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Strathmore Past and Present

Few places have such a variety of attraction, combined with peculiar conveniences for business men in large centres of population, who wish to give a few months’ summer holiday to themselves and families, without interfering with the regular course of their daily avocations, as the unassuming town of Alyth, on the eastern border of Perthshire. For many years tourists have passed through it and visitors have summered in it. Beautifully situated on the northern slope of the great plain of Strathmore, it is protected from the harsh northern winds; the air is clear and invigorating; the mists and haars of the lower land and east coast are beyond its reach. We have just been informed by the medical practitioner of the town, Dr. Kidd (a gentleman rarely to be equalled for such an accurate grasp of medical diagnosis and practical experience in a town of this size), that there is now no epidemic in it, and that on the whole it is one of the healthiest towns in Scotland. The prices in the two hotels are exceptionally moderate, the rents of the excellent villas are by no means exorbitant; and being within an hour’s run by rail from Dundee, many business men, with large families and limited incomes, in these dull times will find it of great advantage to try this place for the summer months. A few minutes’ walk in any direction takes the visitor to pleasant country nooks, for walking, fishing, botanising, or breathing highly-ozoned air. Just bordering on the parish, about four miles from the town, is the famous Reekie Linn, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the whole country, especially when the Isla is in flood ; for there is a clear fall (of good breadth) of 60 feet, followed immediately by another of 20 feet; and the constantly rising vapour from the spray makes its presence seen in the mists above for the distance of a mile or two up the Glen. Near also are the Slugs of Auchrannie (where through a chasm of3yards in breadth an average flow of 11,000 cubic feet of water is forced with tremendous power); within a few miles too are the Bonnie House o’ Airlie, and the Lintrathen Loch. In the exuberance of rich vegetation, and charm of wood and mountain, the town may, without exaggeration, be allowed the epithet which Goldsmith gave to his favourite Auburn— “Sweet Alyth, loveliest village of the-plain.”

The name of the parish is derived from the Gaelic aileadh, “a slope,” being built on a flat near the foot of a hill; although Chalmers, in 1640, spells it Elieht, in his well-known map of Scotland. It is bounded, quoad civilia, on the north by Glenisla; on the east by Ruthven and Airlie ; on the south by Meigle; and on the west by Bendochy, Blairgowrie, Rattray, and Kirkmichael. A small portion at Blacklunans is within the county of Forfar. It is fifteen miles long, and from one to six broad. On the east the Isla dashes along impetuously till in the valley it sluggishly meanders; though, on account of the terrible flooding of the country during harvest time in 1789 and succcssive years, embankments had to be made to lessen the damage occasioned by any sudden spate or snow-melting. The one at Hallyards has an elevation of 45°, and a base 12 feet broad and 7 feet in perpendicular height, extending for half a mile ; and cost £300. Along the banks of the Isla, some fine botanical specimens are to be found : the sweet Milkveteh (with its short, dense, yellow spikes and peculiarly knotted root); the yellow Figwort (once thought a specific for scrofula); the broad-leaved Ragwort (though not considered indigenous); and the crossleaved Bed-straw (with its cruciform, smooth and whorled leaves and prickly fruit). A considerable number of salmon ascend for spawning, and in the upper parts trout are in abundance. The same cannot now be said of the Bum of Alyth ; for from the town to its confluence with the Isla, the fish have been poisoned by the bleaching refuse, run in from at least one public work. In fact a very cruel thing was once done by a man in position in the town to one of his newly-arrived clerks, in telling him on his holidays to fish down the Burn. But above the town it is quite different; trout, though small, are plentiful;—and, last summer, we were informed by a gentleman visitor that he and his son in one day had there caught 25 dozen. A few days ago we heard the number had reached 65 dozen ;—but this is the “ three black crows ” over again.

The most considerable eminence—recognised for a long distance by its commanding isolation—is Mount Blair, at the north end of the parish, where the famous Glenisla games are annually held. It is 2260 feet high and five miles round at the base. On the side of the Ericht rises King-seat, 1178 feet high, three miles south of Mount Blair, nearly covered with beautiful natural wood. Here the Green and Small White Habenaria, the Chick weed Winter-green (the only seven-stamened British plant), and the Alpine Lady’s Mantle (with its beautiful, lustrous, almost metallic, hue on the under side of its leaves), abound ; whereas down the river side can be found the white Starry Saxifrage and the Yellow Mountain Saxifrage with its scarlet spots; and all along are the birch, the hazel, and the alder. The other prominent heights are Hill of Bamff, 1221 feet; Craighead, 1083 feet; Hill of the Three Cairns, 1243 feet; Runnaguman, 1313 feet; Blackhill, 1454* feet; Knoekton, 1605 feet; and Meall-Mlior, 1804 feet.

