dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Second bite

Yes, I know I’ve posted something today, but this afternoon’s excursion offered such amazing pics, I couldn’t keep them to myself!

We’ve been to Thrumster House, just a few miles south of Wick. Th estate now offers country pursuits, self-catering and bed and breakfast accommodation.

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The gardens were open today, the sun was shining, and we were ready for a nice walk. My sister had been speaking about celandines – some of her favourite flowers – but nothing could prepare me for the blankets of yellow covering the ground under the trees.

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Another highlight was the broch: enough remains to show just what a substantial stone-built place it was. Originally it would have been a bottle-shaped tower several stories high, built during the Iron Age.

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You can see the double-skin walls and the steps of the spiral staircase that wound up inside the walls.

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Just to prove we do get lovely weather in Scotland, I’ll mention that when we came home, we sat outside with our tea!

 

 

 

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Flying the flag (stones)

First we had hailstones. Today we had flagstones. So far no gallstones.

Dick Whittington thought the streets of London were paved with gold but when he got there, he discovered, as did everyone else, that they were paved with Caithness flagstones. So today we visited the Heritage Centre at Castlehill, the cradle of the Caithness flagstone industry.

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Begun in the late eighteenth century by James Traill, flagstones were dug out of the nearby quarries, processed then shipped out from Castletown Harbour.

The Heritage Centre provides exhibitions, workshops and info about the industry and the local area, and outside is a colourful garden, the hard landscaping provided by the local flagstones.

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But the loveliest highlight of the day was an amazing diffused rainbow over Dunnet Head.

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The white house on the hilltop bears what in my opinion is the most romantic name ever: the House of the Northern Gate.

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If it’s Scotland, it’s not trespass

Well, we didn’t notice the ‘Private Road’ sign until we were halfway down the drive… and anyway a) there’s no law of trespass in Scotland and b) we’d just driven down for a wee look!

Today was a bit dreich but we braved the weather and took ourselves first to Ackergill with its pretty little harbour and amazing white shell sand.

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To the right, wonderful views of Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle (as featured in my novel Necklace of Lies) and the bright, white lighthouse at Noss Head.

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To the left, views of Ackergill Tower (late 15th/early 16th century, remodelled 1851-2, and now a luxury hotel and wonderful conference and wedding venue).

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From there we took a nostalgic drive to Alterwall and a look at the deserted croft where our grandfather was born, then to the Lyth Arts Centre in the old school where he received his education. Turning north, there are wonderful views of Stroma, and white-painted Canisbay church where the Queen Mum always went to church when she stayed at nearby Castle of Mey.

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The homeward road led us to Freswick, an area with long links to the Vikings. Sweyn the Pirate had his 12th century stronghold here, though the present house was built in 1791. Built into the old bridge is the ‘Cruelty Hoose’ used as a prison!

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The dovecote dates from the 17th century and the mausoleum is on the site of a chapel dedicated to St Madden/Moddan, who came to the area with St Drostan in around 561 AD.

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Tomorrow, plan A is time in the archives and a start on research for the next book!

 

 

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A northern Sunday

Sunday, so we go to church. Not such a nice day so I need my warm coat – and definitely not bare feet! My sister’s church family meet in the Episcopal church hall which is a cheerful, welcoming place, just like the Free Church of Scotland congregation that meets there.

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It takes me a few moments to get in gear with the beautiful unaccompanied singing of metrical psalms but soon find the concentration required enhances my absorption of the wonderful words, and the sense of reverence that pervades this service.

Sunday afternoon means walking, and so after lunch we headed off along the road south for Latheronwheel, a purpose-built village established in 1835. Originally called Janetstown after the owner’s mother, the name never caught on and the old Gaelic-derived name remained.

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First, we took a walk from the old road up the strath to the weir. Wonderful brown peaty salmon river underneath trees cobwebby with grey lichen:

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Then we crossed the main road and followed the course of the river through the Fairy Glen. This entrancing place is basically an estate of  fairy houses:

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Following the river took us to the harbour. Built in 1835 by D & T Stevenson – David Stevenson was Robert Louis Stevenson’s father – at the peak of the herring fishing, the harbour provided safe haven for 50 vessels.

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We rounded off the afternoon with tea and cake at Forse House. The lovely house was built in 1753 to provide more modern accommodation for the owners of Forse Castle. Now it is a luxury B&B, with craft shop and tea room.  And now, boots off, my sister and I are both yawning and relaxing!Another lovely day.

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Day Nine: Serious snow, and evening sunshine

On the road again – and by 5.30p.m. I had clocked up 330 miles – and I’m not out of Scotland yet!

It’s been an interesting and challenging drive. I left Wick in sunshine but by the time I reached Berriedale, it was clear that there had been significant snow, and it was still falling.

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Looking back towards Berriedale

And the snow continued all the way, varying from white-out to pretty fluffy showers.

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Temperature dipped to 1 degree Centigrade

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At least the sheep have warm fleeces!

Even the hills of Perthshire were topped with snow, but down in the sunshine the temperature managed a balmy 9 degrees – very briefly!

I was glad to arrive at Annandale Water in sunshine and had a relaxing walk around the lake before tea.

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The prettiest service station in the UK?

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The terrace will be brilliant in the summer

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Day Five: I love research!

