Turn north from Helmsdale and travel the single track A897 to Melvich on the north coast. This is a stunningly beautiful route, following the Helmsdale River and the Inverness to Thurso railway line. The route is known as Strath Ullie or Strath Kildonan and became famous in the 1800's when gold was found in a couple of the burns along here. A gold rush began and a town sprung up as a result. Today, you can still hire equipment and try a spot of gold panning yourself.
The River Helmsdale is a popular place for fishing and access is frequent by purpose built styles. Permit fishing only via local estates.
We were intrigued by the rialway running along here, we just couldn't imagine anything as modern as a train in this landscape!!There are numerous stations along the way, including an estates own station!
After the junction at Kinbrace, there are a number of little lochs and the landscape opens onto boggy moorland, known as the Flows.Closer to Melvich, the countryside softens and you follow the pretty Halladale river.
Be sure to take your time on this lovely drive and stop frequently for photographs!
This is marked by a brown sign, placing it as a tourist attraction.
There is a decent sized parking area off the A9 from where there is a fairly tedious walk over bog and bracken which becomes steep upon approaching the clearance site. It is one of many clearance villages hastily erected when families were evicted from their crofts by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster to enable him to introduce sheep farming.
To be honest, I have seen better tourist attractions but as we were passing.....
The path first arrives at a monument erected by the son of one of the former inhabitants of Badbea, Alexander Robert Sutherland, in memory of those that enured life here. Continue to the right of the monument and a scant few ruins come into sight, the first one being the more complete. Mostly, all that is left to see are a few drystone walls and remains of crop fields.
There are information boards telling of the history and life in in this clearance village but the overall impression is of a hostile, lonely and precipitous landscape, dropping sheer to the sea at the edge of the cliffs. Life must have been bleak in summer, let alone winter!!
One thing I did notice growing in profusion here were bilberries.Perhaps the folks survived on these??
The attractive harbour at Helmsdale was developed in 1818, primarily as a port for the herring fishing fleet. Today, pleasure boats mingle with fishing boats and it's a pleasant place to wander around.There is plenty of free parking and a picnic area.
Strath Ullie Crafts are located on the harbour.
I must say this was the first harbour town we stopped at on our way north and we were impressed with all the free parking and clean public places.
We noticed the road out of the harbour was one way and steep so we headed under the flyover which took us to the other side of the town we and travelled a number of back streets before we hit the Strath Ullie (Melvich) road.
Timespan is a museum, exhibition hall and art gallery.
There is a permanent collection of artefacts, and representations of various aspects of everyday life. It is a good place to spend an hour, longer if the weather is bad. The staff are helpful and try to answer queries from those seeking their ancestors.
Books and souvenirs are on sale too.
Helmsdale has two bridges, the old bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1811 and the new bridge built in 1970. What better name for the museum than 'Time Span' This little museum encorporated a lot in a small space. Outside there is the riverside garden showcasing Scottish herbs and flowers always a favourite with me. Inside charts the history of the village including the 'Gold Rush' and the culture and heritage of the village and its surroundings. There is also an art gallery featuring pottery mainly from local artists, as well as a shop and a place to have a cuppa if you have the time!
Open Monday to Saturday 10.00 to 17.00 and Sunday 12.00 - 17.00 from 21st. March to 25th. October. Closed in Winter. Admission is free - I think because we didn't have to pay - I do hope we didn't pass by any charges!
We got our first glimpse of the towering war memorial from our riverside walk. We both thought it was a Church Tower and wondered why such a big tower for a Church in a tiny village. A few minutes later we heard the wonderous melody of the bells which chimed every fifteen minutes. While walking through Helmsdale to Cooper Park we found our clock tower. I have never encountered a War Memorial quite like this one both in height and melody. The Memorial was built in 1924 to commemorate the fallen in the 'Great War' and became a listed building in 1970. The tower is so tall it can be viewed from any part of the village and its cheery chimes accompanied us on our visit around this pretty village. Not the prettiest of Memorials but one which had sound effects and a great impact on us.
Helmsdale village is a very pretty place especially during good weather which we were fortunate to have on our summer visit. The village which was created by the Sutherland Estates dates back to 1814., and is set out in a grid pattern with the main street (Dunrobin Street) running through the middle. Most of the buildings including the hotels date back to the same period and are rather eye catching with their lovely details. The best place to view the village with its tiny streets is from the high vantage point of Cooper Park which is where the old Helmsdale castle once stood long before the village exsisted.
When the Vikings invaded this part of the East Coast they named the river 'Ulllie' The Gaels in turn named it 'Baile an Or' in English 'place of gold' When we had returned home I saw a news article on TV telling of panning for gold here in Helmsdale - not from the past but the present day. There isn't a lot of gold left in the river or her tributaries but the folk of Helmsdale hope to collect just enough to produce one gold medal for the London Olympics I do hope they meet the target and do wonder who will be the lucky recipient of a medal made from Highland Gold. We did enjoy our riverside walk even if the path took us uphill towards the Strath of Kildonan. We did pass an old well dedicated to Saint John - but so far I have no idea who or why this is here. Maybe someone can satisfy my curiousity about this! My own thoughts are the well is maybe dedicated to Saint John the fisherman after all this is a very famous salmon fishing river although rather expensive to fish in.
Helmsdale harbour saw its beginnings as early as 1818 and was extended twice in 1823 and 1892. The extentions were put in place to capitalise on the 'herring boom times' when over two hundred fishing boats could be seen in a very busy harbour. We visited on a sunny summer day and took a welcome seat to watch the now much smaller fishing fleet come and go. A pleasant quiet place - we didn't see one single soul here far less any fish being landed but I always like to follow my curiousity and look at the boats registrations to see where their home port is located. Most of the fishing boats came from Wick but they were very much outnumbered by the pleasure craft which were also moored here.
The Emigration statue is a tribute to the Highlanders who were forced to accept their fate to leave this land for the New World If you go will you send back a letter from America? The Statue was unveiled by Scotland's First Mininster Alex Salmond on the 23rd. July 2007 who said in his speech 'This is a triumph for Scotland over adversity'. This thought provoking monument was commissioned and part funded by a former local man Dennis MacLeod, now living in Canada, who was also instrumental in the construction of a twin statue erected at Red River near Winnipeg. This man was obviously not a politician so his speech was rather more to the point - 'The clearances should never be forgotten' he also added that he hoped further statues would be erected in the other parts of the 'New World' where these people finally found a home. The sculptor behind its design wasGerald Laing from the Black Isle near Inverness. The bronze statue depicts a family of four, the Father looks determinately at the seas horizon with his son by his side - while the Mother, cradling her babe looks back at the Strath of Kildonan and a place she would never see again.