Tongue: A Fascinating Destination Filled with History

The coastal village of Tongue in the northwest Highlands of Scotland, owes its unusual name to the Vikings that once occupied the area, and is taken from the Old Norse word “tunga” indicating the shape of the piece of land jutting out into the loch. Located in a picturesque setting on the water’s edge with the majestic Ben Loyal as a backdrop, Tongue has all the charming characteristics of an ancient Scottish settlement.

While it is very probable that Vikings lived in the area of Tongue at some time between the 900s and 1200s, nothing has been found in the area to confirm this. Many believe that Vikings, or Norse, built the now ruined Castle Varrich, also known as Caisteal Bharraigh, perched on the summit of a bluff overlooking the Kyle of Tongue to the west of the village. This belief is based on the Norse Orkneyinga Saga which mentions a structure referred to as Beruvik. Others believe that the castle was built in the 1500s either by the Bishops of Caithness or the Clan Mackay, but none of these theories have been confirmed.

There is little doubt that the influential Clan Mackay, who dominated much of northwest Sutherland at the time, was responsible for building the tower house at the House of Tongue in the 1500s. The original House of Tongue, which was located to the north of the village, was almost completely destroyed during the 1660s Civil War. The family built a new House of Tongue closer to the village in 1678, which remains intact today.

The town’s most memorable moment in history is linked to the rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. The ship Hazard was carrying over £13,000 in gold to fund the rebellion when it was forced to take refuge in the Kyle of Tongue to evade the Royal Navy frigate, the HMS Sheerness. In an effort to get to their destination, the crew took the gold ashore with the intention of carrying it overland. However, the Mackays were loyal supporters of the government and chased down the crew of the Hazard, catching up with them at Lochan Haken, near the southern end of the Kyle of Tongue. Upon realizing that there was no chance of escape, the crew tossed the gold into the loch. When Bonnie Prince Charlie received word of this, he sent 1500 of his men to try and retrieve the gold, but they were defeated en route. Some believe that had these men been with him at the Battle of Culloden, the outcome may have been very different. The gold was later recovered by the government.

Tongue is an attractive and tranquil village with some beautiful examples of historic stone buildings, such as the Tongue Hotel, the Ben Loyal Hotel and the Tongue Youth Hostel. The passenger ferry that served as a link for the town to the southern end of the Kyle of Tongue was replaced in 1971 with a bridge and causeway that takes travelers to a junction going either to Durness, or to Talmine along the western shore of the beautiful Tongue Bay.