Strathnaver: Before the Clearances

[Crest of clansfolk of Clan MacKay] Crest of Clansfolk of Clan MacKay
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The sportsman now roams o'er the Sutherland hills
And down where the Naver runs clear;
And the land a brave race had for centuries owned
Is now trod by the sheep and the deer.

The valley of Strathnaver is as green fold of earth, the richest in that part of the country, a narrow twisting glen down which the black water of the River Naver runs from south to north, from the loch of its name to the Atlantic Ocean. The people who lived there in 1814 were Mackays, by name or allegiance, though the Countess was their Lord.

The houses were grouped in a dozen small townships, northward down the strath to the sea and westward along the shore of Loch Naver.

Because of the mission there, Achness was perhaps the most important to the people. It took its Gaelic name, Achadh an Eas, the cornfield by the cascade, from the brown stream that still falls in noisy delight from hills where once the Norsemen buried their dead.

There was Rhifail, the enclosure in a hollow, the smooth dale of Dalvina, Skail the sheiling, and Syre where the young men had been assembled in the spring of 1800 for service with the Sutherland Highlanders.

Along the loch, toward Altnaharra at its finger-tip, were Grummore and Grumbeg. On these fell the evening shadow of Ben Klibreck across the water, and if one stands among the few remaining stones of Grummore today the mountain takes the naked shape of a sleeping woman, the milky smoke of burning heather for her hair, and her head turned away from Strathnaver.

If Strathnaver were not the paradise some exiles believed it to have been when they remembered it in their old age, the words they used spoke of their love and longing for it.

I remember, said Angus Mackay, who was eleven when he was driven from the glen, I remember you would see a mile or half a mile between every town if you were going up the strath. There were four or five families in each of these towns, and bonnie haughs between the towns, and hill pastures for miles, as far as they could wish to go.

The people had plenty of flocks of goats, sheep, horses and cattle, and they were living happy, with flesh and fish and butter, and cheese and fowl and potatoes and kail and milk too. There was no want of anything with them, and they had the Gospel preached to them at both ends of the Strath.

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