‘Upon this blasted heath’
Much like the rest of Alba, Macbeth’s home territory of Moray was a landscape of scattered pastoral and arable agriculture, uncleared forest and marginal lands unsuitable for the simple farming techniques of the time. Population pressures were not forcing the wholesale clearance of forests and intensive farming, so any blasted heaths would doubtless have been natural rather than man-made.
Man and landscape together
The shortage of suitable fertiliser in the form of manure and the lack of knowledge of sophisticated crop rotation meant that management of the landscape was more measured; less demanding of the soil than our modern more intensive farming practices. Only half the available land would have been cultivated each year; the other half left fallow to rest and recover from the previous year’s growing season.
In Moray, most settlement would have been inland, away from the sand dunes and estuary silts along the province’s long coastline. But not too far inland, for farming would become harder in the higher ground towards the south and the mountains. This productive heartland is known as the Laich of Moray.
The mystery of the Laich
The word ‘Laich’ is believed to be either a corruption of the Gaelic word ‘lairg’ meaning a plain, or the Scots term referring to gently sloping ground, generally between the sea and inland hills.