Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Northwest Highlands
The term Northwest Highlands usually refers to the northern third of Scotland that is separated from the rest of the country by the "Great Glen" or "Glen More". This fault line has been exploited by man to create the Caledonian Canal which extends from the west coast to the east, from Loch Linnhe to the Moray Firth and which serves as the boundary between the Northwest Highlands and the Grampian Mountains.
Although Great Britain's tallest peaks are found in the Caledonian range, the altitudes are low in relative terms. The movements that occurred during the Pleistocene Era resulted in the formation of low-lying land as well as the dissection of valleys. Many Ice Age fjords penetrate deep inland. The jagged coastline between Loch Shiel and Cape Wrath which receives a fierce battering from the elements is founded on the oldest layers of rock in Scotland, the crystalline Lewisian gneiss, which is between 1.4 million and 2.8 million years old. Suilven, Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Quinag are just some of the impressive rock islands of dark red or gray Torridon sandstone (800 million years old) which project out of the gneiss. Some of the peaks such as Beinn Eighe and Canisp are topped with light gray or white Cambrian quartzite. To the east of the gneiss lie expanses of Cambrian limestone (ca. 600-800 million years old) adjoined by a wide area of gray-black, micaceous moine schist (800-1,000 million years old). The mountain ranges which generally follow a west-east line are important factors in creating the climatic differences which occur in the Highland region with its warm westerly Gulf Stream influences. Exposure to low-pressure areas from the northwest explains the high rainfall (about 80 inches/2,000mm per year) in what is the wettest region in the country. Only the protected coastal plain around the Moray Firth, Caithness and a few wind and frost protected zones in the southwest can support intensive crop cultivation.
Environmental factors restrict the period when plants prosper. The podsolic and marshy land contains few nutrients and so only hardy plants such as the common heathers, bell heathers and also reindeer moss can survive while wild grasses grow on the upper slopes. The range of flora above limestone and moine schist is more varied. At Knockan Cliff, for example, purple foxglove, mountain avens and alpine lady's mantle thrive. Around Beinn Eighe old Scots Pine forests remain at lower altitudes, while above the tree line heather and moorland vegetation are plentiful.
Red deer, pine martens, badgers, wild cats, otters and white hare are all able to endure the harsh environment and bird watchers come to observe willow grouse, golden plovers, whinchats, redwings, ring ouzels, corncrakes and golden eagles.
Although for centuries emigration has plagued the Highlands region, more recently population movements have occurred within the region. In the urban areas along the Caledonian valley, state-subsidized small industries have attracted workers, while communications have improved between Inverness and Wick, encouraging population growth. In the peripheral areas, however, where there has been little investment and few opportunities for employment other than on the land, the population, particularly the younger people, has continued to drift away. Against a background of limited opportunities and the socio-economic consequences of the 19th century Sutherland Clearances, the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) was set up in 1965 with the aim of strengthening the whole local economy. The introduction of new industries would, it was hoped, secure the long-term future of the region and stabilize the population. Initiatives have included improving the road network (with the aid of EU subsidies), helping crofters to adjust to a market economy by enabling them to buy plots of land (since 1976) and establishing competitive co-operatives to market the region's products. Inshore fishing has also received help while a forestation scheme has proved to be somewhat controversial. Tourism has been promoted especially in spring and autumn.
Northwest Highland - Water activities
Loch Nan Uamh Cairn
Road to the Isles (A87)
Loch Carron - Strome Castle
Torridon - Mountain Terrain
Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve
Wester Ross - Inverewe Garden
Aberdeenshire - Mar Lodge Estate
Inverpolly Nature Reserve
Inverkirkaig Mountain Route
Inchnadamph Nature Reserve
Eas a Chual Aluinn Falls
Clo Mor Cliffs
On a lonely hill by Ben a'Bhragaidh northwest of Golspie stands a huge statue of the first Duke of Sutherland. The statue was erected in 1833 initially to acknowledge his contribution to the kelp industry, fisheries, house and road building, but it quickly came to symbolize one of the bitterest episodes in Scottish history: the Highland Clearances.
