Crofter and leader of the Assynt Crofters;

Born: September 15, 1939; Died: June, 2013.

Allan MacRae, who has died aged 73, was the crofter and builder who led the Assynt Crofters at the time of the historic buy-out of their land 20 years ago.

The news that Mr MacRae's body had been found stunned the people of north-west Sutherland as well as his many friends in Scotland's crofting community. His death was also lamented by those in the land reform movement who saw him as an inspirational symbol of what could be achieved against the odds.

Perhaps fittingly, the alarm was first raised on Monday night when Mr MacRae didn't appear at a board meeting of the Assynt Crofters Trust, the body which he helped form and which in 1993 took control of the 21,000 acre North Lochinver estate.

It started the modern community land movement which has seen 500,000 acres of land, mostly in the Highlands and Islands, taken over by local communities. First Minister Alex Salmond recently set a target of doubling that by 2020.

It was very different in 1992 when the Ostgota Enskilda Bank of Stockholm, the major creditors of the bankrupt Scandinavian Property Services Ltd which had previously owned the estate, having bought it from the Vestey family for more than £1m, announced it would be offered in seven different lots. This would break up the estate and leave the crofters with the prospect of being tenants to several different owners at once.

Mr MacRae was the son of a gamekeeper/shepherd known locally as "Johnny Glen". His great-grandfather had been cleared from the land at Ardvar to make way for a sheep farm which had once supported 500 ewes, but at the time of the buy-out had not one beast grazing on it. It made him a very determined man.

The crofters lived on or near the 24-mile B869 between Lochinver and Kylesku in 13 townships including Achmelvich, Clachtoll, Stoer, Clashmore, and Drumbeg. This was where their families had lived and worked since the 19th century, and they resolved to act when the estate was put up for sale.

A campaign was launched to raise enough to try to buy the whole estate. It struck a chord across Scotland and far beyond with individuals, groups and public bodies seeing this as something worth supporting. It was almost as though it was a counter to the history of clearance.

There was a leadership triumvirate who waged a brilliant campaign, each complementing the others' skills. Bill Ritchie, whose croft was in Achmelvich was secretary; John MacKenzie from Culkein was vice-chairman, and Allan MacRae from Torbreck was chairman.

This writer broke the news to Mr MacRae in 1992 that the crofters' second bid had been refused. He was using his skills as a stonemason on a bridge in Lochinver. A physically strong man he turned with trowel in hand, anger flashing in his eyes, and very quietly but rather intimidatingly said: "They don't want us to have our land".

"Our land" was a phrase he would repeatedly use throughout the campaign, as the estate's liquidator from the London-based firm of Stoy Hayward, could attest.

John MacKenzie remembers a meeting with the liquidator when all sorts of difficulties were being raised about the crofters' bid. Allan MacRae had stood up, thumped the table and declared: "My people have been on this land for centuries. It is our land, and we mean to have our land."

John MacKenzie recalls: "The liquidator hadn't seen anything quite like it before, and the sheer determination that Allan MacRae displayed that day caused him to think again about the difficulties he was putting in our way."

In December that year, Allan MacRae stood in front of 100 people in Stoer Primary School and announced they had won their land concluding with: "My immediate thoughts are to wish that some of our forebears could have been here to share this moment with us."

He was immersed in the folklore of Sutherland and the history that saw his people driven from the better land to scratch an existence on near the shore.

He wasn't the greatest fan of the conservation lobby and remained suspicious of its motives. But there was nobody more attuned to the environment or possessed of rural skills. They had been honed from his childhood with his gamekeeper father and even in his days as a hill runner taking part in the likes of the Ben Nevis race.

He lived alone in the unique house he built, with its ground floor dedicated to crofting purposes with a flat above. From here he watched with pride as all the other communities started to follow in Assynt's footsteps.

He once told The Herald: "Never did we think it would have this effect.The land issue appeared dead. The system that was in place was so entrenched, nothing was ever going to change it."

He is survived by his two brothers, Harry and John.