7 June 2014


Pretty much a long way from most places!

My Heart's in the Highlands

by Robert Burns

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, 
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;

My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

The Falls of Shin

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.

Daniel Defoe, in his A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain observes that this frightful country of Scotland, can be divided into four quarters: The South Land (which is south of the River Tay); The Midland (from the Tay up to Lake Ness and the Aber, including Isla and Jura); The Northland, and The Islands. He goes on to say, as he enters the third division, that the mountains are so full of deer, harts, roebucks, etc.... also a great number of eagles which breed in the woods.... the rivers and lakes also in all this country are prodigiously full of salmon.....

Red Grouse

OK. So there's deer. So there's salmon. But there are also birds. Don't forget the birds. Wonderfully varied, impermanent, characterful, elusive, frustrating, but ultimately so worth the watch......


And not just the powerful, elemental, grand birds that dominate.  There are birds to suit all tastes (?) - and I am not including young Gannets here - and interests. I wrote something about Ospreys in another entry, and alluded to some visitors in writing about Islay, but on the shores here, of loch and coast; in the heather and on the rocks; in the air and on the water, the Highlands abound in wildlife, much of it in avian form.....

A Redshank skims the waters

And the ubiquitous red-eyed oystercatcher seems different here, purer, perhaps more at home. The last ones I saw were busy on the lawn of my hotel in the Isle of Wight, but here they seem to have time to linger, basking in the cool light of their own reflections.....

Some are more difficult to see close up, and without the advantage of the high-tech, extremely high cost, equipment of the SpringWatch team, it is still possible to appreciate the colours and temperaments of rarer species, such as Slavonian Grebes bobbing on Loch Ruthven....

And flitting, resting, watching, feeding, there are so many beautiful species, just being, like this upright Wheatear among the heathers......

But then it is not only birds, either. Off the shingle of Chanonry Point, we watch dolphins tumbling in the tidal rip. Defoe reported the fishing of porpoises here, but our sport is in watching these creatures doing what they do, without obligation....

I love Scotland, and I shall personally grieve if it detaches from me in any way.  Like Robert Burns I am not a Highlander, nor am I a frequent visitor, nor can I offer this frightful country anything in the way of appeasement, but something of my heart is in the Highlands, for personal reasons...

As recounted in an earlier piece, entitled The Battle of Blenheim, and of a very different nature, I lived for a while in Dunrobin Castle, on the shore just north of Golspie.  In early 1969 I took this picture:

And in 2014 I took this one:

Better camera, perhaps; better weather, certainly.....

Inside there is still the same questionable opulence:

And from the rooftops I imagine the dusty vistas are as they were when Garibaldi docked at the quay:

It was weird to roam that Gormenghast-like castle freely. The thirteenth century core had been consumed by additions aeons ago, and the servants' quarters were crawling with nothings to remind even the dust of shames long past.  For an impressionable youth it was very impressionable.  From the haunted chamber, where perhaps a young woman had had a fatal accident with a sash window, to the Duke's bathroom, where a wicker seated commode communed with a claw footed bath, the world was eerie, detached and strange. Fulmars launched themselves from my window-sill; the raven himself was hoarse....

Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

(My brother had thanes on his mind)

By th' clock ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.

It was extraordinary to be so far north. When I arrived, not yet eighteen, it was deep winter, and the days were so dark you needed a torch to read at midday. The sea was spectacular, hurling spray at my window fifty feet or more above the gardens. When I left, in late summer, you could read without a torch at midnight.

That July the world seemed to be whirling out of control through space.  On Tuesday 1st John Lennon crashed his Austin Maxi into a nearby ditch and spend five days in the local hospital, with Yoko Ono and her daughter Kyoko.  John had 17 facial stitches and Yoko 14 (Julian had been with them too, but he was unharmed).  

John Lennon's autograph, signed at Lawson Memorial Hospital, Golspie, Scotland, July 1969

That same weekend, my group, The Dunrobiners, which had become something of a phenomenon in the area (well, we cut a disc in a recording studio in Wick!) was heading a Ceilidh at the Stags Head Hotel. 

There was talk that John might come down from the hospital to see what was going on, but the delightful Alice Sutherland leaned across to me and smiled, We don't need no John Lennon.  Whisht, you're our Beatles!   Perhaps he heard her.....

