To local residents, and to the many visitors drawn here each year, Broadford and Strath is an area of great distinctiveness, where the people, the land and the sea are inextricably linked. Stark beauty, dramatic silhouettes and expansive seascapes, rapidly changing patterns of weather, light and cloud, relative lack of development, and the charm and warmth of small communities, with their blend of traditional and modern skills and interests, music, language and dance cultures come together to make this an area we are very proud to call “home”. Broadford & Strath has been one of the most continuously and densely occupied areas of Skye over the last 10,000 years.
The History of Broadford
Broadford is the second largest settlement on Skye and boasts several welcoming hotels, a wide selection of B&Bs, a range of shops including crafts, and a supermarket. It is now also home to various “linked” walks in the area of Broadford and Strath. The village of Broadford is often overlooked as the ‘service point’ for Southern Skye, or the intersection of the island’s main roads, but take a closer look and you will find much more. Broadford lies under the gaze of the Red Cuillins and runs along the sheltered waters of Broadford Bay with stunning views of the Inner Sound towards the islands of Scalpay, Longay and Pabay.
The village’s origins date back to a cattle market in the late 1700s. In 1812 the road from Kyleakin to Portree was built by Thomas Telford through the village. Throughout the 1800s, marble was extracted from a quarry at the foot of Beinn na Caillich (Hill of the Old Woman) and in 1904 a railway was built to carry the marble to the new pier at Broadford. In December 1910 a steam locomotive named the Skylark was in use on the line until the work ceased in 1914.
During his flight in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie was helped by Captain John MacKinnon. Before leaving for France one of the Prince’s followers rewarded MacKinnon with the French recipe of a brandy-based liqueur. This recipe was handed down through the Mackinnon family until, over 130 years later, a copy of the recipe was given to John Ross, owner of the Broadford Hotel. John did nothing with it but his son, James, decided to make up the recipe. After some trial and error, James produced a version of the recipe that he was happy with and invited some friends to try it. They all agreed that it was an excellent dram and James Ross began making and selling the liqueur in his hotel. In 1893, Ross registered a name for the liqueur and since September 1893 it has been known as “Drambuie”, from the gaelic ‘An Dram Buidheach’ which means ‘the drink that satisfies’.
The hinterland of Strath, the name being taken from Strath Suardal, is an area of outstanding landscape beauty, still characterised by traditional crofting and fishing communities, although the economy of the area has diversified considerably in recent years. Elgol, situated near the southern tip of the Strathaird Peninsula is a vibrant crofting community with a very strong interest in its local history, and an active fishing harbour. Elgol is also the location for several marine tourism operations, taking advantage of the abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, and ease of access to both the spectacular Cuillin and Loch Coruisk, the latter made famous by Sir Walter Scott in his poem “The Lord of the Isles”, written following his 1814 visit.
The Marble Industry
The marble industry involved transporting the marble by hand to Loch Cill Chriosd, where it was dressed and polished using water power from a small dam, before being taken to the waiting ships at the old pier. Although there are significant early records of the much prized Skye marble, quarrying did not proceed on a commercial scale until more modern infrastructure was put in place, and the establishment of Skye Marble in 1907.
Martin Martin mentions the quarrying of marble near Torrin as early as 1698, and Thomas Pennant’s records of his Scottish tours of 1771-1775, state that the altar in Iona Abbey was made of Skye marble. The highly ornamental white marble was also used in Hamilton Palace and Armadale Castle and is rumoured to have been used in the Vatican and the Palace of Versailles.
The currents of the Agricultural Improvements that swept Scotland in the 18th and early 19th centuries were reflected in the region by the desire of landowners to maximise income from their holdings by initially raising rents, followed by the introduction of large-scale sheep farms. This involved the complete reorganization of existing patterns of tenure, with the voluntary emigration of those who found the raised rental the last straw in their marginal existence, and later the forcible clearance of whole townships, to make way for sheep.
At this time the population of Broadford and Strath was increasing, rising from 1,748 (1801 census) to a peak of 3,243 in the 1851 census. Whatever the additional political pressures, such overpopulation was too much for the rural economy, and all over the Hebrides families were emigrating, either through choice in search of a better life, or as a result of the clearances. The concentration of people, the poor quality of the small ‘crofts’ handed out as an incentive to aid village clearances, and the severe impact of the 1836 famine meant that life was very fragile, and many died, fled, were evicted, or rebelled.
Keppoch and Boreraig were amongst the last villages to be cleared. Graphic descriptions of the eviction of the 44 families from Keppoch in 1852, and the 32 families remaining in Boreraig and Suisinish in 1853 are given in Prebble’s account The Highland Clearances describing the turning out of children, nailing up of doors, and burning of the thatch. One year later, Donald Ross, a Glasgow lawyer, visited Boreraig and found families still living out in the open, in unimaginable hardship.