The lairds who controlled how land was managed in Affric have had a major influence on the look and life of the place.
The Chisholm clan’s attempts to sell off the glen’s rich timber seem to have had little success, perhaps because it was too difficult to get trees off the steep hillsides and away down the valley. But when they introduced sheep farming in the early 1800s they certainly did change the glen.
Heavy sheep grazing would have stopped young trees from growing, and the Chisholms then went on to let the ground for deer shooting.
A fashion for shooting
Later, shooting became a fashionable sport – and one for which fashionable people would pay good money. Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, the first Lord Tweedmouth, was a rich Liberal MP who took a long lease on shooting rights over much of Glen Affric in 1846, paying £3,000 per year for the privilege: about £130,000 in today’s money.
He liked the place so much he later bought the estate at Guisachan (Gaelic for ‘the place of the pines’), near Plodda Falls. He built a new mansion house there, as well as a hunting lodge in Glen Affric itself for the weekends.
Lord Tweedmouth's love for the glen didn’t stop at building fancy houses for himself: he created a whole village at Tomich for the people living in cottages scattered across the estate.
Tomich was pretty, and had its own school, but many of the new villagers would have preferred things left as they were.
Even his daughter Ishbel remembered how as a child she’d agreed with the displaced farmers that "the little old thatched weather-beaten huts were infinitely more attractive than the prosaic row of trim wooden floored houses, provided with all the hateful appurtenances of civilisation."
Today, Lord Tweedmouth’s model village is very much part of the charm of Glen Affric. His other great legacy is the superb forest of Douglas Fir around Plodda Falls.
Not all Affric’s tenants were as altruistic as Lord Tweedmouth. Walter Winans, an American millionaire and Olympic gold medal rifleman, leased huge areas of ground next to Lord Tweedmouth’s.
He liked to shoot deer in great herds as they were driven towards the guns, and built miles of fencing to keep deer on his ground. He wasn’t a popular figure among people who preferred the slow skill of stalking animals across the hills until they could get a clear shot.
That need for a clear shot – and for plenty of deer to shoot at – led to more impact on the forest. Sheep, followed by shooting, meant there were fewer trees on the hill and very few young saplings. Before the Forestry Commission bought the glen in 1951, there probably hadn’t been much natural regeneration in Glen Affric for nearly 200 years.
More on Lord Tweedmouth
You can read more about Lord Tweedmouth in a booklet by Donald Fraser, a descendant of the family that originally owned Guisachan. Guisachan – A History is available from the shop and hotel in Tomich.