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Glimpses of Church and Social Life in the Highlands in Olden Times and Other Papers
Chapter II - The Old Lordship of Badenoch, the Parish of Kingussie and Memorabilia of the Parish


IN the ‘New Statistical Account’ of the parish of Kingussie, published in 1842, it is related that the whole district of Badenoch, of which Kingussie is the central parish (or capital), was originally the property of the Comyns, who were at an early period of Scottish history one of the most wealthy and influential families in the kingdom. It is matter of doubt at what time and in what manner this family, who came from England during the time of David I., acquired possession of it, but we find John Comyn first noticed as Lord of Badenoch as early as the reign of Alexander III. This, nobleman, who was related to some of the former kings, laid claim to the crown upon the death of Margaret in 1291, but soon after withdrew his pretensions. Being the superior Lord of Scotland, he was summoned by Edward I. to serve in his wars in Gascony. He was succeeded in his title and estates by his son John, a brave and patriotic nobleman, who was chosen one of the Guardians of Scotland about the year 1299. From this period down to the year 1305 we meet with incidental notices of this heroic character in his relation to Badenoch, but the principal scenes of his life lay in the south. In 1302, with the assistance of another warrior, he successfully repelled the English forces near Roslin. Two years thereafter he made a last fruitless struggle for Scottish independence at Stirling, but was obliged to yield along with his country to the overwhelming power of Edward I. In the succeeding year he fell a victim to the relentless fury of Bruce, afterwards king, for having discovered to Edward the designs of the former upon the crown of Scotland. For about nine years after Comyn’s death, we find no mention of a successor to his lands or title. According to Fordun, soon after Bruce ascended the throne in 1306 he so weakened the influence and reduced the numbers of the family of Comyn, that the name became almost extinct in the kingdom. In all probability Badenoch, upon the murder of its original owner, was taken possession of by Bruce, as we find it noticed among the lands belonging to him in Moray, which he erected into an earldom about the year 1314, and bestowed upon his nephew, Thomas Randolph, under the title of Earl of Moray. In the hands of this nobleman and his successors it seems to have continued till the year 1371 or thereabouts, when it became the property of the family of Stewart, which was nearly allied to that of Bruce. Robert II., the grandson of Robert Bruce, and the first of the Stewarts who ascended the Scottish throne, constituted his fourth son, Alexander, his lieutenant from the southern boundaries of Moray to the Pentland Firth, in whom the title of Lord of Badenoch appears to have been first revived after Comyn’s death. The ferocity of disposition and predatory character of Alexander soon gained for him the appellation of the Wolf of Badenoch. He resided for the most part at his castle of Ruthven, reared by the Comyns on a green conical mound on the southern bank of the Spey, about half a mile from Kingussie—a situation chosen, no doubt, on account of its beauty and security, as well as for the extensive and delightful view which it commanded of the valley of the Spey. Here the Wolf, considering himself secure, and presuming upon his connection with the Crown, exercised a despotic sway over the inhabitants of his own immediate district, and spread terror and devastation everywhere around. His life was characterised throughout by the most cruel and savage conduct. It was he who in 1390 and the following year, from some personal resentment against the Bishop of Moray, set fire to the towns of Forres and Elgin, which, with the magnificent cathedral, canons houses, and several other buildings connected with the latter, he burnt to ashes, carrying off at the same time all that was valuable in the sacred edifice. For this sacrilegious deed the Wolf suffered excommunication, the effects of which he soon felt even in his den; and having made what reparation he could to the See of Moray, he was subsequently absolved. The Wolf died not long after, in 1394, and was buried in the Cathedral Church of Dunkeld, where the following Latin inscription was placed upon his tomb :—

“Hie jacet Alexander Seuescallus filius Roberti regis Scotorum et Elizabethan More Dominus de Buchan et Badenoch qui obiit a.d. 1394.”

By the death of a last air Mor Mac an Righ—a name sometimes applied to the Wolf—his possessions fell to his natural son, Duncan, who seems to have inherited the vices as well as the property of his father. Duncan was the last of the Stewarts connected with Badenoch of whom there is any account, written or traditional. The district some time after this period passed into the hands of the first Earl of Huntly, who received part of it in 1452 for his valuable services to James II. in defeating the Earl of Crawford at Brechin. The lands adjacent to the Castle of Ruthven were given to him at an earlier period, and the principal part of the lordship continued in the hands of the Gordon family until the third decade of the present century.

