Chapter I. Position And Extent Of The Cabrach.-How To Reach It.

"Fae Foggyloan to the Brig o' Potarch,

An' sooth by the Glen o' Dye.

Fae the Buck o' the Cabrach thro' Midmar,

Whaurever your tryst may lie ;

At ilka toll on the weary road

There's a piece an' a dram forbye,

Gin ye show them your groat, an say laich in your throat

'The Back o' Beyont is dry'."


First, let us explain exactly the extent of the Cabrach, and the meaning of the terms "Upper" and "Lower" Cabrach. A reference to the sketch map will greatly aid in understanding this. It will be seen that the Cabrach is all in the county of Banff, its limits are-N., Craig Watch, 1540 ft. ; S., Craig an Innein, 2073 ft. ; W., Cairn na Bruar, 2240 ft. ; and E., East of Elrick, 1250 ft. The boundary line runs along the tops of the hills surrounding the district, and in no place is it lower than 800 ft. above sea level. The Upper Cabrach is the original parish of Cabrach, and is the district always indicated in charters, &c., previous to the year 1665. It was formerly included in the shire of Aberdeen, and extended from Craig an Innein on the S. to the burn of Altdauch on the N., and from the Elrick on the E. to Rounamuck on the W. The Lower Cabrach was at one time known as Strathdeveron, and was divided into three dauchs, Corrinuisie, Lesmurdie, and Blackwater ; it formed part of the parish of Mortlach, but was united to the Upper Cabrach for church purposes in the year 1665. In 18 the county boundary was moved back to coincide with that of Upper Cabrach, thus bringing the whole parish into the county of Banff, except for Parliamentary election purposes, when the people of Upper Cabrach vote in West Aberdeenshire. The extent of the parish is 11 miles from N. to S., and 8½ miles from E. to W.

Of the entrances to the Cabrach that from Dufftown may be considered the chief, as the station there is the nearest point on the Great North of Scotland railway for the greater part of the parish, and at Dufftown also is the fortnightly market, to which the Cabrach farmers take their cattle and other produce for sale, and there they transact their necessary business, while their goodwives do their shopping and study the fashions.

Immediately after leaving the station at Dufftown a road breaks off to the left, and skirting the hill, joins the main road through the town about three-quarters of a mile further on. About three hundred yards along this road, on the side of the hill between it and the town, are the ruins of the old castle of Balvenie. The castle is said to have been built originally by the Danes, and a large room in it is yet called "The Danes' Hall". It was rebuilt about the year 1460 by the Earl of Athole, who obtained the lordship of Balvenie from King James II., his half-brother, it having been forfeited by the Earl of Douglas for joining in his brother's rebellion. It has been a strong building, with a large court enclosed on three sides by a turreted wall, the castle itself forming the fourth side, and above the principal entrance are still plainly to be seen the arms of Athole, with their motto, "Fvrth Fortvin And Fil Thi Fatris". The iron gates are supposed to have been brought from Rothes Castle. After the castle ceased to belong to the Stewarts, it passed into the possession successively of Lord Saltoun, Lord Ochiltree, Sir Robert Innes of Invermarkie, Sutherland of Kinminity, Arthur Forbes, brother to Blackton, and finally Alex. Duff of Braco, from whom it has descended to the present Duchess of Fife. The new castle of Balvenie, directly opposite the station, was built in 1725 by William Duff of Braco; the Duke of Gordon allowed the builders to take what stones they wanted from the castle of Auchindoun, hence the demolition of that castle of its ornaments of freestone ; and also gave wood from Glenmore for its fittings. It is now converted into a distillery.

The town takes its name from the family of the Duke of Fife, on whose land it was built in the years 1816-1817; it is situated on a hill about a mile from the station, and is a typical Scotch village, with low stone houses, wide streets, wind-swept and clean, and a central square with a clock-tower, erected by the 4th Earl of Fife. Dufftown produces excellent whisky-there are no fewer that seven distilleries in or near the town-there are also very up-to-date lime works, and in the main streets some good shops.

