Campervan Adventures#3 To the Ends of the Earth

Storm ‘Ali’ had passed over and all was relatively quiet and peaceful. It was time to move on in search of places and adventures new. I had decided the night before that John O’Groats was the next destination. I set off with the intention of getting there by sometime in the late afternoon.
However…. Strangely enough I got distracted. By Inverness.

By the time I had driven up to Inverness it was about 11:30, my original plan was to bypass the town and carry on north over the Kessock Bridge. Then I thought Inverness would offer a greater choice of places to have lunch than some of the smaller towns and villages further north. So I might as well stop there for lunch and have a look round.

What did I have for lunch, I can’t remember, so probably a sandwich or similar. Then I went for a wander and found the River Ness, which is the river that flows out of Loch Ness to the sea. No sign of Nessie making a break for freedom though.

Inverness is a very attractive town (city? it has a cathedral), especially down by the river, as can be seen from the photos. As I was walking along the river I came across Inverness Cathedral. I quite like mooching around old churches (although dating from the mid c19th it’s not that old by European standards) so I decided to have a look around. What I found really made my day. There was a concert by the students of Sgoil Chiuil na Gaidhealtachd (translates as Music school for the Highlands). It is based at Plockton High School on the west coast. There were some seriously talented young traditional musicians on display. I loved the concert and bought their CD, which became the soundtrack for the rest of the trip.

Image result for brick by brick Sgoil Chiuil na Gaidhealtachd

If you would like to hear some of their music click on the picture of the CD above and it will take you to their Spotify page.

This left me about three or four hours behind schedule, not that it mattered, but it did mean that I wasn’t going to make John O’ Groats today.

I took the scenic route round the Beauly Firth and stopped for the night in Beauly.

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The “Starlight Express” in Beauly

The next morning I was up bright and early, I discovered that the van had a built-in alarm clock, which you had to get out of bed to switch off. Which worked better than setting an alarm on my phone, that I could cancel while still in bed. The objective today was to make John O’ Groats.

Again I decided to take the scenic route following the coast rather than just hammering straight up the A9.

I decided to take a bit of a detour to take a look at Nigg Bay.

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Cromarty to Nigg Ferry

If I had known that this ferry existed I would possibly have driven along to Cromarty to catch it

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Nigg Bay

Nigg Bay used to be the main centre for building and repairing the various rigs and other sub sea structures used in the Scottish North Sea oil fields. That still comprises a fair bit of the work carried out there, but construction of offshore wind turbines is becoming increasingly important.

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Nigg Bay

After my detour I found my way back to the A9 and followed it round the coast.

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The view from the A9

It eventually led me to Golspie in time for lunch. I found a coffee shop with the marvelous name of “The Coffee Bothy”.  They do a rather nice butternut squash and chilli soup as well as coffee (obviously) and sandwiches. A big bowl of soup and a sandwich was, if I remember correctly, £4.50.

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Golspie High Street

Standing above Golspie on the summit of Ben Bhraggie is a gigantic statue, known locally as “The Mannie”. It is of George Leveson-Gower, Marquis of Stafford and First Duke of Sutherland. He was a controversial figure, responsible for “The Clearances”. Some could interpret his actions as a those of a social reformer, others see him as a monster. The link above gives some information. The land was cleared of the subsistence farmers, who had lived there for generations to make way for massive sheep farms, stocked with Cheviot sheep, largely shepherded by Border shepherds. My 3x great-grandfather Francis Renwick appears to have been one of the shepherds who went North.

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The “Mannie”

After lunch, a walk round Golspie and some food shopping, it was onwards and upwards to John O’ Groats. I thought about stopping at Dunrobin Castle – the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Sutherland – which is a few miles north of Golspie, but decided against it.

As you carry on northwards towards Wick and John O’ Groats the landscape becomes increasingly bleak. It is fairly flat with peat bogs and almost no trees. But it is also comparatively high up. All along the coast there are high cliffs. Pressing on and avoiding the temptation to stop in Wick (not that much of a temptation) I arrived at John O’ Groats about four in the afternoon.

Trying to get a half decent selfie in front of the John O’ Groats sign proved slightly problematic. Trying to avoid being blown away whilst taking it was also a problem.

I was a bit upset by the state of the sign post. Applying a sticker to it (a bit like a dog peeing on a lamp-post) to mark the fact that you have been there appears to have become a thing. All I have to say to any one who reads this blog is don’t do it.

I decided to stay the night at John O Groats. There is a decent campsite. Although I couldn’t find anywhere for an evening meal. It wasn’t really a problem. I cooked up some pasta and opened a bottle of wine. Problem solved.

 

Now that I had reached the ends of the Earth, all I had to do was find my way back.

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