Airyolland Farm

Rural Depopulation is Like Rust


By Neale McQuistin

For the Farmers Weekly

October 2016


We’re not going to have a harvest thanksgiving service in our local church this year. It’s not that we are not thankful for the harvest in the Luce Valley – it’s because we’ve had to close our church after 368 years.


It wasn’t financial difficulties that closed the church. We didn’t run out of money. We’ve run out of people. Rural depopulation is like rust; it happens so slowly things begin to fall apart before you realise what’s happening.


It’s not the first time our church has closed. It happened before – but that was in 1663. Our minister then was a man called the Reverend Alexander Peden also known as The Prophet Peden.

He was one of the leading Covenanters in Scotland at that time and was credited with making a number of predictions that came true.

He closed the church doors and went native and started to preach at open-air conventicles. The government troops hunted him down like an animal.


He was eventually imprisoned but he always managed to escape back into the wild where he died of old age.


If you were a landowner and there was the least bit of suspicion that you had anything to do with him or any of his open-air services, you would also be hunted down.If the troops couldn’t catch you they would impose an early version of an on-the-spot fine.They would kill as many of your sheep as they could lay their hands on.


There are field names in this area such as “The Skin Croft” that hark back to those days.The sheep, after they were killed, would be skinned by the troops in the field where they lay and the skins carried off to deprive the farmer of any value.

Ironically, farmers are still being hunted down by government troops today.

Only they don’t need to kill our sheep any more. The government’s men merely need to count them to bring us to heel and keep us under control.


The writing has been on the wall for our community for a long time.The numbers of “breeding pairs” in the parish began to decline in the 1960s with a result that our primary school closed at the end of the 70s.

The fact there is still no mobile phone signal here has helped to speed up the decline in our population in recent years. Young pairs that are thinking about breeding will not readily land here.


There seems little point in breeding nowadays if you can’t share every moment of the labour on Facebook.Our village shop and post office has closed and reopened more times than I care to remember.

I also fear the day is not be too far away when the postman will not deliver mail to our farms that are scattered around the parish.


No mobile phones ringing and no bills being delivered may sound like heaven to some, but when you’re trying to run a business it could begin to feel like hell.


Amazingly, The Prophet Peden, who preached in our church, once upon a time, long-long ago, may be the one to halt the decline in our population and breathe new life into it. His is a great story to attract a tourist.


A Covenanter’s trail is beginning to wind its way down towards us from the North where Peden was born in Ayrshire.


At the same time a fibre-optic cable is threading its way up towards us from the South.


The two things could arrive here at the same time and change our future. I wonder if the old boy ever saw it coming.