We're away on holiday next week with our friends Hannah & Dean at the beautiful Wild Meadow in the Welsh borders. We all went down there last year for Suzi's birthday, and then we returned for my birthday too. I might have become a little bit like my family before me, holidaying in the same spot, but when you discover somewhere as beautiful as Wild Meadow, I think you'd probably feel the same! It's a beautiful haven, an eco house built lovingly by the owners in the middle of a meadow. A kitchen garden, orchards, wild flowers, tall grass and birds and creatures a plenty. The last time we were down, we also had a family shoot with our friends who live down there. I realised we hadn't shared these photos, and thought it was timely. When we come back from Wales, we'll be in full family shoot swing and have a few slots for our meadow sessions in Hebden Bridge. Please do let us know if you'd like to book a shoot for your meadow runners!
I woke with the sun streaming through the window, and had my first cup of tea of the day as I watched the wildlife in the garden waking up. After a little potter in the grounds, I went downstairs for breakfast. Such a grand room to feast in! I was greeted with a steaming bowl of porridge sat on a hot plate. I learnt a little bit more about porridge that morning from Islay and Catherine. Proper porridge is made with pinhead oats, it's a very different texture to what I've had in the past. Back in the day, some folk used to let the porridge solidify, and when cold, you could slice it into pieces. It was then wrapped up in a cloth and taken as a packed lunch. Lunch can sometimes be referred to as a piece still -'have you got your piece?'
I didn't have any definite plans for the day as I drove down the gravel drive of Thrumster House, the sun warming through the glass. As I drove along, with the Moray Firth to my left, I was drawn to the many harbours dotted along the coast. First Lybster and Latheronwheel, both deserted.
And then an encounter that I think will stay with me forever, a chance meeting at a stone circle. I saw a brown sign to The Hill O'Many Stanes with an illustration of a stone circle on it. Having not seen one on my travels, I was eager to investigate, and pulled off the main road onto the comfort of the single track. When I arrived, I think the initial feeling was one of disappointment. I was looking at a field full of very small standing stones. Just as I was considering getting back into the car, a woman appeared on the narrow path. She had cascading hair from a side bun and her piercing blue eyes caught the light. She wore a big smile and a colourful smock. She introduced herself - Yvonne from down the lane. She was really interested in my travels, and we talked about how different landscapes affect us. Then she looked at me straight in the eye and said 'keep going, keep travelling.'. She looked down for a minute and continued 'some people go to their graves with the music still inside them, and they've never let it out. Never be complacent, live it now'. As I was taking this in, she wished me well, said something about her cats roaming wild in the gorse, and bustled down the lane, her wispy hair blowing behind her. I just sat amongst the stones, her words ringing in my ears. I can still feel it now as I'm writing this.
I started to get glimpses of the snowy mountains in the distance. I found this comforting, I'd missed seeing them beside me, in front, or behind in the mirror. I'm so glad I turned off at Dunrobin Castle. Although the castle wasn't open to the public yet, the grounds were beautiful. The castle resembles a French chateau, it's the most northerly of Scotland's great houses. It was used as a naval hospital in the First World War.
I wandered down to the beach. I had this lovely stretch of sand to myself. It was good to feel it between my toes.
The receding tide sounded like a ripple of applause as the stones rolled down the sand. With the sun high above, and the oystercatchers and the tide as a soundtrack, I plumped my jumper up into a pillow and lay down in the sand for a snooze.
When I woke up, I realised I'd caught the sun. With reddening cheeks and forehead, I stepped back into the car. I took the scenic road to Dornoch and saw harbour seals basking on the sand bank. They looked like little smiles as they curled up at both ends.
I pulled into Dornoch and immediately felt welcome. It's a beautiful town boasting an ornate cathedral and a castle (now a hotel). Evelyn, my host at No 9 where I was staying, had chatted to me before about the time I would arrive, and when I stepped in, there were fresh home bakes and tea waiting for me.
