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Location: Ardheslaig, Applecross, Ross and Cromarty, Scotlandmap
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This page is still being built. I started it because it's where my father's father Donald McMillan Macdonald Macdonald-5074 and his sisters grew up in the late 1800's. I hope anyone else interested in Ardheslaig will join in

There are 265 person profiles of inhabitants of Ardheslaig over the decades since records began - these can be found at [[1]]


1. Geography and geology
2. Name
3. First Inhabitants
4. Administration
5. Occupations & Education
6. Income & Poverty
7. Health
8. Travel & Migration
9. Population dynamics
10. Plants & animals

1. Geography and geology

Ardheslaig is a hilly peninsula jutting out from the southern shore of the sea loch Loch Torridon in north west Scotland, approximately two kilometers long and with a narrow neck of little more than a third of a kilometer's width. It's western shore bends round a small loch, appropriately named Loch Beag, [2] while on its eastern shore there is a narrow cleft intruding halfway across the width of the peninsula named Ob na h-Acairseid (Bay of the Anchorage [3]. The Wikipedia entry is here [4] Triangulation (Trig) Station number NH/16/H104. Trig name: Ardheslaig: hydrographic station number H104 within Block NH/16. National Grid reference: NG/75 (10 km square at 1:25000 scale)

The Lewisian gneisses, which are exposed along Applecross’s north coast around Kenmore and Ardheslaig, are more than 3,100 million year old – the oldest known rocks in Britain (and amongst the oldest rocks in Europe) [5]

2. Name

It was not always called Ardheslaig. The 1904 book by J W Watson - The Place-names of Ross & Cromarty has this entry - Ardheslaig- Ardestag 1662; Gaelic Ard-hesleag; Norse ‘hesla-vik’, hazel bay; thus with Gaelic ‘ard’ prefixed, meaning point of the hazel bay.[6]

3. First Inhabitants

As regards habitation today there are a few scattered dwellings, some of which are homes, some holiday lets. There is a salmon fish farming business; stark reminder of Loch Torridon's once teeming herring which were harvested to commercial extinction. It is probably safe to say that its existence has not been significant. For instance only two settlements are shown on the shores of Loch Torridon in the 1788 'Map of Scotland with tables of distances and levels' National Records of Scotland [7] Ardheslaig is not one of them, but the Aird Peninsula is shown and Loch Beg written scross it - now Loch Beag. So when did people first build crofts and begin to live in Ardheslaig?

The Leverhulme Trust supported website - "Saints in Scottish Place-names" has this to say In 1662 John McKenzie of Aplecroce was served heir male to his grandfather Alex. McK. of Coull of the lands of Aplecroce: these included the town & lands of ... Ardestag (Ardestang) ... [8] The website states that the forms in (brackets) are from RSS quoted in OPS ii pt.2, 404, from the year 1569.

It is to archaeologists that we need to turn to suggest who might have been the first inhabitants. Fortunately, Ardheslaig lies within an area that is of interest to archaeologists. A Project called "Scotland's First Settlers" was undertaken, starting in 1989 and opened up online from in 2007 by Karen Hardy and Caroline Wickham-Jones [9]

4. Administration - clan, ecclesiastic and government

Officially, the administrative area into which Ardheslaig falls has altered over time, both in regard to boundary size and as to name - Ross or Ross-shire, then Ross and Cromarty and today it is in the huge council area of Highland Council [10]

Unofficially, today Ardheslaig is sometimes referred to as being in that part of the Applecross Peninsula which lies within Wester Ross [11].

5. Occupations and Education

This list is made from descriptions in the Occupation column of census records and is added to by information from other records.

Agricultural Labourer. Agricultural Pedlar or Tramp. Attendant. Boat Builder. Carpenter. Cottar. Crofter. Dressmaker. Farmer/Farmeress. Fisherman. Grocer's Assistant Macdonald-11413. Herd/Herdman. Justice of the Peace Macdonald-11414. Land Labourer. Living on Private Means. Midwife. Merchant Seaman. Master Mariner (ships captain). Millar/Meal Miller/Oatmeal Miller. Navvy. Net Maker Campbell-43307 . Nurse (as in child-mider) Macdonald-9620. Poacher (salmon or deer). Sailor/A.B. Sailor Coasting Trade. Servant (usually domestic or farm). Scholar. Shepherd. Ship Owner (Finlay McLennan d. 1865). Ships Master (Neil McEwan b. 1867 [12]), Shoemaker. Smuggler (whisky distiller). Spring Labourer. Tailor. Teacher. Tenant. Thatcher. Whelk/Winkle gatherer. Wife. Wool Hand.

