Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

By J. H. Crawford (c1892)

FORFARSHIRE is unique among the counties of Scotland. It has a character of its own, and as near an approach to natural boundaries as can reasonably be looked for in an arbitrary division of the land. Like things are grouped together in impressive masses, and, from the Grampians to the German Ocean, the arrangement is simple and orderly.

As in all things mundane, there is a corresponding disadvantage. In scenery, as generally understood, that is, in pretty diversified stretches or sudden glimpses which arrest the wanderer, it must yield to its neighbour, Perthshire. The stream of tourists flows past or to one side, dropping a few here and there at quiet railway stations to occupy the shooting-lodges or to make themselves acquainted with the flora. Even the natives, on pleasure bent, seem to prefer St. Fillans to Clova. To be seen to advantage, a good deal must be seen at once, and only those who have climbed to some commanding height know wherein its strength lies.

The county is almost entirely made up of two parallel lines of elevation and two parallel depressions. All the rest is subordinate, and does not anywhere assert itself so as to disturb this simple plan. Running along the northern border is that portion of the Grampians known as the Benchinnin Hills, whose peaks rise to the very considerable height of 3000 feet and upward. The southern slopes of these hills are known as the Braes of Angus. At their foot, and sharply marked off by a great fault or sudden change from the metamorphic rock to the sandstone, is the great plain of Strathmore. This is part of a greater plain beginning in Dumbartonshire and terminating at Stonehaven, but the name is usually confined to that portion shut in between the Sidlaws and the Grampians. It stretches across the county in a belt from four to six miles wide, and constitutes the Howe of Angus. Forming the southern boundary of this central valley is the Sidlaw range, very bold where it enters from Perthshire, from 1500 feet high, but elsewhere of much more moderate elevation. Occupying the remaining space between this and the sea is the maritime district, which may be regarded as terminating at Redhead, or crossing the Border into Kincardineshire, according to the limit assigned to the Sidlaws. The general direction of all the four is from south-west to north-east. Such are the general features of the county.

The mountains to the north are furrowed by four great glens. These originate at the dead wall of partition between Forfarshire and Aberdeenshire, and, winding away in a southerly or south-easterly direction, open into Strathmore. Glen Isla is the most westerly, Glen Esk the most easterly, while Clova and Prosen come between. Each of these glens has a stream streaking its centre. The Clova stream is the South Esk. At Cor-tachie it enters the country of the old red sandstone, and a mile and a half lower it is joined by the Prosen. The combined waters enter the sea at Montrose. The North Esk flows down Glen Esk, and forms for some distance the boundary between Angus and Mearns. The last of the four, the Isla, deserves to be traced out a little more particularly. On leaving the hills it passes through the tremendous defile it has ploughed for itself, the den of Airlie. Skirting the county for awhile, it turns southwest into Perthshire, and joins the Tay at Kinclaven, near Car-gill. It is the only river, with the exception of its tributary, the Dean, which leaves the county. From its peculiar formation. Forfarshire is, in the main, self-contained, and neither gives nor receives contributions. The next two streams originate in Strathmore. From its source in the loch of Forfar, the Dean holds a westerly course, and never leaves its native valley. The Lunan turns eastward, expands into the interesting lochs of Rescobie and Balgavies, and, passing Redhead Castle, enters Lunan Bay. The waters or burns which originate on the Sidlaws are inconsiderable, and for the most part flow down the northern slope, helping to swell the volume of the Dean. The Elliot and the Dighty begin and end their story in the maritime lain. The latter drains the south-eastern, the former the southwestern portion.

It is noticeable that quite a large number of the streams, either begin in, or, near their source, expand into sheets of water. Notwithstanding this the lakes are unimportant and not nearly so numerous as at one time they seem to have been. Man has aided nature in draining their shallow basins, either for the sake of the land or of the marl.

Bordering the county to the south and east is a seaboard of considerable variety and interest. From Broughty Ferry onward it wears its milder and sandy aspect. A broadening belt of links follows for a considerable distance the bend of the coast. At Barry the scene becomes wild with great rolling sand dunes, many in the course of formation, and others just greening over. From West haven to Easthaven, low rocks, covered at high water, fill up the space between tide marks. A further stretch of somewhat savage sandy coast follows. The cliffs begin beyond Arbroath, and terminate beyond Redhead. Nowhere perhaps to be described as stupendous, they are still sufficiently high to warn the timid back, and to cause the light-headed to feel a sense of dizziness. The line is broken by a sweep of shallow bay. Cliffs not quite so bold, and made of different stuff fill up the space between Lunan and Montrose, and a further stretch of links completes the coast line. The scene has not always appeared as it does now; and a slight, acquaintance with the changes through which it has passed will help to clear up the picture.

By the aid of the scientific imagination a few effective sketches might be made of the appearance the country wore at this or that era of the past; and, if done with sufficient skill, they might be found to chain the attention like the culminating scenes of a novel. There is a semi-romantic interest attaching to the past of the earth, which, combined with the majestic slowness of the movement, and the grandeur of the incidents, must ever make Geology one of the most fascinating of studies.

It will be sufficient to give a more general statement of the causes and conditions which wrought out the familiar features. Happily the story is very simple, easy to tell, and not very difficult to understand.

