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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XVIII - Toils and Joys of our Youth

OUR life at the Parks was pleasant, though toilsome, and its strenuousness was relieved by many an interlude of pleasant experience which, in prospect and retrospect, not less than in actual participation, cast over the whole field of our existence the lustre of their brightness. We were a happy family. Differences of opinion there were, which were stoutly maintained, but there was no strife. In all the years which have followed, a like harmony has been maintained, something for which all surviving members are truly thankful. All the families, Fletchers, Farquharsons and Stewarts, can, I believe with equal truth congratulate themselves on the possession of a like spirit, though, alas, many of those who in earlier years were bonds of unity are with us no more.

Around the Christmas season we visited back and forth with the young folks of Kinaldie, Knocksoul and Loanhead. As time went on, the round was extended and more varied from year to year. Newkirk came into the lime-light more and more. With Mrs. Anderson, who believed in the efficacy of "the rantry and the red threed," we usually had a yearly meeting. We also met occasionally with Mrs. Milne of Bogarierie, the Inneses of the Moston of Blelack, and still more frequently with Mr. Michie, where we would meet with Mr. James Davidson, the parish minister's brother whose general information and natural eloquence were above the ordinary, Dr. Cameron who was an accomplished violinist, Mr. Samuel Innes, Miss Paterson of Grodie and others.


To all of our family the great event of each recurring year was a trip to Ballater and Aucholzie in the end of harvest which, instituted by our parents before memory had begun to inscribe her record, continued to brighten the successive seasons to the last of our stay in Scotland. At Ballater, we were entertained royally by our aunt Margaret and cousins. There we could see the soldiers who formed Her Majesty's Body Guard perform their daily evolutions on the village green. Thence we made excursions to the top of Craigendarach, the Pass of Ballater, the Wells of I'ananich, or the old Caitic of the Knock, in which the Gordons of the ancient times had feasted friends and retainers or from stone-arched vaults, now crumbling from the teeth of the passing centuries, had drawn liquid refreshment for the casual visitor or for the entertainment and encouragement of allies, in common with themselves, on some wild purpose bent. To what scenes of barbaric splendour had those tottering walls been witness, and what secrets of direst tragedy may not those crumbling dungeons guard.

On such occasions our tour would also embrace the sheep-farm of Aucholzie, the home of our maternal aunt Nellie and her husband William Gordon. The latter, who was the son of a sheep farmer, had early developed great capacity in the management of sheep. When a little boy, his father had, for his encouragement, presented him with a ewe, with promise of free pasture for all her increase. Soon the question that had troubled good old Abraham in his dealings with his ambitious nephew arose, and a division had to be made. So the son, less selfish than Lot, moved out and came to Aucholzie where, in his chosen line, he made great success. In some respects he was peculiar, but beneath an exterior somewhat unpromising, beat a kind and generous heart. Upon him, as well as upon our aunt we could always rely for a cordial if not a demonstrative welcome, and on our cousin William we could with equal confidence depend for entertainment both varied and pleasing. Their home was on the southerly side of the river Muick which has its source several miles west of Aucholzie near the southerly base of "Dark Lochnagar" and persues its course through a romantic glen which, taking its name from the stream, is known as Glenmuick. In its course through the narrow glen, guarded by a range of heath-covered hills, on either side, the little river, near its source, traverses a romantic little lake known as Loch Duloch. Some miles still further on its way, it broadens out again into a loch of larger dimensions, known as "Loch Muick." Flanked by its protecting hills on either side, and unapproached by any public highway, this lake might stand for an embodiment of peace and security. No wonder that Royalty, sated with the glitter and distractions of the Court, should have here erected a lodge and equipped a yacht from which to enjoy, yearly, for a brief holiday its solitude and peace.

Some four miles below the Loch last named, and about half a mile above the Aucholze home, is the Lynn or falls of Muick which, on the rocky sides of its water-worn channel, records its age in terms of it; slow recession up stream as the solid rock has crumbled to the slow attrition produced by the action of its waters throughout the long ages of their activities. Man's clock ticks out his time in seconds while the pendulum of the Universe gathers milleniums in its mighty sweep. How evanescent is life, and how enduring the everlasting hills! Yet, over them both, crumbling, alike, sooner or later to decay, broods the mystery of conditions unrelated to our present frame of time, which, with our feeble powers we can neither grasp nor envisage.


