West Highland and Hebridean settlement pattern prior to crofting and the Clearances: a study in stability or change?
Archaic Settlement, Settlement, Stable, Sheep Farming, Fields, Enclosures
Medieval, Eighteenth Century
Before their reorganisation into crofts or clearance for sheep, farming townships of the west Highlands and Islands were generally arranged around small irregular clusters of settlement, known as clachans or bailtean. For some, these clusters are an archaic settlement form with roots in late prehistory. This paper argues for a different interpretation of their character and chronology. Using a mix of documentary, cartographic, and field data, it argues that the settlement morphology of bailtean was not fixed or stable, but in a continuous state of flux, with individual house--sites being regularly abandoned and reoccupied. Their nucleated form may have replaced a more diffused pattern, and the switch between the two may not have begun until the late medieval period and may have still been incomplete even in the eighteenth century. It is argued that this adjustment of settlement accompanied a shift from a field economy based on enclosures to one based on runrig open fields.