It is not
easy to find out exactly when the Menzies first came into Rannoch
history. It is said that Malcolm III (Canmore) divided the country up in
1061 and gave the Rannoch portion to de Meyneis family. Whether this is
so or not cannot be said but it is a fact that the Menzies of Weem (Aberfeldy)
have held considerable landed possessions in Rannoch until quite recent
In the 15th
century life in Rannoch was vastly different from life elsewhere,
particularly in the Lowlands. Instead of growing crops, cattle which the
people killed and ate were reared on the hillsides, and they got their
food also by hunting and fishing. But as they had plenty of time to
spare, and food was often scarce with them they frequently took to robbing
their neighbours, and especially the Lowlanders who never knew when some
of the caterans, as they were called, would pay one of their visits and so
it was difficult to put a stop to these creach, as Highlanders called
them. They went on for more than three hundred years after the time about
which we are speaking.
addition to the normal inhabitants, ‘broken men’ driven out of other parts
of the Highlands took refuge in Rannoch, an ideal spot in which to avoid
capture. Here where there were no roads or bridges and, protected by high
mountains, these lawless men were safe. These were the times when the
renowned Wolf of Badenoch terrorised the Highlands, and there were plenty
of willing recruits for his cateran band in Rannoch.
Slios Min (the North slopes of Loch Rannoch’s shore) his family seems to
have acquired possession of the land from the Menzies but at the time we
are speaking of the Menzies had got it back. The Wolf’s interests took
him elsewhere for his plunder. But his grandson, Neil Stewart, had his
eyes on the Rannoch land. He lived nearby in the castle his grandfather
had built at Garth and he was a frequent visitor to Rannoch. The Young
Wolf rounded up all the robbers and thieves and with them formed the most
terrifying band that ever existed they terrorised the country for miles
around. In particular did the Menzies suffer from his spreaghs. Their
black cattle were a great attraction as also their land. Neil Stewart
felt he had a claim to it and his Mother’s side. Eventually he took it
and held it by force from Sir Robert Menzies.
Robert replied by bringing his own forces to bear against the Young Wolf
and he captured some of his caterans and held them against repeated
attacks until he got them safely into Weem Castle. From there he
dispatched a messenger to the government of James IV who sent officials to
bring them in . On the 5th November 1487 two batches of
prisoners were taken to Edinburgh for trial. In those days thieves were
hanged, or other punishments for such offences were to be farmed out as
‘slaves’ or to have a iron collar fixed round the neck.
result of his action Sir Robert had the lands of Slios Min restored to
him. But a year or two later there was further trouble from Neil as he
renewed the claim to his land on the death of his father. And the Young
Wolf’s claims were usually reaffirmed with the sword. This was serious
enough to bring James IV himself to Rannoch to review the situation. On
his return to Weem he confirmed that the land was definitely Menzies’ as
‘the oldest and truest’ clan and he had a new charter drawn up which gave
Robert Menzies and his heirs the lands of Rannoch, viz., Dunan,
Kenaclacher, the two Camuserichts, Ardlarach, Killiechonan, Learan,
Ardlair, Leargan, island of Loch Rannoch and the lochs of Rannoch and
Ericht (modern spelling used).
infuriated the Young Wolf who determined on revenge. He gathered
toge6ther his band of cutthroats and under cover of darkness he attacked
the castle of Weem, plundering and burning it to the ground. He dragged
Sir Robert off to Garth where he chained him up in the dungeons. Very few
prisoners had been released from this dreaded castle but with James IV on
his way to avenge this indignity to one of his loyal nobles Neil released
his captive. The menace of James IV in the district seems to have curbed
the Young Wolf’s activities and it was fairly clear that the powerful Duke
of Atholl was told it was his duty to keep a firmer grip on his
Robert set about building a new castle, called Castle Menzies which
survives to this day but it was his son who had to finish the building of
it in 1528. Although he did not have the Young Wolf to worry him (for he
was long dead) he had troubles equally trying….he had the MacGregors.
Menzies as we have seen were now in undisputed possession of the lands of
Slio Min in Rannoch but they had great difficulty in maintaining rights
against the turbulent Clan of MacGregor built a stockade on the artificial
island (a crannog) from which they could defend themselves from the law or
any attackers. They would swoop down on their raids and retire with their
spoils to the fastnesses of Rannoch; to their Island, or to the Blackwood,
or to the corries, and be safe from pursuit. The chief sufferers were the
Menzies, for not only were their lands so near and vulnerable but their
black cattle were a tempting target for the marauders.
serious did the situation become that Menzies appealed to the sovereign,
and James V (1530) sent soldiers to Rannoch to subdue the MacGregors.
