Category Archives: Scotland.

I BELONG TO GLASGOW – Part 4.

*****

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

First stop on arriving in the immense baroque red sandstone Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was their café where we relaxed and enjoyed a light lunch whilst the organ concert was taking place above.

This place is like the British Museum, Science Museum,  the V and A, Natural History Museum and the Tate all rolled into one. It’s immense, one needs a battle plan to find a way around the multiple galleries on two floors. The entrance hall is large enough for concerts with the organ at the north end.

We were most interested in the art galleries in the east wings. We were straight into another Mackintosh exhibition. Lots of examples of his work and that of his collaborators. There was a partial reconstruction of a Glasgow Tearoom which he designed for Miss Cranston who owned several tearooms in the city. There was metalwork and glass from the same era. I was struck by the design of the leaded window as it was almost identical to those in my parent’s inter-war semi-detached.

The next gallery was devoted to an extensive collection of The Glasgow Boys. Encountered earlier in the University this group of local artists rebelled against Victorian sentimentality and revolutionised Scottish painting at the end of the C19th. Outdoor naturalistic painting of local scenes and people with strong brush strokes and later French-inspired techniques bordering on the abstract. 

Time for coffee and cake, 

Now on the first floor.  Scottish landscapes, French art, Scottish Colourists and Dutch art. Quite a variety.

Lavish Scottish landscapes.

***

Large French display – mainly impressionists.

Renoir.

Monet.

Signac.

***

The Scottish Colourists, a colourful modern French style for Scotland at the start of the C20th.

J D Ferguson.

***

Classic Dutch paintings.

***

And in a room of its own ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’ by Salvador Dalí. This iconic painting was purchased by the gallery in 1952 for £8200 and now estimated to be worth £50million. Dali said he had dreamed the scene of Christ looking down on a shoreline from the cross, no nails or blood.

We had only seen a fraction of the displays in the Museum. In the west wings were a multitude of history, science and nature which we didn’t explore.  There were some outstanding paintings on the landings surrounding the first floor and from up here one had a view into the two courts.

A bus back into town, a pint in the Counting House (Witherspoon’s superb use of an old bank) and back home to Preston in a few hours.  Glasgow is certainly worth a visit whatever your interests.

I BELONG TO GLASGOW – Part 3

*****

Mainly Mackintosh.

A taxi was used after breakfast to take us quickly up to the Hunterian Art Gallery in the University. The taxi fare of about £13 was almost as expensive as our train tickets from Preston to Glasgow, £15 for the two. From the outside the gallery was a big block of concrete, brutalistic Mike said. But inside is a hidden gem – The Mackintosh House.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was a renowned architect, designer and artist creating modern Art Nouveau buildings with the interiors and furnishings complementing his minimalistic ideas. His wife Margaret was a talented artist/designer and collaborated on many of his works.

One of their projects was to transform the interior of the house they were living in from 1906 to 1914, 78 Southpark Avenue.  They had a vision for light clean lines, often taken from nature, and designed everything from the furniture to the curtains to create integrated spaces for living in. “the room as a work of art”  Subsequent owners kept the interior and eventually Glasgow University took it over in 1945. The furnitures were put in storage and when the house was demolished in the 1960s the interiors were preserved along with drawings and photographs of the house. By 1981 the interior of the house had been carefully replicated inside the university art gallery and the original furnishings installed. Carpets, curtains and soft furnishings were produced from drawings and photos.

So we found ourselves stepping into the Mackintosh’s entrance hall from over a century ago. The adjoining dining room was more of a sombre hue with distinctive Mackintosh chairs. On the next floor up elegant stairs was the L-shaped drawing room created from two rooms, As soon as you enter you are transfixed by the white decoration, flooded with light from windows which replicate the original house’s orientation. All was sublime. Delicate details from Margaret compliment the distinctive furniture of  Charles. Up a floor, and you were in the bedroom, again an L-shaped area. All white with furniture inspired by plant and bird forms.  Everything was exquisite.

For an in depth look this video is recommended.

