Sutherland is steeped in history and stories of shipwrecks, battles, fairies and mythical beasts. Below is a taster of the history and tales you can uncover during your visit. Relax in our lounge and read more about Tongue and Sutherland's fascinating past and mysterious present.
Perhaps the most significant event in Tongue's history came in early 1746 when the ship Hazard, en route for Inverness, fled into the Kyle of Tongue to evade the HMS Sheerness, a Royal Navy frigate. The Hazard was carrying over £13,000 of gold coins to fund Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion against the government, the Auld Enemy, which the crew took ashore in an effort to carry it overland to its destination. The forces of the Mackays, who were supporters of the government, caught up with the crew of the Hazard at Loch Hacken, near the southern end of the Kyle of Tongue. The gold was thrown into the loch by the crew before they were captured, though most of it was later recovered by the government. When word reached Bonnie Prince Charlie he sent 1500 of his men in an effort to regain the gold but they were defeated en route. Some believe that had these lost troops still been available a short time later at the Battle of Culloden the outcome of the Battle may have been different, significantly altering the fate of Scotland.
When the skies are dark and stormy over the Kyle of Tongue people claim to have seen the ghost of an old man, Tom McLeod, driving his rickety horse drawn coach down a stretch of road around the Kyle from Tongue to Melness. Years ago old Tom, the local postman for 40 years, came to his end about 4 miles from home as the bridge he was crossing flooded and collapsed. Tom was thrown from the coach, hit his head on rocks, and drowned while the horses were swept into the river and dragged underneath the coach with no hope of survival. The road Tom took for 40 years a man, his ghost has taken for a hundred.
Running down the dark northern face of the beautiful mountain of Ben Loyal, Queen of the Scottish Mountains, is a streak of light coloured rock called the boar's scratch. Long, long ago in the time of dwarfs and fairies, a wild boar of giant size roamed the north of Scotland, destroying farms and devouring animals and people as it went. Hearing this, a Fingalian warrior came north from Ireland to defeat the beast. He ran the boar to the earth on the slopes of Ben Loyal. A ferocious battle ensued as the boar was driven uphill to the summit of the mountain. When cornered the boar lunged at the warrior with its poisonous tusks and razor-sharp hoofs. As the beast withdrew for another onslaught, the warrior leapt forward, driving his sword deep into the boar's heart. As the boar lay kicking and thrashing as it died, it rolled backwards and over the rim of the precipice. Its tusks gouging a great white scar down the face of the mountain. After the warrior strode down the mountain to the cheers of the assembled people he jumped onto the beast's flank, the victor, against the warning of the crowd that the beast was still poisonous. The soles of his feet were scratched and burning from the boar's bristles. Within an hour fainting. Before nightfall he was dead. The great beast and the Fingalian warrior lay dead, side by side, at the foot of Ben Loyal.
As the road from Tongue to Borgie Bridge twists and turns, sweeping over the heather covered plains, it drops over a stream before climbing again to the summit of the moors. Here, a side road forks left running parallel to the stream. The region around this intersection is known as Athan Dearg (the little red ford). Many people driving in this area after dark have seen headlights coming towards them. Pulling into the nearest passing place and dipping their headlights, they wait for the oncoming car to pass. The lights of the other car approach but then, as if they have been turned off, they vanish. After the waiting driver decides to continue on, it appears that there was no car at all with no other turning available and no place to go. The lights have been seen from different places at different points in the road so cannot be a trick of the eye or freak reflection. They are a complete mystery and have remained unexplained for years.
There has been a religious settlement just below Bettyhill, 14 miles from Tongue, since time immemorial. For twelve hundred years the settlement has followed the fluctuating fortunes of the Christian church as the focal point for the vast parish of Farr. There has not been a service held here since the Second World War and the church fell into disrepair. Gone were the days when Reverend David Mackenzie preached ferociously from the magnificent pulpit urging his flock to repent their sins. By 1965 the church authorities were threatening to remove the roof to avoid paying rates. The church was saved, however, when it was transformed into the Strathnaver Museum, documenting the clearances and the Clan Mackay. The church was restored and stands, again, in all its glory. In the surrounding graveyard, exactly 10 yards from the west wall, stands the lichen covered Farr Stone facing due west. The story of the Stone is a fascinating one. Centuries ago a strange vessel appeared in the late afternoon and anchored in Farr Bay. The people watched the ship from the shore but could not decipher where it had come from and did not dare venture close. The following morning the ship had gone. Later that day a new stone was discovered in the graveyard, at 6 feet it was twice the size of any other stone and covered in an intricate, complicated, and beautiful design. It seems it had been carried in during the night though how a stone of such dimensions had been taken on a boat from the ship, carried across rough dunes and beach and planted six feet into the ground, remains a mystery. The precise function of the stone is unknown but was perhaps a gravestone for a great chief or to mark the religious settlement, pagan or Christian, a centre of learning or a monastic community. When new graves are dug in the grounds of the church, skeletons are unearthed that have been there for no-one knows how long. As you visit the museum and walk around the graveyard you cannot help but feel the rich history around you.