The Highland Drover Project
The Highland Livestock Heritage Society has been established with one dedicated purpose: to commemorate the historical achievements of traditional livestock breeders and drovers of the Highlands and Islands.
Until the late 19th century the only way of transporting animals to the great livestock trysts in the south was to walk them there – a job entrusted to men known as the Highland drovers. The drover stands as a powerful symbol of the values, traditions and spirit of the Highlands and Islands and the aim is to honour these qualities and interpret them for a new generation by establishing a visitor centre, exhibition, extensive archive and research library – high quality resources that will appeal to livestock breeders, animal enthusiasts and cultural historians as well as to the general public. Also central to the project is the commissioning of a major piece of commemorative sculpture depicting a Highland bull and drover – a stunning centrepiece the Society believes will provide inspiration and enjoyment for visitors and locals alike.
To realise the aims of the Highland Drover Project a sum of £250,000 is required.
Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society received permission from Highland Livestock Heritage Society to reproduce extracts and photographs from their original brochure.
A Breed Apart
From the crofts, glens and straths of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, through many generations of history, a unique annual migration of livestock was organised.
The Highland drovers set out to gather the cattle and sheep they would go on to care for over several months, walking them through hundreds of miles of wild terrain to the great livestock trysts of central Scotland and beyond. Calling at isolated hill crofts, busy coastal villages and peaceful glens, they exchanged news and the payments on which many families in the Highlands and Islands depended for their very survival.
Everywhere they went, the drovers were made welcome. These men combined skilful animal husbandry with physical toughness and the ability to negotiate fair prices and manage the complex and risky commercial structures of the livestock trade.
As they moved south, the animals in their care grew in strength and numbers, grazing on rich pastures along the familiar droving routes.
The men shared and inspired stories, songs and folklore made up of colourful characters, dramatic events and a wealth of knowledge gained from generations of droving experience. Some of them carried this knowledge far overseas to develop the fledgling livestock industries of North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The heroes of their day, the Highland drovers helped build Scotland’s livestock industry. And along the way, they supported and entertained countless communities throughout the region.
Honouring a Noble Tradition
Despite being the economic heroes of their day, the achievements of those who bred, reared and moved livestock throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have largely gone unrecognised. The Highland Livestock Heritage Society exists to correct this omission.
The Society is a not-for-profit charitable company with broad Scottish membership working in close collaboration with Dingwall Mart.
The board members are local volunteers with a passionate and dedicated interest in raising the profile of both past and present day livestock traditions in the region, a tradition that continues to play a pivotal role in the economy, community life and character of the Highlands and Islands to this day.
The Highland Livestock Heritage Society has launched an appeal to raise funds to establish a cluster of facilities and activities of local, national and international significance strategically based at the market town of Dingwall in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Combining modern interpretive displays, collections of original archive material and a stunning centrepiece of commemorative sculpture, we believe that this project will create a lasting and worthy tribute to the great history of the livestock industry in the Highlands and Islands.
It is hoped that many will share the Society’s enthusiasm and determination to celebrate and honour the traditions and knowledge of the Highland drovers and their trade and to ensure that their legacy is preserved for the benefit of future generations.
Commemorating a Rich Cultural Heritage
In order to realise the aims of the Highland Drover Project, the appeal must raise £250,000. This sum will be directly used to fund the set-up costs for the exhibition and archive, and to commission the commemorative sculpture. Once in place, these superb facilities will be self-financing on a continuing basis, as Dingwall Mart has kindly agreed to make no charge for providing accommodation and access for the project. Most of the finance required must be sourced through private subscription with a proportion of match funding coming from public funds.
This is an ambitious target, but it is felt that anything less would fail to do justice to the drovers’ heritage and to the concept of their commemoration. To understand the scope of the project and what it aims to achieve, the main elements of the project are outlined in this and the following page.
Collaborative links will be actively developed to promote social and economic exchanges and partnerships with like-minded organisations throughout the world. These will include livestock societies, Scottish heritage groups and clan societies as well as companies, research bodies, public departments and organisations involved in the livestock industry.
