Communication, Roads and Transport

Before 1807 there were no roads or bridges in the county. Durness was mainly served from the sea but a network of tracks and paths for horses and carts were in use between the many townships within the parish and around the county. Travellers and peddlers would have encountered many hazardous water crossings on route to the far north west.

There is clear evidence of well-defined tracks at distinct parts around the territory, which have been heavily used at some time in the past. These tracks are more than just paths and show usage over a long period. The indication is of their use before the disparate estates taking ownership. It is apparent the tracks connected and led from the diverse settlements to arable land away from the dwellings into the sheltered and usable ground in the mountains and straths. These are known as drove roads for cattle and sheep and became well-used routes. None of these roads are shown on early maps indicating they were in and out of use before the 1800s. Locations where peat has been cut and stock grazed have accessible tracts and have been maintained.

 

Between 1810 and 1830 over six hundred kilometres of roads were constructed in Sutherland. In 1833, the nearest post office was at Bonar Bridge about one hundred and thirteen kilometres away until Tongue opened. Mail left Durness by runner on a Monday and Thursday where it met the mail coming from Golspie. It arrived back in Durness on a Tuesday and Friday. A runner was someone who walked with the mailbag. Once a month a carrier, probably a horse and cart, went to Tain. At the start of the 19th century, roads started to be made by the Duke of Sutherland, until then most of the communication, supplies and transport was by sea.

 

The Rural Transport Report of 1919 contains a graphic account of the difficulties and discomforts with a journey by the then route from Durness to Lairg, a distance of eighty seven kilometres and costing sixteen shillings (about eighty pence.) “The first twenty miles are traversed in a horse drawn waggonette in which passengers are surrounded by mailbags, boxes of live lobsters, live calves tied in sacks, personal luggage etc. At Rhiconich, an addition of the same sort is received from Kinlochbervie. At Laxford, everything is transferred to the waiting mail carriage which has arrived from Scourie. At this stage not everything accumulated can be taken and many a valuable consignment is lost or delayed. The mail wagon proceeds at an average speed of eight miles per hour. The mail coach was pulled by two horses and although it was an open carriage, there was a hood that was pulled over in bad weather.”

 

In August 1954, a road traffic census was taken in Durness, only one horse passed the checkpoint during the whole week under observation. Fifty years previous every crofter had a horse some had two.

 

Sutherland Transport and Trading Company employed, for over sixty years, the Mather family from Durness who were responsible for the driving of the daily bus from Durness to Lairg and back. The closest rail centre about one hundred and ten kilometres away. In 1988, Michael was made redundant after twenty seven years and for thirty three years before him, his father had driven the route. Rapsons of Brora then took over the route. In about 1991, the post buses were introduced removing subsidies and providing the service. Today all the year round two post buses leave Durness six days a week. Both have their destination in Lairg; one goes via Altnaharra the other through Kinlochbervie and Scourie. In 1995, a coach service from Inverness to Durness was started as a pilot from May to September, arriving in Durness at about two p.m. This service has become established and offers coach trips around the north west. A daily bus from late June to September operates from Thurso to Durness and return.

 

Single track roads into and out of Durness are constantly being maintained, passing places widened and improved, edges being extended and holes filled. Occasionally small stretches are improved by widening and made double track. In 1993 a stretch at Gualin Lodge was re-routed and widened to allow more privacy. The cost was met by the owner of Gualin House.

In 1990, the corner to Balnakeil was widened and made less sharp, and the removal of the temporary toilets at Balnakeil in early 1996 have been followed by improvements to the road around the farm entrance. The removal of the toilets provoked disquiet and letters were sent in protest to the Member of Parliament, Community and Highland Councils.

 

The winter snow clearing and gritting is excellent. The Highland Council road crew are four local men and have an admirable system of keeping the roads in, out and around the parish open under almost all conditions.

 

In 1989 the car park at the Tourist Information centre was enlarged and tarred. This had been a gravel area, first dug out when the campsite opened. The road at the foot of the Caas was altered to make the junction safer.

 

At different intervals, there have been rumours about the investigations and extensions of the rail tract from Lairg to the north west of Sutherland. In 1910, an article appeared in the Scotsman outlining a strong case for support of such a line.