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Highlands of northeast Scotland

Ø July 27 Inverness - Highlands tour (Saturday) More photos can be found here.

Dummy me forgot to set an alarm, so I was up late, got clean and downstairs in a jiffy, and we were out on the #Inverness street at 8:25 watching for a silver Mercedes. Due to Kessock Bridge traffic, Celia started a few minutes late, but we settled in for the hour ride, crossing the Kessock, Cromarty and Dornoch Firth Bridges and passing through Tain, which would have been our train stop.

#DornochCathedral was a Catholic cathedral for 350 years, following Gilbert de Moravia’s southern move of his seat as Bishop of Caithness from Halkirk. (Reportedly, this is the most northerly cathedral on the British mainland. Dedicated to the Conception of the Virgin Mary, it has been known as the Cathedral Church of St Mary and St Gilbert.) In the Highlands area of Sutherland, this Church of Scotland parish church had been left in ruins following a fire in 1570 through its “over-restorations” in 1835-37, which removed much of the original church. Now a stone cruciform church set in churchyard with mature trees and gravestones, its interior lighting gives a persistent warm golden glow throughout the nave, transept and quire.

Carnegie windows

Twenty-eight stained-glass windows give a lot of light to the interior. Of note are three in the northern wall commemorating #AndrewCarnegie, who stayed nearby at Skibo. In the chancel, three lights portray the risen Christ flanked by two women saints in shades of green and blue. I felt these may be likened to Tiffany Studio designs. Several modern windows portray more universalist themes. In the walls, recovered old grave stones have been placed, striking a morbid note here and there. Occurrences of brilliant carving gave me some delight. And then, up in the ceiling arches was a relatively new addition, the head of the Master Mason.

Out in the graveyard we found the #PlaidenEll. One of three surviving in Britain, this stone was used during the markets held in the church yard as an official measurement stone for purchasing lengths of cloth. My notes indicate there is a puzzle fountain in front with a crocodile; I have a picture of a gold cherub on a black pedestal topped with a lamp over a cupola(?) After a half hour in Dornoch, we rode about a dozen miles along the east coast (around Loch Fleet) and through Golspie to #DunrobinCastle.

Dunrobin Castle is the historic home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. Arriving just before 11, Celia knew the schedule so we got parked and purchased tickets. Descending down into the fabulous formal gardens, we snagged chairs for the falconry demonstration and then I wandered and took pictures of the birds. The handler pointed out he was working for the birds, as he exercised the Saker falcon, Harris hawk and a peregrine falcon.

Swinging a lure around as the birds took their positions, the falcons would swoop at the treat rather fast. After multiple passes, the trainer would allow the falcons to catch it and get their meal. For the hawk, the lure was a “rabbit”. Magnificent birds, and an entertaining 45 minutes.

As we were on the garden levels, we next went to the museum, a lodge filled with hunting trophies as well as Pictish stones and other carvings. The Sutherlands are collectors, so there are all sorts of items on shelves, many jammed together, in no perceptively particular order. It was a case of sensory overload. So we exited and continued to walk slowly up out of the gardens and into the castle itself.

Up the staircase, the formal dining room was set for 10. A large oriental cover most of the floor, and oil portraits hung on the wood-paneled walls. The music room was in the corner; a breakfast room displayed simpler dining. Ornate ceilings were in just about every room, patterned in plaster. Personally, I fell in love with the library, wanting to pull out a leather-bound book and settle in between the window and the fireplace. Pale green silk lined the walls of a bedroom. A rocking horse and model yawl were among the toys evident in the rather large children’s room, which also included a doll house and a wall of books. One room had been converted to house and display the robes, gowns and uniforms, with old sewing machines positioned for repairs and modifications.

Leaving Golspie, we returned to Dornoch to visit the beach and have a picnic lunch. Mandra fulfilled a desire and got her feet wet in the North Sea. As we drove out, we passed through the Royal Dornoch Golf Club. Our next stop was the Nigg Old Church. Alongside is the sign for The Bishop’s Walk, referring to the Bishop of Ross whose seat (I now find out) was in Fortrose. The church is the home to the #NiggCrossSlab, which we waited about a half hour to go see, as a wedding was finishing (photos, etc.) before the party walked down the muddy road to the reception. (The brides rode behind a piper.) We entered the church grounds, passing moss covered gravestones and managed to get into the church and view the stone before the caretakers finished resetting the church for Sunday services and locking the place up. This eighth-century Pictish stone carving is mounted upright, and is visible on both sides. The markings are awesome.

Continuing along the Pictish Trail, we next visited the #ShandwickStone. Set in a glass structure surrounded by a barricade, the light reflected off the glass from the surrounding bright grass fields. The views from that rise were quite super. Switching focus, our next stop was the #BeaulyPriory. (Fortrose Cathedral ruins were just too much out of the way.) The stones of the west entry arch and side walls of the priory church remain. A narrow space, the monastic community was founded in the thirteenth century. An effigy over the tomb of Kenneth Mackenzie is quite striking, seen through a grill. I was also impressed by some really old trees.

Returning to Inverness, we made one last stop at the #ClootieWell. Set in a woodland, the well is associated with St Curitan (aka Boniface), a seventh century bishop. Offerings are left with the hope for healing. (Signs remind visitors that their “offerings” should be small and biodegradable, as the healing doesn’t occur until the soaked “cloot”, or cloth, rots. As we climbed the trail leading to the small well, many articles of clothing were hung in and on the trees and bushes. Along the stream running from the wellhead, these offerings got denser, with some lying on the ground. Per Celia, dipping a hand or foot into the well and spinning for 3 revolutions may grant you your wish.

Celia brought us back to the house, and after paying her, she took off for Fortrose and we dropped our gear in our rooms. Heading down Heathmouth from the B&B, we passed the hotel in favor of The Corriegarth for dinner. My choices were buffalo wings and fajita chicken pasta, accompanied by a Happy Chappy ale from Cromarty Brewing Company. My notes indicate the food was good, with the buffalo sauce on the side being quite hot. The pasta was filling, with good flavor in the cream sauce. No pictures.

Back at the B&B, we sat in the front room and talked for a bit. Don poured me two different whiskies, and the German women joined us and ooh’d and aah’d over the cathedral photobook, a copy of which I’d left with Maurag and Don. One being from Berlin, she had several questions about the 4 cathedrals outside the center of the city (not the 3 “Doms” and St Hedwig), as she didn’t know them. I was able to describe where they were. Fading as it was approaching midnight, I went upstairs and got as much packing done as I could, cleaned up, and crashed for the night.

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