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Torrin

Torrin, or Na Torran to use its Gaelic name, is a picturesque crofting community nestling near the head of Loch Slapin, a narrow sea loch in southwest Skye.

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Torrin from the west bank of Loch Slapin.
Torrin from the west bank of Loch Slapin.

The community which dates back over 2,000 years, is the foreground to what many regard as one of the finest mountain views in Scotland, Blaven. Torrin itself sits on Durness limestone, which accounts for the greenness, abundance of trees and varied plant flora, including more than a dozen species of orchids. Indeed much of the area is designated a site of special scientific interest. Amid the starkness of the generally treeless landscape of Skye, the area is truly an oasis. The community is 9km (6 miles) by road from Broadford, 50km (30 miles) from Portree and 148 km (92 miles) from Inverness, the capital of the Scottish highlands.

Community

A number of new houses have been built in Torrin in recent decades. During the 1970s and 1980s, like much of the Highland and Islands, the village suffered from an outbreak of largely characterless kit-built, white rough-cast boxes. These days thankfully the new build houses have what Estate Agents describe as charm, adopting a traditional architectural style that is more empathetic with the surroundings.

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People from Torrin and the surrounding area gather around the bonfire on the shore of Loch Slapin. Traditionally on 5th November each year people throughout the United Kingdom light bonfires to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
People from Torrin and the surrounding area gather around the bonfire on the shore of Loch Slapin. Traditionally on 5th November each year people throughout the United Kingdom light bonfires to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

Many of the older buildings in the village have been sympathetically modernised and been turned in to comfortable homes of the highest order. At the end of 1998 the Old Post Office that features in many old postcards of the village was sympathetically converted in to a modern dwelling. The village church that closed in 1990 likewise underwent renovation in 1992 and is now let as a holiday home appropriately called The Old Church.

At its peak in the last century around 120 people lived in the community. By 1989 this had dropped to 40 people. Today this has risen to around 65 over a third of whom speak Gaelic. The increase is due mainly to families with children, and a number of young couples, having moved to Torrin in the last few years. Children form a quarter of the present population, which bodes well for the future.

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Torrin Public School was used during the 1940s by Royal Marine Commandos as a base for mountain training. The building is now used as a school outdoor activity centre.
Torrin Public School was used during the 1940s by Royal Marine Commandos as a base for mountain training. The building is now used as a school outdoor activity centre.

Architect Alexander Ross (1834-1925) designed Torrin Public School which opened around 1875 at the northern end of the village by Loch Slapin. Like many schools of the period on Skye it was built in close proximity to the shore allowing building materials to be brought in by sea in deference to the island's primitive roads . In the 1920s the school had around 20 children on the register. Later during the World War II it was used by the Royal Marine Commandos as a training base, returning to use as a school after the war. The school finally closed in 1961 and is today used by The Highland Council as an outdoor activity centre and as a community centre. Primary school children living in Torrin today travel the 9km (six miles) to Broadford Primary School whilst the older children make a daily 48km (30 miles) journey by bus to Portree High School.

Crofting

There are five working crofts in Torrin with some 60 cattle and 500 sheep. The sheep belong to a stock club in which the crofters, including some non-working crofters, have shares. As well as having their own crofts, the crofters also share common grazing rights. The common grazing land surrounds Torrin and extends up on to red granite hills of 709m (2,326 feet) Beinn Dearg Mhor, literally "the big red hill", and 584m (1,916 feet) Beinn Dearg Bheag, "the small red hill", which rise immediately to the north of the community. The common grazing continues beyond the head of Loch Slapin towards Luib and round to the front of Blaven.

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"Ben Blaven (sic) from Torrin" circa 1880 by pioneering Scottish photographer George Washington Wilson (1823-1893). This scan of an original albumen print is courtesy of Gordon Bushnell of Torrin. The albumen photographic process uses egg whites to coat the photographic paper and it was the first commercially successful method of producing images from negatives.
"Ben Blaven (sic) from Torrin" circa 1880 by pioneering Scottish photographer George Washington Wilson. Click on image to read more.

