A History of Glendrian

Glendrian is an abandoned crofting township in the centre of the Ardnamurchan peninsula centred on grid reference NM480687. It is a Scheduled Monument, Historic Scotland describing it as “of national importance because of its potential to contribute to our understanding of post-medieval settlement and economy. Although only abandoned in the 1940s the settlement incorporates information for the earlier expansion and contraction of the community who lived here. The buildings are varied in date and style and contain evidence for the complex history of settlement on the site.” [1]

Glendrian’s lands occupy the eastern half of the low land within the circle of hills formed by the main ring dykes of the Ardnamurchan Tertiary Volcanic Complex. Even in winter, when the vegetation has died back, the buildings are difficult to see – almost all occupy the middle ground in this photograph.

Even in this enhanced Google image the buildings are difficult to distinguish, but in 2011 West Coast Archaeological Services carried out a survey of the site for Highland Council’s Environmental Team [2]. It identified 19 houses, 3 shielings, 2 house/byres, 1 bothy, a bothy/byre and one ‘building’, as well as one possible ‘prehistoric’ structure which they believed might be “the remains of a hut circle”.

The houses vary from small, rounded-cornered but-and-bens (left), most with one or more windows, to gabled buildings with chimneys at both ends and harled exteriors, one of which has two storeys. A separate file, which can be downloaded here, lists all the structures; it is a combination of the survey done by West Coast Archaeological Services and the author’s observations.

On this modern OS map (originally 1:10,000) seven individual or groupings of buildings can be seen. Numbers 1 – 3 are single buildings, some with attached byres, almost certainly all at one stage dwelling houses, while 4 – 7 are composed of mixtures of dwellings, byres, barns and other buildings. In addition, there are enclosures for animals, at least one kale yard, a garage, shieling huts, and a possible corn drying hut. The ‘sheep dip’ is modern.

This picture shows the main buildings, 7 on the map. The dwelling house to the right is the only one with two storeys, and was the last to be abandoned. It shows several stages of development, having started single-storey with rounded corners.


The name Glendrian derives from the Gaelic Gleann Droigheann meaning 'blackthorn glen' [3]. The first written reference, in 1619, is to an Allester McEan Voir VcEan in ‘Glendreane’ as one of the MacIains involved in depredations against Donald Campbell of Barbreck and besieging Mingary Castle [4].

In 1667 the Earl of Argyll’s possessions were listed as including “…, the 2½ merk lands of Auchinhaw and Glenindryane…” – ‘Auchinhaw’ is probably Achnaha. [5]

In 1716 the male inhabitants of Glendryen were listed as John MacColl, John McIllichreist, Donald McKenzie, Alexander Campbell, John McLachan, and Donald McLachlan. For comparison, Achnaha listed seven men. [6]

The Rental of Ardnamurchan, 1722, [7], includes this entry:

“Glendryen pays of silver rent merks 0092.06.08

Mealduty 5 Stones, 5 quarts, 1 sheep 0024.06.08

Prefs 4 stones, 4 quarts, 2 sheep, 2 hides, 2 veals 0025 - - “

Note – the stated total of 141 merks is small, comparable to Ormsaigmore (135), but far less than ‘Achachosnich’ (total 306) and Ormsaigbeg (181)

On pages 139-143 of the same document, dated 1723, ‘Glendrain’ rent is listed at £8-12-0. Cf: Ormaigbeg £10.12.00, Ormsaigmore £9.10.0 and ‘Auchoshnich’ £15.10.0. 

The earliest map is Alexander Bruce's map of 1733 [8], left, which shows the clachan as 'Glendrien'. I do not know the history of the ‘improved 64 acres’ of ‘Moss of Glendrien’, the large area of drained marshland. Today, all but the eastern corner is part of Achnaha.

The 1734 roll of tenants summoned through debt to the Duke of Argyll, lists “Duncan McLachlan, Patrick McIlvre, John McLachlan, Dugald McIlvraw, Donald McDonald & Duncan Henderson, possessors and tenants in Glendraen”. [9] 

Table 1, from Alexander Murray’s Survey 

Alexander Murray, in his 1737 survey of Ardnamurchan (Table 1) [10], states that 'Glendrien' had six families and a total population of 29, comprising six men, eight women and fifteen children. Its land covered 2,220 acres, high compared to other local clachans, and the 'penny land', a measure used in calculating rent, was five, average for West Ardnamurchan. Its tenants are given as Duncan McEacharn (¼ of the five penny lands), Patrick McIlvraw (¼), John McLachlan (⅛), Dougald McIllvraw (⅛), Donald McDonald (⅛) and Duncan Henderson (⅛). On its pastoral land the tenants were permitted to graze up to 48 cows, 16 horses and 48 sheep.

