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Between the Ochils and the Forth
Chapter VII. - From Kinross and Glen Farg

Further progress on Great North Road— Village of Milnathort— Parish of Orwell—Castle of Burleigh and its proprietors—History of the Balfour family—Road from Milnathort to Damhead—Church of Arngask—Glen Farg and the Bein Bin—Old road from Damhead to Perth—The Wicks of Baiglie—Sir Walter Scott's account of distant view of Perth from that neighbourhood—Old drove-road to the Kirk of Dron— The Rocking-stone— Mill and hamlet of Dron,

Kinross is 16 miles from Queensferry and 17 from Perth. Quitting the town at its north extremity, and continuing along the Great North Road for two miles, we reach Milnathort, a large village, or rather small town, containing several woollen factories, and forming a centre of convergence from several roads, which here join the Great North highway. One of these branches off to the north-east, leading to Cupar, through the opening between the Ochil and Lomond hills; another goes round the head of Loch Leven, and, as already described, skirts its eastern shore, passing through the Balgedies and Kinnesswood to Scotlandwell, Auchmoor Bridge, and Leslie; and a third leads west from Milnathort to Dollar, a distance of 12 miles, through Cambo and the Yetts of Muckhart.

Milnathort (Hotels: The Thistle and The Royal), though not particularly attractive in itself, is a thriving manufacturing place, with some good villas in the vicinity. The name seems to be the Gaelic muilcan-a-thairt, the "cross mill" or " mill on the farther side," the town being divided into two portions by a rivulet from a mill on which the appellation would arise.1 It is the principal place in the parish of Orwell, the church of which —a plain building—is situated on an eminence immediately behind the town, on the north. Milnathort displays, moreover, a grand recently erected U.P. church, with a spire; a Free church; and a town hall, with a spire and clock; whilst on the road between it and Kinross an Episcopal chapel has recently been erected.

The parish of Orwell comprises the chief part of the north of Kinross-shire, and is separated from Strathearn in Perthshire by the Oehils. These stretch across the north border of the county from west to east, but decline considerably in height from what they attain to in the counties of Stirling and Clackmannan, and have only an elevation of from iooo to T500 feet. One of these heights, north-north-west from Milnathort, is termed Cairnavain, from an tnmense collection of stones which once existed on its summit, but are now greatly reduced in number, in consequence of having been carried away many years ago by the then proprietor, to the amount of hundreds of cart-loads, for the purpose of building field-dykes. A legend clung to the cairn, as embodied in the following popular rhyme:—

"In the Dryburn well, beneath a stane,
You'll find the key of Cairnavain,
That'll mak a' Scotland rich ane by ane."

When the stones were carted away, as above stated, great expectations were formed by the labourers as to what they might find in the way of treasure-trove. But nothing more valuable was discovered than a stone coffin in the centre of the cairn, containing an urn of bones, partly charred. This affords a demonstration of what is coming now to be pretty generally received among antiquaries as the raison d'etre of most of these cairns, standing-stones, and so-called druidical circles. It seems to be satisfactorily ascertained that the erection of these has in almost all cases been for sepulchral purposes, and rarely either as stones of commemoration or places of religious worship. Besides that found at Cairnavain, urns filled with burnt bones have been found on the farm of Holeton, and at other places along the sides of the Ochil Hills.

From Milnathort to Damhead by the Great North Road is a distance of four miles. Just after quitting the former there will be seen on the right-hand side of the way, about a quarter of a mile off, the ruins of the castle of Burleigh, situated about a mile from the north shore of Loch Leven. They consist of the square donjon or keep, of which the basement storey is vaulted, and access may be gained to the first floor by a dangerously frail trap or ladder, which I would warn the traveller to be very cautious in ascending. Above this have been three other storeys, but the wooden floors have disappeared. A courtyard extends to the south of the keep, and had evidently formerly been surrounded by buildings, of which nothing now remains but a circular tower at the south-west extremity, connected with the keep by a wall pierced by a fine arched gateway, and surmounted by a sort of rampart or gallery. The round tower consists of three storeys, the two upper of which are occupied by the foreman of the adjoining farm of Burleigh.

The castle has evidently at "one time been a place of considerable size and importance. It may be reached also from the road from Kinross to Scotlandwell, by turning aside into afield at Burgher Bridge, which crosses the North Queich a mile to the west of the old kirk of Orwell. From Burgher Bridge by this bypath Burleigh Castle is half a mile due north; and from the former place a long straight road leads west past the mansion of Lethangie to the Great North Road, which it turns a little to the north of the town of Kinross.

