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Highland Gatherings
Chapter I - Historical


"Why should I waste invention to indite
Ovidian fictions or Olympian games?
My misty Muse enlightened with more light,
To a more noble pitch her aim she frames.
I must relate to my great Master JAMES,
The Caledonian peaceful war;
How noble minds do eternize their fames,
By martial greeting in the Braes of Mar:
How thousand gallant spirits came near and far,
With swords and targets, arrows, bows and guns,
That all the troop to men of judgment are
The God of War's great never-conquered sons.
The sport is manly, yet none bleed but beasts,
And last the victor, on the vanquished feasts.
If sport like this can on the mountains be,
Where Phoebus' flames can never melt the snow:
Then let who list delight in vales below,
Sky-kissing mountains' pleasures are for me:
What braver object can man's eyesight see,
Than noble, worshipful and worthy wights,
As if they were prepared for sundry frights,
Yet all in sweet society agree?
Through heather, moss, 'mongst frogs, and bogs, and fogs,
'Mongst craggy cliffs and thunder-battered hills,
Hares, hinds, bucks, roes, are chased by men and dogs,
Where two hours' hunting fourscore fat deer kills.
Lowland, your sports are low as is your seat,
The HIGHLAND GAMES and minds are high and great."

So wrote John Taylor, the Water Poet, that great prolific author, whose period was from 1580 to 1653, and his writings anent Braemar may well form a prelude to a short incursion into the history of the district where the famous games described in this volume take place.

From old records we learn that what is now known as Braemar consists of Castleton and its extension. The old name was Kindrochit (in Gaelic, Ceann Drochaid = Bridge Head). The foundations of the old Market Cross exist to-day, near the Invercauld Arms Hotel. Thus the whole parish acquired this name, and was the parish of St. Andrew or Kindrochit, commonly called Braemar (in Gaelic, Braigh Mhar=Upper end of Mar).

Thus it is not really Braemar village at all, and is now for local government purposes united to Crathie, which is on the road to Balmoral, a few miles in an easterly direction.

Hither resorted the ancient Kings of Scotland for the pleasures of the chase.

As far back as 732, King Hungus, or Angus, lived here and was the host of Bishop Acca of Hexham, on his flight from the pagan King of Northumbria. Incidentally, this refugee brought with him an arm bone of St. Andrew, removed from its enshrinement at Hexham. This bone eventually found its way to an elegant church at Kilrymont in Fife (now St. Andrews).

Craig Choinnich, the well-known hill, was the site of the hunting seat of Kenneth I, first King of Scotland.

Kindrochit Castle was built by Malcolm III and his Queen, St. Margaret, and was the resort of royalty until the time of Robert II. Owing to the black death of 1380, ruin overtook the building, and the reign of King James VI saw its collapse. From 1644 onwards, Braemar figures prominently in the Great Civil War, the Farquharsons of Monaltrie and of Inverey, with their Braemar men, being greatly praised for bravery. The latter were owners of the Balmoral Estate, and sold it to the Earl of Fife in 1798, who in turn sold it to the late Queen Victoria in 1852.

She built the present Castle in its present form, and the great attachment of her late Majesty to the place may be gathered from the following letters, which we are kindly permitted to quote.

The extract from a letter of Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians, from Balmoral, dated 13th September, 1848, is as follows :-

"My letter to Louise will have informed you of our voyage and arrival here. This house is small but pretty, and though the hills seen from the windows are not so fine, the scenery all round is the finest almost I have seen anywhere. It is very wild and solitary and yet cheerful and beautifully wooded with the Dee running between the two sides of the hills. Lochnagar is the highest hill in the immediate vicinity and belongs to us. The soil is the driest and best known almost anywhere, and all the hills are as sound and hard as the road. The climate is also dry, and in general not very cold. There is a deer forest with many roe deer, and, on the opposite hill (which does not belong to us), grouse. There are also black cock and ptarmigan. Albert has, however, no luck this year, and he has in vain been after the deer, though they are continually seen, and often quite close by the house. The boys always wear their Highland dress."

Another letter from the Queen Monarch is dated 6th October, 1851

"I love my peaceful wild Highlands, the glorious scenery, the dear good people, who are much attached to us, and who feel their Einsanzkeit sadly, very much. One of our Gillies, a young Highlander who generally went out with me, said in answer to my observation that they must be very dull here when we left: `It's just like death come all at once.' "

My last quotation is a telegram, dated 10th September, 1855, from Lord Panmure to Earl Granville, who was at that time Minister in attendance at Balmoral.

