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Inverallochy, Week 16: 16 April

Caithness, I’ve come to realise, is all about water and light. Water, obviously, because the Ness of Caith sticks out into the sea like the prow of a ship, and following three of the four points of the compass means getting wet sooner rather than later; and light, because on a day like today the sun lights up the world, and land and sea shine like the gold on a medieval illuminated manuscript.

Spring has finally arrived. Temperatures doubled overnight—all right, from 6ºC to 11º, but even so—and the fog and cloud parted as though God had lifted the lid off the cooking pot of creation to see if it was done yet. So we drove down the coast a few miles to the old harbour of Latheronwheel.

Now, Caithness has abandoned harbours the way other places have Starbucks, but Latheronwheel is one of the best. The name is said to derive from the Gaelic, Latharn a’ Phuill (one translation of which is ‘muddy place of the pool’, a slogan curiously missing from the tourist boards, but possibly referring to a ford). The harbour is framed by cliffs and bisected by a river, tumbling down from the uplands. If you cross it by the ancient stone bridge you can climb up the bluff to the cliffs on the far side, where there’s the ruin of a miniature lighthouse and a clifftop walk; excitingly, the path takes you to within a couple of feet of a sheer drop with no railings—reader, we chickened out.

Fairy Door

In gansey news I am about two-thirds of the way down the sleeve. Persistence is paying off, as the further I get the fewer the stitches I have to knit, and consequently the faster I go. In an ideal world I would finish this next weekend—but I shall be away for a few days mixing business with pleasure in, er, Warrington, so it will elide into the following week. But the end, to coin a phrase, is definitely nigh; or at least nighish.

Incidentally, if you follow the river up Latheronwheel strath you come to the fairy glen, where a glade of tree stumps has been carved into tiny make-believe houses. It straddles the fine line somewhere between charming and twee, but I liked it; even if I recalled the movie Beetlejuice and thought it would be improved with a fairy cemetery and a fairy house of ill repute.

The Narrow Path

We tramped up the river and we climbed the cliff, and all the time the the sun glittered on the ocean and the waves rolled in (and out, too, of course). Water and light. Philip Larkin, as ever, said it best. In one poem, “Water”, he imagines founding a religion using water. The poem concludes in words of effortless grace: “And I should raise in the east / A glass of water / Where any-angled light / Would congregate endlessly”.

Somewhere along the coast of Caithness, as I type, any-angled light is congregating still…

Latheronwheel harbour from the lighthouse

4 comments to Inverallochy, Week 16: 16 April

  • =Tamar

    In Barrie’s original book of Peter Pan, TinkerBelle is a tinker fairy, none too respectable. At one point a lot of fairies have been partying and are too drunk to fly so they have to crawl over a sleeping Peter.

    Years ago I stayed at a hotel near a ruined castle – I think the name was Duntelm? something like that – and there were two pathways up the bluff to the ruins. One was a sheep trail up the side of a cliff – no railing – and the other was slightly less precipitous but did at one point get within a few feet of a sheer drop, with of course no railing.

    In Stranger In A Strange Land, Heinlein invented a religion based on water called the Church of All Worlds, and quite a few people have made it a sincere reality. I know some of them.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I guess like a lot of people who’ve never experienced Peter Pan in the original, I just assumed the “Tinker” part of Belle’s name was related to a bell tinkling or something. But that makes sense – Caithness had/has a substantial tinker (“tinkler” up here) population, and their reputation is definitely that of the other.

      Years since I read Stranger in a Strange Land! Not since university. Lots of free love and all that, I seem to remember (which tells you everything about how my mind works, alas). I grok that!

  • Lois

    Spring has yet to arrive in eastern Canada. We have endured a series of snow storms, wind storms and ice storms. If we hit 6C, it’s almost tropical.

    I did see a poor misguided robin last week, gathering nesting materials. Either an optimist or knows something that has escaped me.

    One consolation is that I have a perfect excuse to knit, rather than brave the elements.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lois, Britain is experiencing something of a heatwave this week, temperatures in the south into the 20s; here in Caithness it’s been up to 16, which is summer weather! I went so far as to loosen my third waistcoat button, and was on the verge of undoing my collar when I realised there were ladies present. A narrow escape for us all…

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