We were on a trip visiting the Scottish gardens of the North East Highlands. The train slowed right down and sounded its horn as it approached the unmanned level crossing at Rogart Station in Sutherland. I listened to the clackity clack, clackity clack as it crossed the points and looked out of my stationary sleeping compartment door to see the train leaving Rogart on it’s way to Wick.
We were on our first night of a four day expedition to visit the Scottish gardens of the North. The hostel accommodation provided by SLEEPERZZZ.COM in a siding at Rogart was a comfortable and fun place to stay. On our way up we visited Alness to see the spectacular Britain in Bloom displays. The people of Alness are rightly proud of their endevour and success and the town glows with colour!
I went to bed. A short shower of heavy rain battered the roof as I drifted off to sleep. It reminded me of the shed we played in as children. We liked the rain. Up next day after a good nights sleep and into the kitchen compartment to make the porridge. When all was ready I stepped into the dining compartment to sit down with my friends, Alice, Diane and Janette for breakfast. Our next port of call on the Scottish Gardnes tour was Dunrobin Castle, seat of the Clan Sutherland.
Dunrobin is popular with visitors from all parts of the world. The Castle displays fine furniture , paintings and many items recording the lives of generations of Sutherlands. The castle was “the best” Alice has visited. The gardens are out of this world. Designs based on Versailles, spectacular colour and texture and as a bonus, all can be viewed from a considerable height.
During the season a dramatic and exciting display of Falconry is held twice a day. Birds such as Falcons and Eagle Owls are put through their paces to the delight of large audiences. Having seen the display a number of times I can recommend it. Falconer Andy Hughes makes sure that no birds or people are harmed during the show!
HELMSDALE HOSTEL was our base for two further nights on the Scottish gardens tour. This was a Drill Hall many years ago. It has a spacious open plan kitchen, lounge, dining area with a beautiful original pine wood floor. The walls are clad in wood giving the whole place a comfortable, restful feel. Two of our party occupied a family room with toilet and shower en suite. Two occupied beds in a seven bed dormitory.
Babs, the Warden, was smashing making sure that everyone was happy and comfortable. The big multi fuel fire fed with logs was a great gathering place for everyone in the hostel. It also heated the hostel to keep it warm.
Langwell Garden is at the end of a long drive which snakes through forest on the Langwell Estate by the Berriedale Braes. You don’t expect to see a great garden as you make your way through the trees. Enter the pedestrian gate on the North side of the garden and wait for the reaction of your friends. OH! WOW! is normal. It is beautiful. It is spectacular and unforgettable. What a wonderful and colourful garden by any standards. Herbaceous borders in full bloom backed by fine hedges make a great impact on the eye.
We met people at Helmsdale who were either cycling or walking to John O’Groats from Lands End. They had tales to tell and we were willing listeners. We were to meet three of the cyclists again when we bumped into them shortly after they arrived at John O’Groats. We were able to share in their emotional celebration as it dawned on them that it was over, finished, done. Now for the rest of their lives…
We visited the Castle of Mey in Caithness which was the holiday home of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Located on the Pentland Firth the winter gales can be so strong that last winter the coping stones were blown right off the great wall of Mey and flew through the air like frisbies. It is not unknown for plants including cabbage to be blown out of the ground. The great wall, internal hedges and traditional Caithness field markers, Caithness stone slabs set on edge, combine to create shelter for plants which grow in this beautiful garden. If you have travelled this far tour the Castle. It is a touching tribute to our Queen Mum.
On the way home from our Scottish Gardens tour we called in to see Inverness Botanic Garden in Bught Park. The tropical glasshouse and the Cacti and succulent house are magnificent. The air plants are the best I have seen. The gardens outside are beautiful and very well maintained. The Plants Sales area is excellent and the quality of the plants is very high. Horticultural excellence is on full display in all departments.
Travelling home down the A9 we could not resist calling in to Jack Drakes Alpine Nursery and Cake Shop at Inschriach near Aviemore. Not just to view the alpines, you understand, but to enjoy a delicious big slice of cake with our teas or coffees. I had the White Lady with my cup of tea. Magic!
Our adventure was over and we returned to Glasgow to “old claes (clothes) and porridge”. Here’s to the next time we find time to visit the hostels of the North East Highlands. See more about Scotlands Gardens and Landscapes on Brian Sutherlands web site.