Armadale and John O’Groats
We are now in Thurso, after staying at Armadale for a couple of nights exploring the area in the inland to the south. Much of this country is a vast peat bog, apparently the largest area of bog in the world. It is up to 10 metres deep in some places, layers and layers of water logged partly decomposed plant material. The remnants of an old staging house gaze out across the bog. It is very damp and spongy here. There is an old road beside the house that was built in the 1800s and to give it a firm base layers of heather and bracken were put on top of the peat. You are warned not to wander out onto the bog as in parts grasses ‘float’ on the surface and it is a bit like ‘quick sand’. For followers of climate change matters the bog is in effect a vast carbon trap, the scientists suggest that if all the carbon was to ‘escape’ it would be a big problem. In the past we have ‘drained’ parts of the bog to farm it and grow pine plantations on it. This releases the carbon, so efforts are now being made to reverse the draining and stop further pine plantations. What might also happen is that with global warming the sea will invade and a few million years later we will have a big new coal basin to mine when the land re-emerges from the sea!
Our lodgings at Armadale were in an old ‘mansion’ built in 1854, it is being slowly renovated as a B & B. The house originally had 13 fire places but was not connected to a water supply. Peat for the fires and water had to be brought in for the residents by servants. The owner believes the house was built as an outpost for the English land lords in order to keep watch over the Scottish ‘peasants’. After the Jacobite wars Highland society was devastated by new laws imposed by the English to stifle the clan system and install English landlords. Little villages all through the Highlands where the people survived in a subsistence type environment were ‘cleared’ and replaced by broad scale sheep grazing. There was an insatiable demand for wool from the industrial revolution in England. ‘Cleared’ is a euphemism for forced removal, often with short notice and the burning of the village.
The people were moved to the coastal areas and set up on small uneconomic croft farms. As the coastal population grew there then followed a second period of clearances with more or less forced emigration to the USA, Canada and Australia. And that is how the Australian colonies got their Scots. We went on a short drive along the Strathnaver trail around the areas were the clearances took place. Remnants of the old houses can still be seen in various parts, but much overgrown by pastures and ‘scrub’. Enough history I can hear Homalone saying!
After leaving Armadale we headed to Thurso for the night before leaving the next day on the ferry for the Orkneys. We spent some time out at John O’Groats, the most northerly point on the UK mainland. A big tourist trap here, souvenir shops every where. Homealone couldn’t resist a tea towel of a map of the UK showing the route from Land’s End in the south to John O’Groats in the north. No Archie mug! Years back, on a previous trip we had dropped in on Land’s End. So the tea towel is a bit nostalgic, but can be used in the kitchen and not hung on the wall back home. Also came here to see if we could find a puffin on the cliff tops. Some spectacular sea stacks and fulmers everywhere, no puffins. We will have to look elsewhere.
The ferry to the Orkneys left early the next morning and we had breakfast arranged on board so it was an early night in the old 1905 hotel in Thurso. Another sleeping experience in an aging Scottish icon!