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A History of Moray and Nairn
Chapter VI. The Land and the People


At the census of 1891 the population of Elginshire was 43,453, and that of Nairnshire 10,019. This was a decrease on the previous decennial period of 335 in Elginshire and of 436 in Nairnshire.

The population in both counties is of a mixed origin. Some descendants of the early Celtic inhabitants of the district are possibly yet to be found. The name Macbeth is not an uncommon one in the neighbourhood of Forres; and along the seaboard to this day there is a strong survival of pure Scandinavian blood. But in Moray and Nairn alike the bulk of the present population is of foreign origin—the descendants of settlers who, from the time of the twelfth century downwards, have been intruded upon, and in the end have almost entirely obliterated, the original inhabitants.

Most of these settlers came originally from the Lowlands of Scotland, and were of Saxon origin. But the physical configuration of the country was such, that it had attractions for both Lowlanders and Highlanders.

In both counties an extensive range of low hills, stretching along the seaboard from east to west, divides the plain country from the hills. This range has been from earliest times, and in some degree still continues to be, the bisecting line between the two races. But in the mountainous part of Elginshire the Celtic settlers were always few in comparison with those who established themselves in the similar district of Nairnshire. The result is, that in 1891 there were in the former county only twelve persons who spoke nothing but Gaelic, and 2263 who spoke both Gaelic and English. In Nairnshire the number was proportionately greater. The exclusively Gaelic speakers numbered 53, the Gaelic and English speakers 2487—a very great difference, looking to the extent of the population of each county.

The Boundary Commissioners appointed under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889, made certain alterations on those parts of Moray and Naim that were partly within adjoining counties, with a view to straighten their marches. Giving effect to these, the present areas of the two counties, including foreshore and water, are :—


Elginshire .... 313,077
Nairnshire .... 105,949

The census of occupations of 1891 showed the following results :—

In Elginshire there were—



Engaged in agricultural pursuits .



Engaged in industrial pursuits



Professional persons



Domestic servants .



Engaged in commercial pursuits .



No occupation and non-productive






In Nairnshire there were—

The number of males engaged in agricultural pursuits in both counties is thus far in excess of those employed in other avocations. In other words, farming is the principal industry in both.

And thus it has always been. Relatively small though these counties are—the one ranks in extent as the eighteenth, and the other as the twenty-ninth, county in Scotland—they have from the first, but especially of recent years, occupied a front place in the agriculture of Scotland. This position they owe to their exceptional advantages in the way of climate, soil, and geographical position. And to these sources are of course to be attributed in great degree the peculiar characteristics of the people.

The general aspect of the two counties is, first a seaboard plain, diminishing in depth from east to west, from the mouth of the Spey to the mouth of the Nairn; then a range of low hills, whose highest peak is only 1797 feet high, dividing the lowlands from the wilder region behind; and lastly, a tract of more or less highland country, full of glens and straths running from south to north, through which the four rivers of Moray and Nairn—the Spey, the Lossie, the Findhorn, and the Naim — find their way into the Moray Firth.

From an agricultural point of view this seaboard plain is worth all the rest of the two counties put together. That portion of it which lies within the county of Moray is known by the local name of the “Laigh of Moray.” The part of it which lies within Nairnshire has no distinctive appellation. It is a tract of rich alluvial country formed of the detritus of the four rivers above mentioned. Here are to be found the kindliest soils, the most genial climate, the most prosperous farms, and the heaviest crops within the district. The agriculture of this region has a competitor only in the fertile fields of East Lothian.

The Laigh of Moray is about thirty miles in length, and from five to twelve miles in breadth. Slightly undulating towards the east, it is almost a dead level between Alves and Kinloss, its most fertile portion. It is not by any means a picturesque piece of scenery. Yet it is not without an attractiveness of its own. The beauty of a district depends greatly upon its adaptation to the purpose which it is intended to subserve. The well-to-do farms, the rich fields, the general air of ease and wellbeing that prevails, constitute a landscape which, though neither grand nor impressive, is undoubtedly pleasing.

On the southern side of the range of hills already referred to—a range which has no distinctive appellation, but is known by the names of the various districts it passes through—lies the great strath or valley of the Spey. Off this diverge various smaller straths, full of natural beauty, and some of them almost as fertile as the Laigh. There are no deer-forests in the county, though roe-deer are to be found in many of the woods; but the moors carry heavy stocks of grouse and hares, and in the lower ground snipes, pheasants, and partridges, and the farmer’s curse, the too abundant rabbit, abound.

The inhabitants of these smaller dales are, to the student of social life and manners, by far the most interesting in the county. Old customs, old-world ways of looking at things, still prevail amongst them. Something of the prejudices— one should perhaps rather say of the conservatism—which, till the commencement of the present century, obtained all over the country in things agricultural, is still to be found among these farmers and crofters. Yet, looking to their less genial climate, and in some parts less kindly soil, the rate of progress is possibly as well maintained as in the more favoured Laigh.

The climate of both counties has always been one of their strong points. It is an old saying that Moray has forty days more summer than any other part in Scotland. If sunshine is the test of summer, this is possibly true. But alike in Moray and Nairn the climate is exceedingly variable, the pendulum swinging from extreme cold in winter to extreme and even distressing heat in summer. In Elgin, owing to the fact that the town is built in a basin surrounded by hills, the summer climate is very relaxing. But the average temperature throughout the year is about 48°, and the average rainfall from 25 to 28 inches.

The prevailing winds are from the west and north-west, and from these quarters comes also the heaviest rainfall. The climate in the hill regions is both colder and more variable than in the lowlands. The rainfall is also greater. The moisture-charged clouds from the north and west sweep over the plain, but are arrested and broken by the hills in the southern and south-western districts of the two counties. Hence it follows that in the Laigh the fanners have often more sunshine than they desire, especially in the months of June, July, and August. The old local distich—

“A misty May and a drappy June Sets Moray up and Spey doun,”

is of universal application. The greatest misfortune that can befall this region is drought, and unfortunately it is of too common occurrence. This, however, is counteracted in great measure by the depth, the richness, and the recuperative power of a large proportion of the soil.

A striking instance of this occurred on the now buried estate of Culbin near Forres. On one occasion, it is said, no rain fell for nine months, yet the harvest of that year was as prolific as any of its predecessors. In the famine which prevailed over the whole kingdom towards the end of the sixteenth century, owing to excessively cold and extremely rainy seasons, the Laigh continued so productive as to be able to spare a large quantity of com to alleviate the sufferings of other districts. It is said that people came from Forfarshire to buy meal at the enormous rate for the boll of 150 lb. weight, though this implied a carriage of over a hundred miles across the Grampians.

If drought is the chief bane of the lowlands, floods are infinitely more so in the uplands, and in the districts irrigated by the four great rivers. The “Moray Floods,” as they are called, though they prevailed over the whole north-east of Scotland as far south as the river Esk in Forfarshire, of the 3d and 4th August 1829, have acquired something more than a local reputation, not only from their destructive effects, but from the fact that their story has been embalmed for all future ages by the graphic pen of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder.

They owed their origin to the cause already indicated— the breaking of a great mass of moisture-laden cloud against the mountain barrier in the southern district of the counties, in which are situated the springs of all the local rivers. Hence the area of inundation was chiefly in the lands adjoining the Nairn, the Findhorn, the Lossie, and the Spey. But it spread more or less beyond these boundaries, and did damage from which the district did not recover for many a year to come.

These extensive floods were preceded by a lengthened period of extreme drought and of unusual heat, extending over the greater part of the months of May, June, and July. In the earlier part of the season the drought was so great that many of the recently planted shrubs and trees perished. In the latter part, the most eloquent indication of approaching misfortune was the extreme variability of the barometer. Waterspouts both on sea and land were also not uncommon; at one place two suns were seen. These unusual occurrences excited wonder rather than apprehension. Few saw in them the forerunners of a calamity which was to be as disastrous as it was unprecedented.

The rain commenced in the upper country on Sunday evening the 2d August, and continued with only a partial subsidence till Tuesday the 4th. The “serious rain,” however, as one of the witnesses called it, did not commence till the morning of the 3d, when it began to fall, accompanied by a violent north-east wind, with such force and rapidity that to many it seemed as if the windows of heaven were opened and the days of the Deluge wore about to find their modern counterpart Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, himself an eyewitness, thus graphically describes the scene: “ The noise was a distinct combination of two kinds of sound—one a uniformly continued roar, the other like rapidly repeated discharges of many cannons at once. The first of these proceeded from the violence of the waters; the other, which was heard through it, and as it were muffled by it, came from the enormous stones which the stream was hurling over its uneven bed of rock. Above all this was heard the fiend-like shriek of the wind, yelling as if the demon of desolation had been riding upon its blast. The leaves of the trees were stripped off and whirled in the air, and their thick boughs were bending and cracking beneath the tempest, and groaning like terrified creatures impatient to escape from the coils of the watery serpent There was something heart-sickening in the aspect of the atmosphere. The rain was descending in sheets, not in drops, and there was a peculiar and indescribable lurid or rather bronze4ike hue, that pervaded the whole face of nature as if poison had been abroad in the air.”

The rainfall between five o’clock on the morning of the 3d and five o’clock on that of the 4th August is estimated at 3^ inches. Taking the average of the years from 1826 to 1878, one-sixth of the annual allowance of rain fell within these twenty-four hours. The rivers rose to a height unprecedented The flood-line on the Findhorn was at one spot no less than 50 feet above the ordinary level. Its tributary, the Divie, rose to 40 feet, and foamed past beneath the bridge, a column of water of nearly 976 square feet, with a velocity apparently equal to that of a swift horse. The Nairn was also very much swollen. The Lossie overflowed its banks to such an extent as to inundate all the low ground around Elgin. The Spey, on the other hand—within Morayshire at least—was scarcely affected at all. But in the more mountainous districts which it traverses it attained an unexampled force and altitude. In every case the increased volume of these rivers was in exact ratio to their more or less close connection with the hill district behind.

Within a few hours, bridges like that across the Spey at Fochabers, which had been erected only about twenty-five years before at a cost of £14,000, buildings and houses whose stability seemed assured by their venerable antiquity, disappeared as though they had been built of cards; the natural landmarks of the locality were obliterated; the face of the country was changed. Every dry scar on the mountain-side had become a torrent. The farmer saw his land “sailing off to ocean by acres at a time”; the landowner saw his ancestral woods swept away before his eyes; the poor crofter watched his humble homestead as it floated out to sea, carrying with it the carefully gathered “plenishing” of many a laborious year. The loss and suffering were universal and immense. The incidents recorded of this disastrous inundation are beyond the wildest conceptions of fiction. At Dunphail the total destruction of the mansion-house was only averted by the bank on which it was built falling in within one yard of the foundation of its east tower. In the neighbourhood of Forres a man stood for a whole day on the roof of his house before he could be rescued. A woman attempting to wade across a submerged bridge was swept off her feet, and was floating down the river, “supported by the buoyancy of her outspread drapery,” when she was fortunately caught and rescued. At Broom of Moy a cottage was seen standing in the midst of the waters with its western side nearly gone. A boat put off to inspect it. On arriving at the cottage all was silent, and it was supposed that all had been drowned; but on looking through a hole in the partition, the inmates— consisting of an invalid old man, his wife, nearly as infirm, and a boy—were discovered roosting like fowls on the beams of the roof. At another cottage a young woman was found sitting up to her neck in water, with the dead body of her old aunt in her arms. A man who had been saving the furniture of a poor neighbour fell over a bridge and was carried down by the stream, and then cast on the bank by the mere force of the torrent.