The links will facilitate the transfer of knowledge about the industry through electronic exchange, written material, lectures, seminars and other methods, with the aim of perpetuating and extending the global livestock interests and involvement of Highland farmers and drovers.
Visitor Centre and Exhibition
This will be a ‘must see’ attraction located within the premises of the new Dingwall Mart offering a living link to the sights and sounds of the present day livestock industry. The centre will tell the fascinating story of the drovers and their trade – the animals, people, geography and links to international markets. Using displays of original artefacts and documents alongside high quality interpretive and audio-visual presentations, the exhibition will be designed to appeal to all ages and levels of interest. Budget Cost £55,000
Archive and Research Library
A unique facility containing a collection of books, documents, letters, maps, photographs and other memorabilia relating to the Scottish livestock industry, the archive and research library will provide a safe and easily accessible depository for historical material, including oral collections, that is at present dispersed, neglected and in danger of being lost. No such collection currently exists, and by creating a comprehensive electronic database which can be accessed in the library or through the Internet, the aim is to establish an archive of genuine and lasting significance to casual browsers and academic researchers alike. Budget Cost £10,000
The centrepiece of the project will be a visually stunning lifesize sculpture situated at the entrance to Dingwall Mart and depicting a drover and Highland bull.
This will be an iconic work of art celebrating the formidable spirit and resilience of the drovers and their animals. Following the formal opening of the exhibition in July 2008, fund-raising began to achieve the target of £60,000 required for the sculpture. Design proposals of the Perthshire sculptress, Lucy Poett, have been chosen and the sculpture will approximate to the figures shown.
A Close Alliance
Closely intertwined with the lives of the people of Scotland, the activities of the drovers provided one of the few ways for crofters to make money.
In addition, the life of the drovers fuelled the imagination, with men such as the infamous Rob Roy Macgregor becoming part of Scottish folklore and many a clan feud originating from cattle stealing.
The high rainfall in the Highlands and Islands ensured plentiful grass and cattle made good use of the rough terrain and climate. The animals, generally short-horned black cattle (sometimes called kye or kyloes) were smaller than modern breeds and sold at three or four years of age. They were bred to survive hard winters and the long drive to market. During the Victorian era, larger, reddish-brown long-horns were developed, now popularly known as Highland cattle.
Sheep were originally less important than cattle, but with the industrial revolution came a demand for wool and large areas of the region were given over to sheep. The population clearances associated with this new industry had a huge impact on the region, resulting in massive relocation and out-migration of people.
Both cattle and sheep had to be brought to market to realise their value, a process which involved difficult journeys and complex commercial undertakings. And for this purpose the drovers were essential. Until railways and marts were built in the late 1800s, the droving trade was the lifeblood of the Highland economy.
A familiar scene in the pre-pedestrianised Dingwall of the 1950s when flocks were driven down High Street from mart to railway station.
Even though the role of the drover has been overtaken by modern economics and methods of transportation, the reputation of the livestock industry in the Highlands and Islands continues to go from strength to strength.
Methods of livestock breeding and husbandry have developed enormously, but the importance and reputation of the livestock industry in the Highlands and Islands remains vital and strong. The animal qualities essential to the drover and his customers included healthy resilience and sound temperament, with the meat known for being tender and flavoursome. It is these same qualities and values that drive Scotland’s world-famous livestock industry today and ensure its continuing role as a key part of the economic lifeblood and essential character of the Highlands and Islands.
All photographs courtesy of Alasdair Cameron, Wellhouse.
Click on photo album to view thumbnails and then click thumbnail to see the full size images
Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society is grateful to Alasdair Cameron for permission to reproduce his record of events leading up to the unveiling of the Drover Sculpture on 21 April 2011 by Lord Lieutenant Mrs Janet Bowen.
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Visit of HRH The Princess Royal
In September 2011, HRH The Princess Royal paid a private visit to view the sculpture created by Lucy Poett following the establishment of the Drovers’ Exhibition opened by Princess Anne in 2008.
[Photographs courtesy of Ian Rhind and Alasdair Cameron]