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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

Advertisements

Postcards from Skye : Homage to Skye

Returning to the Isle of Skye after 17 years has proved that memories of sublime scenery and a sense of connection are sometimes just feeble recollections.

Everything on Skye is in constant change; weather, light, temperature, hills, cliffs, burns, lochs and lochans, tides …

Except for the continuity of the white houses. Everywhere in their crofts, villages and isolation, they remain constant and beautiful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Sleat Peninsula

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A view of the Cuillans, Skye’s main mountain range, from the Sleat Peninsula.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

According to legend, warrior queen Sgathaich lived in Dun Scaith Castle, now ruined, and taught Chu Chulainn, an Irish folk hero from the 9th Century, the martial arts of war when he first arrived in Skye from Ireland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Portree, Skye’s main village

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My great-great grandparents and their children, including their 4 year old daughter, my great-grandmother, left Skye in 1837 as part of the exodus of Scottish Highlanders displaced from their lands by the Clearances, when sheep took priority over people.

In a world history of bad landlords, many Scottish landowners from the 19th Century deserve a major prize for being near the bottom of the cesspool of the worst.

In and around the village of Breakish (Breacais Àrd – Upper Breakish, Breacais Ìosal – Lower Breakish) are Neolithic finds from 3000BC, and a Holy Well from the 7th Century attributed to MaolRubha, who brought Christianity from Ireland to the Druid Picts of the Western Highlands and Islands. That era was followed by 400 years of rule by the Vikings, whose relics and shipbuilding sites have been found nearby.

One of my favourite Scottish bands – Capercaillie – sings about Scotland, its history and hope.

 

Karen Mathieson’s gorgeous vocals soar in Gaelic here: