Sunday, 29 November 2015

Old Dundee and its Religious Past

Now that Dundee's spirit seems to be finally, hopefully rising from the ashes of an uncertain past, let's cast an eye on its medieval state.  Much of the lamenting for Dundee's lost architectural heritage is justified, but amid the bitterness of urban reconstruction there are myths and fallacies.  True, Dundee's appearance from the 1960s onwards was blighted by obscenities like Tayside House, a.k.a. Fawlty Towers.  But the old closes, wynds and ancient areas like the Overgate were in a sorry state of neglect.  I remember speaking to someone involved in the demolition of the latter who said the site swarmed with an unbelievable number of rats when the old buildings came down.  And what about the story that the city fathers could have had the Tay Road bridge sited further east and spared the beating heart of the burgh?  Instead they allegedly chose to place it like an arrow through the city centre in the mistaken belief that otherwise all the traffic would simply bypass the town and it would wither away.  How true is that?
   The Dundee in the olden times was hardly a utopia, with one famous lawyer famously labelling it as a 'sink of atrocity'.  But if we step even further back and visit the city before the Reformation, it seems a saintly place for its size.

   Looking at the History of Dundee published anonymously in 1873, we are told that apart from the famous Church of St Mary's (The Old Steeple, with its four altarages) there were over a dozen ancient churches and chapels in the town:

  • St Paul's - reputedly the oldest church in Dundee, which stood between the Seagate and the Overgate. St Paul may have been the first patron of the burgh before he was replaced by St Clement.
  • St Clement's - seems to have been the principal church in the town prior to the building of St Mary's.  It stood on the site of the later Town House.
  • Church of St John the Evangelist, of the Slate Heughs - stood on a rock, anciently called Kilcraig, just east of Carolina Port.  There was a quarry on the south side, resulting in the designation 'Saint John of the Sklethuchis' (slate quarries).
  • Chapel of St Nicolas - another Tay-side place of worship, situated in the craig or rock at Tay Ferries Harbour.  It was on this spot that the Earl of Huntingdon is said to have landed, returning from the Crusades.
  • Chapel of St Roque - stood on the rising ground beyond the Cowgate, and is a name which still persists on maps of Dundee street-names.
   The other chapels or kirks were the Chapel of Our Lady (Cowgate), Chapel of St Thomas the Apostle (near the later Reform Street), Chapel of St Serf (site unknown), Chapel of St James the Less (also unknown), Chapel of St Stephen (another unknown), Chapel of St Fillan (unknown), Chapel of Our Lady (near Lady Well at the foot of the Hilltown), Chapel of St Michael the Archangel (situated within the 'Earl's Residence', the town property of the Earls of Crawford, near present Union Street), Chapel of St Salvator (north of the High street/Overgate), Church of St James the Greater (possibly within the church of St Mary's), Chapel of St Margaret (unknown), Chapel of St Blaise (on the west side of Thorter Row).

Stones from the Church of St Mary's

   As if all of those chapels were not enough, pre-Reformation Dundee also had nearly a half dozen houses owned and inhabited by various orders of monks and nuns.  The monastery of the Black Friars of St Dominic is thought to have been founded by a burgess of the town named Andrew Abercromby, in the 15th century.  It stood on the west side of Friars' Vennel, afterwards called Burial Wynd, now Barrack Street.  The Grey Friars' (Franciscans) house was sponsored by Devorgilla, daughter of Allan, Lord of Galloway, around 1260.  She was the grand-daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, and mother of King John Balliol.  The convent was famously the place where the National Ecclesiastical Council met in 1309 and declared that Robert Bruce should be king.  This religious house was destroyed by the Reformation in 1560 and the land appropriated for the burial ground later known as the Howff.  The Convent of the Red or Trinity Friars was founded by Sir David Lindsay of Crawford in 1392.   The Red Friars (Trinity Friars) maintained a hospital which stood on the site of the present Catholic Cathedral, opposite South Tay Street.  It stood as late as the 17th century, when it was described as 'a large and splendid Hospital for old men'.  There was also the congregation of Grey Sisters, properly Claresses Nuns of St Clare or Franciscan Monachae (Franciscan Nunnery).  They occupied a large building east of Barrack Street.  The building later became a private residence known as Milnhill's Lodging.  It was a place where spirituality was actively pursued long after the nuns departed.  A window from a long passage in the house was later found, engraved with a diamond:  'Eternity, Eternity, Eternity, Thomas Hanby, June 21, 1772.'  Who he was and what caused his epiphany are unknown.

