Monday, April 27, 2015

Sir John Sinclair and his Schemes, Article VIII, Northern Ensign 04/12/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea & Neighbourhood - Part A

Article VIII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 4 December 1879 – Part A

Sir John Sinclair and his Schemes – Other Berriedale Lairds – A Field for Land Reclamations – Beautiful Scenery – Primitive Ploughs

Sir John Sinclair by Henry Raeburn
Public Domain via Wikimedia Common

"Sir John Sinclair had a large park reaching from the Borgue of Langwell, on the lower side of the turnpike road, extending nearly half-a-mile in length, and down to the edge of the wood on the riverside. This was called Lady Janet’s Park or more familiarly park-na-ban-tighearn, her lady-ship having cut the first sod. Further west he caused a large plot of boggy ground to be ploughed up and planted with cabbage and greens in the middle of winter, but, as might be expected they never yielded any returns. The drills were still visible when I used to roam over the ground herding the town’s cattle."

Shetland Kale or cabbage Looking toward Berriedale from Inver Hill
Shetland Kale or Cabbage Looking toward Berriedale from Inver Hill

Borgue of Langwell Langwell House
Borgue of Langwell Grounds at Langwell

"We need not, however, follow the enterprising baronet much longer in his career as an agriculturist. He had his “faults and his fares” like other men, and while he did not improve the agricultural interest on his estate of Berriedale, but acted contrary to the best interests of farming there, he was greatly missed after Berriedale passed into other hands."

4 12 1879 NE (Article VIII) part b copy

"Sir John was succeeded in Berriedale by Mr James Horne. He was a stern man, and easily irritated, and when in this frame of mind he was not very refined in his manner of speech. There was a man of the name of George Grant, “Pagoch,” who lived in Auchencraig, whom I introduced to your readers in a former article. He had some business one day with the laird, who lost his temper and “opened up” on him with much strong language. George had told his neighbours how vehement the laird had been, and he was asked, “And what did you do?’ “I just swore at him,” was the reply. “But were you not afraid to swear at the laird?” “Och, no,” said George, “For I was across the bridge before I did it.” The old gentleman died in Inverness, where he had gone to attend the wool market, and I remember sitting at the roadside waiting to see the hearse which conveyed his remains to Auchastle."


"Mr Donald Horne was not long in making a change on the estate. He turned out the people of Auchencraig, The Cairn, and Rinsary. Some of those turned out had miserable places given them along the edge of the rocks at Newport, where they had to struggle night and day for a bare existence, perched on the edge of an almost perpendicular rock, where one false step would be certain destruction."

"Nor has there been much improvement since Donald Horne’s time. Now this is a great pity, as a spirited proprietor, like the Duke of Sutherland, having ample means, which the present proprietor has, could effect a wonderful improvement on the estates, where hundreds of happy families could live in comfort, if not in affluence, and where a very considerable quantity of all kinds of farm produce could be sent to market. In place of this what have we? Where formerly there used to be sheep and shepherd, the very sheep are banished, and deer occupy their places, and watchers all over the ground watching and warning away intruders with as much zeal and perseverance as if every person who passed through the grounds were thieves and robbers."

Gamekeeper and his dog Northumberland 2010
Gamekeeper and his dog.
Northumberland 2010

1879, 17 July NE Original 1 copy B

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Industries at Ousdale. Article VII, 06/11/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale Badbea and Neighbourhood – Part C

Article VII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 6 November 1879. Part C A Chance for Improving Landlords

6 11 1879 NE (Article VII) part c

“The love of sport which exists amongst the nobility is all very good, but that is no reason that the Highlands of Scotland should be converted into a game-preserve to gratify their tastes. Let as much as is capable of cultivation be brought under cultivation, and let the barren rocks and mountains, which can produce nothing else, be set apart for the enjoyment of the sportsman. Should that not be found sufficient to supply the demand let them cross the Atlantic, which can be accomplished in as short a space of time as it would have taken them at one time to travel from London to Scotland, and they will get game to their hearts’ content.”

