The Drove Roads of Scotland, Paperback Book

The Drove Roads of Scotland Paperback

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One of the great classics of Scottish history, The Drove Roads of Scotland interweaves folklore, social comment and economic history in a fascinating account of Scotland's droving trade and the routes by which cattle and sheep were brought from every corner of the land to markets in central Scotland. In pastoral Scotland, the breeding and movement of livestock were fundamental to the lives of the people.

The story of the drove roads takes the reader on an engrossing tour of Scottish history, from the lawless cattle driving by reivers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the legitimate movement of stock which developed after the Union of the Crowns, by which time the large-scale movement of stock to established markets had become an important part of Scotland's economy, and a vital aspect of commercial life in the Empire.

Haldane's work is one of the great classics of Scottish history.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 264 pages, Illustrations, map
  • Publisher: Birlinn General
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Social & cultural history
  • ISBN: 9781841586953



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THE DROVE ROADS OF SCOTLAND. By A.R.B.Haldane Republished by birlinnIn the year of my birth, 1946 A.R.B.Haldane was working on the research that ended in the publication of this important book. I have known of it for I guess; thirty years and earlier this summer finding myself trekking across Scotland on a coast to coast hike from Oban in the north- west to Stonehaven on the eastern seaboard, and camping by The Kings House Hotel in the lashed wildness of Glencoe, I decided to buy a copy. The Kings House being a place important not only to drovers and travelers of all kind, its been bloodied by military history and mythologised in the fictions of the Scotland’s greatest writers: Robert Louis Stevenson’s David Balfour of Kidnapped fame and Neil Munro’s John Splendid both tramped the treacherous wastes of Rannoch Moor. Sir Walter Scott authored; The Two Drovers, though I have yet to read that one. Time to learn more about these conduits of early cross-border trade and the anonymous forgotten men whose legacy is steeped in the greatest romance of Scotland’s history, - written over its own incomparable landscapes.In the space of a few decades the law banning export of cattle from Scotland to England, - a Privy Council Commission was set up in 1615 to enforce the rule, was swept aside proving that mutual interests will out in the end. Before the introduction of turnips or haymaking to Scotland, cattle could not be over-wintered on any significant scale because of the lack of fodder in a harsh highland climate. Quite an incentive to take cattle to market where fortunately there was a ready appreciation for the meat from these wee black beasts! The trade prospered and thanks to droving grew to be a pillar of the Scottish economy, though as Haldane makes clear, not entirely without commercial or other risksThe golden age of droving followed The Acts of Union in 1707. These were troubled times in Scotland though the trade managed to withstand the twin shocks of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 and of those who “were out” with Bonnie Prince Charlie thirty years later. England opened up a vast new market for Scotland’s cattle. Her populations were expanding apace the cities growing ever larger while the nation’s eighteenth century European wars were fought with the greatest infantry, cavalry and naval establishment the world had ever known. All this combined to produce immense demand for on-the-hoof meat as well as thousands upon thousands of barrels of salted-beef for the admiralty. If armies march on their stomachs then navies must surely sail on theirs too, beef futures looked up for there will always be profits from war. The spin-off trade from the regular southern droves led to the establishment of great markets. Dumfries took full advantage, a town ideally placed to filter the streaming droves from the Islands, Argyll, and the highland glens of Aberdeen and Angus. A vast flow of south-bound traffic came this way. From Dumfries the herds would move on to Carlisle and the southern markets or east to Newcastle and Northumberland. By the end of the seventeenth century Dumfries and Falkirk were the two most important droving markets in all Scotland. The Dumfries market was at its height when Robert Burns was an Exciseman resident in the town; though as far as I can see he was never tempted to either song or poetics in their service. With the honourable exceptions of mice, lice and dogs, Rabbie’s attentions were mainly people/lassie centred. In the wake of all this trade the first commercial banks flourished, The Royal Bank of Scotland was an early entrant. Local markets or “trysts” became hubs of commerce where vast sums of money changed hands in the form of promissory notes gambled against the realised sale price for cattle (and latterly sheep too), at the southern markets. Enormous trust was placed in the honesty of drovers and it was rarely abused and surely this was the foundation of the high regard for fiscal probity that to this day, Scotsmen enjoy above all others in these islands. And of course every type of booth-seller, farrier, hamburger salesman, snake-oil merchants, entrepreneurs, chancers and petty thieve came to the markets, as bees to honey. Food and drink were consumed in enormous quantities, and all the pleasure that men aspire to were surely provided for and indulged, why then, I keep thinking did all this pass Rabbie Burns by? Of course he was ailing and had many worries but oh dear Rabbie lad,surely this was meat for a man like you? or at least your quill?Cattle were driven from all over Scotland, east to the mainland from Skye and the Hebridean islands. They came from as far north as Caithness and Sutherland to the great markets or Trysts at Crief then Falkirk en-route to Dumfries and Carlisle. If beast were unsold or prices poor they would be driven on to the next market. These journeys were arduous and not without danger as thieves were always active and on the lookout. The drovers themselves were hardy brave men and at night mostly slept in the open with their beasts They often worked on commission while the hired men were paid a daily rate, when the cattle were disposed of, the drovers had to find their own way home on foot over hundreds of miles. It is a great loss that few if any records were kept by those involved in the droving, these humble illiterate men undertook journeys requiring incredible endurance and determination, they had neither map or compass nor gortex or even a pair of wellies, they mostly slept outdoors and drove through summer into winter. Though it can hardly be assured that all were saints. Their end came about as technology did for them, the coming of the steam engine and steamboats transformed the economics of droving and much else. It wasn’t an instant process for cattle make awkward cargo but by the second quarter of the nineteenth century the game was more or less up. Disruption was sweeping the land the coming railways would kill the turnpikes and their once dominant command of personal travel. But while ostler and boots could turn to the railhead the drover walked home to bleakness and the coming clearances. They seem to me to have been men of extraordinary stoicism and resource and we should remember them for what they did, what they achieved and what they suffered.The Drove Roads of Scotland is a thrilling account of a bygone way of life and of those who pioneered the architectures of a sometimes-dangerous possibility. A.R.B.Haldane is a terrific social historian. This book is not a walker’s guide, but it deserves a place in every Scottish hill walker’s library. The Drove Roads of Scotland is an unsurpassed analysis of the development, the history and the enduring significance of the Drover’s role in Scotland’s long story. That it held sway for two centuries and was arguably the earliest and most obvious fruit from the Acts of Union confirms that relevance, this is a scholarly work rooted in impeccable sourcing and remains, sixty years on, a beacon of enlightenment.The sad thing is, I should be tramping the drove roads of Perthshire right now, but alas I have been felled with laryngitis and am hacking fou o’cauld, sae nathin fur it but a wee bit o’ bed an a wheen o’ drams, an old drover’s cure..