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Glimpses of Church and Social Life in the Highlands in Olden Times and Other Papers
Chapter I. Introductory remarks—The old deer-forests of Badenoch—Particulars of later measurement and divisions.


“Dear to me is the chase of the stag
When I sweep the moor with the range of my eye;
Sweeter the bay of the hounds than the flap
Of the sail, when the breeze comes whistling by.

As long as breath in my breast may be,
As long as my limbs my body may bear,
On an autumn morn when the heather is brown,
And the breezes keen, would I be there.

But woe is me, ’tis past, ’tis past!
The men who rejoiced shall rejoice no more
In the stir of the chase, in bay of the hounds,
The laugh, and the quaff, and the jovial roar!”

—From the ‘Lay of the Old Hunter ’ (“A'chomhachag") as translated by Professor Blackie.

SELECTIONS FROM THE MSS. OF THE LATE CAPTAIN MACPHERSON (“OLD BIALLID”).

THE OLD DEER-FORESTS OF BADENOCH.

‘"And since I am talking of you this day,
Farewell is the word I must tack to your praise;
Farewell, farewell, farewell for ever,
Dear Ben and Glen, and bonnie green braes!

Sad, oh sad, to say farewell
To the joy I knew in your breezy bounds!
Never again till the day of doom,
With my bow ’neath my shield, shall I go with the hounds.’

THE following papers have been selected from manuscripts of the late Captain Lachlan Macpherson of the 52d Regiment, long so popularly known in Badenoch as “Old Biallid,” who died at Biallid, in the parish of Kingussie, on 20th May 1858, at the ripe old age of eighty-nine, and whose memory is still cherished with pride by every native of the district.

Of superior mental capacity and force of character, and as upright and true-hearted a Highlander as ever trod the heather, Captain Macpherson was widely known and honoured far beyond the limits of Badenoch as one of the ablest and most patriotic men of his time in the north.

SELECTIONS FROM BIALLID MSS.

No less distinguished—as he was—for his intimate and accurate knowledge of the history, traditions, and folk-lore of the central Highlands, the manuscripts left by him possess considerable historical interest, and have been kindly given to me by his grandson, Mr Macpherson of Corrimony, with permission to have such portions thereof as might be deemed suitable printed in this volume.

The selections which follow have accordingly been made, embracing —(1) The Old Deer-Forests of Badenoch; (2) Macniven’s Cave, or the Old Cave of Raitts, in Badenoch; (3) The Clan Battle on the North Inch of Perth in 1396; (4) The Battle of Glenfruin; (5) The Retreats of Cluny of “the Forty-five”; and (6) Colonel John Roy Stewart. To the account of the Badenoch deer-forests there is appended a jotting in pencil to the effect that it was written in 1838, “at Cluny’s request, for a gentleman who intended to write a history of the Scottish forests.” That account is, with sundry imaginary dialogues, narrated in Scrope’s ‘ DeerStalking in the Scottish Highlands ’—originally published about half a century ago—the narrative being prefaced by the remark that “ the account I am about to relate, as well as I can from memory, was most obligingly given to me by Cluny Macpherson, Chief of Clan Chattan, a very celebrated and accomplished sportsman.” The author of that work, in giving the particulars of the Badenoch forests, lets his imagination run riot in the way of prefacing and interlarding the narrative with the most absurd gibberish put into the mouth of an apocryphal “Gown-Cromb, or blacksmith of some village in Badenoch.” In a colloquy between an Athole man and the so-called “Gown-Cromb,” the Athole man is represented as speaking the most refined Saxon, while the Badenoch “Gown” is represented as holding forth in the most incongruous Highland-English, after the following fashion :—

“‘Hout-tout! ye’re a true Sassenach, an’ the like 0’ ye chiels aye ca’ liftin’ stealin’, which is na joost Christian-like.’

“‘Well, what would you give for such bonny braes, and birks, and rivers as are in the forest of Athole, if they could be transferred to your wild country ? ’

“‘And are there nae bonny braes and birks in Badenoch? Ye’re joost as bad as our minister; but fat need the man say ony thing mair aboot the matter, fan I tell ’im that I’ll prove, frae his ain Bible, ony day he likes, that the Liosmor, as we ca’ the great garden in Gaelic, stood in its day joost far the Muir o’ Badenoch lies noo, an’ in nae ither place aneth the sun; isna there an island in the Loch Lhinne that bears the name 0’ the Liosmor to this blessed day ? Fan I tell you that, an’ that I hae seen the island mysel’, fa can doot my word ? ’

“‘But, Mac, the Bible says the garden was planted eastward, in Eden.’

