Aug 282012

Cairn of Get

There is a quality of person I really cannot stand and it is those who smile while being a complete sarcastic bitch. They are usually women and there are an awful lot of them way up here in the far north-west of Scotland.

Which, by the way, is surprisingly wide and flat.

The drive from Inverness to John O’Groats was gorgeous; though the rain came and went, the clouds shifted only in tints of grey.

There are towns obviously settled by wealth and privilege; others, a stone’s throw away, settlements of small stone cottages belonging to (or once belonging to) the working people who make privileged lives possible.

The road north is a ribbon of bitumen, the traffic slowly peeling away until there is only me and the patchwork fields of late summer framed by stone walls and moody mountains in darkening shades of green and grey.

The road finally surrenders the company of the endless water that is Cromarty Firth, the lifeblood of a valley that must have been the prize of kings for millennia

There were three lovely surprises on the drive.

Loch Fleet

The first was Loch Fleet, an utterly stunning waterway tucked beneath the roadway whose breathtaking beauty my photograph failed to capture;

that beauty lay in the deep peace of water that is timeless and bold, enduring splendour.

Dunrobin Castle

The second was the best castle I have seen in a long long time. The gateway, a small squat turret, snatched my breath; I turned into the long tree-lined drive and crunched to a halt on the gravel courtyard of an immense stone chateau.

Who could not clap their hands with glee?

Walking through the arched entryway I felt like visiting royalty (really, I did); although . . . even though my travel clothes are designed to make me not look like I’ve been sleeping in the car, the fact I have been probably dents my confident facade. I skip up the stairs and ask the smart young man at a desk if I have to pay to get in. He assures me I do – ten quid.

Ten quid!

There’s a reason I am sleeping in the car.

I ask him if I can quickly use the loo. I can. I take advantage of the moment and slip out a side door – and behold the gardens.

Dunrobin Castle

The gardens. My photo of the castle failed to capture the enormity of its presence, but my garden photographs go some way . . . although they do not do justice to the attendance of the sea.

From there, the drive was a spectacular smile of stone walls, bare hills, twisted trees and sheep spread about lime green fields like patches of clover.

For all the world, there is just me and the northbound road.

Stone cottages are everywhere, a hundred, two hundred years old, they do not impress me – unless they are abandoned, in which case they become a story and so enter the realms of mystery.

What does interest me, really interests me, other than castles, are signs of those who came before.

And that brings me to my third surprise.

I’d been driving all day, stopping here and there in byways for pointless photographs that seemed not to capture the light, the breeze (actually make that the wind), the subtle intensity of beauty.

And then I saw a brown sign to the Cairn of Get.

The Cairn of Get.

I turn off the highway into the smallest of small lanes and wind my way around farm houses and barns to a small parking bay beside the Watenan Loch.

The Cairn of Get.

I pull on shoes and socks still wet from yesterday’s adventure in the heather; not one to leave my computer in the car, I hoist it on my back in my pack, rug up and zip up, thrust my hands deep in my fleecy pockets and wander back up the road to the sign pointing into a paddock.

I stomp through the grass, bright green and pockmarked with mud; a cow stops to gawp as I make my way over a boardwalk and, for the second time in two days, I give way to the cow’s glower and look at my feet . . . just in case. Besides, I am happy to bow to a cow. It’s the least I can do after all these years of cheese and milk.

I walk through stile after stile in the cold and bitter wind, wondering what makes people settle in country like this . . . inheritance probably, exile perhaps, dislocation and desperation. They must have been deeply grateful for all that stone to buffer them from the wind.

On and on over bumpy fields and small hills – I’m in love with the right way laws that envelop private land in Britain, and then I begin to wonder where the Cairn of Get might be, let alone what it might be.

The Cairn of Get.

The words claw at my imagination.

The Cairn of Get.

Cairn of Get

The Cairn of Get is a 5000 year old sacred chamber, probably for ceremony and burial.

It is from the world of the Pict people.

It is tucked into a bright green mound.

It is stunning.

I enter the ritual passageway, pass sentry rocks that mark my progress and stand in the circular chamber


Before you. Before me. Before.

I make it back to the car before the rain hammers down and drive north – then slide down a long slippery dip of a road where I see, without warning, islands.

Long islands. Big islands. Misted islands.

The Orkneys!

OMG, I am staring at the Orkneys.

Okay, so that was a fourth surprise. I had no idea they were so close to the mainland.

The Orkneys