Durness Clearance Village

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Durness, Scotland

Durness Clearance Village Reviews

sarahelaine sarahela…
651 reviews
Durness Clearance Village Jul 16, 2013
Another interesting clearance village is just outside Durness. A free information trail around the ruined village tells the story of the Durness riots, a doomed attempt to keep people on their land, and also about the sort of farming techniques that people used in the area before the clearances. It is particularly interesting as it gives you some hints about spotting other ruined villages in the north of Scotland. For example, bracken can only grow on well-drained soil. Most soil in Scotland’s mountains is not well drained naturally, so patches of bracken often mark ancient fields. The characteristic fine stripes along the side of Scottish hills are often ancient (and sometimes Neolithic) terracing for vegetables, and deeper stripes are often old rigs (rigs were a way of building up poor soil into trenches and mounds to help plants grow in sodden, nutrient poor soil).

The Highland Clearances were one of the most shameful episodes in recent British history, where landlords evicted entire towns, often on extremely short notice. The local population were often settled there for centuries, and although they knew they were tenants, in most cases believed that it was their land by right. Anyone who resisted had their houses burned down, which often led to the loss of entire villages’ possessions, spare food and savings. There are no accurate records of how many people died or were displaced, not least as there are no records of how many died later from exposure or starvation, or typhus in the emigrant ships. The population of the Highlands is nowhere near as high now as it was before the clearances, and the bitterness it caused has political repercussions to this day.

The information signs are spread around the village and are very interesting, particularly as Durness was one of the few communities to successfully fight off the bailiffs for long enough to get the harvest home and sold on, so that they had money to emigrate or settle in other towns. The newspaper accounts of the clearance riots there were also instrumental in changing public opinion in the south, which had been in favour of the landlords, to take a more sympathetic view of the Highlanders. The site in Durness is also very beautiful in its own right, in a headland jutting into the North Atlantic. There are some interesting flowers here and if you bring your binoculars you can see some islands dotted with birdlife.

Access to the Clearance village is free. It would be best accessed by car or bicycle, although it is walkable from the village. You can park next to the passing place. Do not park in the passing place itself – some southern tourists do, but it blocks single track roads and makes it impossible for cars to pass each other.
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