THE CLEARANCES are a source of much interest and debate, provoking strong emotions even 200 years after they occurred. What seems to be without doubt is that tens of thousands of people left the straths and glens to make way for sheep. Many who left their crofts emigrated, but those who stayed often had to put up with immense hardship as they eked out an existence on poor land.
One settlement where the aftermath of the Clearances can be seen is Badbeam, in Caithness, where two waves of evicted locals ended up – in 1793 and then in 1802. When they arrived, the inhospitable moorland was bare and they had to build their own houses from scratch in the teeth of fierce North Sea winds. Many were from nearby Ousdale, where landowner Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster wanted to introduce sheep. Others came from Kildonan and Auchencraig, not far by today's standards but a world apart from the windswept clifftop of Badbea.
Such was the ferocity of the weather and precariousness of the location, it is reported that children and cattle were tethered to stop them being blown off the cliffs to their deaths. Despite this, the village was occupied for more than 100 years, and its remains can still be seen today. In addition, there is a monument built to the people of Badbea and especially John Sutherland – known as John Badbea, who died in his house in 1864, having lived most of his 76 years in the village. He has been credited with doing much to help the survival of the villagers in his role as a preacher, doctor and all-round leader. David Sutherland, a descendent of the villagers, was born in New Zealand but returned to Caithness and had the monument built at the start of the 20th century.
This walk takes you to the village, over moorland and, as well as giving a good insight into the hardships suffered (through information boards), offers wonderful views along the coast and down to the Moray Firth. (The oilrigs you might see on a clear day are part of the Beatrice Field, the closest to the Scottish mainland.)
Take great care, as the drops from the village to the sea are severe and fatal. Wear boots as it is rough underfoot and can be boggy.
DISTANCE 1 miles
HEIGHT CLIMBED 400ft TIME 1 to 1 hours MAP OS Landranger 17
PARKING There is a car park on the east side of the A9, nine miles south of Dunbeath.
Leave the car park on a path that crosses moorland and then descends to a large monument to the people of Badbea. From the monument, go right to an information board and then drop down a few yards before almost doubling back, following some sheep tracks that run parallel with the coastline. After a short while you will pick up an obvious grass path through the ruins of the Clearance houses.
About 20 yards before a stone wall, go left uphill, on a narrow path through heather and some gorse, to a gap in the wall. Go through this and pick up a track bearing left. After about 50 yards, the track swings inland and heads over the moorland and back to the car park.
The Bay Owl, formerly the Inver Arms, at the side of the A9 above Dunbeath harbour, has been given a makeover. The steaks are brilliant and it also serves fresh, local seafood.
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA
There is an exhibition at Dunbeath Heritage Centre (01593 731233, www.dunbeath-heritage.org.uk) concentrating on the author Neil Gunn and his book set along Dunbeath Strath, Highland River. Turn off the A9 before you cross a large bridge above the harbour and find the centre near the Post Office and Fire Station. To the south, at Helmsdale, you might find gold if you hire some panning equipment at Strath Ullie Crafts, by the harbour. Head up the A897 to Kildonan and try your hand – there was a gold rush here at the beginning of the 19th century.