European Journals

Day 12: The Cairns

9 September 2017


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I got up and stuck laundry in, then took a shower. I was out of clothes, and as Helen didn't seem to mind, I walked round in a towel and shirt. We breakfas'd, stuck a few things in the dryer, then finally got on our way. Helen had offered us her bikes the night before, so we set out upon them on back roads towards the Clava Cairns, away from Inverness. I rode a townie Trek or similar, and Teysia rode an old full susp Santa Cruz, and the road was delightful. First along sheep fields, then down a tree-lined hill, then down a wild, curvy road of small old farm houses, and back up, passed by a big tractor and its wagon of round bales, to Castletown, which was really just three houses, the biggest and most stately-looking being totally empty. We continued on over a great old stone railway overpass that curved the road, then down a stretch to turn towards a farm, under another rail overpass just after the screaming, rocketing, swooshing train half scared me to death. We sped down the hill with a grand view of the viaduct down the valley, rounding a sharp corner among a small field of mixed cattle.

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And there it was! The Cairn's circle of standing stones bled over the road, which snaked through it as if it weren't anything. We entered the fenced area and began to check it out. Over 4,000 years old, at least, and very little known about the monuments. I really enjoy things like that, because you're free to imagine other times as if they're another world, but you're standing there in part of it. I imagined the Victorians planting the trees there, and what it could have looked like long before that, what it must have been to live out there… I'll let the photos take over from there.

The road cuts through

The road cuts through


As we were getting ready to leave, a man struck up a random conversation, asking where we were from, then "where exactly, though." He'd been to Boldt Castle and knew the area. He and his wife had lived in Alabama for however many years, and somewhere else before that, totaling 13(?) years in the US. I think they were English, but came to Scotland to visit their friend, a very old woman who was with them who began to talk with us. The man asked if we knew what the gate was called and I said I knew it as a kissing gate, and they said that was great, that not many foreigners knew. I said I wasn't quite sure why though, and the woman said "it's quite obvious - you've got her trapped!" We laughed, and I said it was for sheep, right? The woman said it was quite a trick getting the sheep though, and more often they'd just take the gate off for that. She was very highlander and told us a highlander saying:


"May your pulse beat as your heart wishes"


"Good luck figuring that one out!" she said, then, "If I may bid you the Scottish farewell" (she'd said Scots don't say goodbye), "Haste ye back!"


We thanked her, and rode towards the viaduct for a better view as the rain began to sprinkle, turning back after a look and then down the path to the other remnants, where a chapel had been built over other cairns. We met an Aussie couple, the husband taking pictures of a rabbit. His wife, "we don't see them much, they're vermin in Australia, so you're not allowed to keep them."

Cairn ruins and the last stone standing - click to enlarge

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We saw the stones and I ripped back down the little trail on the Santa Cruz (just so I could feel a Santa Cruz once), meeting a very idealized farmer and his two sons, with a border collie on a leash. He'd opened the gate I hopped off and said I'd have to wait for Teysia anyway. He said that was alright, so I walked out and thanked him. He asked us (as the other group had) if we were seeing Scotland by bike, we said no and I asked if he lived around here and he said just up over the hill. I said how wonderful it was. He asked where we were from and I told him and said it was beautiful, too, but, you know… and he said, "Everywhere's nice when you're just visiting." He looked just as you'd imagine: Wool knit sweater in dark blue with a dark knit woolen beanie rolled short, rubber shoes, a bit scruffy. He wished us well and passed through after Teysia, and I said "you'd better let 'im off so 'e can burn that energy," and he said he'd just leashed him when he saw me coming. Collies can't be leashed.


If this was on Rapha, would it look all that much different from their grainy Leica shots?

If this was on Rapha, would it look all that much different from their grainy Leica shots?

We went up the hill, and under the first overpass, and the rain came. We ducked into a tractor port with big bags of pellet fertilizer to wait it out. A younger pair drove by with dogs in the back of a van, away from us, then a man and his dog towards us. Shaved head, wool sweater, big steps as if the dog were pulling him, but it was just the downhill (though it was minor), squinting into the rain, saying, "it's shit, innit??" I asked him how it looked farther up the valley and he said it didn't look good. We waited another half hour. The two young folks came back, the woman smiling at us, then pulled into the farmhouse there, but never came to us. We set out at the next break in rain, riding into a clear patch. It was a refreshing ride, but mostly because I had fenders - Teysia didn't, so she got wet. The rain sat down in that valley, so it cleared up on the high field road, which we coasted down at a good clip. I rode in the dry strip down the middle of the road, and got a good start when another cyclist ripped up past my left without warning. I worried then about him scaring Teysia, but she was farther over to the left and hadheard him coming, thinking he was a car. Guess my big ears catch more of the wind… The views were fantastic, those layered rain clouds on the hills, the firth glowing with the rays that made their way through, far-off fields gleaming like a Cezan.

The horizon sped towards me

The horizon sped towards me


We got in and I made a workspace for myself and had some food with Teysia. We watched Waiting to Exhale after the sunset. 

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NotesJacob Sell Hicks