Roy's Military map of 1747 has no record of Glendrian, though Achnaha is marked. As far as the rest of West Ardnamurchan is concerned, Roy’s map is remarkably accurate, so this is either an interesting omission, or Glendrian had been temporarily abandoned.

Bald's map of 1806 [11] has it marked as 'Glendryen'. While his maps don’t show the trackways, they do record the individual buildings in each settlement – though these are badly faded in the original (below) held by the National Library of Scotland. 

The records that Bald made state that the clachan had 2,047.52 acres with 53.83 arable, 34.85 cultivated with the spade, and 1,958.84 moor and pasture. Its tenants, according to Alexander Low’s follow-up account written in 1807, were John McLauchlan and 5 others. He also notes, “Part of the arable ––d of this farm is very good. The hill part is very bare and rocky. The lower pasture subjects the cattle to the above-mentioned a–– …. [*] get free of which both this and the last farm [Achnaha] should be joined into one for a sheep –– which would increase their value.”

*This is a reference to Achnaha, where he states that the cattle are “hurt by the C–ban”. Damage to the manuscript means that the word cannot be read, but it may be ‘gnoban’ or ‘groban’, which is in Dwelly’s Gaelic – English dictionary as ‘swelling’ [Mary MacLeod]. Analysis of a soil sample taken at Achnaha by a local man, Rob Gill, shows that the land is slightly high in copper but that, otherwise, there are no serious contaminants or deficiencies.

As Bald noted, Glendrian’s common grazings extended across a large area, running up to the north coast. Here, quite separate from the main clachan, are a group of four small fields, numbers 15-18. They are close to an inlet, Port Eigin-aig, which has the remains of a stone jetty. This may have been Glendrian’s ‘fishing port’, the fields worked by a dedicated fisherman who lived and worked land by the port, but he was very cut off from the settlement – the track between is poor.

The western end of the clachan’s land extends into the grid of fields marked on Bruce’s 1733 map as ‘Mofs of Glendrian’, noted as ‘Improved 64 Acres’. That most of these are, by 1806, on Achnaha land might suggest a change in land apportionment between 1733 and 1806. 

This 1856 copy of Bald’s map shows the buildings of the clachan much more clearly [12]. Seventeen are marked, with two enclosures. With the exception of two buildings to the north, they are, in the manner of local clachans, more closely grouped than those on the ground today. I cannot match any against today’s but, as Bald’s map is an economic map, exact building locations are unlikely to be accurate. On the other hand, fields and walls are very accurately marked, and can still be traced on the ground today. The three fields to the south of the stream (Nos 4 - 7) are shown as being used.

Table 2 – summary of censuses for years 1841, 1861, 1881 and 1901, organized by family name. The numbers to the right of each column are ages, by sex.

The 1841 census (Table 2 above) [13] records a population of 39, 20 male and 19 female, gathered into 8 households. All households are headed by a ‘Farmer’ or ‘Shepherd’ except one: Mary Stuart was a ‘Cottar’. 

This is an important census since the first round of clearances on Ardnamurchan Estate took place in 1828 and the years following. There is no evidence in it that the clachan was overcrowded with recent immigrants, though the population includes a number of small family groupings.
The first OS map, on a 1:63360 scale, printed in 1856 [14], shows ten structures still grouped together in the same way they were in Bald’s 1806 map, when they had the nucleated structure of a typical clachan. Only one NE-SW trending wall is shown within the worked land. Both these suggest that the land had not yet been reorganized into crofts. Bald’s worked fields 4, 6 and 7 aren’t marked as worked in the way the main fields are, suggesting they had fallen out of use. There is no sign of fields 8 – 18. While today we tend to approach Glendrian along the Ardnamurchan Estate track from the west, this first OS map shows that the main access to the settlement was along a track that runs south, passing to the east of Druim Liath, a route that can still be followed. It joined the Achnaha-Kilchoan track near Creag an Airgid.

