Set at the heart of some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland, Strathglass stretches from Glen Affric towards Beauly. For centuries the economy of the area was reliant on the traditional industries such as farming, agriculture and forestry. The defeat of the Jacobite cause at Culloden in 1746 meant further decline of the Clan system that had sustained the old way of life across the highlands. Retribution for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie was swift. Raiding parties were sent into the straths and the glens throughout the highlands seeking out those who had supported the Prince. Strathglass suffered from a number of bloody incursions by Cumberland’s troops.
From the latter half of the 18th century to the mid 1800s many people left Strathglass, some of their own accord, but the majority as a result of betrayal by their Clan Chief that saw people cleared from the land as kinsmen were replaced by sheep. The population of Strathglass and the surrounding glens was decimated as many were forced to leave their homeland forever, many starting a new life in the new world. By Victorian times, large scale sheep farming had gone out of favour and sporting estates were created placing an emphasis on deer stalking and fishing. For better or worse, most of the land in the area is still owned by sporting estates and the Strathglass area is renowned for the quality of its shooting and trout & salmon fishing.
During the second half of the 20th century the dawn of hydro-electric power saw the construction of dams, power stations and tunnel networks in the surrounding glens and along the strath itself. Travelling from Beauly, the dams at Kilmorack and Aigas give a hint of the impact the schemes have made on the landscape. In recent years, tourism has become more and more important to the local economy as the traditional industries have steadily declined.
The main centre of population in Strathglass is now Cannich (Place of the Bog Cotton). Cannich, nestling below the slopes of Beinn a Chairein, is at the junction of three glens: Glen Cannich, Glen Affric and Glenurquhart. The village as we know it today owes its existence to the Hydro schemes dating from the late 1940s. An influx of workers saw the population swell to over 2000 at its peak. The village was the site of the main camp that housed the construction workers. Even after more than 50 years there are still remants of the camp in use today. The village hall was constructed as a cinema for the workers – estimated lifespan 10 years! Close to the campsite, the large prefabricated steel shed once hosted the deisel generators that provided power to the camp and parts of Strathglass while the construction work was ongoing.
Across the River Glass near Kerrow is the old graveyard of Clachan Comar. The burial ground dates back centuries and as many of the inscriptions are still legible is a popular place with those tracing their family history. The recording of headstones here and at other cemeteries in the area was carried out by Kilmorack Heritage Association.
Towards the top of Strathglass, en route to Plodda Falls, is the conservation village of Tomich. In 1854 Guisachan Estate was purchased by Edward Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, later Lord Tweedmouth. Soon after building Guisachan House, his lordship decided that it was rather too close to the crofts occupied by his estate tenants. With this in mind the ‘model’ village of Tomich was built and his tenants rehoused there, whether they wished this or not – their old crofts being demolished. However it has to be added that to help ease the traumatic transition, Tweedmouth did also build, a school, a laundry and a brewery!
Guisachan also has a claim to fame as the place where the Golden Retriever breed originates from. Sadly, Guisachan House is now a ruin. The end came in 1939 when the house was purchased by the owner of nearby Hilton Lodge, Lady Islington, who was less than enamoured that Guisachan House was being used as a training centre by the National Fitness Campaign whose activities included swimming in Hilton Loch. Anything that could be moved was sold off and the roof removed. Sadly, exposure to the elements over the years years has resulted in a once magnificent house being reduced to a derelict shell.
In the lower half of Strathglass, the main settlement is around the village of Struy at the entrance to Glen Strathfarrar. A short distance away is Erchless Castle, last seat of the Clan Chisholm. Nearby the Clan Chisholm burial ground holds the remains of several Clan chiefs.