The greater part of modern Forfarshire was made out of the Grampians, which must at one time have been very much higher than they are. The raw material for building was so much debris, worn away from the hill slopes by the ordinary, or extraordinary agencies of decay. This process of rock forming takes place under water. Thus we are prepared to find that the Grampian hills looked down, not on the valley of Strathmore as the} do now ; but on a great inland sea or lake, which stretched away over the maritime plain at least as far as Fife, and probably as far as the Lammermuir, Moorfoot, and Carrick ranges. The larger and heavier pieces of this waste were gathered and piled along the edge of the water, where it lapped up on the the lower slopes of the hills, just as the stones and shells of the coast are rolled in by the waves, and map out the highest point the tide reaches. In the conglomerate or hardened mixture of sand and stones on the northern side of Strathmore, the edge of this ancient sea may yet be traced. The more completely ground down material was floated out to the deep water, where the Sidlaws now are and beyond, and settled quietly and continuously to the bottom. There it accumulated through a long period of time, to an immense thickness, getting hardened by pressure and other physical causes from loose sand into sandstone. In this way out of the waste of the mountains and in the bed of the inland sea the foundations of the county were laid. Had this been all, it is obvious that Forfarshire would have presented two features, and two features only, the mountains to the north, and, for the rest, a pretty uniform plain.

But another force came into play to give a little variety to this somewhat monotonous plan. Volcanoes seem to have broken out through the sandstone, and to have spread the ejected molten material over the bed of the sea. In the intervals of quiet between the outbursts the waste of the hills was redeposited over the layer of volcanic matter. Hence that alternation of sandstone and igneous rock, so characteristic of the central uplands of the county. This process went on ever heaping up new material, and thus shallowing the water and approaching nearer the surface. At length a low bank of land showed itself in the neighbourhood of the Sidlaws and the maritime district. The presence of this bank pent up the water in the comparatively narrow intervening valley now known as Strathmore, from which after a while it entirely vanished. This was the first appearance of modern Forfarshire south of the Grampians, and out of this shapeless mass the familiar features were chiselled by the ordinary forces of Nature. "When first elevated from the sea the land doubtless presents on the whole a comparatively featureless surface. It may be likened to a block of marble raised out of a quarry, rough and rude in outline, massive in solidity and strength, but giving no indication of the grace into which it will grow under the hand of the sculptor. What art effects on the marble, nature accomplishes here. Her tools are many and varied; air, frost, rain, springs, torrents and rivers. With these implements out of the huge bulk she cuts the valleys and ravines, scoops the lake basins, hews with bold hand the outlines of the mountains, carves out peak and crag, chisels the courses of the torrents, and spreads out the alluvium of the rivers.

In the contour of the Sidlaws the working of these forces is manifest. The depressions are worn out of the softer and more easily wasted stone, whereas the elevations are formed of harder and more enduring stuff. The same lesson may be read in the range as a whole. A glance will show that the heights become bolder towards Perth, whereas eastward and seaward they flow down, until in some places they are scarcely distinguishable from the plain. Indeed it is hard to find anyone who can tell on what portion of the coast they terminate or by what route they reach it. After passing Craigowl, the Sidlaws become the enigma of Forfarshire, the probable version being that they divide near Forfar, one branch running south-east to Redhead, the other northeast past Brechin into Kincardineshire.

The same hint will serve for the maritime district. Wherever any part rises above the rest, it is safe to assume that the material of which it is formed, is harder than that of the surrounding country. The slower waste has caused it to fall behind in the form of a knob or ridge. And as there are only two rocks to chose from in the neighbourhood—sandstone and igneous rock—it is easy to tell which forms the elevation and which the depression. Dundee Law, Balgay Hill, and many of the lesser eminences which help to diversify the scene, are just such masses of volcanic rock of different degrees of hardness and resisting power. Some of them probably mark the vents out of which the lava flowed, and all of them are silent reminders of a time when nature, happily for us, was livelier than it is now, and happily for our posterity, livelier than it is ever likely to be again.

Such is the history of the county, so far at least, and such the light it casts on the familiar features. By its aid we can understand and interpret every undulation on the surface, every curve which breaks the horizon. Mountain, plain, and sea coast become luminous with a sort of self-revelation. We see them coming into being, as the result of certain natural forces whose operations, when once understood, are extremely simple and easy to follow. As some one puts it, we seem to have two eyes instead of one. We look at once with the senses and the intelligence.

At a much later stage further changes, if not so fundamental, still sufficiently marked, took place. The nature of the agent which wrought these may be surmised from the hints it has left behind. Underneath the rough grass or heather, and the thin sprinkling of soil of some of the uplands, the face of the underlying rock is found to be smooth, and marked by parallel scratches. The scoring is more or less distinct, and in the case of the softer rocks may be almost or quite obliterated, but when present it will scarcely be mistaken tor an accident.

Nearly every district, ho a ever limited in extent, has a mass of stone lying on the surface by the road-side or in the middle of some field. Even the unintelligent curiosity of our forefathers was excited, and, being unable to find any better explanation, they attributed their presence to supernatural agency. Such blocks are numerous enough all over the maritime plain, and dot the slopes of the Sidlaws almost to the very summit of the loftier heights. Many of them are erratics or wanderers from home. The nearest relatives of some of them are among the Grampians, from which seat they must at one time or other, and bv some agency or other, have been transported. The Cauld Stane o' the Crafts, a mass of fifteen tons, perched on a height in the sandstone district of Carmyllie, is a long distance from its home near the source of the South Esk. The finest instance of an erratic, observed by Sir Charles Lyell, occurred in Pitscandly, an isolated hill of some 700 feet. About forty feet below the summit was a block of Mica slate, thirteen feet long, seven broad, and seven in height. One of the nearest points at which this gneiss appears, in situ, is the Craig of Balloch, fifteen miles distant, and between these points intervene the great valley of Strathmore and the hills of Finhaven.

