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Whanganui Midweek - 2021-11-24

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An axle to grind: Strife on Scottish roads

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Edinburgh in September 1962 was alive with artistic fervour as the Edinburgh Festival and The Edinburgh Tattoo were staged before enthusiastic audiences. The Cape family, together with pet mice, travelling the British Isles, heading north from London, had arrived and had been immersed in the spectacle of regimental showmanship and theatrical soul. The pet mouse population had multiplied threefold. We stayed a few days and our journey eventually recommenced. We found camping space between Braemar and Balmoral. The road sign warned us to “Beware Of Deer” but the only threat we faced in that picturesque spot was revolting litter and, as my father, Peter Cape’s diary narrative notes, we woke to a splendid day. September 8, 1962, Saturday Up to a lovely summery morning. Children get Saturday sixpences in tree (should have been a silver birch!). Kit starts whittling with miniature sheath-knife. Off to Crathie (ph. B [photographed Barbara] and children in heather and pine) then to Ballater: lovely quiet little town (ph) shop for 2 days (Woman in shop at Balmoral misdirects us, but glad we came). Back after lunch along other side of Dee, and up into fabulous moorlands (ph). Saw grouse by side of road in heather, and B. ph. (Barbara photographed) (should have been colour) then ph. ptarmigan flying. Climbed hard to moor of Tomintoul after ph. Scottish castle at 2090 feet. Ph. long haired sheep. Down to Grat.-on-Spey (Grantown-on-Spey) (whiskey country!) where I go into Boots for a film, pay for it, and ask where it is. Person at counter can’t find it, so gives me another. Only when back in car do I find film in other pocket. Tussle with conscience but take it back. Shockingly absent minded now. Can’t even remember road directions after passing routenumber boards on intersections. Fast trip on good road to Inverness (road from Crathie narrow, with passing places). Side track to Culloden. Can barely stand atmosphere of burial ground. All the sorrow and despair of Scotland under the mounds, marked with stones deep-cut with clan names. Ph. this, and the cottage. Then to see Clava cairns and standing stones. (ph.). Hard job finding campsite, but just in dark get nice spot overlooking Dingwall — the Moray Firth. September 9, 1962, Sunday Up to the unearthly stillness of a Highland Sunday. Quiet grey day, photographed tent and Firth of Moray with Dingwall. Away by 10.30 as rain starts. Buy petrol (likely to be a problem on this run) in Dingwall, and off. Coastline most of the way, except for run from Dingwall to Dornoch, where we climbed into moorland, and for a few terrifying seconds, nearly ended the tour. Ran, at about 45mph, left-hand wheels into peaty ditch right by side of road. Two Scots pull us out cheerfully, “you’ll be alright”. Go on. Ph. bridge at Ardgay, and lunch in rain. Country just a bit dull, except a climb into moors and mist. Photographed coast at Golspie, also house decorated with antlers (many of these). Into craft country now. Tiny houses with chimneys at each end and with stables and barns added to them. Peatstacks numerous, also smell of peat fires in air. Thru Wick and ph. yellow sheep (Border Leicesters). Towns and villages have many houses — we wonder what everyone does. Up to John O’ Groats. Ph. Orkney Islands. J O Groats, a crofters steading with thatch and peat (roofs made of peat sod and thatch) and Skirza bay. On towards Thurso to camp by roadside outside deserted hall. I recall the roads in the 1962 Scottish Highlands. They were similar to those in the backcountry of New Zealand’s Mackenzie Basin and Burkes Pass. Unsealed and virtually single carriageway. In Scotland, this was common with sparsely-placed passing places, comprising a parking bay, one or two vehicle lengths long. I recall the scene mentioned, driving up to the moors when the car went into a ditch at the left side of the road. It was bleak open moorland, isolated and flat. The road was narrow and the ditch deep. The car ended up with a front and rear wheel in the ditch up to the axles. The car was laden with us children, mice and camping gear. There was no one around at first. Then along the road or over the heather a group of four or six tweedclad, solidly built men came, with dogs and guns. They were hunting grouse. They saw our dilemma and promptly picked the car up and put it back on the road. Dad mentioned two men. I remember them, front and rear of the car, lifting it with me inside. All that tossing the caber, and dining on haggis and whisky must have paid off. Culloden Moor was atmospheric. The battle between the Jacobites under Bonnie Prince Charlie and the British redcoats under Cumberland was waged on April 16, 1746. It was the last battle of the 1745 Jacobite uprising by Scotland to wrest the throne of England from the English and restore Scotland’s voice and dignity. The Scots were defeated at Culloden. According to Wikipedia, their dead and wounded numbered 1500-2000 clansmen and allies. The British lost 300. The clans buried their fallen under still recognisable mass burial mounds. Located some two miles away, the Bronze Age Clava Cairns are a separate entity. They, too, are burial chambers. They date from prehistory some 4000 years ago, around 2000BC. Their exact history is unclear. Both locations hold a mystique on which legends are founded. The perennial question, of course, is do we learn from history, or repeat its mistakes? That is “the” question for this decade, too. I have no doubt that these 2020 years will be noted and debated in historical archives for generations to come, whether it be for pandemic, genocide or climate change. Questions aside, we left prehistory and crofters’ peat smoke behind us as we pressed northward heading for the Isle of Skye and Dunvegan Castle. My mother’s mother is a Macleod and we had an appointment to keep with the Clan chieftain, Dame Flora Macleod.

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