Home   News   Article

Profound stirrings evoked along the ‘quietest road’

By Contributor

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

The Real Mackay by Dan Mackay

War Memorial near Trantlebeg on Strath Halladale.
War Memorial near Trantlebeg on Strath Halladale.

It has been declared the quietest road in the UK.

The single track A897 which runs between Helmsdale and Melvich is certainly peaceful. No signs of commuter rush. No gridlock. As for road rage…what’s an occasional aimless sheep or two along its meandering 38 miles?

And it’s scenic to boot. Not so much the wild Wester Ross mountain terrain that we often conjure of the Highlands or the breathtaking grandeur of the Skye’s Cuillin range but every bit an alluring pastoral gem with hints of vast empty north American Badlands, as I imagine, thrown in to the mix.

It’s also part of an almost perfect equilateral triangle made up of the 35 miles south down the A99 and A9 from Wick to Helmsdale, up the strath, as we simply call it, before emerging near Melvich and heading back along the 37 miles of the A882 through Thurso and home to the royal burgh.

The A897 seems to offer it all as it passes through Kildonan, Kinbrace, Forsinard and Achiemore.

It offers up a changing landscape which also reflects the history of this small corner of the north of Scotland. In the salmon angling season its laybys and verges abound with the 4x4s of the chortling Hooray Henry and Henrietta types resplendent, of course, in their wide-checked tweeds.

The far north railway line, so hopelessly out of touch with modern day commuter needs, was designed to loop inland to deliver monied visitors to Victorian shooting lodges.

There’s no doubt these estates continue to provide local employment for the escapist guests of the corporate world, but that rail journey north must be the remotest in Britain!

It does, however, sweep alongside the vast expanse of the Flow Country – Europe’s largest peat habitat and the wide open scenery is spectacular.

It was the introduction of sheep back in the day that led to dispossessed folk from these parts being driven from their ancestral homelands to eke out a meagre living by the sea. It was a chapter, frankly, of ethnic cleansing…

Those same sheep devoured everything in sight and transformed the landscape to its largely bare mantle. It wasn’t always like this.

The impressive granite war memorial near Trantlebeg “to the memory of the men of Halladale who gave up their lives in the Great War” offers a silent yet profound testimony to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It made me think of those sons of Strath Halladale “no more”, their blood long since spilt and the seed of a lost generation sown amidst the barren wastelands of Flanders.

They were sons of Croick, Woodend and Trantlemore. Kinsmen of Mackays, Macleods and Sutherland clan: posted to Roeux, Arras and Vimy Ridge, n’er to return.

Private Ross, son of Colval, no more. A soldier brave and decorated: Military Medal, Croix de Guerre and Star and there he lies, 1918, in a foreign field. One cannot help but think that Old Scotia died with them, the lions led by donkeys.

And now no more the beat of the drum at eventide. Just an ancient landscape of scattered brochs and chambered cairns proof that, in some shape or form, humankind has been around and survived for longer than we can imagine.

That war memorial will survive, a towering “farewell to arms” symbol for the passing nomads on this quietest of roads.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More