Discover Sutherland - Your Local Guide

Strathnaver is the wide, fertile valley through which the River Naver flows north from Loch Naver to the sea at Torrisdale Bay. To the modern visitor it may appear to be a quiet, sparsely populated landscape, but it has a long, rich and varied history. There is evidence of man's activities from almost every period of history - so much so that a special Tourist Trail has been created to guide visitors to many of the historic sites that lie between Altnaharra in the south and Bettyhill in the north. (See map)

The oldest of these sites date back to the Neolithic period, some 6000 years ago and the remains of chambered cairns - ancient tombs - can be seen at Grumbeg, Skail and Coille na Borgie. There are also Bronze Age hut circles and stone circles dating from 4000 years ago at Rosal & Truderscaig and Iron Age brochs from 2000 years ago at Grummore and Achcoillenaborgie.

The coming of Christianity to Scotland from Ireland is evidenced by the ancient burial ground and remains of a pre-reformation chapel at Skail. This is also the location of the Red Priest's stone, said to mark the grave of Saint Maelrubha, the founder of the Abbey of Applecross who died in 722AD. By the ninth century the Vikings had conquered the area and Strathnaver was ruled by the Norse Earls of Orkney. However, by the late 12th century the Scots defeated the Norse in a battle at Dalharrold to regain control of the land. After this, Strathnaver came to be dominated by the Clan Mackay and more than 50 small farming townships grew up along the length of the Strath.

It was in the early nineteenth century that the most infamous events in Strathnaver's history took place - the Clearances. Strathnaver was part of the estate of the Countess of Sutherland and her husband the Marquis of Stafford. They had decided to "improve" their lands by turning them over to profitable sheep farming and were intent on moving their tenants to new villages built on the coast.

From 1814, the evicitions were undertaken by the Sutherland Estate factor, Patrick Sellar. He was ruthless in his actions, destroying homes and burning crops to force people from their land. His actions were so extreme that in April 1816 Sellar stood trial in Inverness on a variety of charges including fire raising and culpable homicide. However, he was acquitted and returned to Strathnaver where he had leased a large area of the land to farm sheep.

There are the remains of many abandoned townships throughout the Strath, the best known of these being Rosal. This is mainly thanks to Donald Macleod, a native of that township, who witnessed the clearances and wrote passionately about them. He is remembered in a memorial close to the site of the settlement.

Another notable memorial in Strathnaver is the monument to one of the most famous regiments in the British army, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders. The regiment first enlisted at Syre in Strathnaver in September 1800. These men went on to serve their country with distinction throughout the British Empire. The 93rd famously became known as the "Thin Red Line" after their actions during the Crimean War of 1854. However, by this time there were very few Strathnaver men among the ranks. Dismayed by what had happened during the clearances many in the Strath declared that their lords and masters "having preferred sheep to men" should "let sheep defend them".

Strathnaver, with its beautiful landscapes and haunting historical sites is well worth a visit as it encapsulates the history of much of Sutherland in its tourist trail.

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