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Clan Donnachaidh Annual
The Appin of Dull


‘When we look back into other years, unto the Appin of our early recollection, our minds are in an old order, very little of which remains. It is not merely that things are greatly changed; we are surveying what might be called “the world before the Flood”. Besides the benefits of social legislation and medical progress, our time has witnessed so many inventions and new departures that it is impossible to say which has been the greatest or with the most far reaching consequences. It is difficult to imagine human life without motors, yet it is only forty years since their legalised arrival, and the modern era may be said fairly to have begun. Prior to that, machinery had hardly come into its own, and now we have conveniences and mechanical contrivances of all sorts, un-dreamt of in olden times. Today what would be then deemed incredible, neither carriage nor cart is seen on the road. Before the voice of the mower or the binder was heard in the land, hay and grain alike went down before the scythe, and every field was alive with harvesters. The thatched houses always required attention, as the wind in a frolic might come anytime. Another circumstance was the amount of work people had to do on the hill. Peats – what with casting, spreading on the greenan. And afterwards lifting and shifting and carting, involved a great deal of work. Casting was generally considered as trying as the scythe. When carting, we started at four o’clock in the morning, and like Duncan Ban and Lloyd George, saw the sun rise on the hilltops. Peats must have formed the main item of fuel for a protracted period, of which indelible evidence is afforded us by the tracks of the “carns” on the braeface. Those “carns” (sledges) gave place to wheeled carts in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Consequently the moor was almost as well known to the men of the Strath as to the men of the Aird. Can and. corr and crag - seemingly all had names. Some remain, but doubtless the great majority are irreparably lost. The peat industry, after languishing a good while, completely disappeared about forty years ago.

Of the many old customs that are past along with the fairs, shows and gatherings, perhaps the one most easily remembered is Halloween Night with its two lines of bonfires, one on each side of the Tay Valley, in which we took such delight when we were boys.

Most likely when we think of that time and this, the other thing that strikes us is that we were a much bigger company of folk then. When I first entered School there were considerably over 100 in it. In fact, there was a fair attendance both at Church and School till the opening of this century; more inhabitants in the villages, and more working the land; but now the population is going, because the three sources of supply have been interfered with. The Family of Chiefs with their retainers and workers is ancient history. Mechanical science enables agriculturists to carry on with fewer hands. Mass production has done for the workmen of the olden villages and their workshops. The wheels of the old mills are not going round, and it’s an empty School and an empty Kirk. However far back we go, it was pretty much the same tale. As far as we recollect, we were hearing from our seniors of the great Dull of yore, and had various particulars of the former state of our surroundings. There had been 23 houses in Camserney west of the Burn. Of the 15 standing within my memory, 13 have gone down, and 6 including Tighnabruaich, in Milton. In the Village of Dull in the same time, another 19; 38 hearth-stones cold. There were ever so many more tenants, and at one time 20 cottars’ cows summered in Easter Moan; 19 from Dull and 1 from Tullicro. The Crofters’ Brae, east of the Burn, had likewise its compliment. Everything was then so different. High rents and cheap labour instead of low rents and dear labour. Land in keen demand, so that every “to let” attracted its offerers. It was the same everywhere. At the Genera1 Election of 1885, the slogan throughout the country was “three acres and a cow” Compared with that, we read now in the Gaelic Edition of Life and York, “No man in Atholl to-day will thank you ‘for offering him a croft” and Appin is in Atholl. It may also be remarked that the community was one and indivisible, under one man who held the reins with a steady hand, and socially and recreationally there was neither East nor West, neither Weem nor Dull, but Menzies Appin. Cordial relations existed, neighbour helping neighbour, and the community of which we were citizens might have taken for its motto “Bon-Accord’.

Again, as regards the language, it was Gaelic almost universally with young and old alike, though evidently falling into disfavour with the authorities. In Church, the unvarying English morning service, in course of time, displaced the Gaelic service, which used to follow. In School, thanks to the Reformers of 1872, the vernacular got its parting kick with dramatic suddenness. It is indeed curious in the light of recent and present day Celtic activities, that we should have had the wonderful arrangement of not a word of Gaelic being allowed in School at a time when it was the only language heard in the play-ground. This is no criticism; it is merely a statement of facts.

