Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Six
27 July 2020
Today my first stop was to head back over towards Bucholi castle. I followed the route I took home last night, and found my way there a fair bit easier, although I still managed to take a slightly wrong turn across the field. When I arrived, I realised that I still had the timing wrong and this wasn’t a sunrise site after all, so by 8.30 it was still in shadow. Despite a rainy dawn, the sky was now mostly blue, so the shadow across the castle was quite harsh, which didn’t look especially nice in the viewfinder sadly. I did what I could, and thought that this would be a better site another time, when conditions were a little more interesting. I love the history here though.
It was built. like Girnigoe and Wick on a large promontory jutting out safely away from the land, offering 3 sides of impenetrable 100ft rock face, and only one narrow bit to enter or leave the castle. This needed a drawbridge to cross, since even that had steep sides, and right in front of the main entrance, a big trench. Today I think it is only the gutsy or stupid that cross that bit… it looks scary looking down and on a windy day this would be extremely dangerous to cross!! This proved to be a really useful location when the original builder, a notorious pirate, robber and ‘Ultimate Viking’ by the name of Sweyn Asliefsson ran into a spot of bother around mid 1150’s when his lieutenant murdered a local nobleman. The nobleman’s son asked the local Earl, Rognvald, for justice and the Earl dutifully arrived with his forces to arrest Asliefsson. The Viking held the castle while the Earl and his men pitched outside, and a stalemate was had until Asliefsson and his 60 men started to run out of provisions. At this point, they planned a daring escape. One night, Asliefsson and his murderous henchman, Margad Grimson, lowered themselves down to the water on opposite side of the promontory to where Rognvald and his men were camped, and quietly swam away to their freedom. As a side note, from Sweyn, comes the surname Swanson, and his grandson Gunni was the founder of the Clan Gunn. Sweyn Asliefsson was in fact a very powerful man, disarmingly charming, and friend to anyone in power, (including Kings), but he was also self serving and brutal if crossed. Described as ‘the last great Viking’, this was a man you didn’t really want to cross!
The lands here were eventually given to the Mowat family by Robert the Bruce, and the castle we see today was built here then, and renamed from the Asliefsson’s ‘Lambaborg’ to Bucholi.
I took a few photos, but neglected to take one that I had wanted from the other side to the one I have above… but this will be one I can add to my ‘next time’ list. I did what I could anyway, before returning to the camper, having breakfast and considering my next destination. I had two options, Duncansby stacks, and Westerdale mill. I really needed Duncansby to be a low tide, as I hoped for a lower viewpoint from the beach – but the timing meant that by the time I got there, the tide would likely be on the turn, and since I had no idea how long the walk from the car park would be, nor how long it would take me to find a spot I liked, I was a little concerned the rising tide might cut me off from getting back safely. Maybe tomorrow morning for that one I mused, and decided that Westerdale would be my next port of call. Decision made, I headed off.
Now Westerdale Mill was only a secondary addition to my list. There was a big area in the middle of Caithness without any points plotted, so I had searched for anything in the centre that might be worth visiting. By pure chance, I came across a fairly drab snapshot of the mill from a distance, and thought that maybe this might be worth looking at. Well, when I eventually spotted it and pulled up, I was amazed that this wasn’t photographed far more frequently. It was gorgeous! Yes it is off the tourist path, but that’s what makes better sites for a photographer. They aren’t over run with people, and they are largely undisturbed. That was totally the case here. With just enough parking by the side of the road for Fred to park, I took River and went for an explore. We were the only ones here for the whole of my visit. The mill was fronted by a river that tumbled past over rocks in a really photogenic way, and to one side, it had a waterfall just to add more beauty to the shots. In fact the only thing missing to make it a picture perfect image, were blue skies and the sun shining on it! Sadly the morning’s promise of a bright day had drifted away during my drive, and now there were only little odd bits of blue showing in amongst the grey. This didn’t matter however, the whole location was still magical to my eyes!