Sheep live on the common grazing throughout the year and cattle are kept there during the summer. Crofters buy in hay from the mainland to feed their animals in the winter and while some grow their own hay as well, this is never enough for the whole winter. Recent Crofter Forestry legislation allows crofter to grow trees on common grazing land without the landlord having the right to the proceeds received from selling the timber. Grants are available to assist crofters to establish such forests. Crofters in Torrin are considering whether to participate in the scheme. Any new forest would be of the mixed variety, not like the vast plantations of Sitka Spruce we are used to seeing today.

In the middle of the 19th Century Alexander Macalister owned the adjacent Strathaird estate. In 1851 he decided to graze sheep on the lower slopes of Blaven giving the excuse that his tenants owed him £450 in rent arrears. He thoughtfully offered to forget the debt if the tenants gave him a "douceur" of £1,200 and emigrated to Australia or Canada. Predictably, and as he had hoped, most of his tenants were forced to emigrate.

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Torrin telephone box, +44 (0)1471 822313.
Torrin telephone box, +44 (0)1471 822313.

Donald Fletcher of Torrin and his brother John adopted a different approach. An 1851 edition of the "Inverness Advertiser" newspaper carries a report of their conviction for sheep stealing. Both were sentenced to transportation overseas for seven and one year respectively.

In 1980 plans were put forward to build a water sports centre on Loch Slapin with power boating, water skiing and accommodation for around 50 tourists. Despite the strong opposition of the crofters, planning permission was granted. Only the unforeseen death of the developer stopped this environmentally damaging scheme going ahead.

Wildlife

Skye has few beaches primarily because the erosion of the main rock types found around the coastline does not produce a suitable sandy sediment. Combined with the long deep sea lochs and steep coastal shelves it is not surprising that Skye has only a handful of sandy beaches. Fortunately one of those sandy beaches can be found in Torrin.

A variety of wildlife including seals may be seen the beach. You may also see otters there and on the neighbouring headland but they are very secretive. Golden eagles can occasionally be spotted high above Torrin. If you are fortunate you may also see Sea Eagles which not so long ago were reintroduced into Scotland on the nearby Isle of Rùm and have now spread to Skye. Other large birds common around Torrin include herons, buzzards, guillemots and greenshanks. Finally the area has over 30 different species of mollusc - if you don't know what this means you probably don't want to ask!

Torrin Marble

Outside of crofting quarrying is, relatively speaking, a major industry in the Strath. The first major quarry, actually a series of quarries, operated during the 18th century around Ben Suardal on the road between Broadford to Torrin. Torrin lays claim to two quarries at opposite ends of the village, one of which is still in producing Skye Marble.

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The remains of the first Torrin marble, opened in 1951 and now only used for storage by the new quarry (and sheep!).
The remains of the first Torrin marble, opened in 1951 and now only used for storage by the new quarry (and sheep!).

The first and smaller of the two quarries opened in 1951 at the north-western, Elgol end of Torrin, nestling on the shore of Loch Slapin at Cnoc Slapin.

The extracted rock was used primarily in the production of agricultural lime. The lime has a neutralising value of 55% which makes it suitable as a liming agent to increase the pH of soil and reduced the level of acidity. Its high magnesium content enables it to be used as an additive for soils deficient in magnesium.

The abandoned quarry is no longer used for extraction and is something of an eyesore. Long outstanding plans to landscape the area finally came to partial fruition at the end of 2001 with the removal of the industrial flotsam littering the site. The area was partially cleared and landscaped but some of the buildings, structures and old machinery stand rusting gracefully in the salt-laden air.

The current Skye Marble quarry at the southern, Broadford end of Torrin opened in 1960, initially for extracting and grinding up the lime and magnesium rich marble for agricultural usage. By 1965 the quarry was producing around 3,200 tonnes (3,500 tons) of product per year, most of it being for use on Skye. Later in 1996 Portree joiners Messrs Norman MacLeod and Co. reached agreement with owners Kneeshaw Lupton and Co. to extract marble for building purposes.

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Danger blasting. This sign at the entrance to the current Torrin quarry has perhaps seen better days.
Danger blasting. This sign at the entrance to the current Torrin quarry has perhaps seen better days.

In 1970 MacLeod and Co. purchased the quarry and introduced new crushing plant and mineral separators. Five years later the parent company collapsed casting doubt over the future of the quarry. Fortunately, as the sole marble producing quarry in the United Kingdom its future was assured. A year later in 1976, and in just ten years, output had increased tenfold to 36,000 tonnes (40,000 tons). Today the quarry is owned by Leiths Group and provides valuable employment for around 12 people.