The Parish Church is one of the oldest in Scotland, part of it dating from the time of Malcolm II., who founded the see of Mortlach, afterwards transferred to Aberdeen. There are besides, churches belonging to the United Free Church of Scotland, the Episcopal Church in Scotland, and the Catholic Church.

A little below the town the road crosses the Dullan, a small and very clear stream, which after a course of four miles, here joins the Fiddich. Next we reach the bridge of Sandyhillock, which used to be a very dangerous corner, but which has recently been much improved by the widening of the bridge, and the cutting away of the bank ; turning sharply to the right the way now begins to ascend, and presently the small wood of Tomnon is reached. This was formerly a commonty for the resting of cattle on their way south from the Muir of Ord and other markets in the north. After passing the farm of Laggan on the left, the character of the country begins to change, and we descend to the valley of the Fiddich, through a birch wood. Here is the entrance to Glenfiddich shooting lodge, three miles up the river Fiddich, which belongs to the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, with a keeper's cottage at the gate. From the bridge we look down the valley to the ruined castle of Auchindoun, standing in a commanding position on a knoll. Little is known of its origin or history, but it is assumed that it belongs to the period between 1000 and 1200, when many forts were erected both as a means of defence against invasion, and as a protection to the surrounding country in the frequent inter-tribal wars. It was rebuilt by Cochrane, the favourite of James III., then passed into the possession of Lord Drummond, who sold it, with other lands and castle, to Sir James Ogilvy of Deskford, from whom it came to the Gordons. It was burned down by the Mackintoshes in revenge for the murder of their chieftain in 1500, and afterwards repaired, but is now fallen into ruin under the influence of the weather and the depredations of modern builders.

In front of us now lies a wild and picturesque region. On the farther side of the river rises the steep and rugged hill of Bemain, along the side of which our road winds its way steadily upwards till lost from view between the hills. On our right, as we follow it, is first the burn of Allawakin, rushing down beside it, then a wide stretch of moor, with hill upon hill beyond, covered with heather, which in August will be richest purple, and at other seasons soft brown or green, with here and there patches of a brighter green where the ground is marshy, and on the brow of the nearest hill a dark fir plantation, just below which may be traced the site of the farm buildings of The Brackery, the ground near showing signs of having been cultivated, but long since become part of the deer-forest. Frequently, especially in bad weather, when they come down from the higher parts of the forest , large herds of deer may be seen, and if it is the traveller's fortune to come this way on a dark night of autumn, he may be thrilled by hearing the roar and stamp of the stags as they send forth their challenge to battle. Plenty of grouse, too, will most likely be seen, rising with a birr-bik-bik-bik, to alight again a hundred yards or so farther on, while the cry of the whaup and the peewit but serve to increase the loneliness, reminding one irresistibly of Stevenson's lines:-

". . . . . . the vacant wine-red moor,

Hills of sheep and the howes of the silent vanished races,

And winds austere and pure".

Three-fourths of the way up the hill is the "Wall o' the Balloch", a fountain with horse trough and iron dipper, where, judging by the number of spent matches on the ground, many a welcome rest is taken. It is told of a Cabrach man that he was returning from Dufftown with a bottle of the best in his pocket, and reaching this well, thought to taste, but he had no corkscrew and was compelled to knock off the neck of the bottle. Alas ! the blow was awkward and the bottle broke, spilling its contents in the basin. The worthy man gazed horror-stricken for a moment at the appalling sight of the good whisky mixing with the water and running over the edge, then, determined not to waste more than he could help, fell to his knees and drank till he could drink no more, then went regretfully on his way vowing thenceforth never to travel without a corkscrew.

The well has attracted a more distinguished visitor, though, for the late King Edward has sometimes stopped here for luncheon, and on one occasion that luncheon was shared by a man who, though not a Cabrach man, was next door to it.

Arrived at the top of the hill, after a climb of about a mile, we turn to look backward ere advancing farther ; below winds the path we have traversed, all around are wild bare hills, heather-clad, blue or purple or black as the light strikes them, not a house in sight, on the horizon to the S.E. the sharp peak of Ben Rinnes, and away to the N. the far blue hills of Sutherland seen across the Moray Firth ; this is indeed, one of the finest views of the neighbourhood and no visitor should miss it.

