Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Four
25 July 2020
What happens when you don’t listen to your exhausted body?… Today I was going to find out.
Having stayed right by the harbour overnight, I was in a really nice place to explore Wick South Pier Lighthouse (a cute diddy one!) and the lifeboat house. Turns out I was the wrong side of the bay, and on top of this, I totally missed a second viewpoint I had hoped to use, that WAS on the side I was on. (ugh! Great start!) As the light wasn’t exactly exciting, I guess it wasn’t a real issue in the big scheme, since I could always try again on another trip. I drove the short distance to a road nearer the lifeboat house, and took the short walk down the hill to explore it. The tide was out as I explored, and it quickly became obvious that it needed to be in to make any nice shot work. I looked around anyway to find a nice viewpoint, and took pictures on the phone as a memory aid. The weather was very still, but a flat grey, so I decided to try again a bit later in the hope that I might have better luck. For now, I drove to Wick Old Castle instead, to while away the time. I was so glad I did, because I found the boards giving its history to be quite fascinating!
The castle is on a bit of land that juts out into the ocean, pretty much the same as Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, (and, as it turned out, several others) Much of it has fallen and disappeared, leaving just a square tower, but there are areas that are unexcavated, so there may be more footings under the ground. Its history is pretty obscure, but the bit that caught my attention was that its likely builder, way back in the 1100’s was half Norse. Apparently during this time, Caithness, Sutherland and all of the western Isles islands were actually under control of the Norwegians (or more accurately the Norse, whose land back then included areas we now know as Norway, Denmark and Sweden) Their ownership of this part of Scotland followed a treaty that had been passed shortly after Edgar became King in 1097. It wasn’t a hard fisted control, with the local land owners being pretty much left to their own devices, but I found it fascinating to consider that the far north east of Scotland may have been ‘Norwegian’ at one point nonetheless. Harald Maddadsson, the likely builder, was Earl of Orkney and Caithness, and this castle may have been built to mark his territorial rights on the mainland. As I hiked over the peninsular, I took a photo of the remnants of the castle looking back along the path I had just walked, but I was really nervous of River on this peninsular as she seemed intent on exploring the edges. Eventually I moved back to the mainland bit, and walked along to an end viewpoint instead.
I loved the view from here and took several photos, waiting in between each for the few tourists to clear the scene. It was quite relaxing, and by the time I had taken a few, I happily went back to the camper for a nice cuppa. There were still a couple of hours until high tide by this point, so I chilled even more by having a nap! Totally unheard of for me, but well needed obviously, as it was no effort to fall asleep.
When I awoke, the sky was even more grim looking but I made my way back to the Lifeboat house determined to try a shot there. The grey meant that no sunset would be likely, so I didn’t think it would be worth waiting for that, and I was just going to have to try and work with the flat grey look and the high tide. I could see the weather working for the shot I hoped for however, so wasn’t deterred. As soon as I was in position though, it seemed everything started to work against me. The best position to photograph the lifeboat house was right by a tall wall with a ledge that was just the right height to see over, but that was as far as my luck went. I couldn’t work out which lens was best, as none seemed to do what I wanted – turns out I needed a lens in between the ones I owned (something that covers a 70mm-100mm focal range!) The wall itself proved to be a really complicated issue, with it being too high for the tripod, (even at its lowest position) and too low to work without one. It didn’t help by forcing me to balance on a slim ledge while I worked either. I tried putting the camera directly on the wall, nope, it tipped downwards to the sea only. I tried propping the lens a little with all my drying cloths to get the house in position, then I couldn’t see clearly enough to focus properly, because I was too high to view it without crouching (on a thin ledge remember). I tried handheld. That was a disaster, as I really struggle with that even in the best conditions. I tried all sorts, but simply couldn’t get my head around it! I just got myself riled up and angry instead!
