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Seasonal area

October 2013

Current Seasonal Area is here

We go a long way north this month to the Flow Country of Caithness, which can more colloquially be called Forsinard Bog. It is a great wide open expanse of land covering most of the North-Eastern corner of the Highlands of Scotland, excepting the coastal strip (which resembles conventional Yorkshire moorland and farmland). The 1,500 square miles represent the largest blanket bog across the whole of the continent and associated archipelago of Europe.

So vast and open is this area that in the 1970s it was decided to be an excellent place to plant trees to replace the ones cut down in more commercially valuable areas of the world while simultaneously providing employment and tax breaks. This required draining parts of the bog and the trees then proceeded to drink as much of the remaining water as they could lay their roots on. The policy was maintained until the 1980s when it was deemed that the benefits of the trees were all outweighed by the importance of the bog. The trees are now being felled, leaving the huge expanses of wetland to the birds and the deer. Mountains rise out of the landscape in places, little drier than the grass-covered peat that surrounds them. The morning sun rises through a mist that creates a quite magical light over this fantasy terrain.

Few actually see this landscape. There is little reason to head to the Far North of Scotland, with the only settlements of note being Wick, Thurso and the developments on the Orkney Islands. The Government took advantage of this to build Dournreay nuclear power station at the northern end of the bog in the knowledge that the power station exploding would only inconvenience the few thousand people who live north of Inverness. In any event the main road to the North, the A9, loops around the coast following the farmland. However, the coastline was too rugged for a rail link so the Far North Mainline curves inland for the last 50 miles of its journey - entailing a journey through the heart of the Flow Country, initially following a minor road (the A897) up to Forsinard and then striking out eastwards towards Wick through the utterly isolated station and community at Altnabreac.

Forsinard itself is not so much a village as a railway station, complete with passing loop and level crossing, that serves a scattered community along the A897 and the station hotel. Scattered remains of hut-based hamlets are all that remain to indicate that it was not always thus, but today Forsinard is about as remote a place as can be accessed by mass transport.

The railway cuts across the centre of this view, but a slight ridge of peat hides it from the camera. Far beyond, Ben Griam Beg (580 metres high and topped by a ruined fort) surveys the Martian-coloured autumnal landscape.

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Last modified 03/10/2013

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