Thurso to MacDuff, we thought!
But first I need to make a comment on the history of the Orkneys. The Orkney Islands is an archipelago in northern Scotland, comprising approximately 70 islands of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island is known as the "Mainland". They fly their own flag closely related to the design of the Norwegian flag but red and yellow in colour.
The name "Orkney" dates back to the 1st century BC or earlier and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. Originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts, Orkney was invaded and forcibly annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. It was subsequently annexed to the Scottish Crown in 1472, following the failed payment of a dowry for James III's bride, Margaret of Denmark.
A charred hazelnut shell, recovered in 2007 during excavations in Tankerness on the Mainland has been dated to 6820-6660 BC indicating the presence of Mesolithic nomadic tribes. The earliest known permanent settlement is at Knap of Howar, a Neolithic farmstead on the island of Papa Westray, which dates from 3500 BC.
During the Roman invasion of Britain the "King of Orkney" was one of 11 British leaders who is said to have submitted to the Emperor Claudius in AD 43 at Colchester. After the Agricolan fleet had come and gone, possibly anchoring at Shapinsay, direct Roman influence seems to have been limited to trade rather than conquest.
By the late Iron Age, Orkney was part of the Pictish kingdom, and although the archaeological remains from this period are less impressive there is every reason to suppose the fertile soils and rich seas of Orkney provided the Picts with a comfortable living. However, before the Gaelic presence could establish itself the Picts were gradually dispossessed by the Norsemen from the late 8th century onwards. The nature of this transition is controversial, and theories range from peaceful integration to enslavement and genocide.
Both Orkney and Shetland saw a significant influx of Norwegian settlers during the late 8th and early 9th centuries.
The martyrdom of Magnus Erlendsson, who was killed in April 1116 by his cousin Haakon Paulsson, resulted in the building of St. Magnus Cathedral, still today a dominating feature of Kirkwall.
In 1468 Orkney was pledged by Christian I, in his capacity as king of Norway, as security against the payment of the dowry of his daughter Margaret, betrothed to James III of Scotland. As the money was never paid, the connection with the crown of Scotland has become perpetual.
The history of Orkney prior to this time is largely the history of the ruling aristocracy. From now on the ordinary people emerge with greater clarity. An influx of Scottish entrepreneurs helped to create a diverse and independent community that included farmers, fishermen and merchants that called themselves comunitas Orcadie and who proved themselves increasingly able to defend their rights against their feudal overlords.
From at least the 16th century, boats from mainland Scotland and the Netherlands dominated the local herring fishery. There is little evidence of an Orcadian fleet until the 19th century but it grew rapidly and 700 boats were involved by the 1840s with Stronsay and then later Stromness becoming leading centres of development. White fish never became as dominant as in other Scottish ports.
In the 17th century, Orcadians formed the overwhelming majority of employees of the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. The harsh climate of Orkney and the Orcadian reputation for sobriety and their boat handling skills made them ideal candidates for the rigours of the Canadian north. During this period, burning kelp briefly became a mainstay of the islands' economy.
Agricultural improvements beginning in the 17th century resulted in the enclosure of the commons and ultimately in the Victoria era the emergence of large and well-managed farms using a five-shift rotation system and producing high quality beef cattle.
Also, I need to make comment on John rae as advised by Lord Doug Rae.
John Rae (Inuktitut: Aglooka, English: “He who takes long strides”; 30 September 1813 – 22 July 1893) was a Scottish doctor who explored Northern Canada, surveyed parts of the Northwest Passage and reported the fate of the Franklin Expedition.
Rae was born at the Hall of Clestrain in the parish of Orphir in Orkney. After studying medicine at Edinburgh he went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company as a doctor, accepting a post as surgeon at Moose Factory, Ontario, where he remained for ten years.
Whilst working for the company, treating both European and indigenous employees of the company, Rae became known for his prodigious stamina and skilled use of snow shoes. He learned to live off the land like the Inuit and working with the local craftsmen, designed his own snow shoes. This knowledge allowed him to travel great distances with little equipment and few followers, unlike many other explorers of the Victorian Age.
