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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XXII. The Story of a Highland Glen


GLENMORE, as the name indicates, is a glen of more than ordinary size. It lies at the foot of Cairngorm, facing the west, and not only includes several miles of moorland and forest, but also great stretches of the mountains on each side. From Abernethy it is entered by the romantic pass of the Green Loch, and from Kincardine by the Slugan of the Eas or waterfall, a ravine of about two miles in length, which, with its long sloping braes, its frowning cliffs, and its wealth of firs and birches, forms one of the finest passes in the Highlands. Glenmore may also be reached from Rothiemurchus by the road crossing the Druie at Coylum (Coimh-leum, the leaping together, i.e., of the Luinag and the Bennie, which meet a little above the bridge), and passing up by Ri-’n-fhraoich where there is a mineral spring once largely frequented, and then along by the west side of Loch Morlich. The scenery is very grand. To the southwest are the Ord Bain, with Loch-an-Eilan then there are the woods of Rothiemurchus, the splendid cone of the lolarig, and the steep frowning glories of Glen Ennich and the Braeriachs. Further on there are the gloomy pass of the Larig-gru, and the stupendous precipices of Ben-mac-dui. On the eastern side are the hills of Tulloch, terminating in the massive Meall-bhuachaill, the herd’s hill; while in front, casting its shadows far and wide, is the lofty Cairngorm. Across the lower part of the glen stretches a great plain of firs, interspersed with glades and mosses, and here and there, shewing among the younger trees, huge pines —some standing, some fallen—the relics of ancient forests. The glen is well watered. The Altmore is the chief stream. It is fed from the west by the Caochan-dubh, and the burns that run from the Leacan, the Lochan, and the Snowy Corrie, and from the east by AIlt-na-cisde, Alit-bàn, Caochanghuib, and the Feith-dhubh.

The first glimpse we get of Glenmore is as a Royal Forest, but it was well known earlier as the hunting ground of the Stewarts of Kincardine. Robin Oig, son of one of the Barons, was famed as a hunter. Returning one day from the Glen, he met a party of fairies on their march with pipers. The music was the finest he ever heard. He listened entranced. As they passed by he noticed that the pipes were of silver, sparkling with jewels. Throwing his bonnet among the little folks, with the cry, "Mine to you, yours to me," he snatched the pipes. The procession moved on, and the music pealed out sweeter than ever. Stewart hid his prize under his plaid and hurried home. But when he looked, lo! he had nothing but a broken spike of grass and an empty puff-ball! By an Act of the Scottish Parliament, 1685, ratification was granted in favour of George Duke of Gordon, &c., "of all and haill the Marquisat, Earldome, and Lordship of Huntlie." This Ratification, which was in effect a Crown Charter, comprehended the Forests of Badenoch and Kincardine, "with the haill rights, privileges, profits, and casualteys belonging to any fforest within the said kingdom." The lands of Kincardine appear to have been for some time in the hands of the Crown, and the Act contains a Resignation by Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, His Majesty’s Advocate, to the Duke of Gordon, "of all and haill the Barony of Kincardine, comprehending therein the particular towns, lands, fforests, milnes, woods, fishings, and other after specified." Glenmore is thus designated, no doubt, in the terms usual in such legal documents, "The Forest and Woods of Glenmore, Hills and Glens belonging thereto, with castles, towers, fortalices, manor places, houses, biggings, yards, orchards, woods, parks, sheilings, grassings, outsetts, insetts, tofts, crofts, parts, pendicles and pertinents thereof, and teynds, both parsonage and vicarage of the said Lands lying within the parochine of Kincardine and Sheriffdome of Inverness." Later, we find the Glen occupied by several tacksmen and their dependents. In 1740 the following persons were designated by the Kirk-Session as in a condition to contribute to the relief of the poor, viz., John Stuart in Badyewish, John Stuart in Bochonich, George Grant of Tullochgorm for Beglan, William Davidson in Ri-aonachan, and James Stuart in Reluig. But besides these there were several other families of smaller tenants and cottars. The population during last century might be counted as about a hundred. Being so secluded, they must have lived rather a lonely life, especially in winter. But they had their diversions. Besides the incidents of births, deaths, and marriages, and, the common work in the fields and woods, there were two things which must have helped to break the monotony of the months. One was the visits of raiders from Lochaber. The Thieves’ Road traverses the glen, and now and again bands of raiders passed to and fro, bringing news of the outer world. Sometimes also there were fights between the Caterans and their pursuers, with exciting incidents which would furnish talk by the fireside during the long winter nights. Another interesting event was the visit of the parson.