A little more than a mile east of the town is Barryhill, about 668 feet in height, in olden times famous as a watch-tower. Barryliill, or Dunbarrd, is derived from bar, “the top or end,” and ra, “a fort.” It has a base of one mile in circumference; being of oval form and unwooded, it is easily ascended : and the extra labour rewards the excursionist, for from its summit he has an extensive view of the whole of Strathmore, from Methven to Stonehaven, with the Sidlaws (and their old watch-towered points, Dunsinane and Kinpurnie), eight miles across. History tells us that the Picts kept possession of it from a remote period to the ninth century; and tradition has clothed it with some strange, unfounded fictions about Guinevere, the faithless wife of Prince Arthur, which no one can put into tangible shape. The tradition of the country—from the fiction of Boece—relates that on this was the prison of Guinevere when carried off by the Piets. On the levelled top, 504 feet in circumference, are the remains of a rampart, built of uncemented muir-stones, on a base of S feet in height and 12 feet in breadth, occupying a space of 180 feet by 74 feet. On the west and north borders of this levelled part of the summit are seen the marks of something like barracks, built of dry-stone, to protect those inside from the assaults of their foes and the northern inclement blasts. It appears to have been a fortress of impregnable strength. On the south and east, on account of the more gentle decline, there is a broad ditch, 16 feet below the wall and 10 feet broad, over which was raised a narrow bridge (composed of stones laid together—quite unpolished—but vitrified above, below, and on all sides with gravel which must have been brought from the Isla); and this bridge led to a fort of strange build, designed as a temporary retreat in time of war, and well adapted for that purpose. About a quarter of a mile eastward there are some remains of another oval fort; and tradition says there is a subterranean communication between them.

South of Barryhill are found several rude standing-stones, memorials of some conflict of yore. Tradition refers them to the time of Robert the Bruce, for the name Brucetown is given to the farm near. On the most remarkable there is the mark of a large horse-shoe, rudely cut out, with indistinct traces of other figures.

A little higher than Barryhill, and west of it beyond a glack or valley, is the beautifully wooded hill of Loyal, whose varied fresh tints in the leafy month of June strikingly attract the eye of the worshipper of Nature. On its slope is situated the fine baronial mansion-house of Loyal, much improved by its present occupant, Professor Ramsay of Glasgow. In a ploughed field on the farm of Loyal was found, a century ago, an artificial cavity of considerable size, 6 feet deep and 4 broad, faced upon both sides with stone, and covered with large broad stones on the top, here and there strewed with ashes either from the burnt victims used in the worship of our ancestors, or from the warriors who fell in defence of the neighbouring fortifications. West from Loyal hill is the bare hill of Alyth (966 feet), which gives to the naked eye the extensive view of five counties. This belongs to the feuars of Alyth; at least they have the right of access, and on it the Volunteers practise. It is entirely wild and uncultivated, but affords excellent pasturage for sheep. North, beyond the hill of Bamff, is the royal forest of Alyth, an extensive district of heath, consisting of 7500 acres, long valued for the pasturage of Linton sheep. In 1214, Alexander II. gave a right-of-way through the “ Forest of Alycht,” for the ' 11 monks of Cupar Abbey to get to their lands in Glenisla. In 1329, David II. appointed Menzies to be Royal Forester of Alyth; and in 1390, Robert III. made John de Roos Justiciary of the Forest of Alyth. In 14S9, from the rents of the Forest and adjacent lands, the Dowager Countess of Crawford received part of the terce, as verified by a process raised against her own sons. In 1557, the tenants of Wester Drymme had “com monte ” in the Forest. After a litigation of 70 years, the Forest was divided between the Lairds of Bamff and Balharry, Mr. Morrison of Naughton and Mr. Boyle of Tullyinurdo. It has a good soil but wants climate. North-West of the Forest, at Corb, are the remains of a Castle, probably a hunting seat of the Scottish Kings; but all history and tradition concerning it are lost. In the east of the parish is a beautiful den of the Isla (the southern extremity of the Den of Airlie), which is seen to great advantage in June and October from Delavaird Bridge.

