“We don’t seem to have made much progress”, says the First Mate, emerging from the cabin. “I remember seeing that headland half-an-hour ago and it hasn’t got any closer.”

She is right – it is slow going. I feel somehow that she thinks it is my fault. We need to head almost due east to get to Rattray Point, but with the wind coming from the ESE that just isn’t possible, and we are sailing close-hauled with the wind about 30° off our nose. As a result we are gradually being pushed away from the Scottish coast in the direction of Norway and will have to tack soon towards Fraserburgh if we are to get back on course.

Why is it taking so long to reach that headland?

We had left Whitehills Marina that morning at 0530 to give us enough depth of water to get out before the low spring at 0900 when we would have been grounded again. The plan was to anchor in deeper water just outside the entrance to the harbour for a few hours, have breakfast, then catch the east-flowing tidal flow. The main ebb tide flows down past Wick, heading roughly for Cullen, before splitting into two, with one stream heading westwards in towards Inverness, and the other stream eastwards towards Fraserburgh and around Rattray Head. It was the latter stream that we had wanted to try and catch when it started flowing eastwards at around 1000. All had gone according to plan, except for the wind, which had had a little bit more east in it than had been forecast. We could still sail – it just meant that we would have to tack more often and the going would be slower than we might have liked.

The wind strengthens, driving a band of cloud in from the east, and the temperature drops as Scottish weather reasserts itself. The First Mate goes back down into the cabin.

I think back of the trip behind us. We have been on the boat now for more than three months. The time has passed quickly. I muse on why I see the trip ‘behind us’. I recall a book that I had finished a couple of weeks ago – “How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy”, by Julian Baggini. In it, he questions the Western concept of time – we see it as linear with the past behind us and the future in front of us. It just seems the natural way that things are, but there is no reason why it should be that way. Many other societies see time as circular, with no beginning and no end, which neatly gets around the problem with linear time of what there was before time started. In societies where life was dominated by the cycle of the seasons and there wasn’t a huge number of changes between one generation and the next, I can see this kind of worldview makes a lot of sense.

And still other societies may still see time as linear, but completely the other way around to us – the past is in front of us and the future is behind. My mind goes back to the time I spent working in Zambia where the First Mate and I met. The local people in the north of the country, the Bemba, had this worldview, and I recall several discussions we had trying to understand it. They see the past as definite as it has already happened, and therefore it is better to face it to focus on it and keep memories alive. On the other hand, the future is unknown with no one knowing how it will develop, so it is pointless facing it as it could go in any direction. I thought at the time that this seemed so alien to my own way of thinking, but again there is some sort of logic to it.

We are now opposite Fraserburgh. We tack and head directly for the town, the wind now on our port side. Fraserburgh harbour is very commercial and not particularly welcoming to sailboats, so we give up any idea of stopping there for a break. We approach to within a kilometre from Kinnaird Head with its lighthouse, and then decide to motor directly into the wind, aiming to get around Rattray Head. The tidal current becomes stronger at this point, and we are swept along at 8½ knots by it as much as by the engine. The seas too become quite choppy, churned up by the currents around this extremity of the British Isles.

Passing Fraserburgh.

Eventually we round Rattray Head and turn south. As if to welcome us, the sea becomes smooth again, the clouds clear, and the sun comes out. The wind is now on our port beam and we skim along comfortably on a beam reach, so much more pleasant than the tough beating into the wind that we had been doing for most of the day until now. Ruby Tuesday sails herself, her sails fully out, so we relax for the first time and have our lunch and enjoy the sun. Ham and tomato sandwiches have never tasted so good! I lie down in the warm sun and close my eyes while the First Mate takes over the helm.

The First Mate in control.

But are these different ways of looking at time of any use in the modern world? It seems so obvious that there is a direction of travel and that we are not just going around in circles. There is an unrelenting pressure towards more complexity and innovation – who would argue that there hasn’t been any progress over the last century, or millennium or epoch for that matter? Whether it is all for the better is another question, but certainly there has been rapid change over that time.

And if we dismiss the future as something behind us, and not worthy of focus, how can we plan and achieve things? When we sail from A to B, we need to have a picture in our minds of the route, the conditions along the way, and the final destination in order to plan. All of that is in the future of where we are in the here and now and we are journeying towards it. I suppose we could just focus on where we have come from, and see where the future takes us, but it seems to be a bit of a risky strategy, with sailing at least.

