"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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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