Saturday 20 October 2012--Drive back to Skye this morning, turning again onto the B8083. Two miles or so up the road, the remains of Cill Chriosd--
Christ Church--sit on a knoll overlooking the Broadford River. This 16th- century parish church served the townships of Strath Suardal (or Swordale), which
was a busy place back in the day. In addition to the scattered crofting villages, there was a quarry on the hillside through the 18th and 19th centuries.
A narrow-gauge railroad, now long dismantled, carried the rough granite down to Broadford, where it was cut and dressed before being shipped off.
A short way up the B8083, at Kilbride, a spur road branches off to the left. The pavement ends a half mile or so along. I park and continue along the track on foot, two miles to the remains of the cleared village of Suisnish. The houses here have been reduced to rubble; the perimeter fence is buried in the turf. The track ends at the far end of the village, where a sheep dip and pen stand ready to meet the needs of the current residents. Beyond that, a trail leads two more miles east along the coast, to the abandoned village of Boreraig.
Boreraig lies in a bowl looking south over Loch Eishort. The remnant of a dun along the shore hints at many centuries of habitation. The site is now largely covered in bracken, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to picture what it must have looked like. The ruins are more substantial here than in Suisnish, with at least a couple of the houses surviving to the level of the lintel over the door. There were about 120 residents in the twenty-two households here at the time of clearance, in 1853. A census two years earlier lists not only crofters and farm laborers, but a few weavers, a fisherman, and a carpenter. Many accepted relocation to Australia, and the notes attached to the ships' passenger lists are illuminating, if brief. Angus and Catherine MacInnes and their six children, aboard the Allison, are described as "a very good family but not a poor one." Malcolm and Ann Macleod and their five, on the Georgiana, are "a first rate family for Australia." On the other hand, the family of Alexander MacDonald has the "appearance of great destitution." These are just several examples from Boreraig; there are families listed from every corner of Skye. Learning all this, I realize that I've been harboring subconscious preconceptions of a near-primitive people huddled in the mud. They were subsistence farmers, of course, living literally hand-to-mouth. But I begin to see them now as a civilized and reasonably sophisticated society-- humble, but hard-working; cash-poor, but self-reliant. Likely they bathed on Saturday evening, whether they needed it or not. And on Sunday, they walked three miles each way to Cill Chriosd, and pondered their place in the universe. Then they were sent to the far side of the world, like so many slabs of granite. The ghosts of their ancestors are still here.
I'd planned to walk back the way I came, but the coastal trail was pretty rough; so I follow the churchgoers' footsteps up out the back of the village. This trail is wide and well worn, obviously the preferred route into Boreraig. There are traces of the old granite quarry along the way, just before the descent to the ruined church. From there, I walk back to the car along the road.
There's a wedding party in the Plockton Inn when I arrive for dinner, ladies in long gowns, gents in kilts. Shortly they retire to the village hall for the reception. Returning to the B&B, I find their motorcoach parked in the top of Cooper Street, alongside the hall. I have to admire the driver, who passed the "not suitable for coaches" sign at the entry to the village, and backed his vehicle off the narrow main street into his parking space. Party sounds drift out of the hall.
I wonder what a wedding in Boreraig was like.