In the winter, while I neglected to post on the blog, I spent some time out of the way to concentrate on work. Helmsdale in Sutherland was about as out of the way as I could find.
It’s on the east coast, in the far north of the Scottish Highlands, on the railway half way between Inverness and Thurso. Where the North Sea cuts the wide bay of the Moray Firth, at the mouth of the Helmsdale River, otherwise known as River Ullie, which flows down the Strath of Kildonan (Strath Ullie) from Loch Badanloch.
It has a little harbour with big old breakwaters and quaysides stacked with lobster pots, where the snow gathers and stays pristine until the stormy seas crash and overtop the walls.
Built in 1818 during the Highland clearances, when subsistence farmers were evicted by landlords who wanted to develop more profitable industries and agricultural practices on their estates. The harbour was built to accommodate herring fleets, worked by the displaced farmers.
At one time the tiny port was home to 200 fishing boats, one of the largest herring fleets in Europe, and it was extended in 1823 and 1892, and refurbished in the last couple of years.
Now, with its seafront streets of quaint cottages and its position on the North Coast 500 touring route, it’s as much a tourist town as a fishing port. But a few boats remain, out every day, even in the darkest mid-winter.