Wednesday, 4 June 2014

In Golspie

So this is Golspie. I'm sitting at a picnic table looking toward Tarbat Ness Lighthouse whose two red stripes I can just about make out. The wind is blowing and I have to tell you; I'm fucking freezing. Be that as it may, the sun is still shining (its half past seven) and rain isn't pouring out of the sky for a change.

Golspie sits right on the A9, we've gone past the land of bypasses, the main road to the north follows the coast at this point with Golspie's 1650-odd residents clustered along it, if memory serves, it is what a geographer would call a linear settlement as opposed to a nucleated settlement - which is about all I can remember from modern studies.

I came here by way of Dornoch, Embo, Loch Fleet and The Mound, avoiding most of the A9 completely. Dornoch is a nice looking town with access to the beach - although you have to navigate past a caravan site and golf course. Further along is Embo, a tiny village which is home to Grannie's Heilan' Hame Holiday Park, which is only accurate if your Gran lived in a static caravan. It's heavily sign posted from the A9 on the way to Dornoch. I was expecting a museum, if it was my Gran - depending on which one we're talking about: it would either be filled with doilies, digestive biscuits and floral curtains or fag reek, snooker on the telly at full blast and the howl of hearing aids. Its not a museum though, I couldn't find my way to the beach because of the static caravan park which all but blocked the sea view. I did venture in a bit but was dissuaded from going further by an OAP joylessly washing her knickers in the launderette.

Embo has a twin...
Oh my, its the palm trees isn't it...
Leaving Embo, which sits at the end of its own private driveway of sorts, I turned north toward Loch Fleet. The road looks attractive on the map and proves to be so in reality. It eventually finds its way to the loch's edge where you can park up and enjoy the tranquil views. Three ducks (two drakes and a mallard if you must know) were guarding the information board. They seemed to be unfazed by my presence so I give the lead duck a swift kick up the arse hoping the others would take the hint - I made that up, no really, I did - ducks aren't that clever. I had to kick the others out of the way too.

Anyway, Loch Fleet is home to many wading birds and although it looks like a barren mud flat when the tide is out, it teems with life. Worms, larvae and other tiny sea creatures left by the receding tide abound - and when the tide is in; all manner of aquatic life supports a veritable plethora of bird life. If you become stranded here over night, I recommend the duck, they're much easier to catch and tastier than worms.

Incidentally, there is more to Loch Fleet. The Mound cuts off the upper part of the loch from the lower, a system of sluice gates stops sea water travelling up beyond this man-made barrier, not wishing to go into too much detail, the fresh water part of Loch Fleet is verdant and lovely.

Sitting as I am in Golspie looking out to sea, there is something of a shadow over my shoulder, perched a-top Ben Bhraggie above the village is the statue of George Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford and First Duke of Sutherland, also known as the notorious bastard responsible for the highland clearances.

Its a typical story, a British Member of Parliament (for Newcastle Under Lyme and later for Staffordshire). He got around, at one point ambassador to France (having no diplomatic experience) then Joint Postmaster General (having never been a postman.) He was also a member of the House of Lords, mostly a Tory but laterally a Whig. The rest of his CV is just as you'd expect, honours from the British Establishment thrown at him like shit at the wall in a lunatic asylum; twice a lord lieutenant, a privy counselor, a Night of the Garter and a Duke.

He married the Countess Elizabeth Sutherland in 1785, part of that arrangement was that he'd gain control but not ownership of the Sutherland estates, after buying more land and extending the scope of the estate, they came to own between them two thirds of Sutherland and George in his own right was said to be the richest man alive in the 19th century, still  being a bit of a Tory though, it wasn't enough.

Between 1811 and 1820, the clearances took place. Subsistence farmers were moved from their inland farms to the coast where it was thought they'd take up fishing. These were poor farmers already struggling, it was no highland idyll but they survived. Instead though, the land they farmed in the glens could be more profitably used to farm sheep. Hence, the farmers were moved onto much smaller much less fertile plots close to the sea. While some were offered jobs on these new super-sheep farms at jaw-droppingly low rates of pay, others were expected to farm what they could and fish for the rest on rocky coastal plots not even sheep could graze. These clearances were not unique to the highlands of Scotland, as far south as the Isle of Arran, tenant farmers were forced off their land and to the coast to make way for sheep farming - this was said to be an 'improvement' by the rich land owning classes. In truth, they just didn't understand how people lived in the Scottish Glens.

This was enforced with ruthless disregard for life, one of Sutherland's factors was acquitted of murder - a croft was set alight while it contained Margaret MacKay who'd refused to leave. As you would expect, the factor (one Patrick Sellar) took over a huge sheep farm created by the clearances he'd helped carry out, you can well imagine the resentment in the area.

In 1837 - a statue in honour of the Duke of Sutherland was erected in his memory (he died in 1833) on Ben Bhraggie and there it still stands above Golspie, despite locals wanting it removed to this day.

I am going to try my absolute best to go some where tomorrow that doesn't have some evidence of the British Establishment being disgustingly unfair and cruel to people living in Scotland. You would think Yes Scotland's job would be easier with all these memorials to how terrible Scotland and its people have been treated over the years by the union. Yet, it is a curious thing that we manage to ignore these monuments to the cruelty & subterfuge perpetrated against our fore-bearers over the years - some of which, as the Bridge at Bonar incidentally commemorates - wasn't that long ago.

 In the meantime, you can print this image off and chuck darts at it.


  1. I dare you to piss on his statue...

    Go on, you know you want to.

  2. Mmm.

    Its on quite a high plinth, not sure at my advanced years i'd have the range.

    Sometimes though, one must make an effort.

    There is no road up to the statue, its a bit of a hike, which is why (i think) its still standing.

  3. It only requires one demolition expert to make the journey once and the problem would disappear. Every time I drive by I hope someone will have done us a favour.

  4. At the risk of incurring some terrible charge in the area of thought crime - I think you're right David.


  5. Hi, did they not put a statue up facing the wee B*st*rd, commemorating those who were forced to leave because of him and his wife. I seem to remember reading about it.
    Me, I would like the pleasure of watching it blow up one of those days.
    A lovely part of the country but hard as it is I still cannot think why Embo is twinned with any where in Hawaii.

    1. Normally, the only monument to those forced to leave are the remnants of the homes they used to live in. I had a wee look for an opposing monument but couldn't find it

      As for Embo, maybe the Hawaian village has some equivalent holiday park?

  6. There is a statue in helmsdale as you enter town from south of a wumman and bairn to the clearances.

  7. I didn't get as far up as Helmsdale on that trip. I'll be up that way again though in October so will have a look.




Thanks for comment as always and I apologise if you have to jump through any hoops to do so. Its just that, I'm still being spammed by organisations who are certain I can't get it up or when it is up its not big enough or that I don't have anyone to get it up for.

Who knew blogging could be so bad for ones self-confidence?