Author Archives: Fred Coutts

Day 5: Ardmair Point to Scourie

northcoast500logo

Day 5: Ardmair Point to Scourie  39 miles   Total 251 miles

It was a beautiful morning when we set off to drive north to Scourie.  Sandy Smith had told us to make sure to visit Knockan Crag and it was well worth the stop with interpretation of continental drift and the discoveries of the Victorian geologists, Peach and Horne made on the cliffs here, which allowed them to explain the reasons for the positions of the different rocks – a mystery to previous geologists.

Poppy was not impressed with the life-sized statues of the pair and she barked her head off at them.  What she did love though,  was rock climbing, even managing to nearly scale the ball shaped monument.

Fred Coutts, Ben Peach and John Horne

Fred Coutts, Ben Peach and John Horne

img_8131From here there are great views towards Stac Pollaidh, but then the rain came.

Looking towards Stac Pollaidh

Looking towards Stac Pollaidh

Rain on its way

Rain on its way

And after the rain a rainbow as we ate lunch in a carpark at Inchnadamph.

Inchnadamph

Inchnadamph

Kylesku

Kylesku

Then it was through Assynt and over the Kylesku bridge,  recalling the miniature submarine serice which trained in the waters here  during the war.  Then on to Scourie where we found ourselves a beautiful clifftop pitch overlooking Scourie Bay.

Scourie

Scourie

flickr-logo-png-2

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

CLICK HERE

Day 4: North Coast 500

northcoast500logo

Applecross to Ardmair Point   122 Miles    Total:  212 Miles

It was still raining a little when Poppy and I were out for our early morning constitutional, but the wind had dropped, the clouds seemed to be lifting and things looked a bit more positive.

The burn beside the campsite was in spate, little wonder after the rain there had been over night.

2016-09-24-09-22-53

What would we do today?  In the end we decided to go on and to tackle the coastal road,  It was only constructed in the 1970s.  Before that the only land route to Applecross was over the Bealach na Ba.  No wonder the area was described as the most remote parish in Scotland.  As it turned out,  the coastal road, though much longer, is a fine road, with a good surface and plenty of passing places.

The old church at Clanach

The old church at Clanach

Before we finally said farewell to Applecross we paid a quick visit to the old church and graveyard at Clachan.  This was the site of the original settlement by the Irish monk, Maelrubha in 671AD.  He declared that his monastery and the area round it was a place of sanctuary. The Gaelic name for Applecross is A’ Chomraich which means ‘The Sanctuary’.  Corruptions of Maelrubha’s name can be found in Loch Maree further north and strangely, in St Rufus in Keith in Banffshire.    It is said that St Maelruhba is buried here in the graveyard at Carnach.  Sadly the nearby Heritage Centre did not open until the afternoon so a visit here will have to await another visit.

Applecross from Carnach

Applecross from Carnach

It was a pleasant drive along the coast, with improving weather and fine views of Raasay emerging from the mist.

Loch Torridonb

Loch Torridon

The next stop on the way north was Torridon, our first visit here, a dramatic and spectacular area with the high mountains erupting from the loch.  Just time for a quick lunch at the shop/post office/café and a short dog walk along the shore of Loch Torridon before we pointed our noses north again.

Torridon

Torridon

It seemed wrong to just keep driving through all this beautiful countryside but our eyes were set further north and we had visited this area before:  Loch Maree, Gairloch, Poolewe and Ullapool.

Loch Maree taken in 2003

Loch Maree taken in 2003

It was while fuelling up at Ullapool that I heard how bad the weather had been here the previous day with the Stornoway ferry cancelled.  But the weather was fair now, with just some occasional showers.  So on we went the few miles to our overnight stopping place, Ardmair Point.  This was a quiet, friendly place and we parked our van pointing out to the view over Loch Broom.

~Armair Point

Ardmair Point

The sun came out and gave us a spectacular sunset.  All the campers seemed to be out on the beach, clutching cameras, phones, iPads, recording the orange colours.

img_8110

img_8115

Earlier we had watched the Lewis Ferry making its way to Ullapool – a day late perhaps?

Capturing the Lewis Ferry

Capturing the Lewis Ferry

flickr-logo-png-2

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

CLICK HERE

Day 3: North Coast 500

northcoast500logo

Applecross Campsite

There was heavy rain overnight, making quite a noise in the van, but when Poppy decided it was time to get up (6.45 am) the sky was clear with the promise of some fine weather.