I had a wander around the town and stopped in at the cathedral. That musty smell I love, the ornate stained glass windows and the most beautiful light streaming in.
After a gorgeous meal at the Castle Hotel, I turned in for the night and slept a good 10 hours which is very unusual for me. I knew the next day was the last of my road trip, and I wanted to make the most of it.
Day 5 was what my Mum would call a 'good washing day'. I looked out of my bedroom window to see the trees bowing to the bluster. But before embracing the elements - breakfast. A poached egg on toast served on a shiny oyster pink plate. Followed by a slice of crusty bread with the best homemade raspberry jam I've ever tasted. Detta waved me off from the drive, her big smile beaming as her hair danced an unruly jig.
I drove into the grey. The road at the top of Scotland was a little wider to the ones I'd become accustomed to on the west coast. The mountains far behind, I drove through gentle land, soft, rolling and peaty brown. A quick petrol stop in Thurso and then onto Dunnet Head. At the very tip of this peninsula is Easter Head, the most northerly point of mainland UK. In my mind, I thought there would be coach loads of folk all jostling to take selfies for their 10 seconds of being the most northerly person. I stepped out of the car looking for a gaggle of other folk, but I was alone. For twenty minutes I walked around the tip of the headland, being the most northern person.
This sheep with a nonchalant chew was a little bit further north, but I didn't quite fancy heading onto that cliff edge in the wind.
For a few minutes, I watched the gulls coming into land, battling the elements trying to find their nests tucked into the cliff face. There were a few aborted attempts, their little pink legs looked quite comical flailing behind them.
And then onto John O'Groats for lunch. From the cafe window, I watched a little scene developing. It seemed that folk were just driving into the car park, walking the short way to the famous sign with all the directions on it, taking a selfie, dropping fixed smiles, doing zips back up, and getting into the car once again.
I had seen a few photos of these colourful buildings when I was researching my trip. The self catering holiday apartments were radiant against the grey.
The harbour was deep and quiet compared to the force of The Pentland Firth outside. After a quick mooch around the Christmas shop (full on tinsle and festive tunes), I drove to the Stacks of Duncansby. From here you can see to Orkney. As I walked on the path, I came across the Geo of Sclaites which is a deep cleft cut into the cliffs, a popular spot for the nesting gulls.
And then the view of Thirle Door and the jagged points of the sea stacks. I imagined how many landscape photographers had camped out here waiting for the most perfect light to capture the shot.
My journey down the East coast had started. I had mixed feelings. I was so chuffed with myself I'd come this far, and I was excited to be heading home to Suzi, but there was also a pang of sadness too. I'd turned the corner, heading south, and I knew my journey was well over half way.
Further on I saw a sign to Pier Head. I took a trip down to a little village and looked out across Sinclair's Bay. A few folk had decided to pin out their washing on this blowy Caitness day. Ackergill Castle stands in the background. I liked the way the jeans danced, sometimes alone, sometimes together.
And then onto Noss Head, the road long and straight like the runway at the adjacent Wick airport. I had just driven through the wonderfully named Staxigoe and Papigoe.
At Noss Head, I stretched my legs and walked along the peaty moor to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe - such an impressive structure, seemingly rising from the ocean, with a dramatic drawbridge across a ravine.
After a walk to the castle, I jumped back in the car to drive to my Airbnb for the evening. Up a long gravel drive with spring flowers on each side, I reached Thrumster House. Good old fashioned hospitality ensued! A note was stuck to the door for me to beep my horn when I arrived as they were out in the grounds. Islay and Catherine told me about the house, how it used to belong to the Innes clan, and they showed me photos of the last family members who lived there.
Inside, the breathtaking staircase, and the large fire crackled, the flames leaping in the grate. I was greeted by a big bounding dog, Bertie, he liked to keep an eye on things.
I sat with my cup of tea and planned the next day - (a beautiful blue day, lighthouses, beaches, and a chance meeting in a stone circle). More soon! If you'd like to read my days so far, you can just click on the previous posts links - thanks for following my trip!