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To Helmsdale, a very wet day

Home -> Europe -> Scotland -> Travelogue Scotland -> 30 & 31 May 2007

Wednesday 30 May, to Helmsdale, a very wet day

After a very late breakfast we first chat with Iain and Cathy. Personal contact is always nicer than communicating by email. Today we really have tothink about what we are going to do and see on this Scotland trip. We have already figured out that we want to go to the real high north for a few days, around Wick and Thurso, but we have not arranged anything yet. Iain promises to make some phone calls and we go on our way, first to the TIC (tourist information center) in Inverness, the largest of the Highlands to see if we can arrange anything.
Inverness accepts euro’sWe now know Inverness reasonably well and park in the parking garage near the station and walk through the center first. It is quite cold and soon the first drops start of rain to fall. Quickly we walk towards the tourist information centre and pass this sign in a shop window, 'we accept euros'. We read last year that the Scots, unlike the English, would like to introduce the euro, but that is not possible as long as they belong to the United Kingdom. However, there are increasing voices to make Scotland independent again (especially the English find this in majority because there would be so much tax money going to the north), so who knows ...
At the tourist information center we don't learn very much. At first we wanted to rent a house somewhere for a whole week, but we seem to be be too late for that, it can no longer be arranged. The prices of hotels have gone up considerably and we decide to drive north to arrange something. Maybe somewhere around Helmsdale.
Strath of Kildonan Helmsdale riverOn the way the rain starts to pour from the skies bins and apparently that has also happened in the last few days because the small streams are swollen to fast-flowing and wide rivers. Scotland is known as 'rain-land', but in the last 2 years we have been pretty lucky in that respect. The way it is raining now, we have not often experienced before, in itself a new experience. After 8 years of holidays in Scotland, we finally get to know how most people think the weather in Scotland is always like!
Our search in Helmsdale for accommodation is rather unsuccessful, especially because the tourist office is closed. We decide to enjoy a round trip through the inhospitable area around Helmsdale and to drive a short distance up the Strath of Kildonan along the river which must be spectacular with this rain.
Deer in Strath of Kildonan Deer in Strath of KildonanSoon we meet our first game: deer. Every year it seems that we get to see more and more. We do not know whether there are more deer bor, if less got hunted they increasingly dare to show themselves along these kind of remote roads. Or maybe we are the ones who drive more in areas where many deer live. But the same applies to rabbits and pheasants, which we also see much more than we used to.
Strath of Kildonan, a golden river Baile an Or, gold in ScotlandAt Bail an Or we stop for a view over the river Helmsdale at a place where a caravan and a car are parked. Here, a true gold rush took place at the end of the 19th century and in 1869 two complete settlements were erected where nearly 600 gold diggers lived. Gold is still found, in very small quantities, but the houses have long since disappeared and the rules for gold searches on the board are very strict. You can get a permit for free in Helmsdale.
It starts to rain harder and harder, but I get out to take a photo and soon a man comes out of the caravan. He can see from our number plate that we are Dutch and asks us if we are 'the Dutch golddiggers'. No, I tell him, we only stop for a photo. Thank God, Douglas replies, in recent years there have been a few Dutch prospectors who are notorious because they often find more than others. He goes back into his caravan and gets a jar with a lot of tiny gold nuggets. Our conversation is getting more and more fantastic. He claims to be the only prospector who knows all (more than 600!) sites in Great Britain where gold can be found and he comes everywhere. This is one of his favorite places, if those 2 bastards from the Netherlands would not come again and again.
If I ask him if I can take his picture, he has more stories to tell. No, I can not and he is going to tell me exactly why. Once he was kind enough to provide shelter to another Dutchman who has a website where Douglas is described as a fantast, a dreamer, with a photograph. He does not want that again. Do I know one Ramon? No, I do not know him. As he talks about it, I realize that it is about the boy who tried to travel the whole world free of charge with the website letmestayforaday. I decide to look at that site quickly after returning and there I later read the same story that Douglas tells me, about his past as a secret agent, intelligence officer for most of the secret agencies in the world and how he finally became a gold prospector. He was already suspicious as a spy, but after what Ramon said on the internet, he has become really paranoic! He is rich, but we can not tell anyone, of course.
