In our day...’ Reminiscences and Songs from Rural Perthshire'
Stories and Songs of Perthshire
A Chapter - The Auld Hoose…
Caroline Oliphant, (LADY NAIRNE)
Margaret Stewart Simpson
Belle Stewart and Sheila
Themes of the Collection
Life in the glens and villages of Perthshire is viewed through the eyes of shepherds, farmers, crofters, estate workers, housewives, gardeners, professionals, trades-people and children. They all share reminiscences, stories, games, sayings and rhymes in Scots and Gaelic, which have been recorded for this book. Excerpts of transcriptions have been woven together by folklorist Margaret Bennett who also draws strands from writt en records. Perthshire singer and tradition-bearer Doris Rougvie has also illustrated the book, which concludes with a selection of Perthshire songs. Along with several friends, Doris and Margaret have recorded all the songs for a CD enclosed within the book. A Grace Notes Scotland Collection by Margaret Bennett, Doris Rougvie & friends.
Conversations and reminiscences of earlier times often begin ‘in our day…’ No matter which generation is speaking, personal memories not only reflect the teller’s own lifetime, but may also include what parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents recalled. Without any reference to books, the remarkable span of oral tradition can range across two centuries or more. Often, however, such conversations quickly fade into the past, then, too late, we wish we had least made a note of details that seemed so clear and bright at the time. Yet, no matter how many recordings we make (or notes we write), there is always more waiting to be recorded – or lost forever.
It was a Caithness man, with high-ranking status in the British parliament, who first had the ambitious idea of recording for posterity current information on all aspects of Scottish society. Ideas are one thing; carrying them out, another. As it happened, however, Sir John Sinclair was also a lay member of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and where better than the annual gathering in Edinburgh to hand out questionnaires to every parish minister, requesting a response. As might be expected, some were keener than others to write screeds about their local parish, but by 1791 he had enough to edit one volume of The Statistical Account of Scotland. Seven and a half years later, with contributions from over 900 ministers (and many reminders to reluctant writers) Sinclair completed the Herculean task he had set himself of editing and compiling The Statistical Account covering every parish in Scotland – twenty volumes in all.
Before long, the work was regarded as a ‘model’ that set the standard across Europe, and it has been a main reference point for every enquiry about Scottish social history from the eighteenth century onwards. Two more have since appeared, The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1844 – 45), thus, ever since, the first Account has been known as the Old Statistical Account, and the most recent, The Third Statistical Account of Scotland, undertaken and published between 1951 and 1992 (Volume 27, published in 1979, covers Perthshire). All three are regarded as primary sources for Scottish social, economic, ecclesiastical, cultural and linguistic history, and are often the starting place for historical researchers.
For oral historians and folklorists, the starting place is usually the spoken word, which may (or may not) be corroborated by a printed source. This miscellany from rural Perthshire has grown out of many conversations and also takes some of its inspiration from an earlier collection, Remembered in Perthshire, which Doris and I put together ten years ago. Our main source of information were residents in care homes – we began by singing a few songs, hoping some would join in, and unfailingly they not only sang with us but reminded us of a rich seam of local history and culture that continues to hold our interest. Most of the folk we recorded then are no longer with us, but their memories live on, as do their songs.
Reminiscences such as these, recording the way of life in rural Perthshire, are part of a long chain of memories stretching back to a time well before those written down by parish ministers in the 1790s. Over the years, local newspapers and community newsletters have added innumerable links to this chain. The oldest ‘link’ dates back to the time of John the Baptist, who, as everyone knows, subsisted on a diet of ‘locusts and wild honey’. After a lifetime of imagining (or trying not to imagine) anyone having to eat some brittle, grass-hopper-like creature, even with a spoonful of honey, I can now put my mind at rest about the locusts. Read on – you may even wish to taste them!
Memories are not, however, the domain of the elderly alone, as readers will discover through these pages. The youngest contributors were born in the 21st century and are still in primary school. They deserve a special mention as they wrote to me after a ‘story-telling visit’ I made to their school, Errol Primary, this year. As one of them happened to give me the undeserved compliment of being ‘really good at making up stories,’ I immediately owned up and confessed that all my stories were told to me by other folk, such as my parents, grandparents, neighbours. “So if you ask your parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, or anyone of any age you’ll might be surprised what interesting memories they’ll tell you…” With a great deal of enthusiasm (as well as encouragement from their teachers), off they set. Before long the postman delivered a fat envelope of ‘Perthshire Memories’ to me, some of which are printed here.
