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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
I. Introductory Sketch of Parish


The united Parish of Abernethy and Kincardine is about sixteen miles long and twelve broad. It lies along the east side of the Spey, and is bounded on the south by Rothiemurchus, the march running by the west end of Loch Morlich, past the Castle Hill to the top of Cairngorm, and on the east and north-east by the parishes of Tomintoul, Kirkmichael, and Cromdale. Abernethy was originally in Morayshire. In the Old Statistical Account (1792), it is said: "It is a little remarkable that at the south-east point of this parish, between Glenlochy and Glenbroun, the Shires of Inverness, Murray and Banff meet, so that when standing on the Bridge of Brown one may throw a stone into any of the three counties." Another version of the story was that the parsons of the three contiguous parishes used sometimes to meet on the bridge, shake hands, and drink a cup of kindness, each standing on his own ground. It is curious to find a parallel to this in Italy, at the Proto-de-Fame, where the dioceses of Trento, Verona and Brescia meet, but the point of meeting is a lake, not a bridge. So it is recorded by Dante:-

"At midway of that lake, where he who bears
Of Trento’s flock the pastoral staff, with him
Of Brescia, and the Veronese might each,
Passing that way, his benediction give."

Another parallel may be found in the Shire Stones, near the source of the River Duddon, in England, of which Wordsworth writes: "They stand by the wayside at the top of the Wrynose Pass, and it used to be reckoned a proud thing to say that, by touching them at the same time with feet and hands, one had been in three counties at once "—Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Lancashire. In 1870 a change was made in the county marches; Abernethy was transferred to Inverness-shire, so that since then the whole parish, including Kincardine, is in the same county. But by a clause in the Act of Parliament, certain advantages enjoyed from being in Morayshire, specially the right of the public school to share in the benefits of "The Dick Bequest Fund," and the admission of children to the Elgin Institution, were preserved. Sir Walter Scott’s famous lines may be said fairly to depict the main features of the parish:—

"Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood."

The "brown heath" stretches for fifteen miles from Cromdale Hill by Connage, the Plottas, and Sliamore, to the wilds of the Caiplich. Where can be found finer specimens of the "shaggy wood" than in the forests of Glenmore and Tulloch, and on the rugged slopes of Craigmore and Carn-chnuic? The "flood" is well represented by the Spey and the Nethy, Loch Garten, Loch Morlich and Loch Pytoulish. For the "mountain," there is the ridge of hills that divides Kincardine, and the far grander range that encircles Abernethy, beginning with the bold peak of Sgorrgaothidh at the east; then the Geal-charn; then Bynack rising like a gigantic pyramid from the plain of the Larig, and culminating in the snowy corries and dark-frowning glories of Glen Avon and Cairngorm. The character of the scenery in the lower grounds varies much according to the time of the year. In early summer the browns and the greens predominate; the brown of the moors, and the green of the pine-woods and the meadows, which gives rather a sombre cast to the scene. But as summer passes into autumn there is a change; the moors glow with the bloom of the heather, and the saffron of the larch, the golden tresses of the birch, and the purple of the mountain ash, and the fields covered with yellow corn, break the monotony, and give a rich variety of colour to the landscape. Winter also, though it has generally a predominance of white, has also its infinite diversities and changes of aspect. In viewing scenery, much depends upon the standpoint. Taking the old road from the parish church to the manse, you have a magnificent view of the valley of the Spey and its "brotherhood of ancient mountains." Standing at a higher point, on the brow of the hill above Milton, you look out, as from a window, on the wide sweep of the forest from Craigmore to the Torr, and away south to Tomghobhainn and Carn-bheithir. Miss Gordon Cumming, the great traveller, said of this view that it was one of the finest "sylvan scenes" she had ever seen. From the south-east face of Rhynettan, the view is different. You see before you the valley of the Nethy, with great breadths of moor on each side gully after gully, and terrace rising above terrace, till the ancient labours of glacier and flood are mixed and lost amid the roots of the mountains. From a still higher standpoint, as from the top of Bynack and Cairngorm, whilst the view is greatly widened, reaching to the sea and the far-off lands of Sutherland and Caithness, the aspect of the country immediately below is completely altered. The houses are few and far between, the cultivated land dwindles to strips and patches, and gloom and desolation seem to cover the vast spaces of heath and mountain. The configuration is largely accounted for by the character of the rocks, amid the geological changes which have taken place in the course of the ages. Along the Spey are large alluvial deposits, forming the meadows of Garten, Coulnakyle, and Balliemore. Higher up there are mosses of great extent, as at Garten, Clachaig, and the Plottas. Then higher still there are enormous accumulations of drift, through which the Nethy, Dorback, and Altmore, have cut their way. It seems probable that the whole of the basin opposite Curr had at one time been covered by a vast lake, stretching back to the heights of Badenoch (the drowned land), which had gradually contracted, or formed a chain of lakes as the water sank to lower levels. There are indications of this in the remaining lochs, such as Loch lnsh (721), Loch Alvie (700), Loch Garten (726), and the terraces so beautifully marked at Pytoulish (674, 700, 800), and other places on both sides of the Spey. The first outlet for this lake, on this side, may have been at the pass leading to the Crasg and Glenbroun. Next there was the gorge at Lynbreck, and the narrow valley past Lynmore and Ballinluig. Lower there is the Slockd of Bachdcharn opening out on Balliefurth and Achernack. Then lower still are the terraces of Craigmore and Culriach, marking the levels at which the water stood for ages before it had made the passage by which the Spey now runs past Inverallan and Achnagonaln. These points are all worthy of study, and something might be learnt by a comparison of their heights with those of similar terraces in Strathspey and Badenoch, or even with the mysterious Roads of Glenroy, which have been for so long a perplexity and puzzle to geologists. The Glen Roy terraces are three in number: (1) 1140; (2) 1059, cf. Loch Morlich, 1046; (3) 847, cf. Loch-an-Eilan, 840. The following valuable notes on the geology of Abernethy have been kindly furnished by Mr Lionel Hinxman, with the permission of the Director-General of H. M. Geological Survey:-

