IT all started as a leaflet pointing tourists to key sites linked to the Highland Clearances. It might have gone no further than that, if it hadn’t been banned.

But in 1981, the Scottish Tourist Board refused to distribute the “Highland Clearances Trail” – a pamphlet looking to educate travellers on the true history of Scotland’s “wilderness”. The refusal had something of the opposite effect, and the leaflet is now set for its second edition as a fully fledged book.

“It was brilliant advertising for us,” author Rob Gibson told The National.

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“We were trying to get people to focus on things other than kilts and haggis and to actually get them to think about their history that was being trampled underfoot.

“The Highlands and Islands Development Board got very embarrassed,” Gibson went on, “so they gave us a little money to publicise the Highland Clearances Trail.

“They gave us £100 and we made a poster called ‘A Window in the Clearances’ … We must have sold in the region of 10,000 up till about 1996.”

The National: Editions of the Highland Clearances Trail through the yearsEditions of the Highland Clearances Trail through the years (Image: Rob Gibson)

Now, at about five times the length it was in the late 1990s, Gibson’s guide to sites linked with the Highland Clearances is being printed in a second edition.

“We know so much more than even [in 2006, when the first edition came out],” Gibson explained.

“In 2014 Scottish Natural Heritage, now NatureScot, delineated core wild land areas.

“I was looking at my map of where the Clearances took place, and there is a rapid overlap of these.

“So, in actual fact, in Scotland, in Britain, there is no such thing. It’s not ‘wild land’, it’s Clearances country.”

Gibson added that travellers on the famous North Coast 500 driving route would see much of this "Clearance country".

The National:

Gibson, who represented Highland areas as an SNP MSP for 13 years, has included that overlaid map in the introduction to his book’s second edition, which was published earlier this month.

He went on: “And since then a lot more has been known about the impact of slavery money, the compensation for slaves, which allowed lots of people to buy land in the Highlands, over a million acres in the 1830s.

“When people saw Queen Victoria setting up at Balmoral, they all wanted to have a Highland shooting lodge. So they started to pay way over the odds for glens, straths, and islands and basically the aim was to set up exclusive shooting estates. Therefore they removed the people who were living there.”

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No one quite knows how many people were forced from their ancestral homes during the Highland Clearances, which lasted from around 1783 to 1881, but estimates range from 70-150,000.

As such, it is hardly surprising that a tourist could, as Gibson (below) said, spend many years visiting the historic sites linked to the Clearances which are scattered across Scotland.

The National:

But one of the most poignant, he said, inspired that “Window into the Clearances” poster four decades ago.

“The window in the church at Croick, which is inland from Ardgay at Strathcarron on the east coast. In 1845, the land near to it was cleared by the owners who were making their fortune out in India.

“Their factor was given the job of getting rid of the people so they could set up sheep or a shooting estate. The people sheltered at the churchyard.

“In 1843, the Church of Scotland broke up, and that congregation was by-and-large Free Church people, including the minister. So they wouldn’t go into the church to shelter, because it was a Church of Scotland, but people scratched on the windows.”

The National:

To this day, the messages etched in the glass at Croick – such as “Glencalvie People the wicked generation Glencalvie” – can still be read.

“Those diamond-shaped windows are an absolutely poignant piece of knowledge,” Gibson said.

The former MSP is going on a tour of Scotland to promote the new edition of the Highland Clearances Trial, which covers sites from Arran to Shetland, Lewis to Angus.

Among others, he will be at the GALE Centre in Gairloch on Saturday, September 2, and the SNP national conference in Aberdeen on October 17.

The Highland Clearances Trail is published by Luath Press and can be bought on their website – where you can also read the introductions to the first and second editions – for £7.99.