Drive along the A9 north of Helmsdale and you encounter what remains one one of the most difficult, exposed and twistiest sections of the whole length of the road, despite recent improvements. The end of this stretch is marked definitively by the steep descent (including a gravel trap in case your lorry's brakes fail) to a sharp corner which marks the start of an even steeper climb to the north: a climb that comes complete with hairpin bends.
As you concentrate on negotiating Berrisdale Braes, whose infamy persists from days when vehicles had neither the engine power nor the brakes they do today, you probably barely notice the small scattered village that sits at the base of the valley and straggles up the hillside to the north. Welcome to Berriedale.
The village enjoys a remarkably sheltered location. Two rivers, the Berriedale Water and the Langwell Water each carve steep wooded valleys out of the surrounding countryside before meeting a few hundred yards inland. Berriedale Braes is the result of their joint effort to cut their way through to the sea.
It's a little difficult to define any focus for the village. The church lies next to the A9 above the climb out of the valley to the north, not far from a llama farm. Near the confluence of the two rivers are a collection of buildings that comprise a post office; the office of the Welbeck Estate, which manages much of the area; and a nearby building that used to form a smithy and is now decorated with a remarkable number of stags antlers. Here, too, if you look carefully, is the original bridge across the river built by Thomas Telford in 1813: and a war memorial that lists two Lords and a Marquess among those from the village who died in the First World War.
Following a very minor road on the seaward side of the A9 leads you along the combined river to the point at which it flows into the sea. The river takes a convoluted path, for just before it actually meets the sea it takes a sharp left turn and leaves a spur of rock projecting from the south and protecting the mouth of the river.
Close by a pedestrian suspension bridge gives access to a scattering of old fisher cottages on the north side of the river mouth. And if you look really closely at the top of the projecting spur you can see the faint remains of Berriedale Castle. This has stood here since the 1300s and probably much earlier: it is reputed to be the site referred to as Beruvik in the Viking Orkneyinga Saga.
The two crenellated towers on the hillside on the south side of the valley are nothing to do with any castle. They were built to house lights designed to show fishermen the location of the river mouth and are known as the Duke's Candlesticks after the Duke of Portland, who ordered and paid for their construction.
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