Late Mediaeval Agriculture

Under the feudal system of the lairds, started in the twelfth century under David I was a farming method of INFIELD and OUTFIELD. RUN-RIG is the term used for this pre-Improvement system of agriculture.

Each tenant in Tynron had a share of common arable lands owned by the big landowners like the Douglases and also rights to common grazing. However, tenants had no right at all to occupy land nor to pass it on to their children.

Arable land was divided into strips or rigs, separated by shallow ditches. Soil from the ditches raised the height of the rigs and improved soil depth. The drainage problem was solved, as the rigs ran downhill and the furrows acted as field drains. The rigs were curved to the left at the ends to facilitate the turning of the plough team at the headland.

Sod Dykes

Earth banks (sod dykes) divided one man’s fields from another’s. Rigs were easily swapped or reapportioned. Sod dykes were built to keep cattle on the parts of the outfield to be manured (the folds), especially at night, or to keep them off where land was cropped. The head dyke demarcated permanent pasture and was the most important division on the farm. Animals were driven above the head dyke onto common grazing each day up loans or access ways.


Farmtouns or “-tons” were where members of the plough team dwelt, e.g. Macqueston and Milnton. The hamlet of Tynron would have had several plough teams. Members of these tenant groups cooperated in the ploughing, but each man sowed and harvested his own bits on the scattered rigs. A typical plough team was 8 men and one ox. An alternative was 4 horses and three people. Sometimes there were mixed teams, for example of four oxen with two horses in front. The horses were very small, nothing like the Clydesdales we might imagine. They were probably Galloway ponies, ancestors of the present fell ponies. Oxen were cheaper to feed but slower than horses. There were still oxen in Tynron in the 1790s, but few into the nineteenth century. The ploughing method on slopes was to drive the animals uphill “empty” and plough downhill.


Tenants were tied to the land in several ways:-

  1. They paid feu rents or produce in lieu, or both;
  2. They paid cain (kain), a sort of tribute in farm produce. There was a saying about sowing grain: one to sow next year, one to grow and one to pay the laird;
  3. They gave their services, eg for carrying goods, cutting and loading peat or wood;
  4. They gave their labour for specific periods on the laird’s farm, the mains, often when they desperately needed to be working on their own rigs;
  5. They were tied to the laird’s mill and had to keep the mill lead in good repair. As much as one-tenth of the crop was payable for milling.

The tenants themselves would employ a number of servants of various kinds. Servants were taken on for a year at a time at Martinmas, November 11th. These people made up the bulk of the population. Then there were the poor, looked after by the parish and the landowners.

Infield and Outfield

The INFIELD, or croft land, was nearest to the farmtouns. It was divided into rigs and permanently cultivated for oats and bere (four-row barley) with occasional fallows. This land was dunged but became so full of weeds so that it gave bad returns. As the infield would have been the best land and still is, any old rigs on it would have been ploughed out by modern farm machinery.

The OUTFIELD was poor grazing land up the hill, containing some folds of cultivated land. Folds were divided into parts by sod dykes, some cultivated with oats each year, followed by a year’s manuring by cattle and oxen. After harvest animals were turned out on the stubble.

It is on the former outfield that patches of run-rig are clearly visible today above the present cultivated fields and sometimes even above the present head dyke. Otherwise hidden features, like these rigs, are shown up clearly by patchy snow cover or when melting snow persists in the furrows or when the sun is very low and its rays angle across the hillside. The middle slopes between Tynron Doon and Craigturra were all cultivated and the patterns of the old fields show up clearly in the right light among what is now largely bracken.


There was some haughland along the Shinnel, which was land liable to flood regularly. It was traditionally ploughed for three years of oats, then left under pasture for three years to recover. These meadow haughlands were surrounded by temporary enclosures called hainings. From April to July animals were kept off. Some hay could then be taken, then animals could graze it.