A succession of quarries occurs along the maritime plain in almost a straight line from the Back Muir of Liff to Carmyllie. A visit to any of these quarries will reveal the state of matters existing over the whole of the lowland portions of the county, and even in the hollows among the hills. Before reaching the solid sandstone rock, a greater or less thickness has to be removed; it may be fifteen or twenty feet of superficial deposit. This subsoil is largely clay, very sticky, and difficult to work, full of irregularly-shaped stones, some of which show signs of scoring. Obviously, this mass is not the result of simple disintegration, and must have been laid down subsequently to the sandstone 011 which it rests. The surface of the rocks beneath the clay is shattered into large fragments as if by the passage of some heavy body, which was not improbably the same agent that laid down the soil.

The generally smooth appearance worn by the whole county, the regular scooping of the valleys, the rounding of the hill summits, and flow of the hill flanks, the absence of angles and corners, cannot well escape a curious observer.

The explanation now generally accepted by those most competent to form a judgment, is that all this was done by ice. The rocks were scratched and grooved; the giant boulders were borne, often over the tops of hills; the subsoil was deposited and the rough edges were rounded off by glaciers. Those great rivers of ice, immensely deep and thick, ground away along their beds, and spread the rubbish they created over the face of the country. The stones beneath acted as chisels, at once scoring and being themselves scored, and the masses which tumbled down upon their surfaces, or were imprisoned in their substance, were borne along in their flow, and dropped here and there when the melting time came.

The period of cold through which, according to this view, the country must once have passed is now known as the great ice age. The date usually assigned to it is some 200,000 years ago; and it must have lasted for a very long time. At its worst the lowlands were buried to a depth of at least 3000 feet, sufficient to engulph all the Forfarshire hills south of the Grampians. Various accounts of this phenomenon have been given, the most satisfactory being that which assigns it to astronomical causes. The earth was so placed with relation to the sun, that the summers in the northern hemisphere were much shorter than they are now and the winters much longer; the opposite condition of things existing at the same time in the southern hemisphere. Be the explanation what it may, there is nothing very sensational or hard to believe about it. Portions of the earth's surface are under similar conditions now. We need not go far out of our own latitude to be among the glaciers. In Norway the land is still covered by a fringe of the ice sheet, and observant people who go there have a good deal of light thrown on some of the aspects of their own country. 'I climbed for some yards under the ice,' says Archibald Geikie, ' and found the floor on which it rested smoothly polished and covered with scorings of all sizes.'

Further north, where the Dundee whalers go, the lesson is still plainer. ' One can see close at hand, and in full activity the mighty forces, which elsewhere he can at most study in pigmy remnants, remnants from the time when the north of the Continent was buried under icc.' In his account of the crossing of Greenland Nansen tells a fascinating story of a modern glacial era, which may be applied almost without modification to our own land.

'At last we had overcome our first difficulty, the struggle through the floes. Our boats flving the Norwegian and Danish flags glided under a steep cliff, the dark wall of which was mirrored in the bright water. The snow came nearly down to the sea, so that we could begin hauling the sledges at once. About ten on the morning of August 31st, we saw land for tlie last time. We were on the crest of one of the great waves, or gentle undulations of the surface, and had our final glimpse of a little point of rock, which protruded from the snow. From

August 30, onward, the surface was smooth and even as a mirror, with no disturbance in its uniformity. For days, I may say weeks, we toiled over an interminable desert of snow. One day began and ended like another. Flatness and whiteness were the two features of the scene. In the day we could see three things only, the sun, the snowfield and ourselves.'

And far beneath this silent waste, this monotonous cylinder, which those daring pioneers were crossing for the first time, lay landscapes probably as varied as our own, once lit up and vivified by a warm sun, and rich in southern vegetation. If the land is ever again uncovered, we can imagine that the superincumbent mass will have left its impress everywhere; smoothing hill tops, ploughing valleys, scoring and transporting stones, and depositing rubbish, just as it has done in Forfarshire. So much for an actual ice age to help us to believe in our own, and to realise what it was like.

If the condition here had been no worse than this, the reign of silence and death would have been confined to the central parts, while life would have existed and even flourished around our shores. The perpetual snow line on Greenland begins at 2,000 feet, below which the land is clear, for the most part, from June to August, and supports a vegetation of several hundred species of flowering plants, which deposit their seeds before the winter. In his struggle along the floe-haunted East coast, the wildest and dreariest side, Nansen not only found bare ground to place, his feet upon, but met with cheering and pleasing signs of life.

'A little past noon,' he records, ' we reached a small island which seemed to be the loveliest spot we had ever seen on the face of this earth. All was green here. There were grass, heather, sorrel, and numbers of bright flowers. It was a simple paradise, and wonderfully delightful it was to be here stretched on the green sward in the full blaze of the sun. Then we gathered a few flowers in memory of this Greenland idyl.'

The last pleasant greeting he got as he turned his back on the coast and his face to the inland ice, was from a snow bunting. The same living form that bade him good-bye was the first to meet him on the far side. ' Suddenly we became aware of twittering, and soon enough we saw a snow-bunting come flying after us.' An J on fmallv stepping off the snow, ' Words cannot depict what it was to have earth and stones beneath our feet, or tlie thrill that went through us as we touched the elastic heath and felt the fragrant scent of grass and moss.'

With us it seems to have been very much drearier and less hopeful. There was no such margin of life and beauty around our Scottish coast; no blessed rim of black; no exposed ledge of rock even, to make a British idyl. We were in the centre of the icefield which welded us to the Continent, and terminated in a long line of steep cliffs far out in the Atlantic. There was neither roothold nor foothold ; and every living thing must have been driven away south.