Just before entering the narrow pass in front, several mounds, known as Jean's Hillocks, are to be seen. They are said to have been so named in memory of a certain Jean Gordon of Lesmoir, who having squandered her estate, was reduced to beggary and died here of hunger and fatigue. A ballad of the time describes her misfortunes, but the only fragment we could find was the last two lines:-

"She drank her lan' and sold her shoon,

And died at Allawakin."

This pass, called The Glacks of the Balloch, is just wide enough to admit the road at the base of the hills forming it. It is not quite straight, so that on entering one cannot see what lies beyond, but it is only about a hundred yards long and we are soon through it. Here, on the calmest day, a breeze is felt, and on a day of wind the gale rushes through the pass as through a funnel and seems to beat back the intruder. The road now slopes away, and if the visitor happens to be awheel, he will find an easy run down for the next three miles, to compensate him for the toil of the journey hitherto. We must not omit to mention the "Wormy Howe", the popular name applied to the Old Caledonian Road, the highway from Forres by Auchindoun and the Cabrach to the Mearns, which here makes its appearance as a fairly well-defined hollow, and which may be traced through the Glacks, along the base of the Muckle Balloch, on the left, crossing to the Garbet hill, and thence along its face and over the Kelman Hill to Boghead, where it crosses the Deveron and runs south to Tap o' Noth. By some it is thought to be a remnant of a Roman road, but as there is no evidence in its character to prove it such, and as also there is considerable doubt as to whether the Romans were ever in this region, we prefer to believe it is the old Caledonian or Pict road. Tradition, however, supplies an explanation of its existence, from which its popular name of "Wormy Howe" is derived. At some far distant period two huge "worms" appeared in the north, and journeyed to meet each other, the one starting from Bennachie, the other from near the Balloch Hill, the latter, as it gathered itself together for the start, threw up those mounds already referred to as Jean's Hillocks, then with a thrust of its powerful head pierced the hill forming the Glacks, and dragged its length over the course described, hastening to join battle with its rival. What happened then, or if indeed the two ever met, is a question left unanswered by the legend, but not so long ago there used still to be in the Cabrach a few believers in the story, and one old man always concluded his version of it with the words, "Gad, man, I kenna far wad hae happened if they worms had bit met".

We shall not yet enter the Cabrach, but take a look first at the other approaches to it. The next in importance is that from the N.E., and in these motoring times it is fast becoming the more popular with travellers from the south, for though the road is twice the length of the first, yet an hour of railway travelling is saved.

Alighting at Huntly Station, the visitor must pass through the town, which is a thriving place, with wool mills and farm implement manufactories. In the centre is the inevitable square, with a monument to the last Duke of Gordon, and on the right a road conducts to the Gordon Schools, under the arched portal of which one enters the park of the ruined Castle of Strathbogie, commonly called Huntly Castle, for long a stronghold of the Earls of Huntly. The lands of Strathbogie first came into the possession of the Gordons in 1327, when they were forfeited by their owner, David of Strathbolgie, a descendant of the houses of Athole and Fife, who as one of the "disinherited barons" joined the Balliol faction, and were given instead to the loyal Sir Adam Gordon, the founder of his line.