Distilling whiskey was an occupation well before producing it became illegal. Not surprisingly it continued to be distilled and the countryside around Loch Torridon was well suited to concealment. One account, in 1884, directly implicates Ardheslaig inhabitants in illicit distilling, or, as it was called, smuggling. As reported in the Dundee Evening Telegraph 12 May 1884 [13]

How many inhabitants poached salmon or deer of game birds cannot be known, but the names of three Ardheslaig men in 1893 are known - Angus MacLennan, Finlay Mackenzie, Duncan Macdonald Macdonald-9473 - as their prosecution by the Fisheries Board was withdrawn because Lord Middleton, the landowner requested leniency for what he believd was a first offence. As reported in The Scotsman 12 July 1893 [14]

And in 1912 Alexander McIver, assistant shoemaker, the young cousin of Finlay Macdonald, crofter and shoe-maker at Ardheslaig, was fined £1. 11s for trespass on the property of Charles Murray of Lochcarron in persuit of deer or game. He had with him John Matheson, a fisherman from Badcaul and the two are descrived as "young lads" in the Aberdeen Press and Journal 30 October 1912, though by 1912 Alexander would have been 23 years old. [15] A longer and very disapproving report of the incident is in the North Star and Farmers' Chronicle 31 October 1912 [16]

The two primary occupations at Ardheslaig were fishing and agriculture. Agriculture being both small scale crofting arable plus, in some case, a cow and follower, or more numerously sheep.

In 1870 a book entitled "Return of the names of Owners of Sheep-Stocks, their different marks, and name of farm in Easter and Wester Ross in April 1870" [17] shows that all the sheep belonging to the crofters at Ardheslaig had the same identifying mark - "A split in point of right ear, J on right side of nose, one stripe red keel down right side" page 5. TYet the adjacent flock at Inverbain is identified as belonging to one owner, Simon Mckenzie. How the Ardheslaig crofters agreed amongst themselves as to which exact sheep belonged to whom is not known.

There were no horses and no ploughing other than by the chas crom.

Sheep farming was up against competion from other areas closer to markets, even as late as 1999 - where the Aberdeen Press and Journal 16 April 1999 reported Aird Airdheslaig Texel Cross ewes fetching £23 per head at the Dingwall sales, the lowest price of all the breeds at that sale, compared to the best of £35.50 [18]

As recounted in the 1883 book Days of Deer-stalking in the Scottish Highlands [19] the deer forest withinthe forest of Applecross was established around about 1810 - 1813, pages 295/6 and there was local resentment that land within it, which could have been usefully farmed, was given over to deer stalking. It may be, therefore, that residents of Ardheslaig and other hamlets were inclined not to report of any deer poaching that went on, but the names of three Ardheslaig young men who were involved in killing deer are known.

There was a school in Ardheslaig by 1822. One is shown on the first Ordnance survey map in Scotland covering Applecross - published that year.

A further reference to an Ardheslaig school comes in The Scotsman 09 September 1938 - in which the appointments and transfers of teachers by the Ross-shire Education Committee included "Miss Annabella Mackinnon, Ardheslaig Side School to Badralloch Side School" [20]

Side Schools are researched in depth by Helen Louise Young in her 2016 University of Stirling PhD submission - The small rural school and community relations in Scotland, 1872-2000: an interdisciplinary history

6. Income & Poverty

In 1872 Angus McRae Mcrae-2341 was declared bankrupt and his possessions were sequestered [21]. The 1871 census the year before showed him, his wife Helen, a daughter, two grandchildren and two servants. The next census, in 1881 shows Angus, Helen and one servant and Angus dies in 1883.

In 1845 the Scottish Poor Law was enacted and remained in use until 1929. [22] There are 23 records traced to Ardheslaig. Given the 1841 census showed just 82 individuals living there, and all subsequent census records show decreases of popluation it is a significant indicator of how hard it was to make a living there.

