Abergeldie Castle—Druidic Remains—St. Nathalan—Glen
Muick— Glengaim—Pass of Ballater—Kirk of Tullich, and Legend—Loch
Kinoird—Hill of Mulloch, etc.
AFTER passing the bridge connecting Balmoral with
the north side is the Parish Church of Crathie,
in a fine situation. Two miles farther down the valley is the Castle
of Abergeldie, on
the south side of the river. It is an ancient-looking castle, in the
old baronial style, but now considerably enlarged and modernized. As
is well known, it is now part of the Royal demesnes, being held upon
a lease of forty years from the family of Gordon—was occupied by the
lamented Duchess of Kent, and now by the Prince of Wales. A curious
rope-and-cradle bridge connects it with the north side.
Craig-na-ban, i.e. Rock
of the Woman, a noble hill, which forms part of its background,
gained considerable celebrity when witches were rampant. The last
one in the district was burnt there. The date is rather indefinite;
but here is the tradition:—
At the time when witches were all over Scotland, and honest people
burnt as many of them as they could convict, an old woman who lived
by the Dee was
accused of witchcraft, and condemned to die. An old man of like
character, and under the same sentence, was confined with her. One
dark night the witch made her escape; the warlock engaged to bring
her back, on condition that he would be pardoned.
He had not travelled in search very far, when he saw a hare, which
he knew to be her. Transforming himself into a greyhound, he gave
chase; and just as he was about to seize her, she transformed
herself into a mouse, and ran into the crevice of a dyke. Instantly
the greyhound assumed the shape of a weasel, pursued, and brought
her out. The two then assumed their proper shape, and the old woman,
delivered up to her enemies, was burnt on the top of Craig-na-ban.
After passing Abergeldie,
the road leads through the wood of Coillie
I should notice first a range of hills on the north side of the
river, the highest point of which is called Geallaig,
or White Mountain. About the base of this hill, not far from the
road, are some traces of a Roman Catholic chapel, and a large
upright standing-stone, said to be the remains of a Druidical temple
which existed there before St. Nathalan introduced Christianity into Braemar, or
according to others, an old French priest.
There are some curious legends about this St. Nathalan, the patron
saint of the lower part of Braemar. One
of them states that he sprang from a noble family near Ballater; but
that being the case, all the legends make a sad omission in not
telling how he himself became acquainted with the Christianity which
they say he introduced. Here is one of the legends:—
St. Nathalan belonged to one of the noble families on Deeside, near Ballater,
yet differed from them so much as to prefer the quiet pursuits of
agriculture to all the glories of rapine and war. So exceedingly
devout was he, that he spent the most of his time in divine
contemplation and acts of beneficence.
During a great scarcity he fed his starving neighbours from his own
abundant stores. But of course they could not last for ever; so,
when spring-time returned, St. Nathalan was without seed for his
ground. But there could be no fear for a saint like him : so he
gathered a quantity of the finest sand that could possibly be had,
and with it his lands were sown; and when harvest-time came round,
never was such a crop seen as loaded the fields of St. Nathalan.
After the generosity he had shown his neighbours, it was little
enough that they should assist him; so they turned out en
began to reap in right earnest. While all were thus busily engaged,
the heavens grew black, and anon the murky clouds poured forth
tremendous torrents. The Gairn and Dee rose,
and rose, until at length their ruthless floods swept the whole of
this wonderful crop into their devouring vortex.
The shock was so sudden, that the saint so far forgot himself as to
be very angry, and utter some unguarded expressions. Just then the
heavens grew serene, and St. Nathalan at the same moment became
convinced of his great wickedness in murmuring against God, and
resolved also to expiate his great sin by a penance correspondingly
severe. So, getting a heavy iron chain, he bound it round his ankle,
and fastened it with a padlock ; then threw the key into the Dee (that
particular part being still known as the Key
it was not to be unlocked until he did something at Rome—I
After a weary pilgrimage he reached his destination ; and having
performed his vow, was walking along the street in quiet meditation.
A boy selling fish, however, caught his attention. He bought one,
and, strange enough, on opening it there was the identical key he
had thrown into the Dee among
of Mar. Of
course he concluded that this was a sure token that his sin was
pardoned, and took accordingly all the comfort flowing from such a
After this brilliant affair he remained several years at Rome,
edifying it with his wonderful piety. But, as was natural, he began
to have a strong desire to revisit his native hills. So, enriched
with the Pope’s blessing, and invested also with some wonderful
gifts of healing, etc., he returned home; and having built several
chapels, spittals, etc., at his own expense (among the others, the
chapel at this place), ‘ he
was forthwith hailed as the patron
of Mar! He
must have been content, however, with a limited diocese, as St.