"The Queen and Prince Consort occupied their new home for the first time on the 7th September. It was not yet completed but the Queen wrote: `The house is charming, the rooms delightful, the furniture, papers, everything perfection."'

"I know each wayside wood, each moorland burn,
Each hidden byway and reposeful nook,
Where I may linger when the sun goes down,
Dipping tired feet in some cool-flowing brook;
I know the free hill and the glooming glen,
And kindly fires, and humble homes of men."
                                             -C. F. Smith.

The Home of the Farquharsons has been at Invercauld for over four hundred years, Colonel Alexander Haldane Farquharson (his portrait appears opposite this page),

being the present representative of the family. The house itself is at the moment occupied by Mr. Stanley S. Bond, of London, but the Colonel still resides in the near vicinity. Here took place the meeting of Jacobite Chiefs, to plan the rising of 1715. The whole district teems with interest for the archaeologist and antiquarian, far too extensive to be included in a work of these dimensions concerning the gathering. Not only have Dr. Douglas Simpson and a troop of Boy Scouts excavated the castle ruins of Kindrochit and published accounts of the same, but the well-known "Legends" by John Grant are obtainable; Dr. John Stirton has written upon Balmoral; Mrs. Elizabeth Tayler had her vogue with "Tales"; Mr. Seton Gordon, the great naturalist and author, my friends, Mr. John Macpherson, J.P., Mr. M. D. Adamson the Poet, and Mr. G. B. Lowe have all contributed their quota to the history of the neighbourhood, while the names of McCombie Smith and A. G. Cumming stand out as authorities upon the athletic side of the subject matter contained in these pages. Nor must we overlook the fact that R. L. Stevenson in 1881 wrote "Treasure Island" at a cottage opposite the Victoria Hall. Nor again can I resist the temptation to quote from Taylor the account of the great hunting meet in Braemar on 27th August, 1715, as I feel sure this work would be incomplete without it.

"There did I find the truly Noble and Right Honourable Lords John Erskine, Earl of Mar, James Stuart, Earl of Murray, George Gordon, Earl of Enzie, son and heir to the Marquis of Huntly, James Erskine, Earl of Buchan, and John Lord Erskine, son and heir to the Earl of Mar, and their Countesses, with my much honoured and my best assured and approved friend, Sir William Murray, Knight of Abercairney, and hundreds of others, knights, esquires, and their followers; all and every man in general in one habit, as if Lycurgus had been there and made laws of equality. For once in the year, which is the whole month of August, and sometimes part of September, many of the nobility and gentry of the kingdom, for their pleasure, do come into these Highland countries to hunt, where they do conform themselves to the habit of the Highland men, who for the most part speak nothing but Irish ; and in former time were those people which were called the Red-shanks. Their habit is shoes with but one sole apiece; stockings, which they call short hose, made of a warm stuff with divers colours, which they call tartan; as for breeches, many of them, nor their forefathers never wore any, but a jerkin of the same stuff that their hose is of, their garters being bands or wreaths of hay or straw, with a plaid about their shoulders, which is a mantle of divers colours, of much finer and lighter stuff than their hose, with blue flat caps on their heads, a handkerchief knit with two knots about their neck; and thus are they attired. Now their weapons are long bows and forked arrows, swords and targets, harquebusses, muskets, dirks, and Lochaber axes. With these arms I found many of them armed for the hunting. As for their attire, any man of what degree soever that comes amongst them, must not disdain to wear it; for if they do, then they will disdain to hunt, or willingly to bring in their dogs ; but if men be kind unto them, and be in their habit, then are they conquered with kindness, and the sport will be plentiful. This was the reason that I found so many noblemen and gentlemen in those shapes. But to proceed to the hunting.

"My good Lord of Mar having put me into that shape, I rode with him from his house, where I saw the ruins of an old Castle, called the Castle of Kindroghit (Castleton). It was built by King Malcolm Canmore, for a hunting house, who reigned in Scotland when Edward the Confessor, Harold, and Norman William reigned in England. I speak of it, because it was the last house that I saw in those parts, for I was the space of twelve days after, before I saw either house, cornfield, or habitation for any creature, but deer, wild horses, wolves and such like creatures, which made me doubt that I should never have seen a house again.

