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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XXXIV. The Grants' Raid to Elgin


It was a sweet spring day, the 12th of March, 1820. The Parish Church was vacant, for Mr John had died in the month of January. Mr Peter Grant, Balintua, Baptist minister, commonly called "Peter Brachtair," was holding an open-air service at Straanbeg, a little meadow lying between the Nethy and the high bank that borders the Dell Road. There, under the shade of a great fir, the preacher stood, and round about and beneath him the people were gathered together. Mr Grant was an able and popular preacher, and in Gaelic was considered a master. His sermon, as usual, was highly evangelical, and though long, it was listened to with rapt attention to the end. The last psalm was being sung, to the dear sacramental tune of Coleshill, and the voices of the great congregation, rising and falling with each line, made grave sweet melody, all the more solemn and impressive, as accompanied by the music of the waters, and the murmur of the wind among the trees. But before the close, it became clear that something unusual had happened. There were signs of distraction. At the outskirts of the crowd, people might be observed eagerly conversing, and in some mysterious way the excitement spread all round. When the benediction had been pronounced, freedom was restored. There was an immediate buzz of talk. Groups were formed here and there, evidently discussing some news of great importance. Let us join one of these groups. "What has happened ?" said Robert Murray, Causair, to Serjeant Roy. The Serjeant, as already noted, had fought in Egypt and Spain, and was a man of mark in the parish. His answer was, "I’ll tell you all about it as we go along. You know that there has been bitter strife for a long time between the Grants and the Duffs as to politics, and it has come to a head about the election of a member of Parliament for the burghs. Elgin is the returning burgh this time, and things are in a bad way. The Whigs are just mad. Grant Lodge is in a state of siege, and Lady Anne is in danger of her life. The rascals have already kidnapped good Bailie Taylor, and shipped him off to Sutherland, and in their desperation they may do worse. Word has gone forth, therefore, to call out the Clan. There was a letter this forenoon from Congash to Mr Forsyth of the Dell, and the big Dubhlach has been out ever since, on Mr Forsyth’s horse Marquis, warning the Abernethy men. The order is to meet at Nethy Bridge at 6 o’clock. It makes my old blood warm to think of it." "And are we to take guns and swords ?" "No, no; nothing of that sort, only sticks; so we had better be off to dinner, for we have a long tramp before us." "Yes, but not as bad as Corunna !" "Little you know of Corunna, and yet there were weak women who went through all the horrors of that time."

Before six o’clock, some 150 men had mustered at Nethy Bridge. Captain Grant, Birchfield, and Mr Forsyth explained to them how things stood, and gave them words of counsel as to their behaviour. Then in silence, as became the Sabbath, the start was made. Past the church, and down by Balliefurth and Achernack, they marched steadily on. At Spey Bridge they were joined by some men from the Braes and the east end of the Parish. Through Cromdale and Advie they passed in the darkness, and by the time they had reached the Drum of Carron, it was near midnight. At Aberlour they rested, and had some refreshment. Then as the clock struck twelve, and the Sabbath was past, Mr Forsyth said to Peter Bain, "Peter, you might now give us a tune to cheer us." Peter was nothing loth, and struck up "The Haughs of Cromdale." Then having mustered again, they marched down the street to the spirit-stirring strains of the "Highland Laddie." The unwonted sounds startled many of the townsfolk from their slumbers. Windows were drawn, doors cautiously opened, and faces were seen here and there peering out, in wonder and alarm. Telford’s iron bridge, then one of the wonders of the Strath, was crossed, and as they halted for a minute under the shadow of the rock, they made the woods ring with their battle cry, Stand fast, Craigellachie! Then on they went through Rothes, and the Glen, and down by Longmorn, till they could see the towers of the Cathedral and the smoke of Elgin rising near. On the outskirts of the town they were met by friends, who took them round by the quietest way to Grant Lodge. The time was critical, and it was considered prudent to avoid the principal streets, and to guard against giving provocation to their opponents. Two incidents may be mentioned as indicating the temper of the Elgin people. One young fellow was loud in his menaces and jeers, swinging his staff in the faces of the Highlanders. At last, a man called "Allie Meenie" stepped out, snatched his stick from him, and sent him staggering into the gutter. At another point, as John Grant of Lynbreck used to tell, an old wife stood by the roadside, crying "Lord Fife for ever !" Provoked by her pertinacity, one of the Highlanders gave her a push, bidding her be quiet. She stumbled and fell, but getting up quickly, she shouted louder than before, "Lord Fife for ever! Lord Fife for ever !" "Well done, Cailleach," some of the men cried, for they could not but admire her courage.

