Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A walk to remember

Last Wednesday was DH’s 65th birthday and as always we celebrated the event with a special meal (home-made by choice). We had also planned to mark his entry into official pensionerhood by taking a trip out somewhere, but the weather forecast for the day itself was decidedly unfavourable.

As luck would have it, the day before his birthday dawned bright and sunny, so on the spur of the moment we decided to take our favourite local walk, to the ruined castle on the headland opposite the house. Caisteal Bharraich or Castle Varrich was the ancient seat of the chief of the Clan Mackayand MacKay is still the most common local surname, as witness the village war memorial.

The footpath from the village to the castle runs past the end of our street and makes its way down to the river, passing fields on one side and the village’s small, neat, and totally inoffensive, reed-bed sewage farm on the other. The footbridge across the lovely little wooded river is an ideal place to play Pooh Sticks, even at my age!

Once across the river the footpath skirts a small area of peat bog before starting to climb the hill through another patch of woodland, a rarity in the vast, open expanses of windswept mountains and valleys which make up the landscape of North-West Sutherland. Most of the trees are gnarled and stunted silver birch, though there has been some new planting recently and DH (a tree-lover to his boot-soles) said there is lodgepole pine among the new saplings, which will certainly provide a contrast in the future.

The footpath up the hill is relatively new, having been constructed a few years ago to replace the old, precipitous, and often treacherous wooden steps which previously provided access to the castle. It winds its way up the steep, north-east facing hillside, which at this time of the year is mostly in shadow, thus making it a little too chilly to enjoy using the two or three sturdy wooden benches which have been placed to take advantage of the view and allow newly-fledged pensioners like DH and me to rest our legs and catch our breath.

One of these benches draws our attention every time we make this walk. It stands overlooking the junction of the river and the Kyle and has a wonderful view out to sea towards the Melness peninsula and the Rabbit Islands.

On either side of it a small heather has been planted and these were still in bloom, while the rest of the heather was already dry and shrivelled.

You have to go round to the front of the bench to see why it has warranted such care and attention. I never knew the person so lovingly commemorated here, but I like to think that this was a favourite spot of hers and that the bench was given in her memory to allow others to enjoy it as she used to do.

Once past the memorial bench the castle begins to loom above the walker. It stands at the tip of the headland, giving a 360 degree field of view and easily defensible, surely the reason it was built in this inaccessible spot. Gaunt and neglected, it juts upwards into the sky like a broken tooth, and one approaches its crumbling fabric with care. But it is worth the steep climb to reach it, and sit or stand under its walls, gazing at the breath-taking view over the mountains, the Kyle and the sea.

This time we were there when the tide was out and we could see flocks of seabirds and waterfowl feeding on the sandbars and mudflats. It is then that one realises just how shallow the Kyle has become, as it gradually silts up since the building of the causeway. At high tide it looks like the deepest of sea lochs, but this is an illusion. The navigable channel is narrow and winding and over the rest of the area the sand is taking over.

Late November weather, even on the sunniest of days, isn’t conducive to lingering for too long in such an exposed place, and we were soon making our way back down the path to the village, my ageing knees protesting with every step. Up is actually much easier than down nowadays, but as long as I can get up to Castle Varrich from time to time to take in the view and the air and the peace of the place, I’ll put up with a few twinges on my homeward path. 


  1. A superb description...took me back years.
    And those photographs...the true colours of Scotland.

    I so agree with you about going downhill and the effect on the knees!
    I can puff my way up to town, with many stops 'to admire the view' but the trip down is something else!

  2. What lovely photos! Doesn't Scotland scrub up well with a blue sky, whatever the season!

    You can never tire of Pooh sticks :-)!!

  3. I enjoyed this description of your walk with the beautiful photographs. I rather like walking downhill, but always use 2 sticks to take the strain off the knees when walking in hilly country.

  4. I really enjoy your illustrated journal, (is there a publisher out there)? and this latest is the best so far.
    So glad you enjoy your life's journey both physical and spiritual enough to want to share it with others.
    Thanks for this one Perpetua.

  5. Thanks, Fly. the scenery around Tongue certainly lends itself to being described as we;ll as possible, though I doubt I ever do it true justice.

    Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm so pleased to learn I'm not the only one for whom down is becoming a dirty word! When we went up to the castle in the spring, I didn't feel a twinge as we came down, but this time - ouch!