In 1844–45, wanting to learn how to survey, Rae walked 1200 miles over two months in the winter forest, a feat that earned him the Inuit nickname Aglooka, "he who takes long strides." In 1846 Rae went on his first expedition and in 1848 joined Sir John Richardson in searching for the Northwest Passage.
By 1849 Rae was in charge of the Mackenzie River district at Fort Simpson. He was soon called upon to head north again, this time in search of two missing ships from the Franklin Expedition. While exploring the Boothia Peninsula in 1854 Rae made contact with local Inuit, from whom he obtained much information about the fate of the lost naval expedition. His report to the British Admiralty carried shocking and unwelcome evidence that cannibalism had been a last resort for some of the survivors. When it was leaked to the Press, Franklin's widow Lady Jane Franklin was outraged and recruited many important supporters, among them Charles Dickens who wrote several pamphlets condemning Rae for daring to suggest British Naval sailors would have resorted to cannibalism.
In 1860 Rae worked on the telegraph line to America, visiting Iceland and Greenland. In 1864 he made a further telegraph survey in the west of Canada. In 1884 at age 71 he was again working for the Hudson's Bay Company, this time as an explorer of the Red River for a proposed telegraph line from the United States to Russia.
John Rae died from an aneurysm in London on 22 July 1893. A week later his body arrived in Orkney. He was buried in the kirkyard of St Magnus' Cathedral, Kirkwall. A memorial to him is inside the cathedral.
The outcome of Lady Franklin's efforts to glorify the dead of the Franklin expedition meant Rae was shunned somewhat by the British establishment. Although he found the last link in the much-sought-after Northwest Passage Rae was never awarded a Knighthood, nor was he remembered at the time of his death, dying quietly in London. In comparison fellow Scot and contemporary explorer David Livingstone was knighted and buried with full imperial honours in Westminster Abbey.
Historians have since studied Rae's expeditions and his roles in finding the Northwest Passage and learning the fate of Franklin's crews. Authors such as Ken McGoogan have noted Rae was willing to adopt and learn the ways of indigenous Arctic peoples, which made him stand out as the foremost specialist of his time in cold-climate survival and travel. Rae also respected Inuit customs, traditions and skills, which went against the beliefs of many 19th century Europeans that most native peoples were primitive and of little educational value.
In July 2004, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael introduced into the UK Parliament a motion proposing, inter alia, that the House "regrets that Dr Rae was never awarded the public recognition that was his due". In March 2009 he introduced a further motion urging Parliament to formally state it "regrets that memorials to Sir John Franklin outside the Admiralty headquarters and inside Westminster Abbey still inaccurately describe Franklin as the first to discover the [North West] passage, and calls on the Ministry of Defence and the Abbey authorities to take the necessary steps to clarify the true position.
We departed Thurso after breakfast and took a series of back roads meandering towards Wick, arriving in time for a morning coffee break.
Wick's history stretches back, at least, to the era of Norwegian rule in Caithness, which ended, conclusively, in 1266's Treaty of Perth.
Little is known of the early history of this Northern Scottish town but there is ample evidence in the surrounding countryside of Neolithic/Bronze Age settlement and the shelters and defences of succeeding Ages. However, it was the Vikings that gave Wick its name (from the old Norse vik meaning bay).
Although King James the VI of Scotland made Wick a Royal Burgh in 1589 it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the town began to realise its potential. By 1860 it had grown to be Europe's premier herring fishing port. The town's development around the fickle fortunes of fishing is a remarkable story of vision, good planning, investment, courage, hardship and industry.
Pulteneytown is an area of Wick on the south side of the River Wick. Until 1902 Pulteneytown was administered separately from Wick. Pulteneytown takes its name from Sir William Pulteney, 5th Baronet, a governor of the British Fisheries Society. In the early years of the 19th century Sir William commissioned Britain's leading civil engineer, Thomas Telford, to design and supervise the creation of a major new herring fishing town and harbour at the estuary of the River Wick. Pulteneytown was so named after the death of Sir William in 1805 and became a major player in the 19th century herring boom. It was built in order to supply work to the Gaels evicted during the Highland Clearances. During this boom period the harbour was expanded still further by local shipbuilder James Bremner. History of this era is preserved in the collections of Wick Heritage Museum.
After a delicious coffee, scone and fresh jam, it was off to Inverness.
