Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mail Coach at the Berriedale Braes - Article X - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, & Neighbourhood – Part C

Article X written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 15 January 1880 – Part C


“There was a good inn here [Berriedale] at this time, occupied by John Dow, a good landlord, and a kind obliging neighbour. There was also the mail coach carrying Her Majesty's mail, and having Angus Mackay, with his scarlet cloak, a guard, the sound of whose horn, as he approached Berriedale from either direction, was familiar to the people of Berriedale.”

Mail coach in a thunderstorm Gutenberg Mail coach 1804 Gutenberg files

“The road leading to and from Berriedale is very steep, and is called "Berriedale Braes" and it took a very steady hand to guide the coach in such sudden turns as that right below the graveyard, and also at the smithy, where the least false step would cause destruction to both man and beast. Coming from the west, turning in at the end of the bridge is very dangerous. Here on one occasion the driver lost control of his horses, when the coach came into violent contact with the parapet, overturning the coach, and causing the death of the driver.”

Berriedale Braes Hairpin bends at Berriedale
Berriedale Braes looking south. This is the same turn or hairpin bend, right below the old graveyard, that Alexander Gunn refers to. Berriedale Braes looking north. The road has been upgraded countless times but is still a steep climb and descent. The old Berriedale graveyard can be seen upper right just above the hairpin bend.

“Angus Mackay was well known and much respected by the travelling public, and many a weary pedestrian did Angus carry gratis on the sly. When spoken to on the subject by his superiors, his reply was "that he could not pass an old man or a bonny lass without giving them a lift." Angus was very much respected, and universally regretted when he retired from public life. But the days of red coats and mail coaches are past and gone, and so is the inn at Berriedale, where many a traveller found good and comfortable entertainment and cheer. There is nothing stronger than a cup of tea or coffee now between Dunbeath and Helmsdale, a distance of sixteen miles, with a long and dreary road, on a stormy winter day.”

The last mail coach leaving Thurso in 1873

My Comments: 

The first mail coach between Inverness and Thurso ran on 15 July 1819. Pulled by two horses, it left Inverness at 6am and was due into Thurso at 7.30am the next morning although it was often late. 
Berriedale in 1944

Geograph photographer Jim Bain comments on the Berriedale Braes:

The A9 is one of only two roads into Caithness and the other way is much longer and single track for much of its length. The railway is an alternative but not much used. At Berriedale the A9 is forced to drop around 150 metres from the moor and climb back up again inside a distance of 2 km. This photo shows the hairpin bend on the north side of the Berriedale Braes and looks out to the southern side of the dale. 

Whilst it is now much modified from the original layout especially down on the dale floor it is still a major obstacle for all heavily laden vehicles particularly coaches and heavy goods vehicles with a long steep drops to the dale floor to keep everybody alert. Note the emergency gravel traps on the southern side. There are none on this side. Taken from the old cemetery.

The following extract gives an idea of the time John Dow was Innkeeper at Berriedale.

John Dow The mail 1803
John O Groat Journal January 29 1841

A mail coach stopping at a way-side inn.
15 1 1880 NE (Article X) part cc 15 1 1880 NE (Article X) part cd

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