Visit & Explore
Duthaic Mhic Aoidh, “The Land of Mackay” lies in the area of North Sutherland. The area stretches along the alternately sandy, rocky coast from Kylestrome in the Southwest to Cape Wrath and Durness in the northwest to Melvich (Dromholstien) in the east and southwards down the fertile Straths Halladale and Strathnaver to Altnaharra, and west to Merkalnd south of Achfary covering approximately 1,200 sq.km. The Mackay land covers some eighty miles in length, by some eighteen to twenty miles in depth. In 1624 the Lands of the Mackay, reached their greatest extent. The people of the Mackay Country, sometimes called Lord Reay’s Country, raised sheep, cattle, and goats; selling their surplus in the markets of the south. Their main crops were barley, oats, and rye (potatoes and vegetables were not cultivated until much later). The locality was once the home of great herds of deer. Sea fish were plentiful on the coast. Trout and Salmon, venison and wild game were all, at one time, in great supply. With these natural resources the people of the Lands of Mackay were almost self supporting and independent of out-siders.
In 1829 increased debts forced Eric Mackay, 7th. Lord Reay to sell the Mackay lands to the Sutherlands. The present Chief of the name and Clan of Mackay is Hugh William Mackay, 14th. Lord Reay and Baron Mackay in the Netherlands.
Mackay Country suffered greatly during the clearances and the hundreds of townships and ways of life that were well established disappeared. This highly populated area became the empty lands of people and the foundation of what is present and occurring today. From the beginnings of crofting, the legislative result of the clearances, there has been and continues a slow progression of development compared to the more densely populated centers of Scotland.
Today, at the turn to the 21st Century, Duthaic Mhic Aoidh is home to less than 2000 people, and is therefore one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe. The spectacular scenery of Mackay Country owes much to the peaks and ranges of the mountains that stand proud over the vast and open landscape, with pockets in sheltered areas that are flat and fertile. The Sutherland evictions, which subjected the Mackay Country to a brutal transformation in the name of economic progress, have made this locality today predominantly dependent on agriculture, aquaculture crofting, fishing and tourism.
The area is popular with people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern everyday life with the wide open spaces and plethora of flora and fauna and deserted sandy beaches make it the perfect place to relax. The far northwest contains some of the wildest and most beautiful scenery in Scotland. Roads are mainly around the coast, few penetrating into the wild in lands except the main roads into the area through the Straths. There aren’t a lot of back roads but those that do exist are particularly beautiful. Most of the roads in Mackay Country are single track roads with passing places. The single track carriageway is often wide enough to let a car and a bike to pass each other without stopping. It’s certain that traveling in this area will leave you with the feeling that not everywhere on this planet is a crowded place; traffic is likely to be reasonably light. The roads are mostly hilly; some roads hardly have a flat yard on them. There are B&Bs in most of the population centers, and quite a number of hotels, many of them catering for fishermen. The Youth Hostel network is still mostly intact and there are independent hostels.
The northern coast offers a rich variety of scenery, from tall storm-swept cliffs to gentle sandy bays. The interior offers equally dramatic contrasts between low-lying windswept bogs and dramatic mountain peaks. Fishing boats shelter in the area’s many harbors and fish farm cages are tucked into sheltered corners. Numerous nature reserves protect the moorland’s rich plant and animal life, with sea birds to the fore. It is also one of the few places in the UK with some remote pockets of the Scottish Highlands yet to be explored.
This is indeed a land of contrasts, from the austere majesty of the mountains to the subtle undulations of the valleys, and from the dramatic cliffs to the tranquillity of the beaches.