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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter XXXV.—Meteorology, Woods and Plantations


METEOEOLOGY. The following particulars, not devoid of interest, are culled from a record of weather observations taken daily at Fettercairn during the forty years from 1855 to 1895, and reported every month by the writer to the Scottish Meteorological Society.

The mean or average summer heat for that period is 59 degrees (Fahrenheit), of winter 36, and the annual mean 47. The highest reading of the Thermometer was 84 degrees on 16th July, 1876; and the lowest 3 below zero, or 35 degrees of frost, on the morning of 10th February, 1895. On the 9th it was 0, and on the 11th 1 below zero, or 33 degrees below the freezing point.

The average number of days on which any rain or snow fell is 177, and the mean depth 33*5 inches. The rainiest day in the forty years was the 12th of June, I860,. with a fall of 3 in.; but the heaviest shower, still remembered, took place from the bursting of a thunder cloud on the hills, between the hours of two and four on the afternoon of the 8th August, 1861. The fall was 2'5 in. The burn overflowed its banks, covered the adjacent fields, and flooded the burnside houses of the village to an alarming extent. The rainiest week was in August, 1874, when on the six days, from the 9th to the 14th, the fall was 4.44 in., or one-seventh of 31 in., that of the whole year.

The rainiest month was December, 1876, with a fall of 10 inches. The wettest year as a whole was 1872, with 218 rainy days, and 57*7 in., of which 9 1 in. fell in February; and on the 22nd of September the hills and higher grounds were covered with snow. The next wettest year was 1877, with 198 rainy days, and a fall of 45*34 in. In only seven of the forty years did the amount exceed 40 inches. In 1864 snow fell and covered the ground on the 29th of May.

The driest year was 1887, with only 153 days on which any rain or snow fell, and the total was only 22.8 inches.

The highest reading of the Barometer, 3050 in., was taken 30th January, 1895, and the lowest, 27*2, on 26th January, 1884. Of wind storms, one may be mentioned which in February, 1864, blew down a pinnacle of the church spire; another,'the Tay Bridge storm, in Dec, 1879, which blew down another, and did much damage all over the country. But the most destructive wind storms were those of the 28th Nov., 1892, and of the 17th Nov., 1893, and more especially the latter, which in sad reality destroyed the woods and plantations of the parish to an extent never before seen. Two causes may be assigned for the greater extent of damage by this storm. First, that it blew from the north, on which side the trees were less firmly rooted than on the south and south-west; and next, that a heavy fall of rain on the previous day had softened and loosened the soil about their roots.

Woods and Plantations. Few parishes in the northeast of Scotland are more highly favoured than Fettercairn in respect of woods and plantations. Traces of ancient woods remain; but at the beginning of the eighteenth century the district was bare and without shelter. The stately trees that adorn the policies of Fettercairn, Fasque, Balbegno, and The Burn were all planted within the last two hundred years. The majestic beeches and hardwood trees of Fasque were planted, as already noticed, by Sir David Ramsay and his successors, in the early years of last century. Among these may be noticed some ten or twelve of the old beeches behind Fasque House, which were uprooted by the storm of October, 1838, and which, by the enterprise of Sir John Gladstone, were lopped of their top branches, and with block and tackle raised and set up to take root again and renew their growth. In course of a few years they throve and feathered so well that in appearance they looked quite like the other monarchs of the forest. But, alas! they fell again by the storm of 1893 ; and from the immensely increased size and weight of their trunks and limbs, any attempt to raise them a second time would have proved a failure.

The tall and straight larches, spruces and silver-firs in the Den of Fasque, as well as the adjacent forest of beeches now uprooted and broken, were admired by all. One very large silver-fir near the garden, and in the hollow of the burn (the largest tree in the parish), escaped the fury of the blast. From its trunk, 14 feet in girth and 10 feet in height, spring four immense and straight up limbs, whose tops rise to at least the height of 100 feet. A few of the stately ashes and other hardwood trees in the policies of Fettercairn are very old; but the surrounding forests of difFerent sorts are of later growth, and were planted by Sir John Belsches in the end of last century. The beautiful belt of beeches along the Cairn road was levelled by the storm of 1893. Sir John also planted the valuable fir clump at Gourdon, known as Lady Jane's wood. Many of the old and decaying ash trees about the village are indigenous or self-planted. The soil is so congenial that the young plants spring up every summer like the weeds in the village gardens. The trees around the manse and glebe were planted by the late Mr Muir, the minister in the second decade of the century.

The beeches and Scotch firs of Balbegno may date from the second decade of last century, when John Ogilvy was proprietor. The beautifully grown Scotch firs of The Burn, below Bonhary, were probably planted by the Forbeses of Balfour at the same period. But the greater part of The Burn woods were planted by Lord Adam Gordon in the end of last century. The laird's advice to-his son, " To be aye plantin' a tree," has been diligently followed by the later proprietors, as may be instanced by the extensive plantations along the hillside of Balnakettle and Balfour, made within the last fifty years by the late Sir Thomas Gladstone. In this account some very old trees remain to be noticed. One of the oldest is the Spanish chestnut, on the roadside below Balbegno. Its general appearance and the decay in its branches confirm the belief, supported by tradition, that it ranks in age with the castle, or about 350 years. The yew tree at the castle and the other seven or eight in the garden were no doubt planted there by the first occupiers to supply wood for bows, before firearms were invented. For the same purpose, in old times, yews were planted in churchyards. The largest of the Balbegno yews, two feet up, is 8 ft. in girth. One of the hollies remaining in the garden is also 8 ft. in girth, and four feet up is 6| ft. The trunk is 15 ft. in height. Considering these dimensions and the slow growth of holly, this tree must be as old as its neighbours. In the adjoining park there remains part of an overgrown holly hedge, which had probably formed the boundary of a lawn or green. At Balfour may be seen a line of very tall hollies, evidently the overgrowth of a hedge near the site of the old mansion-house. At Fasque House a holly of large dimensions, growing on a mound, displays its beauty; and as a relic of the olden time deserves to be carefully preserved. The lovely but decaying laburnums in Fetter cairn House grounds show that they are at least as old as the south part of the mansion, built by the Earl ^ Middleton in 1666.

This account may be closed with a notice of two known trees, both standing alone, the one in the coi. and the other in the village. "Peter Robbie's tree," a and beautiful birch below Surgeonshall, on the MarykL road, is now the only mark left of a house and croft occupied eighty-five years ago by Robbie, who had been minister's man for many years to the late Mr Foote, and whose / maternal grandson is John Lyall, blacksmith, Balfour. The other in the village is "The Baker's tree," right in front of the baker's shop, or "The Teetotal tree," so called from some reference to the Temperance Hotel, now Kirkhill farmhouse, which it overshadows, as seen in the illustration. It marks the line of the old fence removed for the railing erected by Lord Clinton. Upon its trunk, for many a day, public notices and advertisements have been nailed; so that no saw will ever cut it up with impunity. Hundreds of horse shoe nails, borrowed from the adjoining smithy and driven into its aged trunk, display the warning of the national emblem, "Nemo me impune lacessit."


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