Our way leads out of the town in a south-westerly direction, and bends away to the left till it reaches the river Deveron at Cairnford, where it forks ; one branch keeping to the right bank of the river is a fair road for some seven miles or so, then it dwindles to a mere footpath, and after another mile becomes again an accommodation road, finally crossing the Deveron at a point in the Cabrach three miles from the parish boundary. The other branch crosses the river by a substantial iron bridge at Cairnford, and is the main road to the Cabrach. The first place of importance is Cairnborrow, on our left, which is of some antiquity, being mentioned in a charter of 1353 as belonging to William of Keith, Earl Marischal of Scotland, whose daughter married one of the Gordons, into the possession of which family it had passed in 1512, when the name again occurs in a charter. In 1594 it is recorded that the Marquis of Huntly came to Cairnborrow in search of recruits for his army before the battle of Glenlivet ; he asked the lady of the house if she could let him have some men, and she answered without hesitation that she would send her busband and her eight sons, with their attendants. Huntly wished the laird to remain at home, for he was an old man and had done his share of fighting ; but "Na, na, my lord, I'll blood the whelps mysel', they'll bite the better", said old Gordon, and he and his eight sons, each with a jackman and footman, went to the battle, from which they all returned safely. In 1715 a son of the house was Roman Catholic missionary in Glenlivet. Cairnborrow is now owned by Mr Stevenson.

At about six miles from Huntly, the house of Asswanley stands on the right bank of the river. It is a good-sized house, with farm-steading adjacent, among old trees. Here lived Elizabeth Cruickshank, the mother of "Jock" and "Tam" Gordon, on the question of whose legitimacy the authorities are divided. It was also the residence of Hutcheon Calder, who stole the cup from the camp of the Earl of Crawford, as related in "A Concise History of the Antient and Illustrious House of Gordon", by C. A. Gordon, published in Aberdeen in 1754. "There was one Hutcheon Calder in company with Huntley when he went to the batell of Brichen against the Earl of Crawford, who by his cunning and courage got into the camp of Earl Beardy, and likewise into his tent, who, after supper, brought away the said Earl's drinking cup (which cup Calder of Asswanlie keeps to this day), being a large silver cup overlaid with gold, holding a Scots pint and two gills, of fine engraven and carved work, and with a cape upon which there is ane inscription, which is now lost ; wherewith returning to the camp, in the silence of the night, he account to Huntley of the situation of Earle Beardy's camp, and number of his forces ; and as a testimony of his being there, produced the said cup ; upon which intelligence they attacked Crawford in the morning and defeated his forces, for which service the said Hutcheon Calder obtained the lands of Asswanlie, whose posterity possess it to this day". This Earl of Crawford was the terrible Earl Beardy, who figures in the weird and awful tales of the haunting of Glamis Castle, the family seat.

The road now branches again, the lower path leading directly to the Haugh of Glass, the upper to Dufftown. A mile farther on these two are connected by a crossroad, at the foot of the Glass Market Hill, thus enclosing a triangle of within which are situated Blairmore Castle, the property of Mr Geddes ; Invermarkie, the original home of the Geddes family ; Glenmarkie shooting lodge, and the Parish Church and Manse of Glass. Keeping for a little to the upper road, we presently turn down an avenue to the left, and see in front of us the gate of the Castle, while farther down the Church and Manse stand on a rising ground, one of the most fertile spots of the parish, as is amply testified by the gay garden. The Church, which is quite modern, contains a fine organ, the gift of Sir Frederick Bridge, who makes his summer home in the neighbourhood. From below the Church a good view of Blairmore Castle, towering above the trees, is obtainable.

At the Market Hill is held annually, on the third Tuesday of July, Glass Market, originally called St Andrew's Fair, an ancient institution and formerly of great importance, lasting two or three days, but since the extension of the railway, it, like many more of the old markets, has gradually dwindled till it is little more than an excuse for a day's holiday. Turning to the left along the base of the triangle, we next come to the Hamlet of the Haugh of Glass, where there is a post and telegraph office, and farther on, to the right of the road, the farm of Edinglassie, at one time the property of the Gordons, now belonging to Mr Macpherson. Edinglassie has a grim story connected with it. The house was at one time called Edinglassie Castle, though not a very large or well-fortified one, and in 1690 was occupied by Sir George Gordon, Joint Sheriff-Principal of the County. In that year the battle of the Haughs of Cromdale was fought, and some of the Highlanders, on their way from Strathspey to Strathbogie, burned the castle. On the return of the clans a few weeks later Gordon had his revenge, for, seizing eighteen of the Highlanders at random, he hung them on the trees in his garden. They were afterwards buried on the moor, and the spot is still known as "The Hielanman's Mossie". There is also Edinglassie Lodge, likewise the property of Mr Macpherson, standing near the river bank where there is a bridge and a road leading across it to the U.F. Church and Manse, pleasantly situated on a high bank overlooking the river and embowered in trees.