Further down the Isla, at the confluence of the Alyth Burn, are the ruins of the old Castle of Inverqueich. It stands in a most romantic and picturesque spot, in a rocky delta, quite perpendicular, from 40 to 50 feet high. A portion of the east wall, 30 feet long, 30 feet high and 5 feet thick, and covered with ivy, remains on the verge of the precipice, the rest of the building having been carried away to build the adjoining farm-house and offices. This was a royal Castle in one of the King’s hunting-forests. In 1244, Alexander II. signed a charter here of the lands of Banchory-Devenick to the Abbey of Arbroath. On the 3rd July 1296, Edward I. and his suite left this Castle for Forfar; and the day before, he was in this Castle when the scroll of John Baliol’s resignation of the Crown of Scotland was written out in Kincardine Castle. It is known in that King’s Itinerary as “Entrekoyt chastol,” being then entire; but it was ruinous when King Robert II., in 1394, granted it by charter to his nephew, James de Lindsay, as “the King’s Castle of Inu’cuyth ” It must have been again repaired; for in 1489, Alexander, Lord Lindsay, who had lived a wild and ungovernable life, having been committed for a time to the Castle of Blackness for chasing two monks of Cupar, fought a duel with his equally reckless brother, John, near the Castle-walls; and, from family genealogies, it is seen that his wife had, with a down pillow, smothered him when removed wounded into Inverqueich Castle. One account says, “He was smorit be his wife;” and another, “He was smored in his bed at Inverqueich, and, as was thought, not without knowledge of his wife.” As Ninian says in Sir Walter Scott’s Macduff’s Cross :—

"Then have you heard a tale,
Which when he tells the peasant shakes his head,
And shuns the mouldering and deserted walls.”

That is the last we hear of its occupancy ; and tradition tells us that Lady Lindsay was, for this crime, by the special permission of the Pope, committed to what afterwards went by the name of Lady Lindsay’s Castle, on a precipitous rock opposite Craighall on the Ericht, condemned to remain in that gloomy tower, or sit overlooking the abyss below, spinning night and day, till the thread should reach the river, or as others say, till the thread was long enough to reach the heavens and form a means of ascent to the higher world. Near the Castle of Inverqueich is the Bridge of Room, which, from its symmetrical construction, is probably of Roman build.

The lands of Bamff were granted by Alexander II., in 1232, to Nessus de Ramsay, the lineal ancestor of the present proprietor, Sir James Ramsay, Bart. Bamff-house stands on a level plateau, environed with hills, two miles north of the town of Alyth. It is commodious, and rather handsome; its square turrets are surrounded with lawn and green parks; and the trees are of great age. There is a very picturesque walk beside the deep ravine on the road from Bamff to Alyth. Gilbert Ramsay was knighted, in 1635, by Charles I.; but Charles II., in 1666, gave him a baronetcy for his gallant assistance in the battle of the Pentlands against the Covenanters, who are commemorated in these lines :—

“Their winding sheet the bloody plaid,
Their grave lone Rullion Green.

In 1790 Sir Gilbert Ramsay fell in a duel with Captain Macrae. Lady Ramsay’s footman had used insolent language to the Captain, who cudgelled him tightly ; oil which Sir Gilbert challenged the Captain, but not undeservedly “bit the dust.”

The lands of Balwyndoloch (Ballendoch) were granted by Thomas, Eail of Mar, and confirmed by David II., in 1303, to Alexander de Lyndesay ; whose successors under the name of the Earls of Crawford, acquired by royal charter the greater part of the parish ; till, in 1G30, owing to straitened circumstances, they disposed of most to the family of Airlie, who are now the principal proprietors and superiors of the town.

The parish had a good share of the turmoil and disturbance of Croin well's Protectorate. On the 22nd July 1646, Montrose and Middleton met in conference for two hours in a meadow on the Isla near Alyth, “there being none near them but one man for each of them to hold his horse;” and agreed that, with the exception of Montrose himself, the Earl of Crawford and two others, all who had taken up arms against the Covenanters would be pardoned on making their submission, but that these should be banished before the last day of August; which agreement was ratified by the Committee of Estates. Accordingly, eight days afterwards, in a plain a little west of Rattray, Montrose, in very pathetic terms, disbanded his faithful army and took farewell; till he should be brought back, four years afterwards, for execution on the scaffold, as a triumph to the Puritanical and forgiving clergy. When Dundee was besieged by General Monk in 1651, the Committees of the Estates and of the Kirk were sitting at Alyth planning measures for helping the Dundonians; but, on hearing this, the General sent a company of horse, who surprised the whole party and took them prisoners, among whom was the parish minister. These facts are referred to in the Kirk-Session records. On several occasions there was no service in the church “because of the common enemy,” or “because Montrose was so near us.” According to one entry “ten shillings were given to Hendrie Cargill for to go to the camp to trie and search some news from the malignants, and that he may be for warnisse of their coming upon us.” In August of that year we find this entry:—“This day no preaching, because our minister (Mr. John Rattray) was taken on Thursday last by the Englishes.” He was, however, restored in June of the following year. Another about the same time runs thus : —My Lord Ogilvy declared his repentance before the congregation, in the habit of sack-cloth, and confessed his sinfull accession to General Middleton’s rebellion, to the full satisfaction of the whole congregation.”