"Thus the first day we travelled eight miles, where there were small cottages built on purpose to lodge in, which they called Lonchards. I thank my good Lord Erskine, he commanded that I should always be lodged in his lodging, the kitchen being always on the side of a bank, many kettles and pots boiling, and many spits turning and winding, with great variety of cheer; as venison baked, sodden, roast, and stewed beef, mutton, goats, kid, hares, fresh salmon, pigeons, hens, capons, chickens, partridge, moor-coots, heath-cocks, capercailzies, and termagants (ptarmigan); good ale, sack, white and claret, tent or Alicante, with most potent Aquavitae.

"All these, and more than these we had continually, in superfluous abundance, caught by falconers, fowlers, fishers, and brought by my Lord's tenants and purveyors to victual our camp, which consisted of fourteen or fifteen hundred men and horses. The manner of the hunting is this: five or six hundred men do rise early in the morning, and they do disperse themselves divers ways, and seven, eight, or ten miles compass, they do bring and chase in the deer in many herds, two, three, or four hundred in a herd, to such and such a place, as the Nobleman shall appoint them; then when day is come, the lords and noblemen of their companies, do ride or go to the said places, sometimes wading up to their middles through bournes and rivers. And then, they being come to the place, do lie down on the ground, till these foresaid scouts, which are called the Tinchel, do bring down the deer; but as the proverb says of a bad cook, so these Tinchel-men do lick their own fingers; for besides their bows and arrows, which they carry with them, we can hear now and then a harquebuss or a musket go off, which they do seldom discharge in vain. Then after we had stayed there three hours or thereabouts, we might perceive the deer appear on the hills round about us, their heads making a show like a wood, which being followed close by the Tinchel, are chased down into the valley where we lay ; then all the valley on each side being waylaid with a hundred couple of strong Irish greyhounds, they are let loose as the occasion serves upon the herd of deer, so that with dogs, guns, arrows, dirks, and daggers in the space of two hours, fourscore fat deer were slain, after which are disposed of some one way and some another, twenty and thirty miles, and more than enough left for us to make merry withal at our rendezvous."

From its geographical position, being some thousand odd feet above sea-level, Braemar was and is well known for the longevity of its inhabitants, and in this connection I must mention the venerable Highlander, Patrick Grant, who was granted a pension of one guinea a week by His Majesty the King in 1822. He died at Braemar on March 11th, 1824, in the one hundred and eleventh year of his age. He expired while sitting in his elbow chair, having felt scarcely any previous illness. His pension devolved upon his daughter Anne, for her life. It was thought at the time that he was the only survivor of the Battles of Culloden and Falkirk, and he was present at the embarkation of the Pretender from France.

If we cross the River Cluny by the handsome stone bridge, close to the Kindrochit Castle ruins, we come to Auchindryne, before 1870 only a small hamlet, now large and more modern than Castleton. Here are the Fife Arms Hotel and the few useful shops of the village.

Who, asks Taylor, amongst others, followed Balmoral to the battlefield? Who donned the white cockade? Who drew the broad claymore? Who were "Out" in '45?

Why, even the Auchindrynes, who learnt war in 1715, under their ancestors Alastair, William and James, their brothers. The ruins of William's house are still traceable; in the winter so much mud collected in the courtyard that the occupants had to walk on stepping-stones to get across it.

Of course in this district periodical disputes arose between the clans and countrymen, the causes being disputes in the markets, and the forcing of boundaries on the occasions of weddings and funerals. An event of common occurrence was the complete smashing of the coffin to pieces and the rolling of the corpse amongst the feet of the combatants ! One instance stands out amongst the rest. On the top of the Cairnwall some Glenshee and Glenisla men thought to vanquish the men of Mar. They were led by Alastair Ealach of Glenisla, a mighty giant, who carried a coffin, trampling down, and tumbling aside the men of Mar, like some river horse down a sedgy, reedy bank, while cries of "Back with the men of Mar!" "Clear them away!" rose in the turmoil. It only needed William Auchindryne to terminate the conflict, by seizing the foremost of the Glenshee and Glenisla men by twos and threes and fours, and tossing them over each other like children. Then he hailed Alastair Ealach as follows: "Hold back, fellow; if you bring one corpse forward I promise there will be three to carry home with you again!" Glenisla failed before Farquharson, and yielded up the coffin, and the last stages of the combat consisted of refreshments and good friendship.
I have an interesting episode of the Battle of Falkirk. This is said to have lasted only a quarter of an hour, so fierce was the fire and charge of the Highlanders. A number of fugitives were surrounded by lines of Farquharsons and The Lady M'Intosh's men. Glengarry came up to find her ladyship saving one from the fury of the clansmen. "And whom have we prisoner here?" said he. "Morchall" (i. e., Invercauld), was the reply. "How is this? Morchall among the English?" He was eventually released on parole, and returned home.

