Day three of cramming as much of the Highlands as possible. I awoke with the birdies and dragged myself to the Kia. Six hours of driving and ten hours of adventuring sure makes for a weary traveler. Repeat steps from the last two days: fuel up and Redbull. Today the goal was to drive to John O’Groats the northernmost point of mainland United Kingdom. I didn’t have anything planned in John O’Groats. I was more interested in the road. The windy A9 would merge into the two-lane coastal A99. I found a map that showed some typical, historical spots and with some help from Atlas Obscura I was rearing to have a busy day. The day was warm and sunny. Thank goodness, the weather held for my entire trip!
As I approached Dunrobin Castle the plan was to breeze through one of many stops. I ended up spending about two hours completely entranced by Andy Hughes and his birds of prey. Falconry dates to 1700 BC in the Middle East. The hunting art involves a hunter using a trained bird of prey to kill and retrieve game such as rabbit, pheasant or other species of bird. Falconry didn’t reach Europe until about 900AD. I’m positive this guy has full-on conversations with his birds. Which inevitably happens the closer relationship to a pet. Been there. I appreciated the birds but, the connection between handler and animal was spectacular to witness. Coming from an equestrian background, I understand herd mentality and the vital balance between being the alpha and gentleness. It’s slightly different working with predators. Their relationship is built on equality and trust. Teamwork is key since the solitary hunter will do what is best for itself. The flock (I suppose?) consisted of about ten falcons and two owls. Zooming around the athletic birds demonstrated their trade by ‘killing’ lures. Dunrobin castle is an excellent stop. The inside of the castle was in pristine condition and had a French flair going. It is home to the Earl of Sutherland and Clan Sutherland.
This is my comrade Cedar – an Eagle Owl. It’s his job to hang out at Dunrobin Castle and hunt rabbits. Occasionally take some pictures with girls obsessed with owls. He works with the aviary and Falconry expert Andy Hughes to hunt as well as teach conservation to travelers who pass through. As a person who also works with animals, it’s heartwarming to see someone who has such an intense bond with the creatures they care for.
2. Carn Liath Broch
Less than a mile down the road is Carn Liath Broch.
A broch is an Iron Age drystone structure that is only found in Scotland.
A broch is typically round and was used as either housing or defensive purposes – archaeologists can’t agree. It’s a splendid example if you fancy ruins and historic archaeology. Travelers only need about ten minutes to check it out. I took the opportunity to have a snack and relax in the sun. The structure overlooks a pasture and the ocean. I had the place to myself so it was delightfully silent.
3. The Grey Cairns of Camster
The Grey Cairns of Camster are some of the oldest structures in Scotland. Clocking in at 5,000 years longstanding the stone constructions show us modern folks perfect examples of round cairns and long cairns. Cairns are typically used as burial chambers. Upon excavation in the late 19th century the long cairn produced several human skeletons untouched, but, in the round cairn, archaeologists found human and animal bones which were all burned. The two human skeletons were incomplete both missing their legs. Archaeologists presume that the round cairn was used for ritual. Guess which cairn was open for exploration? Crawl on your hands and knees or squat walk through a ten-foot tunnel into the round cairn’s antechamber. The tunnel entrance was probably 3X2 and pitch black so, seriously not for the claustrophobic. The inner chamber filtered in light through a slight hole in the top of the structure.
4. Hill o’ Many Stanes
The next ancient site was the Hill o’ Many Stanes. The site confounds archaeologists as there no proof that the plot of land home to approximately 200 stones, arranged in 22 rows is an authentic ancient site. The straight lines and arrangement suggest that the site was a lunar chart. The Hill o’ Many Stanes is not exactly exciting, but, the mauve heather carpet along the hill makes for a unique view in contrast to the blue coastline.
5. Cairn o’ Get
Much like the cairns at Camster, Cairn o’Get sports a narrow entrance leading to a roomy antechamber. Cairn o’ Get is dissimilar to the other cairns as the top has fallen in. This site offers a peek into the structure without having to crawl on hands and knees to reach the center. To find Cairn o’ Get park along the lake and take about a mile and a half walk through some cow pastures. Don’t worry follow the back and white markers. It’s a quiet place far off the main A99. Take in the sound of a burn flowing through the waist-high ferns. Be sure to stay on the paths beyond the pastures as the land is boggy and water saturated.
6. Old Wick Castle
The Old Wick Castle lovingly called the “Old Man of Wick” sits on a gaunt, neck of land that juts into the sea. The bones of the castle date back to the 12th century and has some ties to early Norse visitors. There is not much left of the castle, but, it’s a great walk along the coast and a bit of an adrenaline kick peering over the cliff sides. The tower is surrounded by sheer drops on three sides.
The last castle I saw was from afar. Sad times. It was on private land!
Other honorable mentions that I missed, but wanted to see:
The Yarrow Trail
Sinclair & Girnigoe Castle
See? Three days is not enough time… If you have been following along the past three posts you will know that I had three AMAZING action-packed days. I didn’t even scratch the surface of the extensive hiking trails and historical castles and archaeology sites. I think I might spend a month in the north next time!
Missed the other posts? Here ya go:
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate