Helen Rose Diary
Although I have travelled throughout the highlands of Scotland it has mainly been hill walking bagging Munros. The Glasgow HF Outdoor Club recently organised a long weekend in Dornoch which is on the north east coast of Scotland in Sutherland. We travelled by public bus to Dornoch via Inverness as we all had concession bus passes allowing free travel on the bus!
Our stay was at the Dornoch Hotel and was very comfortable indeed with nice meals and evening entertainment. The name 'Dornoch' is derived from the Gaelic for 'pebbly place', suggesting that the area contained pebbles the size of a fist (dorn) which could be used as weapons. Dornoch has many attractions including, the thirteenth-century Dornoch Cathedral, the Old Town Jail. Dornoch Castle and a notable golf course the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, named the 5th best golf course outside the United States in 2005 by Golf Digest magazine. It is situated next to the award winning blue flag beach. It is also notable as the last place a witch was burnt in Scotland – namely Janet Horne, who was tried and condemned to death in 1727. There is a Witch's Stone commemorating her death.
Our first walking day was a circular walk of about twelve miles to Loch Fleet north of Dornoch. We set out from the hotel after a substantial breakfast and headed to Earls Cross Woods. We were fortunate with the weather and had a pleasant walk through the woods spotting a hedgehog on the way. The woods led to open land where the harvest had been completed and the hay bales were lying in the fields. It was a peaceful and tranquil scene. The walk continued through Embo and along the beach to Loch Fleet. Loch Fleet is a sea loch and a nature reserve. We stopped for lunch here overlooking the loch and across to the other side and the 100 foot tall statue on top of Ben Bhraggie. It is of George Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford and first Duke of Sutherland who became notorious through the part he played in the Highland Clearances. We continued on the walk to the beach where we were delighted to spot a Yellowhammer bird in a bush. These birds are becoming a rare sight in Scotland as they are least abundant in the north of the UK. We arrived back in Dornoch to sample the delights of afternoon tea in a Dornoch Café. Good home baking and strong coffee!
The following day we caught a local bus to Brora intending to walk back to Golspie mainly by the beach which is one of the best coastal walks in Scotland. These towns are both north of Dornoch and are passed by many people heading for John O’Groats which is the most northerly point on the British mainland. Brora is a small industrial village having at one time had a coal pit, boat building, salt pans, fish curing, a lemonade factory, wool mill, bricks and a stone quarry. It still has the Brora Distillery for malt whisky. The white sandstone from Clynelish Quarry was used in the construction of London Bridge, Liverpool Cathedral and Dunrobin Castle.
The walk along the beach led us to the grey seals at the sea edge relaxing with the pups in their inimitable way. We were careful not to go too close to them as the pups were too young to go in the water and we did not want to panic them. However, we were able to take excellent photos and watch their behaviour. The beach is of beautiful white sand and the sea colours reflect a changing sky. We also saw Oystercatchers in flight.
The walk eventually took us past Dunrobin Castle on the outskirts of Golspie. Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses. It is the largest house in the Highlands, with 189 rooms and is one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses, dating in part from the early 1300s. We looked in to the gardens with its arrangements inspired by Versailles – these have changed little since being planted 150 years ago.
Carn Liath Broch
The walk continued to the Carn Liath Broch (sometimes also referred to as Strathsteven Broch). While it may not be the tallest broch remains in Sutherland, it is certainly one of the best preserved. A broch is a small Iron Age dry stone tower. They were built in the last few centuries BC and the first century AD. Their exact purpose is not clear. Many think that they were defensive structures, their tall stone walls and ramparts providing protection to the native farmers and their livestock should they come under attack by rivals from neighbouring communities. However, some archaeologists believe that they were simply "status symbols", a visible demonstration that a particular settlement or group of people were wealthy and successful. Carn Liath is well preserved. Outside its walls are the remains of a number of smaller buildings. You can enter the broch through the original passageway. In this passage are the remains of the stone supports for the door frames and on the right is a small room or cell where perhaps a guard may have been stationed. Once inside the structure you are able to see how the broch was constructed with a double wall containing a stair to the top, part of which remains accessible today. However the broch did not just consist of the stone tower. Archaeologists have found post holes in the floor which would indicate that the broch was either partially or completely roofed by some sort of wooden structure.
Coming attraction; Wisconsin and Frank Lloyd Wright.
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