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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter XXI.—Bridges, Fords, and Ferries


A FEW of the bridges in the parish, and of those on the roads leading into it, may properly be reckoned as ancient buildings. A connection long existed between bridge-building and public worship. The head priest of the Roman College of Pontiffs was called the Pontifex Maximus, or great bridge-builder; and the Pons Sublicius, or wooden bridge over the Tiber, was constructed and upheld by him. In later times the clergy devoted their attention to the building and repairing of bridges. Wild water courses and impassable ravines were the chief impediments to attendance on divine worship. The condition of bridges and roadways became the care of the church; and in Scotland collections were made by order of the General Assembly. For instance, the writer was informed by the Rev. John Falconer that, during the incumbency of a predecessor in the parish of Ettrick, a collection was made for a bridge on the North Esk (probably the old bridge at Mary kirk); and another for a bridge over the Dee at Braemar. The North Esk was often impassable, and accidents by ford and ferry were of frequent occurrence. Commenting upon these, the minister of Marykirk, the Rev. John Brymer, about 1790, writes very sagely in the Old Statistical Account, as follows :—"It is to be observed that the North Esk, in rapid torrents, not only descends the Grampian hills, overtops its banks and inundates the valleys below, but with impetuous violence sweeps everything before it, so that strangers ought by no means to enter rashly into the river." Its fords and ferries leading to and from Fettercaim were: 1, The Cobleheugh ferryr with its adjacent ford at Marykirk. 2, The same at Pert (the water port) further up the river. 3, The "king's ford" and ferry at Capo. In 1730 the Kirk Session of Fettercaim, in reply to the minister of Stracathro, granted £3 Scots to the ferryman, who had lost his boat by a spate; and some time thereafter he came to say "that he had gotten on his boat." 4, The ford of "Sandy ford," and the ferry on Linn Martin at Chapelton. About the middle of last century John Gibb and his wife, Helen Law, from the inscription on their headstone in Fettercaim Churchyard, were tenants of Chapelton, and kept the brew-house or inn of Sandyford, with its ferryboat. 5, " Sclateford," below the village of that name, now called Edzell. And 6, The "Loups" ford, and the ferry above, where, on the Sundays two hundred and forty years ago, when Newdosk ceased to be a separate parish, the Kirk Session of Edzell paid to "Andrew, the minister's man, 20 shgs. Scots for putting ye people of Newdosk over the watter in a coble." Of the bridges over the North Esk the first to be noticed, though not directly connected with the parish, is the lower North Water Bridge between Montrose and St. Cyrus. It was first projected by Thomas Christie, Provost of Montrose, and a native of Fettercaim. He died before the work was subscribed for, but his son Alexander, who succeeded him as provost, carried out the design. The foundation was laid in 1770, and after five years was finished at the cost of £6500, of which King George IIL gave £800. Two tablets on the south parapet record these details, and also: "Traveller, pass safe and free along this. bridge, built by subscriptions in the town of Montrose and two adjacent counties," etc.; and in Latin, which may be translated: " Traveller, pass on in safety, and be mindful of the king's bounty." The present bridge, of four arches, at Marykirk was built by a joint-stock company, at a cost of £10,000, and opened for traffic in 1815. Tolls and pontages were levied upon it until, under the Roads and Bridges Act of 1875, the rights of the company were redeemed and the charges laid upon the county road rates-of Forfar and Kincardine. A vague tradition exists that, at a very remote period, a stone bridge crossed the river at Marykirk or Aberluthnot, or confluence of the Luthnot. The upper North Water Bridge at Pert is the next to be noticed. It was first built in the sixteenth century by John Erskine of Dun, the friend of Knox and the superintendent of Angus and Mearns. Concerning the builder, tradition (as reported in the Old Statistical Account) says:

"That having had a drea.m or vision, that unless he should build a bridge over 'Stormy Grain,' where three waters ran into one, he would be miserable after death. Accordingly, going out one day in a pensive mood and walking along the banks of the North Esk„ he met an old woman near the spot where the bridge now stands, and asking the name of the place, received for answer that it was. called * Stormy Grain,' where three waters run in one. Hence, recognizing this to be the spot to which his dream alluded, he immediately set about building a bridge there; but the bridge being founded and the work going on, a spate in the river swept it away ; upon which he ordered the work to be begun anew. But after it was considerably advanced, it tumbled down a second time. Mr Erskine was now so much discouraged that he fell into a deep melancholy and kept his bed. One day, however, he observed a spider making two unsuccessful attempts and succeeding the third time to form its web, he took courage, caused the work to be resumed, and had the good fortune to succeed."

How long that bridge stood, or when it gave place to-the present structure, is not known. It is, however, on record that, about 1669, David Erskine of Dun repaired the bridge and petitioned Parliament to let him levy customs for a certain number of years. This was granted, and also the power of holding there an annual fair in the month of October. Of the old bridge, a portion of the north end and up side wall appears as a part of the present structure. The Arnhall and Edzell suspension bridge for foot passengers, erected in the end of last century, may be passed without farther remark. The Gannochy bridge, higher up the river, on the Fettercairn and Edzell main road, may be described, by quoting in the first place, from the Statistical Account of the Parish, the words of the Rev. Robert Foote, written about 1792, as follows:—

"There is a remarkable bridge called Gannochie bridge upon the west side of this parish. It is thrown across the N. Esk river, consists of one arch 52 feet over, stands on two tremendous rocks, and is justly admired as a singular curiosity both in regard to its situation and construction. It is with pleasure the writer hereof takes the opportunity of making public the name and •condition of the person at whose expense that useful work was raised. James Black, who was tenant in the farm of Wood and parish of Edzell, agreed with a mason for 300 merks Scotch, and to lay down all materials. James was a very ingenious man, and built the parapet walls with his own hands. . . . Three hundred merks was a large siim to give sixty years ago, and the deed deserves to be recorded. The bridge was built in 1732. Besides the above 300 merks, Mr Black left 200 merks to the poor of the parish of Fettercairn and fifty merks for upholding the bridge. Both sums were left to the management of the Kirk Session here, and from this circumstance the incumbent thinks it proper to publish these good deeds as worthy to be remembered and imitated."

