Badbea is in Caithness, around 5 miles north from Helmsdale, and one of Scotland’s abandoned clearance villages in the Scottish Highlands where you can still see the remains of the stone-built houses, along with drystone walls and the outline of the fields that people used to cultivate. The small village was built along a hillside beside steep cliffs, with the remains of 16 buildings still being seen along the 1.2 miles stretch of land that is called Badbea. Each family had a few acres of land for growing vegetables and keeping some livestock, the crofts being rented. Badbea was also know for illegal whisky stills, and smuggling. Possibly the whisky was used in barter as the community appears to have been religious due to the efforts of John Sutherland “John Badbea” who was a lay preacher in the village. Read more on the caithness.org website on the interesting article written on Badbea by Joy Corley. Her blog also has many fascinating insights into the local area and a love poem about Badbea. The Canmore website also has useful references to Badbea, along with wikipedia. You can see an aerial view of the Badbea village on bing.com/maps.
Originally the houses at Badbea were built from 1792 onwards by families that had been displaced from nearby estates and from Sutherland, as far away as Kildonan – to make room for the far more profitable sheep, this is now known as the Highland Clearances, and Badbea was a Clearance Village. They used any stone and materials they could find locally, most of the stone being used in the buildings and drystone walls were probably found in the fields they started to cultivate.
The families that arrived at Badbea either stayed permanently, tending their land and working at the herring fishing, either on the small fishing boats, or for the women, cleaning and preserving the fish, and working the land and looking after the farm animals – a few chickens, some cattle and a pig for fattening up. Others stayed temporary and left to immigrate to New Zealand and elsewhere (possibly North America, Canada and Australia).
By the late 19th century (1890’s) the herring fishing was declining in this area and with less work locally families were forced to move away to find employment, even by the 1870’s the number of crofts recorded by the Ordnance Survey was around 6 crofts, so showing the decline. In 1911 the village was finally abandoned with the crofts being left to fall into disrepair - the remains of croft house walls being left to remind us of the Highland Clearances and the people who lived in this small community, of between 60 and 100 people.
Badbea can be visited all year round, although it is probably better to see the area with the sun shining, and a calm wind, during spring throughout the summer months, in winter it is a bleak place. A good-sized free car park is available off the A9 around 2.5 miles south of Berriedale and slightly north of Ousdale. There is well-maintained path from the car park to the hillside above the cliffside, where you will find a monument to the people that lived in this inhospitable, although beautiful landscape, to the people that lived at Badbea and to the memories of the many families removed from the Scottish Highlands due to the clearances.
Dogs can be taken with you on this walk, just be aware that you may find sheep grazing on the moorland while on the walk, dogs must be kept on a lead near any livestock.
It is reputed that the crofters of Badbea used to tie their children, and livestock, to rocks when there were gales to stop them being blown over the cliffside. It can get windy in this area; I doubt you will need to tether your kids when you take the walk to discover Badbea, just be aware that there are steep cliffs nearby, just beyond where the remains of the crofts are. I have visited the village on a number of occasions with my dogs, often stopping the car to give the dogs a little exercise when on the drive to Inverness. It is a lovely, yet haunting location I am sure you will enjoy, even if it leaves you a little sad.
The location of Badbea looks idyllic in the middle of summer with the sun shining, and no wind. In winter with gales blowing in off the North Sea it would have been a dangerous and inhospitable location. The stone rubble-built croft houses would have offered some shelter from the cold and the wind, with the farm animals being kept sheltered at one end of the building. Heating would have been by using peats that had been dug up and dried during the summer months, and the family would have had to huddle around the open fires to keep warm. After a winter or two the dream of a better life better life in New Zealand and in North America would have been tantalising. You can find out a little on some of these desperate / or adventurous people on one of the websites dedicated to charting the destination and history of people from Badbea and other clearance villages who made the journey.