The lands of Burleigh were erected into a barony in the fifteenth century by James II. in favour of its proprietors, the Balfours, who in 1606 received a further accession of dignity in being raised to the peerage. Charles II., on the occasion of his expedition to Scotland in 1650, was entertained at the castle, whilst on his way from Perth to Dunfermline, by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. He inspected, Sir James Balfour informs us, his host's "cabmett of varieties, and at his departure my lord presented his majestie with a falcon."

A sad disgrace overtook the Burleigh family in the beginning of the last century. Robert Balfour, only son of the then lord, and heir-apparent to the estate and title, had conceived a violent passion for a young woman in a rank of life beneath himself, and to cure lnm of the attachment he was sent abroad to travel. Returning after a year or two's absence to his native country, he sought again the object of his affections, and to his rage and dismay found that she had become the wife of Mr Henry Stenhouse, schoolmaster of Inverkeithing. Lying in wait for the unfortunate husband, young Balfour shot him dead at his own door, was arrested subsequently, and sentenced by the High Court of Justiciary to be beheaded. He escaped from prison by changing clothes with his sister, concealed himself for a while in an old tree at Burleigh Castle, and' succeeded at last in retreating to the Continent. He returned from thence, and took part in the insurrection of 1715, for which he incurred the doom of forfeiture—though, having previously been outlawed for the crime of murder, it remained a question whether any further attainder attached to the estate and title. Contriving again to escape to the Continent, he died abroad without leaving issue. Of his two sisters, one died unmarried, but the other married Brigadier-General Bruce of Kennet. As the Burleigh peerage is transmissible to females, it was maintained that the right to it remained vested in Mrs Bruce. It was never taken up, however, by her or her family till about twenty years ago, when it was successfully claimed by her lineal descendant, Mr Bruce of Kennet, the present Lord Balfour of Burleigh.

Burleigh Castle and its lands are now the property of Sir Graham Montgomery, having been purchased by his ancestor, Mr Graham of Kinross. There used to be a great deal of fine old timber about the castle, but this has almost all either decayed from old age, or been blown down by storms. Till within the last seventy years the old ash-tree which had furnished concealment within its hollow trunk to young Balfour, the proscribed outlaw, was in existence, about twenty yards westwards of the great tower. It had already received considerable damage, and was completely destroyed by a tempest on Old Handsel Monday in 1822.

At the point where Burleigh Castle comes into view, the old road to Damhead and Perth branches off to the left, keeping first due north, and then proceeding in a direction nearly parallel with the present one, but carried along a sort of rising ground or terrace. In point of distance this is the shorter route to Damhead by nearly a mile, and though somewhat hilly, it is still maintained in excellent order. Near the same point another road proceeds by the mansion of Hattonburn (Henry J. Montgomery, Esq.), across the Ochils by the Path of Condie to Invermay.

The Great North Road between Kinross and Damhead, after leaving Milnathort and losing sight of Loch Leven, ęs of a very dreary character, being bleak and solitary, without any of those grander features which often impart an interest to a wild and unfrequented country. It cannot indeed be said on the whole that Kinross is an attractive county, and the interest attaching to it may be said to begin and end in Loch Leven. Its greatest length from the western extremity of Cleish parish to the eastern border of Portmoak is about twelve miles, and from Kelty Bridge on the south to Damhead on the north its greatest breadth is about ten. It has an extent of 44,800 imperial acres, or about seventy square miles; and though it contains a large amount of level ground, much of this is very poor soil. Like Fife, it used to be noted for its great number of small proprietors, almost every farm in the county having been at one time a separate lairdship. And the Kinross lairds, like their congeners in Fife, enjoyed ail extended reputation ift the way of convivial and bibulous proclivities. It should be remembered also, however, that among the people generally the leading characteristics were a deep and fervent devotional feeling, and the Covenanting element was in former days especially strong. During the last century the western district of Fife and the county of Kinross were the cradle In a great measure of the Secession Church, and furnished most of the ministers and people who originally cast in their lot with that movement.