The story of Culloden is well known. The clans all fought-the clans all fell; no more will the banner of the Stuarts spread its ample folds to the breeze, amongst the hills of Caledonia.

On the morning of the battle, William Auchindryne played on the violin to his men, "The Braes o' Mar," as they wished to dance after breakfast. This was interrupted by the sound of cannon on Drummossie Moor, and then it was a case of buckle, belt, and away. In grief at the rout of the Highlanders, William broke his violin over his knee, and never played thereafter. During the pursuit by the redcoats, William dispatched seven of them with his own good two-handed sword. He was the possessor of splendid flowing golden hair at this time, but in this one night it turned into a silvery grey.

As an instance of the wonderful endurance of pain by these brave men, I must relate how McGregor of Inverigny and Fleming of Auchintoul fell wounded side by side, the latter with a broken leg. On the arrival of the redcoats, a movement by McGregor cost him his life from a bayonet thrust. Then it was that a covetous soldier "spotted" Fleming's new boots, which he proceeded to appropriate. When it came to his broken leg to have this attention, the pain must have been excruciating, but having seen the fate of his comrade, Fleming bore it in absolute silence, as if being a lifeless man. It is cheerful to note that, as a reward for his bravery, he was able to crawl to a cottage, where he not only recovered, but married the fair maiden who nursed him back to health (more than he expected).

This story calls to my mind that true one of a north-country soldier in the recent Great War, who performed this same operation on a dead German. The difference, however, lay in this particular, that the German's leg all came away into the grasp of his hands with the boot!

In spite of all the garrisons that were placed in castles at this time to enforce changes and order, in dress as in other matters, it is noteworthy that the disuse of the Highland dress-the garb of the Gael -could not be brought about. What does the poem say?

"There's nought in the Highlands but syboes and leeks,
And lang-leggit callants gaun wanting the breeks;
Wanting the breeks, and without hose and shoon,
But we'll a' win the breeks when King Jamie comes hame."

The best instance of this was that of Donald Lamont, the Braemar drover. He hated the obnoxious garment of the Saxons, but he was persuaded to try a pair, for a journey to Glenshee on business. Before proceeding far, he felt his limbs all frayed and irritated by these strange habiliments. He therefore took them off, and swung them over his shoulders, but being too far on his journey to return for his kilt, he completed the journey as he was. Even on his return, his limbs were chafed and smarting with pain, so he heaved the trews into the fire, exclaiming "Gu'n gabh an donas a chiad duine a rinn iad !" (May the Devil seize the first inventor of them!)

Another story of Donald Lamont refers to the shooting party of Lord Howe, at Braemar. His lordship had been in command of forces in the American War of Independence, and had not achieved much reputation thereat. This day the sport was of the worst, for the apparent reason that Donald was dodging about all the time, and the guns could not fire, because of his unwelcome presence. Lord Howe got extremely angry and threatened to shoot Donald if this conduct continued. "God, my lord," said Donald, "if ye shoot me, it will maybe prove waur for ye than a' the Americans ye ever shot." Such was the reply to one whose defeats by Americans outnumbered the occasions of his success.

A few words about Braemar Castle may not be inappropriate. It was built in 1628, by John, Earl of Mar, and held garrisons under General Monk during the Great Civil War. Sixty years later it was burned by the men of Braemar to prevent such occupation, and left without a roof, until its confiscation with lands by the Government in 1715. In 1732 Farquharson of Invercauld became the owner, who leased it in 1746 after Culloden, to the Government, who used it for garrison purposes, and also to carry out the abolition of illicit distilleries in the district. An illustration of it appears opposite page 17.


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