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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XLVII. A Highland Laird of the Olden Time


THE name Rothiemurchus, though uncouth in appearance, is really a word picture. It means "the plain of the Great Pines." This description has held true from time immemorial. We have incidental proof of this so far back as the fifteenth century. In a deed of date 1464, the Kirklands of Rothiemurchus were declared to be held of the Bishop of Moray, by Alex. Keyre Mackintosh "reserving the King’s forensic service, due and wont, and paying a fir-cone (unum germen abiegnum) to the Bishop at the manor place of Rothiemnurchus if asked." One of the witnesses to the Instrument is William de Gawbrath, Rector of Kincardyne. Rothiemurchus is also notable for the vicissitudes of the landholders, Cummings, Shaws, Mackintoshes, Dallases, and Grants, having successively held the property. According to tradition, the Grants got Muckrach in the sixteenth century from the Bishop of Moray, in compensation for the wrongs done to Grant of Achernack, and from there they moved to Rothiemurchus. This tradition is so far confirmed by the stone which stood for long above the door of "the Dell," hut which in 1879 was removed, and placed over the eastern entrance of the Doune House. It bears the initials P. G., for Patrick Grant, and I. G., for Jean Gordon, and two shields of arms surmounted by the motto "In GOD IS AL MY TREST," with the date 1597. Patrick Grant of Muckrach, afterwards of Rothiemurchus, was the second son of John Grant of Freuchie, and Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Atholl. He is designed of Rothiemurchus in a summons of date 1570. In 1575 he received a charter from his father of the lands of Rothiemurchus, and in 1579 he received a Crown Charter of Resignation of the same lands, in which he is designed of Rothiemurchus. By his wife, Jean Gordon, he had two sons, Duncan and John. The latter succeeded to the property. He married Margaret Dunbar, daughter of the Dean of Moray. His son James succeeded him about 1651, and married Grizzel Mackintosh of Kyllachie, commonly called Grizzel Mhor." They had three sons. Patrick, the eldest, succeeded his father, and William. the second son, became Laird of Ballindalloch. It seems to have been the custom with the Grants of Rothiemurchus, as with other families, to give distinguishing titles or by—names to the heads of the House. One was called "The Spreckled Laird," probably from being pock—pitted. Another was termed The White Laird," probably from his fair complexion, and another, the one with whose history we have to do, bore the name of "Macalpine." Some say this title was given him by the famous Rob Roy, but the Grants, as well as the Macgregors, claimed to be of the royal line of Alpin. At any rate, there was something significant and honourable in this laird being thus specially distinguished. It seemed to indicate that in him the characteristics of the ancient race had found a true representative. There had been friendly intercourse between the Macgregors and the Grants of Rothemnrchus for generations. In 1592 Patrick Grant joined with John Grant of Freuchie in a mutual bond of man-rent with John Dow Macgregor. He died in 1617. In 1623 his son John was fined 2000 merks for resetting, supplying, and inter—communing" with the Clan Gregor. In Macalpine’s time Rob Roy visited the Doune, and a letter written by him to Ballindalloch in 1726, quoted elsewhere, shews the kindly relationship between the families.

Macalpine was born in 1660, succeeded in 1677, and died in 1743. He was twice married. His first wife was Mary Grant (1731), daughter of Patrick, Tutor of Grant of Grant. His second wife was Rachel Grant of Tullochgorm. He was a man of much ability, shrewd in the management of affairs, remarkable for wit and repartee, and holding a high place as a Highland Laird, whose House was a centre of light and hospitality. Pliny might be said to have described him, "Erat homo ingeniousus acutus, acer, et qui plurimum et salis haberet et follis, nec canderis minus." When Simon Lord Lovat married Margaret, fourth daughter of Ludovic, Laird of Grant (1717), there were great doings in Strathspey. Macalpine and other gentlemen of the Clan accompanied the Frasers on their home journey. A Gaelic song describes the march. It has the quaint refrain—

"We will go home, come away home,
We will go home to the Aird,
Leave we the Grants of the porridge,
We are the Frasers of the kail."

At Castle Downie Lovat made a great feast, with music and dancing. Tradition says that when the Strathspey men took the floor they made quite a sensation. The Frasers crowded round, they peeped over each others’ heads, they even climbed to the rafters to gaze. Never before had they seen such grace and agility. The following verse of a Gaelic song refers to the dancers:-

"Bha aon dhiubh dha ‘m bu stoidhle an Tulhich,
Fear eile, ‘s Mullochard,
‘S cait am facas riabh air ůrlar,
Bheireadh air an triuir ud bŕrr."

There was one they styled ‘the Tullv,’
Mullochard, and another,
To trip it with these matchless three,
Where could you find a brother ?"

The reel was an unfortunate one for "Tully." The bush of a wheel had been set in the floor, opposite the fireplace, for the roasting of an ox, and in one of his capers, his foot caught in the hole, and down he came, breaking his leg in the fall. The morning after the wedding one of the attendants came round to make a collection, after the old custom, for the bride. When Macalpine was applied to, he answered with biting sarcasm—

