The Coastal Path in Scotland – The Falls of Shin

When you arrive, the mosaic gives it away.

Mosaic at the Falls of ShinThe Falls of Shin, in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, are a fantastic place to watch salmon trying to pass up river during the summer months.

About five miles north of the falls is Loch Shin, a large body of water some 16 miles long and covering an area of over 30 square miles.  The entirety of this loch discharges at a single point, at its southernmost extreme, into the River Shin.  In terms of water dispensed, it is said that the River Shin is the largest in Sutherland.  It drops some 300 feet during its short 7-mile journey to the Kyle of Sutherland estuary before it flows out to sea at the Dornoch Firth.

Most of the river’s descent is in the last mile or so.  At the Falls of Shin the river narrows to a few metres in width.  It is here where wild Atlantic salmon can be seen leaping out of the water as they try to fight their way upstream to the safety of the Loch and feeder rivers to spawn.

I wasn’t sure what we would see when we arrived here, so all I told my wife and children was that we were here to see a waterfall.  However, within seconds of our arrival there were the salmon, leaping to the very extent of their ability against a torrent of water which looked to slam them back down to their starting place.

img_3447The salmon in the picture above, I am sure, didn’t make it – it’s angle of attack seemed wrong.  However, within seconds another one leaped from the churning, seething waters to make its bid.  We watched as every few seconds salmon threw themselves upward, out of the resistance of the river into a split second of free air before diving back into the force of the waters.

Falls of Shin

It seemed impossible that any of the fish actually made the leap up the falls, but clearly they do.

The Falls of Shin

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • The Falls of Shin: N 57° 57.640 W 004° 24.430
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The Coastal Path in Scotland – The Sutherland Monument

About 35 miles north of Inverness the Sutherland Monument stands on the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh, a small hill of 1,302 feet overlooking the village of Golspie.  It sticks out of the hill like a needle and can be seen from many miles away.

Sutherland MonumentThe Sutherland Monument was erected in the 1830’s, following the death of the first Duke of Sutherland.  He was given the title about six months before he died.  It is a controversial memorial, for the Duke of Sutherland and his wife are largely reviled for their part in the Highland Clearances.

At the time of the clearances, he was a Marquis, former MP and ambassador.  By the time he married the wealthy Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, he was already a millionaire in his own right, said to be earning some £300,000 per annum from his estates in Staffordshire.  The Sutherland estate was one of the largest estates in Europe, if not the largest, although it was viewed as uneconomic when considered in its own right.

For this reason, during the years 1811-21 the Countess and her husband evicted their farming tenants and residents, demolishing their homes and clearing the land.  The land was then let more profitably to Lowland sheep farmers.  Many of those evicted resettled in new villages along the coast.  Many emigrated overseas to the “New World”.  However, the fact was that families who had lived on this land for many generations were simply turfed out at short notice.

According to some, the duke was horrified by the appalling living conditions the people endured on the inland part of the estate, and believed the land could simply not sustain them.  They argue he moved them to what he considered to be better conditions and a better life.  According to others, the clearances were simply driven by greed.  There was more profit to be had from sheep farming.  As for the existing families, they simply had to be moved.

The Highland Clearances were not confined to the Sutherland estate; they occurred all across the Scottish Highlands.  However, the Sutherland clearances are considered to be the most dramatic and harsh.  Large volumes of people were resettled in a relatively short period of time, and without compassion.  In some cases crops had to be left in the ground and the families had to carry what they could, leaving everything else behind.  Estate records show that the eviction of 2,000 families a day was not uncommon.

1814 was a notorious year, known as the Year of the Burning.  Once families had been evicted, their houses were burnt down, sometimes with their belongings still in them.  On one occasion a witness reported seeing 250 crofts on fire from a single vantage point.  Today the stone outlines of demolished ruins can still be seen.

The Countess and her husband themselves were resident in London, and so employed a “factor” (from the Latin “who acts”) to represent them.  This factor was Patrick Sellar, himself a sheep farmer.  He oversaw many of the evictions.  One of these was in Strathnaver, on the north coast, and concerned the home of William Chisholm who lived with his wife and mother-in-law, Margaret MacKay.  Margaret MacKay was over 90 years old and refused to leave during the eviction.  The roof was therefore set on fire with her inside the building, reportedly on the basis that this would probably persuade her to leave.  Margaret MacKay was rescued by her daughter and taken to a nearby shed which itself was only just avoided being torched.  Margaret MacKay died five days later.

