So, as you can tell by the amount of “Checking In” I have done today – we covered some ground. This can be seen on the ‘About Me’ page. The morning was a bit overcast in Dornoch and we were on the road for 0730 – I pumped out the zzzzz’s until the House of Bruar. Full English // Cooked Breakfast achieved (have paid a lot less for a lot more) we were on the road quicker than you can say “Black pudding?” Passing the site of Sterling Castle, crossing the Border at Gretna Green and winding over the Pennines towards North Yorkshire. Thanks Dad.
I would be lying if I said there was not a lump in my throat when I said “Cheerio” to Granny – the dear is 91 and visibly getting frailer – her memory is not all that now and she is a bit unsteady on her legs.
However, she is as good as gold – she is a very sweet old lady and we need to treasure the time we spend together. Much like my Dad (except he is not an old lady). I had tried to tell him I love him on Father’s Day but instead I opted for a backslapping hug and my wonky smile – he caught the sentiment though. We are not really in a “I love you” stage of life // death so I will not let it slip until he is in his dotage and then cheekily remind him of the time he came home pissed as a fart and fell down the stairs naked.
We made it home home (to Ijo Pona HQ). We mucked out the fish (Ted – Goldfish) and set about catching up on things. Dad & Mum had a surprise when we got home in that a tree had fallen down in their garden knocking out the Telephone. We had no such issues and went about telling everyone we were home.
There is a scene of domestic bliss here – Kathryn is watching the Foo Fighters on TV (Glastonbury coverage on the BBC) and I am sipping ice cold water on what has proved to be the hottest June in 40 years, according to the Met Office.
When we were on our way up North, we stopped overnight at my Aunt’s house near Glasgow – she mentioned something had changed on the north coast and called it The North Coast 500. There was an article in the Highland Times about it that she showed us all. Well, what is The North Cost 500? It is the highlands equivalent to Route 66 and we did the bulk of it today. It was brilliant.
As you can see from the above map, and the previous Blog articles, we are in Dornoch, a bit further north than Inverness. We started our day with tea, toast and grumbles but were soon cake-bound-north. We left Dornoch around 9am and travelled up the A9 through Helmsdale (which I chuckled to myself, Helmsdeep – ammirite!) and by that point I was pumping out the zzzz’s as the landscape inland changed from rugged hills to the flow country.
We stopped off for tea and cake at the TESCO’s in Wick around 11am – the longest I had been without cake this holiday. We were then speeding off to John O’Groats – allegedly the most northerly point on mainland Britain. Here is a few photos to prove this –
We then turned West along the A836 and saw some of the most jaw-droppingly rugged coastal and inland views framed by our car window. Dad took responsibility for getting us home and we were whisked past (at a pace) Beinn Ruadh and Beinn Ratha among a whole other heap of incredible mountains, passing through farmsteads, crofts and working fields – complete with growing lambs and electrified deer fences to stop, what must be, stock straying too far so assuage the blood lust of the rich.
I felt like NC, c*cksman and adonis to Kathryn’s Ginsberg as we hurried through the star spangled æther toward more cake. We were on a road trip and breaking free.
But … this was the highlands and not Route 66, famed by the Beats in the middle of the C20th – there was not really the opportunity to break free as most of the road was single-track carriageway and we had to keep our eyes peeled for traffic incase we had to use a passing place.
Allegedly, The North Coast 500 has bought in £9m of revenue to the local hotels so far – but why brand it as something adventurous when in reality you are too busy watch for German motorcyclists rather than take in the scenery. Because it puts these incredible sights on a framed point of reference – here is hoping it will do the local economy wonders. I for one am proud to have seen the landscape that inspired men to rebel against England’s rule and try and strike with Bonny Prince Charlie. It was awesome. And I did not get sunburnt.
We turned west around Laxford Bridge and headed past Loch Shin to Lairg. The Reason Granny Dornoch became Granny Dornoch was because, after the war, she and her sister Nett got jobs in Lairg Tea Rooms (which my Gran’s Aunt owned) and there she met a dashing Highland laddie who would become my grandpa.
We arrived full circle at 5pm just in time for cake …
If anyone has a car and the time whilst in the highlands I really recommend The North Coast 500.
As readers of this Blog will be aware, I am staying in Dornoch – Dornoch is where my Granny lives and Dornoch has remained a source of inspiration to me for years. When I get up here it is as if I settle down – yes, I am on holiday and therefore in holiday mode – but, there seems a slower pace of life here than urban Yorkshire where I work. There are less distractions in Dornoch to being yourself.
We had the day off and I managed to get sunburn in the Scottish Highlands. Alison & Dad went for a walk and saw someone panning for gold. I took advantage of a break in walking & eating cake and went with my wife to the History Links Museum in Dornoch – the staff were knowledgeable and friendly and the exhibitions were local but on point. There was a plethora of early C20th Photos and a great bit about the Battle Of Embo among other time periods explained from Dornoch’s point of view. It really is worth the £4/adult entry fee. However, it is about the Battle Of Embo I want to write about now.
