Ciamar a tha sibh?

Hello and welcome!

Hello! Welcome to my historical blog.

I am Andrew and I’m the Highland Historian. I offer heritage consultancy services, including historical and genealogical research; and guided tours, including site, half-day, day and multi-day tours. Please visit highlandhistorian.com or email andrew@highlandhistorian.com for more information.

Amongst my experiences, I have a Master of Arts degree in Scottish Historical Studies and I’m a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. I have been employed as a tour guide at numerous sites, am a Trustee of Castle Leod and was the Manager of Culloden Battlefield from 2014-2018. More about my experiences and background can be found here.

On this blog, we will discover the true background to the folk traditions and culture that make the Scottish Highlands an incredible place to live and visit.

Please like, share, comment, get in touch and ask as many questions as you can! They will inspire me to write for you!

I look forward to meeting you on your Highland Historian tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.


A Review of “Blood of the Clans”:

I’ll be honest from the outset: This is a rather negative review of a television programme, but I really feel it needs to be communicated for the reasons I conclude with at the end, so please read on with the advisory comment that some of my comments may be opinionated:

I don’t often comment on television programmes, partly because I take the view that historical matters being discussed on television is usually a good thing as long as it leads to discussion and further research (and perhaps even a tour with Highland Historian!).

For example, I take the view with “Outlander” that it is a popular fictional depiction of a genuine period of history (or several) which can be explained in much more detail once that initial interest has been sparked. Of course, there are issues caused by characteristics which are depicted as factual within fictional historical stories, but this is where people like me should be taking a role in ensuring more accurate information is made available. But the following post is about a situation that has developed within television programming on historical topics which has the potential to completely mislead the audience if a good level of knowledge about the topic isn’t already there. This, I feel, is far more serious.

Yesterday evening, on the BBC, the first
In a series of programmes called “Blood of the Clans” was aired. As with many of these BBC history programmes/documentaries about Scotland, a smattering of very respectable and expert academics were included for a few “talking heads” moments. These are invariably accurate and worthwhile parts of these programmes; but between those moments, the story is taken up and “developed” by a presenter. These sections are either written by the presenter or with the help of BBC writers based on a bit of background research.

In this case, it was Neil Oliver. An archaeology graduate, television presenter and newspaper columnist; who is also the current President of The National Trust for Scotland. I must say at this stage that I noticed something which troubles me in the opening scenes; the use of a clip from the Culloden Battlefield & Visitor Centre immersion film which should not be for commercial use, but was clearly made available to Neil Oliver to use in his programme for the BBC. To some he is a harmless historical TV programme presenter, but to others he is a highly debatable and politically divisive character.

I always try to maintain a balanced view when I begin watching these programmes, but last night I felt that Neil Oliver was misleading, inventive with the truth and downright dodgy with his historical output. The issue here is how far and wide that output has the potential to go through the BBC channels. It was as if major studies and major developments in our academic understanding of the period being discussed had just been completely ignored at times.

I have been involved in a few TV and radio programmes in the past. Whilst it is nice to have had those experiences, it is not something I would push for. I have also been introduced to the producers of and then overlooked for roles in other programmes, including most recently Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish’s upcoming “Clanlands” and “Men in Kilts”, despite my details being forwarded to the producers by four separate individuals. This is not an issue whatsoever, so this is not a case of me making comment on Neil Olivers’ output wishing I was asked to be involved; far from it. I must state that I was once asked (many years ago now) to talk to Neil Oliver whilst some filming was occurring and declined due to the angle being taken on the topic. I have found that open debate cannot be had whilst under direction on camera.

Importantly, I feel, this post is about communicating my feelings about television history and the awkward position it has; being seen to be “academic” by the vast majority of viewers, but simultaneously being deemed erroneous, incorrect or just plain bizarre by many academics or academically-aware people.

Whilst romantic story-telling in books, TV and film is recognised to be for the purposes of entertainment and not for learning and educational purposes; programmes like “Blood of the Clans” can and will be seen by many as an accurate representation which should be learned from as a one-stop complete guide to the period being discussed. This is disastrous and I would like to throw up a huge ‼️🚫CAUTION🚫‼️ sign if you are of that belief. It is almost like a magnified and potentially more damaging version of “tourist history”, which is something that can exist where entertainment overplays accuracy in historical descriptions to meet the expectations of an audience – I have seen it regularly occur over the years.

Whilst the programme covered a wide period and range of topics from a quickly-evolving time in our history, it unfortunately did not do any of it any real justice for the wide audience it was intended for.

The issues began, and continued throughout, when Neil Oliver began making up modern nicknames for the historical figures he was discussing. “Jamie” Graham of Montrose and “Archie” Campbell of Argyll are not names we should be taught in an educational programme. It was noticeable that some of the academics had perhaps been encouraged to follow-suit and used the nicknames, which came off as awkward and in some cases forced.

It is a small point; but the regular use of un-decorated castles with bare walls and minimalist furniture in the otherwise well produced “acted” segments between images of Neil Oliver did not bare any resemblance to the widely available knowledge of living conditions in those same castles during the period. This was also spotted and commented on by a respected academic on Twitter as the show was on air.

The description of the Covenant and the reasons behind it and the events leading up to it was pitiful at best, leaving much to be desired. The lack of mention or investigation of the religious element was a glaring error and the continuation of an avoidance of the religious element throughout the entire programme was just bizarre. This was a programme about a period of civil war which was based on the religious and political developments of the age, which barely mentioned religion or politics.

Instead, Neil Oliver assumed his position as ‘slightly accurate but not academic TV host’ by centring the entire story around the Campbell and MacDonald clans and their historical hatred of each other and the “hero” figures of the tale; the leaders on both sides of the conflict. In a programme like this, this is just unacceptable and misleading. Yes; the MacDonald-Campbell feud was a significant factor, but without explaining the political and religious background, it doesn’t make any sense as to why it all kicked off when, and how, it did; or why it was allowed to develop so rapidly. This element of the programme was an outright failure to educational TV history programming.

It was small relief that the writers had remembered to include some of the other clans who were involved in large numbers in this period, namely the Frasers and Mackenzies; but even then the details were drastically lacking and other clans were simply ignored. The mapping of these clans’ territories was complete nonsense.

The description of the Battle of Inverlochy wasn’t incorrect, but it barely explained the tactics used once the battle began. The march towards the battle by Montrose and MacColla was called the “greatest tactical manoeuvre in Scottish history” by one of the academics, which I think is a fair comment to make even if it may be debated. But to go from this, to then jumping through the period from Inverlochy (2nd February 1645) to the aftermath of Carbisdale (27th April 1650) in just a handful of sentences was inexcusable; regardless of the time constraints of the programme. This, for example, meant they missed out what I would call “potentially one of the greatest tactical manoeuvres in Scottish history” at the Battle of Auldearn (9th May 1645); but then most people, even academics, do!

Having briefly discussed the battle of Tippermuir (1st September 1644), some of the detail of the battle of Aberdeen (13th September 1644) and the battle of Inverlochy (2nd February 1645); the list of battles-alone that the programme either didn’t mention or just gave quick comment on was lengthy. This period can not be understood unless the development towards, during and after these battles is understood. As well as not discussing Auldearn, the programme failed to discuss the battles of Alford (2nd July 1645), Kilsyth (15th August 1645) and Philiphaugh (13th September 1645) in any worthwhile detail whatsoever. The death of MacColla was mentioned in great detail even though nobody knows how it occurred, but the movements of Montrose and his eventual re-emergence in the north was barely touched upon.

As you can probably tell by now, the issues were numerous. The following was one of the outstanding issues for me: The lack of detail about Montrose’s (sorry, “Jamie’s”, if we’re supposed to use Neil Oliver’s nicknames now) movements between his defeat at the battle of Philiphaugh (13th September 1645) and his re-emergence in the north of Scotland in the lead-up to the battle of Carbisdale (27th April 1650) was a disgrace. It was as if he had just popped off for a short holiday break before being captured after some stuff he was up to in the far north of Scotland to be executed. A clear example of chucking out the detail to focus on the easy bits to research.

But even then, there was another issue which troubled me even more than all the others combined just as the programme was winding up to its eventual end. For a programme to be aired as an educational programme about the period, the following just made me feel numb: The programme skipped the majority of the developments between 1650 and 1692 (and anyone who knows the chronology of the period or even reads occasional posts on this page will realise that there were a fair few big events in there!). It ended with a segment on the Massacre of Glencoe (13th February 1692). Even then, they framed it as a Campbell plot, rather than discussing the wider political and religious developments – of which there were many! The mention of Rob Roy in a programme about the mid 1600s where very little mention was given to anyone who wasn’t “Jamie” or “Archie” was also very awkward.

