Social Usages of the BraemariansDress, Food,
etc.Last Case of Witch craftCheese-peel.
THE next and last point of interest in Braemar history
was the auspicious event of it becoming again, as in days of old, a
royal residencea change conducive to its highest interests.
But, before touching upon that subject, I may notice briefly the
state of the people as to social usages, dress, food, etc., about
the end of the eighteenth century, as at that time the old habits,
customs, etc., had but begun to give way by the introduction of
Saxon usage and modern improvement.
And first as to dress. After the defeat at Culloden the soldiers had
orders to oblige the
people to lay aside their ancient costume. This in Braemar they
entirely failed in doing. But a kind of compromise was made. The
kilt they did not,
and would not
lay aside; but they agreed to have it of other material than tartan.
They adopted instead a greyish sort of colour, with a few narrow
stripes of white round the bottom, by way of border. This was a
great concession; for in Braemar,
as well as in other Highland districts, they had attained to a great
proficiency in the production of those beautifully bright and
permanent colours, for which very old tartans are famous.
It has appeared to some surprising that the Highlanders should be
able, from the scanty materials which their country afforded, to,
produce such brilliancy of colouring. In those days, good housewives
distinguished themselves not only by the superior quality of cloth
they producedfor all was home-madebut also by the brightness and
variety of their colours. From the descendants of one thus
distinguished I had the whole secret; and a simple one it was, both
as to the process and material of dyeing.
Black was produced from aurn
and yellow from heather, the green being first dyed blue with
indigo. From white crottle' a species of lichen, a beautiful
crimson was produced. The crottle or lichen producing this
colour had to be kept in soak for at least a twelvemonth before use.
A more common red was produced from madder; brown from 'rough
crottle, another species of lichen : the fixing matter for all
these colours being of the most primitive nature.
Shoes also were of home manufacture, being made out of skins
prepared by themselves, in very primitive fashion, sewed in the
inside and turned over.
The number of the people at that date was much greater than at
present : for instance, in Glen
were forty-one families, now only six ; in Glen
now only one, a gamekeepers; in Glen
were six, now there are none ; in Glen
now I think none ; in Glen
now none. This was exclusive of those dwelling in Strathdee,
Castleton, A uchindryne, etc.
Eight meal mills were also required at that time ; now there are
only two, and one would be sufficient for the work required. One of
the mills was at Invercauld\one
Quoich, Inverey, Kill-a-Coll\ A uchindryne, Castleton, Coldrach; and
the eighth at Stron,
Gaelic Stroon-een. The
millers were paid with so much of the meal.
How was it' I inquired on hearing this account, that so many could
subsist then, when the few now, with a much better system of
farming, can scarcely manage to lived he answer to my question was
given as follows, brought out fully by one or two other queries :
Weel, it has been supposed, and said, that
it was principally through poaching in the woods and rivers that
they contrived to subsist. Now, that was not correct ; for at the
time when so many were in the country, James Farquharson, the fifth
laird of Invercauld, and
last of the direct line, had all his tenants sworn in not to touch
his wood or water; and the tenure by which they held their lands
was, that it was to be term-day when they were found doing either.
They had no other lease, and never were removed but in the event of
such trespassing; and then he was inexorable: no man needed to plead
I min well a gey queer story of this kind. There was a man they
cad Grigor Riach, and ane o his laddies was at a place they ca the Red-banks, where
Major Rosss house is building, gathering tapins ae day: that is a
kind o supple twig that sometimes springs from the bottom or root
of the birch-trees: it was to mak a creel or something. The laird,
he happened to be riding that way, and saw the boy, who ran. But the
laird gave chase; and having found out who he was, his parents were
immediately ejected. And though the people went and pleaded for him
that the tapins were of no use, and that he was but a boy, and that
his father did not know of him taking them, etc., the laird was not
to be moved: they had to remove to Glenshee,and
the father died there soon after. That was the way poachers on the
very smallest scale were dealt with; and, of course, those on a
bigger scale were not treated more leniently.
