Tucked away at the end of a long, rough track, not far from the westernmost point of Skye, lies a hidden valley. I approach from a height, the track drops steeply to meet the valley bottom with a more shallow descent towards the sea. A narrow but fast flowing river makes its way between the two long hills, cascading from the moorland plateau through high falls and swift rocky channels, and begins to meander as the ground widens into a plain. As I walk down the slope, the track passes piles of rocks in amongst the short sheep-clipped grass and the thicker rushes covering the sodden areas of pasture. I approach a single one-storey house standing next to the river, built from stone but now without a roof, only one window left with a pane of glass. The track crosses the river and rises up the opposing hill and disappears over its summit.
I turn towards the sea, the wind whipping up the narrow channel between the hills, cooling me quickly and trying to take my hat. I follow the line of the sinuous river past further piles of rocks and then through low walls and enclosures, laid out on both sides of the water. These man-made structures are now a few cold and sunken remnants of what was once here, a community now gone and their homes now little more than lines of stones being overcome by grass and gradually consumed back into the earth.
Slowly picking my way along the sheep tracks, I finally come to the beach; not of sand but of dark grey rocks and pebbles, worn smooth by the powerful sea constantly trying to force its way over the lowest grassy reaches of the valley. Little can be heard over the sound of the wind and the rising waves, all except for the cries of the gulls and the calls of the oystercatchers whisked away on the air. The sights and senses of desolation are made more stark by the growing gloom brought on by encroaching dark rain-baring clouds, moisture now starting to cover my clothes and face.
Appearing from high above the southern hill slopes, an eagle floats on the wind, making its way northbound towards the high sea cliffs. It is joined by another, both now playing in the updrafts as the surging air is forced to rise as it hits the flat cliff faces. They look down on a valley that now has no human life, just the remains of a now long gone community, once living on the edge of this far northern land.
In 1830, the inhabitants of Lorgill were read the following statement by the sheriff officer:
‘To all the crofters in Lorgill. Take notice that you are hereby duly warned that you all be ready to leave Lorgill at twelve o’clock on the 4th August next with all your baggage but no stock and proceed to Loch Snizort, where you will board the ship Midlothian (Captain Morrison) that will take you to Nova-Scotia, where you are to receive a free grant of land from Her Majesty’s Government. Take further notice that any crofter disobeying this order will be immediately arrested and taken to prison. All persons over seventy years of age and who have no relatives to look after them will be taken care of in the County Poorhouse. This order is final and no appeal to the Government will be considered. God Save the Queen.’
The were twelve houses in the valley as well as 21 other buildings and 10 enclosures, but very little of this not insubstantial settlement remains; one roofless building, one standing enclosure and numerous piles of rocks and old lines of walls.
I was looking for a walk to take and this short amble out into the Lorgill valley over a rough track got my imagination going. To my embarrassment I don’t know enough about the Highland Clearances but it is plainly obvious that great wrongs were done to many; communities broken apart by those with the power and will to do so. There is a real atmosphere in the valley, an emptiness that is obvious in view but also in spirit.
The whole experience was made more spiritual by the wildlife; a close encounter with an otter as I started the walk was incredible. However, I saw four, not two, white-tailed eagles in one view (the following picture has three specks – three of the eagles – this is the best I could do with my phone). I spent 10 minutes watching the eagles playing and soaring in the wind – a spectacle I doubt I’ll forget for long time.
This is only my third day on Skye and already it has given me amazing memories.