Travel Diaries: Scotland Tour – Sunset at Durness and a heather burning

We left our little holiday cottage near Scourie as dusk fell, taking the road north to watch the sun setting over Durness beach.

Driving very carefully, due to livestock not hearing our car’s electric engine, we roll over a road marking that makes me smile. Slow is an instruction not just for the vehicle but the passengers too … time to embrace the beauty around us, stop looking at our watches and breathe.

The road follows the course of the River Dionard as it gently meanders its way through a heather-clad mountain valley. It has been a long and busy day and, as the light starts to dim, our three youngest children fall fast asleep.

The landscape changes as the river joins the Kyle of Durness, where the sloping hills meet drifts of sand. With the car window slightly down, I can taste the sea salt in the air.

Our eldest son has been looking forward to this moment since we started planning our trip. Here we are, at the most northerly coast of Britain.

We tell him that we could not have done this without him. He has sat for this long journey between his seven month old baby sister and his youngest brother. He has picked up dropped toys before tears began. When his autistic sibling had suddenly panicked at the low sun and sudden air pressure drop as we drove up into the Cairngorms, our eldest son had soothed him, held his hand and helped him to settle.

I encourage our teenaged son to go up to the cliff, listen to the waves crashing, feel the fierce coastal breeze on his face and know that if he can help us to make this epic road trip a reality, with all the difficulties we have overcome to get here, he can surely do anything he sets his mind to.

My husband and I take it in turns, one of us always with the still-dozing tiny ones, to take in the view. Durness is more beautiful than a photograph can convey. Glassy pools reflect the ever-changing light, where monolithic rocks stand anchored against the crashing waves.

As the wind changes, we notice a sudden strong ashen smell in the air and, looking westwards, smoke plumes are now drifting out to sea from beyond the cliffs.

The owner of Mather’s, the little late hour shop we stop at before leaving, tells us that a planned heather burning has gotten out of control, due to the sudden gale force winds. He was not at all worried. A fleet of fire engines are starting to noisily arrive, and we can now see that the nearest mountain peaks are scorched with line after line of fierce flames. It was a sight that will always stay with me, but not one I photographed – the safest course of action was to get out of the smoky air and safely back to Scourie. Our three littlest ones slept on, oblivious.

The fires blaze on the east side of the Kyle, though the westward peaks are serene, beneath a purplish blue sky.

We arrive safely back at the little cottage by the river, tuck the little ones into bed and watch the remaining light ebb away over the sea loch from the kitchen window. We talk about the brave fireman, out on the hills, possibly still battling the flames as night falls. The shopkeeper had told me they were well practised and all would be well.

For now, rest. Tomorrow, we plan to return to the north coast and explore Smoo Cave.

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Travel Diaries: Scotland Tour – A little cottage near Scourie and a riverside adventure

We arrive at our holiday cottage, a little north of Scourie, in the late afternoon. It is early April and spring has sprung in the mountains. The little garden is carpeted with daffodils and, just beyond, a small wooden gate leads out to the river bank.

The skies are still blue, and the trees are filled with blossom. The visitor book in the hallway states that eagles can be regularly spotted here, and I keep glancing around, just in case.

Our children are glad to run around and stretch their legs after so much travel and we agree that the only thing we are missing is a little boat to row over to that island in the middle of the river. It would make a brilliant picnic and bird watching spot.

When the children climb into the trees, they are fascinated by the lichen, crisp and crumbly, and then purposefully step around it to leave it intact. My daughter, in her baby carrier, leans over and runs her fingers through the fronds.

A pathway leads us upstream. We spot another route on the opposite bank, in the lea of a small rocky fell, and decide we will definitely cross the bridge a little way away and explore the other side tomorrow. Our eldest son takes care of his younger brother, holding his safety reign, and my husband keeps a hold of a hand and reigns of our profoundly autistic youngest son, who has an acute fascination with running water.

We reach the bridge, where the water cascades, white and foamy, around huge outcrops of imposing rock. The spray covers our faces if we get closer. Our youngest son is utterly exhilarated by the thunderous noise, which we not only hear but also feel in tremors beneath our feet, and impulsively throws his favourite toy right into the centre of the rapids!

He has no comprehension that it is now floating off to the Atlantic Ocean. Our son is usually silent, but now he is shouting with delight, cheering his toy on.

My husband manages, incredibly, to fish toy Woody out of a swirling eddy and back safely onto dry land using a large fallen branch.

We head back inside, and Woody dries out in front of the lovely warm aga whilst we brew a cup of tea. We all perch on stools and enjoy the view from the kitchen window of the gently meandering sea loch.

Next we are packing the car again – although only with warm coats, hats, scarves, mittens and wellies this time. We are off to watch the sun setting over Durness beach. It will be the first time that any of us have seen the northern-most coast of Britain.

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