Great quantities of aquavitae II

The store-house of Foulis; more from the Andrew Wight on his journey north of the Cromarty Firth in 1781; improvement and innovation in 1700s farming; feeding oxen and horse; ‘a man of enterprising and comprehensive genius’; bere and barley.

In ‘Great quantities of aquavitae‘, the farmer-traveller Andrew Wight commented in 1781 on the denizens of Ferintosh, on the Black Isle,  who “utterly neglecting their land, which is in a worse state than for many miles around” preferred to spend their time distilling bere (barley) malt than tending soil and growing crops.

Among places supplying grain to the Ferintosh whisky trade in the 1780s was (he reported) the farmland of Foulis (also spelled Fowlis), on the opposite, northern, side of the Cromarty Firth. Mr Wight rode his horse the long way round, but now Foulis is only a few minutes drive from Ferintosh over the bridge.

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The Store-House of Foulis

Andrew Wight did not write about the girnal or store-house at Foulis Ferry Point. It was built 1740, that is 40 years before he passed by on his journey north from Inverness  (and that’s about 275 years before now). It was built to store grain before it was shipped off to market or paid to people in kind for work or favours.

The grain was grown by the estate or paid as rent by the tenants of the estate. They would grow grain on a farm or allotment and pay some to the landowner. Beaton (1986) reports accounts that the total barley received at the Store-House of Foulis in 1784 came to to 169 bolls two firlots. Example of payments ranged from 98 bolls one firlot from the tenant of Mains of Foulis to two bolls from a slater.

The Store-House of Foulis (map reference NH 599636) today has been well restored, with its fine slate roof and well harled walls (images above). Though sometimes called Foulis Ferry Point, the ferry ceased to operate in the 1930s. New buildings have grown around the site housing a visitor centre, restaurant and shops.

There area is rich in these store-houses or girnals as they were called, along the Cromarty Firth and up to Portmahomak. Beaton (1986) gives a map of locations.

Andrew Wight’s comments on the area

Mr Wight (IV.I p 241 onwards) writes about the crops, the farm animals, the owners, the improvers, the tenants and the peasants. Here are some excerpts from his journey along the north side of the Cromarty Firth from Fowlis eastward.

Of Fowlis (Page 233), he regales against the old practices – “having a baulk between every ridge, upon which were heaped the stones removed from the ridges; the soil was taken off every third ridge, in order to ameliorate the two adjacent ridges; and the crops alternately oats and bere; and to this bad practice was added the worst ploughing that can be conceived.” But after the land was improved by the then owner, he reports (page 235) a wheat yield of ten bolls per acre.

And on the same estate, Robert Hall, the farm manager of Fowlis  ‘introduced a crop, rare in Scotland and an absolute novelty in the north, which is carrot. (..) The farm-horses are fed on carrots instead of corn; and they are always in good condition.”

I rejoice to see six yoke of oxen

At Novar he remarks on the poor inherent quality of the soil, which is more than compensated by the desire of the estate to effect improvement to a degree that today would be thought of as ecological engineering.

He notes “Oxen only are employed both in cart and plough. I rejoiced to see six yoke of oxen in six carts, pulling along great loads of stones, perfectly tractable and obedient to the driver. They are all in fine order, and full of spirit. They begin labour at five in the morning, and continue till nine. They are the put upon good pasture, or fed with cut clover, till two; when a bell is wrung, and all are ready in an instant for labouring till six in the afternoon.’

At Invergordon, he comments on seven crops: “wheat on this strong land was very good; barley after turnip excellent; beans and peas are never neglected in the rotation; oats in their turn make a fine crop; the old pasture grass excels.”

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Agriculture, manufactures and commerce, the pillars that support the nation

Several pages are devoted to the contribution of George Ross of Cromarty, MP a man of “enterprising and comprehensive genius”.  He started a hemp manufacturing company employing many people and exporting coarse cloth to London and then a brewery for  strong ale and porter, much of it “exported to Inverness and other places by sea-carriage”.

On Ross’s  agriculture: “it is wonderful to see barren heath converted into fertile cornfields; clover and other grasses rising luxuriantly, where formerly not a blade of grass was to be seen; horse-hoed turnip, and potatoes, growing on land lately a bog; ….. hay, not known here formerly, is now the ordinary food of horses and cows”. He also cures and exports pork:  “… he carried me to a very large inclosure of red clover, where there were 200 hogs of the great Hampshire kind feeding luxuriously.”

