In Medieval times territorial claims to land in the Highlands were based more on custom and tradition than on feudal rights. By the 17th century, though, feudalism had taken root in highland society. Following the Battle of Culloden in 1746 the clan system collapsed and the ancient bonds that held clan chief and clansmen together were finally broken. Clan lands became the sole property of the chief to sell or let at will.
The Highland sporting estate
With the coming of the railway in the 19th century and the popularisation of game sports by Queen Victoria, large deer forests (up to 30,000 hectares) were established and shooting lodges built. The Highland sporting estate had appeared.
The 'Glorious Twelth' of August heralded the start of the shooting season and the 'lodge' accommodated wealthy industrialists and landed gentry. The 'glen' came to depend upon the estate for employment opportunities as gamekeepers, gillies, gardeners, handymen and house-staff. The shooting season's end in mid-October was marked by the 'Gillies Ball', after which the shooters returned south.
The decline of the sporting estate
Since the late 19th century estates have been affected by the creation of crofts, state afforestation programmes, hydro developments and tourism. Today, the highland estate is an extensive landed property usually managed through a factor. Arable and hill pasture support a farming community. Forestry and woodland management provide extra income for the estate as do its sporting rights. Deer stalking, grouse shooting and salmon fishing still attract wealthy and influential visitors, but far fewer estate workers are employed now.
Changes in legislation in the 1990s have opened the door to community buy-outs. North Assynt was the first community buy-out, followed by the island of Eigg among others. Even yet, though, 50% of the highlands remain in the possession of fewer than 100 proprietors.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
Land for the People?
J. Hulbert, (ed.),
Land, Ownership and Use
Andrew Fletcher Society, Edinburgh -1986
'The Landed Estates of Northern Scotland'
Scottish Geographical Magazine 86, 1970, pp 186-203
Parry, M. L. and Slater, T.R. (eds)
The Making of the Scottish Countryside
London : Croom Helm (etc.), 1980 . - (Croom Helm historical geography series)
Who Owns Scotland Now?
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