North to the Future: Following my Inner Compass

When I read the theme of the current WordPress photographic challenge - ‘future’ – I envisaged capturing some images of spring; perhaps lambs gamboling across a field or fresh buds growing on a tree. However there simply hasn’t been time this week and the weather’s been pretty lousy too. Winter has loosened its grip on the Black Isle but it hasn’t finished with us yet.


I recently stumbled across a quote from the TV series ‘Northern Exposure‘ that struck a chord with me: “North to the future. The compass points to opportunity.” I liked this line so much that I immediately scribbled it down upon hearing it. Whilst scratching my head over the lack of springtime photos a few days ago, this quote popped into my head and, not for the first time, I reflected on its relevance to my own life.

Dornoch Cathedral, 1993.
Dornoch Cathedral, 1993

In 1993, at the age of seven, I spent a fortnight’s holiday with my parents and brother in Dornoch, on the fringes of Sutherland in the Highlands of Scotland. This was the first time that I fell in love with a place. Before returning home to Perth a couple of weeks later, I hatched a plan to one day live in a campervan in Dornoch and work in the baker’s shop.

Passion for the Highlands

Over the next few years, my passion for the Highlands deepened further, thanks to time spent in locations such as Corpach, Ardmair, Balmacara, Portree, Gairloch, Scourie and Bettyhill – to name just a few. My career aspirations evolved over time and I now have a mortgage on a home without wheels, but my love for the Highlands has never diminished and, 23 years on from that first fateful trip to Dornoch, purchasing a campervan remains high on my Bucket List.

Dornoch continues to hold a special place in my heart and I now live only 35 miles away from my childhood haunt, instead of 150 miles away, meaning that it’s a lot more accessible for weekends and day trips!

When I was growing up in Perth I looked towards the future with fear. The prospect of leaving home, starting university, finding a career and learning to stand on my own two feet filled me with dread. On the contrary, the future couldn’t come fast enough for my twenty-something-year-old self living in the city.


Despite having a good job, I lived for my free time – weekends and, more importantly, annual leave (the majority of which was spent in the Highlands and Islands). I can recall that every time I ventured north from Edinburgh on my holidays I felt like I’d been living in a box and someone had removed the lid. I found city life claustrophobic. Nowadays it’s a relief to no longer live in a flat with strangers stomping around above my head and to no longer look up at office blocks every day, seeking out patches of sky in between.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 2011. Martin Creed’s words on the facade of Edinburgh’s modern art gallery helped me through some tough times. Walking to and from work every day in the winter of 2012-13, fighting a losing a battle with stress, I clung to the hope that one day everything would be alright. Thankfully it now is. In fact, everything is pretty brilliant.

The journey north from Edinburgh to the Black Isle involves a 3+ hour drive up the spine of Scotland on the M90 motorway and A9. The A9 has the unenviable reputation of being Scotland’s deadliest road and is a confusing mishmash of single and dual carriageway and overtaking lanes.


An average journey involves a considerable amount of frustration as Sod’s Law dictates that you catch up with an HGV doing 40-50 mph on the final few metres of overtaking lane or dual carriageway; not to mention crawling through roadworks for miles on end. On the bright side, the scenery isn’t half bad, as the A9 rises to 1,328 feet (405m) and 1,516 feet (462m) at the Slochd and Drumochter summits, respectively.

The transition from south to north; Lowland to Highland; misery to happiness; past to future, finally arrived three years ago. With the missives agreed on our house and the moving in date fast approaching, my partner Mark and I ventured north on 15th February 2013 for a weekend in Nairn and the Black Isle.

Sheer euphoria

I was bearing fresh scars from a thoroughly depressing final winter in Edinburgh and was thrilled to be returning to the Highlands. After a time-consuming journey north on the A9, we reached the top of the Drumossie Brae before beginning the steep descent towards Inverness. I was rewarded with my  first view of the Black Isle in five months. There it was: my future home laid out before me on the far side of the Moray Firth. The rest of my life, just waiting to be lived. I was reminded of Moses viewing the Promised Land and a feeling of sheer euphoria washed over me as I sat behind the steering wheel. I still blink back tears every time I recall this moment.

Sunrise over Jemimaville, Black Isle.
Sunrise over Jemimaville, Black Isle, 2016. The dawn of a new chapter in my life.

Finally satisfied

In reality, what followed was a pretty tough first year as a Highlander. I spent 2013 attempting to deal with the legacy of having suffered from a toxic mix of stress, depression and anxiety in Edinburgh, whilst beginning the daunting task of converting my house from a spider-infested hole into a comfortable home. I eventually felt settled by the time 2013 drew to a close and that deep longing for the Highlands, which had first surfaced in Dornoch in 1993, was finally satisfied.

I’m almost glad that the weather’s been poor over the last week and I haven’t been out capturing pictures of lambs gamboling across a field or fresh buds growing on a tree. I’ve forced myself to look inwards for inspiration and it’s been a pleasure to share with you two pivotal moments in my life.

And just for the record, I no longer live for the future; I live for today.


© Karen Thorburn Photography
All rights reserved
Privacy & Cookies Policy

Photography Services Website
Blog – Home | Blog – About
Landscape Blog | Adventure Blog
Health & Well-Being Blog

21 thoughts

    1. It’s over 5 years since I captured this photograph but I’m pleased to say that this sign still adorns the front of the modern art gallery! I like your suggestions too. A few positive words during hard times can make all the difference. 🙂

    1. Thanks Su. I had an image in my mind’s eye when I went out to shoot this but the conditions were even better than expected! A day never goes by when I don’t appreciate living in such a beautiful place.

      1. I can understand that Karen. The longer I live in Auckland, with its over-population and ever-increasing urbanisation, the more I feel my energy being sapped. I had never thought of myself as anything but a “city girl” until recently, and now I can’t wait to escape. I hope I’ll find somewhere that nourishes me as much as your home obviously nourishes you. Cheers, Su

  1. What a great life-story – not the stress / anxiety bit, but the where-you-want-to-be bit! I found my heart’s place by accident and long acquaintance – very different from your dream eventually coming true. I’m living in a city again now after 40 years, but I’m three doors from my daughter, and oh! the spring parklands of Warsaw!!

    1. Thanks Meg. I always knew I’d end up in the Highlands but it was only in 2012 I figured out that the Black Isle would become my home. Funnily enough, as much as I love Dornoch and also the west coast, I don’t envisage ever leaving here. I’ve put down very deep roots very quickly! I’ll bet you’re missing Potato Point but I’m sure you’re enjoying time with family and getting to know Warsaw. What a great adventure!

  2. Hi I am Hubert from kenya ! I really like your blog because of pictures I always see in your blog and I like I am getting to like so much the nature ! I would like to know where do you live?

    On Apr 15, 2016 11:38 PM, “Karen Thorburn Photography” wrote: > > Karen Thorburn posted: “When I read the theme of the current WordPress photographic challenge – ‘future’ – I envisaged capturing some images of spring; perhaps lambs gamboling across a field or fresh buds growing on a tree. However there simply hasn’t been time this week and the” >

    1. Hi Hubert! Thanks for dropping by. I’m delighted that you’re enjoying the blog. The Black Isle is a peninsula just north of the city of Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland. Check out the map in this post. The Black Isle red pin is in more-or-less the right place! Scotland is pretty small and this is a good launchpad for exploring in all directions of the compass.

    1. Thanks Kim. It felt like a pretty big gamble – moving away from friends and family and buying a house without having even lived in the area first. It paid off though and I can’t imagine ever leaving the Highlands!

Leave a Reply