Today, again with a mixture of clubs crewing two boats, we would have a long row ahead of us, around 20 miles, but will be stopping at Brora after 11 miles for a crew change and the onward row to Golspie.
We leave the harbour at the mouth of the Helmsdale River and look to the shore; the strips of crofting land so common in this area stretch up into the hills and into the Strath of Kildonan. The Strath and the river is well known for the salmon fishing and other country sporting pursuits but maybe not so well known is the Great Sutherland gold rush of 1869.
We cannot exclude the rivers that run through our straths, glens and valleys in the year of Coast and Waters – but only if we had the time to explore them further!
As we continue down the coast, we begin to see to change in the landscape. Gone are the dramatic high sea cliffs as the land begins to flatten out a little. The shore, although still rocky, is a lot less formidable but depending on the tides there are submersed rocks to look out for along with numerous buoys marking lobster creel lines. We look out to sea where we can see gannets making their magnificent dives into the water to catch their sea food dinner and as we look back to the shore we can see the distinct crucifix outlines of cormorants and shags drying out their wings.
As we round the rocky outcrop of Sorn Rubah na Gaoithe (Headland of the Wind), we see a sand and pebble beach, our first in a long time. Rowing on, we round Lothbeg Point again being cautious of submersed rocks; the cox can now see in the distance the long sandy beach on the approach into Brora. We pass by the crofting communities of Dalchalm and East Clyne and see the distinct buildings of the Clynelish distillery. Thinking of it only adds to our thirst and how we will quench it when we get ashore but not before we pass three miles of sandy beach of the Brora Links, home of a great golf course but also home to a sanctuary of Arctic terns who come to Brora for their summer holidays.
We soon row into the mouth of the Brora river and into the small harbour where our onshore support and new crew are ready with well-earned refreshments before we start the next leg down to Golspie.
Brora was, once upon a time, one of the most industrial villages in the Highlands, boasting of being the first place in the North of Scotland to have electricity. Info about Brora
Crew change done and onward to Golspie. As we row out from Brora we are on the lookout for other wild and sea life. Too early in the evening and too much disturbance but otters are often seen around the river and harbour. Seals and dolphins can be seen when rowing in this area; less often seen but often recorded off the coast are orca. Competing for the skies are golden eagles, buzzards and red kites along with the many other seabirds.
As we round the headland outside Brora Harbour, the vague outlines of some of Brora’s industrial heritage can still be seen. More about Brora
After the golden sands of Brora Links, the shoreline again reverts to rocky with hidden many hidden reefs for the coxswains to be aware of. We continue round a small headland and as we look inland we pass an ancient and uniquely Scottish monument.
Carn Liath is a broch, a sophisticated type of Iron Age settlement accompanied by the rare survival of an associated village and earthworks. Although there are many historical sites like this around the country, the A9 passes right by it and it is well worth a stop when you come to take part in a regatta or just a visit. Info about Carn Liath
After Carn Liath we can now see in the distance the distinctive conical spires of Dunrobin Castle, looking like something out of a fairy tale. Find out more about Dunrobin Castle: www.dunrobincastle.co.uk
Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. It is also one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland. As we row past the castle we soon come round past the Big Burn and into Golspie Bay with the harbour in sight. A final push home is made with both coxswains edging their crews on; having had a gentle cruise down from Brora the skiffs had a bit of a dice to get onto the beach first for a welcoming refreshment.