Visiting the Hirsel

the view from the steading

The Hirsel is a classic Hill Farm, cobbled together in the distant past from three ancient crofts, totaling about 30 acres of fields, meadow, wetlands and woodlands. And hills, of course! Our farmhouse is the only remaining of the original three, and may be the oldest inhabited house on Kincardine Hill. You can still find the stones of the other houses and some ancient walls, hidden in the tall grass around the farm. The farm and area is rich with history, both personal and regional – and Farmer Gillies is a wonderful storyteller, when he’s not busy with farm chores.

Follow the leader!

We’re a working farm, raising Hebridean sheep, with plans to bring other British rare breeds on to the farm within the next year or so. Goats and chickens are high on our wish list! We also have a fruit and veggie field, and are beginning to market our produce locally. We practice what is variously called ‘regenerative’ or “sustainable” farming, blending old wisdom and new knowledge to care for our land and animals in the best way possible. This means that, while we are not certified Organic, we farm in many of the ways associated with the Organic label: we do not use chemical fertilizers, pest, or weed controls. Our sheep are important colleagues in this work, grazing many types of invasive plants, and scattering ‘fertilizer’ around our hay fields.

We love showing folks around the Hirsel, telling stories of the Hirsel’s past, present, and future, discussing our methods of bringing the farm back from 30 years of neglect, and introducing you to our beloved woolies. With their proud bearing and large horns, our animals may look fierce, but thanks to the way we raise them, many are quite friendly, and some really enjoy a scratch under the chin. They’re a wonderful way to introduce yourselves or your children to this amazing breed of heritage Scottish sheep.

Father and Son, braw lads both!

So give us a call if you’d like to stop by – there’ll always be a warm welcome for you on the farm…

Except from Phil…Phil has a bit of an attitude! 😉

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Where are we?

Situated just outside of Ardgay, off the A836 – a popular alternative cycle and motorbike route for the picturesque North Coast 500 – we are convenient to many events and things to do in East Sutherland. The beauty of our area is nicely highlighted in videos such as this one by Host – Heart of Sutherland Tourism.  And if you’re traveling by train, the local station is less than a mile away, and there’s local taxi service. You can also read about the area at Undiscovered Scotland.

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Our “Simple but Sweet” campsite, 2018

Visiting the Hirsel for an afternoon?

We ask that you make appointments to visit, so we know you’re on the farm. If we’re not in the middle of lambing or harvest, we’re available to show you around, but if we’re busy, you’re also welcome (with an appointment!) to explore the farm on your own, so long as you take necessary precautions, and remember at all times that this is a working farm, with all the rough edges that implies.

Please walk carefully – The Hirsel is a hill farm, and the roads/paths reflect that fact, so you must wear appropriate walking shoes. Be prepared for mud! Please leave gates as you find them (open or closed), and don’t force attentions on any of the animals who are feeling shy. Please do NOT visit the male sheep without one of us in attendance, as they can become quite aggressive, especially if they think you have food. You can:

  • Climb the gentle slope of Cnoc na Cuaiche (hill of the drinking cup), from where you can see the entire glen, the Eastern End of the Kyle of Sutherland with Carbisdale Castle nestled in the distant hills, the Western End of the Dornoch Firth, and the hill of Dun Creich, an ancient Pictish fort. The mound of Cnoc na Cuaiche hides a mysterious ancient structure – is it a twin to Dun Creich, a burial mound, or something else? Let your imagination be inspired by the vistas before you.
  • Follow the sheep trails through the ancient woodlands, where the drovers passed for many centuries. See if you can identify the old drover road passing through our northernmost meadow and the woodlands.
  • Meet Agnes and the rest of the Hebridean ewes and lambs in the fields and meadows. If you are calm and quiet, they may come to you. And if you are with us, and we have sheep treats with us (please don’t feed them anything else), they certainly will! We ask that you not enter the males’ grazing areas without us, as they can be much more aggressive than the ewes – safety first!
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Hirsel Agnes as a lamb. Now a grown ewe, she had her first lambs, twin boys, in 2018, sired by Cairnmorrie Aidan.

In the ‘hood:

  • You can find breakfast, lunch, and groceries at the Ardgay Cafe, a short walk from the train station, a 1 kilometer drive or a pleasant hike from the farm. This classic country shop also boasts some fabulous local products and Scottish whiskies. We recommend their lattes! You can eat there, or take-away.
  • The award winning Crannag Bistro, located in Bonar Bridge, is just across the water from us.  It’s a comfortable, welcoming restaurant, with a slightly upscale feel, which also does themed take-aways on Friday and Saturday nights. There is also a butcher and grocery in Bonar Bridge, where you can stock up on picnic supplies for your visit to the Hirsel, or for your onward journey.
  • The local post office in Bonar Bridge is also a cycle shop, where you can hire a bicycle to explore the area.
  • Follow the road past our farm, and hike into the common grazing area, where you’ll see the abandoned crofts of a once thriving community.
  • Go Wild Highlands offers open canoe trips down the Kyle of Sutherland.
  • Try your hand at clay target shooting or deer stalking at the Highland Shooting Centre.
  • We’re a short drive from the Falls of Shin, the historic Croick church, and many other must-see stops on your Highland adventure. Check out Host’s ‘things to do’ page.

Sorry, no dogs allowed!  We are sorry, but due to the sheep and our own dog, we cannot allow your dogs on the farm. If you are traveling with a dog, please be sure it will be comfortable waiting in your vehicle while you’re here.

Cost & Schedule

There is no set ticket price for visiting the Hirsel at this time – there’s a donation bucket, and you’re welcome to contribute what you like to the support of our animals and projects. If you would like tea and refreshments during your visit, we can arrange something at cost with advance notice. Currently, we can not take visitors at the height of lambing season (usually the month of April), or on harvest days (late summer, dates tba).

Location

Our postcode is IV24 3DJ. We are on the left fork of Kincardine Hill road, on the edge of Ardgay. If you key our postcode into your satnav, you’ll see a few choices – choose The Hirsel, and you’ll be lead to our front / south gate. You’ll see our sign on the gate post. Please do not try to enter via the gate off the A836, as that way is not suitable for vehicles. We are also easy to find via Google and Bing maps.

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Camping/Staying at the Hirsel…on hold

There’s good news at the Hirsel, which has had unexpected repercussions for our camping/hut plans: our application for an Agri-Environmental Climate Scheme (AECS) grant has been approved – yay! – you can read more about that on our blog page…  But in the meantime, in regards to our campsite plans…

Many of the tasks required of the grant – especially fencing certain areas so we can comply with grazing requirements – have a deadline which has forced us to move them forward on the calendar, landing the fencing work squarely during the same time we were going to build our new hut and set up our family tent. And all of that was already overlapping with lambing! Something has to give, if we’re to meet our deadlines (there’s only two of us, after all!) …so the sites we hoped to have ready by the end of lambing, when lambs and mums would be in the nearby fields for you to enjoy, will have to be put off until the summer months, when things are quieter. Don’t worry: the sheep wills still be here, just in another field, and a little more grown up.

We still plan to have the 1st stage of our expansion plans up and running by the autumn, and as the hut will be heated, we hope to be able to host guests into the cooler months. But for now, we have to call a pause on overnight stays. Check back with us in early summer, if you’re planning an autumn trip to the Highlands.

Handy links for planning your trip:

https://www.heartofsutherland.co.uk/

http://www.northcoast500.com/

https://www.visitscotland.com/

https://www.scotrail.co.uk/scotland-by-rail/great-scenic-rail-journeys

http://scotlandwelcomesyou.com/scottish-highland-games/

https://sutherlandshow.com/