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Badbea Poem by Joy Corley Map 


A-Z of Caithness Places


An early 19th century village near the edge of the cliffs where people evicted from the nearby Langwell were sent.
This was a harsh place to live at that time and many of the people left to go to New Zealand.
Children were reputedly tethered in case they wandered off the cliffs.
 A monument to the erected in 1911 and unveiled in 1912 stands as a reminder to this day.
“Letters by John Badbea" recently acquired by Clan Sinclair Study Centre 1855 - 1860

Badbea Monument - Caithness Waybaggers Walk Ousdale To Berriedale February 2008

John Gunn - Died 1876 - From Lynn Craig - Nov 2007
We have a copy of the obituary of John Gunn who died 1876, and its says he was evicted from Auchencraig. I am sending you a copy of my transcription from the paper which I thought might be of interest to you, if you know anything about Marion we would be pleased, especially as we think she had a daughter in 1839 and yet the inscription says she died in 1837 - the daughter is shown in the 1841 census, also named Marion:

BADBEA By Joy Corley
Badbea lies halfway between the Ord and Berriedale. The third milestone to the west of Berriedale stands at the head of the Badbea burn, which divides the village in two. The hamlet of Badbea is a secluded desolate spot situated on the slopes leading down to the precipitous Berriedale cliffs. Access to the hamlet is through a kissing gate just off the A9 along a rough heather lined track through a broken down dyke.

Badbea (village of Birches) came into being around the beginning of the 19th century after families had been cleared from Berriedale by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster to make way for sheep. In 1814 the Estate was sold to James Horne and the population numbered around 80 people, 12 families. The families built their cottages from the locally quarried grey and red granite. By 1840 (Donald Horne, nephew of James, was Laird) the population had risen to 100 people.

It is said that James Horne (the Laird until 1831) used to visit Badbea riding a quiet dun pony. He was not a bad Laird although very passionate and the least thing set him in a rage, when his language was anything but polite. The Laird would retrace his steps back to Achastle at a walking pace and never put the pony to trot.


There were two or three fatal accidents to some of the inhabitants of Badbea. A man called George Duncan, was returning from Berriedale after finishing his work at the Manse (in the course of erection) when he lost his way in the dark and fell over the west side of Berriedale Head. A search party was sent out the next day where his mangled remains were found. A number of years later his 10 year old son fell over the rocks right below his mother’s house fortunately a neighbour John Gunn went to the rescue, taking the boy up on his shoulders, bound him to his own body with a rope and scaled the previously inaccessible cliff and laid him down on his mother’s knee. This part of the rock never was scaled by a human being either before or after. John Gunn died at the ripe old age of 89 years. John Gunn senior perished over the rocks in his 84th year when climbing up from the smuggling cave.

The families were industrious and frugal. Every house had its spinning wheel; spinning and carding were learnt by all the young women so that they could spin material for clothing the whole household. Each family possessed a few head of cattle, a fat pig and an abundance of fish and plenty of good potatoes and milk. Tea was very expensive 8s per lb and inferior sugar 10p per lb. These commodities along with loaf-bread were only used on special occasions such as a birth or a death. Fresh water was obtained from a spring flowing out of the hillside and was never known to have gone dry. Another source of income was in the making of flails of birch (for threshing corn crops), breadbaskets, potato baskets, rashes (for the household lamp) and milk cogs which were sold at the Dunbeath Market in November.

Life was hard and very primitive, especially with only one horse in the whole village. There was not even a plough and the chaib (a kind of spade) was used in its place. The harrow was dragged behind a man, and the manure carried on women’s backs in creels. A great day was the day “John (Sutherland) Badbea” got his peats carried home. The horses came from Braemore and Houstry to lead John’s peats to the stance where the peat stock stood, a little above the house. There was not a road or track by which carts could be used and the peats were therefore carried in “crubags” (hamper), slung by a piece of rope fixed to a rude saddletree set on the back of the horse. There could be as many as 30 or 40 horses engaged. It was an honour to be chosen to lead three or four of the horses with their tails tied to each other to John’s stance.

Fishing was the main employment of the inhabitants with haddock lying right opposite Badbea. Tons of fish could be landed in a day with fish put aside for the widows with young children - no one wanted for fish from one year’s end to the other.

At one time there were 13 fishing boats at Berriedale, which would go out, and fish for herring. Women would tether their children and chickens to the rocks while they spent their days gutting the fish, unfortunately, Donald Horne decided to do away with herring fishing for salmon fishing and so another form of employment was gone.


