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