For many centuries until relatively recently, Lochaber’s glens were well populated with subsistence farmers who lived in very basic houses of stone and turf, with turf or heather thatch for roofs.
Increasing financial pressures on Highland landowners meant that the small farmers were cleared to make way for the more profitable sheep farming, displacing more and more people who worked the land away from their homes at more marginal crofting townships.
In Glen Roy and Inverroy examples can be seen of crofting settlements that date from 1770. The planned nature of these crofting settlements can be seen in the uniform, straight narrow fields with fenced or dyked common grazing lands.
As the crofters options for supporting themselves and their families continued to narrow, many emigrated to North America and Australia voluntarily, while others were evicted from their land by force. These infamous ‘Highland Clearances’ greatly altered the historical landscape of Lochaber – the population of Lochaber halved between 1800 and 1920. Many thousands of people left by boat from Fort William, and many glens were emptied of life.
Crofting does still exist in a much smaller way in Lochaber today, helping to retain a unique social, cultural and agricultural heritage. Crofting still plays a vital role in sustaining fragile rural communities, a unique culture and a richly varied natural environment. It is a way of life that demonstrates a unique cultural richness and an overall appreciation of the environment.
For more information on crofting today visit the Crofting Commission website.