Crofting

The distinctive landscape of the Highlands and islands, including the area around Uig Bay, does not stem from an ancient way of life, but is the result of the introduction, in the 19th century, of Crofting.

Crofting is not an idyllic form of self-sufficiency. Crofts were created for families who had been farming the fertile inland areas when they were moved to the margins to make way for sheep and then deer. In the marginal areas in which they were created, a croft was not large enough to provide a living for a family unless they supplemented their income with other occupations.

The spirited resistance, in this and other areas of Skye, to the injustices imposed by the Highland Clearances culminated in the government first sending gunboats to Uig Bay and then asking Lord Napier to lead a Royal Commission to investigate the circumstances of the crofters. The resulting Crofters Act of 1886 for the first time safeguarded the rights of individual crofters and gave them the security which allowed them to improve their land free from the fear that their landlord would appropriate any land they improved. Many additions to crofting law later, the Crofters Commission today oversees what crofters may and may not do.

Crofting is much different now than in the past with more crofts diversifying. Crofts are now worked part time as most of the crofts in Skye now are too small to allow for a sustainable income.

Historical structures

The fact that much of the land in Skye is not really suitable for large scale arable farming is undoubtedly why we have such a rich treasure of ancient structures which have survived to the present day. In the small area of the Uig Community, from the river Hinnisdal to Skudiburgh Head there are the remains of two brochs, two hill forts, a Viking fort and graveyard, one medieval castle, and around twenty “hut-circles”(ancient dwellings), and a ruined village deserted at the time of the clearances, in addition to standing stones and earthworks from early times.

If you are staying in this district these are all within walking distance.

So if you are interested in the early inhabitants of Skye, or the Viking period, the clan period, the Jacobite period or the clearances, evidence still remains of these times to be seen today.

Early Settlements There is clear evidence of a fairly significant settlement by the mouth of the river Hinnisdal with many “hut circles” in the area

Pictish Stone Markings Just south of the Uig at Tote (Tobhta) there is a standing stone on which Pictish marking can still be seen.

Clach Ard Uige (The high stone of Uig) This is a relic of an ancient stone circle which stood on the hill just above Uig. This single stone remains in this prominent position up on the hill by the Youth Hostel. It is said that in the old stories of the area great disaster will befall the community if this stone should ever be moved.

Viking Remains. To the north of Uig at Skudiburgh Head there is the remains of a Viking fort, to the west of Earlish there is what is believed to be a Viking cemetery.

Clan Period At South Cuidrach on a cliff by loch Snizort stands the ruin of Caisteal Uisdean (or Hugh’s castle) which belonged to Uisdean MacGilleasbuig Chleirich or Hugh MacDonald who wanted to become Chief of the MacDonalds of Skye, and planned to murder his cousin Donald Gorm Mòr the then Clan Chief. He failed in this attempt and died in Duntulm Castle dungeon just a few miles north of Uig.

South of Uig many clan battles were fought around the area of the river Snizort which formed a boundary between the MacDonalds and MacLeods who frequently fought over the Trotternish peninsular.

Jacobite Rising

 It was of course just north of Uig that Bonny Prince Charlie landed in the well known “Over the sea to Skye” song. He and Flora MacDonald landed just north of Monkstadt House in Kilmuir. As there were soldiers (Redcoats) at Monkstadt House at the time looking for him, he was led by MacDonald of Kingsburgh from there down through Uig to Kingsburgh House where he spent the night.

Flora MacDonald herself died in her house at Peighinn an Duin, just to the south of Earlish, and is buried at Kilmuir just to the north of Uig. This is the Flora MacDonald memorial.

Piping Memorial

At the top of Glenhinnisdal just before the last house there in a small memorial at the roadside to mark the place where Donald MacDonald was born at a croft there in 1750. Donald MacDonald was a famous piper, and bagpipe maker, and a pupil of the great MacArthur pipers who had a piping college at Hungladder in Kilmuir. Donald’s main claim to fame however is that he was the first to put the Famous Piobaireachd, or “Ceòl Mòr” into notation for others to read. His own book of early “Ceòl Mòr” tunes are still used today and are played at the Skye games piobaireachd competitions each year by pipers from all parts of the world.

Highland Clearances

Much is now being written about the Highland Clearances when the local people were driven from their homes across the Highlands and Islands, and in many cases taken overseas to the “New World”

In this area, as indeed in many areas of the highlands there are many ruins which used to be active communities but exist no longer.

The Tower on the hill to the South of Uig village, across from the Uig Hotel, is a building very much associated with the Clearances. It was built by Captain Fraser, and was a place where the local crofters had to go to pay their rents to his Factor.

In the summer of 1884 Captain Fraser attempted unsuccessfully to evict a family at Garafad in Staffin during a rent strike of his tenants. The family were getting support from the local community. In his anger and frustration the brave Captain called for help from the Government claiming that the people were in riotous rebellion and asking for troops to put down the riots.

On Monday 18th of November 1884 the people of Uig awoke to find a flotilla of naval ships in Uig Bay. At least three ships were anchored there the “Locheil” the “Assistance” and the Gun Boat “Forester” and were busy unloading stores, police and marines who were taking up positions in Uig.

There is a long story about this attempt to use troops against the people during this period of our history; however it can be reported that the rent strike was not broken, and the family remained in their home, when the police and military left a few days later.

Modern History

The people of Uig are to this day involved in historical developments, and not merely passive observers. The community bought and refurbished the local Filling Station when it was closed down, and badly run down.

The community own the Filling Station/Shop/ and Café down by the pier, and lease it out to a local business.

People from Uig played a prominent part in the long campaign to force the Government to take the huge tolls off the Skye Bridge. This campaign lasted for over 9 years, with many people in Uig charged in the Criminal Courts just for refusing to pay the toll; some were arrested and even imprisoned for their opposition to the tolls. In the end they won the day and the tolls were lifted from us, and from visitors to Skye

Museum of Highland Life We would like to thank the Museum for contributing to this page.  The Skye museum of Island life is just a short distance to the north of Uig in Kilmuir, and is a must for any visitor to the area, and the little book “Discovering Skye” by Jonathan MacDonald, which can be bought at the museum, is an excellent way to get an introduction to the rich history of the Island if you are here on a short holiday.