Sellar was put on trial for arson and culpable homicide.  The jury were said to be local landowners.  The witnesses for the prosecution only spoke Gaelic which had to be translated for the jury to understand the evidence.  Sellar was acquitted and was later given large tracts of land by the Countess and her husband, in thanks for his work for them.

When the Duke of Sutherland died in 1833 a subscription was started to raise funds for a monument in his memory.  According to Discover Sutherland, “Subscriptions came in from far and wide, which is surprising given his reputation today“.  The monument was erected in 1837 and stands at 100 feet tall.  It was carried up Beinn a’ Bhragaidh by horse and cart.

Sutherland Monument

Its inscription reads, “Of loved, revered and cherished memory.  Erected by his tenantry and friends“.

Sutherland Monument InscriptionKnown locally as The Mannie, opinion on it seems to be divided into two camps.  Some want the monument to stay, as a reminder of what happened here.  One local resident has said, “If you take away history nobody will ask questions.  If he stays there people will ask what it is and then hear what happened here during the Highland Clearances“.

Others, however, want the monument pulled down, calling it a “monument to a monster“.  There have been petitions to the Scottish Parliament to have it removed.  There have been hate messages sprayed across its base.  In 1994 there was even an attempt to dynamite it.  There are regular reports of damage and vandalism to the monument, as people attempt to topple it.

When we reached it the base had been protected by a metal cage, and there was a small amount of rubble lying around the base.  Was this evidence of someone chiseling away at the base?

Damage to the Sutherland MonumentAs it is, the Duke of Sutherland currently remains in situ, surveying Golspie and the coastline beyond.

Sutherland MonumentIt is a wonderful stretch of coastline.  We’ll be walking through one day.

View from the Sutherland Monument

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • The Sutherland Monument:  N 57° 58.900 W 004° 00.395

Walk Statistics:

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The Coastal Path in Scotland – Cromarty Firth

As Coastal Walkers, we wanted our July 2015 trip to Scotland to take in some of the country’s amazing coastline.  Our first stop was at the Cromarty Firth, about 15 miles to the north of Inverness.  Not only could we visit the distiller of my wife’s favourite whisky, Dalmore, but we could also show the kids the spectacular site of the oil rigs, laid up in the water for repair.

Oil Rigs on the Cromarty FirthThe Cromarty Firth is a generous body of protected water and in times past provided an important trade link with the south.  In World War I the American Navy took over Dalmore Distillery and used it as a submarine mine base.  In 1917-19 they built a pier sticking out into the firth, still known locally as “Yankee Pier”.  The pier is on distillery land and today is accessible to all.  It affords great views and is worth the short walk.

Yankee PierIn the 1930’s flying boat crews were here and the base was used for training and surveillance, stepping up to active duties during World War II as the battle for air supremacy raged across Europe.

Today the military base is gone and the Cromarty Firth is used primarily by the oil industry.  There were more oil rigs this time than I had seen in times past – you can see them all stacking up in the first photo.  Why were there so many here on this trip?  Were they all in for repair?

Alas, no.  Whilst some rigs were here for repair or refit, a number were simply “parked” here.  The persistent depression in oil prices had caused uncertainty in the oil industry, resulting in a considerable drop in demand for North Sea oil and gas exploration.  By October 2015 there were 12 rigs here, with further capacity for a further 6 or so.  We could see them held fast with enormous chains.

Oil Rigs on the Cromarty FirthI’ve not been back to the Cromarty Firth since.  I wonder how many are laid up there today?

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Dalmore Distillery:  N 57° 41.310 W 004° 14.330
  • Yankee Pier:  N 57° 40.806 W 004° 14.288
  • Google Earth:  Oil Rig Docked at Invergordon:   N 57° 41.140 W 004° 10.625

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82f – Portland Bill Part I

As we made our final approach to Portland Bill we left the rugged, almost Mediterranean, landscape behind and entered quarry territory.  Massive piles of rocks lay heaped on the ground, as if giants had passed this way and made cairns the size of small houses.

Quarried Rock on the Approach to Portland BillPiles of rubble lay strewn around.  In some places these rocks lay across the entrances to great sunken pits, cut into the ground.  It seemed as if there may be a maze of caves inside, and that the rocks had been used to block up the entrances in order to stop anyone exploring.

Quarried LandscapeAt one point we came across a hoist which appeared to be used for moving rocks up from a platform cut into the cliffs below.

