MOST NORTHERLY POINT OF MAINLAND BRITAIN
The day dawned dry and not too windy so I decided to make a run for the ferry and hope to get across before things got stormy agian. We were ready to start off good and early, though I wasn't sure what time the garage opened, and also hadn't been able to contact the ferry. We got to the garage just on eight as he was switching on the lights and getting ready for the day. A nice guy who had moved here twenty-five years ago and brought up his children, though as he said opportunities now they wanted to work were thin on the ground. He said he had seen us parked up in the layby. Thebus' stripes are certainly eye catching, and I told him I had seen the Northern Lights from there. We filled up on LPG both for the engine and for the water heater and generator, but I left the petrol tank which was something under half full. I doesn't seem fair to go to a place with the intention of spending as little as possible, and even if it is more per gallon I shall feel happier when driving around the islands. Silly I know.
So off to a good early start. Along the roads I saw something that was new for me. Field boundaries made out of stone slabs put on end, like rows of tombstones. Many of these stones had fallen down and twisted and looked like rows of old teeth, with just a couple of strands of barbed wire behind to keep the stock in, but where the occasional little farm had kept them in order they looked really good.
Scotland is interesting and not at all what I imagined For a start, as you would expect for somewhere so large, there are many differing areas, each with their own unique character. One of the things that surprised me in the Highlands was just how many houses there were, one almost every couple of fields, though maybe that was because I was driving a main road which had served to encourage development. Where the land increased in fertility the farms were much more widely spaced, and when it was just peaty, boggy moor there were hardly any at all unless you were near to the sea shore.
We were cutting across the country from the coast by Wick, which faced back towards the south, and the north coast, which of course faces north, and when we reached it it was surprisingly different. At the coast by Dunbeath the cliffs were being taken back by the waves, which only returned boulders and pebbles, but on this shore the sea brought in sand, well probably the sea and the north winds combined, and the dunes were enormous, bigger than houses, probably bigger than small hills. I missed a good stopping place, with some ruined stone buildings, perhaps from the long gone herring industry, but a bit further on was a better parking area. Probably it would be pretty busy in the season but today there was just one lady taking her dog back from its walk.
There were signs everywhere warning 'No Overnight Parking' and 'Do Not Leave Horse Dung on the Verges' I was not sure if these two regulations were related in any way but it did cross my mind about what size bag you might need to carry in your pocket if you took your horse out for excersise rather than your dog.
Phoebe and I went onto the top of the dunes, but didn’t go down to the shore as I was keen to get the ferry in case the weather worsened and wanted to phone them . But it was a beautiful bay – Dunnet Bay – wide and sandy, by now the sky was blue and the water reflected it with long white rolling breakers, worthy of a wide cinema film, but though I took photos they are a poor imitation of what I saw, so I will not include them but here is just one to give a flavour
Back in Thebus I made myself a cup of tea (Phoebe had been given no breakfast and I didn’t offer her anything when we stopped either as I thought her first sea voyage might be best on an empty stomach.) I phoned Pentland Ferries who answered this time and said they could fit us on the 1.30pm ferry. So we had plenty of time to explore a little and I decided to go up to Dunnet Head the most northerly point of mainland Britain.
I have almost given up with Strict Lady. She is okay and will get you to the general area but then you are on your own. At Loch Watten I had tried to programme her to take us up the main roads, but she did a cross country route, when I asked her for an alternative she suggested we went back where we had come from and start again, then did a route up the East Coast, and when I asked for another alternative after about ten minutes said there wasn't one and just sulked. But by then I was well along the route suggested by the guy at the filling station.
But I did try her with Dunnet Head, and she is definitely getting worse. as this time she got us to within around three miles, suggested that we turn up a single track road, and then said we had arrived at our destination. I just switched her off! and decided to follow the signposts, as it is a pretty well know tourist spot, being the most northerly point of the mainland, rather than the much vaunted John 'o Groats – we will get him on the way back
It's fairly narrow on the way up to the head, and at one point I could see lots of vehicle marks where folk had pulled onto the verges, and when I checked on Google maps it seem likely that we had reached the spot. Unfortunately there was no where to turn, which was surprising for such a well known landmark, but on the next hairpin bend there was a tiny tarmacadam road snaking off down the cliffs, and as there seemed to be little traffic we did about a ten point turn with Thebus' end in mid air some of the time. I was glad I had bought a fairly new vehicle, I don’t think I would have been so confident with something older in those circumstances. But we did it and went to find somewhere to park. The bits where folk had pulled on the verges were pretty muddy and I didn’t want to get Thebus stuck, the bits where they hadn’t hung precariously to the cliff beneath, so I didn’t fancy that much either.
There was a small cottage/croft in the process of being restored, and their gateway had some newly laid crush and run, If I parked opposite hopefully anyone needing to pass could squeeze by. Leaving Phoebe inside – I didn't want to lose her off the side of a cliff either, I very carefully walked to the edge and took some piccies of Dunnet Head, there was a concrete jetty beneath us so I took some of that as well, and vaguely wondered if any seals came up to this sort of bay.
As I went to get back in the thought just crossed my mind – I wonder if I am at the right place? Is this Dunnet Head? I would have felt a real fool putting lots of photos of the wrong piece of sea. As there was smoke coming from the cottage chimney I popped across to ask.
A lovely lady came out. They had moved in only three weeks ago and were going to do a total refurb, but they already knew the cottage well having found the area some time ago when they visited in an RV though an even bigger one than Thebus.
Apparently Dunnett Head was still a couple of miles further on and she gave me directions which involved another turning round, but a bit easier this time. I said I had stopped there because of all the marks from folk pulling in.
Oh – that's because of the seals. Will they be there now ?– Oh yes! – Look, there on the jetty!
I had already photographed them without even being aware! but I took some more photo and zoomed in this time, and there were some of them swimming though they are only pinpricks on the waves, so not worth posting pictures
I turned Thebus round and gave a toot as we passed again, then on up to the lighthouse and viewing point. The views were stunning, but as with all long reaching panoramic views, not really good for photographing, at least with my photography skills, so just one or two to give a flavour, but they really give no impression of what you can see from there.
The lighthouse is interesting as well and was built in 1831 and still steady as the proverbial rock. The lighthouse keeper's houses are still there, and an overgrown low walled area presumably for their gardens. A trawler (at least I think that was what it was) worked in the distance. The sun was out, and really it wasn’t all that windy – so I was hopeful for our crossing.
Partial View of Dunnet Bay from the Dunes
Photo does not do it justice
Looking North - I thought the land on the far horizon looked even more northerly
And it was - It was Orkney!
This was the roadway I reversed over !!
Croft looking out over the bay towards Orkney
What a fabulous place to live, sea in front and open moors behind
Seals basking on Jetty
Close up of Seals on Jetty
One of the fantastic views from Dunnet Head
Phoebe checking out Orkney from the viewing platform at Dunnet Head
With her travelling harness on
Walled gardens between Lighthouse and Lighthouse Cottages
With Trawler working in background
Close-up of Trawler Working
Thebus below us on the way back down
Phoebe, looking rather handsome I think for an old girl, by the Lighthouse at Dunnet Head