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.