Later that month Brian Jones died and Mick Jagger threw butterflies at heaven; and then men seemingly stepped on the moon, while we attended dances at the Drill Hall, an extraordinary example of corrugated architecture, into which the entire village and many more from far and wide would crush, jigging and bopping to the scottish equivalent of a Show Band.....

And we would nightly carouse in the wonderful Sutherland Arms Hotel, fuelling our dreams with Tennants Heavy and ten year old Glenmorangie.....

I loved it there, and on returning recently it was sad to hear that Mrs Hexley, the landlady, had long since passed away, but one of her sons still lives in the village, and most wonderfully I learned that Murdo, the perfect barman, was still around, working now as a guide in the Castle.  

A piece of my heart is certainly there.  As curiously is Bob Dylan's....  apparently, or so he said, in Highlands on Time out of Mind:

Well my heart’s in the Highlands gentle and fair

Honeysuckle blooming in the wildwood air
Bluebelles blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow
Well my heart’s in the Highland
I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go

Well my heart’s in the Highlands wherever I roam
That’s where I’ll be when I get called home
The wind, it whispers to the buckeyed trees in rhyme
Well my heart’s in the Highland
I can only get there one step at a time

My heart’s in the Highlands at the break of dawn
By the beautiful lake of the Black Swan
Big white clouds like chariots that swing down low
Well my heart’s in the Highlands
Only place left to go

Curious how Burns and Zimmerman share this sentiment, perhaps.  Maybe it's because Bob and his brother David share a home at Nethy Bridge, in the Cairngorms National Park? But it's good enough for me.....

Well, my heart’s in the Highlands at the break of day
Over the hills and far away
There’s a way to get there and I’ll figure it out somehow
But I’m already there in my mind
And that’s good enough for now

Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music

With many thanks to Dr E for all the driving


Inside the Stags Head, 1969
(is that a metaphor?)


  1. Just a word of appreciation for a most enjoyable and evocative blog. I stumbled in here while trying to find out if there were any other records on the Strathclyde label, other than the Dunrobiners' single - I run a website about record labels of the 1970s. Can you tell me, was it your own label, or a small independent?

    1. The copy of the Dunrobiners' single that you may have is probably the remake..... The original Dunrobiners (which included me) went to Wick in the early summer of 1969 and recorded Dunrobin Calypso and a B side in a small independent studio - I am afraid I don't know the name and I never had a copy. I left Dunrobin in July 1969 and went to University in Lancaster. Something went wrong with the single - I never knew what - and it was rerecorded with my two friends and a third, unknown, person. I am sorry but I do not know more. Our "manager" (Noel Maslin) is, I suspect, long since deceased. Our front man (Mark, or Mike, I am sorry but I don't remember his name) went to Australia, I believe, and Derek Swain (Maracas) returned to the north of England and for me at least oblivion..... It would be nice to know more if you unearth it, but I suspect the details are with the ninth legion!

  2. Thanks for that, Richard. I haven't got a copy of the record, unfortunately, only scans that a friend has sent me. The back of the sleeve gives the artists as Paul Arnold, Derek Swain and George Jack, so as you say it must be the re-recording. The tracks are 'Off To Killonan' and 'Dunrobin Calypso', and the record company credited was Strathclyde Recordings. I hope to have a page for the company on my website, 'Seventies Sevens' before too long, though, as you've guessed, details on it will be scanty! Thanks again, and best wishes - Bob Lyons.

  3. I was attending Dunrobin at the time the recording was made...Paul was a Maths teacher, and Danny our Chemistry teacher who once saved my eyes when a test-tube of hot sulphuric acid exploded in my face...he rushed over and forced my head under a torrent of water from a tap. We were on a mini-bus with Paul Arnold driving as he taught us Dunrobin Calypso...we came up with a slightly different ending which I think was incorporated into the cut disc. If you see this Paul...sorry for putting HP sauce and sugar in your petrol tank....JD

  4. I was at Perry House back in the day and certainly had a copy of Dunrobin Calypso, I could hum you a line or two and may even still have the 45 still knocking about somewhere. I remember the black and white photo on the cover. Noel Maslin and Derek Swain were teachers that I haven't thought about for years.
    The photo of Dunbrobin in the snow brought back memories of sliding down the gully to the right of the castle on a fertiliser sack. Happy days!

  5. Wasn't there a female vocalist as well - seem to remember one when they played in the school dinning hall!