The Way to the Hills: moving from farm to common without treading on others’ toes
Andrew Johnson, Manx National Heritage
Andrew Johnson has spent his whole working life at the Manx Museum and has had an interest in the archaeology of the Manx uplands since he was a child
The Isle of Man is a small island of 580 square kilometres, of which about a quarter are uplands that, from at least the medieval period onwards, were exploited as common pasture and a source of peat. The remains are known of over 50 medieval seasonal settlements in upland locations; most are just a few kilometres from the home farms whence their occupants decamped each summer to take animals to graze on the upland common.
Despite the short distances involved, the creation of routes along which these animals could be moved played a significant part in the delineation of traditional landholdings through or past which livestock had to be driven without damaging crops. Effective boundaries were a preoccupation for Manx lawmakers from at least the early 15th century onwards and the legal requirement for such barriers has played a major part in the creation of the Manx landscape.
By combining evidence from historical maps, surviving public rights of way, field observation and map-regression, a picture is beginning to emerge of these old trackways leading from farm to upland.