So early as 1597 a deputation was appointed by the General Assembly to visit the northern Highlands, and in a report subsequently presented by the deputation to the Assembly, James Melvin (one of their number) states as the results of his own observations in the wild and then almost inaccessible district of Badenoch: “Indeid, I have ever sensyne regrated the esteat of our Hielands, and am sure gif Chryst war pretched amang them they wald scham monie Lawland professours ”—a prediction which, if any fearless, independent member of the “Highland Host” would venture, after the manner of the old Covenanting, trumpet-tongued lady friend of Norman Macleod, simply to ask certain “Lawland” Principals as well as “Professours” to gang ower the fundamentals, might probably be held to be verified even in the present day.

In 1229 or thereabouts Badenoch “appears as Badenach in the Registrum of Moray Diocese, and this is its usual form there; in 1289, Badenagh, Badenoughe, and in King Edward’s Journal, Badnasshe; in 1366 we have Baydenach, which is the first indication of the length of the vowel in Bad-; a fourteenth-century map gives Baunagd; in 1467, Badyenach; in 1539, Baidyenoch; in 1603 (Huntly rental), Badzenoche; and now in Gaelic it is Baideanach. The favourite derivation, first given by Lachlan Shaw, the historian of Moray (1775), refers it to badan, a bush or thicket; and the Muses have sanctioned it in Calum Dubh’s expressive line in his poem on the Loss of Gaick (1800)—

‘’S bidh muirn ann an Duthaich nam Badan.’
(And joy shall be in the Land of Wood-clumps.)

But there are two fatal objections to this derivation: the a of Badenoch is long, and that of badan is short; the d of Badenoch is vowel-flanked by ‘small’ vowels, while that of badan is flanked by ‘broad’ vowels and is hard, the one being pronounced approximately for English, as bah-janach, and the other as baddanach. The root that suggests itself as contained in the word is that of bath or badh (drown, submerge), which, with an adjectival termination in de, would give bdide, ‘submerged, marshy,’ and this might pass into bdidean and baideanach, ‘marsh or lake land.’ That this meaning suits the long, central meadow-land of Badenoch, which once could have been nothing else than a long morass, is evident. There are several places in Ireland containing the root badh (drown), as Joyce points out. For instance, Bauttagh, west of Loughrea in Galway, a marshy place; Mullanbattog, near Monaghan, hill summit of the morass; the river Bauteoge, in Queen’s County, flowing through swampy ground; and Currawatia, in Galway, means the inundated curragh or morass. The neighbouring district of Lochaber is called by Adamnan Stagnum Aporicum, and the latter term is likely the Irish abar (a marsh), rather than the Pictish aber (a confluence); so that both districts may be looked upon as named from their marshes.”

Ceann-a ghuibhsaich, the Celtic name for Kingussie, appears to have been adopted as the name of the parish from its being so descriptive of the site of the parish church. It signifies the termination or head of the fir-wood. When the name was given the church stood upon a plain at the eastern extremity of a clump of wood, forming part of an immense forest of fir which then covered the face of the country. Including hill and dale, the parish extends from north to south a distance of nearly twenty miles, and from east to west about fifteen. The area is 181 square miles, or 116,182 acres. The parish of Kingussie is situated in the lordship of Badenoch, and ranks among the most elevated and most inland parishes in Scotland. The bed of the Spey at Kingussie is about 740 feet above the level of the sea. The Spey, which is said to be the Tuessis of Ptolemy, rises at Corryarrick, within twenty-six miles from Kingussie, is the most rapid river in Scotland, has a total run of nearly 100 miles, and drains about 1300 square miles of country. “For three centuries,” says Skene, “it formed the boundary between Scotia, or Scotland proper, and Moravia, or the great province of Moray.” From the large extent and high-lying character of its sources, as well as of its principal tributaries, it is subject to very sudden and heavy floods. The greatest flood on record is the memorable one of August 1829, (which Sir Thomas Dick Lauder gives such a graphic description in his ‘Account of the Moray Floods,’ published at Edinburgh in 1830. “The Spey and its tributaries above Kingussie,” says Sir Thomas, “were but little affected by the flood of the 3d and 4th of August. The western boundary of the fall of rain seems to have been about the line of the river Calder, which enters the Spey from the left bank, a little to the westward of the village. The deluge was tremendous, accompanied by a violent north-east wind, and frequent flashes of lightning, without thunder. . . . About Belleville, and on the Invereshie estate, the meadows were covered to the extent of five miles long by one mile broad. . . . The river Feshie, a tributary from the right bank, immediately below Invereshie, was subjected to the full influence of the deluge. It swept vast stones and heavy trees along with it, roaring tremendously. . . .

