WESTER ROSS, Live the Highlands
Heritage and Culture of Wester Ross


Gaelic Language:

Up until a few hundred years ago, the language in the home and in the community would have been Gaelic. However, Gaelic suffered heavily as Highlanders and their traditions were persecuted after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 , and began a gradual decline between then and the 20th century. In the last hundred years or so, use of Gaelic has declined significantly, and now there are very few fluent Gaelic speakers.Education, the Church and parents played a significant part in the original decline of the language. When children whose first language was Gaelic started school, (which became compulsory from the 1870s, though many in this area delayed starting until they were seven years old), they were discouraged from speaking Gaelic. Many parents mistakenly thought that Gaelic was a hindrance to their children and did not encourage them to speak it.
When it became apparent that more people began to attend the English services, the church also turned its back on Gaelic to a large extent. Even so, there are still a few churches in the area ( the Gairloch Free Church, for example) which keep a Gaelic service, when they can get someone to preach it. Unfortunately, it is often the case that comparatively few people attend. However - there is one area that Gaelic is very much alive, and that is in the music that comes down through the years through groups such as Runrig, Capercaillie, and many others. Have a listen to Capercaillie:


Crofting life:

 Crofting is a form of agriculture practised in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Until the mid 19th Century the ‘runrig’ system of cultivation was used, whereby strips of land were allocated to each crofter and rotated annually so that each had a share of good and poorer ground in turn. The houses then were built in small groups, or ‘townships’. Evidence of this way of farming can still be seen in the landscape. In the mid 1840s the land was re-organised and divided into small units of two to five acres each – the croft – on which the tenant could build a small house. Some of the houses had a small garden in which a few vegetables were grown. The crofter usually kept a cow for milk, a few sheep for their wool and meat, and some hens. He grew oats, to be ground into oatmeal, potatoes and hay for the animals.    

A typical Crofthouse, probably built around 1830


The crofter would have built it of unmortared stone, with the roof trusses made of any available timber, (frequently driftwood), and thatched with heather or straw.  The floor of the house might well have been just beaten-down earth. The fire might have been central, although by the 1850s a fireplace with a wooden hood, as shown here, or a built-in flue, would more likely have been situated in the gable wall. The fuel was peat, and cooking was done in pots, frying pans or on girdles suspended over the fire by an adjustable
hook and chain.

The present day:

 Visitors often ask....."Why do you live here?" Why indeed? This is a remote area, a long distance from facilities that people in the rest of Europe take for granted, and it has a reputation - sometimes justified - for long periods of wind and rain. But Wester Ross also has some of the most beautiful and rugged scenery on any part of the Scottish Highlands, and its very remoteness means that it is relatively quiet and peaceful even at the height of the summer months. 

 The people who live here are a mixture:  Although the families that have been there for generations are mainly Gaelic, Celtic, and Norse by descent, the regular customers in the hotel bar these days might have been born in Leeds, Glasgow, or Cardiff. Attracted by the area, many families have arrived here to live and work during the last few decades. But compared to this influx, many more have left the area during the last century. In 1861, the population was 14.447 - reducing to only 4,545 a hundred years later! 

 "Ross - shire" goes from coast to coast, taking in the small villages in the West, to the coastal towns of Dingwall and Invergordon in the East. Approximately 89% of the population live on the other side of the county, leaving just 11% of us living here in the West. What on earth do we do?

Contrary to popular belief, we are not all fishermen or crofters - many people are self employed as craftsmen, or work in the building trade. Highland Council is the major single local employer through education, roads, maintenance and administration of services. While crofting and fishing plays an important part in the life of the region, there is a significant number of people who now work from home via e-mail in the increasingly important IT and voluntary sectors. Many of us routinely have two or three quite seperate jobs that occupy the daily work. Tourism? Hotels, Bed and Breakfast, self catering, and retail shops are features of nearly every village - in fact, income from tourism indirectly supports nearly every other type of non - tourism business!

Celtic Fringe Tourism Association, C/O Douglas Gibson, 13 Strath, Gairloch, Wester Ross IV21 2BX