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To Thurso in the north of the Highlands

Home -> Europe -> Scotland -> Travelogue Scotland -> 01 June 2007

Friday 01 June, to Thurso in the north of the Highlands

Again the day starts sunny, but it is still fresh. After our late breakfast we leave for the north of Scotland. We are happy that we have already arranged a hotel and that we do not have to search for it tonight. And the drive up there is a lot more relaxed when it is dry, the day before yesterday it was totally different.
Duke of Sutherland’s statueNear Golspie we see from a distance the Sutherland monument on a hill. It is 30 meters high and is supposedly founded by grateful tenants for the justice of the first Duke of Sutherland. Quite exaggerated because he was also responsible for the clearance of the Highlands, the Clearances. The duke is sometimes called the Stalin of Scotland because he had tens of thousands of families (some sources say about half a million people) removed from his land to create space for sheep farming that yielded more profit than the tenants.
The feudal system that was in use before, did not work that well anymore, but now it collapsed completely and families were left without land or income. Many went to America and even now there are far fewer people in the Highlands than in the 18th and 19th centuries. Everywhere in Sutherland and Caithness, the two northern areas of the Highlands, you see dilapidated houses where the owners were chased out at the end of the 19th century, often with violence. Not surprising that there is a lot of resistance against the monument and there have even been action groups who wanted to have it removed. However, you do not change the history by breaking down such a mounument and the statue is now a bitter testimony of the atrocities that have taken place here. hr>
Carn Liath Carn LiathGolspie is best known for Dunrobin castle, but we don't stop for a visit. We have already seen it inside and out. But we do stop at Carn Liath, a so-called broch from the Iron Age that had to offer protection to the people from the surrounding settlements. The previous time we were here the batteries of our camera were empty so this time we have to take some pictures.
This time I get talking to two Englishmen, but soon the discussion goes a weird way: from how people used to live to the lack of natural selection now. Nature used to determine who survived, now we just take care of our weak fellow humans, which is, according to these two Englishmen, a big mistake. Their comment "maybe Hitler was not even wrong" makes me very angry and I end the conversation with the answer that we really do not have to help nature by committing mass murders. According to their own statements, they have just migrated from Engand to Scotland to avoid the crowds and overpopulation there. I wish them that they had lived here at the time of the Clearances, then they would speak differently.
Lamb Glen near DunbeathWe are now entering an area where more sheep live than people. Because it is colder here than for example in the Netherlands, the lamb season also starts later and even though it is already June, many very young lambs are walking around. Their mothers usually give them a good example when a car comes along by jumping away, but there are lambs who stay curious instead of panicking like their mother.
Glen near Dunbeath Glen near DunbeathAt Dunbeath we drive into the valley that runs to Berriedale Water, a one-lane road through a vast area. Like everywhere in Scotland, there are houses inhabited now and thne, but also many abandoned ruins, traces of the Clearances.
Coast at DunbeathDunbeath itself is a quiet place that was founded for the expelled farmers. All these new villages were placed along the coast in order to be able to use the inland for sheep farming. The former farmers often started with the construction of a harbor to earn money in the fishing industry, and here too, for a while, there was a lively harbor with a herring fleet of as many as 150 ships, but it did not last very long.
Dunbeath castle Dunbeath castleIn the distance we see a castle, Dunbeath Castle, but it is closed to the public and is still inhabited. The oldest parts of the castle date from the 14th century and it is very nice situated on the rocks above the bay.
Grey cairns of Camster Grey cairns of CamsterBeyond Lybster we turn off the A9 and take the single track road to Watten which leads us past the Gray cairns of Camster, two impressive prehistoric tomb monuments. They are about 5000 years old and well preserved in the now swampy peat area. Even now they are still well maintained. Plank bridges are laid in the area so you can easily reach them.
Grey cairns of CamsterThe southern cairn is circular and the burial chamber was completely intact at the time of discovery. A large amount of human and animal bones has been found inside and also traces of a fire. The northern Long Cairn has been extended in several periods into an elongated monument with several burial chambers. Metal fences ensure that sheep and other animals do not enter the graves.
Grey cairns of Camster Grey cairns of CamsterBut of course I want to crawl inside and it is quite narrow (or I am a bit too wide ...) and very dark in the beginning. On hands and feet I reach the burial chambers which give a good picture of how much value people already attach to life at the time, enough to take good care of the dead. Undoubtedly only the most important people of a tribe would have received such a grave. I try to move back in time and imagine what has happened here. Personally I find these places very impressive because they connect you with other people from a distant past who have done so much effort to build such a monument.
Building in HalkirkFrom Watten we arrive in a slightly duller area, mainly extensive agricultural lands, but in Halkirk we see this beautiful building. Only later we read that there must also be 2 castles, both called Braal. One is a ruin now from the time of the Vikings, the other a modern castle.
River at HalkirkAlong the Thurso river we drive to the town of Thurso. Many names in this area refer to the Norwegian influences, because Thuros is derived from Thorsa, Norwegian for 'river of the god Thor'. From a distance it looks like a large city, but with a few thousand inhabitants it is not too big. We stay at the Royal hotel in the center and check in first before we take a walk through the town.
Royal hotel, Thurso View on the Royal hotelThe room is spacious and we have a view on the war memorial and on the right photo you can see our hotel room, on the corner of the building directly under the tower. We are on Trail Street in the center of the city and the road that runs past it is the A9, the busiest road in the north of Scotland. It is a beautiful evening and the youth of Thurso think it's a good idea to drive around half the night, with the sound installations pretty loud and of course they have to impress the town with the noise that their exhausts produce.
Stag nightBesides the noisy cars, there is also a trailer full of young people who celebrate a kind of bachelor party. They circle the town endlessly, but with one tasteless detail: one of the youngsters gets a bucket full of rubbish opoured over him, we have no idea what is in the bucket but it looks rather dirty!
We are in any case glad that we have a place to sleep, even if it only gets quiet in the town after four o'clock.


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