A huge thanks to all, young and old, who have allowed me to record their reminiscences and special thanks to Doris who shared visits with me as well as her enthusiasm, songs and her artistic skills. (She was also one of the team of transcribers who are mentioned later.) In drawing together the stories for this book I hope that readers will not only enjoy glimpses of the past but will also be reminded of their own store of memories that deserve to be passed on. And, as Perthshire is celebrating ‘Perth 800’ in the year 2010, we have put together some of the many songs composed by Perthshire folk. Just as Perthshire’s best-known song, ‘The Rowan Tree’, has given pleasure to every generation since it was first composed, may this collection be enjoyed for many years to come.
Margaret Bennett Ochtertyre, Perthshire, 2010
A CHAPTER - The Auld Hoose…
Oh the auld hoose, the auld hoose, whit tho the rooms were wee;
Kind hearts were dwellin there and bairnies fu’ o glee…
– Carolina Oliphant, (Lady Nairne), Gask House, Perthshire
Carolina Oliphant (1766 – 1845) was born in Gask House, her ancient family home overlooking the River Earn. She lived there till 1806, when she married William Murray Nairne, and later became Lady Nairne. Returning to Gask in 1828, she was welcomed into the ‘new spacious dwelling’ that had replaced the old building which, some years before, had become rat infested and had deteriorated so badly it had become dangerous. It is not the state of a building that inspires a song of nostalgia and longing, however; it is the bright memories of the folk who there in that linger on. Meanwhile, let the newspaper of the day deal with details that might best be forgotten.
Perthshire Courier April 29th, 1841
Rat Killing – On Wednesday the 14th Alexander Menzies, killed in the course of three hours, with his ferrets and terriers, upwards of 200 rats, at Seaside. Mr Hunter of Glencarse, and a number of gentlemen, being on the ground the whole time, and witnessed the extraordinary dispatch of this farmer’s greatest enemy. On the 19th, he killed at Mr Kinnear’s of Lochtay 120 in one day, with the same dogs and ferrets.
Margaret Stewart Simpson [grand-niece of Lady Nairne, Gask, 1894]
My earliest recollections of my Aunt Nairne are of spending a winter with her … when I was about seven years old. She was very fond of children … we were always allowed by her to cut out paper, paste it, paint or make any mess we pleased; and we were much annoyed when nurse came in and proclaimed that it was bedtime!
Christian Murray, Comrie 2010
I’m very lucky here – Dalginross House is very cosy and they make very good food and they don’t fuss you – they let you get on with things. I love reading – I would read all day long! And I like going for walks – you might be anywhere here, in the country, with lovely walks. I don’t know who used to live here…
Alastair Kissack, Dunira, recorded in Dalginross House, 2008
MB: Alastair, you remember Dalginross when it was a house, when a family lived in it?
Alastair: Yes I do. It was Joan Cameron who had it and her uncle, a Mr Newbigging. had it before that. He used to live in that lovely house at Dalchonzie – he was a bachelor, and he had this place too, where he also lived. And then when he died he left it to his niece Joan Cameron. An interesting thing Joan Cameron told me, was that there was a very big firm in Yorkshire called Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour – a very big firm, in textile engineering. And she said, ‘Do you know, Alastair, one of the men who started that firm, Fairbairn, was the gardener for my uncle, who owned Dalginross House. He went to a place in Yorkshire and saw the opportunity of this great big engineering firm.’ Isn’t that interesting? Anyway, it was Mr Newbigging, who lived here – that was a long time ago … before my time … my mother and her cousin knew him. He was a very rich old man and the funny thing was, he never married though he loved the company of women but not in that romantic way. He used to give dinner parties, all women, no men there at all, and he liked to give presents. I think he spent much of his life in India, in the East India Company. He had his roots here in Comrie … it’s all history – maybe I should know all this, but I wasn’t born in those days. It’s a very nice place and it’s fascinating all this about past history. But that about Mr Newbigging was quite true – he gave the most lovely jewellery, lovely presents.
Audrey Kissack, Dunira, 2010
Alastair and I knew some that family, in Yorkshire. They lived in a big mansion house called Askham Grange. And, talking of what happens to people’s houses – that house is now a women’s prison so it is interesting how times change, things change…
Christian Murray, Comrie, 2010
I was born at Pitfour about seven miles from Perth, in Glencarse in 1913. Father’s name was Alexander David Murray (the family were Murrays of Scone) and Mother’s name was Christian Maule. I don’t know where that name came in, it wasn’t her maiden name, it was just one of those names. And I was christened Christian Ann Murray and I’ve got two sisters and a brother. And the brother was much younger, he was six years younger than me, the last of the family. We had very good parents – it’s lovely to look back on. We were very carefully looked after at Pitfour and we were so countrified – we didn’t have a car. My father wouldn’t have a car because he was a farmer and he felt it spoilt the land.