Why did they do this? Because for a TV presenter like Neil Oliver and the BBC, it presents a comfortable end to a programme about a complicated bit of history which helps them get into the next programme without having to explain the details of what really occurred between the period they were previously discussing and the one they want to focus on next. What it also does, however, is completely undermine their ability to successfully explain the development of clanship in a programme about clans, as well as the finer details of any of the events that occurred.

This post is not a complete list of the issues I personally had with the programme, but it is a few that raised my eyebrows furthest. I know that other historians and academics have already commented similarly on some of the issues and I expect that will continue as the series progresses. However; there is an important reason for writing this post which I want to share here:

At least we know “Outlander” is fictional and that “Braveheart” is a film rather than an academic lecture (these two are examples of which there are many others). But “Blood of the Clans” knowingly blurred the lines between entertainment and academic educational programming. This programme is not alone and is one of many produced, particularly by the BBC. That makes it much harder to present well researched history to a wide audience and, I would strongly argue, has the potential to undermine the work of academics. It also devalues the role of historians. But then, it also reaches a massive audience; which is why so many academics flock to be “talking heads” amongst the presenters’ unacademic ramblings.

I’m not a TV critic; but if I was I wouldn’t recommend the programme unless you intend to do a lot of reading before or afterwards (preferably before). I will be watching the rest of the series; if for no other reason, to remind myself why I do what I do the way that I do it.

A break in postings:

This is taken from my Facebook page, where I do most of my online interaction at http://www.facebook.com/highlandhistorian

Unfortunately it is likely that I will be unable to post in the coming days and weeks. I will try when I do get chance, but I can’t be sure that I will be able to keep up with the “On This Day” posts and I won’t be able to post videos for a while.

Unfortunately things have also become increasingly tough this week, particularly after I was rejected for a vital opportunity which I had hoped I would be sharing much more detail with you about over the next 3 years. Along with the rejections this year from funding grants, it leaves the business (and me personally) under immense pressure heading quickly towards winter.

I do have one walking tour coming up this week and another walking tour developing for later this month, but as yet there has been no other contact made about future tour bookings. I am also now at a stage where I cannot afford to advertise more widely than I already have.

I am not requesting advice or opinions at this stage and I am thankful for those which have been shared with me in the past.

I am not giving up and the business will continue, but it is looking like it is going to be a very tough winter. I am still available to be contacted about tour bookings. The website will remain up and running and the shop will continue to fulfil all orders.

The website can be found at http://www.highlandhistorian.com and the shop at http://www.highlandhistorian.com/shop

“Final Response” from the Scottish Government re: COVID-19 Grant Applications

Today I have received a “final response” from the Scottish Government (which basically means I cannot come back on it and question the decision), which states that there is no financial support available to me to help assist the survival of Highland Historian.

Whilst this is frankly devastating, it was not unexpected.

I will keep going in any way that I can, but this decision has impacted the potential for development of the business, not to mention taking up valuable time which would have been better used for other purposes during Lockdown.

This period has been incredibly damaging for me but, as always, it is because of the support of people who read this blog and my Facebook page that I am able to keep going. Thank you to all of you. Whilst I am currently running Highland Historian at a financial loss, at least it is still able to run for a short time!

As for the lack of support; which was made unavailable to me due to bureaucratic and political reasons, rather than sensible consideration of circumstances; this has been an absolute disgrace and has been financially and mentally damaging for me as an individual. I find it hard to feel valued in Scottish society as a result of this decision. But that is a personal feeling and I only share it here as an insight into the way I have been made to feel over the past few months by decision makers: In a word, “worthless”.

I am as driven as ever to maintain the ethics of my business – supporting fellow independent businesses, small businesses and heritage businesses; supporting conservation of culture, heritage and nature; supporting communities and promoting sensitive tourism. This will never change.

Thank you to Kate Forbes MSP, Drew Hendry MP and Fergus Ewing MSP for the time you gave me at a busy time for yourselves.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this. It does, however, take time and resources to share this information.

If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

Objection to Application Ref. No. 20/01728/FUL

To the Inverness south area planning committee,

I am writing to object to the planning application of Land at TreeTop Stables, Faebuie, Culloden Moor, Inverness. Planning application Ref. No: 20/01728/FUL. My objection is based on a mixture of material issues and heritage impact concerns. This objection is submitted on the 26th May 2020.

I will get to the material concerns I have, but please read the following historical and heritage concerns first. To overlook or undermine these concerns would be a shameful disgrace.

There is no credible historian who would suggest that the area of Treetop was not marched through by part of the front line of the Hanoverian army in battle order, as the Austrians had done in theatres of war against the unpredictable Turks; which is a significant point and one that proves the importance of this area of ground to our understanding of the deployment of cavalry and foot soldiers by Cumberland, learning from his Austrian allies in Flanders, in the build up to battle against an unpredictable Jacobite army. Christopher Duffy has conducted the most significant study of this important build up which is published and available to you all in Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered (Helion, 2015) pp. 450-464. I have worked closely with Christopher for many years to understand the wider topography and tactical nuances of this battle site and the fact that his work and the work of Tony Pollard, Murray Pittock and others has not even been referenced in any of the application documents is telling of the ignorance of up to date research that we allow in the planning application procedure when it comes to developing such an important heritage site. As always since 2018, I am available to take councillors around the entirety of the battle site to give them an insight at any convenient time. Despite offering this several times, I have yet to be taken up on the offer.

This application is within both the agreed Battlefield Inventory Boundary and the Culloden Muir Conservation Area boundary for good reason: Because it is on the Battlefield of Culloden. The site of Treetop is very close to the position of the second line of the Hanoverian army. There is some academic debate to be had amongst knowledgeable historians who have not been consulted about this area of ground before development is proposed for it, as to the exact movements and positions. We know that part of the front line of the Hanoverian army moved through it; we know that cavalry were in the area and ended up on the right flank of the Hanoverian army at Viewhill and, debatably may have also split from this area or further east to end up moving from the area of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) visitor centre to outflank the Jacobite army through the Culwhinniac enclosure to Culchunaig – depressingly, this description of manoeuvres now reads like a list of development applications since 2018.

Back to Treetop; the debate to be had is whether part of the second line of the Hanoverian army also moved through the ground in battle order and was positioned west of it; or whether they were positioned on it; or whether they were positioned slightly east of the area proposed for the accommodation.  This is not particularly a great issue, as whichever conclusion is drawn; all of them still define this as very much on Culloden Battlefield. What is certain is that the second line would not have been crammed up against the front line, which is absolutely clear from the way in which Cumberland was able to manoeuvre four regiments into tactical positions whilst Jacobites crashed through his font line on the Hanoverian left flank. Why can’t historians be more precise? Because battles are rarely measured in millimetre accuracy and the fact we are being asked to be so precise is undermining and ignorant of the expertise available and is completely ridiculous when we are talking about a fast-moving tactical deployment over a geophysically diverse battle site. The very worst thing we can do to that battle site if we wish to learn more about it; is cover it with developments.

What we know beyond debate is that the third line of the Hanoverian army was in the area of Treetop.  It was not a huge third line and Pultney’s regiment were brought forward to Viewhill before the battle began to be positioned beside the Royal Scots. Battereau’s regiment were brought forward from the third line to the right flank of the second line – almost certainly through, if not onto the land at Treetop. This left Blakeney’s regiment to the south and perhaps a little further east of the development. Even further east of this was the Hanoverian army’s baggage. We know from eyewitness accounts that Cumberland rode the lines of his army and spoke to every battalion. We also know that Hawley was in command of the left wing and Cumberland positioned himself to the more tactically advantageous position of command on the right of his army – The area around Viewhill and Treetop farm. This is a large area but, in a battle situation on a horse, anyone who thinks Cumberland was immobile and rooted to one position is imbecilic. He was in the area, without doubt. We also know that a soldier in Bligh’s regiment, in the middle of the second line, lost his leg after a cannon ball took it which had been aimed at Cumberland’s position – one of few injuries caused by Jacobite cannon fire.

All of this is proof that Treetop is on the battlefield of Culloden and to even infer or debate that it is not is ridiculous in 2020. It is beyond doubt. HES have suggested that the area of ground at Treetop was boggy because it was flat. This is highly likely, but it is not a certainty and there is absolutely no categorical proof to suggest it could not be moved across. The worst of the boggy ground was southwest of Viewhill, where the charge took place. It would have been useful if anyone had asked the NTS whether it would be possible to have LiDAR experts engaged to look at the LiDAR scan that I commissioned and includes this area to look into this in greater detail; but of course that has not happened – to the ridicule of everyone involved.

