A land of enchantment, Torridon is situated in Wester-Ross, the most westerly area of Ross-shire in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Although it is neighbour to Sutherland, the physical features of Wester-Ross are markedly different.
White Horses in Torridon
And now, a very short, magical video.
Torridon has the most dramatic scenery in the area and, while sharing the tragic history of Sutherland, there are unique and surprising historical episodes in Wester-Ross that haunt the landscape still.
Torridon At Low Tide
Torridon is situated at the head of salt water Loch Torridon, a sea inlet which washes the fields and grazing land at high tide, far inland from the sandy beaches exposed when the tide is out.
As well as sandy beaches, low tide reveals interesting stone formations and tide pools.
While crops are few, grazing for cattle and horses is adequate, if not abundant. Unlike Sutherland and most other places in the Highlands, there are no sheep to be seen. Past history accounts for this.
Like the rest of the Highlands and islands, Ross-shire suffered the ‘clearances’, a disgraceful episode in Scottish history when all of the Western Highlands and islands were cleared of people to make way for sheep. Land owners forcibly removed there tenants from the crofts they relied on for their existence, often herding them on to ships and transporting them to colonies, mainly Canada. Croft houses were demolished and sheep, believed to be more profitable, were brought in. Wester-Ross, particularly Torridon, endured some of the worst suffering. In 1831, the area, then a single estate, was purchased by a Colonel Burnet. This ruthless businesman had made his fortune by exploiting plantation workers in Jamaica. The details of his crimes against the crofters in the area is well documented by Steve Carter, Historian, suffice to say, the crofters in Torridon were contained rather than cleared – crammed together in abject poverty, forbidden from keeping livestock of any kind and only allowed a tiny plot on which they could grow potatoes.
For decades, this state of affairs continued until the estate was bought by Duncan Garroch of Gourock. This business man was also a philanthropist. He returned the land to the tenants; got rid of the sheep and replaced them with a deer forest; built walls and fences to keep the deer off the tenants land; allowed the tenants to keep livestock; encouraged them to harvest seaweed to use as fertiliser, a practice formerly forbidden; gave them access to peat bogs and even provided loans so they could buy livestock or build boats.
The area is a geological treasure, the red sandstone, at times overlaid with white quartzite being among the oldest rock in the world, some 250 million years old. The ancient red sandstone and white quartz are evident among the variety of rock types in the many mountains that ring this ancient basin.
Torridon Youth Hostel
The many, many mountains surrounding Torridon make this a favourite year round getaway for serious climbers as well as scramblers, hill walkers and hikers. Kayaking and fishing also attract many visitors. The Torridon Youth Hostel definitely deserves five stars. It is large, airy, beautifully furnished and has a warm, welcoming, relaxing vibe.
Walking to the local store from the hostel one rainy day, the silhouette of a street lamp prompted me to take the picture above. Along the way were several houses some of which, I think, offer Bed and Breakfast
For those wishing more opulent accommodation, the Torridon Hotel offers that and much more – and therein hangs a tale. Annat is divided from Torridon by the River Torridon.
A bridge across the river connects Torridon and Annat. While Duncan Garroch owned the estate, he sold 59 acres to the Earl of Lovelace. This acreage was a half mile or so from the river on the Annat side and here the Earl built Torridon House, now the Torridon Hotel, still surrounded by the beautiful landscaping laid out by the Lovelaces.
Torridon House (Now a hotel)
(I was prevented from getting a photo of Torridon House by the onset of a hail storm so got this one by an unnamed photograper from the internet.)
The Earl’s wife was Ava, the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, famous poet. Ava Lovelace, born in 1815, was remarkable in that she was a gifted scientist and mathematician who helped Charles Babbage, the foremost mathematics authority of his time, create the Babbage Engine, the very first computer. Ava is credited with writing the first computer programme. The international ‘Ava Lovelace Day’ celebrates women in technology. She and the Earl lived in Torridon House until her early death in 1852. While Ava’s public life as a scientist and math expert are well documented, of her life and habits at Torridon House little is known.
How to get to Torridon
How to get there: Take the earliest Inverness train from Glasgow. Change at Inverness and take the train heading to Wick. Alight at Strathcarron and get the minibus that meets the train and goes to Torridon. there is only one bus a day, so getting the earliest train is essential. Booking your journey in advance is recommended.
Note: For a comprehensive history of the area go to: Steve Carter’s web link in side bar – Torridon and Sheildaig – a historical perspective.
Trivia: According to Steve Carter, Historian, ‘Records show that Queen Victoria loved to travel the road between Torridon and Diabaig’.