The Breadalbane Hydro-Electric Scheme
A big change came into our Village life some dozen or more years ago, namely the beginning of what became known locally as “The Scheme”. If there is one aspect of life in our corner of Breadalbane that we deeply deplore, it is the fact that we seem to get more than what we consider to be our fair share of the “gentle rain from Heaven”! The hills which provide so much beauty bring down the clouds and the rain and this was the factor which induced the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to select our district for their Breadalbane Scheme, in which the mountain streams of Glenlyon, Glenlochay and Glendochart are captured and harnessed to provide electric power for homes, farms and factories near and far. While “The Scheme” was in progress there was work in plenty for all, and many folks from many lands came and sojourned amongst us, bringing in a breath of distant places to our quiet corner, and then moved on, having formed lasting friendships and leaving with us many happy memories. Now we have the permanent Staff with us, sharing our village life, and employment has been found for a number of local people who would otherwise have had to seek it elsewhere. It is a source of pleasure to us that the blessings with which nature has endowed us can bring help in time of need to our friends in the homes, factories and hospitals in the South through the National Grid. The Dams built by the Hydro Board to control the water power have formed new and enlarged Lochans in the hills which make good fishing for trout, and now that the first newness of the cement and stonework has begun to “weather in”, they have merged into the landscape and although occasionally someone complains about the pylons and wires spoiling the view, we, on the whole have got used to them and a grateful for the advantages of electricity instead of tending oil-lamps and stoves!
We in Killin are fortunate in possessing a commodious and well equipped Village Hall. It was bequeathed in 1935 by the late Archibald McLaren of Dall Lodge, and bears his name, the McLaren Hall. It comprises a main hall with capacity for 400, a lesser hall, committee room and caretaker’s house. In the winter there are few evenings when one or the other of them is not in use. There is Badminton two or thrice a week, Country Dancing, Ceilidhs, Meeting of all the local Clubs and Societies from the Junior Agricultural Club to the Scottish Womens Rural Institute, as well as numerous Whist Drives, Sales of Work, Concerts and Dances. There is a small Church Hall which accommodates various organisations in connection with the Church. The large Breadalbane Park in which the McLaren Hall stands was gifted to the village by the late Lord Breadalbane in 1949 to be used as a Public Park and includes a children’s playground with swings etc., a football pitch and extensive ground on which sports, Agricultural Shows etc., are held. A strip of ground adjoining the McLaren Hall was donated by the late Mr. Alfred Morris of Killin Hotel, and on this an excellent Bowling Green has been laid out and two tennis courts. A little out of the Village, at Finlarig there is a well kept nine hole golf course, and in winter, when the weather obliges with frost, there is a curling-pond. All these entertainments and sports cater well for the amusement of young and the not so young, but unfortunately we have no specific industry to provide employment, so that many of our young people must go elsewhere to seek a career and livelihood. Since 1794, when the population of Breadalbane was at its peak and the Parish of Killin contained 2,360 souls, the population has steadily decreased, with large jumps at the time of the Clearances and the agricultural depression of the 1930s, till in 1957 it numbered 1,199. Unless some industry or other means of livelihood can be introduced to arrest this drift there is little doubt that it can only be expected to continue.
Places of Interest
The War Memorial
As one approaches Killin from the West, the first object to catch the eye is the beautifully executed figure of a kilted Highlander. He stands by the roadside, as though guarding the entrance to the village, his rifle slung over his shoulder, his sightless eyes raised to the hills and his ears forever deaf to the murmur of the river behind him – the prototype and memorial of the lads who in 1919 did not return to the river and the hills.
In his younger days the famous Francis Macnab of Macnab is reputed to have courted a lady, and when all other persuasions failed to secure a favourable answer, he said he could promise her the most beautiful Burial Ground in Scotland. The lady does not appear to have been impressed, as Francis died a bachelor, but his claims might be said to be justified. “The Innis Bhuidhe” or Yellow Isle is certainly unique. It is entered by a gate in the east wall of the Dochart Bridge, from which a flight of steps lead down to ground level. The Island is shaded by many beautiful trees, and the turf has a peculiar golden colour which gives it its name. A grassy path leads to the eastern end where the burial-place lies. There in a stone enclosure rest the remains of the Chiefs of this doughty Clan. The gravestones have carving of the most primitive – Francis himself lies under a large stone with a mediaeval knight in armour on it. The oldest gravestone is dated 1574. Outside the Enclosure, “where heaves the turn on many a mouldering heap”, sleep the common members of the clan, and for chiefs and clansmen the Dochart sings an unending requiem. It is an eerie, romantic spot, where one cannot fail to be touched by the finger of time, and the sense of “old unhappy far off things”.
Kinnell House, the home of the Clan Macnab Chief, is the oldest inhabited house in the district, and though comparatively small for a mansion-house, possesses a charming homelike air. Adjoining the west end is the famous Black Hamburgh Vine which was brought from Auchlyne in 1832 and was for a long time the largest in Britain.
The Whooping-Cough Stone
Almost a mile east of Kinnell House in the meadow which slopes down to the Loch, there stands a large boulder holding in its centre a basin-like hollow, so cunningly sheltered by an overhang that the rainwater which collects there never dries up. This water was believed to cure whooping-cough and some of our older people can remember being taken there as children to have their coughs “cured”.
As mentioned earlier this is believed to be situated behind the village not far from the site of the old Celtic Church. The stone which marks it is over three feet in height and five or six in girth, and had lain recumbent for many years until raised to its present position about 1880. It is believed by some local people with a knowledge of the district and its history that the actual site of the Grave was higher up the slope.
