I have two children under the age of 5 and am always looking for new places to take them in the Highlands of Scotland.
I heard from a friend about a new play centre in Lairg called Wee Beasties and decided to take them there to see what it was like..well...what a gem.
It has everything you could want for your children including a bouncy castle, climbing frame and cars to wizz about on.
It also has a small cafe with very reasonably priced food. The staff were ever so lovely and spent time interacting with the kids.
Two thumbs up guys!!!
The Ferry Croft Countryside Centre looked very new when we first approached it. My thoughts were right the old centre built in 1994 had been given a complete revamp and the results were splendid. We really enjoyed the visual and hands on activities which show the history of Lairg from its beginnings up to the present day. They also had very interesting displays on the long gone native pine forests and the animals who lived in this forest. The centre offers tourist information, accommodation booking, a well stocked gift shop and a cafe serving snacks and hot and cold drinks. Outside there is a delightful play area for children and the cute wooden animals. If its raining as it was when we visited, this is a fun and educational place to stop and while a way some time until the sun returns. Two walks start from here too, one goes through Ferry Wood, while the second takes you up Ord Hill. Both walks are described in the visitors' centre.
There are fifteen forest walks in Sutherland, we chose the lovely Achany Glen Forest. The day had been hot and the dogs needed a walk and we needed some shade. The forest provided both perfectly. The walk takes you through fragrant pine, spruce and beach trees. It then leads into mixed broadleaf trees including hazel, rowan and ash. We both laughed when we found the stone fairy ring, a place for a picnic perhaps, but so low set. I love looking at tree shapes especially the tunks this lets my imagination run riot, stranded on the gound was an old pine stump which looked as if it would have been happier being a river or loch monster. The air is so clean and crystal clear in Sutherland so much so the litchen and the ferns grown thick on the trees. The joiners workshop where apprentice foresters learn their craft was an interesting stop too. The forestry commission here are working hard with lots of re planting of native trees. Obey all signs if work is in progress and enjoy the woods - I know we most certainly did.
Little Loch Shin was created when the Hydro Electric Board built a dam across a stretch of the much larger Loch Shin, which is Sutherland's largest loch and stretches around for seventeen miles. The dam built in 1957 raised the water levels by thirty feet and provided the first electricity for much of this part of the Highlands. It is a very pretty loch and a walk along its banks revealed the village communities' sense of humour. Sitting out on a tiny Island we spotted a tiny little croft, on closer inspection we were able to see this was 'The Broon's But & Ben' The Broons were a family from a comic book who always seemed to holiday in the Highlands, they called it Achtenshuggle but it doesn't exist I'm sure they ment to say Lairg. Maybe they too liked the summer colours and the lovely village reflected in this scenic stretch of water.
There are two Churches in Lairg, the Church of Scotland and the Free Church. The graveyard is set outside the village and shared between the two congregations. What surprised me was the Mausoleum, so large I had spotted it from the car. We felt compelled to stop and see who was so great and good in this tiny corner of Sutherland. It turned out this Mausoleum was erected in memory of Sir James Nicolas Sutherland Matheson born in Shiness, Lairg in 1796 he died in France in 1878. Matheson in partnership with Jardin amassed his fortune in China through the opium trade. He then bought the Isle of Lewis in 1844 for £190,000 where he built himself a castle. In 1845 he began an 'improving' programme which included drainage and road building work. By 1850 he had spent £329,000 on his so called improvements, he then turned his attention to the Islanders (Wikipedia says he assisted 1,771 people to emigrate) Could you really believe they all wanted to leave? The only thing this person improved was his bank balance. The Mausoleum was built with money from his estate after his death at his own request. There were many flowers at the other grave stones, but none were laid at this spot. Self gratification is no honour.
I had expected to be scrambling along a steep river bank to see these falls as I have at others. What a good idea to create a path of wide steps suitable for prams and wheelchairs making access easy for all visitors. The walk down was very pleasant with trees all around. At the bottom you then reach the viewing platform, it wasn't busy while we were there but even if it is you can linger on the wide path and wait until the crowds have cleared. The falls are quite spectacular as you watch and hear the peaty waters tumble through the gorge and wait with anticipation to see the Atlantic salmon leap up the falls after they have returned from the sea to their native river then on to their spawing ground of Loch Shin. We didn't see any salmon on our visit but I was not disappointed, I hate to see the ones who don't make it, so I was spared this frequently occuring sad fact in a salmon's life cycle.
Rosehall's little Parish Church became a landmark place for us as we travelled to the west coast of Sutherland. A very small and remote community twenty seven miles from Lairg and still some more to go before you reach the stunning wilds of the west coast. This little Church probably built in the eighteenth century looked a bit out of place with its vivid blue door and chuch sign, not a colour which fits well with Sutherland, bowns, purples and greys would be better (btw if you look closely they need a minister) I was most surprised to see this little Church had buttresses not really needed in such a small structure maybe it was in the hope of a design of a Cathedral. What I really liked about this Church was its Kirk Yard - no grave stones, just a quiet place to read the Good Book whether you arrive early ahead of a service or late to praise the Lord - No one could ask for a perfect silent setting.
The Falls of Shin Visitors Centre is the only place in Sutherland where you will see people arriving in great numbers. Don't be put off by this, the crowds are mostly made up by the tour buses which have to negotiate the single track road which leads here, so are well timed to never meet each other on the road. Because of this their visits only last 30 to 40 minutes so stick around and enjoy all this place has to offer. The centre is very child friendly providing good play equipment and mini golf. I was amused to find the centre has been awarded a loo of 2008 award and the little sinks complete with hand driers all at child height was so cute. Parking is free but be warned it is probably included in their restaurant prices after all you are a captured audience here. I did enjoy sitting outside in the wooden covered area of the restaraunt where water bowls were set out for the dogs. The little finches who hopped from table to table were a joy to watch. You can also sit inside or outside, but the day was way too hot and the shade and food was very pleasant. All in all a good place to people watch, have some fun and fuel up the human tank in very agreeable surrounding. I liked this place maybe I had a little too much isolation on this holiday on the wilder side and needed the people atmosphere sharing with the worlds' tourists.
The Village of Lairg is known as 'Crois Rathaid aig Tuath' - 'The Crossroads of the North'. It sits pretty much in the centre of Sutherland. No where in this area is all that close to anywhere else but we found it a great little place to stay and a perfect place to tour either the east or the west coast. Back in 1807 Lairg was just a tiny hamlet when it fell as one of the first victims to the clearances. By the end of the 1800 the railway had arrived, then in 1919 its fortune changed with ownership passing from the Duke of Sutherland to Sir William Edgar. Sir William brought work and people back here in 1924 when he financed the development of a diesel generator making Lairg the first village in Sutherland to gain an electricty supply. The village was once famous (in the highlands) for its sheep market but these days seem to have gone. When we passed the market the grass was higher than the sheep pens, but I'm happy to say the only sheep we saw were the wooden ones. Someone had even dressed one up in a hard hat and safety jacket, again a touch of fun in Lairg.