Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Last Day in Wick

[Kyle]Before leaving Wick, I decided to take one grand last tour of the countryside by running a big twelve mile loop to the south of the town. It was a bit windy as I set off. The sun was fighting it out with clouds that looked just itching to rain for dominance. I ran over rolling hills dotted with sheep held in by stone walls and looked over by sturdy looking houses with smoke coming out of their chimneys. I ran through a pretty patch of woodland where the ground was covered in clover. Little rabbits, startled by my sudden appearance on an otherwise empty path, darted this way and that, constantly changing their minds about the best path of escape.

I came out of the trees and turned onto a narrow road that had sweeping views of the surrounding countryside and the sea all the way out to the closest islands of the Orkneys. Then the rain started. It came in stinging drops so cold and fast that I had to run with my head turned down and to the side to shield my face from it. This was turning from a pleasant sightseeing tour into a real ordeal. I picked up my pace as fast as I could bear in order to get through it.

A couple of miles later, it started snowing. That’s right, snowing. By then, I was so miserable that I was actually relieved by this. Snowflakes are soft and a lot of them just bounce off without melting, saving me from getting any wetter. Twenty minutes after that, I came chugging into town in bright sunlight, trailing a contrail of steam behind me as the heat evaporated the moisture from my wet clothes. The weather here is absolutely insane.

Whaligo Steps

Following that and a brief rest, Maryanne and I made a mad dash into town for the next bus to the Whaligo Steps. The steps were built by fishermen to give access to tiny (and scary looking) Whaligo Harbour. The day’s catch would be unloaded and the boats would be hauled up the cliffs to safety using winches and pulleys. The fish were loaded into baskets at the bottom and then carried by the women first up the steps and then the eight miles or so to be sold at the fish market in Wick. All of this was, of course, done in the unpredictable but mostly miserable Scottish weather. I can’t imagine what life must have been like for those people.

Whaligo Cliffs

We had some time left before sprinting for the bus back to Wick, so we occupied ourselves with a stroll along the tops of the stunning coastal cliffs feeling grateful that it wasn’t something we had to do every day with a heavy wicker basket on our backs.

Back at the marina, we noticed the Isabella Fortuna sitting at one of the docks and went over to have a better look. The Isabella Fortuna is a restored herring boat that first was commissioned in the late 1800s when the whole operation was still done under sail. A local man, Norman McLeod, who was part of the group involved in the restoration, was working on his own boat on the same dock, saw us admiring her, and insisted we climbed aboard for a look. The boat was huge on the outside, cramped on the inside and all business. What a joy she would be so sail out of the harbour on a sunny reach and what a misery it must have been tacking home at the end of a long, cold day.

Isabella Fortuna - 1890 herring boat

It turns out Norman was also infamous locally because he had just been sacked (or encouraged to resign) from the lifeboat service, after 44 years, for swearing. The event happened during a tense part of a rescue, but the higher-ups weren’t going to let it pass and got rid of him. In protest, his son, grandson and a few others also quit, leaving the Wick lifeboat seriously undermanned – not something we wanted to know before crossing the Pentland Firth. He was so generously kind to us, that we naturally felt he's been unfairly treated.

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

If I was sacked for every profanity, I would be living under a bridge by now. Poor man