"Strathtummel in Olden Times" by Janet Dow

daughter of Donald Dow of Strathtummel

Janet Dow at Borenich Burial Ground

My father, Donald Dow, was a native of Strathtummel and acquired a lot of knowledge of the way of life of his forebears, who settled in Loch Tummel side in the 6th century. In his retiring years I nursed him, and he passed on quite a lot of valuable and interesting information to me, while we sat together in the evenings.

Being Self-sufficient

We had a fireplace with a swey. Also my present house had one. Now the two of them adorn my flower garden, with gipsy pots and an old kettle, and a griddle hanging from them.

My father made his own peat barrow, and others, and this he used to transport the peats latterly, from the bog at the back of the house, and had all the implements for doing the job, of cutting and so on. At one of his farms, which is now derelict, one can see, quite clearly, the corn and hay stack foundations, still there after seventy years. They are large stones set in circles.

The Strathtummel men also made some of their own furniture and I still have two articles made by a relative in, around 1914, and another two pieces made by another local man about 1920. My father also did roof-thatching and drystone dyking. All corn and hay was cut by sickle. Iíve used old-fashioned hand-operated threshing mill, and fanners. Recently I purchased a very old mill at a sale in Strathtummel which I used to sit on and pedal like a bicycle. It is now in safe keeping among other items of interest in Ballinluig. There is also a Cameron made plough there, from Tullymet.

There is a place in Trinafour which used to be a Smiddy, and men took their cattle there to be shoed, when going long distances. When our brood sow required servicing, my father just opened the hill gate, and she made off herself to Invervack Farm, about two miles away, and always kept clear of the bog, and came back herself, when ready.

My father and his father and grandfather before him, all managed to do a bit of 'first aid' to their animals when there was no local vet available, in an emergency, and so were able to save a number of their beasts. There were forty pairs of horses grazing on the common hill ground in the summer time, and now there are none, and also around sixty to eighty pupils in the one-roomed school. Latterly, there were only about eighteen, and mostly from surrounding districts, and the school has been recently closed.

The Good Doctor

If my parents required a doctor, he was at least ten miles away. I donít know how they got the message to him, as there were no phones in those days, perhaps by mail van. The Doctor would come up at any hour, and often during the night, if it was a maternity case. If it was snowing he came on horseback with breeches and leggings on, and a cloak over his shoulders. Some of this doctorís family still stay in Pitlochry. He was well loved by all. We had to pay for all services then, and many a doctor would turn out, whether they got paid or not, but some never did.

Baldie and the Old Mare

Most of the Strathtummel men were great soldiers and very tall and strong, all over 6 ft. One such man was called 'Baldie', who was nearer 7 foot. The Residenters all had their own place for cutting peats on the hill near by, and all used to go together, days at a time, during the peat-harvesting. Then, when dried, they were carted home and packed in the peat sheds, beside their houses.

One day Baldie took his old mare and cart to the hill, and the poor old mare got bogged down, so Baldie loosened her out of the cart and was able to pull the cart free himself. He was a brave and very strong soldier, and for some bravery was given a piece of land in Strathtummel by the government, and started up his own farm and reclaiming hill ground, which was all grown over with heather.

Illicit Whisky

Another item of interest was the whisky-making. My ancestors stayed in Balnabodach and it had a burn beside the farm, and this was the best burn in the district, which supplied the water for the making of whisky. It had the perfume of the heather and the tang from the peat bog, so the blend was reckoned the best. When all the natives sold their whisky, the 'Dowís' Blend, always went to Blair Castle, and any surplus to Royalty.

There were also hidden stills in the district, and on a farm we latterly stayed in, there was the remains of a huge barrel sunk underneath the floor in an outhouse. In the kitchen, which had a stone floor, if one lifted the flags one could descend into a room like a cellar. It had a fireplace and the smoke came out of the kitchen chimney, so that no one detected anything. Outside, one can still see where they could roll any caskets, up or down by chute to this cellar. Also, in the outhouse there still is, from when the building was built, a cavity left in the gable end, to allow them to hide a casket of whisky.

There is a hillock nearby, and when word went round that the Gaugers were on their way, the word went round by lighting a beacon on this hill, as a warning. So when the Excise men did arrive, they didnít find anything. I think the 'still' in Blair Castle came from Strathtummel.

When they were carting their whisky for sale elsewhere, the story goes that one time when passing through Amulree, they were encountered by soldiers on the march who wore Red-coats. I forget whether they were English, or the Scots Greys. Anyway, this is when the 'Battle of Corriemuckloch' took place, as they were trying to rob them of their whisky. Tradition goes that a 'Dow' slew two Redcoats, and robbed them of their armour and clothes and that those two coats are in safe keeping somewhere still.

My Grandmother

There is the sign of an old small Broch on the hill, on the way to Struan. When my grandmother died, as our burial ground was at Struan, four miles from her house, she was carried in her coffin, all the way, by relays of six men. At half-way there is a large flat stone, which they rested the coffin on, and then napkins were laid on top of it, and all partook of biscuits and cheese, and wine. Usually they had more, after the service was over, and all walked back again.

My grandmother who was a very clever and learned lady, and spoke good Gaelic and English, used to be asked to write or translate letters for people. She also wrote letters for disputes among common ground, and took her place in the witness box at Perth meetings for different things pertaining to law and order in the district.

My father inherited this from his mother, and before he died, a student from Edinburgh University came and got Gaelic lessons from him, and the proper pronunciations and spellings of the Perthshire Gaelic. This was a big help to the man for his studies, and it ended up by the men bringing a tape recorder and getting a number of the old Gaelic stories of the district from my father, in Gaelic. This has been used quite a number of times during their surveys, and I now have it on an L.P. record, which I am very proud of.

The 'Pagan' Cemetery

Another item of interest is that there is still shown in Strathtummel, a little cemetery, which lies between Grennich Farm, and Tomintianda Farm. Here lie buried the remains of all the infants who died at birth or later, belonging to all the residents of the district. It is sacred ground and the mounds are still noticeable, and I think, in one book it is called a Pagan cemetery.

There was a dispute with two landowners lately, wanting to lock their gates, so that no one would get on his land. So we went to Law about it and now they have to leave the gates unlocked so as to allow anyone who wishes, to visit the place. It is not so very long ago that the last burial took place there, just before the First World War. Some of my relatives are buried there.

[Signed, Janet Dow, 21st May 1970]

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