We are about to leave Eriskay, the barometer is steady and the forecast for wind is force three, south westerly.
Anchors up, and I carefully exit the anchorage with the leading marks now at my stern. Safely out I turn north, passed Hartamul Island, set the Haslar and the way point for the entrance to Loch Maddy, some forty miles to the north. If the weather should break, I can run for the pool in Loch Skipport behind Ornish Island.
Northwards we sail, Lazy Beaver and I, past Lochboisdale where during the last century some of the worst atrocities occurred, under the name of the Highland Clearance.
The Highland Clearance. A phrase to sadden a Highlanders' heart, and therefore a few words on its origins are in keeping with this narrative.
Prior to 1745 the local population of the Highlands and Islands lived a happy, hard, but subsistence lifestyle. The people were crofters and they managed their land by what was known as runrig. The runrig system comprised, communal fields laid out in strip form, surrounded by a cluster of houses. These communities were usually situated where the best grazing was to be found, in coastal areas on the machair, in sheltered glens and lochside meadowland. The crofter grew his own food, and to provide a small income fattened cattle for the market. After 1745, and particularly between 1750 and 1850, the Highland way of life was suppressed and the Highland chiefs became Lairds (landlords) and were determined to obtain the maximum income from their land. To this end, they turned their high ground into sporting estates, and on their low ground, introduced sheep.
Sheep, now so common in the Highlands and Islands, were to become the death of many crofting villages, and the crofters called them, the big sheep, 'caoraich mhor'. Vast numbers of sheep were introduced from the lowlands, and England, often arriving complete with their shepherds, who then settled in the area.
Sheep needed the best pasture, therefore the Lairds decided to obtain it by removing their tenants, (the crofters) from their land by whatever means they could devise. Many were persuaded to go by being offered bribes of a free passage to 'a better world', others refused to leave their homes. The usual outcome of these refusals was that men, women and children, whole families, were turned out of their homes, then rounded up and forcibly put on boats, usually destined for Canada. Most ended up in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. This was indeed, Britain's holocaust and the highland landlords - many by now living in the Lowlands and England - who considered profit from 'caoraich mhor', more valuable than families, must surely wreak the torments of hell. The same hell they gave the Highland crofter.
Past Loch Eynort and the great mountains of Beinn Mhor, 2033 feet, and Hecla, 1988 feet. We pass the entrance to Loch Skipport. The weather's holding good so on we go. Lazy Beaver is running down wind and lifting her skirts as much as to say - 'come on sea, catch me if you can'. She looks after herself as I go below and make some tea and sandwiches.
I return on deck to notice that the coastline has altered its character. Whereas before it was rugged but smooth, now it's rugged and rough, with great indentations and many inshore and offshore rocks to trap a careless crew. We approach the entrance to Loch Uiskevagh and I see tan sails slowly appear behind the small island called, Massey Riabahch. I look again, and see they belong to Lorn Leader, a converted Brixham Trawler, a skipper charter, with all her crew fare-paying passengers.
She turns south as we run north; past the entrance to Grimsay, a name with echoes from the Clearances. A rough shoreline here, the small islands, with such names as Floddaybeg and Floddaymore, each with it own private gannet drying his wings, must be passed with care. Looking ashore through my glasses, I see an old Mansion House, or is it Shooting Lodge, standing in its own carefully selected location. The pattern and species of surrounding trees indicate that man placed them and not nature, the views across the Little Minch to Skye unimpeded by their position. I see little evidence of crofters' habitation, only the occasional modern bungalow, all urban and white, no doubt built beside a pile of stones once the site of a family home. The Mansion House and Bungalow appear empty, not for sale, but a holiday home - for two weeks.
Ahead, I see the light house above Weavers Point and know that we're close to turning west, into Lochmaddy. Careful now, it's a run of two miles to the anchorage beside the pier, with hazards on the way. I down sails, start the engine and we make it safely in. Not wishing to be disturbed by the arrival of the ferry from Skye we anchor well to the south, not far from the wreck of an old fishing boat, her wooden sides laid open to expose her keel and rusting stern gear. It's now late, and I need sustenance, so down below to - tinned steak and kidney pie, mushy peas and carrots, followed by pineapple with condensed milk, cheese, oat cakes - and of course sweet tea!
It's dark now, and I cannot see to read any more of Para Handy. A quick check on deck and then to bed.
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