Been there, Dunnet

There are some places that are hard to leave. We stayed in Durness for five nights because we couldn’t tear ourselves away. Fortunately for us, we didn’t need to.

Durness Beach
Durness Beach

On our last day Shirley went fishing in a limestone loch somewhere over a nearby hill and having dropped her off at the nearest van accessible spot, I took the van to Balnikeil Beach to walk the dogs and just stare open mouthed at its spectacular beauty. As I strolled along in the soft white sand I met a couple from Lancashire and remarked that we could be in the Caribbean. After a moments’ thought we agreed that actually this could only be Scotland.

At the end of the day Shirley returned with three beautiful trout. I hope it’s true that fish feeds your brains – it might offset the nightly G&T.

Shirl’s Fishy Bit

Loch Croispol has a limestone base and the water is gin-clear. I wondered how I could attract fish to my fly without being seen. I found a place to stand with my back to a rock, cast out my fly line and stayed perfectly still. Then I watched in wonder as a trout swam up, looked at the fly and – grabbed it! I managed to land it after a bit of a struggle. The shore is very rocky and balance was difficult (I fell over more than once) The trout in this loch are like bars of silver although they are still called brown trout and all three of my catch were beautiful. Having fished since I was about seven I’ve had many great days fishing and this was right up there with the best. My Dad taught me to fish and I was really aware of his presence on that lochside. I thought I heard him laughing and shouting, “Gawn yersel” wee yin!” (Google translate – “Oh, Well done, small person!”)

We enjoyed many of the delights of the Durness area in our five days’ stay. Highlights included playing on the beach with the dogs and watching Boo use his poodle intelligence to retrieve one of their toys from a rock pool without actually getting his snout wet. He rarely shows his clever side but when he does it’s pretty spectacular. Using one paw he delicately flipped the toy out of the water and caught it in mid air then backed neatly away before it fell back in. Poppy on the other hand saved her problem solving skills for a more practical use. She has learned to open a big jar with a screw top to steal dog biscuits. The first time we thought we’d left it open by mistake but obviously not – she did it again the very next day, waiting until we were out of the van. I tried to lure her into doing it while we watched to see how she did it but she just looked at us with that “Do you think I’m zipped up the back?” look and walked away.

Smoo Cave
Smoo Cave

On Sunday we walked to Smoo Cave. This is a real must-see place. Paths have been laid so that you walk up over the cliff and then down and right into the cave. We were amazed to find a waterfall gushing into the centre of the cave that was once used by smugglers. There are a number of other more far-fetched tales about its uses in the past to amuse the tourists, of which there are many. We were just as caught up with its surprises as the busload of American tourists who walked around it at the same time as us. On the walk back we stopped at the quaint White Heather Tea Room and discovered that it still had a mechanical till with numbers that popped up. Opposite the tea room is a garden to remember John Lennon who used to come up here as a child for his summer holidays, staying with his auntie. Apparently the words of “In my life” are about this beautiful area.

John Lennon Memorial Garden
John Lennon Memorial Garden

For a while there we had stepped right back in time and were enjoying simple pleasures. Right now the thought of coming back to urban life with all its speed and complications isn’t appealing at all.

The local golf course is the most northerly course in Scotland and we played it with our mouths open most of the way round. The views from the top were fabulous, which is just as well because my game was far from it. It’s strange playing on these rural courses that are put to different uses in winter but not that appealing when your ball regularly lands in sheep shit.

Mouth Open Golf
Mouth Open Golf

Most nights we went to the pub and played pool and darts returning in the long light evenings to watch the comings and goings of the people dropping in for a night or two as they made their way round the coast. Some are very outdoor-serious types while others look bemused as they try to work out where to put their tent poles.

None of this explains why we kept putting off leaving but then, one morning, a man standing by the toilet block put it into words.

I was walking over to the bin, as you do, when I came across this man standing holding his towel and soap and looking lost. I approached and asked him if he was looking for the shower block. “No,” he replied, “I was listening to the starlings.” Then he laughed and said, “I was lost in wonder.”

His words stayed with me as I walked away and they keep coming back.

So finally we made the move – looking out over the ocean from our cliff top pitch each day made us reluctant to go but there must come a time to discover what’s around the next corner. We’d come up the north west of Scotland and turned right at Durness so that the road onward was the coastal route along the top of the mainland from west to east. The lovely couple from Lancashire reassured me that there is still beauty to be found on our onward route. They were going the other way, down to Ullapool, over to Skye and then perhaps to Arisaig. I felt a little pang as we talked, tempted to go back to the places we’ve loved but this journey was about adventure and going to new places – we can always return to the well loved corners another time.

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Loch Eribol on the North Coast Route

The road from Durness east is once again mostly single track, with a few miles of wider road to lull you into a false sense of security. We stopped for breakfast at the Kyle of Tongue and watched a seal eyeing us suspiciously as we munched our muesli. It isn’t as far as you might imagine from the far west to the far east along the north coast road and it didn’t seem long before we rolled into Thurso, cheering as we saw a sign for a Lidl. Like kids in a sweet shop we got all excited about the amount of choice. Who would have thought broccoli and sweetheart cabbage could feel like a treat? We decided against checking out the rest of Thurso’s delights and drove on to Dunnet Bay where we happened upon a Caravan Club Site. The site is on the hillocky grass behind the dunes and as such is distinctly uneven. We entertained the neighbours trying to get level and at the same time staying with the front of the van exactly on the white peg. Even here, where a bit of leeway around the bumps in the ground would be helpful; the Caravan Club insists that you obey the peg rule.

So we’re on the east side now and tomorrow we’ll visit the most northerly point on the UK mainland… that isn’t John of Groats incidentally but more on that next time.

Oh yes ….we’re now on the lookout for a dog groomer for Poppy. I tried to tidy up her shagginess with a pair of grooming scissors – oh dear. She looks like she’s had a brief encounter with a lawn mower.

4 thoughts on “Been there, Dunnet

  1. Another great posting, really like the bit about Shirley’s father looking over her shoulder, it’s nice having that loving feeling of a long lost loved one smiling at you and saying “well done”

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