Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ancient Ausdale

Ausdale aka Ousdale
To set the scene for some Badbea history there are a few nearby locations that it is helpful to know something about. The first of these, several small hamlets and a farm, called Ausdale in early citations, but changed to Ousdale in later times. Ausdale, in the Latheron Parish, Caithness, Scotland, has been a place of habitation for thousands of years.
There is still a well-preserved Iron Age broch from the 2nd – 3rd centuries there. 

Ousdale broch showing the main entrance.
Photo: Duncan Kennedy
Ausdale appears (centre top) on the Roy Military Survey 
of Scotland, 1747-55.  maps.nls.uk
Ausdale was noted in the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland 1892-6.

 Ed Francis Groome (1892-6)
Note the close proximity of Ousdale to Badbea. 
OS six inch to mile maps 1840s to 1880s maps.nls.uk 
This map includes the Grey Hen’s Well showing the proximity
 to Badbea. Ousdale is just off the bottom left of the map. 
Ousdale farm is still a well farmed property today. The old stone houses are long gone. Google earth shows the Ousdale farm near the A9 between Helmsdale and Berriedale. The farm has been productive for at least several hundred years but those who have lived off it have changed significantly.

Ousdale farm in 2009 from the A9
 Zooming in on Google Earth it is possible to see the old 
stone remains of enclosures and dwellings probably
 late eighteenth century if not earlier. 
NB: The straight lines are modern transmission lines. 
The birth records for the Latheron Parish show births to Sutherland families and others at Ausdale from 1760 although it was well settled before the keeping of the parish records.

Ausdale was part of the Langwell Estate which had belonged to the Caithness family of Sutherlands since the seventeenth century. At that time Ausdale had a meal mill, an inn, a busy whisky distillery and a productive farm with ample living for the eight families, which included some Sutherlands and McLeods. Some members of these families became leaders in the Badbea settlement after they were cleared from Ausdale. Stories of their struggle for survival will follow.

The Bishop takes breakfast at Ausdale
Bishop Pococke accompanied by the Rev. George Innes visited Caithness during 1761 and wrote a general view of life and conditions then prevailing at Ausdale:
‘…when we came to the top of the Ord, how much were we surprised to see it all flat country before us, there being not one mountain or hill in all Caithness…We came to Ausdale an Inn, and the first house you came to in Caithness. ‘Good Morning Landlady’, said Mr Innes, ‘We have a good mind to take breakfast here if you can give us tea?’
She answered, very briskly, ‘Pray Sir, what kind of tea do you desire?’ Looking about to me he winked, and said ‘That’s so far good and promises well.’ Turning again to the Landlady, ‘Well good woman, what kind of tea can you give us?’ ‘Why Sir,’ she replied, ‘I can give you green tea, Bohea tea or coffee.’ ’Upon my word that is good sense truly,’ said Mr Innes, ‘Come, let us alight and get a good breakfast even in the wilds of Caithness.’
We then called for a sight of both kinds of tea and the green looked so well we made a choice of it, and very good it proved. We could not have had better in all the city of Edinburgh. We asked if we could have good milk…
‘You shall have plenty of that, Gentlemen,’ said the Landlady. Accordingly she had the servant fetch us a large cog of milk, and set it upon the table with a large spoon, and then said, ‘Here is the milk, Gentlemen, and skim off ye cream for yourselves.’
And indeed, it was the very best of milk, fresh and cool, clean and in good order; and never was there better fresh and powdered butter than she regaled us with, which spread upon good oatcakes made a noble repast. Till the tea kettle got ready I stepped out the door to look about me and see what I could spy, when, behold, I saw two women moving towards the house in a most leisurely way, step by step, each having a large vessel or broad cog of milk between her hands taken instantly from the cows. This induced me to return immediately to the house and ask if they had any farm here?
‘Yes Sir,’ said the Landlady, ‘We have a farm for which we pay six hundred merks Scots a year.’ (About £35 sterling). This makes a very large farm in Caithness of wide extended bounds….’
Source: Roydhouse, A. 1977. ‘Background to Badbea’, John O’ Groat Journal 

The Sutherland Lairds of Langwell as proprietors of Ausdale engaged a tacksman or leaseholder to manage the property and secure the rent from the crofters for the owners. Ausdale was well managed. But Robert Sutherland fifth Laird of Langwell, eccentric and a heavy drinker, was divorced by his wife and  forced to sell the Langwell estate in 1775 to a William Gray recently from Jamaica.  In 1788 Lady Janet Sinclair the wife of Sir John Sinclair the agriculturalist and statistician acquired the Langwell estate. Sir John Sinclair was an enterprising man who was very interested in agricultural improvements. He was also considered to be well meaning and humane in his consideration of his numerous tenants. But it was not long after the Sinclairs acquired Langwell that the news of improvements turned to ‘evictions’. The nearby tiny coastal settlement of Badbea, perched on treacherous cliff tops high above the sea, was soon to become one of the most notorious locations to receive dispossessed and evicted Highlanders from nearby villages including Ousdale. Farming improvements were not perceived compatible with the traditional small scale crofters. The way of life at Ousdale, described by Bishop Pococke was coming to a miserable end. The days of relative plenitude were fast vanishing, at least from the hearths of nearby tenantry.

The Highland Family, by Sir David Wilkie, 1824


  1. Farr , my name is william manson . I lived at ousdale farm in the cottage closest to the a9. Do you have any idea how old the cottage is . The house now directly in fron of the cottage was not there when i lived there . any information is appreciated .
    Thank you william manson

    1. Hi William (sorry for Liam) I sent a reply (copied below) with some attachments but they seem to have dropped off somewhere - so I'll post this again and if you send me an email to farrmcleod@gmail.com I'll resend the photos to you.
      Hi Liam - so you lived in the 'old' house - thats very interesting. I can't tell you when that was built but I do have a couple of little bits of information. Just to make sure I am talking about the same house as you, I have attached a photo - I gather you mean the house in the front right of the picture. I have also attached an extract from a comment made in 1938 that indicates there was an even older house there before the 'long house'. I have looked on several old maps eg http://maps.nls.uk/view/101466452 that all show a house but don't indicate the age of the house. There is also an old photo from the John O Groat Journal in 1934 that seems to show your house but again no date. There is a photo of Ousdale in the Johnston Collection that unfortunately doesn't show any houses but is interesting- the reference for that is JN23012B026.