past Kincorth.  My own children in later years shared that joy of seeing what they thought of as the Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen.  But I digress….

The memory I want to share is of Irene’s father, clearly having enjoyed a few “refreshments” at the wedding saying farewell to family and friends at the end of the celebrations, out on the street.  Clearly lighthouse people were at the wedding and there was Pop Corbett, proudly wearing the uniform cap of a Lighthouse Keeper, singing away as we boarded our bus to return home to Brechin.

Irene and Sandy's Wedding. Pop Corbett is 3d left in the back row. Little Fred is forming a middle row on his own on the right.

Irene and Sandy’s Wedding. Pop Corbett is 3rd left in the back row. Little Fred is forming a middle row on his own on the right.

Pop Corbett with my Granny Georgina Smith outside the family house in Brechin.

Pop Corbett with my Granny Georgina Smith outside the family house in Brechin.

 

The dawn comes us like thunder

I was so focussed yesterday morning trying to capture a picture of the super moon as it was setting that I quite forgot that, as I was facing west, in the east behind me, the sun was about to rise.   The sky to the west was a grey blue colour, but when I turned and looked towards the sea, everything was bright orange, and there was the distinctive spire of the Church of St James the Less silhouetted, on the horizon.

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You can see that spire from all round the area.  Indeed it is said that the Earl of Errol who lived in Slains Castle arranged for the church to be built there at Chapelhill with a spire that would seem more at home on an English village church, to ensure that there was a pleasing view from the castle.

You can certainly see the spire from the castle and you can see it from the high ground in Hatton, at Hobshill and Northfield farm where I stood in awe yesterday as I watched the huge disk of the sun peep over the horizon, beside the church.

I had a big telephoto lens on the camera and I was able to capture a lovely picture of the spire through some branches, just as some geese flew by.  The words of Rudyard Kipling came to mind,  “The dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay.” from his poem,  The Road to Mandalay (Barrack Room Ballads).  We may be far away from Manadalay in  Myanmar, or Burma as we once called it, but I can appreciate his feeling of the dawn coming up like thunder.  It certainly did yesterday outer Curden, ‘crost the Bay.

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Super Moon over Hatton

They said it would be the brightest and biggest moon visible from Earth since 1948.  So along with countless others I got out my camera and waited for moon rise at 4.33 pm.  I have a wonderful little App on my phone called The Photographer’s Ephemeris which shows where the sun and the moon will be at any place and any time.  So I knew where and when to look for moonrise in Hatton.

4.33 came and went….no moon visible just a bank of cloud over the horizon and light cloud cover above.   Just the same happened in September 2015 when we were promised a lunar eclipse in the early hours of the morning.  Having set the alarm clock, I staggered out to the garden in the wee small hours and saw nothing – cloud cover!   Now it seemed that history had repeated itself.  The best view was supposed to be when the moon was rising.  Then it would appear at its biggest and brightest.   Hatton it seems is not the best place for celestial photography.   I remember the same happened when we were waiting for the solar eclipse in March that same year and again the sky was cloud covered.  All we could see was a faint light struggling to penetrate the sky cover.

Solar eclipse March 2015

Solar eclipse March 2015

But I had the whole night.  Every so often I popped out to look for the moon, and bingo!  at 7.58 pm there it was peeping through the light cloud.   Not the greatest picture of the moon and when the sky did eventually clear enough, not even a very spectacular moon.  Much like any other full moon I had seen before in Hatton.  But they did say that the best pictures would be at moonrise and moonset.

First glimpse

First glimpse

8 pm moon peeps through the clouds

8 pm moon peeps through the clouds

8 pm moon

8 pm moon

 

I put this down as another moon shot failure until I drew the curtains at 7.00 am.  Clear sky, and there was the moon at last.  I grabbed the camera, and called for Poppy to come with me and we went moon hunting.  At first I thought it had disappeared again behind a bank of cloud, but with the moon so low in the sky I had to wander about to get a good view of the south-western horizon and there it was.

Blue moon in the morning

Blue moon in the morning

Golden moon in the morning

Golden moon in the morning

Golden moon in the morning

Golden moon in the morning

Perhaps not the most dramatic pictures taken that night of the super moon.   But I have my suspicions about some of the pictures posted on facebook anyway.  A few of them look a bit doctored.   I promise that mine are genuine!

By the way, I was not the only one having difficulties seeing the super moon, Jenny reported there was cloud cover in Clackmannanshire and and George in North Carolina had the same problem!

 

Day 9: Portgower to Hatton

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Day 9  Portgower to Delnies Woods  77 Miles    Total  542 Miles

Portgower

Portgower

By morning the weather had improved a bit:  the rain had mostly stopped and there were blinks of sun.  Time for a short walk with the dogs in Portgower before we set off, homeward bound.

