It was a fair weather morning the last time we left Orkney to drive South to meet up with my parents for our latest staycation. This time in Kirkton Of Glenisla. We had deliberately taken the early morning ferry from St Margarets Hope to Gills Bay, with the intention of stopping off a couple of times as we had Bandit (our Border Collie) with us; the first of which being at Badbea Highland Clearance Village, just North of Helmsdale. As we motored South toward Badbea, we were met with the usual four seasons in one morning Scottish weather scenario, and by the time we reached Badbea dreich can be the only description usable. We stopped anyway as we were in no hurry and thought we would wait it out for a half hour or so and as the fates would have it, the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Badbea a walk through history:
Leaving the car with stout footwear and waterproofs on we set off through an eerily rising mist to discover this place; so often sped passed, on routes both North and South, stopping as we went at an information board to read a little of that which we were about to see.
We continued through the gate in happy mood with Bandit prancing around, exploring the gorse and pulling me along slip sliding all the way. The views were glorious, around every twist and turn a new breathtaking vista met our gaze, wow was the most oft used word, and here my narrative chokes……..
As we traversed the last decline we were met with a monument on which each of the names of the Badbea families were inscribed and in what can only be looked upon as a symbol of what we were about to see, many of the names, like the people were missing…….
The people who ultimately inhabited Badbea had been forced from their homes on fertile land and left to fend for themselves upon the clifftop after their “lords and Masters” deemed that sheep were more valuable than humans. Forced to start from scratch these hardy people built dwellings for themselves and any livestock from raw materials scavenged from where they lay or were dug, it was a bleak existence, but an existence nonetheless.
The hauntings of this village are everywhere, a village which, although inhabited from 1793, became a village swollen in numbers when a reported twelve families, around 80 souls were forced there by Sir John Sinclair in 1802. Families who scratched out a living; managing somehow to grow a few crops in what can only be described as the most inhospitable and dangerous of conditions for over 100 hundred years; kept outwith a wall, a wall designed to keep the landlords sheep safe, safe from straying over the cliff, a safety not afforded the Highlanders or their families and livestock both of which, children and animals alike were often tethered to prevent them being blown over the edge.
The last of the Highlanders left in 1911 leaving behind buildings which by the time I was walking in and around had been reduced to a dilapidated state. The only life left being that of the gorse sprouting from rooftops and out of the chimney’s the sheep, who unlike the people still roam.
I can’t adequately describe the emotions I felt whilst here, the love and immense pride I have in my Country were left ravaged by great feelings of isolation and abandonment, of lives forgotten, of history not told, of horror.
This is only one clearance village in the Highlands but it is certainly a village I would encourage people to take the time to stop and visit on their routes either North or South. Stop, sit down amongst the gorse and listen; listen to the hauntings of a people of great pride, forgotten, isolated, abandoned a people left to live life on the edge and perhaps you too shall hear a lament, a lament so chillingly clear it left me with feelings of great hope, hope for a Country, hope for a future where never again shall we allow people to be treated thus, surely?
Our ancestors are with us, wherever we are, whatever we do and we owe it to them to teach and learn our history, the history of this Country; Scotland.
Oh, Helen. Yes, indeed. We wonder how they managed to make a living, but the answer is – you make a living with what you have, even if what you have is next to nothing.
We’ve just been to the Western isles, and the clearances resonate there, strongly, even today. Especially in ‘MacKay country’. We met a family there, from California, who hadn’t been aware of the clearances – though, being called MacKay, and coming from America, it is quite likely that Heidi’s ancestor ended up there, due to the clearances! Heidi asked “How come this guy (Sutherland) had all that power, to throw people off their land?” A good question.
But we survive – humans survive – the indomitable human spirit.
A well written piece, Helen. You use the word ‘haunting’, and your piece is that, too – brings the feeling of that place, and your feelings when there, very much to life.
That statue at Helmsdale, is passed by all too quickly by folk on the road. We once parked nearby and walked Ben in the little park there. Happier times there, now – a park for people and their dogs.
I’m rambling – your piece gets a person thinking, Helen, and when I think, I tend to ramble.
Thank you Bernie, I found it quite difficult to express how I felt so I am so pleased to know that you picked up on how I felt. It is a beautiful place and full of information boards too. Apart from the first one, which after all was before we were actually there, I chose to not use them in my photo’s even though Ken photographed them all as there was something about them………scripted…yes scripted, great for information but not a good way to feel the spirit of the place. You needed to not just read the story, you needed to take your time, take stock and feel it. Does that make sesnse, I hope so, anyways, I shall return to it often in the years ahead, too beautiful and haunting to fleetingly zoom past. Hx