Pitfour was quite a large house, five storeys, with stone stairs – it was just like that picture. My room was right up there, top floor (at the right-hand corner), with 52 steps to go up to my room. All the children slept at the top of the house, under the cupola. I never had a room to myself, always with one of my sisters. Always shared, I took it for granted, I was just one of the three girls, the youngest. Marylou, she was the oldest and she had to have everything very strict, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that!’ Then there was Elizabeth – Bessie. And then there was me, then there was a gap and then there was a boy – David. Now all of them are scattered about the place! They all went south – that’s going back a bit.
If you look at the photo, the bit that sticks out at the front, that's the library and the music room. And those towers, I remember on some special day they had to go right to the top of the towers and put the flag up. Mother did it, inside the house, up all these ruddy steps and hoisted the flag, the Union Jack.
There was Nanny and there was the governess, and nursery-maid and everybody. And Nanny was always in the nursery. But she didn’t sleep there – I don’t know where she slept, she was downstairs somewhere. Nanny was always called ‘Nanny’ but I remember Father coming in to say goodnight to us and he called her Harrison. I remember thinking she could be called Miss Harrison.
Miss Reddy was the governess and must have lived in – I don’t think she got on with the others, the domestics. They had their little contretemps, I think. I can imagine them all, from the cook downwards – or the cook upwards, should I say? She used to sit in kitchen, in her armchair. I don’t think she ever did any work, she directed everyone else! There was the poor girls in the scullery. There was a scullery-maid and a kitchen-maid and the head domestic, the head table-maid. And we were very carefully controlled by them. Oh, yes, we had to do what we were told. There was a big stove in the kitchen, coal, just a stove, iron, nothing fancy, but it kept the kitchen nice and warm. The cat lived in the kitchen, in the basket that used to be for the laundry and the cook sat in her chair and issued orders. ‘Do this! Do that! Do the next thing!’ We were very frightened of her; in fact we weren’t allowed in the kitchen at all, we children were not supposed to be there. It didn’t do us any harm! [Laughs] We were very lucky having a nice place to live.
In those days there was no electricity but we made our own gas. The gardener did it out near the stables, in the gas-house, I think it was called – I can smell it now, horrible smell! And there were lamps. One or two had mantles, otherwise it was just the wick – it had to be trimmed. I can’t think who did that. And oh yes, the fires always had to be lit. The kitchen was always warm but the house got very cold in winter. The windows would frost over in winter – oh, I can see it even now – jolly cold, but in those days I don’t think it ever struck me, it was just the house. We didn’t have very good warm clothing, just what Nanny thought was suitable and we didn’t always agree with her. We’d have liked something more cosy, like wool, but no, because that would have meant she wouldn’t be able to wash it. She was responsible for the washing and drying our clothes. And Nanny’s word was law. It’s not very nice to be cold but we just took it for granted – that was how we lived, up the stone stairs. And in our bedroom I suppose there was a fireplace but I can’t think of one – if there was, it wasn’t lit, because that would have been spoiling us. At bedtime there were hot water bottles but Nanny didn’t approve. I can see her now, grumpily coming along the corridor with nearly tepid hot water bottles. She thought that was spoiling us so she saw to it that they weren’t hot. We looked forward to the summer – that meant you could wear a thin cotton dress and nanny had to provide special knickers that went with that, I think she made them.
We children ate our meals upstairs in the schoolroom with the governess. The house-maid had to carry the meals up the 52 steps, an awful business, up the back stairs too, and it was dark and horrid – then had to carry the dishes down again. For breakfast it was always sausages, nothing else. (No, we didn’t have porridge.) And we had tea or cocoa – horrible! I’ve never forgotten it so I always have tea here, I don’t ask for cocoa! I can’t remember ever having lunch, but we must have had something. And we had high teas, always – it would be a knife and fork business. We just had to eat what we were given; I don’t think we were allowed to choose – except maybe on our birthdays. Scrambled eggs, it could have been, and then steamed puddings – I think we had them every day. The cook would make that in a bowl and you had custard with it.
