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Glimpses of Church and Social Life in the Highlands in Olden Times and Other Papers
Chapter V. The Old Church and Parish of Alview - Memorabilia of the Parish


ACCORDING to Shaw, the historian of the province of Moray, Alvie, or “Skeiralvie” as it is sometimes termed in the old records, was “a parsonage dedicated to St Drostan. There were several chapels in this parish—one at Kinrara, on the west side of the river, dedicated to St Eata; a chapel of ease at Dunachton, dedicated to St Drostan; and Maluac Chapel in Rates.” “I have before me,” Shaw continues, “a seasine on the land of croft Maluac in favour of James Macintosh, alias Macdonald Glas, ancestor to John Macintosh of Strone, by George, Bishop of Moray, anno 1575.” In Dr Hew Scott’s ‘Fasti Ecclesias Scoticanas’ it is stated that the church of Alvie, “‘quhilk was an common kirk pertaining to the Vicars of the queir of the Cathedral kirk of Murray,’ was united by the Bishop to Laggan before 1673 [1637?], but disjoined about 1638; and again united by Bishop Mackenzie to Laggan in 1672, and disjoined about 1708.”

The manse and church of Alvie are almost entirely surrounded by Loch Alvie. In his account of the great flood of 1829, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder relates that Loch Alvie rose to an ‘unprecedented height, covering one-half of the minister’s garden. The whole road leading to the church was inundated to a depth that made it impossible for a horse or carriage to pass, and Mr Macdonald and the clergyman who had assisted him at his Sacrament were confined prisoners at the manse till the flood subsided on Wednesday forenoon. “The little lake of Alvie,” says Dr Macculloch, “which lies at the gates of Kinrara, is a jewel in this barren road; nor is Loch Inch without its merits.

Yet there is in the least of all these Highland lakes a charm which depends not on their boundaries or their magnitude, their variety or their grandeur. It is the pellucid water murmuring on the pebbly shore, the dark rock reflected in the glassy surface or dancing on the undulating wave; the wild water-plants, the broken bank, the bending ash, the fern, the bright flowers, and all the poetry of ‘ the margent green,’ which give to these scenes a feeling that painting cannot reach, a beauty that belongs to Nature alone, because it is the beauty of life; a beauty that flies with the vital principle, which was its soul and its all.” Within the last few years the church of Alvie has through the liberality of the heritors been almost entirely renewed, and so much improved that it is now one of the neatest and most attractive little churches in the Highlands. In course of the excavations made at the time, no less than one hundred and fifty skeletons were found beneath the floor of the church, lying head to head. No trace was found of coffins of any kind having been used, and the probability is that the bones were those of Highlanders killed at a very remote period at some skirmish or battle in the neighbourhood, and all laid to rest at the time uncoffined and unshrouded within the sacred precincts where, it may be, they were wont to worship the God of their fathers. Under the superintendence of Mr Anderson, the present energetic minister of the parish, the remains thus brought to light were reverently interred in the romantic and beautifully situated churchyard surrounding the church, and the spot is now marked by a granite stone with the following inscription:—

“BURIED HERE ARE
REMAINS OF 150 HUMAN BODIES FOUND, OCTOBER 1880,
BENEATH THE FLOOR OF THIS CHURCH.
WHO THEY WERE,
WHEN THEY LIVED,
HOW THEY DIED,
TRADITION NOTES NOT.”

“Their bones are dust, their good swords rust,
Their souls are with the saints, we trust.”

“There is,” as it has been said, “something very touching in the inscription. It makes the reader wonder who these people really were.”

It is strange indeed that no record or tradition should exist regarding them, and to their individual lives and deaths may be appropriately applied the beautiful lines of James Montgomery :—

“Once in the flight of ages past
There lived a man, and who was he?
Mortal! howe’er thy lot be cast,
That man resembled thee.

The bounding pulse, the languid limb,
The changing spirits’ rise and fall;
We know that these were felt by him,
For these are felt by all.

He suffered—but his pangs are o’er;
Enjoyed—but his delights are fled;
Had friends—his friends are now no more;
And foes—his foes are dead.

He saw whatever thou hast seen;
Encountered all that troubles thee;
He was—whatever thou hast been;
He is—what thou shalt be.

The annals of the human race,
Their ruins, since the world began;
Of him afford no other trace
Than this—there lived a man!”

