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Activities

Whilst there are few 'Tourist Attractions', the real riches of the North Coast lie in continuing to discover and explore within a fascinating environment. Opportunities for a wide range of outdoor activities abound and both houses contain a good supply of books, maps and pamphlets to help you plan these.  Quite often it is our visitors who introduce us to new aspects of our surroundings. We are still finding new things to see and do after fifty years of staying up here.

The way of life   
On the North Coast you will find a way of life which is dying out. Too much hard work for too little reward and often the young people make their livelihoods elsewhere. Crofting involves much communal work with activities following the seasons round. Many crofters have boats and trips to the islands or just to fish can sometimes be arranged. If you want to do something ask around. People know people who know people who can help. Try never to be in a hurry  and always have time in hand. Time is a somewhat flexible concept up here and things take much longer to achieve than you would expect. Hospitality can extend the most mundane of transactions and it is always a good idea to be prepared for visitors.

Food from the land   
Although some of the finest food in Britain grows in the area you will seldom find it in the shops. You can buy fresh salmon from the nets at Strathy and sometimes  lobsters and crabs from the fishermen in the various harbours along the coast (they keep the lobsters alive in floating boxes tethered to the sea bed). There is also local produce such as eggs and honey from crofts signposted from the road and Oysters at Achininver to the north of Melness. (these are the big Pacific oysters and very succulent). A lot of food grows wild.  Mussels on the rocks (these are best where fresh water flows into the sea). Cockles in the sand, especially by the causeway across the Kyle of Tongue, Chanterelles in the woods east of Tongue, Mushrooms almost anywhere if you are lucky. Under 'Fishing', below, is mentioned that which you can catch yourself.

Birds, Beasts and  Flowers   
Wherever you go, if you keep your eyes open, you will find  new and interesting things. Rare plants, such as the Scottish Primula and Greater Sundew can be found locally in profusion. There are three different species of orchid in the glen. Golden Eagles are seen from time to time, Peregrines and Great Skuas are common. But it is not the rarities but the constant presence of birds doing interesting things which appeal to most people. Being dive bombed by Bonxies,  as the Skuas are called up here, or just watching Fulmars trying to land on their cliff nests - or a squadron of Gannets fishing a shoal of mackerel - all can provide endless hours of pleasure. Wherever you go and whatever you do you will find a rich diversity of nature. Along this coast Atlantic Grey Seal breed. About 500 pups are born on open beaches each year. This is unique in mainland Britain and provides an indication of how undisturbed life can be up here. Many of our visitors leave records of the things that they have seen and a log is kept to which contributions are most welcome.

Fishing 
Whatever you want is here if the conditions are right and you can get a permit. The Naver, Borgie and Halladale are fine Salmon rivers and also hold good Trout. In the hills around, there are innumerable small trout lochs. Boats are available on the bigger lochs at very reasonable rates and there is good estuary fishing for Sea Trout. The waters  offshore abound with fish; we have caught Mackerel, Haddock, Codling, Pollack, Dogfish, Gurnard, Coaly and Conger Eel (the last not recommended!). It can be difficult to find someone to take you out in a boat so some people bring their own up with them. Just to be in a boat off the coast is an enthralling experience and the offshore islands are well worth exploring. There are however strong currents and tide rips and both caution and experience are advisable.

Surfing and Canoeing 
Being exposed to the swell of the northern North Atlantic, the many beaches provide surf to suit every taste. The bays around Thurso provide some of the best conditions in Europe for very experienced surfers . Our own bay is ideal for beginners and people with a little experience. Canoe surfing is very good indeed. A friend managed an 80 second ride on a single wave off Coldbackie beach. Torrisdale and Farr often provide exciting conditions. Sea canoeing provides access  to otherwise inaccessible islands, caves and sea caverns.

Art and Photography 
Artists have been coming to this area for many years as they find the combination of light and sc
enery very attractive. The keen photographer will find landscapes, seascapes and wildlife to keep him or her enthralled for hours. The well known Swiss photographer Jost von Allmen  stayed in the croft in 1999 and has promised to come back. A selection of his work is hung in the Cottage. A number of artists live locally and courses are sometimes run. If you are interested - ask at Jimson's.

Archaeology & Geology   
Ten miles west of Skerray is the Moine thrust plain which is one of the most studied geological features in the world.  Every year parties of students can be found with their rock hammers examining the strata and observing  exposed features. To the west of the Moine, the oldest rocks in Europe, Lewisian Gneiss, create a bare and unusual landscape. Caithness to the East has Old Red Sandstone with a wealth of fossils in it.  We find the evidence of the constantly eroding coastline particularly fascinating.  The sea, with air entrapped, drives long tunnels into fissures in the rock, the far end of which eventually collapses in a sink hole. Years later the roof of the tunnel caves in, often leaving another island separated by a deep but very narrow channel from the land from which it calved. Prehistoric remains and artefacts have been well recorded and described. There is a pamphlet in the cottage telling you how and where to find them. The Pictish Broch at Dun Dornagilla, just south of Loch Hope, is particularly fine.

Walking and Mountaineering
There are walks to cater for all tastes. There is a book in the cottage describing some local ones and  you will discover something different wherever you go.  A camera and binoculars are useful at all times. Whilst warm sunshine provides for a pleasant walk, the most spectacular and memorable walks are those when the weather has been a bit rougher. The clearest, brightest light usually comes between heavy showers, A northerly gale will blow spray and spume over 300ft cliffs and well inland. A walk along Torrisdale or other exposed beach when the surf is high is unforgettable. Animals and birds will lie tighter when the weather is wet and windy and it its often easier to get up close to them under these conditions. In winter, another world of magic and beauty arrives with the snow.

Just living there 
Whilst it may seem from the list above that Strathan is ideal for the hearty and hardy, most people who stay just potter around, unwinding from the stresses of day to day life. With no street lights to pollute  the sky, the stars and moon seem unusually bright and in Winter the Aurora Borealis can often be seen lighting up the sky. The air always seems especially soft and fragrant when we stop the car and open the doors. Just wandering round the glen or down to the beach and back can provide the basis of a thoroughly worthwhile day. It is a place to make your own amusement and there are unlimited opportunities for doing so. Every year we take up books to read when the weather is foul and every year we take them back south unread. Just living takes time and that time always seems remarkably rewarding.

 

 

       Surfers.jpg (52265 bytes)                     Skerray_Harboursmall.jpg (28220 bytes)

    Surfers on Torrisdale Beach,               Skerray Harbour
March 2004.                                          
  Carol Cardelo

This whole area has an appeal that is more profound than mere facts can comprehend. 
Click here  for a  word picture of what I find that makes it so attractive.

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