In a layby on the A9, a few miles south of Helmsdale in Sutherland, is a memorial stone erected in 1924 by the Duke of Portland (see the photograph at the bottom of this page). The inscription reads:
William Scrope's The Art of Deerstalking was first published in 1838, and ran to a number of editions. It was influential in popularising the Highlands as a place where the Victorian gentleman could disport himself in pursuit of the stag. As well as cataloguing the northern deer forests, describing the excitements and travails of "the hill", drawing portraits of comic ghillies, and examining breeds of hunting dog, Scrope gives accounts of local legends attached to specific places. His tale of the last wolf to be killed in this part of the Highlands is still told among the folk in and around Helmsdale, and some claim direct descent from the hunter Polson. Interestingly, there are similar legends in other parts of the Highlands, and as far away as Sweden, specifically including the detail of the wolf being held by the tail. Here is Scrope's version of the story:
A man named Polson, of Wester Helmsdale, accompanied by two lads, one of them his son and the other an active herdboy, tracked a wolf to a rocky mountain gully which forms the channel of the burn of Sledale in Glen Loth. Here he discovered a narrow fissure in the midst of large fragments of rock, which apparently led to a larger opening or cavern below, which the wolf might use as his den. The two lads contrived to squeeze themselves through the fissure to examine the interior, whilst Polson kept guard on the outside. The boys descended through the narrow passage into a small cavern, which was evidently a Wolf's den, for the ground was covered with bones and horns of animals, feathers, and eggshells, and the dark space was somewhat enlivened by five or six active Wolf cubs. Polson desired them to destroy these; and soon after he heard their feeble howling. Almost at the same time, to his great horror, he saw approaching him a full-grown Wolf, evidently the dam, raging furiously at the cries of her young. As she attempted to leap down, at one bound Polson instinctively threw himself forward and succeeded in catching a firm hold of the animal's long and bushy tail, just as the fore-part of her body was within the narrow entrance of the cavern. He had unluckily placed his gun against a rock when aiding the boys in their descent, and could not now reach it. Without appraising the lads below of their imminent peril, the stout hunter kept a firm grip of the Wolf's tail, which he wound round his left arm, and although the maddened brute scrambled and twisted and strove with all her might to force herself down to the rescue of her cubs, Polson was just able, with the exertion of all his strength to keep her from going forward. In the midst of this singular struggle, which passed in silence, his son within the cave, finding the light excluded from above, asked in Gaelic, "Father, what is keeping the light from us?" "If the root of the tail breaks," replied he, "you will soon know that." Before long, however, the man contrived to get hold of his hunting-knife, and stabbed the Wolf in the most vital parts he could reach. The enraged animal now attempted to turn and face her foe, but the hole was too narrow to allow of this; and when Polson saw his danger he squeezed her forward, keeping her jammed in whilst he repeated his stabs as rapidly as he could, until the animal being mortally wounded, was easily dragged back and finished.
These were the last Wolves killed in Sutherland, and the den was between Craig-Rhadich and Craig-Voakie, by the narrow Glen of Loth, a place replete with objects connected with traditionary legends.