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6 Mar 2019

Moirlanich unlocked – farm life

Written by Emma Inglis
A painting of Glen Lochay with wide open fields and corn stacked into stooks for drying. People are working in the fields and two sheepdogs lie in the foreground. Smoke rises from the chimney of a house in the distance.
Glen Lochay with wide open fields and corn stacked into stooks for drying | Painting by Sutton Palmer, 1904
The Robertsons, who lived at Moirlanich Longhouse for several generations, were tenant farmers. They rented their modest house and a small area of land from the Breadalbane Estate.
A black and white photograph of Moirlanich Longhouse in the 1930s, showing a lean-to dairy at the side. A large barn stands to the other side. On the opposite side of the road is a collection of other farm buildings. There is a large flat field behind the cottage, and behind it a wooded hillside.
Moirlanich Longhouse in the 1930s

The Robertsons were smallholders. By necessity, they grew or reared what they could to make a living. As well as arable land where they grew crops, they also had rights to communal grazing on the hills that enclose Glen Lochay. Their house stands alone now but old photos show that at one time a range of farm buildings sat beside and across the lane from it, where animals lived or crops were stored. Fields ran in strips to the south of the house down to the river, and in them turnips, hay and oats were grown. Potatoes and turnips were also grown in the enclosed walled garden across the lane. The family kept a brood sow for meat, and dairy cows for milk. The dairy was probably housed in a lean-to at the end of the house, but this was demolished many years ago when the family no longer had need of it.

In 1843 the Killin parish minister described the area around Glen Lochay as ‘rich and fertile, yielding good crops of corn, potatoes and turnips: and in the more marshy districts, on the banks of the river, bearing meadow hay of excellent quality in great abundance’. He found the climate to be ‘damp and variable’ in true Scottish style.

The farm at Moirlanich was never very large. As well as growing food for themselves, at various times the Robertsons also raised cattle, sheep and horses for sale. Everybody in the household played their part, whether tending the animals and crops, making butter and cheese, or working in the house. Relatives or paid labourers were sometimes brought in to help out.

A black and white photograph of three men resting on a rather ramshackle bench outside Moirlanich Longhouse. The left end of the bench is higher than the right. The man on the left leans against a stick. The man in the middle rests his hands on his knees. The man on the right wears a hat and smiles directly at the camera.
Johnny, Tom and John taking a moment of ease. Sheltered by the house, and facing the sun and the hills, there’s no better spot for a rest and a chat.

Johnny Strattan, Tom Proctor and John Robertson are pictured in the early 1940s taking a moment to relax outside Moirlanich Longhouse. The men were cousins and farmed together at Moirlanich for many years.

Johnny Strattan was a joiner by trade and worked in Killin. He lived with the Robertsons, sleeping in the bothy across the lane from the house but taking his meals with the family. Tom Proctor was the last person to live in Moirlanich Longhouse. In his later years he too slept in the bothy across the lane because he feared the main house would catch fire. He left Moirlanich in 1968.

A report from the Evening Telegraph and Post, 18 May 1910. It describes the fire in the byre and stable at Moirlanich when almost all of the animals were 'roasted to death'.
Report from the Evening Telegraph and Post, 18 May 1910

The life of a smallholder was a precarious one, influenced as much by fate as by the Scottish weather. In 1910 tragedy struck at Moirlanich when the wooden animal byre caught fire. Fortunately the byre was across the lane so the house was untouched, but the loss of so many animals must have been a severe blow. After the fire the byre was replaced by a tin shed which was later used to house cattle.

Ordnance Survey map of Glen Lochay in 1867 showing a line of settlements. The river and floodplains can be clearly seen at the top of the map.
Ordnance Survey map of Glen Lochay in 1867, showing a line of settlements | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Moirlanich Longhouse was part of a busy farming community in Glen Lochay. There were other houses just like it, along with their agricultural buildings, clustered throughout the valley. Moirlanich Longhouse was found in a small settlement of tenant farms called Easter Moirlanich. Further along the valley was Wester Moirlanich. Most of the buildings that formed these settlements have long since crumbled, leaving only small remains in the landscape. Moirlanich Longhouse itself, although thought to date from the early 19th century, may well have been built over the site of an older dwelling. Positioned with its face to the sun and side on to the prevailing wind, it’s in an ideal location in the landscape.

Moirlanich Longhouse appears isolated now but during the Robertsons’ time, within and beyond the glen, families and neighbours supported one another and made regular social visits. More varied entertainment could be easily reached in nearby Killin, which also provided a range of shops and local services. The Robertsons made seasonal journeys further afield to attend agricultural gatherings, such as the Aberfeldy Show, where a prize could help to push up the auction price when the animals went to be sold.

The experience of growing up and living in Glen Lochay is remembered fondly by those who experienced it. Pat MacNab helped out on the farm at Moirlanich during the summer of 1928 when Tom Proctor broke his leg:

That was me, five o’clock in the morning, an’ I was away, an’ away – yoke the horse, an’ got them fed. Well, then the lambin’ went on – I had a great lambing altogether. So what we did after the lambin’, the singles, we drew out, shed – that’s parted – all the singles and took them wi’ their mothers … and walked them to Killin, an’ put them on the train at Killin. And I went with them, and the dog, to Stirling, in the wagon – just stayed in the wagon, oh yes on my own – I wasn’t quite sixteen – fifteen and a half. And then when we got to Stirling, I drove them up to Speedie’s market, and they were sold there. And after I finished the lambin’ they said, would I not stay and do the ploughin’. So I said “Well, aye, I could stay.

Look out for the next article in the Moirlanich unlocked series and discover more stories about life in this remarkable little house.

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