We left Dornoch with full tummies and the wind in our hair and continued up the coastline to Helmsdale Harbour. This is a well known stopping point and there were several motorhomes already there when we arrived. As it was my birthday, we decided to walk up to one of the local pubs and have a drink.
Unusually for me I didn’t make a note of the name of the pub but the landlord was Gerry and he was very friendly. It turns out he was originally from Chadwell Heath which is where I used to teach about 20 years ago. Small world! We had a good chat with him and one of the locals before turning in for the night as the moon shone over the harbour and the incoming tide.
More sun greeted us the next day and a gulp of cormorants had gathered on the harbour wall. It looked like the were all lined up for beauty treatments as they were drying their wings and stretching their necks.
Leaving Helmsdale behind the Berridale Braes awaited us. We’d been pre-warned by several people that these were a series of sharp bends on a very steep gradient. My friend Lisa told us the cafe at the bottom was gorgeous but we knew if we stopped we might not get going again. This was Buttercup’s first real challenge and we wondered how she’d cope. We needn’t have worried, Dom put her into second gear and up she shot. I always give her a little pat of encouragement when we get to the top of hill and she definitely deserved it today.
Just before we completely cleared the Braes the traffic came to a virtual standstill. Up ahead a crane was on the road and moving along at about 5mph. There was a long queue behind it. This queue continued once the ground was flatter and we were moving at about 20mph. For some reason, despite passing several pull ins, the crane kept on. As usual when there’s a queue, the cars behind us who can’t see the road ahead assume it’s us causing the hold up. Several of them overtook and soon realised we were not the problem.
The crane finally pulled in and we sailed past her before taking the A99 towards Wick. On the map we’d seen some intriguing looking ancient monuments so decided to explore. The first was the Hill of Many Stanes. This was a sort of stone circle but with a central stone then circles of stones going outwards for about 6 or 7 rows. Like many ancient sites, nobody is totally sure of the purpose but one suggestion was a sort of memory place for loved ones – not burial sites, just stone markers to remember those who had gone. The heather was quite tall so you can’t see all the stones but this gives you some idea.
The pull in next to the Hill of Stanes was tiny and we’d secured the only really safe place to stop. For such a tiny site, it was incredibly busy. A car arrived while we were there and then as we were leaving a huge motorhome pulled up just as the Postman tried to get past with his round. We pulled away quickly so the motorhome could pull in.
A couple of miles up the road we came to the Cairn of Get, another ancient monument. We drove down a narrow road and found a parking area that was nearly full. We managed to squeeze in behind a VWT6 which belonged to a lady who’d been in an archaeological dig on Shetland for the last few months and was now making her way back to Cornwall. And we thought we were driving some miles!
The Cairn of Get was relatively intact in terms of walls and entry though the roof had gone. Despite the missing roof I could feel that this was a special place so I added a stone to the Cairn wall for the ancestors past. I asked them to look out for those to come.
Despite the remoteness of the site, the place was actually quite busy and four friends had come out to enjoy the day. We sat on the other side of the Cairn to them admiring the view when a whirring and buzzing noise disturbed the peace. Looking up Dom and I spotted a drone! I know some people love them but I find nothing more annoying than enjoying peace and tranquility in the countryside only for it to be spoiled by tech. I’m not sure how the ancestors would have felt about it but it wasn’t for us so we left soon after and made our way back to the van.
On the walk back we passed the family from the large motorhome who were obviously taking the same route as we were. A quick lunch by the lochen and we were ready to press on. By now I was at the wheel and unfortunately the Motorhome was parked in the turning area. This meant a ten point turn for me in a vehicle with no power steering who is pretty heavy. My biceps would soon be Popeye like at this rate.
Next stop Wick. Once a hugely important place, its name is from the Viking word ‘vik’ meaning safe harbour. Fishing and in particular herring had been the main industry in years gone by and there were really strong links with Denmark. While we were on the harbour we spotted an intriguing black tourist sign for Trinkie Pool. We liked the sound of that so we set off up the hill. However, the signs fizzled out and Trinkie Pool was not to be found. We found out later it’s some sort of Lido. To make up the for this earth shattering disappointment we decided to sit on a bench by the river.
This is where we met Ian and his 90 year old mum. Ian was born in Wick but left to follow his passion for art and is now an Art Professor in New York. One of the things I love the most about travelling is meeting new people. Both Ian and his mum were fascinating and interesting and we spent a very pleasant half hour or so chatting to them. Arts, creativity, Buddhism, community, you name it, we discussed it. His mum was getting tired so we said our goodbyes. Our last sight of them, they were being accosted by one of the local characters and it looked like Ian’s poor mum wouldn’t be getting home anytime soon.
From Wick it was a short journey further north to Auckengil to stay with my friend Lisa. But more of that next time.
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