Stories from Blair Atholl by Various People


These stories come from a variety of sources and many were probably repeated, generation by generation, around the warm peat fire on cold winter evenings.


"How Lochan nan Nighean got its name" by Alexander Stewart of Chamberbane1

Five girls and one boy from Glen Fincastle went up to the loch to spend a little time there. The boy's mother put a testament in his pocket and they went to the loch. When they were there, a speckled horse2 came to the edge of the loch and one of the girls thought that she would go and ride on him. When this girl went up to mount him, the horse went down on his two knees at the edge of the water. When another girl saw that there was space, she too mounted. There was plenty of room for another girl, until the five girls were mounted on the horse. But when the five girls were on its back, the horse leapt into the loch with them.

The boy fled home to tell the story of what had happened to the girls and when the parents came to the loch to look for them, they found nothing but fragments of their lungs floating on the loch. That is what has given it the name Lochan nan Nighean (Lochan of the Girls) to this day.

1 Alexander Stewart (1793 - 1865) was the son of Robert Stewart and Janet Robertson of Grennich. After his marriage to Margaret Dow he farmed Chamberbane, as did his son Alexander after him.
2 Kelpie.


"Thomas Calmanach and the Notorious Thieves" by Murray of Dollary

The following is contained in a letter from Murray of Dollary1 to the Earl of Tullibarbine, dated Edinburgh 23rd October 1697.

May it please your Lordship,

My Lord Marquess caused hang two notoriouse theives at Blaire lately, one called McInuire, ye other Neill Bayne. They were great robbers and brock upe housses in ye night tyme. His Lordship gott notice that they were to be at ane house near the hill within a certane number of dayes, and he hade twentie or thirtie men for above a fortnight at Blaire waiting untill he should gett notice of their being at that house; but they not comeing to the house all that tyme, my Lord dismissed ye men. I tell your Lordship this because ye way of takeing them was somewhat remarkable.

There was a persone that observed the theives (they were four in number), a day or two after ye men were dismissed from Blaire, in ye hill above ye house where my Lord hade gotten intelligence they were to be, who immediately repaired to Calvine’s house, his son Charles (Robertson) being a captaine of on of ye watches – and it fell out soe that this Charles hade non of his men with him, but meeting with on Thomas Calmanach, who is a very honest pretty man, told him of it, who undertooke, he giveing him armes, to goe alongs with him. They gott other three cuntry men, who were but very ordinarie men, and were accidentaly casting turfes in ye hill.

They gave them some armes out of Calvine’s house, and the fyve went towards the theives. This Charles ordered it soe before they came to the theives that he was to deale with Neall Bayne himself, and Calmanach was to engadge with McInuire, as being the two that were ablest among them. He appoynted other two of his company to deale with the other two theives, and matched them according to their equality in strength. He desired ye fyft to wait as reserve and helpe any he saw lyke to be worsted.

When they came upe to ye theives they faced them boldly with their cocked peices, and told them to stand off else they would kill them. However they came straight upe to them, and this Neell Bayne offered to fyre at Charles when he was near him, but his gunne misserveing, he gott at him with his sword and knocked him doune, and imediatly tyed him. Calmanach accosted his man, but as he was comeing in on him poor man he was shot throw ye knee, wherupon he fell but imediatly gott up, and ye other’s foot slipping as he was retiering after he shott, Calmanach gott in upon him, for all his wound, and drew out his adversaries durk, wheupon McInure cryed out, thinking he was to kill him, but he told him it was below him to kill him, and stabt ye durk in ye ground, and told him he would bring him to justice. The third of them surrendered himself when he saw his two fellowes taken, and ye fourth gott away be speed of foot.

This Calmanach, who is on of ye honestest tenants in country, and a good man, is lyke to be in hasard by his wound.

1 James Murray of Dollary was the minister at Logierait.


"The Last Wolf in Rannoch" by Robert McIntosh

Outlaws and wolves lived on Rannoch moor, and both troubled the people of Loch Rannoch and Loch Tummel. Robertson of Struan hunted both of them until the broken men fled and only one wolf remained. This fearsome, grey, dog-wolf was cunning. It had a reputation for not being scared of people, and it had killed several children.