According to the History Links site, some doubts remain as to the exact date of this battle: tradition suggests the 1240s, but more reliable recent evidence places the battle in the 1260s. The battle took place after a party of Danes landed at Little Ferry and encamped near Embo. The Earl of Sutherland asked Richard de Moravia (St. Gilbert’s brother who had been given Skelbo Castle by him in 1235) to engage the Danes and hold them in check until he assembled a strong enough force to come to Richard’s aid.
The plan worked, and the Danes were routed on the arrival of the Earl. During the battle Richard was killed and Earl William reputedly slew the Danish leader with the leg of a horse,* an incident that accounts for the horseshoe on Dornoch’s present coat-of-arms. After the battle the Earl arranged for Richard de Moravia’s burial in Dornoch Cathedral, where the remains of his damaged sarcophagus can still be seen.
The only primary evidence I could find was this image on a Dornoch History Links image library. It is cited as –
Copy account of the Battle of Embo written in old English style taken from an old book. 2 A4 pages glued on a sheet of brown paper
Picture added on 22 February 2012 at 12:53
… so the origin is lost, but I am not too tempted to dig deeper about a man who kills people with horses legs. But here is the image** –
So, we are in Dornoch again. After what was around 24 hour’s worth of travel, me and Kathryn are snuggled up in twin beds in a shared house – the rest of the guests (my sister, Mum & Dad) are pumping out the zzzzzz’s. Kathryn is tucking into a book (The Bookthief) and I am lying next to her having dosed up on evening medicine and getting prepared to tilt against the windmills of my dreamscape. I intend to write a blog article every now and then throughout our stay in the highlands. This is more of a keepsake for me than a public announcement – I doubt the few visitors to my blog will get much from these post, it is more for me.
But, how did we get here and why are we here? We started to prepare for the journey up here a few weeks ago – Kathryn gave here clients enough time to work out what they will be doing without a walker and I made emergency plans to stop DJing for two nights.
Well, I stayed up the Thursday night drinking beer and talking talk with Allan until 5am – I was quite ready for bed when I came home as that was 24 hours since I had last slept. I was too tired to put my pyjamas on and fell asleep in my Bill Grundy’s. I was up four hours later buying posh tea from Betty’s for the reason’s we were visiting Dornoch – my Granny.
We got picked up from Harrogate around 1430 and Dad was ready for us when we arrived at the farm. I admit I slept for most of the journey up to Lennoxtown to stay at Aunt Elizabeth & Uncle Robert’s – still I was mightily refreshed for when we did arrive.
It turns out Uncle Robert has a similar interest in the Fair Folk – he mentioned about the myth of the Færie Bridge of Dornoch Firth – something I will write about at a later date. However, we set off around eight thirty – but – you – dear reader will be assured I was pumping out the snores by the time we left Lennoxtown.
I was woken up to be told we are stopping off at Pitlochry – I am hesitant to put in to words what I feel about the place that is on the the roadside there; but I will launch in to a bit of a bitch:
Everything I dislike about the northern part of the union is encapsulated by The House Of Bruar. Yes, the stuff on sale there is of high quality – indeed it is a luxury product shop – so it is priced out of the majority of people’s range – I splashed out on a Pastry and regret it. Because of the whole clansmanshp-for-sale aspect of it, it attracts old age Daily Fail readers who want a condensed view of the land of my mother – they do not want to watch a Kevin Bridges show but they want to buy their Heather pot-pouri surrounded by their own, the older by one or two, generation all sat around ogling the fly fishing, golfing and single origin malt gift packs – the whole thing sat uneasy with me and I am glad we made a bee-line for the exit after spilling pastry crumbs everywhere.
We arrived in Dornoch around 1400 and popped to see Granny whilst we were waiting on our holiday cottage becoming free. Alison was at Granny’s and feasting on Tunnoch’s tea-cakes.
Tea was a family favourite of steak pie. I remember reading an edition of the Dandy and seeing Desperate Dan eat cow pie on of the times we visited my granny years ago. When we were about seven we used to call the steak pies that Granny got from the Butcher “Cow Pies” and make the appropriate horn actions – We were sat in the same places we have sat in since we were old enough to make the journey up to the highlands.
The TV in the house could not have been more Scottish – I appreciate we are in the heart of the highlands. However, they were advertising a documentary about The Proclaimers (hosted by David Tennant) and there was a another trailer for a programme abut Big Yin. It was ace – I forgot how insular England has become after both Brexit and the Indy Ref.
It seems Scottish Media has made a break with Salford Keys and is striking out on it’s own – I think this is fantastic – I am unsure how long BBC TWO Scotland has been running but I thing it is fuggin great – more power to them. And, as they keep my Granny entertained for the evening (she live on her own) then I want to say “Thank you” to them too.
The night was ending and we switch off the TV back in the holiday cottage after watching a broadcast of Kevin Bridges genius stand up comedy – the man was on fire!
