There is lovely sunshine to enhance the beautiful views as we enter Inverness for a fuel and food shop stop. Being Scotland, this is soon replaced by black clouds and showers. A first at the Morrison’s garage, we are there as a drive off takes place and CCTV is being examined to track down the miscreant who has left without paying. Do people really think they are going to get away with this? We are now in Ross and Cromarty and will be on the A9 all the way north. We cross Black Isle and Cromarty Firth. The golden gorse is on fire over acres of hillside and the lemon yellow oil seed rape in full flower acts as a counterpoint. The signs of the oil industry remind us of the boost that this gave to the Scottish economy in the 1980s. As we enter Sutherland we are overtaken by a series of racing cars. As the Lotuses and Aston Martins stream past we wonder if there is a rally nearby or if this is to be part of an episode of what whatever Clarkson, May and Hammond’s new programme is called.
We turn right for the last twenty miles and the countryside is notably bleaker with deserted crofts. There are unusual walls made up of tombstone-like slabs overlapping each other. Thurso’s sign tells us that it is the birthplace of William Smith, founder of the Boys’ Brigade. I am sure he was a jolly good chap and all that but if that’s the most significant thing you can think of to say about your town then it is probably not worth saying anything.
Our site at Dunnet Bay is exposed but right by the sea and we have a pitch that has what might be classed as ‘sea glimpses’. After setting up the van we depart for John O’Groats, well you have to don’t you? It isn’t quite as commercialised as Land’s End or Gretna Green and it seemed important to visit what claims to be the most north-easterly settlement in Britain. There are some weird multi-coloured wooden buildings, which are apparently extensions to a hotel. If they were trying to look like Balamorey they’ve failed. A little like Land’s End it isn’t actually the extremity that people would have you believe. Dunnet Head is the most northerly point and we plan to visit there before we leave. We are primarily in John O’Groats to pick up our tickets for tomorrow’s trip to Orkney and to see where we need to be first thing in the morning. That accomplished, we move on to Duncansby Head. We arrive in a fierce hail storm and decide to sit it out, hoping for a gap in the precipitation so we can visit the fulmar colonies that nest on the cliffs here. Yes, Scotland’s weather does it again and within ten minutes it is dry and we decide to risk it. The ground however is anything but dry and is best described as spongy. Chris has his walking boots; mine are in the van so I paddle along in trainers as far as Duncansby Stacks.
It does start to rain a little and Chris generously allows me to wear the one plastic poncho that we have between us. We do have another one but that is keeping my walking boots company in the van. This is apparently an ‘arctic’ poncho, which means I can give up any hope of blending in to the landscape as I look like an abominable snowman. The cliffs are full of nesting seabirds, primarily fulmars. I am secretly hoping for puffins but no such luck. Today’s ornithological haul includes: fulmars, razorbills, oyster-catchers and an as yet unidentified owl – possibly an unusually coloured short-eared owl.
The sky is looking threatening again so we set off for home, or as it turns out not. One bit of bleak Scottish landscape does look very much like another. I am just thinking that the turning for Dunnet Head seems rather a long time coming, when we realise that we are bowling down the east coast and are rapidly approaching Wick. This is not quite what we had intended, we should be heading in a westerly direction towards Thurso. Not to worry, we do get to see another bit of the countryside. It is raining again by this time so we decide to leave Dunnet Head for another day.
This evening’s entertainment consists of the Manchester street games on television, which we have lacked for four days and watching our on-site neighbours attempting to erect their camper van awning.