ABERDEENSHIRE, one of the most extensive and populous counties in
the north of Scotland, was
anciently divided into five districts: Mar, Formartine,
Buchan, Garioch, and Strathbogie.
first and largest of these divisions, was again subdivided into two
subordinate districts: Mar proper,
the lowland or level portion; and Braemar,
the highland or mountainous.
still further subdivided into six parishes, which were, St.
Andrews, Crathie, Glengairn, Glen
Muich, Glen Taner, and Birse; the
sixth, Invernochty, in Strathdon.
These arrangements, so far as merely arbitrary, are now completely
altered, as the ancient parish of St.
also as Kindrochit, now
usurps to itself exclusively the term Braemar;and,
besides, this modern Braemar is
no longer a distinct parish, but in union with Crathie forms
one under the latter name.
In the following description of Braemar,
I intend using the term in its widest sense, not in the modern or
limited one. But before entering into the details of its particular
localities, I will first endeavour to trace out briefly, but as
distinctly as possible, the conformation of the great physical
features which distinguish it.
As no other district in Britain can
boast such an array of giant hills, they of course form its leading
characteristic. In looking upon its mountains from any of the
central peaks, they seem to rise up on every side, in interminable
maze, their huge forms intersecting each other at every point. But
notwithstanding these apparent irregularities, there is order
in their disposition; but it is only after continued observation
that their natural classification into groups is recognised.
However, therefore, local and merely arbitrary arrangements in Braemar may
have altered, its mountains now, as in former days, resolve
themselves into four distinct groups, geographically separated from
each other by glens of sufficient width to interrupt the series.
Let the reader imagine a great square, or, more correctly,
trapezoid. Its longest side, lying to the north, having an extension
of some twenty miles from west to east, is formed by theCairngorm and Glen-gairn ranges.
Its parallel or southern side, extending also from west to east some
sixteen or eighteen miles, is formed by the Lochnagar and Glen
In the north-west corner is Ben-Macdhui, the
highest point in the Cairngorm range;
while opposite, in the south-west corner, is Cairn-Eeler,
the highest point in the Glen
A line drawn between them would be nearly straight, and give a
length of some ten or twelve miles.
In the north-east corner is Morven,
the highest summit in the Glengaim range;
while opposite, on the south-east, the classic Lochnagar raises
its stately head. A line drawn between these two summits would make
an angle somewhat acute, and give a length of from eleven to
thirteen miles. The area within this supposed figure includes most
of the district formerly known asBraemar,
excepting perhaps the parish of Invernochty,
These higher peaks do not, however, stand isolated. In the Cairngorm range
or group there are five principal summits, all more than 4000 feet
above the level of the sea; while the huge forms of Ben-Ann,
etc., which run out from them in an easterly direction, form, with
a continuous chain on the north side, with innumerable lesser
heights sloping down from them towards a central valley or basin.
The Lochnagar range,
which ranks next in height to the Cairngorm group,
has a similar conformation, as the contiguous mountains are only
separated from the central one by narrow ravines; and, as on the
north side of the valley, huge mountain masses connect the group
with the Glen
and form a continuous chain on the south side.
As Braemar not
only possesses the highest hills in Britain, but also the purest
water, it naturally comes next under consideration. Its principal
river is the Dee. In
the north-west corner of the trapezoid, near the summit of Brae-Riach, in
the Cairngorm range,
it has its source at a height of some 4000 feet, in five springs of
beautifully limpid water.
The stream formed by these springs runs into a corry or hollow, over
the precipitous sides of which it again falls to a depth of at least
1000 feet. Recovering from this unceremonious descent, it hurries
along its still descending course, gathering up innumerable rills
and streams, as they come babbling down from the contiguous
The relative position of the Dee to
the other mountain ranges can be conceived pretty correctly by
recurring to our figure. From the north-west corner it flows
southward some four or five miles through a glen of terrific
grandeur, formed by the mountains of the Cairngorm group.
Then, taking a sudden turn to the east, it flows right through the
central basin before described, and so continues to flow until, its
mission accomplished, it flows into the German
Ocean at Aberdeen. Briefly
and beautifully are the last two paragraphs epitomized by Professor
Blackie in his lines,
‘The young river leaps from its sheer ledge,
Then sweeps with a full-flooded face to the sea.'
Along the beautiful valley locally termed Strath-dee,
the Dee lies
like an extended back-bone, from west to east; while the glens, each
with a tributary stream, which open into it from north and south,
are like so many ribs, entering it sometimes almost at right angles,
but oftener oblique.
In addition to the highest hills and the purest water, Braemar also
possesses the finest pine
forest in Britain. For
nearly the last hundred years the woodmans axe has by no means
spared the trees, yet a sufficiency of noble ones remain to justify
its claims to such pre-eminence.
On the north side of the Dee lies
the forest of Mar; on
the south, the Balloch-buie. Extensive
as both appear, they are but vestiges merely of the old Royal
or ‘Sylva Caledonia' where in days of yore the kings of Scotland
loved so well to chase the deer. Besides the pine forests there are
many beautiful and extensive birch woods; but some notice of their
situation, etc., will come in more suitably afterwards.
Thus far the characteristic features of Braemar. It
has been pertinently remarked, that ‘a correct geographical
description of a locality often throws much light on its history.’ I
have endeavoured, therefore, to give as correct an outline of Braemar as
possible, in the hope that it, with the more particular description
which follows, will furnish a sort of key to the better
understanding of the historical and traditional legends,—those
shadowy footsteps of its earlier age.