Thursday, 11 June 2015

Ardunie Watchtower -and walk the Roman Road !




I am a keen dog  walker  and am fortunate  enough to reside in one of Scotland’s  most beautiful and historic areas . My Border Terrier “ Bo “ enjoys  the countryside and the chance  to explore ! Despite  the  variable weather we regularly  have  to contend  with , these ploys are great fun  ! 

One of our  favourite  jaunts  is to the Roman Watch Tower at Ardunie  near Trinity Gask .It is  approximately equidistant from Crieff and Auchterarder and some 7 miles  west of Perth . Let us , however  be quite honest- there is  no existing Tower - there is just a clearing  in the woods with  an excellent  series  of  descriptive boards  illustrating what Ardunie  was like a way back in the  early  days when it  was constructed around 70 AD  



OS Map showing location of Ardunie Roman Watchtower. 



Bo investigates the Romans !
The Roman Road
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 Organic remains in the native settlements show no sign of being destroyed, while farming appears to have flourished.This is shown by the remains of pollen buried in the soil, which indicate that, soon after the Roman conquest, the numbers of weeds started to fall, suggesting cattle were grazing the land more intensely. 

The archaeologist leading the research ( Dr David Woolliscroft ) said: "You can tell from the number of weeds it was low-level grazing before the Romans arrived and afterwards more animals must have been raised, leading to more grazing. The surprise is how peaceful it all seems to be. Wherever we've looked, we've found peace, tranquillity and prosperity, which is not all what we were expecting."



The clearing in the wood where the watchtower was located 
The farm road was in fact the original Roman Road




Some 2000 years  ago when the Roman watchtower occupied  this site there would have  been few trees around .



The  fence is NOT to keep you out but simply protect the site from the  grazing roe deer that abound here !




The dark area is where the watchtower stood




"If it had been a bloody war of conquest we would have expected agriculture to go into decline because many of the farmers would have been killed, but we find it was flourishing." Dr Woolliscroft added their research suggests that the Gask line was built not to keep the Scottish nation at bay, but to protect their newly-found trading partners - the farmers - from roaming gangs of thieves sweeping down from the Highlands. 

Scots are by instinct a friendly , gregarious nation who have ventured around the Globe often in the pay of exploiters , often on a quest to seek fresh hope and a new home . 

An interesting observation on the Gask Ridge is that the road  connecting the forts and watchtowers was constructed on the north side and thus would have been exposed to attacks  from the " wild Caledonians " ! It would appear that our Roman "guests " actually lived in comparative harmony  with their neighbours !



Plan of the Gask Ridge  shown on the site board at Ardunie



The signage at Ardunie depicts what the watch tower would have looked like. 

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Saturday, 6 June 2015

Glen Artney and Auchnashelloch : A Royal Forest and Comrie’s Highland Heritage .





A number of years ago I purchased a  small booklet on Glen Artney in the book shop  that existed for  some years in Drummond Street Comrie. The author was the late Gordon Booth FSA , a superb researcher and accomplished author . He was not a local man since moving to the village  from I believe the Island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides. Since arriving in the area, he  had  read and assimilated much of the history and folk lore of this part of the Strath  .I recall the late Tom Weir ( of the woolly hat ) doing a programme in his Weir’s Way series on Glen Artney an d featuring Gordon Booth . Regrettably  all seven of his little books are out of print although they may be available to borrow through Perth and Kinross Library Service. I have incorporated partial excerpts from his  writings in this blog on the Glen which I duly acknowledge as a fitting tribute to his diligence .

Glen Artney is some eight or  so miles in length from the former prisoner  of war camp at Cultybraggan near  Comrie to Glen Artney Lodge . It was immortalised by Sir Walter Scott in his poem  'The Lady of the Lake':

The stag at eve had his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,
And deep his midnight lair had made,
In lone Glenartney's hazel shade.