The adjacent art gallery had more of Mackintosh’s work, complemented by his wife, and fellow artists and collaborators, the husband and wife James and Frances McNair. This included a reconstruction of one of Mackintosh’s last interior schemes from Derngate, Northampton, 1916, pictured in the heading photo.

Adjacent galleries highlighted the painter James A M Whistler. I don’t remember seeing any of his works before and was particularly impressed by his long portraits, delicate impressionism.  No sign of his mother.

The university gallery had several of the paintings of the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists.

The ‘Boys’ – an informal group of 20 Glasgow artists that came together in the early 1880s – they challenged Victorian Scottish painting, and developed a distinctive style of naturalist painting. Outdoor painting of local scenes and people with strong brush strokes and later French-inspired techniques bordering on the abstract. Whistler’s work was an influence.

Hornel, Henry and Gauld.

The ‘Colourists’ – four painters – Francis Cadell (1883–1937), John Fergusson (1874–1961), George Hunter (1879–1931) and Samuel  Peploe (1831–1935).  They used vibrant primary colours and simplified avant-garde forms. I first became aware of them at an exhibition in Woking in 2019.

Still Life . Cadell.

There will be more of these Scottish painters in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum this afternoon. Time for a break.

I BELONG TO GLASGOW – Part 2.

*****

The Burrell Collection.

A good buffet breakfast set us up for a full day. The bus took us south of the Clyde  alighting at the entrance to Pollock Park. A pleasant walk through the grounds and we were  outside the Burrell Collection building, reopened in March after a major refurbishment. It originally opened in 1983 to house the vast collection of the Burrell family, gifted to Glasgow in 1944. Sir William Burrell, (1861–1958) a wealthy shipping merchant, devoted more than 75 years of his life to amassing one of the world’s greatest personal art collections, renowned for its quality of Chinese art, exquisite stained-glass and intricate tapestries, as well as its breadth of fine art. The galleries are built with a warm sandstone and lots of glass, situated in the middle of all the greenery of Pollock Park.

We were in for a bumper day. 9000 objects from 5000 years.

Burrell collected just about everything from all over the world and the first we noticed were the many medieval doorways from monasteries and country houses, they have been carefully incorporated into the building giving access between the galleries. The interior is a pleasing blend of stone, wooden beams and glass giving a beautiful light for the visitors.

In the covered courtyard is the Warwick Vase. It was found in the C18th in fragments in the villa of the Roman Emperor Hadrian outside Rome. It was restored and given to the Earl of Warwick. The Vase stood in the courtyard of Warwick Castle for almost two centuries until it was purchased for The Burrell Collection in 1979. A large marble sculpture in the form of a two-handled drinking cup, with motifs to the Roman God of wine Bacchus. So one of the star exhibits was not actually collected by the Burrells.

Off we went around the ground floor outer galleries with exhibits scattered throughout the rooms. Burrell started collecting Chinese antiques around 1910, Jades, porcelain and furniture from all dynasties. 

 

Egyptian artefacts were well represented, and I was particularly pleased to see the lion head of the goddess Sekhmet, 1390BC. My cat Seth is named after this goddess, the name change when the vet pointed out his sex. 

 

Suits of armour were everywhere,  I was amazed at their intricate artistry and the fact that somehow they had survived intact from the C16th.

 

.

The museum is home to more than 700 ecclesiastical stained-glass panels from across Europe, and the outer galleries are ideal for displaying them with natural light.

You will all recognise this bronze Rodin statue.

Time for a coffee from the pop-up café in the entrance.

Now we delved into the inner galleries where pictures were protected from the outside light. I thought that the fantastic collection of master painters, Degas, Rembrandt, Manet etc needed more space to show them at their best.

There was an informative section on carpets, mainly Islamic designs.   The  C17th  Garden Carpet from Iran was displayed with its animated video representation bringing  it to life, showing how far museums have become more interactive and accessible

Upstairs were several galleries delving into the secrets of creating the masterpieces. Printing, lace making, woodcarving, metalwork, glassblowing, bronze casting etc etc. We should have left more time for these fascinating insights, but we were coming to the end of our visit and a restorative tea and cake in their café was called for.

