We stayed at Durness in a bed and breakfast establishment for one night on our way along the north coast of Scotland. Just before we arrived there we passed Ceannabeinne and stopped to read the notice board. It gave details of a township that thrived here until about 1842 so next morning we drove back the short distance to see what it was all about.
At first glance it was difficult to imagine there had been a township here. The ground looked hard and rocky with little worthwhile soil. Down in the bottom of the strath lay some flatter ground though it looked boggy but with drainage may have been fertile at one time. Scenery the area had in plenty. Looking out to seawards towering headlands and sea stacks gave a magical view.
A series of notice boards gave us a trail to follow and explained the history and where buildings stood. Instead of walls all that remained of houses was a jumble of stones though the lines they were lying in suggested large cottages with chimneys and partitions. Some signs of the lazybeds and gardens remain. Now Ceannabeinne cottage, the former school, is the only remaining building.
Stepping back in time to 1810, a lowland Scot James Anderson bought the leasehold of this area from the Duke of Sutherland and became the tacksman. This gave him complete control over the tenants of the district. Rents provided little income but by 1813, he had built a pier and several houses for fishermen. Such was his control that he rented sea areas to local men and charged them money to go fishing
He built for the first time large fishing boats, smoked and salted fish and developed the crab and lobster trade. He opened markets abroad by exporting salted fish to the Baltic countries. He owned all the fishing boats and equipment and rented them at high prices. The fishermen had to sell their catch to Anderson at low prices. He paid his workers in tokens, redeemable for goods in his shop.
Elsewhere landowners resorted to massive reorganisation of their estates to increase revenue. This involved moving people from inland to the costal fringes where they could become fishermen and small farmers - crofters. The cleared land became grazing for sheep, which had a higher financial return than the rent people could pay.
Anderson’s innovations for a time spared Ceannabeinne but eventually he decided that he too could do better by clearing the tenants off the land. In 1841 he served his tenants with a Notice of Eviction giving them only 48 hours to get out.
When the local sheriff officer came to serve the writ the men were six kilometres away cutting bent (grass) for thatch so only the women and children were at home. When the men got back the women had already grabbed the officer and forced him to burn the writ over a specially kindled fire. A few days later a new writ arrived. This time the tenants chased the officer away with a hail of stones and with the skirl of bagpipes ringing in his ears.
By now the press had picked up on the story but came in on the side of the landlord. On 17 September 1841 the Sheriff, the Procurator Fiscal and 14 constables arrived in Durness about 9pm. About 300 locals assembled and charged the inn where the Sheriff and his men were staying. The Police constables fled and hid among the corn stooks and the rocks on the shore. The locals dragged the Sheriff and Fiscal from the room rounded up the constables and escorted them all to the parish boundary.
Next a threat to send the 53rd Regiment from Edinburgh to enforce the eviction arrived. However, the riot had attracted many newspaper reports and officials in Edinburgh ordered a fair investigation. As James Anderson had not broken any law, the people of Ceannabeinne had to leave their homes in May 1842. However good did come out of the affair for in 1886, the Crofters Act became law and landowners could no longer force their tenants off the land.
No longer would only ghosts remain in townships cleared of their peoples.
- Historical Travel
Stock Up and Fuel Up
Durness is one place on the north coast where petrol is available,so take advantage, even if it is expensive. You can't do without!! (We paid £1.38 a litre, the most expensive petrol we have ever bought but then think of the distances involved to transport the stuff.)
There are also a couple of food stores, one with a post office. The garage, P.O and shop all belonged to one family. You have to pay in the shop for your petrol. We didn't find the prices too bad in Spar, but then only bought a couple of loaves and some milk.
There is a free car park in the village, close to the shops, with toilets. Plenty of space to park on our visit, although a coach came and parked across us which wasn't any problem really.
Unfortunately, it was so wild and cold we didn't feel like lingering!!!
- Food and Dining
- Family Travel
- Road Trip
Kyle Of Durness/Cape Wrath
There is a small passenger ferry that leaves Keoldale on the Kyle of Durness and transports you across the water. You then catch an optional minibus that takes you 10 miles along a very narrow, often steep road to the very tip of Cape Wrat, to Robert Stevenson's lighthouse (1828) This road is prone to closing when the military are in operation on the bombing and artillery range on this area. The bus operates from May to Sept.except during military excercises.
Not wishing to make this trip with others and not having a great deal of time (besides which, there is so much beautiful scenery in this area we didn't feel we had to make this trip just so we could say we had been to the most north westerly point in Scotland), we gave it miss.
For more info, look at the website.
This picture was taken from the viewpoint off the A838, just by the turning for the ferry to Cape Wrath.
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
In Durness, turn off northwards to Balnakeil Bay (signposted.) This road takes you past a collecton of old military buildings which have been used since the 1960's for craft workshops. Today, there are around a dozen outlets including a woodwind instrument maker and you are encouraged to have a look round as well as purchasing. Many of these people live on site.
Continuing, you come to a roofless church and a parking area. This is where you must park if you want to walk along the huge, spectacularly wild (when we visited) beach of Balnakeil. Geographically, it's at the mouth of the Kyle of Durness, between Cape Wrath and Loch Eriboll, west of Durness. It's a vast expanse of sand backed by massive sand dunes and marram grass, with breakers from the thundering seas crashing on shore. The walk takes you to Feraid head, where I have read a small puffin colony may be spotted. Many varieties of rare wild flowers can be found on the cliffs on the headland here.The area around Feraid Head and out to sea towards Cape Wrath has a large military and naval presence with firing ranges evident.