As we explored a track beside the old farm buildings we had an exciting encounter – two red deer stags, just a few yards away.  Poppy did not know what to make of them, and the two young gentlemen trotted down the edge of the deer fence, not much concerned.  Again, no camera with me, and the quick snaps I took with my phone in the half dark produced only fuzzy pictures.

2016-09-23-06-57-18

 

2016-09-23-06-58-23Mary and I decided to make an early start and explored two restored Hebridean barns, an excavated broch and a thatched round house – not bad going within a couple of hundred yards of the campsite.

The campsite with the excavated broch on the left

The campsite with the excavated broch on the left

After that we had a lovely walk along a marked path through old hazel woods at Carnach.  (Carnach means a stony place, or one bounded by cairns, and there certainly were lots of moss covered stones about.)  The path eventually led us down to the shore road.  The dogs loved the wood, exploring and running free.  They certainly needed that after two long days in the van.

img_8094

 

2016-09-23-09-43-50Across the water we could see the island of Raasay which we had visited many years before. The flat topped hill called Dun Caan stood out distinctly.  On that visit to Raasay I had copied James Boswsell who had climbed it during his tour of the Highlands with Dr Johnston in 1773 and “danced a jig” on the top.   We had looked across the same stretch of water, and eventually decided we were looking at Applecross in the bright sunlight.   Now here we were looking back the other way, though hardly in sunshine.

Looking over to Raasay

Looking over to Raasay

Sadly that was the only outing.  We had hoped to visit the Heritage Centre, but after lunch the rain came on and the wind blew up and we were confined to the van.  But at least we had that wonderful morning.
2016-09-24-09-35-27

As the rain poured down and the gales shook the van we wondered if we would have to abandon our road trip. The weather forecast predicted more storms to come.  I did not fancy tackling the Bealach again in such bad weather and we had no idea what the coast road was like.

2016-09-24-08-23-39

Day 2: North Coast 500

Day 2:  Delnies Woods to Applecross   90 Miles   Total  90 Miles

500 miles to go! Our route will take us across the country to Applecross, then up the west coast until we hit the Pentland Firth at Durness, turning east to John o’ Groats, then back south through Caithness, Sutherland, Easter Ross,  back to our starting point at Delnies Woods.

map-2

After a quick visit to Tescos at Inverness to top up with fuel and a few bits and pieces from the shop, our road trip proper began.

Kessock Bridge

Kessock Bridge

The Kessock Bridge looked lovely in the sunshine as we drove along the A96.  When we crossed the bridge ourselves, we admired the Inverness Caley Thistle football stadium and thought of Lochlann and his interest in football.  He would have loved to see this.

It was hard not to turn right off the A9 to the Black Isle as we have done so often before, but our noses were pointing to the west on the Wester Ross Coastal Route, so the road signs informed us.

Loch a' Chuilinn

Loch a’ Chuilinn

With the weather fair and sunny we saw the Highlands at their glorious best as we followed the railway line making its way to Kyle of Lochalsh.

“Are you taking the van over the Bealachg na Ba?” so texted Donald, our son.

“What’s the Bealach na Ba?”  we texted back.

On the Bealach na Ba

On the Bealach na Ba

Admiring Loch Kishorn

Admiring Loch Kishorn

 

We soon found out!   I must admit to not having looked carefully at a map before we set off.  I had focussed on where the campsites were located.  Donald sent us a picture of the narrow twisty road making its way over the mountains to Applecross.   Gulp!   There was even a road sign at the turn off, warning that this road was not suitable for inexperienced drivers.

Motorists beware

Motorists beware

But we made it, even managing to find a wide enough spot to stop and admire the view over Loch Kishorn far below.  The van seemed to relish the hairpins and the steep gradient.  I have since read that this road, whose name translates from the Gaelic, as the Pass of the Cattle was originally a drove road, and atg one time the only land access to Applecross.  It is one of the highest roads in the UK and is the longest ascent – 2,054 feet.   We definitely need the teeshirt!

2016-09-24-09-23-26

At first sight the campsite was a bit of a disappointment – not much of a view – it is on high ground just above the Applecross Inn.  it was busy too, with a line of motorhomes making good use of the limited hard standing.  The rest of the field was grass, some of it showing sings of cars having been stuck in the mud.

