A Walk on the Isle of Skye: Tragedy, Scenery, Legends, Sheep, and the Highland Clearances

I walked to Boreraig in late August 2017. Boreraig was a Highland crofting village until its inhabitants were forcibly evicted in 1854. The walk provides an opportunity to enjoy the Isle of Skye’s unique scenery, as well as to reflect on the Highland Clearances, and the continuing widespread involuntary displacement of people around the world.

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The walk commences at the ruin of Cill Chriosd (Christ’s Church in Gaelic) once the main parish church on Skye. Here, the church ruins and graveyard at the left stand below Skye’s imposing Cuillan mountains, with the ruined wall of the Suardal marble cutting and polishing works in the foreground.

Next, it’s a lengthy and steady climb.

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It’s a long way to fall from the crest of the hill before the descent into Boreraig.

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Walking or mountain biking are the only options to reach Boreraig by land. I saw only one other couple on my walk. An old stone fence from the village can be seen beyond the cyclists.

About 120 people lived in Borereig’s 22 houses before their forced eviction. Once a beautiful setting for a village, now it’s sombre, eerie and forlorn.

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Stone fences snaking into the distance, and piles of overgrown rocks where houses once stood, are a lonely reminder that a community once existed here.

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The return walk offers more of Skye’s ever-changing light and views.

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On the right above is Beinn na Caillich, one of the Red Cuillan. Local legend claims that the grave of a Norwegian princess from the Viking era is located on the summit where she was laid to rest so that she could forever face the land of her birth and feel its winds.

If you stay on Skye for a while, it’s easy to believe in legends.

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In many cases, sheep replaced people in the Highland Clearances as they offered more money to the landowners.

I’ve written more about Skye here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nomadicpaths.wordpress.com/5477

Walk details

  • Distance: a return walk of 10.2 km from Cill Chriosd on the Broadford to Elgol road. A longer walk includes visiting another Clearance village – Suisinish.
  • Terrain: a steady climb on well defined paths and tracks that are sometimes boggy, and often uneven, followed by a gentle descent into Boreraig. An early part of the walk follows the old ‘Marble Line’, the rail line that was used to move marble down to the Broadford jetty in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The marble is claimed to be better than Italy’s famous marble from Carrara.
  • Total Ascent: 353m (1158ft)
  • Rating: Superb

http://www.go4awalk.com/walks/walk-search/walk.php?walk=h149

The Clearances

The Highland Clearances were a disaster for Scottish Gaelic culture. Like all major historical events, they are complex. The Laird of Boreraig, Lord McDonald of Skye, claimed that the crofters of Boreraig had to move “because they (the people) were too far from Church.” This was not the real reason for their eviction. Lord McDonald was close to bankruptcy at the time. In an attempt to reverse the debts, the administrators of the McDonald estate cleared Boreraig¬† and other villages and replaced the people with sheep, because sheep provided bigger profits.

More reading

This site has a brief history of Skye:

http://www.scottishaccommodationindex.com/isleofskyepics.htm

http://www.electricscotland.com/history/clearances/29.htm

http://www.blaven.com/sevenmiles.aspx

http://www.scotsman.com/sport/boreraig-and-suisnish-1-1393025

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boreraig

https://canmore.org.uk/site/11562/skye-boreraig

 

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