“In the middle of the fourteenth century the parish is called Alveth or Alwetht and Alway, and Alvecht about 1400, in 1603 Alvey and Aluay, and in 1622 Alloway. The name, with the old spelling Alveth, appears in the parish of Alvah in Banffshire, and no doubt also in that of Alva, another parish in Stirlingshire. Shaw and others connect the name with ail (a rock), but do not explain the v or bh in the name. Some look at Loch Alvie as giving the name to the parish, and explain its name as connected with the flower ealbhaidh or St John’s wort, a plant which it is asserted grows or grew around its bank. The learned minister of Alvie in Disruption times, Mr Macdonald, referred the name of the loch to Eala-i or Swan-isle Loch, but unfortunately there is no Gaelic word i for an island, nor do the phonetics suit in regard to the bh or v. The old Fenian name of Almhu or Almhuinn, now Allen, in Ireland, the seat of Fionn and his Feinn, suggests itself, but the termination in n is wanting in Alvie, and this makes the comparison of doubtful value.”

According to Skene, Angus, son of Fergus, in the year 729 attacked Nechtan, “who now bore the title of King of the Picts, and seems to have fled before him, as the final conflict took place on the bank of a lake formed by the river Spey, then termed Loogdeae, but now Loch Inch, between Nechtan and an army Angus had sent in pursuit of him, in which Angus’s family were victorious, and the officers of Nechtan were slain—Biceot, son of Moneit, and his son, and Finguine, son of Drostan, and Ferot, son of Finguine, and many others.” In a footnote Skene adds that “the Stagnum Loogdeae is mentioned in Adamnan’s ‘Life of St Columba,’ and what is there stated, taken in connection with this battle, seems to place it on the Spey.”

The parish of Alvie is bounded on the north-east by Duthil, on the south-east by Aberdeenshire, on the south by Perthshire, on the west by Kingussie, and on the north-west by Moy. Its greatest length from north to south is about 22 miles, its breadth from 3 to 11 miles, and its land area 86,618 acres, or 135 square miles. There are in the parish twenty-seven summits exceeding 2000 feet above sea-level. The Feshie, rising in the extreme south of the parish, winds 23 miles northward.

In 1860 the Queen thus describes what is termed the “First Great Expedition” to Glen Feshie on 4th September 1860:—

“The Feshie is a fine rapid stream, full of stones. As you approach the glen, which is very narrow, the scenery becomes very fine—particularly after fording the Etchari, a very deep ford. Grant, on his pony, led me through: our men on foot took off their shoes and stockings to get across. From this point the narrow path winds along the base of the hills of Craig-na-Go’ar—the rocks of the ‘Goat Craig’; Craig-na-Caillach; and Stron-na-Barin—‘the nose of the queen.’ The rapid river is overhung by rocks, with trees, birch and fir; the hills, as you advance, rise very steeply on both sides, with rich rocks and corries, and occasional streamlets falling from very high; while the path winds along, rising gradually higher and higher. It is quite magnificent!

“We stopped when we came to a level spot amongst the trees. The native firs are particularly fine, and the whole is grand in the extreme. We lunched here—a charming spot—at two o’clock, and then pursued our journey: we walked on a little way to where the valley and glen widen out, and where there is what they call here a green ‘hard.’ We got on our ponies again and crossed the Feshie (a stream we forded many times in the course of the day) to a place where the finest fir-trees are, amidst some of the most beautiful scenery possible.

“Then we came upon a most lovely spot—the scene of all Landseer’s glory—and where there is a little encampment of wooden and turf huts, built by the late Duchess of Bedford; now no longer belonging to the family, and, alas! all falling into decay—among splendid fir-trees, the mountains rising abruptly from the sides of the valley. We were quite enchanted with the beauty of the view. This place is about seven miles from the mouth of the Feshie. Emerging from the wood, we came upon a good road, with low hills, beautifully heather-coloured, to the left; those to the right, high and wooded, with noble corries and waterfalls.

“We met Lord and Lady Alexander Russell at a small farmhouse, just as we rode out of the wood, and had some talk with them. They feel deeply the ruin of the place where they formerly lived, as it no longer belongs to them. We rode on for a good long distance, twelve miles, till we came to the ferry of the Spey. Deer were being driven in the woods, and we heard several shots. We saw fine ranges of hills on the Spey-side, or Strathspey, and opening to our left, those near Loch Laggan. We came to a wood of larch; from that, upon cultivated land, with Kinrara towards our right, where the monument to the late Duke of Gordon is conspicuously seen on a hill, which was perfectly crimson with heather.

“Before entering the larch-wood, Lord Alexander Russell caught us up again in a little pony-carriage, having to go the same way, and he was so good as to explain everything to us. He showed us ‘The Duke of Argyll’s Stone’—a cairn on the top of a hill to our right, celebrated, as seems most probable, from the Marquis of Argyll having halted there with his army. We came to another larch-wood, when I and Lady Churchill got off our ponies, as we were very stiff from riding so long; and at the end of this wood we came upon Loch Inch, which is lovely, and of which I should have liked exceedingly to have taken a sketch, but we were pressed for time and hurried. The light was lovely; and some cattle were crossing a narrow strip of grass across the end of the loch nearest to us, which really made a charming picture.”


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