2016-09-24-08-26-04

But we settled in, and by the evening of day three we came to quite like it.  Very different to the usual caravan sites we have visited before.  It’s not a place where caravans venture.  Here there were tents a plenty and motorcyclists who clearly were keen to experience the drive over the mountains.

flickr-logo-png-2

 

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

CLICK HERE

 

Day 1: North Coast 500

northcoast500logo

 

Day 1:  Home to Delnies Woods 93 Miles

The North Coast 500 route round the north of Scotland has been getting a lot of attention world wide, Travel Now magazine has placed it in fifth in a list of ‘six of the best’ coast road trips on the planet.  Top was Cape Overberg in South Africa, followed by the Amalfi Coast in Italy and The Atlantic Road in Norway. The Pacific Coast Highway in America and the Coral Coast in Australia made up the list.

Over the years we have driven parts of the route, and loved it.  Now it was time to take our courage in both hands and set off in the motorhome to do the NC500.

Day One doesn’t really count;  the NC500 officially starts and ends in Inverness.  But we decided to make our starting point the Delnies Woods Caravan Site near Nairn.  So off we set to what is a favourite site for us, with its tall trees and wonderful woodland walks for the dogs.

2016-09-22-06-48-11-1  2016-09-22-06-59-06  2016-09-22-11-21-06

Although it was just an overnight stop at the beginning of our adventure, I have come away with a couple of memories:  owls hooting in the trees during the night, and encountering a red squirrel in the early morning as I went out with Poppy.  He was in the vacant pitch just opposite us, after the seed in the bird feeders, I think, and enjoying scampering up till he was out of sight in the tall conifers.  Needless to say, no camera with me in the half dark early morning!

flickr-logo-png-2

 

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

CLICK HERE

A long time in coming.

The summerhouse is up!   It has been a long time in coming but it is certainly worth it.  Three study joiners erected it yesterday morning in a much shorter time than I would have imagined.

2016-09-17 09.51.38

IMG_8064

IMG_8066

IMG_8070

How different the garden now looks.  When we had our overgrown Leyandii tree cut down in April we were left with a difficult corner of the garden.   It sloped down to the fence, and it was full of tree roots.  Plan A had been to have the area filled in and levelled off, then to build a summer house, but after a chat with Callum from W G Paterson & Son we decided to have them build decking and erect the summer house on top.

 

Farewell Leylandii

Farewell Leylandii

Tikmber!

Timber!

A difficult corner of the garden.

A difficult corner of the garden.

As spring turned into summer we became quite used to our clear space, and the weeds loved it too.

Planning out where the house would go among the weeds

Planning out where the house would go among the weeds

As August turned into September the joiners arrived and put up the decking.  We had to put up some fence panels to make sure the dogs would not get over the now very low fence which protruded above the deck.  Thanks to Hammy our neighbour that job was done very quickly.   But still there was no sign of the summerhouse.

a veri9table forest of posts

a veritable forest of posts

2016-08-24 16.56.15

We became quite used to the decking, and had more than a few cups of tea in our new little corner of the garden.  The dogs loved it too because the decking construction was still to be finished and they could get underneath to greet our neighbours cars and dogs!

Enjoyiung the decking

Enjoying the decking

The final stage happened yesterday, when our long awaited summerhouse arrived and was put up.  It is an interesting shape with a lovely pointed roof.  Now all we need to do is to get in furnished.  Mary has already been looking for material to make cushions for the wickerwork suite which we have for it.

Viewing the garden

Viewing the garden

IMG_8076

Lily and Poppy have given the seats the thumbs (paws?) up.  But they are less sure about the fact that their secret dog run under the decking is no longer accessible.

An interesting roof.

An interesting roof.

www.patersonjoiners.co.uk

Shooting the waves

I have been waiting for some time now for the right weather conditions to try to take some pictures of waves breaking over the rocks at Buchan Ness Lighthouse.  The wind needs to be in the right direction to whip up the sea, the tide needs to be right and the sun needs to be out;  and of course I need to have time and inclination to drive to Boddam.

Yesterday there was a strong wind blowing in Hatton and it was quite bright, so I thought I would take the dogs along and see.  I grew quite hopeful as we passed Stirlinghill Quarry and saw the white rim of breaking waves round the island.  However, the sky by now as quite grey and the light flat.  So not the perfect conditions, yet.

Some of my pictures reflect this flat light, and even when the sun did break through and there was some blue sky amid the wispy clouds, it was not bright enough to make the sea blue enough; and I would really have like the waves crashing on the rocks to be bigger.   There is no satisfying me!

