The coastal village lies at the mouth of the Halladale salmon river and the seaward end of a long valley of Strath Halladale on Melvich Bay with good cliff scenery A village of the northern coastline of Sutherland district, Highland Council Area, Melvich lies to the west of Melvich Bay, 15 miles (24 km) west of Thurso. Melvich manly lies on the main road with Portskerra the slip that covets the area of coast that allows access to the sea from jetties and harbour.
In My World
There’s a river that flows down the strath
It leads to a pool, a pool of salmon
A waterfall that falls on me
Acorns and chestnuts fall into
The pool and turn gold, that’s what I see
By the pupils of Melvich Primary School
Melvich Beach is reached from a track from the main road half way down the village, which is well signed. This leads to a car park above the dunes. The Halladale River is not so impressive as the Naver along its length but it makes a most majestic entry to the sea sweeping round the sand dunes and a small promontory where the Bighouse stands. You can walk down to the footbridge then along the river bank to the shore. The rocks on the way show evidence of ancient boilings and bubblings. This is a more exposed beach than the others, very good for surfing, good for playing on gentler days, but very pleasant for walking along. A return through the dunes above to the car park makes a very pleasant short, circular walk. The area round the car park is good for wild flowers and butterflies. Seals are often seen off this shore.
Bighouse Lodge, near Melvich is a notable in the history of the clan Mackay whose most powerful cadet branch built the house less than twenty years after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The large B-listed mansion house, rivals prominent houses built by Mackay chiefs at Tongue and Balnakeil. As well as the house, there is a large garden. Its walls and unusual pavilion, thought to have been built at the same time as the house, are A-listed. A house in the grounds known as The Barrocks Bighouse enjoys a fine setting on the estuary of the Halladale River. There are no signposts pointing the way, down a winding single-track road. Near the only junction, you can see a large stone pillar, signifying the start of an old toll road into Caithness. There are still coins in a stone bowl at its foot. The house, at the end of the road, is large and, according to architectural historian Elizabeth Beaton, “severely symmetrical”. It has twice been added to in the post-Mackay period, which began in 1830 when it was sold to the Sutherland Estates for £58,000. It was to be the “end of an auld sang,” the last of the Mackay houses (and lands) to go under the hammer. By then it contained thirty-five rooms.
Portskerra lies 1 mile (1½ km) northeast of Melvich, overlooking Melvich Bay to the east. There is a monument near the pier to men from the village drowned while fishing over the years The Drowning Memorial. Portskerra was the birthplace, in 1901, of Hugh Macintosh, a celebrated Gaelic poet (who in later life also wrote in English). There is an excellent beach and beyond Portskerra where there are massive cliffs alive with seabirds.