I found lodging while I stayed in the glen at a farmhouse under a rough
spur of one of the great hills known as Craig Eggie. The best room in the
house was mine as long as my sojourn lasted. The room was one the family was
inclined to boast of, and Mrs. Fearn, the farmer's wife, wanted to know if
we had any better than that in America. It was an
eminently respectable room, with a carpet, wall-paper, pictures, etc. —
indeed, was much like a New England sitting room, except for the presence of
a bed and a small fireplace. At the foot of the bed stood a tall clock. This
clock was just half an hour behind time, and was also original in having a
habit five minutes before it struck the hours of giving forth a peculiar
sound as if something heavy had broken in the works and fallen down inside
the case. When heard in the night the sound was quite startling.
The evening of my first day in the glen was so chilly that after I had
eaten supper in the best room I was glad to sit by the kitchen fireplace and
watch the brisk flames crackling up from a heap of peat bricks while the
wind hummed and rumbled in the chimney. The black teakettle suspended from
the sway was adjusted low over the fire, and the water within boiled with
such vigor that the cover rattled.
On a rude bench behind an equally rude table at the far end of the room
sat the hired man sucking in hot tea from his saucer. Under the table lay a
black and white collie. Several hams and sides of bacon tied up in white
bags were hung from hooks driven into the blotchy yellow ceiling. The women
felt that this stained ceiling was something of a reproach; but they said it
was of no use to whitewash it, for the peats were
smoky things, particularly in dull, damp weather, and the ceiling would keep
grimy and unsightly, no matter what they did. The walls were more easily
managed, and they were tidy with a pink whitewash renewed twice a year. The
daughter of the house, a bright, energetic body named Mary Ann, did the
whitewashing, and it was she who gave the long hearthstone before the fire
periodical coats of bright blue paint, and made the stone framework of the
fireplace and the wooden mantel above shine with applications of black
varnish. The corner-stones at the base, supporting the bars of the grate,
she polished daily with black lead, while the inner sides of the fireplace,
above the grate, she whitewashed every week, leaving just a narrow black
path in the middle where the smoke coursed upward.
Spring water, conducted through a pipe from its hillside source, came
directly into the room, but " the big half" of the Glen Clova families had
to go out to a running well (brook) for their water, and often were obliged
to carry it quite a distance.
While I sat talking with the family, the fire had been allowed to burn
low, and now the stout mistress of the house went out to the peatstack in
the yard and brought in a fresh supply of the brown blocks in her apron. She
put some of the peat on the fire and dumped the rest down on the hearth.
Then she broke up some dry brush, tucked it into the
grate, and sat down to encourage the slumbering flames with a pair of
bellows. Immediately the fire brightened, and the air grew odorous with
wisps of smoke that stole out into the room.
Mrs. Fearn said the supply of bannocks was running short, and she must
make more. Bannocks are flat, brittle cakes of oatmeal, as large around as a
plate. In thickness and color they suggest sections of coarse sole leather,
and no one unacquainted with them would suspect that they were good to eat.
Their preparation consists in stirring up oatmeal with water into a thick
dough, rolling lumps of it out into shape and then "firing" the rough disks
one at a time in the fireplace. I do not mean, as the American vernacular
would suggest, that the cakes were consigned forcibly to the flames. The
term "firing," as applied to a bannock in Scotland, means first browning the
under side on a griddle, and then setting it up edgewise on a toaster hung
before the blaze, and letting the other side brown. When spread with butter
and accompanied by a bit of cheese and a glass of milk or a cup of tea, the
bannocks are so good that even an epicure would not disdain them. I think
the Scotch feel a real pity for a person who does not eat them regularly,
and love them.
During my stay in the glen I had bannocks at every meal, and, besides the
accessories that naturally go with the cakes, I was
given heather honey for a relish. The honey was in the honeycomb, and it was
wonderfully rich, and tasted full of sunshine and blossoms. The bees gather
the finest harvest of the year in the time of the heather-bloom. The clover
honey that they make earlier is not nearly so deep in tint nor so densely
sweet. Nor does it bring as much, when sold, into "tuppence" a pound.