So, I am sat here with a week’s worth of relaxing and helping my Granny – a well deserved break, I think.
I am writing this late on Easter Monday’s afternoon – struggling to make sense of my emotions. The weekend got off to a hell of a bad start; on Good Friday my mum phoned to tell me that Granny had passed away peacefully, loosing her battle with Dementia.
The end months were not graceful for Granny B – she was such a proud woman and it was sad to see her laid so low with an illness. She had been battling dementia for a number of years; what a sad, cruel illness.
If it had not been for Granny, I do not think I would have pursued an academic bent towards Zoology & Botany. I studied Wildlife Conservation at Plymouth Uni with the hope of working with the Big 5 in Africa – however, my health intervened on that one. We used to walk miles, despite her age, to see the Canadian Geese that used to stop off on the farm in Norfolk. She was over the moon when I told her I had managed to get a job at Newby Hall as a gardener – she confided in me that she had often thought about dropping out of Nursing and becoming a gardener herself.
However, she was a very good Nurse – a Gold Standard nurse and a Sister, I believe.
I will always remember the time when Granny, the beaming matriarch, took me and my brother and sister down to London to the Natural History Museum – this is what spurred my enthusiasm for wildlife – even if the reason for going down there was to see the Dinosaurs. I managed to sneak through an open door and see some of the private collection – I was so thrilled. I believe she takes her recipe for Seville Casserole (beef and orange hotpot) with her but she leaves a legacy that the greater Leamington area can be grateful for; she worked tirelessly for the regions health cause’s and was eventually awarded an MBE for her services to Health & The Elderly.
When I was told of her passing I did not have mixed emotions – I burst in to floods of tears. But, now the raw grief and shock has gone, I can see that it was her time to go. She is no longer suffering – but there is a granny shaped hole in my psyche.
Below is a photograph of my Grandparents – only Granny Dornoch (on the left) is surviving. Grandpa passed away 1st July 2016 and now Granny B joins him – she will be making sure everything is in order wherever she is.
Dementia really is a cruel illness – Granny was such a proud lady in life, before the illness crept over her. She was the beaming matriarch who would deal out the Chocolate Fudge Pudding to the Children’s table first. She ruled the family with a rod of iron but, ultimately, she was very fair. She had a massive influence on all three of us (me, my brother and my sister) and I do not think we would have got where we are without her encouragement.
In life she was a lion of a woman – age reduced her stature and I have to admit it was not pleasant to see. However, I now need to be there for the rest of the family – God knows what Dad and his three brothers are going through (having lost both their parents in less than a year). All I can do is offer a shoulder of support and bear witness to the great life that Granny Backhouse led.
Well, I have made it home – we (Kathryn & myself) returned to Yorkshire on Monday evening. Knackered. I managed to sleep most of the journey but Kathryn was coming down with a heavy cold – plenty of Lemsip Capsules were purchased at Edinburgh Waverley Station and then it was down to York to catch the train to Harrogate.
Granny really enjoyed her birthday – she is a lady who does not like a fuss so was a bit apprehensive about the day. However, by the time she showed up to the restaurant she was enjoying herself. She looked a vision in a red skirt-suit.
For me, most of the day was a blur – I managed to get to my medication and have a shower in the morning but I did not get any sleep. I spent the day running on vapors and double espressos. I hope I did not make an exhibition of myself.
It really was great to catch up with the Scottish side of my family. I wrote in our card “Many Happy Returns On Your Birthday, Granny” – to which she replied “I doubt there will be many of those”.
There were a fair few people taking photos of the occasion so I asked if I could have a copy of their photos so I can have a go at putting them in a book for Granny. Out of respect for privacy, I will not put any photos up here on the blog.
I managed to edit the field recordings that I took on Saturday morning – I have to say it is one of my better works. The album sees the light of day on Focused Silence (link here). Field recording was compared to Bus Spotting at the family meal – I had to put my cousin firmly in his place by saying that Field Recording is far more of a nerd’s pastime. My personal highlight of the album is the track below. I managed to attach my clip on microphones to the stems of Marram Grass that grow on the dunes of Dornoch beach. The result is that you can hear the grass sway as well as hear the sounds of the beach – check it out below.
I will be spending the day editing some of my photos for the book and trying to catch up on sleep. Kathryn’s cold seems to be abating but I am on hand to pop to the supermarket for more chicken soup.
Not all fun and games at the moment. As people may know I have malaria type symptoms coupled with complex post traumatic stress disorder. I am currently locked out of our b&b and with no way of gaining access to my medication. Tonight is going to be tricky.
However, today was a grand day other than the above. I spent the morning field recording and catching up with relatives and the the afternoon chilling with Kathryn and eating cake. Popped out for a bottle of punk ipa (£4!) and ate fish and chips for tea.
We then popped into Dornoch centre and caught these cheeky chaps.
I have been offered a sofa to sleep on tonight but without my medication I will not get any sleep – too many flashbacks to Vietnam.