Time is a slippery concept, and it is interesting that all cultures seem to use spatial metaphors to think about it, even though the metaphors may be different. But in reality time doesn’t exist like any of them – those metaphors are just inside our heads. I eventually decide that I still prefer the linear approach to time with the future in front and the past behind, not only because I am most familiar with it, but it also seems to be the most useful. Nevertheless, it is always good to examine one’s own assumptions and think of other ways of seeing things. I make a mental note to give it some more thought when I get a moment.

“What about a cup of tea before we arrive in Peterhead?”, says the First Mate, waking me from my reverie. “We’ll be there in half an hour or so.”

We arrive at Peterhead Harbour at 1730. As advised by the Sailing Directions, we call up the Harbour Authority about a mile away and tell them that we are heading for the marina. Peterhead Harbour is a busy fishing port and also home for many of the supply ships for the oil rigs in the North Sea, so there is a lot of activity.

Arriving at Peterhead harbour.

“Peterhead Harbour Authority, Peterhead Harbour Authority, Peterhead Harbour Authority, this is sailing vessel Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday. Over.”

There is a gap of a few seconds, and I wonder if they have heard us. Then a broad Doric accent answers. It sounds friendly.

Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday, this is Peterhead Harbour Authority. Good afternoon.”

“Peterhead Harbour Authority, this is Ruby Tuesday, and we are heading for the marina. Request permission to enter the harbour”, I say.

Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. Where are you coming from, what is your speed and estimated time of arrival?”

I look down at the instruments and do a quick calculation.

“Harbour Authority, this is Ruby Tuesday. We are coming from the north, we are doing about six knots, and should be there in about 20 minutes”, I respond.

Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. Thanks for letting us know. Proceed until you are just north outside the harbour entrance, and then call us again.”

Fifteen minutes later, we are there. We furl the sails and start the engine, letting it idle in neutral. I call the Harbour Authority again to let them know we have arrived, although I am sure they know already.

Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. Can you just wait for ten minutes or so? There is a ship just about to leave, and then you can enter”, says the Doric accent.

Not wanting to come off second best with one of the massive supply ships, I put the engine in gear and let it tick over so that we can circle around on the same spot. Before long, we see the supply ship coming out through the entrance to the harbour. It towers over us as it passes, and Ruby Tuesday wallows in its wake like a cork.

Oil rig supply ship leaving Peterhead harbour.

Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. You are free to enter now. Come in through the entrance, keep to your left, and head for the green can on the south side of the harbour. The marina is just past that. You will see the entrance to it when you get to the can”, says the Doric accent.

We motor slowly across the harbour, past a magnificent tall sailing ship called Sea Cloud II with a Maltese flag, reach the green can, and turn to the left into the marina. The marina manager, Keith, is waiting for us, and grabs our ropes. We leap off and help him to tie us up to the outermost pontoon where the water is the deepest. This is to be Ruby Tuesday’s home for the winter. We spend the rest of the day cleaning up, sorting out what we need to take home, and treat ourselves to a filling pub meal in one of the hostelries in Peterhead.

The Sea Cloud II, a temporary neighbour in Peterhead harbour.

The next day, our friends Uli and Ian arrive and come down from the car-park to the pontoons where we are tied up. They live not too far away from Peterhead, and have kindly offered to come and collect us and take us back home, saving us a complicated bus ride. It is great to see them again. The First Mate makes a soup and cuts the bread into slices. I clear the table.

Soup and sandwiches in Peterhead marina.

As we eat our soup and sandwiches, we spot the Border patrol vessel motoring out of the marina. It has been tied up at one of the fingers at the other end of the pontoons from us. We joke that perhaps Brexit has happened while we have been away, and that it is off to make sure that we have taken back control of our borders properly. Either that, or it is just practising for when it does happen.

The Border Force off to take back control of our borders.

That evening, we are home again. Everything looks much the same. It’s nice to be back, but we feel a little deflated – our summer voyage from Scotland’s West Coast to its East Coast is now starting to seem like a dream as we try to adjust once more to the normality of everyday life. But we have our memories – Neolithic temples and villages, holy islands, Viking churches and settlements, picturesque canals, magnificent rugged scenery and awe-inspiring wildlife, remote islands, challenging but exhilarating tidal races, and perhaps best of all, we have met old friends and made new ones.

