Braes may now be a tranquil and peaceful place to stay, but it wasn’t always the case…
On the Isle of Skye, the cruelty of the Highland Clearances and the disregard for the tenants riled the resident crofters. Over the years many folk had left or been evicted from the land. However, in the 1882 those crofters remaining in Braes were denied access to Ben Lee to graze their sheep. In the face of long standing tenancy grievances, the crofters decided to go ahead and graze their stock regardless, with some even refusing to pay rent until the problem was resolved.
Not one to be pushed around by his tenants, Lord MacDonald sent the sheriff’s officers to evict the leaders of the dissent. The Braes’ women turned them back, demanding that the legal documents be burnt.
Lord MacDonald called in reinforcements and 47 extra police were sent to Skye from Glasgow. When they reached Braes intending to arrest the dissenters, the folk of Braes were sleeping. Five men were arrested and the police began to withdraw with their prisoners. Many of the men were away, but the Braes women instigated an attack on the retreating police force launching whatever missiles they could find. The police fled for their lives. A number of crofters were taken prisoner, convicted and fined.
Known as the Battle of Braes, this is the last battle fought on British soil.
Weary of the demands of the arrogant Highland landlords and the agitation of the crofters, the Government took action, commissioning the Napier Enquiry to investigate “the conditions of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands…. and everything concerning them.” It had wide powers to call witnesses, demand documents and to visit any place deemed necessary to obtain the fullest possible information. The commissioners travelled widely among the Highlands and Islands, interviewing hundreds of witnesses, both crofters and landlords. In April 1884 they made their report, leading to the first laws to protect crofting tenants’ rights under the Crofters Act 1885.
For the first time crofters had security of tenure, and this could be passed from father to son. They had the right to compensation for improvements they carried out to the land, and a Land Court was set up to fix fair rents. It had taken over a hundred years of evictions and banishments, anger and finally rebellion, but at last the remaining Highlanders had a right to a life in their own country.
Today the site of the Battle of Braes is commemorated with a small monument.
Braes is a wonderful area to explore with some good walks and one of the best beaches on Skye within walking distance of Braes Retreat. The resident sea eagles and otters are frequently spotted, as are dolphins and whales in the Sound of Raasay.
15 minutes from Braes Retreat is Portree, the island’s capital. A picturesque village centred on an historic fishing port, it offers a wide range of shops, banks, restaurants and pubs. There is a sports centre with a swimming pool. There are regular ceilidhs and concerts during the summer season.
ISLE OF SKYE
Whether it is the natural world, culture or history, Skye has something for everyone. The hills, mountains, lochs and sea provide numerous outdoor activities. Art, craft, food and drink establishments abound across the island. The rich culture of Skye can be explored through crofting, castles and archaeological sites. The Skye Guide is a good place to start for planning your trip.