When we had meals with my parents in the dining-room, that would be a very special day. I sat next to my father – ‘Behave and use the right knife and fork,’ otherwise I was told smartly. For our birthdays the cook would make a cake – it was like a sponge cake and it was covered in icing and blobs of decoration – I can see it now! We seemed to wait ages for one’s birthday, for the cake, to see what it was like! [laughs] Sometimes we went to birthday parties – I don’t think they came to us, but I think we went to them. I can’t remember children coming to us. And at Christmas time there was always parties – they came to us. And the Christmas tree was at the bottom of the stairs – I can see it now!
The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Comrie, 1845
A great deal of improvement has taken place in the habits of the people, in respect of cleanliness in their persons and houses; about three-fourths of their homes being slated,and plastered, and their dress being in general bought, not homespun, as formerly…
Belle Stewart & her Daughter Sheila, Blairgowrie, 1992
Belle: I wis born in a wee bow tent on the bank of the River Tay the 18th of July, l906 – born in a wee bow tent, no doctors, no nurses, nobody, just my aunt, my mother’s sister; that was all that was there with her. And my father wis fishin the Tay at that time, and he got one o the biggest pearls that ever was known up to this day out of the Tay that mornin... Well, when my father got that pearl that mornin he had to walk up to Dunkeld for to sell it to the jeweller. And if he had that pearl the day he could a got a couple o hundred pound for it. An he got either eight or ten pound, I think. I don’t reckon he got all that, but anyway, that was a lot of money in his time. And he jist came back to the camp, and I suppose they would hae a dram, but they would celebrate me in some way, you know, the way travellers do, or tinkers, to put it polite – my father was a great tinsmith, he was that; he was really counted among the most skilled craftsmen, but I never knew him because he died when I was seven months old...
Sheila: There wasn’t a thing to eat in the camp, or even a drop of tea for the new mother, so when he got the money for the pearl he went to the shop to get food for everyone. And he said to the shop-keeper ‘That’s two pearls I got the day!’ You know, the one he got in the Tay, and his new wee baby.
The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Killin, 1845
In the Dochart the pearl muscle [sic, mussel] are found from which beautiful and valuable pearls are extracted…
The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Errol, 1845 A broad belting of reeds was planted all along the shores … they were cut for economical purposes…[for thatching]. These reeds, it may be mentioned were originally planted by dibbling at the expense of £12 per Scotch acre. The average produce per acre has been about 500 bundles, each of 36 or 37 inches circumference. The expense of cutting, binding, and carrying them out, has been from 3s. 6d. to 4s. per 100 bundles, the rope-yarn being furnished by the proprietor. The average price at which those of the best quality have been sold for thatch is £1. 5s. per hundred bundles; and the price of those of inferior quality, now chiefly used in covering drains, is about 15s. per 100. The average number of bundles of both qualities yearly raised in the parish … was not less than 40,000 bundles.
Allan Walker, Killin, 1964
The houses were all thatched when I was a boy, and then some o them that used to be thatched wi reeds were latterly covered wi tin, and now they’ve got tiles on them and slates… There’s very, very, very little thatching done now – in fact there’s very few that can thatch … I have done it myself, repairing work, just that only.
It was quite an easy thing to build a house in the olden times. The way you set about it, well there was four corner stones, which are big… If we take one at each corner and then started to build the walls. But first of aw they got what you call ‘roof-trees’. They went to the wood and got trees with a bend on them at the top, like to fit a roof, eight o these. All the ones that I’ve seen were made of oak, and roughly hewn by an axe. I don’t remember of any Gaelic word for that, though it was nothing but Gaelic at that time I don’t remember of hearing the word for it ‘roof trees’. Well, it would need to be eight oak trees, [four pairs], because they had to be joined at the top by wooden pins. When the stonework began, they were built into the wall at the base and curved up.
They were dry stone walls, perpendicular on the outside but the inside, there was a batter on them, which means that the room at the base was much narrower than what it was at the ceiling – there was more width at the ceiling-height, like. The wall was built up to eight feet. And then it was young saplings, probably young larch thinnings, they were laid across these roof-trees on each side and then turf put on the top o that. They went to the hills – it was tough stuff, you know, they got them in the hills and they covered all the roof wi that then thatched it, wi wheat stra if they could get it – in our time anyway, it was wheat stra. When they got it thatched right up, they put turf on the reeding and cut the turf off, five feet long you know, it was long, narrow strips. It would be anything up to eighteen inches wide and about five feet in length and they laid that on the top o the thatch o the reeds and covered the lot with it and at the end it was pegged wi wooden pegs and battens put across it again, they were either pinned down wi wood forks – fork pegs – and sometimes there would be wire put across and a heavy stone hung on each end to weight it down and there were larch strips on top of the finished thatch to keep it from getting blown by the wind cos’ a high gale would have lifted it up and cleared it all away. Oh yes, it was nothing unusual to see big holes made in the thatch by a high wind. And if it was well done, the thatch would last for several years if it was good stra’ they had.
