Caithness – sheep and dolphins

Just after leaving the Castle of Mey we met a traffic jam – Caithness style – sheep. They were being moved from one field to another one down the road a bit.

Sheep
Yes the road ahead was full of sheep.

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

There was a teeny wee Border collie pup dancing on the end of its lead, probably its first outing with the sheep, but it hardly took its eyes off the shepherd.

It’s not the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, but just a bit further south you reach the Moray Firth, I’d like to spend some time there to watch the wildlife, it’s famous for dolphins amongst other things.

Moray Firth seascape

I found this You Tube video of the dolphins there, but I’d like to see it in person.

Castle of Mey, Caithness, and Sutherland, Scotland

Castle of Mey

On our way back from Orkney we realised that we would be very close to the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s residence in Scotland. After her husband George VI died in 1952 she obviously had to vacate Balmoral and the other royal residences to make way for the new Queen. She took a fancy to the very remote castle after visiting it as a guest, luckily the owners wanted to move out. After lots of renovations she moved in, and in later years the Royal Yacht Britannia was used to take royal visitors to the castle. The Queen Mother could never persuade Princess Margaret to stay overnight though, Margaret always insisted on going back to sleep on the yacht, the castle was too cold for her apparently, but I suspect she wanted more privacy to get up to her well known shenanigans.

Castle of Mey
Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos of the inside of it for security reasons apparently?! But you can see plenty of photos here.

As castles go it’s quite a cosy one with the rooms being not too big and our guide told us lots of stories about the Queen Mother, who obviously threw herself into the community and got involved with the local primary school children. There were lots of hand made gifts from them ranged around her sitting room, including a shell covered bottle made into a lamp.

I like the way they utilise the big flat stones that are on lots of the local beaches as partitions, it must be a fast way of building walls.

Castle of Mey

Castle of Mey
That was the first time we had been so far north and I thought it was really scenic, although admittedly we were very lucky with the weather, and just about everything looks lovely in the sunshine. You can look here at all the other places of interest in Caithness if you click on the list on the right hand side and here at all the small towns in neighbouring Sutherland if you click on the list on the left.

Castle of Mey garden + Hoy

It was a surprise to me how well things were growing way up north.

I just love old stone walls with wooden gates – what is the secret garden behind it like, most of the time they are locked though so they remain secrets!

East Garden door

Duncansby Head, Caithness

When we were travelling up to catch the ferry to Orkney we ended up being far too early for it, we had factored in a possible couple of hours of delays, obviously we didn’t want to miss the boat! So before stopping off at John O’Groats we drove to nearby Duncansby Head which is the real north eastern tip of Scotland.

It was a bit misty when we were there so we didn’t take many photos.

Duncansby Head

Rock Cliffs at Duncansby Head

Flowers at Duncansby Head

Duncansby Stacks

It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to spare as I would have loved to go on a good long walk along the cliffs there, maybe we’ll manage that another time.

You can see more images of Duncansby Head here.

Highland River by Neil M. Gunn

Highland River cover

Highland River by Neil M. Gunn won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1937 and I’m trying to make my way through as many of the winners as possible. It’ll be a long haul as there are a lot of them.

This is just the third book by Gunn that I’ve read, I think so far The Silver Darlings is my favourite.

Highland River is set around the Dunbeath area of the Scottish Highlands.

It’s really the story of Gunn’s childhood. It was a hand to mouth existence and the story begins with Kenn being sent out in the dark of early morning to get water from the well situated near a pool. It’s freezing and Kenn slips and falls in the water, but in doing so he realises that a huge salmon has become trapped in the pool, and so begins a battle to catch it with his hands. This is an aspect of the book that reccurs time and time again, in fact too much for me, it might appeal to those who are interested in unusual fishing techniques.

The Scottish Highland childhood chapters are interspersed with chapters about Kenn and his brother’s experiences in the trenches of World War 1 and I would have been happier with the book if there had been more of those. Gunn never was involved in that war though so he probably felt he was better off sticking to writing about what he knew about. He was a customs officer/excise man from 1910 until he was able to earn enough from his writing to become a full time writer in 1937.

He was active politically and was a member of the National Party for Scotland part of which later became the Scottish National Party. He died in 1973.

As it happens, when we were travelling home from our recent trip to Orkney we stopped off at Dunbeath which is a very small place, but is in a beautiful area of Caithness. They’re proud of their ‘local hero; and have erected a statue of Kenn with his massive salmon, a scene from this book. The photo below is of the river that runs through Dunbeath, it’s called Dunbeath Water, and is presumably the Highland river from the title.

Dunbeath Water

There’s also this lovely statue of Kenn and his salmon, a scene from the book.
Kenn + Salmon

I also read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge and it’s one of my 20 Books of Summer.