I think we missed far more than we saw, and a return visit would be warranted. Once outside we decided to have a walk around Pollock Country Park and see the house where the National Trust for Scotland was started. We did not know what to expect but were surprised at the Georgian grandeur of the house. It had closed for the day, so we only admired it from the courtyard which was full of colourful azaleas. Walking through the stables we found a path following the river, White Cart Water, and skirting the gardens, with a view of the house frontage. The gardens were resplendent with blooming rhododendrons. We wandered back past the estate sawmills, closed for refurbishment, a cricket pitch and Highland cattle in the fields.

 

Back in town we enjoyed a pint in one of the oldest inns in Glasgow. The Scotia Bar established 1792. A friendly place with a good selection of ales – we had the session Belhaven. All around were pictures of old Glasgow and you could imagine the sailors of the past from the nearby docks sipping their pints in here. The subsequent Turkish restaurant was unfortunately a let-down.

A good night’s sleep is needed before tomorrow’s excursions.

I BELONG TO GLASGOW. Part 1.

*****

The city.

As we sip our pints in the unique Counting House, a Wetherspoons pub created from an old bank in the centre of Glasgow, the words in the title come to me. If we had stayed too long in the friendly, but toxic atmosphere of this drinking emporium Glasgow would have belonged to me. Sensibly we cut the session short and went off in search of some food. We found the busy Madras Café and enjoyed some good Southern Indian food before returning to our hotel for the night.

Mike and I had travelled up from Preston to Central Station on the train this morning at a ridiculous £7.50 single fare. Our plan was to explore some highlights of central Glasgow and over the next couple of days visit the outstanding art galleries. Having an architect along would give extra value for me.

The ‘Merchant City’ area of Glasgow was developed from Medieval periods but came to the fore in the C19th when merchants’ money from shipping  (tobacco, sugar, tea  and slaves) created impressive Neoclassical buildings. Everywhere we looked were historic properties. Mike had a list. First up was the City Chambers (opened in 1888 by Queen Victoria) headquarters of various city councils over the years. All was marble, mosaics and mahogany. Unfortunately only the entrance chamber was accessible (post Covid regulations) giving some idea of the opulence.

On the outside wall of the Chambers were the official Imperial Linear Measures. Not normally of great moment but since our crazy government is thinking of resurrecting them in place of the Euro metric I thought a photo would be of historical interest. They may have an armed guard on them by now.

We were in George Square surrounded by imposing buildings and full of statues of notable Scots. Sir Walter Scott was 80ft up on his pedestal, towering over Robert Burns, James Watt, Victoria and Albert and several more.

As you can see we had a damp start to the afternoon. Our next objective, on the other side of the square, was the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) housed in a Merchant’s building, whose history was as interesting as the art. Built in 1778 as the town house of William Cunningham a wealthy Glasgow tobacco merchant who made his fortune through the triangular slave trade. It had been enlarged considerably over the period,  namely the Corinthian pillars to the Queen Street facade, the cupola above and the large hall to the rear of the old house. Outside is the most photographed statue in Glasgow – The Duke of Wellington resplendent with traffic cones, four today! The council have given up on removing them. 

The entrance opened out into a stunning oval stairwell illuminated from a distant skylight.

The art on show included black artists who have been in the minority in Scottish culture, yet their post-colonial legacy is important today. Tam Joseph’s Timespan was intended to be a representative leap forwards in racial equality and human rights.

On the next floor were recognisable modern paintings.

The top floor, Domestic Bliss, was less recognisable with contemporary installations.

Ready for a coffee and a sit down we headed downstairs to the café in the extensive library.  I recognised this from a previous visit, but I couldn’t think when!  They had just reopened after all the Covid restrictions that Scotland had imposed for longer than England. Good coffee and cakes.

