Halladale

Just after the hamlet of Melvich, twelve miles east of Bettyhill, the A897 cuts south through Strath Halladale, the Flow Country and the Strath of Kildonan to Helmsdale on the east coast. Looking down from Cnoc an Fhreacadainn ( the Watch Hill) on the west side of the river Halladale, you will be rewarded with a view of the 15 miles of the Strath from Forsinard to Bighouse. The name may derive from the Norse Hallow dalr ( holy dale) or from a Viking prince Halladha/Halladus, said to be buried on the Strath, after a battle. The brochs of even earlier times can still be seen on their vantage points.

 

Signs there are too of when the Strath was highly populated, up until the early and mid 19th Century when its ownership passed from the MacKays of Bighouse to the House of Sutherland at Dunrobin. The subsequent movement of people shaped the existing lay-out of crofts as they are to-day-mainly in the central and more fertile part of the valley. Crofting is still away of life on Halladale. The Halladale itself has deserved reputation as a salmon river.

 

South from the coast at Melvich the A897 follows the river Halladale and heads to Forsinard and the Flow Country, a vast expanse of bleak bog of major ecological importance. A landscape shaped by plants and scarcely touched by humans. The peat is built up into a blanket of bog by bog mosses, which still flourish here in a remarkable range of forms. Mysterious patterns of dark pools and small lochans dot the landscape which is home to wild birds such as the Greenshank, Diver, Curlew and Hen Harrier. On the border of Sutherland and Caithness Strath Halladale lies in a sparsely populated area of outstanding natural beauty. Strath Halladale is strung out down a landscape of more rolling and less rugged backdrop but still with the sense of remote and isolation. Strath Halladale is the spiritual home of the Mackay clan .

 

The Strath mostly privately owned by large estates. There is some hill farming (mainly sheep) but the principal focus of the estates and the local economy is field sports particularly deer stalking, grouse shooting and fishing in the rivers and many hundreds of hill lochs.

 

For more information see A Memory of Strath Halladale (preface pp7-16) by Sandra Train