Inside the house there were usually three apartments. We used to call the best end the seòmar, [the ‘room’], the middle one, that’s a small one, we called it a closet, clòsaid, and the kitchen end was the ceàrn.
There was a big, wide chimney but made o wood, hanging chimney, it was tapered, it went right out through, above the roof, above the rigging, it went straight outside.It was wide at the bottom – they were about five feet wide and they came down to about five feet off the floor. They used to burn wood, big logs, and just as it burned away they kept shoving it in. And they used to smoke their hams – there was a big cleek leading to a beam that was across the chimney head, and then there was this long cleek. And attached to that there was a series of round links for to hang your pots on. We used the Gaelic for the chain, of course, that’s the slabhraidh… There is one, to my knowledge, in the village, beyond the burn – the only one that’s left now, but they were in aw these old houses at one time.
The Killin News, No. 21, July 1994
The National Trust for Scotland has recently purchased Moirlanich Cottage, Glenlochay, near Killin and is currently engaged in its restoration…
The National Trust for Scotland, Your Guide 2010, Moirlanich Longhouse, off A827, Glen Lochay Road, near Killin
Get a glimpse of 19th century Scottish Village life in this cottage, which retains many of its original features… Visit this perfectly preserved cruck frame cottage and get a glimpse of Scottish village life in the 19th century. Moirlanich was home to at least three generations of the Robertson family, with the last member leaving in 1968. The building has hardly been changed and retains many of its original features, such as the ‘hingin lum’ and box beds. Next door there’s an unusual collection of working clothes and ‘Sunday best’ which were discovered in the longhouse, and an exhibition on the history and restoration of the building.
Pat MacNab, Comrie, at the longhouse in Glen Lochay, 2001
When I worked here in 1928, the farmer that was in it had had an accident. He’d broken a leg – Tom Proctor was his name. And they sent for me to come and do the lambin. Well I’ll start at the start, how a came to be here. A letter came to my father askin could I possibly come up and do the lambin at Muirlanich because he had broken his leg and there was nobody, the other ones were far too old and there was nobody to do it except Tom himself (nephew of the Roberstons who owned the place). So Father said, ‘Right I’ll send him up.’ And these days you communicated by letter so it was a week afore I finally got here. But I left the top of Glenartney in the mornin, and I had to be in Comrie at nine o’clock and I walked the eight miles down from there, caught MacGregors the bakers van from Comrie – they were the bakers and delivered – and they took me to Lix Toll. And old John Robertson met me at Lix Toll, and we walked from Lix Toll (another thee miles) to Muirlanich – that was the name of the farm. I don’t know how they spell it, but it’s always said ‘Mu-heer-lan-eech’. And on the road comin down, John told me about the pearl fishing, and I said ‘You’re pullin my leg now!’ You know what a young one would be like, an him wi the beard – both o the brothers had beards, and I says ‘You’re pullin ma leg noo!’
‘No,’ he says, ‘they make a livin out o it, an everythin else,’ and of course, I didn’t believe him, but I soon learned!
So, this is Glen Lochay, right in behind Killin, and it’s a lovely glen, and goes right over and over into Glen Lyon. Today the house has a red tin roof, but in my day it was a thatched house, and that building over there was the stables and everything, you see. But this is the house that I came to when I was sixteen. Come here and I’ll show you ma bedroom! It’s on the right as you come in. Now, there’s my bed, the top bunk – that’s where I slept, and Johnny slept there on the bottom, and I went up on the top. Johnny was a nephew, he was about forty and he worked on the road – he was separate from the farm. And he slept in there, and the wee ladder was there – see the nails o it? The wee ladder was just enough to get yourself onto the top. Look at all the layers of all the wallpapers now! But mind you, it was presentable then – it wasn’t like this!
