Flow country

Finlay was kind enough to get up from his sick bed to come out and say goodbye. Molly came along too! Thank you all for having me visit despite adversity

Today was a typical day of two halves, divided by lunchtime. The first half was to get north over the Black Isle and the southern portion of the NW Highlands to Bonar Bridge. My navigation system decided to take a morning off so I was travelling by memory (which I got right).

The scenery gets progressively wilder further north
Forestry is the major land use
View westwards up the Dornoch Firth to Bonar Bridge
Yes, these still exist – in fact I wonder if they are now listed buildings? For those living outside the UK (or much younger than me), these are a throw back to the days when a) there were no mobile phones, and b) when cars were generally more unreliable. Automobile Association members got a key to use these to call for assistance. .I did not check whether this is still the way they work
One of the main industries in the NW Highlands is salmon fishing. I lost count of the number of cars today that had rods strapped onto them – certainly dozens. I think most salmon fishing is now catch and release.

After lunch it was on to the Flow Country. This is a large expanse of Caithness and Sutherland that is typically clad in deep blanket bog (with a few mountains). It has a very special flora and fauna and holds more carbon than all the forests of the UK put together (thus is rather important in terms of climate change. It gained notoriety during the Thatcher government when tax breaks for the rich meant that just planting trees was very advantageous, whether they grew well or not. The Flow Country was regarded as wasteland, ripe for planting trees. In terms of nature conservation this was a disaster and several of my colleagues in the then Nature Conservancy Council put together a report ‘Birds, Bogs and Forestry’ exposing the damage being done – this infuriated the Scottish Conservatives (yes there were a few then) and arguably was one of the main reasons that the Nature Conservancy Council was split up into agencies for each of the four UK countries, plus the Joint Nature Conservation Committee – my subsequent employer. There were though a lot of political shenanigans going on at the time – the ‘row’ was undoubtedly more manufactured than it needed to have been from the government side. Ultimately though the folly of this tax break was realised, and considerable public and charitable funds have gone into restoring the Flow Country. That will take many years though.

I had come this way with my brother Guy when he rode from Lands End to John O’Groats a few years ago, so I was delighted that the weather was clear and warm, but with a strong north-westerly wind to push into all afternoon.

A lane into the Flow Country. The sign in the background explains how to use ‘Passing Places’ on this narrow road. Sadly many drivers cannot read, or do not care, and the verges are being trashed
This house (one of the last on the road) reminded me of ‘Skyfall’ – the fictitious home of James Bond in the eponymous film. The landscape certainly is the same!
Endless horizons
Some forests remain
In other areas, the trees have been removed, but the trashed landscapes remain
Tis appeared to be a wood-chipping operation removing the waste left after the forests had been cut down. Two large lorries were being filled from an industrial scape machine that was being loaded with brash by the claw.
Classic scenery in this part of the Flow Country
A boggy Strath
Not all the drivers in the area can read English, apparently
Loch Naver in the distance

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