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Between the Ochils and the Forth
Chapter IV. - Aldie Castle and South Fossoway


Road from Powmill to Cleish—AIdie Castle and its traditions —Ancient connection of the Athole family with Fossoway —Blairingone— The "Monk's Grave".

In a previous chapter, the traveller, after journeying from Dunfermline and coming, at the farm of Meadow-head, within sight of Aldie Castle and the entrance to the valley of Cleish, was made somewhat unceremoniously to retrace his steps and proceed by a branch road from Hill End to Saline. We shall now resume again the journey to the Rumbling Bridge at the point then abandoned, and thus link together the different scenes through which we have passed.

Leaving Meadowhead on our right, we continue to descend the hill past Pow Lodge; and then at the bottom, after crossing a flat tract of marsh-land, we ascend again to the hamlet of Pow Mill, where a road on the left branches off to Blairingone and Alloa. We now proceed downhill to the bridge which crosses here the Pow, as the lower course of the West Gairney is called, and then again ascending a steep acclivity, we find a road on the right leading along the Aldie ridge to Cleish. Here we are within a mile of the Rumbling Bridge, and not much farther from the Crook of Devon, the road to which, as already mentioned, branches off from the present one near the railway station.

Let us now follow the upper road to Cleish. Having travelled along it about a mile and a half, we pass on our left the rising ground of Carleith, on which used to be the ruins of a circular building, about 24 feet in diameter. In the end of the last century the ground where it stands was planted, and the stones of the ancient edifice were employed in the construction of the enclosing fence. In the course of the excavations two stone coffins containing human bones were found near the centre of the structure. It had evidently formed one of those burial-places of the primeval inhabitants of the district, of which so many have been discovered in all parts of the British Islands.

Proceeding a little farther east from Carleith, a road on the right leads down to the parks of Aldie and Aldie Castle, the ancient patrimony of the Mercers, and now the inheritance of the Dowager-Marchioness of Lansdowne, whose maternal grandmother, Miss Mercer, as heiress of Aldie, conveyed the estate to the Elphinstone family by her marriage with Lord Keith of Tulliallan. The old castle, though not absolutely a ruin, is still in a very dilapidated state, and has not been inhabited for a long period. It stands on an eminence overlooking the Cleish valley, and consists of a keep flanked at the upper corners with turrets, whilst attached to it in front is a house of more recent construction. A little to the east, on the castle green, is a holly-tree, regarding which an old legend states that a groom was hanged on it for the comparatively venial offence of "stealing a caup [measure] of corn." Before being turned off he invoked a malison on the Mercer family that they should never have a son to inherit the property—a prophecy which has certainly held good for several generations.

Another tradition connected with Aldie is that of a famous witch, known as "Meg of Aldie," but of whose history, whether real or mythical, almost nothing seems to be preserved. She is said to have taken a great interest in a Laird of Aldie, who made an expedition to the Holy Land with the special purpose of effecting in addition the ascent of Mount Sinai. Some hazy memory is perhaps here preserved of the Murrays of Tullibardine, the ancient lords of Fossoway, having taken part in the Crusades. Meg is said, according to some accounts, to have accompanied her chief, but used her powers to prevent the fulfilment of his vow as regarded the ascent of the holy mount. Awaking one morning—so says the tale—the Laird of Aldie found written on his arm :—

" The Laird of Aldie you may be,
But the top of Mount Sinai you'll never see."

And so he never did, though he returned safe and sound to his native land.

Aldie Castle is said to have been built in the sixteenth century. If this date is correct, it probably refers to the erection of the southern and more recent portion. It is ascertained that in 1475 Isabella Wardlaw of Torrie, the wife apparently of Laurence Mercer of Meikleour, and assuredly the mother of Henry Mercer, was infeft in the lands of "Estirawdeis" and "esterawdeis," the lands of Powmill and others. The common story is, that the Aldie estate came into the possession of William Mercer of Meikleour by his marriage with the heiress, the beautiful Aldia Murray, of the Tullibardine family, from whom, moreover, it is said that the property received its appellation. This is, however, a questionable assertion, as it is much more likely that the name Aldie is of Celtic origin. It has been derived by Colonel Robertson from allt dubh (the dark stream)—a not unlikely origin, as the Pow flows through the valley in front of the castle.

