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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter XIX.—Antiquities and Old Buildings


ROMAN ROAD. The old Roman road, through Strath-more from the Tay to the Dee, crossed the North Esk at the Kingsford (a modern name), and passed through the south and east side of the parish. Traces of Roman works remain on the farms of Dalladies and Capo, probably for a temporary station of the army when crossing the river, and held by some to be the station of Tina. From this point the road extended along the drier ridges of Drumhendry and past Causewayend, on the line marked by the "Cattle Raik" or "Cowpers' Avenue," still seen at Bentycrook; whence the route was direct to the camp at Mains of Fordoun. Dr. William Don, in his elaborate Archceological Notes, makes the Roman Iter pass through the parish of Marykirk, with a branch to Kincardine Castle. If so, what of Causewayend, which means the end of some stone-paved roadway over the adjoining bog, and made, as supposed, only by the Roman legions.

Hill of Esslie. This height, now crowned by its stately beeches, was no doubt in ancient times a site of importance. Alongside the Roman road it might form an outpost. Except a few boulders lying about, nothing is left to indicate whether any house or castle stood there. But tradition reports that there was an old castle and a garden. It may have been in the fifteenth century the local residence of the Livingstones of Drumhendry. According to the Memoranda of the late James Middleton Paton of Montrose, his ancestor, Andrew Middleton of Pitgarvie and Balbegno, factor on the Middleton estates, resided at Esslie. And midway between it and Balbegno stood the old house of Balmain (the Midtown), which, according to a vague tradition, communicated by an underground passage with Balbegno, and had its site on the rising ground east of the present farmhouse, where its foundations were come upon at the trenching of the field about eighty years ago.

Greencairn. The Castle of Greencairn, previously noticed as the residence of Fenella, was originally an ancient fort, erected at a very early period, probably by the first of the Celtic race that peopled the land, at their invasion of western Europe. Like some other strongholds of the same character, and partly like that on the hill of Finhaven, it consisted of a central building with vitrified walls, and an outer surrounding rampart or erection of dry stones, enclosing a wide open-air space, and affording protection and security to the indwellers and their goods in times of danger. At such times, communication, by means of beacon fires as signals of alarm, could be held with all the hill-forts within view in Angus and Mearns. In these two counties the only other vitrified fort is that of Finhaven, and the reason may be that upon the other hills fire-wood was scarce or the stones were not sufficiently usible. At Greencairn some scattered fragments of its walls may still be seen. Parts of these walls, in the early years of the century, stood a foot or two above the surface; but they soon shared the fate of other old castle walls; they were quarried by some local Goths and Vandals for stones to build dykes and farm steadings. The huge stone ramparts of Catterthun escaped demolition only because they were too far up the hill and too difficult to remove. In Chalmers's Caledonia the ruins of Greencairn, as in 1798, are described, and their dimensions are given, from a report by James Strachan, gardener to Lord Adam Gordon, as follows:—

" It is of an oval form, and is surrounded by two ramparts. The outer rampart is built with dry-stone, without any lime or mortar, And without the least mark of any tool; and under the foundation are found ashes of burnt wood. The space betwixt the outer and inner ramparts measures 93 feet 9 inches. The inner wall is 30 feet thick, and has all undergone the operation of vitrification. The area within this is 140 feet long; 67 ft. 6 in. broad at the east end; and 52 ft. 6 in. broad at the west end. The elevation (of the site) on the north side is about 40 feet, and fully 60 feet on the south side, where it is all wet, mossy ground."

Additional information regarding the ruins of Fenella's Castle is furnished by means of an unpublished letter of Sir Walter Scott, written after his visit to Dunnottar and Fettercairn in 1796, and addressed to the Rev. Mr Walker, minister of Dunnottar. His son-in-law and biographer, J. G. Lockhart, states that " the visit was to the residence of the lady who had now for so many years been the object of his attachment"; and alludes to the said letter, which is now in possession of Miss Paterson of Birkwood, Banchory, who has graciously favoured the writer of these pages with a, perusal and the liberty to enter it here verbatim, as follows:—

