A toast to the past

badger falls still2

Visitors learn about the site with a member of FES staff

A recently discovered archaeological site dating back to the late 1700s has been recognised as a monument of national importance.

The site - an illicit still near Badger Falls in Glen Affric - was found by Forest Enterprise Scotland staff in 2008 but has now been formally designated by Historic Environment Scotland under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. 

Giles Brockman, for the FES team in Inverness Ross & Skye, said;

“Scotland's National Forest Estate is home to an immense archive of social history dating back many centuries and covering many different story lines. 

“There are literally hundreds of such sites scattered across the land that we manage. Recording them, investigating them and conserving them is an important but little known part of our work.  

“This particular site could date back to the 1700s and could shed light on the area’s past.

“It’s not an easy site to visit – probably only really accessible to the more adventurous visitor - but we are very pleased to see it awarded Scheduled Monument status.”

The still itself would have sat in a small building, concealed by an over-hanging rock face and adjacent to a small burn. The building footings survive in woodland in a secluded gully above the river Affric.

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Illicit stills were a response to the Excise Act of 1788, which banned small household stills. However, they continued to use malted grains, which the large lowland distilleries had stopped using because it was expensively taxed. This meant that the illegal whisky was of better quality.

This quality attracted a premium price – and plenty of willing customers, even in towns and cities.

The Excise Act of 1823 permitted the distilling of whisky for only a small licence fee, reduced the malt tax and cut the whisky duty, so the quality of whisky produced by the licensed distilleries improved. The number of legal distilleries in Scotland rose dramatically and the practice of illicit whisky distilling gradually declined.

Giles added;

“It is an evocative reminder of a once widespread Highland practice, when illegally producing whisky and defrauding the tax man weren’t seen as criminal activity but as a social enterprise – at least by the general population.”

By the time of the first Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1872), the still at Badger Falls had been forgotten.

Notes to editors

  1. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government's Environment and Forestry Directorate.
  2. Forest Enterprise Scotland is an agency of Forestry Commission Scotland and manages the National Forest Estate on behalf of Scottish Ministers.
  3. Tha Coimisean na Coilltearachd Alba na phàirt de Bhuidheann-Stiùiridh na h-Àrainneachd is Coilltearachd aig Riaghaltas na h-Alba. Tha e an urra ri riaghladh agus cumail maoineachadh is comhairle ri coilltearachd ann an Alba. Tha Iomairt Choilltean na h-Alba na fo-bhuidheann aig Coimisean na Coilltearachd Alba a tha a’ ruith Oighreachd na Coille Nàiseanta.
  4. Media enquiries to Paul Munro, Forestry Commission Scotland press office, 0300 067 6507 / 07785 527590 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.