The Castle of Old Wick is on the coast 1km south of the town. The Castle of Old Wick dates to the 12th century, and is one of the best preserved Norse fortifications in all of Scotland.
Our first stop after Wick was the Camster Cairns. Located 8 miles southwest of Wick, the Camster Cairns are amongst the best-preserved Neolithic chambered cairns in the British Isles. Known as the Grey Cairns of Camster, they comprise a round cairn, a long cairn and a ruined third cairn lying 200m apart. Built around 3500BC, the cairns are thought to have been in use as burial chambers and as ritual sites for several hundred years thereafter. Both cairns are of dry-stone construction, the round cairn is 18m in diameter and 3.7m high and the long cairn is 69.5m long and 16.8m wide.
The cairns were excavated in 1865 and pottery, skeletons, burnt bone and flint tools were recovered from the round cairn. There is one central chamber in the round cairn, which retains its original roof, and two burial chambers in the long cairn. Modern excavations were completed on the long cairn in 1980 and its collapsed roof has recently been replaced with fibreglass with sky-lights which allow light into the interior. The walls, which had been plundered to build a nearby sheep-pen, were restored using original materials. The cairn complex is now in the care of Historic Scotland.
Leaving the Cairns we drove to Dunrobin Castle.
Dunrobin Castle is a stately home in Sutherland. It is the seat of the Countess of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland. It is located 1 mile north of Golspie on the Dornoch Firth. Dunrobin's origins lie in the Middle Ages, but most of the present building is the work of Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Palace of Westminster in London, who greatly extended the building in 1845. The resulting house has a "French Renaissance meets Scots Baronial" style.
The lands of Sutherland were acquired before 1211, by Hugh, Lord of Duffus, grandson of the Flemish nobleman, Freskin. The Earldom of Sutherland was created around 1230 for Hugh's son, William, and the first record of a castle on this site dates to 1401. It may have been built on the site of an early medieval fort (hence, the dun in the place-name). The earliest castle was a square keep with few, and small, windows. The Earldom passed to the Gordon family in the 16th century.
During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the Jacobites under Charles Edward Stuart stormed Dunrobin Castle without warning, because the Clan Sutherland supported the British government. The 17th Earl of Sutherland, who had changed his surname from Gordon to Sutherland, narrowly escaped them, exiting through a back door. He sailed for Aberdeen where he joined the Duke of Cumberland's army. On the death of the 18th Earl in 1766, the house passed to his daughter, Elizabeth, who married the politician George Leveson-Gower, later created 1st Duke of Sutherland.
Since 1973 the house and grounds have been open to the public, with private accommodation retained for the use of the Sutherland family. However I refused to pay an entry fee after reading about the Sutherlands participation in the Highland “clearances”.
The Highland Clearances was the forced displacement of a significant number of people in the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th century, as a result of an agricultural revolution (also known as enclosure) carried out by hereditary aristocratic landowners, such as the Duke of Sutherland. The changes were seen to be supported by the government, who gave financial aid for roads and bridges to assist the new sheep-based agriculture and trade. There was mass forced emigration to the sea coast, the Scottish Lowlands, and the North American colonies. The clearances were particularly notorious as a result of the late timing, the lack of legal protection for year-by-year tenants under Scots law, the abruptness of the change from the traditional clan system, and the brutality of many evictions.
The enclosures that depopulated rural England in the British Agricultural Revolution started much earlier, during theTudor period, and similar developments in Scotland have lately been called the Lowland Clearances by historians such as Tom Devine. But in the Highlands the impact on a Goidelic (Scottish Gaelic)-speaking semi-feudal culture that still expected obligations of a chief to his clan led to vocal campaigning and a lingering bitterness among the descendants of those forced to emigrate or to remain in crofting townships on very small areas of poor farming land. Crofters became a source of virtually free labour to their landlords, being forced to work long hours in such work as harvesting and processing of kelp.
From the late 16th century, laws required clan leaders to appear in Edinburgh regularly to provide bonds for the conduct of anyone in their territory. This created a tendency among chiefs to see themselves as landlords. The lesser clan-gentry increasingly took up droving, taking cattle along the old unpaved drove roads to sell in the Lowlands. This brought wealth and land ownership within the clan, though the Highlands continued to be overpopulated and poor.