The Franciscan Nunnery, Dundee.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Lost Houses of Angus - Red Castle

Red Castle, overlooking Lunan Bay, is not lost in the sense that there is no trace whatever of the ancient building.  But it is certainly ruined, even if its lifeless shell remains as a distinctive landmark near the shore.  In the 1570s the castle was home to a Catholic branch of the Stewart family and their religion allegedly aroused the enmity of Dunninald Castle (also known as Black Jack), just along the coast.  In the year 1579 Andrew Gray, son of Lord Gray, attacked Red Castle.  The occupant Elizabeth Beaton, widow of Sir Robert Stewart of Innermeath, was forced to flee with her entire household, including her pregnant daughter who miscarried because of the trauma.  When the Stewarts complained, King James IV commissioned his 'richt traist freend' John Erskine of oust Gray from the castle.  Dun did get rid of Gray, but is said to have occupied the building himself for a period.  The following year, while the Stewarts were absent, Gray returned to attack Redcastle again. He was indicted for his actions but refused to stand trial, so he was declared a traitor.  The last inhabitant of the building is said to have been the ousted Episopalian minister, James Rait.  Rait had been the priest of the parish of Inverkeilor from 1685-1703, but was thrown out for being a non-jurist, i.e. refusing to swear allegiance to the Hanoverian government.  He was active in the area during the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, preaching at Montrose and Lunan, but he was deposed again a few years later.

   The site of Red Castle was a favourite hunting estate of King William the Lion in the late 12th century, very close to his famous foundation of Arbroath Abbey.  This king gave the site to  Sir Walter de Berkeley (or Barclay), in 1194.  Berkeley had been Chamberlain of Scotland from 1171 to 1191.  A fairly implausible folk legend set down in Victorian times states that Sir Walter wanted to acquire a giant to be his servant, but he could not find anyone large enough in Scotland.  Someone told him that there were many men of enormous height in Sweden, so he set sail for that country immediately.  On his way to Stockholm the Scottish knight slaughtered a gang of pirates who tried to board his ship.  But Sweden was a disappointment to him, full of men no bigger than they were back home.  Just before he departed he attended a tournament and there he happily encountered a ten-foot man named Daniel Cajanus who was entertaining the crowd by wrestling with two normal sized men. The Scot swiftly acquired the giant's services and also employed his friend, Linicus Calvus, a three-foot Danish dwarf whose father had been a Greek orator.
   The Swedish giant made an immediate impact in Scotland and won his master a prize of £1000 by beating a Norman knight in a joust at Leith.  At home at Red Castle, Daniel always stood guard behind Sir Walter's chair.  One evening there was a banquet and the knight noticed that his little servant was missing.  He was distracted from asking about the dwarf when his cook brought in a great pie.  After Berkeley cut open the crust, Linicus jumped out and made a graceful bow, much to his master's delight.
   The following November, Vikings made a surprise attack on the coast.  They tried to storm Red Castle many times, but the giant Daniel always repulsed them.  But finally the huge man was overpowered and killed.  The broken hearted dwarf died the next day.

   The 15th century Red Castle later passed back into the hands of the crown before being passed on to the non-royal Stewarts. Despite the best efforts of Andrew Grey, Red Castle remained largely intact until 1748, at which times the slates and joists were carried to Panmure.  This was followed by a free-for-all, when the locals felt able to plunder the remains for building material.  Around this time a statue of King William the Lion, which was said to have stood at the top of the building, tumbled down and was smashed to pieces.  It only seems like a matter of time before coastal erosion does the same for the crumbling remains.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Beginnings of Arbroath Abbey