The photos here were very easy to capture, so it didn’t take me very long to get everything I wanted. I waited for a little bit just in case the blue would return, but the sky just got grey and greyer. It was clear the glory of the morning wouldn’t be returning. Since Duncansby was definitely heading for high tide by now, I tried to find another location, and remembered one that had actually alluded me so far. I had seen a photo, several in fact, of an old quarry building adorned in ivy that I absolutely loved, but I had never found out where it actually was. When I had arrived here, I passed a quarry, and I suddenly wondered if it might be the same one. So I drove up the road for 5 minutes, and decided to have a look. Achanarras Quarry was easy to find, but boy it felt like a walk and a half from the parking spot to the quarry itself! I found it surprisingly exhausting, and by the time I got to the quarry, I realised that, no, this wasn’t the same one. This one was one where you could go looking for fossils, and take them away with you! I didn’t have any tools on me to hammer at the sandstone to separate the layers, so couldn’t join in on the fun sadly. I kinda wish I had realised, because I might have been tempted to stay! As it was, I did little more than about turn, and sadly walk all the way back to the camper. Very confused now, I had a deep and thorough search on the internet, and eventually found an old map. Ah.. now there it was! The quarry I was after. Achscrabster. (see! I knew it started with Ach… easy mistake…!!) I found it very strange how, even though there are several photos of the quarry building I liked, no-one actually said WHERE this place was! Turns out its literally right by the Achscrabster farm cottage that Google has clearly marked on its map, just 13 miles away from Westerdale, and a simple half hour drive. I didn’t need to think twice, off I went!!
When I walked up to the building, I just stood staring at it. It looked exactly like all the pictures I had seen, and they had likely been taken over a period of years. The only change was a drop in the water level, but I guess that’s seasonal, and this was summer after all. I loved it. I didn’t quite love the bits of debris all over the water, nor the rain that was now falling however, and even less, I certainly didn’t love the midges that swarmed right by the pool that I wanted to use for the reflection. This shot ended up a battle, with me ending up walking away (well running, flailing) on several occasions, and fighting drips down the front of the lens. My attention was on the tickling, biting midges in the end, and on most of the shots I clearly didn’t wipe the lens properly. This is going to be equally hard work cleaning any of these shots up! After just a few tries, I literally had to abandon the shoot altogether. This was my first encounter with the ‘Wee Bitey things’… but it most certainly wouldn”t be the last!! Welcome to Scotland’s most infamous summer resident!!
I drove on to Duncansby now, thinking that maybe I could at least have a look at the location ready for the morning, but the rain really wasn’t letting up this time. I tried a brief walk over to the stacks, and think a photo on the beach would work really well. I wasn’t too sure whether I could take River down there however, as it looks like you need a rope to get down! The rain was really coming down, and the wind was picking up quite a bit, so it was clear that it would be impossible for a photo from the top right now. I went back to the camper, and decided to wait for an hour or two to gauge what was going to happen. There were ‘no wild camping’ signs stuck on plastic covered haystacks so I was feeling a little wary about staying overnight, but it might be, that my only chance to get out may be the very early hours of the morning.
Whilst having a cuppa, some dinner, and catching up with ‘paperwork’ (back ups/diary notes/watching cat videos…) I looked up ‘wild camping’ and the relevant laws in Scotland, and discovered that the term didn’t actually refer to people in camper vans, even though we use the term ‘wild camping’. The law refers only to those on foot or on a bike. It made sense that the land owner didn’t want anyone pitching tents on the open land here, it was a perfect ‘campsite’ – open, flat, and very spacious, but anyone pitching up here would not only ruin the look of the landscape and wreck the grassland, they would scare away any animals that might inhabit the area I imagine. Given my new understanding of the term however, I thought that it would be fine to wait here in the car park till morning after all. I saw another two vans here, and a third joined us a couple of hours later, so took that as confirmation on my understanding of the signs. By 10, it was still raining, although not as heavily, but the visibility had dropped even more and the wind had really picked up. I checked the weather forecast (probably should have done this MUCH earlier!!), and it showed that sure enough the rain was due to die down by midnight – the wind however was going to pick up to around 30mph, with gusts much higher, and it was going to remain this way all of tomorrow. I hoped the reports were exaggerated, as I really didn’t want to leave without a photo of this fabulous place! Having sat through winds of over 45 in Skye earlier this year, I settled in for a shaky night, but wasn’t quite as fearful of Fred blowing over as I had been in the past, and I actually slept fairly well given all the rocking I endured!!