Berriedale, Caithness, Scotland, Uncategorized

Happy days

Heartsore to be packing for my return to England, but my sister came up with the brilliant idea of a visit to one of our most favourite places in the county – Berriedale, the village where we spent some of the most idyllic times in our childhood. So she and I and a friend set out.

The weather was superb. Vivid blue skies, fluffy white clouds, warm sunshine. Scotland at its best!

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We headed first for the shore. The single-storey cottages have been beautifully renovated and are let out through the Landmark Trust.

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Looking down from the swing bridge that crosses the river, the water though peaty brown is remarkably clear.

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I find the rock formations amazing. The angle of the strata reveal the upheaval of ages past.

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Close by was a bank of this season’s keynote flower for me: the rosebay willowherb.

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In one of the trees over the river were witches’ nests. I think this must be a Caithness name for this strange deformity of a tree where twigs grow from a single point in nest-like clusters.

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Because of the long dry summer, the rivers in the Highlands are running low this year. This one is usually an excellent salmon river.

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My sister and I could not leave Berriedale without a nostalgic glance in the direction of the old smithy – the smiddy where our grandfather was blacksmith – and the house where we as children spent so many happy times. The bright sunlight made the stags’ horns look almost more like scary spiders!

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The road layout has changed since we were young. In our time there was a field across the road with a patient old horse in it. Now it is full of rosebay willowherb, and has a beautiful old gate.

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As I pack up to go south again, I remember that you have to be careful to shut gates behind you in the country. I’m hoping the shutting this time will only be temporary.


Berriedale, Caithness, History, Scotland, Social history, Uncategorized

Nice kind of problem!

I took 86 photographs yesterday! I couldn’t use them all in the blog so had to be selective. I chose, for yesterday’s blog, to use the Berriedale pics that linked to my latest book, Necklace of Lies. But I’d really like to share some more pics and showcase a couple of brilliant museums we visited.

The first is the Dunbeath Heritage Museum a few miles north of Berriedale. There is an amazing resurgence in archaeology, social history research and conservation of places and artefacts in Scotland thanks, in part, to what might be called ‘heritage tourism’ as people come to discover more about their forebears.

Dunbeath has a lot to offer. At first glance, there is the pretty castle perched on the cliffs outside the village. There’s a harbour (Portormin Harbour), and lovely walks up the strath. That’s a Caithness flag below, and yes it looks Norwegian… for obvous reasons.

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But yesterday, we concentrated on the Museum. Located in the old school, it offers a wealth of resources for anyone interested in the history and prehistory of the area.

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Dunbeath’s most famous son, author Neil Gunn, he of The Silver Darlings, Highland River, and many many more seminal novels, is well represented. For me as a writer, the most evocative item in the display was his old typewriter!

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The Museum stocks all his novels as well as a wide range of local interest titles, both fiction and non-fiction. Dangerous! And yes, I succumbed… in the name of research!

It would be invidious to pick out what I liked best, but I must mention the painted floor in the main room: illustrating the local geography and annotated with quotes from Neil Gunn. Brilliant.

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By the time we dragged ourselves away, we realised we had missed lunch but the cafe at Laidhay provided us with a bowl of delicious Cullen Skink (a chowdery soup of potato and smoked haddock) and warm bread rolls, before we explored the Laidhay Croft Museum: the old buildings newly thatched and filled with all the kinds of things the previous inhabitants would have used in their work and their daily lives.

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Which had us exclaiming as we spotted things we recognised from childhood visits to crofter great-uncles and our grandmother’s home. Another treasure trove, but in a very different style of presentation.

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And outside the ever-present views of the mountains that form the southern borders to the county – always irresistible for the photographer!

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Berriedale, Caithness, Necklace of Lies, Scotland, Uncategorized

Scenes from a story

Some of us just like giving gifts, and today I had the rare opportunity to say thank you and give a gift at the same time. We were at Berriedale to present a copy of my latest novel to someone who had been of great help last time I was there for research.

During the second world war, a regiment from the Canadian Forestry Corps was deployed on the Langwell Estate at Berriedale and I wove that into my novel, Necklace of Lies. I’ll try not to slip in any plot-spoilers here but here are some locations from the book:

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The first pic is of the sawmill. The slot underneath the window is to allow very long logs to be pulled though.

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The second is of the incredibly tight hairpin bend at the top of the brae (behind the long wall: you can just see the top of a white vehicle) which features right at the end of the book.

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We stopped off for coffee and a delicious home-made fruit scone at the Riverside Bothy. Then we headed down to the beach  across the swing bridge. Vertigo-sufferers, I apologise for the view looking down!

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We found some modern cave painting! You can spot where it was tucked under a protecting ledge on the left of the second pic.

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We have happy childhood memories of Berriedale where we often stayed with our grandparents at the old smithy. It was lovely to revisit today – until the skies opened and torrential rain defeated us!



Berriedale, Caithness, Scotland, Uncategorized

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
Berriedale, Caithness, Mizpah Ring, Scotland, Uncategorized

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 Fifteen: Sunday afternoon walk in Caithness

Yes, it rained. On and off. But the sun also shone, beautifully. So my sister, her friends and I were able to have an excellent walk at Dunbeath, south of Wick.

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I remember Dunbeath as the place with the amazing hairpin bends on the way to my grandparents in Berriedale. Now a wonderful swoop of modern road cuts across the old road. Today my sister and I first took a look at the restored watermill by the wonderful peat-brown river at the start of Dunbeath Strath.

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Then we parked by the harbour and met up with her friends.

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With Tipsy the dog, we walked along the shore towards beautiful Dunbeath Castle.

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And then the batteries in my camera gave up so no more pics! But we walked all the way along to the huge rock to the right underneath the castle,and then all the way back and up the hill, over the bridge and back to the cars parked at the harbour. And then we went for tea. Of course.