The origins of these traumatic events can be traced back to the defeat of the Scottish clans. With the exception of Caithness, the traditional structure of Highland society rested for centuries on a system of almost 180 clans that lived independently of each other, cultivated the valleys to fulfillll their own requirements and bred "Black Cattle". The land belonged to the clans, which were represented by a clan chief, and every individual had rights and duties arising from his or her membership of the clan. After the convincing defeat at Culloden in 1746, the clan system was banned and the clansmen's property became the property of the English administrators who showed little concern for the welfare of the crofters whose livelihood depended on that land.
After 1780 the estates were returned to clan chiefs who vowed allegiance to the crown. These landowners were known as "lairds" and were able to grant feudal rights to the small-scale farmers.
Spurred on by the success of the southern Scottish estates where the "laird" system was well tried and also the burgeoning demands of the expanding English textile industry, these new Highland landlords saw opportunities for profitable exploitation of the vast expanses of land. Large-scale sheep farming was seen as an escape from low yields, poverty and famine that accompanied traditional, labor-intensive cultivation of the land. The numerous sheep breeders of the Lowlands were offering to pay three times as much to graze their Cheviot and Linton flocks but this meant that a large proportion of the farmers would have to be resettled in the coastal regions. The forced eviction of two thirds of the farming families, the "Highland Clearances" as they became known, started at the beginning of the 18th century and continued until the 1870s. After a vain attempt by the crofters to stop the advance of sheep farming at Easter Ross in 1792, there was little organized resistance to the power of the lairds. The result was the almost entire removal of settlements from the Highland region and overcrowding in the coastal regions.
Fishing and collecting seaweed as a fertilizer was an inadequate second source of income for the crofters who were given only small plots of land, so many of them, faced with little chance of a decent livelihood at home, were forced to emigrate south to the industrial regions of Scotland and England or else to go abroad. After the famines of 1836 and 1846 and incentives offered by overseas governments, the Highlands, before 1745 home to three fifths of the total Scottish population, were by 1870 almost deserted. One Canadian province, Nova Scotia, owes its existence to the disastrous Highland Clearances.
The county of Sutherland earned notoriety from the Highland Clearances as some 15,000 Highlanders were forced to leave their native soil. Those who did not leave voluntarily faced the bailiff and anyone who stood up to him had to endure brutal violence. Homes were razed to the ground, families torn asunder and agitators were rounded up and sent to penal colonies in Australia. The initiator of the Sutherland Clearances was George Granville, at the time one of Europe's wealthiest businessmen. This Englishman, the Marquess of Stafford, had married the daughter of the Earl of Sutherland in 1785. When Queen Victoria visited the seat of the Sutherlands in 1832, she is said to have been aware that the simplicity of her own home, Balmoral Castle, contrasted with the splendor of Dunrobin Castle, which is even today one of Scotland's largest ancestral homes. Immediately after his wedding, the 27-year-old marquis set about resettling his crofters near the coast and handing over the agricultural land to sheep farmers from the Lowlands. He built new homes, schools, roads and even a railroad line as part of the "land reform" and in 1833 was rewarded with a dukedom. Twenty years later, however, Karl Marx wrote in the New York Herald Tribune that he had committed an act of brutal despotism on a par with that of Genghis Khan.
Memories of the Clearances run deep in the psyche of the unfortunate victims and an objective assessment of the policy is impossible. Scottish emigrants in all parts of the former British empire, some four or five generations on, are said to be able to put a name to the soldier - almost certainly a Highlander - who ejected their ancestors from their homes. Further information on the background to the mass evictions is available in the Timespan Heritage Centre (1987) in Helmsdale and the Strathnaver Museum where finds from the abandoned village of Rosail (7mi/11.2km to the south) are also exhibited. A painting by the contemporary artist Thomas Faed (1826-1900) entitled "The Last of the Clan" (1865) shows the misery and desperation of the victims. It is now on display in the municipal art gallery in Glasgow.
Rosail Clearance Village