Sunday, 24 June 2012

Murrays on Tour - Nairn to Whiteness Head

Saturday 16th June

A bit of an explanation needed here, I think. Nairn holds a lot of nostalgic memories for us; some of my greatest childhood memories of family holidays are of the caravan site on the beach here; Mo and I honeymooned here in the days before Majorca and Tenerife were invented; and for sixteen years and two sons we lived in Inverness and I worked at the oil rig fabrication yard that was McDermott Scotland, until Mrs T decided that if we were going to demand a living wage then we wouldn’t be able to compete with the Spanish or the Italians or the Koreans and so what if it was the North Sea, market forces was the God to be worshipped so it was time “to get on your bike” and move on, chasing the work.  Hate is a very emotive word, but sometimes it gets close to how I feel about her when I wander round the streets and parks of Nairn feeling a little bit homesick, and I wonder what it would have been like never to have up sticks and followed the work. But enough of this stuff, before long I’ll be telling you my age and boasting about still having my own teeth!
The main thing that would bring us from the metropolis that is Inverness to Nairn with the kids and picnic in tow would be the beach. With its world famous white, “singing” sands, it’s temperate dry climate, (due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, apparently), and known in Victoria’s time as the Brighton of the North when it was a favourite haunt of the rich and powerful. This led to big houses and even bigger hotels, but it wasn’t always so. It started, as many of these small hamlets did, as a fishing village built around the mouth of a navigable river with herring, of course, being the cash crop. It was Thomas Telford, (the man gets everywhere), who built the first permanent harbour in 1821 and as the Victorian tourist trade increased so the town expanded to cope. So it was on the river we started our walk and looking down from the footbridge it took a bit of imagination to see the fishing fleet beached on the muddy banks of the river, fortunately there are helpful information boards dotted along the way.
Looking down river towards the sea
Nairn harbour - leisure only these days
From a tidal point of view we had timed this badly. The idea had been to walk along the beach but with the tide in we were struggling to see the beach never mind walk on it. We compromised by walking along the path by the links, passing a commemorative plaque to Third British Infantry Division who had used the beach for training prior to the Normandy invasion, and Nairn baths with an information sign telling us “the first Nairn swimming bath was carved out of solid rock of an old stone quarry filled with salt water pumped fresh from the sea.” Now that was proper bathing!
Leaving the town we made our way along the edge of the golf course, (surely one of the best in the country, it had hosted the Curtis Cup just the weekend before), until we reached the old ice house just by the ninth green / tenth tee.
The Nairn Golf Club
The Old Ice House, now a feature of the golf course
By the time we reached the course boundary the tide was beginning to ebb and walking along the soft pebbled beach was uncomfortable but just about doable. It was about this point that we were faced with a dilemma. An old wire fence ran down from the salt flats inland and finished about ten yards down onto the beach. Tied to this fence by its neck was a soft toy that we later decided was a rabbit. It was hard to tell because he was missing an ear and although he still had two eyes his nose was in a sorry state. So the dilemma was, should we rescue him, or is he set there for a reason? If he was a memorial of some sort then we should leave him, but if he was set there by some beachcomber with a warped imagination, should we rescue him?
What to do?
Eventually we left the beach and its pebbles and cut up onto the salt flats where we were able to pick up a land-rover track that ran along their edge through gorse bushes covered in glorious yellow flowers, and hidden in the middle of them we stumbled across a trig point. I think I must be turning into some sad geek because I was strangely pleased to come across it!
Glorious yellow
Maybe I should start ticking them off - then again maybe not!
The track eventually led to the old salmon fishing bothy about half a mile or so from the point of Whiteness Head. The bothy itself has had some refurbishment done to it, mainly in the form of an upper story. It still however looks a bit run down!
Old salmon fishing bothy
Not much left to see of a once busy fabrication yard - and sixteen years of my life!
We found a sheltered spot down on the beach across the spit from the old sheet pile wall where we ate chocolate and chatted about the old days, speculating about what would / could / should have happened if things, (whatever they are), had been different or if we’d decided not to chase the work or, if, why....and so it goes on.  We never reached any conclusions of course so we packed up and continued our walk beyond the bothy but we were conscious of the fact that we were now in a Site of Special Scientific Interest with an active ternary at the end, so we did the right thing and headed down onto the beach before quite reaching the end and began our journey back towards the town.
Never quite made it to the point - but at least the Terns were happy!
The tide was receding now and we were finally able to walk on the hard sand by the water’s edge. We passed the stubby remnants of the old salmon fishing traps as well as some rather bizarre driftwood and flotsam sculptures. We also found a ball. Oh dear!
Remnants of a lost way of life.
Strange sculptures on the beach
Kicking like a girl!!
It was amazing just what gets washed up onto a beach like this. Everything from shoes to chairs, from fishing floats to balls. It did make us wonder where it all came from and if it was deliberate dumping or if it was simply lost. I guess we’ll never know, but it did get us wondering about the rabbit tied to the fence. Was it another one of the strange sculptures and if so should he be rescued? But maybe that was just a coincidence, and in fact some family visits the spot every year to commemorate an event we know nothing about. Decisions, decisions!  We left the beach again when we reached the golf course to have a look at the Old Ice House, wondering why it was located so far from what would have been the nearest big house, probably what is now The Newton Hotel. But as ever we never came up with any answers.
The Ice House
From here we cut across the golf course and into the town. We had left the hotel around nine thirty and arrived back just before three to a well earned pint followed by probably one of the best Italian meals I’ve had in many a year.
And as for our dilemma I hear you ask?
Freedom!!! - Luggy joins the tour.



  1. Blimey. I was having a nice peaceful morning until I read that opening paragraph about Thatcher. Don't get me going. And as for that Thomas Telford, he certainly got on his bike and didn't stop. She would have liked him!
    Enjoyed that piece, John. Glad you rescued the bunny.
    Cheers, Alen

    1. Hi Alen thanks for looking in. I was feeling a little bit homesick when I was writing that up, so it's maybe a bit over the top. But the fact is that we often wonder what would have become of us if we hadn't been forced to move from a place where we were content and settled. I think it was the lack of choice and the unfeeling nature of it all. But enough, it's time to move on!!................J