Sutherland is one of the remotest areas in Britain with the sparsest population scattered over a vast 6000 square Km. From the Atlantic in the west to the North Sea in the east; the Pentland Firth in the North to the Dornoch Firth & Kyle of Sutherland in the South, this is hugely varied landscape. Its history is one of population movement and disturbance, from Vikings to Clearances and change that continues to this day. All have left their mark and there is much for the visitor to discover including internationally important archaeology, nature reserves and wildlife. There are so many isolated locations steeped in legend, atmosphere and spirits of the past that remain undisturbed by modern living; justifying more than a brief visit to experience.
Kyle of Sutherland Mountain Bike Trails : As part of planning your trip why not also travel just 23 miles west of Golspie to the far side of Bonar Bridge where there are further graded mountain bike trails created within Forestry Commission woodlands in association with the local community group. See Carbisdale and Balblair for information on this and links to other trails in the Highlands.
Smoo Cave : An exceptional limestone cave that commences at the shore of Durness into water filled caverns stretching far under the ground. Sufficently large to be used to shelter and repair Viking ships, the cave is a visitor attraction. The limestone features and caves also exist above Inchnadamph where the bones of prehistoric animals such as sabre toothed tiger, lynx and bear have been found dating back to beyond the Ice Age over 10,000 years ago. This corner of Sutherland has been designated a Geopark due to its amazing geological formations and varied rock types, including the very oldest in the World.
Ardvreck Castle : The remains of the MacLeod stronghold haunted by two ghosts. One may be that of Montrose who was betrayed by Neil MacLeod into visiting the castle only to find himself locked up in the dungeon and thereafter hung, disembowelled and dismembered in Edinburgh for treason. The other possibly being the beautiful daughter of the MacLeod chief, desired by the Devil who bargained to have her hand in marriage in return for helping build the castle. But on completion of the battlements the wretched girl threw herself off to her death.
Inverpolly : Described as a most wonderful wilderness; arguably the most bewitching in the UK. Rare species abound over the 30,000 acres and some of the strangest shaped mountains rise out of the great expanse of lochans and moor. The most accessible and best known of these are Stac Pollaidh and Suilven.
Handa Island : Located off Scourie, the island is the seasonal home for a vast number of breeding seabirds throughout the summer.
Cape Wrath : This must be the wildest place in the UK, as its very name suggests (although is a Norse word for “cape” = the turning point on the coastline for Viking ships to navigate by). The location is very isolated and features huge pink gneiss cliffs and sea stacks battered by Atlantic waves. Also the very lonely bay of Kearvaig.
Whaligoe Steps : Into Caithness but reasonably accessible to East Sutherland is the path cut into a steep sided gorge created by the fishermen of the early 1800’s to carry their catch up the 200‘ cliffs to the curing shed. Improved at the end that century with over 330 flagstone steps, the work involved in both the path construction and carrying of fish is difficult to imagine. Venture further into Caithness to pass through “The Flow Country”. At around 1 million acres it is the largest expanse of peatland in Europe (second only in the world to Kamchatka) and seasonal home to a wide variety of wading birds in March-August. And, almost as far north as you can go, the great cliffs of Duncansby Head near John O’Groats are well worth the distance to see, especially in early summer when thousands of kittiwake and puffins are nesting.
Strath of Kildonan : The scene of a gold rush in 1868-9 when more than 500 prospectors descended on the Strath to seek their fortune panning at the encampment location they called Baile an Or ( Town of Gold). Although upto £10,000 worth of gold dust was retrieved nobody got rich and many were destitute after braving the cold and isolation of the area. Fifty years previously the same area had been cleared of around 2000 people who had subsisted on the land prior to being forceably removed to make way for more profitable sheep farming. The foundation stones of their ruined townships are all that remains.
Rosal Clearance Township, Syre, Strathnaver : Another ruinous township that once was a thriving community before the consequences of Culloden and the reform of social order arising from the demise of the clan system . No longer needed as a fighting force and in the face of increased commerce with the Industrial Revolution, the Duke of Sutherland removed the people to the coast or beyond to allow leasing to new sheep farmers from the south. The evictions were recorded by Donald MacLeod in “A History of the Destitution in Sutherland” and the scattered remains of houses and fields form a national monument to this infamous period of Scottish history. Similarly, Badbae clearance village near Helmsdale.
Loch Fleet : An almost completely enclosed lagoon where hundreds of migratory sea birds come from more northerly parts for winter shelter and feeding. Now a National Nature Reserve, the tidal waters are separated from the fresh water side of the lagoon by the A9 trunk road causeway; giving users a wonderful view of the area with hardly a need to get out of the car! In summer months osprey can readily be observed while pink-footed and greylag geese gather in the late autumn.
Dunrobin Castle : Scottish home to the Duke of Sutherland is located at the north end of Golspie. With 189 rooms Dunrobin is the largest house in the Highlands and has been inhabited by the Dukes of Sutherland since the 1300's. Designed by Sir Charles Barry, who also built The Houses of Parliament, the Castle’s conical spires and ornamentation give the appearance of a French chateau. The French influence continues into the equally impressive formal gardens which were inspired by Versailles. Two parterres are laid out around circular pools with fountains with avenues of Tuscan laurel and Whitebeam recently added. Off the gardens is a Victorian museum with a collection of Pictish stones and exhibits covering local history, geology and natural history. All well worth a visit (Easter to October).
Golspie : Don't forget to take that walk on the beach at Golspie!
On the northern coast of Scotland lies Durness and Smoo Cave. This image shows a constructed wooden walkway, with side rails, overhanging rock with a burst of light from the left of the picture. Temperatures here, even on the warmest of days will be cooler, hear your feet echo along the wooden planks and pause to listen to the drip of water.
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Ardvreck Castle - a stunning photograph depicitng the ruins of this castle with calm still waters in the foreground, bright green landscape and high rugged jills in the background. The sky is a deep, rich blue with barely a cloud, this site is redolent of Scotlands history, well worth a visit and a place for reflection.
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A peatland near Forsinard - deep ochre coloured peatland rich and warm. The deep blue sky with streaks of white clouds is mirrored by water in the foreground. Take a deep breath, smell the peaty richness, the fresh, clean, unpolluted air, feel the freedom that can only be the Highlands.
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The famous Dunrobin Castle, truly picture perfect, the stunning seat of the Sutherland Family, perches on a rise overlooking the formal gardens and walkways. In the foreground a large pond provides a mirror image of the castle. Any visit to Golspie certainly requires a visit to this wonderful house - the gardens are stunning and alive with insects, birds and fragrant flowers in season. There is a superb cafe in the, with excellent "Home Style Cooking", no visitor to the Castle leaves disappointed.
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The wide expanse of Golspie beach, great for a stroll on the smooth, sandy beach - take in that salt air, fresh breeze and listen as gentle waves lap the shore. This is not a crowded beach, there is space to move, walk the dog, collect pebbles or shells and enjoy the tranquility.
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