Thursday 9 July 2015
Brora to Helmsdale
1 mile walked (campervan tour)
I was a little chilly during the night but survived well in the tent, and no condensation! It was so much easier to pack away this damp morning than my other tent.
Another cold, damp day in store with showers. Wonderful Scottish weather. After a lazy morning and breakfast in the campervan we set off for Helmsdale. I was not going to walk this section anyway as there are no coastal paths and the A9 and railway line run close to the shore. It was nice to get a lift and company. Getting a lift also means we can stop in different places to look at the scenery.
Helmsdale is a small town at the end of the Strath of Kildonan. Its situation affords a lovely view up the Strath (wide, shallow valley with the River Helmsdale running through it) and it has a nice little harbour.
We spent a couple of hours looking around the Timespan museum here, mainly to get a better understanding of the story of the Highland Clearances that took place from about 1813. The landowners realised sheep farming was more profitable than crofting so they kicked out most of their tenant crofters. Many emigrated, or else they were given accommodation and fishing boats and had to learn to become fishermen. Extraordinary story. When the First Duke of Sutherland evicted the crofters from this area in 1813 many emigrated (in reality they had no choice as they had no rights) to Churchill and the Red River in Canada, hence there is a strong connection with that area. There is a large memorial to The Emigrants on a hill overlooking the town.
This is also the town to come to if you fancy panning for gold in the Helmsdale River. Or you could just go salmon fishing.
Ali and Morna left me here and headed home. I was booked into the hostel and spent the rest of the afternoon sheltering from the rain in a cafe trying to plan ahead. I went for a short walk up the river as far as St John’s Well, a curious little building containing lots of stones with faces painted on them.
I went for fish and chips in La Mirage, the fish and chip restaurant recommended by Clarissa Dickson-Wright of Two Fat Ladies fame. I ordered a small fish special as the regular sized one came with 2 enormous haddock, as well as bread and butter and enough hips to require a plate of their own. It was a funny meal but very nice. Considering most towns up here don’t even have one pub, Helmsdale is doing well as it has 4 along the main street, as well as a restaurant and a cafe, and this evening I didn’t even need one!
The hostel was nice and there was a French family, an Italian couple and a Scottish lady staying the night. I got a few tips for my trip and Catrina gave me her mum’s number who lives in Drumbeg. It’s raining again!