Andrew held that honour in the upper part, or what is now known as
In passing through the beautiful wood of Collie
curious fact may be noticed. Most of the trees along the side of the
road, and in every other situation where exposed to the northern
blast, are minus branches
on that side. The scenery is still magnificent, though the hills are
lower than those farther up the river. Near a very beautiful one,
Youze, i.e. Hill
of the Firs, a small stream falls into the Dee on
the south side. It is the Girnock. The
glen through which it flows is called Strathgirnock.
A terrible tragedy took place there in olden times. In modern days a
much more pleasing association has been linked to it, and lately
made known to us by Her Majesty the Queen.
Next comes Knock
also on the south side. On it are the ruins of an old castle (25),
also connected with the tragedy of Strathgirnock. A
the south, and nearly opposite Glengairn opens
into it from the north, so forming the third great pair of ribs
branching out from the great back-bone of the Dee.
which contains the finest and most diversified scenery of all the
glens in Braemar,
commences in the corry of
Taggart and Lochnagar. Its
upper portion, where the mountains are entirely granite, is narrow
and elevated, very rugged and bare; but from the foot of the loch it
is much more open and level.
In this latter portion are the remains of many old houses. The only
habitable ones, however, are the gamekeepers’ shielings, the
shepherds’ bothies, and Ault-na-guisach
nine miles from its head, the glen contracts very much; but again
expands, and continues to
do so until it reaches its greatest width, between the hill of Knock and
the ridge of Panannich, where
it joins Strathdee. The Water
of Muick is
the largest tributary of the Dee from
the south, and, as before stated, has its source near Cairn
issuing from the
forms a succession of noisy cataracts, then expands into a loch,
about two miles in length and half a mile in breadth.
Loch Muick is
surrounded by lofty ranges of steep hills, deeply furrowed by
mountain torrents; while in some places the frowning precipices of Lochnagar
hang darkly over it. Its scenery at every point is grand, but
towards its head it rises into the sublime.
of Muick, while
a tributary of the Dee, has
in turn its own tributaries, the principal of which is the burn of
on which is a beautiful fall some 160 feet in height. About nine
miles from its source the Muick rushes
through a linn, in the heart of a beautiful fir wood ; and after
clearing the wood, it hurls itself over a high precipice into a
foaming pool beneath, and after a course in all of some fifteen
miles, it falls into the Dee.
In the mouth of Glen
a mile and a half south from Ballater, stood
a place of much renown/ as the Deeside
on account of a mournful tragedy which took place here, and is
recorded in the old ballad, The
Barrone of Braichley. The Castle
of Braichley is
now altogether demolished, nothing thereof remaining but one or two
small fragments. A hollow is still pointed out, between two small
knolls, where the Farquharsons fell upon the baron, and killed him.
is nearly opposite, is the largest on the north side of the Dee, being
about eighteen miles in length. It commences in a deep hollow,
between Ben-Aun and Craigandal. Its
upper part, which is very bleak and bare, contains only one
habitation—a shepherd’s bothie.
shooting-box for the deer forest of Ben-Aun, the
first traces of cultivation appear. From this point all the way to
its mouth, it preserves a pretty uniform character, occasionally
contracting or expanding as the hills. encroach or recede. Compared
to the other glens of Braemar,
its scenery is tame; yet occasionally there is a dash of the
picturesque. Towards its mouth there is a considerable number of
We are now nearing the verge of the Braemar
only entrance to them formerly was through the Pass
of Ballater. Now
a road, not so direct, but more convenient, winds round the base of Craig-an-Darroch,
of the Oaks, to the village of Ballater, which
is beautifully situated on an extensive plain, formed by a great
curve in the river Dee.
‘The Pass of
has been said, presents scenery in some respects unsurpassed by any
in Scotland! The
road seems to go right through the heart of the mountain, which
looks as if it had been split asunder. The cloven sides, rising up
almost perpendicularly, form a gorge of surpassing magnificence,
leaving little more than space for a road, and a small stream which
runs along its side.
the south side of the Pass, is
1400 feet in height. The view from it is exceedingly fine. The
village, in particular, appears, to great advantage, yet so small as
to give the impression of a child’s toy lying on a miniature
plain,—the railway, trains, etc., all looking equally diminutive.
The hills alone look truly great and grand.
A little below the Pass is
the ancient village of Tullich. On
the south side of the road, which passes through it, are the ruins
of the ‘Auld
Kirk of Tullich.’