On the moor, not far from Bohespic, there was a Robertson who had a corn-mill by the Allt na Moine Bhuide. One day the millar's wife was cooking at the hearth and heard a noise behind her. When she turned she saw the grey wolf stalking towards her six-month-old baby which was in a cradle. In panic, she grabbed a bessom (broom) and hit the wolf with all her strength. So hard did she hit the wolf that she broke its neck, killing it on the spot and saving the child.

When her husband returned and saw what she has done, he cut off the wolf's head and sent it to Robertson of Struan as proof. And that is how it got its name. Mullinavadie - the Mill of the Wolf.

In Blair Atholl parish the wolves were a great source of trouble as, in addition to attacking cattle they were known to dig up the recently buried unless the body was placed in a 'stone coffin' made from five flat slabs. In 1427, James I (of Scotland) had passed a law to organise wolf hunts three times a year. Apparently this did little to diminish the problem and the wolf population in Scotland continued to rise until the end of the 16th centuary. It is recorded that when Mary Queens of Scots visited Blair Castle on her way back from Inverness, a grand hunt was organised during which a total of 270 deer and 5 wolves were killed.

Some sources claim that the last wolf in Perthshire was killed by Sir Ewan Cameron of Lochiel in 1680, at the Pass of Killiecrankie. This is probably a mistaken fusion of two events. Sir Ewan is attributed with killing the last wolf in Lochaber in 1680, and as a staunch Jacobite fought at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689.


"The Miller's Stone" - a true story (1763)

The miller at Mullinavaddie (The Mill of the Wolf) needed to replace a grinding stone at his cornmill, so he cut a new stone from the rock at the Burn of Caochananuisguair, which is the boundary march between the lands of Murlagan and Bohespic. In turning the stone, it fell across the stream and being too heavy for the miller to lift on his own, this is where it lay for some time.

Eventually the miller decided to retrieve the stone and asked a couple of his neighbours to assist him. However, when they arrived at the place that the stone had fallen they were met by Donald Stewart who possessed Bohespic. As the stone straddled the burn, half in his property and half in that of Murlagan, he insisted that the stone be split in two. The miller was aghast that all his hard work would have been for nothing, and in order to get the stone undamaged, agreed to free Donald Stewart of payment of multures1 for the next three years, rather than have it broken up.

1 The payment of 'multures' was the miller's annual bill for grinding grain. This story is interesting as it suggests that Donald Stewart was using Mullinavaddie to grind his grain. Although it was the nearest mill, it was not on the Duke of Atholl's estate and later references to non-payment of multures suggests that the Atholl estate tenants were obliged to use the Atholl estate cornmills.


"The Fairies' Share" by Janet Fergusson of Invervack

The fairy folk lived in a great mound called An Tullach, which is near Tressait on Loch Tummel. People would hear them clearly on Sundays when they were herding their cattle near the mound.

One day, one of the fairies came out of An Tullach and went to a house at Tressait to ask for some oatmeal. The woman of the house told the fairy that she had no grain to spare, although her meal-cist was full. So the fairy went to the neighbouring house at Tressait, and again asked for some oatmeal. The neighbouring wife gave the fairy a share of what she had, although the family had very little for themselves already. In gratitude, the fairy told the neighbouring wife that she would never see her meal-cist empty, but that the woman who refused the fairy would find nothing in her meal-cist but spider's webs.

As the fairy went out of the door, smoke could be seen from a corn-kiln which had caught fire at the Borenich end of Loch Tummel. The fairy said to the generous woman, "Here is your meal back. We have plenty of meal for ourselves, now that the corn-kiln is on fire". And so it was.

In Blair Atholl there was a superstition that every time a corn-kiln went on fire, it was the fairies' share. In the same way, every time that a pot of porridge or kale boiled over into the fire, it was said that the fairies had the goodness out of it, and that it gave no goodness to the people who ate it.

