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  • Writer's pictureRob Gibson

Moving out on the Highland Clearances Trail

Here's an introduction to Chapter 2. I'll be posting parts of it to explore in detail.

Unveiling the Braes Monument 1980. Sandy Lindsay 2nd left in white jacket. Sorley Maclean back right in black beret.

The history of land struggles in Scotland runs deep and wide, often underground like a river. When walking in the Highlands you may be forgiven for thinking that land struggles, indeed all struggles, exist elsewhere. Every now and then you might stumble upon a monument, memorial, cairn, or the remains of a croft, that suggests otherwise.

The second chapter of my book sheds light on the sometimes hidden and forgotten memorials scattered around Sutherland and the North. The origins of these memorials are traced back to the period in the 1980s when communities in the north, embittered and emboldened by Thatcherism, began to build memorials to past land struggles. I recall the stories and songs surrounding these memorials, sometimes from personal recollection of their insurrection:

- Skye’s Battle of the Braes plinth, inscribed by local resident Sorley MacLean, the leading Gaelic poet of the century. It was built with voluntary donations, thanks to the persistence of Aviemore County Councillor Sandy Lindsay. The plinth recalls the Braes folk’s link to the wider Skye revolt, such as the Glendale action, then dubbed The Crofters’ War. (1980)

- The Gartymore cairn, commemorating the foundation of the Highland Land League by locally-born Angus Sutherland. (1980)

- The little know Strathnaver Clearances memorials in the 1960s

- The writings of Iain Grimble and John Prebble in the ’60s and ’70s on the horrors of the Highland Clearances.

- The songs of Ewen Robertson, ‘bard of the Clearances’ and in the 1980s by Andy Mitchell, Dougie Maclean, Capercaillie and many others, and the effects of the Glenuig Music Festival.

I also explain how early research on who owns Scotland stirred an awakening around land reform in opposition to Thatcherism, forming the modern roots of today’s land reform movement.

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