Brubster Places
J K Butler

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In the short account of the history of Brubster village (CFC Bulletin April 1986) only seven farm settlements were named and since at least ten families were known to be resident in 1830 a more thorough consideration of the question was needed. This is a more comprehensive review of what is known.


The general pattern of events at Brubster was that before 1830 the area had a scatter of small farms. After 1840 there was a village square containing twelve houses; a very small number of farms remained. Where a small farm is of an old building style and is remote from the village it is presumed to be a pre-clearance settlement. There is no way to be sure that all settlements are listed here but by walking the ground, perusing maps old and modern, and checking aerial photographs, the best job possible has been done. All settlements are marked on the map.

The settlements which can be named and located with confidence and are known to be pre-clearance are the following:

Altintonigal (or Aultingonagill) is a farm on the Allt Toragill, a burn coming from the west into the Forss Water. On maps RHP 2786 and RHP 2728. There is only a small building foundation remaining and no mark of a larger steading on the 1871 Ordnance Survey maps. The location is ND 026591. William Gunn was tenant from 1817 to 1823, (PDC 216) and Kenneth Ross then held it until the clearance in 1839 (PDC 187).

Forsiescye (or Achforsiescye or Forsey Sey) is a group of buildings at ND 021569 close by a waterfall. The ruins are still substantial. The only known tenant was William MacDonald preceded by his father (PDC l90). MacDonald was born there around 1793 and lived there for 23 years i.e. until about 1816 according to his own testimony. However, according to William, Gunn (PDC 219) he was still there some time between 1817 and 1823. It is shown on maps RHP 2728 and Peter Manson's Map. Also on First Series OS 1:25000 map.

Tornaheiden is shown on map RHP 2728 in a place corresponding closely to the steading at ND 027616. It was tenanted by John Sinclair and later by has son James. James had a disagreement about the place with the proprietor Capt. Macdonald and in 1841 had been put out and was living in a state of poverty. He was the last pre-clearance resident and there is no record of post-clearance occupation.

Cruives is at the north end of the estate at ND 035623. It is marked on modern maps and on the clearance-time map RHP 2786. There is no mention of the farm at the legal enquiry. Post-clearance it was occupied by Donald Gunn in 1877 and by Adam Gunn in the early 1900s and by Norman Macleod in 1912. It was under cultivation until recent times and appears to have escaped the clearances although it is not mentioned by John Sutherland (PDC 206) who listed who was left.

Toftmichie is located only by the position of the placename on the map RHP 2728, which suggests the ruined settlement at ND 046611. Nothing is known of pre-clearance occupation but James Gunn (PDC 192) knew the place. Around 1900 Robert Sutherland was resident there. There is no proof of its clearance but John Sutherland (PDC 206) said that after the clearance only two tenants remained on the east side of the river - presumed to be at Achnacly, and Monacarn so Toftmichie was probably cleared.,

Achreregan is at ND 028619 and was there before the clearance (PDC 192). The buildings are still in good condition and were probably not cleared, continuous occupation being likely until recent times. John Sutherland (PDC 206) said that in 1841 Angus Ross was the only tenant remaining on the west side of the river and in 1877 the valuation roll shows the heirs of Angus Ross in the tenancy of "Achrarragen".

Achnacly There are two farmsteads named Achnacly on the modern OS maps. The one at ND 036601 is of an older style of construction, while the other at ND 039598 is of a style similar to that of the Brubster Village houses and is probably a new farmstead constructed during the changes the sheepfarm brought about. Achnacly was not cleared. Indeed Robert Campbell was living there in 1841 (PDC 211); his father Peter Campbell died in 1840 having been the previous tenant. Donald Campbell was tenant in 1884 and William McDonald in 1900.

Clashnarachar at ND 017622 was obviously no longer in use in 1841 since it was necessary to ask James Gunn (PDC 192) if Achrerigan and Clashnarachar was one and the same place. He replied that they were separate and he had been for 10 years at Clashnarachar. It is marked on map RHP 2728.

Monacarn (or Monagrain or Monadh nan Carn) is a small croft at ND 049588 close by the chambered cairn and the church. It was occupied until recent years. It is listed by James Gunn at the time of the clearances (PDC 192) but nothing is known of the occupancy then. It is unlikely that it was cleared and the Farquhar family appear to have occupied it continuously from 1877 to modern times.

Croik is a small triangular patch of land by the junction of Forss Water and Allt Torigill. There is an indication of an infield at ND 035588 and the place is named on map RHP 2728. The ground may have been disputed because it is now part of Shurrery estate.

Achnacarich (or Achnacolich or Achnakeilach) is a steading on the Allt Forsiecye at ND 019586. It is a ruin with walls less than 1 metre high. Nothing is known of its occupancy. Being one of the desirable areas for the sheepfarm it may have been cleared early or merged with nearby Altingonigal.

Bulaguie appears on the map RHP 2728 close to Achnacarich and Altintonigal approximately at ND 021589.