The day's work in the glen began at five o'clock. Mrs. Fearn and her
daughter were always stirring by that time. The mother went at once to the
byre to start milking the eight cows, but Mary Ann stayed indoors to kindle
the kitchen fire, and hang over it a great black pot full of oatmeal. Then
she skimmed the milk in the dairy, and when the porridge was cooked and the
tea boiled for the men's breakfast, she went out to help her mother finish
The cattle of the region were of a hornless variety, usually black, but
sometimes gray or patched with white. The cows received very good care, and
they, of all the farm animals, were the only ones that were invariably kept
in the byres over night right through the year. It was thought to be too "cauld"
for them in the fields, though during the warmer months the calves and
horses were allowed to stay out continuously, and the sheep were not housed,
even in winter. The sheep pastures were in the main bare grassland, or
heather hillsides; but it was arranged that there should be
a patch of woodland somewhere in the pasturage to which they could retire
for shelter from the storms. If the winter was mild, the sheep might be able
to pick up their own living, yet ordinarily they required some feeding.
Raising calves was an important industry in the glen, and Farmer Fearn
had quite a herd of them. Mary Ann fed them three times a day, the last time
about nine or ten in the evening. She usually went out bareheaded, with a
red shawl wound about her shoulders. While milking or doing dirty kitchen
work, the women added greatly to their picturesque-ness by tucking their
outer skirts up so that the folds only came halfway down.
When they found I was interested in Scotch ways, they were at great pains
to give me information, and they brought out for exhibition their photograph
albums, and their hats and bonnets, and Mr. Fearn's best suit, and the
cheese tub, and much else. I related something of our American customs, and
they were of the opinion that if the women here did no outdoor work, and
never milked, and never blacked the men's boots, they must sit by the fire
and "rockit" a large part of the time. Mary Ann wanted I should tell the
American girls that they did not do half enough.
Mr. Fearn paid a rent on his farm, to the Laird who owned all the hills
and glens for miles around, of £150 a year. The farm consisted of eighty
acres and a " butt." The eighty acres were rolling valley land. The butt was
thin, heathery pasturage, "mostly steens" (stones), the farmer affirmed,
that swept up a steep hillside and far on across a peat bog.
"It is no easy getting a living here," Mr. Fearn explained, and he added
that his hired help worked shorter hours and had more to show for their
labor at the end of the year than he had. In cold seasons he could not ripen
his corn (oats) enough so that the grain could be used for seed, and there
were times when the little river Esk overflowed and stood like a loch in the
meadows and "drowned" all the corn on the lowland. This year there had been
white frosts in June after the potatoes were up two or three inches, and
every stalk was blackened and withered down to the ground. A belated
scarecrow was still standing in one of Mr. Fearn's potato fields. It was
made out of old clothes stuffed with hay, and it had its arms extended, and
an old hat fastened on top just like one of our scarecrows at home. But you
would not find a scarecrow in a potato field with us. The rooks "howk" out
the "tatties" in Scotland when their green sprouts first break up through
the earth, and you may often see one of the black thieves carrying
off a recently planted tuber in its bill. In Glen Clova they
called a scarecrow a "tattie-dooley," which, translated, means a
Late one afternoon I climbed up Mr. Fearn's butt of moor and over the
rocky riggin (ridge) of the hill to a wide marsh. Scattered about the high
waste were a few sheep feeding on the sparse grasses, but there were not
enough of them to soften much the loneliness of the spot with the great
heather hills glooming all about. The farmer had finished cutting peat here
only the day before, and where the dark banks-had been laid bare, I could
see that the bog was full of large roots and pieces of tree trunks—-plainly
it must once have been wooded. Good-sized oaks are found in some bogs, black
with the peat stain to their hearts. The wood is perfectly sound, but it
cracks badly when exposed to the air, and is not of much use except for
fence posts, though in small pieces, carved and polished, it has value in
the form of ornaments.