IMG_8012

IMG_8044

Very dramatic, however was the view of waves breaking over the little rocky islands that you can see from Harbour Street in Boddam.  I noticed some shags sheltering from the waves there, watching the white churning sea and the white spray of the waves.

IMG_8059

IMG_8051

A walk along the coastal path towards Longhaven and Cruden Bay produced a few more pictures to record this stormy day and the ever present lighthouse.

IMG_8034

 

IMG_8033

IMG_8031

A delightful little bay

We rediscovered Portsoy last summer when we made our first tentative trip with our motorhome as newbies to the caravan site at Portsoy Links, right down on the shore of the delightful little Links Bay.  During our time in Buckie,  way back in the 1970s we made occasional visits to Portsoy, but then we restricted our visits to the harbour and the Portsoy Marble shop:  we never discovered this lovely beach.

Arriving in sunshine

Arriving in sunshine

We have just returned home after another couple of nights in what is becoming a favourite spot for us. It is great to just open the van door and be right on the beach, be it among the seabirds on the rocks, the shingle and sand at low tide, the waves rolling in when the wind is in the right direction, or the beauty of and early morning or late evening light – a delightful place for man, woman and dogs.  We will be back!

On the beach

On the beach

Redshank

Redshank

It does rain here sometimes!

It does rain here sometimes!

Sunset walk

Sunset walk

Morning glow

Morning glow

First light

First light

IMG_7958

Morning walk

It as dull and grey this morning when Poppy and I ventured out of the motorhome onto the beach at Portsoy.   We love the site here, and we have a great pitch with the van pointing right onto the beach.  I lay in bed listening to he wind and the waves and of course the occasional seagull.

Up, up and away!

Up, up and away!

It was jut after 7 am, but already there were a few dog walkers about.   Not much chance of photos, I thought in the flat light, but I was wrong.  Looking closely at the beach and the rocks I became aware of more birds than just the omnipresent seagulls.  I stalked a redshank going for a morning walk among the pebbles and the rocks, and there always seems to be an oystercatcher.

Redshank on its morning walk

Redshank on its morning walk

Redshank

Redshank

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Sitting is William’s seat

DSCF2760So there  I was sitting comfortably, contemplating my somewhat disreputable trainers.  I was putting in a few hours in Banchory while our motorhome was being serviced.  I had enjoyed a nice cup of coffee in a café and then set off to walk the short distance to the Bridge of Feugh.

Water of Feugh

Water of Feugh

Water of Feugh

Water of Feugh

I am always drawn to wild water, and the Water of Feugh can be wild indeed. The bridge is a place where people though the years have stood to watch for salmon leaping up the waterfalls. The old bridge itself is very narrow, but there are V shaped indents to allow pedestrians to seek refuge when vehicles are crossing.   So popular is the place that a separate foot bridge has also been built to allow fish watchers a vantage point in safety.  No salmon today, but still the chance to admire the wild water, and to notice that the first signs of autumn are appearing in the trees.

First signs of autumn, Water of Feugh

First signs of autumn, Water of Feugh

Nearby he old Toll House garden was looking good, and my eye was drawn to the old milestone, lurking between two modern road signs.  Just 17 miles to Fettercairn, but what a 17 miles, over the Cairn o’ Mouth.

Old Toll House, Bridge ofr Feugh

Old Toll House, Bridge of Feugh

DSCF2750

DSCF2752

It was on my leisurely half mile return journey to Banchory that I noticed William’s seat, and decided I would sit for a while, wondering what the view would have been like when first William Aitchison erected this seat.

DSCF2753

Not much view here.

Not much view here

a seat with (No) view

Aseat with (no) view

Now all you can see over the road are a few trees and bushes.  I hope there was a better view in his day.  Incidentally another seat, just on the Banchory side of the bridge over the River Dee is placed dramatically in front of more vegetation, no view of the bridge or the river to be had.

DSCF2757

But back to William, or was he a Bill or a Willie?  there are often plaques on such seats by the roadsides, but this one caught my interest.  W Aitchison was the Postmaster from 1910 to 1935.  I decided to see if I could find out more about him.  Here is just a little bit of what I found out in a hour or so last night.

William Aitchison was born round about 1847 in England.  He married Ruth Davis in Dublin in 1898 and they went on to have two children there, Irene and James Leslie.  William worked for the GPO in Dublin as a Telegraphist.   Promotion must have come his way and in 1910 he was appointed Postmaster in Banchory.   This coincided with the opening that same year, of the new Post Office and Postmaster’s house in a fine Kemnay  granite building in the High Street.

