May 17

Whaligoe Haven

Near Ulbster, a slightly-less-narrow spot on a diminutive two-lane Scottish road, you’ll find Whaligoe Haven. This is a beautiful little place you’re told to watch out for, but it doesn’t show up on the national maps and there is no signage. You park behind a hotel and walk through someone’s garden to get there. And then, there are the steps.

You go down to look up, and when you look up you are surrounded on three sides by 250-foot cliffs.

It is a beautiful harbor, at the bottom is a manmade grassy area and the ruin of an ancient storage building that held salt used to cure fish. You’re standing just in front of what’s left of the stone walls from this view:

So let’s talk about the name. A “goe” is a rocky inlet surrounded by cliffs. The prevailing opinion is that Whaligoe was named after a dead whale that was washed ashore here.

There are 334 flagstone Whaligoe Steps, and this dates back to at least 1769, but there’s no consensus on when they were built. The current design, however, dates back to 1792.

More than 20 fishing boats used this harbor each summer during its most successful period in the 19th century. The last ship sailed away in the 1960s.

Whaligoe Haven is now maintained by volunteers.

Tonight we’re in Kingussie, in the Cairngorms National Park, where we’ll spend two days. We walked through town today, had afternoon tea and saw a few gift shops. I liked the cover of this day planner:

And of course I took pictures of this book to send to people.

It was a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing, but it made fun of men far more than women:

We’re staying in a 140-year-old Victorian home. After dinner in a pub downtown, we’re having tea and shortbread before we call it a night. Tomorrow, we go canyoneering!

May 17

Riding across the top of Scotland

We spent the morning and a bit of the afternoon in Durness, shopping and exploring the little artists’ village there. It was originally a military installation that never really got off the ground. Eventually the government invited some folks to come live and work there, and so the artists moved in. After a good long while, they were given the option to buy the little buildings. It is a great little walking area. Everything is close together, the tourists come and browse it all and, in our case, we hit about half the stores and picked up a few souvenirs from some of them. We had chit chat and got some tips for what to do on the last bit of our trip and generally had a casual time of it.

I said it was an artists village. Did I mention the chocolatier? There is a chocolate store there. They call it a factory. It doesn’t quite fit the sense of scale you might imagine, but you can … fudge … a bit on the details.

They also boast the world’s best hot chocolate:

You got to hand-select the bits of chocolate you would chase the hot chocolate with, so that was a nice bonus. And it may or may not be the world’s best hot chocolate, but we agreed it was tasty:

A few quick pictures on our way out of Durness:

And then our right turns continued. We are going across the top of Scotland today. We ran across this just after we’d left the village. Ceannabeinne Beach, is known in its Gaelic name, as the beach of the burn of bereavement and death. There’s a tragic old woman drowned here story. And, almost as sad, there are ruins of former farms where families were forced off their lands. But the beach, just down from the road, and isolated enough to be delightfully empty, is a lovely looking place:

Some time later we pulled into Dunnet Head. Today it was chilly and breezy and felt fairly lonely. You go there to see it. If it had been warmer we might have stayed a bit longer, and that would have been OK, too. Anyway, this is the northernmost point of the mainland British Isles.

Though Scotland also records its actual northernmost point on an island some 170 miles in the distance.

We did not swim out there.

We sea kayaked.

(We didn’t do that, either. Thankfully no one had that idea.)

That rock type is called Old Red Sandstone, by the way. You can see it here, Ireland, Norway, Greenland and on the northeastern seaboard of North America.

May 17

Today’s slow motion videos

Of course I shot more of these. They are rather hypnotic and fascinating, wouldn’t you agree? Check ’em out:

The first video was on the journey on Cape Wrath. We were sitting on the van and the road bottoms out to the Daill River drainage basin. I shot this through the glass, thinking you don’t see places like too often:

For an American, though, I suppose you could say that a lot about this part of the world. Check out this terrain:

Science is just a few steps away from proving that bodies of freshwater just look more exotic if you call them lochs:

Of course those hills and mountains and clouds making such a dramatic backdrop don’t hurt, either:

You’d have to work hard to top a view like this:

May 17

Cape Wrath and Smoo Cave, in Durness Scotland

There’s a ton of great stuff here. (The short version is, if you’ve contemplated visiting Scotland, you should make it happen.) In this post there are two videos, two dozen photos and a panorama at the end. They are all worth seeing, so let’s get right to it.

I took this picture thinking, really, how often are you going to see a lamb warning written on a tire?

Six times, as it turns out. Here are three of our Ovis friends now:

We visited Cape Wrath, on a whim, really, and it was worth it. I made you a video:

Only one person lives there now. There are a few houses, leftovers from the drovers and shepherds. And you drive right by the bombing range. It is a sparse and scenic one hour, 11-mile van ride to get up to the cape. The whole trip is worth it. Here’s some photo proof:

Cape Wrath is about a mile out of Durness, which is the little village on the northwest corner of Scotland. In that little quiet little place there are two small restaurants, an artists’ village, one gas pump, a hotel and Smoo Cave:

This area is dangerous for stick figures named Cliff. (The rest of us are on our own.)

Hey, sheep, your name isn’t Cliff, is it?

Finally, this panorama is from above the inlet at Smoo Cave. Way, way off in the distance to the left you could just make out Cape Wrath. And way off in the distance to the right, on a clear day, you could almost imagine seeing the far cliffs of the north east of Scotland. We’ll be there in a day or so. As always with the panoramas on the site, click to embiggen:

May 17

The Overscaig motion shot

You can spend so much time in a car that you talk about everything. Even in a beautiful and new place you can spend enough time in the car that you have thought about everything. After a time, you realize you can think about nothing and then, finally, you realize that you’ve spent the last nine minutes thinking about nothing. So you force some thought back into your head.

My first thought was What happens if I shoot a slow motion video from a rapidly moving car?

Something really interesting happens. And, boy, did I pick the perfect spot to figure that out:

Here’s another one:

And one more, just in case you’d like another chance to see the local flora:

I’m going to call it my Overscaig motion shot.