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Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Branch D. Strathspey and Lochindorbh


Church of Duthill; Tower of Muckerach, 1.—Castle of Lochindorbh, 2.—Its Siege, 3. Grantown; Orphan Asylum, 4.—Castle Grant; View from the Tower, 5.—Battle of the Haughs of Cromdale, 6.—Castle Roy; Tulochgorum; The Grampians; Glenmore Forest, 7.—Strathspey below Grantown; Ballindalloch House, 8.—Aberlour; Craigelachie Bridge, 9.

HAVING already describer) one side, at least, of that portion of Strathspey, through which the road from Inverness to Perth passes, the present branch will refer chiefly to the district below the Bridge of Carr.

1. The banks of the Dulnain improve in appearance after passing Carr Bridge; and he who would form his notions of Strathspey from the character of the country he has passed over in approaching it from the north, will find himself agreeably mistaken. The first glimpse of the manse of Duthill, from the bank of Dalrachney, close by the inn, opens at the same time to our view a broad valley, beautifully varied with cultivated fields and smooth meadows, and bordered with gently sloping hills, which conduct the eye far into the bosom of Strathspey. The church of Duthill is rather an interesting building, as it is one of the few old Popish chapels which survived the Reformation. The tomb of the family of Grant of Grant reposes against its northern wall. One part of the enclosure is reserved for the chief and his offspring, while the outer part belongs to collateral branches, as the families of Kinchurdy, Tullochgriban, and Balladirin. Three miles to the east of Duthil Manse, the road passes close to the old tower of Muckerach, the high walls of which are visible at a great distance. It stands on the brink of a little dell, on the brow of a hill, which commands an outlook to the west as far as Craigelachie and Aviemore, and eastward a great way over the valley of the Spey. It was the primeval seat of the family of Rothiemurchus, and was erected in 1598 by Patrick, second son of John, laird of Grant, and Margaret Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Athole, who was his first spouse. The founder's father was called John Baold, the Simple, and was the son of Shemis-nan-Creach, the Ravager, who died in 1550. The lintel stone over the doorway has been carried off, but still exists in one of the farm-houses at Rothiemurchus. It contains the year 1598, in which the castle was finished, with the owner's arms (three antique crowns and three wolves' heads), and on the scroll, "In God is al my Trest." The building forms a most picturesque ruin, and is beautifully situated ; but it is a mere shell, its roof and all the interior partitions having fallen away. It was only a castellated mansion, and hence had not the solidity or thickness of wall sufficient to keep it as entire as many structures more ancient than itself.

2. Far different in structure and in story from the tower now described, is the Castle of Lochindorbh, situated in an island in the lake of that name, at the base of the knock of Brae-Moray, about eight miles over the hills to the northward. This was the greatest stronghold of the Cumings, and rivalled in extent, and the number of its defences, the fortresses of royalty. Lochindorbh lies at no great distance from the old military road which crosses the country between Strathspey and Fort-George, by Dulsie Bridge and Cawdor, and it can be approached also by a new road from Grantown, by Farness to Cawdor, Nairn, and Forres. Nothing can be conceived more bleak and desolate than the moorish country in which the lake lies, nor more uninteresting and dull than this sheet of water. The lichen-clad walls of the castle, and the flocks of sea-fowl skimming about it, and which nestle within its deserted chambers, add an indescribable character of loneliness to the otherwise gloomy features of the scene. Every part of the island (which is about an acre in extent) is occupied by the high castellated wall, so that no landing could be effected on it save at the appointed haven. The building is quadrangular, with round towers at the corners, and on the side nearest the land the high connecting screens are double.

From "Douglas's Peerage," and the public printed records, we learn that the Black John Cumyn of Badenoch died about the year 1300, at his castle of Lochindorbh; and that, as his grandson (of the same name) died soon after, without issue, the direct male line of the family became extinct.

