Random notes on the travels of a Welshman who has been allowed out to play after finishing his chores. OK so I don't travel with my Aunt, but I am usually under the adult supervision of my long suffering wife.
Near the now decommissioned nuclear power station at Dounereay is the small harbour at Sandside. There is something about small harbours. The hint of time past, never to return are difficult to resist. The fact that Ther is now only a FW working boats still based in the harbour shouts out “Come and explore me. Don’t forget about my glory days! I once had a history”. Sandside Harbour is exactly one of those places. Even though the Dounreay Power Station is difficult to ignore, the romance of a small harbour can’t be ignored.
There is not very much written about the harbour, but the quality of it’s built is difficult to miss. The harbour was built about 1830 by Major William Innes of Sandside for a cost of £3000. I’m sure that the Major had some interest in helping the locals by providing a base for trade, but more likely he hoped to cash in on the herring fishery that was providing huge profits for those who had cornered the market. Though this was not to last and the herring stocks collapsed after decades of over fishing.
It seems that there is still a boat working from the harbour, with lobster and crab creels still stacked along the quay and a boat moored within the harbour. The houses and fishing store have now been converted into holiday lets.
A short walk along the coast brings you to fantastic dry stone wall built from field clearance stones at the base and cleaved limestone and sandstone tiles. Topping the wall lichens have made colonies.
Along the cliffs kittiwakes are starting to nest clinging to the face of the cliffs in neat high rise pockets and shelves.
On one of our trips along the north coast of Scotland we came across Strathy Point Lighthouse. If you imagine a windswept cliff with waves crashing sand thundering into the rocks below you would not be far from the reality of our visit there this day. It really was windy, and the waves really were crashing onto the rocks below.
The lighthouse at Strathy Point on the North Coast of Scotland doesn’t have a distinguished and long history. An application to the Trinity Board for the building of a lighthouse was first made in 1900 and rejected. It wasn’t until 1953 that the need for a lighthouse was sanctioned, eventually being lit in 1958. There after Strathy Point filled one of the last important dark blanks on the Scottish coast between the practical limits of visibility of the major lights.
Strathy Point was the first Scottish Lighthouse built as an all-electric station, with a light and a fog signal. The light is now remotely controlled, and the accomodation where the lighthouse keeper once lived is now a private residence. Yo can read more technical details about the lighthouse here on the Northern Lighthouse Board website.
The current distillery at Brora was built in 1967, right slap gang next to an existing distillery which opened originally in 1819. The whiskey currently produced here is slightly peaty whisky, but much valued by blenders. It is one of the base spirits for the excellent Johnnie Walker Gold Label. The distillery is only 500m from where we are staying here just outside Brora spot would be churlish not to have a gander at the place.
The new building whilst being functional doesn’t hold a candle to the architecture of the original distillery. The distillery was founded in the village of Brora by the Marquis of Stafford, later known as the Duke of Sutherland. He is more famous in Scotland for his part in the Highland Clearances of the same year, when he evicted around 15,000 crofters from his land in order to farm sheep. It has been suggested that he started the distillery to provide a market for his barley and to put the local moonshiners out of business.
For long periods in its early history the malt produced at Clynelish was sold only to private customers. However this did not last and the distillery struggled during the period between the beginning of Prohibition in America and the end of WWII. So much so that production ceased in the years 1931-38, and again from 1941-45.
After the war demand from blenders for Clynelish malt grew, and in 1968 owners Distillers Company Ltd (DCL, which was eventually to become part of Diageo) built a new distillery adjacent to the existing one to increase capacity.
The snow and clouds cleared overnight and I woke up to a different Stirling to the one I fell asleep to. The sun was shining and the soot covered sandstone town looked very different. I left Aunty sleeping and crept out into the elegantly morning to find I had the town to myself except for the bin man.
I’ve been wondering about some of the houses which looked like they might have had a tower attached to the front. In a way my theory was right in a way. These round structures are stair cases just like those you’d find in a castle tower. I assume they provide access to all the floors without taking up floor space.
Between 1637 and 1649 a local merchant endowed a hospital or sons house for poorer member of the merchant guild. for local merchants. This becsme known as Cowans Hospital. Still standing today it us s handsome building next to the church.
Local legend has it that’s the clocks chime in the New Year, Cowans Statue comes down off the building an dances in the courtyard.
The church yard surrounding the cathedral also seems to surround thecastle. Scattered among the gravestones are surprising additions like this encased scenario. This represents one of the MaragetWilson, a hero of the Presbeterian faith, who was executed by crowing in the Solway Faith for refusing to deny her faith.
We stayed at the Stirling Highland Hotel just below the castle. Not every hotel has an observatory on the roof, but there was defiantly one there. It turns out that this was once a boys school.
We had a drink in the “Headmasters Office”, which certainly wasn’t like any headmasters office I’ve stood outside. Aunty surprisingly confessed that she had also been sent a few times to stand outside the Headmastrs office herself.
Then it is back into the car to finish the drive through the the Highlands finally arriving at Brora.
We were up at 4am for the long drive to Stirling on the first day of our holiday. Despite 3 stops we were banging on the door to the hotel just after midday. The drive was uneventful despite the dire warnings of doom on the motorway signs all the way from Birmingham – “Snow Forecast!”. Yes snow was forecast, but not along the motorways where we were. OK I can accept that these information signs can be useful, but their use to drivers here in the UK is laughable, and my rants about their inaccuracy is a common occurrence in our house. Anyway we’re on holiday, and today is our 27th wedding anniversary. After a quick lunch we commenced on charging around Stirling. The light was poor so I’m afraid the photos are a bit dire.
Stirling has been the centre of many battles, perhaps the most famous one that reverberates through Scottish history is that of Bannockburn. In 1314 the Scots led by Robert the Bruce was besieging the English holed up in Stirling Castle. The Scots attacked and routed a much larger relieving force led by Edward I. This allowed Robert the Bruce to consolidate his power in Scotland thereafter.
Stirling Castle stands proud atop a steep cliff of quarter-dolerite, dominating the low, wide valley below. There has probably been some sort of fortification here for thousands of year, but the brooding structure standing today is based upon a Norman Castle much altered over the years. Almost all the present buildings in the castle were constructed between 1490 and 1600, when Stirling was developed as a principal royal centre by the Stewart kings James IV, James V and James VI. And this was the centre of the Renaissance Court of the Stewarts, but it is still very much a fortress at heart.