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Up close to ‘The Mannie’ and cowering in wait for flying bikes

By John Davidson

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The Duke of Sutherland statue looking over Golspie and Sutherland from top of Ben Bhraggie.
The Duke of Sutherland statue looking over Golspie and Sutherland from top of Ben Bhraggie.



Distance — 5 miles

Maps — OS Explorer 441; Highland Wildcat Trail leaflet — see www.highlandwildcat.com or pick up locally.

Start/finish — Golspie.

Getting soaked in Sutherland on the way up a steep hill which promises stunning views

THE towering monument to the first Duke of Sutherland overlooks Sutherland from the top of Ben Bhraggie and is unmistakable on any journey north from Inverness.

Up close you get a feel for how gigantic this structure really is, sitting near the summit of this fantastic mountain (or is it a hill?) that is criss-crossed by tracks and trails of every sort.

There’s a walkers’ path, endless mountain bike trails, hill tracks and a quarry road — making for a real mixed bag of users.

It was a quiet evening when I began my ascent from the centre of Golspie, where there is a car park on the left of the village and a wooden pedestrian sign pointing up the Ben.

The weather was fine, if a little overcast, and I headed off up the road in a T-shirt. How that was to change!

After passing under the railway line, there’s another car park on the right and a trail sign pointed through this to the Ben Bhraggie walk. A single track trail shared with mountain bikers leads out the far side beside a sign board for the Highland Wildcat Trails, a fantastic series of bike routes that I hope to visit on two wheels for Active Outdoors later in the year.

No cars were in the car park so I figured the trails would be quiet at this time.

It’s a fantastic little walk through the forest here as the shared path twists and turns gradually up the hill. At one point you meet a grassy vehicle track which I turned right on to follow up to another trail marker.

The shared single track section continues left up through an opening with fantastic views down the coast over the tops of magnificent trees, amongst them a fine old Scots pine. You also get a glimpse of the Duke’s head peering over the top of the hill as you continue to head upwards towards him. The statue is known locally as "The Mannie" and the man himself is either seen as a typical landowner of his time or a despised instigator of the Highland Clearances — depending on who you are talking to!

After a small cattle grid, take the vehicle track left (marked as an "escape route" on the trails) to a crossroads of tracks, where you turn right up the hill to meet the walkers’ path at a wooden sign.

Go right and head through a dense area of pine trees and under some pylons to meet the quarry road, where a right then immediate left turn keeps you on the path.

Soon you meet an older track which you cross straight over to climb a few steps at the edge of a cleared area of forest, allowing another view up to the monument.

It’s a fairly steep climb up Ben Bhraggie — an anglicised version of the Gaelic name Beinn a’Bhragaidh — but I was surprised I only saw one other person up here all evening. The lady told me she was looking out of her window and couldn’t decide if it was going to rain, but had chosen to head up with her dog anyway.

Her prediction came true soon enough, and once I reached the deer fence the rain had really got going. I stopped at the shelter — a great little biking feature with a bench underneath which mad cyclists can ride over the top of — and donned the full waterproofs, which thankfully I carry on all my treks, large or small.

It wasn’t that far to the monument now but by the time I got there my waterproofs were drenched. The view back down the hill over Golspie was a sea of grey. On a good day you can see for miles from here but there wasn’t much point in hanging around on this occasion; it wasn’t going to clear any time soon.

If anything, the rain started pummelling harder as I followed the rough track off the back of Ben Bhraggie. I’d forgotten my gloves (it is midsummer after all) and it was pretty cold up here at 400 metres above sea level. With my head down I trudged on through the wind and rain, spotting Loch nan Caorach in a shallow corrie below. It must be a stunning sight on a nicer day, I noted to myself as I marched on, trying to keep warm.

As the track curves round to the right to head back towards Golspie, a path forks off to the right while the track continues downhill and into the trees. The path was marked "Shortcut to Ben Bhraggie descent" so I decided to follow this option.

With hindsight, I should probably have followed the alternative route back along the tracks but this superb path was cut into a ledge in the hillside (and was just wide enough to leap out of the way if any mountain bikes had appeared!). Further on, the trail markers did ask walkers not to use the next section for their own safety, but that left my only option a walk back the way I’d come to follow the tracks.

In this weather, I decided the car park wouldn’t have filled up with eager mountain bikers so reckoned it was safe to go for it. I can see why you’d want to avoid it if there are any bikers about, though. This black route — the most severe — dips and rises steeply into a series of fast jumps, and there’s nowhere to leap at the side of the track to get clear.

The shortcut brought me back out at the wooden shelter beside the deer fence. I took the opportunity to take a break from the rain for a while and refuel with a few snacks, admiring what I could of the view down to the village, which must be spectacular normally.

Following the walkers’ path down to the wooden signpost, I turned left onto the track then, instead of following my outward route, went right at the track junction to follow it past a box reservoir and a high gate, then through Rhives Farm and back down the road to the village.

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