This itinerary focuses on the clan's intimate connections with the far north of Scotland and the islands that lie beyond its rugged coastline. Partly due to its geographical isolation and to its links with successive generations of invading Norsemen, Orkney has retained its own distinctive identity.
Head up to Caithness in the north. Travel across the Black Isle, cross over the Cromarty Firth and follow the road up the coast towards Golspie. Just north of Golspie is Dunrobin Castle, the principal seat of the Sutherland chiefs. It was first built by Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland in the late 14th century. It was the 2nd Duke who, in the 19th century, transformed the typical Scottish castle into the beautiful French style palace you can visit today. There are also beautiful formal gardens with falconry displays and a museum of souvenirs brought back from hunting trips around the world. The Sutherland Earls both feuded with Clan Gunn and offered them protection at different times in their long history as neighbours and powerful rivals.
Continue along the coastal road to Helmsdale, which was originally a Viking settlement but was greatly extended as a planned village to accommodate some of the people cleared from their crofts by the Duke of Sutherland in the 1800s. The Timespan Heritage Centre retells the story of the clearances and other historical events which took place in the area, including the 1869 gold rush. Enjoy a break in the peaceful riverside gardens and café.
Helmsdale sits at the end of the Strath valley of Kildonan along which you will find Kildonan and Kinbrace where Gunn clansmen lived from the 15th century up to the Clearances in 1819. Down the river from the church at Kildonan was Killearnan the seat of the McHamish Gunns, until it was destroyed by fire in 1690. Nothing remains of the original house.
The first chief of Clan Gunn to appear in records was George Gunn the Coroner or Crowner of Caithness in the 15th century. He was known as "Am Braisdeach Mor", the "great brooch-wearer" because of the insignia he wore as coroner. Kinbrace is said to have been named after this brooch. Retrace your steps back to Helmsdale and just to the north along the coast is Navidale which was held by several generations of the McHamish Gunn chiefs.