The district of Cromar in which we had our home, distant as it is from any of the large centres of population was not entirely cut off from the social, political and ecclesiastical influences by which the cities were being ever more constantly impressed. Nor was it alone through the printed page that access was had to the thoughts and utterances of the great. Now and again the community would be thrilled by the presence and power of the most gifted of the land. One such experience came to our Free Church youthful crowd in 1863 by a visit from the late Dr. Guthrie, who, in that year carne to Crathie to open on a week-day a free kirk building erected on a site generously donated by His Royal Highness the late Prince Consort, the deed of conveyance being one of the last acts of that nobleman's life. The Stewart and Farquharson families determined to hear the far-famed preacher, but for conveyance over the 18 miles of highway intervening, they could command only one dog-cart with accommodation for only four. Mr. Samuel Innes, a mutual friend came to our assistance with the offer of a horse and farm-cart, the latter seated with chaff or straw-stuffed five bushel bags laid cross-wise on its springless floor. The offer was gladly accepted, and early in the morning of a fine summer day, three Farquharsons and an equal number of Stewart girls under the conduct of Mr. Innes as driver made their cheerful progress at the rate of not less than three miles an hour, past Loch Kinnord around Culblean, and thence over a beautiful turnpike road, along the river Dee, with its fragrant birches, past Ballater, and thence to the home of our friends the Davidsons at Torgalter, whence we crossed on foot the river by the adjacent bridge which landed us on the other side, near Balmoral Castle, and in a few minutes more we found ourselves in the church. Our friend the driver, though a farmer like myself, was an expert short-hand writer and made a report of the sermon, which he later copied out for me in the short-hand corresponding style as a reading exercise. Needless to say, by the time that I was able to master it, which I eventually did, I became better acquainted with that sermon than with any I have since heard.


The rents payable by the tenants on the Invercauld estate were, for the most part payable in coin of the realm, but a small part was required (possibly merely allowed) to he paid by providing and delivering at the farm of the proprietor, at Invercauld so many bolls of oat-meal, and delivering there a certain quantity of coal, as stipulated in the lease, the coal being delivered during the summer and the meal during the winter in each year. It was my good fortune to have assigned to me, just once, the duty of making such a delivery. It was a coal delivery, and in June or early July the most delightful time of the year. On the journey, I was accompanied by two neighbours, one of them being my good cousin John Fletcher, now of Tilbury East, Ontario, and the other Andrew Milne of Bogariere, each discharging for himself or his household, an obligation similar to my own. We had, each, one horse and cart in charge. Our first objective was the village of Aboyne, about nine miles distant. There was the railway station nearest to us and also nearest to Invercauld, at which coal could be procured. The way was interesting along our whole route. First, passing through the fir wood on Lickley hill, which my father, when a little boy, had helped to plant, we emerged soon to find, on our right, the mansion house of the small estate of Corrachree, of which the owner was Col. Farquharson. Three miles from home we passed the Village of Tarland which may be regarded as the commercial metropolis of Cromar.


Through its humble streets, tradition asserts that seven brothers, of a family of Farquharsons from a farm near by called "The Bog," marched, with a piper before them to join Prince Charlie in 1745. That tradition was confirmed by the late Rev. James Wattie, who, surprised to see on an Edinburgh street a sign bearing the name of Farquharson, went in and interviewed the proprietor who informed him that an ancestor of his with some brothers had left in 1745, a farm called The Bog to join the Prince and had never returned to their native place.