And once again, Ruby Tuesday has looked after us and kept us safe, and taken us to places that we might not have seen otherwise. There is lots of maintenance to do on her that will keep us busy over the winter, as we plan and prepare for the voyage across to Scandinavia when the season starts in 2020. New adventures beckon!


We leave Wick marina at 0630 the next morning to catch the southward tidal flow down to Whitehills. Several of the supply ships are leaving the same time, so we have to call the harbour control on Channel 14 to let them know we are planning to leave too. We edge our way out of the narrow dogleg behind the breakwater and motor out of Wick Bay before hoisting the sails and turning southeast. A fishing boat follows us, and soon passes us.

The narrow entrance to Wick harbour.

After a couple of hours, the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (nicely abbreviated as BOWL) starts to show up on the radar. It is the one that we saw Prince Charles opening in Wick. We slow down, debating whether we should go through it or deviate around the side. On the radar the turbines look close together, but in fact each one is 0.9 km from the next one, and I had also read somewhere that the lowest point reached by the rotors is 22 m above the level of the sea. With our air draft of around 20 m, there is plenty of room to go through, although we decide to motor rather than sail just to have more control. Who knows what wind turbulence there might be between the turbines?

The Beatrice windfarm starting to show up on the radar.

I start to read the brochure on Beatrice I had picked up in Wick. At the moment, it is Scotland’s largest offshore wind farm, and is designed for a lifetime of 25 years. Offshore construction began in April 2017, with the first turbine being installed in July 2018 and the last one May 2019. Over its lifetime it is expected to generate more than £2 billion of value for the UK economy, with about half going to Scotland. I muse on what might happen to these figures if Scotland becomes independent after Brexit.

Sailing through the Beatrice windfarm.

There are little platforms at the base of each turbine. On one, we see two workers on the platform at the base and wave to them. They wave back.

Base of one of the turbines.

Once we are through the windfarm we let out the sails again and continue straight to Whitehills. The wind blows steadily and we scoot along on a close reach.

I start to read my New Scientist magazine which has just arrived on my phone that morning. There is an article by Donald Hoffman on the nature of reality. HIs argument is that what we experience with our senses and what is really out there are not necessarily the same things – that evolution has conditioned us to sense things to ensure our survival and not necessarily the ‘truth’. Our perceptions, therefore, may obscure the reality behind things. It’s an interesting article, but hardly a new idea – Plato way back in Ancient Greece suggested that our perception of reality was like living in a cave with a fire burning in it, with people walking around it casting shadows on the wall. If we can only see the shadows, we can imagine all sorts of wonderful shapes and explanations of what they are, but it doesn’t give us any idea of the reality of the people causing the shadows.

But the argument in the article seems flawed. I can accept that our senses have developed through evolution to select for ‘payoffs’ that ensure our survival. However, Hoffman’s next claim that this prevents us seeing reality as it is, I think doesn’t follow. The only evidence he provides are some computer simulations that show that basing selection on ‘payoffs’ rather than ‘truth’ win out every time. I wouldn’t dispute this, but it doesn’t seem to me to prove that the two are mutually exclusive – or that this prevents us from seeing reality. For sure, we know that our perceptions can sometimes deceive us, but usually this is to be safe rather than sorry – the rustle in the bushes might only be the wind most of the time, but in some cases it could also be a lion, so it is better to have the wrong perception often and run to stay alive, than to have the wrong perception just once and stay and be eaten. However, this doesn’t imply that we can never see reality – we could refine our perception by using another sense, such as sight or smell, and arrive at a conclusion a bit closer to reality.

A survey ship crosses in front of us. Is it real, or is it just my perception? I check the AIS and radar screen – it shows up on there too. I conclude that my perception and reality are in fairly close alignment, and alter course slightly to make sure we avoid it. Which makes a point itself – that we have greatly extended our range of perception beyond our five senses through the instruments that we have developed.

Survey ship crossing in front of us. But is it real?