“What did you think of when you were in the water?” demanded a bystander.

“Think of?” replied the other. “I was thinking howl could get out, and how I could catch my bonnet”

A shepherd in Glen Feshie was asleep in his cottage, with his children beside him, when he was awakened by the tremendous noise of the waters. Springing from his bed, he found himself standing in two feet of water. Quick as thought he lifted his children, one after the other, from their beds, and carried them, half-asleep and all unconscious of their danger, to the top of an adjoining hill. When the morning broke the river was dashing all round them, and cataracts falling from the rocks on every side. Shivering, starving, and naked, exposed to all the buffets of the tempest, they were kept prisoners on “ their cliff of penance ” till the evening of the following day. At the little loch of Loch-na-mhoon, near Aviemore, a small island, composed chiefly of the matted roots of aquatic plants, was torn from its moorings, driven across the lake, and stranded on the steep bank of its southern shore. The tenant’s wife at Dalraddy, near Loch Alvie, on opening the door on the Tuesday morning after the flood had subsided, found lying in a heap at the back of her house a handsome dish of trout, a pike, a hare, a partridge, a dish of potatoes, and a dish of turnips, all brought down by the stream, and one of her own turkeys; and in one of the houses in the village of Rothes a salmon of 6 lb. weight was caught. A widow on Speyside saved her life and that of her children by making a raft “of the bit palings and bits of moss fir ” that were lying about, and floating out to sea, as she said, “on a brander.”

Proper data are unfortunately wanting as to the damage done by the flood; but it must have been enormous. The Duke of Gordon’s loss was estimated at £16,494; Lord Cawdor’s at £8230 ; that of Mr Cumming Bruce of Dunphail at £5000; and other landowners suffered proportionately. But it was on the poorer classes that the blow fell heaviest Most of them lost all they had—their houses, their stock, their land, their meal-kists, their little store of “ picture-books,” as one of them called his bank-notes. What the flood of the 3d and 4th of August had spared, a supplementary flood on the 27th of the same month appropriated. Though 671 families, or about 3019 individuals, were relieved in Morayshire alone by what was called the Flood Fund—a public subscription which was immediately started, and which realised £1470—the unrelieved suffering must have been great And who can estimate the grief and misery occasioned by the loss of those who were nearer and dearer to the survivors than all their earthly possessions put together?

The geology of the district is in conformity with its physical character. Speaking generally, the level seaboard plain is composed of sandstone heavily coated in places by diluvium; the uplands consist of hill-masses of granite and gneiss. It was long supposed that the Laigh of Moray belonged exclusively to the Old Red formation; but the discovery of fossil-iferous remains usually associated with the Triassic system has led geologists to doubt this. These fossiliferous remains are of a high order and of peculiar interest. While those first discovered were allied to the Crocodilia, those of more recent detection are Dicynodonts, and have been found nowhere else in Europe. One at least is new to science—the extraordinary creature which has been named Elgina mirabilis. The result is that the age and character of the Elgin sandstones are still unascertained.

The principal elevations of this sandstone tract are given by Mr Patrick Duff1 as follows: Covesea Hill, 288 feet; Quarry-wood Hill, 280 feet; Pluscarden Hill, 776 feet; and Dallas Hill, 850 feet. For building purposes they are unrivalled. Their texture is fine; their durability, owing to the large admixture of silica, is above the average; while in tint they vary from a warm pink to a delicate cream. Each quarry— and the whole of the Laigh is full of quarries—has its own distinctive shade and its own distinctive character. There are few places in Scotland which can compete with Morayshire, and especially with the district around Elgin, in the abundance, the beauty, and the quality of its building material.

Scattered about amongst the Elgin sandstones are patches of oolite, but whether in situ or not is still a debatable question. There is also a band of what has been called, for want of a better name, cornstone, running right across the county. Though not a true limestone, it has been burned in various parts of the district as lime.

Amongst the most picturesque features of the district are the red banks of the river Spey between Orton and Fochabers. They consist of more or less vertical cliffs, containing a large proportion of ferruginous matter, and give added interest to an already interesting landscape.

The extensive sandy deposits along the seaboard of the two counties have been already referred to, when telling the story of the Culbin Sands.

There are practically no minerals either in Moray or in Nairn. Galena was discovered at Lossiemouth about thirty years ago, and works erected at considerable expense; but the enterprise did not pay, and had to be discontinued.

Owing to the peculiarities of its geological structure, there is a great variety of soil in Morayshire. Sand, clay, loam, and peat, each of them extending over a considerable area, are to be found within it. The parishes of Speymouth, Urquhart, St Andrews Lhanbryde, Drainie, the eastern part of Spynie, the greater part of Elgin, and the lower lands of Birnie and Dallas, belong largely to the first of these. The greatest extent of clay soil is found in Duffus, part of Spynie, and Alves. Loam is the most extensively diffused of all. In the parishes of Duffus, Alves, Spynie, Kinloss, Forres, Dyke, the lowlands of Rafford and Edinkillie, it constitutes the predominant factor. Nairnshire is almost entirely composed of it, and the hilly district of Knockando largely consists of clay-loam.

In comparison with the other classes of soil, the extent of peat is inconsiderable, and it varies greatly in quality, from pure peat to a friable moss. In the lowlands this mossy soil, which is chiefly found in the lowest grounds, is a mere surface formation resting on an under soil generally composed of sand. It is the pest and the worry of the agriculturist. It exudes in hot weather a sulphurous and offensive smell, which poisons the grain, tarnishes silver with a leaden hue, and in a short time corrodes the kitchen utensils, whether of copper or of iron.

The peat districts of the county were at one time much more extensive than they are now. A wide belt of peat and submerged forest stretched in Scandinavian times to the westward of the promontory on which the burgh of Burghead now stands. From this is derived the name of Torfness by which it is known in the Sagas.

Leslie, whose admirable "Survey of Moray and Nairn* is to this day an authority, assuming the acreage of Moray to be 407,200 acres—an estimate far above its actual area—thus distributes the various classes of soil amongst the agricultural land :—



Sandy soil .....


Clayey soil .....


Loam ......


Peat and moss ....


Uncultivated soil, lakes, marshes, water courses, and roads..




This estimate was made in 1813. But much of the land here set down as waste has since been reclaimed. Indeed it is the general opinion of farmers that most of the reclaim-able land, or land that will repay the cost of reclamation, within the two counties, has been brought under cultivation. Much of this land, too, has been utilised for pasture. But as a comparative estimate of the prevalence of each of the different kinds of soil within the county, it is not very far from the mark even at the present day.

The “Moray pan,” or the “Moray coast pan,” is a name given to a peculiarly aggravating species of subsoil which prevails in certain districts of the lowlands. Towards the sea this pan is of a hard gravelly nature, easily broken. In the more inland districts, however, it is composed of gravel and clay so tightly cemented together that a considerable effort is required to penetrate it. As a rule, however, the subsoil of the Laigh is of a light, kindly, gravelly nature, and to this natural system of drainage the district owes much of its extraordinary fertility.

The enormous advance which has been made in the cultivation of the soil within the two counties, especially in Moray —an advance which is almost a revolution—is the growth of the last sixty or seventy years only. Up to that time the farmers of Moray and Nairn had made no further progress in agricultural knowledge than they had at the time of the Reformation. Within the memory of men still living the old tenures, the old modes of cropping, the old primitive implements, the old customs, the old comfortless style of living, which were common over all the north of Scotland, were to be found in both. Oats and barley were the staple crops. The breeding of cattle of a very indifferent description, and worth only from £3 to £5 a-head, was thought to pay better than cereals. Wool and mutton were of little importance. It was only in the upland districts that sheep-breeding was cultivated. The sheep were always of the blackfaced breed, and never fetched more than 12s. or 14s. apiece. Up till 1782, at least, fencing was never dreamed of. The whole area of both counties lay open to the trespasses of all the stock within them. Anything approaching to scientific manuring was absolutely unknown. The rate of wages for men-servants was from £9 to £10 per annum, and for women from £4 to exclusive of board. The farms, even the best of them, were irregularly laid off and cropped. Northern farming, in short, was a precarious struggle with the soil and the elements, in which it was possible, but nothing more, for industry and frugality to hold their own. All this is changed now. There has been no radical alteration in the system of farming pursued. The change has been in the adoption of better and more enlightened modes of cultivation. Farms have doubled their size and their value, as well by increasing their arable land, and by rendering it more prolific, as by adding to their pasturage. In 1813, when Leslie wrote his * Survey/ there were few that stretched to 300 acres arable: a certain proportion extended to between 140 and this number, but the great majority were from 60 to 120. Now there are several where the arable land is from 400 to 500 acres, and the average may be stated as something about 200.

In 1857 the arable area of Moray was 30,311. In 1870 it was 100,450 acres in Moray and 24,443 in Naim. In 1881 it was 105,226 acres in the one and 26,359 in the other. Between these eleven years, therefore, the increase was about 434 acres per annum in Morayshire and 174 acres in Nairnshire.

The introduction of shorthorns soon after the year 1830; the adoption of artificial manures; the wonderful advance that has been made, especially since 1857, in the way of squaring up farms, forming drains, fencing, renovating farm-steadings, and building farmers’ dwelling-houses and servants’ cottages, have put an entirely new' aspect on things, have increased the valuation of the counties and the rates of servants’ wages, and brought their agriculture into a condition which compares favourably with that even of the Lothians.

A considerable lumber trade is still carried on in Morayshire. It is undoubted that at an early period there existed large natural forests at Darnaway, Longmom, and other parts of the county. They were then inter regalia, and the Crown appointed its own keepers. But of these no remains now exist. The woods which now embellish the county are of purely modern growth, and owe their origin to such enlightened proprietors as the Dukes of Gordon, the Earls of Moray, the Lairds of Grant, the Earls of Fife, the Cummings of Altyre, the Brodies of Brodie and Lethen, and the Grants of Elchies. The soil and the climate assisted their efforts. When Chalmers wrote his ‘ Caledonia/ he estimated the extent of the trees in the Strathspey district alone at nearly 20,000 acres. At first the timber was conveyed from Strathspey to Garmouth, from which it was exported to the Scottish and English markets in small quantities by means of the coracle or curach, a circular boat of ox-hide identical with the bull-boat still in use among the Omaha Indians. These boats held only one person, and were guided by a paddle. The timber was attached by a noose to the navigator’s leg—a primitive and hazardous mode of proceeding. About 1730, when the York Buildings Company purchased the timber of the Abernethy woods from the Duke of Gordon, a new method of transportation was inaugurated by Aaron Hill the poet, who was then its secretary. Rafts were constructed on which the timber, in lots of from £20 to ^30 in value, were floated down the river. Each voyage, including the return journey by land, lasted for a week, and, including the wages of the floater and his one hired hand, cost about two guineas. Now river-transit has been entirely abolished. Good roads and traction-engines enable the timber to be removed from the woods, wherever they are situated, with an expedition and at a cost which would have seemed incredible to our grandfathers.

