Welcome to a walk around 19th Century Skye, a grim, demoralising place for its tenants. By the 1880s, they'd finally had enough and rebelled against their landlords...
Neil Oliver: Welcome to Glendale, in the far North-Western corner of Skye. The island is known for its landscape; the jagged Cuillin Ridge, the dramatic coastline, the beauty of its empty glens... but once, this area teemed with people, crofters working the land. The inhabitants of this island, like so much of the Highlands, were devastated by the Clearances, but in the late 19th Century the crofters fought back.
In the 1880s, the Glendale Estate was to become famous for a stance taken by its inhabitants that would change Highland history. This walk will take you to the places where those crofters lived, worked and protested. Before setting off, make sure that you have a good map of the area, the directions for the walk and, it being Skye, something waterproof to wear.
As the walk progresses, listen out for this sound [beep]. This will let you know when it’s time to hit ‘pause’ until you reach the next location when you can press ‘play’ again.
Point 1: The pier at Meanish
The walk starts by the water at the pier at Meanish on Loch Pooltiel. On sunny days, it’s a beautiful spot with views across the fields and townships which make up Glendale. Your guides for the walk, local resident George McPherson and historian Jim Hunter from the University of the Highlands and Islands, were less lucky, but they braved the relentless Skye rain. Take a look now, inland across the Glendale Estate, and think about how this landscape has changed.
Jim Hunter: I think the biggest change, if it were possible for somebody from that period to see Glendale today, would be that in those days if would have been intensively cultivated. There would have been a lot of cropping of potatoes and oats and hay and all of that, and cattle, a lot of cattle, and today as you can see there’s virtually no cropping. There’s a wee bit here and there but there’s very, very little by comparison, and the cattle haven’t gone entirely, but they’ve largely gone, and in recent years even the sheep have been going as well.
George McPherson: At that time, every field would have been cultivated and there would be different colours in each field according to the crops that were grown. The houses would have been very poor, black houses they were called. They were practically indistinguishable in the landscape because they were so dark coloured, they just blended in. There would be a lot more people here at that time; in fact, my father used to say when he was going to school here there were two hundred and fifty children going to school in Glendale, that was in the late 1800s.
Neil: George’s family have lived in Glendale for generations. He’s a storyteller today, leading a very different life from his forebears, but he’s still able to pick out the remnants of those past lives. Take a close look at the stone building above the pier.
George: Well, we’re down at Meanish and on the right-hand side there’s the old salt store, which was built at the time that the landlords got the right to sell salt, and at that time there were six salting stations here, just behind us, where herring and other fish were salted and packed, and there were boats coming into the slipway here at that time to take them out abroad to the continent. The people who worked at the saltings here were mainly cottars. They didn’t have a croft, they had a house and perhaps quarter, half an acre of ground around it, and that was it, so they depended greatly on what they could make from the fishing industry.
Neil: The fishing industry was an important source of seasonal employment for people from crofting areas. For the crofters, both the sea and the land you see around you was part of their working life.
George: Well, the main thing here was crofting, and at that time from Glendale alone my great-great-grandfather was taking two thousand head of cattle across the mainland to Falkirk or Crieff or Perth where the best sales were and selling them off on behalf of the crofters, and this was done in trust. They trusted him to come back and pay them once he’d come back, and that went on for quite a long time. Over and above that, there was also the kelp industry here for quite a time, but it was very, very hard, severe work because they actually had to wade or swim in the sea to cut the kelp, and then it was pushed further inland and the women would carry it further in again and the children would carry it onto the shore, put it in a heap to dry and then the kelp was burned, so it was a very tedious process.
Neil: The kelp industry is closely bound to the origins of crofting around the start of the 19th Century. Kelp was used as an industrial alkali, and there was a high demand from the soap and glass industries in the South.
Take a wander over to the pier and picture yourself knee deep in that water on a cold and windy day; unpleasant work indeed. In order to force their tenants to work as kelpers, landlords reorganised their estates. Land which had previously been worked in common was subdivided into separate holdings, crofts. These were deliberately made small so the crofters couldn’t make a full-time living from agriculture and had to work in the kelp industry. At around the same time, land clearance for sheep farming began. Many displaced crofters ended up in places like Glendale and so the townships became even more crowded, the crofts subdivided into smaller and smaller plots.
