Friday, 16 March 2012

The Runrig System

A powdering of snow like we had in mid-February is perfect for emphasising the ridges and furrows which cover so much of the lower land around here. These 'lazy beds' are evidence of the old 'runrig' system of agriculture which pre-dates crofting.

From Iron Age times until the years that followed the battle of Culloden in 1746, most people in highland Scotland lived in small, communally-run villages called clachans. The houses were surrounded by the best land, the inbye, which was organised in the runrig system, in which intensively-farmed plots were worked in the strips seen here, the crops being grown on the ridges while the furrows drained the land.

The clan land was held communally under the clan chief. He divided the land between tacksmen, often in reward for military service, each of whom allocated a tack to a clachan community in return for rent in the form of produce, labour or money. Decisions within the settlement were taken communally. It was a very equitable society: in some clachans, a system of drawing lots every three years or so was used to decide which family received which plot.

The old Highland system was destroyed in the 'improvements' of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when the clan lands became commercialised to take sheep, many being sold off as estates to incomers. The better land became sheep runs; the populations of the clachans were moved to poorer land and reorganised into crofting townships or encouraged to leave - for the south or abroad.

The upper photograph looks across what is now the common grazing land of Ormsaigmore crofting township. Scattered across the inbye fields of today's township are the remains of the stone houses of the old clachan. The second picture shows the slopes below Beinn na h-Urchrach. This was the land belonging to Skinid clachan, also a ruin, now part of Ardnamurchan Estate.

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