Back at the ruined church, built in 1619 but having much older roots, look out for the mass grave of the crew from a ship that sank off Feraid Head in 1849, all hands drowning. Also buried here is the grave of highwayman Donald MacMurchow, responsible for 18 deaths. His grave is marked by a skull and cossbones.
It was freezing cold on our visit and blowing like mad so we didn't venture along the beach but had a good poke about in the church.
Parking is limited here and beware if you are in anything with a low undercarriage; there is quite a drop and if coming out backwards, you can catch your underneath!!
- Hiking and Walking
- Religious Travel
Stupendous Sandy Beaches
The Durness area is renowned for it's glorious sand beaches, clear waters, white sands and rolling waves. When conditions are right, it's a surfer's paradise.
I was amazed at the colour of the sea around Durness, but then the sun had come out and put some colour in the photos.
There were a few people enjoying the beaches, kiting, walking, rock pooling, sand constructing but no surfers. Obviously conditions were not favourable on the beaches we saw except maybe Balnakeil Bay, to the north.This is much more exposed.
Loch Hope is actually an inland freshwater loch,east of Loch Eriboll. It is scenically attractive, surrounded by greenery,offering yet more views of Ben Hope, in the east and is a popular spot for game fishing. There were certainly a few boats dotted about it's 6 miles and cars parked in parking spots by the loch.Apparently the loch is renowned for it's sea trout and various establishments lease the fishing right on parts of the loch .The river Hope links the loch to the sea Loch Eriboll.
Nick and I went for a trip on the motorbike along the narrow road running along the loch's eastern shore, enjoying the views and stopping at a small waterfall for our flask of coffee.
- Hiking and Walking
- Road Trip
Ard Neakie is a tiny piece of land on Loch Eriboll that is connected to the mainland by a spit of land with a stony beach either side. It is probably the most photographed part of Loch Eriboll and we were fortunate enough to spend a day camped there.
The building that remains intact is the old ferry house; ferries used to ply across the loch to the Heilam Hotel but this service ceased in the 1890's when the road around the loch was completed. Lime was quarried and processd here in the 1870's, for the Reay Estate, before being shipped further afield and mostly used to neutralise the peaty soil. The four lime kilns are still intact today and in remarkably good condition. During WW2, the navy stored vast quantities of ammunition in the lime kilns. I didn't notice any upon inspection!!Now, the house seems derelict, especially the older building next to it, with it's sway-backed roof.
It is quite a fascinating place and although there is a gate on the track leading from the main road, we drove down in the van, after speaking to a static caravan owner on the land. The land is owned by a local who lives further down the loch and although he's not entirely in agreement with people being on his land, doesn't often object.People regularly come fishing here, as well.
- Sailing and Boating
Loch Eriboll is a deep water sea loch between Durness and Tongue, 16 kms long and varying in depth from 15 to 60 fathoms deep. In fact, it's the most northerly deep water sea loch in the British Isles and was used during WW2 as a naval base. British servicemen nicknamd the loch as Loch 'Orrible because of the often atrocious weather conditions they had to endure in these parts. The large island in the loch, Eilean Chorauch, was used for bombing practice by the RAF, the island's size not dissimilar to that of a battleship. The loch was also the site of the surrender of the German U boat fleet in 1945.
Above the loch, servicemen spelt out the names of their ships in rocks, gradually becoming lost in the undergrowth over the years. Local school children have, in recent years, cleared away the undergrowth and the stones are now once again visible. Quite an emotional site for the servicemen and their families, I should imagine.
The name Eriboll is taken from individual words, meaning home on a gravelly beach. The area has a very high rainfall and is sparsely populated.
We found the eastern side of the loch green and verdant and much gentler than the western side which appeared far less interesting and much rockier, barren and even bleak, with it's sheer limestone slopes. However, it is certainly a most magnificent sea loch with stunning views of the ever present Ben Hope!
- Sailing and Boating
A little way from the center of town, (a longish way if you walking) is Smoo Cave, probably Durness's most famous attraction. Bigger than a cathedral inside, and with a very photogenic waterfall on the inside too, its a must see if you in Durness.
Boat tours are offered to get further into the cave, but only in good weather, as the threat of flooding is quite a serious one. If i remember correctly, entrance to the cave is free, the boat tours cost a few quid each.
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
The Smoo cave is a classic limestone cave with the twist that it is right by the sea - the inlet may once have been a continuation of the cave where the roof collapsed back inland. It is larger than any photograph portrays it - 70 feet high from floor to ceiling. There are guided tours inside by boat.
- Budget Travel
Take a ferry that take to the other side of the lake and then wait the bus that go to the Cape Wrath Lighthouse, there you can see enormous and spectaculars cliffs.
Spend a morning to go there and go early you won't find almost anybody there.
- Adventure Travel
Durness, the far north of...
Durness, the far north of Scotland.
There's not a great deal to do here, but Smoo Caves are worth a visit. This is a place of interest because it's the most 'established' north-westerly village in Scotland. If you love to experience driving on wonderful scenic roads, then the road from Laide to Durness (A832, A835, A837, A894 and the A838)is fantastic (in a barren kind of way).
One of the most exciting things of Scotland.
An incredible green desert, without sound people.
- Adventure Travel