Much, perhaps most, of the improvement which has ensued in the development of their resources is undoubtedly due to the establishment of farmers* clubs within both the counties. Useful, however, as has been the work of the Nairnshire Farmers’ Society, it is thrown into the shade by the exertions of the Morayshire Farmers' Club. This energetic and enlightened association, which still exists in full vigour, was instituted in January 1799. It was the outcome of the meeting of u a few friends ” held at Pearey*s Inn, Elgin, on 14th December 1798. Nothing further was at first intended than to establish a monthly farmers’ dinner, to be held on the first Friday of each month (Friday being the weekly market-day), except during the harvest months of August, September, and October. The dinner-hour was to be four o’clock; the cost was never to exceed eighteen-pence a-head; and no member was to be permitted to spend more than another 2s. on drink. “The bill was to be brought in by Mr Pearey at six o’clock each day.” These dinners were soon popular, and before many years were over the Farmers’ Club had become an institution. At each monthly meeting a question affecting the agricultural interest of the district, arranged beforehand, was discussed, and the decision of the meeting recorded in the minutes. This was possibly at first the club’s most useful function. As it consisted of almost all the landowners and tenant-farmers in the county, with a sprinkling of outside members—such as the principal lawyers, doctors, and clergymen of the town—the new notions and the new processes recommended had an extended circulation. Whatever else it was not, the club was certainly practical It introduced new implements of agriculture; it bought studhorses for the use of the district; it instituted shows; it gave premiums for excellence in almost every department of agricultural life. What was of even more importance was, that it strove to instil a hopeful spirit into the agricultural community. Its minutes, though they may have occasionally to record periods of extraordinary agricultural depression, never take a desponding view of things. Those who know anything of the farming community will readily understand how useful an institution which could take a cheery, sensible, moderate view of the situation, whether the needle inclined to fair or foul weather, must be to a class so dependent on the variations of the barometer.

To the non-agricultural mind the radical nature of the change that has ensued cannot be better appreciated than by contrasting the old implements of agriculture, the old dwellings of the people, their old habits, customs, and usages, with the new. When the century was young the wooden plough, with its yoke of from six to eight oxen, whose natural inactivity was goaded into life by the gaudman with his long iron-pointed spur or spear, was still in common use. The harrows with wooden tines, which the ploughmen sitting over the fire fabricated in the long winter evenings, had not yet been abandoned. The flail had not given place to the threshing-mill, nor the hook to the reaping-machine. The fanners with their complicated system of wire riddle and sieves had not ceased to exist. The kellack, a conical wicker basket suspended on a square frame with wheels— the lineal successor of the old circular creels hung on horses —was still employed to convey manure to the fields. Oxen had not been superseded by horses for the ordinary operations of the farm.

“Prior to the year 1760,” says Leslie, speaking of the old farms in the district, “in the dwellings of the tenants there were neither floors, ceilings, nor chimneys. In a few of them the low wall was rudely reared of stones and clay mortar, and had a small glass window; in one only of the apartments was there any plaster, and it was raked over the walls in the most artless manner. A loft, on which the roof rested without any side-wall, distinguished a very few of the most respectable habitations. There was in general but one fire (which served all domestic occasions) in the apartment where the servants and master, with his wife and maiden daughters, lived and fed together. In the higher parts of the district the walls of the office-houses were constructed of stones without mortar, in some cases with alternate courses of stone and turf; and the whole buildings were tightly thatched with sod covered with straw under a rope netting of the same material, at once the sign of poverty and thrift “In the lower parts of the country the dwellings of the tenants were more generally of turf, and in a less stormy climate they were for the most part thatched only with sod: they had no windows, or only a small aperture shut by a board upon hinges like a door. In most cases they consisted but of one apartment divided by a timber bedstead, one end of which was closed in by a cupboard, which served also for the larder. The dwelling-house and bam were permanent buildings; the cowhouse and stable were generally rebuilt every summer, their old walls being turned into the dunghill. In the more stormy quarters of the district the house and offices were arranged in two lines, or so constructed as to have the doors mutually sheltered by the opposite building from the penetrating blast or the drifting snow; but in the low parts of Moray the turf hovels were placed in all the irregularity that chance might exhibit” In the little village of Garmouth, at the mouth of the Spey, are still to be seen specimens of a curious style of building peculiar to the locality. The material of which they are composed is a specics of concrete. On a foundation of rounded weather-worn stones from the beach are erected walls built entirely “ of clay made into mortar with straw ” and daubed over with lime. It was. a warm and comfortable style of building, even though there was a tendency in the walls, if not very strongly and carefully constructed, to warp from the perpendicular. It is needless to say that it is now entirely a thing of the past.

With improved housing both of master and of men came an improved style of living. The kerosene-oil lamp has superseded the old “ fir-candle ” as an illuminant Coal has taken the place of peat as fuel.

Not so very long ago, certainly within the first half of the present century, the use of peat was habitual among the lower classes even of the town of Elgin. It used to be brought down from the surrounding hills in light carts made of rods and bars, by persons who went by the name of “ peat-futherers,” and who sometimes, it was said, combined with this industry another of a more illicit order, A portrait of one of these worthies is given in a song by a local poet, James Simpson, better known by his nom de plume of “Davie Dow,” which was very popular in its day :—

“He wore a braid bonnet o’ bonnie sky-blue,
A hammel-spun coat o’ the vera same hue,
Wi' breeks o’ that ilk, an’ queetikins' too,
An’ a plain gabby carl was he:
He’d a cow an’ twa stirkies that low’d i’ the byre,
An’ a marey that car’dna for moss or for mire.
Wi’ my fa la, &c.

He’d a handy wee cairt made o’ gweed fir rungs,
Wi’ a stiff timmer axtree an’ tough tye slungs,
An’ it whistled an’ shrieked like a thousand tongues,
An' was heard ower muir an’ lea ;
Besides he had an auld peat-barrow,
Wi’ a couterless plough, an’ a tineless harrow.
Wi* my fa la, &c.

Now Robbie’s feal housie stood far up the hill,
Wi’ few neebors near’t, sae he thocht it nae ill
To stow in his pantry a canty bit still,
On whilk he did practise a wee ;
An’ the drappie he brewed was the pure mountain-bead—
For the Elgin an’ Forres fouk likit it gweed.
Wi' my fa la, &c.”

It is often said that the old primitive rural life was as cheerless as it was comfortless. This is an entire mistake. The pleasures of the country districts might be simpler than those of the inhabitants of the towns, but they were more numerous, more natural, and more hearty. Every event in a man’s or a woman’s life furnished an occasion of rejoicing to the whole neighbourhood. Every old festival day of the Church, though what it was meant to symbolise had been forgotten for generations, was religiously observed as an opportunity for merry-making. Every incident in the secular or in the agricultural year served as an excuse for social enjoyment. And if no plausible plea could be found, the dance or the convivial meeting went on without one. Few know how merry rural Scotland was before the days of the school board and the parish council.

The penny wedding of Morayshire, as of other parts of Scotland, was a kindly intended effort to give a young couple in whom the district was interested a sum of ready money with which to start housekeeping. The mode adopted was for the friends of the bride to provide food, drink, and music for the company, which sometimes numbered as many as 300 or 400 persons, and for each guest to pay not only for all that he ate and drank, but to contribute his share to the remuneration of the fiddlers. The profits accruing to the young people were often from £20 to £30.

The customs observed at penny weddings were of immemorial antiquity, and were as scrupulously adhered to as if they had been religious rites, which some of them undoubtedly were, albeit of pagan origin.

They began with the “booking.” This was the giving in of the names of the intended spouses to the session-clerk, in order to the proclamation of the banns. The session-clerk was generally the dominie, and in addition to his fee for proclamation, there was usually a further claim made upon the bridegroom for “ba’-mony” for the school children. It was seldom refused, for non-compliance with it entailed an inconvenient penalty. By ancient custom— the school children asserted by law—the boys were entitled to meet the bride as she came out of church, to snatch a shoe off her foot, and to keep it as a pledge till their demands were satisfied. On one occasion not so many years ago this was actually done.

After the “booking” came the “bidding.” Three weeks or so before the marriage the bridegroom and his best-man, and the bride and her bridesmaid, called on their respective friends and verbally bade them to the wedding. This part of the ceremony is in vogue among the fisher-people to this day; and the invitation of the bride is in some cases attended with the gift of an apron to wear on the occasion.

The actual festivities lasted four days. They began the night before the marriage with the ceremony of foot-washing. The friends of each party met in the respective houses of the bride and bridegroom, and amidst much horse-play, smearing of legs with grease and soot, and copious libations from the tappit-hen—a green glass bottle holding four quarts of whisky—this very ancient usage was duly complied with.

In the tub in which the bride’s feet were washed a wedding-ring was thrown and scrambled for by all the company, male and female. The fortunate finder was sure to be married within the year.

The following day the bridal party proceeded to the manse —where in those days the religious ceremony was always performed—in two separate processions, that of the bride and that of the bridegroom. The bride was escorted by two young men. The rest of the company followed three by three—one woman and two men, then two women and one man. A horse and cart with the bride’s “plenishing”— her chest of drawers and her store of linen—brought up the rear. The first person the party met, whoever he might be and however urgent his business, was bound to stop and drink a glass of whisky to the prosperity of the bride from a bottle which one of the young men of the party carried with him. This was called “first-footing.” The same custom was observed with the bridegroom’s party.

After the religious ceremony had been completed, the bride and bridegroom with their friends proceeded on foot to their future home, preceded by a piper. About 200 yards from the house the young men formed a line, with the object of “running the keal.” This was nothing more than a race. The prize of the winner was a kiss from the bride before she entered her dwelling.

When the bridal party reached the homestead they found it surrounded by a joyous company, who fired off pistols and guns, waved flags, and scrambled for coppers as it approached. At the doorway an old woman stood waiting with a plate of bride’s-cake in her hand, which she crumbled and threw over the bride as she crossed the threshold. As many as the house would hold were allowed to enter. The rest were accommodated in the adjoining cottages, or in some bam near by. The wedding feast followed. The first course consisted of broth with shreds of meat and fowl boiled in it; the second of boiled and roast meat and other substantial cates. The whole was washed down with copious libations of whisky. When all had dined heartily, two men who had been selected as managers of the feast went round the company, plate in hand, to collect the “lawin’,” which was always 1s. a-head. According to the strict code of rustic gallantry, every lad paid for his lass.

As soon as dinner was over the bridegroom took his wife by the hand and led her to the green in front of the house, to dance the “shamit reel.” The best-man immediately advanced and claimed her hand. The bridegroom selected the bridesmaid as his partner. Her partner then asked the bride what was to be “the shame spring.” She was expected to answer, “Through the warld will I gang wi' the lad that lo’es me,” or some other equally appropriate air. The music then struck up and the dance proceeded, the rest of the company looking on in silence till its close, when the performers were rewarded with repeated rounds of applause. It was a terrible ordeal for a young girl to go through, and well deserved its name.

Dancing amongst the young, and toddy-drinking amongst the old, now became general, and continued for the rest of the day and evening. Any of the lads who chose to give the fiddlers a halfpenny could have his favourite tune played. He then selected the girl he wished to honour, and took the floor with her. As many other couples as the room could hold were allowed to join in the dance. After the fiddlers had played the tune over about a dozen times—which was the regular allowance—they paused. The lads called out “Kissing-time!” and proceeded to salute their partners. The air was then repeated once or twice more, and the dance ended The observances of the day were concluded by the bedding of the young couple and the ceremony of throwing the stocking. This was the culminating-point of interest in the whole of the proceedings; for the fortunate person who, in the fierce scramble that ensued, succeeded in getting possession of the bride’s stocking when she flung it off her, was assured of being the next bride or bridegroom in the place.