Test bores around Torrin have shown that the Durness limestone reserves total approximately 750,000 tonnes (827,000 tons). The white limestone is quarried as a high value aggregate for cladding panels, roughcasting and ready-mix concrete. Unfortunately dolerite dykes cut across the limestone at irregular intervals and since the market demands the aggregate to be white, any of the black-coloured dolerite needs to be removed using complex plant visible from the road between Kilbride and Camas Malag.

The limestone from Torrin also has finds uses in agriculture. The limestone has a neutralising value of 55% which makes it suitable as a liming agent to increase the pH of soil and make it less acidic. Its high magnesium content enables it to be used as an additive for magnesium deficient soils.

Skye marble made in to souvenirs may be purchased locally in Broadford or on-line from Isle of Skye Cuillin Marbles.

John Muir Trust

In 1991 the 2,020 hectare (5,000 acre) Torrin estate, comprising the crofts and common grazing but not houses, buildings or gardens, was purchased for £180,000 by the John Muir Trust, one of Britain's youngest conservation bodies.

John Muir Trust logo

John Muir is very well known in America as a leading historical conservationist but he is lesser known in his native Scotland. He was born on the 21st of April 1838 in Dunbar, East Lothian, the third of eight children. The family emigrated to Wisconsin in 1849 when he was 11 years of age. In the latter half of the 19th century he was instrumental in the campaign to preserve the Yosemite area of California and in the formation of the US national parks. He is also the principle founder of the powerful Sierra Club environmental group. Californians still celebrate 'John Muir Day' every year on his birthday, 21st of April.

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John Muir commemorative 25-cent coin selected by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
John Muir commemorative 25-cent coin selected by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Nigel Hawkins, a Dundee environmental consultant, the late Chris Brasher CBE, Olympic gold medallist, journalist and founder of the London Marathon, author Nicholas Luard and Denis Mollison formed the John Muir Trust in 1983. The group chose Muir's name because they felt he should be celebrated in his own country.

The patron of the trust since 1988 is His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales who visited the estate in June 1992.

In November 1994 the John Muir Trust purchased the neighbouring Strathaird Estate which includes Blaven and 47 crofts from Ian Anderson. Anderson, lead vocalist and flautist of 1970s group Jethro Tull, had been the hands-on landlord for the previous 16 years. Today he continues to take an interest in the company he founded, Strathaird Farms Ltd, which continues to operate a number of fish farms, including the Strathaird estate.

Today the Trust is managing the area jointly with the local community. Footpath repairs, archaeological digs, drystane dyking, bracken removal and tree planting projects are being carried out.

Shops

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Torrin Post Office franking mark dated 12th April 1988. The Post Office has been tastefully converted in to a home appropriately named 'The Old Post Office'.
Torrin Post Office franking mark dated 12th April 1988.

As with many villages throughout Britain, facilities in Torrin diminished over the years due to the decline in population and the ascendancy of the motor car as part of rural life. At one time Torrin had a number of shops. A postcard here shows 'Torrin Stores' operating out of corrugated hut attached to a house. This store closed around 1940 and the hut was moved a short distance to where it still stands today serving as domestic garage. A picture of this hut can be seen in the gallery. The last shop in Torrin closed in the 1960s. Residents now do the majority of their shopping in the supermarkets of Broadford, Kyle of Lochalsh, Portree and the city of Inverness.

In 1992 planning permission was granted by the local Council to turn the former quarry weighbridge building at the southern end of Torrin in to a shop. The plans came to naught.

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This café and shop opened in Torrin during 2001. Costing £24,000 to build, it was funded by the John Muir Trust, Highland Council and Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise. This is the first shop to trade in the village since the last one closed in the 1960s.
This café and shop opened in Torrin during 2001. This is the first shop to trade in the village since the last one closed in the 1960s.