So much for Mr Foote's account; but Mr Black left additional sums for other useful and pious purposes: 300 merks to build a bridge over the Cruick at Balrownie, on the Brechin and Lethnot road; as well as 500 merks to «ndow a school at Tullibardine in his native parish of Lethnot. On his tombstone there his good deeds are recorded, and in addition this couplet:—

"No bridge on earth can be a pass to heaven,
To generous deeds let yet due praise be given.
"Memento 1746 Mori."

Jervise, in his Land of the Lindsays, confirms a story which appears to have had its foundation in that above related of John Erskine and the Northwater Bridge. It is that, about 1731, several lives were lost in attempting to ford the river in the vicinity of the Gannochy, and that the spirit of one of the drowned men made three successive midnight calls on Mr Black, and implored him to build a bridge and prevent further loss of life. And also thatr yielding to this request, he built the bridge at the very spot the spirit pointed out. Mr Foote does not allude to this story. A less sensational account of Black's motive, which the writer got from the late Walter Strachan and he from his mother who knew Black in his later years, bears that, owing to a serious difference with the Kirk Session of Edzell, he attended Fettercairn church, crossing the river on horseback by the old ford above the "Loups Brig." Finding this very inconvenient, and being himself a mason, he hired workmen and built the bridge which, by his somewhat ungrateful neighbours, was nicknamed " Black's Grey Mare." The sequel of Walter's story is that James Black incurred a heavy debt and disappeared for a year and a half; after which he returned with money enough to meet all his liabilities, and likewise at his death, in 1750, to suffice for the discharge of the aforesaid bequests. In 1752 his brother Robert, tenant of Clochic in Lethnot, handed to the Kirk Session of Fettercairn the monies left for the poor and for the upkeep of the bridge. Of it the Kirk Session were zealous custodians, and took great pains to prevent damage from heavy traffic. At that period the millstones required in the district were brought from Forfarshire; and when a new one was wanted, the tenants thirled to the mill, turned out in a body to roll it axle-tree-wise to its destination. For this purpose the new bridge became an easier way than the fords of the river. But the Kirk Session objected, and, in terms of a lengthy minute in the year 1755, they complained to the sheriff and he interdicted the practice. The bridge was then only half its present width, having been widened as it now stands in 1796, at a cost of ,£300, by Lord Adam Gordon and William Lord Panmure. The great flood of 4th August, 1829, filled the rocky gorge, which measures, from the -crown of the arch to the bed of the stream, about thirty feet. The suspension footbridge called the "Loups Brig," still further up the river, was erected by Lord Adam Gordon. An iron railing and gate with lock and key were at the same time erected on the Edzell end; but some ill-disposed persons, under night, tore up the gate and part of the railing. As no trace of these was left, they were no doubt hurled, stones and all, into the deep dark pool below. The bridge of Auchmull stands outside the parish; but it may be mentioned because it bears an inscription that, in 1820, William Lord Panmure and John Shand of The Burn built it; and that the latter contributed 100 guineas for its erection and for the making of a new road outside what are now The Burn policies. The Glenesk people forcibly opposed the changing of the road, but they became reconciled when Mr Shand intimated his contribution.

From the end of the seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth the "pious work" of building bridges was largely promoted, not only by individual bequests, but by means of church collections and the proceeds of vacant stipends. In 1722, collections, averaging .£6 Scots, were made in Fettercairn church; one for the bridge on the Black burn below Meiklestrath, another for a bridge on Cruick water, and a third for one in the parish of Kirkden. And in several years following down to 1752, for bridges in Lethnot, Stracathro and Benholm; also for those at Cowie, Mill of Halkerton, Mill of Luther, and on the Mooran above Edzell. The bridge of Bervie was first erected in 1699 from the proceeds of vacant stipends; and Fettercairn church being vacant in that year, the stipend was available.

On the 11th May, 1727, the Presbytery of Fordoun resolved,

"On the recommendation of Sir Alex. Ramsay, principal heritor of Fettercairn, to expend the half-year's stipend during the late vacancy (in 1723) on building a stone bridge over the two small rivulets, which run, the one upon the west, and the other upon the east side of the town of Fettercairn, and which for want of bridges are very 'unsalve' in time of speats and in the winter season to the people of the Parish in their going to and coming from church."

The subject of bridges may be concluded, by referring briefly to one of the six or seven roads that radiate from the village; because it was first made by Baron Sir John Stuart to afford better communication with Laurencekirk,. but without any idea of its ever becoming what it now is— the busiest and most frequented road in the district. Its zigzag turns beyond the Luther are accounted for by the fact that the landowners would consent only to a narrow way round between their fields instead of a direct line through them. The Blackiemuir bridge, in like manner angular and awkward, has a tablet bearing the date, 1786.


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