A 38 mile journey through some of the most beautiful deserted landscape in Scotland.
Distance from Mey House: 30 Miles
Google maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/XNEY3
I was travelling from Helmsdale to the RSPB reserve at Forsinard and the shortest route was along a road that was unfamiliar to me, the A897; what a journey it turned out to be.
As I left Helmsdale I was not surprised to find the road almost immediately becoming single track and it stayed that way for the next 30 miles so my progress wasn’t rapid. It weaved through Strath Kildonan (the valley created by the river Helmsdale) and for the most part, it was tree lined, quite green and edged by some rolling hills and a few craggy peaks. There are a few habitations in this area today though there would have been considerably more in the past but the Highland Clearances took a heavy toll here with the area savagely cleared in the early part of the 19th century. The area was also the site of a short lived Scottish goldrush in the 1860s and today a modern goldrush of sorts still occurs with fishermen paying up to £9000 per week for the right to try one of the best salmon rivers in Europe.
The transition from Strath Kildonan to the Flow Country happened quite quickly as the landscape transitioned from lush greenery to an apparently barren moorland; here I was fortunate enough to see two very large birds of prey (Ospreys I think) circling their nest site.
The Flow Country is a 1500 square mile area of peat bog, rich in wildlife and used as a breeding ground by many species of birds. Though the landscape is quite desolate and is almost totally devoid of human habitation the isolation creates the most wonderful silence; not a silence devoid of sound though as the countless species of birds and insects create a harmonious cacophony of noise but the silence to which I refer is a total lack of hubbub attributable to man. It was a gloriously eerie sensation and one I would encourage you to experience.
I stopped off in Forsinard to take the Dubh Lochan trail through the RSPB reserve to experience the Flow Country up close and personal (see the RSPB Forsinard article) before continuing north along Strath Halladale towards the river mouth at Melvich beach.
The landscape became greener, the strath became narrower and the road ambled through the scenery as it hugged the river. The further north I travelled, the more houses I saw and the more agricultural the land became until finally the wonderful A897 came to an end.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The road might be single track but the locals hurtle along it at great speed! If you want to experience the majority of the route without the car then take the train between Thurso and Helmsdale.
GREAT FOR: Scenery, wildlife and very few humans!
RECOMMENDATION: Take the time to stop and experience the sound of silence.