Runrig and Small FieldsIn the landscape of Auchindrain, signs of the ways in which the township’s fields were once used for growing crops may still be seen. First, runrig, and later in a system of small fields, the Township people made the best use of their land.
We are working to re-create a small area of runrig. On the hillside above Auchindrain are the still visible outlines of several of the small fields which replaced runrig in the 1840s. In our South Field, depending on the light and the amount of grass growing, the raised parallel lines of original rigs undisturbed since the 1840s can sometimes be seen.
Until the 1840s, the land was divided into narrow strips called ‘rigs’, separated by open ditches called ‘runs’. Every year one third of the rigs were reallocated by drawing lots, ensuring that no-one could permanently keep the best land or get stuck with the worst. This system of land tenure was called roinn-ruithe (pronounced ryAN-ROOee) in Gaelic, which means ‘the common run’.
Runrig was an inefficient way of using the land. Much of it was taken up by the open drains between the rigs rather than being used for growing crops. Each family would be allocated a fair share of the land, but not all in one place. Time was wasted moving between the rigs, which were also too small for horse-drawn implements to be used. Any ground that was too difficult – wet, steep or stony – was simply left. It has been estimated that runrig often made effective use of no more than 40% of a township’s land.
Most of all, because people knew that three years was the longest they were likely to keep any particular piece of ground there was no incentive to spend significant time and money improving the land through better drainage, digging in manure, and removing stones.
When agricultural improvement started to take place from the mid-18th century, an end to runrig was one of the improvers’ main objectives. In most places, agricultural improvement saw townships become modern-style farms with large fields, being divided up into small individual tenancies called crofts, or turned over to grazing for the landowner’s sheep.
Auchindrain was different, perhaps uniquely so, because it remained a joint tenancy. The key elements of improved agriculture were gradually adopted here during the 19th century, but by the tenants deciding things for themselves rather than change being imposed by the landowner.
When runrig came to an end here in 1842, the tenants agreed to divide the inbye land up into a number of small fields that would stay with the same family. At the time there were seven tenants, and fourteen small fields were created. Seven were on the south-facing and relatively well-drained hillside and seven along the flatter but much wetter floor of the glen. Each tenant had one of each. As the number of tenants in the group fell, the work of cultivating the unallocated fields – and what was grown on them –was shared between the remaining tenants.