Kilns were used to dry grain so that it could be stored or ground to make meal (flour). A small peat fire smoldered in the fire box and the hot air moved along the flue to the bottom of the kiln bowl. Halfway up the kiln bowl there was a wickerwork floor on which the grain lay while the warm air rose up through it. A typical corn-drying kiln has been reconstructed at The Highland Folk Park at Newtonmore in Scotland, which is well worth a visit. Alternatively why not watch the short video produced by The Highland Folk Park and The Forestry Commission (Scotland).

The corn-drying 
       kiln at The Highland Folk Park

Hyperlink to the video of the corn-drying kiln

Strangely, although they must have existed, the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey map for Strathtummel (1867) does not show any corn-drying kilns, only lime-kilns which have a different construction. There are indications of corn-drying kilns at a couple of the homesteads, but the first convincing ruin was not discovered until 2010, and to everyone's amazement it was right beside the Borenich Burial Ground! Since then, the remains of other corn-drying kilns have been found at Balintochich and Uchdnanetaig.


"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday" by Alexander Gow

A crippled carter who lived in Moulin was passing by An Tulloch one evening, when he heard the sounds of music and dancing coming from inside the mound. The tune was "Monday, Tuesday". The carter thought that he would join in the merriment, so he shouted out "Wednesday". The fairies came rushing out of the knoll shouting "Who changed our tune?". When they saw the crippled carter, the fairies took hold of him and straightened his crooked bones. The carter returned home, but his wife could hardly recognise him as he was so handsome now.

A tailor lived next to the carter in Moulin. He was jealous of the carter's changed appearance, and asked how it had happened. When the carter told him the story, he decided to spend the night at An Tulloch. During the night the tailor was woken up by the fairies singing and dancing inside An Tulloch. It was the same tune, "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday", so the tailor shouted out "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday". The angry fairies stormed out shouting "Who has ruined our tune?", and they dragged the tailor into the fairy knoll.

When the tailor got back home, his wife would not let him into the house because she said that such an ugly, mishapen man could not possibly be her husband. So he had to live on his own and died soon afterwards.


"The Ghost of Cas-an-Luban" by Jessie Stewart of Aldcharmaig

In Bohally Wood a young child died without being baptised and he was buried there, and after that the folk in that area thought there was a ghost in the place. They would hear a loud noise in the marsh near this place and thought that it was the child's ghost.

One night a kindly man went past, heard this noise and said, "You're busy, Cas-an-Luban (Puddle Foot)"

"Now I have a name, and I won't make any more trouble", replied the child's ghost.

The Old Parish Record of baptisms for Blair Atholl shows that most infants were christened within a couple of day of birth, even in winter. This is quite surprising as it often involved taking the newly-born a considerable distance to the church. The driving force was probably the fear that the child would die, and be refused a christian burial in the churchyard, as it was not baptised.

In her stories of Strathtummel, Janet Dow recounted that a small wood between the farms of Grennich and Tressait was used as a 'Pagan Cemetery', where the unbaptised babies were buried. Parents told their children not to dig in the woods, and the notion that strange noises late at night were the voices of the wandering souls, was commonly accepted. The last burials took place in the early 1900s, and there are still signs of mounds amongst the trees.


The Vagrant Boy

In the spring of 1828 a vagrant boy who gave himself the name of John Monro, was taken in by John Dow, the tenant of Balnabodach, Strathtummel, oldest son of widow Robert Dow. He was taken in as a servant in the way of charity, and after clothing him decently John Dow expected that the lad would be a dutiful servant, but he soon found that the lad had no will to work and would not even herd the cattle.

About a month after John Monro had been taken in, Mr Smith, Supervisor of Excise at Aberfeldy and Mr Scott, Officer of Excise at Foss happened to be in Strathtummel. The boy went and met them, and took them to several places in the common land on the hill behind Strathtummel where they found malt. John Monro told the excisemen that the malt belonged to his master, John Dow. This he said in revenge as John Dow had threatened to turn him out unless he promised to be a more dutiful servant in future. This had provoked the boy into swearing that he would do his master an ill turn and ruin him.