Ross works on a plan for improving the harbour and entertains “sanguine hopes that government will one day establish a dry dock near the harbour for repairing ships of war in their northern expeditions.”

Ed: Writing in 1810 after Ross’s death, Mackenzie (1810) states that the hemp trade was “now in a flourishing state. From (the year beginning) 5 January 1807, there were imported 185 tons of hemp; and about 10,000 piece of bagging were sent to London”.  Ross was not so far off in his hopes for ship repair – Mackenzie refers to a ship being built there in 1810, and today there are deep anchorage and rig maintenance.

Eight fields, eight crops in sequence

Later on page 257, Wight comments on Mr Forsyth of Cromarty who manages a small farm divided into eight fields, and cropped as follows: “First potatoes, horse and hand hoed, with dung; second, barley; third, clover; fourth, wheat; fifth, peas; sixth, oats or barley, with grass seeds; seventh, hay; eighth pasture. … in this way ‘kept in excellent order, with the advantage of dung from the village”.

Throughout his journeys,  Andrew Wight speaks his mind, always ready to praise good farming and condemn poor practice. (You can sense these journeys are more than a job.) And while he accepts the social divides of the time – he was commissioned by the wealthy – notably between the landed gentry and their peasants,  he condemns those of the former who ignore, ill treat or exploit and praises those who support and encourage the people to improve their lot by agriculture, manufactures and commerce.

Other points to note are that legume crops (fixing nitrogen from the air) common in crop rotations  and that bere and barley are both mentioned but no clear distinction is made between them.

Sources

Beaton, E. (1986) Late seventeenth and eighteenth century estate girnals in Easter-Ross and South-east Sutherland’, In: Baldwin, J R, Firthlands of Ross and Sutherland. Edinburgh, pages 133-152. Available online: http://ssns.org.uk/resources/Documents/Books/Ross_1986/09_Beaton_Ross_1986_pp_133-152.pdf

Mackenzie, G S. 1810. General view of agriculture of the counties of Ross and Cromarty. London: Phillips.

Wight, A. 1778-1784. Present State of Husbandry in Scotland. Exracted from Reports made to the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates, and published by their authority. Edinburgh: William Creesh. Vol IV part I. (See Great Quantities of aquavitae for further reference and web links).

More on the Foulis girnal

Canmore web site. Foulis Ferry, Granary.  https://canmore.org.uk/site/12905/foulis-ferry-granary Notes on history with references.

Am Baile web site: Foulis Ferry http://www.ambaile.org.uk/detail/en/20423/1/EN20423-foulis-ferry-near-evanton.htm

Images

Those in the upper set were taken of the Foulis Store-house and its surrounds on a visit in August 2016.

There were no ‘yoke of oxen’ around Foulis and Novar in 2016,  so the Living Field acknowledges with thanks use of photographs from Burma (Myanmar) by gk-images, taken February 2014 (permission granted by the handler to take the photographs). The quotes below the images come from Wight’s text of 1784, and apply well to this magnificent animal).

The lone ragwort – late bee-haven

Advancing up the single track road they are. Sheep keep them out of the pasture, but they find space between fence and tarmac. A purge in the last two years set them back, then this year one appeared, parachuted in – a flowering ragwort, alone among the grass.

Flowering and soon to spread its seeds it was. So the time came for it to go ….. but just before the pull ….. ‘what’s that?’ – it was crawling with bumble bees, about 30 of them, just before nightfall, two days before the equinox. Reprieve!

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The bees were active, over the flower heads or working their way down to find a secure niche for the night. The next morning, about half were gone, but the rest were still busy, legs flailing when one encroached on another.

What else might the bees feed on? All three heathers were still flowering in patches – otherwise the only flowers were on late  sneezewort Achillea ptarmica and devel’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis.

A Weeds Act anomaly

The ragwort Senecio jacobea is poisonous to some livestock and was  considered so troublesome that it was named in the Weeds Act of 1950 along with two thistles and two docks. Landowners could be fined for allowing them to thrive.

Attentive management reduced the ragwort in arable and good pasture, but just when it faced a bleak future (as it did most other poisonous weeds in the mid-1900s), along came big roadworks and big roads offering a  refuge and then channels for advancement across the country. Now it’s one of the most visible weeds of the late summer. Once outlawed, now thriving thanks to man.

