Strathnaver Heritage Trail
Strathnaver Heritage Trail Bettyhill Reviews
Strathnaver heritage trail Jul 16, 2013
The Strathnaver historical trail is a marked selection of historical sites along the banks of the river Naver in the far north of Scotland. These range in age from ancient horned cairns to villages depopulated in the early 19th century as part of the Clearances, one of the most shameful episodes in British history.
Gaelic distinguishes between two separate kinds of valley – deep, U shaped glens and the wider, more fertile straths. Strathnaver was extremely fertile, and the river is still a famous fishing river, supplementing the diet from ancient times. This means that it was heavily populated for most of human history. Cairns and standing stones can be 3-5000 years old, and hard to spot. The sense of loneliness and isolation in the strath today dates from the 19th century, when landlords discovered they could make more money from sheep than tenant farmers and evicted the local population. Whole families were given less than a week’s notice, in some cases, that they would be removed – if they resisted then their houses and everything they owned, including crops, would be burned. It’s hard to imagine the impact of this in times when the nearest towns could be several days walk away. Violent resistance was common, but at best it bought time to get things packed up and try to scrape together the savings (in a subsistence economy) to get a place on one of the overcrowded, diseased ships to Canada or the USA. There are no clear estimates of how many people died or were displaced. Initially, the press was very much in favour of the landlords’ “improvements”, viewing the tenants in the Highlands as lawless and ignorant and backing progress. The sheer violence of the Clearances and brave accounts by the few literate victims started to change public opinion, but by then it was too late. Some people were rented patches of poor quality land by the coast to farm, and encouraged to work at very low wages for their landlords’ fishing fleets or other industry, and others were simply evicted. The poor quality strips of lands are crofts – which many people assume is an ancient form of land use but is actually very modern in the way of things.
This is the story that is told by the information signs along the trail. There are signs outside cleared villages explaining people’s lives (which were by no means idyllic to begin with), what thiey ate and how they farmed, and how they were evicted. Most striking is the large village above a forestry commission holding, where the outlines of cattle pens, turf hut houses and ancient cairns, and grain drying kilns, have all survived. The descendants of the sheep that were responsible for the economics of clearance are wandering around the ruins serenely grazing.
The signs are interesting and well researched, with good balances of information and illustration, and tell the story in a way that can appeal to adults and to older children. They go into some of the roots causes of the clearance and I think the trail is very well done.
The trail is free and all the information signs are open to the elements. It’s quite long- perfectly do-able by car or bike from Syre but probably too far to realistically walk. Purple road markers dot the route and are visible from the road, so you don’t need a map. Most of the sites are on the sides of the valley and are too steep to do if you need a wheelchair or for a child in a buggy, but nothing too mountainous.
Part of the A week in Scotland travel blog
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