Badbea: The Tale of a Highland Clearance

The Story of a Highland Clearance



The Highland Clearances was the eviction, mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries, of a significant number of tenants in the Scottish Highlands.


It resulted from enclosures of common lands and a change from farming to sheep raising, an agricultural revolution largely carried out by hereditary aristocratic landowners.

The Clearances were a complex series of events occurring over more than a hundred years. A Highland Clearance has been defined as "an enforced simultaneous eviction of all families living in a given area.

The cumulative effect of the Clearances, and the large-scale voluntary emigrations over the same period, devastated the cultural landscape of Scotland; the effect of the Clearances was to destroy much of the Gaelic culture.

There has been much written about the clearances and virtually every part of the Highlands and its Villages have there own story to tell.

There are quite a few monuments dotted throughout the Highlands.

Some of the descendants still to this day, feel personally affected by the clearances of their own folk and the hardship, poverty and death that their ancestors endured.

Badbea is much of a similar story as of many others.

Badbea is a place where you can go and visit and take time to reflect on how we as a nation could do so much to so many of our Own for ones own greed and benefit.




Badbea is a haunting site of a now abandoned settlement.

Though beautiful, it is a windswept and bleak spot.

When you visit, its hard to think families with children and their cattle lived here in all weathers.

The Clearances is so important to the History of the Highlands and without Understanding the Story you can never fully appreciate the Highlands and its People.

Badbea (pronounced bad-bay), is perched on the steep slopes above the cliff tops at Berridale.

The village was settled in the 18th and 19th centuries by families evicted from their homes when the Straths of Langwell, Ousdale and Berriedale were cleared for the establishment of Sheep Farms.

The last resident left the village in 1911 and a monument was erected by the son of a former inhabitant, Alexander Robert Sutherland, who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1839.

Today, the ruins of the village are preserved as a tourist attraction and memorial to the Highland Clearances.




In the early 19th century the second, a more brutal phase of the Clearances began.

Most notorious are the examples of landlords trying to exploit changing economic circumstances to their financial advantage by clearing uneconomical tenants from their land, making room for more profitable uses such as sheep, deer forests or tourism.

Two of the best documented such clearances are those from the land of the Duchess of Sutherland, carried out by her factor Patrick Sellar, and the Glencalvie clearances.

In 1807, Elizabeth Gordon, 19th Countess of Sutherland, touring her inheritance with her husband Lord Stafford (later Duke of Sutherland), wrote that "he is seized as much as I am with the rage of improvements, and we both turn our attention with the greatest of energy to turnips".

As well as turning land over to sheep farming, Stafford planned to invest in creating a coal-pit, salt pans, brick and tile works and herringfisheries.

That year his agents began the evictions, and 90 families were forced to leave their crops in the ground and move their cattle, furniture and timbers to the land they were offered 20 miles (32 km) away on the coast, living in the open until they had built themselves new houses.

This plan has been described as a "typical example... of social engineering which met neither the hopes of the benefactors nor the needs of the beneficiaries, but produced social disaster."

The Sutherlands' first Commissioner, William Young, arrived in 1809, and soon engaged Patrick Sellar as his factor, who pressed ahead with the process while acquiring sheep farming estates for himself. 

The Sutherlands carried out extensive clearances between 1811 and 1820. 

Sellar personally supervised the eviction of any who showed reluctance to go, and the burning of cleared houses (especially the roof timbers) to prevent re-occupation.

Tenants were generally treated according to due process of law, being served with notices of eviction and given time (typically three months) to vacate.

However, many were reluctant to leave, did not obey the eviction notices, and were evicted with force.

The methods used were sometimes harsh, even by the standards of the early 19th century. Donald McLeod, a Sutherland stonemason, wrote about the events he witnessed:


The consternation and confusion were extreme.
Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects.
The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed. A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea.
At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once.
I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell.
The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins.
During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.
Through out the Highlands this story was repeated over and over. Badbea, is not on many if any, places to visit on the NC500.
If you have time, or should I Say Make time, please visit Badbea, stand close your eyes and try and picture what it much have been like even the stories that cattle and children were tied to post to stop them falling over the cliffs, and try and understand why this was such a Black Black time in the Highlands.