Scotland Highlands 2020: Part Five
26 July 2020
Taking things a little easier, I found magic was to be had today..
Well, today was really pleasant after yesterday. The sky was perfectly clear, and I started fairly early so that I could clear the Whaligoe car park before too many people needed spaces. River didn’t want to come as it was early, and she may still have been annoyed with me for tying her up yesterday. In hindsight it was just as well, because the route to the peninsular for the shot I hoped for, ended up a little tricky!
I went through Sandys gate as he suggested, and found myself in a field full of sheep. As I made my way to the left I could see the first stile on Sandys land, but even from here, I couldn’t see the other one that should have been on the side of the Whaligoe steps car park, so I now assume the one over there has gone. I navigated round the edge of Sandy’s field, and kept clear of his sheep. Down the bottom of this, and the next, field however, there were no further stiles or ways to cross the fences, and I had to literally climb over the barb wire (despite there being a sign pointing you to the viewpoint in the second field!!). Sandy forgot to mention that…!! They were tricky but once safely over, I made my way down the narrowing finger of land, until I dared not go any further. When I looked at the view from there however, I was fully rewarded. It was gorgeous! I was very slightly disappointed that the waterfall was smaller than I had seen in other photos, and a second fall that Davy mentioned to me, was absent altogether. I guess this must be a winter/spring shot to get the best from it but nonetheless, the view was jaw dropping. I definitely want to come back here when there’s more water!! As I took my photos, the early morning sun behind me beamed down onto the waterfall at just the right angle to create a rather sweet rainbow at the bottom of the falls. I was kicking myself, because, to save weight, and assuming I would just want big vista shots, I didn’t bring the heavy zoom lens. Thankfully, my cameras file sizes allow for a tighter crop. When will I ever learn though?!! (at least I know for my return visit…)
Whaligoe by the way, gets its name from two words. Goe meaning inlet, Whali quite simply being Whale. When the place got its name there would be trapped or even dead whales occasionally, and the villagers would winch them to the top, using every bit of the corpses, wasting nothing. The steps were made back in mid 1700’s so that the locals could descend the 250ft cliffs to get to fishing boats. Herring fishing boomed shortly afterwards, and the local women would carry the fish up in heavy baskets when the boats docked. In all there are currently 339 steps, although apparently there were 365 at one point, ‘one for every day of the year’ – or so Davy informed me, and half way up you can still just make out a resting point for the ladies to rest the baskets on for a brief breather. One trip down these steps and you realise just how tough these women must have been… in poor weather at peak season, it must have been a hard task! Locals have maintained these steps for many years, and continue to do so, so that we can still enjoy the history of the place. The steps lead down to an artificial grassy area called the Bink, which was used to haul boats up for repair, as a docking point for loading and unloading, and as a safe store for boats in bad weather. Ruins down there were originally used to store salt, and the building at the top was used to make barrels (this is now a cafe, although was closed when I went). Davy told me that his grandfathers boat, one of the last, was finally pulled from the water in the 1970’s.
After what felt like a pretty fabulous start to the day, I left in good time, and filled up with fuel at Wick before moving further round Caithness towards Keiss castle. I had originally hoped for a nice moody shot of this castle with a high tide crashing on the cliffs that it perched on, but the weather and tide were definitely not on the same page as me. When I arrived the tide was out and the weather was very still and calm, although the blue from the early morning was beginning to break up, and the tide was coming in, even if it did have several hours to go. Since it was so pleasant, I thought I would simply go for a walk and explore first. There was absolutely no hurry or pressure today, and I had to remind myself to chill a little and to enjoy myself. The walk along the front was really pleasant, easy and flat, and I walked along the beach almost to the end. I stopped to look in some WW2 pillboxes that are sitting right on the front here, when I realised that basking on the rocks were a group of about 5 seals! Well forget about the high tide… I hurried back for my camera now! It was about 15 minutes to get back and by the time I did, the tide had started to cover their sunbathing spots forcing most of the seals into the water, but I managed to catch a delightful shot of one sharing his seaweed bed with a duck, before he too eventually slipped quietly away. I didn’t worry too much about the ones I missed, (secretly hoping they might return of course!) but I was just happy to have seen them, as the sight had been so unexpected!
