Farmers and stalkers

The soil in the glen is poor, so it never had a large population. Very few people ever lived in the upper glen: those who did would have kept a few cattle and sheep, selling many of the animals in the autumn so they did not have to feed them over winter.

They also had a lively trade in illegal whisky. Just near Dog Falls there are the remains of a still, carefully hidden but close to a water supply.

It’s likely there were several others like it in the glen: there was a big demand for home-made whisky, which was often better as well as cheaper than the legal stuff. It could also be bartered for goods like tweed cloth brought over the mountain passes from the west.

The impact of the Clearances

When the clan chiefs introduced large-scale sheep farming from the 1700s onward, life in the glen changed completely, just as it did all over the Highlands.

The chiefs evicted their tenants in what has become known as the Highland Clearances, and many people emigrated.

Later, when deer hunting became a fashionable sport for the rich, local folk found work as stalkers and game keepers. Whisky still played a role as currency: if a client shot a 'Royal' stag (one with twelve points on its antlers), it was customary to give a bottle to the stalker who’d helped track it down.

Duncan MacLennan

Duncan MacLennan, who grew up in Affric and worked as a stalker in the middle of the twentieth century, wrote a fascinating book about his memories of life in the glen.

He tells the story of the stalker’s whisky in My Yester Years in Glen Affaric, available in shops in Cannich.