John Grant, the saw-miller’s house, at Feshieside, was surrounded by four feet of water, about eight o’clock in the morning of the 4th. The people on the top of a neighbouring hill fortunately observed the critical situation of the family; and some men, in defiance of the tremendous rush of the water, then 200 yards in breadth, gallantly entered, as Highlanders are wont to do in trying circumstances, shoulder to shoulder, and rescued the inmates of the house, one by one, from a peril proved to be sufficiently imminent by the sudden disappearance of a large portion of the saw-mill. But, great as was the danger in this case, the lonely and deserted situation of Donald Macpherson, shepherd in Glenfeshie, with his wife and six little children, was still more frightful, and required all the firmness and resolute presence of mind characterising the hardy mountaineer. His house stood on an eminence, at a considerable distance from the river. Believing, therefore, that whatever might come, he and his would be in perfect safety, he retired with his family to bed at the usual hour on the evening of the 3d. At midnight he was roused by the more than ordinary thunder of the river, and getting up to see the cause, he plunged up to the middle in water. Not a moment was to be lost. He sprang into his little dwelling, lifted, one after the other, his children from their beds, and carried them, almost naked, half asleep, and but half conscious of their danger, to the top of a hill. There, amidst the wild contention of the elements, and the utter darkness of the night, the family remained shivering and in suspense, till daybreak, partially illuminating the wildness of the scenery of the narrow glen around them, informed them that the flood had made them prisoners in the spot where they were, the Feshie filling the whole space below, and cataracts falling from the rocks on all sides. Nor did they escape from their cliff of penance till the evening of the following day. The crops in Glenfeshie were annihilated. The romantic old bridge at Invereshie is of two arches of 34 and 12 feet span. The larger of these is 22 feet above the river in its ordinary state, yet the flood was 3 feet above the keystone, which would make its height here above the ordinary level about 25 feet. The force pressing on this bridge must have been immense; and, if we had not already contemplated the case of the Ferness Bridge, we should consider the escape of that of Feshie to be a miracle. Masses of the micaceous rock below the bridge, of several tons’ weight, were rent away, carried down, and buried under heaps of gravel at the lower end of the pool, 50 or 60 yards from the spot whence they were taken. The Feshie carried off a strong stone bulwark a little farther down, overflowed and destroyed the whole low ground of Dalnavert, excavated a new channel for itself, and left an island between it and the Spey of at least 200 acres. The loss of crop and stock by the farmers hereabouts is quite enormous, and the ruin to the land very great.”

Sir Thomas relates a very whimsical result at the farm of Dalraddy, in consequence of the flooding of the burn of that name which flows into Loch Alvie: “The tenant’s wife, Mrs Cumming, on going out after the flood had subsided on Tuesday afternoon, found, at the back of the house, and all lying in a heap, a handsome dish of trout, a pike, a hare, a partridge, and a turkey, with a dish of potatoes and a dish of turnips— all brought down by the burn, and deposited there for the good of the house, except the turkey, which, alas! was one of her own favourite flock. The poor hare had been surprised on a piece of ground insulated by the flood, and had been seen alive the previous evening, exhibiting signs of consternation and alarm; and the stream rising yet higher during the night, swept over the spot, and consummated its destruction.” The parish of Kingussie is bounded on the east by Alvie, on the north by the united parishes of Moy and Dalarossie, on the west by Laggan, and on the south by Blair in Athole. Within the parish the Monadhliath—i.e., the grey mountains—stretch along the boundary for a considerable way, serving as a northern frontier; while the Grampians, rising in bold perspective in the distance, bound the parish on the south. In an old Gaelic rhyme the heights in the Monadhliath range between Kingussie and Craig Dhu are thus described :—

“Creag-bheag Chinn-a’-ghuibhsaich,
Creag-mhoir Bhail’-a’-chrothain,
Beinne-Bhuidhe na Sroine,
Creag-an-loin aig na croitean,
Sithean-mor Dhail-a’-Chaoruinn,
Creag-an-abhaig a’ Bhail’ shios,
Creag-liath a’ Bhail’ shuas,
’S Creag-Dhubh Bhiallaid,
Cadha’-n fheidh Lochain-ubhaidh,
Cadh’ is mollaicht ’tha ann,
Cha’n fhas fikr no fodar ann,
Ach sochagan is dearcagan-allt,
Gabhar air aodainn,
Is laosboc air a’ cheann.”