As I chilled on the pebbles after this shot, I saw behind me on the horizon a hefty black cloud heading my way. I might not get the crashing waves, but if I waited I might get my moody shot after all! It looked ominous, REALLY ominous, but remarkably, as it went over my head, obliterating the blue in one harsh line, it only rained for a little bit.. and not hard at that. I was fully expecting to be totally soaked. No idea who got the rain, but it was definitely gonna be a wet one when it finally gave out! The cloud finally backed the castle, and I was treated to sun bursts that washed over the foreground, giving a really beautiful light across the scene. The first shots I took here had the light in patches, but then a long one swept over, and I managed to capture the whole of the mainland in light with the deep cloud behind. There is something I adore about watching the clouds and sun dance over a scene, and I stood for ages watching it here until eventually the blue sky took over again, and the tide started lapping my tripod. Before I moved however, I spotted a familiar head bobbing up, and continually looking at me. When I moved to a slightly further position, and started taking pictures from this angle, the seal continued to bob up and observe my shenanigans. It was so adorable. He clearly didn’t feel threatened in any way, and was quite obviously curious about me. I didn’t realise it at the time, but he’d been doing this for some time as I found him in one of my earlier photos too! (see header pic) Eventually he left and I could see that high tide wasn’t going to be especially dramatic, so being very content with my castle (and seal!) shots, I packed up, and wandered up the hill to get a closer view of the structure.
I was struck by its shape, as it reminded me of the folly, Broadway Tower in Worcestershire that I visited last year. That one came from an idea by Capability Brown and was built in 1794. Apparently its called a ‘z-plan’ design, and on reading further its not an unusual design. I haven’t seen any others myself yet. Keiss has two round towers built either side of a diamond central tower and each floor had only one room. Originally there were 4 floors and an attic, although the upper parts are now gone. As I got closer I could see it was fenced off as it is currently a dangerous structure, with bits still falling off. You can see the interior from the side where some of the North Eastern walls are now gone though. It looked intriguing. Having fallen into disrepair by the 1700’s, The land was purchased by Sir William Sinclair, 2nd baronet of Dunbeath and he built a manor house just across the field in a much safer spot. For me its really nice that he left this structure, rather than reuse the stones as was the norm, because I felt it was fascinating to see this shape rather than the more usual square tower, or sprawling encampment types of castles and homes.
I walked back to Fred, then walked on a little to see Keiss Harbour. It was a sweet one, but not terribly photogenic due to the number of cars parked all around it. So after a brief visit there, I left and headed to Bucholie castle, the next one on my list. Again, it wasn’t too far, but as I approached its location according to Google maps, I realised that a) it wasn’t signposted, and b) there was no parking. I drove past the area twice before I realised, and headed back to a derelict old cottage I had spotted, to work out what I wanted to do. I’d noticed parking spots for about 2 cars that took me safely away from the road on my last pass, so parked up there for now to look at my map.
Curious, I had a quick look around the cottage. There’s an idea for a photo that I have had in my head for a while now that I really want to try in one of these, but it all depends on what belongings are still available. Sadly, other than sheep poop, rubble and broken glass, there was nothing in this one, but it was lovely to walk around inside and imagine how the residents might have fared. As I got back to the Fred, I noticed fresh tire tracks on the ground so realised that others had parked here. Tired and hungry, I decided that maybe this should be my last stop for the day, with the idea of checking the castle out in the morning. I ate, and rested, but as the evening drew towards its close, it looked like it might be a nice sunset, and since, so far, I haven’t had a good one, I thought that maybe I should drag this tired old body out after all, just in case. So, off I trundled..
Turns out that there were no real foot paths, and only a pointer on Google maps that I could follow to get me there, so I was actually very glad I did this first visit to find it! I struggled to find the way over, travelling down one field too far, then missing the lightly trodden route across another. Eventually I found my way there, and as there was enough light to show where the cliff edges were, I didn’t fall to my doom either! (Yay!) The sunset didn’t flare up, and the light that did, came from the wrong direction putting the castle into darkness, so I wondered if this might work for a possible dawn shoot. For now there was just enough light for me to have an explore for viewpoints for the morning, and a quick videoed message for the kids to tell them a little about the history, (as this one is quite fascinating..)
As I walked back, I passed a group of derelict houses together, maybe three of them? Some cars were pulling up outside and a group of youngsters were piling out of each for an evening of fun no doubt. I followed the single lane track/road they had used, back up towards the main road, and realised it came out near to where I was parked. It was pretty dark by now, but I wondered if that might have been a better parking spot. Another time maybe – tonight I really didn’t fancy moving any more. I was too exhausted and once tucked up in bed, fell to sleep very quickly!