Ignorance is inexcusable when discussing developments upon Culloden Battlefield in 2020. It is also inexcusable to claim or infer that sites like this are not on Culloden Battlefield, as has been done in the G.H. Johnston Supporting Policy Statement (4.19, p.23) and HRI Architects Pre-Application Summary and Design Report (1.02, p.1). This must be called out and corrected by Councillors. I will again call on Councillors to call land that is on Culloden Battlefield “on Culloden Battlefield” in all public communications, including social media postings which I have recently been aware of. This is land within the agreed battlefield inventory area. Thankfully the applicant is fully aware that the site is on the battle site and that cannot be claimed otherwise, as I personally informed the applicant of this in great detail in 2019 at the public exhibition held at Treetop stables.

I would have hoped that the applicant would have committed better due diligence to review the documents that have been paid for and to ask the authors for more accurate reports with referencing. This is an important point because inaccuracies like these should be investigated and proper research should be committed when dealing with such an important inventoried battle site. It is a great disappointment that Historic Environment Scotland (HES) have not picked up on this and other inaccuracies in the application documents.

Inaccuracies in the documentation are not confined to the inference of being away from the battle site or out of site of the battle site. There are some pretty ridiculous inaccuracies in the Visual Impact Assessment by Benton Scott-Simmons. One of the most notable is that they do not seem to think the NTS own segments of forestry that they have owned for many years; along with the area of ground that the NTS visitor centre and car park are on. It’s publicly available information and they have failed to research it accurately. If this is inaccurate, what else is inaccurate? Due diligence must be displayed by Councillors and these documents must be reviewed where there is clearly inaccurate data.

There is some interesting use of trees as a supporting argument for giving this application approval in the planning documents. Trees are not permanent and tree cover is not a reason to allow development on a conservation area. As we know from the current Forestry and Land Scotland plans, much of the intervening forestry is due in the very near future to be felled. This completely undermines the applicant’s argument that forestry is an appropriate visual screen.

There is also mention of the “core” battle site. The “core” battle site is the entire battle site; and this battle was not fought in small pockets of hand to hand fighting as non-academic descriptions may confuse us; the battle of Culloden hung on the whole of the tactical deployments and manoeuvres that created the outcome. As we are well aware by now; less than one third of that is owned and protected by the National Trust for Scotland. The conservation area is the only protection for the wider battlefield and must be implemented by the Highland Council to the fullest effect against unnecessary developments such as this.

I would also, again, advise that both historical and archaeological knowledge must be combined, rather than just archaeological knowledge being requested. Archaeology tells us what was dropped and left behind; history tells us what happened based on knowledge of the build-up; records of; and outcome of the event. This is not the case in many applications, where basic archaeology is regarded as sufficient mitigation for proposals. In this application, a walk-over survey has failed to find anything deemed to be of historical value. Not surprising in the slightest – but are we saying that this means the sound evidence for this being part of the battle site can be ignored? I don’t think so.

It’s very interesting that AOC archaeology were paid in a commercial capacity to conduct the archaeological report, given that they are the authors of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area; a classic development tactic. We are becoming used to these and G.H. Johnston are also clearly well versed in tactical planning manoeuvres too. It is no surprise that G.H. Johnston are involved here as they have been with almost every application on Culloden Battlefield. What disappoints me about the AOC walk-over survey is how basic it is and how the background research is so sadly lacking in quality. There is a very random inclusion of a measurement of “200m” from some action, but no explanation of where from and where to that measurement has been taken; what action it is referring to; and any referencing to show where this information came from. As we have seen here, Treetop is not 200m from the battle site, it is on it.

That basic error of research by AOC is disappointing at the very least and I would encourage Councillors to be very concerned about this lack of academic quality when defining the area of the battle site. The report is also dated September 2016 – four years old. Archaeological research techniques have moved on dramatically since then and there is now a LiDAR scan and various pieces of historical research available which were not at that time. Are we happy to base a decision as important as this on an outdated and old archaeological report, given that there is so much more historical information available that proves this site to be one of importance?

The proposal for holiday lodges, a spa and a restaurant at Treetop is completely disrespectful to the battle site, the conservation area, its integrity and its conservation. Commercialism and conservationism are at odds in the Highlands at the moment and have been since at least 2018. The income generation on Drummossie Muir is substantial already and rather than increasing businesses on the site, an argument must be made that income already generated should be ring-fenced to be kept in the Highlands and to support the conservation of the site. The battle site will be damaged if the Treetops development goes ahead, but so will the opportunity for the Highland council to make sincere efforts to drive Highland tourism that sustains conservation and jobs in the Highlands in the future. It will also undermine the Highland Council’s conservation messages and support of Highland heritage and culture drastically.

The proposed development will also bring dangerous levels of traffic to roads which are already at peak levels during tourist season. It is argued that the road is not dangerous and there are a small number of vehicles using it. Are we supposed to completely ignore the fact that the survey was conducted between the 11th September 2017 and the 24th September 2017? This is one of the quietest periods of the year after the summer tourism season has come to an end and the October holidays are yet to begin. As manager of Culloden, this was the time of year when adjustments were being made and recuperation was beginning at the end of the coach and cruise season. This transport survey is not applicable to the season when both this proposed business and the area in general will be at its busiest. That must be considered. At the height of summer Culloden Road and the junction at the Keppoch Inn simply cannot stand up to additional traffic, particularly of the levels required to run a business like this. In managing Culloden Battlefield, I am also very aware that road maintenance and gritting of the B9006 is an issue and an increase of traffic is an unnecessary increase in roadwork requirements, maintenance requirements and risks to the public.

The development at Viewhill (Cairnfields) was passed after comments were made about the danger of the movement of school children as pedestrians under the railway bridge at Balloch. From my memory it was decided that, were there more houses, work would be required on this. What is proposed here will lead to pedestrians children included coming to and from Balloch. The problem commented on is now before you; so who is going to pay for the additional work for transport and pedestrian safety that was highlighted as being necessary by Councillors in the debate about Viewhill?

The infrastructure is simply not there to allow this development. This will lead to an addition to the backlog of maintenance needs, as well as an inexcusable increase of risk to the public. I wholly support the Council’s publicised aims to support sensible and necessary development and conservation of the Culloden Muir area and this decision is a prime example of an opportunity to make a very positive signal of those intentions by rejecting this application.

In another objection comment, it has been raised that an industrial shed has been erected on site at Treetop. As far as I am able to research, there has been no planning consent granted for this. This is presumably the same industrial structure that is described in the Pre-Application Summary and Design Report which is “A steel framed and profiled steel clad industrial building with large external plant and equipment storage” (1.03, p.1). Whatever it is, it clearly needs to be investigated by planning Councillors and Officers and, if there is any evidence that a building has been developed without planning permission, it must be investigated fully.

I make my case on several grounds for this proposal to be rejected:

1) It does not suit the historical importance and integrity of the surrounding area.

2) It brings dangers which should be avoided.

3) It will destroy conservation efforts which have been ongoing for generations and ignores the conservation area and the reasons for it being implemented by Highland Council.

4) It will destroy future information and data gathering which must be protected by our generation.

5) The necessity of the development for the local area is negligible, as is the support for other local businesses the development application claims it will give.

6) If absolutely necessary, a development like this would be better positioned elsewhere in the locality out with the inventory and conservation area boundaries where all of the above factors could be minimised. The applicant and the applicant’s family own such land and I would suggest they should investigate the potential of this development being sited elsewhere.

7) Tree cover is being used to support the application, but this is not permanent, not owned by the development owners and is not a reasonable mitigation for the impact the development will have. It is also clear that this forestry is in current felling plans and will be thinned and potentially completely deforested in coming years. It is also commercial forestry that was originally planted in the 1930s and 1950s and is not part of the historic landscape.

8) There is reason to investigate whether the applicant has erected a building without planning consent.

I ask, sincerely, that this proposal is rejected and that the conservation of one of our most important cultural assets is strengthened by a strong signal from Highland Council that we must protect our heritage. We have seen development applications fall onto the desk of the Inverness South Area Planning Committee at Viewhill; Treetops; Muirfield (shed); Culchunaig; Muirfield (house); and now Treetops (again) since 2018. If this application is given the go-ahead, we will see more. Highland Council must consider whether it wishes to protect the integrity of conservation at Culloden Battlefield. That choice is clearly now on the shoulders of those Council Officers and Councillors who will be debating this application.

I hope that my comments are helpful towards a sensible decision and that, if I can be of any assistance, the Highland Council will contact me directly. I intend to be available for this purpose.

