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The Land of Heather
Chapter VII. A Highland Glen

Returning from Market

ITS name was Glen Clova, a title suggestive of rural sweetness and overflowing fertility. The reality was a wide fissure opening back into the great bounding heather hills, and its name was almost its only touch of gentleness. Yet there was charm in the little river Esk which wound through the meadow bottoms, and the vastness of the encompassing hills was impressive, while even the lonely bareness of the region was of its kind beautiful.

The glen's remoteness was attested to my senses in many ways — by the peatstacks I found in the farmyards, by the presence of the wild deer on the high moors, by the snow-banks which glistened white in the ravines of the craggy mountains until midsummer, and by the peewits and the water-birds which screamed at me when I walked about the fields, as if wholly unused to the sight of a stranger. The district was very destitute of trees, though frequent newly started "plantings" covered great patches of the upland. Small woods were numerous outside the valley, southward; but at the time of my visit a good share of the trees in these woods had been blown over by a terrible gale of the year before. The power of the storm had been such that it made even the heaviest stone dwellings tremble, frightening the people, tearing slates from roofs, shattering byres, and turning over the cornstacks in the stackyards. The morning after the gale some of the woods on the exposed ridges had not a tree left standing. Even now, a twelvemonth later, much of the woodland wreckage had not yet been cleared away, and it was a melancholy sight —these tangles of dead branches and shattered trunks, and the earth all turned up edgewise with the canting of the roots.

I found lodging while I stayed in the glen at a farmhouse under a rough spur of one of the great hills known as Craig Eggie. The best room in the house was mine as long as my sojourn lasted. The room was one the family was inclined to boast of, and Mrs. Fearn, the farmer's wife, wanted to know if we had any better than that in America. It was an eminently respectable room, with a carpet, wall-paper, pictures, etc. — indeed, was much like a New England sitting room, except for the presence of a bed and a small fireplace. At the foot of the bed stood a tall clock. This clock was just half an hour behind time, and was also original in having a habit five minutes before it struck the hours of giving forth a peculiar sound as if something heavy had broken in the works and fallen down inside the case. When heard in the night the sound was quite startling.

The evening of my first day in the glen was so chilly that after I had eaten supper in the best room I was glad to sit by the kitchen fireplace and watch the brisk flames crackling up from a heap of peat bricks while the wind hummed and rumbled in the chimney. The black teakettle suspended from the sway was adjusted low over the fire, and the water within boiled with such vigor that the cover rattled.

On a rude bench behind an equally rude table at the far end of the room sat the hired man sucking in hot tea from his saucer. Under the table lay a black and white collie. Several hams and sides of bacon tied up in white bags were hung from hooks driven into the blotchy yellow ceiling. The women felt that this stained ceiling was something of a reproach; but they said it was of no use to whitewash it, for the peats were smoky things, particularly in dull, damp weather, and the ceiling would keep grimy and unsightly, no matter what they did. The walls were more easily managed, and they were tidy with a pink whitewash renewed twice a year. The daughter of the house, a bright, energetic body named Mary Ann, did the whitewashing, and it was she who gave the long hearthstone before the fire periodical coats of bright blue paint, and made the stone framework of the fireplace and the wooden mantel above shine with applications of black varnish. The corner-stones at the base, supporting the bars of the grate, she polished daily with black lead, while the inner sides of the fireplace, above the grate, she whitewashed every week, leaving just a narrow black path in the middle where the smoke coursed upward.

Spring water, conducted through a pipe from its hillside source, came directly into the room, but " the big half" of the Glen Clova families had to go out to a running well (brook) for their water, and often were obliged to carry it quite a distance.

While I sat talking with the family, the fire had been allowed to burn low, and now the stout mistress of the house went out to the peatstack in the yard and brought in a fresh supply of the brown blocks in her apron. She put some of the peat on the fire and dumped the rest down on the hearth. Then she broke up some dry brush, tucked it into the grate, and sat down to encourage the slumbering flames with a pair of bellows. Immediately the fire brightened, and the air grew odorous with wisps of smoke that stole out into the room.

