The little village of Embo (Scottish Gaelic: Earabol) lies about 2 miles NNE of Dornoch on the road to Loch Fleet. There has been a settlement at this location since at least the Bronze Age – Bronze Age remains were excavated to the south of the village in 1956, other burials having previously been discovered in the area. A fine example of a burial cairn can be seen in the centre of the village at the entrance to Grannie’s Heilan Hame caravan park.
The name Embo was first recorded around 1400 and the first cottage is believed to have been built in Back Street nearly two centuries later. Early settlers were predominantly called Mackay, Ross, Fraser, Cumming and Grant.
At the time of the First World War, Embo consisted of just five short steets but had a population of around 700 living in Back Street, King Street, Gate Street, Terrace Street and Front Street. Nowadays there are double the number of streets but a greatly reduced population.
Formerly a fishing village, the lanes and rows of little cottages run in parallel down to the long, clean, sandy beach, the cottages facing south over the Dornoch Firth. The village is magnificently situated in the shadow of Ben Bhraggie with nice views of DunrobinCastle to the north and Portmahomack and Ross-shire to the south.
Nancy Dorian’s research of the local East Sutherland Gaelic dialect showed that in 1964, over 100 of the village’s total population of fewer than 300 still actively spoke Gaelic, and that many more had a “smattering” or were perfect passive bilinguals. This percentage even briefly increased during the 1970s with “returners” to the village. Until the end of the 1970s at least, Embo was a bilingual Gaelic and English speaking community. Brora and Golspie had much smaller percentages of Gaelic speakers at that time. As with the entire region of East Sutherland, the end of the 19th century and the collapse of the fishing industry coincided with the decline of Gaelic as the majority language of the people.
On 16 July 1988, Embo attracted nationwide attention when it declared itself independent from the rest of the United Kingdom for one day. Costoms posts were erected by Royal Assent and visas could be bought. This was done to raise funds to convert the unused primary school in the village into a community centre. On “Independence Day”, Mr Donald Ward was made Prime Minister for the day and the national anthem, ‘Embos Golden Shore’” was performed by the group ‘North Sea Gas’. The village issued its own currency, called the Cuddie. The rate of exchange was 2 cuddies to the pound. Cuddies were accepted in the local public house – Grannies Heilan’ Hame, in exchange for a measure of Clynelish Malt Whisky. The owners of the distillery, in nearby Brora, sponsored the bid for independence by issuing a commemorative label on 50 cases of Clynelish Malt Whisky – “The Spirit of Free Embo”.
That was when it was decided that Embo should be informally “twinned” with Kaunakakai on the island of Molokai in Hawaii.
In many of our photographs of Embo beach, you’ll see there is an anchor embedded in the sand and every year our kids try to dig to the base of it. Every year they are foiled, because no sooner do they dig around it than the tide turns and sand is washed back into the hole. The anchor probably came from the Prussian barque Vesta which was wrecked in 1876. It came ashore 300 yards north of the village and Embo fishermen rescued all 11 crew.
Embo beach changes dramatically from one year to the next, depending on the extent of winter storms, and the first thing we all do on arrival at our caravans is rush to the fence to look out over the beach to assess what we have this year, Sometimes, there are a profusion of rock pools and the children hunt for crabs and starfish, prawns and baby fish. Other years, the sand is deep and soft, with hardly a rock in sight. No matter what, it’s always wonderful. All that changes along with it is the type of fun we’ll have.
The waves are often great for messing about in and sometimes perfect for learning to surf.
Time for playing ………… and time for pondering
There are also woodland walks and, one of our favourites, Ravens Rock Gorge, not too far away.
Where those who feel adventurous can wade up through the river or jump into the rock pools from its banks.
Round the rocky peninsula where Porthmahomack Lighthouse stands is another of our favourite walks. I believe it’s possible to rent the lighthouse accommodation for a week or two,
though we’ve never done that, mostly because there are usually so many of us in our party.
For bird lovers, one of our party, our friend, Fred, the one with the tripod in an earlier beach photo, photographed Linnet, Ringed Plover, Sandmartin, Shag, Whimbrel and Wigeon
and my favourite, an Eider duck
Dornoch, with its world-famous golf courses, is an easy stroll along the beach from Embo
while a walk in the other direction leads to the impressive Loch Fleet nature reserve with its resident seals and wide variety of birds and wildlife.
We’ve often seen a school of dolphin, as they frolic in the sea at Embo and so many spectacular sunsets.