3. David II. bestowed on his constable of Edinburgh Castle, Symon Reed, the forest of Lochindorbh, the acknowledgment of service to be three arrows deliverable at Inverness; and Robert II., in the first year of his reign, gave to his son, Alexander Seneschal, and the heirs of his body, whom failing, to David, Earl of Strathearn, and to the heirs of his body, certain parts of Badenoch, with the castle, forest, and lands of Lochindorbh, in the same manner as the deceased John Cumyn and his predecessors held the same. In the year 1335, when the Earl of 'larch defeated and killed David de Strathbogie, Earl of Athole, at Kilblain, and raised the siege of Kildrummy Castle, the Earl of Athole's lady fled to Lochindorbh. Sir Alexander Gordon laid siege to it; but next year, King Edward of England obliged him to retire; and traditions still exist, though not very correct, regarding the blockade it had previously withstood. The spot where the besieging army lay is on the southern shore of the loch, and can still be distinguished by the smoothness of its surface, and the double ditches which surround it. The catapults, and other Warlike engines used for throwing large stones, seem to have had considerable effect from this position, as the shattered state of the corner wall of the castle immediately opposite still testifies.

In the year 1606, James, Earl of Moray, disponed a considerable part of his lands near Inverness, together with this lake, the buildings within the same, and the adjoining shielings, to Sir John Campbell of Calder; and that family seem to have contributed considerably to the demolition of the castle; for, among other things, the great iron gate at the door of entrance was carried away, and may now be seen in the peel of Cawdor. By an excambion, or exchange of land, it has, with all the adjoining grounds, fallen into the possessions of the family of Grant of Grant.

4. To return now to the road to Grantown. At the Bridge of Curr, below Muckerach, the road from Aviemore through the centre of Strathspey, unites with that which we are now following. Thence to Grantown (six miles and a half) we enjoy a most extensive view of the broad and rich valley of the Spey, which is varied with cultivated fields, large pastures, and occasional rocky and wooded knolls, and backed in the distance by the Grampians. The chain of these mountains here visible, stretching from the Cairngorms in the west to Bel-rinnis in Banffshire on the east, is grand and interesting. In the centre of it, the mountains of Abernethy, over which rises Boinag, the highest in the whole range, form a most imposing group: the softer mountains of Cromdale are not so picturesque; but Belrinnis, beyond them, closes in the view, with a sharp spiry peak of the most delicate tone of blue.

No village in the north of Scotland can compare with Gran-town in neatness and regularity, and in beauty of situation. The houses are of a small size, just suited to the condition of the inhabitants: they are about 150 in number, of pretty uniform dimensions, and are all built of fine-grained whitish granite. Grantown possesses a branch bank and good inn, and a neat orphan asylum. The village was founded, about eighty years ago, by the late Sir James Grant of Grant, a great benefactor of his clan and country; and it now contains about 700 inhabitants, who are chiefly artisans and shopkeepers.

5. Castle.. rant lies about a mile and a half to the east of Grantown, in the front of a high terraced bank, and is so concealed amid deep forests of pine, larch, oak, elm, and chesnut, that the visitor is almost at the gate before he is aware of being in its vicinity. The ancient residence of the chief of the clan Grant is, in fact, buried amid trees of noble growth, the smaller groups of which would, on other estates, be deemed woods of respectable extent. The walks and glades are numerous and intricate, but no one can form an idea of the extent of ground occupied by the trees, unless he examine it from the top of the battlements. The view from thence is magnificent, ranging over extensive forests of pine, variegated with corn land, intersected by the Spey, and bounded by lofty mountain chains. Part of Castle Grant is said to have existed during the times of the Cumings, but successive additions have formed it now into a high quadrangular pile of many storeys, projecting backwards at each end, and pierced with windows of all shapes and sizes, the more modern portions not being the most elegant. The south side is in the proper style of the chateaus of Charles I. and II.'s time, with a large base court, along which are arranged two formal rows of servants' apartments in continuation of the projections of the main building, and from which a flight of steps conducts to the lawn, and on the north-east side some additions have recently been made. The ancient hall makes a handsome, though rather gloomy, dining-room. All the apartments and lobbies are hung round with valuable paintings, among which is an interesting series of old Highland portraits. The Death of Patroclus, by Hamilton, is considered the best in the collection, though there are many others highly prized. The armoury, and the collection of old writs and charters, in this mansion, are also good.

