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Post 1745  continued.

This is not to say that all landlords were heartless bastards, just most of them. There was by this time a cultural gulf between a well to do land owner, normally living in an English town and their subsistence farming tenants. That the peasant farmer was lazy & feckless and only worked at all under pressure from a Tacksman, that he  lived in squalid conditions, usually sharing their home with their livestock in dirty unsanitary conditions, was seen as being their fault.


The fact that they failed to improve themselves was because, like other paupers they were morally degenerate. It was not because these were the best houses that they could afford, and was not because their total lack of any security made it illogical for them to invest what little they had, on improving the land or home that they could be, and frequently were, turned out of at any time. In addition it had nothing to do with the Tacksmen demanding totally unaffordable rent. These typical Victorian attitudes ensured that Landlords were little concerned and the country at large had little sympathy for their plight. The Laird dealt with the Tacksmen and did not need to see the conditions their tenants were forced into.

It s not fair to tar all landlords with the same brush. A few did care and felt some responsibility for the people whose ancestors had been on their land for hundreds of years. Some would give the tenants a more suitable site for their settlement and enough reasonable land for them to scrape a living. Some even went so far as to build them new and better homes and a few even built"model villages" to show off their philanthropy. Others would help their tenants to find other employment, setting them up with boats for fishing and a small port to land their catch. Some built a small works to process Kelp from the foreshore into valuable, and saleable fertiliser for the land. Some would buy a one way ticket to America for any who would take it. Make of that what you wish !!

Whilst most of these changes had taken place through Lowland Scotland by the mid 18th Century, The Highlands lagged far behind.  Whatever improving methods were used, there were some inescapable facts working against them.

  • Even the better land is poor in comparison to Lowland areas.

  • The soil is thin and very stony, making for back-breaking work to bring a new area into production, and limiting the scope for even basic mechanisation.

  • A fair proportion of the land that could be cultivated during the comparatively warm and drier Medieval period, could not produce a crop in the changed climatic conditions from 1690 onwards.

  • The better land is split into small areas with hard to cross country in between.

  • The better land is in small patches, meaning small fields, that are less suitable for even the most basic mechanisation.

  • Communications are difficult making it hard to get anything to a market.

  • The weather is so crap.  

  • The growing season is short and the thin soils have much of the goodness leached out by the high rainfall.

Whatever one did, no amount of effort or investment would make these problems go away. Whilst amalgamation into larger units helped to some extent, in the new reality of the post-Napoleonic era there was really only one crop that could return a decent profit from the Highlands, and that was sheep.  By this time most of the noble families who owned the vast Highland estates were stuck for funds and needed to squeeze every possible penny out of their land. Consequently private Acts of Parliament sanctioned the enclosure of huge areas for sheep runs and the clearance of the population out of the way. In the wake of the 1745 Rebellion few were going to shed many tears over Highland Clansmen being given the push and with poor and slow communications it was years before many knew anything about the worst excesses of the Highland Clearances. By the mid 19th Century even the furthest North and Western Highlands and Islands were enclosed for sheep farming and away from the coast virtually devoid of population. The Railways then arrived reaching the West Coast at Oban, Mallaig & Mull of Kintyre and all the way up the east coast to the northern-most point at Thurso, allowing the sheep produced to be easily shipped out to Southern markets.

As mentioned before, the Spey Valley might be in the Highlands but in many way was more like a lowland area. The broad flat valley bottom had good post-glacial soil and lent itself to the larger fields suitable for primitive mechanisation. The main road and line of communication such as it was, between Inverness and the Lowlands runs the length of the Spey Valley. This resulted in Strathspey  remaining under mixed arable farming and livestock, rather than going over to sheep. The land under Runrig had long been amalgamated into larger farms, it is not clear exactly when this took place but one has to assume that the Earls of Findlater & Seafield ( EFS ) whose estates included Strathspey must have been well ahead of the game.

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