Yours, with growing concern,

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot

Highland Historian: Heritage Consultancy & Bespoke Tour Guiding

Former Property Manager of Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre (The National Trust for Scotland)

Objection to Planning Application 20/00967/FUL on Culloden Battlefield

To the Inverness south area planning committee (Highland Council),

I am writing to object to the planning application: 20/00967/FUL | Erection of house | Land 730M NW of King’s Stables Cottage Westhill Inverness

The developer describes their farm as a “Small family run farm on the edge of Culloden battlefield” on Facebook, so we cannot claim they are unaware of the site they intend to develop, as other recent development applicants have.

As you already know, I was made redundant by the National Trust for Scotland as Property Manager of Culloden Battlefield in 2018, and had worked there since 2008. My experiences in the management, conservation and academic understanding of the battle site as a whole give me an insight that I hope will not be overlooked or ignored, which unfortunately has been the case with historical information regarding many of the applications on the battle site.

I will outline some historical elements, but I will focus on material planning objections; knowing as I do that these matters do not come into discussions anywhere near as regularly as they should due to the planning process being entirely based on material planning considerations regardless of the fact we are dealing with such an important and significant historic site, which is currently being developed at a greater rate than it has ever been developed in history.

To be absolutely clear, here are my key material objections to the development:

  1. It is unnecessary – the recent agricultural shed was built to securely house machinery and the developer’s home is not far away. An additional house is not necessary.
  2. The additional road junction onto the B9006 will be dangerous – this area of the B9006 (I travelled it daily for 10 years) is already a dangerous corner and additional traffic coming onto the road at this point will add to the dangers.
  3. It is completely at odds with the policies outlined in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area published by Highland Council in 2016.
  4. The archaeological report is inadequate and inaccurate and has missed significant areas of knowledge and has ignored items previously removed. The mapping of the lines alone is completely incorrect and does not have any justification based on research. This MUST be addressed! I will be happy to advise. The sources referenced include no recent historical research and virtually no historical analysis at all.
  5. It is proposed on a greenfield site within a conservation area and a battlefield inventory – unless there is a necessity for it, which there isn’t, it should be rejected.

I trust that the NTS will object strongly against this development, but as the planning committee are aware, the NTS view of conservation at Culloden has changed significantly and their efforts have reduced since 2016. At that time I was still Property Manager, and I had put a very strong and affordable case for the purchase of land close to this development when it was available to the directors of that organisation. The response from them was that it would not be done for conservational reasons and due to it not being a commercial project; the plan I created to purchase large areas of Blackpark and Viewhill farms was stopped.

This is incredibly important, because if the NTS does not object, it is a continuation of a dereliction of duty to work towards conservation of historic sites all over Scotland, regardless of direct ownership, and evidence that the council must not rely on their opinion against developments as it has been doing in all recent applications. By this, I am referring to the regular phrases in the discussions before voting on applications such as “if the NTS doesn’t object, how can we prevent it” (not verbatim and said in the discussions over Viewhill and Treetops) and similar.

Instead, knowledgeable and expert advice – particularly historical – must be regarded as just as important as the objections of NTS and HES once were by the planning committee. I do, however, remain hopeful that they will object.

My objection is based on a mixture of points, but the material issues are clear; there is an increase of risk, particularly in relation to the additional junction at a particularly dangerous area of the B9006 which has already seen crashes in the past. The access road also cuts through a known area of the battle site and will destroy any future chance of categorically locating the Culloden Park Enclosure’s south east corner, where the last firing cannon was silenced with intense fire at the end of the battle. It was also the only geographically definite location of a Jacobite line, being the definite placement of the left flank of the front line. We must consider this area of the utmost importance in terms of any possibility of accurately mapping the battle site in the future. The walls in this location featured in a contemporary sketch by Paul Sandby.

The possibility of locating this area has already been damaged by the agricultural shed which has destroyed a known area of the battle site previously. If we were to be able to locate this corner, it would be one of the only definite geographical locators on the entire battle site and, from it; many other areas of the battle site would be able to be measured. It is VASTLY important that we do not ignorantly destroy this area!

The application also risks a damaging and irreversible impact on the area’s environmental conservation. This is the first development proposed on a Greenfield site since the introduction of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area in 2016. If this development, within a conservation area boundary and a battlefield inventory boundary on a greenfield site goes ahead, the “development floodgates” I warned of from 2013-2016 and we have seen come true will be a mere trickle by comparison. You must consider what precedent your recent decisions on Culloden Battlefield developments has already set; and what the decision on this one will set.

Since 2014 I worked with Highland Council to implement the Culloden Muir Conservation Area, which must be adhered to, but as a result of the Scottish Government reporter decision at Viewhill, this has previously been undermined, both before and during our discussions towards implementation; and afterwards. I would fully expect this proposal to be rejected in line with the Culloden Muir Conservation Area. This is yet another opportunity for Highland Council to stand up for conservation of a nationally and internationally important heritage site.

The very reason that Highland Council requested the Conservation Area was because, after I had discussions with the planning team about the mistakes made by the Scottish Reporter in their decision on Viewhill which brought unwanted pressure to Highland Council, it was realised that the area needed to be far better protected.

The Muirfield application before you now is clearly in conflict with the aims of the council to ensure that developers could not purchase land, put an agricultural building on it and then within a few years apply for luxury housing. This is exactly what has happened here. On the face of it, this is entirely contrary to the Culloden Muir Conservation Area’s raison d’etre.

I make my case on several grounds from the policies in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area for this proposal to be rejected:

  1. The proposal goes against policy 1 of the Conservation Area. It is not “for the repair, reuse and conversion of a redundant traditional building within the Battlefield and is of a design and finish sensitive to the architectural design, scale and finish of the original building.” I would push for the council to have a “presumption against development” which is policy number 1. The necessity of the development for the local area is completely unnecessary.
  2. Also in policy 1, it states “The design, scale, mass and detailing of any replacement building should be appropriate to the site and its setting and should reflect the traditional features of the Conservation Area.” This is completely not the case in this proposal and would be a case for ridicule if the Highland Council gave this proposal permission. However, this was also the case at Viewhill.
  3. It will destroy conservation efforts which have been ongoing for generations and ignores the conservation area and the reasons for it being implemented by Highland Council. Policy 2 in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area states “Proposals for new development within the designated Conservation Area must demonstrate that the development will either preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.” This development is completely contrary to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area that I was an advisor to. It would make me feel that my work was being made to be a joke and that we are no longer putting any interest in conservation at Culloden Battlefield at the levels that truly make a difference if this is to go ahead. It will destroy future information and data gathering which must be protected by our generation.
  4. Policy 3 of the Conservation Area states: “All new development proposals must be supported by a fully detailed design statement clearly demonstrating how the development proposals will either preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area.  It is expected that design statements will take account of all existing buildings, known historic environment assets and the natural landscape and its key features, including trees. Guidance on preparing a design statement is contained in Planning Advice Note 68 (PAN 68).” The known historic environment is much more detailed than any of the recent proposals, including this one have had the inclination to research. Until proper research is done, the research put into any development is inadequate. Have they even consulted the LiDAR scan? That would be a very small beginning to the research that should have been done.
  5. Policy 4… Again; the research is out there and it is available. It has not been consulted in this development and it has not been used to the extent that would define ‘proper’ research. “All proposals for new development must be supported by detailed landscape visualisations which will clearly show the visual impact of the proposals in respect of any recorded or known historic environment assets within the Conservation Area.  These visualisations shall be produced in accordance with an agreed standard.” Why, then, do the visualisations not include any visualisations from the Prisoner’s Stone and the Culloden Battlefield Trail?
  6. Policy 5 states: “Highland Council may require pre-determination archaeological investigation for any new development proposal that requires groundbreaking within the Conservation Area. The Council will notify applicants where archaeological work is required to support an application, and the scope of such works, on a caseby-case basis. Highland Council will resist development where there are significant archaeological implications.” Let me, once again, push for proper and holistic archaeological research. This should be a given in a Conservation Area. It has not been done and the GUARD report is inadequate and incorrect. If the council are minded to consider this or any other developments, it must come with clauses that are over and above the standard. Archaeological work must be full and as in depth as current technology will allow, paid for by the developers, before a decision on the proposal is made. Historians must be contacted to give an overview which is taken and considered seriously before proposals are granted permission. The LiDAR scan owned by the National Trust for Scotland must be reviewed and analysed by LiDAR experts, archaeologists and historians. This scan covers the whole conservation area. I would suggest that all of these things should be done anyway, regardless of the consideration of proposed developments. Without these things having been done, the decision is being made without the relevant information to make an informed decision given the potential repercussions.
  7. Policy 8 states: “There will be a presumption against any development within the Conservation Area which is likely to have adverse impact on the setting of important historic environment assets or the wider cultural landscape as identified in the designation.” This is Culloden Battlefield. There is a significant argument that the course of Highland, Scottish, British, European and World history was changed as a result of the actions which took place on this battle site. This development will definitely have an adverse impact on an important historic AND cultural landscape.
  8. Policy 10 states: “Where Highland Council is minded to support new development proposals within the Conservation Area the materials and external finishes must be of traditional and natural materials to ensure harmony with the surrounding natural landscape of the Conservation Area.” I cannot fathom how this can include this proposal.

