"Recollections of Strathtummel" by Stuart Dow

grandson of Donald Dow of Strathtummel

Stuart and family at the harvest, 1940

My grandfather, Donald Dow, was a very powerful man. He was what is called a 'local worthy', and there are many stories about him.

The Short-cut

In the days when lorries were few, a lot of goods were moved around Strathtummel by horse and cart. This took a long time as the roads were slow, winding and narrow. For example, the journey from Foss around Lochtummel by Tummelbridge to Pitlochry was about 16 or 18 miles for the single trip. The old arched Wade bridge is still standing at Tummelbridge, although modern traffic now uses the new bridge beside it.

On one such trip during a very long hard frost, Donald was late on the return journey, having enjoyed more than the usual meeting with others, with excess drinking, which was common at the time. On arriving at the Tummel post office it was already getting dark and there was still around six to eight hours of travelling still to go. Now, the narrowest part of the loch was between Chamberbane and Lick on the Foss side, and the loch had been very subject to iceing, so Donald decided to take a short-cut. Taking the horse and cart down to the lochside at Chamberbane, he put extra sharps on the horse's hooves to stop them from sliding on the ice. Having had too much to drink he would not listen to advice on the dangers of crossing, but as the story goes he crossed successfully.

I wonder what granny said to him next day, and what he thought when he was sober!

The Woodworker and Handyman

Grandad was very well known for how good he was at building or repairing various things, such as horse-drawn carts. He made many wheel barrows for farmers, and special barrows for moving the peat, which was the main fuel used at one time. It would take ages to replace the broken handles for various tools, so Donald made replacements using his woodworking skills. He was very proud of his craftsmanship and onto all of his woodwork he put a hot branding iron, marking it as D.D. It would be nice to find some of his work.

He also made upright, foot-operated sharping stones. He cannibalised old bikes and made new ones out of them. I learned to ride on one of them. He always gave a hand at all of the crofts and farms when it came to harvest time. This was not unusual as everyone did the same. At that time community effort was the norm, but I remember him scything end rigs and fields with a specially adapted scythe to make the crop fall into lines.

We never had to buy vegetables, and such, as he kept a large garden. There were also red currants and blackberries, as well as gooseberries, although there were plenty of wild bushes around.

The Soldier

During the First World War, when things were going badly, Donald and his comrades had been ordered to just leave everything and retreat. But instead of going back immediately, he saved a train of eight mules loaded with much needed ammunition. For this heroic deed Donald was mentioned in dispatches.

During this war he was wounded in the left leg. It seemed to heal properly at the time, but in 1951 he had to have this leg amputated as shrapnel which had been left in was no longer dormant. He was 81 years old at the time but lived another 5 years, during which his Gaelic recordings were made for the Linguistic Survey of Scotland.

A strange thing was that about 33 years later I was blown up twice on the same night in the war in Korea. I had to get three large pieces of shrapnel removed from my left leg, but thankfully I still have my leg.

At one time Donald was in the Duke of Atholl's private army and marched over to the Breamar games to fire a wee cannon for Queen Victoria. It is recorded that he was discharged for being drunk too many times on parade, but he often spoke very well of the old Duke and had many stories about his time in the Duke's army.

The Second World War

During the war everyone helped by a form of barter system. Whilst on its rounds, the grocer's van would get things from people such as eggs, rabbits, vegetables and fish. Some Polish troops were stationed at Tummelbridge and it was rumoured that they used to fish with hand-grenades. Our sweets were made by someone who used cow's treacle, and Geordie the van man always found us some sweets. The only comics were in the local newspapers, such as Billy and Bunnie. Even the wireless time was restricted to the latest news, but we were allowed to listen to Tammy Troot's adventures. Also a series called Into Battle: thrilling stuff!

On clear nights we could see the searchlights probing the skies for bombers. The drone of planes could be heard often. Once, during low clouds, someone reported seeing a parachute. The few men left in the glen went in search over the hill towards Grennich, as it could have been one of our airmen, or the enemy. But nothing was found, so it was thought that it must have been a barrage balloon which had broken free.

Just before the war a weir was built below the Queen's View, prior to the flooding of the loch. Sometime during the war, on a moonlit night the drone of a plane was heard, which we had heard many times before. It seems that a German bomber was searching for the power station at Tummelbridge. Not finding it, it was thought that the bomber crew mistook the weir for a dam and dropped a bomb, thinking that it was the dam for the power station. It missed, but even with the water in the loch now raised, part of the bomb crater can still be seen.

School Days

One day during playtime there was great excitement. A seaplane skimmed low over loch, a sight never seen before. Speculation was rife that it was training for a secret mission or was German.

The school was asked to make up camouflage nets for our local power station. We spread the large nets over our grassy playground, then wove brown, green and fawn hessian rolls into the netting. When in situ it blended perfectly with the local surroundings. I think that the school was given ten shillings for each net they produced.