Now how could the woods or the water serve under such circumstances
to keep people alive? No, the real secret of it was this : every
croft or small farm had so many sheep. They had so many of what we
call withers, so many hogs, and so many ewes, kept in their
different enclosures. These enclosures were never cleaned but in
spring, when the ground was preparing; and then the manure was taken
out, saft and warm, and laid upon the ground, and ploughed in, or
delved in, and then the bear was sown. And it was nathing uncommon
to have twelve bolls for every boll of seed. The heads would a been that length
(measuring about half a foot on his hand); and the sheafs that
heavy, that one would not have stood up till ye brought anither to
pit aside it at the harvest, but would fa doon wi the weight o
the ears. And then it was a cut wi the hook ; there was nae
scything. It was a bear that was sown maistly, except only the
weest puckle oats ; for there was no oatcakes used but at Christmas.
Weel, then, as I was tellin ye, there would be a grand big
kailyard, and that served generally for dinner. First they were
boiled, and then some brose made of the bree, and then the kail
would be chapped sma, an supped after. In the morning, for
breakfast it would be brose and milk to them ; and if there was nae
milk, it would be raw sowins. For supper it would be sowins again,
boild, or knothing, or something like that; and of course it was
only at extra times that there would be a sheep killed, or onything
of that kind. That was the way they lived, an bra men they were,
stronger and better - looking than mony to be seen now-a-days. For
instance, the twa brithers, the Invereys, that selt Balmoral about
fifty or sixty years ago, the ane was sax feet four, the other sax
feet twa, and stout in proportion. Of course there would be a sizes
; but strong, stout men they were generally.
They would have few dainties then, I said jocularly; they would
not drink tea in the morning, I suppose?
Na, they didna dee that, said the old man, laughing; I could tell
you gey funny things about the tea when it cam first in fashion.
There was a woman lived up by there, Bell MGregor they cait her:
she had been a servant to the Farquharsons of Allen
the two sisters were left, Miss Peggie and Miss Nancy, Allen
selt; an they gaed to Edinburgh,
an had a house in George
were auld maids, ye ken, but had plenty to keep themselves
comfortable. I used to wonder often that Miss Peggie was never
married, for she was as fine a looking woman as ye would hae seen :
the ither wasna that.
Weel, when I gaed to the south wi my sheep, I aye called on the
Misses Farquharson ; an as regularly as I called, I got a pun o
tea for an auld school-maister in Glen
was fouk that I thoucht mair o than that man; but I wouldna refuse
to tak it for a that. Weel, there was ae year they asked if I
would tak half a purt o
tea to Bell MGregor also, as she had been a faithful servant to
them, and they wished to send some token of remembrance to her. Weel,
I took the tea to Bell. '
Heich! said she when I gae it to her, they micht a sent
something that would a been o mair use.
Weel, hoo cam ye on wi the tea, Bell? I speird some time
Heich, the tea! said she. I kenna whats the guid o that stuff.
I pat it into a pottie, an boiled it, an boiled it; but never a
bit safter grew it. Syne I pat in a good slake o butter, and boiled
it again; but it was just as teuch as wands after a.
Did she pour out the liquid? I inquired.
Weel, I did
but that was her very
me. I assure you I did not wait to speir muckle mair, but made oot
as fast as I could, an took a guid lauch to mysel?
About 1782 the first English-speaking family came to settle in Castleton. They
must have had considerable difficulty in communicating with their
neighbours, as up to that period Gaelic universally prevailed. A
laughable instance of the difficulty they had in communicating their
ideas was thus related to me: The brither of the new innkeeper and
one Alastair MDonald had a great wark wi ane anither/ said the old
man; though the one could speak no Gaelic but a few words he had
picked up since coming, and vice
incomer taught this new friend to smokeno common thing in those days.