An Johnny did the metal for the roads, and shifted for potholes, and he was away all day. He would rise wi me at five o’clock, and sort the horse, feed the horse you know, and away. And we’d have breakfast – the cailleach [old lady] made it – she slept in a box-bed in the kitchen. And we were out o bed at 5 every morning, and the cream would be sittin there in the mornin on the bedroom windowsill – it would be skimmed off the top o the basin o milk from the night before. The porridge was there and the horn spoon – and they always made the porridge the night before, same thing in Glenartney, they’d make it and put it in the middle o hay, on the kitchen table or somewhere away fae the fire, like a cosy to keep it warm, in that hay. So it wasn’t hot, but it was warm. And I carried ma bowl through there to the kitchen, and ma cream.
Now this is the kitchen – the cailleach slept in here, in the box bed, the warmest place in the house. And she got out o bed in the nightie there, bare feet, and she’d made the breakfast. And the peats were there in beside the range, though it was logs they used for most o the time. It in the morning she just chucked a peat on there, and the bellows were there, hanging on the wall at the side, and she’d soon get it going with the bellows. Once it was going, you wouldn’t get near the fire for the heat! They just cut a log in four or five lengths, and just pushed it in – and they cut peats as well, for the mornin, to get the fire going. And see the hingin lum now – like a wooden frame – but what’s this? White paper? Mercy me, that’s been put on lately! That’s not the way it was – it was black, as black wi the soot. And that’s the swee, well, there’s part of it there, it was across there and the kettles were always boiling, they were just lippin over.
Now on the windowsill, that was where the cream was – the window was always open an inch or two, and the jugs were, and bowls were in there too. And there was hams hangin on there, huge hams, and all she’d do was get out of bed, and get the fryin pan and the eggs in there and big slices of ham there, and I had ma porridge and cream and everything. That wasn’t the fryin pan they had in those days; the fryin pan was huge, and she had the girdle, not that thing [currently on display], she had a much bigger girdle, and she made the oatcakes and everything else.
And first thing in the morning, she’d be there in her nightie, on her bare feet an everything else, and she just went through to the hen-house and took the eggs out of the nest – you’ll see the henhouse in minute – and took the eggs out an she would knock two eggs in there, and the ham would be sliced there. She’d get me tae get up an get the ham down. An then once she had me settled, she’d skip back into bed – still in her nightie!
How old was she? Oh, she was gey near eighty at that time, I’m sure she was well in the seventies, anyway! And the brothers, John and Donald they were both elderly you know, like I mean, I was just a kid compared to them. The rest of the family were separate, you know, in the other part of the house – they were the ones in the other room, with the two box beds, one on each side, in the sittin room, as she called it.
And the sheep were in the bottom there. Now they said, ‘In the mornin, there’ll need to be a bag of Indian corn for the sheep.’ It was called at that time – it’s maize they call it now. The old folk called it min Inseanach, aye – and you put on a bag at the back o the cart, a two-hundredweight bag, and you cut, or unravelled, the end o the bag, enough to let out a trail o it, and the horse’ll plod on itsel. You just let the thin line run out – they helped me the first day, but after that you just had to fight your own battles. But anyway, the sheep were properly fed an everythin.
So, that was me, five o’clock in the mornin, an I was away, an away – yoke the horse, an got them fed. And I did everythin an then I came back in here, had a cup o tea, an a went right oot round the top there, an round the Rigging o Craignavie, just to make sure there was no sheep because, you see, they were out in the afternoon goin up through there an then the came back down to feed. An any ewe that was lambed up there you see, I found and took back down an sorted all these things out.
Well then the lambin went on – I had a great lambin altogether. I had to lamb very little, an the only dead lamb I had was one that I tried to twin on there. I lost one ewe an it nearly broke their heart. That ewe, she hanged hersel at the back o the old shed up there. She wasn’t that keen on the lamb, so I put her in the corner an put a sheet o corrugated iron, like a wee pen, an in the mornin when I went ower, she was lyin on her back, and hanged ower the top o it. Oh mercy, they just went crackers! But never heed! Losin a ewe, that was just terrible.
So what we did after the lambin, the singles, we drew out, shed – that’s parted – all the singles and took them wi their mothers that were just average age, and able to go – they were fit to go, you know, maybe ten days, or the fortnight, and walked them to Killin, an put them on the train at Killin. And I went with them, and the dog, to Stirling, in the wagon – just stayed in the wagon, oh yes, on my own – I wasn’t quite sixteen – fifteen and a half. And then, when we got to Stirling, I drove them up to Speedie’s Market, and they were sold there. An there was nobody to take me home, and Mary Hood, from the Brig o Lochay, her father was in the Brig’ o Lochay, Mary came for me wi the big Armstrong Siddeley and took me back home. Well I had two or three jaunts like that – took them to Stirlin and got them away an everything else.
