The Empty Stells – Shepherds and Sheep Farms of Sutherland

It has been fifteen years in the making, but Rogart author John Macdonald’s latest book has been worth the wait. The Empty Stells makes an immense contribution to conserving the heritage of John’s native county.

If you travel anywhere in the Highlands today, especially in Sutherland, you are more than likely to come across the remote dwelling of a hill shepherd. Perhaps the house is still occupied by a working shepherd or farmer; it may now be a walkers’ bothy, a holiday home or, more likely, lying empty in a state of ruin. You wonder who on earth had once lived in such a lonely, out-of-the-way spot. The house, with its acre or two of arable land, nearby circular stell and a walled enclosure park was, at one time, a new home built to accommodate the new society of the hills. This image fascinated John.

The Empty Stells: Shepherds and Sheep Farms of Sutherland tells the stories of shepherding and sheep farming families. It opens a window onto the history of the sheep farms, their rise and fall; the diaspora of shepherds and the lives led by the people of the hills.

John gathered a huge amount of data on the different hirsels, using censuses, valuation rolls and other historic sources. Here we will share downloadable pdfs of his research, collated by parish, from across Sutherland. The data also includes Kincardine parish, formerly in Ross-shire, and Caithness.

If you have any corrections, do let us know.