It starts me thinking about what reality is and whether it even exists. It seems that there are two definitions – reality is what is left after you take humans and their artefacts out of the picture, or it is what the basic building blocks are that make up everything. The first of these doesn’t feel very satisfying to me – humans are real, as are the things they make, so why should these be excluded? The second feels more intuitively right, but even with that it seems there are problems. Quantum physics say that things only become real if there is an observer. So if you take a conscious observer’s brain, you can study its constituent parts all the way down to sub-atomic particles. But at that level these are only probabilistic wave functions until they are observed by something, when the wave function then collapses into a particle. So it’s all a bit circular – matter needs consciousness to exist, but consciousness needs matter to exist. Is there any reality independent of our observations? And if there is, how would we know? Perhaps panpsychism has the answer – the two basic building blocks of the universe are both matter and consciousness? Did Descartes have a point after all with his dualism? I make a note to read up more about it when I get a chance.

Fascinating stuff, but it isn’t getting the sails trimmed. The wind has gone around to the north a little, so I let the mainsheet out a smidgen. Ruby Tuesday surges ahead.

We reach Whitehills marina around 1600. I call ahead to the harbourmaster to check where we should tie up. He tells us that it will be to the pontoon in the outer harbour and that he will meet us. Getting in is quite a challenge – there is a narrow channel between harbour wall on the port side and two markers on the starboard side beyond which there is a rocky reef. Once past those, there is a narrow entrance in the harbour wall itself into which we have turn at a sharp right angle, then we are in the small outer harbour.

Whitehills harbour and marina (from their website).

As we gently negotiate all of this, we spy someone on the corner of the wall taking photos, which we surmise is the harbourmaster himself. He later gives us an SD card with the photos for us to transfer to the computer. Apparently he does this to all arrivals. A nice touch, and we finally get some photos of Ruby Tuesday with us both on it!

Ruby Tuesday entering Whitehills marina.

He introduces himself to us as Bertie. He decides to put us in the part of the harbour where it is the deepest, but to do this we have to turn around in the narrow confines, not as easy as it sounds as the width of the clear space is only a little more than the length of Ruby Tuesday. We tie a line to a rear cleat and the pontoon, then motor forward against it with the rudder hard over. She pivots around the line, just clear of the fishing boat tied up on the other side. We then reverse slowly into our spot on the pontoon. Luckily no drama!

Coming through the narrow entrance.

“Right”, says Bertie, a welcoming smile all over his face. “Let me answer your questions before you ask them. Is there a pub? Yes, just 10 minutes’ walk from here. Is there a restaurant? Yes, that building just up there in front of my office. Is there a fish and chips shop? Yes, just before you get to the pub. Is there a grocery shop? Yes, just opposite the fish and chips shop. You can stay as long as you like. Now, if there are no more questions, we can just do the paperwork.”

The formalities over, we sit and have a cup of tea. I calculate the height of the tides in the harbour by taking the current depth reading, then using the maximum and minimum depths in the tide tables for that day to calculate the range, then to work out how much lower the water will drop to at low tide. Unfortunately, it is right on spring tides and my calculations show that we will have about 5 cm under the keel at low water tonight, but at low water in the morning, Ruby Tuesday will be resting on her keel, 25 cm out of the water! We hum-and-ha about this, but in the end decide that she spent all winter resting on her keel while ashore, so a short time here shouldn’t do any harm. Bertie assures us that the bottom is silt and mud, no rocks, so the keel may well sink into it a bit. In any case, she will still be in some remaining water which should take most of the weight.

Ruby Tuesday sitting on her keel. The line of weeds indicate the normal waterline.

That evening, we have a drink in the Seafield Arms, then eat in the Rockfish fish and chip shop that Bertie recommended. We haven’t eaten much all day so we are ravenous. Luckily the portions are generous and we feel full.

RockFish fish and chip shop (from their website).

As we waddle our way back to the boat we pass some open garage doors on the side of the road. Inside are two shiny beautifully restored cars – a Morris Minor and a BMW Series 6. The owner is standing outside having a cigarette.

“Lovely cars”, I say.

“Thanks”, he replies. “They’ve cost a bit of time and money over the years. But it’s my hobby, so what does it matter?”

“My first car was a Morris Minor”, I say. “Good cars, even though it was a bit underpowered. Drove it until it fell apart. Not surprising, the way it was treated, I suppose!”

