Caithness Field Club


Donald Mackay

In May, 1999, Gordon Wilson led a club outing beyond Bettyhill past Skelpick to Dunviden and showed us brochs, hut circles, and chambered cairns. As we walked along a broad track Donald Mackay told us how it came to be built. He now expands on his account:-

About sixty years ago a portion of Strathnaver was broken up into smallholdings and several families from the North and West of the county were settled there. The townships of Skelpick and Rhifail formed part of the settlement before the Second World War.
There are no habitable dwelling houses on the Rhifail township, the tenants either live on other holdings in Strathnaver, or the majority occupy crofts at Skelpick, several miles twords the coast adjoining the Naver River. The land between the townships is common grazings, belonging to the crofters of Skelpick.

Few of the crofters work single units; the majority have several crofts, which together may form a viable unit. Unfortunately considerable time was wasted in moving machinery between the townships as the only access for vehicles, was a lengthy detour along the public road from Skelpick to the Naver Bridge and continuing along the Westside of the river to the vehicle bridge at Rhifail.

In the late seventies, several of the tenants made representations to the Crofters Commission for advice and assistance to see if it was feasible to upgrade the footpath between the townships to a standard suitable for tractors and modern machinery. Also to get areas of the common grazings apportioned for their individual use.

The track was upgraded and several apportionments granted, permitting improvement of the areas by fencing, drainage and re-re-seeding. Resulting in the area showing a significant increase in rotational grass by the early eighties. A new emphasis on improved grazings, increased winter fodder and the improvement of livestock.

When allocating areas great care and consideration had to be given not to disturb the numerous hut circles, chambered cairns and the Dunviden Broch, which were excluded from the areas of improvement.

Unfortunately, the re-allocation of land has not succeeded in retaining a large population. One of the leaders in this project has died, leaving a serious gap in community affairs. However, there are a few younger members remaining and with rationalisation of the crofts may be able to survive on the land.

Published in 2000 Bulletin