Daughter Irene worked in the Banchory Post Office too,  as a sorting clerk and telegraphist until her marriage in 1928 (to James Anderson also from Banchory) in the “Tartan Kirkie”, as St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen is sometimes called.  Son James was married in Edinburgh shortly after his Father’s retirement in 1936, again to a Banchory girl, Mary Lennie, the daughter of a baker.

William at some point was made a Justice of the Peace and I suspect he was a swell known Banchory character.  He died in 1954 and is buried in the Banchory-Ternan Graveyard, together with his wife Ruth who lived on until 1961.

Banchory Post Office 2016

Banchory Post Office 2016

I wonder what Postmaster Aitchison would have thought of the changes in the Post Office in the 21st Century.  The fine Post Office building (and his house) is now the “Cook and Dine” shop in the High Street.  As I stood waiting for the bus to take me back to collect the van I looked at this shop, across the road, not realising that once the Post Office had been located there.   But I did find the present Post Office, now relegated to a tiny counter at the back of the Co-operative Supermarket.  I needed to buy stamps, and had to fight my way through crowds of white shirted Banchory Academy pupils with their informally tied ties  searching out something “fine” for their lunch.

The castle in the sun

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon yesterday when Lily, Poppy and I went for a walk to Slains Castle. The sky was blue with white fluffy clouds and there was enough of a breeze to keep the temperature at a pleasant level. It has been many years since I have approached the castle down the track from the car park on the Cruden Bay Road near the Bullers of Buchan. My usual route is up the foot path from Cruden Bay. My memory of this road was of potholes and puddles. Not now. It has been levelled off, and was a fine dry walk. Crushed scallop shells seem to have been used and it gives the road an unusual light look.

One problem, however, is that people in cars seem to be using this track to go to the castle and ignoring the car park on the main road.  Although I smiled politely and waved back when I put the dogs on their leads and drew them onto the verge to lets the cars pass, I must admit I did resent their presence a bit.  I remember a couple of years ago having to use Photoshop to remove a car which had parked at the front of the castle when I was trying to get an artistic shot of the Earl of Errol’s mansion erupting from field of oil seed rape.  The blue of the car spoiled the picture.

Slains Castle

Slains Castle

When we reached the castle I saw that the fencing which had prevented (or tried to prevent!) access to the ruins was no longer there, and indeed a flat space had been levelled out which was being used as an impromptu car park.   We ignored the ruins and followed the path round the cliff top towards the entrance to the spectacular Long Haven gulley.

Long Haven

Long Haven

DSCF2694

The sun was low in the sky behind the castle so pictures did not really work there.   What did work was the bright blue sea with waves breaking on the rocks below as we walked north, admiring the distant view of the Longhaven cliffs with the golf ball of the radar station and the chimney of the Boddam Power Station in view on the horizon.

DSCF2697

DSCF2702

Lily seemed quite happy to pose for a picture on the cliff top, glad of a rest, perhaps?  Poppy was more volatile, darting about, and never quite in the place I would have liked for the photograph.  Indeed as I was taking a picture of the castle in the distance, over a field of corn, when we were returning to the car, she popped into the shot unexpectedly…she has learned the art of photo-bombing!

DSCF2713

Strathlene revisied

The last time I visited Strathlene beach at Buckie was in  the winter of 2006.  I was returning home after conducting a funeral at the Moray Crematorium in the Old Enzie Kirk at Broadley.  I decided to pay a quick visit to Buckie to see how the town where we lived for ten years in the 1970s and 80s had changed, and I stopped off at my favourite Buckie beach to eat my sandwiches.  The sun was shining that day, but there was a true Buckie gale blowing and it was bitterly cold, not exactly the weather to explore what remained of the old outdoor swimming pool and the beaches and rocks where the children had played, and where Nero our delinquent Labrador would regularly run off, only to return in his on good time.

There was something else on my mind that day in 2006 too.  Mary was away, visiting Rosie and family  in Oman  We were looking for a house at the time for our planned move from Aberdeen, and while she was away I had found a possible house in Hatton.  I would pay a quick visit there on my way home.  As it turned out that was the house which would become our new home.

