Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A Croft House's History

For many years, Mull View (right foreground), just along from the Ferry Stores in Ormsaigbeg, was a letting house: it was the house we stayed in when we first visited Kilchoan.  It's now a permanent residence and has recently had a facelift, with its harling - the layer of white-painted, gravelly mortar  - being removed and replaced. Harling has been used for many centuries on west coast Scottish buildings - Mingary Castle, built in the late 13th century, was originally harled - but the expense means that it's a relatively new feature on croft houses. Its main function is to act as a very effective waterproofing layer, but it does have a nasty habit of coming away from the underlying stonework, allowing water to enter the house.

Mull View, along with some other croft houses, shows evidence of the building's development, a diagonal ridge in the harling of the gable end which runs parallel to the roof line, so it was with some interest that I watched as the harling was removed.

This croft house was built some time before 1856 as it's marked on an early OS map of that year, but it may be as early as 1828. In that year the original residents of the Ormsaigbeg clachan that had existed for hundreds of years on the neighbouring Cruachan croft were cleared and redistributed to individual croft holdings. At the same time, they were joined by families cleared from other Estate clachans.

As the harling came away it could be seen that the original house was built very neatly of local stone but.... soon became apparent that the original house was single-storey and gable ended. The old clachan houses lacked gables and tended to have rounded corners. At some later date the house had been built up....

....using red bricks. That bricks were used rather than free local stone must have been costly.

Before the harling layer is put back on, the surface is covered with a scratch coat of mortar, and then the harling, which is a fairly runny mortar, is 'cast' - thrown - onto the wall.


  1. never in my life have heard any villages in any of Ardnamurchans many townships or anywhere in the Gaidhealtachd being referred to by indigenous people as clachans.

  2. I use the word to distinguish them from the post-clearance croft 'townships' - see 'Clachans, Clearances and Crofts' in the right-hand column. If there's an alternative, it seems to be 'bailtean'. See Dodgshon's paper at

    1. Dodgshons paper & other relevant papers relating to this part of the world were often put together by people who never actually visited the area and were put together by visitors on their behalf.
      Bailtean is a far larger area or town than a small scattering of dwellings.
      Its very kind of you to point me in the direction of York university but they will tell you that what they hold on record is not entirely accurate.
      For this type of information why not talk to the locals.
      If any of them remember any village being referred to as a clachan then blow me down.
      Your photos are good.
      Take care.

  3. Billy Williamson23 March 2016 at 22:43

    My grandparents used to refer to their street as :the clachan",which I understood to mean a circle of houses.The street was Bedlormie drive, in the village of Blackridge, in West Lothian