Tofthorsa is on the east side of Forss Water and is listed by James Gunn (PDC 192) among the east side farms in the sequence "Monacarn, Tofthorsa, Achnaclay and Toftmichie". If the sequence is meaningful it is very likely to be the settlement at ND 047597 which is the only one on the east side remaining unnamed. It is not on Thomas Cameron's map of 1841 (RHP 2728) so it may have been cleared before then. Alexander Cormack gave evidence (PDC 206) that he is 80 years of age (in 1841), that he went to Tofthorsa when he was age 12 (1773) and remained there about 40 years (1813) and then went for 10 years to Achrerigan.

The settlements which are known by name but cannot be confidently located axe those listed below.

Mill of Brubster In the 1841 census James Sutherland is listed as the miller. The Mill of Brubster is named by James Gunn (PDC 192) as being west of the river but no mill has been located. Judging by the number of grain dryers in the area a substantial mill is to be sought.

Insach (or Insagh) is one of the areas of better ground to the west of Forss Water. It may have intended to indicate the buildings at ND 023612 as shown on map RHP 2728, or one of the groups to the south of that.

Boandhu is only known from a remark in evidence of William Gunn (PDC 219) "that Donald Gunn, now dead, was in Boandhu of Brubster". James Gunn (PDC 192)knew a place called Reandhu which may have been the same place; Reandhu was on the west side of Forss Water.

Claban is known from William Gunn (PDC 219) "David Sutherland was in Claban".

Clachrol, Bualmore and Meinaval, are listed unlocated.

There are some remains of houses or farms on the ground to which names cannot be put.

They are at:
ND 019573
ND 029599
ND 046596
ND 023612
ND 028609
ND 028605
ND 028602
ND 030605
ND 030606
ND 036614


Broubster Cottage at ND 020619 is of fairly modern construction and traditionally housed an official of the estate. Construction date not known.

Staill at ND 032603 is a cottage and a network of sheep-pens. It is of post-clearance quality and traditionally housed the shepherd of the sheepfarm. The pens and byres probably go back to 1839 judged by the building style but the cottage later.

Broubster Village (the Square). A rectangular group of 12 dwellings cut by the road, at ND 037596. It was built in 1839 to house the families cleared from the surrounding farms and cottages. Each house had a garden. There is evidence now of only 11 houses so two were merged into one sometime. The style of construction is distinctive; the cottages have chimneys and are built of rubble with a red clay infill.

Aultan. Near the Aultan burn are three cottages with gardens, at

ND 041588, ND 042587 and ND 042585. There is no mention of these places in the pre-clearance information. The layout of the buildings and the style of construction is very close to that of the Village. However there are places of this style nearby in Shurrery and the Aultan cottages are now part of that estate. It seems best to suppose that Aultan was always part of Shurrery, or disputed when the map was made in 1840, or passed over soon after 1839.

The Church at ND 049587 is recorded in the Surveyors Object Names Book of the Ordnance Survey of 1871-73 as follows: "Situated on Monadh nan Carn, was erected by Wm. Innes, Esq. of Sandside in 1838. The tenants of all the small farms now under sheep were removed soon after, and as there were very few left, the Church was shut up and has remained so ever since. Church is kept in good repair." It is not clear when the church re-opened but it was in use from at least 1900 to 1936.

The manse at ND 047586. From the same source as above (in1871-73): "S.W. of Church, at present occupied by a crofter, Duncan Sutherland."

The School at ND 042590 is not mentioned in the Object Names Book, so it wasn't there in 1873. Offers to build a school were invited in the John o' Groat Journal of 21.7.1878 and the school opened on 30.4.1860. However JOGJ of 12.6.1840 mentions that "the school al Broubster established by Captain MacDonald of Shebster eight months ago had been examined" and "54 pupils present had acquitted themselves, reflecting great credit on their excellent teacher, Sergeant William Campbell."

The pattern of clearance is suite clear from the map. All the farms on the west side of the estate were cleared. Two farms on the eastern side - Cruives and Monacar - continued unscathed. Achregegan and Achnacly were occupied but probably worked under a new regime. 18 places were cleared and between 12 and 15 cottages were built to house the families. Since 3 of the 18 were cleared earlier than the rest (Clashbreak, Achnacarich and Bulaguie) there could have been a cottage for each family in 1839.

This could not have been done without help from many people, but particularly Mr. D. Omand, Miss J. Ryrie, Mr. G. Leet, Mr. D. B. Miller, Mr. I. Macleod and Mrs. D. McIvor (now deceased).

RHP 2786 An estate map under this catalogue number in Scottish Records Office. Drawn by William R. Sutherland and annotated 20 July 1844 by Lord Robertson, the Lord Ordinary.

RHP 2728 A map entitled "Sketch of the Reay Commonty or alleged Commonty, 1840, Thomas Cameron, Surveyor". In Scottish Record Office under the catalogue number given.

PDC is the shorthand reference - followed by the page number - to the document "Proof in the Division of Common in the Parish of Reay". Held in the Scottish Records Office under reference CS235/A/24/2.

Peter Manson's Map Caithness-shire. Published by John Thomson & Co. Edinburgh 1822.