Wednesday 17 July 2019

A home from home

As I alluded to in the previous post, the cottage we were renting for the second week of our holiday was quite quickly described as a 'home from home'. However, some of the reasons for this weren't simply the obvious ones, and I thought I'd take a moment to share my wonder and astonishment with you.

The cottage had been chosen for its location (on the shore of Loch Fleet), access to instant walks (from the door) and with the opportunity for lots of wildlife watching (Loch Fleet is a National Nature Reserve). We tend to reason that we will be spending most of our holidays outdoors so, whilst 5 star luxury is all very well (and Our Lass leans more towards this point of view), it is not the be all and end all.

I must also admit to a shocking lapse in my research of the area. The dune system to the east of the cottage is, as I eventually realised after I had booked the place, Coul Links. Yup, the one where an American businessman wants to build a golf course and rip up a Ramsar site, a Special Protection Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. So, whatever the outcome of the public enquiry (and I sincerely hope that nature triumphs over financial greed), we were able to visit the place in all its untainted glory. Chillingly, whilst at the property, it was revealed that another coastal dune system in Scotland which had been developed into a golf course (owned by that well-known American businessman Donald Trump) had lost its SSSI designation due to habitat degradation. Maybe we will learn something from that experience? 

In the above photo (cropped from Google Maps), the Loch Fleet tidal mudflats and the adjacent pine woodland can be seen. The cottage is located just above the word 'Landsat' in the legend at the bottom. Coul Links are located to the south of the estuary on the North Sea coast.

The cottage is called 'Oystercatchers', birds which are no strangers to the garden of Tense Towers. As we unpacked our luggage, the calls of Skylark and Curlew rang out over the nearby fields and seals drifted by in the distant loch. At this point, you would be forgiven for wondering why we needed to fork out to stay somewhere that seemed so very like home!

As I mentioned earlier in the blog sequence, the area is one which we normally whizz by on our way elsewhere, the A9 between Inverness and Wick hugging the western shore of the loch. We are of the opinion that it doesn't take very long, or the need to go very far from the beaten track, to find stuff to capture our interest.

The bathroom of the cottage was another reminder of times past. The tiling and the cupboard design were oddly familiar, and it took me ages to realise that they were very similar to the styles we chose for our first family home, way back when. No photos, I'm afraid. Cameras and bathrooms, I don't think so.

Browsing through the fulsome tourist information and local guides of the area kindly provided by the owner, we discovered this wee gem. The significance of its presence only being realised when read in conjunction with the cottage information.

So, for a while, this had been a railway cottage, a fact which resonated so deeply with me as I grew up in a disused station house by an old branch line in County Durham.

The Dornoch Light Railway booklet went on...

But sadly concluded, like so many other railway stories, with...

There were a couple of photos in the book which, although they didn't show the cottage, were taken in the immediate vicinity:

Nipping outside, I was able to bring a couple of those views up to date:

And a few minutes on the internet unearthed an old map from the time when the railway was still in existence.

As a child, I do remember the sound of goods trains rumbling by in the night, as by the time I was aware of such things, passenger services had been withdrawn. I was able to visit the signal box whilst it was 'live', before the track was finally dismantled and all that was left was a wide ribbon of impoverished ground, disappearing to the north (to Durham) and the south (to Bishop Auckland). Little did I realise at the time, but all the wild flowers I subsequently found were only there because 'waste' ground doesn't attract herbicides and fertilisers. I grew up watching the slow wilding of the area, as Nature reclaimed the land from industry. Not to mention all the insects and birds which this unkempt carpet supported. Bearing in mind where I have ended up and the urge to protect wild places that burns so passionately within me, I am welling up just typing this.

In case you fear that I am being a tad melodramatic here, let me just say that in May, when our friends Helen and Jeff visited from New Zealand, Jeff mentioned a news report he'd seen which featured my childhood home. Quite how this had come to his attention on the other side of the world, I do not know, but I had been blithely unaware of it, so was very grateful for the opportunity to view it.

Here are a couple of photos from the report, the first pre-Tenselet, and the second post-Tenselet. I will have to ferret about in the back of a dusty cupboard to find an in-situ Tenselet one, so bear with me.

Isn't life strange?


Mark said...

You're like us, we don't just pick holiday homes out of a hat! There's an awful lot of planning and forethought in the process. All our holidays are however North of the Great Glen. You're cottage was in a superb location, well done. We used to stop at Littleferry with the Caravan when the kids were young, that was a long time ago now.

Coastal Ripples said...

Fascinating post. Disused railways are close to my heart too. Our present home of over twenty years would have been a stones throw away from Jersey’s Eastern railway. Across the lane the station can still be seen. Most of the land has now been built on but we are lucky to have a chunk near us that has been allowed to return to the wild.
Your cottage sounds perfect, bet there was lots to spot. Hopefully the golf course won’t happen. B

Imperfect and Tense said...

Hi Mark, I can well understand why the Highlands are your destination of choice, it is a beautiful area. Whilst some development will inevitably occur, I hope that its essential wildness will remain.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Hi Barbara, there is still a great deal of fond memory for our branch lines, I do occasionally wonder what might have happened had Dr Beeching's plan been derailed. Although it did inadvertently give me an excellent grounding in local flora.

Alyson said...

Fond memories of holidays in the Dornoch area when my daughter was young. Very close to home but far enough to really feel as if you're in another, very beautiful, world (very fond of the beaches on the Sutherland coast).

I was lucky to grow up in a small village on a main line, so the station has remained open. My grandad worked for the railways and lived in a house just across the road so plenty of train noises for him. The late edition of the P&J was thrown off the train on a Saturday night and a chap used to sell them to whoever came along to get their fix of the football results!

Great pictures but a bit sad too. Hope that golf course doesn't go ahead.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Hi Alyson, Oh heck! My readership must consist almost entirely of folk who are the youngest people to remember the branch line rail network. It's etched in our combined psyches like the embossed station signs with their white lettering on a coloured background. A comfortable memory, a keenly-felt loss and a delicious harking back. Not forgetting Jenny Agutter's red knickers.

Martin said...

You'll be pleased to find out that I am a bit too young to still remember the branch lines, but have spent quite a lot of time reading their histories or exploring the old tracks/buildings/cycle routes.. Fascinating piece and I hope your holiday was an enjoyable time away.

Imperfect and Tense said...

In some ways, the old track beds have been an ephemeral habitat, allowing those species which thrive in scrub to survive for longer than may have been the case. With the advent of wilding, scrub's vital role in biodiversity is finally being recognised.