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Strathmore Past and Present

Rattray is a small parish wedged in between Blairgowrie and Bendochy, with the exception of a small portion (Easter Bleaton), which is now included in the quoad sacra parish of Persie. In the old charters it is also spelled Ratre, Retra, Refcrey, Retre, Retref, Retrife, Retriffe, Rettra, Rettray, Rettref, Rettrefe, and Rethrife. The name has belonged to the parish and the principal proprietor for a very considerable period, as there are records which bear it as far back as the days of William the Conqueror. The river Ericht flows along its west and south side, separating it from Blairgowrie; and the general slope of the long narrow strip of the parish is from north to south. Thus facing the sun, and under the shelter of the several ranges of the Grampians, it is very mild in climate. The soil, too, is dry and light, over a gravelly subsoil, which renders the parish very healthy.

The Ericht (i. e., the rough or rapid stream) is formed by many small rills that precipitate themselves from the mountain sides; but it receives its most powerful ally from Glenardle, the Ardle joining it at the Strone of Cally. Often in heavy rains, or after the thaw of severe snow-storms, these streams get suddenly swollen; and by the time the Ericht reaches the low land in the south of the parish, it is in flood, which in autumn is often very destructive, sweeping away entire fields of cut grain. In 1847, when in full flood, the Ericht destroyed two arches of the Rattray Bridge. It is one of the most picturesque and romantic streams in Scotland; and its associations have made the district specially noted. It is the one matter worthy of note in the whole parish, but it is enough to let the parish never be forgotten ; as the poet says of the songsters of the grove, that, though the subject and prime mover of all their song is “only love,” yet “that only love is theme enough for praise.” Three miles north of the village of New Rattray the course of the river lies for nearly two miles through a deep ravine, the sides of which are often like parallel perpendicular walls of hewn stone, at other times steep banks clothed with copse and hazel, here and there relieved by tall and graceful trees. One of the most remarkable of these precipitous conglomerate crags is on the Blairgowrie side, called Craigliach or “The Eagle’s Crag,” and is a huge rock with a vast grey front, so unbroken on its surface as to resemble the hewn walls of some gigantic fortress; relieved, however, of the awful barrenness of the southern Skye-roeks by the fringe of forest trees upon its summit. No description can tell the effect of this scene; for it is grand and savage beyond the power of words. The rocks above, lofty and threatening; the chasm below, deep and gloomy; the river at the bottom, gliding into a deep and sullen pool, black as midnight, and sombre in the deepest degree; all entrances the spectator. Vivid is the poetic description of W. L. Bowles:—

"'Frown ever opposite,’ the angel cried,
Who with an earthquake’s might and giant hand
Sever’d these riven rocks, and bade them
Btand Sever’d for ever. ”

Occupying a commanding position on the summit of a precipitous cliff on the Rattray-side of the Ericht, stands the mansion-house of Craighall. Sir W. Hooker describes it as “clinging like a swallow’s nest to the craggiest summit of the eastern bank, and harmonizing perfectly with the adjacent rocks and Pennant", in his tour through Scotland, thus particularises the magnificent position of Craighall—“The situation of it is romantic beyond description; it is placed in the midst of a deep glen, surrounded on all sides with wide extended dreary heaths, where are still to be seen the rude monuments of thousands of our ancestors who fought and fell.” The whole of this scenery has been moreover, invested with a new and powerful interest since Mr. Lockhart published to the world in the life of his father-in-law, Sir Walter Scott, that Craighall was the prototype of the Tully-Veolan of Waverley. Sir Walter having visited this part of the country in the course of a, highland excursion, Mr. Lockhart thus mentions it:—“Another resting-place was Craighall, in Perthshire, the seat of the Rattrays, a family related to Mr. Clerk, who accompanied him. From the position of this striking place, as Mr. Clerk at once perceived, and as the author afterwards confessed to him, that of Tully-Veolan was very faithfully copied, though, in the description of the house itself and its gardens, many features were adopted from Bruntsfield and Ravel-stone.” Thus looking down we have a rare combination of

“The gleam,
The shadow, and the peace supreme.”

The Rattrays of Craighall are the lineal descendants of the ancient Rattrays, the ruins of whose fortified mansion may still be traced on the summit of a rising ground, which is south-east of the village of Rattray. This mound still goes by the name of the Castle-hill. It is oblong, something resembling the shape of an inverted ship ; but the eastern corner of it is circular, as if sucked up by the action of a whirlpool when the waters were retiring from the earth. The family must have removed from this hill to Craighall during some of the perilous times, when they considered it safer to have some better natural protection from the sudden incursions of their enemies. Standing upon a precipitous rock of 214 feet in height, it could not be attacked on tho west side; and ditches were on the north and east. It is only accessible in front, which is from the south ; and on each side of the entrance, a little in advance of the house, are two round buildings, evidently intended for protection, with some openings for the archers. Here young Waverley in 1745 heard the half-crazed simpleton, David Gellatly, sing to his dogs this song, with its local allusions:—

“Hie away, hie away,
Over bank and over brae,
Where the copsewood is the greenest,
Where the fountains glisten sheenest,
Where the lady-fern grows strongest,
Where the morning dew lies longest,
Where the black-cock sweetest sips it,
Where the fairy latest trips it;
Hie to haunts right seldom seen,
Lovely, lonesome, cool and green,
Over bank and over brae,
Hie away, hie away.”