The following not very complimentary rhyme used to be current regarding Aldie and its neighbourhood :—

"Hard heads in Hardiston, Quakers in the Pow;
The braw Aldie lasses Cauna spin their tow."

At the east extremity of the castle slope is the old garden, now employed as a nursery of young trees. It contains two very old specimens of the oriental or real plane, which casts its bark every month. As is well known, what is ordinarily called in this country the plane is in reality the sycamore. From the woodland path which leads by the garden, the Cleish road may again be reached by proceeding north-east across the fields. Opposite the road by which we diverged to visit Aldie Castle, a path leads across the country in a northerly direction to the railway station at the Crook of Devon. Continuing about a mile and a half farther east on our original course, we see on our left the grounds of Tulliebole, and soon afterwards reach the eastern extremity of the parish of Fossoway, where it meets those of Cleish and Kinross. Here are the lands of Coldrain, belonging to the ancient barony of that name, formerly possessed, with the rest of Fossoway, by the progenitors of the Athole family. A little to the south of Wood of Coldrain farm is a square enclosure known as " Hall Yard," and extending to a little more than an imperial acre. It is surrounded by a ditch, and had contained at one time a castle, said traditionally to have been a hunting-seat of the Murrays.

Tullibardine, the ancient 'nheritancc of the Murrays, from which the Athole family takes its secondary title, is situated in the parish of Blackford, on the north side of the Oehils; and the ruins of the castle which they inhabited are still to be seen in Tullibardine Moor. The lands and barony of Tullibardine, including Pitvar, Solsgirth, Blairingone, &c., seem to have been adjudged or apprised in 1545 from William Murray, and made over to Cardinal David Beaton of St Andrews. He had borrowed jQ2800 from the Cardinal, and had a right of reversion provided the money were paid within seven years. The Murrays were the leading family in this part of Scotland, and owned nearly the whole of the present parish of Fossoway. At Blairingone, on the left-hand side of the road in descending from that village to the Vicar's Bridge, they had a residence, of which till recently some faint traces still remained. Till 1873, moreover, the Dukes of Athole, their descendants, owned the farm of Dundrummie in this neighbourhood, along with the whole of the so-called Blairingone coal, which used to be worked to a great extent for the supply both of the adjoining country and the region of Strathearn, on the other side of the Ochils. They have, since the date last mentioned, ceased to hold any property in this district. A lintel-stone belonging to the old castle, and having a coat-of-arms sculptured upon it, was conveyed away at that time to Blair Atholl as a relic of the ancestral abode.

One other memory of the Athole family in Fossoway may be noticed. In going from Powmill by the road already mentioned as leading west from thence to Blairingone, the traveller, after proceeding about three-quarters of a mile, will see a pleasant shady road on his left, which will lead him in a south-westerly direction to an expanse of moorland interspersed with hillocks and scrub, and termed by the country-people "the Monk's Grove,"' which is, however, a corruption from "the Monk's Grave," a locality now obliterated and forgotten, but connected with a curious legend. In consequence of an act of sacrilege on the part of a chieftain of the Murrays in setting fire to a church in which a hostile clan had taken refuge, he had been compelled to make over the lands of Pethwer, or Pitfar, with others, to the monks of Culross. In after-times a dispute arose with this convent as to the boundary of the lands which they thus held. A meeting of the opposing parties took place, when one of the Culross ecclesiastics gave oath that he was at that moment standing on soil belonging to Culross Abbey. One of the Murrays, exasperated at what he considered to he perjury, struck down and slew the monk, on pulling oft* whose shoes they were found filled with earth from Culross. The fraudulent churchman was buried where he fell, and his grave was long shown as a memorial of the occurrence. A quarry which has been opened here has very probably effaced the burial-mound.

About half a mile due south from the Monk's Grave, on the slope of the rising ground, is the house of Pitfar, a modern mans >n. Following the old road over the hill by Barnhill and Bankhead, Ave emerge at the house of Bumside (Alexander Macleod, Esq.), a little to the north-west of Saline village, on the old road leading from thence to Dollar. We are now again in the county of Fife, and which we crossed to the south of Pitfar separating the parish of Saline from that of Fossoway, and the county of Fife from that of Perth. At Solsgirth, in the south-west corner of the parish of Fossoway, where the latter abuts on Clackmannan, it is popularly said that you may stand with your right foot in Perthshire and your left in Fife, and then stooping down without shifting your position, you may rest both of your hands in the county of Clackmannan.


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