May 12th

In the morning it was time to do some chores that we long put off. Don put on his overalls and climbed under the Fuso to complete an oil & filter change. When he moved along to change the fuel filter, we found that the filter had seized and that it was likely we would break another filter wrench trying to remove it. So we packed up, took our used motor oil with us, and went back into town in search of a mechanic to change the filter.

Lochinver is a fishing port and our experience had proven that ports always have a used oil drop off point. Sure enough, after asking at the Harbor office, they took the oil from us. We were then directed to the Lifesavers office, the equivalent of the US Coast Guard, where a mechanic loaned Don a filter wrench which succeeded in removing the stubborn filter. All chores completed, we headed on.

We took another one-lane back road along the coast, and wow, this was one of the best scenery days yet. The terrain was different, very rocky, lots of hills and lots of lochs (lakes) – very beautiful.

We followed a detour out to a light house on a far point so that we could spend some time looking for whales and dolphins. Although this spot was considered to be one of the prime viewing spots, not a whale or dolphin could be seen.

A bit further along the coast, we began looking for another night stop when we spotted a sign for a passenger ferry to Handa Island. The island is a good birding spot, so we followed the tiny road down to the harbor, really nothing more than an inlet, where we found the ferry office. We were too late for a trip today, but we were given permission to spend the night – despite the no parking signs. It was bit windy, but a great spot where we could look out over the water from the comfort of our camper.

May 13th

Well so much for birding today, the wind had picked up stronger, the sea was rough and it was raining again. So we thanked the ferry people for letting spend the night and explained that we would pass on the ride to the island, and they told us it was a good choice! Guess that nobody really likes to be on the ocean on an ugly day.

The windy didn’t let up as we drove to the northern coast of Scotland. Coming into the town of Durness, we scoped out the camping ground and decided that we’d spend a couple of nights just hanging out and catching up on things. We even had a wifi connection from our mobile broadband.

With the wind dropping the temperature down, probably into the 40s (F), we put on all of our warm clothing, including our rain gear – it works great to stop the wind, and did a couple of short hikes.

We walked around the grounds of a ruined 17th century church and its graveyard. The location was beautiful, right on a long sandy beach.

Afterwards, we drove to the other side of town and hiked down into Smoo Cave. This is a huge cave with a waterfall inside! The waterfall actually falls into the cave through a hole in its roof, but the effect is great. Then most of the water disappears right into the ground and only a trickle comes out the mouth of the cave. It is possible to do tours behind the waterfall, but due to the weather there was a chance of flooding, so the tours were cancelled.

Returning to the camping site, we had our choice of places since we were not using electricity. We picked a high, grassy spot right on the cliff edge overlooking the bay and its coves. A wonderful spot. We even treated ourselves to dinner out at the local pub.

When it was time to move on, we headed to the town of Bettyhill to learn about the Clearances of the 19th century. The museum about the Clearances was in an old church and in the cemetery was a 10th century carved Picton stone. The Pictons were the people who lived on the islands before the arrival of the Vikings.

All through our drive across the northern Highlands we saw picturesque ruins of old rock farm houses. The truth of the matter is that these ruins were the homes of tenant (crofter) farmers who were evicted, sometimes brutally. During the 1800s landowners were seeking to increase their incomes from their land and found that their tenants didn’t provide the highest possible income. Then along came the potato famine of 1847 – 1856 when the tenants couldn’t pay their rents nor even had food to live on.

The landowners decided to evict their tenants rather than help them survive. Further, once the people were gone, the landowners could convert the land over to sheep farming, which was more viable for them.

In the far north here, we found that there were not even many of the ruins as the landlord here allowed his managers to burn out the people. We visited one village site, but there was nothing to see since the village was burned down to encourage the people to move and not return. We had seen many old ruins of the crofters homes all along the west coast. It was only here that the agents of the landowners resorted to such violence.

We stopped to explore a Neolithic Cairn with standing stones. It was still very windy along the coast, so we drove a ways inland and camped in a RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Reserve alongside an 19th century bridge.

Next day, followed a walking trail through the reserve that lead through a peat bog. Learned about peat, saw a few birds, saw two herds of red deer. Found small "venus flytrap" type plants growing on the moss. The plants were about the size of a penny – very small.

May 16th

We’ve decided to take a ferry to the Orney Islands tomorrow, so we needed to stock up on supplies and get ourselves closer to the ferry port. We visited the town of Thurso just to go to the market as the town had the biggest supermarkets in the region. After filling up our fridge and freezer, we drove to the northernmost spot on the UK mainland – Dunnet Head. We hoped to see some whales or dolphins from the headlands there, but no go – lots of birds though.

We found another quiet spot just off the headlands and near a large abandoned WWII radar base. The whole of the north of Scotland is littered with abandoned buildings built to protect the mainland from possible attacks during the war.

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