When any accident happened to the pipe, it was rather a serious
matter to get a fresh supply. Such accident happened to the
Braemarian one day: he broke his pipe, and soon as possible sought
out his friend, to see if he could help him in the emergency.
Oh, my cuttim pipe! said he with great vehemence, I'll
man, replied the other, what for would ye brak yer pipe ? youd
better nae dee that, in case I hana anither.
But Ill brak him already!
cried Alastair, pulling 'out the fragments, to make the extent of
his misfortune manifest. Of course the only response was a hearty
burst of laughter; but it did not disturb the harmony between the
friends, as their mistakes were mutual.
Somewhere about this period an English teacher was settled in Braemar. An
a body, said my old friend, was so anxious
to learn English. We were forbidden to speak Gaelic; an when we
were at the school, mony a threshing did we boys get for deein it
aye. We thoucht it was gey hard
and it our mither tongue.
A curious custom prevailed also in regard to teaching : only the
eldest son and youngest daughter of a family were taught to read.
The schoolmasters fee was a peck of meal in the yearI suppose for
every child in the family. In respect to his fee, the teacher was
quite on a level with the tailor and blacksmith, who also had a peck
of meal from every family for doing all their
work for a year. When any one wore out their clothes sooner than
usual, it was not the parents who provided the material that made
any complaint, but the tailor, who was bound to do all
the work of the family on the terms stated ; and he used to grumble
sadly when they were not careful.
The blacksmiths duties, however, could not have been very onerous,
as the horses used for agricultural purposes only got shoes for
their fore-feet once a year, when the spring labour commenced.
Ploughs were all made of wood, excepting the sock, i.e. share.
When any one took a job to the blacksmith, he remained until it was
finished, however long. He was expected also to take food enough
with him to supply his own wants, and the blacksmiths too, all the
time he remained.
At one time the belief in witches, fairies, ghosts, etc., was
universal in Braemar; now
such ideas are all but exploded. A few, however, still think more
about these things than they care to confess. One man with whom I
conversed not long ago, attributes this great change to want of
faith among the people.
Their forefathers, he thought, were remarkable for the greatness of
their faith, which fully accounted, he believed, for all the
supernatural appearances, etc., of former times.
The last case of witchcraft in Braemar occurred
in this wise: The innkeeper had sown a large bed of onions, in which
a neighbours hens made sad havoc. As his frequent requests that
they should be kept out of the way for a time were quite unheeded,
he resolved to rid himself of the nuisance by shooting them. But as
the woman had the reputation of being a witch, he could not get
either his sons or servants to meddle with the hens. One lad was at
length prevailed on, by the promise of a sixpence, to shoot either
one or two of them.
Having shot them among the onions, he had to carry them to the
woman, and tell her why it had been done. 'He was terrible
unwilling. At last he took them up, went to her door, and threw
them in, shouting at the same time his message not over politely.
Shortly after the young man grew ill, an pined away; naebody could
ken what was the matter. So they came to the conclusion that he was
witched. The only remedy, therefore, was for the lad to draw blood
of the witch above
the breath. And
I think, said my old friend, that the funniest thing I ever saw
was the lad watching like a cat for his opportunity; and when he had
got her in a suitable place, tearing the mutch aff her head, an
scratching her face till the bleed cam. He grew better after it,
tho; and I can assure ye that it was looked upon as a case o realwitchcraft.
It is pleasing to turn from this instance of credulity to one of
very opposite characterthat of a strong but totally uncultured mind
bursting the shackles of superstitious belief which at that time
held the mass of the Braemarians in thrall. I give the account in
her own words :
The first place I gaed till, they had a great fear of the fairies
coming down the lum through the nicht an takin awa the bairns. So
I got strick orders every nicht afore I gaed to my bed, to pit a bit
fir in the links of the crook. They thoucht the spirits and fairies
cam doon the lum, but when they came to the bit fir they could na
get farther. So I began to consider, lassie as I was, that if they
couldna come owre a bit fir, they couldna hae power to dee a body
muckle ill; but then, ye see, being a servant, I had just to dee as
I was bidden, but that was my ideas o it.