In the south range of the Monadhliath hills, in sight of Kingussie, is Cam an Fhreiceadain—i.e., the Watch Hill or Cairn—so called from the fact of its being occupied for a time by a detachment of Am Freiceadan Dubh, or Black Watch. After that famous regiment was raised in the early part of last century, detachments of the regiment acted in various parts of the Highlands as a sort of native police for the suppression of cattle-lifting—a practice very common in bygone times on the part of some freebooters, whose views as to the rights of meum and tuum were of such a kind as to regard it a shame to want anything that could be had for the taking—

“Because the good old rule
Sufficed them, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.”

From its geographical position Cam an Fhreiceadain was chosen as one of the principal stations of the Black Watch for the purpose of checking the depredations of the rievers on their way through Badenoch to Lochaber. Although of less conspicuous altitude than its neighbours of the Grampian range, and left unnoticed by guide-writers, there is no summit in the Highlands so easy of access from which a more extensive view can be obtained than from the hill-top chosen by the old Black Watch as the eyrie from which to observe the movements of the rievers.

From the top of Cam an Fhreiceadain, on a clear day, all the mountain-tops of the north of Scotland, from Ben Nevis in the west, round by Skye and Sutherland to the Ord of Caithness in the far north-east, are visible to the naked eye. No matter whether the cattle-raiders were returning with their booty from Aberdeen, Banff, or Moray shires in the one direction, or from Easter Ross in the other, the sentinel on Cam an Fhreiceadain was apprised, either by smoke in the day or the beacon-fire during the night, of the approach of the rievers, and able to give the alarm—leading to measures being immediately adopted in the way of pouncing down upon the unsuspecting raiders and relieving them of their prey, to be restored to the rightful owners.

A picturesque glimpse of the Highland marauding of olden times was obtained many years ago at second-hand, from the memory of William Ban Macpherson, who died in 1777 at the age of a hundred :—

“He was wont to relate that, when a boy of twelve years of age, being engaged as buachaille (herd-boy) at the summering (i.e., summer grazing) of Biallid, near Dalwhinnie, he had an opportunity of being an eyewitness to a creagh and pursuit on a very large scale, which passed through Badenoch. At noon on a fine autumnal day in 1689, his attention was drawn to a herd of black cattle, amounting to about six score, driven along by a dozen of wild Lochaber men, by the banks of Loch Erricht, in the direction of Dalunchart, in the forest of Alder, now Ardverikie. Upon inquiry, he ascertained that these had been ‘lifted’ in Aberdeenshire, distant more than a hundred miles, and that the rievers had proceeded thus far with their booty free from molestation and pursuit. Thus they held on their way among the wild hills of this mountainous district, far from the haunts of the semi-civilised inhabitants, and within a day’s journey of their home. Only a few hours had elapsed after the departure of these marauders, when a body of nearly fifty horsemen appeared, toiling amidst the rocks and marshes of this barbarous region, where not even a footpath helped to mark the intercourse of society, and following on the trail of the men and cattle which had preceded them. The troop was well mounted and armed, and led by a person of gentlemanlike appearance and courteous manners while attached to the party was a number of horses carrying bags of meal and other provisions, intended not solely for their own support, but, as would seem from the sequel, as a ransom for the creagh. Signalling William Ban to approach, the leader minutely questioned him about the movements of the Lochaber men, their number, equipments, and the line of their route. Along the precipitous banks of Loch Erricht this large body of horsemen wended their way, accompanied by William Ban, who was anxious to see the result of the meeting. It bespoke spirit and resolution in those strangers to seek an encounter with the robbers in their native wilds, and on the borders of that country, where a signal of alarm would have raised a numerous body of hardy Lochaber men ready to defend the creagh and punish the pursuers. Towards nightfall they drew near the encampment of the thieves at Dalunchart, and observed them busily engaged in roasting, before a large fire, one of the beeves, newly slaughtered. A council of war was immediately held, and on the suggestion of the leader, a flag of truce was forwarded to the Lochaber men, with an offer to each of a bag of meal and a pair of shoes in ransom for the herd of cattle. This offer, being viewed as a proof of cowardice and fear, was contemptuously rejected, and a reply sent to the effect that the cattle, driven so far and with so much trouble, would not be surrendered. Having gathered in the herd, both parties prepared for action. The overwhelming number of the pursuers soon mastered their opponents. Successive discharges of firearms brought the greater number of the Lochaber men to the ground, and in a brief period only three remained unhurt, and escaped to tell the sad tale to their countrymen.”

