Thursday, November 01, 2007

Black Cattle

Although traditional Highland cattle are generally thought to be a nice golden brown colour, actually the earliest ones were black. Only in the 19th century did the larger brown variety become popular. Until the 18th century and in many cases beyond, cattle were the Highlanders' wealth, even though beef was a luxury. The cattle were driven south in the autumn to provide much needed silver for these subsistence farmers. So important were the black cattle that they appear in everyday language. The Blackwatch Regiment was founded in 1725 to watch over the black cattle and reduce the amount of cattle lifting. 'Blackmail' comes from the same root: mal is the Gaelic for rent and blackmail was what had to be paid to the likes of Rob Roy to ensure that your cattle were safe.

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