Monday, July 16, 2012

Day 8 – Sunday June 10th, 2012

Plockton to Thurso

After breakfast we said goodbye to our hosts for the last 3 days and headed off to Thurso on the north coast of the Highlands, just south of the Orkney Islands.  The plan was to have a picnic somewhere along the route and we estimated we would need 10 hours for the trip including stops.

We motored north and then west in rather misty, overcast yet beautiful views of the Highlands.

Along the way we encountered the obvious;

Highland Coos

And the ever present sheep, including a working sheep dog,

Our first stop was at Ullapool.

Ullapool is a small town in Ross and Cromarty, Highland, Scotland.  The North Atlantic Drift passes Ullapool, bringing moderate temperatures.  A few Cordyline australis (seen earlier in Plockton pics) or New Zealand cabbage trees are grown in the town and are often mistaken for palm trees.  On the east shore of Loch Broom, Ullapool was founded in 1788 as a herring port by the British Fisheries Society.  The harbour is still the edge of the town, used as a fishing port, yachting haven, and ferry port.  Ferries sail to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.

Then on to Lochinver.

Lochinver is a village on the coast in theAssynt district of Sutherland, Highland, Scotland.  A few miles northeast isLoch Assynt which is the source of the River Inver which flows into Loch Inver at the village.  There are 200 or so lochans in the area which makes the place very popular with anglers.  Although there is no strict size definition, a small loch is often known as a lochan.

Lochinver is dominated by the "sugar loaf" shape of Caisteal Liath, the summit peak of nearby Suilven.  Suilven is one of the most distinctive mountains in Scotland.  Lying in a remote area in the west of Sutherland, it rises almost vertically from a wilderness landscape ofmoorland, bogs and lochans known as Inverpolly National Nature Reserve.

Suilven forms a steep-sided ridge some 2 km in length.  The highest point, known as Caisteal Liath (the Grey Castle in Scottish Gaelic), lies at the northwest end of this ridge.  There are two other summits: Meall Meadhonach (Round Middle Hill) at the central point of the ridge is 723 m high, whilst Meall Beag (Round Little Hill) lies at the southeastern end.

Lochinver is the second largest fishing port in Scotland; frequented byEuropean fishermen primarily from Spain and France.  Lochinver underwent a major renewal project in the 1990s where the harbour area was rebuilt and a new and much improved loading area was created.  This new development involved blasting an area of several hectares out of the surrounding rock.

The back of Lochinver is a beautiful part of Assynt with local tourism and nature areas being developed in conjunction with small-scale forestry activities.  Birdlife in Lochinver includes;

The Curlew,

The Oystercatcher,

and the Hooded Crow.

Of course, least we forget the beautiful Culag Hotel in Lochinver, serving Tennants lager followed by a wee dram prior to departure.

From Lochniver we followed the coast heading for Smoo Cave near Durness.

The coastal village of Durness lies on the north-west tip of Scotland, in one of the least populated parts of Western Europe.  The landscape is one of savage beauty and overlooking the beach stands a sturdy white croft with a blue plaque that reads: 'John Lennon 1940-1980, Musician & Songwriter, lived here.'  From the age of 9 to 14 he spent some of the happiest times of his life in this remote part of the Highlands when his family visited Durness on holiday.

John loved going up into the hills to draw or write poetry.  John really loved hill walking, shooting and fishing.  He used to catch salmon.

The memory of those boyhood holidays proved potent for Lennon.  Some locals claim that the song 'In My Life' was partly inspired by his time in Durness.  It is an indication of how important Durness was to Lennon that in 1969 the Beatle returned to the village, bringing with him Yoko Ono and their children Julian and Kyoko.

The memorial garden is an essential pilgrimage.  It overlooks the beach where Lennon played as a boy and at its centre are three slabs of granite into which are etched some lines from 'In My Life', Lennon's wistful and affectionate tribute to the 'people and things that went before'.  He never forgot Durness and, despite the distance and the years, the village has not forgotten him.

Nearby the Memorial Garden is Smoo Cave;

Smoo Cave is a large combined sea cave and freshwater cave in Durness, Scotland. The cave is unique within the UK in that the first chamber has been formed by the action of the sea, whereas the inner chambers are freshwater passages, formed from rainwater dissolving the carbonate dolostones.  Part way through the cave the waters of Allt Smoo also drop in as a 20m high waterfall.

The cave entrance and main chamber have been considerably enlarged by sea action to approximately 40m wide and 15m high, the largest sea cave entrance in Britain.  The entrance is located at the end of a 600m long tidal gorge (Geodha Smoo) which was once part of the cave, now collapsed. Several remnant pillars can be seen along the eastern side of the Geodh along with a large section of the previous roof which has been partly buried by the grassy slope (normally covered by rocks spelling out the names of visitors to the cave). Interestingly, the sea rarely enters the sea cave nowadays (only during spring tides) as the area has undergone isostatic uplift.

Archaeological investigations have turned up Neolithic, Norse and Iron Age artifacts, and it is thought that usage may extend back to the Mesolithic Age.  The cave name is thought to originate from the Norse 'smjugg' or 'smuga' meaning a hole or hiding-place.

Then on to Thurso and the Royal Hotel for 2 nights.

Thurso is a town on the north coast of the Highlands of Scotland.  It is the northernmost town on the British mainland.  The name comes from Old Norse meaning "Bull's River".  Thurso's history stretches back to at least the era of Norse Orcadian rule in Caithness, which ended conclusively in 1266.  The town was an important Norse port, and has a later history of trade with ports throughout northern Europe until the 19th century.  In 1330 Scotland's standard unit of weight was brought in line with that of Thurso at the decree of King David II of Scotland, a measure of the town's economic importance.  Old St Peter's Kirk is said to date from circa 1220 and the time of Caithness Bishop Gilbert Murray, who died in 1245.

Much of the town, however, is a planned 19th-century development.  A major expansion occurred in the mid-20th century when the Dounreay nuclear power plant was established at Dounreay, 9 miles west of the town.

All day we encountered views of the beautiful yellow gorse.

Gorse is an ancient species that was used by mankind for centuries as stock-proof hedging and even as animal feed in particularly hard times.  It yields a yellow dye and was once used by herbalists against jaundice and scarlet fever.  These days gorse is seen as more of a nuisance than anything else.  Its sharp spiny leaves scratch cars on country lanes and snag hikers.  I can confirm that they will also shred the arms of anyone daft enough to attempt to pull a reluctant cat out from the middle of a bush.

The flowers are the plant’s redeeming feature. They couldn’t be any more yellow if you injected them with dye.  In spring and summer they release a coconut scent.  Apparently the flowers are edible and can be made into a tea.  The best thing is that gorse flowers intermittently all year round.  In the frozen depths of winter, locals tell me it’s cheering to see a few sunny gorse flowers on the hills.

In Scotland they say, “when the gorse is out of flower, kissing’s out of fashion”, so bloom on.


  1. Again.... this is a great blog and it's been a lovely experience to follow your Highland travels

  2. Thank you for your kind comments.