“‘Hout, aye! but that disna say but the garden micht be in Badenoch f for Eden is a Gaelic word for a river, an’ am shaire there’s nae want o’ them there; an’ as for it’s bein’ east o’er, that is, when Adam planted the Liosmor, he sat in a bonny bothan on a brae in Lochaber, an’ nae doot lukit eastwar’ to Badenoch, an’ saw a’thing sproutin’ an’ growin’ atween ’im an’ the sun, fan it cam’ ripplin’ o’er the braes frae Athole in the braw simmer mornings.’

“‘But, Mac, the Bible further says, they took fig-leaves and made themselves aprons; you cannot say that figs ever grew in Badenoch.’

“‘Hout-tout! there’s naebody can tell fat grew in Badenoch i’ the days of the Liosmor; an’ altho’ nae figs grow noo, there’s mony a bonny flag runs yet o’er the braes o’ baith Badenoch and Lochaber. It was flag’s skins, an’ no fig-blades, that they made claes o’. Fiag, I maun tell you, is Lochaber Gaelic for a deer to this day; an’ fan the auld guidman was getting his repreef for takin’ an apple frae the guidwife, a’ the beasties in Liosmor cam’ roon them, an’ among the rest twa bonny raes; an’ fan the guidman said, “See hoo miserable we twa are left; there stands a’ the bonny beasties weel clad in their ain hair, an’ here we stand shamefaced and nakit ”—aweel, fan the twa raes heard that, they lap oot o’ their skins, for very love to their sufferin’ maister, as any true clansman wad do to this day. Fan the guidman saw this, he drew ae flag’s skin on her nainsel’, an’ the tither o’er the guidwife. Noo, let me tell ye, thae were the first kilts in the world.’

“‘By this account, Mac, our first parents spoke Gaelic.’

“‘An’ fat ither had they to spake, tell me? Oor minister says they spoke Hebrew; and fat’s Hebrew but Gaelic, the warst o’ Gaelic, let alane Welsh Gaelic ? ’ “ ‘ Well done, Mac ! success to you and your Gaelic ! ’ ”

The following account of the old Badenoch forests is exactly as given in “ Old Biallid’s ” MSS., the spelling simply of the names of places in a few instances being modernised:—

I.—THE OLD DEER-FORESTS OF BADENOCH.

“The Earls of Huntly possessed by far the most extensive range of hills as deer-forests in Britain. They commenced at Ben Avon in Banffshire, and terminated at Ben Nevis near Fort-William—a distance of about seventy miles — without a break, except the small estate of Rothiemurchus, which is scarcely two miles in breadth, where it intersects the forest. This immense tract of land was divided into seven distinct divisions, each of which was given in charge to the most influential gentleman in its neighbourhood. The names of these divisions or forests are—ist, Ben Avon; 2d, Glenmore, including Cairngorm; 3d, Brae Feshie; 4th, Gaick; 5th, Drumuachdar; 6th, Ben Alder, including Farron; and 7th, Lochtreig, which extended from the Badenoch March to Ben Nevis. The extent of these divisions was nearly as follows : Ben Avon about 20 square miles, Glenmore 20, Brae Feshie 15, Gaick 30, Drumuachdar 25, Ben Alder 50, and Lochtreig 60 square miles—in all, 220 square miles. The whole, however, were not solely appropriated for the rearing of deer, for tenants were allowed to erect shielings on the confines of the forest, and their cattle were permitted to pasture as far as they chose throughout the day, but they must be brought back to the shieling in the evening, and such as were left in the forest overnight were liable to be poinded. These regulations did very well between Huntly and his tenants, but they opened a door for small proprietors who held in feu from the Gordon family to make encroachments, and in the course of time to acquire a property to which they had not the smallest title. The old forest laws in Scotland were exceedingly severe, if not barbarous. Mutilation and even death was sometimes inflicted. It is related that Macdonald of Keppoch hanged one of his own clan to appease Cluny Macpherson of the time for depredations committed in the forest of Ben Alder; and it is a well-known fact that another hunter (called John Our) had an eye put out and his right arm amputated for a similar offence. It is also said that he killed deer even in that mutilated state. No alteration took place until after the Rising of 1745, when the whole forests were let as grazings except Gaick, which the Duke of Gordon continued as a deer-forest until about the year 1788, when it was let as a sheep-walk, and continued so until 1826, when the late Duke of Gordon (then Marquis of Huntly) re-established it. It is now rented by Sir Joseph Radcliffe; but as he takes in black cattle to graze in summer, the number of deer is not great, perhaps not more than two or three hundred. The deer in this forest are small, and are principally hinds ; but in all the other named forests it was not uncommon to kill harts that weighed twenty-four and even twenty-seven imperial stones.

