Communities sharing the land

Coimhearsnachdan a ’roinn an fhearainn

On hillsides all over the Ross, in winter and early spring, it is possible to see long ridges which are a reminder of how the land was divided up and shared by crofting communities. The words to remember are ‘runrig’ and ‘lazybeds’. They crop up, not only in the landscape, but in local place-names;  Ardfenaig, for instance, means ‘The promontory of the rig’.

The paragraphs below come from Walking Guides in our Discover the Ross series of publications, giving a glimpse of how the land was worked and shared.

Runrig

A system of land division intended to ensure it was divided democratically giving each tenant an equal share of the good and bad. Strips of land were allocated by drawing lots, usually annually, and a mixture of outfield and infield land was allocated to each tenant. The ‘rigs’ were long, high mounds of earth usually constructed parallel to the contours of the land used for growing oats and barley for meal and bread. The infield land was closest to the buildings and was cultivated most intensively; the outfield land was planted less often. There would also be an area of pasture used for communal grazing of livestock.

Lazybeds

Lazybeds, which are still recognisable as strips of undulating ground, were a method of cultivation similar to today’s ‘raised beds’, which was used extensively on the Ross of Mull as it is particularly suited to wet rocky ground. Much of the winter was spent carrying seaweed to the lazybeds, as it is rich in potash and excellent fertiliser for potatoes.

The Duke of Argyll introduced potatoes to the Ross at the beginning of the 18th Century, after obtaining the seed from MacDonald of Boisdale. More people could be fed from an acre planted with potatoes than one planted with oats or barley.

Judy Gibson’s article about the Community Garden being established in the grounds of the Historical Centre is also about sharing the resource of the land, with hard work to make it productive: but now with the possibility of raised beds and a poly-tunnel!

Jan Sutch Pickard

The photos below are of lazybeds at Suidhe, Scoor and Erraid.

The Ross of Mull is an extraordinary microcosm of all that draws visitors to the Hebridean Islands. The scenery, as you travel along the single-track road from the ferry at Craignure is breath-taking. You experience in the many walks in the area a true sense of wilderness; the secret bays with their beaches of silvery sand, the abundance of wildlife and the innumerable marks on the landscape of the lives of past generations and communities long gone. The Ross of Mull is a compelling place for anyone fascinated by history and the ancient way of life of the Gaelic people.

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Ross of Mull Historical Centre
Millbrae Cottage
Bunessan
Isle of Mull
Argyll PA67 6DG

By Phone: 01681 700659
By Email: enquiries@romhc.org.uk

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