But even these cattle-lifters were not without some redeeming qualities, as illustrated in the case of one of the most noted of their number. John Dhu Cameron, from his large size called Sergeant Mor, having been out in the ’45, formed a party of freebooters, and levied black-mail among the mountains between Perth and Inverness. On one occasion he met an officer of the garrison of Fort William, who told him that he suspected he had lost his way; and having a large sum of money for the garrison, he was afraid of meeting the Sergeant Mor. He therefore requested the stranger to accompany him on the road. The other agreed; and while they walked on they talked much of the sergeant and his feats, the officer using much freedom with his name, calling him robber and murderer. “Stop there,” interrupted his companion; “he does, indeed, take the cattle of the Whigs and of you Sassenachs, but neither he nor his cearnachs ever shed innocent blood—except once,” added he, “that I was unfortunate at Braemar, when a man was killed; but I immediately ordered the creach [the spoil] to be abandoned, and left to the owners.” “You!” says the officer; “what had you to do with the affair?” “I am John Dhu Cameron—I am the Sergeant Mor! There is the road to Inverlochy—you cannot now mistake it. You and your money are safe, but tell your governor to send a more wary messenger for his gold. Tell him, also, that although an outlaw, and forced to live on the public, I am a soldier as well as himself, and would despise taking his gold from a defenceless man who confided in me!” The officer lost no time in reaching the garrison, and never forgot this adventure, which he frequently related.

“Let us,” says the late Dr Carruthers of Inverness in his delightful ‘Highland Note-Book,’ written about half a century ago—“let us place ourselves in the heart of the Glengarry country, or the wild Monadhliath mountains in Inverness-shire. First you have, directly above the black foaming stream, or the glen of soft green herbage, a ridge of brown heathery heights, not very imposing in form or altitude; then a loftier range, with a blue aspect; a third, scarred with snow, and serrated perhaps, or peaked at their summits; then a multitudinous mass, stretching away in the distance, of cones, pyramids, or domes, darkly blue or ruddy with sunshine, the shadows chasing one another across their huge limbs, revealing now and then the tail of a cataract, a lake, or the relics of a pine-forest once mighty in its gloomy expanse of shade in the olden time; a panorama of mountains, as if instinct with life and motion! To call such a scene dull or uniform, such a vast assemblage of titanic forms, warring with the elements or reflecting their splendour, as unlovely or unattractive, is a sacrilege and desecration of the noblest objects in creation. Dear are the homes, and warm the hearts, hid among these wild fastnesses! You look, and at the foot of a crag on the moorland, from which it can scarcely be distinguished, you discern a hut. Its walls are of black turf; window or chimney it has none save rude apertures; yet pervious to all the blasts that blow, like hurricanes, in the trough of these mountain-ranges, the hut stands, and the peasants live and bring forth in safety. You enter, and find the grandmother, bent double with age, or the grey-haired sire, the only inmate of the house. The husband has gone to dig turf, or to perform some other out-of-doors occupation; the children are over the hill, barefoot, to school; and the wife or daughter is at the shealing, a fertile valley among the mountains where all the neighbours take their cattle in summer to graze. Poor is the hut in which the stranger is not offered some refreshment, and is greeted, in few words of broken English, with a cordial welcome. In cottages like these, amidst the veriest gloom and poverty, still subsist a high-souled generosity, stainless faith, and feudal politeness, spontaneous and unbought; and from these huts have sprung brave and chivalrous men, who have carried their country’s renown into many a foreign land. The vices of the poor Highlander are, in reality, the vices of his chief or landlord. He is wholly dependent on the latter, and his devotion to him is unquenched and unquenchable. The mould of his character, his feelings, and fortunes are in his chief’s hand. Some hundreds of young vigorous Highlanders have this season emigrated to Australia—a pastoral country suited to their habits and inclinations—but never without the most poignant regret and distress. The pibroch is played at their departure, and the old Gaelic chant of the exiles, ‘Cha till sinn tuilidh’ —‘We return no more’—sounds as melancholy now among the deserted glens as it ever did at the period of the great emigration to America at the close of the last century.”