The third day was devoted to eating, drinking, and generally making merry. On the evening of that day those of the guests who had long distances to go generally took their departure. But on the fourth day, which was always a Sunday, as many of the young couples’ friends who still remained and had not succumbed to the fatigues and dissipation of the previous days, accompanied them solemnly to church. And in this proper and seemly manner the festivities of the penny wedding ended.

Lyke-wakes prevailed in the country districts till about forty years ago. When a death occurred, the first thing to be done after the corpse had been dressed was to lay it out on two chairs at the side of the room. The next was to stop the clock, and to shut up the cat to prevent its walking over the dead body,—for if this occurred, the first person who saw it or touched it would infallibly lose his sight, be attacked with epilepsy, or suffer some other misfortune. Iron in some form—a rusty nail, a knife! a knitting-needle—was thrust into the meal-gimel to prevent its contents from going bad. Then a table was laid out, a white cloth spread over it, and a Bible and Psalmbook, a plate with tobacco and pipes, and a snuff-mull, placed upon it. All day long, from early mom till eight or nine o’clock at night, up to the day of the funeral, the house was inundated with condoling friends, each of whom was offered, and never refused, a dram. And every night when they had gone the wake began. On the first night the relatives of the dead man watched alone. After that they took the duty in turns, assisted by their friends. At first there was reading of the Bible and singing of psalms. But when it approached the short hours the “ books ” were shut, pipes were lighted, the whisky-bottle and bread and cheese were produced, and the company settled down to tell stories and otherwise to enjoy themselves. The presence of the dead body had little effect in checking their merriment There was seldom anything approaching indecorum; but when the morning broke and the doors were opened to admit new visitors, the scene that met their eyes could hardly by any stretch of courtesy be called edifying.

On the day of the funeral no service took place either within the house or at the grave. Indeed, as was once said, “a funeral was scarcely the place for a minister to be at.” On returning from the interment the company sat down to the “drudgy” or “dredgy.” Originally instituted as a last homage to the dead, it soon degenerated into a mere coarse drinking-bout. “I am sure,” says Burt, in his ‘Letters from the North" “it has no sadness attending it, except it be for an aching head next morning.” No trace of this unseemly custom now exists.

Both lyke-wakes and penny weddings were from the first a source of irritation to the Reformed Church; for lyke-wakes were not only a direct legacy from Roman Catholicism, and therefore savoured of idolatry, but both too often resulted in unseemly scenes, occasioning a “great increase in Church scandal.”

Again and again we find the Church interfering. On the 16th April 1676 “the Lord Bishop and brethren of the Synod of Murray passed a resolution limiting the number of persons attending these gatherings, and prohibiting all piping, dancing, and fidling at pennibridells within doors, and all obscene lasciviousness and promiscuous dancing either within or without the house, under pain of public censure and pecuniary mulct. Finding these measures insufficient, they were compelled to have recourse to the secular arm. Among the statutes “revived, ratified, and enacted by the provost, bailies, and common council of the burgh of Elgin upon 14th March 1715, is one forbidding all inhabitants “within the burgh” from promising “to goe to any lyke-wake unless they be in relation to the defunct, or called by his friends, under the pain of ten pounds Scots.” And many other illustrations of this policy might be given.

But all-powerful as the Kirk regarded itself, in this matter clerical authority was powerless. General Assemblies might denounce, presbyteries and kirk - sessions might threaten, these customs were too deeply rooted in the affections of the people. It was a stand-up fight between the Church and the people; and in the end, though the Church had the State at its back, the people won* Custom is always stronger than statute. Indeed, as every wise legislator knows, the truest sanction of any statute is that it embodies a custom which commends itself to the instincts of the people. And thus, notwithstanding all the thunders of the Church, the “silver brydells” and lyke-wakes continued, until they were abrogated with the consent of the people themselves, who saw their repugnance to modern feeling and intelligence. Yet no candid person, looking back not upon what they became but what they were at first intended to be, will dispute that the sentiment which underlay them was not only not reprehensible, but rather commendable in a very high degree.

The long evenings of winter afforded ample opportunities for social enjoyment, and they were extensively taken advantage of. “Forenichts,” as they were called, from their taking place between twilight and bedtime, were work-parties, where the women brought their wheels and their stockings, where the old wives told “feart” stories, and the old men played cards. And so the hours would pass till it was time for the young men to come in from their work. The whole party then sat down to a comfortable supper of kail and cakes; and often a dance wound up the evening.

Dances, called “rants” and “tweetles,” were also favourite amusements. The “auld grannie” in Grant’s inimitable “Penny Wedding,” comparing the dull present with the merry past of her youth, instances both of these as being among the many good things that had passed away:—

“But now the limes are altered sair,
There’s little pastime to be seen
When we go to the country fair,
Or to the market on the green.
The tweedles an’ the pleasant rant,
Sae common as they used to be,
Are changed for politics and cant,
And fondness for the barley-bree. ”

The rant was a generic term applied to any uproarious merry - meeting at which dancing took place. The “tweetle” was a public assembly much frequented by young people, who each paid a halfpenny for every dance (reel) in which they indulged.

The last school cock-fight in Morayshire took place at New Spynie about seventy years ago. Before that time they were universal all over the district, and eagerly anticipated as one of the most important events of the social year. They took place on Fastern’s E'en (Shrove Tuesday), locally known as Brose Day, from the fact that the regulation supper of that day was a particular kind of brose, made of the skimmings of broth, oatmeal, and eggs.

The fight took place in the village schoolroom, the floor of which had been carefully sanded over for the occasion. Each “loon” brought in his cock under his arm, and was accompanied by his parents and acquaintances. The schoolmaster presided, receiving in return for his services a small fee called the “cock penny” from each competitor. The fugies, or cocks that would not fight, also fell to him as his perquisite. The boy whose cock won was proclaimed king, and he was looked upon as the hero of the “toun” till next Shrove Tuesday.

The games most popular among the people were shinty and bools (bowls). In the records of the kirk-session of Kinneddar for the year 1666 there are numerous entries referring to the profanation of the Sabbath by persons playing a game which is there called the “Chew.” This is nothing else than shinty played with a chew—the fisherman’s name for the cork float of their nets—instead of the usual wooden ball. The clubs were in every case of home manufacture, and were generally made from the wood of the alder-tree. “Bools,” on the other hand, was played with heavy iron balls. At Nairn on New Year’s Day (Old Style) there was an annual match of both games played on the links by the fishermen. It was the principal amusement of the year, and was eagerly looked forward to. Long before the reintroduction of golf, which has lately added so much to the attractions of Lossiemouth and Nairn, the game was played on the links of Nairn. On the 10th June 1797 the magistrates of that burgh met to roup the grass of the links for the ensuing three years. One of the conditions of the “set” was, that the gentlemen of the town or others should not be prohibited from “playing golff or walking on the whole links at pleasure, or in passing to and from any part of the sea-shore.” In Moray there are still more ancient traces of its existence. In the minute-book of the kirk-session of Elgin is an entry dated 19th January 1596, to the effect that on that day Walter Hay, goldsmith, “accusit of playing at the boulis and golff upoun Sondaye in the tym of the sermon,” compeared, “and hes actit himself fra this furth vnder the paynes of fyve lib. nocht to commit the lyik outher afoir or effcir none the tym of the preaching.”

In no respect has there been a greater advance than in the food of the agricultural community. The farm-servant of the present day, who has been known to object to second day’s broth, and is for ever finding fault with his ample allowance of fresh milk, would turn away with disgust at the food which satisfied his brother hind of a hundred years ago. Kail, nettles, and mugwort, boiled together and thickened with oatmeal, was a favourite soup. “Raw sowens” and “brose" were used instead of porridge. The farmer and his family fared hardly better than his hinds. Oatmeal was the staple food, and it was all the sweeter if it was the produce of his own land, dried at his own kiln, and ground at his own mill.

Many of the farmers had kilns of their own. Their con» struction was of the simplest order. On the top of the walls, rafters, called “kebbars,” were laid a few feet distant from each other. Across these was placed a layer of pieces of wood, often small fir-trees split in two, which went by the name of “ stickles,” and above this a layer of straw to form the “bedding” of the kiln. The open space beneath was known as the kiln-logie, and in this the fire was kindled, an opening being left in the wall for the purpose. The utmost care was required to regulate the fire to prevent the whole of this combustible erection being in a blaze. The kiln was one of the greatest attractions of an old-time farm, and many were the superstitions connected with it. Few would venture into one after dark, in case of meeting the" kiln-carle,” who was believed to have his home in the logie. Even if he did not make his appearance, the rash intruder was certain to see some other “feart” thing. Once a man who was drying his grain during the night saw a cat run past him and go right through the furnace.

Mills, too, had their uncanny visitants; but these had none of the savage characteristics of the kiln-carle. The fairies who made use of them were, as a rule, welcome guests. They never failed to pay their “multure” by leaving behind them a little fairy meal, which ensured the girnel being full for some years to come.

Bread was the generic term of all the various varieties of what are now called cakes and bannocks of the meal of oat or bear. “ Mixed bread ” was composed of equal parts of both; “pease-bread” and “bean-bread” when pease-meal or bean-meal was added. “Thick bread” was fired on both sides on the girdle; “hard” or “fact bread” was fired on one side only, and then placed in front of the fire to be fully baked. “Fat bread” was when a little cream was mixed with the leaven; “watered bread” where the cake had only been washed over with cream or butter-milk. The difference between bread and bannocks was, that in the one case the mixture was rolled out on the baking-board, and in the other was kneaded with the knuckles only.

There was no art of domestic economy which required greater attention than the operation of baking. The slightest negligence might entail serious results. If a woman did not keep her girdle full, she would have to wait for her bridegroom on her marriage-day. If she took it off the fire with the “bread” upon it, the bread would not last. If she burned the cakes, she would be made to weep before they were eaten. The same thing would happen if she sang when she was baking. It was unlucky in the highest degree to count the cakes in a “ baking,” or to turn them twice on the girdle, or to lay them flat instead of on edge when they were taken off the fire. No man would care to marry a woman who let any of the meal fall on the floor. She was certain to bring him trouble from her unthriftiness. It was worse than bad manners, it was positively unlucky, to begin to eat your wedge of cake from the “croun” or thick end of the “quarter”; and to lay cakes on the “man” or wooden trencher on which they were commonly served, right side up—that is, in the same way as they lay on the girdle—was a direct insult to your guest.

“Old people looked with much reverence on meal as well as bread. To abuse in any way either the one or the other was regarded as profane. To trample underfoot the smallest quantity of meal or the least piece of bread was considered a mark of one devoid of a proper spirit To cast anything of what was called “meal-corn” into the fire was set down as nearly allied to crime. Every particle of meal and every crumb of bread had to be carefully swept up and thrown out in such a place as to be picked up as food by some of God’s creatures.”1A similar custom prevails in Sweden to this day.