These stern conditions relaxed and returned more than once, at intervals, astronomers tell us, of 21,000 years. Periods probably of great heat, certainly of great mildness, alternated with periods of great cold. After the pendulum, with mighty sweeps, had oscillated in this way, the climate began finally to ameliorate, and the glacial age to pass away. As the ice slowly shrunk and retreated northward, exposing portions of the land, life followed and took possession. Among the plants, the hardier and smaller were in advance. The more delicate and succulent waited till the chilled and sodden earth was warmed and dried, and the danger of devastating floods was past. The English Channel was a land valley, so that no obstacle checked the onward march. For a while these Alpines or Arctics had all the land to themselves. They were satisfied with little, could endure much, and were able to cling to any support above the reach of the tumbling waters, caused by the melting of the ice. They held possession of the lowlands, just as at present they do in Greenland, the hills being capped with white, and the glens blocked with glaciers. As the climate became still milder, and the icefield shrunk still further, the main body ventured forward. Unable to contend with these luxuriant growers on their own ground the Alpines took to the hill slopes. Closely followed, they clambered yet higher up, seizing upon every nook and coign of vantage; rooting themselves wherever they could find a sprinkling of soil or a crack in the rock. At length they reached an altitude where they could defy competition. There they have remained from that distant time to the present day, and there they will remain so long as the increasing number of hill botanists leave any of them alone, or till another glacial era, sure sooner or later to come, drives them south again. Wonderfully they thrive in these arid heights notwithstanding the sparse soil and diet. What they lack in leaf and stalk they seem to give to blossom ; sending out a wealth of flower altogether out of proportion to their size. No one who has seen it can well forget the glory of purple, yellow and white from the saxifrages alone. Districts where the land was mainly flat, or the heights were only moderate, less say than 2,000 feet, gave no refuge to the first comers against their pursuers. Such places number no Alpines in their flora. But Forfarshire had abundant shelter and safe retreat in that northern barrier. It offered the lofty heights, Monega and Maud Crag, and the stern defiles of Caenlochan, Caenness, and Glen Dole. And therefore it comes to pass that we are so rich in Alpines, richer than any county in Scotland except Perthshire.

In much the same order and manner animal life appeared. The hardier Arctic mammals came on the trail of the retreating ice, and lingered as long as the conditions continued to suit them; when at length they held on towards their final resting-place, in or near the Arctic regions, the less hardy temperate forms took their place. And as our climate has not very materially changed since these arrived, they have found no reason to remove. From various causes, chief of which was probably the arrival of man, some of them have become extinct; others, although still on the face of the earth, are no longer found in this country. But the remainder, or their lineal descendants, constitute the modern fauna.

After a while the sea once more flooded the valley between England and the Continent, and so put a stop to further ingress before everything had time to pass. This explains why so many Continental forms are absent from our islands.

Turning to the existing life of the county we are prepared, from what has been said, to find it of exceptional interest. This is especially true of its flora. In addition to its fair share of ordinary forms, it numbers its Alpines. A few figures will make plain how very large the proportions of these hardy plants is. Ninety-nine in all are found scattered throughout Great Britain and Ireland; mostly on the loftier heights, in very rare cases on the more trying sea coasts. Eighty-eight of these, or within three of the entire number, are native to Scotland, but are by no means equally distributed. They are mainly on the Grampian hills, and seventy-three are found on that portion of the range which forms the northern boundary of Forfarshire. It thus appears that we are 011 the very centre of the field, and it may be said that the characteristic flora of the county is Alpine. Any one who wishes to visit in their homes these flowers which took possession of our hills so long ago, has a certain limited choice of routes. lie can easily reach Caenlochan, that is if he is not afraid of a little fatigue. A drive of twelve miles from Alyth will take him to Kirkton of Glen Isla; and a further walk of about ten miles will place him in the midst of the wilds. By the way he will not fail to notice a change in the vegetation, not sudden but gradual. The roadside weeds and wildflowers, common to the lowland parts, will be seen more and more to thin out; and other and less familiar forms, better suited to the increasing-elevation to appear in their stead. Not all of them Alpine; some of them half-way between or sub-Alpines. The place and function of the daisy is usurped by the no less sweet eyebright, and the common lady's mantle gives place to its Alpine sister. If it is not too near the 12th of August, no objection will be raised to his further progress. Perhaps the second half of June or the first half of July will yield the best results. Nine out of every ten plants he sees probably he has never seen before. The first to call forth a note of admiration will be the yellow saxifrage, which clothes the mountain rill sides. Not far off he is sure to find and be delighted with its still more beautiful sister the white starry saxifrage. Perhaps the keeper, if he is about, may volunteer to go with him. It might even be worth while to turn aside to his house and take him into confidence. It is perfectly possible that that functionary may guide him past the haunt of the snowy gentian without telling him how near he is to one of the rarest flowers in Scotland. His caution is to be highly commended. An easy walk across the intervening uplands leads from Glen Isla to Glen Clova from Caenlochan to Glen Dole.

Much the same forms are met with as on the other side, but the same liberty to look at them is by no means enjoyed. On a hill towards the top of these two glens grows the Alpine catchfly, found nowhere else in Scotland, and only in one isolated spot in the north of England. Not far away is another rare Forfarshire plant, the yellow oxytropis. He may return for the night to the keeper's lodge and in the morning saunter down the course of the Isla to Kirkton. He can drop off the coach at the nearest point to the top of the den of Airlie. This defile is exceptionally rich even among dens. It offers shelter to an immense number of shade loving, and moisture loving, as well as rock loving forms. The Herb Paris grows there, and certain rare orchids, and vetches, besides grasses and flowerless plants without number. There is charm as well as interest in the place. The banks which descend toward the stream, and the cliffs which overhang it. are covered with a wild luxuriance of vegetation, lit up with the abundant blossoms of the white wood-vetch, the red berries of the stone bramble, and the tall spikes of the giant bell flower. The fame of Loch Rescobie near the source of the Lunan for the wealth of its water plants is known beyond the county. It is especially rich in pond weeds.

