Monday, 28 May 2012

Dunbeath-Land of her Fathers

Dunbeath lies in the sheltered strath of the eponymous river, about twenty miles south of Wick in Caithness. It is the birthplace of my late father-in-law, Alexander Sinclair, a son of the croft at Carroy, built on an old flood plain high above the current river level. The croft has been in the Sinclair family for over a hundred and fifty years, but has now been sold following the passing away of cousin James Sinclair. The house, pictured above, was built in 1927 replacing earlier more primitive thatched structures, still standing in the background.
The fireplace of the earlier house still displays the double mantle stone, inserted to gain easy access to the chimney for smoking meat or fish.
Layers of earlier history abound in the fields around, including the outlines of previous croft buildings and further back in time, the well preserved Iron Age broch just across the river. The much excavated and enigmatic 'Hill of Peace' site is also just across the river. Tantalising clues to its origins as an ecclesiastical centre have not been supported by the detailed archaeology. 
The old horse drawn plough still lies behind the croft and Croxspartan well runs with pure clear cold water on the edge of the croft. The water from this well is documented as having healing properties.
Dunbeath's most famous son is the between the wars novelist, Neil Gunn. Many of his books feature the village and strath and its characters. His most famous novel, The Silver Darlings, charts the impact of the development of the herring fishing on the life of such a highland village. Cousin Eric Farquhar is preparing a documentary piece on the croft and his ancestors who lived there.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder, published by Willow Moon. e-book and paperback from all Amazon sites. Best paperback price at . Type in the ISBN 9781468055900.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Walking and Wine at Kentchurch Court

I'm one of a group of wine disciples who walk together each year somewhere in Europe's vineyards, usually in October. The group met twelve years ago in Tuscany and immediately bonded, united in their disappointment at the poor organisation of Winetrails. Over the years, we've now covered all the main wine areas of France, Spain ,Portugal and Italy which we will revisit this October. To keep us topped up we do organise occasional weekend trips which last weekend brought us to Kentchurch Court, a charming stately home in Herefordshire. Sitting in a 5,000 acre estate, including an impressive deer park, the house has been in the Scudamore family for over 1,000years and boasts a room said to have been slept in by legendary Welsh freedom fighter, Owain Glendower.  
Local wine expert and writer, Jon Hurley, led the tastings before and during dinner. We tasted more than 20 wines from Europe and the new World. The blind tastings were particularly humbling especially for those suffering from colds, for whom all whites tasted like Pinot Gris!
Jan's cooking was excellent and her dining room provided the perfect backdrop for the tastings, reminding everyone of Chanel 4's Regency House Party, which was filmed in the house, without the period dress in our case.
The walk was led by Jon's wife and local historian, Heather, through the beautiful rolling Herefordshire countryside across the Monnow River into Wales with the Black Montains hovering to the west. Our objective was the community owned Angel Inn at Grosmont which provided an excellent lunch.
Altogether a walk and wine  encounter to savour: bring on Tuscany in October.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon. E-book at and Paperback at and for UK and worldwide customers at, ISBN 9781468055900

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Haul Out

The Subsea 7 fabrication yard at Wester to the north of Wick, manufactures pipelines for the oil and gas industry, mainly in the North Sea. The image above shows a completed pipe stretching to the horizon in the Caithness countryside. It is ready to be hauled out into the sea by tugs just offshore. The pipe is destined for the Judy field to the south east of Aberdeen. In place it will carry gas at 120C under high pressure.
This picture shows the towhead end of the pipe in position on the beach ready to be hauled out on the attached cable, when the tide is high enough. The towhead contains all the necessary connections to fit the pipe in place.
When the pipe is fully hauled out by the tug  into open water, a specialised vessel moves over it and adjusts the boyancy so that the pipe is level and stable at a fixed water depth before being towed for several days to its sink point where it is lowered to the seabed and joined up.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon. E-book at and Paperback at and