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THE sweeping sands of Torrisdale Bay provide a magnificent backdrop to Bettyhill, on the north Sutherland coast.

This is the heart of Mackay Country, home of a clan who historically had a warlike reputation – the Gaelic name, MacAoidh, translates as “son of fire”.

The fiery-tempered clansmen of old have given way to a thriving modern community where visitors can always be assured of a friendly welcome. Indeed, Bettyhill has been a popular destination for tourists since the 19th century with excellent salmon-fishing on the River Naver and impressive mountain scenery including two Munros.

Echoes of the Highland Clearances are never far away in Bettyhill. The coastal settlement was developed after thousands of people were cleared from the Naver valley between 1811 and 1821.

There are around 50 pre-Clearance village sites in the area, incuding Achanlochy, where information boards tell the story of its demise.

Find out more about this defining period in Highland history at Strathnaver Museum, located in a former church. There are artefacts reflecting the domestic and working lives of the people of Strathnaver, as well as archives to search and a designated Mackay Room.

Elsewhere there are reminders of an 1858 tragedy in which a Norwegian barque, the Thorwaldsen, was wrecked in Strathy Bay. Eight people lost their lives but six were saved thanks to the heroic efforts of local men who braved raging seas to carry out a dramatic rescue. 

The figurehead of the Thorwaldsen can be seen in the museum, together with some of her timbers. Captain Hans Berg and his English wife, Elonora, were among the victims and were buried at Strathy cemetery. Intriguingly, it is said that around the anniversary of the tragedy, March 8, the semi-transparent figures of Hans and Elonora appear briefly in the moonlight, gazing together across the bay.

Other visitor attractions in and around Bettyhill include the Borgie Forest nature trail and the North Coast Leisure Centre where facilities include a pool, a sauna and a fitness suite.

For lovers of the great outdoors it’s a wonderful landscape for cycling and walking.

As well as the sands of Torrisdale and Farr there are beautiful beaches nearby at Melvich, Strathy, Coldbackie and Talmine.

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