Not long ago we left twelve year old Donald Sage in the inn at Kintradwell, eating meat, eggs and cheese on his way to the school in Dornoch. After he, his brother, his father and their servant Tam had filled their bellies they unhitched their horses and set off towards Clyne manse, just north of Brora. The arrived in the evening and
“Mr. Walter Ross and his kind wife received us with great cordiality. Mrs. Ross was a very genteel, lady-like person, breathing good-will and kindness. To her friends by the ties of affection, amity, or blood, her love and kindness gushed to overflowing … After breakfast next morning we proceeded on our journey. After having passed the Bridge of Brora there soon burst upon our sight Dunrobin Castle, the seat of the ancient Earls of Sutherland, the view of which from the east is specially imposing; and here I may remark in passing, that the present excellent public road which runs through the county of Sutherland was, at the time I speak of, not in existence. In lieu thereof was a broken, rugged pathway, running by the sea-shore from the Ord Head to the Meikle Ferry, and at Dunrobin, instead of going to the north of the castle as the present line does, it descended to the sea-side, passing about two miles to the east of the castle right below it, and so round by the south.
The “broken, rugged pathway, running by the sea-shore from the Ord Head to the Meikle Ferry” as it is today. [photos belonging to Elizabeth Ritchie]
The building filled me with astonishment. The tower to the east, surmounted by its cupola, the arched entrance into the court, and then the simply elegant front looking out on the expanse of the Moray Firth, which rolls its waves almost to the very base, were to me an ocular feast. The garden too, on the north side of the road, over the walls of which towered the castle in ancient and Gothic magnificence, was another wonder. I was perfectly astonished at its extent. It stretched its south walls at least 300 yards along the road, and at each of its angles were rounded turrets, which gave it quite an antique appearance, in strict keeping with the magnificent edifice with which it was connected.
The village of Golspie lies about a quarter of a mile to the west of the castle, close by the shore, and, as we advanced, the first object we saw was the manse, near which, on approaching it, we noticed walking towards us a low-statured, middle-aged man, dressed in a coarse, black suit, and with a huge flax wig of ample form. My father and he cordially recognised one another, and I at once discovered this venerable personage to be Mr. William Keith, minister of Golspie. We did not stop, but proceeded on our way to Embo, and reached the north side of the Little Ferry house at about two o’clock.
As we dismounted, and every necessary preparation was made by the boatman to get us over, I felt a good deal alarmed. Except when crossing the Helmisdale river in a cobble some years before, I had never been in a boat or at sea; and I was particularly frightened at the idea of being a fellow-passenger with my father’s large horse and our own lesser quadrupeds, lest they, participating in my own fears, might become unruly and swamp the boat. Matters went on, however, better than I anticipated; the horses, after remonstrating a little, were made to leap into the boat, and, with my heart in my throat, I followed my father and brother, and took my place beside them in the bow of the wherry. As we moved off I was horror-struck, on looking over the edge of the boat, to see the immense depth of the Ferry. It was a still, clear winter’s day, and I could distinctly perceive the gravelly bottom far below. I could see, passing rapidly in the flood, between me and the bottom, sea-ware of every size and colour. The star-fish intermingled with the long tails of the tangle which by the underswell of the sea heaved up and down, and presented the appearance of a sub-marine grove, retaining its fresh look by the greenish colour of the sea-water.”
Donald, the young landlubber, survived his experience unscathed. The excitement of the ferry crossing and the astonishment of the glories of Dunrobin Castle filled his mind as they continued their trek towards Embo House where they were to lodge for the night.
Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica or Parish Life in the North of Scotland [freely available online at archive.org if you want to read more]