Scotland 2021: Homeward Bound

The account of my homeward journey from my Scottish holiday.

This post concludes my coverage of my recent Scottish holiday (28th May to 5th June) by looking at the journey home.

A TRICKY START

I woke early on the morning of Saturday June 5th, and it was just as well that I did so. A check of my emails revealed on overnight message from thetrainline.com telling that the service I was due to be leaving Wick on at 8:02AM had been cancelled. Fortunately I was able to locate a bus service leaving Wick at 6:57 and arriving into Inverness at 9:58 giving me plenty of time to get back on track from there. Thus rather than £100s and almost certainly an overnight stay somewhere on the way home I was able to get round the problem for £22 and some seriously shredded nerves. It also meant missing breakfast which I had intended to be the main meal of the day for me as I expected opportunities to eat while travelling to be limited. I currently have a compensation claim with Scotrail awaiting resolution. They initially insisted that I destroy the ticket even though it was only ever valid for travel on June 5th and then claimed not to have received my image of the destroyed ticket – I uploaded it again today and tweeted their social media team as well.

WICK TO INVERNESS

The bus was ready precisely when it was supposed to be, and the journey to Inverness was accomplished with little difficulty. Getting from the bus station to the train station was slightly tricky – I had seen a sign pointing to the train station on the way in and aimed for that but it was only signing the station car park, which is actually a few minutes walk from the station itself. Once I had got into the station I discovered that there was a train to Edinburgh departing at 10:46, getting me comfortably back on track – indeed slightly ahead of schedule.

INVERNESS TO EDINBURGH

The train from Inverness to Edinburgh ran exactly according to schedule. The route is a scenic one. I had three hours at Edinburgh Waverley before my next train (on which I had a reserved seat) to Grantham was due to depart. This gave me an opportunity to consume some refreshments (and as it turned out was the last such I would have, not greatly to my surprise).

EDINBURGH TO HOME

The train to Grantham (terminating there – there were various problems afflicting the network) ran smoothly. At Grantham I had to board a replacement bus service from there to Peterborough, which arrived just a few minutes before the train for Ely was departing. At Ely I had one final change to the train to King’s Lynn, which fortunately went without incident. At 11:25PM this last train arrived at King’s Lynn. Then it just remained for me to walk home. Though there were a few nervy moments this last section of the journey from Edinburgh to my home in Norfolk went precisely as the itinerary had stated.

PHOTOGRAPHS

I have photographs covering Wick to Edinburgh…

Scotland 2021: Castle Mey

The latest post about my Scottish holiday looks at Castle Mey.

I resume my account of my Scottish holiday (28 May to 5 June) with an account of the Thursday which featured a visit to Castle Mey.

THE CASTLE ITSELF

We started our visit to this landmark with seeing what we could of the castle itself. Unfortunately only a tiny fraction of the building was open to the public, and just as unfortunately they had a no indoor photography rule which annoyed me. They also focussed their information purely on the building’s last private owner, the Queen Mother, completely ignoring its prior history as one of the Sinclair family (earls of Caithness for centuries) seats.

THE GARDENS

The gardens are spectacular, although our exploration did not begin well – we tried to enter the walled garden through an entrance that was clearly signed as being the way in only to be snapped at by an overly officious attendant who did point us to the correct way in – they had instituted a one-way system round the walled garden due to Covid but had not bothered to update their signage. Once we had cleared that hurdle however all went very nicely.

THE ANIMALS

After the gardens it was time to go and look at the animals. These were quite remarkable, including a variety of birds ranging from finches to geese, as well as sheep, piglets, pygmy goats and a donkey. There was also a lot of information available about all the animals we encountered there.

After we had finished looking at the animals we had some food and drink at the cafe before heading off.

DUNCANSBY HEAD

After Castle Mey we paid a quick visit to Duncansby Head, to see the view from the top (see wildlife cruise for another angle on this location).

PHOTOGRAPHS

I have plenty of photographs of everything save the inside of the castle…

Scotland 2021: Dunnet Bay and a Meal Out

The Wednesday from my recent Scottish holiday.

This latest post about my Scottish holiday (May 28th – June 5th including travel) deals with the events of the Wednesday.

FLAGSTONES

Those who have seen some of my earlier posts will have noted a lot of natural rock formations that look sculpted. It is very easy to cut large flat slabs of rock from these formations, and such slabs are known as flagstones, from the Old Norse word Flaga. Near Castletown is a historic trail which gives the history of flagstones, once a major export from this part of Scotland. In the same area is a walk out to an old battery.Thirdly this same area is home to the remnants of the quarry from which the stone was extracted which contains a few samples of flagstone art.

The Victorian battery is not safely accessible, but there is a WWII relic that can be got to, and the walk out along the side of Dunnet Bay is very scenic.

The flagstone art is misdescribed as sculpture which it really isn’t, but it was worth devoting a few minutes to.

The three things between them make for a decent outing, and there is plenty to see.

A MEAL IN THURSO

That evening we went out for supper at a restaurant in Thurso. The food was quite excellent, and they served a decent beer as well. I opted for kiln smoked salmon to start and beef for the main course.

PHOTOGRAPHY

I have plenty of photos for you…

The Wolf Burn Distillery

Continuing my account of my Scottish holiday with a distillery tour and the cooking of a meal.

Thus post, the latest in my series about my Scottish holiday (May 28 to June 5), covers a visit to the Wolf Burn distillery and my cooking of the subsequent evening meal.