Let’s move on now into some of the townships in which the Glendale crofters lived. From the pier, turn right and follow the road which will then curve left as you walk uphill. You’ll find yourself walking through the township of Lower Milovaig which is the second point on this walk. As you go, keep listening until you hear the beep, for there is more to hear about the tenants’ lives. Let historian Jim Hunter take you back to the 19th Century, a time of clearance, toil and deprivation for Skye’s crofting population.
Jim: The 19th Century, overall, was a pretty terrible time in the Highlands and certainly here in Skye, and it began with the clearance of large areas for sheep, with the creation of crofting, with the kelp industry, then the collapse of the kelp industry which left crofters really without any other very obvious source of income to pay their rents and to provide food, because a croft couldn’t really grow enough food to support their families. The only crop that came anywhere near being able to support a family that you could grow in quantity on a croft in a place like Glendale was potatoes, and so, just as happened in Ireland, in the first half of the 19th Century the entirely crofting population became, almost unimaginably to us, dependent on potatoes, you know, eating pounds of potatoes a day.
There’s a story, not from here but from Morven, of somebody at that point coming from the South just to see how people were living and what it was all about, and the story is that he met a little boy on his way to school and he said to him, asking, you know, about his diet and said, "What did they have for breakfast?" and the wee boy said, "Potatoes." "And what do you have for dinner in the middle of the day?" "Potatoes." "And what do you have when you go home at night?" "Mashed potatoes," he said, and the man said, "Don’t you have anything else at all?" and the wee boy looked very puzzled for a while and then he said, "A spoon."
Neil: In the 1840s, blight devastated the potato crops. Across the Highlands and Islands there was famine and destitution. People left in their thousands, seeking better lives in places like Canada and Australia. At that time, Skye was a terrible place to be and its crofters were beginning to get restless.
Jim: Then in the 1860s, 1870s, actually things began to get a little better, and of course it’s an observation amongst historians that if you’re going to get a revolution it actually doesn’t happen when things are at their worst, it happens when things are beginning to get a little bit better, but then perhaps when they begin to turn bad again, and that’s exactly what happened in the 1880s. There had been a bit of an upturn in incomes and living standards but then in the 1880s there are renewed crop failures and bad weather, perhaps, like we’re having today, of driving rain, except that in 1881 and thereabouts it lasted all through the summer and the crops failed. So it was a bad time.
But then, it was also a point when the crofters finally, after all that had happened to them, finally got their act together politically, began to organise, began to protest, began to mount rent strikes and began to demand back a lot of the land that had been lost during the Clearances, and that whole protest movement began here in Skye, and by the later part of 1882, 1883 Glendale was the main centre of crofting protest, and people across Britain were reading every day about what was happening here in Glendale.
Neil: The fightback had started. The crofters were inspired by events in Ireland where rural tenants had used rent strikes to great effect, eventually leading to changes in law. People in the Highlands would have been acutely aware of Irish unrest, often thanks to direct contact with Irish tenants during the summer fishing, and this was an era of vibrant and opinionated newspapers, so as well as hearing directly about protest in Ireland, the crofters were reading about its successful outcome. As the press flocked to Skye, the world was beginning to hear about their wishes too.
George: Up ’til this time the crofters had just knuckled under very much to the landlords and they had no leader, but these events gave them leaders for the first time, and it gave them a sense of community to gather together to fight together to win something for themselves and their children. So it was a life changing thing altogether really, at that time, and I know the likes of my father, for instance, he said that for the first time people had hope that the future would be better.
Neil: The first part of Skye to hit the headlines in their struggle for a better future was Braes, just south of Portree. In the autumn of 1881, crofters there refused to pay their rents until hill grazing land on the slopes of Ben Lee was returned to them. A court official was sent to evict them, but he was assaulted and the eviction orders burned. The authorities were determined to clamp down.
Jim: The Sheriff of Invernesshire at the time, a man called William Ivory, was particularly determined to nip this in the bud before, as he saw it, Skye turned into another Ireland, and he didn’t have enough policemen in Invernesshire for what he had in mind so he imported, on a MacBrayne steamer, about fifty policemen from Glasgow, and you can imagine these Glasgow bobbies walking out at Portree. It was actually a day very similar to this. It was windy, it was pouring rain, it was early April, it was much colder than it is today, but it was a horrible day, and they marched into Braes and they arrested the five men that they were looking to arrest.
But then, the Braes crofters gathered at a spot where the road back to Portree passes through a narrow defile, and they occupied the road, and they pelted the police with stones and other missiles, and the police charged the crowd, and for a while it looked as if they were going to rescue the five crofters but eventually the police and the Sheriff gained control of the road and they were taken off to jail in Portree and this whole episode became known then and subsequently as the Battle of the Braes.
