Ben Bhraggie is a 397-metre hill that sits behind the small Highland Village of Golspie. A statue of the 1st Duke of Sutherland dominates its summit. The huge tribute to George Leverson-Gower looks proudly over the North Sea, however his legacy is steeped in shame and controversy.
The Victorian statue is known as “The Mannie” by locals, but despite the unassuming nickname, there have been a succession of attempts to demolish it and tear its very foundations to the ground.
The notorious duke was responsible for some of the most heinous of the Highland Clearances 200 years ago and his statue is seen by many as a monstrosity that should be removed. Others believe it should remain as a reminder of the dark history it represents.
The path up Ben Bhraggie is well maintained and easy underfoot. It begins by weaving its way through the forest before you find yourself out of the trees and on a slightly steeper and more exposed route. There are various mountain biking trails that intersect with the walking path so it’s a hill with many fun pursuits. We spent a long time keeping our eyes peeled for wildcats before realising that the Wildcat warning signs pertained to the mountain bike trails.
The climb became very exposed and windy at the top, but we were rewarded with fantastic views out over the village of Golspie and the North Sea. The statue of the Duke of Sutherland is certainly imposing. It brings with it a sense of foreboding especially in the context of its history.
There are a couple of different ways to come down Ben Bhraggie. We decided to include the Big Burn Gorge into our walk so headed down a different route, over the top of the mountain and down the other side. Including the Big Burn Gorge turned out to be the best decision we could of made. I highly recommend anyone in the area to visit this spectacular place!
When we reached the bottom of Ben Bhraggie the route directed us through a gate and onto a narrow, wooded path. We immediately spotted a beautiful small yellow bird, that turned out to be a Eurasian siskin. Snow drops were beginning to push through the soil. A sure sign that spring is on its way!
Big Burn Gorge
The initial walk approaching Big Burn Gorge was very pleasant. We soon stumbled across a lovely house and waterfall. The house decking backed onto the waterfall behind. What an amazing place that would be to live! We clambered down to the edge of the waterfall to get some better pictures. We didn’t know at this point how stunning our walk was about to get.
The walk soon turned from pleasant to dramatic as we approached the gorge section. We could hear the sounds of a large waterfall from the top of the path, however we couldn’t really get a proper view from this vantage point. Luckily, the path zig zagged down the side of the gorge. We soon ended up on a platform at the foot of a dramatic waterfall. It was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist jumping in for a quick dip in the clear, icy water. What a rush!
After I had dried off, we continued on through the gorge. Steep rock formations shielded us on either side as we walked alongside the water. We occasionally crossed its flow over a series of wooden bridges. I loved the dramatic atmosphere of walking through the gorge, and the fantastic path that made it so easy to do so.
A Local Hero
As we reached the end of the Gorge we came to a wooden bridge dedicated to Colin Ploughman MBE. Colin had tended Big Burn Gorge voluntarily for years before his death. The bridge is a fitting tribute to the amazing work he had done in the local area. I couldn’t help thinking about the sharp contrast between this deserved dedication and the controversial statue at the top of Ben Bhraggie.
The walk was definitely one of two halves. It could easily be split into two shorter walks if you were pushed for time. If I had to pick one section, I would favour Big Burn Gorge as its spectacular backdrop and fun path made for a really entertaining walk.
It also has a really awesome memorial for a really awesome man!
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