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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XVII. Coulnakyle and its Memories


THERE is more historical interest connected with Coulnakyle than with any other place in our parish. Castle Roy had its story, but it is lost in the mists of the far past. Balliemore had its Bailies, Rothiemoon its Tolbooth, Balnagown its George’s Fair, Lurg, Achernack, and Gartenmore their Cadets of Grant, and Tulloch its songs and traditions of fight and forays; but all these were incidental and fragmentary. With Coulnakyle it is different. It has not only a name, but a history. Here Edward of England may have flaunted his banners; here the trumpets of Claverhouse have sounded; and here Montrose and Mackay have pitched their tents. Here Chiefs of Grant have dwelt; here Baron Bailies have held their courts; here the managers of the York Company resided; here tacksmen like Captain Macdonald, sportsmen such as Richard Winsloe, and "summer visitors," changing from year to year, have had for a time their home. Coulnakyle has been a centre of life and interest for more than six hundred years. Long may it continue so. Coulnakyle is named in the Register of Moray as far back as 1226. In a Feu Disposition by Patrick, Bishop of Moray, to James Grant of Freuchie of the lands of the Barony of Strathspey, dated 24th February, 1539, "the lands of Cannocawill" are mentioned as part of the Barony. Then in the marriage contract between Sir John Grant of Freuchie and Mary Ogilvie, daughter of Sir Walter Ogilvie of Fyndlater, 11th December, 1613, "the lands of Culnakyle in the tenandry of Fynlarg regality of Spynie" are designated. In a contract of excambion by Sir John Grant of Freuchie, 27th October, 1627, among other lands named are "the lands of Culnakyill and Auchnahandett, with the teindsheaves thereof in the tenandry of Fynlarg, diocese of Moray, and shires of Elgin and Forres and Inverness held in feu of the Bishop of Moray."

For seventeen years in the sixteenth century (1565-1582) the Manor-house of Coulnakyle was occupied by Duncan Grant, younger of Freuchie. He came to Coulnakyle while Queen Mary was still a prisoner at Lochleven. Here he brought his young wife, Margaret, daughter of William Mackintosh of Dunachton, by whom he had five sons and two daughters. This lady survived him, and had an eventful history, marrying for her second husband Alexander Gordon, younger of Abergeldie; and for her third, William Sutherland of Duffus. She was alive in 1627, when, as Lady of Duffus, she granted a discharge for 600 merks to Sir John Grant of Freuchie. Duncan, younger of Freuchie, from his love for our parish, and from his residence within its bounds, was commonly called "Duncan of Abernethy" or "Duncan of the Woods." He was a man of much shrewdness and energy, and took an active part in punishing raiders, and in establishing law and order in the country. He also added considerably to the possessions of the family. In 1569 we find him associated with his father in a Commission of Justiciary, by King James VI., for the trial of George M’Yntagart and others, who in the October and February before had raised fire and committed oppressions on the lieges in Rothiemurchus and Glencharnich. To this commission is attached a notarial instrument declaring that "ane rycht honorabill man, Duncan Grant, Sone, and apperand air to ane rycht honorabill man, Jhone Grant of Frewchy," had taken the oath de fideli in the Burgh Court of Elgin on the 2nd September, 1569, "before thir witnes Jhoue Hay in Allanboy, Farchar Robertson in Allachy, Jhone Rutherfuird, William Young, and Thomas Kar, Burgessis." In 1750, Duncan took part along with his father in a contract of marriage between his sister, Barbara, and Colin Mackenzie, the young Chief of Kintail. The year following, another matrimonial contract was entered into for uniting Helen Grant with Donald, the son of Angus M’Alastir of Glengarry. Such alliances were highly politic, as they not only secured the friendship of these chiefs, but also served to protect the Laird of Freuchie’s lands of Urquhart and Glenmoriston. In 1578 Duncan came into possession of the lands of Ardneidlie, Keith, which had belonged to the Earls of Huntly, but had been disponed to the family of Baillie, and sub-feued by them to the Meldrums of Eden. We get a glimpse of the strange doings of those times from the document relating to the disponement of the lands. In it Meldrum says he had been informed "be sinister report and informatioun" that John Grant of Freuchie and Duncan Grant, his son and apparent heir, were "participant of the spoilzies of horse, nolt, and scheip" from the lands of Ardneidlie and others, about midsummer and September respectively in the year 1578. Acting upon this information, Meldrum had raised a summons against the Grants, which had been duly executed, but he now declared that "because it is cleirlie knawin to me sensyne that they ar innocent, and na way was participant of the said spoilzies," he therefore not being willing to "trowbill thame be the law for the sathyn," renounces all action against them in all time coming. Duncan Grant died in 1582, and was buried in the family burying place at Duthil. His eldest son John succeeded his grandfather as Laird of Grant. Of his other children, James had Ardneidlie; Patrick, Easter Elchies; and Robert, Clachaig and Lurg. His will, of which only a much mutilated copy remains, was made at Abernethy on the 19th February, 1582, and an inventory of his moveables was made on the 1st May of the same year, after his decease. These documents are interesting, as showing what were the possessions of an elder son residing in a Highland manor-house in the 16th century. It is stated that the "frie gear" amounted to 2181. The stock, corns, and plenishing are given in the inventory, from which it appears that the young Laird was possessed of "Ky three scoire xix," "queakis tua zeir auldis xiiij; zeir auld scho beastes ellevin; of steris of thre zeir auldis fyftein; and of twa zeir auld stottis ten; of hie steres of zeir auldis sax; of drawin oxin in the plewis thre scoir and sax, price of the pice v lib; of scheipe and wedderis twentie four scoir and ten; of lambs ten scoir and tua, of wairk hors twa, with ane, &c." The "insycht geir" contained among other articles, "xx pair blankaitts; xxiiij pair scheitis ; xxiiij coiddis, four sewit cowerings, tua Flanderis werdowris, with xij pellit cowerings, tene feddir beddis, xij boisteris, sax quhytt plaidis. Item three silver peicis extending to xxx unce of silver, ane disson silver spunis, extending to auchtein unce; ane sailt failt extending to aucht unce of silver, four disson plaittis, with xviij truncheons, with vj poittis, and ox panis, ane brewin calderon, thret speitt:s, thre krewkes. Item aucht chanlairis, thre stand of neprie."

