News as at March 2012

Hill Farming Research Organisation at Lephinmore.

At the meeting on 27th February 2012, Douglas Currie treated us to an informative and entertaining evening. The talk was well illustrated in spite of a technical hitch with the equipment.  There were amusing anecdotes as well as hard facts, and photographs included faces well known to many in the audience. 

Lephinmore was operated as a research farm from 1954 to 1982. It was part of the Strathlachlan estate and was sold, along with Feorline and Letters, to the Forestry Commission after the death of clan chief John Maclachlan of Maclachlan in 1942.  They planted 1,000 acres, leaving 3,000, which were taken over by the West of Scotland Agricultural College in 1948/49.  The Hill Farming Research Organisation was formed in 1954.  The farm house was built around 1700, and at the time of Culloden was occupied by the laird’s younger brother who did not join the uprising along with the clan.  An even earlier remnant of the “old days” is a turf dyke which once ran all the way from Strachur to Otter Ferry at about the 200 ft contour.  Sheep and cattle could cross it from the farmland to the hill, but not the other way round, so it prevented damage to crops by animals.  It was possibly built in the 1600s and was in use until the time of the clearances. 

Many improvements to hill farming, still of benefit to farmers today, came about as a result of research done at Lephinmore, which was chosen for the project because of the very poor quality of the land.  For example lambing success was increased from 60% to 90% by improving the soil, bringing the ewes down from the hill before lambing and giving them supplements.  Lephinmore was one of the first places to use electric dryers for hay.  Making hay normally requires 5 continuous dry days – almost impossible in this part of the world.  Goats were tried as, unlike sheep, they will eat rushes.  There were experiments with cattle breeding, beginning with Highland cattle and crossing them with other breeds. 

Due to the link with the West of Scotland Agricultural College, there were visits from students from abroad, including a student from India who did research on midges. 

For further information on the HFRO look at

News as at February 2012

There has been some excitement in the Strachur and District Local History Society since the New Year. The attention of the Society was drawn to the fact that an album of photos of Strachur from 1898 was being advertised for sale on eBay at a price of £1000. We were interested and made enquiries but such a price was clearly beyond our means. However, it didn't sell and after a period of time subsequent negotiations brought it down to a much more reasonable price. At this stage we had a good idea and approached the County Library Service to see whether they had any budget for the purchase of such important documentary evidence of a bygone era in Strachur. Happily they did and through the good offices of Eleanor McKay, the  Local Studies Librarian for Argyll & Bute, who is based at Library Headquarters at Sandbank, we managed jointly to fund the purchase of the Album. We got 17 pages of an album with 70 or 80 photos, one letter and a hand-written poem. These have now been deposited in the safe-keeping of the County Library Service where they will be available for members of the public to view. The Local History Society has good quality digital scans of all the items and these will serve as starting points for continuing research for some time to come. The owners of Strachur House at the time, who apparently assembled the album, were the Plowden family and the Society is already in touch with one descendant of the family, Mr Francis Plowden who lives in London. We are sharing the photos in return for his knowledge and memories of his grandfather's family at that time. The Plowden family has lately made yet more images available to us. 

Above is a photo taken from the album. It shows a shooting party about to depart from the 'Square' beside Strachur House. The man on the left is thought to be Mr Roger Plowden's brother Francis, known as Frank, and the boy beside him is Roger's son, Humphrey. Anyone who can help identifying other members of the party or provide any other information is requested to contact the Society by sending an email to

 (A recent talk given at the Inveraray Local History Society about the celebrated architect Sir Robert Lorimer, who built Ardkinglas House, mentioned that he designed a house with a designated 'dark room' on the plans at about the time our album was created. It seems that amateur photography including, at times, home developing of films and printing of photos was all the rage in certain Scottish country houses at the turn of that century). Well known local contractors, Messrs Fergusson of Strachur, were  engaged at about this time to remove the 'old dark room' within Strachur House and install a new one to a design provided by Mrs Plowden, so it is probable that these very photos may have been developed and printed at home.