Mrs. Fearn said the supply of bannocks was running short, and she must make more. Bannocks are flat, brittle cakes of oatmeal, as large around as a plate. In thickness and color they suggest sections of coarse sole leather, and no one unacquainted with them would suspect that they were good to eat. Their preparation consists in stirring up oatmeal with water into a thick dough, rolling lumps of it out into shape and then "firing" the rough disks one at a time in the fireplace. I do not mean, as the American vernacular would suggest, that the cakes were consigned forcibly to the flames. The term "firing," as applied to a bannock in Scotland, means first browning the under side on a griddle, and then setting it up edgewise on a toaster hung before the blaze, and letting the other side brown. When spread with butter and accompanied by a bit of cheese and a glass of milk or a cup of tea, the bannocks are so good that even an epicure would not disdain them. I think the Scotch feel a real pity for a person who does not eat them regularly, and love them. 

The Peat-stack in the yard

During my stay in the glen I had bannocks at every meal, and, besides the accessories that naturally go with the cakes, I was given heather honey for a relish. The honey was in the honeycomb, and it was wonderfully rich, and tasted full of sunshine and blossoms. The bees gather the finest harvest of the year in the time of the heather-bloom. The clover honey that they make earlier is not nearly so deep in tint nor so densely sweet. Nor does it bring as much, when sold, into "tuppence" a pound.

The day's work in the glen began at five o'clock. Mrs. Fearn and her daughter were always stirring by that time. The mother went at once to the byre to start milking the eight cows, but Mary Ann stayed indoors to kindle the kitchen fire, and hang over it a great black pot full of oatmeal. Then she skimmed the milk in the dairy, and when the porridge was cooked and the tea boiled for the men's breakfast, she went out to help her mother finish milking.

The cattle of the region were of a hornless variety, usually black, but sometimes gray or patched with white. The cows received very good care, and they, of all the farm animals, were the only ones that were invariably kept in the byres over night right through the year. It was thought to be too "cauld" for them in the fields, though during the warmer months the calves and horses were allowed to stay out continuously, and the sheep were not housed, even in winter. The sheep pastures were in the main bare grassland, or heather hillsides; but it was arranged that there should be a patch of woodland somewhere in the pasturage to which they could retire for shelter from the storms. If the winter was mild, the sheep might be able to pick up their own living, yet ordinarily they required some feeding.

Raising calves was an important industry in the glen, and Farmer Fearn had quite a herd of them. Mary Ann fed them three times a day, the last time about nine or ten in the evening. She usually went out bareheaded, with a red shawl wound about her shoulders. While milking or doing dirty kitchen work, the women added greatly to their picturesque-ness by tucking their outer skirts up so that the folds only came halfway down.

When they found I was interested in Scotch ways, they were at great pains to give me information, and they brought out for exhibition their photograph albums, and their hats and bonnets, and Mr. Fearn's best suit, and the cheese tub, and much else. I related something of our American customs, and they were of the opinion that if the women here did no outdoor work, and never milked, and never blacked the men's boots, they must sit by the fire and "rockit" a large part of the time. Mary Ann wanted I should tell the American girls that they did not do half enough.

Mr. Fearn paid a rent on his farm, to the Laird who owned all the hills and glens for miles around, of 150 a year. The farm consisted of eighty acres and a " butt." The eighty acres were rolling valley land. The butt was thin, heathery pasturage, "mostly steens" (stones), the farmer affirmed, that swept up a steep hillside and far on across a peat bog.

"It is no easy getting a living here," Mr. Fearn explained, and he added that his hired help worked shorter hours and had more to show for their labor at the end of the year than he had. In cold seasons he could not ripen his corn (oats) enough so that the grain could be used for seed, and there were times when the little river Esk overflowed and stood like a loch in the meadows and "drowned" all the corn on the lowland. This year there had been white frosts in June after the potatoes were up two or three inches, and every stalk was blackened and withered down to the ground. A belated scarecrow was still standing in one of Mr. Fearn's potato fields. It was made out of old clothes stuffed with hay, and it had its arms extended, and an old hat fastened on top just like one of our scarecrows at home. But you would not find a scarecrow in a potato field with us. The rooks "howk" out the "tatties" in Scotland when their green sprouts first break up through the earth, and you may often see one of the black thieves carrying off a recently planted tuber in its bill. In Glen Clova they called a scarecrow a "tattie-dooley," which, translated, means a potato-bogey.

Late one afternoon I climbed up Mr. Fearn's butt of moor and over the rocky riggin (ridge) of the hill to a wide marsh. Scattered about the high waste were a few sheep feeding on the sparse grasses, but there were not enough of them to soften much the loneliness of the spot with the great heather hills glooming all about. The farmer had finished cutting peat here only the day before, and where the dark banks-had been laid bare, I could see that the bog was full of large roots and pieces of tree trunks—-plainly it must once have been wooded. Good-sized oaks are found in some bogs, black with the peat stain to their hearts. The wood is perfectly sound, but it cracks badly when exposed to the air, and is not of much use except for fence posts, though in small pieces, carved and polished, it has value in the form of ornaments.