Then they had a great wark about dogs seeing
things, i.e. spirits
or ghosts. Weel, there was ae day that we were coming along the
road, and there was some rags hung up on sticks for a tattie
dog, he was trotting on the road afore us bravely; but whenever he
saw the bogle, he crouched awa in at our backs, and seemed quite in
says I to them, dee ye see that? Ye say dogs see things that fouk
disna see. Weel, we see the bogle, an we ken what it is, and it
disna trouble us. The dog, he seest tee, and its fu o terror to
him, because he doesna understand it. Noo, thats the way that they
see things, etc.
Another curious practice existed. In summer the flocks and herds
were taken to the upper glens to have the benefit of the richer
pasture they afforded. The women and children tended them ; and a
sort of temporary dwelling was put up to shelter them, called 'shiels.
Most of the men remained at home to labour the fields, etc., but
paid many visits to the shiels in the evenings. They also repaired
to them on Saturdays, and remained till Monday.
Many customs then obtained which we would now think very curious;
for instance, at nights there would be a promiscuous gathering of
fourteen, fifteen, or more, into one bed,not constructed, of
course, on the same plan as our modern ones. They extended along the
whole breadth of the shiel, and were formed of heather packed very
closely on end. This afforded a resting-place deliciously soft and
Into this style of bed were convened at nights the heads of the
family, the childrenyoung and old servants, and visitors; and yet,
at the time when this custom prevailed, the morality of the people
was high to a degree unknown in modern times. An old man, still
living, who had thirty years experience of this glen life, ere it
became a thing of the past, says that during all that time not a
single breach of modesty occurred, at least not to his knowledge.
There was, when he was quite a boy, one man whose life was suspected
of not being so pure as it ought to be : he was consequently looked
down upon, and avoided particularly by the young ladies. There was
one very pretty girl he had quite a fancy for, and would have paid
her frequent visits while in the glen, but was prevented in the
following manner :
This young woman, said my old friend, was very good and kind to
the herd-boys, giving them a drink of milk, cheese and bread, etc.,
occasionally. She was consequently a great favourite. One day she
came up to us, and said, Now, boys, Ill give you a good dish of
curds and cream if youll stane--
"owre the hill when ye see him coming the nicht.
We had no idea then why she
wanted us to do that ; but it didna matter: we were willing to
please her, and win our curds and cream. So we gathered two or three
great heaps o stanes ; and whenever we saw him coming, we set tae
and pelted. He tried sair to get by us, but we mastered him. I
suppose he was puzzled to know why we did it; but at ony rate we got
our curds and cream. It wasna for some years after that I understood
the true meaning o the stoning ; and it was just that she thoucht
mair o hersel than hae the name o a licht character like him
coming about her. It is very different now. Yet still, in the scale
of morals, they are much in advance of Lowland districts. .
With another droll little incident I sum up this account of glen
life. When the season was over, the cheese, butter, etc., which had
been made during the summer, were taken home and stored up for
winter use. On one occasion, when a servant-man had brought home his
cart full of such treasures, he asked his master where he
would put them. There must have been something unusually provoking
in the question, or the good-man
must have been in an unusually cross mood, for the answer was
the peel' meaning
the deep pool in the Cluny,
near the Established Church.
The servant, who no more lacked fire or contumaciousness than his
master, went straight to the place, took the back-door out of the
cart, and tumbled the whole into the water. Ye may be sure nae
little ado was made; and the place was aye called the Cheese Peel
This incident must have taken place subsequently to the year 1796,
as about that time carts were first introduced to Braemar. They
were of very primitive structurejust a framework of wood, with
rapes or ropes made of tow, pob, or horse-hair twisted round it, to
keep in the load, of what kind soever it was. There was not a bit of
iron on the wheels or any other part. The price of the whole was
also very moderate, as the first three carts used in Braemar cost,
horses and all, only two guineas.