Thursday, 16 April 2009

Caithness, Culloden and friends

We stayed in the hotel but my sister-in-law and family stayed in Scrabster - perhaps I should say above Scrabster - a lovely house perched on the highest, windiest cliff overlooking the harbour and out across Dunnet Bay. As we drove in and out of Scrabster we looked across the fields towards the Orkneys. It was fascinating because every time we passed by, the quality of the light was different. Sometimes the islands were invisible behind a wall of mist, sometimes they were sharp and clear.

The picture shows a medium clear day.

The day we drove south towards home was brilliant sunshine, too. We stopped off at Culloden. On the right is a picture of the battlefield, with a view across the Moray Firth to Ben Wyvis with patches of snow still clinging to the slopes. People tell me that the battlefield is a dour, atmospheric place, but on this day, in bright, breezy sunshine it was hard to conjure up any idea of a battle. There were more people in the Visitor Centre buying, eating, viewing the exhibits than doing the battlefield walk. We walked through the Centre and ate a scone and drank coffee on the back terrace, looking south. A farmer was busy ploughing. Seagulls scavened behind him.
On a rainy winter's day it may very well look and feel different.
Or it may be that people's imagination provides the emtional response - or the emotional response provides the atmosphere.
What do I remember of my first visit to Caithness? The flatness, the stone fences, and the wind. Gorse in bloom. Warm, friendly people who claim to be Wickers, ie from Wick, and have no truck with Gaelic and Jacobite woes. These people claim their heritage from the Norsemen, and are proud not to be of any clan.
Touring the delightful Castle of Mey and hearing stories of life as lived by The Queen Mother. Dinner parties that went on so late that she earned the nickname Midnight Moll. Her menu reminders, handwritten in French, propped up at her place at the dinner table, a kitsch Nessie touring around the top of the sixteenth century tapestry in the drawing room. Yes, I'd love the castle to be mine - but could I afford the central heating? Probably not.
Will I return to Caithness? Yes, I think so. We made some friends, have an invitation to go back and the place itself grew on me. So much still to see and explore.


Nicola Cornick said...

Lovely blog piece, Jen. For me, you really evoked the experience of being there. I visited Culloden on a rather dour day and didn't like it much. Mind you, that could have been down to the kitsch tour guides dolled up as Bonnie Prince Charlie! I think they have re-vamped the whole tourist experience since then! But I do remember that the atmosphere was very strong. Or you could be right - it might just have been my imagining of what had happened there that created such a strong emotional response in me. I've visited a lot of battlefields and some felt atmospheric, others less so. I remember going to Flodden on a beautiful sunny summer day and seeing the corn swaying in the breeze on what had been the battlefield.

Also loved your description of the Castle of Mey. "Midnight Moll" - wonderful!

Jen Black said...

I'm so glad you found me, Nicola, and I know you adore Scotland. This was my first visit to Culloden, and I've still to visit Flodden although it is relatively close to me. You've reminded me of Bosworth...

Anna Lucia said...

We used to visit friend on Orkney, once or twice, when I was a child. It's still to me a magical place, and the journey to it a magical journey.

I miss Caithness and Thurso, and all the memories they invoke. :-)

Hermitage is a fantastic castle - I love the way it just appears to have been dropped onto the barren landscape - no village around it, no market town in its shadow. Just wild and beautiful desolation. One of our favourite places.

Jen Black said...

Thanks for that Anna, - that is what makes Hermitage so threatening - that isolation. I imagine there might once have been a clutch of dwellings around it, when it was a centre of power guarding the border.