We discuss old cars for a bit. The First Mate becomes bored and continues back to the boat.

“I used to drive wedding cars and coaches for a living, you know”, says the garage owner. “I have taken coach parties all over the UK, I have. Always had full coaches too. The most we did on one week once was from here to Thurso and back, then from here to Cornwall a couple of days later.”

The conversation turns to Brexit. Which one doesn’t these days?

“I can’t wait to get out”, he says.

“Why’s that?”, I ask.

“Most of my mates here are fishermen. We have to stop those European boats coming over here and taking all our fish somehow”, he explains. “They are just ruining the industry here, you know. Our boats have to go further and further out, just to catch the same amount.”

I mention that this doesn’t seem to have stopped some fishermen becoming extremely well off.

“Aye, that’s true”, he says. “Some of them have done pretty well for themselves. There’s one chap I know – just retired and has build a house for £4 million, not far from here. Good luck to him. There’s a lot of money where all the fishing is, in places like Peterhead.”

What will happen to fishing after Brexit?

“But what about markets?”, I ask. “Most of the boats we have seen on our voyages all sell their catch  in Europe. It’s almost impossible for us to buy fish off boats directly these days – all the catch is under contract to the Spanish and the like. If we cut off those links, who will they sell to?”

He looks for a moment as though he hasn’t considered that angle before. “Aye, well there is that”, he says. “We’ll be looking to our politicians to develop new markets for us.”

I wonder if this whole thing has been thought through properly. Putting your trust in the current crop of politicians doesn’t sound the wisest business strategy. It can take years to develop new markets. And what happens in the meantime? And all for what purpose anyway?

Later I realise that he is only the third person that we have met on our trip both last year and this year who admits to being in favour of Brexit.

“Of course, yachties are probably a bit better off than average, and have travelled more, so are more likely to want to Remain”, I hear you say. But I remember seeing a pre-referendum poll in 2016 amongst the yachting fraternity in which the split was 48% to 52% Leave to Remain, not that far off the national result.

Poll in YBW forum in June 2016.

In any case, many of the people we have talked to haven’t been yachties. Why are we not meeting any Leavers anywhere? It’s weird.


“Urrrrgggh”, says the First Mate. “I don’t feel very well. Urrrrrrrgggghhhh!”

“Shall we have a bite of breakfast?”, I say hopefully.

“Urrrrrggggghhh”, she says again. “Don’t mention food to me at the moment. Can you bring me one of the buckets?”.

The First Mate feeling a bit sorry for herself.

We had left East Weddel Sound at 0500 that morning to catch the south-flowing tide to take us almost all the way to Wick before it turned northward again. In the Sound it had been sheltered and the water relatively calm, but once we had gone beyond the point of Burray Ness, the full force of the swell that had been building for the last four or five days from the easterly winds had caught us on the beam. Even though the wind had now gone around more to the north-east and wasn’t particularly strong, the swell had persisted and Ruby Tuesday had wallowed each time one of the long waves went underneath us. Even I started feeling a bit queasy.

Wallowing through the swells.

I bring one of the buckets to the ailing First Mate. “Urrrrrrggghhhh”, she says into it. I look the other way.

My hunger eventually gets the better of me, so I put the wheel onto autopilot and go downstairs to get a bowl of muesli, fruit and yoghurt. I bring it back to the cockpit and tuck in. I feel a bit less queasy, at least.

“Are you sure you don’t want any?”, I say. “I can make you some. It may help you. I feel better already.”

“Urrrrgggghhh”, says the First Mate. I take that as a no. Poor old thing – it isn’t much fun being seasick, but there isn’t much I can do.

The wind freshens and we skim along nicely on a broad reach doing about 7 or 8 knots. In the distance we can see the Pentland Skerries and give them a wide berth to avoid the overfalls and eddies that the CCC Sailing Directions warns about. After some time, we alter course to the south west to head directly for Wick.

Our track from Orkney to Wick.

The problem now is that the wind is directly from behind and the genoa flaps uselessly in the shadow of the mainsail. I decide to goosewing, and pole out the genoa to one side and the mainsail to the other to present as much sail area to the wind as possible. I clamber on to the foredeck to rig a preventer line to stop the boom from gybing – swinging uncontrollably from one side of the boat to the other very quickly – when a gust of wind catches the sail and the very thing that I am trying to stop happens – the boom whizzes across, and although it misses me, the mainsheet catches the side of my face and whips my glasses off and grazes the skin, drawing blood.