I’ve had a wonderful day – and that’s just the weather! Yes, seriously, my sister and I have come back sunburnt after a great day exploring the very special places we knew as children, down the coast at Berriedale and on the Duke of Portland’s estate at Langwell.

Our grandfather was the last blacksmith there

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Smithy and blacksmith’s cottage, Berriedale

and our aunt married the son of the head gardener – yes, there is an amazing formal walled garden this far north, and the current gardeners have come from a famous National Trust property in the south of England to look after it.

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Winter beds, a blaze of colour in summer

As young children – aged up to about 5 and 6 – we ran free on the estate and in the gardens, and today we retraced our memories – and did some very useful research for Book 2 of The Mizpah Ring. Late in World War Two, Number 9 Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps were based at Langwell, tasked with cutting down the forest and supplying the war effort with essential wood. Some traces of their stay can still be discerned:

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Recreation hall

We had a lot of fun scouting out the various buildings and checking things out with people we encountered.then we went over the swing bridge

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You need to choose your company carefully on these things – not people who delight in bouncing!

to the beach:

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And then came home via Dunbeath’s Bay Owl Restaurant where we had a cup of tea with one of the finest views in Britain!

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Day Three: A Scottish Sunday

It’s Sunday so today’s activities are church and a walk with my sister and her friends. The weather is grey and not warm – unlike the glorious sunshine I left behind in Suffolk! But this does not deter us. We wrap up like Arctic explorers and set out for Keiss.

What surprises me is how much of the old World War Two tank traps are left lining the beach.

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Clearly the threat of invasion was taken very seriously, and as we walk along, I’m thinking about the effect of the war on local people – and this section in the new book. All useful research!

I love little harbours so we drove round to Keiss harbour

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and found some lovely splashy waves coming in round the harbour wall!

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And then it was time for tea! And home in good time for evening church.

 

 

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Day Two: North!

Another long’s day drive. I set off in sunshine from lovely Annandale Water at 8.30,

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Swan on Annandale Water

and hove to at my destination in Wick, Caithness, Scotland at nearly 5 o’clock. Whew!

And yes, I’d forgotten Scotland has a different climate from the south of England! There is still plenty of snow on the hill-tops so I was glad I’d decided at the last minute to pack a vest!

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A9 south of Inverness

Then once I’d got north of the tree-line, the cloud came down and it was a challenging drive with full-beam headlights all the rest of the way on switchback roads. But within moments of arrival I was comfortably ensconced at my sister’s with a mug of tea in hand.

Who said it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive?Nonsense!

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Day One: On the Road Again

It’s been a long day. I left home just after 9 a.m. and I arrived here at 5.30 ish. Yes, I had three stops (to rest the ancient arthritic knee!) but I have covered 346 miles. And I’m only half-way. This little island is bigger than it looks!

It’s a long haul to get out of East Anglia but once past King’s Lynn, there are fields of daffodils to alleviate the boredom of the flatness and heavy traffic – blocks of different yellows from vivid egg-yolk to creamy-white.

My sat-nav took me up the A1 – horrid from start to finish. I will not come home this way! I had to resort to McDonald’s for my first stop – still the coffee was hot and the loos clean! My second stop was a Little Chef at Markham Moor with delightful young staff.

But once I turned off the A1 at Scotch Corner onto the A66, the first opportunity to stop was at the wonderful Mainsgill Farm – an  amazing farm-shop emporium with more cake than I have ever seen in one place, and a roomy cafe/restaurant with friendly cheerful staff.

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entrance

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tea and scone!

The drive along the A66 was spectacular – rank upon rank of craggy hills darkening into blue in the distance. And the fields close to the road were lush soft green velvet with mummy sheep and lots of little lambs. Real aaah! factor!

And at last, as I was tiring, into Scotland and the last twenty or so miles to Annandale Water service station and the Day’s Inn hotel where I’d booked myself in for the night. Delightful friendly lady manager welcomed me and sorted out breakfast for tomorrow. Then she gave me two keys: one for my door – the other for my balcony! And yes, I have a little blacony overlooking Annandale Water itself – and it is lovely!

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view from my room

So now I can relax and watch tv and have a good night’s sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s 340 miles drive!

 

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Day Fourteen: Caithness: Visiting the ancestors

The sun came out today! And it was so warm I took my jacket off!

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Proof positive!

My sister is a family history enthusiast so this afternoon we went out for a drive to some special places. First we went to Thrumster where my maternal grandmother lived for around the last ten years of her life. We visited her there regularly and both have happy memories of the place. From there we went to Sarclet. The name derives from Norse words for a bad wet slope and there is a very bad slippery path down to the harbour.

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Next we went to Ulbster and climbed over a gate to walk through the ruins of Ulbster Mains and down to the Ulbster Burial Ground and the Sinclair Mausoleum.

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Ulbster burial ground

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Sinclair Mausoleum

The mausoleum was built in 1700. Broad stone steps lead up to the first-floor main room with its wonderful roof interior.

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There’s a trapdoor which gives onto a D-shaped vaulted burial chamber underneath. (We got into the first-floor bit but not the vault!)

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Trapdoor?

Walking back up past the ruined mill, the old mill-race is filled with flag irises, bordered in frothy cow parsley.

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Last we took ourselves to Thrumster cemetery where my sister showed me the gravestone of my great-great-grandparents Donald and Helen Miller.

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And tonight? Ah, serious stuff: a pudding tasting – for charity!

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