Ecclesiastically, the Church of Alyth, with its chapel, was attached before the Reformation to one of the prebends in the Cathedral of Dunkeld. The Church was probably dedicated to St. Molouach—a disciple of St. Brandon—whose feast was held on the 26th of June. A fair of the name “St. Malogue’s or Emagola’s,” still held in Alyth about the date of the feast (old style), is the only souvenir of the Saint in the parish. Among the clergy who swore fealty to Edward I. at Berwick, in 1296, was "William de Dunde, parson of the Kirk of Alyth.” In Robertsons “ Index of Missing Charters between 1309 and 1413,” we find one by King Robert I., in 1309, granting the lands of “Aughinleskis and Aythnaket-hill within the Thanedom of Alith to the Abbacie of Coupar.” The chapel was situated within the kirkyard of the parish church and was dedicated to St. Ninian ; being upheld by the lands of Balwhyme. According to Myln’s Lives of the Bishops of Dunkeld, written in 1515, we find that, in 1450, Thomas Lawder, Bishop of Dunkeld (once tutor to James II.), erected the vicarage of Alyth into a prebend; that, in 1483, robbers, dwelling on the Loch of Cluny, regularly seized by force the victual which was being conveyed from the Church of Alyth to Dunkeld ; that Bishop Brown, seeing that the lands of Buchquhane (granted by noble donors in former times for the due celebration of ordinances in the chapel of St. Ninian situated within the cemetery of the parish church of Alith) were being applied to other purposes, ordained, with the consent of the prebendary and chaplain, that the .assistant of the pensioned viear should receive the fruits of these lands for said purposes ; that, in 1514, Thomas Grig, prebendary of Alight, 60 years of age, was an exceptionally devout and business man, who was trusted by Myln with the MS. Lives (now in the Advocates’ Library) ; who with other ecclesiastics defended the famous Bishop, Gavin Douglas, when attacked in the Deanery of Dunkeld, and who was one of the auditors of tho accounts of the building of the Bridge of Dunkeld; and that, in 1515, the Lords of Council agreed to give the Governor the fruits of the church of Alicht, reserving to the Bishop certain chalders of victual. Spottiswood mentions that at that time Andrew Stuart, brother of the Earl of Athole, got the benefice of Alyth. In 1554, Robert Fowler, chaplain of St. Ninian’s, with the consent of the Dean and Chapter of Dunkeld, conveyed the lands of Balwhyme, with the teinds, to Ogilvy of Clova. In 1583, David Ramsay, minister of Alyth from 1572, was, according to Dr. Scott in his “ Fasti,” presented by James VI. to Ruthven, where he officiated 19 years. In 1689, John Lowson was deprived by the Privy Council for not reading the Proclamation of Estates. In 1772, John Robertson left some money for the education of boys. The new church was built in 1839, from plans by Mr. Hamilton of Edinburgh, at a cost of £9000. By far the most handsome church in Strathmore, in the Norman style of architecture, it is seated for 1290 people; being built, before there was any idea of the Disruption, to hold the statutory number of two-thirds of the population of the parish above twelve years of age. Part of the parish was taken off to form the parish of Persie; and another part, a few years ago, to form the beautifully situated parish of Kilry.

The Parochial records (in nine volumes) have been carefully kept, dating back to 1624. There are instances of persons having had to “sit the stool” for even thirty times. Besides the ordinary cases, these records contain cases of “fechting and flytting slander", witchcraft, and contumacy. In 1650, “ the minister did intimate ane ordinance of the Presbytery that in time coming, when people shall bury their dead upon the Lord’s Day, they doe it timouslie ; in the winter season before sermon, and in the summer time after the afternoon’s service.” And, in 1675, tobacco is declared to be as necessary for man as bread:—“This day the merchants in Alyth being chairged, were called and compeired and promised not to sell any wares to any person upon the Sabbath, between or after sermons, except it be upon necessitie, and that to any sick person; nor to sell unnecessarie things, as they did formerlie, upon the Sabbath, cxcept neidfull, tobacco or bread.”