Point 2: Lower Milovaig
Neil: You should now be in Lower Milovaig with great views from this top road across the Loch and beyond. The crofters’ agitation over in Braes had drawn attention to Skye. Within days, there were eleven journalists on the island reporting on the crofters’ agitation. Here in Glendale, another protest campaign had begun. The man who organised it lived here in Milovaig; his name was John MacPherson.
George: Well, John MacPherson at the time of the uprising was just a kind of normal crofter. He was fifty or just over fifty at the time he decided that the time had come to take a stance, and he was a strong willed man. A man of about, what, five foot ten in height, he had quite a thick beard, bushy beard, very piercing eyes and a great manner of speaking. He could change people to his way of thinking, and he did this to a huge extent.
Neil: There have been some changes to the township since John MacPherson lived here, but the croft in which he lived is today owned by his descendants.
George: The far away house, the big new house, was the new house that was built about 1920 by John MacPherson. The bit behind us, which is the byre now, was the original house and byre combined, and the only difference to that was that the gables were heightened and a corrugated roof was put on in place of the thatched roof, but at the time John MacPherson was living here it was a thatched hipped roof, but that was the basic house for the whole family, and it was a big family.
Neil: Now, continue walking along the road through the township of Upper Milovaig. On your right, as you go, is a stretch of moorland; hill grazing land which was to play a big role in the crofters’ protest. When you reach the junction, turn right and walk a little way along the road that heads west until you come to a lay-by next to an electricity substation.
Point 3: Waterstein Farm boundary
You’re now at Point 3 of the walk. If you look to the slopes on the right of the road you can see the contours of a lazy-bed field system, and above that a wall. This was Waterstein Farm, which had once been grazing land for the nearby townships. Under John MacPherson’s leadership, the Glendale tenants made their demand for its return.
George: Where we’re standing now, we’re standing practically at the old boundary wall between Milovaig and Waterstein. You can see it’s part of the main wall behind us, and it runs across and carries up the hill there. Now this was the wall, part of which was broken down at the time of the uprising, because most of the ground here had been taken away from the crofters; this was originally common grazing, and the first thing that John MacPherson said to the crofters was, "Refuse to pay your rents and break down the walls and allow your cattle through onto what was our common grazing originally," and of course this was a tremendous insult to the landlords.
Jim: This was a kind of act of pretty unprecedented defiance, that these were lands that had been taken away. You can imagine for years afterwards, as they lived down below us here on these very tiny congested crofts, you’d be less than human if you hadn’t, so to speak, looked over the wall and seen all the land that your people had occupied previously and thought to yourself, "Well, if we could only get that land back again things would be better," and of course that had been an aspiration for a long time, but now they were actually doing something about it, and they were hugely proud of that. They said, you know, "We’ve broken down the wall, our cattle are back on the lands that our fathers occupied," and all of this, and so it was in its way quite a revolution.
Neil: The Glendale crofters continued their stand; only five crofts out of a hundred paid their rent and animals continued to graze at Waterstein. These transgressions infuriated the authorities.
Jim: There was a determination on the part of not just the landowners locally, but the political establishment more generally, to nip this in the bud and bring it to an end. So attempts were eventually made to drive the cattle off the land again, but they didn’t succeed because the shepherds who were working for the factor had been pretty much roughed up and the cattle remained where they were, and the people who’d done the roughing up were still at large.
So Glendale by this point, you know, you’re talking about the closing months of 1882, Glendale’s become a kind of no-go area and from the point of view of the authorities, not just locally in Skye or in Inverness but further afield in Edinburgh and London, this is beginning to be an intolerable situation that they have to do something about.
Neil: To see the buildings which were key to the authorities’ response you need to retrace your steps a little way to the road junction, but when you get there, rather than going back into Milovaig, continue down to join the main road. Turn right and after about a hundred yards pause briefly on the corner, for there’s a little house on your left with a new roof which local George McPherson is keen to point out.
Point 4: Cottar House
George: We’re looking at the last cottar house in Glendale. It was done up just this year, but up ’til that time the top of the walls were just where the lintels of the windows are, and it had a pitched roof on it for thatching. The area that’s fenced off was the size of the ground that the cottar had, and the last cottar who lived in this house actually at one time worked in one of the fish curing stations down the side of the pier at Loch Pooltiel.