“The forest of Ben Alder is now rented by the Marquis of Abercorn; but as the sheep were only turned off in 1836, there are not many deer as yet: however, as the Marquis of Breadalbane’s forest is not far distant, they will no doubt accumulate rapidly. This forest lies on the north-west side of Loch Erricht, and contains an area of from 30 to 35 square miles. Its lie is in a south-west direction. The boundary on the south-west is the small river Alder, on the north-west Beallachnadui (the dark vale) and the river Caalrathy, and on the north-east it is bounded by Lochpatag and Farron. The mountains are high, probably near 4000 feet above the level of the sea; and there is a lake, about two miles in circumference, at an elevation of at least 2500 feet, abounding with trout of excellent quality. It is called Loch Beallach-a-Bhea. The legends connected with this forest are many, and some of them are interesting; for in Ben Alder is the cave that sheltered Prince Charlie for about three months after he made his escape from the Islands, where he very imprudently entangled himself. When he came to Ben Alder he was in a most deplorable state, full of rags, vermin, &c., &c.; but there everything was put to rights, and during that period he made considerable progress in the Gaelic language. It is unnecessary to add that Cluny Macpherson and Lochiel were his companions, attended by three or four trusty Highlanders, who brought them every necessary and many of the luxuries of life.

“Cluny Macpherson had generally the charge of this forest in olden times, and upon one occasion a nephew of his (a young man) met a party of the Macgregors of Rannoch on a hunting excursion. There were six of them ; but Macpherson having a stronger party, demanded their arms. To this the Macgregor leader consented, except his own arms, which he declared should not be given to any man except Cluny personally. Macpherson, however, persisted in disarming the whole, and in the attempt to seize Macgregor was shot dead upon the spot. The Macgregors of course fled, and effected their escape, except one that was wounded in the leg, and who died through loss of blood. This unlucky circumstance, however, was not attended with any further bad consequences. On the contrary, it had the effect of renewing an ancient treaty between the two clans for mutual protection and support. When Cluny Macpherson resolved on going to France on account of the share he had in the Rising of 1745, he called upon a gentleman with whom he was intimate, and who was a noted deer-stalker (Mr Macdonald of Tulloch), and said that he wished to kill one deer before quitting his native country for ever. The proposal was quite agreeable to Macdonald, and they accordingly proceeded to Ben Alder. They soon discovered a solitary hart on the top of a mountain, but just as they got within shot of him, he started off at full gallop for about two miles. He then stood for a few minutes as if considering whether he had had any real cause for alarm, and then deliberately walked back to the very spot from where he first started, and was shot dead by Cluny, a circumstance that was considered a good omen, and which was certainly not falsified by future events. Mr Macpherson of Breakachy had the charge of this forest at one period. He went upon one occasion, accompanied by a servant, in quest of venison, and in the course of their travel they found a wolf-den (an animal very common in the Highlands at that time). Macpherson asked his servant whether he preferred going into the den and destroying the cubs, or to remain outside and guard against an attack from the old ones. The servant said he would remain without; but no sooner did he see the dam approaching than he took to his heels, without even advising his master of the danger. Macpherson, however, being an active man, and expert at his weapons, killed the old wolf also; and on coming out of the den, he saw the servant about a mile off, when he beckoned to him, and without hardly making any remark upon his cowardly conduct, said that as it was now late he intended to remain that night in a bothy (Dalinlnncart) at a little distance from them. They accordingly proceeded to that bothy, and it was quite dark when they reached it. Macpherson, on putting his hand on the bed to procure heather for lighting a fire, discovered a dead body, and without taking any notice of the circumstance, he said, ‘ I don’t like this bothy; we shall proceed to such a one, about a mile off (Callag), where we shall be better accommodated.’ They accordingly proceeded to the other bothy, and on arriving there Macpherson, pretending that he left his powder-horn in the first-mentioned bothy, desired the servant to go and fetch it, and said that he would find it in the bed. The servant did as he was desired; but instead of the powder-horn, he found a dead man in the bed, which to one of his poor nerves was a terrible shock. He therefore hurried back in great agitation, and on reaching the second bothy, to his dismay found it dark and empty, his master having set off home as soon as the servant set out for the powder-horn. Terrified beyond measure at this second disappointment, he proceeded home, a distance of twelve miles of a dreary hill, which he reached early in the morning; but the fright had nearly cost him his life, for he fevered, and was many weeks before he recovered. This Macpherson of Breakachy was commonly called Callum-beg (little Malcolm), and there is reason to believe that he was one of those who fought the famous battle of Perth in the reign of King Robert III.