Another very common appendage of a northern country farm was a still. Private distillation for home consumption was only abolished in 1820.2 Before that time whisky was as legitimate and ordinary a product of a farm as the manufacture of meal:—

“A cogie o’ yill an’ a pickle oatmeal,
An’ a dainty wee drappie o' whisky,
Was oor forefathers’ dose for to swill doun their brose,
An* keep them aye cheery an* frisky.”

In the beginning of the present century there was a former of the better class who lived in a glen on the confines of Banffshire and Elginshire. He had five daughters, all of whom, in accordance with the simple style of living which then prevailed, were not above “putting their hands to the plough.” In addition to their more legitimate duties within doors, they took their own share of the outside work of the farm on such special occasions as sheep-shearing, corn-winnowing, and the cutting and drying of the peats. From the lint and the wool produced upon it they made their own underclothing, and spun only. Beer, claret, and brandy were the only drinks of all who aspired to be looked upon as gentry.

Before the time of the Poor Law the poor of each parish were supported by its inhabitants. The care of the indigent was primarily the duty of the kirk-session, who did the best they could, by collections at the church doors, by fees for the use of the pall or mortcloth, by the fines of persons under discipline, and other similar expedients, to alleviate the misery of the deserving. But as these were insufficient, much remained for private charity to do. It says a good deal for the people that claims for assistance were seldom if ever refused. The tendency was rather the other way. Many who in our days, at least, would have been regarded as falling within the provisions of the stringent laws against mendicancy which then existed, obtained a relief which they did not deserve.

In Morayshire, as in other parts of Scotland, there existed within the memory of the last generation a class of persons who were known as “gentle beggars” — persons who at one time or another had occupied a fair social position, but, in most cases through their own fault, had fallen upon evil days, and who, though they were too proud to work, were not too proud to beg. They went about from mansion-house to farm, from manse to croft, claiming food and lodging, and everywhere demanding, and as a rule receiving, both of these of the best. They were great nuisances, and sometimes ingenious expedients were resorted to in order to get rid of them. On one occasion, in the beginning of this century, one of these gentry came to a manse in the neighbourhood of Elgin. He was informed by the clergyman’s wife that her husband was from home, but that of course he could have bed and lodging for the night.

“Only I am afraid,” said his hostess, “that I cannot offer you such a good supper as you might expect. To tell you the truth, I have only roast and boiled.”

This did not sound so bad, and the gentle beggar expressed himself as satisfied. But when the supper was served it consisted of a roast “yellow haddie” and boiled “sowens.” He never came back again.

As for the poor of a lower order and less exacting kind, everything was done to spare them the mortification of feeling their poverty. It is difficult nowadays to realise the kindly feeling which prevailed towards them. In almost every district where a family had come to misfortune a collection was instituted to put them on their feet again, if that were possible. Two young men were selected to go from house to house ringing the “Thiggars' Chant”; and if this was not successful, the various members of the family were ungrudgingly welcomed at the firesides of their more prosperous neighbours.

It is hardly to be wondered at that, in a district where the power of the Roman Catholic Church was once so strong, the social observance of the old Church festivals died hard, and in some instances is not even yet extinct. What helped to perpetuate it was the fact that in connection with most of them a fair was held in the neighbouring “ burrow-toun ”—an event of the highest interest and importance in country eyes. Elgin, Forres, and Naim had each six fairs in the year; the more important villages— such as Findhorn, Lhanbryde, and Garmouth in Morayshire, and Auldearn and Cawdor in Nairnshire—had smaller markets of their own.

To this day, too, the old Church festivals serve as almanacs to the country-people; perhaps we should rather say as milestones, marking the progress of the rural year:—

"First comes Candlemas,” says the old country rhyme,

"And then the new meen [moon],
Then the Tuesday after that,
That’s Fastem’s E’en.”


"If Candlemas Day be fair and clear,
The half o’ the winter’s to gang an' mair;
If Candlemas Day be dark and foul,
The half o’ the winter’s past at Yule.”

Another rhyme runs thus—

"Fastern’s E’en’s meen oot,
And the next meen hicht;
Then the Sunday after that,
That’s Pace' nicht.”

These rhymes, however, were no more peculiar to the district than were the observances of the feasts they commemorated.

On Fastern’s E’en (Shrove Tuesday) the great feature of the evening’s amusement was the baking of the “sautie bannock.” This was a thick cake composed of eggs, milk, and oatmeal, with a little salt; and, as with the Christmas plum-pudding of modern times, every one present was expected to assist at the operation. Like it, too, all sorts of “unconsidered trifles” were dropped into the mixture, each article indicating the fortune of the person in whose share it was subsequently found. The girl who got the ring would be married the first; she who captured the halfpenny would assuredly marry a rich bachelor; she who found the farthing would have to be contented with a widower. The button meant that her husband would be a tailor; the piece of straw, a farmer; the piece of cloth, a clothier; the nail, a blacksmith,—and so on. The baker of the cake had to maintain perfect silence through all the operation. Every means was attempted to make her speak. If she did, another took her place.

When the cake was baked, it was cut into as many pieces as there were unmarried persons in the room and placed in the apron of the baker. She was then blindfolded and placed with her back against the door. The lads and lasses then passed before her and received each a piece of bannock at her hands. According to what was discovered in it, his or her fate was sealed.

Beltane, or May Day, was a festival in the district within the memory of men still living. There was no May-pole as in England, but “Beltane bannocks” were an institution. They were thick kneaded cakes of oatmeal, “watered” with a thin batter made of milk-and-cream, whipped eggs, and a little oatmeal. On May Day about noon the young folks went to the rocks and high ground and rolled them down hill. If one broke, its owner would die before next Beltane. After the rolling, the bannocks were solemnly eaten, part being always left on the ground for the “cuack” or cuckoo. A little bit was taken home, too, to be dreamed upon. It was the only ceremonial bannock in which eggs formed an essential constituent

On Beltane Day all the cattle in the district were put out to pasture.

Michaelmas (September 29), the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, was not a festival for which the peasantry of Moray could be expected to have any special regard; for it was by the bright light of the Michaelmas moon that their Highland neighbours made those fierce raids upon their homesteads which, till comparatively recent days, was their principal bane. Hence the local saying, that the Highlanders “paid their daughters’ tocher by the light of the Michaelmas moon.”

The Michaelmas Market in Nairn was an occasion of more than ordinary rejoicing. The old ryhme with which the children collected their fairings on Michaelmas eve, though probably not peculiar to the district, is pretty enough and venerable enough to be quoted:—

“To-night’s the market evening—
To-morrow’s the market-day,—
And we shall get our fairings,
And we shall march away.
The cock shall crow,
The hen shall lay,
The drum shall beat,
An’ the pipe shall play,
For to-morrow is the merry, merry market-day.”

Hallowe’en, or All Saints’ Eve (October 31), was observed in Moray and Nairn as sedulously and with much the same ceremonies as in the other parts of Scotland. It is the longest lived of all the Church festivals. To this day the children of Elgin visit all the grocers’ shops in the town, and receive their customary toll of nuts and apples.

The Reformation abolished Christmas as the greatest festival of the Christian year, but it could not abolish it as an occasion on which to make merry. The ceremonial fare consisted of two kinds—the Yule bread, and a sort of sour cake usually called “sour poos” The one was a thin bannock of oatmeal—the only difference between it and any other bannock being that it had to be cut into four quarters before being placed on the girdle. This was probably symbolical of the cross. The other was a cake the leaven of which had been moistened with water poured off “sowens,” which gave it a peculiar acid flavour. It was essential that both these kinds of cake should be baked during the night—at any rate, before daybreak on Christmas morning. In Garmouth the Yule bread had to be baked “before the deil gweed [went] by Binns”— a hill in the immediate vicinity. As the “deil” was popularly regarded as an early riser, this compelled the household to be astir betimes. In baking the Yule bread, a cake had to be prepared for each member of the family. What happened to that cake in the course of the day—whether it broke or whether it remained whole till the proper time for its consumption arrived—was emblematic of the fate of the owner during the coming year. The old superstition, that on Christmas eve exactly at twelve o’clock every living thing “voices” its meed of joy on the birth of our Saviour, was an article of faith in every Morayshire homestead. The kindly custom, too, of giving the whole of his stock a supper of unthreshed corn was also religiously observed by the farmer. And to guard them from the malign influence of witches, fairies, and other powers of evil who were especially industrious at this season, he never omitted to hang up branches of the rowan-tree over the door and above the walls of the byre.

But none of the old festivals of the Church had so strong a hold on the affections of the people as had that of the essentially pagan festival of Hogmanay—the last night of the year. It was the climax of the “daft days.” New Year's Day itself was only its corollary.

In rural Moray it was, and is, though sadly shorn of its picturesque features, the saturnalia of the year. There was no exemption from its influence. The sternest precisian, the veriest churl, was bound to be jolly on Hogmanay. Even an elder of the Church might get drunk on that occasion without damage to his reputation. In its conception it was not so much a season of unbending and relaxation as an occasion for the exercise of such social virtues as charity, hospitality, and brotherly kindness.

On Hogmanay night the young men of the district went from door to door, visiting their friends, demanding admission at farm and cottage alike, under the pretext that they were collecting alms for the poor. When a band was heard approaching, the “guidwife” of the house armed herself with a besom, advanced to the door, and responded to the knock by bringing her broom “over the head” of the leader, to signify her intention of defending the homestead against the troops of masterful beggars who in days not long bygone had been in the habit of oppressing the countryside. To show that their intentions were of a different character, the band then struck up the “Thiggars’ Chant,” which ran as follows:—

“The gweed New Year is noo begun,
Besouthen, besouthen!
An’ a* the beggars begin to run,
An’ awa’ by southron toun!

We wish ye a’ a gweed New Year,
Besouthen, besouthen!
Wi* werth o’ health an* dainty cheer,
An* awa’ by southron toun!

Rise up, gweed wife, an* be na swear,
Besouthen, besouthen!
An’ deal yer fordels to the puir,
An’ awa’ by southron toun!

It’s nae for oorsels that we come here,
Besouthen, besouthen!
But to crave yer charity to the puir,
An’ awa' by southron toun!

We beg you meal—we beg you maut,
Besouthen, besouthen!
We beg for siller to buy them saut,
An* awa’ by southron toun!

If meal an’ maut wi’ you be scant,
Besouthen, besouthen!
We’ll kiss the maidens afore we want,
An’ awa’ by southron toun!

If ye hae plenty an* winna gie,
Besouthen, besouthen!
The deil will get ye when ye dee,
An* awa’ by southron toun!

Oor shoon are made o’ the red coo’s hide,
Besouthen, besouthen!
Oor feet are cauld, we canna bide,
An' awa' by southron toun!

The door was then thrown open, and the company invited to enter in the following verses:—

"Come in, come ben, ye're welcome here,
Besouthen, besouthen!
Ye’ll get a share o’ oor New Year cheer,
An’ awa’ by southron toun!

Theres plenty here, baith but an' ben,
Besouthen, besouthen!
An’ something in the tappit hen,
An’ awa’ by southron toun!”

