Suilven – the Famine or Destitution Walls – Beinn Dearg and The road of Destitution.

After my winter wander on Beinn Dearg I had a look at some other effects of this tragic time in Scotland’s history. On that day I followed the “Famine Wall” on to near the summit and then all the way along the ridge. Its a huge feature that few know of its history and why it was built. It was built in the time of the Potato Famine in the 1840’s its a story of tragedy and” Man’s inhumanity to man” Yet its good to know some of the stories of these majestic places and the cost in emigration to our small country. How many died making these walls and roads we will never know but the Walls and roads are there as a reminder. So please when you visit these places please pass on these stories?

Many who climb Suilven in the North West Highlands of Scotland may wonder why has a dry stone wall running across its middle. The wall was built about 160 years ago. Some of the stones are massive like all the walls in these mountains.

The Wall – Photo Shane Younie Suiliven

I had two pals camp up on the summit this week they took some great photos especially of the wall that crosses the mountain. What effort went into that Wall? Its a long day and how this Wall was built is incredible as you hit the ridge there it is. You feel so feeble struggling up this mountain and yet over 140 years ago people built a wall here?

The famous Road of Destitution is another that I was told about and how it was built.

Why is it there ? I was told these tales long ago they are a huge part of our Mountain Heritage and big reminders into our history. The late George Bruce, John Hinde and Hamish Browns magical book Hamish’s Mountain Walk and Climbing the Corbetts are full of historical information and tales of these mountains.

There is far more to these wild places than ticking a list of mountains. Names like Destitution Road and Famine walls are a huge part of the heritage of this area

These were such terrible times where so many left emigrated “forced” for places like America, Canada, Australia and other places. This was due to famine and the terrible treatment of those who controlled the land. We lost so many folk that the Highlands never recovered frpm

Those who climb up Suilven will be amazed by how remote and incredibly steep it is . I cannot imagine the sheer effort to also carry/move such huge stones which make up the Destitution or “Famine wall” that crosses the mountain. When building the Wall where did they stay, they must have camped high up at times, there are few shelters and huge walks to get to the mountains .

The “Famine Wall” on Suilven

Why were they built?

The sad answer is starvation. In the 1840s and 1850s, during the Highland clearances, the people were forced from their lands by rich landowners to make way for sheep farming. Many leaving for America, Canada, Australia, etc. a potato famine struck leaving those that were left behind starving. Too proud to beg for charity, which the rich landowners had refused anyway, they were forced to work with little or no purpose, building roads and walls in the middle of nowhere in exchange for food. These were the ‘destitution’ roads and famine walls. They still exist across the Highlands to this day, a sad reminder of a blighted history.

The Destitution road. A832

From a Tourist write up.

This remains popular with travellers and tourists alike as its fine stretch offers a unique view of the Scottish Highlands. How many know that after endless hours of graft, what was created by the desperate men was the A832, a 126-mile long road which links Cromarty, on the east coast, to Gairloch on the west coast. For 125 miles, it remains in a single county, making it the longest 3-digit A road in Scotland and the fifth longest in Britain.

Dundonnell to Braemore

The most famous stretch of this road is from Dundonnell to Braemore is one of the most famous parts of Destitution Road. The A832 road enters the wild Dundonnell Gorge where it climbs alongside the waterfalls on the Dundonnell River before leaving at Fain Bridge.

Fain Bothy just off the road we used to use it as a Base Camp before it demise. Its in the middle of the moor a wild place.

It then travels across the wild open moors reaching an altitude of 1000 feet where you get these incredible views of An Teallach,The Fannichs and Beinn Dearg. I have used this road often in winter it is wild and one can only think of the effort making this road, controlling the rivers and how bad the weather could be. How many died making this in the days before Health and Safety? I have come back in a blizzard on a few occasions this is a wild place where the wind sweeps across there is no shelter. I often think of those who built this place.

Yet in Scotland it was a lot better than what occurred in Ireland during their famine. Yet is was a close run thing, The effects of the famine negatively impacted the already impoverished Highland population, leaving them in further despair and desperation.

The disease is thought to have affected around 150,000 people with one-third of the population leaving Scotland between 1841 and 1861. Many thousands died on the voyages or on the shores of their new world.

Destitution road remains popular with travellers and tourists alike as its fine stretch offers a unique view of the Scottish Highlands. It would be good to see something to teach future generations of its history.

Have we moved on today with Food-banks etc?

Rations: A day’s work involved eight hours of labour, six days a week. Oatmeal rations for the workers were set at 680g for men, 340g per woman and 230g per child.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Books, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, History, Mountaineering, Other hills Grahams & Donalds, People, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Views Political?, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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