Then River began playing up. She ran off into the road eventually, resulting in me having to climb back down, tie her to a lamp-post and feeling really guilty for doing that. It started drizzling, so I then had to try and keep the lens dry (with the very cloths I was using to prop the lens up on) – off came my jacket (to use as a prop up tool instead) as I continued to fight with myself for this shot. Eventually it just out and out rained. I could feel a fierce temper rising inside, borne out of the feelings of complete frustration and inadequacy, and then I finally realised that today, this wasn’t going to happen if I continued. Irritated with myself and River, and now completely angry and fed up, I packed everything away and stomped back to the camper in the foulest of moods. What I really needed to do was to just jump over the wall, and take the shot. But the rain, River, and a high tide all prevented me from doing that, so I left it before I ended up throwing stuff around!! On looking at the photos after the event, none of them are even in focus. I have absolutely NO idea why even THAT failed, as I was sure I had it pin sharp in the viewfinder. (probably where I couldn’t see the screen properly now I think of it)
The South Pier lighthouse was equally uninspiring now the rain was here, so I decided to abandon the shoot altogether, leaving Wick completely. My mood was that low.
Once away from the area I paused to look at my map and have a sensible think about where I wanted to go from here. I thought I might try Whaligoe steps as my next destination, as I knew it wasn’t too far, and that there were some lovely shots taken here by other photographers. If I was lucky, there may be parking there for the night so I could simply chill out and explore in the morning.
When I arrived I realised that parking was very limited… maybe 6-8 vehicles, less if big ones pulled in. As I had arrived later in the day, most tourists were already gone, so parking wasn’t an issue for me thankfully. In the car park I was met by local resident Davy (David Nicholson) If you have ever been to these steps I doubt very much if you missed this man! He is an absolute character, and we stood chatting for an absolute age, with him telling me all the history of the area, and the steps. He invited me over to his cottage (right by the steps) and pulled out a photo of his grandfathers boat, telling me what to look out for while I was down on the bink (the area where the fishermen pulled their fish and boats to) He excitedly filled me in with so many tiny facts, that by the time I went down the steps it was edging into evening, but I was too excited myself, to see all the little bits he had told me about! His manner is really joyful and infectious and it totally washed all the Wick frustrations away. I asked about staying overnight, and he really kindly told me to move the camper over to a residents spot, so that getting out in the morning after my photographic shoot would be far easier, then added that ‘if Jimmy asks, you are an old friend’. Apparently Jimmy tries to manage the car parking to mixed success, and he didn’t want to see me getting stuck trying to get out. At that point Jimmy came over, and Davy immediately went into a big spiel about me being his old friend who he hadn’t seen for 6 years (giving me a massive wink) Playing along, I added ‘well lets make sure I don’t wait another 6 years eh?!’ Jimmy nodded and walked away again. I moved the camper over then went down the steps. I totally forgot to bring the camera in my excitement, but sent a video to the family speaking in a very similar, excited manner to Davy, missing half the facts, and not finishing sentences where I was talking so fast. Davy knows how to entertain a crowd, and talk for England (Scotland??) that’s for sure!!
I found this on you tube… seems everyone gets the same excitable, informative chat!!
Once I had been down the steps, I was quite pleased to realise my climb back up all 339 steps went without too much effort (woo go me, I’m getting fitter!), and with a little daylight left, I thought I might try and see how to get to the end of the peninsular on the opposite side, as from there I knew you could see a waterfall. This wasn’t as easy as I hoped. The path from the car park was really overgrown, and trying to find the stile Davy told me about, proved impossible. I walked round to the houses that fronted the peninsular and tried to find a route there. There was none. As I explored however, a man came out and asked if I needed any help. As we got chatting, he told me he was the landowner, and that for tomorrow, I could use his side gate, although he was sure the stile from the car park was still there. (I did try a second look to no avail however) As we chatted, he told me his name was Sandy and that he was a farmer here, farming sheep, telling me a little more about the area. It was quite fascinating to hear how his family lived in days gone by. We chatted for a while and as we did I found out that he only farms sheep for lamb these days, as wool didn’t even bring enough money to cover the sheering of the sheep. I thought that was so sad to be part of a dying industry that I guess wool must be these days! I thanked him in advance for letting me use his gate, and went back to the camper, where Jimmy found me again. He looked a bit shifty, until he suddenly (and rather shyly) went ‘here you are!’ handing me a pack of cakes. ‘as you are a friend of Davy’s I thought you might like this to go with your tea’. Caught totally off guard, I thanked him as he scuttled quickly away, and I entered the van feeling really guilty.
All in all these 3 encounters cheered me up completely, ending the day on a far more positive note and I couldn’t wait for the morning so I could shoot the waterfall and continue my adventure. And for those wondering how I didn’t loose any weight with all this hiking… I blame Jimmy. ;-p