“I have been often struck with the difference between the straths and glens in the South of Scotland and those of the Highlands. All along the Tweed, the Clyde, the Forth, the Tay, the Esk, and other rivers of smaller note, the haughs and banks are cultivated in the highest perfection of farming. So are all the glens, where cultivation is at all possible, and no part is put under sheep or deer, where the plough can be put to operation. I once saw what interested me very much, in Peeblesshire – a high round hill, rising in the middle of a flat plain of fine cultivated fields. The hill was so steep that it could not be ploughed in the ordinary way, and the plan they took was to commence at the base, and plough round and round with an unbroken fur till they reached the top.”

Alexander Gunn for years challenged the changes in land use and the resultant impact these had on groups of people in the Scottish Highlands. His family had first hand experience of evictions from Badbea and he was witness to the large estates being used to gratify the whims of the proprietors. The estate of Langwell had traditionally provided the the space for hundreds of crofters to live and rear their families. While many were now suffering extreme hardship with loss of cultivatable land, the landed gentry having removed people for sheep now removed the sheep and were engaged in the sport of shooting vast numbers of game. The following extracts from newspapers illustrate this point.

Langwell hunting_0002
Dundee Courier and Argus 19 Sep 1863
Langwell hunting
Aberdeen Evening Express 10 Nov 1886
stamp (3)
A red grouse
Young stags near Langwell
Dalnawillan Lodge C Rumsdale Water Thurso River A
Near Langwell, the now deserted Dalnawillan hunting lodge, photo taken from the Dalnawillan cemetery where my great, great grandparents John and Christina McLeod are buried. Maiden Pap is in the background
The River Thurso showing the now deserted fertile flats of the river, that were once farmed. I had some problems gaining access to the Dalnawillan cemetery because of the presence of active hunting parties on the estate.
1879, 17 July NE Original 1 copy B

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sheep Shearing at Ousdale. Article VII, 06/11/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale Badbea and Neighbourhood – Part B

Article VII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 6 November 1879. Part B

Sheep Shearing in Ousdale about 1840

6 11 1879 NE (Article VII) part b & c "For a few weeks in the beginning of summer there used to be no small stir at Ousdale, which was the principal place for shearing the sheep for the whole estate. Many an early rising have we had on such occasions. Should the weather be favourable, a start was made by 3 a.m., and work was continued till 9 or even 10 o’clock at night, as hard as we could ply, and we were paid for this long day’s work one shilling, and our victuals, which were given us to keep us from going home, which would have been loss of time which could hardly be afforded. I have seen men employed in different kinds of work, all over Scotland, but never saw people pushed so hard as at Ousdale, while the enormous sum of one shilling per day was the remuneration given for such hard work."

shearing Journal Agriculture 1831 copy shearing 1832_0001 copy

Sheep shearing.
Journal of Agriculture 1831
Hand held shears

041 Sheep shearing Harris Ch 11
A stone or wooden stool against a fank was often used for the shearer to sit on and sit the sheep on. He would put a fleece on the stool to sit on.

Sometimes the sheep would be tied up and shorn on the ground
A Wheatear, keeping an eye on things from a convenient molehill
A Wheatear keeping an eye on things from a convenient molehill.
A shepherds crook at the Newtonmore Outdoor Museum.

