There is much evidence of former settlements and other human activity on the southern slopes of Ben Lawers above Loch Tay. The discovery of many boulders with cup and ring marks "suggests it was a very significant landscape in prehistory."There are ruins of cottages each surrounded by a small group of trees and the ridged pastures are signs of early cultivation. Overgrown tracks climb up the mountain from the valley to the peat beds and sheilings on the hillside. The fertile limestone and schist soils on these southern slopes have been farmed since very early times and there are many Bronze Age remains.
Prior to the 14th century, the mountain stood on the lands of Clan MacMillan. Chalmers of Lawers obtained the land by force from the clan in the mid 14th century in the reign of David II. The land was confiscated from the Chalmers family in 1473 by James III and given to Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy after Thomas Chalmers was implicated in the murder of James I.
From the middle of the eighteenth century until 1920, Tombreck, along with thousands of acres of surrounding land were in possession of the family of Breadalbane. These lands were mainly rented out to tenant farmers or crofters.
Population records from 1790 indicate that, “ The sides of Loch Tay have, from time immemorial, been remarkably populous. In these places, the tenants, in general, have but very small possessions, several of them being crowded together in the same farm” while the Agricultural Records of the same date say, “the grains chiefly cultivated are oats, bear or big (four rowed barley), beans, pease, potatoes and lint .... the produce of the parish (Kenmore) is supposed to be rather more than what is sufficient for the consumpt of the inhabitants” Pigs were also commonly kept with each family rearing a pig for home consumption. This practise continued until the beginning of the First World War. (The Third Statistical Account of Scotland. Taylor. D. 1979)
A Survey of Lochtayside in 1769, says of the ground at ‘Tombrechts’;
“The infields are generally good, especially below the Little wood where is a kind of deep clay but wettish. The crofts are all plain. There is one or two of the high outfields poor ground but the rest are good. Bottom gravel and in some places moss. A great many outfields have been long neglected and many more could easily be brought in. All the mead is pretty good. There is plenty of lime rock above the road, but none below. The whole grass is pretty good.”
(Survey of Lochtayside 1769 McArthur ed.)
Census records of 1841, show Tombreck as being home to at least three ‘households’, a total of 21 inhabitants, and at that time appears to have been divided into two farm holdings; Easter Tombreck to the south east, and Wester Tombreck, (now Tombreck). By 1851, there were two ‘households’, the McLarens and the Robertsons, totalling 18 people. The McLarens were farmers, with the head of the Robertson family described as a ‘gamekeeper’ or ‘ground officer’. There was also a mole catcher, dairymaid and several ‘scholars’ or children, plus other relatives and domestic servants. Between 1871 and 1901, only the McLaren family and ‘servants’ were resident, an average of 8 people. The Census of 1901 shows the McDiarmids in residence, a father, two sons and two daughters all described as working at home. A younger son is a ‘house joiner’ and interestingly they had at that time, a visitor, a ‘masons labourer’ from Derbyshire, England.
“During the past century some 200 dwellings have fallen into ruins. (Parish of Kenmore) The walls, built of dry- stone were roofed with cabers, which were covered with turf, and thatched with straw or rushes. Estate books show that such houses, with byres, stables and barns attached, could be built at the beginning of last century at an inclusive cost of not more than £10 each. A few of these crofter houses existed in the Lawers district until recent years ...To a limited extent the late marquis of Breadalbane encouraged crofters to rebuild the old houses in the modern style by providing them with materials, with the crofters themselves carrying out the work ”.
(The Third Statistical Account of Scotland. Taylor. D. 1979)
The ‘new’ farmhouse at Tombreck, which dates from the 1920’s, may have been part of this scheme.
After the break-up and dispersal of the Breadalbane Estate, the farms that had previously been tenanted were sold. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these tenants did not always go willingly. The last tenant at Tombreck was evicted for 'killing a deer and cutting down a tree' in order to keep his young family alive during the harsh winter of 1947.
The farm of Tombreck was bought in 1948 by Andrew Brown and his son James Brown, who had previously farmed at Castlehill Farm, Linlithgow. Andrew and his wife moved into the old croft house, known as the “granny-house”, while James and his wife Ann lived in the farmhouse. James and Ann had two sons, Drew who was born in 1950 and Archibald (Tober) in 1952. For the next 35 years, the land at Tombreck was farmed as a mixed stock farm. returns for the Scottish Office show that in 1962, 26 acres of oats were grown, along with 8 acres of turnips, 10 of kale, 11 of rape, and 32 of sown grass. There were 25 cattle, 760 sheep including lambs and 200 hens. During the 1980’s however, ill health in the Brown family resulted in the stock being sold off and the ground rented out. In 1992 Gordon Stewart was given a five-year lease to use the land for grazing. This grazing agreement ceased at the end of 2017.
When Tober took over Tombreck in 1997, the land had become neglected and faced an uncertain future. However the slow process of regenerating the farm began, with some drains repaired and gardens bought into cultivation. Grant funding allowed the woodlands and areas of herb rich grassland to be fenced and protected from stock grazing. The barns were re-roofed, and for a while, a popular brewery called the Breadalbane Brewery was in the old corn mill.