“Two children of tender age strayed from a neighbouring shieling, and were found after a lapse of many days in Ben Alder locked in each other’s arms. They were dead of course, and the place is still called the Affectionate Children’s Hollow. It is confidently asserted that a white hind continued to be seen in Ben Alder for two hundred years.

“Gaick.—There are many circumstances connected with this forest that give it an interest. Its lie is in a south-west direction, bounded on the south by the Braes of Athole, on the north by Glentromie, on the east by Corry Bran, and on the west by the Glentruim Hills. In the centre of Gaick there is a plain of about eight miles long, and in this plain there are three lakes—Loch-an-t-Seillich, Loch Vrotain, and Loch-an-Duin—all abounding with excellent trout and char, and another species of fish, called dorman by the country-people. This fish called dorman is large, with a very big head, and is believed to prevent salmon from ascending into the lakes. Some of them weigh from twenty to thirty pounds. The hills on each side of this flat are remarkably steep, with very little rock, and of considerable height, and in the south end there is a hill of a very striking appearance. Its length is about a mile. Its height is at least 1000 feet above the plain, and its shape is that of a house. This hill is called the Doune, and is the southern boundary of the forest. It was in Gaick that Walter Comyn was killed by a fall from his horse. He was probably a son of one of the Comyns of Badenoch, and certainly a very profligate young fellow. Tradition says that he determined on causing a number of young women to shear, stark naked, on the farm of Ruthven, which was the residence of the Comyns in Badenoch. He was, however, called on business to Athole, and the day of his return was fixed for the infamous exhibition. The day at last arrived, but instead of Walter, his horse made his appearance, with one of his master’s legs in the stirrup. Search was, of course, made instantly, and the mangled body was found with two eagles feeding upon it; and although nothing could be more natural than that birds of prey should feed upon any dead carcass, yet the whole was ascribed to witchcraft, and the two eagles were firmly believed to be the mothers of two of the girls intended for the shearing exhibition. The place where Walter was killed is called Leum "a Feinne, or the Fingalian’s Leap, and a terrible break-neck path it is. The fate of Walter is still proverbial in the Highlands, and when any of the lower orders are very much excited without the power of revenge, ‘May the fate of Walter in Gaick overtake you!’ is not an uncommon expression. Stories of witches and fairies connected with Gaick are numberless, but the following two may serve as specimens. A noted stalker was one morning early in the forest, and observing some deer at a distance, he stalked till he came pretty near them but not altogether within shot, and on looking over a knoll he was astonished to see a number of little neat women dressed in green milking the hinds. These he knew at once to be fairies, and one of them had a hank of green yarn thrown over her shoulder, and when in the act of milking the deer the animal made a grab at the yarn with its mouth and swallowed it. The fairy in apparent rage struck the hind with the band with which she had its hind-legs tied, saying at the same time, ‘ May a dart from Murdoch’s quiver pierce your side before night! ’ Murdoch was the person listening, from which it may be inferred that the fairies were well acquainted with his dexterity at deer-killing. In the course of that same day Murdoch killed a hind, and on taking out the entrails he found the identical green hank that he saw the deer swallow in the morning. It is said that it was preserved for a long period as a very great curiosity; and no wonder! for it would make a most valuable acquisition to one of our museums, had it been preserved till now. Upon another occasion the same person was in the forest, and having got within shot of a hind on the hill called the Doune, he took aim; but when ready to fire, he observed that it was a young woman that was before him. He immediately took down his gun, and then it was a deer. He took aim again, and then it was a woman; but when the gun was lowered it became a deer. At last he fired, and the deer fell in the actual shape of a deer. No sooner had he slain the hind than he was overpowered with sleep, and having rolled himself in his plaid he laid himself down in the heather. His repose, however, was not of long duration, for in a few minutes a loud cry was thundered in his ear, saying, ‘Murdoch! Murdoch! you have this day slain the only maid of the Doune,’ upon which Murdoch started up and replied, ‘If I have killed her, you may eat her,’ and immediately quitted the forest as fast as his legs could carry him. It may be remarked that this man was commonly called Murrach Maclan, or Murdoch the son of John. His real name, however, was Macpherson. He had a son that took holy orders, got a living in Ireland, and it is said that the late celebrated Mr Sheridan descended from a daughter of his. The most extraordinary superstition, however, was that of the belief in a Leannan Shith, or a fairy sweetheart, and all inveterate deer-stalkers that remained for nights and even weeks in the mountains were understood to have formed such a connection. In these cases the earthly wife was considered to be in great danger from the machinations of the fairy mistress. The forest of Gaick has also acquired notoriety from a melancholy event that happened in the year 1800. A Captain John Macpherson with four attendants and several fine greyhounds were killed by an avalanche. The house in which they slept (a strong one) was swept from the very foundation, and part of the roof carried to the distance of a mile. This catastrophe also was ascribed to supernatural agency, and a great deal of exaggeration and nonsense were circulated in consequence, to the annoyance of Captain Macpherson’s family and friends.