"The greater part of the area included in the parish is occupied by the metamorphic rocks—mica schists, quartz schists, and quartzites—of the Highlands. Of these rocks are formed the range of hills that runs eastwards from Loch Phitiulais to the head of Glen More, Carn Bheur, the Geal Chain, and the high ground of the Braes of Abernethy, extending northwards to the Cromdale Hills. The predominant rock over this area is mica schist, varying in character from a coarse gneissose schist to a fine-grained flagstone, such as the rocks seen at the Bridge of Brown, and on Cnoc Fergan, further to the east.

"In the deep gorges cut by the Ailnack water and its tributary, the Allt Dearcaige, bands of quartzite alternate with the mica schist. The quartzite is often deeply reddened with oxide of iron, as is denoted by the name Carn Ruadh-bruaich—the Red Brae. With the quartzite are associated bands of dark schist, containing graphite and grey crystalline limestone, which at one spot near the ford of the Ailnack becomes a white marble. Another band of limestone crops out along the course of the Allt Iomadaidh between Rynetnich and Strancamernich, and extends thence to the south-east along the slopes of the Carn Fhir Odhair. Limestone is also found near Ballantruim and Sliabhchlach, and at Speybridge.

"A coarse conglomerate of old red sandstone age covers the western slopes of Glen Brown to the south of Curr, and can be seen in the ravines cut by the burns on the hill sides at Crask.

"The granite of the Cairngorm mountains appears in the extreme south of the parish, the northern boundary of the igneous rock running eastwards from the foot of the Lang Pass, through Glen More, to the head of the water at Caiplich. It crosses Strath Nethy between Sgor na h’ Iolaire and Sron Chano, the red granite of the latter contrasting strongly with the dark shattered precipices of mica schist that form the ‘Eagle’s Rock.’

"The Cairngorm granite is a moderately coarse-grained red or pinkish rock, composed chiefly of quartz and felspar, with a little black mica. The well-known ‘Cairngorm stones’ are quartz crystals, coloured in various shades with iron. They occur in cavities in the granite, but are more often found loose among the sandy debris on the mountain tops. The rock disintegrates freely under the action of atmospheric agencies, while the harder portions often weather out into huge castellated masses, like the Barns of Ben Bynac and the smaller tors on the summit of Cairngorm.

"Small isolated masses of granite appear through the schists on the Torr Hill, near Loch Garten, and on the hill above Revack Lodge, while a larger intrusion occupies the southern and western slopes of the Baddoch, in the Braes of Abernethy. The granite at the last-named locality passes at the head of Allt Iomadaidh into a rock of a peculiar and interesting character. It has been described as an augite-diorite, and contains large crystals of augite with a beautiful silky lustre.

"Evidences of former glacial action are found everywhere throughout the district. The valley of the Nethy is filled with a vast accumulation of gravelly drift, brought down in the first instance by the glaciers descending from the Cairngorms, and subsequently rolled out and dressed into successive terraces by the torrents flowing from the melting ice. The silent process of denudation still goes on as the Nethy cuts its ever-deepening channel through these ancient deposits, bearing the waste of the mountains down to the Spey.

"Higher terraces, seen here and there far up on the hill slopes, mark the successive levels of the shrinking glaciers, the interval between the ice and the hill-side having been filled up with water and ice-borne materials. These lateral moraines are conspicuous at the head of Glen More, under Mam Suim, and round the head waters of the Faishellach Burn.

"The fine sand and silt deposits along the Dorback Burn below the lodge probably indicate the site of a glacial lake, whose waters, dammed up on the west by the ice coming down Strath Nethy, may have escaped by the now dry gorge of Lynbreck.

"Glacial striae, i.e., the scratches made on the rocks by stones embedded in the moving ice, are not frequent, owing to the rapid disintegration of the surface of the granite on the high mountains and the drift-covering on the lower hills. They may, however, be observed on the top of Creag Phitinlais, near the march fence, and on Creaggowrie. In both places they point north-east, and indicate the direction in which the ice moved down the valley."


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