Stirring up the fire

The region around Glen Clova is good hunting ground, and the Laird let it for the winter shooting of grouse to a London gentleman at 500 a season. This sum was sufficient to make every brace of grouse the Londoner shot cost him a guinea. Back on the hills was a deer "forest" that covered many square miles. The winter previous had been very cold and snowy, and the wild creatures had a hard time of it. The grouse came in hundreds down to the roadway in the glen, and they would light in flocks on the stacks in the stackyards. The partridges and the crows were very familiar, too. Rabbits and hares would come close to the houses, and in the morning, after a snow, the dooryards would be padded all over with their footmarks. The deer descended from their native upland, and the farm folk would see them stringing along at the foot of the brae in the pastures. The farmers did not care to have them get into their turnip fields, and they would go out with their guns and frighten them back to the high moors. The creatures were "near deid wi' starvation," or they would not have ventured into the valley at all. Mr. Fearn killed a dozen of them and salted down their meat. The schoolmaster shot one right at the corner of the schoolyard, and for several nights he slept with his gun on his bed, ready for another. The deer spoiled a young planting of seven hundred acres of spruce, larch, and fir by getting into it and biting off the tops of the little trees. The planting was fenced, but deer are famous jumpers, and when urged by hunger, no protection short of six feet high would daunt them.

At Craig Eggie the road down the valley was not passable to teams for nine weeks in midwinter, and Clova village, three miles above, was cut off from the world a week longer. Yet school kept as usual, and though some of the scholars lived at a considerable distance, the snow made little difference in the attendance. Glen Clova children are hardy, and save for the two or three smallest ones, they waded daily back and forth through the drifts.

Very few of the scattered homes of the glen were so placed as to have near neighbors, and the only village cluster was up the valley at Clova, where were a church, a white manse, a hotel, and several small dwellings. The people from all the region around came every Sunday to attend service at the little church, some in gigs and dogcarts, but the large majority on foot.


Years ago the glen was much more fully populated, and I everywhere came across the broken walls of old-time houses. One spot was pointed out to me where had been a group of thirty dwellings less than half a century before. Now there were only two — a farmhouse and the lodge of a game-keeper. The vanished homes had been mostly cotter houses, each with its little farm of three or four acres on which the cotter raised tatties and corn, and pastured his cow. In the cotter's kitchen of those bygone days, besides the one or two beds and other necessary furniture, would be a hand-loom. During the winter this was rarely idle, and it was more or less in use the year through. The cloth woven in these country houses was sold to a manufacturer in the nearest large town. When machine weaving began to be general, the cotters found it difficult to support their families wholly on the produce of the little farms, and they were obliged to seek the mills in the cities.

The development of machinery and the country isolation has depopulated rural Scotland everywhere. One result is that it is not easy for the farmers to get help in the more remote districts. The laborers drift to the towns now more persistently than do the middle classes. Nor can one blame them, when one considers how they must live as agriculturists.

A man hired out to a farmer, in addition to his wages, is allowed a flagon of milk daily and seventy pounds of oatmeal a month. The eating arrangements are simplicity itself. He sits down to the table with a deep plate full of porridge and a bowl of milk before him, and with his horn spoon dips up, alternately, porridge and milk, until he reaches the bottom of the dishes. There are no further courses, and there is no variation in breakfast, dinner, and supper. Indeed, this is the bill of fare the year through in the more backward districts. But such plain living is not as satisfactory as it once was, and the man is very apt to sell part of his meal and get tea and an occasional piece of meat or loaf of bread.

On the old-fashioned farms an unmarried laborer usually has a dwelling to himself—a little "placie" of one room known as a "bothy." Often three or four laborers inhabit the tiny stone-walled hovel together. Each man has a kist for his clothes and other personal belongings, and a second kist for his oatmeal. A table, a few chairs, a kettle, a pot, and a water-pail complete the furnishings of the bothy. The man who lives in his employer's household has his allowance of meal and milk just the same as if he dwelt outside, but the farmer's wife does his cooking, and he is very likely given such extras as the family itself eats. Still, even at best, I did not wonder that laborers failed to find life on the isolated farms attractive, nor did it seem strange that the lonely glens were gradually being deserted by the farmers themselves.

Ruins of a Cotters Home

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