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Destitution Road

The Road Between Them

The three islands of Maree, Ewe, and Gruinard are today linked by the A832 - one of the most scenic drives of the North Coast 500 - with Gairloch and its museum between Isle Maree and Isle of Ewe.

The village of Gairloch sits midway between Isle Maree and Isle of Ewe and is the perfect place to stop while travelling between the islands. You can also stop in at Gairloch Museum to find further information on the three islands (including artifacts related to their history) or just find out more about the local area.

However, that was not always the case and the story of how these remote parts came to be connected is somewhat darker than drivers enjoying the sea and mountain views may realise.

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The Road from Gairloch to Poolewe (courtesy of Gairloch Museum)

In the middle of the 19th century, potato famine came to the highlands of Scotland. While the effects of this famine were not as extensive or devastating as those wreaked across the water in Ireland, they were enough to cause many people to drop from a subsistence living into a more abject form of poverty. The government and local landlords stepped in to ensure people didn’t starve during the intital years

of the famine, but their generosity only extended so far. By 1848 labour was to be exchanged from those requiring assistance and one of the main projects these destitute Highlanders were put to work on was the construction of roads to link up remote spots across the north of the country.

These roads came to be known as Destitution Roads and both the stretch of road from Kinlochewe to Slattadale, which runs alongside the shore of Loch Maree, and the road from Poolewe to Gruinard were originally constructed in this fashion.

For Gaelic speakers, Tobar an Dualchais has a recording of Peter Stewart describing his grandfather’s work on the road between Ullapool and Gairloch. The recording can be found here.

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