There was some trifling work to be got occasionally on the estate, but the rate of wages was very low. One shilling per day was the rate for the best worker until 1854. In 1854 the Duke of Portland bought the Estate. If any young man had the courage to go and work beyond the estate his parents would suffer by being turned out of their house and lot at the next term.

Smuggling was very common and every house and family in the hamlet had their “browst” or two every year. At one time the excise laws were not very stringent but later when they became stringent the Innkeeper at Berriedale, (now the Estate Office) John Dow would despatch a messenger to Badbea to warn them as the gaugers stationed in Dunbeath always called at the Inn on their way to Badbea. A sight to behold after running three miles to relay the message. Men could then be seen running in all directions, carrying sacks of malt to hide in the hills and rocks. If the dreaded party were successful the find was scattered among the heather or grass but when they were safety out of sight willing hands and nimble fingers gathered what had been so ruthlessly scattered, proving the truth of the saying that there is “a time to scatter and a time to gather that which was scattered”.

The village was not safe from the sea side as the cutter Atalanta paid visits. She would sail in close to the shore with her captain scanning the face of the rocks with his glass and woe betide the unfortunate bothy which came within the focus of his keen eye. A boat was at once manned and sent ashore armed with cutlass and pistol. The cutter men climbing the face of the most perpendicular rock with as much ease as they would climb the shrouds of the Atalanta. If any tubs or barrels were found in the bothy, they were hurled down the face of the rock and reached the shore in staves. A match would be applied to the dry thatch of the body leaving only a few smouldering embers.

When the Atalanta was out of sight the staves lying scattered on the shore were gathered together and handed over to David Badbea (David Sutherland) who held the offices of joiner and cooper and within 24 hours they were all in their former shape and ready for use, whilst willing hands restored the burnt out bothy to its former state.

Having said the above many a good quarter of barley was sold by the gauger to the Badbea folks to be converted into Highland whisky, sent to their very door by his own carts, and many a good gallon of whisky made from his own barley did the gauger take in part payment for his victual.

Contrary to the above it is said that a drunken person would not be found at Badbea nor was any of its inhabitants heard to utter a profane oath.

Perhaps the godly John Sutherland “John Badbea” set a good example by holding meetings or reading in his own house every Sunday when everyone in Badbea and Achnacraig regularly attended. John was assisted a few other godly men in the place Robert Grant, “Polbagh” was one of these and always closed the meeting with a prayer. Although it was the opinion of the older folks that the good earnest man was a shade too long in arriving at the “Amen”.

John Badbea (Sutherland) was the only person who sported a watch yet time could be calculated with as much accuracy both by night or day as if every one in the place had a watch or clock.

John Badbea (Sutherland) was born at Ousdale in 1788. His father was called James who married Catherine Sutherland. He had a brother Donald who was killed at Waterloo. John spent most of his life at Badbea where he died on 31 August 1864, aged 76 years, and was buried in the old burial ground at Berriedale. The inscription of the tombstone reads, “Erected to the memory of John Sutherland (Badbea) a native of Ousdale who feared the Lord from his youth, and was a lover of good things, sober, just, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he had been taught. John went to Badbea as a young bachelor to live with his niece Catherine. Later he became a preacher, doctor and counsellor to all, a man of exceptional piety and worth. John was thought to be a man of some means for he would accept no payment from the poor.   See Some Letters of John Badbea Sutherland

Alexander Robert Sutherland born Badbea in 1806 was brought up by John (Sutherland) Badbea. Mr Alex. Sutherland afterwards emigrated to New Zealand in the ship ‘Oriental’ in 1839 and prospered in the land of his adoption but he never forgot the lessons he was taught at the knees of John Badbea. He was honoured and respected while he lived. Alexander died in New Zealand in 1877 at the age of 71 years. His son ‘David Sutherland” though born in New Zealand visited Badbea in 1901. Only two tenants remained namely the Widow Enid John Sutherland and John Gunn (who left and went to Langwell Gardens).

It was David Sutherland who instigated the building of the 22 feet high and 20 feet square monument erected on the site of John Sutherland’s (Badbea) house using the stones and incorporating stones from the surrounding houses. Instructions were sent to Mr George Gunn of Wick whose forefathers had resided at Badbea. This monument was erected in 1911. The monument was unveiled by Mrs George Gunn, Wick on 2nd November 1912 in the presence of the largest assembly of people at Badbea for years.


Mrs Joy Corley
Wellbeck Estate Office
13th May 2002

Badbea - Poem by Joy Corley

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