“Be careful!”, calls the First Mate from her sickbed.

It’s good advice, but looking at her with blurred vision and blood dripping down one side of my face, I wonder if its timing could be improved on. Luckily my glasses are hanging from my neck, albeit sad and bent. Since losing my previous pair of glasses overboard in Foley harbour last year, I have taken to wearing one of those little neck cords attached to my glasses to stop the same thing happening again. At least it has worked this time.

I clamber back into the cockpit as best I can. With the wind now behind us, the wallowing is less, but the pitching from bow to stern is more. We carry on at a reasonable pace until the coastline of mainland Britain comes into view. We are through the infamous Pentland Firth!

Goosewinging our way to Wick.

Then the wind stops altogether. Not a breath. I hope that it might just be a temporary lull, but unfortunately that seems to be it for the foreseeable future. We switch on the engine and motor the last few miles to Wick. As we approach, I realise that the First Mate is still in no state to help and I am going to have to tie up at the marina by myself. Getting in to the marina should be no problem, but docking is much easier with two people – one to keep the boat under control and the other to handle the ropes and tying up. I may have to do both. I radio ahead on the VHF to the pontoon manager to see if there is someone who can assist. In the meantime, I get the fenders tied on and the mooring lines ready.

There is no answer from the pontoon despite my calling several times. Then suddenly there is a voice.

Ruby Tuesday”, the voice says. “This is supply ship Rix Lynx. The marina manager is usually not here on a Sunday. Perhaps I can help?”

I ask him if there are places left for visitors at the pontoon.

“We are actually in the harbour itself, but looking across to the marina I can see some spare spaces”, says Rix Lynx.

“Will there be anyone there to help me dock?”, I ask. “I have a sick person on board and am essentially single-handed.”

“There seem to be some people around. I am sure they would be happy to give you a hand”, says Rix Lynx.

I decide to go for it. The water is much calmer inside the breakwater, and we take it slowly as we turn a sharp right angle into the outer harbour and then a left into the marina. On the way, we pass Rix Lynx, and wave to her. I am not sure if anyone sees us. There is a space next to a boat with a Norwegian flag. More Vikings, I think. But they hear us arriving and come out to help, and soon we are tied up. Back on dry land, the First Mate shows a speedy recovery and is soon in conversation with the Norwegians. They are very friendly, and I wonder if Vikings just have a bad press. It’s been a long day, so we decide to relax in the cockpit in the sunshine and have a glass of wine.

Tied up in Wick marina.

I hope ya don’t mind, I hope ya don’t mind ….”, sings a crewman on the offshore supply ship opposite us, sponging its windows. I briefly wonder what he did with the money that his mum gave him for singing lessons, as it is not clear if even Elton John would recognise the song, but I decide it is the mood behind it that is the most important. He sounds happy. Even the local cormorant seems to like it.

The local cormorant enjoying Elton John.

There are several supply ships tied up around the harbour. It seems that Wick is reinventing itself as the centre for the offshore renewables industry after the catastrophic decline in the fishing industry over the last century or so. Everywhere we look there are gleaming hi-tech ships bristling with all the latest gadgetry to take people and material out to the windfarms. There are still some small fishing boats dotted here and there, but the harbour really belongs to the supply ships and leisure craft such as ourselves. A sign of the times.

High speed supply ship for taking people out to the wind turbines.

That ah put down in words/How wonderful life is while you are in the world”, finishes the crewman sponging the windows, tidying up his buckets and brushes. A foghorn suddenly seems quite tuneful.

Beautiful clean windows.

I walk into town the next morning to the opticians to see if they can straighten my glasses. On the way into town, I see a familiar face. It is Prince Charles. It seems that he has turned up to open the new Beatrice wind turbine array in the sea out to the east of Wick.

Prince Charles.

After shaking the hands of the dignitaries lined up at the door of the Beatrice building, he comes over to have a chinwag with the commoners.

When he gets close, his face lights up with recognition. “Well, well, well. If it’s not the Skipper!”, he says. “I wondered if I might see you here. How’s Ruby Tuesday? I read your blog avidly, you know.”