The region around Glen Clova is good hunting ground, and the Laird let it
for the winter shooting of grouse to a London gentleman at £500
a season. This sum was sufficient to make every brace
of grouse the Londoner shot cost him a guinea. Back on the hills was a deer
"forest" that covered many square miles. The winter previous had been very
cold and snowy, and the wild creatures had a hard time of it. The
grouse came in hundreds down to the roadway in the glen, and
they would light in flocks on the stacks in the stackyards. The partridges
and the crows were very familiar, too. Rabbits and hares would come close to
the houses, and in the morning, after a snow, the dooryards would be padded
all over with their footmarks. The deer descended from their native upland,
and the farm folk would see them stringing along at the foot of the brae in
the pastures. The farmers did not care to have them get into their turnip
fields, and they would go out with their guns and frighten them back to the
high moors. The creatures were "near deid wi' starvation," or they would not
have ventured into the valley at all. Mr. Fearn killed a dozen of them and
salted down their meat. The schoolmaster shot one right at the corner of the
schoolyard, and for several nights he slept with his gun on his bed, ready
for another. The deer spoiled a young planting of seven hundred acres of
spruce, larch, and fir by getting into it and biting off the tops of the
little trees. The planting was fenced, but deer are famous jumpers, and when
urged by hunger, no protection short of six feet high would daunt them.
At Craig Eggie the road down the valley was not passable to teams for
nine weeks in midwinter, and Clova village, three miles above, was cut off
from the world a week longer. Yet school kept as usual, and
though some of the scholars lived at a considerable
distance, the snow made little difference in the attendance. Glen Clova
children are hardy, and save for the two or three smallest ones, they waded
daily back and forth through the drifts.
Very few of the scattered homes of the glen were so placed as to have
near neighbors, and the only village cluster was up the valley at Clova,
where were a church, a white manse, a hotel, and several small dwellings.
The people from all the region around came every Sunday to attend service at
the little church, some in gigs and dogcarts, but the large majority on
Years ago the glen was much more fully populated, and I everywhere came
across the broken walls of old-time houses. One spot was pointed out to me
where had been a group of thirty dwellings less than half a century before.
Now there were only two — a farmhouse and the lodge of a game-keeper. The
vanished homes had been mostly cotter houses, each with its little farm of
three or four acres on which the cotter raised tatties and corn, and
pastured his cow. In the cotter's kitchen of those bygone days, besides the
one or two beds and other necessary furniture, would be a hand-loom. During
the winter this was rarely idle, and it was more or less in use the year
through. The cloth woven in these country houses was sold to a manufacturer
in the nearest large town. When machine weaving began
to be general, the cotters found it difficult to support their families
wholly on the produce of the little farms, and they were obliged to seek the
mills in the cities.
The development of machinery and the country isolation has depopulated
rural Scotland everywhere. One result is that it is not easy for the farmers
to get help in the more remote districts. The laborers drift to the towns
now more persistently than do the middle classes. Nor can one blame them,
when one considers how they must live as agriculturists.
A man hired out to a farmer, in addition to his wages, is allowed a
flagon of milk daily and seventy pounds of oatmeal a month. The eating
arrangements are simplicity itself. He sits down to the table with a deep
plate full of porridge and a bowl of milk before him, and with his horn
spoon dips up, alternately, porridge and milk, until he reaches the bottom
of the dishes. There are no further courses, and there is no variation in
breakfast, dinner, and supper. Indeed, this is the bill of fare the year
through in the more backward districts. But such plain living is not as
satisfactory as it once was, and the man is very apt to sell part of his
meal and get tea and an occasional piece of meat or loaf of bread.
On the old-fashioned farms an unmarried laborer usually has a dwelling to
himself—a little "placie" of one room known as a "bothy."
Often three or four laborers inhabit the tiny stone-walled hovel together.
Each man has a kist for his clothes and other personal belongings, and a
second kist for his oatmeal. A table, a few chairs, a kettle, a pot, and a
water-pail complete the furnishings of the bothy. The man who lives in his
employer's household has his allowance of meal and milk just the same as if
he dwelt outside, but the farmer's wife does his cooking, and he is very
likely given such extras as the family itself eats. Still, even at best, I
did not wonder that laborers failed to find life on the isolated farms
attractive, nor did it seem strange that the lonely glens were gradually
being deserted by the farmers themselves.