Mike wanted to visit The Lighthouse,  the former offices of the Glasgow Herald newspaper. Completed in 1895, it was designed by the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The first of his designs we visited on our trip. Yet again delayed post Covid problems meant we couldn’t access the higher floors and the famous spiral staircase leading to the viewing tower. 

Mike thought that the Cathedral, the oldest building in the city, C12th, would be a good place to visit, so we set off in the rain to walk up there. My camera didn’t like the moisture and refused to work, so I switched to my phone for the rest of the day.

The Cathedral was a massive Gothic structure – inside and out. Noticeably was a central pulpitum, a richly carved stone screen between choir and nave added in the early 1400s. The cathedral had survived the reformation intact.  Somewhere in the crypt was a shrine to St. Mungo, we missed it. Some lovely stained-glass.

We re-emerged just as the rain stopped and were attracted to the Necropolis on a hill behind the Cathedral. Reached by a bridge this large Victorian cemetery has 50,000 graves, many of them with ornate mausoleums. Wandering around was like something out of a horror film, I was expecting bodies to creep out of some of the shrines. From up here the copper roof of the cathedral was very obvious, copper having replaced the over heavy lead. It was worth coming up here.

A restorative coffee in a fish bar, and we were on a train to the western dock’s area. The last time I stayed in Glasgow was here next to the Armadillo and the Finnieston Crane. We had a walk on both sides of the river, BBC on the south bank, as crowds queued for a Russel Brand concert.

Then it was back to the centre for that drink and meal, quite a busy afternoon. 

National mountain hare day!

Press release from OneKind (1st March 2021)

Protections for mountain hares have come into force from today, in what campaigners are calling National Mountain Hare Day. The new regulations mean that it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares without a licence.

The following is worth a read, I’m just spreading the word. We can only cross our fingers and hope the powers that be will enact this regulation on Scottish grouse moors. I always worry when it starts mentioning “a licence”

National mountain hare day! — Raptor Persecution UK

“STOP GROUSE SHOOTING’S WAR ON WILDLIFE”

I hope this will be my last post for now on the ills of the grouse moor. I’ve recently tried to highlight raptor persecution and today want to bring to your attention the vast losses of other wild life occuring on grouse moors. The more the public become aware of these killings the more the pressure on politicians. So read the article, spread the news and sign the petition.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent animals – foxes, stoats, weasels, and hedgehogs, as well as birds are killed in traps and snares on Scottish grouse moors every year. This is having a massive environmental impact as these moors cover a fifth of the land in Scotland. The same is happening in the rest of the UK.

The League Against Cruel Sports have just published an article  with a link to the full report.

There is a petition to sign here.

A recent article in The Yorkshire Times by David Goff is worth reading. https://yorkshiretimes.co.uk/nature

It’s time I got out to do some some walking…

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. Reflections.

Inverness to John O’Groats – 147 miles of coastal walking.

A trail of two halves, not just the way I did it but geographically also. The first half to Helmsdale is rural walking often along the shoreline whereas the northern half is rugged cliff top walking. Over the years many LEJOG walkers have ended up walking the dreaded A9 to finish their Odyssey which must be an anti-climax. Local walkers, Caithness Waybaggers, started looking at a coastal route away from the road and an American Jay Wilson who’d settled in the area became enthused by the idea. In 2016 a charity was established to promote the walk – Friends of the John O’Groats Trail and they have their own website http://www.jogt.org.uk/

Volunteers have worked hard on researching and way-marking a route, with more funding stiles and bridges have started to appear and the route is getting publicity and more people are walking it.  A ranger, Jim Bunting, has been appointed with funding for a year which will help push things forward.

I first became aware of the route last year when I was planning a week’s walking to help complete my own personal LEJOG walk which I’d been doing for over 50years without realising it. I’d recently finished off gaps down in the west country and was left with the way north of Inverness. So last summer I set off from Inverness with the main idea of staying off the A9, it was only when on the way that I fell into step with the JO’GTRAIL. Waymarks were rare but the walking was easy, mainly on small lanes and tracks with lots along the low coastline – lovely sandy beaches which could be used at low tides for easy walking and a quick swim when needed. Seals were constant companions along the coast. There was a bed at the end of every stage. I was enthused.

