art, Caithness, church, Edinburgh, Thurso, Uncategorized, walk

A Caithness Sunday

Last time I was here, as usual I went to church – but for a change to a church in Thurso, not Wick. And this time, I was welcomed to lead worship there.

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Thurso United Reformed Church

A fascinating ‘coincidence’ is that I’ve discovered it was the church a dear friend attended when she lived in Thurso in the 1970s, and both her sons were christened there. I was thrilled to see their names on the Baptismal Roll this morning! She sent me a pic of a commemorative plate for the church! Only the name has changed!

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In the afternoon, it was walk time with my sister and her friends: this time to Dunnet Forest, somewhere I haven’t been before.


The wind blew briskly in the car park, straight off the sea, but in the forest itself, all was still and we could enjoy the sunshine as we walked.


The forest walks crisscross through older coniferous plantings from the 1950s, now being replaced with a rich variety of deciduous and wildlife-friendly trees in an area of over 120 hectares. I was delighted to spot primroses


and cowslips


an owl


a couple of sheep


a bee, tucked away in the brilliant log cabin


and the fascinating, tactile Henry Clyne sculpture, Four Seasons:


Made of local stone, silky smooth, the blocks striated and whorled with millennia-old plants,  the sculpture changes with the weather conditions – rain bringing out unimagined colours, sunshine lighting unexpected brightness…  four seasons indeed. Henry Clyne was born in Caithness in 1930, trained in Edinburgh and taught at Gloucestershire College of Art. His work has been exhibited in New York, Aldeburgh… and here in Caithness.

It’s been a lovely day, but tomorrow I’m off down the road again… Time to pack!

Caithness, History, house-hunting, Social history, travel, Uncategorized, walk

How to find your dream home

I’ve found the dream home!


Totally irresistible… or should it be this one?


My sister is doing some research on family history so we took advantage of the lovely weather to search out some old properties connected with our family stories. We had a lovely time exploring the second old house. Despite having no glass in the windows, it felt sweet and dry and warm. The wooden ceilings were in excellent condition and there were even traces of wallpaper on one wall.


The fireplace in what had probably been the kitchen-dining room has still got the swey fitted into the fireplace: this metal bar would be swung across to hold pots hooked on to the bar.


Across the path were the ruins of an older long house, characteristic of rural homes in the north of Scotland. They’re much the same size as a large modern-day bungalow.


One end would have been for people, the other still holding the flagstone divides for the animals’ stalls.


And in a nearby field, some gorgeous Hieland coos keeping watch over what we were doing!


Not sure if it was local milk we had in our tea this afternoon at the Castletown Hotel:


after a visit to the Castlehill Centre, parking with wonderful views…


How can I drag myself away? Am I going to drag myself away?




Caithness, God, Thurso, Uncategorized

Coincidence, what coincidence?

Scottish banks have always issued their own banknotes which are legal currency throughout the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, these notes are often refused outside Scotland –  so I decided against risking that on my journey south and took myself off to the Bank of Scotland this morning (one of three fully-functioning banks in a town of about 8,000 people – comparing most favourably with English towns of the same size who no longer have any functioning banks) and got my Scottish money changed for English notes.

And bumped into one of my friends whom I really wanted to see on this trip but didn’t think I’d have time to meet up with. Plus she’s a very busy minister with a very full diary. So we grabbed the opportunity and went off for coffee and a catch-up. As I headed back across the Service Bridge towards the harbour, thinking what a wonderful opportunity it was to bump into my friend, and what a pity I wouldn’t have time to see another friend in Wick, whom should I see across the road but… yes, that friend! I love God’s coincidences!


View out to sea from the Service Bridge, Wick

Honour now satisfied, I could head off to Thurso with my sister who was attending a planning meeting for the Scottish Association of Family History Societies’ Annual Conference which will hosted by Caithness Family History Society at the Pulteney Centre in Wick on Saturday 27 April. The meeting was held in a room in Thurso Library so I was delighted to tag along and browse their fabulous collection of specialist books.


The impressive building used to be the Miller Institution, the main school in town, opened 1st April 1862 and staffed by two teachers ‘both capable and respectable, determined to teach effectively’.

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Caithness, Scotland, Thurso, Uncategorized, walk

Following in Lady Janet’s footsteps

Even though I was born and brought up only 20 miles away, I really don’t know Thurso at all and now that I’m considering moving there, it was good to get an opportunity to explore it a little this afternoon.

We set off in  fine clear weather with the sun lighting Orkney just across the Pentland Firth.


As we followed the wall of Thurso Castle


it was sad to see how ruined the main old building has become.


On we went, skirting the sea along the path favoured by Lady Janet Sinclair, 18th century matriarch of the family


until we reached Lady Janet’s Tower, the delightful viewpoint where she used to sit and relax.


From a little way away, you can see the almost Crusader crosses carved into the stonework.


And then it was time to retrace our footsteps – and Lady Janet’s – and return to the town, where we found a fine collection of gulls of various kinds queuing for the return of the tide and their supper!





Caithness, John O'Groat Journal, Research, Uncategorized, Wick

If it’s Tuesday, it’s got to be NUCLEUS

Glorious sunny weather and the sky a clear blue. Even the view from the petrol station is gorgeous!

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We spent the morning at NUCLEUS, the research resource centre in the amazing modern building on the edge of town.

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And I was soon immersed in the yellowed pages of the John O’Groat Journal for 1884 to 1886. It is available on microfiche but I much prefer to carefully leaf through the pages, enjoying the interesting odds and ends that catch my eye. I was fascinated in how this newspaper from the far north covered foreign news from all around the globe, wars and battles in Turkey, threats of war elsewhere, the whole of the Queen’s Speech, and details of Parliamentary debates. There were silly jokes as fillers, and lots of court gossip. One headline actually said ‘Prince of Wales in a huff’! (This  is because an American heiress whom he was rather fond of had said he was eating too much! Maybe the fact that his nickname was Jumbo didn’t help!)

