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Caithness, south of Thurso

Home -> Europe -> Scotland -> Travelogue Scotland -> 03 June 2007

Sunday 03 June, Caithness, south of Thurso

The day starts sunny, but even before we have breakfast in the hotel's large dining room, it gets cloudy. But it is a lot warmer than yesterday when it sometimes did not exceed 10 degrees. We want to visit some places today where we have not been before. Via a few roads that we have not driven before, we drive towards Westerdale. Along the way we pass Achanarras Quarry, an excavation where you can find fossils, but today we do not want to go fossil hunting and you need a permit that we do not have.
Thurso river at WesterdaleAccording to our map, at Westerdale the world almost ends and only a long dead-end road passes Strathmore Water to the south and that road divides itself again at the end. A nice ride for an hour or two, it seems according to the map. First we drive through a bare, reasonably flat area, in the distance we see forests.
Castle-like house Loch MoreSoon we come across a cottage, Strathmore Lodge, which the owner is trying to turn into a castle-like something; something that we probably would do if we lived here. At Loch More, however, the asphalt disappears and becomes an irregular sand and gravel path. We wonder for a moment if we should go on, talk to some old men who are sitting in a jeep and they say that we can drive on.
So we do that, but the quality of the road becomes worse and after more than 10 kilometers from Loch More we arrive at the next house where we decide to turn around. The road is now just a path with lots of holes and we don't want to wreck our car. Just when we have turned around we suddenly see a car behind us! Probably people who come from the house and the nearest hamlet to let them pass is more than 20 kilometers away, there is only one road (too narrow for someone to pass) and we have a car behind us who is probably in a greater hurry than we! It takes a long time before we are back in the civilized world. Well, at least I can make the road on the map a bit longer since we have been there.
Sandside Bay Warning: radioactive beachWe then return to the north coast where it is becoming increasingly foggy. Here is the oldest British nuclear power plant, which is already out of operation. But the consequences are still there: signs warn us in Sandside Bay that you can not take anything from the beach because of radioactive danger.
Former nuclear powerplant Dounreay Former nuclear powerplant DounreayThe Dounreay nuclear power plant is a collection of domes and factories that is totally misplaced in the landscape. One would have thought to put such a 'dangerous' thing (with eventually 3 fast breeder reactors) far away in the fairly unpopulated north. There is a free exhibition but it does not say anything about the increased radioactivity in this area due to leaking and inadequate management. For employment in the area it was of course great, but whether it was worth the price? The number of cases of leukemia seems to be higher here than elsewhere in the country and we are curious where this cow meat will go.
Cnoc FreiceadainWe do not really have a plan for today and actually we just drive around. The weather also does not lend itself to doing anything outdoor. Rain starts to fall again and I drive some roads that are still open on the map. Through the drenched meadows of Cnoc Freiceadain I drag myself to 2 elongated burial mounds, but they are not really spectacular. But the fact that they are constructed together from previous single burial mounds is.
Cairn at Loch Stemster Cairn at Loch StemsterAfter driving along the north coast and taking some side roads we go back to the south. Our itinerary is rather chaotic today, we could have better driven these roads this morning when we were here anyway. But this wayI can drive new roads (wll, new for me) that I can follow to the end before going onto another road. At Achavanich we turn to Loch Stemster where dozens of stones form a large circle of stones. It does not rain anymore and it is a bit warmer again, so we take all the time to enjoy the view and the place. Despite the large number of stones (34) and the surface there is no information board and also on the internet we find little information about it. Caithness seems to have about 4000 prehistoric sites, from a time when the climate was more pleasant.
Harbour of Lybster Waterfall at LybsterThen we drive to Lybster, a village from the 19th century and once home to 200 herring boats, the third largest fleet in the country. The road to the now quieter port passes a nice waterfall where we stop for a while. Lybster itself is a small but funny place with a gigantic wide street: there is a six-lane highway through it! And nobody knows why this is so.
Traces of the Clearances Roof of grassOur trip then brings us around the Loch Yarrows where again many prehistoric traces can be found. But also more recent history such as abandoned ruins of houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, from which the inhabitants were chased away during the Clearances. The fact that many of the houses still stand but the roofs have disappeared may be explained by the way in which barns are still being built in this area: everything is made of stone except for the roof that is formed by laying sods over the roof. The sods and the wood of the older houses have gone and the stone walls are still standing.
Church in ThursoWe are pretty late back in Thurso where we take a short walk. In Wick we refueled lpg, the only station with lpgin the high north. We are just in time because the owner already closed the gas pump with a fence, half an hour before closing time. Fortunately he remembers us from yesterday and we promise to visit him more often.
But the quality of the gas here is worse than elsewhere, because the engine regularly turns off and then we have to drive at least 5 minutes on gasoline before we can switch to gas (lpg) again. Of course we first doubt this theory, but if we later return to the south, we do not have these problems anymore or less, so that must have been the case. Our radius is also much smaller on a filled tank than normal, almost 15%.
And we have made a lot of mileage again! Elisabeth was not really happy with me at every moment the last few days(and rightly so!), But I have now driven all roads in Caithness which are on my Scotland map! The very first area in Scotland where we now have all roads (according to our map, a few roads are missing, a few roads don't exist anymore and not all roads in villages and towns are shown). And to be honest, I am happy, because despite the many things that can be seen here, it is not really an inspiring environment, except for parts of the coast. But now we do not have to come back here for some time and we can explore the rest of Scotland further!


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