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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter I.—Geography and Physical Features


THE Parish of Fettercairn forms the extreme western division of Kincardineshire, and lies along the south side of the eastern Grampians or Binchinnin hills. Its level and low-lying southern interior forms a considerable portion of the Howe of the Mearns. Its utmost length from north to south is 8 miles: the breadth from east to west varies from 4 furlongs to 4 miles; making an area of about 21 square miles, or 13,803 acres, of which about 128 are public roads and 75 water. The detached part of Edzell Parish on the Kincardineshire side of the North Esk river, recently annexed to Fettercairn under the provisiona of the Local Government Act (1891), is between its extreme points from north to south 2 miles, from east to west If miles; making an additional area of If square miles, or 1120 acres.

The Parish is bounded on the north-west and north by Strachan; on the north-east and east by Fordoun; on the south-east by Marykirk; and on the south and west respectively by Stracathro and Edzell in the county of Forfar. The North Esk forms this boundary ; and that on the east or Fordoun side is formed by the Garrol burn, which rises in the Hound Hillock (1698 ft.), and joined at Bogmill by the confluent Crichie and Balnakettle burns, enters Marykirk Parish, in its course to the Luther, at the south-east corner of Lady Jane's wood.

The Parish may be shortly described as one-half hilly and one-half level, extensively wooded, and three-eighths cultivated. At the southern border, near Capo, we have the lowest lying part of the parish, the elevation being about 120 feet above sea level; at Dalladies it is 150; on a contour line joining Arnhall, Bogmuir and Whins, 200; The Burn House, Fettercaim Village Cross and Fettercairn House, 235; Fasque House, Balnakettle and Kirkton of Balfour, 400; the top of Barna, 420; Mains of Balfour and Upper Thainston, 500; the Bannock or Balnakettle Hill, 1000; and the watershed along the hill ridge, about 1700.

The geological peculiarities of the Parish and district may be learned by observing the strata in the channel of the North Esk and its tributaries, an interesting account of which was drawn up by the late Colonel Imrie, who resided for a few years at Arnhall, and published the same at length in vol. 6 of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He noted that the various strata were cut across at right angles by the river; and being thus laid bare, were exhibited to the observer in a kind of irregular stratification, with almost all the varieties in one form or other, either regularly separated or combined in mixed masses. "In that part of the plains of Kincardineshire from which I take my departure," says Colonel Imrie, "the native rock consists of siliceous grit or sandstone, which is here divided into an immense number of beds or layers of various thicknesses, from one inch to four feet of solid stone. In many places gravel of various sizes is found imbedded in this grit, which gravel consists mostly of water-worn quartz and small-grained granites. The colour of the general mass of this grit is a dark-reddish brown, and in some few places it shows narrow lines and dots of a pearl-gray colour. . . . This rock, in the plain, is perfectly horizontal in its position; but upon its approach towards the undulated grounds, which here form the lowest basis of the Grampians, it begins to rise from its horizontal bed, and, gradually increasing in its acclivity towards the mountains it at last arrives at a position perfectly vertical."

The rest of Colonel Imrie's account may be summarised by stating that contiguous to this grit is a bed of Whin not very compact in texture, but somewhat earthy and of a brownish-black colour. Passing this bed, Gravelstone or Plum-pudding rock, four hundred yards thick, stretches from east to west in a vertical position. Its composition consists of quartz, porphyries, and some small-grained granites, rounded by attrition in water, and very various in size, from that of a pea to the bulk of an ostrich egg, and all firmly combined by an argillaceous and ferruginous -cement, reddish in colour. The next rock is Porphyry, of a purple or lilac-brown colour. In it are embedded particles of quartz, felspar, blackish-brown mica, and specks of iron-ochre. This part of the river bed occupies a space of two hundred and twenty yards. It is succeeded by a mass of different materials, of confused stratification, •comprising a narrow layer of greenish-gray argillite, another of whin, and a seam of pale-blue limestone. Jaspers of a blood-red colour occur here, standing upright in the argillite. They are of great hardness, and take on a high polish.

Specimens of many of the above-named rocks are also observable in the beds of the Balnakettle burn, Dalally and Garrol burns. In the banks of the Balnakettle burn porcelain clay of a bluish-white colour is found, with which, in former times, before the days of pipeclay, the Fettercairn housewives used to brighten their hearthstones and doorsteps. Asbestos or stone-flax has been found on the hill of Balnakettle, and upon an upper field of the farm. Large quantities of a substance considered to be native iron used to be found. It occurred in loose and detached pieces from 4 oz. to 2 lbs. in weight, which were turned up occasionally by the plough, and converted into use by heating and hammering in the smithies of the neighbourhood. The supply was soon exhausted, but small pieces in a corroded state are still to be found.

The origin of this metallic substance has never been sufficiently accounted for, although many and varied were the attempts. By some it was considered to be a mass of exploded fragments of the moon; by others, the sweepings of a smithy. It may have been meteoric; but that it did not originate in the subsoil, was inferred from its being unlike ordinary ironstone in its composition. Others again believed it to be a kind of coarse iron imperfectly fused, brought from Dalbog in the Parish of Edzell, where iron ore had been found and worked in the early years of the eighteenth century.


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