View Full Version : Lifeline for a Lost World - Scotland's Abandoned Villages

Monday, August 6th, 2007, 10:09 PM
Lifeline for a lost world

ABANDONED villages with grass growing through the wrecked cobbles of their ancient streets. The outline of walls where an illegal whisky still once stood, on the banks of a burn. A broken down farmsteading on the outskirts of a town.

Some 250 years ago, 80 per cent of Scotland's population lived and worked in the countryside in places such as these, their homes ranging from large farmsteadings in the south of the country to the tiny, remote Highland villages and sheilings (the seasonal homes used by herders when they worked long days in the summer pastures).

For these people it was a life of hard, physical drudgery, which revolved around the rhythms of the harvest and the care of horses, cattle and sheep that were their livelihood.

This life, these jobs and much of the rural population are long gone: agricultural and industrial revolutions sucked the heart out of rural communities, and desperate landworkers migrated to bigger towns and a less challenging way of life. The seemingly insignificant buildings they left behind served no further purpose, and now they lie in ruins. Early Ordnance Survey (OS) maps verify their existence, but there is no other record or documentation of them. A link to Scotland's heritage has worn dangerously thin.

All is not quite lost, however. In 2001, after a decade of research using the earliest OS maps of Scotland, dating back to the 1860s, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) identified 22,000 ruins across the country.

Yesterday the Heritage Lottery Fund announced a 594,000 grant to support a project, entitled Scotland's Rural Past, which aims to bring back to life this part of Scotland's history, which future generations might otherwise never have been able to know about.

Two thousand volunteers country-wide are to be enlisted in a mammoth attempt to survey these ruins of a lost lifestyle. They will be given digital cameras and trained in drawing site plans, so that they can help find and record Scotland's rural past before it disappears entirely.

"It's about trying to record them, and produce drawings and photographs of them, before they disappear," said John Hume, the chairman of RCAHMS.

"It's a very rich heritage that we have on our doorstep, [but about] which we don't know," said Patricia Ferguson, the Culture Minister, at the launch of the project yesterday. "It's so important that we know the kind of lives our forefathers lived." The information they hold about Scotland's social history and land-use is vital.

The volunteers will spend weekends being shown how to observe and interpret the ruins and photograph them. They will download the information into a central database of 250,000 archeological sites and historic buildings across Scotland. It is hoped they will become part of the tourist trail.

The earliest sites they are likely to visit date back to the mid-18th century, the newest to the early-20th.

They will range from an abandoned farmstead in Dirneark, Wigtownshire, to a township in Culnacraig, Wester Ross; from the shielings in Croc nan Lair, Caithness, through a township on the shores of Loch Ness, to a field-system in Little Glenhapple, Wigtownshire. There will be 40 projects across the whole of Scotland, comprising a five-year mission to record and care for abandoned farmsteads, townships, crofts, weaver's cottages, mills, quarries, field systems and even illicit alcohol stills. In the central belt, the project will be focused on farm buildings. In the Highlands it will include villages abandoned during either the clearances or the steady outflow from rural areas.

Among the hardest buildings to track down are the illicit whisky stills. They were built mostly in the Highlands in 18th and 19th centuries, after licensing laws were enforced but before the big whisky companies were established. "They are difficult to find," says Dr Piers Dixon, the project director, "because they weren't built so that Customs and Excise might find them.

"They are usually tucked away in steep-sided little glens in the Highlands." Often little is left apart from the outlines of walls beside a burn. "To find them you have to walk up the burn."

Also waiting to be found are ancient mill sites, where the remains of corn-drying kilns sit on timber floors.

Hume, points out that many of the ruins are farm buildings from the more recent past. Early 20th-century steadings don't suit modern farming practices, and traditional cattlesheds don't match modern methods of raising cattle.

The bigger hay bales produced now need buildings bigger than the Dutch barns and stone buildings of the past. "Modern tractors are so tall now they won't fit into many existing buildings," Hume says. "As farms amalgamate, the old steading is either derelict or converted to a residence. The idea is to record the original structure while it's reasonably intact and hasn't been adapted for other purposes."

Ed Archer oversees 300 volunteers, mostly over-fifties, who are already at work on such projects in Clydesdale, Lanarkshire and the Borders.

"The importance of it is that farms are fast being altered because farmers need to diversify," he said. "They are taking down some of the buildings, or putting up others in their place, or converting them to houses to sell, to supplement their income because of the current state of the farming industry.

"In some cases they take them down to sell the stone or the slate, because these are valuable commodities. We want to record these buildings before they disappear."

In Lanark, his group found another side of rural life: a "tin house" made of corrugated iron. Dating back to the late 19th century, such houses could be bought by mail-order from the pages of farming magazines, but proved ferociously cold in the winter. The group has also located a bastle house - an early fortified farmhouse - near Carnwath in Lanarkshire.

"A lot of people are interested in archeology, but the archeology of farms has been neglected," Archer says, also pointing out that Scotland was the birthplace of some of the most important farming inventions of the late-18th and early-19th centuries.

Dixon says the project will not be pressurising landowners about historic sites: "Sometimes converting a ruin into housing may be a way of conserving it, or it could be made into a small park.

"If people know what they've got, they are more likely to preserve it. This project aims to get people to recognise the value of their own things."

The Highlands and Islands Council is backing the project to the tune of 100,000 over five years.

In areas such as Inverness, as in the Central Belt, local development pressures meant it was important to record things quickly, says Bill Taylor, the council's heritage manager: "There are many, many communities in the Highlands that care passionately about their built heritage. There are all sorts of old structures in the landscape that fascinate the people living close to them."

Source (http://heritage.scotsman.com/places.cfm?id=1466352006)

Thursday, November 26th, 2009, 03:20 AM
What an interesting post. That is so great that they are trying to preserve what they can of their past. I am reading a book now that is a factual story about how the little villages faded away in England. It is very interesting.