GUARD who were brought in to do the incorrect archaeological report is NOT the academic Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (also known as GUARD). That academic body includes Dr Tony Pollard who has been at the forefront of archaeological research at Culloden Battlefield. In his book Culloden: The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle (Pen & Sword, 2009), he outlines his intent to return to this area and the importance of the south east corner of the Culloden Park Enclosure. This book was not even referenced in the archaeological report.

The GUARD brought in for the report is a completely separate commercial archaeology company, and clearly not a very academic one in terms of the lack of background research.

In terms of the archaeological report by GUARD – I must draw the council’s attention to some important details that are lacking in this report. One councillor is already very aware of the fact that items have been found in the area of the previous development of the agricultural shed and this proposed development. Regardless of the size or the value of these finds, it is evidence which supports the ongoing historical research.

Unless there is a complete amnesty of items taken and not reported by metal detectorists, we will never have a full archaeological understanding of this area. This is why historical knowledge is so important here. We know that the last firing gun was somewhere in this vicinity and we know that this item was taken away by souvenir hunters at a later date. This was an area of active combat.

The GUARD report does not discuss or research these key matters. It also makes no effort to take into account the LiDAR scan which I commissioned in 2015 and was done in 2016. This is perhaps understandable as this belongs to the NTS and, despite the number of development applications, has not been released to experts for research. Until that happens, there should be no further developments allowed in the conservation area as this is highly likely to offer insights which will lead to further historical and archaeological research and knowledge.

The archaeological report puts very inaccurate information into publication, including a dreadfully inaccurate map of the battle lines; and has disregarded historical research in the referencing of the report. It is completely ignorant of recent historical and archaeological work that has happened in the vicinity. This is completely ridiculous and must be highlighted and addressed.

When such a key document is so flawed, this must be something of great concern to the planning committee. I am available to discuss this in detail.

Effectively, what I am saying is that continuing to allow developments is like seeing a red traffic light and driving through it without wearing a seatbelt or pushing the brake, despite having them available to us – we have the knowledge, we have the potential for more understanding, but we are still being ignorant.

I would advise strongly that both historical and archaeological knowledge must be combined, rather than just archaeological knowledge being requested. Archaeology tells us what was dropped and left behind; history tells us what happened based on knowledge. This is not the case in many applications, where basic archaeology is regarded as sufficient mitigation for proposals. In this application, that must not be the case. It simply cannot go ahead for a multitude of material planning and conservational reasons. Without these things having been done, the decision is being made without the relevant information to make an informed decision given the potential repercussions.

I ask, sincerely, that this proposal is rejected and that the conservation of one of our most important cultural assets is strengthened by a strong signal from Highland Council that we must protect our heritage.

I am available to be contacted for further discussion.

Best wishes,

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


– – – – END – – – –


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

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Deer Interactions at Kingshouse Hotel, Glencoe


To (General Manager),

This letter is an open letter, available on my Highland Historian blog and Facebook page. It is not a complaint letter and is hopefully the beginning of our positive joint-effort to ensure that information is available to all guests, clients and tour guides who use your facilities, whether that is on a regular basis or on a once-in-a-lifetime visit. I hope that my colleagues in tourism and tour guides will also read the letter and take positive action.

I have been visiting the Kingshouse semi-regularly since around 2005. Before that I visited a few times with family. I have watched the development of the site and the activities of those who visit closely, including attending the planning meeting where the modern Kingshouse Hotel received planning permission; due to that meeting also including the Viewhill (Cairnfields) housing development built on Culloden Battlefield being on the agenda.

The issue I am raising here is people and their reactions to animals; particularly deer. This will be no surprise to you as the issue has been discussed widely and you no-doubt look out of the window and see people interacting with the deer on a daily basis. For those who are not aware, my view on this is that the deer herd from Etive and the southern end of Glencoe which regularly gather in the Kingshouse car park are often interacted with by visitors. This ranges from photos from a distance which is great, to photos with the deer which is less-great, to stroking which is too much interaction, to feeding which is completely wrong for guests to be doing. It is not a new issue, but it is developing rapidly with increased footfall.

I have personally watched as people have fed crisps, peanuts, chocolate digestives, oranges and kit-kats (other brands of chocolate biscuit are available) to the enthusiastic deer. A young stag ran into my tent in 2009 by the stream when an inebriated member of a party camping close by tried to make it drink whisky at 5am. Explaining the implications of these actions to one person is one-thing but it will (and does) occur again and again unless something more substantial is done.

The rights-and-wrongs of this biologically have been discussed widely, as have the health and safety implications. I know that your team are aware of these, but again for those not aware, these wild animals can move very quickly and can protect food and even scrap for food on offer. This has been very close to causing injury on several (in fact, many) occasions at the Kingshouse and we are remarkably lucky that incidents of serious injury are not more regular.

I strongly believe, having managed a visitor centre that received over 250,000 visitors to the site and over 115,000 paying visitors to a visitor centre per year, that it is time for Kingshouse to take the lead on an awareness campaign to ensure that the experience of seeing these animals can continue safely. However, I am also offering to help because I recognise that additional tasks on top of day-to-day operations will not be part of your business plan or budget, particularly if there is no legal requirement to act.

There are many options available, but I am imploring you to act on at least one of them. I am happy to meet and discuss options or to be contacted about how we might develop wider awareness of how to safely interact with the deer in the car park, but without Kingshouse taking the lead on this, it will just continue. Your new facilities have already brought an increase of footfall to the area and that will hopefully continue. But with this generated increase comes an increase in your duty of care to your guests, whether they are paying customers or not.

As the interactions usually occur between the guests’ vehicle and the entrance, there is no point in discussing the issue after arrival. There are also many tour guides now using the Kingshouse as a stop. Many of these share my views, but some encourage the interactions. This is something to be reviewed and may lead to positive engagement with companies and tour guides to ensure greater awareness of the implications of enticing wild animals to feed on unnatural resources.

Signage in the car park does not appear to have worked. You do have a message on your website, but this requires the visitor to read English, to click on the link and to read between the lines of your message. It could be clearer and the page is under a heading “meet the deer, dear” which, if the rest is not read, is an encouragement to engage with one of “your best bits” (as if the deer are somehow pets). Whilst it is explained later that they are not pets or belong to the hotel, it is unlikely that many website visitors will read that far. The message is there, but it is too cloudy. We can clarify the message easily.

Let’s discuss and act on this. We have an opportunity to ensure responsible measures are taken to ensure quality and safe experiences during the continuing growth of your business.


Andrew McKenzie

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot

Sea-Faring Traditions

The following article was published in the January 2020 Spotlight Magazine – Inverness and District; Nairn and District; Forres and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; Strathspey and District and Lewis and Harris editions.

This article is in response to a reader’s request for information about traditions in fishing communities. This is an area where we have plenty of very good collections of traditions thanks to the sharing of stories and information that was commonplace in port villages. As such, it is a vast area of cultural research, but here is a small insight:

Any job at sea has inherent dangers. Many of Scotland’s coastal communities have relied upon the sea for income, food and survival since the earliest human inhabitations. As a result of the danger and the reliance upon powerful natural forces, it is little wonder that traditions and superstitions have developed.

Fishing and survival from the sea was already firmly rooted before Christianity was introduced to Scotland by the Scot-Gaels of Ireland and so, a combination of complex belief systems can be found within fishing traditions.

Every area has its own traditions and some of these are repetitions or adjustments on traditions which exist worldwide, like the belief that crossing paths with certain beings on the way to a boat is a sign of ill fate at sea. Examples of this in Scotland are the belief that meeting a cat, raven, rabbits, dogs or hares; which may be otherworldly beings in disguise, is a sign of extreme danger.

Upon meeting one of these creatures, a seafarer would return home, cross the threshold, and begin the journey to the harbor again. An unlucky sailor would have to repeat the journey several times!

The same was practiced upon the meeting of a minister en-route to the boat in some communities. It was also deemed to be incredibly dangerous to mention a minister either by name or position whilst at sea. This is thought to derive from the ‘sea-gods’ being pre-Christian or un-Christian. There are many examples of sea-gods and beasts around the Scottish coast, all of which appear to have developed as a way to explain the forces of nature by those who experienced them at close-quarters.