The greatest religious foundation of King William the Lion (1165-1214) was the Abbey of Aberbrothock or Arbroath, dedicated to his alleged childhood friend, St Thomas Beckett.  William devoted much of his attention trying to extend his kingdom southwards, and he was captured by the English at Alnwick in Northumbria in 1174.  As it happened, at the moment King Henry II of England heard about this, he was doing penance for his part in Beckett's death.  Notwithstanding his guilt, King Henry believed the Scottish king's capture was actually a miracle performed by St Thomas.
   King William may have believed it also, for he founded Arbroath Abbey in 1186, soon after his release.  Alternatively, he may have dedicated his foundation to St Thomas in order to embarrass the English king.  Or perhaps it was merely a genuine remembrance of his old friend.  Despite its English dedication, Arbroath had significant links with the native Church.  One of its treasures was the Brecbennach or Monymusk Reliquary, a house-shaped reliquary which the Scots carried as a talisman at the Battle of Bannockburn.

The Brecbennach
   The question about the site of Arbroath for this major religious house is an interesting one.  William's brother David, Earl of Hunting, was associated with the area, being the benefactor of the burgh of Dundee down the coast.   It is also worth noting that the third Earl of Angus married King William's sister.  Earl Gilchrist unfortunately had a murderous temper and in a fit of jealousy strangled his lady.  The murder turned out to be a good thing for the fledgling abbey, for Gilchrist as a penance gifted Arbroath with te lands of Dunnichen, Kingoldrum  and the territory of Athenglas (near Kinblethmont).

Stone representing Death The Pilgrim found at Arbroath Abbey
   It is tempting to draw an inference from the close proximity of the Pictish settlement at St Vigeans and guess that the site of the abbey was chosen because it had been an important religious settlement for centuries.  Not far away is Monifieth, which was certainly an established Celtic Christian community, home to a settlement of Culdees since Pictish times.  Also nearby is the parish of Panbride, named after the Irish St Bridget, suggesting a link with the religious settlement of Abernethy, some miles upstream on the other side of the Tay.

   King William died of the plague in December 1214, after a reign of forty-nine years.  His body was carried north from Stirling and was laid to rest eight days later before the high altar of the still incomplete Abbey of Arbroath.  One of the coffin bearers was William's brother, Earl David, who insisted on performing this duty though he was very old and feeble.  He broke down in tears as the king's remains were interred.  The royal tomb was virtually forgotten until, in 1814, workmen found a stone coffin containing the bones of a large man.  Above it was the effigy of a nobleman in a long girdled tunic, his feet supported by a crouching lion.  The bones were exhibited to curious sightseers until they were re -interred in 1938.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Tales of Smugglers

Smuggling was naturally rife all along the Angus coast in not so ancient times, and is recalled in names like Rum Ness at Auchmithie. The Smugglers' Cave near Arbroath was used to store illicit goods and the haunted reputation of other nearby caves was likely a means of keeping the curious locals away.  There is close by The Forbidden Cave, which has a daunting story to match its name. One day a man named Tam Tyrie took shelter here one stormy night, accompanied by his wife and his dog.  In order to drown out the wild sound of the wind and the thunder, and perhaps to keep up their spirits, Tam played his bagpipes.  But in the morning all three occupants of the cave had disappeared.  The farmer at Dickmountlaw, a mile inland, swore that he later heard bagpipes playing a Highland air far below his hearthstone.  A similar tale is told about Piper's Hillock on Tulloch Hill, Glen Clova.  Here a piper entered a presumably fairy infested cave bravely playing.  But the sound gradually faded away and he was of course never glimpsed by fellow mortals again.  This site, near Cullow, later became a graveyard.
   Jock's Road, the well known hill path  from Deeside to Glen Doll, is said to be named after a smuggler named Jock Winter who also gave his name to Winter Corrie in Glen Clova.    Johnny Kidd's Cave in Glen Esk may commemorate another smuggler.