HoistIt didn’t look very “modern” and I was left wondering if it was a mock-up of a centuries-old crane.  Bur maybe not; perhaps the old ways are the best.

HoistAnd then we were out of the barren landscape and back to civilisation.  Portland’s three lighthouses stretched in a line in front of us.

A few hundred years ago the Portland area was well known for shipwrecks, both off Portland itself and around Chesil Beach to the north.  After a series of petitions to Trinity House, a decision was made in the eighteenth century to build two lighthouses here.  These, known as the Old Higher Lighthouse and the Old Lower Lighthouse, were built at the same time.  The Old Higher Lighthouse is situated, as its name suggests, slightly further inland on higher ground.

Old Higher LighthouseThe Old Lower Lighthouse is lower down, closer to the coast.

Old Lower LighthouseBoth lighthouses shone for the first time on 29 September 1716.  They lasted for nearly 200 years, but were eventually replaced.  The Old Higher Lighthouse is now privately owned accommodation and the Old Lower Lighthouse a bird observatory.

In the very early 1900’s Trinity House put forward plans to replace both existing lighthouses with a single, taller, lighthouse at Portland Bill Point.  Work started in 1903, and the new lighthouse lit its first lamp on 11 January 1906.  It stands at 135 feet and remains a functioning lighthouse; it is now fully automated.

Portland Bill LighthouseJust in front of the lighthouse is an obelisk.  Although it looks like a memorial (and seems to be used as such by some, as there were flowers and photos around its base when we visited) it is in fact a daymark.  These are navigational aids to shipping which are used in the daytime, as opposed to lighthouses which are predominantly used at night or in poor weather.

Portland Bill DaymarkPoints on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Old Higher Lighthouse:  N 50° 31.336 W 002° 27.380
  • Old Lower Lighthouse:   N 50° 31.178 W 002° 27.065
  • Portland Bill Lighthouse:  N 50° 30.845 W 002° 27.375
  • Portland Bill Daymark:  N 50° 30.800 W 002° 27.399

Walk #82 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

Map

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82e – Church Ope Cove to Portland Bill

As we walked south from Church Ope Cove I felt that the landscape was almost Mediterranean.  We were completely alone.  The sky was a blistering blue and glared off the limestone cliffs.  The sea rippled in an inviting turquoise colour rather than in the steely green-grey I often see off England’s shores.  Overhead, a young buzzard hovered as it hunted.  We watched it for a long time.  It seemed to follow us as we went.  Were we disturbing its prey as we crunched our way along the path?  Or maybe it was hunting us!

35-buzzardThe Coastal Path south of Church Ope Cove is a solitary, beautiful stretch of coastline that I would recommend to anyone.  After so many quarries, prisons and immigration centres to the north side of Portland it was a pleasure to get back to a stretch of rugged coastline.  Except the ruggedness still had a structured look to it.  None of Portland is untouched.  Its stone has been lost to too many construction projects. Every cliff face had a blocky look to it, showing where the stone had been cut from its face.  We weren’t quite walking in a Minecraft game but the comparison springs to mind.

Looking Back NorthIndeed, we soon reached reminders of Portland’s contribution to the urban landscape of so many cities across the world.  Massive stone blocks had been set at the side of the path.

But these had not been discarded.  They a purpose – they had some ropes looped around them.

Portland Climbing StoneWhy where there ropes looped around these blocks?  I leaned over the cliff edge and peered down – ah!  A climbing lesson – Portland is a much sought-out climbing destination.

Portland ClimbingThe students were all sat around a climbing instructor who was running through the order of the day, which was clearly for the students to take the strain of the rope and climb up to the plateau above.  With us at the top.  Or perhaps other people who would come along after we left.  Other, more sinister, people who could easily snip the rope when these climbers were only half way up, were they so inclined to do so.

It’s not that I don’t trust complete strangers who carry a pair of kitchen scissors with them when they walk in remote places.  It’s just this:  I would be quite happy to place my life in the taut fibres of a piece of rope.  It’s the taut fibres in the minds of the people walking by the anchor point I think I would be more inclined to worry about…

Walk #82 Statistics (of which this post forms the fifth part):

Map

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82d – Portland Part V – Chruch Ope Cove

About half way down the east cost of Portland is Church Ope Cove.  It offers a secluded beach which, it is said, was once sandy but is now pebbly.  Apparently the extensive quarrying on Portland covered the sand with rock debris which was gradually worn down by the sea into the pebbles that form the surface of the beach today.  Dig down, though, and it is said that the sand lies beneath like buried treasure.