The 1861 census (see Table 2) records ten households occupied by 24 males and 23 females. This suggests that all ten buildings marked on the 1856 map were houses and that non-dwelling buildings either did not exist, were of a temporary nature, or weren’t recorded, perhaps because they were unroofed. All heads of households were described as ‘Farmers in common’ but other adults were idtified as ‘Agricultural labourer’ (four) or ‘Domestic Servant’ (four), though it isn’t clear whether their work was within the clachan or outside. This census follows the second round of evictions on Ardnamurchan Estate, the Swordles being cleared in 1852. The population of Glendrian was now at its peak – 47 as compared with 39 in 1841.

The 6" OS map of 1872 [15], above, shows twenty buildings of which three are roofless. The buildings are more scattered, and the old inbye open field is divided into rectangular areas which suggest that the township is now crofted. The northern cluster of buildings are shown outside the head dyke which surrounded the arable land. The 'sheepfold' beside the access track to the south of the clachan still exists on the ground. Its gable ends and windows suggest it was once a dwelling house, but it was not marked on the 1856 map. The map shows the surrounding fields, Bald’s 4, 6 and 7, as enclosed but marked as moorland. These may have been used by the 'sheepfold' dwelling as arable land for a period between 1856 and 1872 but were then abandoned. This could be interpreted as meaning that the population of the village in 1872 had fallen.

That the population was falling is confirmed in the 1881 census (Table 2): it has halved in twenty years to 20, composed of 10 males and 10 females gathered into 5 households. All were born on Ardnamurchan. Three are listed as crofters, two as scholars, two as agricultural labourers, one as farm servant, one as general servant, and two were paupers, both women, one living alone, one with her son.

The revised OS map of 1897 [16] shows that some buildings had disappeared - though at least one of the 'missing' buildings is visible on the ground today - and that more had been abandoned. Only eight are marked as roofed. The line of the header dyke at the north of the settlement has been changed to bring the northern group of buildings within the arable area, and a new track has been formed. Some croft field walls which appear to have been incomplete in 1872 have been completed.

The continuing fall in population is confirmed in the 1901 census (see Table 2): 11 people occupied Glendrian, 6 male and 5 female, in 3 households. Two are recorded as farmers, two as crofters, and one as a ‘Worker’.

Census details are not available to me for the years after 1901, but by the late 1930s the population was reduced to two families, the Hendersons in Building 9 (see map on page 3) and the MacLachlans in Building 13. Donald and Mary Henderson's son Angus was born in 1940, soon after which the family, which included Donald’s mother, Annie, moved to Kilchoan, probably in 1941. When John MacLachlan died shortly afterwards, his widow moved to Achnaha to stay with her nephew, Archie Henderson, at The Old Dairy, so the village was deserted [18].

In 1948 large areas of the Ardnamurchan Estate were sold off. This map, taken from the agent’s prospectus [17], shows the lots available for sale marked in colour. Glendrian, identified within the red oval, was part of the area not sold. I have been unable to find reasons for this, except a suggestion that the land was poor and was therefore retained as part of the shooting estate.

Glendrian's People:

"As Glendrian was finally abandoned seventy years ago, it is extremely difficult to find anyone living who has first-hand recollections of the township. Those few who have information are now relaying it second-hand, and some of their memories are fading. The chance to write the story of Glendrian’s last years is all but lost.

"Kate Henderson, sister of Donald Henderson, was born in Glendrian [18]. As a child, she walked to and from Achosnich school. She married Hugh Cameron and together with Hugh’s brother, Donald, they emigrated to Canada where they farmed in the central provinces. After the Camerons retired they returned to Ardnamurchan around 1950 and went to live at Longrigg in Strontian. Later they bought the house in Pier Road, Kilchoan, now called Skipper's Cottage but then known as Thorhill - hence she was known as Kate Thorhill. Kate lived until she was over ninety.

"Mary Henderson had three siblings, all of whom lived in Kilchoan: a sister Kirsty who lived at Glengorm, a brother Duncan who lived in Ben More, and a brother Sammy who lived at Tom a’ Crochair."

The Diary wrote the above in the first draft of this 'history', helped by people who still live in Kilchoan, but is thrilled that, as a result of reading it, Andy Carter and his family have given us details of their family, who lived in Glendrian for several generations.  Andy writes,

"Catherine Henderson, sister of Donald, was born at Plocaig, though she may well have met her future husband Hugh Cameron at Glendrian as we know that the MacLachlans kept animals at both sites, as may others. She was known as 'Kate' or 'Katie'.  It is not known when or where she married Hugh.