Shopping finally returned to the village in June 2001 when the Torrin Management Committee opened Am Bothan (the Gaelic name for a small hut or shed). Costing £24,000 to build, it was funded by the John Muir Trust, Highland Council and Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise. Initially run by Marina Campbell and her mother Mairi Stoddart it was renamed The Blue Shed Café in early 2005. Today it is run by Anthony and Justine Davies who, in addition to offering home baking, home-made soup, filled rolls and drinks, have a selection of local jewellery, photographs and paintings for sale. At close to the half-way point on the journey between Broadford and Elgol, The Blue Shed Café is the perfect place to stop and enjoy the food, the company and the view.

Finally, a further planning application was submitted to Highland Council in 2006 to turn the now abandoned quarry weighbridge building in to a craft workshop and shop. The application was rejected and the weighbridge building stands unused and in an increasing state of disrepair.

Gallery

A selection of photographs of Torrin appear below. More photographs of Blaven, Torrin, Isle of Skye and beyond can be found on the Gallery page.

Cottage. Click to enlarge.
This beautiful cottage was restored during the 2000s.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Torrin from the west bank of Loch Slapin.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Looking west over Torrin towards Loch Slapin and Blaven.
Scratch that itch. Click to enlarge.
A makeshift sign in Torrin makes a convenient nose scratcher.
The old church. Click to enlarge.
Torrin's church was converted in to a family home in the early 1992. It now offers self-catering accommodation for up to eight people.
The old church. Click to enlarge.
Torrin's church was converted in to a family home in the early 1992. It now offers self-catering accommodation for up to eight people.
Approaching Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Approaching Torrin with a snow covered Blaven in the background.
Approaching Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Approaching Torrin with Blaven in the background.
Torrin boat nausts. Click to enlarge.
The remains of one of the 12 stone-lined boat nausts on the Torrin side of Loch Slapin. Each naust provided shelter for a boat. The age of these is unknown.
Torrin breakwater. Click to enlarge.
The rocks in the foreground form one of two primitive breakwaters lying on the approach to the boat nausts on the Torrin side of Loch Slapin.
Allt Slapin. Click to enlarge.
Allt Slapin at Torrin.
Allt Slapin times two. Click to enlarge.
The stream in the foreground is called Allt Slapin. It is hardly a surprise therefore to discover that the house in the background is also named 'Allt Slapin'. It is rented out as a self-catering cottage. See the 'Accommodation' section on the 'Links' page for more information.
Sheep at Loch Slapin. Click to enlarge.
Sheep stare back from the eastern bank of Loch Slapin.
Corrugated huts. Click to enlarge.
The rear hut used to be the "Torrin Stores." It was moved to the current location after the shop closed around 1940.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
The old marble quarry (left) and Torrin from the west bank of Loch Slapin.
Old marble quarry. Click to enlarge.
Old machinery rusting gracefully in the salt-laden air of the former Torrin marble quarry..
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Torrin and a snow covered Blaven.
Torrin barns. Click to enlarge.
Torrin barns. During 2010 the left hand barn was demolished to allow the right hand one to undergo a tasteful conversion in to a home.
Torrin barn. Click to enlarge.
The pair of barns in the previous picture is now one.
Torrin outbuilding. Click to enlarge.
Lurking in the trees behind the two barns in the previous photograph.
Torrin cottage. Click to enlarge.
Cottage, trees, snow and mountain.
Torrin at night. Click to enlarge.
Torrin buildings painted by torchlight (flashlight) and passing car headlights.
Skye Marble quarry. Click to enlarge.
Visually the current marble quarry at Torrin has minimal visual impact on the area from most angles. However the plant and workings are exposed on the Kilbride to Camas Malag road as shown here.
Loch Slapin salmon farm. Click to enlarge.
Arrays of floating sea cages and walkways like these ones on Loch Slapin can be found in many Scottish sea lochs and especially around the crinkle-cut coastline of Skye.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Looking north-west from a hill behind Torrin across to Blaven.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Looking west from a hill behind Torrin across to Blaven.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Looking west from a hill behind Torrin across to Blaven.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Looking south-west from a hill behind Torrin across Faoilean, Kilmarie and the road to Elgol.
Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Looking south-west towards Faoilean.
'Guy'. Click to enlarge.
'Guy' sits impatiently waiting for the start of the annual Torrin bonfire and fireworks display.

More information

Interested in finding out more about the heritage and culture of Torrin and the surrounding area? Click here to read about the Elgol and Torrin Historical Society.

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