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Notes on the Geography of The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands

These pictures were taken in the late 1980s, during a quick loop from Inverness through Skye, Ullapool, Altnaharra, John O'Groats, Wick, and back.

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The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 1

The population of northern Scotland hugs the coast, not merely because the best arable land is there but because the interior was forcibly cleared centuries ago by landowners forcing their clansmen to coastal homesteads, or crofts.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 2

The coastal roads today are still lined with crofter homes.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 3

The brutality of the Highland Clearances has produced a landscape that is now a study in the picturesque.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 4

Typically, crofts are laid out as strips perpendicular to the coast.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 5

Many of the homes are now in very good shape, chiefly because the residents no longer rely on income from the croft itself.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 6

Unretouched or gentrified.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 7

For lack of wood, stone is the primary construction material.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 8

It's used for fences, too.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 9

Up by Wick, large pastures with round bales and barbed wire co-exist with stone-slab fencing.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 10

It runs on at lengths reminiscent of tombstones in military cemeteries.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 11

Old photographs show peat stacked outside crofters' houses. The stuff is still being cut.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 12

Extraordinary roads--one lane, with periodic pullouts--wind across lonely landscapes. This just might be Glen Carron, northeast of the Kyle of Lochalsh.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 13

The forests have been gone so long that it's easy to see the denudation as natural.

The United Kingdom: The North West Highlands picture 14

Replanting began early in the 20th century. The results have become a favorite target for environmentalists appalled by both the monoculture and periodic clearcuts. Driving through such a forest is like driving through a tunnel.


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