Neil: Keep on the same road now, heading for the lodge at Hamara; look out for Borrodale schoolhouse on your left as you descend. It’s currently closed, Glendale today doesn’t have enough children, but it was important in the late 19th Century. The generation of crofters who were protesting were among the first to benefit from universal schooling and the rise of literacy, combined with a very active Scottish press, was key to drawing attention to the crofters’ struggle.
Point 5: Hamara Lodge
You should now be at Hamara, where, nestling between trees at the end of a long drive, is Hamara Lodge. Today it’s used for holiday lets, but in January 1883, when Glendale was seen as descending into anarchy and more than current policing on Skye could cope with, it was here that measures were taken to return law to the area.
Jim: Well, we’re now standing at Hamara Lodge, which is, I suppose more or less in the middle of the Glendale Estate in many ways, and it was here at the beginning of 1883 that the authorities decided that they would station a detachment of police with a view to restoring order in Glendale, as they saw it, and if you look across in that direction towards the top of the hills there, and you can just see the road that links Glendale with the outside world, in the shape of Dunvegan in the first instance, and the crofters had sentries or lookouts on the ridges up there, and they had horns, and when they saw the police coming from the Glendale side they sounded these horns and people gathered, and the police were, I’m not sure where precisely, but according to the reports at the time they were five or six hundred yards short of the Lodge here, and they were met by this crowd of people.
And they were driven back up the hill and over the hill back into Dunvegan, and a day or two after that the crofters of Glendale again gathered and this time they marched on Dunvegan with a view to forcing the police to withdraw completely from this entire area of Skye, and in that they succeeded triumphantly from their point of view because the police, on hearing that Glendale crofters were on their way to Dunvegan, took to the hills and ran off across in the direction of Portree.
Neil: To this day, there is no police station in Glendale. Such dramatic events give some insight into the levels of anger the crofters felt, and with good reason. George McPherson.
George: Well, the crofters had no control at all. At any time the landlord could evict them. If they improved their house the landlord could have said, "Oh, I would like somebody else to have that house who can pay more for it," and so he threw the existing crofter out. There was no security whatsoever in their lives, and another thing was that the landlord would not allow the crofters to cut rushes on their own land to repair the thatch of the houses. That the sad state of the houses, that the water was coming through the thatch because they were not allowed even to cut rushes on their own land to repair them because the landlord didn’t want them to repair them. He was trying to get rid of as many as possible of crofters any way he could.
Neil: Continue your journey now, following the main road into the valley towards your next destination, the Free Church in Glendale, and as you walk George McPherson will explain why the church was so important for the unhappy crofting communities.
George: It was hugely important because until the establishment of the Free Church all the churches were against the crofters. They were on the side of the landlords, and when the Free Church was established it supported the crofters’ cause and gave the crofters a place of religion that supported them instead of putting them down, and in fact, the Church of Scotland at the time was paid an acre per family by the landlord for every family they persuaded to go quietly without fighting. The Roman Catholic Church received money for special masses. The Episcopalian Church was, practically all the ministers were the younger sons of landlords, and the people were very religious, so it made a huge difference to them; it gave them a kind of feeing of belonging still in religion.
Jim: I think that’s a very important point. The Free Church was created in 1843 as a result of a split in the established Church of Scotland and a walk out from the established church by those ministers and others who believed that congregations should be able to choose their own ministers and not have them appointed for them by the landlords, so the Free Church was actually founded on an anti-landlord principle and it swept up into its ranks the overwhelming bulk of the population in at least the Protestant parts of the crofting areas.
Point 6: Glendale Free Church
Neil: This solid white building is Glendale Free Church of Scotland, the most westerly church on Skye, and it was here that some of the most significant events in the crofters’ rebellion were to take place. The expulsion of the police from Glendale had been the last straw for the authorities. Skye was seen as a crisis. The Times described the whole island as being "in a state of wild excitement," and the measures to be taken were now serious as the Royal Navy arrived in Glendale.
Jim: Eventually, it was decided that they would send a gunboat to Glendale out in the loch there, Loch Pooltiel, and on the gunboat was a man called Malcolm McNeil who was a leading civil servant at the time, and he was also a Gaelic speaker, and he met with a group of crofters, several hundred crofters in the church here, and the crofters at that point agreed to McNeil’s request that those of them who were still wanted in connection with earlier disturbances around Waterstein Farm that they would surrender themselves to the authorities, the group who surrendered included John MacPherson, and they agreed to go to Edinburgh and stand trial, and they were jailed for a couple of months.