Glenmore is in the parish of Kincardine, and in the old time the minister of Abernethy had to serve both the Church of Abernetby and that of Kincardine, preaching in the latter every third Sunday. The people of the Glen attended Church well, though they had to walk from three to six miles. But besides the ordinary Sunday services, they were favoured occasionally with special services. The following entries, among others, occur in the Session Book:—"Glenmore, July 13, 1740.—Lecture, Irish, in Matthew 6 and 19 to the end of the chapter. Collected for the poor, £0 4s 6d." "Glenmore, June 27, 1756.—Lecture in Irish, I Peter, chap. 2nd, from the beginning. Sermon in English. Psalm 73rd, verse 28th. collected for poor, £0 4s 0d." It appears that meetings of Session were also sometimes held. "Glenmore, 8th July, 1753.—Lecture in Irish in the 2nd chap. of the Ephesians, first 12 verses. Sermon in English in the 4th chap. of James, 8 v. Collected for the poor, £0 6s 6d. After prayer, met in Session with the minister, William Davidson, Pytoulish, John Stuart in Tulloch, James Grant in Richailleach, Elders; James Grant, Rinaitin, and Patrick Grant in Glenmore, Gentle," and dealt with a case of discipline. Again, 30 June, 1754, a similar meeting was held, when Finlay Kennedy, servant to Patrick Grant, Ri-aonachan, was publicly rebuked before the congregation. In connection with this case, there is the following suggestive entry:—"The Session appoints John Stuart, Treasurer, to give the Bill imposed upon Finlay Kennedy for his sin, to James Macdonald, who teaches some children at Kincardine, for his encouragement" Dora Wordsworth, in her delightful Notes on Travelling in the Highlands, shews how much these ministerial visits were appreciated. She says as to Glenfalloch, August 28th, 1711:- "If it were not for these Sabbath day meetings, one summer month would be like another summer month, one winter month like another—detached from the goings on of the world, and solitary throughout; from the time of earliest childhood they will be like landing places in the memory of a person who has passed his life in these thinly peopled regions." About the end of last century some important changes took place in Glenmore. Messrs Osbourne and Dodsworth purchased the woods from the Duke of Gordon, and for upwards of twenty years they employed a large staff of men in the cutting and manufacture of timber. It is said they spent £70,000 in the payment of labour alone. These were the years of plenty. But it was not all contentment. There were some who resented the intrusion of the Sassenach and the destruction of the woods. Their hearts were in the past. One bard marked the changes with biting sarcasm —

"Sud an gleannan rioghail fallainn, ann an fanadh lan daimh,
Mo mhollachd do na phannail, a chuir thairis a b
àhrrachd.
‘Nàite an crònan anns an doire gu farrumach mar babhaisd,
‘S es beus dhuinn nis anns gach haddan, Slachdarnis ghallda."

Which may be translated—

"Yonder’s the little glen kingly and sweet, haunt of the full-grown harts,
My curse on the bands of men that have robbed it of its glory.
Now, instead of the song of birds and the murmur of the deer in the thicket,
Our ears are stunned by the crash of falling trees and the clamours of the Sassenach."