Above the river, south east of the village, in a beautiful situation, are the remains of a Druidical temple. The principal stones have been carried off; but a few still appear in the field of a farm, which goes by the name of the “Standing-Stanes Farm.”

A very largo earthwork (already referred to as the Castle-hill, but also called the ‘Hill of Rattray*), consisting a mound of earth and resembling a ship with its keel uppermost, occupies several acres of ground. It is similar to the one in the parish of Dunning called Terrnavie, i.e., terrae navis, or earth-ship, on account of its form. Superstition has conferred a sacredness on it, by the association of legends of a primitive character. It is said that a profane clown, when cutting turf on the side of it, was suddenly appalled by the vision of an old man; who appeared in the opening he had made; and, after demanding with an angry countenance and voice, why he was tirring his house over his head, as suddenly vanished.

After passing between New Rattray and Blairgowrie the “Ireful” Ericht impetuously rushes down and forms a cascade of water 10 feet high, called the Keith, which was heightened by artificial means in order to secure the salmon on their progress up the river from the sea in the spawning season. Of course the salmon netting on the Tay has now entirely deprived the proprietors up the water of the chance of getting salmon at the Keith cascade ; but a hundred years ago the fishing at Rattray was very keen, as we may conclude from the description given in the first Statistical Account of the parish last century: “The mode of fishing is curious. They make what they call a drimuck, resembling thin wrought mortar, which they throw into the pool to disturb the clearness of the waters. The fishers stand on the point of the rock with long poles, and nets upon the ends of them, with which they rake the pool, and take up the fish."

In the civil history of the parish Donald Cargill deserves the first place according to authentic records. Born in 1610, on the estate of Hatton, in Rattray, he was educated at St. Andrews for the ministry, and became minister of the Barony in Glasgow. This situation gave him an opportunity for carrying out his innate religious enthusiasm, and, joining the Covenanters, he got involved in their troubles. Apprehended for his fanatical zeal in 1680, he was tried at Edinburgh, and sentenced to be hanged; but such was his confidence, that when about to mount the ladder to the scaffold, he nobly said, "The Lord knows that I go on this ladder with less fear and perturbation of mind than ever I entered the pulpit to preach!" Tradition says that a little above the village, at a narrow part of the Ericht, bounded on each side by huge overhanging rocks was the scene of “Cargill’s loup.” This he leaped, when, as a Covenanter, he was flying for his life from a troop of dragoons. Long after the event, some one is said to have remarked to Cargill:—“That was a guid loup ye took, when ye loupet the Linn o’Ericht.” “Ay,” was the hero’s reply, “but I took a lang race till’t, for I ran a’ the way frae Perth!” Tradition also says that the Earl of Argyle halted his men in July 1G40 for the night in the haughs at the village of Rattray when on his way to demolish “the bonnie house o’Airlie.”

In its ecclesiastical history, the references are very few indeed. We observe (in the lives of the Bishops of Dunkeld), that Bishop Gregory of Dunkeld (1127-1169) gave the church of Rattray (which was in his diocese), to a certain Succentor, called Quasdub. In 1170, King William the Lion, by a charter signed at Kinross, granted two ploughgates of land in the district of Rethrife to the Abbey of Cupar, and that shortly after Eustace of Rattray granted Diimmic. William Lacock, chaplain of St. Peter and vicar of Rattray was an exemplary man, “sweating intensely at the repairs of the chapel and its pertincnces, which otherwise would have been reduced to ruins.”

The temperature of the atmosphere during winter is rather higher than in the districts north or south of it; but it is subject to frequent and sudden variations. It may interest our readers, who were lately startled with the accounts of the sudden earthquake in Sussex in England, to know that in Rattray and neighbourhood, a violent shaking of the earth took place on October 23rd, 1839. According to one who experienced the shock (Mr. Souter of Blairgowrie), “it was accompanied by a noise resembling distant thunder, or the rapid passage of a heavy loaded vehicle over a newly mettled road. In some houses the shock was so severe as to excite very great alarm in the inmates; in one case the motion forced open the doors. Several people who were asleep were wakened by the shaking of their beds; and one thought the bed had been heaved up, and pushed first to one side and then to the other, and afterwards shaken violently, accompanied with a loud noise. The river Ericht fell several inches below the level it had attained during the day, although the rain had, in the interval, continued with unabated violence.”

The Parochial registers have been kept with commendable care since 1660, and contain several interesting comments on the moral and spiritual history of the parish, similar to those of Blairgowrie. In connection with the Glebe-feuing Act (1866), in the case of Rattray (1868), where two offers from conterminous proprietors (within the statutory time of the process) were made for the same portion of the glebe, the Court of Teinds preferred the the second offerer in point of time, he being the higher in point of value.

The population has increased from 500 in the beginning of the century to 3000 now. During that period an entire village—New Rattray—has been built. The increase is owing to the mills which have been set to work in the parish and neighbourhood. There are three churches in the parish, which, strangely, is in the Presbytery of Dunkeld, whereas it should naturally fit into the Presbytery of Meigle. The famous artist Robert Herdman, R.S.A. was born in the Manse; his father and two brothel's being successively the Parish ministers. Many tourists pass through Rattray on their way to Braemar, by the royal route made under the direction of Prince Albert; for there are few healthier and more pleasant drives than this thirty-six miles’ drive past Craighall, Strone of Cally, Persie, the Spittal to Braemar, the highest situated village in Great Britain, and within a few miles of the mountain home of our beloved Queen.

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