"My Dear Sir,

"I take my first moment of disengagement to let you know the result of my enquiries at Lady Finella's Castle, which is-in my opinion at least decidedly in favour of Tytler's opinion. I was detained at Fettercairn House by the hospitality of Sir John and Lady Jane two or three days longer than I expected, from which you will easily guess Miss Belsches was recovered and able to see company. Thus I had plenty of time on my hands, which I employed in causing two labourers begin at the ring or vallum immediately without the main compact, and cut down till they came decisively to the original soil. This outer embankment I found to consist of a mound of stones of no very considerable size, none of which, as far as I could perceive, had suffered from fire, tho' I have upon this as well as several other occasions to regret my want of chemical and mineralogical knowledge sufficient to enable me to decide with certainty. We then continued opening our trench, still digging down to the soil, till we came to the very foundation of the main and innermost Bulwark. You may guess my satisfaction when on laying this bare I found the most unequivocal marks of human industry. It consists of oblong flat stones from 4 to 6 feet long, piled above each other to the height of about 4 feet and breadth of 3, with symmetry more exact than could have been expected. This foundation formed a kind of casing within which were piled, apparently by the hand, large bullet stones, which, I presume, were prevented from spreading inwards by a similar pile of large flat stones corresponding to that on the outside, and thus a firm foundation had been obtained for the mound to be raised above, which, as far as it now remains, consists of Bullets, etc., diminishing gradually in size to the very top. Upon all this mass the effect of fire was very visible, and at the bottom I found quantities of charcoal, but these effects were much less remarkable below, and appeared more and more strong upon the higher stones till you came to the top, where the mass-was completely vitrified. Thus the whole was probably constructed as follows: First two walls of large flat stones were erected parallel to each other at a distance corresponding to the height of rampart, of which this was to be the base; that rampart I take to have been composed of branches of trees and stones, the latter gradually diminishing in size from that of the large round bullets which occupied the interval between the two casing walls of the foundation to a size which could be more conveniently raised to the height of the top of the mound. Supposing such a fabric to be surrounded by 3 or 4 external ramparts of loose stones, it wd compose such a fortification as I take the fort of Balbegno to* have been when entire. Again supposing it to have been stormed and set on fire, it is obvious that the lower part being composed of huge stones would suffer little from the heat, that the middle would suffer more, and that the stones composing the uppermost part of the mass would, if their substance admitted it, be actually vitrified, both from their size and situation, the fire always-Operating upwards, for the same reason what charcoal found itfr way to the bottom of the mass would not be totally consumed ; and thus I account for the appearances I have detailed above. My works are already almost filled up with rubbish and some of the-foundation stones carried off, but I am convinced you will find upon examination that the appearances are uniform.

"I am dying to hear about the Well at Dunottar, &c, &c, &c I am likewise anxious about my old Ballads; and I hope you will add to the many favours I have already to acknowledge, that of writing me very soon. My address is Georges Square, Edinr-Compliments to Mess™ Logie and Wood. I hope they do not faint-in the good work; if so, I refer them to you for strength and consolation.

"I have visited a beautiful ruin called Eagle (Edzell) Castle, and was delighted. I have seen Caterthun, and was astonished.

"I hope this will find your whole famille from Nelly to Macgriegar inclusive in good health. Meantime, we do most strictly charge-you and command to keep an account of the Well expenditure, and transmitt it to us for a settlement of Accot8; and so we bid you heartily farewell.

"Given from our Inn at Kinross the sixth day of May, (1700) and ninety-six years.

"Walter Scott."

The accompanying fac-simile illustration of the fourth page shows how letters were folded and addressed on the back before the invention of envelopes. The fig. "5" stands for fivepence—as the postage from Kinross to Stonehaven to be paid by the receiver.

REDUCED FAC-SIMILE OF THE LAST PAGE OF SIR WALTER SCOTT'S LETTER

Of Fenella's Castle after the murder of Kenneth, the only record is that of John de Fordun, who relates that "the King's companions, missing him, broke into the house, and finding that he was murdered, consumed the tenon with fire, and reduced it to ashes." Whether the Ťastle was ever afterwards restored or occupied is a matter of conjecture. The two hundred years that elapsed before the grant of Balbegno lands by William the Lion to Ranulph the Falconer are a complete blank in the history. Greencairn as a residence was very likely doomed, and, instead of it, Balbegno, or the little new town, became the manor-place. Other three hundred years elapsed before the building of Balbegno Castle; and whether, during those five centuries, the seat of the feudal superiors was at Greencairn, Balbegno, or elsewhere, cannot now be determined.

