Saturday, 14 July 2018

The King's Cadger Road - A Fishy Tale

Forfar as a set of the peripatetic Scottish court in the Middle Ages has definitely been under investigated.  Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret have a lingering remembrance in the area, in folklore, history and place-names, but otherwise there is relatively little known about royal associations here, and certainly their origins, partly because the castle (or castles, as there may have been two of them) was erased during the Wars of Independence.  One surprising survival about the logistics of the king's presence here is the memory - if not the actual physical survival - of the King's Cadger Road.  This route was recognised as the official pathway between the fishing village of Usan (Haven), south of Montrose and the king's residence at Forfar.

The approximate line of the Cadger's Path between Usan and the royal burgh of Forfar

   Quite when the King's Cadger Road was developed is unknown.  The author of the Old Roads of Scotland website points out that the Fyschergate mentioned in a charter of Arbroath Abbey is almost certainly identical to the King's Cadger Road.  The road stretched apparently from the market cross of Forfar to the coast.  The royal cadger would bring fish to the court each day it was in attendance and it was 'in breadth the width of a mill wand'.  This measure has been explained by the laborious process by which these round mil stones were transported before the advent of properly surfaced roads.  A  long piece of wood - the mill-wand - was put through the centre of the stone and used to roll it from the quarry to the actual mill.

   The route passed through Montreathmont Moor and was marked by various subsiduary wayside names:  Cadger Slack, Cadger Burn, among them.  When the moor was divvied up between the adjacent estates in 1780 the laird of Usan asserted his right to the Cadger Road across the moorland, and received as his share an allocation of land in it equal to the superficial extent of the ancient road. According to David Adams:

Ainslie's map of Angus in 1794...may preserve the eastern part of the King's Cadger Road.  The most likely route seems to be from Usan in a straight line south of Dunninald as far as the A92 and then zig-zagging north of Upper Dysart, passing Gightyburn and Rossie Farm School to meet the track from craig and Ferryden tto Kinnell and then crossing Wuddy Law to pass north of Bolshan.  West of that the route is not traceable with any certainty...

   The residence of the cadger himself was called Strook Hill and stood just to the south-west of Usan.  The lands of the cadger were in the form of a strip, comprising 30 acres, reaching from the shore at Usan to the kirkyard of St Skeoch.

Reid summarises a legend which says that one of the king's cadgers was waylaid by the laird of Rossie, so he and his accomplice son were executed on the top of Kinnoull Hill:

It would appear they exhibited a natural reluctance to mouth the scaffold under the fatal tree.  The King himself attended the execution, and seeing their dilatoriness he called out to them 'Mount, boys!' to which circumstance is ascribed the derivation of the name of the farm of Mountboy, which lies on the south side of the Hill of Kinnoul, though Mon-bois (wooded moss) is the origin.
   There are various confusing named in the locality 'King's Seat' or 'Ginshot Hill' are applied to the artificial eminence locally said to be the place of the execution.  One source says that the 'crown of the hill' (possible meaning the artificial mound) was called Kinshie Hill.

   The family who supplied the sea fish to the king were named Tulloch and they held the lands of Bonnington or Bonnyton, through which the Cadger Road passes, under the tenure of supplying fish to the royal table. In 1399 the office of the keeper of the Moor of Monrommon was in the possession of this family.   The Tullochs' lands passed to the Wood family many centuries ago.  One of their number, John Wood, was created a baronet in 1666. There was a Castle of Bonnyton, though this has long since vanished also.

   There is an old Scots saying which is probably not local to Angus (though it would be nice to think it was):

the king's errand may come in the cadger's gate (or the king will come in the cadger's road).

   The meaning is that even great events may come by unsuspected routes, or that great men may also have to walk humble paths at times.


Some Works Consulted

Adams, David G., Usan, or Fishtown of Ullishaven (Brechin, 1989).
Carrie, John, Ancient Things in Angus (Arbroath, 1881).
Edwards, D. H., Around the Ancient City (Brechin, 1904).
Jervise, Andrew, Epitaphs and Inscriptions of the North-East of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1875).
Reid, Alan, The Royal Burgh of Forfar (Forfar, 1902).
Rxton Fraser, Rev. William, St Mary's of Old Montrose, or Parish or Maryton (Edinburgh, 1896).

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