Secrets of the Black Isle

As we set off to leave Orkney the skies clouded over and a light rain set in for the day as if to signal that a brief idyll was over and life was returning to normal. Following an uneventful ferry crossing the long journey South went well enough until a call of nature took us off the road at Dunrobin and up a long drive to a fantastical, spired and turreted castle with an aura of substantial Victorian investment. After attending to my immediate needs in the tearoom and washroom, I took a stroll down to the beach while Zoltan had a quick tour of this unscheduled orgy of Scottishness.

While the castle has its origins in the thirteenth century, it turns out that I was right in my conjecture and most of what is now to be seen is the work of Sir Charles Barry, 19th century architect of the Houses of Parliament in London. His Scottish baronial style differs little from his mock-Gothic English although the elaborate French gardens were a little out of place on that rugged Caledonian shoreline. I was not sorry to have missed the family portraits, stuffed stags’ heads and tartan carpets, however grand, but the home made shortbread in the cafeteria was absolutely delicious.

We spent the night at a lovely guesthouse on the Black Isle, a small peninsula that lies between Cromerty and Beauly Firths, not far from Inverness. This not very well known region has a mild climate and a fertile soil. We tried crowdie, a local soft cheese and delicious black tomatoes for our supper while our hostess’s welcoming cows looked in through the window. Later, however, Zoltan made the mistake of walking Molly past the nearby wildlife park and they were both surprised, not to say horrified, to be confronted by an albino wallaby. I must admit that the sight of an animal closely resembling a three foot high, pink eyed white rat might have disurbed my composure as well.

We had been told tantalising stories of the dolphins to be seen in these waters and, despite facing a long drive today, I agreed that if a morning boat trip could be secured, my travelling companion would have the opportunity to see them. We awoke to a thick mist and, not being willing to hang around, I was just about to write the excursion off as impossible when a local dog-walker recommended that we go up to the viewing point beyond a nearby golf course. It wasn’t far so we gave it a try; the presence of an icecream van bearing the sign “watch out dolphins about” and a group of photographers bearing all manner of fancy equipment indicating that we had found the right place even if visibility was now down to 50 meters.

I don’t know how but Zoltan managed to not only see, but actually photograph, some dolphins at play. For those in the know, this is one of the finest cetacean watching points in the British Isles, the animals apparently plentiful and displaying no signs of stress. I expect whether they are under threat of not is something that would depend on who you spoke to but it was till an encouraging encounter. {The dolphin picture is rather misty, besides it is not mine. I have chosen to illustrate this post with a gorgeous little red squirrel instead}

The drive down through the rest of Scotland to Carlisle was long and tiring. My co-pilot managed to get a good photograph of Sterling Castle as we passed but, more importantly, I managed to miss taking a wrong turning towards either Edinburgh or Glasgow and sailed down between the two cities on the M74 and back into England for the night.


Categories: Britain, Scotland

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