The Jacobite Risings brought repeated British government efforts to curb the clans, culminating after the 1746 Battle of Culloden with brutal repression. The Act of Proscription of 1746 incorporating the Dress Act required all swords to be surrendered to the government and prohibited the wearing of tartans or kilts. The Tenures Abolition Act 1660 ended the feudal bond of military service and the Heritable Jurisdictions Act removed the virtually sovereign power the chiefs held over their clan. The extent of enforcement of the prohibitions varied and related to a clan's support of the government during the rebellion, but over all led to the destruction of the traditional clan system and of the supportive social structures of small agricultural townships.
From about 1725, in the aftermath of the first Jacobite Rising, Highlanders had begun emigrating to the Americas in increasing numbers. The Disarming Act of 1746 and the Clan Act made ineffectual attempts to subdue the Scottish Highlands, and eventually troops were sent in. Government garrisons were built or extended in the Great Glen at Fort William, Kiliwhimin (later renamed Fort Augustus) and Fort George, Inverness, as well as barracks at Ruthven, Bernera and Inversnaid, linked to the south by the Wade roads (constructed for Major-General George Wade). These had the effect of limiting organisational travel and choking off news and further isolated the clans. Nevertheless, conditions remained unsettled for the whole decade.
In 1725 General Wade raised the independent companies of the Black Watch as a militia force to keep peace in the unruly Highlands. This increased exodus of Highlanders to the Americas. Increasing demand in Britain for cattle and sheep and the creation of new breeds of sheep such as the black-faced, which could be reared in the mountainous country, allowed higher rents for landowners and chiefs to meet the costs of their aristocratic lifestyle. As a result, families living on a subsistence level were displaced, exacerbating the unsettled social climate. In 1792 tenant farmers from Strathrusdale led a protest against the policy by driving over 6,000 sheep off the land surrounding Ardross. This action was dealt with at the highest levels in government, with the Home Secretary Henry Dundas getting involved. The Black Watch was mobilised; it halted the drive and brought the ringleaders to trial. They were found guilty, but later escaped custody and disappeared.
What became known as the Clearances were considered by the landlords as necessary "improvements". They are thought to have been begun by Admiral John Ross of Balnagowan Castle in 1762. MacLeod of MacLeod(i.e. the chief of MacLeod) began experimental work on Skye in 1732. Chiefs engaged Lowland, or sometimes English, factors with expertise in more profitable sheep farming, and they "encouraged", sometimes forcibly, the population to move off suitable land.
Another wave of mass emigration came in 1792, known as the "Year of the Sheep" to Scottish Highlanders. The people were accommodated in poor crofts or small farms in coastal areas where farming could not sustain the communities and they were expected to take up fishing. In the village of Badbea in Caithness the conditions were so harsh that, while the women worked, they had to tether their livestock and even their children to rocks or posts to prevent them being blown over the cliffs. Others were put directly onto emigration ships to Nova Scotia (Antigonish and Pictou counties and later Cape Breton), the Glengarry and Kingston areas of Ontario and the Carolinas of the American colonies. There may have been a religious element in these forced removals since many Highlanders were Roman Catholic. This is reflected by the majority representation of Catholics in areas and towns of Nova Scotia such as Antigonish and Cape Breton. However almost all of the very large movement of Highland settlers to the Cape Fear region of North Carolina were Presbyterian.
In 1807 Elizabeth Gordon, 19th Countess of Sutherland, touring her inheritance with her husband Lord Stafford (later made Duke of Sutherland), wrote that "he is seized as much as I am with the rage of improvements, and we both turn our attention with the greatest of energy to turnips". As well as turning land over to sheep farming, Stafford planned to invest in creating a coal pit, salt pans, brick and tile works and herring fisheries. That year his agents began the evictions, and 90 families were forced to leave their crops in the ground and move their cattle, furniture and timbers to the land they were offered 20 miles away on the coast, living in the open until they had built themselves new houses. Stafford's first Commissioner, William Young, arrived in 1809, and soon engaged Patrick Sellar as his factor who pressed ahead with the process while acquiring sheep farming estates for himself.