Neil: It’s extraordinary to think back on. The Navy gunboat, the Jackal, moored in the loch, the Government sending a representative to negotiate with the crofters. The jailed men were dubbed the Glendale Martyrs by the press. Support for their cause and indignation at their sentence led to pressure for government action, pressure which paid off.
Jim: The Government agreed to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to look into the causes of crofting unrest in Skye and the rest of the Highlands and Islands. That Commission was chaired by a man called Lord Napier, and the Napier Commission, still fairly famous in the Highlands, spent the greater part of 1883, starting here in Skye, coming here to Glendale, travelling around the Highlands and Islands taking evidence from crofters and coming to the view that yes, the crofters had had very rough treatment, that something had to be done on their behalf.
Neil: The Napier Commission thus became a comprehensive account of crofting life in the 19th Century. The report is available online today so anyone can look at what was said in 1883 by crofters from places like Glendale. The local hearing took place here inside the Free Church.
George: Well, of course you had John MacPherson talking about the conditions in Glendale, how impoverished the people were, how they were unable to repair thatched roofs, anything like this. You also had John MacLean of Fasach who gave evidence to the Napier Commission, and he stressed very much in his evidence of how small the crofts had been made and how the landlord wouldn’t allow them to use land that had been theirs before, and they also banned them from gathering seaweed from the shore to fertilise the crops. All these things, they might seem little in themselves, but they mounted up and mounted up, and John MacLean stressed this quite a lot in his evidence to the Commission.
Jim: What’s really, really striking about the Napier Commission was that it took an enormous amount of evidence from crofters directly. There had been inquiries into Highland circumstances in the past, official inquiries into poor law provision and that sort of thing, but in the past the people doing the inquiries had talked only to the landlords, the factors, the big sheep farmers, the ministers, people like that, but the Napier Commission talked to the crofters themselves and heard at first hand from literally hundreds of crofters eventually just what they wanted, what their grievances were.
Neil: The Napier Commission Hearings were followed by the press and the entire country heard about the lives of crofters from across the Highlands and Islands, but there was another way in which the Commission helped the crofters' cause.
Jim: I think the other really significant thing about the Napier Commission was that before it arrived in a place like Glendale, weeks beforehand, official notices would be nailed up here and there telling people that they had to get together, they had to hold meetings, and they had to elect representatives to give evidence to the Commission. Now, that itself was revolutionary because previously, if any number of crofters were seen to get together and have a meeting about something that was very bad news from the estate management point of view and would lead to trouble, but here was the Government telling crofters that they had to get together and organise meetings, and it’s out of these meetings that were held to elect representatives and delegates to the Napier Commission that they began to develop the political organisation that was eventually known as the Highland Land League.
Neil: The Highland Land League or, as it was known initially, The Highland Land Law Reform Association was founded in London in 1883. It gained support in the Highlands thanks to the group meetings organised for the Napier Commission and a massed gathering of crofters in Fraserburgh at the time of the summer herring fishing.
The first Highland branch of the Land League met in Glendale in December of 1883, the crofters’ voices given a formal political outlet.
George: The Land League meetings originally were passed on just by word of mouth from crofter to crofter until they got a bit stronger and were able to do it more openly, but meetings were held in various different places after the first meeting here. One of the places that was quite favoured, there was a kind of natural amphitheatre up in the hill, and that was quite often used and very often held in the open air, but so far as John MacPherson was concerned, he started touring, trying to bring more and more people, and not just from the Highlands but from the southern part of Scotland as well, and wherever he could he spoke to government officials, MPs, whoever he could he tried to influence to the crofters’ cause.
Neil: Start walking again now towards the final point of the walk, the Watermill. Head back along the road towards Loch Pooltiel. Just before you reach Hamara the road forks; take the branch that heads down to the lochside. As you walk along the road which the Glendale crofters would have travelled daily, Jim Hunter will explain the spread of activism across the Highlands in the wake of the Napier Commission; because in spite of all it did to draw attention to the crofters, the Commission’s final report let them down. It did not recommend their key wish for all crofters to have security of tenure, the right to occupy the land, and that disappointment galvanised the crofters’ movement to a new level.
Jim: When the Napier Commission findings and recommendations didn’t come up to crofting expectations, there was a huge expansion of Land League influence in the Highlands and an enormously extensive protest movement and rent strikes became universal. This was no longer something that was just confined to places like Glendale, it was now spread right across the west coast of the Highland mainland and throughout the Hebrides, and what crofters are demanding through the Land League representatives is total absolute security of tenure for every crofter of every croft, however small it might be, and in the General Election of 1885 the Land League ran candidates against the established parties, and Land League candidates won overwhelmingly, and John MacPherson from Glendale toured the crofting area speaking on behalf of the Land League candidates.