And after I finished the lambin they said, would I not stay and do the ploughin. So I said, ‘Well aye, I could stay,’ there was nothing to stop me, an I was quite happy here, well fed an everything else. There was always a black-faced wedder, killed and salted at the end of the year you know, it would always be a lamb. So we were very well fed, very well fed.
Anyway, I started on the ploughin and he said, ‘Right, I’ll put a wheel on to make things easier,’ because I’d never – I mean, I’d had shots o ploughin over in the glen there wi old John Smith an that. An it was a swing-plough there, an there was no wheels or anything on. An he was that bloomin particular, if you had a little wave in it at all, there was disaster! Anyway, they put a wheel on for me down there, the two horses they had, there was an older mare and this young mare. And he says, ‘You’ll manage if you’re careful with her.’ Because I was well accustomed to workin wi horses – we’d a hundred an forty in the glen, and two stallions. An I was reared frae that height wi them in Glenartney, and they were let out at ten pounds a week to Ross-shire to Peebles. And they went to all these shootin places, and that was the bargain, they were away for ten weeks, an it was ten pounds! But that’s getting off the story.
Anyway, I made a start an got the thing, and I blackened that [field] down there. And I said, ‘Who’s goin to sow the corn?’
'Oh, you'll sow the corn!'
'Oh,' I says, 'I've never sowed the corn in my life!'
'Oh,’ he says, 'We'll soon sort that!'
And he went an got the fiddle. Now, they werenae fit to carry it to me, an Johnny Robertson that was in here, he took the mornin off, an I sowed that. An then I sowed the grass seed as well.
But to get back a bit further; the day that I arrived here, they were splittin potatoes, up in the barn there, an they were sittin on the tub that they had for plotting the pig … an they had a great heap o lime on the floor, a depth o lime, maybe two inches o lime on the floor, an when I saw them splittin their tatties, I’d never seen that done before, like, to that extent, like, I mean – we’d cut potatoes before an everything else, but they had them like chips! There had to be an eye in every one. The pair o them, the brothers, they did it. They said, ‘Right, we’ll need to split open these dreels’, an it was that field, goin to Daldravaig, at the corner there – that’s the field they were in, an it was Kerr’s Pink. So, he got this plough out, an Johnny came, and between the two o us, we got it dreeled. And the drills, we ran them at twenty-seven inches. But, like I mean, I’d never done anything like drillin or anything at that time, but Johnny came along and between us we got it done anyway, got it dreeled. We had a proper dreel plough – it was an Oliver. And we had a swing plough there as well, a lovely swing plough it was, but they fitted this wheel on, you see, to make it easier. It’s all these years back, but I could remember the big plough, and it ran the side o the cut, on the edge, an you were kept dead right, and if you got the first furrow done right it was effortless. Oh, I did the finishes and everything!
‘Right’ he said to me, ‘into the dung now, an get carted out. Take that old mare and fill the cart there.' And I wasn’t getting time to get the dung spreaded, it was that thick I was howkin it oot an back, an took it along there, an you never saw dung on the bottom of a dreels like it! And how did the chip potatoes fare? Well, I said, ‘I’ll come back up in the back end, and I’ll see that field.’ You never saw a field o tatties like it! It was absolutely covered in bloom – the whole field! So, whether it was the dung that I put on or no, I don’t know, and they were lifted by the time I got back the next time.
So that was the potatoes, and then the corn though I wasn’t here when the corn, the oats, was harvested. And they sowed the grass seed, and that was out, it was a big bit o land. And he had a bloomin dog here, oh, he was a bad bugger, he was – he was a black, bear-skinned dog, an one day we were down there an the dogs were runnin loose there, an he ran an chased a ewe in at the swing bridge. An she was floatin about in the middle of the river, in the big pool at the swing bridge, and of course, I wasn’t goin in after her, so the poor beast was drowned. So he got locked up – I took him away home an locked him up, but I don’t know whether it belonged to Tom, him wi the broken leg, or whether it was him let him run on any road he liked, I don’t know. So that was that!