News as at December 2011

An Excursion.    Last month a group of us were treated to a guided tour of Ardkinglas House.  We were all very impressed by the house and grateful to our guide, the present occupier, and a descendant of the original owner, for a very interesting tour.  We can strongly recommend a visit, and ourselves intend to return in the spring or summer when we can see the grounds, the outside of the building, and the views from the windows, since on this occasion our visit was an evening one.  The house was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, said to be his masterpiece, and completed in 1907.  Its design is unique, with many interesting features.  It was equipped with all the latest technology of its time – including central heating, sanitary fittings, a dumb waiter, and electric power supplied by the damming of the River Kinglas.  It may also be of interest that the house is frequently used as a location for films,  including “My Life so Far”, starring Colin Firth.  If anyone would like to see this film, the society has a copy.  For those interested in Sir Robert Lorimer, he is to be the subject of a talk by Simon Green of RCAHMS at a meeting of the Inveraray and District Local History Society on 7th February 2012 at the Nicoll Hall, Inveraray, at 7.30pm.


Talking about Forestry.    For our society’s latest evening meeting, our own Roddy MacLennan interviewed Ken Johnston and Peter Smith on their forestry years.  It was a very entertaining and informative meeting.  There was so much of interest, in fact, that when we ran out of time it was agreed to hold a second meeting in April to finish the discussion.  Ken and Peter complemented each other as being in forestry work at different times and in different positions.   There were many amusing anecdotes, including one about a seagull swooping down and snatching someone’s false teeth while he was eating his lunch.  There used to be a nursery at the sawmill, where the trees were so well cared for that once planted out they were the first to be eaten by the deer.

Forthcoming events.    We take a break now over the party and bad weather season, and our next meeting will be on 27th February, when Douglas Currie will talk about the work of the Hill Farming Research Organisation.  This does not mean we will be doing nothing over the next few months, as work is still progressing steadily on our various projects.

News as at November 2011

 Annual General Meeting.            Our AGM was held on 24th October.  Mention was made of the passing of Donald Morrison, M.B.E. on 14th September, acknowledging the significant contribution he made to the life and work of the society.  The committee is to remain much as it was: Chair Willie Montgomery, secretary Cathie Montgomery, treasurer Isabel McGladdery, committee members Agnes MacPhillimy, Fiona Campbell, Margaret Montgomery, Iseabal Thomson, Graham Thomas, Jeff Wilson, Roddy MacLennan and Iain MacGregor.  After the AGM a talk on Drove Roads was given by Donald Adamson. He is an expert in this field and is hoping to write an update to Haldane's "Drove Roads of Scotland". He is using Strachur as a base and is searching for new information on the Cowal drove roads. In his fascinating talk he also spoke about the Cailleach (old woman) stone and the Witches Bridge on the Leanach.  Donald also revealed that he had located the earliest known map of our area, drawn by William Edgar in 1745/6

 Programme of work.      A lot of work has been done to make our office tidy and well organised, with a proper place for all our books and documents and everything made more accessible.  As well as storing our documents properly it is proposed to scan them into a database like the one already underway for photographs.  We now have a sizeable collection of photographs and are very grateful to all those who have donated or lent them.  There is still a considerable amount of work to be done to process them all.  We have also stored recordings of past talks, and a new project is underway to collect family trees of people who have ancestors in the parish.  With so much to be done, we are always on the lookout for people who could give us a little of their time to help.

 Publishing.         Our gravestone book has been selling so well that a second edition will be printed. 

 Community Activities.  In preparation for Strachur School open day in March we have been circulating old school photographs to get as many as possible of the names of the children.  If you went to school in Strachur and could help with this, or if you have old school photos you could lend, please get in touch.

 Forthcoming event.        Our next evening meeting will be on 28th November at 7.30pm in the Strachur Memorial Hall and will be a talk on “Days in the Forestry” given by Roddy MacLennan, Ken Johnston and Peter Smith.  The cost is £3 for non- members, free for members.

News as at September 2011

Open Day. It is generally agreed that our Open Day on 10th September was a great success.  It was well attended – our publicity clearly worked well – and there were plenty of interesting displays to see and activities to get involved in.  A lot of people worked hard in making it such a success and we have to thank friends too numerous to be listed for the support they gave. 

Support for the School.  Next year is the centenary of Strachur Primary School, and we will be giving them some help with the event they are planning in March to celebrate this.  We would love to hear from former pupils who have photographs or stories they can share.

Winter Talks. A programme of four talks has been arranged for this winter.  The first of these will be on 24th October at 7.30 in Strachur Memorial Hall and will be preceded by our AGM at 7pm.  The subject is “The Drover v. The Hillwalker”.  The speaker is Donald Adamson, who will be talking about his research into droving in Cowal and Bute.

Projects. A few years ago we surveyed the old settlement at Strachurbeg; research into the families who lived there is an ongoing project.  We now plan to survey another township, Dufeorline, and visits there will be made in the spring of next year.