Coulnakyle continued to be occupied as the manor-house after Duncan of Freuchie’s death. Sir W. Fraser gives a copy of a man rent, between John Grant of Freuchie, elder son of Duncan, who had succeeded his grandfather, and John Dow M’Gregor, brother of Alister M’Gregor of Gleystray, which was executed at Coulnakyle on the 20th June, 1592. In this bond John M’Gregor, "for diverse guid deid is done, and to be done to him, be the said Johne Grant, and for the auld friendscheip and kyndnes betwix their predecessouris, and for the causis following, is bound and oblist, and be the tenour heirof buides and oblissis him and his forsaidis and promisis faythfullie to concur, assist, fortifie and serve the said Johne Grant, his airis and accessouris and sall lealie and treulie tak an fauld and treu pairt with him and his forsaidis, in all actionis, questionis, querralis, debaittis pursuitt or defence that the said Johne Grant and his forsaidis hes or hapins to haif ado aganes quhatsumever person or personis our Souverane Lord and his autoritie, and my Lord of Argyll onlie exceptit." John Grant of Freuchy binds himself in like manner, the King and Lord Huntlie only excepted, but it is curious that as to "actionis," there is the qualification "honest," and as to "doing the same as to his own kin and friends," the words are added, "but fraud or gyll." The witnesses are William Gordon of Geych, Patrick Grant of Rothiemurchus, Patrick Grant of Ballindalloch, Gregour M’Gregour, son to umquill Owen M’Gregour, and John Dow M’William M’Gilliechallum. The latter could not write, and the words are added after his name—"With hand at the pen led by Mr William M’Gregour, Notar Publict, at my command." There must have been a great gathering at the old manor-house on this occasion, with much hilarity. But the end was not so pleasant as the beginning. Freuchie’s intercommuning with the Macgregors brought him into trouble. He obtained a royal remission in 1613 of fines imposed for resetting, but a year later he was tried by a Court Arbitral for "his unlauchfull and wilfull resitt of any of the Clan Gregour, since thay were declarit rebellis and fugitives" (1610), and, "being fund guyltie and culpable," first, for his own part, and, secondly, for his Clan, he was fined the sum of 16,000 merks. The fine was promptly paid.