The Sidlaws may be crossed almost without pausing. There is little to interest in its flowering plants, less even than one would expect. The flora of the inward part of the maritime plain is comparatively poor, certainly not richer than most other flat places diversified by wood.

The case is different with the sea coast. All the way from Invergowrie to Montrose interesting forms are to be met with. A walk along the Arbroath cliffs, with an occasional descent of some of the steep slopes, will make one acquainted with a variety of sea plants. These grow for the most part in such profusion that no amount of rough usage seems able to diminish the quantity. The sea campion, the clustered bell flower, the purple mountain milk vetch abound. The only sufferers of permanent injury are the ferns, and these are in danger of extinction, except perhaps for a few which may have rooted themselves beyond reach, and means will doubtless be taken to secure even these. Forms, once plentiful enough, are either scarce or no longer to be found, and the scarcer they become the greater the run after them. They are just sufficiently attractive to catch the eye of the passer-by; and they make pretty books and pretty ornaments for triflers. Can nothing be done to cure this mania and stop this waste ? If not, it will soon become necessary to omit a few forms from our Forfarshire flora.

The same climatical changes and diversity of conditions which give the variety of plant life, give a corresponding variety of animal life. It must have struck the least observant that our wild mammals are few in number, and they will be best understood when regarded as a fragment of a rich fauna which over-ran the land on the retreat of the ice. Once upon a time the bison roamed over our grassy plains, with the wolf hanging on the skirts of the herd; the brown bear shambled through the forest glades of Strathmore, while his formidable cousin, the grisly, held the defiles of the Grampians. Within historic times the beaver built his lodge on the Isla, and the wild boar rooted in the adjoining thicket. 'The bear has left no traces of a later date than the Roman occupation, the beaver was trapped for its fur in the twelfth century, the wild boar disappeared from England before the reign of Charles I. Traditions of the wolf still linger in country tales; it was exterminated from Scotland in 1680.'

Of the Arctic mammals which preceded these temperate forms, most of them held on their way to the north. The reindeer lingered for a while, and is said, with considerable probability, to have been hunted by the Jarls of Orkney, in the remote North of Caithness, as late as the year 1159. If any northern forms remain they are most likely to be found in the recesses of the Grampians, and a search for them there shows that the remnant is exceedingly small. Whatever may be the case with the plants, the animals are not characteristically Alpine. The native Grampian mammal is the mountain hare, also known as the blue and variable hare. Any day he may be seen scudding up the heights, and pausing for a moment, with reflexed ears, on the ridge. lie has a cousin on the plain and another in the Arctic regions. This hare seems to be the only form left permanently behind on the northern migration.

The other mammal found among the Grampians is the red deer. But he is not an Arctic animal at all. He is not even an Alpine, or mountain animal. He belongs to the temperate fauna of the lowlands, and is cooped up there, because these glens and defiles cannot be put to any other use.

The case is different with his graceful little cousin, the roe-deer, found abundantly further down the glen. He is our only truly wild deer, and owes his liberty to his small size, and to the fact that he is not gregarious.

The third of the family, the fallow-deer, which is to be seen here and there over the plain, can scarcely be regarded as other than an ornamental, tame animal.

In some of the deeper, darker defiles, the wild cat still lingers. He is reported as far south as the Sidlaws. Stories of his presence have to be received with considerable caution, as domestic cats occasionally take to the woods and deceive inexperienced observers. But he has the square jaw and thick-set look of a genuine wildling, and when once fairly seen can scarcely be mistaken.

There are several representatives of the weasles and their allies. The larger species, such as the pole-cat or foumart, and the common and pine martens, once numerous enough, are extremely scarce ; the latter is probably extinct. They appear in books as of yore, but one authority is apt to copy from another. It is the easiest way of getting information. The stoat and the common weasel are very generally distributed. That curious-looking fellow, the badger, sometimes spoken of as our native bear, from his habit of placing the whole foot on the ground, is found in the Grampian region, and sparingly throughout Strathmore. He doubtless owes his continued existence in considerable numbers amongst us to the deep shelter of the woods he frequents, to the burrows he digs, and to his nocturnal habits.

The mammal of the stream is that very powerful and somewhat misunderstood creature, the otter. He is hunted for various reasons, among others, because he kills the salmon. Probably he only secures the diseased, or those in danger of becoming so, and should be regarded as a benefactor. There is a wonderful balance in nature which we are constantly disturbing.

The fox is the mammal of the coverts, and is preserved from extinction for the sake of sport. As for the rest of the small deer, such as rabbits, moles, hedgehogs, rats, mice, shrews, and voles, they are sufficiently well known.

Basking on the rocks of our coast, or popping his head above water, like a great dog, in the estuary of the Tay is the seal. lie is a warm-blooded animal, a fair representative of the mammalia of the deep. He is a carnivore, who has taken to the salt water to feed on fish. In the struggle for existence lie has been pushed beyond the sand, just as the otter was pushed over the bank, and both have, in different degrees, been modified for an aquatic life. The seal follows the salmon up the estuaries the length of the rivers, where the otter takes up the chase. Indeed, he is the otter of the sea.

For obvious reasons the domestic mammals have increased in an inverse ratio to the extermination pursuing their wild brethren. Strangely enough, all those useful brutes, with the exception of the dog and cat, belong to the ungulates, or hoofed animals. The horse, the ox, the sheep, the pig, the goat, are of this order. It would take too long to discuss the vexed question as to whether these were derived from wild stocks previously at large in the country, or from tame breeds brought over from elsewhere. One instance will suffice. Among the animals which roamed through our forest glades after the glacial period, was the great ox or urus. Ceasar found it still existent in his time, and speaks of its size in exaggerated terms. That it was a native in these parts is shown by the occasional discovery of its spreading horns. This wild ox is generally credited with being the ancestor of most of our tame cattle, among the rest of our black Angus, doddies which, not so long ago, were neither hornless nor black. It is said to be represented in the present day in diminished bulk and fierceness by the Chillingham herd. Men so diverse as Mr. Darwin, the naturalist, and Sir Walter Scott, the antiquary, take this view. In his Bride of Lammermoor, the latter mentions the immemorial habit of preserving the ancient cattle in the parks of the Scottish nobility. Professor Boyd Dawkins, on the other hand, savs that the so-called wild cattle were simply tame cattle run wild; and that all our present breeds were introduced in an already domesticated condition.

If the mammals are thus fragmentary and not very numerous, the case is different with the birds. Living largely on the wing, they have not been exposed to the same destructive influences. We can scarcely be said to have any distinctly Arctic forms except during the winter, and that for a very good reason. Birds seek out the conditions which suit them, by a self-adjusting process called migration. When it is too cold they go south, when it is too warm they go north. When the hard Arctic weather sets in, the snow-bunting, which Nansen met in Greenland during the short summer of that region, comes this length, and along with it the mealy redpole, besides great flocks of water birds.

The ptarmigan is a near approach to a resident snow-bird. It has the habit common to northern forms of changing the whole or part of the plumage in winter to white. It consorts with the hardiest Alpines, 3000 to 4000 feet above the level of the sea. In strange contrast to this form is the raven, which, notwithstanding its unchanging coat of black, is a true Arctic. It is by no means exclusively confined to mountain tops, being reported from various parts of the county. Of the eagle kind usually associated with mountains, the golden eagle and the peregrine falcon are known to nest among the defiles of the Grampians. Further down, among the grouse, the mountain blackbird or ring ousel lives and rears its brood. In the neighbourhood of the roebuck our largest game-bird, the capercaillie, and our handsomest, the blackcock, make their appearance. Since its reintroduction the former is greatly on the increase in Forfarshire, so that there is scarcely a district from which it is not reported. The blackcock, on the other hand, from causes not very clearly made out, is probably on the decrease. The capercaillie frequents the fir woods to feed upon the shoots, where he has the society of two bright and lively birds of the crow kind, the jay and the magpie. All down the glens, and into Strathmore, the bullfinch nests in the tall bushes and among the fir trees.

Our streams are the haunt of two equally interesting, and in their different ways, equally beautiful birds, the kingfisher and the water ousel. There is no other reason why the kingfisher; the brightest and most tropical of our British birds, should not be mirrored in every quiet piece of water, than that it is too tempting an object for the ordinary British savage. Although occasionally seen even in the neighbourhood of Dundee, it is now rare throughout the county. Happily the case is different with our black and white friend the water ousel, which is still plentiful enough.

Loch Rescobie, rich in plant life, is equally rich in animal life. Its tall reeds form the nesting place of some of our sweetest warblers, and the summer and winter shelter of numerous aquatic birds. The mallard, the widgeon, the teal, the golden eye, the pochard, the shoveller, the eider, the gosander, the shieldrake, the coot, are a few of its inhabitants. The Sidlaws have the forms of life usually found on moorlands and moderate heights. The lesser hawks and falcons are well represented. The buzzard occasionally wheels over one of its summits, and the kite haunts its lower slopes. Birds of the linnet kind build among the coarse grass or in the whins. Various tits, finches and buntings, are among the more familiar forms of the plain.

The coast is to the bird life what the Grampians are to the plant life, the direction in which one turns who wishes to see the country at its best. A walk across a stretch of links on some breezy day, say about nesting time, is quite a revelation. Usually the first greeting is the ' chat, chat,' of the wheatear. Lark and meadow pippit rise from the bent and silently flit away. The jerky creaky flight of the lapwing sounds immediately overhead. The shrill pipe of the golden plover, and the wild whistle of the curlew come from all quarters. Dunlin and snipe appear for a moment and then vanish. Crossing some patch of heather the foot is almost on the back of the sitting eider duck, so completely does her plumage blend with the surroundings. As the sea is approached the terns appear in Increasing numbers, until they form a vast and noisy flock. High in the air they follow screaming down at the intruder. The reason of their solicitude is evident, for in holloas of the sand, with or without a few blades of withered grass, the eggs are everywhere. The lesser torn, the Arctic tern, the common tern, all have an interest in the nests. Indeed, so great is our wealth, that what we seem to want is not more birds but more observers. There is a great deal of truth in what Gilbert White of Selborne says, ' It is, I find, in zoology, as it is in botany, all nature is so full that that district produces the greatest variety which is the most examined.'

After the close of the great ice age man made his appearance in Scotland, it may be not for the first time, but for the first time of which we have any record. The positive signs of his presence, if few, are sufficient and within easy reach of all who take an interest in the matter.

Country people have long been acquainted with certain stones or flints chipped into a resemblance to arrow heads. They usually lie near the surface, where they are turned over by the plough, and when thus exposed can scarcely escape attention. These are the very earliest relics of man, the first hints of his presence here. They also tell something of his condition in those far off days. Unacquainted with the use of metals, he fashioned the harder stones into instruments for war, the chase, and domestic use. Wonderfully perfect these Forfarshire remains are; extremely varied in form, and often beautifully finished. They are a great advance on those found amid certain gravels, and in limestone caverns in the east and south-east of England, which are rudely finished and roughly chipped. So marked is the difference that we are in the habit of distinguishing between a new stone age and an old stone age.

In one thing only the man of this old stone age excelled him of the new—a strange gift to be associated with so much rudeness. Fortunately for us, he employed the intervals of leisure from the chase in engraving, chiefly upon bones, teeth, and antlers, the animals among which he lived, and the hunting scenes which most vividly impressed themselves upon his mind.

There are no sculpture, no etchings, no outline drawings pertaining either to the new stone age or to the bronze age that followed that can equal the marvellous work of these reindeer hunters.'

It would seem as if a race of men of a very low grade, except for this curious aptitude, dwelt to the south of these islands before the approach of the last great period of cold. If they ever ventured so far north as this, all traces of them have been erased.

At least there is no sufficient proof that certain so called paloeolithic weapons are genuine. As the ice sheet crept over land and sea they retreated before it. ' Step by step man was driven south, England and Belgium were deserted, perhaps even Germany to the foot of the Alps was left unoccupied until at last the race or races of the old stone age reached the South of Franco.' They have left no further record of themselves to show that they came back on the return of more genial conditions. They disappear completely from the stage and offer as much food for conjecture as the lost ten tribes.

The Eskimo, a living people inhabiting a litoral strip along the shores of the Arctic Sea, arc supposed by some to be their lineal descendants. Many of their customs are identical; they use implements of the old stone age type ; and they have the same habit of scratching on much the same hard objects animals and hunting scenes. If there is any significance in these resemblances, then the cave men must have retreated ever further north before their betters, until they got behind the shelter of the Arctic Circle.

All that we certainly know is that, after a long interval, a race vastly superior, appeared, spread over the whole island, and settled down under the shadow of the Grampians. This was the man of the new stone age, the chipper of the flint implements lying around us. He is described as short of stature, with swarthy skin and dark hair. Though still a hunter and fisher he was a farmer as well. He had ceased to rely entirely on the bounty of nature, and exercised that wise provision which is the earliest sign of civilization. He had flocks and herds, and planted and reaped. He seems to have been swallowed up rather than driven out, by successive waves of invaders. Traces of what he once was are supposed to be recognizable in the small dark Welshman, and the short swarthy Irishman. The same dark type is common enough in the Highlands and Western Islands. Whatever may be the value of these genealogical surmises, it is interesting to have amongst us races which, even approximately, represent the two divisions of that distant era.

Succeeding the stone age came one in which bronze was introduced. There is reason to believe that the change did not take place all at once. The highly finished and perfected implements and weapons of the earlier age continued in use. It seems to have been the habit of these men of the bronze age to mark or surround their interments with stones. The various circles throughout the country, and the upright blocks thinly scattered over the county should probably be interpreted in this way.

Many of our heights, especially those which command a distant view, show the remains of hill forts. Mounds of earth or walls of stone, circular or oval in form, are drawn round, so as to enclose the summit, whither probably the natives retired when hard beset. An interesting example of the stone fort crowns the White Caterthun in the parish of Menmuir. And a variety in which the stones have been vitrified or treated with fire, is found on the hill of Finhaven, towards the southern side of Strathmore. These forts are associated with weapons and implements of iron.

To this third, or iron age, seem to belong also the weems, or so-called 'Picts' houses.' These are underground tunnels or galleries, more or less curved, generally to the right. They were entered by a narrow descending passage, down which the inmates must have crept or slid. Usually there is only one entrance, but occasionally a second is found. The sides are supported by rough stones, rudely piled, and made to overlap as they approach the surface. Across the opening left, when the narrowing process was carried to the limit of safety, flat stones or pieces of wood were placed. These remains, in various states of preservation, are tolerably numerous throughout the county, and probably many more would be found if proprietors and fanners would investigate any suspicious appearances.

The earliest in this neighbourhood was known last century, and for a long time lost sight of. The most perfect was exposed in 1871, in a field at Tealing. The general shape is that of an arm bent as upon the body, the curve being to the left. The usual narrow entrance admits to the burrow. The floor descends steeply for a little, and is partially paved with slabs. Two erect stones, some 16 or 18 feet from the inner end, seem to have served as checks to a door, shutting in a separate apartment. The entire length is some 80 feet; the average breadth is about 7 feet; and the height, when covered in, was probably from 4 to 5 feet. The exceptional size of the place marks it off as the abode of a number of people. The enormous strength and durability of these structures have often been remarked ; and certainly it seemed strange to visit this one through the autumn field and find it as we'll suited for its purpose as when first built; and, apparently destined to last as long again. The ashes of the last fire lit there ; the bones of the horse which formed the last meal partaken of, remained as they were left by the last one who crept out. In the neighbourhood of these weems there are usually indications of a surface dwelling, showing that they were probably used as retreats in hard weather or in times of danger. This special type seems to range along the east coast of Scotland, from south to north.

It will be necessary to pass over a gap in the life history of the county, from the pilers of dry forts to the builders in stone and line. The curious wanderer turns eagerly aside to see ancient buildings whose date must be guessed from the style of architecture, and whose story shades back into tradition. Of such places Forfarshire has its full share, the most widely known of which is perhaps Glammis. The traditions of the country side round about the spot in which this article is being written are identified with the names of Iiamsay, Ogilvy, and Graham, and these names with the districts of Auchterhouse and the Mains.

