It is now generally agreed that a clachan has the following characteristics:
- Small settlement of clustered houses.
- No church, and usually, no shop or school.
- Usually, considerable ties of kinship between the families in the clachan.
- The land around the clachan was held under a system of land tenure often referred to as the Rundale System - whereby farmers within the clachan had scattered plots of good, medium and poorer quality land.
- The better land was usually found close to the cluster of houses and was known as the infield - poorer quality land was found in what was often referred to as the outfield, since it was further away from the cluster.
- Parts of the land were held ‘in common’ e.g. the land around the houses and the mountain land.
- The mountain land was allocated in soums - e.g. one soum entitled a farmer to graze a cow or so many sheep. The number of soums that a farmer held was related to how much land he held in the infield/outfield area.
The map below dating from 1860 shows, for example, a farmer holding the plot of land 4A in the outfield and the land 4B in the infield. Area 9 (enclosed by a blue circle on the map) was common land around the cluster of houses where most of the farmers lived. Off the bottom left hand corner of the map was the mountain land which was also held in common.