During the wars of the 17th century Coulnakyle was occupied now and again by the contending forces, and the country round suffered much, both from friends and foes. When Montrose made his hurried march from Aberdeen, in 1644, he found his passage barred at Fochabers. Moray was in arms against him, and the Spey was impassable. He, therefore, made his way up Speyside. In the quaint words of Spalding, 1September, 1644. "he draws himself to the Wod of Abernethie, and their lyes he." Coulnakyle was his headquarters; but he was soon compelled to shift. Argyle was hard in pursuit, and, as Spaldling says, Montrose "leaves the Wod of Abernethie and to the Wod of Rothiemurcouss saiflie goes he, and thair remanes a while." Argyle followed, and, as he passed on, "plunderit pitifullie." After the splendid victory of Inverlochy, 2nd February, 1645, Montrose returned to Morayshire. At Elgin he met the Laird of Grant, and gave him an assurance of indemnity, certifying to him and his Clan "that after they shall clearlie instruct and gratifie their said losses (‘prejudice and skaith through the armies marching throgh their bounds’) they shall have repetitione and repayment therof furth of the first and readiest of his Majesty’s rents or other casualties within the kingdome of Scotland at ane convenient occasione heirafter; provyding always that they continou ther fidelitie and loyaltie in his Majesty’s service." The "convenient season" never came. The Laird’s zeal waxed cold as Montrose’s fortunes waned. He sent some men to the army, but Montrose alleged that they were "bade and feu . . . like to Jacob’s dayes," and that they also played the run away when it suited their interests. At other times he complained bitterly that he had not received adequate support. Then came the Battle of Naseby, 14th June, 1645, the triumph of the Covenanters, and the order from King Charles for Montrose to disband his forces. Montrose was in Strathspey at the time, and his reply, written with a sorrowful heart, is dated 2nd June, 1646. There can be no doubt that Montrose did much, by his gallantry and devotion, to sustain the Stewart cause in the north. "Give me leave," he said in his letter to King Charles from Inverlochy, "after I have reduced this country, and conquered from Dan to Beersheba, to say to your Majestie, as David’s General to his master, come thou thyself, lest this country be called by my name." The influence of Montrose’s campaigns, strengthened by his heroic death, may be seen in the "risings" of 1715 and 1745. In the times of the Commonwealth there seems to have been quiet in Strathspey. Glencairn, in his brief struggle, had, at one time, like Montrose, to seek shelter in the Forest of Abernethy (1653), but there is no record of his doings.

In the Wars of Mackay and Dundee, Coulnakyle became again a point of importance, Mackay, being hard pressed, made a rapid march from Inverness to Speyside. He fixed his camp at Coulnakyle, where he was joined by two troops of Livingstone’s Dragoons. The place was well chosen. At the rear was the Spey, the Nethy guarded the right, and woods and marshes protected the front and the centre. "A summer dwelling of Grant’s," says Mackay, "where there were some meadows and fields of corn proper for the nature of the party, whose strength was most in horse." But though the Laird of Freuchie gave help, Mackay and his men seem to have had a hard time. The weather was cold, the supplies were scanty, and many horses died. Disaffection began to work. The General kept on the alert. Scouts were sent out, and a careful watch kept, with outposts of dragoons in the woods, and foot soldiers along the Nethy. In the beginning of June, Captain Forbes of Culloden, with some sixty of the Grants, joined Mackay, bringing the intelligence that the Castle of Ruthven had capitulated to Dundee. They also brought proof that some of Mackay’s men were in league with the enemy. Mackay found it necessary therefore to break up his camp. He left at night, and retreated to Balveny, but five days later he was back again at Coulnakyle, and comfortably esconced in the Laird’s "summer dwelling!" Dundee retired southwards, and a smart skirmish took place on the moor of Grainish. The battle of Killiecrankie, fought 27th June, 1689, ended the chivalrous career of Dundee. In the end of the year the tide of war again rolled towards Strathspey. General Buchan, who was now in command for King James, marched his forces through Badenoch, and reached Coulnakyle on 29th April. The "summer dwelling" was again occupied. After a council of war, the army moved next day down to the Haughs of Cromdale. This move was against the advice of the Highland officers, and led to disaster. Taken by surprise in the early morning by the forces of Sir Thomas Livingstone led by the Grants, Buchan and his men were severely handled, and some four hundred slain or taken prisoners. The well-known Ballad, which strangely mixes and confuses the battles of Auldearn and Cromdale, commemorates this defeat.