Near Aboyne and beautifully situated in a valley near the public highway which makes a bend southerly towards it, is the castle of The Marquis of Huntly which, to our trio brought the memory of an old Jacobite song, "Hey, Johnnie Cope are ye waukin' yet? If ye were waukin' I would wait to go to the Coles i' the morning." A lady of the castle, some time back was a descendant of the famous, but unfortunate general named in the song, and, to her ear the solo; could not fail to be distasteful. During her stay in the castle one summer, a hired man on the premises was very fond of whistling, and unfortunately, one of his special favourites was "Hey, Johnnie Cope." And that tune kept ringing in her ears till she could stand it no longer. So, at length the whistler got notice that he was no longer needed. The man could not understand why he had been discharged, but, on making enquiry found out the cause. "Oh, that's a' is it? "She'll get mair o't." It was, however, a mean revenge.

At Aboyne we got our carts duly loaded and started on our next nine miles journey to Ballater, our road leading along, and every here and there coming up to, the bank of the romantic Dee. Aboyne is beautifully situated on the northerly bank of the river which is there crossed by a chain bridge. No doubt the river, all along its course, is full of local and historic interest, but it was to me largely unknown till the moor of Dinet was reached. From it was visible the hill of Mulloch which derives its name from a Danish General of that name who there fell and was utterly routed by Malcom Canmore, then King of Scotland. Rounding the shoulder of Culblean, near by, we soon reached the Cambus o' May where mine host John Ogg stood ready to supply the spirituous wants of the thirsty ones at reasonable rates and "not exceeding saxpence a mutchkin as long as the Dee should run past." Whether that meant in perpetuity or so long as the river was available for dilution purposes is not very clear.


Soon was reached the Auld Kirkyard o' Tulloch with the bare roofless walls of its old church, which are still standing. In this church (or possibly in its predecessor) tradition asserts that the famous Reel o' Tulloch was first danced. The Sunday was extremely cold and stormy, so much so, that the good priest did not expect that any of his parishioners would come out, and therefore stayed at home. The people sat and waited in the fireless church till they got very cold. Soon they got up and began to move around to keep themselves warm, and finally commenced to dance, when was evolved that famous reel "that gaurs us a' in ane unite."

A little farther on and we were opposite Craigendarroch on our right, with the beautiful Monaltrie House, which, on a perfectly level park, nestles at its foot. The Farquharson who was laird of this estate (or possibly, of another estate, farther up the Dee, of the same name) during the Prince Charlie rising, was proclaimed a rebel and very narrowly escaped the gallows, but was eventually pardoned and had his estate restored to him. Of his son it is told that one time he had attended some function in Edinburgh at which he had expressed with shame, his regret that his father had been a rebel. This was too much for honest Robbie Burns who was present. He got up and addressing Farquharson said "If your father has no need to be ashamed of you, you need not be ashamed of him."

?1cro c the river from this point, are the famous wells of Pananich, with their mineral waters long noted for their health-giving dualities, though it was hinted that "not for health alone the lasses cam to Pananich." A few minutes more and Ballater is reached. Here used to live my aunts Margaret and Jane, and here, in joyful fellowship with the children of the former, were spent some of the happiest days of my life. Passing Ballater with its wooden bridge, replacing a nobler structure of stone which, by a flood of unprecedented proportions, was borne down, some time in the thirties of last century, but which we did not cross, we followed the road :round Craigendarroch, past the Pass of Ballater, along the northernly side of the river. Dark Lochnagar, whose snow-cap is never lifted, gradually unfolded his vast dimensions across the river on our left and was soon left behind. The Torgalter burn is crossed—that meek little streamlet which gently sings its peaceful song as it comes down the hill rejoicing to meet the welcoming Dee.


Not always had it been so meek. To that awful and historic flood of 1839 that bore down the stone bridge at Ballater it contributed no mean fraction of the former's potency. It was a thunder-storm accompanied by rain such as had never before been heard of or since experienced in that locality. Rocks released by the power of new-born water torrents, rolled down the mountain side, sometimes blocking the public highway and the waters, gathered by the hills on either side, as into a mighty trough, issued through the valley in a roaring mass, many feet in depth. So suddenly did it come that a gentleman, in his carriage had just crossed the Torgalter to find that the road ahead had become impassable. He would fain have retraced his steps but the Torgalter, now a roaring flood, forbade his passage. A humble cottager by the road ventured out in the terrible downpour to offer the shelter of his unpretentious abode, but was repelled by the contemptous reply that his lordship would rather be hanged than enter such a dwelling. "Your way be it" said the hospitable cottager, "but i' the mids o' the meantime, my thocht is that ye're mair in danger o' bein' drooned than hanged."