I wish I could have recorded the conversation as a real undercover agent, but alas ... On the one hand, you know of course that you are dealing with a dreamer, but that doesn't prevent me from enjoying our conversation. He clearly believes in his own story and he takes care of himself and his 2 dogs. I have always had a weakness for that kind of people: there is an enthusiasm which so many 'normal' people have lost and he still leads an active after whatever he has experienced in his life. He has made himself the king of his own empire, his golden empire and just walks freely through the whole world, which is already an institution in itself. I do not laugh at him, listen to his story and am glad to experience this in the rain, it makes it surrealistic; he keeps repeating that he is so happy that we are not the 'Dutch gold diggers'. I would have liked to tell our entire conversation here, but thta would take at least half an hour and Douglas suddenly gets in a hurry because he has to get back on his way to a new spot he has discovered nearby. It is only very difficult to get there with this rain. For me it is a miraculous half an hour and it is better I will not tell you anything else, because I now know a lot of secrets from the FBI, CIA, MI5 and MI6 and the NSA. And where the gold lies, of course...
But despite all his fantastic stories (which I have enjoyed) I also respect his way of life, you have to be able to do it; everything better than languishing!
Helmsdale river Helmsdale riverI get back in the car and start telling Elisabeth the whole, incredible story, she was wondering what took me so long. A few hundred meters further we step out again for the next waterfall in the swelling river (on the recommendation of Douglas). In the meantime it has become somewhat drier, but you can see the river becoming bigger while we are standing there.
Picture of the gold diggerBecause I have not been able to take photos of Douglas and his place and after the story I tell Elisabeth, she wants at least to take a picture from a distance. For us this is now a place with its own story: I have met the most famous gold digger of Great Britain! Ok, I got soaked in the rain while he was standing on the edge of his caravan, but I would never have wanted to miss this experience.
Railway station in Glen Loth Glen LothAt Kildonan Lodge we go south again, into Glen Loth and there we come across a train crossing. For geological reasons, the railway goes north inland here, instead of following the coastline. A ride by train from Inverness to Wick goes through a very beautiful area, especially when it has rained a lot because we now see rapids in the river every few minutes.
Rain in Glen Loth Waterfall in Glen LothHalfway we stop to look at a waterfall, but it's raining cats and dogs now, and pretty cold. On a beautiful day this must be a lovely place to picnic and sit, but then the waterfall and the river are not nearly as impressive as now. And so we also enjoy a rainy day in Scotland.
Deer, Glen Loth Glen LothWe soon realize that Glen Loth is a beautiful valley where very few people come. We see large herds of deer everywhere, fog that imposes itself on us and some stray prehistoric 'standing stones', from the time that it was fertile and livable here. Occasionally we have to drive carefully beause of the rainfall, but it is a beautiful drive. Everywhere there are streams that merge and widen into brooks and rivers.
Excessive rainfallSometimes the road is flooded and we hope that there are no deep holes in the road, but the roads are pretty good here. In all those years that we have been in Scotland, we have never seen so much water fall from the sky as today, but of course water is an important part of Scotland. 'Uisge beatha' is the Celtic word for water of life and later on the word whiskey was derived from it. Water is a necessity of life, water of life provides you with everything. That is a bit the truth about whiskey in a nutshell. There will probably be a joke sabout Scots who drink whiskey as water, but we do not know them.
After we finally get back to Glen Loth it's late in the afternoon and we decide to drive straight to Beauly, that will take at least another two hours. We love good weather, but today we have seen Scotland at its best in the rain. We think that we could not make a ride like this anywhere else in the world and still enjoy it.
Today is just a real water day! One of the few days we spent in Scotland without a ray of sunshine. If we drive back to Beauly the last two hours, it starts to rain even harder, a thing we wouldn't have thought possible and we are quite happy when we enter the warm and dry hotel. But in the meantime we have not arranged anything for the coming days. Fortunately, Iain was more fortunate with his contacts. He has received some tips and is now calling several hotels together with us and eventually there is a hotel in Thurso where we can go Saturday for £ 50 per night, a special price. Only later we find out that the normal rate of the hotel is £ 85 per night for a double room, so we save a lot there!
We sit in the bar all evening and the 'locals' who pass by greet us warmly and we them, because after all these years this is also a bit home for us. We have seen a lot of different people in the bar in recent years and some are still coming; others are banned or have stopped drinking (quite unique in Scotland!). But those we meet in the village on the street and they all still know us. We have a very nice evening with a delicious dinner and fine conversations.