THE WOLF BURN DISTILLERY

In it’s current incarnation, using a couple of warehouse buildings just outside Thurso this distillery is a mere eight years old, though many years ago there was another distillery of the same name. The name comes from a local river, the Wolf Burn (a burn in Scotland is a small river – probably the best known to the world at large under this designation is the Swilcan Burn which crosses St Andrew’s golf course).

The tour began with an explanation of how the malt is prepared before the distillation process can even start, before describing the latter. Incidentally if anyone ever tells you that a peaty element in a whisky comes from the water they are fibbing (as the guy at Talisker on the Isle of Skye did when I visited their establishment) – that flavour element is created by the malt being smoked by burning peat.

The other major contributor to the final flavour of a whisky is the type of cask in which it is matured – this distillery uses casks that have previously been used for Sherry, Madeira, Bourbon and others, and each has its own influence on the final flavour of the product.

The casks are stored up to three high and no higher – heat rises and one does not want the product to overheat while it is maturing.

The experience ended with a sampling of the products. This started with something called Aurora which had been matured in sherry casks and which I found overly sweet and not very much like a whisky. Second up was Northland, matured in American Oak quarter casks. This was preferable to the first. The third sample was an unscheduled bonus, and was decent but not great. The Langskip was is the strongest of their products, 58% alcohol, but for me it was outdone by the final product, the Morven, of which I purchased a bottle to go with the free glass we were each given as souvenirs.

I enjoyed this visit and hope that things go well for the distillery.

VARIATIONS ON A FAMILIAR THEME

That evening I cooked the main meal, doing my chicken and coriander concoction. There were a few tweaks by necessity: the house had no blender, so I created the ginger paste by grating ginger into a cup, adding a bit of water and using the plastic handle of a chopping knife as a mixer. I also had to assess quantities of ground cumin and ground coriander by eye as there were no measuring spoons. Also none of the pans were non-stick, which meant that the chicken needed careful attention while it was cooking. However, the only thing I had come up short on in the early stages of the cooking was the salt, quite a lot of which I had to add at the last checkpoint to generate sufficient flavour. In the event the meal was good and every scrap of it got eaten, though the flavour was not quite up to my usual standards. Given the circumstances however I am pleased with the result.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Here are some photos from the distillery…

Scotland 2021: Dunnet Head and St Mary’s Crosskirk

An account of the first part of Tuesday as I work through my Scottish holiday, from which I returned on Saturday just gone.

Welcome to the latest post in my account of my holiday in Scotland, from which I got home very late on Saturday (a combination of that, a long day of travel and poor internet connections at the hotel I stayed in on Friday are the reason I have not put a post up for a few days). Today I cover the first activities of the day after my birthday (See here for the main event of that day), when after a brunch we set off to visit Dunnet Head and the remains of St Mary Crosskirk, a 12th century chapel the burial ground of which is still very well preserved before going on a distillery tour in the afternoon.

DUNNET HEAD

Dunnet Head is the northernmost point of mainland Britain and is noted for its bird life, though I did not get to see much of the latter. There is an ordinance survey summit marker at the highest point of the head, a viewing area from which one can enjoy splendid sea views and a lighthouse designed by Robert Stephenson of the great engineering family which played a huge role in railway history (the novelist Robert Louis Stephenson was also of this family, being Robert of lighthouse fame’s grandson).

St Mary’s Crosskirk

The walk to access this ruin is in parts steep, including a staircase that looks more unpleasant to walk than it actually is. It also takes one past a wind farm, while there are some splendid views along the way. The chapel itself is missing its entire roof and part of its walls.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Here are some pictures from both attractions…

Scotland 2021: Wildlife Cruise

An account of a wildlife cruise on the afternoon of my birthday.

This post describes the main activity of the day of my birthday (Monday), a wildlife cruise. The route of the cruise was from John O’Groats harbour past Duncansby Head to Duncansby Stacks beyond and then back. There were a variety of sea birds on display, including guillemots, razor bills, shags and various breeds of gull. There are sometimes puffins in the area but I do not think we saw any that day. Also supposedly resident in these waters are seals and otters, but I saw neither. However it was a very enjoyable cruise.

OUTWARD BOUND

The walk to the harbour starts along an open road with no footpath before one comes to the path that leads to the John O’Groats hotel, at which point you can access various locations, including the harbour. We boarded the boat with no problems, and by the time we set out on the cruise it was very full.

Although there were some signs of life in the open water it was only when we got level with the head and then the stacks beyond (for an explanation of what a stack is in this context visit this article which explains how they form) that we saw creatures in huge number. The guillemots predominated (they look a little like tiny penguins, although unlike the Antarctic’s most famous bird they can fly), but a few razor bills were in evidence, as were a number of shags (they look similar to a cormorant).

The boat arrived back at the harbour and after waiting for things to clear a bit we made our way back on to terra firma.

HOMEWARD BOUND

We took an exploratory route home, attempting to locate a route back which would eliminate the main road. This was unsuccessful, and we reverted to the route we knew. My mother’s shoes were causing her trouble by this stage, so my father went to fetch the van to the point where the path joins the road and I accompanied my mother to that meeting point. The problems with the homeward walk notwithstanding it was a very enjoyable day.

PHOTOGRAPHS

I have loads of photographs to go with this post and I hope you enjoy them: