KNOCKANDO 1887 TO 1955 - by John G Shand
After an absencein London of 54 years I made up my mind to revisit Knockando and one finemorning I alighted from the Bus at the end of the Bruntlands Road. I at once observed that the lovelyPlantation of trees which formerly adorned the roadside here and extendedtowards the East Mains had vanished, swallowed up no doubt by the ravages ofwar. The District has certainly notbeen enhanced by their disappearance. I passed the Bruntlands Farm, which in my schooldays was farmed by theMacGowan family, whose sons Robert and James were respectively well knowAuctioneers at Elgin and Craigellachie. James (along with Moir of the Haugh) lost his life in a ferry disasterat Aberdeen about 1896 but Robert’s son still carried on Business at CummingSt. Elgin, so follows in his father’s footsteps. I then pass the Croft of Loanhead (Ross of the Loan then) andarrive at my Birthplace the Mannoch Cottage where my father was Gamekeeper forseveral years. I gaze at the wee housenow rather decayed and forlorn looking and recall the lines “I remember Iremember the house where I was born, the little window where the sun camepeeping in at morn”.
I retrace mysteps toward the old Smiddy at Crofthead passing in turn, Cardockhead, Gatesideand the Old Police Station from which old Bob Munro kept watch and wait on thatpart of the Parish. At Cardockheadlived the Dow family, Peter was Headmaster for years at the Elgin West EndSchool while James an ex Sergeant of Royal Marines was employed at HeadStillman at Cardow, both now sleeping peacefully in the Old Churchyard ofKnockando. I look in at the Smiddy butalas neither Jamie Stuart nor his son Willie are no longer to be seen but the oldfireplace and anvil where we school bairns watched the sparks fly are still tothe fore but the smell of the singeing hooves of farm horses is conspicuous byits absence at least it was while I was there. Next door the Shoppie is still to be seen. Old Jessie Smith was the proprietor in myschool days and we occasionally spend our Bawbees on sticks of “Long John” orBarley Sugar especially if we had to wait for Jamie Stuart to singe a Sheep’shead for my mother which he was good enough to do on rare occasions. I make a call at Woodend Cottage -formerly the residence of old George White, Gauger at Cardow and anenthusiastic angler when he had the opportunity - I want to see Charlie Milnewho now occupies it but was formerly farmer at the Borlum. Charlie is nearing his Century but recognisedme and we had a good long crack before I set out for the School and Church viaCardow Distillery.
How thisDistillery has grown and the various cottages surrounding makes it quite atownship. This Distillery originatedin the Farm Steading of Cardow Farm where whisky was distilled by one LewisCumming who also tenanted the farm. About the year 1888 I heard him tell my father - who had asked him to goshooting with him - that he was far too busy having received a big order fromLondon of two Hogsheads of whisky andhe must organise their despatch to Carron Station by Cart. How entirely different now when motorlorries daily make several journeys to Knockando Station and the hogsheads arecounted in dozens I imagine. Mrs Lewis Cumming was an astute and dearold lady and once when I called with a present of Game from the Shooting tenantof Knockando House she invited me in in these words:-
“Comeawa in Laddy and hae a piece yer teeth are still langer than yer beard”.
I proceed pastthe old “Windmill Cottage” the home of the Younie family the windmill beingused for the motive power for theCarpenter’s shop adjoining. Alas theCottage is now derelict and the windmill no more. Many a half hour - on the way home from school - I put in withLewis Younie in his workshop and on Brose and Bannock Day his mother and sistermade us bairns welcome as it was always our first house of call. It was hereabouts also we were wont to meetPeter the Postie (Peter McDonald) on his daily return journey, on foot, betweenUpper Knockando Post Office and Craigellachie. How many miles Peter walked during his years of OfficialEmployment I cannot hazard a guess but it must have been a very great many. In Winter and in Summer he seldom or evermissed his journey but conscientiously performed his daily task with goodspirits and lived to a good old age. His epitaph might well have read: “Well done good and faithful servant”for such he was and ever bright and cheerful.
We also ranacross Old Peter Bremner the retired Blacksmith from Crofthead - near Cardowwhere he went on various daily journeys for “Burnt Ale” for his Coo andStirks. He carried the Ale in twopails suspended from a wooden shoulder brace and the quantity of ale in thepails was a good indication of the amount of whisky Peter had imbibed at theBrewer’s Office at Cardow. If thebuckets were full Peter was comparatively sober but if they were empty thenPeter was “fou” or nearly so and in this condition displayed his temper to usschoolboys who were wont to rag him. Peter was a good exponent of threshing grain by hand and we enjoyedlooking in at the barn door of his Croft on our way home for School to see himuse the “Flail” to great advantage. Ifear we often hoped (just to hear his remarks) he would hit himself with theloose arm of the flail but so dexterous was old Peter that there was littleopportunity of this happening or our wish being gratified and Peter maybeanticipating our thoughts finished his job with a sly grin and chuckle. This was the only occasion I ever saw thisrelic of the old timed beating out the grain practised in the North East ofScotland.
I pay a visit tomy old school which in my time was designated the “Big School” the otherpresided over by a female teacher (Miss Cameron) in the early school days wascalled the “Little School” and was situated on the Roadside near the CardowFarm Cottages on the Knockando Main Road. When you reached the 3rd Standard you went up to the “Big School” theHeadmaster then was Charles Watt M.A. a very fine teacher who was painstakingwith any scholar who showed the necessary promise and who got every opportunityfrom Mr Watt of making good. There hasbeen various alterations in the old school but much of the exterior is as it waswhen I left for London in 1900, only the fine Hedgerow , round which we playedChioy-Chase, I see has disappeared and a new school building has sprung up inthe Manse field opposite.
I cross over tothe Parish Church and Burial Ground a little way beyond the School. This is the New Church built about the year1906. The old Church was of differentconstruction : the steps leading to the Galleries being built on the outside ofthe Church and at either end and the Church Bell was rung by the Bellman (WillieTaylor) who stood outside the Northern Gable exposed to all weathers but in agood position to pass the time of day with those who were entering for theService. There were two Willie Taylorsin the Parish. Willie the Bellman andGravedigger and Willie Mole, the Hangman or Mole catcher, a noted worthy whoended his eventful life at or near Blackhillock about 1911. He had had a varied career, perhapssomewhat chequered at times. He was atone time a coachman about Balmoral Castle in the reign of Queen Victoria butwhen I knew him was earning his living as a Mole catcher with occasional spellsas a Ghillie at Knockando House when the Shooting Season was on. He was a man of intelligence who had arather high pitched voice and somewhat given to drinking not wisely but toowell. His favourite expression when inhis cups and on his way home was: - “STEADY THE BOAT NOO WILLIE. I was in his good books as I had, when in London,rescued for him a consignment of mole skins from a rather unscrupulous JewishFurrier and got him his cheque so I was a fine Bobby in Willie’s esteem. Poor Willie was found on the ArchiestownRoad early one frosty morning with his faithful spaniel dead by his side. He was removed to his home but died ofpneumonia soon after. So ended thevaried career of a well kent and well liked man who had apparently lived acarefree life and many sided one and only the intemperate abuse of whisky hadshortened it. A not unusual type ofperson even in these days.
In the ParishChurchyard where several member of my family are sleeping I observe manymemorials to weel kent faces and the Churchyard - both the old and the newground - is still well kept and tended as it always was by Willie Bellman whenI attended Divine Worship there from the years 1889 - 1900. As I look over the Churchyard Wall I seefar below me the Knockando Wool Mill still in the hands of the Smith family andfamous for its Blankets and Tweeds. James was our church organist for many years and Emma his wife - still aliveand quite wonderful for 84 - was a regular member of the Choir. She now manages the business with greatsuccess and astuteness.
Charlie Brodie’scottage lies just below the Kirk. Charlie used to be the Tailor who fitted us up with any alterations orrepair to our garments when they were passed down to the young members of thefamily. His grandson John was the LordProvost of Elgin for several years. AsI leave the Churchyard I note the two old Scandinavian Tomb Stones - taken froman old Norse Graveyard near “Pool brenon” Millhaugh - are still to be seen setinto the Churchyard Wall. They arerelics of Centuries ago and deserve preserving for their very antiquity and asa reminder of the various activities of the Danes on the shores of our Countryand elsewhere.
I take the nearcut from the Kirk to the main road below and look down on the old Meal Mill atMillhow, then tenanted by old Lachlan Robertson assisted by his son youngLachlan. Lachlan senior was a keen oldfisherman and I can still in my mind see him, old George White the Gauger ofCardow and my father refreshing themselves at the Spring at Speyside near thepool called the “Sliach” when whisky was still cheap and good and sometimeseasily got. My memory of young Lachlan is his splendid well groomedbeard and his powerful bass voice in the Choir on Sundays. He was also an ardent “Volunteer” in theSeaforths, a regular attender at the yearly Camp Gathering and Exercises invarious places, Stobs, Gordon Castle etc.
Seasonally wesent our corn from Millhaugh here to be ground into oatmeal. It was here also that my mother got her“Prone” to cook her favourite dish of “Sowans” which according to her possessedall the virtues to make a clean and healthy body. At any rate it was clean, cheap and wholesome, containing noneof the preservatives associated with some of the present articles of diet which try the stomach more thansomewhat. I called in at the MargachHall, gifted to the people of Knockando by the late Peter Margach ofGracemount, Carpenter, Agricultural Merchant and also Inspector of Poor for the Parish. In addition to his store at Gracemount hehad a depot at Carron Station as Knockando Station was not then in existenceand I used to go down there from Millhaugh with my father’s pony and cart forfood for his Sporting Dogs as we kept about 20 to 30 dogs then for the ShootingTenant before Grouse Driving came to be the method adopted for Grouse Shootingon a big scale. The Hall is a verynice building, vested in Trustees, with Stage Hall and other Amenities and itno doubt is a boon to the Parishioners for gatherings such as Concerts,Meetings etc. and supplied, when opened, a long felt want in the District. I commend it as a memorial to the Living aswell as to the dead man, who had the interests of his fellow Parishioners somuch at heart.
Opposite theHall is Woodbine Cottage and Carpenter’s Shop where Old Sandy Innes, who hadserved his apprenticeship at Gracemount with Peter Margach carried on businessfor a great number of years and behind Woodbine Cottage was the Blacksmith’sShop and Forge then owned by Mr Peter Stephen. This shop was in those days the scene of much activity in farmimplements and horse showing as it served a great part of Upper Knockando. It is however now derelict and the businessclosed down as the result of the death or departure of the Stephen Family.
The small row ofCottages in the braeface, locally known as the “Poor Houses” have now beendemolished and will no doubt in time make way for some more up to dateAgricultural Cottages to serve the farms around this part of the Parish. I now pass on to the Upper Knockando PostOffice and General Merchants Shop now in the hands of Miss Lizzie McDonald butin my time owned by Tom Beaton, Postmaster, General Merchant, Watch Repairer, Violinist and a Store toboot. I remember Tom quite well. He possessed a very even temperament andvery little ever troubled Tom even the process of Watch Repairing, when theowners of watches left for overhaul got impatient at the long delay this didnot disturb Tom in the least or cause him any concern as indeed did theordinary routine of life. He was oncethe owner of a large St Bernard Dog and when asked why he kept such an animalreplied that it was to keep some of his bad paying customers away but whetherthis animal could differentiate between the bad and good customer is ratherdoubtful so there seemed little merit in his reasoning.
My journey is atan end and the Bus is ready to return to Rothes, but I shall be back again oneday to resume by meanderings in another part of the Parish and until then GoodBye Upper Knockando.
Well here I amagain on the Bus and bound for another jaunt round the Parish in anotherairt. I alight at the Cardow CrossRoads where I well remember Roddy Jock who used to work here breaking up stonesfor road repair. His stock in tradeconsisting of 1 short heavy hammer for cleaving the heavy stones: one slenderlong handled hammer for reducing the broken stones to the desired size: onepair of wire gauge goggles and a large shovel. We marvelled at Jock’s dexterity but learned that the knack wasto find the line of cleavage - whatever that may be - and the hammer would dothe rest, provided of course you had the patience of Job and the Arms of Samsonand emitted the Roadman’s grunt as you applied the hammer head to the Stone.
I call on an oldSchoolfellow, Sandy Allan, farmer of the Cardnach whose father Sandy seniorused to farm Dalbeallie just beyond the Cardnach. Old Sandy Allan was a noted competitor in the Go-as-you-PleaseHorse Riding Competitions at the various Cattle Shows at Craigellachie, Elgin,Keith etc. and his vociferous remarks made to his horse when careering roundthe Racing Track gained Sandy no small notoriety. He was however a bluff and kind hearted man who was popular andwell liked in the district, a rough diamond maybe but with all his roughexterior he was at heart a good neighbour.
In my youth thefarm of the Cardnach was in the occupation of Sandy (of the Cardnach) McDonaldwho before the advent of a musical instrument in our Church was the Precentorthere, the Revd Thos Pirie being the Minister then. The latter was a real typical Parish Minister, an excellentpreacher and one who had a dignity and personality about him when out of thepulpit which contributed greatly to the respect and esteem in which he was heldby his Parishioners. Sandy’sfavourite song at our local Concerts held in the Schoolroom was one of manyverses the chorus going as follows:
“Oh love, love, love yer fickle and yer cruel,
Yer no the thing to feed upon, yer waur than Water Gruel”.
Sandy was a goodstalwart of the Auld Kirk, a good farmer and friend but like many more of myyouthful acquaintances is now at rest in the Kirkyard where he was so wellaccustomed to fore-gather on the Lord’s Day to lead his choir in divinepraise. The Cardnach Wood, althoughsomewhat less dense than formerly, still remains and shows off the neighbourhoodto much advantage. I pass the West andEast Mains, the latter tenanted by one John Smith, better known to us all asJohn “Moses”. This nickname he got as aresult of his own creation. He, whiletenant of the Leakin Farm at the Hill Foot, was greeted by a friend in theFeeing Market at Aberlour with the query Hullo John, how are ye doing at theLeakin, to which John replied “Oh just like Moses in the Wilderness” and Mosesit was ever after. Now we come to theKnockando House at one time the residence of the Lairds Grant which has theirCoat of Arms emblazoned over the front door and where my father was Head keeperfor over 30 years, our Home and the Dog Kennels being at Millhaugh in the speyvalley near the Railway Siding. Twocurious buildings near Knockando House are brought to my mind, the first thelarge “Doo Cot” built in a field by the House, the top portion being the homeof lots of pigeons with nest boxes and an outlet to flight complete, while thelower portion was used as a shelter in bad weather for the Hill Ponies whogenerally grazed outside in the surrounding fields. The second building referred to was a “salmon and trout” lardercut into the steep bank just beyond the Doo Cot, the walls and floor being laidwith slate stones, this was their idea in those days of our refrigerators ofthe present period and as necessity is the Mother of Invention was quite a goodsubstitute for that for which it was intended. I have a desire to pay a visit to the “Bucks bush” so I proceedto the Ford across the burn near Millhaugh where I find the old twisted andgnarled Alder tree is still there, with the supposed impress of theBucks feet in its trunk near the ground level. Briefly the story of the Bucks Bush is as follows:-
A farm servantnicknamed the “Buck” hid in this tree and waylaid his rival as the latter wason his way home from seeing his - TheBuck’s - sweetheart at Ballintomb Farm. The Buck sprang out on him andafter a heated quarrel stabbed him nearly to death. The Buck then took to the hills to prevent capture and hid at alarge stone on the Hill of Slackmore some distance from the Clune Lodge. He was however spied upon and subsequentlychased by a Police Constable from there to near Forres where he was arrested bythe Constable who afterwards received his Sergeant’s stripes for this gallantcapture, he having divested himself of his boots and by doing so had badlylacerated both his feet. The Buck, itis said, was tried and deported or banished from the Country. I learned all this mostly from my father whoalways maintained that the impress on the tree trunk was the result of peopleputting their feet on the tree trunk which seems the reasonable explanation ofthis happening.
I then walk overthe wooden footbridge and through the woods to the small township of“Dalmunack” which in 1900 consisted of about twelve or more houses each with asmall bit of land attached thereto. Inthe first lived one Sailor Jack a Railway Surfaceman who had served some yearsin the Royal Navy. Poor Jack was killedby a Goods Train near the Knockando Siding about 1906 and it was the sadexperience of my father to find his body and report the circumstances to PoliceConstable Bob Munro then at Archiestown. Another old inhabitant of Dalmumack at that time was old John McDonald an ex Blacksmith andreputed Inventor of sorts but I never learned what he was supposed to invent ifanything. He was the oldest inhabitantof our Parish at this time and is reputed for having walked to our Church andback a distance of 8 miles on his 92ndbirthday, a wonderful feat for a man of his years. Close to June Cruickshank’s cottage stands the old holly treewhere we always got our Christmas Holly, as it had very fine red berries whichwere hard to come by elsewhere. I passthe Imperial Distillery built about 1897 and can remember that numbers ofbricklayers were imported from England to build it. It was a magnificent building but as a Highland Distillery was afailure at that time at least that was what I understood. I have now reached my destination at leaston this journey, I mean Carron.
Carron roundabout 1887 consisted of a Railway Station with loading bank, a Saw Mill, anAgriculture Store, one small general shop and a few houses, quite a smallplace. The Railway Station was built manyyears before Knockando Station and therefore served the community betweenCarron and Blacksboat - practically the whole of the Parish. It was here that the people gathered afterthe last train - about 7pm - had departed for Grantown to receive any parcels,papers or mail which were handed out by the Station Master, Tom McKenzie, asthere was no post office at Carron in these days. The Railway Station was also used as the means of getting theDoctor from Aberlour to urgent cases in the Knockando District as no telephonelines then existed. How different nowwith the advent of the telephone and motor car at the disposal of the Doctor orNurse at any time surely in this direction at any rate we have made great stridesin the interests of suffering humanity.
Our firstlessons in Dancing was undertaken at the house of Waters the Forester atCarron, near where the school now stands, our Dancing Master being old AdamMyron from Archiestown. There for thelordly sum of 3d per night we learned the steps of the various dances then invogue but sadly out of fashion in these days I fear. I can still see Adam with his violin tucked under his chinmoving about among the dancers diddling as he went such phrases as: “Down themiddle, down the middle Mary Ann, Mary Ann, turn roon and posset noo if ye can,if ye can” - or - “Lassie we the red frock haud ower a bit, haud ower abit”. The session finished up with aGrand Dance for which we paid sixpence and at which Adam generally was “fou” but there he was all dressed up in hisdress suit, with red silk handkerchief tucked into his white collar, fiddlingand diddling away as happy as a young loon and enjoying himself as well as anyof us. Yes these were the carefreedays and what a little pleasure we were content with then as compared with ourlatter years of life. We were quitehappy to walk from Millhaugh to Archiestown, even in the dead of winter to aPlooman’s Ball or Oddfellows Conversatione in the Drill Hall just for thepleasure of a social evening or dance.
Well I am on thetrain bound for Rothes but must undertake another jaunt one day from the UpperPost Office to the Clune Lodge and if fit over the Slackmore Hill toClashindarroch and on to Callie Brig, until then adieu Knockando.
I decide at thelast minute not to make the attempt on the long journey to the Clune by way ofMilton, Strondow etc. but take the short cut and proceed up the burn side toLynnahuron once tenanted by old Willie Black and so on to Tomnaherry. I have a look here for the two mineralsprings - one iron or chalabeate water the other a sulphur water - but as Icannot spend much time, I abandon my search and skirt the hill by May Riach’sold abode Mount Carron then make a bee line over the peat mosses to theoutskirts of the Clune Wood, cross the burn and arrive at the Clune Lodge. What memories the old place have forme. Here we gathered to make a startfor the Moors and the Grouse Driving or the more social Farmers Annual HareHunt. The latter was an interestingevent and deserves its special word in passing - A day among the Blue MountainHares (white in winter) was given each autumn when the grouse shooting wasover, to the Farmers and a few Friends by the Tenant of Knockando House whoalso provided them with a snack lunch and 6 bottles of whisky. The invitations and arrangements were in myfather’s hands, while the lunch was left to my mother to make up and pack inthe game bags. The mustering place wasthe Clune Lodge. The first party ofguns accompanied by my father proceeded to the high ground near Cairn Kitty viaLoch Cowlett and were there posted to await the arrival of the hares which weredriven on by the second lot of Shooters operating from the Clune. When the two parties met with their bags,they then adjourned for lunch to the Lossie Spring - Source of the River Lossie- where they partook of hefty sandwiches washed down with copious portions ofgrog. Tales were told and experiencesrecounted. The entire party then gotinto one formation and began their drive back to the Clune Lodge or near it,where upon arrival tea was provided by Mrs Christie the Under Keeper’s wife,the last of the whisky consumed, the empty bottles thrown in the air and shotdown by the more exhilarated of the party, the spoils of the Hunt distributedamong those present and a move made for home. So ends an enjoyable day on the Hills which did much to cement goodrelations between the Shooting Tenant of Knockando House and the Farmers and Friendsas well as being a diplomatic way of serving to prevent poaching.
Loch Cowlett,previously mentioned, is a small hill loch set in very pretty surroundings andI can recall an attempt made to stock it with trout about 1897. The Loch Leven trout arrived at CarronStation and was met there by my father who had the water in their containersreplenished. They were taken on to theClune, fresh water being added at a spring near Brackenhowes and from the burnat the bridge where the Clune Burn joins the Knockando Burn and finally at theClune. Notwithstanding, many of theyearling trout died en route but the remainder were duly released into the Lochbut with what success I cannot say further than at some time after this, I sawmy father catch two trout there on the fly so I assume they survived all rightafter their rather eventful journey north.
I now cross theHill of Clune to the farm of Clashindarroch stopping en route at the Green TreeSpring to quench my thirst. It washere lunch was often partaken of by theShooting Tenant and his Guests while Grouse Driving on this part of themoors. While on holiday from London in1902, I experienced at the Green Tree Spring a “Beaters’ Strike” for bettermoney and a better lunch. The firstindication I had then had of a concerted refusal to work by a band ofbeaters. Led by Sandy McDonald theydemanded 1/- more pay and a better lunch of beef or mutton - but no more rabbit pie. As these demands were made at a very awkward time, only half theday’s sport being got through and the Shooting Tenant had several guestshooters there, he had to surrender much to my father’s annoyance anddisgust. This was my first experienceof a Strike but by no means my last in my forty years in the London Police Service.
The farm ofClashindarroch at one time was worked by one William McDonald, better known as“Red Wull O the Burn”, as the burn ofthe Alder ran alongside the farm. Wullwas an eccentric man, short, paunchy and with a thick patch of red hair runninground behind his ears, the top of his head being bald. I can remember him best at the Hare Hunts ashe had an old Muzzle Loading Gun and used Black Powder. He always went down on one knee to fire at ahare. Generally the hare escaped beingshot or was out of range but the Black Powder caused such a smoke that Wull wasobscured from view for some minutes. Atone Hare Hunt a fox got up between Red Wull and Captain Cumming of Cardow whowas going to shoot it but Wull called our “DINNA SHOOT IT MAN, ITS SOME FANCYDOG” this put Mr Cumming off and the fox got a let off much to the annoyanceof the Captain and this incident was ofcourse the subject of much merriment at lunch time. On another occasion, my brother Donald (killed in France) and Ihad been fishing the Callie Burn while in spate and called in at Clashindarrochwhere Wull was eating some soup made of what he called “Fine Braxy MuttonBoys”. He invited us to partake ofthis fare and seemed astonished when we preferred a cup of tea to his soup andmutton. The farm has now been combinedwith that of the Leakin at which latter, I now call to be greeted by thatbluff, genial chiel, Charlie Robertson, a District Councillor and well knownman for miles beyond the Parish Boundaries. Charlie started his career in the ‘H’ Division of the MetropolitanPolice at Limehouse Station quite near the Chinese quarter of the East End ofLondon. Charlie, however, did not taketo pounding the Beat and gave it up for farming which as it turned out was awise move especially in these days. Both he and Mrs Robertson are generous good hearted and delightfulpersons and as a boon companion Charlie will provide you with entertainment andmake one cheery when feeling depressed. We want more of his kind in the world of today as work, all ouramenities, entertainments and ways of life, we do not seem any happier orcontented that we were fifty years ago. I take my leave of those good folks and make my way back to the UpperKnockando Post Office by way of Garlinmore, Garlinbeg and Croftpoint where theBus is about to start for Rothes and Elgin, so one more farewell to anotherpart of the Parish of Knockando.