   For many years smuggled gin and rolls of illegally imported tobacco were regularly brought into Montrose, along with such curiosities as smoked reindeer tongues and muskrat tails, the latter used to keep moths out of linen cupboards.  Excise men had to deal not only with coastal smugglers, but the production and distribution of the 'water of life'.  Peat reek whisky was made in illicit stills high in the mountains above Glen Esk and Glen Isla, as well as other places. Forfar people used to purchase illegal spirits in Gleneffock and there were illicit stills on Craig Soales and The Rowan.  For both distillers and government officers there was a risk of losing their lives as they tried to foil each other.  A whisky smuggler was once stopped at Auchterhouse in the Sidlaw Hills by a gauger who suspected that the sack he was carrying contained whisky.  He punctured the sack, then set the man loose and told him to run for his life, shooting at him as he fled.
   In the year 1813 two customs men recovered ninety-five gallons of whisky at Auchterhouse.  While they were transporting this back to Dundee, they were ambushed by three smugglers.  One of the criminals was shot in the neck and one officer suffered cuts and bruises.  The smugglers recovered a third of their whisky and concealed it in a plantation, but local farmers refused to reveal its whereabouts to the authorities.
   Glen Esk's most notorious whisky maker was Geordie White.  He used to make a great show of volubly cursing the local customs man whom he was actually bribing to ignore his business.  But when a new customs man was appointed he was determined to find the location of Geordie's still.  One of Geordie's rivals informed this official about a path which led to the still.  The man followed the path until he came to a frozen ford.  Geordie White was standing outside his house on the far side of the water.  When the customs man asked him how deep the river was, Geordie informed him that he had been led astray and that the actual ford was four miles upstream.  But the suspicious gauger demanded top see the depth.  So Geordie cracked the ice and stuck in the long handle of his garden fork in at an angle, giving a deceptive idea of the depth.  'Ye see there is nae boddam here,' Geordie said. 'Ye'll hae tae gang up the watter tae the ford.'  The excise man was furious, but rode away upstream.  By the time he eventually arrived at the house of Geordie White all traces of the illegal still were gone.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Lost Houses of Angus - Aldbar Castle

Aldbar Castle (also known as Auldbar), stood near Brechin for nearly four hundred years until it was sadly demolished in the 1960s.  The estate had been owned by the Crammonds before passing to the family of Lyon of Glamis, one of whom constructed the building in the late 16th century.  Ownership later passed to the Sinclairs, Youngs and Chalmers, the latter of whom transformed the building into a mansion house in the latest style.  Its demolition followed a fire in 1964, after which it was not deemed economical to salvage. 

There is a strange story concerning the last of the Young family to own the estate in the mid-18th century.  He was betrothed to a young lady who, rather strangely, ordered both a wedding dress and a mort-cloth from the same firm in Edinburgh.  She intended the latter item to be sent to the church of the parish where she came from, but there was a delivery mix up and both garments were dispatched to Aldbar Castle.  When Young opened the package and saw the mort-cloth he took it either as an omen or a sinister message.  He sent the garments on to his fiancĂ©, then hurried on to Montrose and drowned himself in the sea.  His intended  bride died very soon afterwards and was wrapped in the mort-cloth which she had presented to her church.  One version of this strange tale is told by Andrew Jervise in his Memorials of Angus and the Mearns (volume, 2, p. 73, 1861), where he doubts that the unfortunate bridegroom to be drowned himself on purpose because his clothes were left on the beach and his horse tethered nearby.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Boring Ghost of Balnabreich

It's always a disappointment when you come across a nice little ghost story in an unexpected place and get ready to be at least mildly chilled or entertained by it, then when you read on, it turns out the said haunting is, well, a bit dull.

   What is the point of a haunting that does not scare or even intrigue?  A boring, supposedly 'real' ghost is so much more of a let down than a promising 'fake' ghost.  Of course supposedly real ghost stories are products of the age in which they are recorded.  Anyone reading Catherine Crowe's Victorian classic The Night Side of Nature will be struck by how sanctimonious and morally upstanding her visitants from the Night Side turn out to be.  Why should immortal spirits observe the stringent social conditions of the era they inhabit?  Who knows.  All that being said as a warning, I now present you with the [Boring] Ghost of Balnabreich, near Careston.