Neil: Through the 1880s, right across the Highlands the land war continued. There were protests, rent strikes, a movement that was unprecedented in Scottish history.
Jim: What worried the authorities was the extent to which crofters had, in effect, taken the law into their own hands. They were in charge of large areas, they were not paying rent, they were defying the law on an enormous scale, not just one or two of them but virtually all of them eventually, and I think it’s worth underlining that this was not just a small, a set of small local incidents. It was an entire region of Britain for a period having to be patrolled by the military where the authorities felt that they were losing a grip on the situation entirely, and where in the end in order to restore the peace they conceded legislation of a kind that would not ever have been contemplated anywhere else and has never been contemplated anywhere else.
Neil: That legislation was the Land Act of 1886, which granted, finally, security of tenure for the crofters, at last giving them the right to occupy the land on which they lived and worked.
Point 7: Glendale Watermill
Hopefully, you’ve reached Glendale Watermill, now very dilapidated but still picturesque at a point where a burn comes tumbling off the hillside into the loch. The crofters who used this mill now had security, knowing that they could not be evicted from their crofts at whim, but their struggle would continue through the 1880s and into the 20th Century.
Their political confidence now established, crofters across the Highlands and Islands wished for land that had been removed to be restored to them, and in this stage of the story too, Glendale is somewhere special.
Jim: The Government took the view at the end of the 19th Century that something had to be done to bring land back into crofting occupancy, the land that had been lost. They began to buy estates with that aim in view, and initially their view was that crofters should become the owners of these estates. For a whole variety of reasons, crofters on the whole were suspicious of this and preferred to become tenants of the state, of the Government, and many crofters are still in that position. The Glendale crofters were unique in that they stuck with the idea that they should become the owners of their crofts and indeed ultimately the owners of the entire Glendale Estate, and so they on a fifty-year purchase scheme, starting around about 1905 and ending round about 1955, became the outright owners of Glendale, and the people here remain the owners of the Glendale Estate, and of course today community ownership is very much in fashion in the Highlands and Islands, but in many ways the Glendale people were the pioneers of that type of ownership, just as they were amongst the pioneers in their struggle for crofting rights in the 1880s.
Neil: For the crofters of Glendale, that purchase agreement must have been very special. Take some time to drink in the views here and imagine what it would be like to know that after generations of uncertainty, this was truly your home, your land, and as you stand by the ruined watermill let’s reflect on the changes in way of life that this valley has seen.
George: We’re standing now outside the remains of the watermill, the main mill for Glendale for quite a large number of years. There was the mill itself and then beside it was the kiln house, the kiln house where the grain was dried, and my father used to describe coming down here with his mother, the corn would be spread out on the floor and turned over until it was completely dry, then it would be taken into the mill itself and ground, and the miller would take a scoop of the corn before it was ground. This went on for many years, but eventually it died off, but it was still running up until just before the First World War.
Jim: Where we are now, it’s all derelict I guess, or semi-derelict, well more than semi-derelict. I think there’s something kind of emblematic about that because about the last thing Glendale would need today is a mill for grinding grain because there’s so little cultivation here, and that’s sort of symptomatic of what’s happened to the Highlands and Islands generally or to the Highlands and Islands agriculture, but I think it’s also worth stressing that you can get too pessimistic about all of that.
There’s still real potential in these places, and one of the really fascinating things about Skye is that the population of Skye at its peak was around twenty-four thousand. By the early 1960s it had fallen to six thousand, but it’s now over ten thousand again, so it’s possible to turn around all of that and it’s possible still for people to make a living here, and the victory that was won here, long ago, is fundamental to that because where there were to be lots more setbacks in the 20th Century and while there would be a lot more depopulation the fundamental point that they won was that they were entitled to remain in occupancy of the land, and that’s what kept these communities going, and it’s on that basis that perhaps still they have a future.
Neil: Whether you’re there as a visitor, or living and working on Skye you are a little part of that future. This is the end of our walk through history. If you left a car at Meanish, there are two ways to return. If the tide is low you can walk along the beach to the pier, alternatively, head back up past the school and take the lower road back to your starting point.
This audio walk was made in collaboration with the Open University. Further information and more walks can be found at open2.net/scotland.
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