Tonight we’ll find ourselves in John O’Groats, travelling through countryside that is a sight for sore eyes. Without studying a map it’s difficult to put it into context as water is constantly to our right. Oil rig platforms have been dotted on Comarty Firth, I know there are many who consider these structures elegant in their own way but all I can think is, “who would permit such travesty to create such a blight on the landscape in such a small body of water”?
This train carrying us to Wick its a four and half hour journey, two carriages, and less than 15 passengers including us. We thought ourselves very clever yesterday procuring two of the last eight seats available at £17.00 and couldn’t understand why only six of us were in the carriage when we departed from the station at Inverness. The conductor and the young woman serving refreshments on the train enlightened us, there is rarely more than 5-10 people on this train to Wick which actually travels through Thurso before changing direction towards its final destination of Wick and our tickets were not the last seats on the train just at that price.
Scotland is a wonderland, no matter where we go or what we see, castles, hiking, lochs and locks, pastureland, mountains and moors, my mind is bursting with delight at every scene.
Before I go on I truly must tell you I had words with Peter on the day we arrived in Inverness. It was on our way towards the town centre, you know after my envy button had been activated. Peter had activated another of my buttons the “stop asking people so many personal questions”. We had encountered a lady at the mid point of our discovery walk, she going the opposite way. By the time we got to the High Street, she was right behind us and I suppose she initiated the conversation. The most interesting aspect is that she was a Fijian woman, quite a stunning lady I thought, of course Peter was curious enough to ask about her origins, how she came to be in Scotland etc etc, but it went on and on. At what point does one stop asking questions? I promptly chastised him. You may think me harsh, but did it deter him from further interrogating peoples lives? Not one jot!
We have had some great conversations with wide and varied groups of people. At Culloden Battlefield we encountered a lady at the bus stop, waiting like us for the bus running very late. Julie and her husband Charles who in the 45minutes of being in each other’s company uttered only a handful of words, but Julie a delightful conversationalist would give Peter a good run for his verbal currency and I’m sure would be a neck and neck finish.
Julie and Charles were up from Edinburgh. The media had reported that a housing estate was to be built adjacent the battlefield, a “sacred site”, and she wanted to confirm or dispel the accuracy of the media report. They had journeyed to Inverness and visited Culloden to enquire at the National Trust desk in the visitors centre/museum whether in fact the media report was accurate.
I have to take break from my story of a Julie momentarily to look out of the train window as I write this for you, to look at the ever changing landscape; a burn, a mountainside green with patches of browned bracken almost creating a map of the world like you see on a globe, houses at the bottom and then looking forward narrow tracts of paddocks fenced off, I can imagine they are separately owned or is it in fact paddocks used to rotate the stock feeding. Further ahead still, black sheep herded together with white sheep running away from the train track as the driver sounds his horn. It’s just like a movie. If you’re a Great British Train Journey fan with Michael Portillo I think it’s more than just the Bradshaw’s guide that is attractive but the constantly changing landscape that holds the greatest attraction surely.
We are miles ahead and the landscape has turned quite rugged from the forests we saw now that far back and then a green valley floor between the brown mountains. A true feast for the senses.
Back to Julie – she is incredibly well read, knows all about the toppling of Malcom Turnbull, at the same time enquiring after our new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the progress and establishment of the New RAH. They have visited Australia quite a number of times, and were in Adelaide whilst it was still under construction, also recalling the SAMHRI. I’m seriously impressed and the reality that I’m happy to comment on what I like and what I don’t without too much foundation makes me realise that I should be more diligent about what is happening in my own city and country and of course I shouldn’t believe what the media says but go get the facts for myself from the source.
Towards the end of our encounter as the bus was arriving into Inverness our conversation sped up a fraction, there still so much ground to be covered. Where do we live, will they come back and visit Adelaide, come and stay with us (though the silent Charles might be a challenge) but he knew where Norwood is because he knew where Don Bradman lived and now we know he is a cricket tragic and we are back on terra firma. A hasty exchange of email addresses and I’ll be sure to contact Julie soon.
Just one more story and the answer to a question I left you with in the last blog post.
On our way home from a sensational dinner at the award winning gastropub The Waterfront last night, we met a woman in the street of our b’n’b. We were looking at the houses and of course I was snapping away with my phone when we spotted a car whose wheel had been clamped. Peter and I were speculating why the car had been disabled; a parking infringement? A street resident approached asking if we needed help, I can’t imagine why except that maybe taking photos of people’s homes is not the done thing? So we struck up a conversation, she has seven children, three living abroad, one marrying soon etc etc. she suggested that most likely the owner of the car who lived within the house where the car was parked has not paid the Road Tax. Its the equivalent of our motor registration fees.
What a great idea! Yes Australia, clamp the wheels of defaulters and disable vehicles that are illegally on the road. What are we so afraid of? I’ll have to get Julie on to this one!
Our conversation continued on a little until Peter’s reply began with “God-willing……. our neighbour perked up her ears in reply and said, “you said God-willing, does that mean you are a Christian.” We replied in the affirmative and it went on from there, which church her family attends, what does a “Free church” means, which church we attend, etc etc? We had found a kindred Spirit. I think this means she no longer thought we were casing the place across the road ?
When we arrived home, and I’ll call it home because that’s were our belongs are and where we sleep, we met Mhairi (don’t you just love that Gaelic spelling), it was our first meeting, her husband had met us the day before when we checked in. Mhairi was hiding Christmas presents she had wrapped for some of her grandchildren. After doing the usual 20 questions I had it in mind to find the answer to the bed and breakfast phenomenon in the district. She told us we were in “The Breakfast Triangle”. Large Victorian houses where families had grown up and subsequently moved away and parents who were left with large empty houses. One by one they became b’n’bs generating an income which would help defray the cost of keeping a house so large.
Mhairi and her husband Fred don’t own the house where we are staying they rent it from the landowner and have done so for the last five years. “It was a dump” she said, they have fitted it out with new bathrooms, kitchen, laundry, decorated and furnished the bedrooms, six as far as I could tell, she went on to say they will give back a property much better than they leased. They have a five year lease and we imagine they aim to renew. Mhairi said if they don’t renew they will be out of work and homeless and that’s where our conversation ended.
Answer: The Breakfast Triangle.
We will see you at the top of Scotland. Almost there!