Countryside around Careston Castle

   This particular White Lady said not a word to anyone she met and her area of haunting was the wooded glen of Balnabreich (once known colloquially as Bonnybreich).  No one has recorded this silent lady's history, but her presence certainly didn't strike fear into the hearts of anyone who saw her.  Her only know reaction to those who saw her was wagging her long, thin white fingers reproachfully at lassies who were out cavorting, or even just walking, in the woods with young men. This terrifying gesture was sufficient, back in the day, to send the rebellious young besoms scurrying back home.  The  White Wife of Balnabreich was first brought to the attention of the public by the correspondent known as 'Auld Eppie' in the Brechin Advertiser.  The author David Herschell Edwards found the tale so scintillating that he included it in his book Around the Ancient City (1887).

Friday, 13 November 2015

Bad Lairds Part Five - Douglas of Arbroath

When is a Wicked Laird a would-be pillar of the church?  The answer is, when he was the man in charge of the Abbey of Arbroath, in name at least.  George Douglas, a natural son of the Earl of Angus, was Commendator of the abbey after the Reformation, which meant that he had control of its rich revenues.  But this lucrative post was obviously not sufficient for George.  On the 25th of August, 1572 ‘sindrie indwellers of Dundee returning from Barthilmo Fair’ were ambushed at the foot of Cairn O’Mounth In Aberdeenshire by George Douglas and his armed gang.  Five hapless men – Robert and David Jak, John Craigtoun, Thomas Rattray and his son  -  were kidnapped and brought with all their belongings to Arbroath and kept imprisoned there for a time.  The Commendator evidently saw traders and travellers attending fairs as easy prey because, in September 1572, he waylaid a ship in the Tay at the confluence of the River Earn and seized all its cargo (worth five or six thousand merks) which was heading to be sold at St John’s Fair in Perth.  His men attacked various other vessels on the river.  Many people were injured, including a man named William Gold ‘and diverse uthers, to the effusion of their blude in grite quantity’.  Provost Hallyburton of Dundee charged Douglas with theft, but he did not show up before the Privy council to answer the charge.  His outlawing at least allowed his predecessor as Abbot of Aberbrothock, Lord Hamilton, to step into the post again; he had been deprived of it for an act of rebellion in 1571.  But Douglas was forgiven by the authorities and was astonishingly made ‘Bishop Geordie’ or Moray in 1574.  There is a pen portrait of him during that year, ‘mumbling on his preaching aff his paper’ during the whole course of the winter.  Evidently is heart was not geared towards higher things.  He was soon charged by Livingstone with harassing his territory of Arbroath while he had been Commendator, stealing money and goods, demolishing houses and taking the pensions due to the aged monks.  But no punishment seems to have come his way.  Douglas had also allegedly had a hand in the murder of David Rizzio in 1566.

   The transformation of Arbroath from a monastery to a secular possession saw a number of strange people in charge and a few odd incidents.  A large part of the fabric had been destroyed in 1514 when Ochterlonie of Kelly Castle set the abbey on fire following an argument with the prior.  In the same year the Abbot George Hepburn fell at the Battle of Flodden and he was succeeded by Gavin Douglas, third son of the 5th Earl of Angus (the infamous ‘Bell The Cat’).  The poet Gavin Douglas died of the plague in London in 1522.

Kelly Castle

   By the start of the 17th century the Abbey was in the hand of the Hamiltons, but there were said to still be some forty ageing monks in residence, old men with nowhere else to go.  The very last monk was Brother Turnbull, who lived in the old tower.  One night a huge evil-looking rat entered his chamber.  Thinking somehow that this was Satan in disguise, the last monk of Arbroath fled and never returned.  

Sunday, 8 November 2015

A Mixed Bag of Rhymes

When Craigowl puts on his cowl,and Collie Law his hood,then a the Lundie ladsken there will be a flood.

   The above rhyme, from the Sidlaws-surrounded parish of Lundie, is one of many pieces of weather lore once found in Angus.  Another, non geographically specific one is:

Willie, ma buck, shoot oot yer horn,an ye’ll get milk an breid the morn.

   Willie here is the snail, whose protruding ‘horns’ were thought by children to predict fine weather the following day.  Sometimes Angus children greeted a shower of rail with this hopeful, possibly vain request:

Rainy, rainy rattle stanes,dinna rain on me,
rain on Johnnie Frostie far owre the sea.

