The next morning, we waited for the tide to lift us off the mud of Portnahomack harbour, and then aimed for Dornoch Point on the far side of the entrance to Dornoch Firth, following a wide curve round to eventually enter between the sandbars of Gizzen Briggs and Whiteness Sands. The sandbars have a fearsome reputation and have claimed several vessels over the years. Local myths have it that they were formed when water-kelpies tried to build a bridge from one side of the Firth to the other, and just as it was nearing completion, someone walked across it calling on God to protect him, whereupon the bridge collapsed! One might surmise that building regulations weren’t quite so demanding in those days! Since then, the water-kelpies have kept on trying to repair the bridge by heaping up the sand on each side, only for it to be washed away again each day by the tide. If the wind is in the right direction, you can apparently hear them lamenting at their fruitless task.
We didn’t see any water-kelpies, but there certainly were huge numbers of seals basking in the sun. We managed to get quite close to them, and although a good number flopped into the water to watch us from a safe distance, others seemed almost oblivious to our presence, presumably believing in safety in numbers. We tried to imagine the amount of fish they must consume each day, and concluded that it was no wonder the local fishermen had switched their attention to catching crab and lobster.
We pushed on upwards following the north channel through the sandbars, and under the Tain Bridge, taking it carefully as we weren’t sure if the position of the channel might have changed since the charts were made. Luckily, it didn’t seem to have. Off to our left we could see the buildings of the Glenmorangie distillery amongst the surrounding trees on the outskirts of Tain. The columns of the stills here are the tallest in Scotland, apparently because when they built them in 1843, they could only get second hand stills from London Gin. It’s marvellous how subsequent tradition builds up an aura around such random decisions.
Tain is a picturesque town on the edge of Dornoch Firth, developed around the site of an ancient church built by a local Saint, St Duthus. It is the oldest Royal Burgh in Scotland, having achieved that status in 1066. Apparently it was designated as a sanctuary where people could claim protection, even from the crown. Robert the Bruce put his wife and daughter there, but as with many things, power speaks, and his opponent ignored the sanctuary status, took the women, and sent them to be imprisoned in England. So much for that! The main street is quite picturesque with the Rose Garden being a focal point.
We carried on under the A9 bridge, keeping close to South Meikle Ferry to avoid the shallow sandbar stretching out from North Meikle Ferry, and continued on up river to the next wide bend beyond which was Bonar Bridge. We anchored there for lunch and admired the lush green cattle pastures of the surrounding countryside as we ate our soup and bread rolls.
All too soon it was time to turn back and return to Portmahomack for our lift with a local fisherman to catch the bus back to Inverness to collect the car and trailer. It had been a good couple of weeks.