Cattle and ewes used to be driven up the hills in summer for a few weeks after calving and lambing. Up on these summer shielings, temporary huts were built and folk often lived up there, milking cattle and sheep for cheesemaking, shearing sheep, spinning wool and cutting peat. One such hut is marked on the Pinzarie Map on the next page. There is the remains of another on Auchenbrack at 774974, where by following the track and sod dyke for 200 metres above the top cultivated field the foundations of a small rectangular stone building can be seen.

The old peat cuttings can still be seen, as at the top of Auchenbrack at 7797 on the flat tops. On the remote tops there is still plenty of peat.

One reason for sending animals up the hill was to keep them off the crops on the infield, as the sod dykes were not as efficient as modern dykes or fences. Children and servants were kept busy herding the animals in daytime. The beasts were folded at night and animals from ploughteams would often be tethered.

Most animals had to be slaughtered at Martinmas in November when the pasture ran out. Only those needed for breeding or farmwork were kept on, as little fodder was available. Their accumulated winter dung was spread on the infield. There were no turnips or special fodder and any hay was inferior to what we have now. A little hay was cut from the hainings or from the wild and there was some barley and oat straw. Large-scale haymaking did not reach Tynron until the eighteenth century. Small wonder the cattle were small and wiry and the old Scottish Shortwool sheep stunted.

Food and Famine

Famine was never far away. The peasants saw little of the meat from their domesticated animals, though some was salted down. They existed on oatmeal and barley bread, with perhaps a few fish or poached game. Almost everyone had poultry and cain rents were commonly paid in birds or eggs. Crowdy (cheese) was made, ale brewed and kale grown at the back of the cottages. Flax was grown and used for linen and clothing.

A bare subsistence was all that could be had, though the laird might have surplus for disposal or giving to the poor. Two bad harvests in a row meant famine, starvation and rocketing prices. Everyone would have personal experience of severe food shortages.

Agricultural production was always going to be at a low level under the feudal system. What incentive was there to tend, improve or drain land for tenants with short leases, often annual and verbal? It was a stagnant system. Low points were reached in the 1590s and 1690s (the Little Ice Age) with many consecutive bad harvests. Poor starved and died, livestock disappeared. There was a decline in population in the 1690s. Something had to happen.

The Deil’s Dyke

The so-called Deil’s Dyke is one of Tynron’s mysteries. It is mentioned by Wilson and its route is described in detail in his book.

The real Deil’s Dyke of Galloway runs from Loch Ryan to Annan and is seen to great effect on the hills west of Sanquhar, but does not run very near to Tynron. John Barber wrote an excellent article on it in TDGNHAS 1982.

The supposed route of Wilson’s deil’s dyke is very clear and easy to follow along the hillside of Mid Hill, where it is known as “the Roman Road”. On the photo of Tynron Doon earlier this can be seen running left to right between Tynron Doon and Mid Hill. To the left is an identical sod dyke crossing the “deil’s dyke” at right angles.

It is particularly clear above Killiewarren, where it is 3 metres wide and 1 metre high with a path on top. At Killiewarren Hill it suddenly veers for no apparent reason up to the top of the hill and over, where it abruptly disappears just before the Killiewarren march dyke.

Here it is said to cross over the Shinnel by Birkhill and it is picked up again in what is now the new forestry above Markmony. It runs through the lower parts of the forestry and along the hill above Macqueston, its most beautiful stretch, with its double stone dyke and line of pines. There is 1.5 kilometres of clear dyke until Halfmerk Burn, where it disappears again. It is then supposed to cross over to Glencairn and can be picked up above Tererran, where there is 1 kilometre of earth ridge. Wilson, like others before him, sees it running to the hill fort on Dalwhat Hill at 728940.

Wilson took this as one feature, even imagining “guardian forts” along it. I have walked its length several times and I am confident enough to state that it is not one continuous feature. The Deil’s Dyke in Tynron is simply Mediaeval head dyke marking the upper limit of cultivation. It is certainly at just the right height contouring the hillside and there are many other similar dykes in the glen. Note again the dyke “crossroads” on the left of the Tynron Doon photo, which is just where old field boundaries join. I take the deil’s dyke to be one of Wilson’s fanciful notions of the past.