The Cromdale men had been the first to arrive about 3 A M., then later came the Abernethy men, and last the men of Duthil, and when they were all mustered, there must have been more than 600 on the ground. It was a brave sight, and Lady Anne’s heart swelled with pride and delight. Here were 600 men, and others were on their way from Glen-Urquhart, strong and resolute, ready, if need be, to fight to the death for their beloved Chieftainess. But happily no fighting was needed. Enough had been done. The demonstration made was sufficient, and would not be forgotten for many a day. The men, therefore, were hospitably entertained, thanked for their devotion and good services, and counselled to return quietly to their homes. But two bright incidents must not be left out. Lady Anne had a young Highland lady of much grace and beauty staying with her at Grant Lodge, Miss Christina Macleod of Drynoch, who in the August following was to become the wife of Mr Charles Gordon of Forres. When the first of the Highlanders appeared there was tremendous noise and shouting in the town, and Lady Anne misapprehending the uproar, feared that it was the Elgin roughs who were coming, and almost fainted. But Miss Macleod, whose quick ear had caught the sound of the pipes, soon cheered her, saying, "Don’t you hear the pipes, it’s your own people. Hurrah !" Miss Macleod could speak Gaelic well, and Lady Anne, with the instinct of a true Highlander, asked her to say something to the men before they left. When she came out they all stood up, and when they heard this charming lady address them in the dear tongue of their fathers, they burst into cheers. Only a fragment of Miss Macleod’s speech has been preserved, but it is significant. With sly humour, she ended with the words, "Now, men, take care, or the Elgin shoemakers will prick you with their awls !’ At this there were shouts of laughter, and ringing cheers repeated again and again. All that night and morning Elgin was in a state of fear and trembling, and there was good cause. "How great a fire a little spark kindleth." And had it not been for wise restraint and prudent management on both sides, the spark might have fallen where combustibles were plenty, and a fire broken out, which in its ravages would have rivalled the sack of Elgin by the Wolf of Badenoch four hundred years before.

But if the anxiety in Elgin was great, the excitement in the glens was equally great. Take a sample. Peter Bain’s wife was of the nervous, timorous sort. She was out and in at the house of Rothiemoon, with every fresh bit of news that came to hand. One time her cry was, "There’s not a man left on Nethy side, they’re all away." "Well," said Mrs Grant. "it’s in a good cause." Next, it was, "The armoury is off from Castle Grant." "Better that than to have our men without guns and swords," was the reply. Then it was in a voice of despair, "The Duffs have got the soldiers from Fort-George. Ochon! it will be as bad as Culloden!" But this was too much. "Out of this," said the brave good-wife, "and look to your own house and bairns." And then, as a parting stroke, "Peter, poor man, will be sore needing something good when he comes, he will be tired enough with his short legs !" And it was true. It had been a tremendous tramp, and it was said there were never so many sore heels in Abernethy as that night when the men came home from Elgin.

The story of the Grant Raid was tong remembered in Strathspey. It was ably defended by K. K. (Cap tam Patrick Cruikshank) in the newspapers; it was commemorated in song, and it formed a favourite subject of talk at all Ceilidhs. But year by year leaders and men passed away. Robert Murray, Torniasgar; John Macdonald, Balnagown; Peter Cameron, Old Bridge End; Alex. Cameron, Badnaodinn; and Alex. Grant, Lynebeg, were the last of the "Cearnachs" who survived. They, too, are gone, and now not one remains who had taken part in that famous expedition.


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