Thursday 31 May 2007, a quiet day at Beauly

Drying the chairsThe day starts with a bright sun and we sit on the balcony for a long time, where we enjoy the beautiful weather. We have had a delicious breakfast and can finally catch up with Iain and Cathy again without being disturbed. Although, they are always busy and Teije helps Iain with his computer and website. A hotel reservation system always remains complicated and now they are looking how they can reduce the costs of people who do book without a deposit via internet but then do not show up.
Teije then goes with Iain to Lossiemouth to have his old jeep on LPG repaired. I am now enjoying myself with Cathy and Aneta, the Czech help they currently have. We look at our travel photos of the past year and I am again completely updated about the latest news from the region, the whole village and the families are being reviewed.
After returning Teije tells what he has experienced: Iain could not start his jeep on petrol because there was a leak somewhere; at a nearby garage, a container was placed under the petrol tank, petrol refilled, then started and after the engine ran on lpg the fuse for the petrol pump was quickly removed. Now just refuel gas. And really, with the engine on Iain fills his gastank with LPG, because the engine has to keep running otherwise he cannot start it again! Just like in the Netherlands, Scotland has an abundance of rules regarding the environment and safety, but apparently this is no problem here. After that he will also fill Teije's tank without paying first himself. People who drive on lpg know that you first have to pay when you release the gas button at a petrol station, but here nobody seems to bother.
While they are enjoying themselves and also eat a tasty ice cream in Lossiemouth, I talk to Cathy all day and read a book when she is busy. I have already realized that I will never be able to run a hotel, too much work, actually you never really get some time off. And then you also have to be able to cook ...
Scottish youth folk at Beauly Scottish youth folk at BeaulyAfter all the rain of yesterday, we see the sun now and then today, but it is not really warm. Fortunately for the youth band that gives a music and dance performance on the square in the evening, it is mainly dry. I am always struck by how much youth is still involved in traditional music, because many places have a local pipeband and often a fairly large youth department.
Scottish youth folk at Beauly Young piper, BeaulyThe children often start practising early, probably it is something like going to a music school in the Netherlands. But here they also immediately perform in groups. Even the very young children are still dancing outside at half past eight in the evening.
But at Scottish festivals in the Netherlands and Belgium you can see that more people are interested in playing the bagpipes and Scottish music because there are now dozens of pipebands in our countries.
After having been out for a while it is still fresh and we go back into the warm pub. There we get into conversation with the four Dutch people who we have already seen yesterday: Are you maybe Elisabeth and Teije, is their first question. When we say yes, their first comment is: gosh, you look older than on the website! And thanks a lot! But they are right, the pictures on the front page were then already 5 to 7 years old. Fortunately, we are not offended so quickly and we have a nice conversation afterwards. We think it's funny that they ended up here because of our website. They wanted to taste the atmosphere in the Caledonian hotel after our descriptions.
But it is very funny to be recognised in our own favorite bar!


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