Friday, 25 April 2008

35 "Irn Bru" cans hanging by the road

Today's topic of conversation over breakfast was: "Red Ken" and the G.L.C. , The Brixton Riots, Wandsworth Council Tax and the storm of '87 and the link is?, we'd both lived in South West London during the '80's.
Wick, grey, cold and miserable was getting on my "Wick" and I muttered my feeble excuses as to why I wasn't, after all, staying another two nights as originally planned-"unexpected arrival of friends in Inverness" and made a quick exit through the door into an attractive town bathed in sunlight and blue sky!
Well, it was too late to change my mind, as last night, in the library, I'd looked, and found on the internet, somewhere else to stay. Making a decision to never again book somewhere without a web address, I'd found alternative accommodation in Helmsdale.
3 miles down the road, carrying the heavy rucksack was the downside of moving B & B's. Accompanied by aching limbs, and a lack of entertainment through the headphones (I'd competed and lost, yet again, against the "Pop Master"contestants on Radio 2 and with nothing of any interest on Radio 4) I was getting bored.
I know! "I'll sing!" How about "I've got a 100 miles to go and that's a long, long way I know, and each and every step I tread, the road just stretches far ahead..." what a very apt tune, unfamiliar to most, with the exception of any 20-22 year old ex Tadworth primary School pupils, as this was a song from the excellent 1997 School production of "The Minotaur Show"
So, what now? Let's play "Count the Cans" I'm sure this litter problem gets worse every year. Considering it was early in the season, the detritus strewn by the road was unbelievable.
Items of clothing, odd, but even odder, one shoe. Now, why throw away one?
Apart from the familiar "Irn Bru" cans, the next most popular throw away item is the "Free CD" given away in most Sunday Newspapers. E.g."Sounds of the Sixties, 12 great hits from this golden era!" turn out to be one or two catchy tunes, and 10 very forgettable ones, which begs the question "Were the sixties really that great?" and out of the window it goes.
With the absence of the OS map (no point in carrying extra weight, when even I can't get lost on the road) I was having to guess how far I'd got. With 21 miles to walk to Dunbeath, and a bus to catch to Helmsdale, I couldn't stroll, that's for sure.
Last year's walk was about people, this years walk was going to be about places and I'd already decided I was going to soak up some local history as I went along. With an average speed of 3 miles an hour, when I came across the sign for "The Hill O' Many Stanes" (only a 1/4 mile detour up a side road) I decided I could afford the time to investigate.
Dating from about 1900 BC, 200 stones were arranged in 22 fan shaped rows. The theory is that they were used for astronomical observations of the moon. The colourful drawing of how it would have looked all those years ago failed to fire my imagination, as I looked at a pile of pebbles. More interestingly, this site also marks the site of a battle between two rival clans, The Keiths and The Gunns. The famous Gunns (of course) won and buried the dead, right here, in rows, marking each one with a stone.
So next stop, The Clan Gunn Heritage Centre, where their motto is "Either peace or war" "You'll find us quite peaceable these days and welcoming rather than warlike" said the brochure. Glad to know that reassuring snippet of information, however what I found was another closed door. "Open May to September" So, what can I tell you about the Gunns? Well, the most famous descendant of the Clan was Neil M Gunn, the 20th Century Scottish novelist, born in 1891 in the Caithness fishing village of Dunbeath. He wrote many novels about the area he lived in all his life. As well as writing, he worked as a civil servant, and must have made a bob or two, to have spawned a Gunn dynasty of entrepreneurial business men, as found on the beach yesterday.Just as well it was closed, as I'd forgotten just how far from Dunbeath this museum was.
Trudging through the hamlets of Latheron and Latheron wheel I started to panic. I had to make that bus! The Highland bus service is brilliant, well used, but not frequent. I'd have a long, long, wait for the next one. Then just over the next hill, there was Dunbeath, nestling in the valley.Phew!
On the bus, a young boy piped up "Are you staying at Grannie's tonight?" According to Grannie, sitting behind him, indeed I was. They'd been shopping in Wick. Getting off the bus, I asked him what he'd bought. "We've been to "Aldi's" he replied, and hadn't they just, as off the bus came Grandad, Mum and the bus driver to empty the contents of the luggage compartment. Wheely suitcases, laundry bags and numerous carrier bags, all full of food supplies. All hands to the handles, so I pitched in as we trundled back to the B & B, luckily, just around the corner. Apparently, they don't have a car, and this big shop was for a big party on Friday night, to which I was also invited.
Feeling very much at home, I was shown to an enormous room, with an equally large bathroom. I was more than ready for a long soak in a hot tub. Ahh bliss!