“ON the NC500, what do you see? Heather, glens, hills and sea? Actually, Clearances country!”

Rob Gibson, the author behind the Highland Clearances Trial, has urged people travelling the North Coast 500 route to take a deeper look into Scotland’s history, beyond kilts and haggis.

The former SNP parliamentarian has seen his book, which started life as a banned leaflet in the early 1980s, renewed for a second edition.

And he is urging people who travel the famous NC500 driving route to engage.

READ MORE: The banned tourist guide mapping Highland Clearances across Scotland

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

“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.”

The National:

Gibson’s map, which is included in the introduction to the second edition of The Highland Clearances Trail published by Luath Press, shows a clear connection between the land deemed “wild” and areas which saw their population removed during the brutal clearances from 1783-1881.

He went on: “It is important to show that in fact many of the areas that are so-called wild land were once used by people for living.

“The point about my book is it tries to send people to see these places.”

Below and with Gibson’s help, The National has pulled together some of the best spots on the NC500 for people looking to learn about the shameful period in Scottish history.

1: Strathnaver

Around 30 miles west of Thurso, the river Naver meets the ocean at Torrisdale Bay. It was here in 1814 that, Gibson says, the “most notorious Clearances in the Highlands were enacted”.

At the orders of the first Duke of Sutherland, factor Patrick Sellar’s ruthless clearing of hundreds of families from Strathnaver would earn him a place in infamy.

In the words of historian Eric Richards: “In the literature of the Highland clearances, Sellar’s name is used to evoke images of extirpation, genocide and even the Holocaust.”

In 1816, Sellar was tried on charges including culpable homicide after he and his men burnt down one residence with someone still inside, according to the National Records of Scotland. Though he was acquitted in court, public opinion was far less kind.

The National:

Now, 200 years on, locals in the area have worked to establish the Strathnaver Museum in the old Farr parish church at Bettyhill (above).

Gibson says: “There are many pre-Clearance sites to be visited in the strath, and the Strathnaver Museum is a good starting point to understand the various phases of Clearance.”

The museum is also the starting point of the Strathnaver Trail, which “links and interprets 29 archaeological sites” including the remains of Neolithic horned chamber cairns, Bronze Age cairns and hut circles, Iron Age brochs, Pictish carved stones and pre-Clearance townships.

2: Rosal

About 14 miles south of Bettyhill are the ruins of Rosal, one of the largest of the Strathnaver villages to be cleared by Sellar and his men.

The village (below) remains poignant not least because of its famous son, Donald MacLeod.

MacLeod was born in Rosal in the late 18th century and would grow up to witness the brutal eviction of his family and neighbours from their ancestral home.

The National:

The Highlander went on to pen Gloomy Memories, a personal account of the Clearances which Gibson says came after he was “stung into response by the publication of Sunny Memories by Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who was full of glowing praise for the Sutherland dukes”.

Rosal is now accessible by a well set-out trail with explanatory plaques which begins in a car park off a Forestry Commission track around three-quarters of a mile south of Syre.

The village, which was home to around 13 families, was excavated during the 1960s and artefacts are to be found in Strathnaver Museum.

3: Badbea

On the A9 about six miles north-east of Helmsdale, Badbea is a village with a difference. Instead of seeing its inhabitants brutally cleared out, Badbea is an example of the type of place where people were forced to settle afterwards.

“The village, now deserted, was built on an inhospitable cliff-top site by people desperate for scraps of land,” Gibson says, recalling stories of children and animals being tethered down to stop them falling over the nearby cliffs.

The village was first built in 1792 by Highlanders cleared off their land on nearby estates and in Sutherland, and by 1911 was abandoned completely as residents emigrated abroad.

The National:

Now, there is a monument on the site (above), placed there by Donald Sutherland of New Zealand, in memory of his father who was born in Badbea in 1806 before leaving Scotland behind in 1839.

There is also a path to walk to the township, with signs commemorating how its first inhabitants were forced to move “from fertile glen to windswept coast”.

4: Applecross

One of the most famous stops on the NC500, the Applecross peninsula is full of history linked to the Highland Clearances. Not least because a lord by that name was mentioned by name in Robert Burns’s damning Address Of Beelzebub.

Written from the perspective of an approving devil, proud of British lords’ treatment of Highlanders, Burns’s poem goes:

They, an' be damn'd! what right hae they

To meat, or sleep, or light o' day?

Far less – to riches, pow'r, or freedom,

But what your lordship likes to gie them?

However, Applecross’s story is less connected with the forced Clearances of Sutherland and Sellar and more to the lack of economic opportunity in the area.

The lack of a road was raised as a problem for the community even in the 19th century, and many people left Scotland chasing the hope of a better life in Canada or the US – despite the lords’ attempts to stop them, as was also referenced in Burns’s poem.

The National:

Gibson says: “In the 1960s the road was opened between Applecross and Shieldaig, but this improvement in the infrastructure failed to save the many townships like Lonbain (above); its street of ruins are easily seen from the tourist route.

“Also in Cuaig, Fearnmore, Fearnbeg, Arinacrinachd and Kenmore, ruined houses abound.”

5: Croick

While it is a little off the NC500 route, the churchyard at Croick is one of the most poignant monuments to the Highland Clearances, Gibson says.

This small church, inland from Ardgay at Strathcarron on the east coast, still bears the words of villagers cleared from their homes scratched into its windows.

Gibson explains: “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.

The National:

“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.”

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

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

The Highland Clearances Trail is available from Luath Press. Now in its second edition, the book details sites across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands where people can visit the historic sites connected to the Clearances themselves.

You can buy the book and read Gibson’s introduction to his second edition here.