Fast forward almost a year, interrupted by illness, and I’m back on the trail. This time I have a  Harveys Map which I hardly used – too small a scale for my eyes, but more importantly a draft guide from the powers that be. This was a work of art, Wainwright style, which will hopefully come to publication. [I’ve donated to the cause for the use of it and whatever else]  I worry about commercial intrusions from the likes of Cicerone. The volunteers who have put so much into the route deserve their guide to be definitive.

A lot changed in a year and waymarking is coming on a treat. They have adopted an octagonal emblem reflecting the octagonal house of the legendary  Jan de Groot  and his brothers, Dutchmen of the 15th century who plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, Their house was one room, with eight windows and eight doors, to admit eight members of the family; the heads of different branches of it, to prevent their quarrels at the table.

This northern half of the trail is ‘not for the inexperienced’ as is the mantra – a trail in progress.

Despite the main road being within a few miles inland you feel very isolated on the cliffs. Many fences have to be climbed without stiles as yet, lots of barbed wire to rip your best Gortex pants to bits. Depending on which side of the fence you find yourself there are the dangers of frisky risky cattle or crumbling cliff edges.

Crossing rivers can be a challenge depending on rainfall and tides. I was impressed by some of the bridge-building that has recently taken place. I was also impressed by the depth of fast-flowing water on other unbridgeable burns. Take care!

Despite all that this trail is an experience not to be missed. The geology is amazing, the birdlife incredible, the flora unique, whales and dolphins common sights, historical sites around every headland, the local population welcoming. The geos [sea inlets] are outstanding even if they seem to double the distance of each day’s walk. The little simple harbours, most long ago abandoned, are evocative of the herring fishing industry of the 18/20th centuries. A novel by Neil M Gunn, a native of Dunbeath, The Silver Darlings refers to the sight of the masses of fish visible to clifftop watchers. As the shoals were spotted small boats would be launched from the harbours to maximise the haul.

What more do you want?

I can foresee that once established and trodden [the summer bracken growth is a problem] this will become one of the most sought after challenging walks in Britain. I’m glad I walked it in its infancy for the adventure it provided.

Enjoy.

Now, what about JOG to Cape Wrath?

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 14B. Nybster to John O’Groats.

Journey’s end?

The same bus driver picked me up this morning as had transported me back yesterday, he was keen to know where I was heading today. By the time he dropped me off at Nybster we were on first name terms, they’re a friendly lot up here.

Walking down to the small harbour the weather was awful, maybe I’d misjudged the forecast. Anyhow I was on my way. There were a couple of geo’s and the odd sea stack for starters though the rain was getting on the camera lens.

Ahead in the mist were some castle ruins on a headland. Bucholie Castle dates from a 12th-century Norse nobleman but what remains today is from a 15th-century rebuild.

By now the rain had thankfully stopped but the wind remained strong.

Lovely open walking around Ness Head brought Freswick Bay into view. On a sea stack fulmars were kings of their castle. The other house/tower/castle call it what you like has Norse origins which are normal in Caithness. I was able to wade a stream, have lunch and then walk leisurely across the beach towards Skirza Head.

A diversion sign took me on minor roads to avoid some clifftop properties although I was tempted to go direct. Maybe access negotiations are delicate so I didn’t want to inflame matters. At least I didn’t end up in the field with this chap.

I arrived back on the coast at a small harbour.

Rough and dramatic walking along the cliffs covered in Sea Thrift, it seemed to take me an age to get around Skirza Head and a couple of geos. There were lots of seabirds on the cliffs with guillemots doing their best penguin impersonations.

Ravens meanwhile were doing their best acrobatic displays, I wonder if they are responsible for this egg stealing. More likely to be Herring Gulls.

Yet more dramatic clifftop walking with my first distant view of Duncansby Head and its stacks.