GIad my daughter married the cattleman, I would have kept her at least seven years from begging.’’ This saving got wind, and led to the discontinuance of the practice. The ‘‘ Baidse," as it was called, was collected no more. In due time, a son was born to Lady Lovat, and another great feast was held at the baptism (18th May, 1719). Lovat played one of his pranks on the occasion. The chief guests were seated at a round table, and in the course of the repast, a huge pie was produced. Macalpine was asked to cut it up. When he had opened it, out flew a pigeon, and the laaird naturally put his hand up to guard himself. Lovat cried out, Macalpine has scrogged his bonnet." Macalpine answered fiercely, " If so, a traitor shall ‘scrog’ opposite him," and he stood up and drew his sword. But nothing came of it. Lovat was too prudent a man to quarrel, and apologised. Macalpine and Lovat had another encounter at Castle Grant. They were playing cards together. Macalpine affected to be puzzled. Lovat called out, "Play, play." Macalpine, after a pause, said significantly, " Lovat, my cards would suit you better, a knave between two kings." Another time at Castle Grant, the Laird made a curious comment on the dancers. He said, "It was the drollest reel he had ever seen. First there was the man of the law, and then the man of the Lord, and next the two greatest drunkards in the counntry ‘‘ Macalpine did not like lawyers. It is said that part of his dinner grace was-—-"From lawyers and doctors, good Lord deliver us." He was very zealous in keeping up the old customs and ways. The Laird and the parson in those day lived on good terms. Rothiemurchus being joined to Duthil, it was the duty of the minister of Duthil to hold service there every third Sunday. On one occasion the parson had stayed over night, and the next day he and the Laird went out for a stroll. They were walking arm in arm, when the parson stumbled. The Laird exclaimed, in Gaelic, "God and Mary be with you." The parson was shocked, and said, "God with me and Mary with you; what better was she than my own mother ?" Macalpine quietly replied, " We shall say nothing as to the mothers, but great is the difference belween the Sons." Macalpine was a great hunter, and there are frequent references to his skill and exploits in the Gaelic songs of the period. He was very successful in the management of his extensive forests. Mr Lorimer, tutor to the Laird of Grant, says in his notes, " Rothie is his own overseer and forester. Much in that." This was written shortly after Macalpine’s death, but it marks the wise and effective system which he had established.

In " The Memoirs of a Highland Lady," Mrs Smith has the following reference to her great-grandfather :—"Macalpine ruled not only his own small patrimony, but mostly all the country round. His wisdom was great, his energy of body and mind untiring. He must have acted as a kind of despotic sovereign, for he went about with a body of four-and-twenty picked men, gaily dressed, of whom the principal and the favourite was his foster brother, Ian Bain, or John the Pair, also a Grant of the family of Achnahatnich. Any offence committed anywhere, this band took cognisance of. Macalpine himself was judge and jury, and the sentence quickly pronounced was as quickly executed, even when the verdict doomed to death. A corpse with a dagger in it was not unfrequently met with among the heather, and sometimes a stout fir branch bore the remains of a meaner victim. I never heard the justice of a sentence questioned. Macalpine was a great man in every sense of the word, tall and strong made, and very handsome, and a beau; his trews (he never wore the kilt) were laced down the sides with gold; the brogues on his beautifully-formed feet were lined and trimmed with feathers; his hands, as soft and white as a lady’s, and models as to shape, could draw blood from the finger nails of any other hand they grasped, and they were so flexible they could be bent back to form a cup which would hold a tablespoonful of water. He was an epicure, as indeed are all Highlanders in their own way. They are contented with simple fare, and they ask no great variety, but what they have must be of its kind the best, and cooked precisely to their fancy. The well of which Macalpine invariably drank was the Lady’s Well at Tullochgrue, the water of which was certainly delicious. It was brought to him twice a day in a covered wooden vessel, a cogue or lippie."

The Gaels have some curious sayings as to choosing a wife. Cormac’s advice to his son was as follows—"Na tagh Binneagag, no Grincagag, no Gaogag, no ruadh bheag, no ruadh mhňr, no ruadh mhŕsach; ach Ciarag bheag air dhath na luch, na sir, ‘s na seachain i." The meaning of some of the terms is obscure, but the preference as to complexion is given to olive over red. Macalpine had a way of his own. The story as to how he chose his second wife is as suggestive as amusing. Knowing that Grant of Tullochgorm had some strapping daughters, he made a call on the old gentleman and told him what he had in view. The girls were brought in for inspection in the order of their ages. When the eldest appeared, Macalpine said, "Now, supposing you had a tocher of gold as big as Craigowrie (a hill on the opposite side of the Spey), what would you do with it?" She answered that she would get lots of dresses and jewels, and have a fine house in Edinburgh. This did not please the Laird. The second was brought in, and the third, with like unsatisfactory results. The Laird then said, "Have you not another daughter? " ‘Yes," was the reply "hut she is out with the cows." "fetch her," said Macalpine. She was brought in, and the same question put to her as to the others. She did not answer quickly, but paused a moment, with downcast eyes, as if in deep thought. Then looking up, she said sweetly, "That is too bard a question for me. I would take the advice of my husband as to what to do." Macalpine was jubilant. "That’s the lass for me," he said.

"So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been,
Cophetua swore a royal oath,
This beggar maid shall be my queen."

But though Macalpine got a young and pretty wife, it is said the marriage was not to the liking of his family. Lady Jean, the next Laird’s wife, was systematically unkind to the widow, and slighted her four young ones. This, with other unkind usage, bore hardly on Lady Rachel. Mrs Smith tells that "once after the service of the kirk was over she stepped up, with her fan in her hand, to the corner of the kirkyard where all our graves are made, and taking off her high-heeled slipper, she tapped with it on the stone laid over her husband’s grave, crying out, ‘Macalpine! Macalpine! rise up for ae half-hour and see me richted!" Macalpine died at the great age of 92, in 1743, and was thus saved the perils of Prince Charlie’s year and the dark days of Culloden.


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