Sheep and cattle grazing on Ousdale
"There are few places that could be cultivated with the same ease as Ousdale. There is a considerable extent of arable land on it, and of the very best quality, and hundreds of acres could be added, at no great expense, simply by ploughing up the hill sides, covered to some extent by brackens , and in other cases with rushes. There were mole-hills a foot high, a sure indication of rich soil. In the district of Ousdale there could be a dozen thriving farms, of considerable size, with very little outlay, and a very large stock of black cattle and sheep could be grazed on the hills were tillage was impracticable. The people would have an abundance of peats for their households, and from their proximity to the turnpike road, they would possess every facility in sending their produce o the markets, especially with the railway now at Helmsdale, only a few miles distant. I do not know a more suitable or better place for farming in all the range of the country, and as regards the return to the landlord, it would be double what he takes out of it at present. What a pity but some great land-improver like the Duke of Sutherland had been the proprietor! What a fine chance he would have of making his name to be known and revered. There is a mine of wealth lying buried in the district, which could be worked profitably and at little outlay – where also a thriving and happy population could be reared, and the food resources of the country increased very materially."
1879, 17 July NE Original 1 copy B

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Industries at Ousdale. Article VII, 06/11/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale Badbea and Neighbourhood – Part A

Article VII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 6 November 1879. Part A

Martial Enthusiasm

One is at a loss to account for the martial spirit which existed in the breasts of these simple peace-loving people, of which we have been treating, removed as they were from the seat of any military centre, and to whom the site of a red coat was a seven year wonder, unless a recruiting escort for Wick or Thurso were on their way south: yet there seemed to have been a spark of military enthusiasm smouldering in their breasts, which burst out into flame from time to time, and resulted in their leaving friends and home, to shoulder the musket, and submit to military life. As we have seen some of them became a credit to themselves and an honour to their country.

Industries at Ousdale

Ousdale 1934. The shepherd's old house is left rear.
Ousdale had two public institutions, a mill and a distillery. The mill was situated on the burn that divides Ousdale into two parts, and on the left hand side of the road which leads from the shepherd’s old house, crossing over close to the big house on the west side of the first burn, to the east of the shepherd’s old house, and a little below the old road. It was the property of, or was rented by, a Mr Sutherland, who lived in the big house at Ousdale. The distillery was defunct long before our day, but the site we have often seen.

Ousdale Burn

Broaching the Admiral

Although this scene is not Auchencraig the 
setting would have been similar
The whisky used to be sent to the towns situated along the Moray Firth. It was shipped at Auchencraig on the formidable boats used in those days for the herring fishing. Sutherland was in the habit of accompanying them as supercargo. He was very close-fisted in his way, and would never offer the crew a glass of his Highland whisky, should they perish with cold. On one occasion, while on a voyage to some of the ports of the Moray Firth, the crew were complaining much of the cold, the morning being hard and frosty. Sutherland also complained of the cold, when it was proposed to him that he should go forward to the bows of the boats, where he would be sheltered by the sail. This he at once agreed to, and as soon as he seated himself down there, some member of the crew commenced operations in “broaching the admiral,” or in other words, helping themselves to a wee drop of the good man’s whisky, extracting from a cask by a gimlet and quill, the results being that their blood was kept in circulation, and their spirits kept up.

Between the distillery and the curing at Auchencraig there was a considerable stir in these days, and the two industries were the means of circulating a considerable sum of money in the district. How changed things are now! These places, which at the time referred to, were all stir and life from one year’s end to another, are now surrounded with the stillness of death. The only sounds to be heard now are the bark of the shepherd’s dog, the bleating of sheep, or the “birl” of the sportsman’s whistle. 

Scottish Whisky

Allan Royhouse 1977 makes the following comment:

It already has been said that there was a thriving - and legal at the time - whisky distillery at Ausdale in the time of William Campbell [tacksman]. When this ceased to produce  malt whisky is not known, but a fair guess might be that the closure of the facility coincided with the introduction of legislation and licensing c. 1780. This may have halted the legitimate distillation of whisky, but the knowledge and 'know how' of production was well known to the people who continued to produce the 'mercy' from small private stills - some for their own use, some for various outlets whereby scarce money might be had in exchange. This source of wealth, and those who produced the whisky, soon came under the scrutiny of the landed proprietors, and it was not long before legislature came into being whereby all manner of difficulties were put in the way of producing a ‘browst.’