"My great-grandfather Alexander MacLachlan, lived on the croft marked '6' on the OS map above.  When he died my great-grandmother was left to raise six children and run the croft without his help or the additional income he brought in working as a joiner. She tried to get her brother Hugh to help her run the croft but he declined: we believe he did not wish to be trapped into becoming responsible for his sister and her children. Instead he married Katie and they took up the Canadian Government's offer of land to farm. I have the first mailbox address in Canada. Despite the harsh conditions they were successful and developed more than one farm in Canada during their time there.

"Their return was not so much one of 'retirement' more that Katie had always found the extreme cold in winter and high temperatures in summer difficult, and her health was suffering. They returned to Scotland in July 1938 - tracking this down proved impossible until I worked out Hugh was using the name 'Ewan'. When I shared this within the family an elderly relative confirmed that he was indeed known as Ewan.  The ship's records show their intended destination as 'Glendryen'. So we must assume that it was their intention to take on a croft there despite the fact that the MacLachlan croft had, as far as we know, not been occupied since 1925. Anyway, in the event they actually found a better opportunity with Hugh's brothers at Grigadale - having brought life back into Glendrian for a number of years my great-great-grandfather and sons had moved on to the tenancy of Grigadale. As a child, my grandmother used to spend her summer holidays with her uncles at Grigadale and she would always point out that Grigadale was a proper farm - not a croft like her parents had at Glendrian.

"The Camerons continued to farm Grigadale until the late 1940s when Hugh and Katie took on ‘Longrigg Farm’ at Strontian. When Hugh did finally retire ‘Longrigg’ was sold and he, Katie, and Donald moved to a house purchased in Pier Road, Kilchoan, which they named ‘Thorhill’ after one of their farms in Canada. They lived at ‘Thorhill’ in Kilchoan until Donald Cameron died in 1959. Hugh Cameron died in 1962, aged 80, and Katie in 1987, aged 97.

"Nobody in the family has ever mentioned Donald (Hugh's brother) going to Canada with them, I assumed that they took him with them to Strontian when the family left Grigadale. The few photos we have show just Katie & Hugh in Canada."

Andy has spent years researching his family history, and the results of that research are now available for all to read in two fascinating documents - they're here and here.

This work started with three hypotheses to test:

1. That the size of the population would have peaked after the clearances in West Ardnamurchan which occurred during the years 1828-52.

2. That detailed censuses from the 19th century would show that most families remained on the family land in the crofting township, with relatively few joining and leaving.

3. That the township was abandoned because of problems of access, particularly once the road was put through to Achnaha while Glendrian was bypassed.

The first hypothesis was proved largely right. While the number of males and females in the clachan are in the 19th century censuses, the only numbers from earlier are of adult males. 

This table shows the adult male population. It suggests that the population was fairly stable during the 18th century, and rose to its peak in the middle of the nineteenth, following the two phases of local clearances in 1828 and 1852, before dropping back to a ‘normal’ population, and then crashing. 

It was surprising to me that the second hypothesis was proved so comprehensively wrong. An attempt was made to track families in the four censuses (see Table 2) by colouring names which could be tracked from one census to another. This was very difficult, partly because I was aware that ages were inaccurate, and that names might, for various reasons, change. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that families were transitory. It suggested, once again, that Glendrian was not seen as a good place to live.

The third hypothesis was very difficult to test. In the 1856 OS map the main track out of Glendrian was shown running due south towards the local population centre of Kilchoan. In all subsequent maps, the track runs due west to join the Achnaha to Kilchoan road, one which steadily developed as a routeway as the settlements of Achnaha and Sanna grew (see area map, page 1). It was tarmacked in the 1920s. While it may only be indirect evidence, the township of Plocaig, near Sanna, which once had a much larger population than Sanna, suffered the same fate as Glendrian after the road was put through to Sanna rather than the more populated Plocaig.


Historic Scotland is quite right in describing Glendrian (see page 1) as ‘of national importance because of its potential to contribute to our understanding of post-medieval settlement and economy’. Even this brief study has unearthed a wealth of information, and much remains to be done, not least through a detailed study of Glendrian’s buildings. For this reason, we are fortunate that the township is protected.

Blog entries related to Glendrian include one about a satellite clachan near the Sanna road - it's here.


I am much indebted to Donald Houston at Ardnamurchan Estate, to Jim Kirby and Ken Bowker of Moidart History Group, to Alex du Toit at Lochaber Archive Centre, to Andy Carter and his family, and to Rob Gill, Barbara MacLennon, Hughie Cameron, Chrissy MacLachlan, and Sue and Dochie Cameron.