Yet if there was more mirth and jollity than at present, there was also occasionally more suffering. Periods of scarcity were not uncommon. Chambers, in his ‘Domestic Annals of Scotland,’ records eight instances of severe dearths —two in the sixteenth, four in the seventeenth, and two in the eighteenth century—prior to 1740. There were summer dearths and there were winter dearths. A heavy rainfall, a cold season, a poor harvest, entailed untold misery on man and beast. The food supply of the country districts depended almost entirely on the growth of cereals. The thousand and one substitutes which modem enterprise has introduced were unknown. The country had to rely on its own produce and on nothing more. When the oats and barley of Moray failed, the privations of the people, especially in its upper reaches, were intense. Meal, which was the staff of life, had to be imported with infinite labour and at infinite cost from Perthshire, from Forfarshire, even from the Lothians. There were times when the country people, to keep themselves alive, had to bleed their cattle in the byre to make their scanty supply of meal more nourishing: 1782 was one of those years. The harvest was so late that in some districts the farmers were shearing at Christmas, and little remained of last season’s meal. Two old spinsters at Orton managed to keep body and soul together during the winter on the milk of a goat and the dust that remained at the bottom of their gimel. A woman in Dundurcas, with a numerous young family, “was often a week without any food beyond an egg and a turnip.” A minister of a small rural parish now incorporated with its larger neighbour suffered such privations that, telling his housekeeper to do the best for herself, he locked the manse door and set out for Edinburgh; nor was he ever seen in the district again. In one case a well-to-do farmer, who was known to be in the act of stocking his girnel, had the door of his house broken open as he was sitting down to supper, and the sacks carried off before his eyes and in his own carts. Though the men were known, the farmer did not dare to prosecute them. Potatoes were introduced for the first time into Morayshire between the years 1728 and 1740, and were for long after regarded as a mere luxury. In 1854 Morayshire ranked as the sixteenth among the potato-growing counties in Scotland, and Nairnshire as the thirty-first. Turnips as food for cattle were a still later importation ; but in Morayshire their value was almost immediately recognised. In 1857 there were 12,757 acres under this crop; in 1881 the acreage was 16,659—an increase of 3922: and the cultivation still goes on in very much the same ratio. In Nairnshire, on the other hand, there has been a marked decrease. In 1884 Morayshire stood ninth, and Nairnshire twenty-fifth, among the turnip-growing counties of the kingdom.

Whenever a rural and secluded community awakes to a sense of its material importance, its first tendency is to depreciate everything antiquated, however cherished it may hitherto have been. The old lore and prejudices of its ancestors are cast aside as being unsuitable to its altered condition. The rush of new ideas sweeps away the old customs, the old superstitions, the old follies of the district, as the March gales sweep away the snows of winter. Half a century of progress, and scarcely a trace of them remains.

This has been the case in both Moray and Nairn. Yet from the few vestiges which still survive it may be asserted, with some degree of certainty, that the superstitions of these two counties differed in no essential degree from those prevalent over the rest of the north of Scotland. It is scarcely possible at this time of day to detect in them any traces of distinct racial origin. On the other hand, there are few to be found in other districts of Scotland which have not at one time or another existed in this locality. It cannot, perhaps, be claimed for these counties, at any rate after Roman Catholic days, that they ever led the van in civilisation. On the contrary, they seem to have formed even from the first a sort of backwater, in which all the old useless lumber of ignorance, prejudice, and superstition found a sure haven. But the change which has come over them since their exceptional natural advantages as a farming district have come to be recognised, not only by the rest of the country but by their own inhabitants, has had this effect, that it has placed almost insuperable obstacles in the way of those who are curious as to the constitution of their old life. There are few parts of Scotland where it is more difficult to acquire anything beyond a mere superficial knowledge of the old inhabitants of the district Yet even now a bulky volume might be written on the domestic superstitions of the district. There was not a single act of everyday life which was not trammelled with rules, the slightest breach of which might entail consequences of the most serious nature. To acquire them was an education which required a lifetime. Hence the most mischievous apostles of superstition were the “auld wives”—male and female—of the hamlet. And as the ratio of coincidences is much greater than is generally supposed, they never wanted a well-authenticated instance to prove the truth of their assertions. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that what is often regarded as a mere superstition is, like a proverb, very often merely a reduction into concrete form of the experience of many previous generations. Such, for instance, may have been the belief that if a landed proprietor’s first child was a girl, the estate might soon lack an heir; and that a child born after its father’s death is always kind to its mother. Equally reasonable is the idea that a child’s face should always be covered up in the cradle, otherwise it will grow up pale or “like the colour of the sun.” There may be sound sense, too, in never allowing very young children to eat any animal food except the white flesh of a fowl; and in the conviction that much rocking of the child in its cradle caused water in the head. There is much, too, to be said for the belief that a small thin neck in a new-born child is a sign of a short life; and that if a child keeps its hands closed when it sleeps it will turn out close-fisted or “grippy” in after-life.

There is a certain amount of common-sense, too, in the credence that a child’s clothes should never be left out of doors at night to dry; and that a woman after having been churched should not return to her own home without partaking of meat and drink. The church was often a long distance from the homestead, and a drink of “mulled porter,” which was the correct thing on such occasions, or a bite of bread and cheese, must often have been to the weak and tired woman a very welcome refreshment. The same is the case with the belief that it is unlucky for a woman, before churching, to perform any domestic office, such as drawing water or taking meal from the gimeL And there is doubdess a useful moral lesson conveyed in the saying that it is unlucky to look at one’s own face in a glass.

But it is difficult to explain such apparendy absurd notions as that the first time an infant is taken out of doors it should wear a red thread round its neck; that if a child’s first tooth appeared in the upper jaw it would be short-lived; that when a child was taken out to be baptised, bread and cheese should be carried along with it to prevent its ever after suffering from hunger; that it was unlucky to put a baby into a new cradle; that the cradle should be placed at the back of the apartment with its head towards the door; that it was equally unlucky to rock a cradle lightly; that if a mouse crept over a child’s feet it would stop its growth; that some frightful disaster would happen to the infant if it was shown its face in a looking-glass before it had got its teeth; that harelip is produced by a mother stepping over a hare’s lair during the period of pregnancy; that during the same period a woman should not put a stitch into any garment she is wearing; that a live coal should always be put in the water in which one washes his feet, otherwise a corpse will soon be in the house; that to dream of rats or mice means an enemy; that a woman with child should not clean her feet, though muddy with walking, before going into church, otherwise her infant will have club-feet; that if the combings of hair, when thrown into the fire, smoulder away, death will ensue by drowning; that one might as well keep a corpse in the house overnight as the water in which his feet have been washed; that one should never tie her garter before tying her shoes; that “a mole on the back abeen the breath” signifies death by drowning; that it is ominous of death to laugh, whistle, or sing before breakfast ; that bees die before a death; that it is unlucky to walk along the middle of a road at night, seeing that the “foregang” of a funeral always does so; that you should never cross a road to meet a friend; that if the cattle on first being let out after spring ran wildly through the fields, scraping up the earth with their hoofs and throwing it over their backs, a death would ensue in the family before the year was out; that if horses were restless in their stalls during the night, the place is haunted by a spirit; that “neid fire”—the fire produced by rubbing together two pieces of stone—is a cure for diseases in cattle; and such other vain imaginings.

The belief in the “dead-candle” was one of the most deeply-rooted superstitions of the district. When a death was about to occur in a house, a mysterious light was seen issuing from the cottage and winding its way slowly but surely in the direction of the churchyard. Equally implicitly believed in was the notion that if a death was not communicated to the bees the moment it had occurred, they would die immediately after. A custom as old as classical times was that of throwing a coin into the grave as the coffin was being lowered into it. It was not, however, to pay the deceased’s ferry across the Styx, but to acquire for all time coming the ground in which it was buried. Salt is to this day laid on a body the moment life has departed; and, as in other parts of Scotland, a “spale” or “waste” on a burning candle indicates an approaching death.

A superstition closely resembling that of the “nuggle” or “shoopiltee” of the Shetland Islands, and the “echuisque” of the Highlands, and possibly a relic of the old pagan practice of river-worship, is that of the water-horse. It is a kelpie which assumes the form of a black horse, and haunts the vicinity of water. There is hardly a loch within the two counties where it has not been seen. It is always ready to allow itself to be mounted. Sometimes it shows itself saddled and bridled. But if any one unthinkingly jumps on its back he immediately finds himself as if glued to it, and it is ten chances to one if the next moment he does not find himself struggling beneath the dark waters of the loch. It has this remarkable property, too, that though it seems only able to accommodate one person, it can carry any number on its back. To “sain” oneself, or to make the sign of the cross, was sufficient to release one from its clutches.

Another long-lived superstition was a belief in the efficacy of certain holy wells as a cure for disease. The well of St Mary at Orton, another well of the same name in Elgin, the Braemou or Braemuir well at Hopeman, and others, were all believed to be blessed with curative powers. To drink or to wash in their waters was a remedy which—such is faith—seldom proved to be otherwise than infallible. Like the pilgrimages to holy places, such as the Chapel of Grace in the parish of Kinneddar, they resembled the other superstitions of the district in being a relic of Roman Catholic days.

Witches and warlocks were as plentiful a crop in Moray and Nairn as in other parts of Scotland. The treatment they received, too, was the same. The wretched creatures who fell under the bane of local ill-will or local ignorance were imprisoned, tortured, and done to death, often with fiendish cruelty.

In a piece of hollow ground to the eastward of the cathedral there existed, within the memory of persons yet alive, the stagnant remains of what was once a deep pool of water. The place is still known by the name of the Order Pot — an evident corruption for Ordeal; for it was here that, in the days when witchcraft was a capital offence, many a poor old woman, guilty of no other crimes than poverty and old age, underwent the ordeal by water. The pool is referred to in a retour of 2 2d May 1604 as nunc destructaand the ground now forms part of a nurseryman’s garden. The Order Pot was believed to have a subterranean connection with the Lossie, and an old prophecy predicted that some day—

"The Order Pot and Lossie grey
Would sweep the Chan’ry Kirk away.”

But the cathedral still stands, though in ruins, to mock the prediction.

It is only by looking back upon the absurdities that, till the present century had reached its meridian, were articles of faith amongst even the most intelligent persons, that one can gain an adequate conception of the rapidity of modern intellectual progress.

Fifty years ago and less, when a child did not seem to thrive, it was universally believed that its heart had been turned. A wise woman was sent for. She came bringing with her a heart-shaped piece of lead. The little patient’s breast was exposed. Then the witch, taking the leaden heart in her hand, turned it round and round over the child’s body, as one winds up a watch with a key, concluding the farce by assuring the anxious parents that the heart underneath was now acting in accord with the one she was moving. Then she pocketed her fee—always a liberal one—and departed.

Much about the same period a clay image, or corps creagh, nearly life-size, was found under a dripping bank of the river near the town of Nairn. It was so placed that the water dropped over its heart. When broken open it was found full of needles and pins. It had been placed there by a notorious witch of the day, who had been hired by a girl to compass the death of a man who had slighted her. When the clay dissolved the man would certainly die. He was only saved from that fate by the accidental discovery of the image. Once a beggar woman, known to be a witch, praised the beauty of the child of a countrywoman who had given her an alms. The child immediately screamed violently. It was plain the witch’s evil eye had fallen upon her. As soon as she was gone, the child’s mother and grandmother tied their aprons together, and holding them out in the form of a circle, passed first the child, and then a peat, three times through the circle, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost The peat was then thrown on the fire and burned, and the child laid in its cradle. As the last fragments of the peat were consumed the infant fell into a quiet peaceful slumber, and the anxious mother knew that the spell had been removed.