6. Though the neighbourhood of Castle Grant was the scene of many sanguinary feudal conflicts, the engagement which took place on "the Haughs of Cromdale," on the 1st of May 1690, was the most important in the annals of the parish. The cause of James II. having become desperate by the death of Viscount Dundee, at Killiecrankie, in July 1689,. all his adherents were scattered or capitulated, except a few men headed by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, who trusted to the approach of winter, and the inaccessible nature of the mountains on the west coast, to which they retired. When the spring of 1690 began to open up, they sent round their emissaries for recruits ; and until the seed-time should be over, before which no body of Highlanders could be induced to leave their homes, Colonel Buchan was dispatched with a band of the Macleans, Macdonalds, Macphersons, Camerons, and Grants of Glen Moriston, to lay waste the low country, and harass and divert Kin; William's troops. On their march they plundered the inhabitants of Strathspey, and in Strathbogie they burnt the house of Edinglassie. Sir Thomas Livingston, who had been stationed at Inverness with a considerable force of cavalry and infantry, resolved to intercept them before they regained the interior of the country; and the Highlanders, hearing of his approach, at once betook themselves to the hills. They encamped one evening, however, on the south side of the low valley of the Spey, near the old kirk of Cromdale, about three miles to the cast of the position where Grantown now stands. By the dawn of day, the enemy's dragoons, led by a part of the clan Grant, descried them from the top of the hill above the castle, and, afraid of being seen as the light increased, they plunged into the woods and came down the valley of Achinarrow; whence Sir Thomas Livingston proceeded direct to the river Spey, and forded it below Dellachaple. The outposts of the rebels now gave the alarm, but the dragoons were on them before those in the camp were able to form into order, or even dress themselves. They hastened in the utmost confusion to the hill of Cromdale, pursued by the "red coats:" many of them were totally naked, and were easily cut down. At the base of the hill they made a momentary stand, but their ranks were broken through; and nothing but the steepness and ruggedness of the ground above, and their customary swiftness of foot, saved those who fled from the sabre. A small party who kept together crossed the river next day, but were followed and were cut down almost to a man on the moor of Grenish, near Aviemore; while some, headed by Macdonald of Keppoch, who attempted to entrench themselves in the Castle of Loch-an-Eilan, in Rothiemurchus, were beaten off by the laird and his tenants.

Thus perished for a season the hopes of the adherents of the house of Stuart.

7. We have now passed through parts of the parishes of Duthil, Inverallon, and Croxndale. To the eastward of Grantown we enter on the shire of Moray; but before resuming the description of the strath downwards to the sea, we add a few observations on the south bank of the Spey up to Rothiemurchus. At the bridge above Grantown three roads diverge : one proceeding eastward to the town of Keith, which is about thirty-six, and to Fochabers about thirty-two miles distant; a second running straight up into the mountains in a direction nearly south, and which is the old military road by Tomintoul and Braemar to the low country; the third is the Parliamentary Commissioners' road, which runs along the bank of the Spey to the ferry-house of Inverdruie, near Rothiemurchus (about eighteen miles distant), where it crosses the river and joins the main road to Perth. This is the route we are now to follow.

Passing several farm-houses, about four miles beyond Grantown, we come to the ruins of Castle Roy, another quadrangular fortress of the Cumings, provided with two square projecting towers, with a noble and high Norman arched gateway. The ruin stands on a little knoll, which commands a most extensive view—a requisite of every residence in the days of yore; but in itself it is a mere shell, and the only interesting relic within its high screens is a curious vault or crypt near the western corner. The history of this castle is entirely lost.

