Yep, that’s ‘Road trip’ backwards, as this is the tale of the return journey to Orkney after my brief visit to England.
With a ferry to catch at Gill’s Bay on the north coast of Scotland, there was a bit more urgency to the proceedings, as any potential hold-up might have undesirable consequences. I chose a slightly different route initially, travelling west to the A1 and skirting around the opposite side of Newcastle compared to the trip down. This meant that I drove passed Anthony Gormley’s Angel of theNorth, which is either a monumental (literally) piece of recycling or a tribute to iron oxide.
The remainder of the drive up across the border into Scotland and around Edinburgh was uneventful. However, after Perth, things became a little more interesting from a wildlife point of view. At several places, the grassy verges of the A9 were carpeted with large swathes of Lady’s Smock (Cuckooflower), though there was nary a sign of a butterfly taking advantage of the abundance. Shortly after a stop at Ralia Café, a Stoat ran across the road in front of me, the black tip of its tail struggling to keep up as its owner shot from one side of the busy road to the other. After crossing the Moray Firth, I was delighted to spot a Red Kite gliding overhead by the junction for Culbokie. So there’s at least one left!
Despite heading north, I was listening to the soundtrack compilation from the TV programme Due South, a particular favourite for long journeys and now delightfully directionally ironic.
So imagine my surprise when I stopped for a rest break in Helmsdale at the Timespan Museum and discovered a flyer advertising an event in May which featured the word ‘Diefenbaker’. I assumed that this referred to the Prime Minister of Canada (a chat with the museum staff confirmed this) as opposed to Fraser’s pet wolfdog in Due South! It was a bit of a coincidence though.
As I settled down to a large pot of tea, I realised that the staff were also playing a cd that I had listened to on the trip, Shooglenifty’s Murmichan album. As I was the only customer in the tea shop, I felt rather privileged and donated probably more than I would’ve done to their fund raising appeal. If it was targeted marketing, it succeeded a damned sight better than all those infuriating internet companies that bombard our online experiences with complete dross for something you have either already bought or have no interest in whatsoever. Well done, Timespan, I will most certainly be back.
(To be honest, ever since we have been journeying to Orkney, we have visited the tea shop at Timespan whenever the opportunity has arisen. It has an outdoor seating area that overlooks the River Helmsdale and a sensory garden full of interesting herbs. No, not that kind of ‘interesting’!)
By now, the sunny weather that I had been experiencing between Middlesbrough and Inverness, had given way to thick fog. My average speed tumbled dramatically and a bit of mental arithmetic was required to reassure myself that I would reach the ferry port on time. This wasn't helped by encountering a car pottering along at 20mph, veering from the verge to the white line and occasionally over it, which it was impossible to pass safely in the conditions. Fortunately, after what seemed like an age and collecting other vehicles in the slow-moving convoy, it turned off and I made it to Gill's Bay in time to relax with yet another cup of tea (there may have been cake, too).