Elsewhere, the flamboyant Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry portrayed himself as the last genuine specimen of the true Highland Chief while his tenants were subjected to a process of relentless eviction.
To landlords, "improvement" and "clearance" did not necessarily mean depopulation. At least until the 1820s, when there were steep falls in the price of kelp, landlords wanted to create pools of cheap or virtually free labour, supplied by families subsisting in new crofting townships. Kelp collection and processing was a very profitable way of using this labour, and landlords petitioned successfully for legislation designed to stop emigration. This took the form of the Passenger Vessels Act 1803. Attitudes changed during the 1820s and, for many landlords, the potato famine which began in 1846 became another reason for encouraging or forcing emigration and depopulation.
As in Ireland, the potato crop failed in the mid nineteenth century, and a widespread outbreak of cholera further weakened the Highland population. The ongoing clearance policy resulted in starvation, deaths, and a secondary clearance, when families either migrated voluntarily or were forcibly evicted. There were many deaths of children and old people. As there were few alternatives, people emigrated, joined the British army, or moved to growing urban centres such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee in Lowland Scotland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Liverpool in the north of England. In places some people were given economic incentives to move, but few historians dispute that in many instances landlords used violent methods.
Donald McLeod, a Sutherland crofter, later wrote about the events he witnessed:
The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed.
A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.
Accounts like those of McLeod and General David Stewart of Garth brought widespread condemnation and The Highland Land League eventually achieved land reform in the enactment of Crofting Acts, but these could not bring economic viability and came too late at a time when the land was already suffering from depopulation.
It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that the second, more brutal phase of the Clearances began; this was well after the 1822 visit by George IV, when lowlanders set aside their previous distrust and hatred of the Highlanders and identified with them as national symbols. However, the cumulative effect was particularly devastating to the cultural landscape of Scotland in a way that did not happen in other areas of Britain.
Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, and her husband George Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland, conducted brutal clearances between 1811 and 1820. Evictions at the rate of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. Many starved and froze to death where their homes had once been. The Duchess of Sutherland, on seeing the starving tenants on her husband's estate, remarked in a letter to a friend in England, "Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals."
While the collapse of the clan system can be attributed more to economic factors and the repression that followed the Battle of Culloden, the widespread evictions resulting from the Clearances severely affected the viability of the Highland population and culture. To this day, the population in the Scottish Highlands is sparse and the culture is diluted, and there are many more sheep than people.
However, the Clearances did result in significant emigration of Highlanders to North America and Australasia— where today are found considerably more descendants of Highlanders than in Scotland itself.
One estimate for Cape Breton, Nova Scotia has 25,000 Gaelic-speaking Scots arriving as immigrants between 1775 and 1850. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were an estimated 100,000 Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton, but because of economic migration to English-speaking areas and the lack of Gaelic education in the Nova Scotian school system, the numbers of Gaelic speakers fell dramatically. By the beginning of the 21st century, the number of native Gaelic speakers had fallen to well below 1,000.
A major destination for these emigrants in the 18th century was Glengarry County, an a original settlement for Highland Scots in what is now present-day eastern Ontario. Gaelic was the native tongue of the settlement in which thousands of people spoke the language throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the number of native speakers has decreased since in result of English and French migration throughout the county. In respect for their and their ancestors' Scottish culture, the county hosts the annual Glengarry Highland Games, one of the biggest Highland Games gatherings of its kind outside Scotland.
From Dunrobin Castle it was off to Dornock for a brief stop to admire the beautiful sand beach.
After starting up we had some trouble with the clutch of the rental car and had to pull off the highway between Tore and Inverness. After 2 hours we were met by AA and driven to the rental dealer in Inverness with the vehicle loaded behind. A quick exchange of vehicles and a decision to stay the night in Inverness took us to The Alexander Guest House.
The Alexander is located very centrally in Inverness, immediately overlooking the river, opposite the Cathedral and close to the Castle. It is a five minute walk to the City Centre.
The Alexander has a very contemporary feel; subtle colours have been used throughout to create a light and airy mood and to complement the elegant layout of the Georgian rooms to give that real “home from home” in the Highlands.
We dined at Nicos Seafood Restaurant, next to The Alexander and then off to bed.