We also collected sphagnum moss for the war effort. There were two types. One, I believe, was used to make iodine, and the other type was used in bandages. The sphagnum moss was near the peat bogs, and deer which had wounds used to lie on it for healing. Quite often there were deer antlers nearby.

During the war we had a visit from a school inspector, who stated we should not do reading or writing work during the winter time as the light was too poor. The one room school class was lit with paraffin lamps. Some days when the light was poor we were taught to knit for the war effort. We would knit scarves, gloves and socks for the servicemen. We attached our names and school address. We received quite a few thank you notes from the men.

We got off school to help in beating on the grouse moors by waving flags. The hill behind Tomantianda, when owned by the Atholl estates was used for communal grazing, but towards the time for grouse-shooting the animals were kept off the hill.

When I was at Tummel school we used to stop at the blacksmith's shop behind the post office. It was a place of wonder to us, seeing great big docile horses getting shoed. Also ponies were shod for the grouse shooting and deer stalking. We used to get our sweeties from the post office, and the mail van carried accumulators for the wirelesses in the area.

There used to be a suspension bridge where the head of the loch is now, beside the big white house. It was dismantled and re-erected across the river Garry by the north gate lodge of the Atholl grounds. Sadly it was neglected and had to be demolished. We had great fun crossing it when it was over the river Tummel.

There used to be a wee island, in front of Port-an-Eilean, which we landed on many a time. It is said to have been used by Robert the Bruce when he was hiding in the area.

Donald Lamont of Invervack was a gentleman farmer who was a cousin of my grandfather. I remember him because he bought the Forestry Commission's half-lease of Loch Bhac and gave me a letter allowing me to fish there at any time. This was important as several times I had trouble with the Atholl estate visitors using the loch and trying to chase me off 'their' property. In those days, there was no road up to the loch and they had a ghillie with them.


At the Loch Tummel hotel there was a large hut used as a local hall. During the war, when the servicemen came on leave, ceilidhs were held when anyone who had an instrument formed a band, and there were diddling competitions and so on. All the local folks found food somehow with baking and the usual goodies.

As young people we saw films at Kynachan hall and Lady Kynachan collected us in her great old station wagon. I was 9 years old before I saw my first film. Other events were held there. A feature of the hall was an eagle in full flight, suspended from the roof. It was an awesome sight at our age.

MacDonalds of Glencoe

Our family connection with the MacDonalds goes back to the time when our ancestors entered Strathtummel. Alex and Annie MacDonald were brother and sister - they never married - who were related to my grandfather (Robert Dow). They had Dalcroy farm at the head of the loch, but they had to give it up to make way for the new hydro-electric scheme, and moved to Upper Bohespic. They were related to the MacDonalds of Glencoe and Alex had a burnt stone that was said to be from the Chief's house, when the Campbells ravaged the clan in 1692.

The Supernatural

In the old days there were many people in Strathtummel who had the GIFT. There should be many local tales about the supernatural, but I don't think that they have ever been recorded.

One day, when we were very young, my great-auntie was taking us down to the main road past Tressait. We by-passed Tressait on the burn side and were just about to join the cart-track below Tressait when my great-auntie stopped us. She said that she could see a light coming us the track and that we couldn't go to the main road that way. We could see nothing, but my great-auntie had the second sight. Three days later a funeral procession came up that same cart-track on its way over to Struan churchyard.

Another eerie thing was when dogs howled like wolves. It meant someone had died in the family, or locally. Today I still get the creeps when I hear the dogs with that type of a howl. I think about my family and wait to hear the phone. I myself, in younger years always seemed to know when someone in the family was ill. An example was when I felt that I had to go to Arbroath that very day. I went and found that my uncle was very ill. He died a few days later.

My grandmother brought me up, and she had another strange story. My granny took snuff, known as stoor (Kendal brown), and she took it secretly as my grandfather did not approve, but I am sure he knew. However my granny had a small snuff box with a ivory carved snuff spoon she used. One day she lost the spoon. We all hunted high and low to find it, but it was not to be found. Then, exactly three years to the day that it had disappeared, the snuff spoon appeared on the mat in front of the range fire. It was as if it had been left there on purpose for all to see. We had many ideas about what happened, but granny said it was the fairies.

When I was younger I used to rent Chamberbane and take my wife and children there. We did this for years and my sister-in-law and her family would join us. One year, at supper time, my brother-in-law told us that he had gone to the toilet during the night and been surprised to see a stranger, an old man, sitting in the old armchair by the fire, smoking his pipe. My wife said that she had often seen him before, for a few years, and that he seemed to be quite contented. She had never mentioned seeing this apparition before. We called him the old Bodach.


Return to Strathtummel in Past Times Return to Home Page