Glen Artney was always very  much a Highland  part of Strathearn . The First Statistical Account for the Parish written about 1791 makes interesting reading despite its  somewhat patronising tone :

Character and Language : Like the generality of the common Highlanders, the lower ranks here are modest , peaceable and very obliging . There are few law suits among them and there have been none for these ten years , except about legacies , multures and marches ( ie grazings and boundaries ) . They are frugal , moderate and industrious and except at merry meetings are not much addicted  to drinking .The common language of the people is Gaelic . All the natives  understand it but many , especially of the old, do not understand English well . All the young people can speak English but in order to acquire it they must go to service in the Low Country . The Gaelic is not  spoken in its purity neither  here or in any of the bordering parishes .

Apart from Scott’s poem which brought  much fame  to the Glen , history goes back to the day’s  of the early Stewart Kings . Gordon Booth tells  us that :

We might not have known anything about the Medieval period in the Glen if James l had not been keen on hunting and started  to add to the Royal Forests as the result of forfeiture and escheats  where the owner died  intestate ; and if John Gilbert had not published in 1979 that carefully researched and most informative book  “ Hunting and Hunting Reserves  in Scotland “ . Amongst the earldoms  added were Fife  and Strathearn which included forests and hunting areas . Glen Artney Forest is first mentioned in 1437 .There must have been people living in the forest when the King came , although infrequently , as considerable man power was needed for driving  and for the supply of provisions . He appointed  a forester who looked after  a group of forests . John Murray of Strowan was forester for Corriemuckloch , Glen Shervie  and Glen Artney in 1502 .

Hounds were settled on his subjects in the areas where they were most needed .In 1471  and 1477 James lll had  greyhounds in Aberlednock near Comrie  and in 1488 Lord Drummond kept 40 scenting hounds at the Mill of Milnab . These greyhounds were what we  would now call Scottish deer hounds . James lll and lV both , also , kept unbroken horses in Glen Artney .

When a hunting expedition was decided on the tents were prepared by the pavilion man or tent keeper . They were made of canvas and iron and called a canopy or a pavilion . Provisions such as “ bread , wine , marts , muttons , capon and fish “ , were prepared . Locals presented butter and cheese but nobles  donated delicacies- Lord Drummond  sent James lV cherries  when he was in Glen Artney in 1508 .
In early times deer were driven down to a set  , or narrow trap in the hills , and when the King  heard the horns he mounted his horse , armed  with  a  bow and arrows  and a spear  or sometimes a crossbow was used  . By the time of James lV , he sat,  in his tent  with a refreshment tent close by , until he heard the approaching drive . In Glen Artney in 1508 , “ 306 men were at the hunting “all making as much noise as possible .

In 1506 James lV left Stirling and the next day was hunting in Glen Artney. Dogs had been brought to him by James Murray . While he was waiting, butter and cheese were brought to him  by a local woman . He then moved to Balquhidder and stayed with the vicar . He also was hunting in the  Glen in December 1493 but cannot have been hunting stags as it was the close season.
King James Vl heard of  a pure white hind  and in 1622  sent a forester called Scandoner  to capture it for him  and “ Master Scandoner went to try his skill in the Glen Artney forest “ but did not capture it .
When Queen Victoria  visited the Strath on her Royal Tour of 1842 , she  visited the various homes of the areas  landed aristocracy . Whilst she was  enjoying  tea  and buns  in the big houses , her husband Prince Albert took off to Glen Artney for a spot of deer  hunting – truly following in the established Royal tradition !

Jacobite Uprisings





Apart from its fame as Royal Deer Forest , Glen Artney was involved in both Jacobite Uprisings in 1713 and in the tragedy that was the  ’45 . The Glen was in possession of the Drummonds of Drummond Castle and its  occupants  were mainly  tenant farmers or those who worked on the farms . One factor that Is not often recognised  is that in the 18th century there was,  in Scotland and indeed in Perthshire , a strong religious antagonism between the established Presbyterian church , the Presbyterian dissenters who opposed patronage  , the Episcopalians or the “ old kirk “  and the Catholic Christian factions.  Fuelled  by  history , attitudes to other denominations   were far from Christian and openly hostile to any other factions . Contemporary writings of this period are quite indicative of this prevailing sentiment . A report on the “ Highlands of Scotland “ prepared  by  a Presbyterian Lowlander illustrates this quite clearly in a quite patronising manner
“ I passed through the country of  the Earl or Duke of Perth ( as commonly called ) . Part of the estate lies  in the low country  and the rest among the hills . The inhabitants of the former were  such rigid and true Protestants that he well knew it was in vain for him  to attempt to raise them to rebel in favour of a Popish Pretender , and that though he should force them and carry them along as prisoners , yet all their power could not compel them to fight or even to carry arms and therefore whatever contributions were demanded the men were left alone . But those on the Highland Estate were more pliable as they did not know the value of religion and liberty . This is but one of many of  the mischievous effect that  ignorance has on those who live among the mountains “ .

