Scotland Blog 2012

Beach Walk Golspie to Brora

Article text
Happy Dreams: Seal
On a heavily-misted morning, I took off with new friend, photographer George MacIver, for a 7-mile photo journey up the beach from Golspie to Brora. Thanks to Tina Lear for dropping us off at the parking spot in Golspie (Dukes Street) and to George for sharing his weekly walk with a humbled visitor. Humbled first at his incredible work here in the Highlands: check out his web site at Highlands of Scotland Photography

I’m especially in love with George's recent image of a sleeping seal pup—with its pink tongue sticking out! Click here to see it: Sleeping Seal What a capture! But having walked with George, I see how he got it—with local knowledge, familiarity with the local seal population, expertise, patience, a tripod, and of course, good luck! But I am also humbled at his dedication to find and document all the Scottish brochs: circular fortified structures built between 100 BC and 100 AD, as George notes, just as the Romans were unsuccessfully attempting to infiltrate Scotland. His theory is that there was a line of brochs across the country and the islands—each visible from the next for sending messages and achieving protection. Brings back memories of the Great Wall of China…constructed about ????

But to the walk! The path was excellent mostly. At first through high, green meadowland to the sea where we headed left, north along equally pleasant, well-marked paths. Inland, ancient estate houses hovered in the mist, a real challenge and a tough capture for a photographer. You can see how we both did on this—and other aspects of the day--under “new work” on George's web site or Scotland New Work on my web site. Such a different view from modern beach walking at Panama City or Hilton Head!

Gradually, Dunrobin Castle, headquarters of the Sutherland clan, emerged from the mist. It’s a massive, pristine white castle with sea views, immaculate gardens, and my favorite falconry show by Andy Hughes. See my sunlit photo of it here on the web site by searching for “Dunrobin”. Shimmering behind the mist, it could be the opening for a movie set.

We went into a wood, then back out in to meadowlands, this time full of huge grazing cattle, along with their curious, adolescent calves. Got some sweet shots moving among them. Walking safely through herds of animals is one of the true delights of UK walks! Meanwhile the mist receded out to sea, but never disappeared. Somewhere we came upon an image that haunts me still: five horses, one blanketed, as they kept warm up against a red rock cliff. They never moved, appearing to be a still life arising here in the fog. I wish I’d taken the time to shoot this one correctly, but there is usually a missed opportunity on an photo walk….this will be for me, the one I missed.

Somewhere in here, George led me up the field for a tour of Cairn Laith, the first broch he documented for the Brora web site. I’ve passed it innumerable times on the A9, but never stopped until now. But is it ever worth it! A very large circular remnant of stacked stones, currently about 50 feet in diameter and 8 feet high, it even retains a stairway up to a first level. Excellent signs show an image of what life must have been like inside this much higher tower with several wooden floors and a fire to warm in the middle.

More surprises lay ahead! First the delight of finally seeing the seals George had hopefully promised! At least three groups of them, probably 10-50 in each! There were many young, black pups but also both ancient grays and common seals—thanks to George for naming things for me! We tried to creep up to get photos, and did from a distance, but one seal would sense us and all would head for the sea, rolling about on fat tummies before diving then resurfacing to stare back us. Imagine the delight of seeing 50 pairs of eyes now watching US! I hope we didn’t disturb their day too much.

Further on, I thought of my sister-in-law Sue, the bird watcher, as we caught Artic terns hover and then dive into the sea for fish. George says they are the only bird to circumnavigate the globe, touching both the north and south poles! They come here to breed every year. Comerants basked with crooked wings on rocks along with eider ducks, while standard sea gulls filled the air too.

The beach itself was full of kelp, large rocks, and shells. For some reason the latter surprised me, but I don’t know why! And there was one lovely, last surprise: a double waterfall of the Sputie Burn pouring into the sea!

The walking got harder so we tried for higher ground, but stiles had disappeared and gradually we made our way back to the beach. I must admit that last two miles or so to Brora Harbor and my car were exhausting. I heard myself telling George that I only took up walking at age 50—when Mom contributed the funds for me to have Blacksmith’s Cottage in Pooley Bridge in the English Lake District. How I wish I were doing walking this aged 23 instead of 63! But It DID do it!

Great memories, some okay photos, and the fellowship of another inspiring photographer. Fine day in all! Thanks for listening in!