“We are fine, thanks”, I say. “The First Mate was a bit peaky yesterday when we were crossing the Pentland Firth. But she’s OK now. Off doing some shopping at the moment, I think. She’ll be sorry she missed you.”

“Pentland Firth, eh?” says the Prince, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “I have heard that it is pretty challenging, isn’t it? Anne’s always going on about doing it in her boat one day, but I don’t think that she has yet. Not my cup of tea, really. Speaking of tea, what about if I come down later to Ruby Tuesday for a cuppa after all this snipping of ribbons, and you can show me around and tell me all about it. I particularly enjoyed the bit where you were talking to the sheep on Scalpay, although I did wonder if you had taken leave of your senses there for a moment. But, well, I often talk to my plants to keep me sane, so I suppose it’s not really all that different, is it?”

“It’ll be a pleasure”, I say. “But we only have Earl Grey. The Darjeeling ran out last week, and the First Mate wasn’t able to find any in Asda yesterday. By the way, I hope Earl won’t be below your rank?”

“Well, yes, it is actually, but don’t worry, I will overlook it this time”, he says with a guffaw. “See you later.”

Prince Charles having a chat.

I am jolted from my Mitty-dream back into the real world by a rather large lady jostling my elbow somewhat intimately. “Well, that was lovely, wasn’t it?”, she says.

I assume she means seeing Charles and not the jostling, so I nod in agreement. “But I’ll have to wash the mugs now”, I say. She looks at me as if I have escaped from somewhere and hurries away. Probably to find some men in white coats.

I find the opticians and they straighten my glasses.

“You look like you have been in the wars”, says the lady. “Ah yes, just those pesky Vikings again”, I joke. She doesn’t know whether to take me seriously or not.

I should have gone to ….

In the afternoon, we explore the town. In fact, Wick is actually two towns – the original town of Wick and the newer Pulteneytown. Wick has been around for a while – since the Iron Age at least – and gets its name from the Norse word for bay, vik, as does the word Viking itself. It became a Royal Burgh in the 16th century. Pulteneytown was built in the 19th century by the British Fisheries Society to house crofters fleeing from the Clearances looking to capitalise on the herring boom.

The Heritage Museum gives a good history of it all – its Johnson Collection is a fascinating archive of photographs taken by three generations of the local photographic business from 1863 to 1975. Like many towns we had visited, the story goes (and the pictures show) that there were so many fishing boats at one stage, it would have been possible to walk across them from one side to the other without getting your feet wet.

Wick in its heyday.

Unfortunately, the herring boom collapsed after WW1, partly due to overfishing, change in tastes, loss of markets during the war, and dereliction of the fishing fleet while the men were away fighting. The industry never really recovered and since then the town has gone into decline. There is a sadness as we explore the streets – many shops and houses and boarded up or unoccupied, the streets are uncrowded, so different from what it would have been like in its heyday.

Main street in Wick.

There are efforts at revival – the harbour is a focus for the wind-farm industry and leisure sailing fraternity, and the town centre has been renovated. However, we read in the paper that one of the main pubs, Weatherspoon’s Alexander Bain, is up for sale, which will be a major blow. Alexander Bain was a local lad and the inventor of the electric clock. Hopefully, the new owners will keep it going, as its good value food and drink provides a much-needed social focus for the town.

Further on, we see one of the residents trying to keep the old traditions alive by catching fish from the bridge over the river. The First Mate tries to advise him that his line is on the wrong side of the parapet. For some reason he is not very responsive.

The Wick style of fishing.

“Perhaps he is embarrassed by being told how to fish by a visitor?”, I say.

Further on, we come across a set of steps leading up to Pulteneytown. The First Mate points out a plaque on the wall saying that these were the steps that provided the inspiration to L.S. Lowry, the well-known painter of industrial landscapes, for one of his paintings. It seems that this particular one was painted in 1937 and had remained hidden for 20 years, but was rediscovered in 2013 in Edinburgh. It sold for nearly £900,000 at auction at the time. Not a bad little earner!

Black Steps in Wick, by L.S. Lowry.
And the real thing!

“Apparently not all of Lowry’s work is known, and there may be several of his paintings still out there”, says the First Mate.

“I’ll make a note to check in our attic when we get home”, I say.