In Glen Artney , the tenants tended to follow the established Presbyterian church whilst their Drummond land lords  had reverted  to Catholicism . Despite the  prevailing  religious  differences  , a call to arms could  not  be ignored ! On the 15th August , 1713 a letter was issued by Drummond to his tenants to rise and follow . Its  contents were quite explicit and demanding . Addressed to William McGrouther , a supporter of the Stewart cause it read : “ William McGrouther in Dalclathic , you are hereby ordered to acquaint William McNiven in the same town and Alexander McGrouther in Dalchrown to go along with you as officers to command the company of our men that is to come out of your glen. And all the men are hereby ordered to obey your commands on the highest peril, which you are to intimate to them as you shall be answerable to us , and this shall be your warrant . See that none of the men of whatever rank of Auchunner be absent as you shall be answerable to us and all the men in good order “.

The 1745 Uprising known as the ’45 saw the men from the Glen being called  yet again to arms being it willingly or unwillingly  . In excess of 200 left  to fight  for Bonnie Prince Charlie
Sadly  few returned . In the 18th Century Glen Artney would  have had in probability  over 2 000 inhabitants Now there are  fewer than 20  residents living in the Glen .

Tullichettle Medieval Church and Churchyard






Tullichettle adjacent to Cultybragan was once a thriving religious  centre boasting a priest and later a minister long before similar was established  in nearby Comrie . The medieval church has long since  gone  apart from its stone foundations .The graveyard however is a fascinating repository  for those families  who inhabited the Glen . Amongst the preserved monuments to the deceased  we find Duncan McNab farmer of  Malerfuar died 1784 , Patrick McNiven died  1784 , Duncan Drummond , farmer  of Trian , James Riddoch  , miller of Glen Artney , Alexander McGruther of Meigar who died in 1797 in his 82nd year and James McOwan another long  liver  who died in 1830 aged 97 years !

Glen Artney Church




If one travels up the Glen heading towards Glen Artney Lodge , the church is located  on small hillock  opposite the car park some  5 miles west of Cultybragan . A small attractive building which was built   by the Willoughby de Eresby family around  1905. Despite a  declining  local population , services  run in  conjunction  with Muthill Parish Church are held periodically in the summer months .



Land Use over the Centuries in Glen Artney



Here let  me again quote from Gordon Booth : “ The land was divided into townships of farms , each township consisting of a  certain proportion of arable land , meadow, green pasture  and muirland . They were of various  sizes , and occupied  the lower part of the country . A stone fence called a head – dyke , or an imaginary line answering to it ran , along the brae or slope, and separated the arable , meadow- ground , and pasture of the milch cows from that of the muirland or hill pasture , where the horses , yeld - cattle and sheep of the farm ranged . The arable land of the township , which lay with in  the head - dyke was usually divided into infield and outfield . in the former , the steading  or , or town as it was  called , was situated . It was kept in tillage and on it all the manure was laid . The outfield  consisted of such plots as were level enough and free of wood or stones to be ploughed , and were kept in corn and lea alternately , the cattle  being folded on them  for manure . The meadows  were patches among the fields which were too wet , woody or stony to be ploughed – they gave  a scanty supply of hay . Sheep and horses were pastured during the summer  months on the muirlands  or hill- pasture , 10 acres woody waste and 250 acres  muirland . These  formed  a village community having their houses together . “