This they did and they demolished the fortification but as soon as the
left the caterans came down from the hills, rebuilt their fortification
and resumed their civilities with impunity.
hundreds of MacGregors now lived on Menzies land in Rannoch and the
majority of them were law-abiding tenants but the outlaws amongst them
continued their violence, their destruction and their thieving ways. This
continued over the next thirty years until in 1563 after many complaints
the sovereign (now Queen Mary) brought forth a mandate proscribing the
MacGregors and authorizing various nobles to drive the clan out of Rannoch
and put them to the sword.
cover of this authority Sir Colin Campbell whose family had been
responsible for causing the plight of the MacGregors by driving them from
their traditional homes took a large force into Rannoch to exterminate.
He took possession of the Isle and put his own tenants on it. They were
mainly Camerons and MacDonald who had helped him against the MacGregors.
The MacGregors took refuge in the hills while he started to appropriate
the land on the shore. The Campbells had a reputation for adding to their
properties and this James Menzies was well aware of. He would rather have
the MacGregors back than have the Campbells taking over his land. So he
sent off another complaint. Queen Mary, no doubt found the request a
strange one, a request speaking in favour of the MacGregors after the
previous one. However, she did as he requested. She took firm action and
sent a summons to Sir Colin Campbell to appear before the privy council to
answer charges for exceeding his authority in the case of Rannoch and the
was strong enough to ignore the summons and the next few years were
troublesome for the MacGregors and Menzies alike. The MacGregors had the
Campbell hounds for ever pursuing them and the Menzies had the Campbell
land-grabbing to worry them.
Eventually in 1591 Sir Alexander Menzies obtained a new charter from James
VI, a much more formidable figure than Queen Mary. This confirmed the
Menzies in their possession of the Rannoch lands and the Campbells could
do nothing but accept it. Once the Campbells and their tenants were
dispossessed the MacGregors resumed their former activities with renewed
vigor. In fact they appear to have been more violent than before. Their
mayhem and murder (1675) had reached such proportions that Menzies was
driven to despair. He resolved to collect a force large enough to expel
this cursed race for ever from Rannoch. When his neighbours were sought
for help they reacted with horror. They could see themselves with
hundreds of wild uncontrolled MacGregors flooding into their lands and
forced to maintain themselves by violence. ’No thank you’, they said. The
danger of the Menzies action was even considered as a national threat, for
General Monk wrote from the government desiring him to forego his
purpose. This had the desired effect on Menzies for he did not take the
drastic action he planned.
1671 a party of MacDonalds and MacGregors ran wild in Rannoch and drove
out all the peace Menzies tenants and in addition attacked and plundered
an unfortunate band of traveling merchants passing through the country.
The complain to Menzies was passed on to Edinburgh and the Lords of the
Council sent orders for the leaders of the bandits to appear before their
Lords in Edinburgh on 27th July. Of course they failed to
appear and no one felt strong enough to extract them from their fortress.
However, they were well-known ringleaders and the ultimate step was taken
against them. On 1st August Charles II issued a Commission of
Fire and Sword empower Sir Alexander Menzies of Weem (and three
neighbouring Campbells) to apprehend and put to the sword Ronald,
Alexander, Archibald, and Donald MacDonalds, Angus and Donald MacOlrig and
the Laird of MacGregors and Duncan M’Osham.
no record of whether the commission was successful or no but it is well
known that the MacGregors and other freebooters continued to carry on
their spreaghs in much the same way for the next hundred years. Even in
1747 long after the Redcoats had been stationed at Georgetown, the Menzies
lairds still had trouble, for we read in the ‘Scroll Clause in the Tacks
of Rannoch’ that Menzies obliges his tenants to bring cows and horses on
two occasions each year to give account of whatever cows or horses he
received in his possession, stating how he came by them--on oath if
required. Also the instructions ordered them not to give quarters for two
successive nights to a known thief, to hinder cattle stealing and to
assist the other tenants to recover their stolen cattle.
when such restrictions were necessary in Rannoch have long since passed,
and so have the Menzies. They did their best! Many of their MacGregor
tenants were law-abiding and hardworking and endeavoured to live a life of
peace while their lawless clansmen were terrorising the country from
Stirling to Coupar of Angus, obliging the inhabitants to pay them Black
Mail as the price for their security, and returning to Rannoch to swaggar
about with their plunder. However, the Menzies are still remembered with
affection by the local people, for they held land here until 1914 and
their stones are still to be seen with ’M’ engraved on them marking the
wide limits of their territory.