Life on a small croft in the Highlands of Scotland with pictures, places and more on the Scottish Highlands
Scotland, especially in the Scottish Highlands and Island have a unique land ownership system called a croft, where people are in a partnership with the crofting commission who technically own the land, while the “tenants” have an inheritable right to pass on or sell the right to live and farm the land. While in reality the cost of buying a croft is not much less than buying privately owned land, a croft comes with many benefits for the “owners” in that they can get grants towards land and property improvements from the crofters commission.
The crofting system came into being a long time ago to help people get access to land to farm while assisting with property and land improvements this enabled many, often poor people, and soldiers coming back from World War I and II to get a place to live, and a farm to work.
In the past most crofters lived in houses, or crofts, that were legally part of the croft. Today most croft properties are now on parcels of land that have been de-crofted so that people can buy these properties with a mortgage just like any other home. Houses legally called a croft and that are on land that has not been de-crofted are not eligible for mortgages, although loans can be taken out to buy the land and property.
We live on a very small croft, the house is on a parcel of land that has been de-crofted and the land, around 1.2 acres is croft land. Over the 10 years we have lived on our small croft we have never asked for grants for improvements to the land – having no commercial ambitions with such a small piece of land we have focused on improving the area by planting over 450 trees (as small whips, plants that are 2-3 years old grown from seed or cuttings by a commercial nursery) to encourage wildlife, insects, bats and birds. We have added hundreds of metres of fencing to protect our live stock that consists of ducks, chickens and Kunekune pigs. All our animals are kept as pets, although the odd cockerel has ended up in the pot.
It has been very enjoyable hatching our own chickens and ducks from eggs, and adopting and raising our Kunekune pigs from birth. We have three pet pigs, mum Gretel, and two boys – Buddy and Geordie. I hope you enjoy seeing our pictures of our animals, and photographs taken of animals on crofts nearby.
While we do not have a big enough area of land to keep other livestock, our neighbours do have large crofts of over 100 acres and we get the pleasure of seeing young lambs and cattle, newly born, in the fields surrounding us, and in some cases get to help raise the orphan lambs when our neighbour asks for assistance in looking after them when he is away. We also do not need to make commercial decisions on sending animals to the market for sale, for meat, or due to old age.
If you hanker at living the good life and moving to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland then I hope you will get inspiration for the life from the pictures on our website. The best way is first to visit the areas where you think you would like to live and have a holiday, ideally several holidays at different times of the year including winter, before making the decision to sell up and move to the Scottish Highlands. If you can take several trips to different areas and spend at least a week in each area to see if you like it and the practicalities involved. It can feel romantic staying on a small island off Orkney or in a remote village in the Outer Hebrides until you realise that the nearest supermarket is a ferry boat journey away. Alternatively, that just may be what you want, remoteness does not mean isolation.
One benefit of buying a croft or property in the Highlands is that many areas that are not as popular with tourists can provide very good value for money. This may require a rethink on your part. After having holidays in Wester Ross for over 20 years and loving the area we decided due to the low cost of properties to buy in Caithness, an area that has a remoteness and beauty that is distinct in the far north of Scotland, yet not the mountains (nor the midges) found in west coast of Scotland. My advice is to keep your options open and explore the Scottish Highlands and Islands to find an area that suits you, is within budget and has all the facilities nearby that you want or need for your new life in Scotland. You can read more about crofts, crofting and the law relating to crofts on the Crofting Commission website.
Gretel with her newly born kunekune piglets. Our pig, Geordie, is being held up to his mum to try and get him to feed. Unfortunately he did not respond to this gentle encouragement by the farmer and had to be hand raised by ourselves.
Keeping pigs on the croft was not something we had planned for then one morning our neighbours turned up with a tiny, less than 1 day old, Kunekune piglet. This little one had not got enough strength to feed off his mum being the runt of the litter, either he would be hand raised or left to die. We decided to hand rear him and we called him Geordie after my wife long time friend’s pig that was raised on a smallholding during 1940’s – while the original Geordie ended up in the pot we had no intention of doing this, Geordie was going to be a pet pig on our croft.
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A real classic among Highland books, "A Croft in the Hills" captures, in simple, moving descriptions, what it was really like trying to make a living out of a hill croft fifty years ago. A couple and their young daughter, fresh from city life, immerse themselves in the practicalities of looking after sheep, cattle and hens, mending fences, baking bread and surviving the worst that Scottish winters can throw at them.
Eric Macleod looks across the loch at the forlorn wreck of his family's croft. 'How would you like to live there?' he asks his wife Ruth, half joking. After all, they have to think of something to do with the place. But he doesn't expect her instant reply - 'I would love to.' A few short months later, fired by the challenge of an adventure like no other they've known.
Eric has given up his promising career in London as an accountant with an international company, and moved to the remote shores of Loch Cairnbawn in the West Highlands. With Ruth and their two little girls, he plans to renovate the croft and make a living from the land. But it's a long leap from management accountant to house builder and crofter - as they soon find out.
The MacLeod family's life at Kerracher will fascinate the many people who would love to live such a dream. An accountant by profession, Eric MacLeod, his wife and their two little girls, learn to mix concrete and to build, shear sheep and fish, live with otters and seals.
Happy pet pig, Geordie - I think we had just told him we were going to adopt one of his siblings.
We have taken great pleasure in the effort to improve our little plot of paradise by planting the boundary area with trees, with over 400 trees planted over the years, most were planted in the first two years and are now well over 6 metres high. By doing this we have increased the diversity of wildlife, especially insects and birds, that co-inhabit our croft.
We also have a healthy breeding colony of bats that visit us each spring to raise another batch of young, the bats constantly amuse and fascinate us while they fly around hunting for insects in the early dusk and during the evening. As the bats live in our wall space of our living room (not an ideal location) they also entertain us by their constant chattering amongst each other as they raise their young.
Don’t be alarmed they do not make too much noise and they have only accidently come into our home on two occasions over the last 10 years. On both occasions I managed to carefully catch and release the bat – making sure I was wearing thick gardening gloves to protect me, and a towel to protect the bat from being harmed.
The trees we planted are all native species to encourage insects to feed off the flowers and leaves, this in turn attract the birds and bats to the croft. In just over 10 years we now have a healthy living windbreak that gives us a visual and wind shelter, making our little croft a lot more private and enjoyable place to work and live in.
While travelling around the area where we live it is a welcoming site to see wildlife sharing the croft and farm land in the countryside and along the coast. It is so important for all of us to contribute to preserving the natural world and farmers and crofters have such an important part to play in this, along with government support through environmental agencies.
Resources: NOAH Compendium - NOAH (the National Office of Animal Health) represents the UK animal medicine industry: their aim is to promote the benefits of safe, effective, quality medicines for the health and welfare of all animals.