Then I was peering down into the largest geo I’d seen, Wife Geo. A complicated chasm with stacks and caves within its depths.

Open boggy moorland lay ahead and then the impressive Stacks of Duncansby held my attention for some time. I came round Duncansby Head below the lighthouse and joined the masses milling about in a car park. Some were whale watching.  Stroma, Hoy and South Ronaldsay were just visible in the mist.

I left the road as quick as I’d joined it and took a bearing across the open moor to the Bay of Sannick, I was the only person on its beach. A bit of scrambling around the headland, Ness of Duncansby, and I was on a made gravel path heading straight to the circus of John O’Groats.

A couple from the Wirral took my picture at the appropriate signs, I bought a postcard for my old walking buddy Mel who is now on kidney dialysis, enquired without joy at the TI office about bus times, had a coffee from the kiosk who gave me the correct bus times – one in 5 minutes.

I’m now in Thurso for the evening before a long train journey home tomorrow and reflections on my journey.

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 14A. Keiss to Nybster.

An historic episode.

No not me reaching  J O’Groats – but a short walk past some historic sites.

I woke early. uneasy about the weather. The forecast had been dire with heavy rain and strong winds and looking out of my window that’s just how it was. I wanted to enjoy Duncansbury Head and my arrival at JO’Groats so some quick decision making came into action at breakfast.

“May I stay an extra night here?”   –   “No problem”

“May I change my reservation with you to tomorrow night?”   –   “No problem”

“What are the bus times?”   –   ” ??? ”

Decision made, between mouthfuls of Muesli.  I would do a short walk and hopefully catch a bus back and hope tomorrow is better.

There was nobody out on the coast this morning, not that I’ve met many people all week. Just after the small harbour of Keiss there was a Broch. The information board suggested that it had been of some importance in the Middle Iron Age.  I was unimpressed by the pile of stones.

So onwards passing WW2 pillboxes to a prominent castle built in the late 16th century by the Sinclair clan [them again]. When it fell into disrepair they built a new one nearby.

The cliffs are low now and the rock strata giving horizontal beds exposed at low tide. The path ran outside fields and one enthusiastic sheepdog ran alongside protecting his patch, I was hoping the fence was intact.

By now I was soaked and suddenly realised I’d dropped my camera somewhere so it was back about a mile to eventually find it near a stile I’d had difficulty negotiating. At one point I was obviously on the wrong side of the fence when I had to balance along the top of a slippery wall hanging on to the barbed wire. Everything’s getting wetter and wetter including my camera.

A few interesting geos were passed as usual.

Then the larger Nybster Broch appeared, here one could clearly see the circular structures. Nearby was an impressive monument to Sir Francis Tress who had excavated the site in the 1890s. There were a couple of other monuments nearby, for what reason I don’t know.

I was cold and wet but soon on a bus back to the comfort of my hotel. A drink in the bar at lunchtime was entertaining listening to the locals, though every other Scottish word seems to begin with an F.

Well rested for tomorrow.

*****

PS. Just noticed on the JOGT facebook page for today – I made the right choice.

 

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 13. Wick to Keiss.

A dreich day on Sinclair Bay.

Not so many photos today, it rained.

Near my b&b in the old part by the harbour was a building  – Telford House, further research shows that the famous engineer and architect Thomas Telford designed the area, Lower Pulteneytown, and harbour which allowed the herring industry to flourish from the beginning of the 19th century.

Wick is also in the Guinness Book of Records for having the shortest street in the world. Ebenezer Place is just 6ft 9in long. The street is one end of the Mackays Hotel built in 1883 by Alexander Sinclair who returned to Scotland having made his fortune in America.

Nonetheless I can’t say I was sorry to leave Wick, maybe I’m being harsh.

In view of the weather I had thought of taking a short cut on roads to Ackergill but the guide suggested it would be a shame to miss Noss Head and Castle Sinclair.