Damhead, four miles from Milnathort, and six from Kinross, is a village in the parish of Arngask, and the meeting-place of three counties—Perth, Kinross, and Fife—to all of which Arngask belongs in nearly equal portions. The parish church is situated in Fife, at the top of the hill, near Arngask House, and about half a mile from the village. It was originally a chapel, belonging to the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, and was erected into a parish church in 1527. The present building is of the plain economical type, which characterises generally the country churches in Scotland erected subsequent to the Reformation.

There is a little inn at Damhead, called the Damhead Hotel, where the hungry and not too fastidious traveller may obtain a good plain meal at small cost. The river Farg, a clear stream, coming down from the Ochils, here turns north-north-east, and flows through Glen Farg, separating the counties of Perth and Fife, and falling into the Earn at Culfargie. The Great North Road skirts the Farg as it descends between the wood-clad sides of the magnificent glen of the same name into Strathearn. This is certainly the finest portion of the journey, and perhaps the only bit of grand scenery that is to be met with on the road between Queensferry and the Bridge of Earn. A railway is in course of construction through this beautiful glen, which will shorten considerably the distance between Perth and Edinburgh. Half way down Glen Farg, in a romantic situation, about three miles from Damhead, four and a half from Bridge of Earn, and eight miles from Perth, is the small but comfortable Bein Inn, much frequented by excursion parties from the Fair City. In the old coaching days this was the third and last stage on the road from Queensferry to Perth, but the building which then formed the inn is a little farther down the hill than the present caravanserai. The other stopping-places for change of horses were Cowdenbeath and Kinross.

About three-quarters of a mile from the Bern Inn, on the side of Damhead and a little to the right of the road, is a large stone, known as the Rocking-stone of Balvaird, and capable at one time of being moved by the slightest pressure. The pivot, however, on which it rests has long been choked Bp with earth and gravel, and it is now consequently as firmly set as one of the Ochils.

The present road through Glen Farg to the Bridge of Earn was constructed in the years 1808-10, but the portion from Damhead to Milnathort was not laid down till 1832. For a little distance beyond Damhead the old highway has been suppressed as far as the lodge of the avenue leading to the mansion of Paris, now known as West Fordel. From this last point a new cut leading down hill to the east connects the old. Perth road with the present Great North Road through Glen Farg. The junction with the latter is effected at the distance of about a mile from Damhead and two miles from the Bein Inn. The road from West Fordel then crosses first the Great North Road, and almost immediately afterwards the river Farg by the biidge called Paris Bridge. From this it continues up hill in an easterly direction, but its further course is beyond the scope of the present work.

The old road from Damhead to Perth leads over the pass through the Ochils known as the Wicks of Baiglie. As Sir Walter Scott has rendered this locality classical from his reference to it in the introduction to the ' Fair Maid of Perth,' and the splendid prospect which he states as obtainable from thence of the Fair City, I shall perhaps be pardoned for treating the subject a little more at length than might otherwise be deemed necessary.

Most people who have been induced to visit this spot in the hope of enjoying the prospect of Perth which Sir Walter has described in such glowing terms, have also concluded naturally enough that it is the present old road to that town to which he refers, in contradistinction to the one made in the beginning of the present century through Glen Farg. Proceeding on this premiss, they have all returned declaring that it is a complete mistake to assert that Perth can be seen either from the Wicks of Baiglie or any other point on the old road from Kinross, and that the Great Magician must have been thinking of the view from Moncrieff Hill on the south bank of the Tay. In one respect they are quite right; the city of Perth is visible from no point of the road, either over the Wicks of Baiglie or through Glen Farg, till the crest is reached of Moncrieff Hill, from which the traveller looks down upon the city.

But may Sir Walter not have been misunderstood? Let it be remembered that the point from which he says Perth can be seen is one on the old road leading from Kinross to the Kirk of Dron, a place which the old road to Perth does not pass through but leaves on its left. And let it also be kept in mind that what is now called the old road is, comparatively speaking, a new one, and was certainly so in Sir Walter's younger days, when he witnessed the prospect with which he represents Chrystal Croftangry as so much delighted.

