The Lost Township of Grulin on Eigg

‘The Stony Place’ as it translates, the archaeological notes on the RCAHMS database for Eigg, state baldly the lost humanity of Grulin as early as an 1880 OS survey map: ‘…eighteen unroofed buildings, six enclosures and a field-system’. Now a scheduled monument and memorialised as a ‘depopulated settlement’, though it is not obvious if the verb is passive or aggressive, Grulin Uachdrach (Grulin Upper) is, like Hallaig on Raasay, a place of violent silence and resonance.

Who lived here and why was the site abandoned? If it were not in Scotland, suspicions might fall to the climate, remoteness and apparent unsustainability of the stony place, a rabble of large rocks under the steep slopes of An Sgurr, but the carefully constructed walls tell us it was once a thriving township – the kilns, folds and blackhouse walls integrated with the giant boulders such as Clach Hosdail. In 1853 the whole of the village of Grulin, both upper and lower, housed fourteen families who were forced to leave, 57 people in all cleared aside from one family held as shepherds. One family was crofted at Cleadale but the rest found emigration to Nova Scotia the only option. In 1841 there had been 103 people but by 1853 Laig farm to the north of the Sgurr had been let by the landowner to a borders sheep farmer called Stephen Stewart, who took on the contract only on condition it included the fine grazing and pasture around the Grulins under the south face of the Sgurr. The subsequent events tell a similar tale to the hundreds of other cleared villages throughout Scotland.

Around the village lie hidden, sheltered runrigs with ingenious irrigation walls and channels. The place is still populated by cheviot sheep who wander oblivious in through the out-doors of the old shielings to graze on lush grass between the sheltered walls. Flag iris grows around the streams and springs harbour water cress, and on a summer day it is not hard to imagine this would have been a place of serenity and pride after the long day’s tilling. But then came the monetisation of the Highlands, the aristocratisation of the old clan system, the demise of a communal agrarian system and the volatile business of kelping and sheep-farming. The rest is a sorry tale of shame, though the modern drive for locality and breaking of the land regimes of the past has led Eigg to be considered a showpiece example of community ownership, having been bought in 1997 from single ownership. The island is now self-sufficient in energy with wind, solar and hydro in several locations and the 100-odd population thrives by itself with a little help from tourism.

Further reading:
Susanna Wade Martins, Eigg - an Island Landscape,PWM Heritage Management, 2004
James Hunter, The Making of the Crofting Community, John Donald, 1976

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