The underlying geography of Perth and Kinross has fundamentally shaped human activity. Where settlements were located, the type of farming undertaken, the route of military campaigns, and the industrial possibilities, were all fundamentally influenced by the region’s landscape. Yet the post-medieval period also saw the residents of Perth and Kinross themselves make major changes to their surroundings. The centuries between 1600 and 1900 arguably brought more rapid and far-reaching alterations to the landscape than any previous period.
Developing our understanding of the nature of the varied landscapes in Perth and Kinross at the start of the post-medieval period, and their evolution over succeeding centuries, must be an important research priority. Perth and Kinross encompasses a wide range of different terrains. Notably, the region spans both upland and lowland areas – a geographic distinction which for much of the post-medieval period also had considerable cultural significance. The 17th and 18th centuries saw many English and Scots-speaking lowland dwellers characterising their predominantly Gaelic-speaking Highland neighbours as ‘wild’ and backwards. Yet there may be more complex patterns of interaction and cultural exchange which we can identify in the archaeological record. The nature of the relationship between upland and lowland areas is a topic of particular significance for Perth and Kinross.
Within the broad categories of ‘upland’ and ‘lowland’, there was considerable diversity in the use and appearance of landscapes over the post-medieval period. While some of the higher ground was probably moorland from an early date. The uplands of the 17th and 18th centuries also included various forms of pasture, arable land and woodland. There were also significant concentrations of pre-improvement settlements in the forms of townships (‘fermetouns’), farms (‘ferms’) and seasonal shielings (used for transhumance). Much of this variety in land use was swept away during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the name of agricultural ‘improvement’; this is arguably a deeply problematic term, the implications of which are discussed in more detail in 8.3.1 Agriculture and Diet. The resulting more open and less diverse landscape was praised by many Victorian writers as being natural and untouched, but in reality, it was mostly a very recent creation to enable the raising of sheep, deer and grouse.
Diversity of landscape was even more apparent in lowland areas. When in the 1760s the travel writer Thomas Pennant climbed Moncreiffe Hill near Perth, he commented on ‘the variety and richness of its views’. From this vantage point, Pennant noted among other features: aristocratic estates, the ‘rich plain of Gowrie’, the ‘vast cliff’ of Kinnoull Hill, the ‘meanders of the Earn’, the ‘noble river’ Tay, numerous islands, the ‘fine woods’ of Perth Parks, and ‘the town of Perth’ itself with its ‘magnificent bridge’ (Pennant 1772). The nature of the landscape, and the challenges and opportunities it posed, could be intensely local. For instance, whilst parts of the Carse of Gowrie were ideal for fruit growing and arable cultivation, within walking distance there were substantial areas of marsh and heavily waterlogged soil. Researchers should be sensitive to these highly localised experiences, and aware of the unique ways in which specific landscapes have evolved.
In many parts of Perth and Kinross, the post-medieval period was characterised by significant human alteration of the landscape. Bogs were drained, roads built, trees planted, old settlements cleared and new model villages established. These processes can often be traced in the archaeological record. However, they also mean that the landscapes we see today are often very different to those which existed at the start of the 17th century.
Interdisciplinary approaches can significantly enhance our understanding of lost landscapes, and one of the strengths of the post-medieval period is the extensive body of written and visual sources. For example, Thomas Pont’s maps provide a valuable visual record of the geography of Perth and Kinross around 1600. Indeed, Pont created at least 14 different, and sometimes overlapping, map sheets for Perthshire. These maps are perhaps most famous for their small sketches of burghs and great houses. However, they also indicate several areas of woodland and certain lost or reduced bodies of water. Similarly, the engravings, and accompanying descriptions, of John Slezer’s Theatrum Scotiae are an invaluable resource for the region’s landscapes and buildings at the end of the 17th century (Slezer 1693). William Roy’s Military Survey of Scotland, undertaken between 1747 and 1755, offers a particularly important ‘snapshot’ of the entire region at a time when the landscape was beginning an era of rapid change. Numerous less well-known maps and illustrations of the region also exist, particularly for the 18th and 19th centuries. Noteworthy is James Stobie’s The Counties of Perth and Clackmannan published in 1783. Meanwhile, information about settlements and features beside the main roads through the region can be garnered from George Taylor and Andrew Skinner’s Survey and Maps of of the Roads of North Britain or Scotland, published in 1776. A significant proportion of these maps and publications have already been digitised and are available online. Careful comparison of information from historic visual sources with the physical evidence of the landscape would be desirable.
Estate papers, government records, travel accounts and the writings of naturalists are just some of the texts which provide evidence about the post-medieval environments of Perth and Kinross. Much of the material in the Old Statistical Account of 1791–1799 and the New Statistical Account of 1834–1845 is also invaluable. The Statistical Accounts are already well-known, but the data they supply about local landscapes arguably deserves more systematic analysis. Again, major digitisation projects have made access to many of these records much easier, although it should be noted that most surviving post-medieval written records from Perth and Kinross are still unpublished in any form. Further archival research may bring new perspectives for our understanding of the development of the landscape during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and dialogue between archaeologists and historians studying the region is to be strongly encouraged. The potential advantages of integrating archival evidence with field survey and excavation were recently demonstrated by the Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project, which has proved transformative for understandings of post-medieval land use in the area around Loch Tay (Atkinson 2016).
Scientific methods and techniques must also be integral to our efforts to research historic landscapes – although the cost of some types of investigation can prove prohibitive for many projects. Among other approaches, much greater use could be made of anthrosols and pollen analysis. The extent to which the biodiversity of Perth and Kinross altered over the course of the post-medieval period and how it was affected by phenomena such as industrialisation, changes in agriculture and shifting settlement patterns are important questions for researchers. There is also the potential for cross-sector public engagement regarding such issues, for example by mapping the impact of historic climate change and human land use on local biodiversity.
The effect of climate change and extreme weather on the landscape is a topic of particular relevance to the period. The 17th century saw a series of exceptionally severe winters: in 1615 the River Tay at Perth froze over and there was ‘passage’ across the ice ‘for horse and men’ (Eagles 1995, 31). This period also saw several serious floods. Particularly notable floods are recorded in 1621, when Perth Bridge was destroyed, and in 1774, when rapidly melting snow in the hills caused significant damage in Perth and its environs (Bowler 2004, 73). Further research into the impact of the harsher climate on Perth and Kinross during the early part of the post-medieval period should be a priority. A wide range of techniques and approaches could potentially be brought to bear on this issue, including dendrochronology, pollen analysis and the study of human and animal remains, as well as field survey and work with written records.