The forecast was for rain all day but as I walked along to Staxigoe it was the wind causing discomfort rather than the light drizzle. I used the shelter of a bus stop to weatherproof myself for the rest of the day. The little harbour at Staxigoe had all the usual features of an old herring port but there was also an unusual barometer pole from 1850 to help the fishermen gauge the conditions at sea, fairly bleak today.

 

Walking on the road led to Noss Farm, the guide mentions a sign ‘Walkers Welcome’,  it’s covered over – I wonder what happened? Some pleasant cliff walking followed, although the cliffs are much lower the scenery is still very dramatic. Grey seals lazed on the flat rocks and in the bay their heads were bobbing above the waves. A couple of geos were passed with small flat sea stacks.

The way towards the lighthouse was across marshy ground with several varieties of orchids growing. No idea what they are.The lighthouse is still operational and has its own letterbox with a quirky sign, where else would you find this – must be a lovely community around here.

When I saw Castle Sinclair Girnigoe ahead the longer route was vindicated. An impressive and evocative structure in a stunning setting. It has a long and varied history as is common with these Scottish outposts. The powerful Sinclair family were residents from the early 14th century to the mid 17th century. By now the wind was bringing in heavy showers so it was head down across the fields to Ackergill Haven. Up the lane was a scattering of houses and what looked like a village hall, wondering about some shelter I approached the open door to find an active gym with people doing their stuff. It seemed incongruous out in this remote place.

 

 

 

 

 

Round the back the route was signed into a field containing inquisitive, nervous and sturdy cattle, I crept around an adjacent field.

I think these are whale bones, on a wall…

There was a private driveway leading to Ackergill Tower, a stately looking building possibly a shooting lodge, surrounded by high walls. I found a relatively sheltered corner with a picnic table, perfect for lunch.

At this stage I was still relatively dry but once out of the shelter of the estate buildings the way went onto exposed sand dunes. Ahead in the mist was a golf clubhouse and I had visions of hot coffee, alas all was locked – no golf today.

Pushing on I was able to avoid the taxing ups and downs of the sand dunes and walk along the beach, it was a long beach. The birdlife was different, waders at the water’s edge and terns flying overhead.

I came to the crossing of the River Wester and realised how deep and fast flowing it was on the beach made worse because of high tide. I was prepared to bypass it all together until a little inland the water was wider and I paddled across, I was already soaked anyhow.

The next obstacle was the railway for launching pipelines into the sea.

At Keiss there is a small sheltered harbour and beyond it I could just make out Noss Head back across Sinclair Bay. One can imagine the relief of those fishermen when they returned from stormy seas to harbour. There is not much else here.

Appropriately my lodging is the Sinclair Bay Hotel, cosy and warm with some decent food and ale. The forecast for tomorrow looks grim. Sweat dreams.

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 12. Whaligoe to Wick.

There’s no rush – too much to see.

I slept in. A relaxed breakfast followed so I didn’t set off till after 10am. There was no rush as it was drizzling slightly, I’d only gone a few fields when I saw a sign for Puffins. Sure enough on a small cliff near the path the little birds were arriving prior to nesting. I made my way along the narrow ledge to relish the experience. Along came the farmer who’d seen my approach, not to admonish me but to engage in good old honest chat. He had an interesting history and was full of information about the locality. Further up the trail as I walked inland he reappeared to take a picture for the JOGTrail Facebook page.

The next few hours were a delight on a mainly good path alongside the continually interesting coastline. Lots of large Geo’s to get round, sea stacks galore and the prolific bird life.

Ellen’s Geo.

Stack of Ulbster.

Sarclet Haven

Riera Geo

 

Riera Geo

At the massive Broad Geo I met a party coming southwards and found that their leader was no other than Jim, the new path warden, more conversation followed. This was a great spot for bird watching – I told you there was too much to see.

Mainly guillemots.

Razorbills

Broad Geo

A little further on and along comes the highest sea arch in Britain, the Needle’s Eye at the head of Ashy Geo.Off shore are a couple of hundred new wind turbines, I could just make them out.

I became lost once or twice on the broader, lower fenced areas, beware of your best waterproof trousers on the barbed wire fences.

