For the past few years I’ve infrequently made calendars for friends. In 2019 I wanted to go a bit further afield than usual, and made an epic journey to the almost-most-Northern part of the country to take in as many sights as possible on the way back the following day, all in Twist mode.
It helped that a couple of friends own The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage at Noss Head – I could crash there for a night, wake up before the seagulls fart, slap on makeup for the day, and make my way back to Edinburgh stopping off wherever I found a good view (much of this was planned out beforehand).
This was my biggest gamble I’d ever taken with weather forecasts. It was supposed to be piddling it down mightily the day before and the day after, but with a 24-hour reprieve during which I could do my en-femme cannonball run through Scotland.
Sure enough, the drive north was through apocalyptic rain with the wipers going full pelt. It was at this point, a family of spiders chose to abseil down from the sun visor right in front of my goddamn face. I had to ignore the dance of 24 legs to focus on steering through water. I may not have ovaries of steel, but fucking hell I’ve earnt them…
My host kindly offered to help with taking photos at sunrise (muahahahaa! the fool!!!); after all, it was my first visit and I didn’t know where the best angles would be. There was the lighthouse, a nearby pond, and a statue of Henry St Clair I could pose with…
After failing to suppress my inner monologue from singing the earworm theme tune to classic 1990s Australian kids’ TV show Round The Twist, I let my photographer caffeinate himself while I made a quick change of clothes and set off. It felt a bit ridiculous to head off so soon after a single night, but I had a long day ahead of me and the weather wouldn’t last…
The first stop was just a bit further up the road: John O’Groats. Despite the early hour, it was mobbed with tourists, and I had to wait for them all to bugger off before setting up the camera tripod and timer for a few selfies. The signpost had been pretty much obliterated by a coating of novelty stickers plastered onto it over the years. At least I could see I had 273 miles to go…
I stopped off at Wick’s petrol station to tank up and grab a sandwich for breakfast before heading south again. I was on the lookout for scenic viewpoints that would allow very fast, impromptu stops for photos. Maybe I was overthinking things, because there were some gorgeous vistas in the morning sun which I drove past. One of the few I picked was a perfect reflection at Loch Fleet.
I had lunch at Inverness and refuelled the car (it was a small car with a petrol tank the size of a budgie’s bladder). My next stop was a detour to the Loch Ness visitor centre where, floating in a pond, was a decades-old model plesiosaur.
Sure, there were other models at other tourist spots, but I was determined to get a photo with this one specifically, because it was in the goddamn water. I had to clamber over a fence and squelch towards it to set up the camera for the shot I wanted. A tourist from the far east followed me and had to wait patiently for me to get the hell out of the way before taking his own photos.
Graffiti in these parts consisted of ‘flat Earth theory!’ and ‘question evolution!’ Surely, I thought, there are easier things to rebel against than science, reason, critical thinking, and -you know- reality…
My next stop, carefully calculated for the view, was Clansman Harbour. The parking was overflowing, so I had to drive back past Loch Ness Lodge and trudge to my preferred viewing point.
I could see all the way from one end of the loch to the other from here, but it was also incredibly exposed. The effort I’d made in combing my wig that morning was undone in an instant. I spent half the timed selfie shot with one hand stopping my skirt blowing up, and the other hand keeping hair out of my eyes.
Sometimes, smiling your way through a multitude of inconveniences is good for the soul. Or at least, it’s good practice for pretending to maintain your composure when the shit hits the fan. I squinted at the previews of the photos in the camera display and decided I’d got enough. The long drive and the early start were beginning to catch up with me: time to head home.
I made one last stop just off the A9: Dalwhinnie Distillery. Partly because I was quite taken with the scenery (and the dramatic clouds), and partly because I’d passed it so often without visiting that this felt like the opportune moment. I went into the visitor centre, asked the woman behind the till if she knew of any good spots for taking photos, and bought a bottle as a souvenir of the road trip (avoiding all the Game Of Thrones themed whiskies because I’m a snob that way).
After waiting for the farmer to close up and drive off, I parked at the gate to a farm track where I could get the distillery and the hills in the shot. By this point, my wig was ready to take to the skies. With perfect timing, the clouds darkened and rain began spattering on the windscreen.
I got all the shots I wanted, and could drive the rest of the way home with a quite glow of success. (And, once I got back inside, a quiet glow of whisky…)