17 October 2010--Early night in the Anderson last night, and with Win and Scott gone, I enjoy the luxury of sleeping in a little
this morning. It's only my own time I'm wasting now. Hopefully they too can have a restful Sunday before going back to the daily grind.
I'm away north at 10:30, on the A9, across the Cromarty and Dornoch Firths. On a whim, I pull into Dornoch for a look around. The main road bypasses it, and I've never stopped--I'm usually hurrying off to Orkney when I'm here. I find a surprisingly charming village built largely of yellow sandstone, reminding me of the golden limestone towns of the Cotswolds. It's a very soft stone--there's a yellow dust on my fingers after a casual brush, leaving me wondering why the whole town hasn't long ago eroded away. The Dornoch Castle Hotel is obviously made of something more durable; the tower house section was built in the 15th century, and the eastern wing in the 16th. They've been through the usual rounds of battle damage, dereliction, and reconstruction, and no doubt there's a good deal of modern support behind the faįade. It's nevertheless very impressive, at least from the exterior. I'd pop into the bar for a pint, but it's really too early.
Across the street stands Dornoch Cathedral, said to be Scotland's smallest. Like St Giles in Edinburgh, it's a cathedral in name only, in deference to its history, which dates to 1239 (although again, there has been a fair amount of reconstruction). Madonna had her son christened here in 2000, and was married in nearby Skibo Castle. To be honest, this celebrity connection has probably done as much to keep me out of Dornoch as anything. I should try not to be quite so contrary. It's the prettiest town I've seen in this part of Scotland, and as I'm walking around photographing it, a local gent--a Dornocher, I suppose--takes it upon himself to collar me and tell me how wonderful it is. I let him chew my ear for some time. I'm convinced--I'd like to stay a night or two.
I drive out to the beach for a few photos, passing the Royal Dornoch Golf Club on the links. The club's highly-rated Championship Course is probably the single factor most responsible for the town's prosperity. Then it's back on the A9. A bit up the road, I stop at Cārn Liath broch, the first broch I ever saw, in 1998. It's still impressive. Then I make a stop in Helmsdale, another village I've driven by many times. This is a planned town, meant to house cleared Highlanders. Its little harbor was once home to 200 herring boats. You could spend a day here, I suppose, but after Dornoch, it seems a bit drab. I content myself with an hour's walkabout.
Arrive in Wick at about 5:00 and dine at the Alexander Bain, a Wetherspoon's pub in the former telephone exchange building. Bain was a local lad and a noted inventor, not to be confused with the philosopher of the same name, a rough contemporary. Dinner is, well, Wetherspoon's, and the pints of Deuchar's would be a steal at Ģ1.10, except that it's rather off. The clientele on a Sunday evening seems a bit off, as well, so I retire to the lounge at Mackay's Hotel. It's a comfortable place with a decent pint and some unusual bottles from the local Pulteney distillery, which I will visit tomorrow. The charming woman doubling up at the front desk and the bar takes some time to tell me about things of interest in town. Wick's another place I've neglected, and it's always seemed pretty bleak to me, just driving by. Tomorrow I'll see what it has to offer.