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Exploring the history of old farmhouses


There are dozens of old houses near where I live. I have written before about some of them, like the deserted castle and the ruined mansion. Most of the abandoned houses were used by farmers or shepherds 100 years ago. Nowadays less farms are needed because machinery like tractors, combine harvesters and quad bikes makes it easier to run a bigger farm so not as many farmhouses are needed any more.

All of these old houses are on land owned by Blackford farms, which is owned by Mr Al Tajir, Scotland's richest man. He hardly ever sells houses on his land, even if people want to buy them, so they gradually rot away. I think it's important that someone records and remembers these old houses, because a lot won't be there by the time I grow up. I try and visit every old house I find, and dad sometimes takes photographs to record them. (His photographs are the black and white ones.) Read on to find out what I discovered that was really amazing from 150 years ago !


Haldrick is the oldest farmhouse I am going to write about today. It and the other two farmhouses are on the land used by Highland Spring for its water. It is almost impossible to find, and very hard to spot unless you are right next to it, because this farm house is in a wood that looks like this:

Can you find it ? This is how I discovered it, but it's very difficult. It's in the east end of the clearing that runs south-west to north-east. This is it zoomed in. Even then it is difficult to see:

This is what it looked like on a 1860 map. Back then it wasn't surrounded by woods:

This is the old map overlaid on the satellite picture. There used to be a house, and some out buildings. Now you can just really see the main house in the middle, the outline of the watermill which  was to the west, and the walled section which was to the north.

The National Library of Scotland have the old Scottish Post Office Directory online, which shows that in 1857 a farmer called James Miller lived at Haldrick:

In 1903, a Henry Monteith is listed as living there. That surname is important in a minute ! You might want to remember the line under his name too:

This is what it looked like last weekend when I revisited. The west gable end is still standing and the south wall but not much else. The site is overgrown with nettles at the moment making it difficult to the low walls:

 This was a upstairs fireplace. The upstairs room must have been very low.

It's difficult to get a feel for the place because it has changed so much and not been lived in for about a hundred years. It was sad to think this was someone's house where they lived and worked but now almost nothing is left.

If you walk up the hill a little from Haldrick you can see another farm in the distance, which is Whaick.

Whaick (or Whyack or Whaich)

You can just see Whaick from the main dual carriageway with binoculars, but it is still very isolated. It sits on a remote part of a moor, above the valley where dad tried to save the roe deer. If you look on the second picture on that blog post, you can see Whaick on the hillside. Me and dad first discovered it in the winter after coming down the very steep hill from the left.

It is shown on a map from 1860 as a farmhouse surrounded by u-shaped building and a sheepfold which is exactly how it is today:

The electoral register for 1832 has "Malcolm Finlayson , tenant" listed, so there was probably someone living here at the same time as Haldrick. But the house which is there now looks far too modern to date back to 1860 so they must have built a newer house on the same spot:

The sheds at the back look like they are hundreds of years old, but look as if they are still occasionally used, perhaps during lambing or for sheepdipping.

The sheds are looking good and have lots of equipment in them:

There was a creepy old chest but with nothing in it. 

The house had boarded up windows. The front door was open and sheep had been wandering in and out.

The sheep had left poo everywhere:

It also had a grimy bathroom. I had to use my torch for this one, I always carry one in my rucksack:

The bedroom window was unboarded and had an amazing view over the hills back towards my village.

I found this old sign which used to say "Blackford Farms Limited: Whaick and Knowehead". Knowehead was another farm on the same track further down the hills, and I visited there too.


Knowehead is incredible exploring just by itself. It is a big old farmhouse that looks like it was built in the 1800s. It looks in good condition from the outside.

When you get closer up you realise the house is in a really bad state.

 Most of the windows where smashed or missing, and the lintel of one of the windows had given way.

 And there was a big hole in the wall of one of the outbuildings:

I did some research onto who might have lived there. I found this post which said a William Whyte was born there in 1822, and he moved to New Zealand with his family in 1863.

The 1872 Scottish Postal Directory has a farmer called Alexander Monteath listed and the 1875 one and the 1882-1885 ones do too. I think the 1 1/2 means how many miles it was from the old Blackford railway station.

The 1904 one says "John Monteath" was the farmer, which was probably Alexander Monteath's son but it could have been his brother:

Then in the 1893 directory I found something very very interesting:

  • Alexander Monteath, who I think was the father, had moved to Carim, which is the ruined mansion I had written about before in 2011 ! The story is here, and I didn't name it then. It is only a few miles away.
  • H Monteath is down as being a farmer at Easter Biggs, which is only a few miles away as well. The farm is still there and I walked past it coming back from Haldrick ! But remember from above that in 1903, Henry Monteith was living at Haldrick, the first cottage, just a short way away !
  • J Monteath was a farmer at Wester Biggs, which is close to Easter Biggs. The farm is mostly gone, though.
  • John Monteath is listed as the farmer for Knowehead (same as in 1893).
  • J Monteath is listed as the farmer for "Whyack" which I think is the same as "Whaick" which is the farm which is now the deserted bungalow !

Basically an entire family of farmers looked after all the farms in this part of the moor !

I searched again for "Whyack" which came up with this which said that a John McIntosh lived there in 1923. I found another spelling of it called "Whaich". Basically no-one knew how to spell anything.

This was the kitchen in Knowehead, which looked quite battered. The sink was full of soil and loads had fallen through from above.

The cooker looked like it had been moved about:

It looked far too dangerous to go upstairs so I didn't.

This cupboard was full of shoes which was spooky.

Outside the outbuildings were falling down too:

But the best bit was this old waterwheel. I had never seen one in good condition like this one before, although I had discovered an ancient one near a massive waterfall last year:

The roof was off but some of the old machinery was inside, but I have no idea what it used to do. Usually they saw trees or grind grain.

This wheel would have driven these pistons, but I have no idea what they would have done.

These three houses were very close together. The people who lived on those sites were family and would have helped each other out. They and the other farms nearby would have been a small community of people working on the land, including another farmhouse a few miles away I explored in the spring. The first house, Haldrick, would have been empty for years, but even though I love exploring places like this I think it's sad that a billionaire landowner has let the other three houses rot and decay so that no-one could possibly live in them any more.

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Katcetera said...

Oh wow! Those farms are so cool!

Katcetera said...

Oh wow! What gorgeous old farms!

neil said...

going back in my younger days when i was a young lad

Psydrache said...

Oh I love old houses or ruins, there’s always the smell of the past time. And often there are old things to find *peers to an old oil lamp*.
But it’s better to be careful, because old buildings are often very ramshackle. We had a very old barn in the near of my home and I loved to weasel around it. My mom wasn’t very happy x3

Christine Sutcliffe said...

I'd love to go rummaging around old buildings more often. We found the ruined cottage that some of our early 19th century ancestors lived in down in dumfries once which was quite sobering considering that the whole house could practically have fitted in our living room/dining room.

pittgirl said...

This is very interesting as I have been researching my ancestry and my great 3x grandmother Matilda Hall worked as a dairymaid at Knoweshead Hallside farms, so this is interesting, wondering what farm she actually worked at I am assuming Knoweshead.. where do you get your research from?

Jake said...

The internet, mainly. Look for the Post Office address books on the National Archives for Scotland website, they were produced about every ten years.

Helen Whyte said...

my husband is a Whyte and a descendant of Robert Bryce Whyte -son of William that came to NZ in 1863 on the Sebastopol thank you so much for these pictures!!

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