A curious old tradition has it that a native of Stratherrick, favoured with the supernatural gift of conveying the milk of his neighbour’s cattle to his own, came over to Badenoch with the view of practising his art in favour of his own country generally. He succeeded so far as to be able to confine the Badenoch milk in a withe which he carried across the Monadhliath range to the height of Killin (a dell at the top of Stratherrick), where, in virtue it is supposed of a counter-spell by the bereaved country, it burst and overflowed that delightful plain. This, so the tradition runs, has been the cause of the richness of the pasture of that plain, and of the superior quality and quantity of milk it produces. The good effects of this untoward accident were not, it is related, confined to the dell of Killin, for some of its streamlets glided down to Stratherrick, which is said to account for the excellence of the milk, cream, and butter in that district.

Within a mile or two from Kingussie, on the other side of the Spey, there lived last century the famous witch of Laggan, of whom the following account is given :—

Scotch Highlanders have faults in plenty; but they have the bearing of Nature’s own gentlemen—the delicate natural tact which discovers, and the good taste which avoids, all that would hurt or offend a guest. The poorest is ever the readiest to share the best he has with the stranger. A kind word kindly meant is never thrown away; and whatever may be the faults of this people, I have never found a boor or a churl in a Highland bothy.”

“It happened that a hero distinguished for hatred and persecution of witchcraft was abroad hunting deer in the wild forest of Gaick in Badenoch. There the storm raged with exceeding violence, and the hunter of the hills had retired to his bothy for shelter from the storm ; his gun reclined in a corner, his skean-dhu hung by his side, and his two faithful hounds lay stretched at his feet, all listening to the whistling of the raging storm, when a miserable-looking, weather-beaten cat entered the bothy. The hounds immediately raised themselves from the ground, their hairs became erected bristles, and they essayed an attack upon the cat, when the cat offered a parley, entreating the hunter to restrain the fury of his dogs, and claiming the protection of the hunter as being a poor unfortunate witch who had recanted her errors, had consequently experienced the harshest treatment of the sisterhood, and had fled, as the last resource, to the hunter for protection. Believing her story to be true, and disdaining at any rate to take advantage of his greatest enemy in her present forlorn situation, the hunter, with some difficulty, pacified his infuriated dogs, and invited the cat to come towards the fire and warm herself. ‘Nay,’ says the cat, ‘if I do, those furious hounds of yours will tear my poor hams to pieces; I pray you, therefore, take this long hair and tie the dogs therewith to that beam of the house, that I may be secure from their molestation.’ The hunter took the hair, and taking the dogs aside, he pretended to bind them as he was directed; but instead of which, he only bound it round the beam, or what is called the couple, which supported the roof of the bothy; and the cat, supposing that her injunctions had been complied with, advanced to the fire, and squatted herself down as if to warm herself, but she speedily began to expand her size into considerable dimensions; on which the hunter jocularly remarked to her,