Socialising? I didna have time to think, never mind do any socialising! I was workin night an day here, graftin there from mornin to night. Well, it was just myself and everything had to be done. And the cows were through in the byre there, but the brothers took in the cows. I had nothing to do with the cows, and muckin the byre; one of the brothers did the milking. And the hens, they went out o that wee hole out there. In those days it was all horses here. I didn’t have to shoe any because they were shod when I came here. And of course they were horsey folk anyway, the Robertsons themselves. They had an light-legged one they used in the gig – a light-legged beastie it was, and that’s when they went visitin; they went away in that machine [gig] down that farm, then away down near the loch, after you go up the brae out to Killin, and go down the loch-side, and it goes away down like an avenue for miles, away down to the bottom. I remember goin down there two or three times wi them – it would be near Morenish, but it’s right away down near the loch, the place was that we went to.
Johnny’s horse was a light brown, and it wasn’t a pure Clydesdale, there was a bit o something else in it, because it wasn’t as big, for that part o it. He had it in the cart. Mind, he did the metal for the roads, shifted for potholes, and he was away all day. And they themselves had two mares, both Clydesdales. One was an older beast – she was the one we had for the ploughin. But the young one, the black mare, she was my pride and joy! She was beautiful mare, a Clydesdale and I got on great with her. I used to wash her legs at night and take all the dirt off and everything else – she was black wi white socks.
Anyway, this day they were away, there was nobody here, and I had a notion: I got hold of a saddle in there, and the cart was out at the corner, wi a stob holdin it up, so I took her down, got the britchen on, and I backed her in, and I brought it down just gently, and got round and got her all hooked up, and I just took her by the mouth, you know, to start with – led her by the side of her jaw, and she went away as right as rain. And I thought whenever she hit the roadside that there would be too much of a rattle – but no, was there what! She did great altogether, so I went away along, walked her away along to Daldravaig, then said to myself, ‘To hang wi this!’ An I got up on the cart, and I came back down the road and they were here – the family had returned home! Well they nearly ate me, I tell you!
There was nothing about ‘boys will be boys’ then, but ‘that’s a valuable beast! And if anything had happened…’ This is what they were on about! They were shocked, because I don’t think any of the brothers wanted to put her in the harness themselves. Well from that day she was on the cart, and that was her, broken in! And it was me that broke that mare in, and everythin that was done about her. We fed them pure oats, and locust beans, and they grumbled about me feedin the horse too much! Eventually the black mare was sold to Black, o Collessie in Fife. And the Blacks are still great horsemen yet, and they’re always showin Clydesdales yet. And she was sold for a hundred pounds – a lot of money in those days – and it was me that broke her in. I was in Muirlanich from the beginning of March to the end of June, because they were waiting on me to get back to the shooting at Glenartney. Oh life was good – see we didn’t know any better – or worse! And there was a contentment – we were country born and bred, an used to doin a lot o things about the glen an all. And these days, you were young, and there’s nothin’ll stop you. And, Muirlanich, was the name of the farm, but after years and years, I found out that the National Trust (who took it over) had called it Moirlanich. How they shifted it I do not know
Margaret Bennett and Doris Rougvie
STORIES and SONGS of Perthshire
THE BOOK CONTENT: In our day...’ Reminiscences and Songs from Rural Perthshire'.
The Auld Hoose
Gaelic in Perthshire
Earthquakes Other Extraordinary Phenomena
Schooldays and Childhood Pastimes
Not Always Peace and Quiet
Perthshire Songs cd:
01 The Auld Hoose/Robyn Stapleton;
02 The Loch Tay Boat Song/Doris Rougvie with Margaret Bennett;
03 Busk, Busk Bonnie Lassie/Sarah Walker, Keith TMSA Festival 2010;
04 Huntingtower/Doris Rougvie & Joe Aitkin;
05 Queen Amang the Heat her/Sheila Stewart with Margaret Bennett & RSAMD students;
06 The Spring o’ Twenty-Eight/Duncan A MacNab & chorus;
07 The Rowan Tree/Doris Rougvie & Margaret Bennett;
08 Luinneag/Rena Gertz, Margaret Bennett & RSAMD students;
09 The Land o’ the Leal/Kirsty Law with Imogen Poropat & Eilidh Firth (Fiddles);
10 The Braes Of Balquhidder/Claire Hastings;
11 The Lass of Glenshee/Alistair Iain Paterson on Piano with Margaret Bennett & RSAMD students;
12 The Laird o’ Cockpen/Margaret Bennett & rainy day workshop Singers, Ecotay Perth Ontario, August 2010;
13 Will Ye Come Back Again/Craig Muirhead; (Piano & Vocal) and Chorus;
14 Griogal Cridhe/ Margaret Bennett with Martyn Bennett;
15 The Freedom Come-All-Ye/Margaret Bennett & the TMSA at the Scottish Parliament 2007.