The Strathnaver Trail links and interprets 29 archaeological sites beginning at the Strathnaver Museum where you can get a map and very informative Trail Guide.
The trail guides visitors around a wide range of sites, including the remains of Neolithic horned chamber cairns, Bronze Age cairns and hut circles, Iron Age brochs, Pictish carved stones and pre-Clearance townships. The 29 sites include 12 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, one listed building (the museum), and several other monuments that provide good examples from different periods.
The landscape of Strathnaver has evolved under human influence for at least 6,000 years. Together, these structures create a powerful picture of life throughout several millennia in what is now an almost deserted landscape. All the sites lie within a compact geographical area. In addition to its prehistoric sites, which have made Strathnaver a favourite venue for university and archaeology society field trips, the area has historical associations with key events and personalities during the infamous Highland Clearances of the 18th century.
The Strathnaver Trail takes in several of the ruined villages. The earliest sites on the Trail date to the Neolithic (New Stone Age) about 6000 – 4,400 years ago, when the first farmers cleared the land of trees and rocks to grow barley and other crops.
Some of the stones were built into magnificent cairns containing chambered tombs From about 4,400 years ago traveling metalworkers began to trade their products. Initially these were made of bronze (a mixture of copper and tin). From the Bronze Age there are the first visible remains of round houses hut circles) for families to live in (sites 5, 8). Bronze Age people also put up standing stones and stone circles (site 6). Iron began to be available from about 2,600 years ago.
The Iron Age has produced the first evidence of conflict in Strathnaver – fortified round towers, unique to Scotland, known as brochs, dating from about 200 BC to 200 AD (site11). England, and much of Europe, was ruled by the Romansat this time – perhaps the brochs helped local people maintain their independence, or perhaps they were just status symbols.
Christianity was brought to Scotland by priests from Ireland in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. The Red Priests stone (site 9) is supposed to mark the way of St.:Maelrubha (642-722) who founded the Abbey of Applecross and was the most important saint in Northern Scotland after St.Columba – at least 21 churches are dedicated to him. St. Columba’s church at Bettyhill houses Strathnaver Museum, and dates to 1774, but there has been a church recorded here since at least 1223. The magnificent 8th century carved stone cross in the graveyard shows this was probably another early Christian site (site 16). In the 9th century the Vikings conquered Strathnaver and it became part of the Norwegian Earldom of Orkney, but the kings of Scots gradually extended their power and in the late 12th century they defeated the Earls forces at Dalharrold (site 7).
The later medieval period saw the area dominated by the Mackay clan. They could at one time muster 800 fighting men. Like other parts of the highlands, over the centuries Strathnaver has produced exceptional soldiers to fight in various armies.
The Reformation in the 16th century meant that many smaller churches and chapels were destroyed or abandoned. In the 19th century the little corrugated iron church was built at Syre to provide for the congregation there (site 4). Finally, for centuries people in Strathnaver have caught salmon in the River Naver. Bettyhill Salmon Netting Station operated until recently, and the Ice House and other buildings can still be seen (site 14).