"We were in bed, sir, every man,
When the English host upon us cam’;
A bloody battle then began
Upon the Haughs of Cromdale.

"The English horse they were sae rude,
They bath’d their hooves in Hieland blude,
But our brave Clans they boldly stood
Upon the Haughs of Cromdale.

"But, alas! we could no longer stay,
For ower the hills we cam’ away;
And sair do we lament the day
That e’er we cam’ to Cromdale."

Two incidents may be mentioned in connection with the battle, not hitherto recorded. A Highlander, who was known as "Tremearbag," was one of those who fell. His gun, Spanish, with long barrel, and fluted curiously carved stock, came into the possession of the Stewarts of Glenmore. Charles Stewart of Knock refers to it in his hunting songs. It is now in the hands of one of his descendants.

Another victim was some nameless Highlander, who fell at his post at the Ford, near the Church of Cromdale. His grave was in the corner to the south of the road, "where the grass long grew rank and green, distinguishing it from the rest of the field," like Balmaphapple’s grave at Prestonpans. It is now obliterated.

Dundee’s death may be said to have rung the knell of King James’s cause, but the fatal blow was given at the battle of the Boyne (July 1, 1690). The following letter from General Mackay to Cluny, for which we are indebted to Provost Macpherson, Kingussie, is interesting, as shewing the pressure that was brought to bear on the Chiefs of Clans, and the heavy exactions that were made upon their people. Mackay had written from Elgin, 6th May, 1689, and again on the 21st May, but still more urgently the month following:-

"Sir,—Sir Thomas Livingstone having allready acquanted you, that I was to call for Sheep and Cowes, for the use of the army, when I encamp in Badenough. I doubt not but they are allready provyded, so I desyre that you may have two hundred Cowes, and six hundred Sheep at Rivan in Badenough again Sunday at twelve o’clock being the 9 instant, and you shall have reddy money for them. If you fail in this, I assure you, I will turne the army loose upon the country, who will not spare neither houses nor cowes. Take this advertisement from, sir,

"Your assured friend,

"At the Camp att Coulnakyle, "H. MacKay
"The 27 June 1690."

The Manor-house was still in use in the days of the Baron Bailies and the York Company, but gave place, about 1770 to a new house built by Sir James Grant. This was usually occupied by some of the Grant family. Marion, daughter of Sir Ludovick, died at Coulnakyle, 28th February, 1807, and Lewis Alexander Grant is entered as residing there when the census of 1811 was taken. In 1818 it was occupied by Captain James Macdonald, at a rent of 213 6s 6d, but the farm probably included then more land and pasture than is now possessed. Captain Macdonald had a family of two sons and four daughters. His eldest son, James, retired from the Indian Service as Major-General, and his second son, Donald, died in India as Surgeon-Major. General Macdonald had also two sons in the Military Service. One of them, Major Dugan, was accidentally killed by a fall from his horse in Hyde Park, and a monument to his memory has been erected in the Parish Church. The other, Sir Claude Macdonald, is Her Majesty’s present representative in China. When the letting of grouse moors began, Coulnakyle was occupied as a shooting lodge. Amongst other tenants was an English gentleman, Mr Richard Winsloe, who took a fancy to the place, and made it the home of himself and family for several years (1838-1846). Mr Winsloe’s sons all became soldiers, the eldest in the Queen’s Service, and the other in the German Army. The record of their services is remarkably brilliant.


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