One other mile leads the traveller to the Bridge of Nethy, where there is a small public-house ; and passing which we cross the river that gives name to the parish, and along which we behold the relics of a great pine forest stretching away to the base of the Grampians. Thence to the confines of Glenmore, and the borders of Kincardine, we pass over a sandy plain, interspersed with deep peat mosses, which exhibit the fallen stems and roots of large oaks and pine trees. On the opposite side of the Spey are the parks and farm-house of Tullochgorum, the native seat of the clan Phatrick, and at the mention of which every Highland heart will beat which is attached to the poetry and ancient music of Strathspey. We now approach near the Grampians, and each step as we advance, unfolds more distinctly to our view the details of their wild rocks, huge precipices, tremendous chasms glistening with the light of their hardened beds of snow, or streaked with alpine torrents ; and their tortuous valleys, which deceive the eye and puzzle the imagination to trace out their windings. Passing the kirk of Kincardine, the road to Glenmore displays itself, stealing and twisting along a mountain precipice; and then traversing some beautiful plains of natural meadow grass, we enter for a short way the outskirts of the birch woods—the lower fringes of the forest—and, emerging thence, Craigelachie, the Ord Bain of Rothiemurchus, and each flinty dome and forehead of the Cairngorms, suddenly burst on our view. For a few hundred yards the road glides along the margin of the Loch of Pitoulish, a beautiful foreground to the alpine landscape ; and then, proceeding through the larch plantations of Rothiemurchus, crossing several impetuous streams, on which are saw-mills and log-houses, presenting pictures on a small scale of the great forest scenes of America, it leads us to the ferry-house of Inverdruie, where we cross the Spey and repose ourselves at the inn of Aviemore; but Loch-an-Eilan and its castle ought to be previously visited (see p. 288); or if we wish we can proceed along the south bank of the Spey by a new district road to Ruthven and Kingussie, distant about twelve miles.

8. Returning now to Grantown, and pursuing the course of the Spey eastward, beyond the long section of the valley in which the village, and Castle Grant are situated, we find lumpish hills which bound the strath for about fourteen miles below, keeping far asunder from each other ; but a great alluvial deposit on the south side of the valley, of varying surface and inclination, fills up the greater part of it, and confines the flat ground which skirts the river to very narrow hounds. The Spey takes occasionally a few bold and sudden sweeps, but in general it bends gradually from side to side. The wide alluvial deposit just alluded to is covered with heathy pasture, a little chequered with cultivated ground. The stripe of land along the river is cultivated; but, as the road is for the most part at some distance from the water, the ride as far as Aberlour is by no means interesting. At Inveravon, between the steep banks and in the narrow space by the side of the river Avon, we pass Ballindalloch, the massive-looking mansion of Sir John Macpherson Grant, Bart. Like many of the residences of our Highland gentry, it comprises, amid commodious modern buildings, an imposing old square tower, giving a bluff smack of the olden time to the edifice. Fine old avenues conduct through the park towards the junction of the Avon with the Spey.

9. Close by Ballindalloch is the little inn of Dalnashaugh, thirteen miles from Grantown. At Aberlour, (seven miles and a half farther on,) a village, consisting of a street and small square of substantially built low houses, we regain the bank of the river, which the road crosses about a mile below at Craigelachie Bridge. It consists of a very handsome iron arch, with a round embattled tower at each corner ; and the reach for four miles below is eminently beautiful. Three miles below the bridge we pass the village of Rothes, which is composed of from 200 to 300 small straw-thatched cottages, arranged in four streets, diverging at unequal angles from a common centre. On the opposite bank of the river the house of Arndilly lies embosomed amid fine woods. After taking one or two bold sweeps or curves below Rothes, the strath is prolonged, in a continued straight line, to its termination at Speymouth, fourteen miles from Rothes, four miles beyond Fochabers, where the hills and terraces, to which they give place, gradually subside into a smooth plain bordering on the sea.—(For a description of Elgin and Fochabers, see Route iii.)


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