The cliffs now are much lower but still show a diversity of geo’s, stacks and caves.

By the time I arrrived at Old Wick Castle my enthusiasm was waning.  It is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, though originally built in the early 12th century by Norse kings who then ruled Caithness, it was well situated between defensive geos.

Minor roads through industrial areas, probably most connected to off-shore work. The harbour was busy, you can catch a boat to the Orkneys from here.

My simple b and b by the harbour had the steepest stairs up to the second floor, no pity on the weary.

Wick town centre was a little run down but I managed to find a cheerful Italian for supper.

Accommodation – Harbour Guest House, 6 Rose Street.

*****

Out of interest here is the elevation profile for the day –

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 11. Lybster to Whaligoe Steps.

Stacks of stacks.

For this section the guide keeps mentioning to look back at the views – so I often did. A reminder that if the sea is on the right in my photos I’m heading North, if on the left I’m looking South.

Halfway through breakfast my landlady was called away by a friend who’s car had broken down, leaving me to fend for myself. On her return we put the world to rights so I didn’t leave till after 10.30 with a gift of two hardboiled eggs in my pocket. I walked down that main street like John Wayne, everyone stayed indoors.

The first stile just out of the village seemed to have been appropriated from a swimming pool. After crossing a small burn I was on the cliffs using a tortuous path, more of a narrow sheep trod. I realised that keeping within the narrow line made me walk like a catwalk model. The day was just clearing and the views opening up.

In the first large geo [sea inlet] was an abandoned building presumably related to the herring trade of the 18/19 centuries. The first of several small harbours and geos which all involved a considerable inland detour and descent/ascent to cross streams.

 

A disturbing sight alongside the fence was a tip of some farmer’s rubbish, where does he think it will go?

Once round White Head a stream had to be crossed between pretty waterfalls.

Back on the cliff top the roller coaster ride continued with lots of stacks and arches along the way. One of the finest stacks had a stone cairn on its summit implying an ascent in the past. Everywhere were birds mainly fulmars, kitiwakes, razorbills, guillemots and shags.

The long abandoned Clyth Harbour was a delight.

Back on slightly lower cliffs the path was easier to follow towards a disused lighthouse and it was here I saw a pair of Orcas, actually I heard their blowing first and then watched them swimming away only surfacing occasionally. Along this stretch were several skerries, low rocks off the coast, The rock strata here is much more horizontal ideal for drying cormorants and a diving shag.

Past the lighthouse I found a lunchtime stone, enjoyed the sun and watched the birds flying by.

Line Geo was spectacular and the cliff edge path getting round it equally so. The cliff ledges are home to thousands of birds, the noise is deafening in some of the geos. Kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots.

Halberry Head was my next objective.

The massive Stack of Mid Clyth. big enough to be called a dependancy, is in fact a giant sea arch.

 

Another hairy crossing of a large geo on a narrow track. More sea stacks and and caves followed. This is possibly the best days walking so far and I was enjoyingmyself. More was to come in the next mile with Long Gate Geo showing outstanding hidden depths.

After that I was lost in gorse bushes and dropped too low down the cliff slope. My first attempt of climbing back up through the inpenetrable gorse led to retreat and a further detour that left me scrambling up the very edge of the deep Red Geo. I thakfully came out close to the A99 road. The final few fields seemed awkward, one final geo and I was glad to see ahead my lodgings for tonight. The famous Whaligoe Steps Cafe, though it looked uninspiring from the outside. The weather was just closing in as I arrived, I can’t believe I’ve only walked 7 miles, a lot has happened.

I was made very welcome by John and Edna and their two Highland Terriers, an Aswam tea revived me sufficiently to go down the 300+ Whaligoe steps to the original herring harbour in the geo. It was a quiet low tide and all was tranquility. I sat and was able to watch some of the birds at close quarters.

Fulmar.

Shag

Razorbills

Climbing back up those steps I thought of the women carrying baskets of herrings to the store which is now the cafe.

I dined well on authentic Ramen noodles.