30 March 2011

...The cathedral was shut in Kirkwall...

St Magnus Cathedral is meant to be something special and it is meant to be open - but it was shut - for a private function - and they would not even let me peek round the door - and even though the function had not started.  Not enough time before my ferry to go visit somewhere else - so I got a hair cut (£8) and spent the time until "alcohol sale permitted" talking with the shop owner about Polish Vodka (they shift a lot in Kirkwall - hotel staff and port workers mostly) and which Whisky to buy Cousins Chris and Kirsty (the local distilleries also being closed visitors)

In the end we settled on a £60 bottle from the Scapa Distillery - malted but un-peated (interesting) and distilled by concerned Highland Park employees while Scapa was officially shut down - just to exercise the equipment and maintain the otherwise mothballed plant in working order.  Happily Scapa is back in production and you buy the 16 year old now.

Dounreay - the visitor centre was open but I did not fancy popping in

The main road to Forsinard

What is this strange device?

Ahh - all is explained

The flow Country
Forsinard is in the middle of the Flow Country - I first heard about this when it was at centre of controversy over 'Tax Breaks For The Wealthy".  The government were encouraging destruction through draining and then planting of Europe's largest expanse of blanket bog.  One name I particularly remember was that 'Mr Nice' - Sir Terry Wogan.  Luckily that is all over now - and much of the area is under the protection of the RSPB as a bird reserve.  Leaflets explained all about the "star species"

But, as suspected - on this last day before spring there were NO BIRDS AT ALL!  Just like yesterday.  I was there for an hour and a half - and just one little chaffinch - but that was in someone's garden.   The visitor centre was very firmly shut - but there were maps of the bog walk.  "Paved with slabs of Caithness Stone - you won't even get your feet wet".  This may have been the case last year when the stones were laid - but the density of stone being about 2600kg/m^3 and sphagnum bog at close to 1000 meant that to complete the walk meant getting really quite wet indeed... Things sink in bogs - dense and heavy things sink particularly quickly.

Forsinard Station - on the Far North Line
Leaving Forsinard - a drive along a traffic free and really very rewarding bit of road - and the RAF Tornado being very low and silly over Loch An Ruathair was very fun!

Below is the site of Scotland's last major gold rush...

Baile an Or - 2011

Baile an Or -1869

After a cold and damp visit to 58N 4W and a tour round some very special mountain roads to a Clootie Well

It was twilight, cold and dead calm.  From the lonely car park it just looked like a normal patch of Scots forest - but as I turned the corner...

Every trunk and every branch hung with ribbons, rags and clothes.  In the leaden silence it all became a bit too spooky - well worship was outlawed a thousand years ago - but I have seen it in Mongolia, Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan and close to home on Clent Hills.  Here the natural spring water exits near the top of the hill - perhaps why it was chosen as a "special place"
The water comes out at the top of the knoll - It must be an artesian well - impressive though

And then to Inverness:

The very nice Winston Guest House in Inverness

The not so nice parking meter - that charges from "tell me do you feel lucky punk" am to 6pm

Inverness has boomed since I was last there - the locals tell me that "scum" have been relocated up from Glasgow/Cumbernauld and that the local economy has overheated and there will be trouble.  I got this message all over - from Gairloch, Kinlockbevie, Thurso and Inverness.

Certainly driving in off the by-pass it felt more like Urban Berkshire than Scottish Highlands.  The restaurant quarter reminded me of the worst of Broad Street Birmingham - so I ate at McDonalds - cheap and quick fuel.

Parking was a nightmare "one way street!", "no stopping", "park here (full)", "short stay parking (full)", "No overnight parking (still full)" - at last I found a space in a pay-and-display  - the meter would not take my money - as it was after 18:00 but there were no signs at all telling me when the parking charge started the next day -  you can pay for 24hrs BUT NOT AFTER SIX IN THE EVENING!!!!

Mentioning my ticketless state to the helpful hotel owner... "charging is from 7:00 but the wardens dare not show their faces before 9:00 - so be away by then" - I suspect that this is due to pressure from the very many hotels in the vicinity of that particular car park...

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