When the English company left things reverted to their old condition. The prosperity that had existed was but temporary. According to the census of 1831 and 1841, there was a large falling-off in the population of Kincardine, and this was very marked in Glenmore. Shortly after the glen was converted into a sheep-run, and subsequently into a deer forest, and the people passed away for ever. It is no wonder if Glenmore, with its romantic scenery and legends, should have had a fascination for the poets. Hogg and Wilson refer to it, and Scott makes it the scene of "The Bard’s Incantation," composed, it is said, in the autumn of 1804, when making a wild ride through Ettrick, at a time when invasion by the French was threatened:-

"The Forest of Glenmore is drear,
It is all of black pine, and the dark oak tree,
And the midnight wind to the mountain deer
Is whistling the forest lullaby.
The moon looks through the drifting storm,
But the troubled lake reflects not her form,
For the waves roll whitening to the land,
And dash against the shelvy strand.

"There is a voice among the trees
That mingles with the groaning oak,
That mingles with the stormy breeze,
And the lake waves dashing against the rock:
There is a voice within the wood,
The voice of the Bard in fitful mood,
His song was louder than the blast
As the Bard of Glenmore through the forest past.

"Wake ye from your sleep of death,
Minstrels and bards of other days!
For the midnight wind is on the heath,
And the midnight meteors dimly blaze;
The Spectre with the Bloody Hand
Is wandering through the wild woodland;
The owl and the raven are mute for dread,
And the time is meet to awake the dead!

"Souls of the mighty, wake, and say
To what high strain your harps were strung
When Lochlin plough’d her billowy way,
And on your shores her Norsemen flung?

- - - - - - -

"0, yet awake, the strain to tell,
By every deed in song enroll’d,
By every chief who fought or fell
For Albion’s weal in battle bold.
From Coilgach, first, who rolled his car
Through the deep ranks of Roman war,
To him, of veteran memory dear,
Who, victor, died on Aboukir.

"By all their swords, by all their scars,
By all their names, a mighty spell!
By all their wounds, by all their wars,
Arise the mighty strain to tell!
For, fiercer than fierce Hengist’s strain,
More impious than the heathen Dane,
More grasping than all grasping Rome,
Gaul’s ravening legions hither come.

"The wind is hush’d. and still the lake,
Strange murmurs fill my tinkling ears,
Bristles my hair, my sinews quake
At the dread voice of other years,
When targets clashed and bugles rung,
And blades round warriors’ heads were flung,
The foremost of the band were we,
And hymned the joys of liberty."

"Would you wish to know what is now the look of Glenmore!" asks Christopher North. "One now dead and gone—a man of wayward temper, but of genius—shall tell you; and think not the picture exaggerated, for you would not if you were there. . . . It is the wreck of the ancient forest which arrests all the attention, and which renders Glenmore a melancholy—more than a melancholy—a terrific spectacle. Trees of enormous height, which have escaped alike the axe and the tempest, are still standing, stripped by the winds even of the bark, and like gigantic skeletons throwing far and wide their white and bleached bones to the storms and rains of heaven; while others, broken by the violence of the gales, lift up their split and fractured trunks in a thousand shapes of resistance and of destruction, or still display some knotted and tortuous branches stretched out in sturdy and fantastic forms of defiance to the whirlwind and the winter. Noble trunks also, which had long resisted, but resisted in vain, strew the ground; some lying on the declivity where they had fallen, others still adhering to the precipice where they were rooted, many upturned, with their twisted and entangled roots high in the air, while not a few astonish us by the space which they cover and by dimensions which we could not otherwise have estimated. It is one wide image of death, as if the angel of destruction had passed over the valley. The sight, even of a felled tree, is painful; still more is that of the fallen forest, with all its green branches on the ground, withering, silent, and at rest, where once they glittered in the dew and the sun, and trembled in the breeze. Yet this is but an image of vegetable death. It is familiar, and the impression passes away. It is the naked skeleton bleaching in the winds, the gigantic bones of the forest still erect, the speaking records of former life and of the strength still unsubdued, vigorous even in death, which renders Glenmore one enormous charnel house."


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