Elphin burial ground, Sutherland
This is probably one of the tiniest burial grounds in Scotland. Elphin, a small crofting community in Sutherland. It is so small and apparently so insignificant, that even Elphin’s Wikipedia entry does not count much more than that the village phone and post box to its attractions.
In the vast and remote bareness of Sutherland, Elphinstone is a settlement, small indeed and in the middle of nowhere. It is not very surprising that a burial ground was established outside the village. It would have taken more than a day in past times to carry a coffin from Elphin to the next Parish church and churchyard. Even though there were more churches in the area than there are today, (A burial vault at Inchnadamph is said to be a fragment of the old church of Assynt. No more remains of the Catholic faith remained in the county.) there were hardly any roads. Elphin lies at the very border of Sutherland.
Elphin is not mentioned in historic tour guides or other major accounts of the 19th And 20th century. Walks and mountaineering seem to be the only options available to visitors, and this beautiful little burial ground overlooking Loch Veyatie and Cam Loch, just 300 yards away from the (disused) school-house. The burial ground goes back to the early 19th century when vast areas of Sutherland were cleared of the crofters and some of the displaced settled in Elphin.
Sutherland is very sparsely populated; the settlements are few and small. The country is wild and rugged, sometimes even desolate. You can drive for miles without seeing any sign of human habitation. Around 13000 people live in an area of about 2000 square miles, the numbers are dwindling. But the community spirit is still very much alive in the vast nothingness of Sutherland’s most southern settlement.
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Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years.
Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.
sources and further reading:
H.F. Campbell: Caithness and Sutherland. Cambridge University Press, London, 1920