The Poor List reports add information about individuals that not obtainable elsewhere and sometimes bring to light people's birth and/or death dates not found elsewhere. These are some of them

1849 - 1858 - Donald McDonald McDonald-18413 and his wife, who may have had a continuation of relief after he husband died

1863 presumably to her death in 1877 - Mary Mackenzie, single, once a domestic worker, then a general labourer who became a pauper in her brother John's home Mackenzie-4398

On 25 Oct 1893 Kate Macdonald Macdonald-5075, who by then was 74, was granted 9d a week which was later increased to 1/6 per week. [23]

7. Health

TB, Tuberculosis, Phthisis was a very common cause of people's prolonged and increasing disability, frequently leading to an early death [24]. An example is Mary Mackenzie Mackenzie-4400

Childhood vaccinations of some kind were done at least as early as 1867 that included children at Ardheslaig. Born on the 11th of February that year John McDonald's birth record includes the word vaccinated under his name [25]. Whether the vaccination actually took place in Ardheslaig is not clear.

In 1849 the Poor List refers to a John Fraser Fraser-7727 who is partially disabled because he has leprosy.

Mental health was sometimes an issue and was usually dealt with by others in the affected person's family, for example Roderick Mackenzie Mackenzie-4396. An instance of temporary insanity occurred in 1892/3 concerning Bella Macdonald McLennan-1455

In general though, once past the dangerous years of infancy and the diseases of childhood some Ardheslaig people lived a very long life. Roderick Mackenzie mentioned above, had an uncle William Mackenzie Mackenzie-4397 whose death record stated he was 101 but who is also mentioned on the Poor List [26] and was probably 'just' a very long lived 93.

Asthma caused Mary McBeath to be accepted as wholly disabled in 1873 when she was 60 years old and she was granted poor relief of 9d a week. [27]

The care for someone with paralysis, called palsy in Ann Mackenzie's Mackenzie-4399 death record, also required help from the Poor Relief

A severe case of Rheumatism - sounding as if it was rheumatoid arthritis - saw Helen MacRae Loban-25 bedridden for the last 12 years of her life.

8. Travel & Migration - voluntary, of necessity, and the Clearances

Transport By foot - Old North Coast Routes (Kenmore – Ardheslaig) • Prior to the north coastal road being completed, people in the many settlements along the north coast relied on a ‘postie’ path similar to a bridle trail to move along the coast. These old heritage paths followed spectacular routes hugging the coast, with views across Loch Torridon. [28]

or by boat - The Applecross north coast hamlets had no church and if they wished to attend one needed to travel to the Free Church of Shieldaig. In the 1880's the Church ran a ferry - a six-oar rowing boat capable of taking 60 - 70 passengers - named The Queen of Sheba - to collect and return those of its congregation too poor to own their own boat [29]

Migration within Scotland

Overseas Migration Hector and Ann Macdonald took their family to New Zealand McDonald-16038

9. Population dynamics

So far as birth marriage and death records go people from Ardheslaig have sometimes been recorded under the district Applecross (an area), sometimes under the District of Shieldaig (a place)

The Napier Commission 1883 and the Crofters Act 1886 Census records: population fluctuation

1841 census Ardheslaig comprised 15 households: - 4 Macdonald, 4 Mackenzie, 3 MacRae and one each of MacBeath, MacIver, McLean and MacLennan

!861 census Ardheslaig comprised of 16 households:- 5 Macdonald, 4 MacRae, 2 Mackenzie, 2 MacBeath, 1 each McLean, McLennan, McNair

10. Plants and animals

In 1886 the Botanical Society spent a day at Ardheslaig identifying the plants they saw [30]Quote - "Among the first visits paid by the second party was one to Ardheslaig. There they collected about fifty plants in all, among which were"

Epilohium anfjustifuliiim, : Rosebay Willow Herb [31]
Valeriana officinalis,  : Valerian [32]
Solidago Virgaurea,  : Goldenrod, or woundwort [33]
Crepis virens,  : Smooth Hawksbeard [34]
Gentiana campestris,  : Field Gentian [35]
Digitalis purpurea,  : Common Purple Foxglove [36]
Melampyrum pratense,  : Common cow-wheat - indicative of ancient woodland [37]
Habenaria chlorantha,  : Greater Butterfly Orchid [38]
Gymnadenia conopsea  : Fragrant orchid [39]

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