Now it happens that the old road from Kinross to Perth by the Kirk of Dron is what is known as the "Drove-road," and which, though still perfectly practicable in many places, has yet in others been almost completely effaced. It crosses the old Perth road from Damhead about two miles from the latter place, and one mile from the top of the steep hill or brae which marks the locality of the Wicks of Baiglie. If the traveller has any curiosity in following up such matters, let him turn aside here,1 through a gate on the left-hand side of the way, and follow the windings of the Drove-road through a field to the top of the rising ground. Here he will see two shepherds' houses, situated nearly in a line with and about two hundred yards from each other. From either of these he will be able to obtain directions for guiding him to the Kirk of Dron, and from either of them he can reach that place, though by different routes. From the western habitation he can follow, through two grass fields, the old, almost obliterated track of the Drove-road ; then descending the hill by a third shepherd's house, he will clearly and unmistakably regain the track; and lastly, continuing his journey down a beautiful defile, or "glack," as it is called in that part of the country, he will shortly find himself at the attractive hamlet of the Kirk of Dron. Should he elect to proceed by the easter of the shepherds' houses, he will follow a tolerably well-defined path which leads due north from this, and then trending round to the left by the famous rocking-stone, makes the circuit of the hill, and leads down to the Kirk of Dron by the Mill. The other road just described lies on the hill to the west of this, and there is a valley between.

On either of these roads the traveller will at more points than one obtain a glimpse, if the day be clear, of the town of Perth through the gap on the crest of Moncrieff Hill above the railway tunnel. I can testify myself, though the day on which I walked over here was none of the brightest, to having at least seen the high chimneys of public works at Perth through the opening in question, which is just above the city. The point of view to which Sir Walter refers is probably from the Drove-road, a little beyond the third or northmost shepherd's house, and just before descending to the beautiful defile or "glack" above Dron. And as Chrystal Croftangry is represented as obtaining the view whilst seated on a pony, he must have come by the Drove-road—the path over the hill by the rocking-stone being only accessible to pedestrians. At best the view of Perth can never be very magnificent from this point, considering the remoteness of its position, and that the appearance presented by any town at a great distance is generally insignificant. Yet I can conceive that to Sir Walter's youthful imagination this view of the Fair City through the opening in the crest of Moncrieff Hill, with the beautiful foreground of the vale of Strathearn, may have recalled, more especially if witnessed at early morn or dewy eve, when the rising or setting sun was gilding the town with his rays, John Bunyan's description of the Celestial City as seen from the Delectable Mountains. Another way of obtaining this view is by proceeding to the Wicks of Baiglie either from the side of Damhead or the Bridge of Earn, and then ascending the eminence or ridge immediately to the west.

Over this eminence a footpath, already partially described, leads from the old Perth road to the Kirk of Dron, and is occasionally used as a short cut by people travelling in this direction from Damhead. The rocking-stone alone, already alluded to, is well worth the fatigue of a much longer walk. It lies on the hillside, about 200 yards due north of the caster of the two shepherds' houses above mentioned, and about 40 yards from the footpath leading across the hill. It is a large irregular mass of dark whinstone, about 9 feet long by 5 broad, and sloping from east to west. At the very least it must weigh three tons, and yet I could move it qt ite perceptibly by merely pressing it at the higher end with my ringer and thumb. The history of these stones is enveloped in mystery, and the only reasonable conclusion that can be come to is that they were placed there in remote ages in expiation of some crime or fulfilment of some vow. Possibly, also, the aboriginal priesthood found their account in the wonderful properties which the populace would be inclined to ascribe to masses so enormous and yet so easily set in motion. It is extremely unlikely that any such stone could have been placed in such a position from natural causes.

The hamlet of the Kirk of Dron, called also East Dron, is charmingly situated in a recess on the north side of the Ochils, about a mile to the south of the Bridge of Earn, and five miles from Perth. The parish of Dron, however, from its situation, used to suffer considerably in the depth of winter from the want of light and warmth, both natural and artificial. Many of the bouses were popularly said never to see the sun from November to February, whilst the distance from any coal-field and the absence of peat caused fuel to be both scarce and expensive. In summer has the aspect of a veritable Arcadia. The church is a handsome structure in the modern Gothic style, and stands on a knoll overlooking the lower basin of the Tay. The Mill of Dron lies n the hollow to the south-west of the church, and in the plain between the village and the Wicks of Baiglie is Balmanno House, the principal mansion in the parish.

Having now arrived in Strathearn, on the north side of the Ochils and within five miles of Perth, the limits of my course in this direction have been reached. The Great North Road and tracts immediately adjoining have been surveyed from North Queensferry to the Bridge of Earn, and my direction is now "Westward ho!"

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