Run Rigs at Clachtoll, Scotland

October 21, 2013

Runrigs

Photographer: Jeanette Stafford
Summary Author: Jeanette Stafford  

October 2013 Viewer's Choice

At Clachtoll on Sutherland’s west coast in the far north of Scotland the remains of run rigs, a form of “lazy beds” are still visible in the landscape after many decades of disuse. The Highlands and Islands of northern Scotland have very thin poor soil that’s difficult to cultivate, due to extensive glaciation during the last ice age. To make it easier to grow subsistence crops such as potatoes, the nutrient-poor peat soil was piled into ridges or “rigs” with deep furrows or “runs” in between for aided drainage. Seaweed or manure was also added as fertilizer to provide nitrogen and increased the height of the rigs, to around 18 inches (45cm). Improving the drainage also makes the soil warmer and the ridges are less prone to frost as cold air sinks into the furrows. Both factors aid crop growth and increase yield.

The rocky ground here is difficult to cultivate and the people mostly preferred to live in glens that are sheltered from the Atlantic storms and more suited to agriculture. During the Highland Clearances in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, land owners forced the tenant farmers or crofters off this productive land and onto the much less suitable coastal strip, to make way for sheep.

In 1993 the crofters of the Assynt area that includes Clachtoll succeeded in the first community buy-out, making them the first crofters to own the land they farmed. Since then several other communities have similarly raised funds to buy their land. In this part of Scotland the run rig method of cultivation was used throughout the 19th century and, in some areas, into the 20th. Similar forms including lazy beds mentioned above were common throughout Britain and in Ireland and their distinctive marks can still be seen in the landscape, sometimes dating back as early as Roman times. They often show up in winter when the leafy vegetation has died off and can suddenly appear on a hillside after a dusting of snow. Photo taken on September 9, 2013.

Photo details: Camera Model: PENTAX K-5; Focal Length: 18.0mm (35mm equivalent: 27mm); Aperture: f/11.0; Exposure Time: 0.010 s (1/100); ISO equiv: 100.