Last week I had a “proper” holiday at last!
It was not a holiday abroad, but closer to home just had to do for now. I had 3 days of holiday time from work, and because I only work 3 days in the week I could turn it into a week’s holiday.
After a lot of head scratching while weighing up the various factors involved, I booked a self catering studio (through Airbnb) in Rosemarkie for 3 nights just to kick things off. Rosemarkie is on the Black Isle, about 20 minutes drive east of Inverness.
Some of the factors in my thinking were the state of the pandemic (on the rampage in Scotland), hotspots for over-tourism (also on the rampage in Scotland) and typical Scottish weather in September (anything could happen).
It turned out to be a great short break, with remarkably few negatives to drag it down. The weather was amazingly good. My home-from-home was close to ideal. I found plenty to do over those 4 days, and even had a few things left undone.
I drove there (and back, obviously) and whilst having the car made the travel easier, it could have been done by train and bus without difficulty. On the two full days I was there I only used the car once – to get to Cromarty – and I could have made that trip with a 15 minute bus journey had I chosen to.
The route between my home and Inverness involves about 2 hours of driving on the A9, and it can be a nightmare during the tourist season. My journey north had its moments, but coming south leaving at 11am on a Thursday it was remarkably easy.
My studio is owned by the people who operate the cafe next door, and having food on my doorstep from 10am until 7pm was a real bonus. The place was busy for most of the day, but when I needed it just after 10am and just before 7pm it was relatively quiet.
The opening hours meant I had no customer noise to disturb me first thing in the morning or in the late evening.
The studio is literally across the street from the sea, so it was an ideal situation for me.
What about the over-tourism issue? Yes, it was a real one in the village. The best viewing place for the Moray Firth dolphins is at Chanonry Point just a mile along the coast, and it attracts plenty visitors. The village is an easy 20 minute drive from Inverness, so on a good weather day the beach attracts day visitors. Finally, the village hosts busy a caravan/camping site and its patrons all add to the transient population and traffic issues.
I overheard two locals talking about streets being closed, one way systems, bollards and double yellow lines being introduced for next year. Home made signs are a common sight. “Do not park here – this is our home”. “Do not sh*t here – there’s a public toilet in the village.” “Please, please, please pick up your dog’s sh*t”.
I picked up on a little too much of the entitled “I’m on holiday so I’ll do whatever I want” attitude from some visitors. It was a small minority, but as with so much in life, the minority impose their unhappiness on the rest of us. To take an obvious example, one untrained and uncontrolled dog can make quite a lot of people unhappy.
The staff in the cafe looked tired and fed up, but were working hard to hide it and praying for some crappy Scottish weather so they could get a quiet day. The cafe had staff vacancies which might have been a consequence of students leaving to go back to their studies, but inevitably would add to the pressures on those remaining.
My holiday activity mostly involved walking and eating. One day I did a 3.5 hour hike along the shore towards Cromarty. On the other I walked the loop between Rosemarkie, Fortrose and Chanonry Point. I did not see the dolphins, but I know that to give yourself a chance you have to choose the right tidal conditions and I was not willing to structure my day around being there at 12:32 and 49 seconds.
I had dinner at the cafe – Crofters – twice and breakfast twice. One dinner was excellent and the other less than that. The staff are great, and owner Facundo is a real hands-on guy for getting out there to take care of the customers.
My other dinner was pizza and beer from Sutor Creek in Cromarty. It felt like a real summer holiday thing to be enjoying that outside close to the sea.
All in all, it was a very successful break. I could easily have stayed another 3 nights. My holiday time has another chapter to it, but more on that later!
ⓒ iain taylor, 2021