Returning to my car, I discovered the local wildlife proudly in possession.


We call gulls ‘scorries’ – a Caithness dialect word, probably of Norse origin. As someone in one of the shops teased me yesterday as I responded to a question, my native dialect is coming back!

Oh, and we went house-hunting again…






Caithness, house-hunting, renting, Uncategorized

How not to rent

I rented as a student, of course. Doesn’t everybody? A gang of braver friends had moved out of hall of residence and seemed to be having a fabulous freer time than us, so we too moved. I was glad that our flat was the rather nice upstairs of a detached house. Our friends had landed one of those tenement flats with a shared lavatory outside on the stairs.

So when I needed to sell our home to pay for my husband’s care home fees, the first year of renting felt like student-freedom again! My landlady was responsible, the managing agent excellent and all the little maintenance and repair jobs that occurred were dealt with promptly.

Now I’ve decided to rent, back in Caithness, while I find my feet back home again and consider the major move back into owning my home again. I am learning once again what not to do…

  • Don’t fall in love with the photographs. What looks spacious and pristine on screen may be benefiting from skillful lighting and a good camera!
  • You’re moving into an area, not a self-enclosed bubble. Some areas are great for young families needing to be close to schools and play areas – and not so suitable for crotchety elderlies who want peace and quiet!
  • If it’s cheap, cheap, cheap, there’s a reason. Gift horses need their teeth examined.
  • A fabulous view of sea and islands on a lovely day will feel very different with a howling gale blowing. What looked like wide open spaces will provide zero shelter on a stormy day!
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And a few thoughts on deal-makers and deal-breakers:

  • Would you sleep sound here?
  • Would you invite your Mum/best friend to stay here?
  • What can you not live without?
  • Would you feel happy/safe walking home late, in the dark?
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And so, despite a lovely day which included some house-viewing, the answer is I haven’t found the perfect place yet! But tomorrow is another day….

Books, Caithness, John O'Groats, Uncategorized, Writing

A great weekend

So the second John O’Groats Book Festival began this evening with a great opening performance from poet, actor, director, playwright and singer-songwriter Gerda Stevenson and novelist, poet James Robertson. We’ve got tickets for everything else, except for Sunday’s afternoon Fact or Fiction session when I’m one of four writers presenting and reading from our work. So there may not be many blog posts for a few days, while I go out and enjoy myself!

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Caithness, house-hunting, Novel, Ring of Truth, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wick

Storm and sunshine, death and estate agents

Lovely stormy morning with lashing rain and real splashy waves on the sea. I love it! The air is so fresh, with just that taste of salt…

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The harbour provides a well-designed safe haven for windfarm support vessels, as well as local fishing boats, and the pleasure craft in the marina. The area, once rather run-down, is thriving.


By afternoon, the rain has stopped, the sky has cleared and we’re out for a purposeful walk round town – first of all to return the 1966 original prints loaned me for the cover of my most recent novel, Ring of Truth. Sad to say farewell to the baby elephants!


Then a visit to a 91-year-old friend of my sister’s whom I last saw around five years ago. She is a fount of knowledge and a rich source of fabulous stories. I come away highly entertained and with my brain sorting through several good story ideas… And as we pass the ancient graveyard of the old parish church, the rooks in the tall trees drop at our feet twigs they’re trying to weave into new nests – and I think what a fabulous place for murder and bodies…and a crime novel!


Last but not least a very useful, informative and entertaining visit to estate agent, Jacqueline, at Young Robertson. There seem to be plenty of properties for sale! Lots of choice….


But a lot of the fun came from our conversation about death and funerals – really!

Caithness, History, Scotland, Uncategorized

The last lap: Wick

Glorious drive in stormy weather up to Helmsdale and a stop at Timespan


for a coffee and delicious chocolate brownie


and a swift wander round the museum, encountering once again my heroines, the fisher lassies:


and coming face to face with a full-size wolf… but sadly I couldn’t get a pic of him as he was lurking in the darkness and I thought the flash might scare him off!

Onwards then through the rain to Wick for lunch at my sister’s, and then as the rain stopped, out for a lovely wander round the town.


The harbour area is benefiting from conservation and renovation to the old buildings to be used for office and other facilities for supporting the Beatrice windfarm.


And as we returned homewards, the sun came out and the Academy braes glowed with bright daffodils.


Caithness, John O'Groats, Novel, Scotland, Spring, Uncategorized, Wick, widowhood, Writing

Getting ready to set out again

Only four sleeps before it’s time to hit the road again! And so I’ve chosen a new design for the blog and selected an appropriate pic for the header. Hope you like it!

And yes, in a few days, I’m off up north again. There’s something about spring and autumn that always gives me itchy feet – or the wanderlust! When the air begins to warm and the spring flowers appear, I want to get in my car and set out.

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This time I am not going to thrash up the 659 miles. Instead, I plan to make the most of my footloose and fancy-free state and take my time, stopping off at nice places along the way – those places that in the past I whizzed past, spotting them too late to stop. This time I have booked hotels and set aside time to enjoy. What Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way fame calls ‘refilling the creative well’.

I’m also going to visit friends and family – including two other writers, both younger than me (especially the 12 year old!). I’m looking forward to that. Then onwards to Wick and a weekend at the John O’Groats Book Festival – I’m honoured to be invited back and will be talking about the weaving of fact and fiction in my novels on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.

There will be house-hunting, and, I hope, lots of walking. Probably quite a lot of eating and cups of tea too! And oh yes, research for the next novel… More about that in due course!