‘An evil death to you, nasty beast: you are getting very large.’ ‘Ay, ay,’ says the cat, equally jocosely, ‘as my hairs imbibe the heat, they naturally expand.’ But still her dimensions gradually increased until about the size of a large hound, when, in a twinkling, she assumed the similitude of a woman; and to the horror and amazement of the hunter, she presented to him the appearance of a neighbour whom he had long known under the name and title of ‘ The good wife of Laggan,’ a woman whom he had previously supposed to be a paragon of virtue. ‘ Hunter of the hills,’ exclaimed the wife of Laggan, ‘ your hour is come; the day of reckoning is arrived. Long have you been the devoted enemy of my persecuted sisterhood. The chief aggressor against our order is now no more,—this morning I saw his body consigned to a watery grave; and now, hunter of the hills, it is your turn.’ Whereupon she flew at his throat with the force and fury of a tigress ; and the dogs, whom she supposed securely bound by the hair, flew at her breast and throat in return. Being thus unexpectedly attacked, she cried out, addressing herself to the hair, ‘Fasten, hair; fasten!’ and so effectually did the hair obey the order, that it snapped the piece of wood on which it was tied in twain. Finding herself thus deceived, the good wife of Laggan attempted a flight, but the dogs clung to her breasts so tenaciously that they only parted with their hold on the demolition of all the teeth in their heads; and one of them succeeded in tearing off the greater part of one of her breasts before she could get him disengaged from her person. At length, with the most fearful shrieks, she assumed the likeness of a raven, and flew in the direction of her home. The two dogs, his faithful defenders, were only able to return to lick the hands of their master, and to expire at his feet. Regretting their loss with a sorrow which is only known to a father who loses his favourite children, he remained to bury his dogs, and then proceeded to his home full of those astounding and melancholy reflections which the scene he had been engaged in was so much calculated to produce. On his arrival at home, his wife was absent; but after an interval she made her appearance, and in the course of providing for his entertainment, she told him, under feelings of great concern, that she had been visiting the good wife of Laggan, who having been all day sorting peats in the moss, had got wet feet and a severe colic, and all her neighbours were just awaiting her demise. Her husband remarked, ‘ Ay, ay; it is proper that I also should go and see her,’ on which he repaired to her bedside, and found all the neighbours wailing over the expected decease of a highly esteemed friend and neighbour. The hunter, under the excited feelings natural to the circumstances of the case, instantly stript the wife of her coverings, and calling the company around her, ‘Behold,’ says he, ‘the object of your solicitude. This morning she was a party to the death of the renowned John Garve M'Gillechallum of Razay, and to-day she attempted to make me share his doom; but the arm of Providence has overtaken the servant of Satan in her career, and she is now about to expiate her crimes by death in this world, and punishment in the next.’ All were seized with consternation; but the marks upon her person bore conclusive proofs of the truth of the tale of the hunter, and the good wife of Laggan did not even attempt to disguise the veracity of his statement, but addressing herself to her auditors in the language of penitent confession, she said: ‘My dear and respected friends, spare, oh spare an old neighbour while in the agonies of death from greater mortal degradation. Already the enemy of your souls and of mine, who seduced me from the walks of virtue and happiness, as a reward for my anxious and unceasing labours in his service, only waits to lead my soul into eternal punishment! And, as a warning to all others to shun the awful rock on which I have split, I shall detail to you the means and artifices by which I was led into the service of the evil one, and the treachery which I and all others have experienced at his hands.’ Here the good wife of Laggan narrated the particulars of the means by which she had been seduced into the service of Satan, the various adventures in which she had been engaged, concluding with the death of Razay, and the attack on the hunter; and in the midst of the most agonising shrieks she, in the presence of all assembled, gave up the ghost. On the same night two travellers were journeying from Strathdearn to Badenoch, across the dreary hill of Monadhliath. While about the centre of the hill, they met the figure of a woman, with her bosom and front besmeared with blood, running with exceeding velocity along the road in the direction of Strathdearn, uttering at intervals the most loud and appalling shrieks, to which the hills and rocks responded in echo. They had not proceeded far when they met two black dogs, as if on the scent of the track of the woman; and they had not proceeded much farther when they met a black man upon a black horse, coursing along in the direction of the woman and the dogs. ‘Pray,’ says the rider, ‘did you meet a woman as you came along the hill?’ The travellers answered in the affirmative. ‘And,’ continued the rider, ‘did you meet two dogs following the tracks of the woman?’ The travellers having answered in the affirmative, the rider added, ‘Do you think the dogs would have caught her before she could have reached the churchyard of Dalarossie?’ The travellers answered, ‘They would at any rate be very close upon her heels.’ The parties then separated, the horseman proceeding with the greatest fleetness after the woman and the dogs. The travellers had not emerged from the forest of Monadhliath when they were overtaken by the black rider, having the woman across the bow of his saddle, with one dog fixed in her breast, and the other in her thigh. ‘Where did you overtake the woman?’ said one of the travellers to the rider, to which he answered, ‘Just as she was about to enter the churchyard of Dalarossie.’ On arriving at home the travellers heard of the melancholy fate of the good wife of Laggan ; and there existed no doubt on the minds of all to whom the facts were known that it was the spirit of the wife of Laggan who was running to the churchyard of Dalarossie, which was esteemed and known to be sacred ground, and a pilgrimage to which, either dead or alive, released the subjects of Satan from their bonds to him. But unfortunately for the poor wife of Laggan, she was a stage too late.”

As the capital of the old lordship of Badenoch, Kingussie has been well known in Highland history for many centuries, and the district generally abounds in points of historical interest, some of which are noticed in other portions of this volume. “Not a turn of the river,” says Dr Longmuir in his ‘Speyside,’ an interesting little work published in Aberdeen in 1860, now out of print, “not a pass in the mountains, or the name of an estate, that does not recall some wild legend of the olden, or some thrilling event of more recent times; not a plain that is not associated with some battle; not a castle that has not stood its siege or been enveloped in flames ; not a dark pool or gloomy loch that has not its tale either of guilt or superstition; not a manse that has not been inhabited by some minister that eminently served his Master. . . . Or, turning from the castle to the cairn, from the kirk to the cromlech, what a field is opened up to the investigator of the manners of the past! The inhabitants of these straths drawing around the cruel rites of the Druidical circle where human sacrifices were offered up; the struggle between light and darkness ere Christianity diffused its peace and goodwill ; the social progress of the district, from the times when civil discord destroyed the happiness of the family circle, retarding agriculture and commerce; and the conviction that forces itself upon the mind that we are under the deepest obligation to maintain our civil and religious privileges at home, and to extend them to all for the promotion of their happiness, and the glory of the ‘ Father of lights,’ who has graciously bestowed upon us these invaluable blessings! Or if we wander through the solemn forests, or traverse the long stretches of brown heath, where the silence is only broken by the hum of the bee among its purple hills, new ideas are suggested and emotions awakened. Or if we ascend the rugged summits of the hills, whence the works of men are scarcely discernible, and a boundless prospect opens on every side, what heart does not feel the insignificance of human grandeur, or can resist the impression of the wisdom, power, and goodness of Him ‘who weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance,’ or fail to long for the time when ‘ the mountains and hills shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands ’!"