The town of Alyth is of considerable antiquity, having been a Burgh of Barony since 1488. The Earl of Airlie, as Earon and Superior, appoints a Bailie for the Baronial Court. But, having adopted the Lindsay Act, the town has now, besides, Magistrates and Commissioners to carry out the work of the Police Commission; accordingly it is now well lighted and paved, and is in the process of being thoroughly drained. In 1341, King David Bruce prohibited Alyth from interfering with the amenities of Dundee, in the holding of weekly markets. In 1514, the minister and people took up arms in the tumultuous election of tho celebrated poet, Gavin Douglas, to the Bishopric of Dunkeld. A century ago, Mr. Smith of Balharry was considered to be a very noted improver in agriculture. His letter to Dr. Robertson, of Callander, on the cultivation of waste lands was highly esteemed by the Board of Agriculture. As an example, he mentions that the farm of Over-Muirtown, purchased for £520, was farmed at £23 rent by one who became a bankrupt. This farm he then cultivated himself; and in twenty years he got £240 rent, besides kains, carriages, See., from two very thriving tenants, who were “as punctual payers as any in the kingdom.”

The population of the town a century ago was 10G0; it is now 2377. Then the population of the whole parish was 2723; now it is 3372. The valued rent, was £686; now the .assessed rent is £25,062. The Muir of Alyth, of several hundred acres, after repeated failures on account of the death of arbiters, has been at last divided among the proprietors and feuars; a farm-steading has been erected on one part; and the Laird of Balharry has taken in another large portion by the steam plough—thus highly improving the land, and taking away an eyesore at the entrance to the town.

Among the natives of Alyth, who have distinguished themselves, are William Ramsay, author of “Roman Antiquities” and Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow; his nephew and successor in the chair, Dr. George Ramsay ; and Dr. James Robertson, the Professor of Hebrew in the same University.

Alyth is seventeen miles from Dundee, to which it is connected by railway. Last year a handsome stone bridge was built over the Burn at the Market Square, at a cost of £900 ; which sum was raised by the personal and indefatigable work of Mr. Isaac Peterkin, whom the Scotsman called the “oracle of Liberalism,” and who would confer a great boon on the town by publishing his valuable notes on its improvement and history for the last half-century. A railway was once contemplated between Alyth and Braemar; but, though approved of in high quarters, the difficulties seem to have been insurmountable for a thorough cairying out of the scheme. In 1776, according to the official stamp Returns, 270,088 yards of brown linen, 11,-548 of white linen, and 28,4S3 of osna-burg of the total value of £9,623, were stamped for sale; yet that was nothing to what can now be turned out by the three factories, one of which (Chief Magistrate Smith’s) employs six or seven hundred hands. There are four places of worship, three excellent public schools, three banks, and a good library of above 3000 volumes left by Captain Ogilvy of Loyal. An enterprising bookseller and printer has recently established a weekly local newspaper, principally as an advertising medium. Hiring is easily procurable; and two coaches run daily in the summer months to Glenisla and district. A good town-lmll is very much required; but we are glad to know that there is a likelihood of this defect being soon remedied.

Some of the finest Clydesdale horses in the country are bred by Mr. Bruce of Jordanstone, as proved by the Stud-book, the show-yards, and the high prices realised for his stock; and some of the best fat Angus bullocks are fed at Hallyards for Mr. Howieson of Rannagulzion. There is a monthly corn market, and occasional well-patronised auction sales for cattle and sheep. There are several valuable bequests for education, now under the consideration of the Endowment Commission. A hundred years ago, the Rev. Mr. Symers, in the Old Statistical Account, gave a praiseworthy account of the inhabitants—the more valuable, for of him it is said that he was a man of sound judgment and a liberal and enlightened mind, distinguished by unassuming worth, integrity, and benevolence of character:—“They are sober and industrious, and regular attendants upon public worship. The fruits of industry appear in their dress and manner of living. Mean cottages are exchanged for more comfortable habitations ; and those who before found it difficult, with all their labour, to procure the necessaries of life, now enjoy many of its comforts and conveniencies. Begging is not allowed in the parish.” How different is this from the account of the Rev. William Ramsay, forty years ago:— “Pauperism, an evil which grows by what it feeds on, has for many years been advancing rapidly and steadily in this parish. It is an alarming evil, which threatens to become a serious burden upon property, and which has already exercised a debasing influence on the character of the population.” And now we see only too plainly the evil results of the Poor Law Act—in rooting out the old spirit of Scottish independence ; in fostering habits of indiligence, want of economy, and carelessness in times of health, youth, and prosperity; in banishing the “stocking-foot, wi’ its eydently gaithered posie,” and the “nest egg, laid bye for a rainy day” But luxury has been, in the history of individuals, towns, and nations, the sure precursor of indifference, effeminacy, weakness, decay, and death. The cycle is irresistible. Can Alyth be an exception?

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