Portgower

Portgower

This part of the route is more familiar to us and the A9 road is much improved.  Gone were the single track roads, now we were in a race track with cars and vans and lorries. Past Golspie with Dunrobin Castle and the infamous hilltop monument of the Duke of Sutherland on Ben Bhraggie, over the Dornoch Bridge and past Invergordon and Alness.   We stopped but twice:  once to let Mary vist a delightful wool shop, Kincraig Fabrics,  in Brora which Ina had recommended, and then for a sumptuous lunch at the Storehouse Restaurant (a regular stopping place for us on previous visits to the area. It is located on the shores of the Cromarty Firth, very near to the long Cromarty Bridge.

Looking towards the Cromarty Bridge from the Storehouse

Looking towards the Cromarty Bridge from the Storehouse

Lunch at the Storehouse of Foulis

Lunch at the Storehouse of Foulis

We noted our milage as we passed Delnies Woods, our starting place: 542 miles.  The round trip from here to Inverness Castle (the “official” starting point of the NC 500) is 15 miles, so our journey on the NC 500 was a grand total of 527 miles.

Then it was homeward on well kent roads, reflecting on our experiences as we drove round  the North Coast.

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If you would like to see more pictures of our road trip round the NC 500 you can see them on my Flickr page:   CLICK HERE

Day 8: Loch Naver to Portgower

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Day 8 Loch Naver to Portgower  124 miles   Total  465 miles

Where to now?  We could drive south from here, through Lairg and head for home.  Although the wind had dropped, the weather was far from fair!  In the end we decided to head north again through Strath Naver to Bettyhill and resume the NC500 route.  We would decide later where we would stop for the night.

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There are several marked stopping places on what is called the Strath Naver Trail, mostly drawing attention to the clearances and the devastation wrecked on the area.  This part of the drive and later as we passed Dunrobin Castle at Gospie, the seat of the Sutherland family, we were very much aware of this terrible period of Highland history.

The road was narrow but in good condition and quiet, so we made good time, enjoying the very different scenery to the rugged coastal route.  At one point a herd of hinds popped their heads over the high ground, just a few yards from the road.  Getting ready for the rut, perhaps.  I did not have time to get my camera;  all I have to record the encounter is a fuzzy picture taken with my phone through the driver’s window.

Deer in Strath Naver

Deer in Strath Naver

We joined the coast road again at Bettyhill and headed east, taking note of the various caravan sites which we might use for another trip along the NC500.   The countryside became less interesting though,, not so picturesque as we had encountered up to now, and the rain came on again quite heavily.

Past the nuclear power station at Dounray, through Thurso (a much bigger town than I remembered from a previous visit) and on towards John o’ Groats.  There are more wind turbines in evidence here, signs of the new focus on renewable energy.  We spied the Castle of May on a headland at Dunnet Bay, and stopped for lunch in a car park on the shore.   It would have been a great place to enjoy in fine weather, but pouring rain took the edge off the pleasure, and the dogs were reluctant to stay out when I went for a little walk with them on the beach in the rain.  “Let us back to our van, now!”

Dunnet Bay

Dunnet Bay

John O’Groats is highly developed, and a bit tatty.  We stopped only long enough to take the obligatory photograph beside the sign post, then headed south, with no inclination to hang around in the wet weather.   We decided we would head for the caravan site at Brora, then return home the next day, a couple of days earlier than we had originally planned.

Rainy John o' Groats

Rainy John o’ Groats

The drive through Caithness was a bit boring, but by the time we were past Wick and entered the county of Sutherland again, the scenery became more interesting with views over the sea, steep climbs at places like the Berrydale Braes near Helmsdale and memories of Lindsay and Kelly’s wedding at Dunbeath Castle which stood dramatically on the cliff top, easily seen from the road.

With the rain still pouring down, we called in to Portgower, a tiny village just south of Helmsdale to visit Adam and Ina. In the end we accepted their offer of hospitality and spent a lovely time with them,  our van parked outside their door and us tucked up cosy in their guest room bed after an impromptu but magnificent meal.  Ina is a wonderful cook!

Portgower

Portgower “Caravan Site”

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There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.

CLICK HERE

Day 7: Sango Sands to Loch Naver

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Day 7 Sango Sands to Loch Naver  55 miles   Total 341 miles

It was a terrifying night of rain and gales.  The van rocked on the cliff top and we dreaded damage…….and the weather forecast was more of the same.

Durness

A break in the clouds, Durness

Our original plan had been to stay two nights at Sango Sands at Durness, but we did not think it wise to sit there, exposed on the cliff top, to be battered by the wind.  Mary consulted the map and in the end we decided we would run before the storm and head inland.  There was a campsite at Altnaharra, so that is where we would head.  A bit off the route of the NC500, perhaps, but we might get away from the worst of the weather.

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But first we thought we would pay a quick visit to the Craft Village which Mary had seen a sign to, on the road to Balnakeil.  What a wonderful find it was! This collection of flat roofed concrete buildings was built in the mid 1950s as an MOD early warning station in the event of nuclear attack. However, it was never commissioned, and in 1964, the camp born of Cold War fear in the 50s, began its rebirth as a 1960s cradle of creativity.   We were able to drink the best hot chocolate ever at the Cocoa Mountain, admire the crafts in various places, and to buy glass artwork from Balnakeil Glass.

