Clearances, England, harbour, Helmsdale, History, Perth, Scotland, Social history, travel, Uncategorized, walk

Closing credits

Back in England and hanging out three loads of washing, I’m wondering why I feel so tired. Then I check the mileage on the car and discover I’ve driven 1953 miles on this trip. Maybe that has something to do with it!

I haven’t blogged the past few days. The trip south is frankly boring once you get past Stirling and the only thing to do is turn on the radio, point the car south and hold on…

But the first part of the journey was delightful. I took the time to stop in Helmsdale for a walk round the harbour. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages. There was a fine swell on the sea!

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The town reflects the impact of the Clearances, folk evicted from the farms they’d worked so efficiently for generations expected to suddenly transform into fisherfolk. Some did, other left for far-flung corners of the globe.


My base for the night was Perth and here I discovered that although it is a beautiful city, I much prefer countryside to town streets. And what came to my rescue was the fabulous gardens and walks situated along the riverside.

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The Heather Garden was a particular delight with many varieties I had never seen before.

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And there was a wolf hiding in the undergrowth! The white building in the background is the hotel where I stayed.


As I sit at my desk, back in Suffolk, I have so many wonderful memories. It was a great trip and I am so grateful. And yes, I’m longing to go back!


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!





Easter, harbour, Herring fishing, Uncategorized, Wick

Of sheep and ships

I am fed up with Easter bunnies. I’ve searched and searched and I simply can’t find them in the Gospel records of Holy Week or Easter. So here are some sheep and some lovely little lambs to improve the balance – and remind us of the real meaning of Easter!


I found these gorgeous creatures on a walk past Wick harbour and out past the old lifeboat shed. I sketched and painted it so many times from my bedroom window across the bay.


An excellent gravelled path led me along the cliff tops


to the old Coastguard house. The new one is on the quayside, close to the Fish Market, built back in 1892 when the herring fishing was thriving.


Robert Louis Stevenson was brought to Wick by his father in hopes that he would join the family business. But it was not to be! Young RLS had other ideas…


Wick harbour today is bustling and busy, with a still active fishing industry as well as the offshore support. I was fortunate to reach the outer harbour just as an offshore support catamaran was arriving.


Just at the entrance to the inner harbour is the new lifeboat shed


and the lifeboat alongside, ready to go out.


I suppose accidentally I’ve given this post theological bookends, RNLI and Easter being both about rescue!


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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Digital Image

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, John O'Groats, Scotland, Uncategorized, Writing

After the Festival was over…

Fabulous variety of speakers at the second John O’Groats Book Festival – and a warm and appreciative audience of readers, writers and book enthusiasts! Books and genres reflected the vibrancy and healthy diversity of modern Scotland – and oh! the temptation to simply buy every book displayed…

Some fascinating snippets from my pages and pages of notes:

  • You can see 9 lighthouses from John O’Groats.
  • A lighthouse light lens weighs 3 1/2 tons.
  • In one area, wreckers preferred the title ‘pirates’.
  • Wick was the first place in the world where wave power was measured, leading to the development of a reliable instrument used worldwide.
  • The first official women’s football match was in 1881 between Scotland and England, and the score was Scotland 3, England 0.
  • The Scots translation of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (Scots title The Eejits), published by Itchy Coo, has sold 50-60,000 copies.
  • The Gruffalo has been published in Scots, Doric, Orkney, and Shetland translations.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson wrote short stories in Scots.
  • The Norwegian language was seen as a dialect of Danish until independence from Denmark when it was recognised as a language in its own right (around 100 years ago).

My own contribution to the Festival was this afternoon, as one of four writers discussing and reading from our own work. Novelists Margaret Mackay (hard-boiled crime) and Catherine Byrne (local-based historicals and biography), were joined by non-fiction specialist Jim Miller who has written fascinating books on Scapa Flow, the hydro-electric infrastructure in the Highlands, and much more.

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Another friendly, welcoming audience, and three supportive and entertaining companions. Next year’s festival dates have been fixed for April 24-26. Put it in your diary! This is a must-attend event!






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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