19th-century Landscape

The 19th-century cultural landscape was created in the 1830s and 1860s at a time when the reorganisation of rural settlements was prevalent in Scotland, and especially in the Western Highlands and the Hebridean islands. This was a key time in the Highland Clearances, notorious in Scottish history for the forced removal of families from their homelands and the destruction of their houses – events that helped create the Highland Diaspora around the world. But the story on St Kilda was not part of this often violent tradition. The village was re-ordered in the early 1830s in a paternalistic attempt to modernise the housing and agricultural practices of the St Kildans, and was carried out with the islanders’ approval and support. The subsequent rationalisation in the early 1860s, stimulated after damage during a severe storm, led to the provision of some of the most modern housing to be found in rural Highland Scotland at the time. Beyond the village are the remains of the wider parts of the subsistence system, with an abundance of cleitean on virtually every island of the archipelago, coupled with many structures and dykes associated with the seasonal grazing tradition.

The Highland township of Auchindrain is the most intact and best-surviving 18th to 19th-century nucleated village in Scotland, and has been an open-air museum since 1975. The village is unusual in that it was bypassed by the Highland Clearances, and subsequently remained almost unchanged in outward appearance thereafter. Although sometimes heavily reconstructed, the conservation of the village has been carried out very sensitively and with special regard to authenticity, and enables visitors to appreciate how the settlement worked and how people lived. Auchindrain has its roots in medieval times, and benefits from a good resource of documentary and oral accounts of daily life. The township is situated in the valley of a small Highland glen that remains an important communication route. It therefore lacks the remote feel of St Kilda, and the pattern of buildings is dispersed, in contrast with the cohesion of the village on Hirta, but both places share a remarkable degree of intactness. Auchindrain’s associated hinterland of fields and other resources, is nowhere near so well preserved as that spread over St Kilda.


There are many surviving Scottish examples of the linear crofting settlement patterns laid out at around this time, although most have developed or degraded, almost beyond recognition, since being established. It is also not uncommon to find ruinous townships of this time which, like St Kilda, proved not to be viable. But the St Kilda village is without doubt the most complete and least altered site of its type in Scotland, and in this respect is an excellent example of settlement associated with what is now a rapidly declining crofting way of life – a rural tradition of great significance.

The village of Morefield in Ross-shire is a good example of a linear rural settlement created at the time of the Improvements of rural Highland Scotland.

Internationally, there are countless examples of settlements that failed in the 19th or early 20th-century, but few, if any, survive as well as that on St Kilda, particularly in association with their entire landscape of resource exploitation. Those that do survive may now be entirely ruinous and neglected, or are more likely to have been heavily altered since their original abandonment.

The Highland township of Auchindrain is the most intact and best-surviving 18th to 19th-century nucleated village in Scotland, and has been an open-air museum since 1975. The village is unusual in that it was bypassed by the Highland Clearances, and subsequently remained almost unchanged in outward appearance thereafter. Although sometimes heavily reconstructed, the conservation of the village has been carried out very sensitively and with special regard to authenticity, and enables visitors to appreciate how the settlement worked and how people lived.

Auchindrain has its roots in medieval times, and benefits from a good resource of documentary and oral accounts of daily life. The township is situated in the valley of a small Highland glen that remains an important communication route. It therefore lacks the remote feel of St Kilda, and the pattern of buildings is dispersed, in contrast with the cohesion of the village on Hirta, but both places share a remarkable degree of intactness. Auchindrain’s associated hinterland of fields and other resources, is nowhere near so well preserved as that spread over St Kilda.