“The principal quality required in a deer-stalker is patience, and a capability of enduring fatigue as well as all kinds of privations. No animal is more wary than a deer, particularly the hinds. It is not enough that the stalker is concealed from their sight, but he must also pay particular attention to the wind, for they scent at a very considerable distance. They will also discover their enemy by the notes of the lark and the singing of various other little birds, so that it requires great caution and experience to become an expert stalker. The old stag greyhound is now nearly extinct, if not wholly so. It was an animal of great size, strength, and symmetry, with long wiry hair, and exceedingly gentle until roused. Its speed was great, and far beyond that of the common greyhound, particularly at a long run and in rough ground.”

The following particulars of the later measurement and divisions of the old deer-forests of the Duke of Gordon are given in Scrope’s ‘Days of Deer-Stalking ’:—

“Glenfeshie, in the parish of Kingussie and county of Inverness, is bounded on the south and south-east by the forests of Mar and Atholl, on the west by the forest of Gaick, and on the south by the estate of Invereshie; by survey in 1770 it contained 13,706 Scots acres. It was let in 1752 to Mr Macpherson of Invereshie, and continued to be rented by that family until 1812, when it was purchased from the Duke of Gordon by Mr Macpherson of Invereshie and Ballindalloch. It has been pastured by cattle and sheep since 1752.

“Gaick, in the parish of Kingussie and county of Inverness, is bounded on the south and west by the forest of Atholl, on the east by the forest of Felaar and the estate of Invereshie, and on the north by the lands of Invertruim, Ruthven, Noid, Phoness, and Glentruim. It contains three lakes stocked with char and large trout, and salmon are occasionally found in them, ascending by the water of Tromie from the Spey. By survey in 1770 it contained 10,777 acres. It was let in 1782 as a sheep-walk to Robert Stewart of Garth for nineteen years. In 1804 it was let to Colonel Gordon of Invertruim [Invertromie], who occupied it as a grazing till 1814, when the Marquis of Huntly got it from his father as a deer-forest. In 1830 it was purchased by Mr Macpherson-Grant of Ballindalloch, from the Gordon trustees, and it is now let to Sir Joseph Radcliffe, Bart., who strictly preserves it as a deer-forest, and has an excellent’ shooting-lodge near the centre of the range.

“Drumouchter, in the parish of Kingussie and county of Inverness, is bounded on the south by the vast forest of Atholl, on the west by the Duke of Atholl’s and Sir Neill Menzies’s properties, and on the north and east by the lands of Glentruim and Cluny. By survey in 1770 it contained 5782 Scots acres, exclusive of Ben Alder, which forms a part of it, and contains 14,927 acres. It was let for pasture to Lachlan Macpherson in 1773. In 1829 it was purchased from the Gordon trustees, along with the lands of Glentruim, by Major Ewen Macpherson of the H.E.I.C.S., and is occupied as a sheep-walk and grouse-shooting range. Ben Alder is now the property of Ewen Macpherson, Esq. of Cluny, and has recently been let to the Marquis of Abercorn as a deer-forest.

“Glenmore, in the parish of Kincardine and county of Inverness, containing 10,173 acres, was formerly a great pine-forest. It is bounded on the south by the forests of Glenavon and Mar. It is used now for pasturage. Cairngorm forms part of this forest.

“Glenavon, in the parish of Kirkmichael, county of Banff, contains 22,086 Scots acres. Since 1773 it has been occupied as a grazing, but it is said that the Duke of Richmond contemplates restoring it to a deer-forest. It adjoins the forest of Mar.

“Glenbuilg, adjoining Glenavon, 3396 acres.

“Glenfiddich, parish of Mortlach, county of Banff, 5522 acres, is possessed by the Duke of Richmond as a deer-forest, and has always been retained as such by the Gordon family.

“Of all these ancient forests, the last and Gaick are the only ones now strictly preserved for deer; the others are pastured by black cattle or sheep, and are therefore only partially stocked with the noble animals.”


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