Our next point of interest is the little graveyard of Wallakirk, close by the river, where many Cabrach people are buried. Conspicuous among its monuments are the large white cross erected over the grave of Lady Bridge, and the enclosed vault in the centre, covered with ivy, belonging to Wardhouse. The name is derived from St Wallach or Wolok, said to have been the first Bishop in the diocese before its formal erection at Mortlach, and one of the missionaries sent out from Iona. He probably lived about the eighth century, when the people hereabouts were little better than pagans, living in a half savage state, St Wallach lived the life of a hermit, but occasionally left his solitude and travelled up and down the country preaching and teaching and working miracles. In a description of the Parish of Glass, written about 1725, in Macfarlane's Geographical Collections, the following occurs:-"Two miles below the house of Beldorney, clos by the river-side, are two natural bathes, called Saint Wallach's Bathes, much frequented in the summer-time by sick folk, especially children : lying betwixt two rocks, about six or seven paces in length, with two of breadth, and four or five foot in depth, always full of water, even in the greatest drouth. Abbout a quarter of a myle doun the river, clos by the water side, there is ane ruinous kirk, called Wallachkirk. Some part of the walls do remain, with the font. There is a large churchyard about it, where many of the dead thereabout are entered, to this day, with a glebe, yet belonging to the minister of the parish ; with some marks of the priest his house yet remaining. About a hundred paces beneth the kirk is Saint Wallach's Well, much frequented by sick folk". The well was supposed to be useful in curing affections of the eyes, while the baths were especially good for weakly children, who were immersed therein on the first of May by their superstitious mothers, who also hung garments on the bushes surrounding them, and this practice continued at least until 1648, for on the 7th of June in that year the Presbytery of Strathbogie met at Glass, and "ordained to restrain burials in the kirk and to censure all superstition at Wallak Kirk". Wallakirk, or Dummeth, was in the parish of Mortlach, but when the Bishop removed to Aberdeen in the 12th century it was annexed to that of Glass ; the lands of Dummeth were given to Duff of Braco, and now are included in the estate of Beldorney.

The house of Beldorney, mentioned in the foregoing, was yet another of the numerous possessions of the different branches of the Gordon family. The founder of this branch was Mr George Gordon, a natural son of Adam, Dean of Caithness, son of Alexander, 1st Earl of Huntly. He built the house of Beldorney, and his descendants lived there until about the beginning of the 18th century. The Balbithan MS. Brings down the succession to 1631, in which year the then laird of Beldorney married the daughter of the laird of Muirhouse, and had succession, but there it stops. In the graveyard of Wallakirk there is a stone to the memory of Katherine Gordon, daughter to James Gordon, "late of Beldorney". She died in 1795, in her 94th year, so we suppose her father to have been the grandson of the laird who married in 1631. The representatives of the family now live at Wardhouse, near Insch. Beldorney is at the present time in the possession of Mr Grant.

From here onwards there is nothing worthy of note in the scenery, the valley being like many another in Scotland : green rolling hills, their slopes plentifully dotted over with farms, the river swift and clear, as upland rivers are, now rushing over rocks, now widening into some deep pool beloved of the angler, and the white road winding along the hillside above. Passing through a fir plantation the Linnburn is reached, where a mountain torrent makes its way through a deep gorge, which is spanned by a stone bridge, and again we in the Cabrach, for this burn is the boundary, not only of the parish, but also of the county.

The only two main roads we have traversed give access to the Lower Cabrach. There is still another, which enters the Upper Cabrach at the Elrick at the foot of the Buck. In this direction Gartly is the nearest station, and it is 9½ miles from it to the Church of Cabrach. The road runs from Gartly over the lower slopes of Tap o' Noth, on the summit of which are the remains of a vitrified fort, the most massively built of the fifty similar forts in Scotland, having walls 8 ft. high, and from 20 to 30 ft. think, with a well in the centre. (Macdonald's Place Names of Strathbogie.) If as seems probable, these forts were built for defence against invasion, this one is admirably situated, for from it a view of the sea can be had to north and east, and it commands two valleys leading towards the sea coast, while behind it the country is wild, mountainous, and at the time of its construction probably covered with tangled woods and treacherous bogs.