 Again while musing o’er those olden days and thinking of the people of that time, it comes to mind how their circumstances and ways of working differed from ours of today. It brings to our recollection how they had - some aged folk at any rate - their own peculiar talk, their own topics of conversation. From them, had we been a little more attentive, we might easily have stored old local traditions, which we hear from none today. Reviewing that talk of half a century ago, we may, among other things, detect two notes in it; local pride, in the good sense, and local lore. In a countryside with its ancient Church and historic landmarks, they had always something to look up to. A long line of Chiefs sat in the Castle visited by one of the most famous queens of all time. It was deemed not unworthy of the notice of Montrose and Cromwell and Cumberland. In old Farleyer, for long resided a notable, Robert Menzies, the “Chamberlain More”, when tenants paid the rent in Scots money and in meal. One of his sons, Archibald Menzies, was the famous “Major More” of the 42nd at Waterloo; mentioned in Kelties History as a man of prodigious strength, and “in a hand to hand conflict more than a match for six ordinary men”. After the war he stayed a while at Farleyer, and many stories have come down regarding him.

And there were various old educational particulars of interest. McGregor of Dull, Schoolmaster and Bard, was a teacher of repute. He had a long tenure of office and was the only Dull Schoolmaster who died in the 19th century. Every Scholar had to take a good peat daily, and as showing the close connection with the land as well as with the hill, it may he pointed out that about a hundred years since, the first stook seen in a harvest field closed the School. The Founder of the Menzies Bursary was a Camserney man. His original intention was to erect a Free School for poorer children on the narrow strip of land between Drumdewan Plantation and the main road. Old Sir Neil would not give the site, and to relieve the pressure on Dull, a side school and Library at Aird Cottage was conducted by a succession of young teachers. One, Robert Cameron from Lawers, became a Schoolmaster in Durham. Elected M.P. for Houghton—le-Spring, he was the only Gaelic speaking man in the House of Commons. He published a Book on the Gaelic names of plants. In that century beginning with Thomas Menzies (Farleyer), nine ministers hailed from the Appin of Dull, and besides, it is noteworthy that Dr. Boyd, the Moderator of 1890 was in the following year succeeded by Dr. James McGregor “not excelled” said his predecessor “in popular gifts by any Minister in Scotland”. The one was the son of a Camserney man, the other the son of a Tullicro man.

And besides, from the talk of that time might be culled older stories, leading us back, certainly not to a golden age, but to dearth and destitution, not over-production. Those were times of scarcity, and in church, the collection would amount to merely a handful of half-pennies. Generally, only the head of the household, at the end of the seat, contributed, the wife and family taking shelter on the other side of him. Even he often hesitated and then an elder, Seumas Ban, E. Tegarmuchd, would halt and say “Hoot man, put a ha’penny in it an’ I will give you a bottle o’ straw”. And then the man, doubtless a poor cottar, thinking of his cow in the byre, would give. That was happening in the Church of Dull 200 years ago when McLean was at the helm.

Again, on the farms, it wasn’t “Purple and fine Linen” by any means. We read that when Dundee gave the word at Killiecrankie, Lochiel threw aside the only pair of boots in the Cameron clan. It was related of a family in Rawer - Clan Robbie - that they had but one pair of boots; however, in that house a juster law prevailed then that in the Clan Macaulay. The first person who got up in the morning puts on the boots.

Occasionally the talk turned on the ancient “Ceilidhs” when folk went in bands from house to house, the women carrying their spinning wheels with them, and tales as old as Troy went round. It is evident that the passing of the Ceilidh was the greatest social change ever seen in the Scottish Highlands.

We might easily infer that these Old Holidays were heartily enjoyed with merry-making in the homes and sports on Camserney Green, anciently the playground of Appin. In the ‘Queen’s Year’ 1842, a native of Milton, Thomas Menzies, was the Scottish Champion Athlete. The Fast day they dignified with the name of Little Sunday, and kept as well as we keep Big Sunday. Touching it there is a very old story, and it is very short. In an abnormally wet season, when people got into difficulties with their fodder and their fuel, two men in Dull one fair summer morning on a Fast Day, sent out for the hill to lift culag - turf for placing around the peat fires. On reaching the top of Moan, in sight of their objective, they repented and turned back.

