Dornoch Fibre Fest 13th -15th March 2020.

I was asked by the Shetland Sheep Society to give a talk on wool; judging and Shetland’s past connection with the famous Hunters of Brora. After the meeting I was joined by a old friend of mine, Robbie Parkin, formerly of Hunters wool mill, to judge a fleece competition. The wool was of exceptional quality and was produced by members of the Shetland Sheep Society.

Robbie, Me & Winning Fleece Rena Douglas (Picture Hazel Syme)

We attended some of the venues in Dornoch which hosted the event and met new contacts, as well as some old friends; such as Julie of Black Isle Yarns who I had met on her fact finding mission to Shetland last year. There was a very interesting mix of classes and textile exhibitors attending the event.

Catherine & Me with Friends Dornoch
On the Sheep Society Stand (Picture Hazel Syme)

The hospitality and kindness of the organisers and Sheep Society toward us was beyond belief. Sally Wild and her husband Peter provided us with accommodation in their uniquely restored former blacksmith cottage. I had the great pleasure to meetSally’s flock of Shetland sheep, their look and appearance reminded me of some of our own peerie native Shetland hill sheep.

Blacksmith Cottage

IMAGE SALLY & ME WITH SOME OF HER FLOCK ( PICTURE HAZEL SYME)

Sally & Me With Some of Her Flock (Picture Hazel Syme)

As a former golfer I had heard stories about the famous Royal Dornoch golf links, although my golfing days were over I was taken by the layout of the course which ran parrarel to the golden beaches of the Dornoch fore shore. We attended the local history group film night where we saw an enactment by the Dornoch school bairns of the burning of the last condemned witch in Scotland, Janet Horne, in 1772. The bairns acted out a tale of misfortune, cruelty and bigotry toward an elderly lady suffering from dementia and her disabled daughter. It was very refreshing and heartening to see a folklore tale told through the eyes of local children.

Dornoch Beach
Janet Horne Burning Site Marker – 1722

This was not just about sheep, wool and textiles it was also an opportunity to visit the local landmarks and meet up again with friends especially from past acquaintances from Hunters of Brora. Our last visit to this area had been in 2010 on route to the Stirling Knit Camp. This time we were determined to travel in to the hills of Brora and view first hand its magnificent scenery. My old friend the late Tom Simpson of Hunters Wool Mill said I would have to come and see the magic of the mill and the surrounding hills valleys and lochs which Tom described as the true highlands of Scotland. After visiting with Bill Ballantyne and Ann both formerly Hunters of Brora employees we travelled up into the hills. Even at this time of year and with poor weather conditions we were not disappointed as we travelled further west through the hills and Glens. The only disappointment was we saw no sign of wild deer, plenty of deer fences and a few wild goats in the hills.

Loch Brora
Wild Goats – Hills above Brora

I mentioned this to a local lady attending the fibre fest who suggested we travel further west up into the hills and mountains and recommended Glen Cassley however it would be hard going and there was no guarantee of seeing deer. We set off following our Satnav instructions and soon encountered fairly tough driving conditions. Despite Catherine’s protests we ventured onwards narrow roads often flooded in places barely a single track. I had to admit I was getting concerned there was no sign of human habitat and sadly no deer, worse there was no place to turn around. After countless miles away in the distance we saw a solitary house tucked under the lea of a snow capped mountain. We reached the end of the track and were greeted by to our complete surprise a distinct yellow sign which said CCTV in operation and strictly no admittance, I noticed at least two cameras. Up at the front of the fairly large house was parked a modern looking four wheel drive vehicle. We managed just to turn and thought we had better not tarry to long as the message you are not welcome was loud and clear. We set off down the road and stopped a safe distance away and I took some photos of the Glen and made the comment to Catherine “this could be the film location for the James Bond movie Skyfall!” Googling the area it is a privately owned estate and is listed in an ordnance survey report as one of the most remote areas of Scotland. “Getting up there is only for the hardier of us “; I can certainly endorse that comment!

Looking up Glen Cassley
River Glen Cassley

A little further down the road we stopped off at the spectacular Achness waterfall tumbling down out of the hills. As we boarded the car we spotted in the distance a herd of fleeing white tailed deer, a fitting finale to what had been a never to be forgotten trip!

Achness Waterfall
Glen Cassley Deer

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