Forget St. Columba’s freshwater Loch Ness Monster; saltwater beasts such as the Shoney of Lewis, Manann MacLir and the Muireartach should instill much greater fear! The first two were similar to Davy Jones and are said to hold drowned sailors in their ‘locker’. The Muireartach was a hag of the sea, ready to create storms to drown the sailors at any moment. These un-Christian and other older beasts may also go some way to explain the use of an aquatic beast by St. Columba to evoke respect from those he was trying to convert.

Mermaids were no different, with a belief at Buchan and Peterhead that these sea-beings would entice boats onto specific rocks. This is similar to beliefs in fishing villages around the Minch, where the Blue Men of the Minch, who float waste deep in water, would lure ships onto rocks unless those on board could complete the verses of poems they were reciting in the water.

There are, as you can imagine, many more examples. But what should we make of these traditions? Are they mere fanciful storytelling? Or are they a deeper part of our cultural memory and understanding which have some historical and cultural truth? As with so many examples in our folklore, the latter is certainly true.

On the most basic level, they attempt to explain things like quick weather changes. But on deeper levels, there are examples of eyewitness testimony to shipwrecks, skilled insights into weather systems and efforts to ensure that the longevity of a fishing community would understand the fragility of the world in which they were toiling to survive. The records we have of these things are fragile and, like all heritage, must be conserved and recorded for future generations wherever possible.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail andrew@highlandhistorian.com and visit highlandhistorian.com to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

The Glencoe Sheep Farming Empire

As well as being a place that defines the early modern development of the Highlands; Glencoe was a place that is closely connected with an industry which was instrumental in forcing the social change in the Highlands which is emblematic of the destruction of the old way of life. The story of sheep farming in Glencoe is significant evidence that change came as a result of Highland landowners as much as any external factors. In Glencoe, this led to the unsettlement of families who had existed in this glen for centuries.

But before any disruption of population, the Glencoe sheep farming empire was to be a ground-breaking business development. It took inspiration from examples outside the Highlands and developed to suit Highland estates and land as well as making the most of connections between land owners and the desperation of the period to improve at all costs. For a short while, until the disastrous consequences of an over-extended business and debts struck, Glencoe was the leader in Highland sheep farming and the remit of its business far outreached the Glencoe estate.

This entire episode of history comes out of the Jacobite period, which not only saw the massacre happen in the glen in 1692, but also saw the involvement of Glencoe men in the 1745 Jacobite rising and their involvement in MacDonnell of Keppoch’s Regiment at the Battle of Culloden.[1]

Alexander MacIain MacDonald, 14th Chief of Glencoe, lived between 1708 and 1750 and was Grandson to Alasdair Ruadh MacIain MacDonald killed during the massacre in 1692.[2] Alexander, 14th of Glencoe and his men were present at the battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715 and Prestonpans in 1745.[3] The chief did not join the Jacobite march into England, but was later in Doune, possibly recruiting while his men fought with MacDonell of Keppoch’s regiment at the battle of Falkirk in 1746. Alexander 14th of Glencoe was then ill at home and not present at the battle of Culloden where his men again bolstered Keppoch’s regiment. After Culloden, Alexander 14th of Glencoe surrendered with his men to Major-General Campbell of Mamore. He was later released in 1749 with the future of the Glencoe estate still to be decided upon.[4]

After this period, Glencoe was an estate which was certainly of interest to the authorities. At this time many estates were forfeited to the crown and annexed. Despite the events in 1692 and the MacDonald of Glencoe support for Jacobitism, including their involvement in Charles Edward Stuart’s army of 1745 and presence at Culloden in 1746, the Glencoe estate was not forfeited or annexed:

“The uncertainty which surrounded so many is well illustrated by the list proposed by Milton, Deskford and Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson, a friend of Cumberland’s, who was Quartermaster-General for Scotland. They included one that was not to be forfeited, Glencoe, and several that were later sold…”[5]

The forfeiture of other estates after the last Jacobite rising of 1745-46 may have, in turn, had a positive effect on Glencoe’s development. These estates enabled the government to raise annexed estates funds from rents and items from the estates which then paid for, amongst other things, roads. The road through Glencoe was one of these and was built with assistance from the funds before the 1770s. This road and the connection it gave the Glencoe estate to the increasingly connected network or roads in the Highlands would have undoubtedly assisted the Glencoe estate’s developments between 1787 and 1814.[6]

Alexander 14th of Glencoe’s son, John MacIain MacDonald, became 15th Chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. He died in 1785 and his fourth child and only son, Alexander MacIain MacDonald of Glencoe became 16th Chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds and landowner of the Glencoe estate in 1787.[7], [8]

Having taken on the estate, Alexander almost immediately began taking on rentals and grazing agreements throughout the Highlands. According to Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, sheep farming was unusual behaviour at this time for a Highland landowner and he blamed Lowland landowners for “leading Highlanders astray”.[9]

This brave style of business development may have been influenced by the land usage patterns in the lowlands and possibly further afield, but what is immediately clear is that Highland based landowners, predominantly estate chieftains, were inflicting a business model on the land in their ownership which would not co-exist with populated glens and the working of land for food which would be better for grazing. The business model was profitable and had been proven elsewhere, but it was implemented by Highlanders who wished to make their countryside profitable and knew how.

This, to avoid confusion, was not the clearances. Not at this early stage. It is arguable that it directly led to them in areas like Glencoe, however. In the early stages, this was land owners looking to better their estates. It may even be said that initially their intentions towards people of the estates was fair and positive, but this was hard business and income generation was the driving force. Profitability relied on sound economic and business decisions. It inevitably led to clearance type evictions as debts grew and profitability dropped, but this was some time after initial developments.

This development towards clearance was not just as a result of the profitability of wool, but also the decline in wool prices against the developing cotton trade (1780-1815), which meant that Highland wool producers were forced to expand to maintain profitability, even without the income to pay for their expanding business. The risks of debt-inducing loans were off-set by a belief that economics would counterbalance the expenditure and, in the process, that ‘developments’ which were irrevocable, including the removal of tenants with long histories on the estates, would be worthy of the risk for a selection of the landowning gentry. As we will see, this did not include Alexander MacDonald of Glencoe, but the actions and decisions taken by him, regardless of his personal aims, led to the financial ruin and removal of Rankins and MacDonalds from the Glencoe estate due to economic pressures after 1814.

To understand the extent of Alexander MacDonald’s business development strategy, we must look at the land usage he left upon his death in 1814. It is clear that Alexander expanded to attempt to out-grow the declining wool prices, which was a strategy with inherent risk which Alexander left to the following generations of MacDonalds of Glencoe. At this junction in the Glencoe estate’s history, Alexander had an incredible list of geographically diverse land tenancies. These included, but aren’t limited to:

  • Glencreran in North Argyll from Campbell of Barcaldine,
  • Three leases at Brae Lochaber from MacKintosh of MacKintosh,
  • Glendessaray to the west of Loch Arkaig from Cameron of Locheil,
  • Kinlochnevis in Knoydart from MacDonnell of Glengarry,
  • The central part of Glenstrathfarrar from Fraser of Lovat,
  • Glenmarksie south of Loch Luichart from MacKenzie of Strathgarve,
  • Part of Fersit near Brae Lochaber from the Duke of Gordon,
  • Part of the forest of Monar in Ross-shire from MacKenzie of Fairburn. [10]

Other tenancies include the rental of Corpach from Cameron of Locheil, and the sub-tenancy of Auchteraw near Fort Augustus from Fraser of Lovat.

This list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of land owners in the Highlands during this period and is clear evidence of MacDonald of Glencoe’s shrewdness in business development and the estate’s power at the time. To put a finer point on this, in order to see all of these tenancies in one view, you would need to look at the Ordinance Survey 1:50,000 maps 25, 26, 33, 34, 40, 41 and 50 simultaneously.[11]

The timing of Alexander’s ownership of the Glencoe estate in 1787 and his apparently sudden interest in sheep farming was for good reason. In 1780 there had been a huge rise in wool prices and anyone who could access land tenancies or money to develop had an irresistible opportunity to build an empire.[12] This was exactly what Alexander MacDonald did.