IMG_7910

Now nearly ten years later I was at Strathlene again, this time Mary was with me, and Lily and Poppy.  Again I had been at the Moray Crematorium and we had decided to take a quick drive through Buckie, stopping for a while to let the dogs stretch their legs on the beach.   The weather, however was quite different:  this was a still, muggy, late August afternoon.   As we walked along the beach we recalled visits there when the children were small, sometimes with grandparents.   This is the only sandy beach in Buckie, and on the fine summer days it would be a favourite place to visit, paddling in the water, digging in the sand, exploring among the rocks.  And it was here at Strathlene we would hold evening barbecues with the Buckie North Church youth group.

IMG_7908

Looking towards Buckie. The North Church steeple is visible.

I know I have pictures of visits here with the children in the 1970s.  I must look for them.  In the meantime here is a pictures of Mary, Donald and Nero on the beach in 1975, and a delightful picture of little Donald on the same occasion.  The original pictures are now quite orange with age, but it is amazing what you can do with Photoshop!

Mary, Donald and Nero 1975

Mary, Donald and Nero 1975

Donald 1975

Donald 1975

I have also made a scan from an old slide of waves at Strathlene, quite different to the calm still water we found today.  The slide was taken a little father along the coast than we ventured today, towards Findochty.  But the view is essentially the same.

Strathlene, late 1970s

Strathlene, late 1970s

Strathlene August 2016

Strathlene August 2016

Counting the Small Tortoiseshells

It all sort of made sense when I heard on the radio this morning that there is a drastic decline this year of the number of small tortoiseshell butterflies.  Yesterday I was out in the garden lurking beside the buddleia bush trying for a few butterfly pictures in  the morning sunshine.  I had been preparing a slide show for the Peterhead New Senior Ladies Fellowship based on the nature pictures I have been posting on Facebook for the past few months, and I felt I would like a couple of butterfly pictures for the section on the theme “All creatures great and small.”

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Last year there were lots of the tortoiseshells about, although I recalled that I had always though that they were Red Admirals, at least that what I used to call them when I was a boy.  Looking them up I discovered that these butterflies where tortoiseshells. There were a few of the Red Admirals about, but no so many.

Yesterday there was a whole navy  of Red Admirals feeding on the buddleia, but just one or two Tortoiseshells. The decline has obviously affected Hatton too.

I must prune the buddleia which has got a big straggly so that I can do my big to help the butterflies next year.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

A new look

It is at least a couple of years since the Hatton field has been cut.  Last year I recall a path was cut along the roadside, but this year Philip has gone the whole hog and cut all the wild growing grass in the field.  As I was walking along the roadside verge with the dogs, I gave him a wave as he drove past in his tractor cutting the grass – we did not want to get in his way in the field.

Lost among the June buttercups

Lost among the June buttercups

How different the field now looks and how much more pleasant for dogs with little legs!  They enjoyed a run tonight, and did not get lost in the jungle of long grass and other plants.   It will make winter dog walks easier, and I am sure come spring, the wealth of wild flowers will reappear.

A different looking field in late August

A different looking field in late August

A castle in the wind

The best-laid schemes of mice and men, gang aft agley.  So wrote Robert Burns in his poem To a Mouse.  As for mice, so for photographers it would seem.  It had been blowing a gale all night, but now the sun was out.  Good conditions I hoped for my much awaited photograph of Buchanness Lighthouse in a storm.  But when I got to Boddam, the sea was calm, despite the strong wind blowing from the north west.  Out to sea there were waves in evidence, but here by the shore, the island was sheltered.   No waves breaking over the rocks.  I will have to await another day with the wind from the east, perhaps.

No waves, despite the wind blowing Lily's ear.

No waves, despite the wind blowing Lily’s ear.

But the day was too good to miss, so the dogs and I went to explore the ruins of Boddam Castle, whose silhouette I have often seen from the main road.

IMG_7838

I discovered there was a little car park, and a small board telling about the history of the castle.  It was built by the Keiths of Ludquharn in the late 16th century on a promontory, protected by two deep gullies on either side.  There is not much left of the old stronghold, just a gable end with arch and window, and the low remains of some walls.

IMG_7837

IMG_7846

But the sunshine, the clouds and the yellow tansies made for good photographs.  And the dogs loved the romp along the path, and for Poppy at least, a scamper over stones and walls.  Indeed they were both keen to follow the path down to the shore, but the steep slope was not for me in the strong wind, so we turned, to go back to the car.  I am already planning more photographs here, when the light is right.