  6. Thanks, Niall and Antoinette. To me Scotland is beautiful in any weather, but it's sometimes an inner beauty which doesn't come across in photos. When the sun shines the beauty is there for everyone to appreciate.

    As for Pooh Sticks, I can't cross a suitable bridge without having a go. :-)

  7. Thank you, Nancy. It's such a lovely walk that we never tire of it. Thanks too for your tip about using two sticks for hill walking. I've read something about it but never remember to try it when I go for a hill walk. Next time, however....

  8. Ray, what a lovely thing to say! Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I'm fortunate enough to enjoy life most of the time and I constantly surprise myself by how much pleasure I find in trying to write about it. Blogging has opened avenues that I never knew existed.

  9. What a lovely place. I envy your opportunity to walk there often!

  10. It is, Penny, and we love walking there. We usually do the walk up to the castle twice a year, once on each visit. Mind you, if the knees continue to play up, the next walk may happen very slowly.....

  11. What a lovely walk you had - complete with lovely bench for a chance to take in the scenery.
    We are absolutely with you on the bridge - can't cross one without a quick game! Happy Birthday to Dh too!

  12. It works for us every single time, Annie, and we could never tire of the views. Worth any amount of protest from the knees. :-)

    Another Pooh Sticks fan! At this rate we could hold a bloggers' competition, probably to music by Tom Lehrer!

    DH thanks you for the birthday wishes and says he is planning to celebrate pensionerhood by taking up archery :-)

  13. Dear Perpetua,
    Oh was a lovely hike I enjoyed with you today. The footpath, the heather, the peat bog, the blue bench and the thought of a young woman sitting there and looking at beyond, and then the castle.

    This post is so well written and so well illustrated with gorgeous photographs of the windswept place where you dwell. You keep introducing me to new places. Thank you.


  14. Just magnificent. What a walk! And beautifully written. I too hurt more going down than up! However, I cheat and either take two Ibuprofen before setting out or with me if I have a drink of water handy!

  15. So glad you enjoyed coming along with me, Dee. It isn't a long walk, but there is so much to see and it changes so interestingly through the seasons and with the weather that it always seems new. Happy to have introduced you to one of the most unspoiled landscapes in Britain.

  16. Thanks. Broad. It's definitely a walk worth a few knee twinges. The good thing is that the knees don't hurt on the way up or at the top, so there is a great deal of enjoyment before one pays the penalty. :-) Sadly I can't take ibuprofen, but I might try a couple of preventative paracetamol next time....

  17. Great pics Perpetua. What a fantastic walk.

    (And I also have the going downhill problem too)

  18. Thanks, Ayak, and good to see you.:-) Glad Blogger is letting you comment again. Yes, it really is a wonderful walk and lends itself to some good photos.

    Looks like we're going to have to form a Bloggers' Knee Support group soon! :-)

  19. Wonderful description and photos Perpetua. Sybille & I have never got anywhere further north in Scotland than Ullapool. But maybe, one of these days......

  20. Thanks, Ricky, glad you liked them. The West Highland are wonderful and were the first part of the Highlands we explored. So are the Northern Highlands and we think them well worth the extra miles.

  21. Belated Happy Birthday to your DH.

    You're never too old for Pooh Sticks!

    Sending care and puRRRRumbles, Michelle and Zebby Cat

  22. Thanks, Mickle - and Zebby, of course. I'll pass it on to him.

    Pooh Sticks is fun at any age and all three grandsons insist on playing it at every opportunity, as do I. :-)

  23. Belated Happy 65th DB-in-law. What lovely views. Have a safe journey south and see you when you are next in transit west-east.

    Just got my pension & bus pass - enjoying both!

  24. Thanks, PolkaDot, duly conveyed. Yes, the views are stunning. You can see why we love it there.

    We got home last Saturday and are here for 2 weeks, before heading across to stay with DH's mother again until the New Year. This year has been particularly full of transits....

    Enjoy being a proper pensioner at last. :-)

  25. I really enjoyed that walk Perpetua and Joyeux Anniversaire from France too, SP

  26. Glad you enjoyed it, SP. It's always fun to share favourite places and activities with other people and the north coast of Scotland is rather too far for most people to go and do it for themselves.

    I'll pass on your birthday greeting to DH as soon as his TV programme has finished. :-)


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