Further evidence of Alexander MacDonald’s power to develop an empire can be found in the money that other landowners appeared so willing to give Alexander MacDonald to keep his business afloat and to keep the development growing. Alexander’s access to money during this period was nothing short of incredible. We must again look at the point of his death in December 1814 to see the true scale of his borrowing ability. At the point of his death, Alexander had outstanding loans of over £8,000. Today this is equivalent to approximately £512,000[13] and included:

  • £2,000 from MacPherson of Cluny,
  • £1,000 from Isabella MacLeod of Bernera,
  • £1,000 from Rev. Alexander Rose of Inverness,
  • £1,000 from George MacKenzie of Dundonnell,
  • £800 from his uncle, Captain Donald MacDonald,
  • £500 from Angus Kennedy of Leanachan.[14]

There were also various other loans recorded by the Glencoe Trustee Accounts after Alexander’s death. Apart from showing an incredible ability to gain money and land tenancies to build a business which grew to be an Empire at its height; we also begin to see the evidence of a man who was funding a business on money not owned by the business. This was and is a recipe for failure. This failure was also disastrous for the Glencoe estate and the people living there.

“Alexander MacDonald of Glencoe also misjudged the market badly. The very large sums of money which he had been able to borrow enabled him to expand well beyond the limit of prudence and he built a sheep farming empire which he was probably incapable of managing properly.”[15]

It is clear that Alexander MacDonald’s brave ‘have a go’ style of business development was flawed from the beginning. He had developed by pushing the boundaries and was unable to stop that style of management when he achieved success. He ignored the principles of working to supply a market and attempted to manage the market to his own agenda. In doing so he gained his business accruement with borrowed money which the business would never manage to pay off. In doing so he destroyed the Glencoe estate, but the true effect of this wasn’t to be felt until 1935 when the entire estate was auctioned in 40 separate lots.

Of the 40 lots, only 30 sold for a combined value of c.£17,800 after the entire 48,357 acre estate was withdrawn from sale at a bid of £28,000. The National Trust for Scotland, through Mr Arthur Russell, bought the smallest plot of land of just 23 acres for £1,350 – by far the highest price per acre in the sale.[16]

Managing an estate effectively and within your means is the first rule of land ownership. Paying attention to trends in the markets you are reliant on is fundamental to achieving secure management. The years leading up to the sale in 1935 are significant in charting the failure of Alexander MacDonald’s sheep farming empire and the demise of the historic Glencoe estate.

Alexander MacIain MacDonald of Glencoe died in December 1814 at the age of 53. It appears that a group of gentleman calling themselves the ‘Trustees of Glencoe’ took over the estate at this time due to the absence of Alexander’s sons. A Trustee minute of a meeting in January 1817 refers to the men being ‘men from Glencoe’ but, according to historian Iain S. MacDonald; “this slender evidence about their origins lacks corroboration”.[17] Left with Alexander’s debts, it was these Trustees who enforced a raised tenancy rate upon the MacDonald and Rankin families living in Glencoe and, in pursuing them for monies, ruined them.[18]

Alexander’s 5th child, Ewen McDonald, became 17thChief of the faltering estate and was the last to take an active role in the management of the estate. He was to be survived by his brother (Alexander’s 7th child) Ronald MacIain MacDonald, 18th chief, who died in New South Wales; who was survived by the last of the Glencoe MacDonalds, Alexander James John MacDonald, born on the Isle of Man and who died in Middlesex on 7th December 1889, the 19th and last MacDonald of Glencoe.[19]

Ewen, 17th of Glencoe and his brother Colin were serving in the East India Company during the time that the Trustees took charge of Glencoe. A record of the Trustee’s accounts records that £5,000 was sent by Ewen and Colin from India, but £6,500 of debt still remained in 1818. It appears that despite the attempts of the Glencoe brothers, the Trustees could not correct the debts accrued by Alexander and were set for failure from the outset:

“In 1821 a messenger called Stewart in Dingwall was instructed by John Cumming, a Writer there acting for the Glencoe Trustees, to poind stock at Monar. Fortunately for Stewart he was paid promptly by John Cumming, but by 1827 Cumming had still not been reimbursed by the Glencoe Trustees who disputed the amount of Stewart’s charges.”[20]

In 1828, after failure to correct the situation, the Trustees handed the estate to Ewen.[21] It would appear that, at this stage, the Glencoe-based sheep farming empire had all but failed and the historic estate was on a decline towards fragmentation from which it would never recover.

The development from 1828 to the breaking up and sale of the Glencoe estate in 1935 is evidence that the risks taken by Alexander MacIain MacDonald, 16th Chief of Glencoe, had been disastrous for the people and the estate. Despite being one of, if not the biggest sheep farming estate in the Highlands, economic pressures led to an inevitable demise due to the economic insecurity of the risks. It was as a result of the decline from 1814 that the estate was broken up and sold in 1935.

The sale catalogue of 1935 held at the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness also records the development of a deal with Dr Sutherland who bought a larger lot from the estate and after discussion with Mr Russell decided to donate his lot to the National Trust for Scotland.[22] The organisation now claim to own the Glencoe estate and took legal ownership of the name in the mid-2010s, which saw the organisation threaten a small outdoor clothing manufacturer with legal action for producing a ‘Glencoe’ jacket.[23] Other lots were sold for, generally, lower than value bids and were intended as farmland or sporting estates.[24] The Glencoe estate is still split and not owned by a single individual or organisation.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

[1] Livingston, A., Aikman, C.W.H. and Hart B., (1984), No Quarter Given: The Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46, Glasgow, Neil Wilson, pp.152-154

[2] http://www.clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info/genealogy/TNGWebsite/getperson.php?personID=I24266&tree=CC

[3] Lee, H., (1920), History of the Clan Donald: The Families of MacDonald, McDonald and McDonnell, New York, R.L. Polk and Company, p.80

[4] Livingston, A., Aikman, C.W.H. and Hart B., (1984), p.152

[5] Smith, A.M., (1982), Jacobite Estates of the Forty-Five, Edinburgh, John Donald, p.21

[6] Ibid, p.177-178

[7] http://www.ancestryresearchservice.com/genealogy/getperson.php?personID=I68&tree=cameron1

[8] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), Alexander MacDonald Esq of Glencoe: Insights into early Highland Sheep Farming, The Review of Scottish Culture, No. 10, pp.55-66

[9] Mackintosh, C.F. (1897), Antiquarian Notes: Second Series, Inverness, p.9

[10] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), pp.55-66

[11] Ibid, pp.55-66

[12] Ibid, p.56

[13] http://inflation.stephenmorley.org/

[14] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), p.57

[15] Ibid, p.62

[16] Fox and Sons, Walker, Fraser and Steele, (1935), Sale Catalogue, Glencoe Estate: Argyllshire and Perthshire, Highland Council Archives, HCA/D4/243, Inverness

[17] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), p.62

[18] Ibid, p.62

[19] http://www.ancestryresearchservice.com/genealogy/getperson.php?personID=I982&tree=cameron1

[20] Macdonald, I.S., (2000), Some Highland Lawyers and Their Clients, The Review of Scottish Culture, No. 12, pp.85-92

[21] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), pp.62-66

[22] Fox and Sons, Walker, Fraser and Steele, (1935), HCA/D4/243

[23] https://www.ukclimbing.com/news/2017/08/nts_threaten_outdoor_firm_over_glencoe_name_copyright-71219

[24] Fox and Sons, Walker, Fraser and Steele, (1935), HCA/D4/243

Warming by the Hearth’s Fire

The following article was published in the December 2019 Spotlight Magazine – Inverness and District; Nairn and District; Forres and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

As we enter the colder months in the North of Scotland, many of us will be considering the use of fire to warm our homes if we have a clean lum and a good stove.

Historically, the hearth, or the place the fire sits, is much more than just a useful heating mechanism. To our ancestors, the hearth was a giver of light; a social gathering point for sharing stories, traditions, music; and staving off the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It was the focal point of strong cultural communities in the winter time and Hugh Cheape describes the hearth as being associated with the true West Coast and Hebridean cèilidh.

Alexander Fenton observed that the open grate hearths were more traditional in Highland and North East homes, rather than the European-style wood stoves that are now becoming popular. These open fireplaces are perhaps a close relative of the early central floor fires which we can only guess must have been used since prehistoric periods.

It is difficult to date the earliest use of fire within the home, but ancestors living in caves, crannogs and more recent blackhouses all appear to have had a central fire, but without a chimney to allow the smoke to be removed cleanly. Instead, in crannogs and blackhouses, smoke would dissipate through the roof structures, or through a small central hole which would help create a draw of air.

In castles too, a central fire would have been a usual sight in the earliest wood and stone fortifications. The use of decorative hearths and chimneypieces developed in the early 1600s, according to Ian Gow, which is why many of the surviving castles and ruins usually have obvious hearth structures after 17th century additions. Designs were brought from Europe by various Royals and copied throughout the homes of the Scottish gentry, with personal emblems added for variation.