IMG_7830IMG_7832

IMG_7831 IMG_7828 IMG_7820

 

About round towers

There are special places in the world that have a particular spiritual feeling to them, Iona is one and if I were to think hard I could probably list a few more.  Glenadlough in County Wicklow in Ireland is one of these. It was way back in 2004 when I visited this ancient site, with its two loughs, the place where St Kevin founded his monastery in the 6th Century. We spent a wonderful afternoon touring the site, guided by an expert who told us the stories of St Kevin and helped us to see Glendlough in all its spiritual splendour, in a wooded valley in the Wicklow Hills.

The round rower at Glendalough

The round rower at Glendalough

I was looking back over some old photographs this morning and came across the picture of the round tower at Glendalough, not that ancient round towers are all that unusual in Ireland – there are about a hundred of them.  Indeed the little St Kevin’s church nearby boasts its own round tower.  These towers where bell towers, where the monks in days gone by would ring their hand bells to summon the  brothers to prayer.  They may well have been used too for storage of treasures, and for protection in violent times.

The Church of St Kevin, Glendalough

The Church of St Kevin, Glendalough

When I took this picture I had another round tower very much in my mind.  Scotland has but two ancient round towers, one in Brechin and the other in Abernethy in Fife.  I recall being told about this during my school days in Brechin where our Round Tower was a familiar sight in the Cathedral City, I could even see it from the front door of my Granny’s house, and indeed read the time on the clock on the adjacent church tower with an old pair of binoculars she had.

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower

We were told about the history of the tower, built about 1000 AD, and used as a place of look-out and refuge during the time of Viking raids on the east coast of Scotland.  I now read that this tradition is doubted by the experts who say that the tower would not provide much safety, indeed a fire set by raiders at the wooden door would soon let smoke fill the tower like a chimney and drive these ancient Brechiners out.  However, the very narrow door which was the only access is set well up above ground level and would seem to have been built for defence.

Whatever the experts say, a good story is a good story and a little boy, or indeed an old man can picture the Culdee Monks who founded the religious site at Brechin, peering out from the tower, up the line of the River South Esk towards Montrose Basin some five or six miles away, watching for the sails of the longships and the invading Norsemen.  The Vikings were certainly seen as a threat in Angus, with King William the Lion causing the Red Castle to be build in the late 12th Century to repel Viking raids at the sandy beach at Lunan Bay.

I have never visited the Abernethy tower.  I must do that some day.  However, I recall seeing a round tower in Dunfermline, close by the route we used to take when heading from Dollar to Edinburgh, avoiding the congested town centre.  I think I assumed that this was the second round tower, but did not give it much thought.  While thinking about this piece, I looked it up and found out that it is not an ancient round tower at all, but was built just a little over a hundred years ago at St Leonard’s Church in Dunfermline, but very much inspired by the ancient round towers.

 

Close encounters of the crustacean kind

Our visit to the beach at Whinnyfold took on an entirely new dimension the other day.  When I take the grandchildren there, it is usually to throw stones.  (How they love to do that!)   But Friday resulted in a close encounter of the crustacean kind, thanks to the young man who was delighted to show the grandchildren a big lobster which he had caught in his creel.

IMG_7678

We watched as he prepared his boat which was hauled up on the shingle, and set off to check his creels ,under the watchful eye the seal who makes a regular appearance when we go down there.  Seals love to watch children;  but it seems that the seal was interested in the boat too.

IMG_7673

IMG_7674

A little while later he was back on shore and was delighted to show off his catch to the grandchildren, indeed offering them the opportunity to pick up the lobster, after he had safely secured its claws with rubber bands.   Blair was brave enough to have this close encounter.  I am sure he will remember the experience.  He did borrow a glove for the occasion, not that gloves are needed to handle lobsters, we were told.  No, it was protection for the boatman from any jellyfish which may have attached themselves to the rope from creel as he hauled it up into the boat.

IMG_7679

IMG_7696

Disappointment at Spey Bay

As we drove down the road from Fochabers towards Spey Bay we tried to remember when last we had visited here.  It was certainly when we were living in Buckie in the 1970s.  It was a place we loved to visit for the vast beach of shingle and of course the river Spey as it flowed into the Moray Firth.

Spey Bay Beach in the 1970s

Spey Bay Beach in the 1970s

We would bring the children here when they were very young.  I remember one glorious summer afternoon watching the salmon fishermen with their drag nets working in the river.   This gave the name to the little community at the end of the road, beside the ice houses Tugnet.