When a cow had been bewitched there was a sure mode of discovering the witch. This was to put a quantity of new pins into a pot, then to pour a little of the cow’s milk over them, and allow the whole to simmer but not to boil. Ten to one the person who had bewitched the animal would enter the cottage on scmt' “thieveless errand” and lift the pot off the fire.

A witch had a fair daughter who loved a fisherman. He played her false. The mother and daughter then took a “cog”—a circular wooden bowl—and carried it to a spot from which the faithless lover’s boat could be seen as it passed on its homeward way. In a short time the witch bade her daughter go to the point of the headland and see if the boat was visible. She came back in a few moments, saying that as it passed the headland it was overturned, and the crew were struggling in the water. Pointing to the tub, the witch bade her daughter observe that the cog was floating bottom upwards. But the man escaped. As soon as he discovered who was the cause of his mishap he determined to take steps to protect himself from further mischief. Entering the witch’s cottage, he fell upon her and proceeded to draw blood “abeen [above] her breath”—that is, he cut her on the forehead in the shape of a cross. The man suffered no further inconvenience, but the woman bore a black band on her forehead to her dying day.

Witches had the power of transforming themselves at will into the shape of certain animals. But the form of a hare was that which was most commonly assumed. One of the innumerable stories illustrative of this is fathered on James Brodie, the celebrated Laird of Brodie, whose career has been already referred to. He was out shooting one day when he saw a hare in front of him. This hare was the most amusing animal of its kind he had ever encountered. He fired at it half-a-dozen times, but always missed it; and every time he missed, the creature sat and looked at him with a calm imperturbability which was aggravating in the extreme. At last the truth dawned upon him. The hare was a witch. He drew a sixpence from his pocket, loaded his gun with it, and fired. It hit the hare in the thigh, but it limped away before he was able to reload. He followed its trail by the blood which dropped from the wound. It led him to the cottage of a woman who had an evil reputation in the district Entering the house, he found the woman lying in bed. “Turn down the blanket,” said the laird, “till I get my sixpence out of your hip.” The woman refused, but he would not be denied. At last she consented. The laird reclaimed his sixpence and went away rejoicing.

Such stories might be multiplied indefinitely. Of course no one nowadays admits the existence of witchcraft; yet few amongst the peasantry will be found to disbelieve tales founded on the evidence of their mothers and grandmothers. The utmost that can be expected from them is the admission that the age of witchcraft, as of miracles, is past.

On the 24th June 1736 witchcraft ceased to be a crime inferring the penalty of death, and the punishment of persons pretending to exercise the art was limited to a year’s imprisonment, with exposure on the pillory. But if the Parliament of Great Britain was disposed to leave witches and warlocks alone, this was very far from being the intention of the Church. For long afterwards it continued to deal with such persons as “charmers,” and amenable to ecclesiastical discipline.

A strong line of demarcation has always existed between the agriculturists of the inland districts and the fisher-people of the coast. This is due in some measure to their different racial origin, but infinitely more so to the diversity in their pursuits.

Most of the social institutions which characterised the agricultural community — such as penny weddings, lyke-wakes, the observance of Hallow E’en, Fastem’s E’en, and Hogmanay—were adopted by the fisher-folk, and lingered longer amongst them than farther afield. But in addition there were others proper to themselves which, with the intense conservatism of their nature, they still cherish lovingly, and with which they as yet show little intention to dispense.

Of these we may instance two, the “burning of the clavie” among the fishermen of Burghead, and the “casting of the cavel” among the fishermen of Nairn. Both are remanets from the days of the Norsemen, and may possibly be older still.

The burning of the clavie has been often described.

On Old Yule night, as dusk comes on, the youth of the village proceed to the shop of one of the local merchants and procure a couple of strong empty barrels and a supply of tar. A hole is formed in the bottom of one of them, and into this the end of a strong pole some five feet long is inserted and nailed into position. The other barrel is now broken up and placed within the first; the tar is poured over it, and the whole set on fire by a burning peat. The blazing clavie is then carried in procession round the old boundaries of the burgh—in olden times it used to visit also all the fishing-boats in the harbour, — and this perambulation completed, it is taken to the top of a little eminence called the Doorie and set upon a stone structure erected by the superior of the village for the purpose. After burning for about twenty minutes the barrel is lifted from its socket and rolled down the western slope of the hill. A furious rush is now made to capture the blazing fagots, which are carefully preserved, to keep off misfortune from their possessors, till the following year.

The whole scene is singularly weird and impressive. The dark, sullen, northern night; the. wreathing smoke of the smouldering beacon; the twisting streams of fire rushing down the sloping hill; the eager upturned faces of the spectators— bronzed and bearded fishermen, white-haired old women, and bright-eyed children; the rush, the scuffle, the shouts, the screams, the laughter of the crowd in its efforts to secure the smoking embers, make up a picture which, once seen, is not readily forgotten.

This interesting custom has been the object of a vast amount of antiquarian research, but with little proportionate result. It is generally conceded that it is symbolical of the winter solstice, when the sun, as was believed, sinks beneath the ocean. But nothing absolutely certain is known about its origin. Similar customs have been found in Brittany and in Wales; and till within recent years an almost identical rite was in use on Old Yule night in Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands. Even the meaning of the word “clavie” is matter of doubt. Those who regard Burghead as having been a Roman station derive it from the word clavus, a nail, and support this opinion by the fact that the barrel containing the tar is nailed on to its supporting pole A more probable derivation, however, is from the Celtic claibk, a basket, thus indicating the form of the burning tub.

It is perhaps impossible to claim for the custom of “casting the cavel” an assured Norse origin, though it is most common in those parts of Scotland which were visited by the dragon-ships of the Vikings. It certainly, however, existed in Scandinavia from the earliest times, and is still to be found in some districts of Sweden.

On a calm summer evening, as the holiday visitor lounges about the quay at Nairn, watching the fishing-boats with their brown sails coming lazily round the point of the pier, or perhaps lost in admiration at one of those gorgeous sunsets, of which, one is almost inclined to think, Naim has the monopoly in the north of Scotland, he may suddenly find himself accosted by a grey-haired old fisherman who civilly requests him to do him and his mates a favour. He is conducted a few steps forward to a spot where he finds himself confronted by six slithering heaps of freshly caught fish, their glistening scales reflecting all the greens and yellows and russets of the waning sunlight. Five of these heaps are the share which belongs to the crew ; the other is that of the boat. In front of these is ranged a row of six stones. Each of them the stranger is asked to lift in succession, and to place at one of the heaps.

This method of partition by lot was at one time common all over the north of Scotland. Leslie, in the glossary appended to his ‘Survey of Moray/ explains the word “keavle” as “the part of a field which falls to one on a division by lots.” Bellenden, in his ‘Chronicles,* speaks of all “the landis of Scotland being cassin in cavyll amang the nobyllis thereof,” when King Fergus was resident in Argyle. The custom is also recognised in the old Burrow Lawes of King David I. (c. 59), and in the genetal code of regulations for the “ societies of merchands ” within Scotland, commonly called the Statutes of the Gild (c. 43), agreed to by the representatives of the various then existing crafts at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1283-84. The word is said to be derived from an old Suevo-Gothic root meaning a twig or rod. The use of the stone is, of course, only a local substitution.

Another usage—now, however, extinct—believed to be of Scandinavian origin, was the custom called “caplaken.” It was a gratuity given to the skippers of merchant vessels trading from Moray Firth ports, and, as appears from old charter-parties, it often took the form of a new boat. Laken is said to be a Danish word meaning the crest or ornament for a cap presented by the crew of a Viking ship which had made a successful voyage to its leader. In this sense the word is still used in a children’s game in Westmoreland, and is also found amongst the fishermen of the little village of St Combs in Buchan.

Tonames, or, as the word is locally pronounced, “tee-names,” are common, though not so much so as in the fishing villages farther east along the coast because less necessary. “A to-name or ‘title' as the fishermen call it, is a kind of ‘eke-name’—that is, a nickname, but holding a position between a surname and a nickname.” In a small community where the list of surnames proper is limited, and where intermarriage prevails, it is often difficult to distinguish between persons whose Christian names and surnames are identical. Hence the necessity for some distinctive mark. The to-name supplied this. It may be a name adopted from a person’s physical peculiarities, or from the place of his home, or from his occupation; but it serves its purpose to distinguish him from others of the same individual and gentilitian appellation Such to-names, when once adopted, are recognised by custom as forming part of their owners’ legal designations, and often descend to their children. In time they may even supersede the original surname. Hence, as a recent writer has remarked, the to-name is the result of “a process precisely similar to that which originated surnames ” in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Amongst to-names of the Morayshire and Nairnshire county towns and villages are to be found, with othen less original, “Gilp,” “Willochan,” “Bo,” “Scottie,” “Bailie,” “Bochel,” “Buchan,” and “Duggin.” As yet it has not become necessary to adopt such polysyllabic combinations as “Jock’s-Wuirs-Williamie’s-Wullsie,” which the same writer instances as existing in the village of St Combs.

Superstition, rife though it was amongst the agricultural community, was even more so among the fisher-people of the coast The same prejudice against clergymen, the same objection to taking women or cats on board when engaged in anything connected with their fishing, the same inexplicable aversion to certain surnames, the same dislike to calling certain things and places by their proper names, which prevails in other fishing communities in Scotland, are found in Moray and Nairn. Salmon, for instance, could never be mentioned on board a boat except by the name of “Spey codling,” or a horse except as the “four-footed beast.” Swine, even in the shape of ham or bacon, was as accursed a thing to the Morayshire fishermen as to the Jews. The mere accidental utterance of the word would immediately be met with a cry of “Cauld iron! ” and a rush to lay hold of anything made of that metal that was handy, if it was even the heel of their boot The “Tam o’ Ron,” near Garmouth, one of their landmarks, was always spoken of as “the bank o’ red yird.”

Reading over the long list of their prejudices, one might be inclined to think that they spent all their time, both on sea and land, looking out for presages of good or ill luck. It was unlucky to shoot their nets on the larboard side of the boat; it was unlucky to see a salmon leap in front of the boat; it was unlucky to whistle when on board; it was unlucky to taste food before the fish were taken; or to leave the creel which contains the line mouth uppermost after it had been cast; or the “baler” except on its face; or not to draw blood from the fish the first time the lines were hauled; or to take a dead fish into a boat before the line was shot; or to pick up a dead body at sea; or to clean the fish - scales off their fishing - boots before Saturday night; or to meet a cat or cock in going to the fishing; or to carry a parcel for a friend; or to go to sea for the first time in the season before blood had been shed; or for a fisherman’s wife to comb her hair after sunset, if her husband’s boat was at sea; or to launch a boat with an ebbing tide; or to use a boat which had “drowned” a man. On the other hand, it was lucky to dream of a white sea — that is, a sea covered with white-crested waves. It betokened a good catch the next time the boats were out.

