Saturday, 5 May 2018


Just six miles south of Inveraray is the only remaining farming township, Auchindrain. At one time some 4,000 of these communities dotted the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Auchindrain was abandoned in 1962 when the last member of the farming community, Eddie McCallum, moved into Furnace. The township is now managed by a charity trust. 

A wander around Auchindrain gives an incredible and unique glimpse into the lives of ordinary people in the Highlands of Scotland. Our ancestors. Farmers. Not crofters - those came later. Townships like Auchindrain, a cluster of buildings scattered on a landscape, in random position to one another, yet all connected by the land they shared. This was a truly communal way of life. The animals were placed on the outskirts of the township on the less arable land. The homes were simple and functional. Generally one room which served as a living area, kitchen and sleeping quarters. Some of the homes, longhouses, created a divide between their living and sleeping quarters. Longhouses also had a byre (barn) at one end for the animals to be sheltered. The barn held one or two cattle and a working horse. 

The land was divided into rigs, or strips of land, each strip being tended by one family. The families rotated rigs every couple of years, ensuring everyone had a chance at the best land. The manure from the animals kept the crops well fertilized. The weather is/was often drizzly and water was abundant. In order that the crops not be flooded out, a series of irrigation ditches were dug by the farmers to move the water away from the rigs. 

Cattle were the mainstay of farming life, providing milk, meat and fertilizer. Those not slaughtered for the community were rounded up and driven (walked in droves) into the nearest market or to markets further south where they were sold. The money then went to pay rents or to add to the needs of the township. 

Auchindrain still has sheep and hens that wander freely. The hens are fed organic foods and produce some of the finest tasting eggs in the area. Because the township continues to look and work the way it always has, animal droppings are abundant. Another little glimpse into the everyday lives of our farming ancestors. 

Each home also had a kailyard, an enclosed garden where vegetables and herbs were grown for the family's use. Many also had a stackyard, an enclosed area where grains were stored for use during the winter months. 

Three buildings in the township held particular fascination for me. The first and perhaps the most compelling for me is Bell a'Phuill's house (Bell who lives by the muddy place). A single room home. Perhaps it was the wonderfully comforting smell of the peat fire that drew me to the home. 

Bell, whose name was actually Isabella McCallum, live in this single room home with her two children. The thatched roof needs to be replaced every 7 years. 

The second house that held my fascination was the Slate House. The only one in the township with a slate roof. 

Now used as a barn for the hens, this was once the barn housing horses. You can see the rain barrel in the back corner of the building. 

And the third building that fascinated me, and perhaps the more modern of any of them outwith the visitor centre and office, is what was once Eddie McCallum's home. This is a traditional longhouse. 

Seen here with the barn next door, the longhouse was separated into living space and kitchen, sleeping quarters and then the barn. 

 Auchindrain is unique. Auchindrain is a window into a life long lost yet one that was a vital and common way of life for those in the highlands and islands. I encourage anyone and everyone with highland ancestors to pay a visit to Auchindrain. Your understanding of your ancestor's lives will be enriched beyond measure. Thanks to the hard work of the Auchindrain Trust and their strong belief that the township should remain as it was, not prettied up, tidied up or re-created in any way that is not authentic. Well done to each and every one of them. 

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