ROSS AND CROMARTY:
|Map by S kitahashi|
This part of the Highlands is still quite rural, like its neighboring areas farther north, and has remained surprisingly rooted in the old ways of life despite an oil boom and the inescapable changes of modern life.
The area of Ross and Cromarty is actually a conglomeration of two old counties: Ross-shire and Cromartyshire. Ross-shire stretches from one side of Scotland to the other, and once encompassed some of the Outer Hebrides as well, but has been downsized over the years. Cromartyshire was a strange little county made up of numerous pockets or "exclaves" sprinkled throughout County Ross. By 1890 the map was a thorough mess and was sorted out into something closer to what we see today.
One of the most tragic events in this area's history was the Highland Clearances. This was the forced removal of rural Highlanders by the government and greedy landowners during the agricultural revolution. Many people lost their livelihoods due to these clearances, and at least one aristocrat decided to assist the unemployed. Sir Hector Munro put the people to work on a kind of folly which today is a commemoration of the clearances, the Fyrish Monument.
|glenmorangie distillery, a photo by twicepix on Flickr.|
- The Black Isle is a lovely place to visit, even if it's a peninsula and isn't really black. Fishing boats can still be seen floating in the harbors, and the location offers some stunning sunrises and sunsets. Isolated from the rest of the county, the Black Isle seems to be stalled in time.
- If you're looking for isolated, Glenuig is the place to be--with a population of about 30 it's hard to get much smaller. This area was once densely populated, but since the Clearances the population has stayed low and the beauty of nature is probably its greatest attraction.
- Ross-shire is home to what might be the most iconic castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan. This magnificent structure sits aloof on a tiny peninsula that juts out into the water, making for a truly magnificent sight, and its history is fascinating.
|Stornoway,Isle of Lewis, a photo by Donald M on Flickr.|
|Barryob [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons|
Each island has its own particular history and character. Lewis is the largest and boasts several archaeological beauties such as the Callanish Stones and Dun Carloway Broch. Harris has beautiful white beaches and curious patches of land called "saltings." In North Uist you can relax into the gentle rhythm of fishing in freshwater lochs, then liven it up on South Uist with Ceòlas, a celebration of Hebridean culture in music and dance. Benbecula is home to the strangely lumpy 14th century ruin of Borve Castle. Arriving at Barra by plane is a unique experience, as you skim down upon the beach between tides. St. Kilda is a misty place full of abandoned homes--haunting, really--and has the highest cliffs in Britain as well as the largest colony of guillemots in the world.
|North Tolsta,Isle of Lewis, a photo by Donald M on Flickr.|
- Many novels have been set in the Western Isles, probably because of the air of mystery and romance that pervades their landscape and history. Check out my Hebridean reading list to see if you'd be interested in picking up a book to keep for those long winter evenings coming our way.
- The Western Isles are notorious for shipwrecks, and on Flannan Isle there's a bit of a mystery concerning the lighthouse. In 1900 there were three lighthouse keepers, and after a time of heavy mist and blustering storms all of them disappeared without a trace.
- The Hebrides have inspired all kinds of music, from Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture to Sir Granville Bantock's Hebridean Symphony. Hear some of the latter here.
From the lonely shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us and the mist of seas
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is highland
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.Sources: