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Inverurie and The Earldom of the Garioch

Primitive Inhabitation.—The Bass—The Sanners—Dunnideer—Ardtannies—Remains of Stone period—Broomend—Cists, urns, cairns, tumuli. Ancient Highways.—From fords of Don to Dunnideer— Stone circles and Sculptured monoliths—Double road from Broomend to Iirhnmies; by CoT8‘. man hill and Blackball, with branch ascending the Don—By Stanners and Inverurie Roods, Stonefield and Kelpyfold, with branch to Caskieben, and east side of Ury—Garioch highways farther north—Poictate and roads to Old Meldrum and Howford—The Roman Iter.


AT a point about six miles south-east from the summit of Benachie, one of the extremities of the Grampians, the rivers Don and Ury descend, through valleys which meet at right angles, to a marshy hollow where their waters are only 120 yards apart, when they are again deflected, and their junction removed a good way southward, by an abrupt mound, seemingly composed of shingle, but coated with vegetable soil, from which a triangular field, of about 40 acres in area, slopes between the two streams.

The mound and field are the Bass and Stanners of Inverurie; and these, from their position and apparent structure, may be a memorial of the glacial period. It is evident from the strue found upon rock surfaces, that the course of the ice-slip was from Benachie to the North Sea at Belhelvie. The local meltings of the glacier left a string of moraines along the Don, in the parish of Kemnay, where the line of railway now is—the Kaims of Kemnay. A mound, called the Cuninghill, exactly resembling these, stands Southward of the Manse of Inverurie, at the edge of a sandy terrace, named the Kellands, where the slope of the alluvial floods begins. The glacial mass, obstructed a little below that point by the narrow hollow in which Don and Ury meet, would deposit most of its sandy burden at the point where the streams would together wash its edge. That point is where the Bass now stands; and the slow liquidation might naturally deposit the more diffused haugh stretching onwards from the Bass, which, from its stony character, bears the name of the Stanners.

Among the oracular rhymes attributed to Thomas of Ereildoune, one foretells that

Dee and Don shall run in one,
And Tweed shall run in Tay,
And the bonny water o’ Ury
Shall bear the Baas away.

The lofty flat-topped cone of the Bass, flanked on the east side by a lower mound of oblong form, rises upon the broad northern extremity of the river peninsula from the very water’s edge of the Ury, barely admitting of foothold between.

The starting point of any historical description of Inverurie must be here, where both the earliest annals and remains of a pre-historic period place the associations of primitive inhabitation. A central portion of the Stanners left uncultivated for centuries of Christian times under the name of the Goodman’s Croft—a sort of Devil’s Acre— forms a record of the ancient times of heathen worship, and of how ineradicable the customs of superstitious observation were here as in other parts of the Christianized world.

The highway of travel must at all times have passed the Don and the Ury, at a point where the Bass commanded the passages. There the Romans must have forded the Don on their northern expedition, as the contingent of the poor Chevalier’s army did when it surprised and routed the Macleods.

The Bass probably was the fortress of Inverurie, the prison and death-chamber of the unfortunate monarch Eth, when Cyric, or Grig, having defeated him in battle at Strathallan, in Angus, a.d. 878, brought him to the fortress of Nrurin, near his own castle of Dunnideer.

Three centuries later, before 1176, the Bass contained the Castle of Inverurie, the chief scat of the royal earldom of the Garioch. Malcolm, the son of Bartolf, held it as Constable for his friend David, Earl of Huntingdon and the Garioch, from whose daughter the royal houses of Bruce and Stewart, and the reigning dynasty of Great Britain, all descend. From the Castle of Inverurie, Malcolm may have sent his son and namesake in David’s train to the crusade with Richard Coeur de Lion, from which younft Malcolm never returned. In the next century, Malcolm's other son, Norman, the Constable of Enrowrie, may have issued from the wide castle limits of the Stanners in all the pomp of the then novel decorations of heraldry, bearing on his shield the Leslie griffin and buckles, and the motto, “Grip fast”.

From the time now mentioned, the Bass does not appear in history, but it is found recorded in deeds respecting the burgh lands of Inverurie, in which the nomenclature of lands in the Stanners is of antiquarian interest, as containing such monuments of the social condition of early centuries there, as the names of the Castle Park, the Castle Croft, the Mill Butts, &c.

It was at Ardtannies that Alexander Stewart, the grand, though in no sense legitimate, Earl of Mar, Lord or Earl of the Garioch, Lord of Duffle in Brabant, High Admiral of Scotland, and the hero of Harlaw, held his head courts—described as held at his Manor of Inverurie—but in all likelihood the Bass was, along with the Manor, the rendezvous of his army before Harlaw; and there his local following may have been joined by Irvine of Drum, and Robert Davidson, his close friend, the Provost of Aberdeen, with his bold burghers, on the celebrated 24th July, 1411, when they marched to check the advance of Donald of the Isles in the sanguinary battle in -which the gallant Balquhain, himself of the ancient blood of the Inverurie Constables, lost six sons.

Lying in a direct line between the Bass and Benachie, the whole parish is one prolonged sharply undulating ascent, rising from the level of the boundary rivers, Don and Ury, by terraces, from which ascend rounded hills, to its highest altitude of 780 feet, the summit of Knockinglews. Looking from the meeting of the waters, the Davo hill, 523 feet in height, and Knockinglews, seem two great stepping stones up to Benachie. Badifurrow and Woodhill, standing west of the Davo and 60 feet higher than it, intervene between the Don and Knockinglews, while north of the Davo a lower hill, the Dilly-hill of Conglass, rises from the Ury towards the same central ridge.

The contemporaneous fortresses of Nrurin and Dunnideer, commanding the south and north entrances to the inclosed strath, called the Garioch, must have been among its earliest habitations—strongholds being the first necessity of settled life. But the secluded river hollow of Ardtannies had been a place of important habitation even in the unknown times now spoken of as the Stone Period.

A hundred yards or little more west of the spot marked on the ordnance map a-s the site of the Hall, a knoll previously uncultivated was turned up shortly before 1870, and appeared to have been the site of a manufactory of flint arrow heads. A mass of chips lay about, and fire had evidently been used in the process, a space of twenty feet, or thereby, in breadth being full of burnt stones. The black spot remains apparent whenever the ground is under the plough. A deep draw-well at the Hall, which was closed during the same improvements, was found to be a great pit, whose sides presented the same burnt material. On the bank of the Don, a hundred yards from the place of the flints, a sharp stone axe of laminated appearance was found in January, 1874.

About a thousand feet north from the Hall, upon a platform of the hill-side above the flinty spot, there were cleared out three circular structures, the places of which are marked in the ordnance map. The largest had a 11th of 60 feet within its circumference, which was a mound of stones, about three feet in height. A fine limestone axe was found inside. Across the interior, a little from the centre, was a straight trench, about 18 inches deep, full of ashes. A circular enclosure, like the others in appearance, remains in the wood at some distance eastward, near which had been another. One of them is marked in the ordnance map.

In front of these last-named circles, which were fourteen yards in diameter, was a strong rampart. It was a curve of 120 yards in span, having ten feet of base and six of height, commanding the face of the Corseman hill down to the Don. Outside of that rampart some long barrows, on being dug up, were found full of fatty mould, over which luxuriant crops afterwards grew.

Near the circle first mentioned there were several small cairns of stones never larger than six inches, which covered earth of the same fatty character. In January, 1874, a drain having to be dug close by that spot, was found to intersect a mass of dark matter about nine feet broad, in which were fragments of bone, from aii ineh to two inches long, one showing the edge of a joint.

Close by the sixty foot circle a careful artistic structure appeared in the small cirele marked eastward of it. It was in the form of a saucer, nine feet wide and about one in depth, the circumference being of triangular stones dovetailed together so firmly, that the ordinary tramp pick was not sufficient to unsettle the fixture. They were bedded in finely wrought tough clay; and the bottom of the saucer was of small pebbles closely packed in the same material, making a water-tight basin.

Near by these stood upon four props a great stone, ten feet in length by five in breadth and four deep, shaped like a fishing cobble, having a broad end and a narrower point. The pillars kept it quite clear of the ground, so that it had formed a good hiding place for rabbits. The erection stood on a prepared base—a flat space neatly causewayed with pebbles, oval in form, and about the same length as the table, but wider.

The platform on the shoulder of the brae above Ardtannies, on which these artistie works were found, is at a level considerably lower than the point of the Corseman hill, about four hundred yards eastward, upon which the curved rampart and the long barrows were. In the wood behind which crowns the hill there are numerous round, or long mounds, suggestive of a sepulchral character.

Evidence exists of the district of the Garioch having been inhabited very early. The remains of two British camps occupy sites near Inverurie on the hills of Crichie and Barra. Both stone circles and sculptured monoliths are frequent, and seem to have stood upon lines of primitive highway. At the beginning of the present century about thirty stone circles continued traceable. Six were to be seen close by Dunnideer, and four more in the same parish, some of which were from fifty to sixty feet in diameter, and contained stones measuring twelve feet in height. The remains of a double circle are in the woods of Monnie, five miles from Inverurie; and, within the parish of Inverurie, a circle still entire looks over an extensive range of country from the centre of a highway on the heights of Achorthies. Another had its site where, at the place now called Stonefield, the oldest known highway crossed the boundary of the burgh near Brandsbutt, and several stood along the same road as it led southward through the parish of Kintore.

The mysterious sculptured stones abound in the district. One stood at the point where probably the Romans forded the Don on their northward expedition. Others had their places along the highway, which parsed from that point to the famous Maiden Stone on the slope of Bviiachie. The Newton Stone, well known to antiquaries, is in an adjacent parish.

Another evidence of very early habitation was obtained in 1867 by the discovery at Broomend—about a mile and a-hflf south from Inverurie—of a number of stone coffins, close by one another. The edges of the slabs were neatly closed with fino clay, which was still plastic when first removed; but the cists contained no ornaments or fictile productions, except urns of unbaked clay ornamented in simple patterns. One, at the opening of which the writer was present, contained indications of the tenant having been a person of importance. A well-formed shell lamp of leather was suspended inside the urn by a broad curved shank. The body had also been wrapt in some thick envelope, which, in decay, looked like felt. Such a wrapping is believed to have been all but unexampled.

Remains of the same kind of sepulture have been dug up all along the Don, from Broomend to Badifurrow above Polnar chapel. On the Davo a cairn covering a cist was, until late years, the culminating point of the hill. The rising grounds, encircling Ardtannies, have yielded numerous urns to the excavations made in the course of agric ultural improvement. Eight were dug up in a small area near the summit of the Davo; others near where the priest of Polnar dwelt, and at Waterside of Manar, on the hill of Crichie, and at several places on the road from Broomend to the Greenlev ford of the Don. Solitary cairns were lately frequent in the district, and also some clusters, or rather fields, of such memorial structures are noticed in an antiquarian manuscript, written about 1790.


The fortress of Inverurie stood on the spot which commanded the fordable points of the rivers Don and Uric, where the Don opened a way through a long hilly region from the upper districts, and where also any southern invaders were most likely to seek a road into the Garioch. In historic times, the castle of the “Warderys” remained in a ruinous condition on the north-western entrance to the Garioch, immediately beyond Dunnideer. The earliest highway through the Garioch, it is therefore probably, passed near these strongholds. But in auy district the fordable passages of the rivers determine the lines of road first in use, and for this reason, it is probable that the earliest highway known to modern times through the hollow occupied by Inverurie, was also the primitive track used by the Picts, and by their predecessors—the men who used the mode of burial so curiously exemplified in the cist dug up at Broomend in 1867, and who left behind them the debris of a workshop of flint arrowheads at Ardtannies.

The probability that the earliest known road from the south to Inverurie was that still traceable from Tyrebagger by the hill of Kintore, Dalwearie, Castlehill of Kintore, and Broomend, to the south west corner of the Stanners opposite Port-Elphinstone, is much enhanced by the fact that along that line of road there stood a close succession of stone circles and monoliths, including some sculptured stones. The Standing Stones of Dyce, several circles and monoliths between Kintore and Inverurie, sculptured stones at the ford of the Don, and at Brandsbutt, and near Drimmies, and the famous Maiden Stone of Benachie, all stood upon the line of the road leading directly from the scath to Dunnideer.

Half-a-mile south of the Greenley ford to the Stanners stand the remains of a stone circle upon the lands of Broomend, around which the road from the south forked, one branch taking the east side to the Greenley ford, the other passing on the west, and going by the rising ground above Port-Elphinstone, past Windyedge to the Broadford at Overboat. 'Soso diverging paths traversed the length of the Parish of Inverurie apart, and united again at the highest point of the lands of Drimmies.

The western branch ascended the Corseman Hill from the Broadford in a straight line till near the summit of the south shoulder of the Davo, and then struck north-west, attaining its greatest elevation at the site of the present farm-houses of Davo, close by which the “Merchants’ Graves” mark the spot where, according to tradition, two packmen, encountering on the road, fought and killed one another. So far the road is nearly all still in use, or traceable. On the height it passed westward, until opposite Blackball, where it descended by Gavin’s Croft to the manor place of Blackhall, and passing Dubston, continued by the route presently in use to the melting-point of Conglass, Drimmies, and Xetherton of Balquhain. From that spot it now forms the boundary between Drimmies and Netherton, to the point where it was joined by the other main road, which left the stone eirele at Broomend for the lower fords at the Stanners.

Between Overboat and the shoulder of the Corseman Hill, the road now described formed part of what may have been the oldest line of road within the parish of Inverurie, that leading between the Fortress, or Castle, up the Don to the territories of the Mnrmaors of Mar. In later times, it would be the eastern highway of the Culdees of Monymusk; at a later period still, the approach by the ancient kirk of St. Apollinaris to the Episcopal palaeo of Fetternear; as it was, even for some part of the nineteenth century, the kirk road from Achorthies, Badifurrow, and tho hill of Balquhain, and had been to nearly the same period the mill road from Inverurie to the Mill of Davo, viz., Ardtannies. The present Donside road does not represent that primitive highway, except in one or two fragments. It had led from the Bass along the south edge of the Upper Roods, now turnpike, keeping the present line from the Bridge to Upperboat, where it entered the great highway ascending the Corseman Hill. It left the road to Blackball, at the level shoulder of the hill, and turning sharply to the left, made for the summit, whence it descended in a straight line past the Priest’s house, now Coldwells, to Polnar Chapel, and under the spot occupied by Waterside of Manar, coming into the line of the present road somewhat east of Burnervie. Upon the Corseman Hill, the road, at its highest point, parsed behind the strong stone rampart, which commanded the valley south of the road. Tumuli resembling graves lie thickly round that part of the hill.

No lower road from Overboat to Coldwells broke the privacy of the old Hall of Ardtannies, or afforded easy access to the mill, until a century ago or less. When the elevated highway descended the steep west side of the summit of Corseman to the level shoulder, which contained the sixty-foot circle and others* a road, still partly preserved in the edge of the present wood, led down an unbroken green sweep to the platform on which the old manor house stood. The corns sucken to the mill had to be conveyed from Inverurie in currarks on horseback, by paths crossing the Kellands for the height of the Corseman, a chief one leading from the Sand Hole or Gallow Hill. The access from the Blackball side was past the Merchants’ Graves to the saddle lying between the Corseman summit and the higher Davo, where the mill road would be entered upon.

The eastern branch of the great highroad through the Garioch, proceeding from the Broomend stone circle to the Greenley ford of the Don, divided itself there, and crossed at two fords, to meet again on the other side; the double road making a loop which enclosed the east branch of the river and part of the island called the Broom Inch, and the Ducat Haugh. The two tracks became a single line again where the High Street of Inverurie is now entered from Keithhall Road.

One line of the double track kept the centre of the Broom Inch, until opposite the spot where the sewage filter bed was made in 1872. Crossing there, it formed the boundary between the Ducat Haugh—likely, from its name, to have been part of the Castle grounds—and the Streamhead, a part of the common lands of the Burgh. The other line crossing to the Stanners kept the water-side and the Haugh of Old Don, now Keithhall Road, on to the level of High Street, where tho two paths came together again and formed- the north road through the burgh of Inverurie.

The eastmost line of that double approach to the town of Inverurie, after fording the Don, skirted the Stanners until it reached the point nearest the Ury. By that waterside path young Malcolm rode south to join the second Crusade ; aid, a hundred years afterwards, Norman, the son of the last of the Constables, went to take the oath of fealty to English Edward, at Aberdeen. A green loaning, called Killiewalker in recent years, led from Don to Ury, over the isthmus of the Castle peninsula, and was the highroad to Caskieben, by which the Leslies, Garviachs, and Johnstons, lords of that fine domain for four -centuries, issued forth to the numerous devoirs which feudal barons had to go through. The path lay between the kirkyard and the Castle, and had been little wider than a bridle road. It connected the Garioch highroad with the other great north road, by which Edward I. went from Aberdeen, past Kinkell, to Fyvie, and by which the Duke of Cumberland, in 1746, marched from Aberdeen, by Tyrebagger, Bogheads, Kintore, Balbithan, and Old Meldrum, on his way to Culloden. The stepping-stones still remain by which the Ury was in former days crossed by foot passengers.

On attaining the level of the modern street, the highway of the Garioch went along the present line until the middle of the west side of Market Place, where it skirted the northmost Upper Rood from between Numbers 25 and 17 Market Place, and keeping the north side of the Gallow Slack, called afterwards Porthead, entered the present line of West High Street at Chelsea Lone, or Gallowhill. The road proceeded from that point, under the Broomfold, as West High Street now lies, to cross ----the Overburn, sometimes difficult of passage, and ascended the Burgh Muir. The triangular nook called the Poet’s Corner, and the houses adjoining it, all stand upon the primitive line which led along the side of the Market Green to Stonefield, as it till continues to do. At Stonefield the road, now obliterated, made for the highest level of Brandsbutt, and then kept a line now marked by a continuous stone dyke along the upper fields of Conglass. It crossed the march of Conglass and Drimmies, below an eerie spot named the Kelpy Fold, and, ascending to the highest point of Drimmies, it joined the road which came thither by the Davo and Blackball.

From the point of re-union the highway descended to the Castle of Balquhain, crossing the Patrick, and from the Castle gradually rose to Craigsley, from which, to the Maiden Stone, it is still open. By the north slope of Benachie it extended, after passing that remarkable monument, to a spot marked by a line of old beech-trees where a cart track now leads from the Oyne railway station to the west summit of Benachie, and, crossing the hill of Ardoyne, passed the Gadie near the Kirk of Prem-nay, where General Wade, in 1746, bridged that stream, making thence for the hill of Dunnideer and the Castle of the Warders.

Between Dunnideer and the first home of the Leslies, a road still open passed by the site of the ancient kirk of Rathmuriel, and is given as a boundary, in a title deed of date 1245. There King James the First witnessed the revels of Christ’s Kirk fair.

Besides the highway traversing the western heights of the valley of the Garioch, another had, in very early times, gone along the opposite side of the river Ury ; possibly starting from the Earl’s castle, but certainly passing Balbaggardy, Sillerstrind, and the Standing Stones of Bayne, where the King’s Justiciar at times held assize, and proceeding northwards to Culcalmond, where the earliest named lands in the Garioch Earldom lay.

At the time when the highway through Inverurie had been chosen, by ascending the Gallowslack, instead of taking the present line of Market Place and West High Street, the site of Market Place had been covered by a loch, known in after centuries, when it was much diminished, as Powtate. Excavations made in 1872, for drainage purposes, showed the blue clay, deposited by the stagnant pool in the deep gravel bed upon which Inverurie stands, extending from nearly the south end of Market Place to a point in the Crosslit Croft a hundred yards north of West High Street. The Xorth Burn found its ordinary basin in that sheet of water; and the usual drainage to the Ury through the narrow passage between the Town’s Roods and the Longland Folds must have been occasionally supplemented by a spill-water discharge down the low level now leading to the Market Place Public SchooL As the loch was gradually shut up into narrow dimensions, the dried north bank of it which separated it from the burn formed the space now occupied by the Town- Hall and the open area before, it, and became the Butts and Ball-green of the inhabitants. The Powtate, at the close of the last century, had contracted into a “mill muddy“ dewkdub, where incapable pedestrians occasionally lost a shoe. A well was sunk at an early period on the edge of it. The burgh or parish school, from the first record we have of its situation, was always near the well, and the juvenile clients never permitted its waters to become stagnant.

In the end of the last century, roads led from the burgh to Souterford and How-ford, but the Blackhall Road did not exist, and the present turnpike had no more representing it in the parish of Inverurie than the portion between Keithhall Eoad and the beginning of North Street. The road to Souterford, by which it is likely Bruce chased back the enemy’s skirmishers at the beginning of the battle of Inverurie, took the east side of Powtate. Some local movement in 1G71 got the “mercat cross” removed to the “pairting of the gaits be south of the draw-well”; but in 1G78 a peremptory order was passed that it be “remuved back againe from William Downie’s land to the place where it stode auncientlie,” which was opposite the present Station Road.

The line of the Roman iter from the camp of Eaedykes in Peterculter, to that ad Itunam (on the Ythan) at Glenmailen in Forgue, has been traced confidently by antiquaries, between Kintore and the ford of Inverurie from the rule observed by the Romans in marching, which was to keep along the strath of any stream that lay in their designed route, until they had to cross it at a bend in its course. Passing the Don at the Greenley ford and then keeping the strath of the Ury, they would lind that stream lying across their course to Glenmailen at Pitcaple. The immemorial road from the lower fords of the Don along the present highway of Inverurie by the Gal-lowslacks and Stonefield, to the site of the Castle of Balquhain, exactly suits the Roman rule of selection, and the coincidence of stone circles with the road—whii h is so marked between Kintore and Inverurie—continues at Stonefield, and on to Pitcaple; a great circle standing on the farm of Mains of Balquhain, beyond the Old Castle. At tho present ford of Pitcaple, indications of Roman presence are said, in the Statistical Account, to have been discovered in a fortified work north of Pitcaple Castle; the foundations of a bridge also being found at the crossing of the Ury, and a bit of Roman road farther on in the line towards Glenmailen, at Cairnhill in the parish of Rayne.

It would be interesting to know something of the men who, in primitive times, passed along those ancient highways, and who perhaps could read with understanding the symbols of the sculptured monoliths; or of those who went up from the Stanners to till their rigs on the Upper or Lower Roods ; or of those who were the first dwellers upon the burgage lands, the two lines of Roods which stretch like the filaments of a straight feather from either side of the highway, beginning at the Ducat Haugh and Ury bunk, and extending to the Gallowslack on the west side, and the North Burn on the east. The stone circles abounding in the neighbourhood have not been examined, at least extensively. The one which stands where the separation of the south road into two lines of approach to the Don took place, afforded two amateur antiquarians a tantalising “find,” the story of which would have delighted the author of the Antiquary. It was a broad concave plate of iron, straight at one end, but worn thin and round at the other, yet betraying its original purpose of serving as the front part of a cuirass, by the thick central ridge which ran up to the point covering the gorge. After a night spent in excited contemplation of the importance of such a discovery for fixing the chronological period of stone circles, it was distressing that a more cool examination next day discovered the relic to be part of a spade.

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