Two local happenings caused some commotion, the Militia riots at Weem, and thereupon the Sutherland Fencibles in Appin. While during the French War there was no conscription for the Regular Army, they had a compulsory Enactment for the Militia. Each Parish had to keep so many men in the Perth Militia; the quota of the Parish of Dull was 18 men. The Laird of Weem, as District Commissioner under the Act, incurred the ire of the anti-conscriptionists, and the unpopularity of the measure resulted in a demonstration. One band of men came from the west, including the contingent from Rannoch and Foss - the wildest men of the lot - gaining in numbers by intimidation as they went along. Whenever on their route any man seemed unwilling to follow, their’ cry was “A wisp of straw, a live peat and fire to your house”. At Weem they were met by another crowd from the eastern parts, and the united stream broke the East Gate and made for the Castle. On the Green, Sir John’s “Chamberlain More” while addressing them, was interrupted by a voice crying “We’ll make you take brose yet”, and when the Big man contented himself with saying “If I mistake not, brose is good food” the voice replied “Ill would it agree with your guts”. It was feared they might set the Castle on fire - it was a mob consisting of 1,000 men - but seemingly they dispersed without doing damage. The originator of the Riot was said to have been a prominent Rannoch Radical who delighted in coming down to the Elections, then held at Weem, brandishing a big flag, jeeringly called Bratach-na-Mokan (the Hogger Flag) hence his nickname. Certainly a Weem man was one of the ringleaders. His name has not come down, but he dwelt in the westmost of the two houses in front of the Churchyard, and was arrested by a party of Dragoons. A horse directed by its rider, turned round and broke down the door with its heels. All that tomfoolery vanished in a jiffy when the Sutherland Highlanders appeared on the scene - a regiment of Fencibles or Volunteers, not long after embodied as the 93rd. According to General Stewart of Garth, a finer body of men was never raised in the Highlands. Their billeting in Appin and protection of the Castle, forming as it did one of the most interesting episodes in its history, made a lasting impression. They fraternised with the people, taking part in the Ceilidhs, and. at a Wedding in the village of Dull, they were there with their pipers. They were ordered to Ireland in 1798. Two men - a Campbell and a MacKay, who married Appin women, returned, and descendants of both are yet in the Parish of Dull, after the lapse of 138 years.

In 1794, for various reasons, another incident attracted a good deal of attention; the plea between Sir John Menzies and the Menzies Baron of Bo1fracks respecting the road on the West side of Camserney Burn and the Ford. Bolfracks won and succeeded in keeping the road open, and then a procession of Breadalbane men marched up the Burn side headed by a Pipe Band playing “We’ll take the main road”.

The Weem Court of Inquiry held at the instance of the Court of Session, revealed many particulars about the district. Alex. Menzies, a native of Camserney, was Ground Officer for forty years and resided at the Broomha1l, which at that time was a Public House, and afterwards the Home Farm House. It was then they started sowing seeds, turnips and clover, the real commencement of rotation of crop, which soon brought on a revolution in arable farming.

In its lower course Camserney Burn meandered south easterly and fell into the Tay below Croftnamuick at a place called Inver, near the Ford of Inver. It was straightened and banked in 1773. The dale was all un-enclosed and not all cultivated, there being wide stretches of whin and broom of rank growth. A right of way extended alongside the river to the Port of Lyon, and between there and Aberfeldy there had been four pubic ferries, and no fewer than fourteen fords, and the name of only one of them is unknown to us. Like the knowes, every pool had its name; one up in the Den was called the Linn of the Water Serpent.

Camserney was a busy centre. A doctor resided in the place about 1760, and it contained a Meal Mill, a Lint Mi11, and a Wauk Mill. To these, in course of time, were added a Distillery and a Saw Mill. Long ere a channel was cut in the rock, and a real Mill-town then arose. They had a Mill in Dull and another in Croft-Voulin (Upper Camserney on Alt-Rudhag. Moan, when inhabited, had a Public House “Tighmore” and there lingered vague tradition of “The Wedding of the Duan in the big house of Moan” but no tradition, however dim, remained of anything in connection with the Old Castle, of the “larachs” on the Braes, and the shielings on the moorland.

JOHN STEWART.of Camserney. “The Disciple” John Stewart was known as The Disciple owing to his distinguished bearded appearance.


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