In most Scottish homes, only one fire would be in regular use, regardless of the number of rooms or hearths. This is perhaps a link with the old cottage dwellings. Many cottages were a longer structure than the romantic view of the Scottish blackhouse – usually a smaller structure dating from the 1800s. This is because the original houses would be used to house animals during winter at one end of the house, with the fire in the middle.

Changes occurred when the ‘byre’ section was closed off from the main living area, with a hearth built into the central wall. Many of the byre sections were later dismantled, like the cottage at Culloden battlefield, or not built on later croft structures like those of the 1800s in Caithness.

As Gary West notes, the hearth was also an intriguing part of custom and superstition in the Highlands. After Culloden, the Gaelic poet John Roy Stuart wrote a curse on Cumberland:

“May your hearth be bare,
No wife, son or brother there,
Without Clarsach music, without candle light.”

The fact that Cumberland died unmarried, with no legitimate heir and predeceased by his brothers is seen as testament to Stuart’s curse. For Stuart, the hearth was clearly a very central family symbol to be attacked and included in this deeply personal curse.

If you don’t own a stove or fireplace, see if you can find one in a friend or relative’s house, a bar, or a hotel this winter. It will be a good place to meet people and discover common interests. If you’re lucky, one of them might also be a good musician…

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail andrew@highlandhistorian.com and visit highlandhistorian.com to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

Philip Rankin – RAF Pilot and the ‘Godfather of Scottish Skiing’

As we approach winter in the Highlands, with temperatures dropping below zero centigrade once more and the nights drawing in; it’s a good time to think about the beginnings of the Scottish Ski tourism industry which, fingers crossed, will see a better year than the last few! If you’d like to book me for your transport to and from ski resorts or the mountains this winter, just get in touch by emailing andrew@highlandhistorian.com!

Philip Rankin was born on 16th April 1917 and his activities in the 1950s can be proclaimed as the beginning of the Scottish ski industry. A contemporary and friend of Hamish MacInnes, the creativity and imagination of this pair in Glencoe is a huge part of why the glen is renowned worldwide for its outdoor activities. Their creativity was part of what led to the drive of the Scottish Ski Club, Creagh Dhu Climbing Club and Scottish Mountaineering Club to regularly visit Glencoe whilst mountaineering, climbing and skiing as pastimes in Scotland were all in their infancy. As his nickname dictates, Philip Rankin became the ‘Godfather of Scottish skiing’ as we know it today.

But in order to get to that point, Rankin had an adventurous and dangerous experience of the Second World War which he barely survived. Rankin flew Spitfires and Mosquitos for the Royal Air Force and was based in Oxfordshire, Cairo, Calcutta and Rhodesia. In his own words, he described himself as;

“… the most expensive and useless pilot in the RAF… I always arrived just after the battle was finished or left before it started. It wasn’t until 1945 (1944 – ed.) that I first scratched the paint on anything.”

The incident he referenced occurred in late 1944 whilst flying an RAF Mosquito on a photographic reconnaissance mission over the Nazi-held island of Walcheren in the Netherlands. It was certainly a little bit more catastrophic than “scratching the paint” as Rankin’s plane was riddled by anti-aircraft guns. Running out of power, Rankin’s plane began to dip into the English Channel after he had nursed it away from danger. This scenario, for most, would have been deadly.

As luck would have it, an air-sea rescue crew had spotted the Mosquito’s trail of smoke and had followed it towards the point it entered the water. Shortly after being flung through the plane’s canopy, Rankin was plucked from the ocean and was believed to be paralysed. He eventually ended up being treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire.

It was at this point that the encouragement which subsequently led to the invention of the Scottish ski industry occurred. Rankin had a Canadian doctor whose remarkable advice to Rankin for the most effective form of physiotherapy was to walk up snow slopes, preferably on snowshoes or on skis with skins! This bizarre advice must have been rooted in Rankin’s love of the mountains and skiing, but the encouragement came with a stern warning not to use the skis to go downhill – advice which it appears Rankin ignored. Although little is written about his recovery, it appears that Rankin was incredibly lucky and recovered remarkably well.

As with many people’s experience of life after a period of excitement, Rankin found himself bored and searching for a way out of a dull existence after the war. By his own admission:

“I went from quite an exciting life to reverting to my destiny, alleged, of being a partner in a small Glasgow light engineering firm, which I found extremely boring. I went skiing, I think, to get away from the tedium…”

It was during these forays to the mountains that Rankin started to consider possible sites for ski runs similar to the permanent resorts which were already well established in the Alps. Scotland had nothing like this and despite a few attempts at uplift, including motor vehicle engines being used to run removable rope tows and a caterpillar vehicle known as ‘The Weasel’ (which, according to some sources was a fellow survivor of the battle of Walcheren!) as well as attempts by the Scottish Ski Club and inventive skiers like Donnaie Mackenzie and William Blackwood on Ben Lawers and Cairngorm; there was no concerted effort or group of activists working together until Rankin made his successful attempt to build a permanent ski uplift in Scotland.

It was through Rankin’s role as Editor of the Scottish Ski Club Journal that, in 1952, he enlightened members to his consideration of Meall a Bhuiridh to the east of Glencoe as a focus for efforts. This may have surprised many of his readers as there had been such a discussion and enthusiasm for Ben Lawers and Cairngorm. Rankin’s impassioned articles often stirred support for his ideas and he quickly gained a pivotal position in the Club. Of the on-going discussions about the creation of resorts, he wrote:

“Scottish skiing is in that awkward stage between pigtails and perms, when lemonade is no longer good enough and our legs cannot stand cocktails.”

Rather than the much-discussed Cairngorm and Ben Lawers, for Rankin, Meall a Bhuiridh was ideal and offered the slope, the north facing aspect and the access from Glasgow on the A82 that lit up his imagination. Showing an understanding of the great limiting factor which still causes problems for today’s Scottish ski resort owners, in the 1952/3 edition of the Scottish Ski Club Journal, Rankin wrote:

“It has an ample corrie deeply scored with ravines, which collect such a mass of snow as to be virtually impervious to even weeks of thaw.”

He may also have been aware that members of the Glasgow-based Creagh Dhu Climbing Club, otherwise known as the ‘Mafia of Glencoe’ due to their infamous activities, had been skiing there since 1938. It seems that this article and Rankin’s enthusiasm were enough to put an end to the Scottish Ski Club’s aims of opening a ski resort on Ben Lawers and turned their collective attention to Glencoe.

Further support came from the owner of the Blackmount Estate, Philip Fleming and, after Rankin had quit his job, some of the yard staff from the engineering firm who were also members of the Creagh Dhu, offered to help Rankin achieve his dream. Between 1953 and 1956 work began on the T bar uplifts and progress was dependent on Rankin’s ability to muster and haggle for metal materials from yards in Glasgow and the major pieces of metal work took at least 4 people to lift. The project was reported to have cost around £5,000. In an interview in 2013, Rankin named Jack Williamson, Jimmy Hamilton and Bill Smith as key members of the original work party.

By 1956 the tow was working and opened to the public before the realisation that there was the requirement for a lower chairlift to bring skiers up from the car park, with the lower T bar’s base being at an altitude of c.2350ft. This was achieved in 1959 when the access chair lift was completed. In remembering Rankin after his death, Alan Forbes of the Scottish Ski Club wrote:

“A few years later the access chair broke down and all the skiers had to climb to the plateau and on the descent a prominent Argyllshire landowner shouted to Philip that it was like the old days and Philip replied that It had discouraged the riff-raff and he thought he might leave it off for a week or two!”

In 1960 the resort opened fully under the company ‘White Corries Ltd.’ which was set up privately by Rankin. Rankin and his wife Goodrun ran the Glencoe ski resort successfully from 1960 until 1992 when he retired. His last ski run on the mountain was in 2000 as an octogenarian.  In an interview with journalist Roger Cox, Rankin remembered this run and gave an indication of his love of the higher slopes where the original uplift was built:

“It was a very good one and I remember I took a tremendous pearler in the process… Oh, I don’t bother about the lower slopes, the top of that mountain – that’s the real thing.”

To mark Rankin’s achievements and impact on Scottish skiing he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Snowsport Scotland in November 2016 as well as having a green run opened in his honour on Beinn a Bhuiridh called ‘Rankin’s Return’. Philip Rankin died aged 99 years and 11 months in March 2017. The fact that the original uplift created by Rankin’s enthusiastic and hands-on approach is still in operation today, over 60 years since its conception, is a remarkable achievement and is evidence of his accuracy and knowledge of how ideal the position was for both the uplift and the ski run on Beinn a Bhuiridh.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.