Ancient History, Medieval, Victorian, To the Present
Archaeological evidence at Coulin indicates human colonisation firmly in the Neolithic period, some 5,000 years ago; as such it is one of the earliest dated sites for human colonisation in Wester Ross. The pollen core at Loch Coulin suggests that a ‘slash and burn’ type agriculture was carried out on the level ground amongst the ancient Pine woods in the glen. Cleared areas of woodland are thought likely to have remained open due to grazing by wild and possibly domestic animals. top of page
It is probable that more fertile areas of the glen, especially around the head of Loch Coulin, have long been settled. However, little is known until the land appeared in the ownership of the MacKenzies of Gairloch in the early sixteenth century. Reference to a cattle droving route over the Coulin Pass in the letters of James Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd, indicates that by 1805 Coulin had long been accessible from Strathcarron to the South, and Loch Maree to the North. In 1818, four tenants were evicted from Coulin, presumably to make way for sheep farming. top of page
Victorian: the Creation of a Highland Sporting Estate
In the 1840’s, the majority of the land was sold with the Applecross peninsula to the 7th Duke of Leeds. The eastern march followed the parish boundary between Gairloch and Lochcarron along the Coulin river. At that time the present day farmhouse on the south side of Loch Coulin was the principal dwelling there, and passed with the land to Applecross.
With a view to its sporting potential and romanticised wilderness, the 15th Lord Elphinstone bought Achnashellach in 1866. From the eastern end of Applecross, Achnashellach included the land at Coulin to the west of the river. Elphinstone’s vision of a sporting estate must have rapidly taken hold centred not at Achnashellach but over the Coulin Pass, for by 1869 he had completed the construction of a lodge at Coulin, and sold Achnashellach to Sir Ivor Guest. The remaining 16,000 acres to the south and west of the glen, having been cleared of sheep, formed a new estate geared towards stalking and fishing.
The lodge was beautifully sited at the narrowest point of the glen between lochs Clair and Coulin, with the schists of Beinn Eighe framing the lodge to the north, and the narrows of Loch Coulin gently winding down the glen from the south. The story of its construction along with extensive access roads and bridges is one of a pioneering age. Following the evictions at Coulin earlier in the century, the deliberate creation of an integral sporting estate from a larger area with a lodge at its heart served greatly to boost the local economy. Hart-Davis notes a total of £8,000 invested by Elphinstone in the eight years that he was there, all of which was spent locally.
In 1874, Elphinstone sold Coulin to Guest, thereby reuniting it with Achnashellach. The estates remained together for a number of decades, passing from the Guests to the Ogilvy-Dalgleish family in 1893, but had separated once more by 1942 when Coulin was acquired by Michael Wills. This period witnessed the first forestry planting at Coulin of which the strings of ‘Victorian Pines’ ascending the burns of Carn Breac are the attractive remnants. Sheep were also reintroduced during the First World War. top of page
To the Present: Convergence of Sport and Conservation
Between 1964 and 1985 the Wills family planted extensive woodlands of Lodgepole and Sitka Spruce, in keeping with current forestry trends. Yet the creation in 1979 of the first ‘exclosure’ fence beside Loch Clair heralded a growing interest in the conservation of Coulin’s exceptional landscape and biodiversity. In order to protect native Scots Pine and broadleaved woodland from the Red Deer a total of some 420 hectares have since been fenced. Sheep were also finally removed and a number of habitat surveys sponsored.
The convergence of sporting and conservation goals has continued apace since Philip Smith bought the estate in 1995. The regeneration of indigenous Scots Pine has been assisted through the planting of shoots propagated from locally collected seed. There has also been extensive Rhododendron clearance as well as removal of exotic species to encourage natural regeneration of the indigenous. In the river system, a hatchery programme has been introduced in an attempt to arrest the decline of wild stocks of Sea Trout and Salmon. Riparian planting of broadleaved woodland around the spawning grounds of these fish is intended to improve their habitat.
Extensive work to the accommodation at Coulin has also played a central role over the past decade. The lodge (used by the Smith family) was harled in the traditional manner in order to combat a grave damp problem, while the interiors were sensitively restored retaining all the timber detailing. The Farmhouse and cottage at Torran have been carefully altered, and now function as comfortable holiday cottages, while there are two further cottages inhabited by full time employees of the estate. top of page