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November 1st 1752

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Wild West Rannoch

Rannoch was always a wild, remote, lawless area. Life there was both hard and primitive and it was only after the ’45, with the coming of the military and the building of roads and bridges, that substantial changes took place.

“Before the year 1745 Rannoch was in an uncivilised barbarous condition, under no check or constraint of laws. As an evidence of this, one of the principal proprietors could never be compelled to pay his debts. Two messengers were sent from Perth to give him a charge of horning. He ordered a dozen of his retainers to bind them across two hand barrows and carry them in this state to the Bridge of Kymachan, nine miles distant. His property in particular was a nest of thieves. They laid the whole country from Stirling to Coupar of Angus under contribution, compelling the inhabitants to pay blackmail, as it is called, to save their property from being plundered. This was the centre of this kind of traffic. In the months of September and October they gathered to the number of about three hundred, built temporary huts, drank whisky all the time, settled accounts for the stolen cattle and received balances. Every man then bore arms. It would have required a regiment to have brought a thief from that country. But the Government having sent a party of soldiers to reside among them and a thief having been hung at their doors, they soon felt the necessity of reformation and they are now as honest and as strict a set of people, in these matters, as any in the kingdom. In the year 1754 the country was quite impassable. There were no roads nor bridges. Now by the statute labour, we shall have other two, which is all that could be desired. The people contribute cheerfully and liberally to build them, and this preserves many lives.

At the above period, the bulk of the tenants in Rannoch had no such thing as beds. They lay on the ground, with a little heather or fern under them. One single blanket was all their clothes, excepting their body clothes. Now they have standing up beds and abundance of blankets. At that time, the houses in Rannoch were huts of, what they called ‘Stake and Rise’. One could not enter but on all fours; and after entering, it was impossible to stand upright. Now they are comfortable houses built of stone. Then the people were miserably dirty and foul skinned. Now they are as cleanly; and are clothed as well as their circumstances will permit of.

It is hardly possible to believe, on how little the Highlanders formally lived. They bled their cattle several times in the year, boiled the blood, eat a little of it like bread, and a most lasting meal it was. The present incumbent has known a poor man, who had a small farm hard by him, by this means with a boll of meal for every mouth in his family, pass the whole year.

The circumstances which have occasioned the greater wealth and abundance of the present times, are, the planting of so many potatoes, the advance in the price of cattle and sheep, the greater industry of the people, the stop that had been put to the depredations of thieves, and the people, instead of rearing black cattle, having turned their farms into sheep-walks which they find much more profitable.” 

From the First Statistical Account. The thief referred to as having been hung at Kinloch Rannoch was Donald Cameron, a noted freebooter. He was unable to understand why he had been condemned to death as he had committed no murder and he did not regard cattle lifting as a crime.

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