The wind is blasting straight from the north pole today. The willows in my garden are being stripped of leaves. There’s nothing much to stand in its way as the land is flat here, or gently undulating. The Flow Country, they call it. Ancient peat bogs with unusual wildlife, huge skies and endless horizons. No mountains to block the relentless cold wind as it speeds at 70mph or more. There are few trees. The ones that survive grow stunted, keeling over at 45 degrees, sculpted into strange shapes by the wind as are the humans. The extreme weather dictates how I spend my days. Sometimes I can’t open my front door due to the force of the easterly and unless I have urgent business it’s safer to stay home. When you see the window panes tremble, you know it’s serious!
The first time I visited the Far North it was a crazy impulse. I’d accidentally stumbled across a property for sale on the internet, an old renovated church hall in the middle of nowhere and I was intrigued. It was November, 2004 when I set off on an epic car drive that lasted two days and was to change my life. When I left my city flat I was starting with flu symptoms, a fever and a wracking cough. After a hundred miles I stopped at a supermarket and bought Benylin and paracetamol. I was swigging the medicine straight from the bottle as I drove. There was wind and lashing rain. The road was flooded in places. It was dark as night and difficult to see where I was going as the wipers failed to cope with the rain and the road twisted and turned. In my anxious, fevered state I imagined wolves lurking at the edge of the road! My hands ached from the effort of gripping the steering wheel as the wind buffeted my car.
The A9 is one of the most dangerous road in Britain but also the most spectacular. It passes through mountain ranges and lush green valleys. A lot of the way it follows the river and the railway line, later the coast. Just north of Pitlochry the sun suddenly broke through the storm clouds, and a dazzle of coloured mist enveloped my car. I realised I was driving through the middle of a rainbow, actually inside a rainbow. Fragments of red, yellow, blue and violet danced across the windscreen and bonnet. It was exhilarating! There was no pot of gold for me but it felt like a good omen.