After finding the malt in the hill, the excisemen returned to Balnabodach and theatened to summons John Dow before the Barons of Exchequer unless he admitted that the malt was his. John Dow protested his innocence, claiming that he was only the victim of the vagrant boy whom he had clothed and fed. His pleas fell on deaf ears, and was cited to appear before the Barons on the fourteenth of the month.

The position was extremely serious as he did not have the means of paying for an advocate in Edinburgh and was fearful that, despite his perfect innocence, judgement would go against him by default. In desperation he begged the Duke of Atholl to interfere in the case in order to save him and his aged mother from beggary.

John Dow survived this tribulation and was still paying rent and distilling illicit whisky at Balnabodach in 1848, as shown by the following petition to the Duke of Atholl.


Illicit Whisky pays the Rent

The following petition was presented to the Duke of Atholl by his named tenants, despite the fact that he was a Justice of the Peace. His response is unrecorded!

Unto His Grace the Duke of Atholl

The Petition and Repesentation of the parties subscribing, some of, and as representing others, your Grace's tenants in Strathtummel.

Humbly Sheweth, - That the petitioners are sorry to be obliged to trouble your Grace with tidings of anything unpleasant. They are, however, compelled by importance of the matter to lay before your Grace, as their Proprietor, a statement of a certain grievance, which, unless removed, will very shortly cause the ruin of the whole of them: and in order that your Grace may understand the foundation of this Representation, the petitioners beg humbly to state as follows, viz. –

1. That the District of Strathtummel is populated and possessed by small tenantry, the extent of the possession of each, with one or two exceptions, being barely sufficient to maintain a family.

2. That, in order to eke out a subsistence and home for themselves and families, the Petitioners hitherto struggled hard to pay their rents, not out of their small holdings, that being impossible, but in a way (which although looked upon by some as a breach of law and propriety, yet was looked upon by the Petitioners in a different way) which they beg now to inform your Grace of, viz., that of illicit distillation, whereby, during the time the Petitioners were not entirely prevented, they and each of them managed from what was not required for the use of the family to turn out of their barley sufficient means to pay their rents.

3. The excise laws having been more stringently enforced within the last twelve months in their locality than formerly, the petitioners have been completely prevented doing anything in this way.

4. That, along with this grievance, the petitioners have felt and deeply suffered from the effects of the failure in the potato crop (strictly speaking their staff of life), which as a necessary consequence caused a consumption of two-thirds of the grain crop in each family, whereby the ability of the tenant to pay his rent from the produce of his farm is to that extent at present diminished.

5. That, along with other unfavourable circumstances of which this year has been productive is the low price of farm produce of all kinds, the effect of which is, and the petitioners are sorry to be obliged to admit it, that their energies are at present prostrated.

6. That, notwithstanding of all this, the Petitioners are willing to persevere in their endeavours to pay their rents, if circumstances, through your Grace’s assistance, could be so managed that the stringency of the excise laws as against them could be, although only partially, removed. The Petitioners do not want any Legislative enactment for accomplishing this – the mere removal of the District Officer, John Robertson, near Tummel Bridge, would, from the rigorous and severe way in which he discharges his duty, be sufficient.

The circumstance is of so much importance to the Petitioners that they humbly, but very seriously, recommend, ere it is too late, the matter to your Grace’s consideration.

May it therefore please your Grace to take the foregoing statements into consideration, and therefore, if agreeable to your Grace, to take some steps to cause the officer before named to be removed from the petitioners’ district for the purpose before named, and which they are confident can be accomplished if your Grace should be please to use your influence in the matter. And the petitioners will ever pray.

Alexander Douglas, Dalcroy
John Campbell, Dalreoch
Peter Stewart, Tomintianda
Robert Dow, Tomintianda
Alexander Dow, Tomintianda
John Dow, Balnabodach
Donald McIntyre, Blairbuie
John Robertson, Nether Bohespic


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