Caithness Field Club

The Special Touch Of Caithness
E Bertrand

(Last Year's "assistant" at Wick and Thurso)

"What a miserable day!" people are struggling back to their houses as if the smell of peat or coal is drawing them away from the stormy landscape. The train, like a monster at the top of Station Road, gives its last whistle and throws itself towards the moorland, through the snow and the lights of the station softened by the heavy fall, it seems to be a kind of old fashioned loaf put into an oven. Going along Wick River it will meet the other train coming along Thurso River and after the junction give you a real feeling of adventure through the bad weather in the moorland among the many prehistoric remains which have become covered over with peat.

That's winter! The impressive winter of Caithness, stretched away from the heart of the country. The blocks of ice finally come down the rivers down to the towns of Wick and Thurso, down to the sea where they finally take the natural rhythms of the tides.

On certain days, from the bridge, I saw the rivers as a link between the clashing waves of the Creation and the setting ices of an early moving glacier. Caithness was the point of meeting waters, erosions and time as well. Time flowing away as quickly as the high and fresh clouds rushing their way through the high winds, time blowing through our old ruins of Oldwick and Girnigoe Castles, giving to them a sense of mystery. Nobody would approach them at that time of the year, except with a bottle of whisky to keep the body warm and the ghost stories alive!

Sheltered in the houses, it's time to realise that the history of these castles is slowly dying away. . . . but you surely still know the story of John Sinclair "Starved to death" in Girnigoe Castle . . . . The striking words of the tale still blow in your memory as violently as the winds on the cliffs, slowly eroding into the rocks and the country itself.

"Lovely day, isn't it?" People are strolling about all along Bridge Street, feeling the light air, wearing their light clothes, mothers talking together slowly going on with their prams. The waters have turned green in the river, the sun is still high in the sky when you can hear the whistle of the train leaving at 6. There is something changed - the winter cycle has passed, a new cycle has started with the longer and longer days - the miracle of nature dying to express itself through the many facets of life.

Up HeIIy Aa! as they say in Shetland. The sun comes into the summer cycle, right to the climax of the midnight sun. The standing stones on the hills still keep an eye on the slow approaching lights of the solstice. Then, there is in the atmosphere a feeling of precious, magic moments, time doesn't seem to pass, maybe you'll fancy going out at 11 , it doesn't matter, it's still bright going along Wick River, right to the Fairy Hillock, maybe you'll be entranced in this quiet area where the legend is slowly coming back to your mind as a part of this landscape . . . .

That is the special touch of Caithness - the blending of time and seasons and because of that, the casual tourist will never feel the real Caithness not the Caithness that we see on a summer day, reflected in the smiling faces of people, who have endured a long hard winter with tenacity and are now rejoicing in the sunshine.