By the Torgalter burn is the farm on which our neighbour and friend the late Rev. Geo. Davidson the parish minister of Coldstone was born. Just beyond is The Micras, the birthplace of our esteemed teacher, Rev. J. G. Michie. Beyond these places, I had never been before, and am therefore unable to record anything of particular interest regarding the remaining part of the journey further than that the scenery is beautiful and grand. The mountains to the north are wild and majestic and some of them were flecked with snow. Their names I am unable to give, but I believe that one of them would be Ben Macdhui which is one of the highest in Britain.


At last we reached our destination, and having delivered our coal-rent contribution and stabled our horses, we were received into the kitchen apartment of a large building used, apparently as a "bothy," for the accommodation of the many employees of the estate, such as gardeners, game-keepers, woodsmen and others, and in which sleeping accommodation was provided for visitors from the tenantry on such business as our own.

In Cromar the farms were usually small and the wealthiest of the farmers engaged in the manual toil of the agriculturist along with his hired assistants, between whom and himself there was no impassable gulf. Indeed so slender was the barrier between them that it was not infrequently surmounted by the natural ability, sobriety, diligence and economy of the more worthy and intelligent of the hired workmen. Of the bothy system, therefore, I had had no previous experience. This, my first introduction to its working, presented a mode of life so strange that I shall give some account of the entertainment there provided.

On the hearth in the kitchen into which we were ushered there blazed a cheerful wood-fire, from the warmth of which, a suspended tea-kettle sang its welcome and its promise of hospitality. Around the fire were some men with intelligent faces diligently reading, while others here and there through the apartment, were otherwise amusing themselves, but none of them had a word for us or gave the least sign of interest or of curiosity concerning us. On the Premises we saw no woman or faintest trace of woman's handiwork. It was, as I understand, a veritable bothy. Presently we found ourselves seated at a table on which supper was set for three. The table-ware consisted of a big wooden dish of the genus known in Cromar as a "cap," only this one, in size resembled more the huge wooden receptacle known there as the "bossie" which was used for mixing the dough for the manufacture of oat cakes. Besides the wooden cap there were set on the table a vessel containing a quantity of oatmeal, a jug containing milk, some salt and a spoon for each of us. From that spread, with the aid of our warm-hearted friend the tea-kettle, whose appreciated welcome has already been noted, we were expected to make our supper. But for one circumstance, the situation would have presented no difficulty whatever. That circumstance arose in connection with the wooden dish, which, in itself would have given no occasion for remark, for such in those days were common, but this one had degenerated to the condition of the great company of the unwashed. All over its inner surface were visible the marks and remnants of former contents. To eat out of such a dish was impossible, unless under the compulsion of an appetite such as none of us had as yet acquired. To me the situation was entirely new, and I could think of no remedy short of total abstainance. With Milne it was different. Whether, through past experience or quicker intuition, I know not, but he saw the way out and without remark, addressed himself to his task. Taking the dirty dish and placing it beside the oat-meal container, he proceeded, spoonful by spoonful, to fill the former with the contents of the latter. This fully accomplished, and salt laid on top, he seized the kettle with his left hand, and at the same time reversing the spoon in his right, proceeded to pour the liquid into the centre of the mass. Meantime, with the spoon handle, he stirred the liquid into the central portion of the meal, taking special care to preserve intact a safe margin of dry meal under and around so as to avoid contact with the inner surface of the dish, he then poured on some milk, and again reversing his spoon, was ready to invite Fletcher and myself to join him in making a hearty and satisfactory supper. By a repetition of the same process, a clean and palatable breakfast was secured. How the superfluous enveloping meal was disposed of, need not here be told. This experience was interesting for once but it is needless to say that there was no desire to repeat it.

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