Among the trees immediately behind Auchterhouse Station is an ancient mansion house whose presence is little suspected by the casual passer-by. Even the less intelligent and curious of the natives are scarcely aware of its existence, and need some explanation before they can give the needful guidance. The approach, if short, is shaded, and has somewhat of the impressive effect of a longer avenue. The burn murmurs to the left through a cool and grateful though shallow den. A conical dovecot attracts attention amid the shrubbery. Scarce has the visitor passed through the gate than he emerges 011 the opening in front of the house, a pleasant piece of green sward surrounded by trees, some of them large and old. The house itself, which seems to have been built at different times, is a quaint white baronial building forming two sides of a square which the out-xx. " 20 houses and a wall with a gateway complete. The projecting portions, the small and barred windows and nail studded door give it a look of considerable antiquity. It is described by Ochterlony, about 1682, as a fine house with good yards and an excellent park and meadows ; and by Jervise in 1861 as all but a ruin. If neglected, it would soon come to wear a ruinous look. But on the day in question it looked anything but ruinous with its trim walks, its shaven lawn, its great trees in full leaf, its flowering laurels, its avenues of roses, its gardener busy in a distant corner of the grounds, its clean and open doorway, and the sound of footsteps in answer to the summons.

Near the house is a square ivy-covered ruin of considerably greater antiquity. Very little is left, only four walls about twelve feet high, and that not all old. The area within is some fifteen by twenty feet. It goes by the name of Wallace's tower, and with that we must be satisfied. An owl was in possession of a deeply shaded recess, but though he looked very wise, he did not reveal any secrets. If Auchterhouse means the church on the hill, looking up from the mansion towards the village, we can understand why it should have been called so. Once a fine building in the later Gothic, or perpendicular style, supposed to have been erected about 1426, and dedicated to 'Our Lady' stood there. Fragments, hints of what it was, are still scattered about. But it has long since been replaced by an insignificant oblong erection with a dumpy steeple at one end. The interior is perhaps a little less barn-like than Scotch churches usually are. The kirk-session books, which the obliging schoolmaster will produce to any one sufficiently curious to ask for them, are of great interest, and may be taken as a sample of the curious light session books cast on the. life of the past. They are of course strictly contemporaneous records, and give a detailed, if fragmentary, account of the customs and ideas of the forefathers of the hamlet. The incidents are related with a startling minuteness, directness and absence of ornament, and in the fewest words compatible with clearness. The man who wrote had no end in view except to tell the truth and get to his dinner. One entry relates that there was only one service to-day, for the enemy was near. Obviously that was written down while the little community was still in a flutter, and uncertain what was to happen.

To come to more familiar matter culled at random:—'Oct. 10, 1650. The text, Horn. 13, v. 11. Collection Osh. lOd. That day Margt. Spense cal'd upon at the kirk door, compeared not; ordained that she be called next Lord's day.' Nobler names than Margaret's appear in the same record as delinquents. Plainly the Kirk was a power in those days, feared no one, and exercised many functions now delegated to others, or suffered to fall into disuse. Some of the entries raise a smile because of the blunt wav in which ancient and obsolete customs are introduced. 'Ye two hundred and fifty pounds of interest, got from my Lord Airly upon ye 31 Dec. 1737, was lent to ye minister,' notwithstanding it was said, page 410, to be 'emboxed.' Turning back to page 410, the entry, of which this is a correction, is found duly made. The church kept its treasure in an iron-bound box, with a slit in it sufficient to admit a coin. When wealthy, as seems to have been the case here, it acted as banker to the neighbourhood, and the interest paid by Lord Airly, probably for money advanced, instead of being put back in the box was immediately lent to the minister.

Further down the Strath to the south of what was once an interesting and picturesque, but is now a sadly downtrodden den, is the Castle of Fintry or Mains. A favourite resort of the inhabitants of the east end of Dundee, the surroundings have paid the usual penalty of popularity. The style belongs to the sixteenth century, and, as if to put all doubt to rest, the building itself bears the dates 1562, and 1582. The builder seems to have been one Sir David Graham, a nephew of Cardinal Beaton, who shared in a plot for the restitution of the Catholic Church, and was executed at the Cross of Edinburgh in 1593. The initials D. G. and D. M. 0., David Graham and his wife, Dame Margaret Ogilvy, could, till lately, be traced on one of the stones above the west door. On the other side of the Dighty, and almost within a stonethrow, lived a branch of the same family somewhat more familiar to us. Not a trace of their dwelling remains, but they have found a place in the history, in the literature— Old Mortality—and in the songs of Scotland. During the lifetime of Sir David, the Grahams of Fintry maintained the lead, but after his death, their kinsmen across the stream came to the front, and the remarkable career of John Graham of Claverhouse made the ascendancy complete. So much for the semi-traditionary period, with a clear spot here and there lit np by some kirk-session book.

It would seem, after all, that man, during his long residence here, if it may be 80,000 years, has left little impression on the scene. Traces of prehistoric man are well-nigh blotted out, and historic man is represented by a few such ruins as have just been described. Until but yesterday, one might have stood on a height, and, looking southward, seen nothing between him and the river or the sea, except a few thin lines of smoke, marking the position of such hamlets as Anchterhouse. So in the main it is yet, and so it will be. There is little reason to fear the growth and multiplication of villages on either side of the Sidlaws. Least of all, perhaps, to the north. Stratlnnore must ever remain the quiet and majestic vale it is. The absence of coal and certain other minerals, amid the many drawbacks, has this one compensating advantage, that it protects Forfarshire from the devastating processes which have laid waste large portions of the neighbouring county of Fife, and will help to preserve its slopes and valleys green, and its atmosphere pure to all time coming.

J. H. Crawford.

Return to Scottish Historical Articles


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus