Aspects of Daily Life

With many areas of the Highlands having few trees and landlords forbidding the use of trees for fuel, peat and turf were widely used as a domestic fuel. Throughout the Highlands the tell-tale cuts of local peat cutting are visible, with peat cutting rights still current in many places amongst crofting communties; some stone structures, for example on Canna, have been interpreted as peat stances (Derek Alexander pers comm). Local routeways are often remembered as peat roads, and this information needs to be recorded before it is lost. A peat sledge is preserved at the Timespan Museum.  In non-wooded coastal areas driftwood would also have been used for fuel. Documentary sources also show later dependence on imported coal, which was brought in both by ship and by rail. It would be useful to get a better idea of the chronology of the move to coal use in the Highlands, especially as one moves away from the ports and Brora with its mines (Oram 2021). What is the evidence for a network of coal distribution? Investigation of hearths could shed more light on fuel choices at a local level.

James Calder with a peat spade and cut peat in the background, West Dunnet, Caithness, around 1970. ©National Museums Scotland
A peat sledge on display at the Timespan Museum, Helmsdale. ©Susan Kruse

Newspapers were important in the Highlands from the early 19th century, requiring presses and metal type (MacAskill 1975). Machinery and type are in collections of Wick Museum (for John o’Groat Journal) and Dingwall Museum (for Ross-shire Journal).

Type for newspaper printing, Wick. ©Susan Kruse

Evidence of sport and leisure begins to be more prominent in the documentary and archaeological record in the post-medieval period (Grant 1961; Burnett 1995). For the early post-medieval period, the evidence is mainly relating to upper classes, especially the hunting and fishing which continues into modern times (Wightman et al 2002). As time goes on, there is other evidence of sporting activities by a wider section of the population. Gaelic poetry from the 17th century onwards cites the playing of games as a mark of a great man (Caldwell 2014, 252).

Curling was the most common sport in 19th century Scotland (Burnett 1995, 41). Many communities in the Highlands, urban and rural, had curling rinks, many now only noted on maps, in photographs or in memory, with many derelict and overgrown. Occasionally remains of the pavilion, and in a few cases curling stones which have local associations survive. Evidence of curling should be recorded before the memories are lost.

Curling on Loch Kinellan, 1897.

Many of the courts or grounds for sports such as tennis, bowling, shinty or football disappear when they go out of use and are ideal for other building purposes. Similarly, the archaeological evidence of the iconic Highland Games is ephemeral, yet their importance in many Highland communities from Victorian times is undoubted. Golf has a long history in Scotland, although most Highland courses are from the last centuries. Celebrated courses include Nairn and Dornoch. Historylinks Museum in Dornoch preserves tools used for golf repair.

Golf repair tools on display at Historylinks Museum, Dornoch. ©Susan Kruse

Leave a Reply