Past & Present


Cravadale Chris Murray_278175455.jpgCrabhadal    (Photo: Chris Murray)

From 1811 onwards, Fear Hùisinis employed a shepherd based at Crabhadal to manage the large flocks of sheep from day to day. The Scarp crofters paid their rent to Fear Hùisinis and were required to help with the sheep gathering on mainland North Harris, as a condition of tenure.

At that time, livestock were sold at the Falkirk Tryst, where hundreds of buyers gathered from all over Britain. The Crabhadal shepherd drove the sheep and the black cattle to the Falkirk Tryst, having travelled with them by boat to the mainland. The Tryst was an incredible spectacle in its day, with as many as 150,000 cattle, sheep and horses arrived in great streams from all corners of Scotland and settling in the fields of Stenhousemuir. This was in the time before railway infrastructure in the Highlands, which would later transport livestock bought directly from farms and from cattle sales held in the north.

For most of the 1800s, the shepherd’s cottage by Loch na Cliofa (Loch of the Cliff, misnamed Loch na Cleabhaig on OS maps) was the only habitation close to the shortest crossing point for Scarp. Angus Duncan recalled one night when the islanders’ passage home from the Uig Communions was hampered due to a storm and the shepherd’s cottage accommodated an extra forty people for the night. When the minister from Tarbert came to preach on Scarp, which happened only a few times a year and was a big occasion, a boat from the island would go over for the shepherd and his family. They would row down Loch na Cliofa in their coble (a short flat-bottomed rowing boat) to meet the Scarp boat.

Crabhadal Sandra Mackay.jpgThe keeper’s cottage by Loch na Cliofa, Crabhadal (Photo: Sandra Mackay)

The original shepherd’s blackhouse was later replaced by the cottage you see at Crabhadal today. When the flock was sold in the early 1900s, the shepherd of that time became a gamekeeper.

Seumas Maclennan and his family of five, including his twin girls Miss Harris and Miss Lewis, moved from Scarp to Crabhadal in 1946, when Seumas become a gamekeeper for the new proprietor, Sir Thomas Sopwith. They were not as isolated here as you might think:

Katie Maclennan:
‘The people from Crabhadal, Seumas and family, would visit almost every day and certainly had no need of a gym with all the walking and climbing hills they did. They had their own teacher for a while- Christina Macdonald form Ardbheag - but the two youngest went to primary school in Scarp.’

Aonghas Dhomhaill a’Phuist:
‘We saw a lot of them in Hùisinis as they regularly came over to the mobile shops and every Sunday to go to church.’

By Joan Cumming, 2014