Balbegno Castle. The date 1569, the figures of two males and one female, the inscription "I. Wod and E. Irvein" below a shield with the Wood and Irvine arms, all on a carved panel above the highest front window of Balbegno Castle, show that it was erected in the time of John, the second of the Woods, proprietors of Balbegno And Thanes of Fettercairn. The building, which has been kept in good preservation and recently repaired by Sir John R. Gladstone, is a fine specimen of the old baronial style, four storys high with double oblong roof and an open bartizan along the top and around its east side and corner. Upon the bartizan are three medallion heads, one male with hat, and two females; and upon other parts of the walls are several shields with arms, possibly those of the founders of the castle. Over a side door of the garden is the male bust, already described alongside its illustration, supposed to represent the famous Admiral Wood, but it had no doubt a more honourable place on the east front of the castle, and must have been removed by the Ogilvys when, in 1795, they built the plain and homely addition, commodious enough as a dwelling, but which spoils considerably the original building from the covering up of the principal front entrance. Some stones bearing the Wood and Barclay arms were also removed and carried to Caldhamer where they may be seen stuck up in the wall of an outhouse. All the figures on the castle are boldly carved in freestone, and in the style of the famous "Stirling Heads." As Thanes of Fettercairn, the Woods bore, in addition to their paternal coat of an oak tree, two keys fastened to a branch. The walls of the building being fat or six feet in thickness and pierced with loopholes, are significant of the times when it was built. The most striking internal feature is the large hall with its groined freestone roof and ornaments, some grotesque and others floral, one of which bears the Irvine arms. The ceiling has two shields, one with the Scotch lion and the other with the Wood arms. The sixteen vaulted compartments held mural paintings of the coats and mantlings of as many Scotch peers. Damp and decay have defaced the most of them, and have obliterated the very names and titles, which may be noted as follows:—Over the door on the right is, 1, Lauderdale or Wemyss(?); 2, blank; 3, Montrose; 4, (?); 5, Erie of Orkney; 6, Gordon(1); 7, Erie of Murray; 8, blank; 9 and 10, blank. On the south side, 11, Both well; 12, Argyle; 13, Crawford; 14, Errol; 15, Eglinton; and 16, blank.

Every feudal castle had its dungeon; and so had Balbegno its dark underground cell, entered from a back passage by a massive wooden door of oak studded with large-headed iron nails, which, with its heavy bolts and strong locks, defied any attempts to escape of the poor wretches therein immured. Every old castle had likewise its Motehill (Mod, a court), where the feudal baron held his court and judged all civil and criminal cases arising in his own district. This heritable right of jurisdiction was abolished after the Rebellion of 1745. Criminal offenders were executed— the men by hanging on the Motehills, now known as "Gallowhills," and the women by drowning in the Mort-toun-holes, or "Muttonholes" as these are now called. The Motehill of Balbegno was the "Tod-hillock" of our day (Taed, Saxon, death)—the wooded knoll on the roadside between Balbegno and Greencairn. It was no doubt the tribunal hill of the district during the long ages that preceded the erection of Balbegno Castle and the sway of the Woods. The Muttonhole was in the springy hollow of the field above the present high road, and about a hundred yards right across the same from the Tod-hillock. Thirty years ago, a group of old cottar houses, formerly croftsteads, on the same spot were cleared off for the plough. They were known as "Muttonhole." The "Taed'sNest" (hangman's dwelling) was the name of a small croft and homestead razed out about the same time. It occupied the adjacent roadside corner of the park nearer the castle. "Randall's Knap," east of the village, as already noticed, may have been Earl Middleton's motehill.

Balfour House. The old house of Balfour, which stood on the spot now occupied by the present farm steading, was a plain two-story edifice, of large dimensions, and was built, as supposed, by the Stratons, proprietors, in the seventeenth century. After the estate was sold to Sir Alexander Ramsay Irvine, the house, somewhat antiquated and with no tenant, fell out of repairs, and, in 1809, was pulled down for its stones to the building of Fasque House. The strongly built walls had to be blasted with gunpowder.

Fasque old Mansion-House. The flat space, west of Fasque House, now laid out as a bowling green and flower garden, was the site of the old mansion-house and offices. They are quaintly described, as in 1780, by Francis Douglas in his East Coast of Scotland, thus:

"Fasque House stands a long way distant from the main entry,. and is partly eclipsed by a large group, nearly in front, of old Gothic buildings, churches, abbeys, &c. As the antiquary approaches, with reverence and high expectations, how cruelly is he disappointed to find them a mockery! Mere patchwork on the ends and sidewalls of common offices ! ' What an indignity,' he is apt to exclaim, ' is here ottered to the venerable remains of antiquity ! O ye sacred retreats of virtue and purity, in whose peaceful groves wisdom and science walked hand in hand; shall even your shadows be thus dishonoured by the breath of clowns and bellowing of oxen.' Chagrined by this disappointment, it is well if he does not mistake a fine octagonal tower which lifts its head above the trees, on an adjacent mount, for a pasteboard cage. The house fronts south, and makes three sides of a square; there are many good apartments in it, especially the dining-room and library. Just by the west end, there is a den or hollow, with a Chinese bridge thrown over it, and a small brook in the bottom. It is planted and laid out in serpentine gravel walks. The house is well sheltered on all quarters, especially on the north and north-west."

Balnakettle House. The old house of Balnakettle stood, where some old trees remain, some distance east of and nearer the burn than the present farmhouse. Of its appearance, as a proprietary dwelling in the early part of last century, nothing is now known.


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