    A special class of rhymes is found on tombstones, though most of these are apt to be too simple of maudlin to be of great interest.  Some unusual inscriptions are to be found in Dundee’s ancient burial ground, including this fine metrical gem:

Here lie IEpity Piemy husbandmy twenty bairnsand I. 

   The venerable Provosts of Dundee seem to have been at the mercy of whimsical wit after their internment in the Howff; for example:
                   J P P                  Provost of Dundee                  hallelujah                  hallelujee.

   Four Dundee worthies independently composed a line each in the following commemorative ode, with the final contributor plainly scraping the barrel bottom:

Here lies the Provost of Dundee,here lies him, here lies he’hi-diddledum, hi-diddle-dee,A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

   Rivalry between neighbouring places has been mentioned before and the following rhyme records the supposed merits – or vices – of four north-west parishes, doubtless inspired by competing markets:

Theivin Glen Isla, Leein Lintrathen.Cursin Kingow-drum, an Kind Kirriemuir.

   In the upland parish of Menmuir is a place named Deuchar, once home to a family of that name who were hereditary enemies with the Laird of Glenogil.  The first of the family was a huge  man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.  He wielded the famous family heirloom, the Deuchar Sword, to great effect against the Danes at the Battle of Barry. (Another tradition says that the first Deuchar of Deuchar gained those lands for killing a wild boar in the Pass of the Noran Water, where the Coorford - or Coortford - Bridge was later built, in the early 11th century.)  The sword was used again by another Deuchar at Bannockburn, which led to these words being inscribed on the blade:

Da Deuguhyre his swerde,at Bannockburn I served the Brus,of quhilk the Englis had no russ.

   This weapon had great significance for the Deuchar family (who claimed descent from a second son of Gilchrist, Earl of Angus. The earliest actual traces of the family are from the 14th century.) If the sword were ever to leave Scotland, it was said that disaster would befall their kindred.   The sword was used again at the Battle of Harlaw in the 15th century. In this fray the William Deuchar was slain and his servant found his master with the iconic blade so tightly grasped in his swollen, dead hand that he had to cut it off at the wrist to carry the weapon home.  The family was distraught when, in 1745, the Laird of Glenogil (Lyon of Easter Ogil) carried away their talisman after swearing that he was about to go and join the Jacobites and would either have the sword or the best horse in Deuchar's stable.  The Deuchars buried their talisman in a corn stack, but their enemy discovered it.   He sacrilegiously shortened the blade to make it easier to wield and was seen parading it around Brechin.   It was later returned in exchange for a large sum of money and certain conditions. This tradition is somewhat garbled and may be connected that the Deuchars' loyalties had transferred from the Stuarts to the Hanoverians and they were unwilling to accompany their feudal superior Lyon into battle.  In lie of accompanying him they were obliged to send a man with their best weapon to him to demonstrate their continuing loyalty.    The last Laird of Deucar passed it to a relative in Edinburgh and it found its way into the armoury there before eventually, allegedly ended up in the collection of the Angus Folk Museum.  Another tradition says that the sword was held for a time in the Castle of Coull, Aberdeenshire.  Deuchar of that Ilk remained in possession of that place until 1815, when the last of the family became insolvent and emigrated to Australia and the estate was passed to trustees. One of the last prominent members of the family was Alexander Deuchar (1777-1845), who revived the Scottish Knights Templars.

   Braikie Castle, Kinnell parish, was built by the Frasers in 1581 and in 1650 it passed to a branch of the Douglasses, then later to the Earls of Panmure.  By 1760 the castle was unoccupied.  A century later a housekeeper named Castle Jean would show interested parties around the building.  When asked when the castle was built she would usually respond with this rhymed reply:

Be it cheap or be it dear,This house was biggit in ae year.

Jean would sometimes vary this with another ditty:

Be the meal cheap or be it dear,Braikie Frizel was biggit in ae year.

