account of the activities of the early days in Rannoch gives us an
overriding picture of an area beset with strife and lawlessness. We must
bear in mind that at the same time there many people striving to live
peaceful lives. But life was hard. How hard it was can only be realised
when we understand fully their conditions.
1700 they lived in huts of 'stake and rise' with walls only five feet
high. They had to creep in through the door, and once inside they could
not stand upright. The roof was of heather and turf with hole for the
chimney, and the floor was of trodden earth. There would not be much in
the way of furniture, perhaps a three-legged stool, and they would sleep
on the floor on a bed of heather and bracken. 'The mair dirt the less
hurt' was a common saying, but in fact they were so dirty that skin
diseases were very common. Particularly when seasons were bad, and crops,
such as they were, blighted, then the people were reduced to extremity.
There were frequent years when many of them starved to death and others
only maintained life by bleeding their cows several times a year. They
mixed the blood with meal and ate it as bread.
a lack of good oil for the land was rocky and at over six hundred feet, as
Rannoch is, the summers are short. In addition to this the people
suffered even more because of their barbarous ode of agriculture. The low
ground tended to be marshy and instead of draining it the early
inhabitants dragged their ploughs far up the steep hillsides because it
was the only dry space they could find. Signs of cultivation and remains
of their primitive shelters can be seen on the flanks of Schichallion.
were the main form of farming. Each household 'milked a cow and scratched
a bit of ground', but because the land was so unproductive (lime was not
known here until after 1750) the crops were meagre. Later they learnt to
drain the low lying ground. Those that had crofts (small farms) had their
land divided into 'infield' to which all the care was devoted. Here they
grew oats one year and barley next in constant succession.
larger was the 'outfield'. It was ill-kept and wretched. Each portion of
which was put to oats for a year or two and then it lay fallow for the
same amount of time. There were no dykes or hedges between the rigs or
strips and at harvest time or when the cereals were young, the cattle
belonging to all the crofters were collected each morning by the 'herd'
(usually a small boy), whose job is was to keep them away from the
cultivated areas. He usually took them on to the hill, probably over the
same route each day until it was time for them to come in in the evening,
by which time they were famished and exhausted. There was so little on
which to feed the cattle during the winter that they became so weak at the
time of their return to pasture in the Spring that they had to be carried
and supported to the grass. This was known as the 'lifting time'.
the people looked wretched in their rags among the dirt and squalor it is
maintained that they were not generally unhappy. They were content to
lounge about in the long winters by their peat fires and they enjoyed
dawdling in the summer sunshine. It was also a good time for them at the
beginning of the summer when they moved up to their sheilings to the
pastures in the hills. First the men would go to repair the juts and when
the women and children would spend the summers up there with their
animals, returning to the villages at the end of the summer. The Sheiling
Custom prevailed in Rannoch until the middle of the 19th century and
hundreds of these sheilings can be seen even now in the hilly glens around
the loch. High up the burns the green patches and the clusters of ruins
remind us of a people and a way of life that have disappeared for ever.
the majority of people were involved in this simple agricultural life,
iron smelting has been a busy industry throughout the centuries. Mr W.G.
Aitken who has located and examined many of the 'bloomeries' in the
district considers that it was very much a going concern in the 15th
century. Twenty-two hearths of the ironworkers have been found, but he
considers that there are hundreds more. These men, working twos and
threes, were responsible for the disappearance of man of the woods of the
area. As soon as they had used up the nearby trees they moved on to the
next ones. They burned the trees to produce the charcoal and then with
this and the bog iron which they obtained locally or which was imported
from elsewhere, they smelted the iron, throwing the slag to one side. It
is these piles of slag that the observer nowadays encounters on the
hillsides that gives the clue to the position of a nearby hearth. One
such place is the Aulich where the remains of their simple harths can be
seen and where there are also the outline and post holes of a
Charcoal-burner's hut. It was on the burn here that Andrea de Ferrara had
his smithy and taught the art of making fine sword blades, a skill for
which he acquired world fame. He was a much travelled man because many
districts claim the distinction of having him among their inhabitants.
This primitive form of iron smelting ended when coke replaced charcoal,
about 1800, which is just as well for there would not have been a single
tree left in Rannoch had it gone on much longer.