According to Skene, there are traces of Roman works on the Spey at Pitmain (within a mile of Kingussie), “on the line between the Moray Firth and Fortingall,” indicating, in his opinion, that Severus the Roman emperor, after his campaign in Britain in the third century, had returned with a part of the Roman army through the heart of the Highlands. In 1380 the Chartulary of Moray informs us that “ A Stewart, Lord of Badenoch, holds his court at Kingussy, and among others that attended is Malcolme le Graunt.”

In the ‘Survey of the Province of Moray,’ published in 1798, it is stated that several years previously a mine had been opened where some pieces of very rich silver ore were dug up, but that no attempt had been made to ascertain whether it would be worth working or not.3 In the statistical account of Kingussie it is related “ that the parish contains, likewise, some Druidical circles, and the appearance of a Roman encampment. This last is situated on a moor between the Bridge of Spey and Pitmain. In clearing some ground adjacent, an urn was found full of burnt ashes, which was carefully preserved, and is still extant. A Roman tripod was also found some years ago, concealed in a rock, and is deposited in the same hands with the urn.” What has become of the urn and the tripod I have been unable to ascertain.

The village of Kingussie was founded towards the close of last century by Alexander, the fourth Duke of Gordon, as an intended seat of woollen manufactures. From the want, however, of sufficient capital and the means of transit at the time, this scheme unfortunately proved unsuccessful. Under the General Police and Improvement Act of 1862 the village was in 1866—soon after the opening of the Highland Railway—formed into a burgh, and during the last few years it has, through the energy and enterprise of the inhabitants, progressed to such an extent that it bids fair to become one of the most flourishing Highland villages of its size north of the Grampians. Beautifully situated at such a high altitude in a fine open valley of the Spey, bordered on one side by the magnificent range of the Grampians and by the Monadhliath range on the other, and noted for its pure and invigorating mountain air, it is gradually becoming one of the most attractive and popular summer resorts in the Highlands. An eminent London physician has compared the exhilarating effect of inhaling the Badenoch air to that of imbibing the most sparkling champagne—barring in the former case the slightest risk either of the loss of one’s equilibrium or of a headache next morning. Witness also the spirited lines of the ever-bright and genial Professor Blackie commemorative of a lengthened visit to Kingussie in the summer of:

“Tell me, good sir, if you know it—
Tell me truly, what’s the reason
Why the people to Kingussie
Shoalwise flock in summer season?

Reason? Yes, a hundred reasons:
Tourist-people are no fools;
Well they know good summer quarters,
As the troutling knows the pools.

Look around you ; did you ever
See such sweeps of mighty Bens,
With their giant arms enfolding
Flowery meads and grassy glens?

Come, oh come, in sunless chambers
Ye who plod with inky pens ;
Come, and give your eyes free outlook
On the glory of these Bens!

Here we dream no dreams, no paper
Here besmirch with inky care,
When we brush the mountain heather,
When we breathe the mountain air!

Come with me, ye Lowland lubbers,
Learn to knock at Nature’s door;
Peeping clerks and plodding scholars,
Start with me for Aviemore!

See that kingly Cairngorm,
From his heaven-kissing crown,
On the wealth of pine-clad valleys
Northward looking grandly down;

From his broad and giant shoulders,
From huge gap and swelling vein,
Through the deep snow-mantled corrie,
Pouring waters to the plain.

Or, if feast of Nature please thee
In her rich and pictured show,
Come with me to lone Glen Feshie,
When the grey crags are aglow.

With the broad sun westward wheeling;
Come and sit, and let thine ear
Drink the music of the waters
Rolling low and swirling clear.”


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