Past & Present


Scarp James Smith.jpgScarp from Huiseabhal Bheag (Photo: James Smith)

Looking across to Scarp from Huisinis there is the tantalising view of part of the township on the island and its backdrop of rounded rough hills. Binoculars reveal a few roofed houses amongst the abandoned field dykes and ruins of black-house and croft-house walls, but none of the homes are occupied all year round. The last two crofting families left the island in 1971, after what is likely to have been over 5,000 years of occupation.

Today, the abandoned township of Scarp is a mixture of 19th and 20th century buildings. The most recent ones are the croft-houses built between 1880 and 1930, with walls of mortared stone or corrugated iron and concrete. There is the mission and its house, built in 1891 and recently renovated. Nearby is the now ruinous school which closed in 1967.

Amongst them the older buildings can be seen. These are the abandoned blackhouses, originally built in the mid-1800s, with their squared ends and openings for windows. Some were adapted to take fireplaces and chimneys, all have separate drystane byres and barns, and their croft fields.

July 1937 in Scarp.jpgJuly 1937 in Scarp     (Photo:Robert M Adam)

But there are even older blackhouses to be found. These have very rounded ends, all four walls taking the shape of the roof, designed so that the gales would not blow the roof away. These homes had no chimneys - smoke from the peat fire seeped out through a hole in the heather thatch. Most of these ruins also appear to be windowless; what light there was must have come through the open door or a tiny window set into the base of the roof thatch. The byre, with its central drain set in the floor, was at one end of these blackhouses.

The oldest record of habitation on Scarp refers to the church built by Alasdair Crotach, 8th Chief of the Macleods, who died at Rodel in 1547. This is based on oral history of the day, and recorded in the Bannatyne Manuscript, dating from around 1829, and held at Dunvegan Castle in Skye. Here it states that as well as restoring and completing the Church of St Clements, he built ‘two other beautiful small churches’; at Rubh’ an Teampaill, near Northton (of which you will hear more later in Chapter xx) and the church on Scarp.

Nothing remains of this church now, but the name An Teampall (The Temple), for the graveyard and the naming of the nearby rock as Sgeir and Teampaill.

By Jill Harden, 2013

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