Badbea Clearance Village
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
Sir John Sinclair had a problem. He wanted to improve the income from his Langwell estate in southern Caithness and introduce lucrative sheep farming. Unfortunately, the Langwell estate had resident families already living and farming there.
The solution was to evict the farming families and move them to Badbea, on the high cliffs south of Berriedale. Twelve families were evicted, moving some 80 people to the clifftop village, a place so inhospitable that the residents had to tether their animals and even small children to avoid them being swept over the cliffs by high winds.
In 1804 James Anderson evicted more farming families from his land at Ausdale, leaving the Strath of Berriedale devoid of residents. Another wave of Clearances occurred in 1830 when landowner Donald Horne evicted families from Auchencraig.
Badbea was inhabited at least as early as the 1770s, but it was not until the infamous Highland Clearances that the population began to swell. Houses had to built from scratch, using any available material. Some built traditional Caithness longhouses, with both humans and animals under one roof.
There was only one horse to serve the needs of the entire village, but each family kept a few cows, a pig, and grew whatever vegetables they could from the poor soil.
The fields were ploughed by hand, with women carrying manure in creel basket to the vegetable patch to enrich the soil. Fishing was the major employer, with 13 boats at Berriedale, engaged in the herring fisheries. The men would go out fishing, while women stayed on shore and gutted the catch.
In 1814 the estate was sold to James Horne, and his son Donald eventually decided to end the herring fishery in favour of salmon fishing, which employed far fewer people. After this, there was very low employment, with only a few people able to get regular work on the estate.
Some residents turned to making illegal whiskey, and there were several stills operating. The residents evolved a system of warning signals to let each other know when excise men were approaching. The population of Badbea was starting to decline by the 1850s, and many people emigrated abroad.
The last resident left in 1911, and gradually the stone houses fell into decay and the bracken moved in.
All that is left today are the crumbling walls of scattered stone cottages, while sheep wander through the ruins. The Highland Council's handy Historic Environment Record states that there are 24 ruined buildings at Badbea, but on the ground, it is hard to make out that many; in some places, all that you can see are lumps in the ground with bits of stone showing through the ground cover.
One of the residents of Badbea was Alexander Sutherland, born in the village in 1806. In 1839 Sutherland emigrated to New Zealand. In 1911 his grandson, Donald Sutherland, erected a monument at Badbea to commemorate the families who lived and worked here. The monument stands near the site of his grandfather's cottage and is a very moving reminder of the hardships faced by the people of Badbea.
Badbea is signposted off the A9 north of Helmsdale. There is a large parking area with a useful information panel giving an outline of the village's history. From the parking area, a trail leads 1/4 mile across the heather to a long stone wall, built to control the land owner's sheep.
Beyond this you can see the striking memorial erected by Donald Sutherland. From the memorial you can see the remains of scattered stone cottages and crumbling walls. You can wander freely among the ruins, but please take care and stay well clear of the cliffs!
About Badbea Clearance Village
Address: Berriedale, Caithness, Scotland
Attraction Type: Museum
Location: Signposted off the A9 between Berriedale and Helmsdale. Parking beside the road, then a 1/4 mile walk to the village site. Open access. The nearest postcode is KW7 6HD.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Navidale Cemetery and St Ninian's Chapel - 3.8 miles (Historic Church)
Timespan - 4.7 miles (Museum)
Dunbeath Heritage Centre - 7.4 miles (Museum)
Laidhay Croft Museum - 8.2 miles (Museum)
Clan Gunn Heritage Centre & Museum - 10.8 miles (Museum)
Baile an Or - 11 miles (Countryside)
Achavanich Standing Stones - 14.8 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Hill o' Many Stanes - 17.1 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Nearest Holiday Cottages to Badbea Clearance Village:
Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from Badbea Clearance Village. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.