Lest We Forget –

By Bernie Bell

I like Susan Calman – she comes across as funny, good–natured, clever.  But…………..we watched the first episode of her series ‘Secret Scotland’, and when she visited Done-robbing Castle in Sutherland, she gushed “Fairy-tale” etc etc, “lovely gardens” etc. etc.

No mention of the fact that this place was built on the backs of the people. There was a brief mention that there had been “controversy” about the clearances, when people were evicted to make way for “the more profitable sheep.”  There wasn’t a controversy – controversy indicates some kind of argument – there was no argument. Very rich people, threw their tenants, out of their houses, and off their land. The word ‘evicted’ has a different meaning in that situation – if someone is evicted now, they can apply to their local Council for emergency accommodation.  Back then, in that situation, eviction meant being thrown out, sometimes with the roof being burnt over you, and you…….started walking.

Before we leave the area of Done-robbing, I’ll also mention Sutherland’s despoiling of the nearby broch Carn Liath, ransacked for bits and pieces to show in his ‘castle’ – no proper records kept.

I was surprised at Susan – as a Scot – presenting Done-robbing and That Man Sutherland in this way.

I’m not a Scot, and it makes my blood boil. I am Irish though, and have much empathy with what happened in Scotland.

So, then, having been thrown off the land, what did a lot of people do?  What option did they have?  They walked.  Some died as they walked, some got to the coast and started to attempt to scrape a living from fishing.

Which is where I come to the next bit of this programme which set me off – Susan went to Whaligoe in Caithness, where the herring girls, whether pregnant, old – whatever their state – climbed up and down 365 steps with baskets of ‘silver darlings’ on their backs. I bet they called them something else, sometimes!

But, they will have valued them, as a way to make a living.  However hard, it was a living for their families – or they would have starved.

A Captain David Brodie paid for the steps to be cut, as he saw the possibility of profitable fishing from the natural, though inaccessible,  harbour.  Hard work for those who had to work it, though.

For many people when they were cleared from the land and walked to the coast, they would find that, of course, the good places to fish from had already been claimed, often by generations of the same family. The only places left to try to fish from, were the difficult or inaccessible places that no-one had been prepared to try to work from, before. These places were now worked, from necessity.  Another knock-on effect of the clearances.


Image by Kenny Armet

I suspect that this series is a “Come to Scotland for your holidays’ promotion – and that’s A GOOD THING!  Tourism matters.  But – I do wish that when they do these programmes, they would tell the real tale – show the beauty, and – if you like that sorta thing – present Done-robbing Castle as a place to visit. But – please, tell the real tale, too, not just the chocolate box, or should I say shortbread tin, version.

Susan Calman? I still like her – how could a person not? She’s such a cheery, un-affected, lively soul, but – as a Scot, I do wish she’d put her foot down about telling some Scottish history as it happened, not as what sells best.

On a lighter note, Susan Calman said she loves Puffins, and I thought – she would – she is one!  And I mean that as a compliment!  I hear her saying she loves Puffins, I look at Susan, I look at a Puffin, and…………….

Marwick puffins Bell 2

She should come to Orkney, to the cliffs at Northside – Birsay, to Marwick Head  https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/06/24/the-birds-of-marwick-head/ , to Noup Head – Westray – they’re right there – wee Susans – comical, endearing, and a bit feisty.

The episode finished with Susan visiting Smoo Cave in Durness – ‘bin there!  In fact, so good, we went there twice!!!



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