Ducky’s meanderings – 3
|20/04/2014||Filled under caravanning, Scotland|
Perhaps it might have been more sensible had we, prior to setting out on this broadly clockwise trip around Scotland, researched likely campsites to see which were open and whether they suited our needs. But sometimes leaving campsite selection to chance can be rather fun, adding spice to the whole caravanning experience. It is a gamble that could go wrong of course, leaving us trawling the streets late at night like homeless immigrants, but as things have turned out so far we have struck lucky, always finding pleasant sites or else quiet spots where we can just pull off the road. True, we did pay a £10 premium in Dunnet Bay because we are not part of the exclusive Caravan Club elite, and that did hurt a bit, but we made up for it two nights later by pulling off the single track road beside Loch Brora and sleeping for free (although Kate tells me that the owls were noisy – I was too busy sleeping to notice).
Dunnet Head being the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland, the only way for us now is south as we are saving the Orkneys for another day. So it is that we rumbled into Helmsdale, one of so many tiny east coast fishing ports to have sprung into being when the seas were full to bursting with herring. Whilst refreshing ourselves in the Timespan cafe we discover a way to explore the town in an interesting way, on a waymarked tour, so off we set on foot. A little over half way round, at the harbour, we meet a man called Jim Mackay, something of a local attraction although not figuring at all in the leaflet we are carrying. There he is standing in the sun at his front door greeting us in Gaelic and before long we are being treated to snippets of his long life story and being shown photos of relatives from his Canadian past. We surmise that some 200 years ago his ancestors, crofters living in the valley of Strath Kildonan behind the coastal town, were being evicted as part of the Highland Clearances. Many crofters from this area travelled to Canada to seek a better life (one ending up as Canada’s prime minister) but many, like Jim’s family, later returned to Helmsdale to live. We have read about and seen evidence of the Clearances in the lonely ruins dotted about the glens everywhere we have travelled in Scotland – it is a shameful part of the history of this country when the urge for profit for a few tore apart a centuries old way of life for the many – and suddenly we are confronted by a living piece of this history who stops us at random for a chat. Full of character and good humour he charms us both and only very reluctantly do we eventually take our leave of this place.
Equally charming and enthusiastic is the holidaying French policeman we meet with his family at Portmahomack on the Dornoch Firth. What brings him to this remote spot we don’t find out but he seems delighted to find two people who both understand and can speak a little of his language, although his own spoken English is exceptionally good. We leave him so he can indulge himself at the nearby Glenmorangie distillery (ah yes, that is why he is there) then drive off to try our camp site searching luck along the Cromarty Firth.
Kate’s father was at one time stationed in the RAF at Evanton and fortune once again shines on us by guiding us to an excellent site here. Then no sooner have we staked our claim to a pitch when we spy a small sign saying ‘Forest Walk’ on the edge of the site, pointing towards the dense skyline of trees. Now as it happens these two words are something we invariably find irresistible, and especially when need to stretch our legs after a long drive, so after a quick spot of lunch, off we go again.
This forest, however, has an amazing surprise waiting for us just a short climb away. A geological anomaly seems to have caused the river flowing down from the hills to fall into a narrow chasm whose weakness the river then exploited by making it immensely deep without any significant broadening. Black Rock Gorge is the result, a natural phenomenon hidden away in dense forest just a short distance from us. A wooden bridge built to enable walkers to cross from one side to the other, gives no impression of the chasm beneath until one is precisely half way across, when finally the narrow cleft below, leading apparently, into the bowels of the earth, opens up. Looking down, the vegetation on both sides is lush and green, right to the bottom where there is a glint of silver from the river as it rushes through far below. Here, hidden away modestly, is a tourist goldmine par excellence, reserved only for the few who venture forth in a disorganised fashion, taking in whatever comes their way. We know that by travelling about so randomly we must miss a lot but somehow this is compensated for by what we do discover, on our own, by following our instincts or our noses, helped only by serendipity.