Connected with these ruins is a very extraordinary legend. I briefly
relate what of it I heard from an old Highlander some time ago :—
Most people have heard of the Reel
of Tullich. The
incident which gave rise to it occurred in this, or rather in an
older structure which this ruin superseded. About 160 or 170 years
ago, the minister of it lived at the Milton
at some little distance; and one stormy Sabbath he, not expecting
the people to come out, remained at home.
‘The people gathered, however; and as they-had no such things as
heating apparatus, they were very cold. While waiting for the
minister, they began, innocently enough at
first, to clap their hands and stamp their feet, to get a little
warmth. The majority of the people being young, and their notions of
Sabbath sanctity not very rigid, this led to more lively action
still. It was at length proposed that, as the minister was not
appearing, they should have a “fine' of
then current. Some “gude ale” was then procured, which produced its
usual effects, even in the kirk, especially when another and another
all were thus jumping and stamping about, one suggested that it was
quite as well to dance in a regular manner as not, and proposed a
reel, which was at once agreed to. A musician was procured; then
followed a scene without precedent, I suppose in any place set apart
for God’s worship: they set a-dancing. Having thus laid aside all
restraint, they grew more and more uproarious in their unhallowed
glee. One, after ascending the pulpit, was uttering a lot of
gibberish; another, occupying the precentor’s desk, was trolling out
a bacchanalian song, while the rest were dancing as in a frenzy; and
it was during these disgraceful scenes that the “Reel
was improvised. . .
‘Just judgment,’ added my informant, ‘followed this terrible
desecration of God’s day and house; for, ere that day twelve months,
every one then present lay in their graves.’ For the truth of this
account I am not responsible ; only it was related to me as a thing
firmly believed by the old people. And certainly one does not look
with less interest on the Milton
or the ruins of the ‘auld
after hearing this sombre story.
We are now in the vicinity of Byron’s Morven of
snow, and the rocks that o’ershadow Culbleen.
While a little farther down the river, on the opposite or south
side, is Ballatrich, where
he lived when a boy, and spent his holidays when attending the
grammar school in Aberdeen.
Next comes the Moor
of Dinnet, and
it is a lonesome one, lying along there most drearily. Strange the
power by which that gifted one could turn ugliness itself into a
thing of poetical beauty, as when he sang :
shaggy wood' .
Not many would think that great stretch of brown heath there very
On the north-west corner of the moor lies Loch
or Kinnord. On
one of its islands Malcolm Canmore had a castle, and a prison on the
other. Both islands are artificial. At the side of this moor is a
burn, which is, or was, considered the boundary between the Highlands and
Not far from Loch
a smaller one, called Loch
from it is a hill with a great cairn on its summit, not conical, as
most of them are, but of an oval shape, and flattened on the top.
Its antiquity may account for its peculiar shape, as it is said to
have been erected in the time of Malcolm Canmore. According to
tradition, a bloody battle was fought with the Danes near the base
of the hill, while their general, Mulloch, was killed on its summit.
Hence the cairn,
and name Hill
the next place of interest. It lies on the north side of the river;
and nearly opposite, Glen
into Strathdee. This
glen at one time must have been densely wooded, as the quantity of
wood exported has been enormous; and still it may be truthfully
described as a really beautiful and richly wooded glen.
On the north side of the river, a few miles farther down, rises a
hill called the Red
Cap of Mortlach so
named from the fact, traditional at least, that some restless spirit
took a great fancy to nocturnal rambles on it. Nor would it walk
quietly like a decent spirit, but when it was about midnight; spoke
loudly, either to itself or the terrified people, they did not know
which, as it used an unknown language. And
those who had the temerity to look in the direction, saw an awful
vision, and terrible to behold, with
something on its head like a red night-cap. This hill is easily
distinguished by a monument on its summit.
On the south side of the river lies the ancient house and estate of Fenzean (29).
The proprietors were originally from Braemar; and
the way in which they are said to have acquired the property forms
one of the most interesting legends.
Still farther down the river is the ancient village of Kincardine
built, tradition says, some 700 years ago, by one who figures
largely in the early legends of Braemar. Passing
many other points of interest, as I am now beyond the boundaries of Braemar, I
notice only one other place on account of its connection with Braemar history;
that is, the Hill
a long low range north from Banchory some
four miles. There is in its south side a hollow called Corrichie, where
a great battle was fought between the Earl of Moray and the Earl of
Huntly, the forces of the latter being totally defeated, and himself
cruelly slain. Eighteen miles farther down, the Dee falls
into the sea near Aberdeen.