Salmon fishermen at the mouth of the River Spey in the 1970s

Salmon fishermen at the mouth of the River Spey in the 1970s

Mouth of the River Spey July 2016

Mouth of the River Spey July 2016

Other memories we shared were of an ice cream stop on a Christian Aid sponsored walk from Fochabers to Buckie, thanks to Gordon McKay who brought the ice cream in his boat’s van from Buckie.  Then there was the start of the walk which I made with the Buckie ministers in the early 1980s, starting at Spey Bay and ending up at Aberlour.

At the Scottish Dolphin Centre, Spey Bay

At the Scottish Dolphin Centre, Spey Bay

Spey Bay, however is now very much on the tourist route, thanks to the Scottish Dolphin Centre.  How different it was when we drove up to the ice house and found that the car park full, people everywhere, and we had to park on the verge.  What a disappointment it was, when I was expecting the quiet little place of my distant memories.

Traffic jam at Spey Bay

Traffic jam at Spey Bay

I have dug out a  few old slides of these early days, and scanned them in.  The colour is not great, and they are a bit messy and dusty, but they have revived my memories of the old days at Spey Bay.

Looking towards Buckie and the Bin Hill, July 2016

Looking towards Buckie and the Bin Hill, July 2016

Late night in the woods

There are lots of walks in the woods at the edge of the Delnies caravan park near Nairn where we are spending a couple of nights.   It was quite late, 9.30 or so, when I set of with the dogs on a lovely still, warm evening.  I had my camera with me and managed a few pictures, even though it was getting quite dark.

IMG_7556 IMG_7557 IMG_7562 IMG_7566 IMG_7568

 

That’s the big plus for this campsite, the down side is the main Aberdeen to Inverness A96 road nearby.  It’s not a quiet site, with the noise of the heavy traffic zooming past.

20160729_075850-1024x576

 

20160729_080115-1024x576

The story behind the stones

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the tragic death of a little girl who lived at the Buchanness Lighthouse in 1869.   As I promised, I collected some wild flowers to lay on her grave.  It had been a chance encounter seeing the stone that first time, and all I foucssed on was the inscription Buchanness Lighthouse.  It was only when I started researching the family, I pieced together a little of the story, and was quite moved.

When I put the flowers on her grave the other day I took in the whole scene:  there were two stones here, and a little heart shaped memorial at the foot of Elizabeth’s one.  But the heart was not for Elizabeth; no this was for a John McGaw, and the faint inscription on the neighbouring stone was for the same family.  They had lived at Buchanness lighthouse too, a few years after the Grierson family.

2016-07-23 12.12.33

I had wondered about how a lighthouse family could afford the substantial stone for Elizabeth.  Now with a stone close by for the McGaw family and no other stones round about it started to make sense, especially since I had not been able to find an entry for either family in the Burial Register for the Kirkyard.  I had also been told that this grassy area without stones was where the prisoners were buried. I think Elizabeth and the McGaws will have been buried in common ground, or ground that the Lighthouse Board acquired.  Indeed I wonder if the Board paid for the stones?   Here is another line of research I might try, to see if there are any records held by the Lighthouse Board.  Perhaps as visit to the Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh might produce some information?

2016-07-23 12.13.35

Like Grierson, (Elizabeth’s name) McGaw is not a common name and I was quickly able to find out just a little about this family.   Robert McGaw married his wife Isabella in Wigtonshire.  (There are losts of McGaws in that area.)  He trained as a joiner, but then got a job as a lightkeeper, and I have found him in the Pentland Skerries and the Black Isle.  One of their five sons was born at Rosemarkie, and another in South Ronaldsay in Orkney. Tragedy hit the family 1n 1888 when Robert and Isabella were at Buchanness. Isabella gave birth to a premature baby who lived just 33 hours. Baby John McGaw is buried beside Elizabeth, and the little heart remembers him. Just a few months later, Isabella died from Typhoid Fever (as had Elizabeth Grierson) and she is buried beside her son and both their names inscribed on the Peterhead granite stone.

Robert was left to look after four boys, aged between two and seven years old. Fortunately the family rallied round and I read in the 1891 Census that Robert’s unmarried elder sister Elizabeth, a dressmaker, was then living with the family at the Buchannes Lighthouse and will have been looking after the children.

There the trail goes cold. I have not been able to find any mention of the family again in official records. I wonder if they emigrated and began a new life in Canada, or America.