Morvern Lines with Iain Thornber 21.02.19

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Achagavel is a former farm of 1,660 acres (75 arable, 1585 pasture) lying at the north-east end of the now uninhabited Glen Dubh on the Morvern Peninsula.

The name is Gaelic, meaning the Field of the Crotch, referring to the prominent ravine rising from the farm cottage to the ridge above and visible for miles around.

Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll (1682-1761), who signed the Achagavel lease. Photograph and access to the archive by kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Argyll.
Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll (1682-1761), who signed the Achagavel lease. Photograph and access to the archive by kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Argyll.

In 1754, when Achagavel was let by Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll and Earl of Islay, to his kinsman, Lieutenant Colin Campbell, it was one of the richest agricultural settlements in the area. It supported a population of at least 32, occupying 14 houses. Today there is one holiday cottage, a few stray sheep and some grazing ponies.

Achagavel first appeared on record 280 years earlier when, along with Drimnin, Doirenamairt and Barr, also in Morvern, it was given by the Lords of the Isles to John MacLean of Lochbuie from whom it passed to the Campbells of Argyll who retained it until 1826.

The 1754 lease is still extant and what an interesting and enlightening document it is. It was penned by John Clerk, the Inveraray schoolmaster, and signed on October 25 by the Duke and Lieutenant Colin Campbell before a number of witnesses.

The first item was confirmation that Lt Campbell had taken oaths of allegiance to the Hanoverian monarchy and the Protestant succession before a Justice of the Peace for Argyll – an important undertaking as the Duke’s Morvern property was surrounded by fractious Camerons and Macleans loyal to the Stewart dynasty who were more interested in ancient clan sentiment than agricultural reform and progress.

The 19-year lease, which began on Whitsunday, included all houses, biggings [outbuildings] yards, mosses [peat banks], meadows, grazings, sheilings, parts and pendicles [everything connected with or forming part of lands conveyed] in the parish of Kilcolumcille in the Lordship of Morvern and Sheriffdom of Argyll.

The exceptions were: mines, metals, minerals, coals, woods and fishings of all kinds. Given that for many years there had been a lead mine at Lurga, to the south-west of Achagavel, with the potential to produce further quantities of ore, the reference to mines and minerals was wholly relevant. The rent was £15.13. 4d, paid annually at Martinmas with the tenant accounting for the minister’s stipend, the schoolmaster’s salary, tiends [in Scotland, a tithe derived from the produce of the land for the maintenance of the clergy] and all other public burdens.

The tenant was to take all his ‘grindable’ corn – seed and horse-corn excepted – to the mill assigned to Achagavel and to assist with transporting mill stones when needed. Vassals in feudal baronies throughout Scotland, were thirled to their local mill owned by the superior and were obliged to make a customary payment in kind known as ‘molltair’ – a Gaelic word meaning dues or a fine.

There were three mills in the parish of Morvern. The one closest to Achagavel was at Acharn, six miles down Glen Dubh. Although it was not on the Argyll estate, it is likely that an arrangement existed to carry corn there by pony and cart in preference to transporting it to Liddesdale and then by boat down Loch Sunart to the Duke’s mill at Bunavullin near Drimnin.

One year the dues made to the Acharn miller from the farmers of the White Glen, which runs parallel with Glen Dubh, amounted to 40 bolls, which equates to several thousand pounds in weight – further proof of the quality of the land and of the good husbandry there once was in Morvern. Today not a turf is turned other than to plant a tree.

Lt Campbell, his family and dependants were expressly forbidden to burn or make gredan on any part of the farm under penalty of a fine of 10 shillings in every case. Instead, they were to thresh and kiln-dry it in the same way as the Duke’s other tenants did in Lorn and Argyll. Gredan, sometimes written as gradan from the Gaelic word ‘grad’, meaning quick, was popular in the Highlands and Islands and lasted well into the 18th century because it gave more palatable bread and took no time to produce. It was made by taking a sheaf of oats and setting fire to it. As soon as the husk was burnt, the grain was beaten off, gathered on a cloth and then transferred into a pot.

Grinding it was by hand using quern stones. They were usually made of gneiss in two elliptical slabs, the upper having a convex face that fitted the concave lower face. Graddaning, which included firing after kiln-parching, was condemned by the Duke and other landowners for wasting straw as it deprived livestock of bedding and fodder especially during the winter when food was scarce. More importantly, perhaps, if corn was ground at home it meant the miller, and subsequently the landowner, were deprived of an income.

Other conditions imposed on the tenant were: the provision of two days a year free labour by a man and a horse for any work the Duke or his factor required, except at sowing and harvest time, and no more than six miles outwith the farm boundary. There was to be no sub-letting, and repairs and improvements to stone walls, houses, barns, byres, sheep fanks and kilns, were to be undertaken by skilled men at the tenant’s expense. The main house was to be maintained and left in proper repair at the end of the lease. Trees and plantations were to be protected although if the Duke’s wood-ranger in Morvern approved, the tenant was at liberty to cut some for the benefit of the property.

Oak, ash and elm could only be felled by special licence. A fine of 10 shillings a year for every goat kept or grazed on the farm would be imposed as they were so destructive to trees. No one under mala fama [old Scots for a report of bad behaviour, especially used in cases of church discipline], convicted thieves, or anyone who had taken part in the 1745 Jacobite rising, were to be employed, entertained or given lodgings. Falling one year behind with the rent gave the Duke the right to reoccupy the farm and sell the tenant’s belongings as if the lease had never been granted.

Lt Campbell’s main residence was not at Achagavel but at Liddesdale which he also leased, on the shores of Loch Sunart. Here he occupied a large, two-storey house built about 1730 by the Morvern Mining Company as a shipment point for the produce of the lead mines at Lurga, Glen Dubh. It still stands, although roofless.

The Argyll Papers at Inveraray Castle are the family and estate archive of the Campbell family, Dukes of Argyll, and provide an unbroken record of nearly 800 years of the family’s fortunes from the 13th to the 21st century. This outstanding archive reflects the important role of the Campbell family in Scottish, British and international affairs, as well as documenting the history of the landscape of Argyll and its people. The archive is open to the public by arrangement.

Iain Thornber