Church Ope CoveIt is believed that the first ever Viking attack of Saxon England took place at this spot, in 789AD.  The raid was in the form of three ships from Hordaland in Norway.  They were spotted as they landed and the authorities were alerted.  The Royal Reeve of Dorchester, whose job it was to identify foreign merchants entering the kingdom of Wessex, came down to investigate and was promptly killed for his troubles.  This small incident was the start of a significant period of history and heritage of Britain.

Overlooking Church Ope Cove is Rufus Castle.  Originally constructed in Norman times to defend the exposed bay, the ruins today are actually a 15th Century blockhouse which is believed to have been constructed on the old Norman site.

Rufus CastleLying just underneath the castle are the ruins of St Andrew’s Church.  There have been several churches built on this site and the earliest dates back to over 1,000 years ago.

St Andrews ChurchThe ruins found today are little more than an outline of the church, in places indistinct due to the encroaching green fingers of nature.  Lying outside the church is a small smattering of graves.  Rumour has it that there is a pirate buried here, and that his grave is marked by a skull and crossbones – here he is!

Grave at St Andrews ChurchI accept that this stretch of coastline was notorious for smuggling.  Church Ope Bay itself, which lies all of 100 metres to the south east of the church, saw its fair share.  However, the suggestion that graves with skulls and crossbones on them designate the final resting places of pirates is, I’m afraid, a myth.  Do not plunder these graves in a desperate need to seek buried treasure, for all you are likely to find is a police car waiting for you when you clamber back out empty-handed!

Graves with skulls and crossbones on them might be few and far between, but they are not as rare as you might think.  In fact there is one local to me in Barnet, North London.  It too is rumoured to be the final resting place of a pirate (Barnet, lying somewhat inland, is not renowned for its pirating activities, so maybe this pirate was retired).

In fact, skulls and crossbones on graves are simply a symbol of mortality and death.  Sometimes the skulls are winged, symbolising ascension to heaven.  The skull and crossbones symbol was popular in the 1700’s.  That’s it.  Sorry.  No pirates I’m afraid.

Having put paid to that, there are some myths which deserve to be perpetuated.  There is, I think, a certain duty which is encumbent on all adults to tell all children that a pirate is buried under any headstone they may see with a skull and crossbones on it.  I know this is wrong, but don’t worry about being wrong.  We all err.  In the words of a friend of mine (who knows who she is but who has probably forgotten that she said this to me once):

To err is human, but to arrrrrrrr is Pirate!

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Church Ope Bay:  N 50° 32.300 W 002° 25.670
  • Rufus Castle:  N 50° 32.370 W 002° 25.740
  • St Andrew’s Church:  N 50° 32.340 W 002° 25.740

Walk #82 Statistics (of which this post forms the fourth part):

Map

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82c – Portland Part IV

Shortly after passing the walls of Portland Prison, the Coastal Path veers eastwards, leading down a steep slope back towards the sea.  After prisons and immigration centres I was rather looking forward to more proper coastline.

From our vantage point at the top of this slope we had views back to Portland Harbour. Look how the sea is calmed by the presence of breakwaters.

Portland Harbour BreakwatersThe landscape on the eastern side of Portland is mostly scrub, bounded by the sea on one side and cliffs on the other.

16-east-side-of-portlandA small herd of British Primitive goats have been introduced to the area as a trial to help manage the scrub.  We kept our eyes open but didn’t see them.  Perhaps they were hiding from the scary titan in the cliffs.  Did you spot him in the photo?  No?  Here, have a closer look!

Face in the CliffHe wasn’t interested in the goats.  He was keeping watch out to sea, where off shore a shelf seemed to drop dramatically, give the sea a beautiful two-tone colour.

East Portland CoastlineThese cliffs are known as The Cuttings.  It was originally an old railway cutting that left several cliffs rising up from its flat quarried base.  It is a very popular rock climbing area, and the various sections of The Cuttings have their own names:  Sunlovers Slab; Mindmeld Area; and Modern Nightmare Area, to name but a few.  One of them is called Hall of Mirrors.  I couldn’t help wondering whether this cliff titan was in the Hall of Mirrors section, and whether this section was named after him and the other faces in the rock?

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Portland Harbour Breakwaters:  N 50° 34.375 W 002° 24.960
  • The Cuttings:  N 50° 32.565 W 002° 25.420

Walk #82 Statistics (of which this post forms the third part):

Map

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