   Several hapless Angus brides have met wit untimely ends which are remembered in local tradition.  At Gella, by the South Esk in Glen Clova, is a large stone lined circle filled with moss.  Locals knew this as the Bride’s Coggie, and there are several versions about how it got its name.  One says that a bride returning from her honeymoon was thrown from her gig into a marsh at this spot and was drowned.  Another theory says that the coggie was planted with corn in the expensive days before the repeal of the Corn Laws.  ‘Coggie’ means a small tub or bowl.  A similar word, ‘coggly’, signifies unsteady or easily overturned, which may have inspired the upset coach tale.  It appears as if the circle once contained stagnant water, a necessity for resetting flax.
   Eastward over the hills, near the summit of Inchgrundle Hill, is a small hollow called the Bride’s Bed.  A newly married woman lost her life here, though the manner of her death is not now remembered.  It is likely her end was violent because the ghost of a wretched girl haunts this lonely spot:

But still, at the darksome hour of nightwhen lurid phantoms fly,a hapless bride in weeds of whiteillumes the lake and sky.

   Some of the simplest rhymes are also the most poignant, in that they are merely a collection of mellifluous place-names, in some cases of places which are no longer there or which survive as names of maps only, devoid now of human habitation.  Here is one example, which one imagines might have been composed by the six-fingered warrior mentioned above:

                              Deuchar sits on Deuchar Hill,
                              lookin doon on Birnie Mill,                              the Whirrock an the Whoggle,                              the Burnroot an Ogle,                              Quiechstrath an Turnafachie,                              Waterhaughs an Drumlieharrie.


Saturday, 7 November 2015

Bonnie Dundee

John Graham of Claverhouse, later Marquis of Dundee, was born on his family's estate at Glen Ogilvy in the Sidlaw Hills in 1648.  He was destined to be a man of legend, like his relative, Montrose, but it could be argued that his legend, the resonance that it remembered of the man, is several shades darker in the popular imagination.  As 'Bloody Clavers', Graham is cursed as a persecutor of the Galloway Covenanters, though anyone searching honestly through his military career in search of atrocities is facing a fruitless task.  Yet the same man was the first Jacobite hero, who raised the standard for King James VII on the top of Dundee Law in 1689.  And, as 'Dark John of the Battles', Claverhouse captured the imagination of the Gaels who served under him in a way which Montrose never did.

   But legends linger and fester in some instances, born of hatred and propaganda.  At the Battle of Drumclog, in June 1679, the cup of wine presented to Dundee turned into clotted blood, and a basin of water he plunged his feet into boiled over.  His horse was said to have been a gift from Satan himself and it had the power to easily gallop up sheer cliffs. Many traditions of the man proliferated after his death at the Battle of Killiecrankie on 27th July, 1689.  A story told among members of the Cameronian sect states that he was not slain merely by an enemy bullet but rather shot by a silver button taken from the coat of one of is own servants; this was the only way to be rid of a supernatural being.  Yet another rumour insists that he was killed by a Hanoverian spy in his own ranks.

   On the night before that fatal battle, Dundee was thrice visited by the bloody spectre of a man named John Brown, from Priesthill in Ayrshire, whom he had put to death four years previously.  The ghost pointed to its head, then down towards the ground where the battle would be fought, implying that Brown would meet Dundee there.  On the very day of the engagement a preacher called Bruce of Anwoth informed his Covenanter congregation that Dundee would no longer be 'a terror to God's people'.  Bruce had received a vision of John Graham's richly deserved death.  On the day after the battle the Earl of Balcarres awoke at his home in Fife and saw is friend Dundee standing at his bedside, gazing sorrowfully at him.  Balcarres cried out and the ghost vanished.  When Graham's corpse was stripped after the battle, he was found to be wearing a garment marked with the Templar Cross, symbol of that ancient and secret order of mystics.

   Lore of the man Dundee is sadly lacking in his native county, perhaps because none of his campaigns was conducted here.  But one wild tradition says that he still aunts Claypotts Castle, his one time home, especially around Halloween when flashing lights and odd sounds emanate from the building.  Satan and a host of witches and warlocks are reputedly on hand to join in the weird revels.  Although Dundee spent very little time at this partiular castle when he was alive, he apparently as made up for it in is afterlife.