[1] Historic Scotland at http://data.historic-scotland.gov.uk/pls/htmldb/f?p=2300:35:2602669093771988::::P35_SELECTED_MONUMENT:7867

[2] Personal communication from Ian Scrivener-Lindley, Highland Historic Environmental Team, at http://her.highland.gov.uk/

[3] J E Kirby (2015) The Lost Place-names of Ardnamurchan and Moidart (forthcoming).

[4] Register of the Privy Council XII, 1619-1622, fol. 95b dated 3 June 1619 courtesy Jim Kirby, Moidart History Group

[5] Register of the Great Seal of Scotland Vol X1, No 1105, dated October 15th 1667, courtesy Jim Kirby, Moidart History Group

[6] Maclean-Bristol, N, Ed, ‘Inhabitants of the Inner Isles, Morvern and Ardnamurchan , 1716’ Scottish Record Society Vol 21, Edinburgh, 1998

[7] “Rental of Ardnamurchan”, 1722, in Advocate's Ms 29/1/1 Vol. VII, 133-36, courtesy Jim Kirby, Moidart History Group

[8] The National Library of Scotland (Maps) at http://maps.nls.uk/

[9] CC2/2/30/2, courtesy Jim Kirby, Moidart History Group.

[10] Dodgshon, R, 2002, The Age of the Clans – Berlinn with Historic Scotland

[11] William Bald's 'Plan of Ardnamurchan and Sunart, Argyll', 1806, image reference RHP72, by kind permission of the National Records of Scotland, obtained from the National Archive, Edinburgh, also at http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/search_item/index.php?service=NAS&id=RHP72

[12] William Bald's 'Plan of Ardnamurchan and Sunart, Argyll', 1856 copy, courtesy of Donald Houston at Ardnamurchan Estate.

[13] Census material from microfilm at Lochaber Archive Centre http://www.highlandarchives.org.uk/

[14] Vision of Britain Through Time, at http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/maps/

[15] Ordnance Survey 6" map, survey dated 1872, National Library of Scotland, at http://maps.nls.uk/

[16] Ordnance Survey 6” map, survey dated 1897, National Library of Scotland, at http://maps.nls.uk/

[17] From the prospectus circulated by Messrs John D. Wood, Agents, 1948, courtesy of Donald Houston at Ardnamurchan Estate.

[18] Based on information from Barbara MacLennon, Hughie Cameron, Chrissy MacLachlan, and Sue and Dochie Cameron.

Other References:

Highland Council at http://her.highland.gov.uk/SingleResult.aspx?uid=MHG17470

Henderson Angus ‘Ardnamurchan Place Names, Celtic Review, Vol X, Dec 1914-June 1916, William Hodge, Edinburgh, also at http://www.archive.org/stream/celticreview10edinuoft/celticreview10edinuoft_djvu.txt.

‘Ardnamurchan - Annals of the Parish’ published 1981 by Ardnamurchan Parish Church.

CANMORE at http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/86744/details/ardnamurchan+glendrian/

Scotland’s Places at http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/

Scotland’s People at http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

Statistical Accounts of Scotland at http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/

Am Baile at http://www.ambaile.org.uk/

SCRAN at http://www.scran.ac.uk/

Online Historical Population reports at http://www.histpop.org./ohpr/servlet/Show?page=Home

Google Maps

Parish records including ‘Parish of Adnamurchan 1791-99’ and ‘Parish of Ardnamurchan 1838’

Background papers from JSTOR including:

Gailey, R, Agrarian Improvement and the Development of Enclosure in the South-West Highlands of Scotland, The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 42, No. 134, Part 2 (Oct., 1963) - Edinburgh University Press;

Storrie, M, Landholdings and Settlement Evolution in West Highland Scotland, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, Vol. 47, No. 2 (1965), pp. 138-161 -Blackwell Publishing.


  1. A most interesting article; my Cameron ancestors lived at Grigadale from about 1828 to 1861.


  2. Absolutely fascinating. Regards your proposition 2, I'm sure I've read before that, while there's an assumption that families stayed in one place from generation to generation (hence the great wrench of the "Clearances" even though they had no legal security of tenure before 1886), when the facts are gone into, it very often seemed that families were much more mobile than assumed. That may be an observation more pertinent to the 18th (and earlier) centuries than the 19th but in the 19th I wonder - and I'm just guessing here - if the mobility came through a family emigrating and their croft being taken by a landless cottar from another settlement?