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Trailing Rob Donn

The Rob Donn Trail - Slighe Rob Dhuin

Proposed sites of 9 interpretive panels in North West Sutherland

Rob Donn (brown-haired Robert) MacKay (1714-1778), the best-known of many Gaelic bards and song-makers from Dùthaich MhicAoidh (‘MacKay Country), lived most of his life in Strathmore near Loch Hope and ended his days at Balnakeil near Durness, where he is buried. A cattleman, drover and tenant farmer who never learned to read or write, he left a rich legacy of over 200 Gaelic poems and songs, still admired by scholars and singers alike.

The Rob Donn Heritage trail is to be set at 9 focal points on the A835 and a deviation into Strathmore. 

Rob Donn's droving took him all over Mackay Country. He discuses people places and circumstances he encountered. 

We are commemorating the life of Rob Donn by a series of plaques placed at or near to each of the sites identified from research into his work. 

The method of travel would have been quite different in the 18th. century. The roads we know today would not have been in existence. Mountain tracks, bealachs and passes through the straths in conjunction with sea ways would have been the usual routes.

Mackay Country Rob Donn Trail press release

Heritage paths shows several tracks that may have in us in the 18h Century. The drovers of the Scottish Highlands are among those people in history who did not individually rise to fame but collectively played an important part in their day. Cattle were vital to the survival of the highlanders who lived under their clan chiefs and latterly as tenants, growing oats, kale, and with grazing rights on commonly held land in the hills. the surplus cattle, As in other parts of the world was to drive them long distances, on foot, south and east to where the denser human populations lay who would buy and consume the cattle. This was the source of the droving trade in cattle in Scotland and the men who drove the cattle were called "the drovers." The cattle themselves were the precursors of today’s Highland cattle. They were much smaller than most breeds today. It is misleading in fact to speak of a drove "road." The cattle had to be managed skilfully to avoid wearing them down or damaging their hooves, and the drover had to know where he could obtain enough grazing along the way. At days end, the cattle might stop near a rough inn where some shelter could be obtained, or perhaps the drovers had to sleep out on the open hill in all weathers with only their tartan, woven cloth, called their plaid, to protect them.

As we research drove roads in Mackay Country we will update this information. Information is proving scarce. This PDF is a chapter 6 The Drove Road form the North from The Drove Roads of Scotland by ARB Haldane.

The drovers were local men. In May, they would start to visit farms, bargaining for cattle often only one or two at a time, since many of the highland farming tenants were very poor. Gradually, they would have a herd they could gather as summer advanced and drive south Ahead of them lay a long and dangerous journey. Rivers in flood might have to be crossed; journeys must be made over trackless mountains, sometimes in thick mist where a drover might easily loose his way; or well armed "rievers" might try to steal cattle.

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