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Exploring Scottish Shielings in Applecross

In the Scottish Highlands, shielings are a fascinating part of history. These simple, seasonal dwellings were used by herders during the summer months. Let's dive into what shielings are, their historical importance, and some examples of Scottish shielings in Applecross, and around the local area.


A Highland cow standing proudly with her two calves

What Are Shielings

Shielings, or "àirighean" in Gaelic, are basic huts or cottages where herders stayed during the summer while their livestock grazed in the highlands. These structures were made from local materials like stone, wood, and turf. Typically, a shieling had one room that served as living quarters and a place to store and process milk.

The design of shielings was practical and functional. The stone walls provided shelter from the harsh Highland weather, while the turf roofs offered insulation. Inside, the space was often minimal, with a simple hearth for cooking and warmth. The primary purpose of these structures was to serve as temporary homes during the grazing season, so comfort was secondary to functionality.


Why Are Shielings Important?

Shielings were a crucial part of life in the Highlands for many centuries. They allowed herders to take their animals to fresh pastures during the summer, giving the lowland fields time to recover. This practice, known as transhumance, was essential for maintaining healthy livestock and ensuring the survival of rural communities.

Transhumance also played a significant role in the agricultural economy of the Highlands. By rotating the grazing areas, herders could maximize the productivity of their land. This method helped prevent overgrazing, which could lead to soil erosion and reduced fertility of the land.

Shielings were also social hubs where herders shared stories, songs, and folklore, preserving the culture and traditions of the Highlands. During the summer months, these remote areas would come alive with activity, creating a sense of community among the herders. This social aspect was important for maintaining cultural traditions and passing down knowledge through generations.


Scottish Shielings in Applecross and Beyond

Applecross, known for its stunning landscapes, has several notable shieling sites. Visiting these places gives a glimpse into the past and the lives of the people who lived there.

  1. Clachan Church Shieling: Near the historic Clachan Church, this shieling site shows the close connection between herding and religious life in the area.

  2. Torridon and Kinlochewe: This area next to Applecross has well-preserved shieling huts with the dramatic Torridon mountains as a backdrop. These sites illustrate the isolation and beauty of the shieling lifestyle.

  3. Bealach na Ba: Famous for its scenic pass, Bealach na Ba has remnants of old shielings along its route. The challenging terrain highlights the resilience of the herders who lived here. The Bealach was historically a drovers' route, used to move cattle from the highlands to the markets in the lowlands.

  4. Isle of Skye: With a long history, it's no wonder you can find shieling sites dotted amongst the dramatic scenery of Skye, including the Trotternish Peninsula and Glen Sligachan.


The Bealach na Ba mountain pass in Applecross, Scotland

Preserving Shieling History

Today, efforts are being made to protect and preserve these historical sites. Local heritage organizations and archaeological groups are working to document and maintain shieling sites. Walking trails and information signs help visitors understand the importance of these places and the way of life they represent.


Final Word

Shielings in Applecross are more than just old ruins; they are a link to a time when people lived closely with nature. Exploring these sites offers a deeper appreciation for the hard work and adaptability of Highland communities.

Whether you're interested in history, love nature, or just want a peaceful escape, the shielings of Applecross provide a fascinating and inspiring journey into the past. So put on your hiking boots, breathe in the fresh Highland air, and explore the rich history of this beautiful region. Head to the Applecross Heritage Centre's website for more info on Applecross history.

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