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A glass jellyfish from Balnakeil Glass now in our summerhouse.

Best hot chocolate ever!

Best hot chocolate ever!

We planned then to go on for a quick visit to Balnakeil beach, but the wind was still blowing, the rain came on again, so we thought better of it and headed west along the north coast, round Loch Eriboll, on to Tongue with stunning views of Ben Loyal appearing through the mist as we crossed the causeway, and then up into the hills towards Altnaharra.

heading for Loch Eriboll

Heading for Loch Eriboll

Ben Loyall from the Tongue causeway

Ben Loyal from the Tongue causeway

leaving Tongue

leaving Tongue

Rainbow on the road from Tongue

Rainbow on the road from Tongue

We found Alnaharra, but the caravan site was a little more tricky to locate.  In the end we were directed up the road through Strath Naver, and there it was, huddled on the shores of Loch Naver, a gem of a site, operated by the Caravan Club:  no showers or toilets, the nearest shop some 20 miles away, but what a gorgeous place.   We parked beside the loch, with our back to the ruins of an old broch.  This is where we would sit out the storm.

Loch Naver

Parked by the broch on the shores of Loch Naver

Windy walk

Loch Naver

Loch Naver

Waves on Loch Naver

The broch is called Grummore.  Dating back to the first century AD, Its walls are 10 feet thick, and the whole construction about 30 feet wide.  This was our second broch of the trip, and there are plenty more of these round tower houses about, if you know where to look for them.

Grummore Broch

Grummore Broch

Poppy the broch-hopper dog

Poppy, the broch-hopper dog

We also found out that we were camped beside the ruins of one of the clearance villages.  The 16 houses of the Grummore township were burned in 1819 in what has become known as the Highland Clearances to “improve” the land and create grazing for sheep.  The infamous Patrick Sellar, the factor to the Duke of Sutherland was involved in this case.  Strath Naver was the focus of much of his clearance work, including the case for which he was tried for arson and culpable homicide: Margaret Mackay was burned to death in her house when she refused to leave.  Sellar was acquitted because of lack of evidence.   A beautiful place but with echoes of past horrors.

Loch Naver

Loch Naver

But it was stormy here too;  the wind was howling up the strath, the loch was whipped up into white waves, but we felt secure and despite the rocking of the van over night and the battering of the rain.  We rested well.

In the morning, the wind and dropped and the the sun was out, so we decided to head back to the coast.

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There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.

CLICK HERE

 

Day 6: Scourie to Durness

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Day 6: Scourie to Durness   35 miles   Total  286 miles

Scourie

Scourie

I enjoyed an early morning walk down to the jetty with the dogs, and discovered that we had a Wi-Fi signal from a router in the houses beside the road!  I was able to post a Facebook update from here.  The other joy was being watched by a robin down by the jetty.

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Scourie

Scourie

When we arrived the day before we had spied a little sandy beach from the campsite.  We followed a path towards it, but it was really too rough and wet, so we gave up.  This morning we drove down to the beach as we were leaving Scourie in glorious sunshine.  The dogs enjoyed the run on the sand;  Mary enjoyed stalking her favourite shore birds, ringed plovers; and I enjoyed taking photographs.  A lovely hour or so.

Scourie Bay

Scourie Bay

Ringed plover, Scourie

Ringed plover, Scourie

Scourie

Scourie

Then it was off, still heading north towards Durness. With not a long drive before us we had plenty time to make a detour to Kinlochbervie and were surprised to see the size of the fish market and the signs of industrial style fishing here in such a remote area.  We stopped for lunch in the old School at Inshegra,  and I was delighted with the little burn and rowan tree beside where we parked.

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Kinlochbervie

Kinlochbervie

As we approached the north coast the countryside changed quite a bit.  We drove down a broad smooth valley with obvious signs of sheep farming.  Every so often there would be an old tyre with a painted warning to watch out for lambs.  Quite different to the craggy mountainous countryside we had encountered much of the way from Inverness.

Sango Bay

Sango Bay

Sango Bay campsite was a joy – big and not at all claustrophobic.  We found ourselves a cliff-top pitch and admired the sandy beach below, with beautiful blue sea;  we could even make out two Orkney Isalnds on the horizon.

Cliff top pitch, Sango Bay

Cliff top pitch, Sango Bay

Then came the excitement as we spotted dolphins in the bay.  They were too far away to photograph well, but it was a joy to watch them in the clear blue water.

Dolphin in Sango Bay

Dolphin in Sango Bay

In the evening we managed a walk on the sand, even though Poppy took off with a Collie and we found her waiting for us at the top of the cliff!

In the night the rain came and the gales blew.  I had left my trainers under the van;  the sideways rain filled them with water.

The wind blew even harder and the rain battered the van, and we shook and shook and shook.  Quite frightening on the cliff top.

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The are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.

CLICK HERE