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August 21st 1710

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The Tinchel

In the Lowlands of Scotland, deer were hunted by the nobility on horseback accompanied by packs of hounds who brought the deer to bay where they could be attacked by sword or dagger. The dogs were an essential part of the hunt and when firearms came into being there was great opposition to their use.

In 1551, a law was passed forbidding the use of half-hag (arquebuss),culvering and pistolet to kill deer “under pain of death and escheat of moveables,”  (confiscation of goods) though this proved useless. It was claimed that in many areas the deer had been “clean exiled and banished”  but it was not so much the introduction of firearms that brought about this state of affairs as the expansion of farming and the pressures of population.

More and more, the survivors of the herds retreated to the Highlands in the north. Here the traditional methods of hunting could no longer be used, the ground was too steep and above all too boggy for riders on horseback to hope to catch the deer.

The answer to all this was the Tinchel. The word was used to describe both the men who drove the deer and the hunt itself.

John Taylor, the water poet, who visited Scotland in 1618 described one such hunt. “Five or six hundred men do rise early in the morning, and they do disperse themselves divers ways, and seven or eight miles compass, they do bring or chase the deer in many herds (two, three or four hundred in a herd) to such or such a place as the Noblemen shall appoint them; then when day is come, the Lords and Gentlemen of their companies do ride or go to the said places, sometimes wading up to their middle through burns or rivers, and then they being come to the place, do lie down on the ground till these foresaid scouts, which are called Tinchels, do bring down the deer. Then after we had stayed there three hours or thereabouts, we might perceive the deer appear on the hills round about us which being followed close by the Tinchel are chased down into the valley where we lay; then all the valley on each side being waylaid with two hundred of strong Irish greyhounds, they are let loose as the occasion served upon the herd of deer so that with dogs, guns, arrows, dirks and daggers in the space of two hours fourscore fat deer were slain.”  It must have been a bloody sight but no doubt was enjoyed by all who took part.

Records preserved at Blair Castle show a little more of the organisation required to organise a Tinchel. In 1710 orders were sent out three weeks before the hunt. “These are ordering you to advertise our Vassals and a fencible man out of every merk land belonging to us either on property or superiority to present themselves to their best arms and apparrell and to bring as many dogs as possibly they can get.” 

These men were required to bring rations with them to last up to eight days which gives some indication of the scope and duration of the operation. At the start of the Tinchel, men were assembled and orders were read out to them that:

1. None shall offer to fire a gun or pistol in the time of the deer hunting.
2. None shall offer to break up a deer or take out a gralloch except in his Grace’s presence.
3. That none shall be drunk or swear an oath.

In spite of these prohibitions, the Tinchel tended to be an occasion of celebration and hard drinking.

The numbers killed in 1710 were not recorded, but in the next year 57 deer were killed over three days and one stag was cut clean in half by a single blow from a broadsword.

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