The village of Rhynie is 3½ miles distant from Gartly. It is the post town for the Upper Cabrach, but otherwise has little to interest us. Four roads meet here, and we select that running west, and, beginning to ascend, presently find ourselves at Scaurdargue, the former home of "Jock" Gordon, half-brother to the heiress of the Gordons of the ducal line, and himself, through his third son, the ancestor of the Earls of Aberdeen.

From Rhynie to the Cabrach there is a long ascent of 6 miles. With the exception of the small village of Bruntland, few houses are passed. Just before reaching this village is the kirkyard of Essie, but no trace of the kirk itself remains. Near by was formerly Lesmoir Castle, the seat of an important branch of the Gordon family. "The Castle of Lesmoir has vanished. It seems to have been inhabitable about the year 1726. During the last century it was used as a quarry to build the neighbouring farms, and some of the carved work is still at Craig. One stone with a unicorn's head on it was discovered some years ago in the wall of the Mains of Lesmoir by Mr Wm. Leiper, A.R.S.A., Architect, Glasgow (a descendant of the Gordons of Terpersie), who built it into his house, Terpersie, Helensburgh. Lesmoir may mean 'the large garden' (Lois Mohr) from the alluvial soil washed down from the hills. The name was derived by Mr Macdonald from Lios mor, the big fort, of Lesmurdie. The Gordons held the lands for 230 years, 1537-1776". (The Gordons of Lesmoir, by Captain Douglas Wimberly.)

After passing Bruntland there is little or no cultivation, and the only signs of human industry are the peats set up to dry, while an occasional post-box by the roadside indicates a lonely farm house, out of sight of the passer-by. The ground is hereabouts very rough and boggy, and there are quantities of huge stones scattered about, which might seem as if dropped from a fairy apron, like those forming the quarry of Langannet in Kincardineshire, of which it is said that the fairies, desiring to build a castle near that place, were carrying stones in their aprons for that purpose when the apron string of one of them broke, scattering the stones, where they of remain to this day. Evidence of the exposed and lonely region traversed is given by the posts driven into the ground at intervals, to mark the road in snowy weather, and to keep the unwary from losing the way altogether. This road from Rhynie is considered a good test of the hill-climbing powers of motor cars, and as such has on two occasions formed part of the route prescribed for the Reliability trials promoted by the S.A.C. At the top of the hill is the boundary between the parishes of Rhynie and Cabrach, and there a road comes in from Lumsden and the parish of Auchindoir, the shortest way to the Cabrach from Aberdeen, but rough and narrow from its leaving the main road at Lumsden, and not to be recommended to motorists.

In addition to these three important roads to the Cabrach there are numerous cart tracks and footpaths leading to it from the outer world, across the hills. Two of these, one Starting from Gartly, the other from Finglenny, both in the parish of Rhynie, enter the Cabrach near to the Hillock, while another, from Bruntland and Essie, comes in over the hill of the Newton and there joins an accommodation road on the right bank of the river. A footpath comes from Huntly over the Clashmach, through the Lang Hill, and along the foot of Gromack to Tomnaven. The Upper Cabrach has communication with Glenbucket by a cart-track, which comes past the Gauch and Aldivalloch to the hamlet of Aldunie, and another path, entering at Aldivalloch, comes from Glenlivet, through Blackwater ; while yet another, from Glenrinnes, comes through Glenfiddich, and keeping to the east side of the Balloch hill, and passing Badchier, joins the Dufftown road at Bridgend.

Surely now the would-be visitor to the Cabrach cannot fail to find it from wherever he may set out, so we shall proceed to a description of the parish itself, and endeavour to give a short account of its history from our earliest available records down to the present time.

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