There were unlucky hours, days, months, and seasons. It was unlucky to be bom between midnight and one in the morning, for such a one saw “feart” things, such as ghosts and apparitions, which others escaped. On Tuesday no one would venture to pare his nails for fear of the witches getting possession and making an improper use of the parings. Wednesday and Saturday were particularly unfortunate for young fisher-girls to enter upon domestic service. It was the peculiarity of Friday that it always went “against the weather of the week” — that is, that on that day a change in the weather was sure to ensue. Work begun on Saturday saw seven Saturdays before it was finished. Work begun on Monday, on the other hand, was speedily accomplished. Sunday was always a lucky day; but no ship would put out of port on that day before “the blessing was pronounced” — that is until morning service had ended. All unnecessary work done on Sunday was unlucky. To yoke a horse or dean a byre would bring its own punishment with it. But Man oatmeal Sunday ”always made a barley week”; or in other words, if Sunday was fine, all the rest of the wedc was bound to be indifferent weather.

So with times and seasons. The first Monday and the first Friday of every quarter were particularly unlucky, and no one would have ventured to give fire out of his house at those times, for then the witches and fairies held high revel. On Handsel Monday (the first Monday in the year) people always lay in bed till after sunrise, for up to that hour all the powers of evil were abroad. For six weeks before Christmas the house must never be without water, or a mermaid would carry away the one whose duty it was to supply it. The same rule applied to the period between Christmas and New Year. This week was the Sabbath of the year, when all living beings were bound to rest from their labours and give themselves up to enjoyment.

“Atween Yule an’ Yearsmas
Auld wives shouldna spin,
An’ na hoose should be waterless
Where maidens lie within.”

It was most important that blood should be shed on Christmas morning. Some of the more old - fashioned people even killed a sheep as a sort of sacrifice. It was proper, too, that every shed and outhouse about the place—the byre, the stable, and the pig-stye—should be cleaned out before evening. And both on Christmas and on New Year morning, something — no matter what — was bound to be brought into the house before anything was taken out of it, or there would be nothing but “putting out” all the ensuing year. With this object peats were often laid outside the night before, to be taken in the first thing in the morning. A custom analogous to the Yule log in England was prevalent in some of the Moray Firth villages about a hundred years ago.

It was usual on the last night of the year to garland the “crook” of the house—the chimney, the couples, and the joists — with seaweed (Fucus nodosus) gathered at ebb-tide.

No one would waken another on New Year’s morning in case he brought him bad luck. But early rising was none the less a virtue. The one who succeeded in drawing the first water from the well — “the flower of the well”—on that morning, was certain of good luck all the rest of the year. It was unlucky if the first person one saw on New Year’s morning was of dark complexion, and lucky if he was fair. A present of fish that day was an omen of good fortune. He who landed the first fish on New Year’s Day would have the most luck in his village during the ensuing year. But the first fish that fell off the line when hauling the first shot that morning was always allowed to fall back into the sea. To secure it was certain to bring bad luck.

Few traces of the older customs which so excited the wrath of the Reformed Church as relics of “idolatry” — that is, of Roman Catholicism — remain. But edifying instances of the manner in which they were regarded are to be found in the records of the kirk-sessions of the maritime parishes. On the 15th May 1664 the kirk-session of Speymouth ordained “that none [of the salmon - fishers] cast fire into their nets, and if any should do so, they should be censured as ‘charmers.’” On the 16th January 1670 the skippers of Stotfield were cited before the kirk-session of Kinneddar for the idolatrous custom of carrying lighted torches round their boats on New Year's Eve. On the 18th September of the same year intimation was made to the congregation from the pulpit that no person should go “ to the superstitious place called the Chappell of Grace ”; and so on. Judged by this standard, it must be admitted that the fisher-people of the coast were a veritable thorn in the flesh of the Kirk. In the inland districts the community was on the whole amenable to ecclesiastical influence. But the seagoing folk had views of their own, and acted on them in a way which was not always agreeable to their clerical masters. It was difficult to persuade a fisherman that gathering bait or picking up wreck was a transgression of the Sabbath; that “piping, dancing, guising, sporting, and singing of superstitious popish and heathen songs ” were unbecoming “Christian gravitie and sobrietie”; that “dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex” by man or woman, for the purpose of “guising,” even when it was the case of a young boy who on Hogmanay “roped himself in straw,” as was till very recently the practice of the Yule mummers in Shetland, was “a scandalous transgression.” The Church got its way for the time, perhaps. The delinquents were always ready to express “unfeigned repentance” for their offences, and even when they could not help themselves, to “make pecuniary satisfaction.” But the terrors of the Church were unable to subdue their hereditary independence of character, or to expel the spirit of liberty, mirth, and enjoyment which had been bequeathed to them by their Scandinavian ancestors. Even when expiating their offences at the kirk door in sackcloth and ashes, they felt like the hero of the old ballad—

“There’s nae repentance in my heart—
The fiddle’s in my airms!”

The superstitions and peculiar customs of the Moray Firth fishermen are perhaps more curious than useful. Their weather-lore, again, embodying as it does the experience of generations of keen-eyed observers, is both the one and the other.

The weather in spring was always carefully noted. If the last ten days of February and the first ten days of March were fine, a dry season might be expected. If March came in

“like an adder’s head, it would go out like a peacock’s tail.”


“As mony mists in March ye see,
As mony frosts in May will be.”

It was as important to observe the day on which a storm broke out as the quarter from which it came. If a storm began on Monday, it would last throughout the week. If there was a fair day at all, it would be Friday. A storm rising on Saturday was called a “blatter,” and would “new see Monday morning.” Rain coming from the south or south east was called a “dreepie”: the wind generally veered to the west or north-west, and seldom failed to blow a strong breeze.

From sun and moon, from the shape of the clouds, from the appearance of meteors and other celestial phenomena, important inferences might be drawn. When the sun had a glaring colour at rising, a breeze was known to be approaching. If it had a ring around it, a change of weather was indicated ; but it took longer to come than that presaged by a similar circle around the moon. Such a lunar ring had different local names. It was called a “broch” (brooch), a “moon-bow,” “the ring,” “the rim,” or “the wheel,” and the old rhyme ran :—

“The brighter the wheel is,
The sooner the breeze is;
The dimmer the wheel is,
The farrer the breeze is.”

An opening in the circle showed the quarter from which the breeze would blow.

A mock-sun was called a “falcon” or “sun-dog,” and according to its position portended fair or foul weather.

“A falcon before,
The gale is ower;
A falcon behind,
The gale ye shall find.”

The waxing and waning moons were powerful influences for good or for evil. If the new moon came in on a Saturday during harvest, very bad weather might be anticipated. One such moon, it was said, was enough in seven years. But, as a rule, the new moon brought as good luck as the waning moon brought evil. If a chimney or any piece of clothing went on fire during the waxing moon, it was an augury of riches; if during a waning moon, a death in the household was not far off. No animal was ever killed for family use during a waning moon. Full moon was the proper time for all such work. If a pig was killed in “the first of the moon,” the fat would all melt away in the cooking. Eggs should always be set either at full moon or before it, and never before six o’clock in the evening. Meteors or falling stars were a sign of bad weather, and the wind always blew in the direction to which they moved. The “dancers” (aurora borealis) generally prognosticated stormy weather, except when towards the north and in frost. Cumulus clouds were known as “toors” (towers). The point of the horizon from which they were seen to rise indicated the point from which the wind would blow. Cirrus clouds went by the name of “ cat’s hair ” or “goat’s hair,” and always meant breezy weather. It is curious to find a corruption of the name which the Mediterranean sailor gives to St Elmo’s fire in use among the Moray Firth fishermen. There can be no doubt, however, that “corbie’s aunt” or “covenanter,” applied to the phenomenon, is none other than the “corpo santo' of the Maltese sailors.

A few miles east of the town of Naim there existed till almost eighty years ago a little fishing village called Mavis-toun. The Boeotian simplicity of its inhabitants is to this day a byword. “The fisher-gouks of Mavistoun” is a line that occurs in a poem by a now forgotten local bard. If a tithe of the stories still current among the Naim fishermen about them have any foundation in fact, they were the most superstitious, the most ignorant, and the laziest of their kind. At the trial of the famous witches of Auldearn one of the women confessed that whenever they wanted fish they had only to go to Mavistoun and repeat the following incantation,—

“The fishers are gane to the sea,
And they’ll bring hame fish to me ;
They’ll bring hame intil the boat,
But they’ll get nane but o’ the smaller sort,”—

to get from the terrified fishermen as many as they wanted. Once it is said a fisherman found a horse-shoe on the beach. It was the first that had ever been seen in Mavistoun, and all the wise men in the little community gathered together to examine it. One of them at last hazarded the opinion that it was a bit of the moon—in fact, a new moon. This view was promptly contradicted by the man who, being the oldest, was regarded as the wisest among them. “A moon it was,” he believed; “but it could not be a new moon, otherwise it would be up in the sky. For himself, he had often wondered what became of the old moons. This settled it. The old moons fell to the earth, and this was one of them.”

On another occasion a cow—an animal all but unknown among fishing communities — found its way to Mavistoun. The day was hot, and, in search of a cool place, it entered one of the huts. A fisherman was at work within mending his lines. Seeing the creature had cloven hoofs, horns, and a tail, the poor man thought he was in presence of the arch enemy of mankind himself, and immediately sprang upon the rafters and made his escape through the roof. Soon alter this another cow strayed into the village. It was resolved to capture it. But how to secure an animal which few of them had ever seen before was the problem. At last one of them, pointing to its tail, observed that nature itself had shown them how to bind it. So the cow was immediately tethered by that appendage.

Their infallible barometer was the rowan-tree of the village. On awakening in the morning the skipper would ask the youngest of his crew, "Boy, hoo’s the roddan?” If the answer was, “The roddan’s noddin’”—that is, that a light breeze was agitating its branches—he would at once give orders to prepare for going to sea. But if the reply was, “The roddan’s doddin’”—that is, jogging from side to side, indicating that a strong wind was blowing—no power on earth would prevail on him to fly in the face of Providence and face the dangers of the deep. These stories, which in the neighbourhood are still firmly believed, will give an idea of the reputation acquired by the famous “ fishers of Mavistoun.”

Enough has probably now been said to show how thoroughly old Moray—the Moray that expired hardly a hundred years ago—differed from the Moray of the present day.

If from a purely picturesque and sentimental point of view there is much to regret in the disappearance of the past, there is surely more ample cause for rejoicing in the appearance of the present. Whatever else can be said of it, it cannot be alleged that Moray has lagged behind in the improvement of its principal—one feels almost inclined to say its only—local industry. Shrewd, keen-witted, possessing in an exceptional degree the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum, the extraordinary advance that its inhabitants have made in agriculture, especially within the last half-century, is surely a good augury of what may be expected from them in the future.

The main obstacle to the county’s ever attaining a higher measure of prosperity than that which it now possesses, appears to be its indifference to employing other methods of enrichment than those of which its forefathers made use. Stare super antiquas vias is a good rule in theory, and generally in practice. Yet one is inclined to think that “the narrow paths in which our fathers trod ” might in these latter days be exchanged with advantage for the broader roads of modem life, and that a more extended knowledge would lead to a wider appreciation of the benefits of our everyday extending civilisation. If Moray could introduce new industries, it would undoubtedly reap an equivalent profit Few counties in Scotland are more amply endowed by nature.

Within its more circumscribed limits Nairnshire, and especially the town of Nairn, has shown a greater inclination to march with the times. They have ventured more — some people may even think they have ventured too much. But with communities, as with individuals, the rule of “Never venture never win ” holds good. Energy and enlightenment are the only factors of success.

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