The ragwort is not all bully and brash – it settles quietly and builds its seed base in derelict field corners, waste ground and old yards. Then sends its pappus-borne seeds wherever the wind takes them.  It even advances  into higher ground as in the images above (around 300 m).

Ps

The ‘lone ragwort’ well illustrates the balance that needs to be set between what people see as the the positive and negative roles of plants. Just one poisonous plant this year, but 100 next year, against a late haven for buff-tailed bumble bees that might just raise their chance of survival over the winter.

No  decision made yet (6 October 2016) ….. but considering the evidence,  it’s likely to get pulled up soon! (Pity … I’ve become attached to it.)

By 28 October, it was still flowering but also seeding (more than it was flowering) and not a bee in sight. So out it came to stop further seeding!

Links

The article on weeds 5000 Plants Weeds is being revised and gives more on the five Weeds Act weeds.

 

The Crunch at Dundee Science Centre

Meet the Expert day at Dundee Science Centre, 10 September 2016, part of The Crunch series of public events on sustainable agriculture and food, showcased two of our topics – Roots of Nutrition and Grain to Plate.

It was hands-on for the younger visitors – they donned lab coats, peered into test tubes, felt grain and rolled dough.  The not quite so young shared experiences on topical issues of food and health.

lf_crnch_16sep10_1_gs_1100The team from the Hutton were based in the darkened auditorium, partly to enable slideshows to be viewed on computer screens, but there was enough light to get some images (above).

Roots of Nutrition Main themes are that humans need at least 18 mineral nutrients and thirteen vitamins; but many diets lack iron, calcium or iodine, or the Vitamins A, C or D, causing ‘hidden hunger’ and poor health. Plants provide most of these minerals and vitamins; they take minerals from the soil and make vitamins in their tissues. There are direct links therefore between soil, plants and health. Peoples’ wellbeing can be improved by good soil and crop management.  Science can breed crop varieties that take up minerals from low concentration in soil. Gardening and farming can provide the wide range of foods that between them contain all the necessary minerals and vitamins.

Grain to Plate Main themes are that grain (or corn) crops, mainly barley and wheat, and later oat, were first brought here by migrants over 5000 years ago. Grains have sustained most people and their animals since then, at least up to the second half of the last century when imported grain began to replace home-grown. Today, most of our cereal carbohydrate is grown in other places. Oats is the only one grown, processed and eaten locally. It also needs less mineral fertiliser and pesticide than wheat. Yet more cereals could be grown locally for human food. Examples of bread made from barley, wheat and spelt were on display …. and here ‘s an idea for the future – bread made from insect flour! How would agriculture look farming insects instead of sheep and cows!

On the day …..

Roots of Nutrition: Philip White, Paula Pongrac and Konrad Neugebauer. Grain to plate: Gill Banks, Lauren Banks, Geoff Squire.

Thanks to Aisha and all at the Science Centre for organising the event.

More Crunch on this web site: Bere and cricket, Feel the Pulse.

For general info on Hutton Crunch exhibits email geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Wullie hunting

Around Dundee this summer were spotted those with their mobile phones in hand, but this wasn’t for the Pokemon Go craze, this was for the Oor Wulliecraze. They were popping up everywhere and where there was a Wullie was someone, from young children to adults, with their Bucket Trail map and/or phone app…. writes Linda Ford.

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The Oor WullieBucket Trail in Dundee and the surrounding area was such great fun! In a stroke of genius The Archie Foundation teamed up with Wild in Art and DC Thomson to raise funds for Tayside Children’s Hospital and with an auction total of £883,000 for 70 Oor Wullies, it was definitely a huge success.

The £50,000 that the Oor Original sold for is a clear indication of how much of a beloved icon Oor Wullie is to those of us who grew up reading about his exploits in the Sunday Post each week and the yearly annuals.

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Many of the Wullies were designed around something close to Dundee’s heart, such as the Wullie the Menace, which of course, was situated on Bash Street.

Here are some more Oor Wullies. The one below is called Whar Ji Cum Fi? It was in the Howff.  It’s reflective so you can see yourself in it.

lf_noim_rwll_wrjcmfhwff_lf_1100And here are four where they were assembled before being auctioned. They are Strawberry Thief (one of the Oot an Aboot touring Wullies), Woodland Wullie (upper right), Lillies, inpired by Monet (lower left) and Oor Original.

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Links

More info and what they sold for can be found here
http://www.oorwulliebuckettrail.com/