This morning the midgies were swarming, like tiny, infuriating mozzies. But they're less circumspect than a mosquito. Midgies throw caution to wind and just go for the nearest bit of flesh they can find, no matter how suicidal for them it will prove to be. I bust out the Smidge (midge repellant) but not before they'd had a small feast on my legs. Not that I knew at the time, the marks didn't appear for a few hours, thankfully I don't seem to react to them to much so no itching.

We had intended to see Dunnet Head before our first planned event, but our slow, easy morning schedule meant we had to postpone until later, it was straight off to Dunnet Bay Distillery (makers Rock Rose gin) for a gin tasting. Gin is a taste I haven't really yet acquired, much like wine. I don't dislike it but I haven't had enough to appreciate the subtleties of the flavours and determine good from bad. Beer has kept me occupied (800+ unique beers so far and counting) and it's certainly cheaper (mostly) than wine.

Anyway, the tasting involved 2 gins and a vodka; the official NC500 gin, a navy strength gin and a coffee vodka. Due to covid the usual 1h30 tour around the distillery had been changed so that we were all sitting in little beach hut pods.

Our attempts to distract the children with drawing or just sitting soon failed (as we should really have foreseen) and I had to pop out to the van to get a tablet with "Hey Duggee", it's not something we like to do but it's not fair on everyone else who was doing it and I guess it's not fair on Robert and Liliya either, they didn't ask to be taken along.

But back to the gin. The couple who started the distillery are a husband and wife team, he was a chemical engineer in the oil industry, she had a degree in hospitality and PR. Gin was her favourite drink so naturally he decided to use his skills to start a distillery and make some 😁 Every gin manufacturer, and it would seem there are many with a new one popping every week, needs a "thing". This one is that all the botanicals in their gin can be found growing naturally within 5 miles of the distillery. As they go that's a pretty good one. I can't comment much on the gins themselves, they tasted nice enough although I confess that when we added a piece of apple or slice of orange rind that was supposed to bring out some flavour it tasted pretty much the same and I just smiled and nodded 🤷🏻‍♂️

The vodka was an interesting one (in case you don't know and are wondering why gin distillers also make vodka it's because they need a pure grain spirit to infuse the gin flavours into, ie vodka) it's flavoured with a coffee made from beans called old brown Java. So called as that's where they originate from and they are a browner colour due to the first time they were shipped across they were dumped from the main hold into one where they were soaked in brine and infused with old Oak flavours from the ship's beams. An odd way to treat a customer's cargo but it makes for an interesting story. Along with the coffee the vodka was infused with the flavour of Holy Grass, a native British grass that used to be spread on the floor of churches and gives off a vanilla smell when crushed.
The background of both flavours is more exciting than the vodka though, which tasted like a less sweet Kahlua and didn't make anywhere near as good a white Russian (Jane checked, she went out to the campervan to get some milk to add to it 😂)

It was an entertaining morning though and we picked up a couple of small bottles to try later once home.

Next on the itinerary was a visit to the gardens and castle of Mey, unfortunately again coronavirus means this was only a trip to the gardens, the castle was completely closed and it seems they were only letting in one group to the gardens every half hour so we were lucky to get in at all. Very nice gardens they were too, we were especially envious of the fine selection of vegetables they were growing. We expanded our growing area over lockdown and have planted a while bunch of things that are doing quite well although I dread to think how many courgettes turned marrows we'll find when we get home. I say "we" but really it's Jane, my contribution amounts to a bit of weeding and some watering, oh and eating 😁

Lunch again in the van then we decided to go back to Dunnet Head. Not being able to see it this morning was quite annoying considering that we had to drive back past the campsite we were in to get there. On the way down the single track road that takes you to it Jane mentioned that she still had 6 miles to run this month for her challenge of averaging a mile a day, every month, and this would be quite a handy place to do it; we'd get out, get a picture by the sign (stating Dunnet Head as the most northerly point of mainland Britain) then while I walked round with the kids she'd start running back and eventually we'd catch up about a mile or so down the road. A great plan.

At Dunnet Head I was about to take an outstretched arm selfie of us when a couple of ladies offered to take out picture for us. One of those small interactions we've lost recently, previously I would have thought nothing of asking someone to take our photo, but with the added caution you don't want to impose. After taking our picture (and returning the favour) we started talking. They were friends who'd flown up from London on a whim intending to just go as far north from Inverness as they could, having booked nothing at all. On the plane they happened to be sitting next to one of the people responsible for the NC500 who told them about it and so now they were doing the whole circuit! I like to live fairly freely but the idea of just flying up to Scotland and going for a drive with no accommodation or anything booked is a little too far outside my comfort zone. Let alone at a time like this.

Conversation over and Jane started back off down the road on her run while Robert, Liliya and I took a closer look at the lighthouse then walked up to the viewing point. The North East corner of Scotland is stunning, especially with the Orkney Islands only a stone's throw away across the Pentland Firth. We spent perhaps a little too long enjoying the scenery and by the time we were all back in the van and had caught up with Jane she'd covered 3 miles, still that's half of her outstanding distance done so I don't think she begrudges it too much.

45 mins down the road was our intended stop for the night, Bettyhill. This was another location where the village car park is welcoming of campervans and motor homes, but on our arrival it just didn't really have an atmosphere that appealed to us. We had planned to drive down to Borgie Forest first thing tomorrow but figured we'd head down now and see if we couldn't find a more rural car park to stop over in. Following a sign for "the unknown" we found an empty little car park 1.5 miles down a very bumpy gravel path. A short walk from the car park led us to "the unknown" which is in fact an 8 foot high sculpture of a skeleton made out of steel standing at the top of a hill looking out across the forest, obviously.

A slightly earlier dinner and then we all snuggled down for a family movie with the new Doolittle.