The story of Golspie is in large measure the story of the Dukes of Sutherland and their predecessors the Earls of Sutherland. The 100ft statue (counting the plinth) on top of Beinn a' Bhragaidh just west of Golspie is of the 1st Duke of Sutherland. It was erected in 1834, a year after his death, by "a mourning and grateful tenantry" to "a judicious, kind and liberal landlord".
At the start of the 1800s the Sutherland estates of the Countess of Sutherland and her husband, the Marquess of Stafford (later to become the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland), amounted to some 1.5 million acres and formed the biggest private estate in Europe, extending inland to Lairg and beyond. The discovery that more money could be made from the land if it was grazed by sheep than from the rents of the crofters led to what many saw at the time as "agricultural improvements".
These improvements meant the forcible and sometimes brutal removal of up to 15,000 people from the Sutherland estates to make room for the sheep, mostly by the estate factor, Patrick Sellar. In terms of numbers this is not far short of the combined population of Wick and Thurso today. Some displaced people were resettled in coastal communities to take advantage of the herring boom. More were shipped abroad: many to North America where they in turn helped displace the Native Americans. (Continues below image...)
The Clearances fundamentally changed the landscape of much of northern Scotland. The pepper-potting of tiny settlements was simply swept away, leaving occasional ruins in the largely deserted countryside you see today inland from the east coast.
So there's a certain irony in the wording on the plinth. Perhaps those who remained felt grateful they had not been burned out of their houses and forced into a boat bound for distant lands. Today, local feelings still run high. Some local residents would happily destroy the monument, scattering its remains over the hillside, or relocate it to the grounds of Dunrobin Castle. Others feel the monument should remain as a memorial to the Clearances.
Just a mile to the north of the village is the magnificent and extravagant Dunrobin Castle, the ancestral home of the Sutherlands. A castle was built here in the late 1300s, and parts still remain within the later additions. Most of today's fairytale castle dates back to the 1840s when it was extensively remodelled by Sir Charles Barry, designer of the House of Commons.
Elsewhere in Golspie you are treated to some fine buildings. The extremely attractive Golspie Inn, formerly the Sutherland Arms Hotel, can be found on the main road leading north-east out of the village; and this end of the village is also home to a number of fine cottages and a church. St Andrew's Church of Scotland was largely built in 1737, on the site of a series of earlier churches dating back to medieval times.
The main centre of Golspie is more functional in tone, but provides a wide range of shops, facilities and leisure opportunities. These include a swimming pool for those days when the excellent beaches are weather-bound. There is also a very nice little cafe, the Coffee Bothy, conveniently overlooking the car park in the centre of the village.
Golspie also offers an attractive little harbour, with a pier extending out into the Dornoch Firth between the beaches. And when you've walked the length of the pier and turn back to face the village, you are confronted with history once more: because wherever you go in Golspie there's no getting away from the 100ft Duke on top of his 1,300ft hill.
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