Close by the road in the upper reaches of Glenlochay stands a large flat-topped stone known as “Clach-an-Sgadain” or the Herring Stone. In the days of the shielings the people of Lochaber used to journey eastward, and the Killin folk would meet them at the Herring Stone and there an exchange of goods took place, raw flax, butter and cheese for fish.
Fairies and Witches
Most of the tales and folklore of Breadalbane were related and passed on in Gaelic, the ancient tongue of the race, and of course lose much of their character in the translation. Until the turn of the century Gaelic was the household language, though some of the people were bi-lingual, but during the past 50 years it has declined so rapidly that it is rarely heard, and only a small number can speak more than a few words, though an effort is being made to preserve much of the music. It is all too evident that with the passing of the older generation, a rich and precious heritage will have been lost beyond recall. The older generations were firm believers in the existence of fairies, who had their abode in round green knolls known as “sitheanan”. A well-known one of these is at Sith-a-bhruaich in Glendochart, near the farm of Bovain. On one occasion an unwary traveler was lured inside and spent a year and a day with the “wee folk” until a friend learned the magic word which released him from their spell. An old Gaelic rhyme tells that there too the fairies treasure lies hidden “in the place of the trout” – presumably the bed of the River Dochart! There was another supernatural being in whom the inhabitants of Breadalbane had a firm belief – this was the “Uruisk” or “Brownie”, whom the late Mr. James McDiarmid, a native of Breadalbane and an authority on Folk-lore, describes as half-man half-sprite and a rather jolly sort of chap, who always wore a broad blue bonnet. He was supposed to have his home in or near a waterfall or a lonely hill-loch, but he liked to approach human habitations especially at night and had to be appeased by gifts of food, particularly milk or cream, to which he was very partial. He could prove to be very helpful if duly propitiated – the opposite if he considered himself slighted. Families had been known to leave their homes to escape the misfortunes he could bring down on them if they incurred his displeasure! In common with other parts of the Highlands, the belief in witchcraft and the “evil eye” was very prevalent. Certain people were credited with the power of “ill-wishing”, and consequently were treated with great circumspection. This was mostly in connection with stock and a case of a sickly animal or cow failing in her milk yield was often attributed to a “beum suil” as the evil eye was termed in Gaelic. The cure for this was for the cow to be sprinkled with water over which “the living and the dead had passed”, and a prevention was to tie a piece of rowan wood to her tail. The rowan tree was regarded as a protection against evil, hence the fact that one can so frequently be seen leaning over the ruin of a deserted home – a sad commentary on its inefficiency. As recently as the end of last century very bad feeling arose between two farming families when the cattleman on one farm refused to allow the other farmer to enter his byre as he suspected him of the evil eye. A well known witch in our district was the Big Grey Wife of Craigchailleach who lived in the 17th century. She had the second sight and was reputed to use the leg-bone of a sheep or pig through which she looked and saw the future events portrayed. The best known possessor of that doubtful blessing of second sight in Breadalbane was the Lady of Lawers. She was a Stewart of Appin married to a Campbell and came to make her home at Lawers on Loch Tayside, which strictly speaking is outwith our Parish bounds. So many of her prophecies, however, concerned the fate of the Breadalbane Estate that we may be pardoned for claiming a small share of her fame. She lived at the time when the Campbells had almost reached the peak of their power, and her prophecies that in time the estates would come to yield only one rent, and then no rent at all must have seemed at that time so improbable as to be almost ludicrous; but were remembered with awe at the time of their ultimate fulfillment! A prophecy that the quill of the goose would drive memory from man was taken to mean that the written-word would destroy man’s power of memorising. She foresaw “fire coaches” crossing Drumochter, and a strange one, as yet unfulfilled that Ben Lawers would become so cold that it would chill the land for seven miles around. A peculiar-shaped stone lay for a great number of years near the summit of Ben Lawers which had a strange verse carved on it in Gaelic that has been attributed to the Lady. Translated it runs:- “Spend as you get And you’ll get as you spend. Save – and for whom? Remember Death!” Alas, the stone is no longer there and is considered to have been taken away by a souvenir-hunter. Unfortunately the Lady left no prophecy as to the doom that would overtake him who breaks the old Commandment, “Remove not the ancient landmark”. There were also women who were skilled in the use of herbs. Wild celery, “muilceann” in Gaelic, when eaten raw was a good blood purifier, as were boiled nettles when young and tender. Trefoil was used as a cure for rheumatism, dandelion leaves for dyspepsia and chamomile tea as a tonic. A young soldier of the first World War tells how an old woman of the village went up the hill and gathered a quantity of a plant she called “lus Cholluim Chille” or St. Columba’s Plant, and which he thinks was St. John’s Wort, dried it and presented it to him with the advice to use it as a compress if he ever was unlucky enough to be wounded.
Two Folk Tales from Glenlochay
In Glenlochay, about 3 miles from Killin in a clearing in the wood, can be seen the ruins of a cottage, where dwelt a well-known weaver. One Hogmanay he was returning home when whom should he meet but the Devil! Of course he took to his heels and ran for his life in the direction of home, and the Devil after him. Just as he had almost reached the door the Gentleman with the Horns made a snatch at him, but the weaver ducked, the Devil missed and his hand struck a tree and left its print on the trunk, where it was to be seen for many a day and especially many a night, for it shone in the dark! Quite near the weaver’s house there lies a black, sinister-looking pool in the River Lochay, overshadowed by a high cliff and there, we are told, the last bear to be killed in Scotland met his end – at the hands of a housewife! In by-gone days a house stood a little back from the edge of the precipice, and one morning the goodwife was bending over the fire stirring the porridge when she heard a sound, and turning round beheld the bear standing in the door looking hungrily in. With great presence of mind she turned and seized the boiling porridge pot and dashed its contents full in Bruin’s face. With a howl of pain and terror he turned and blundered away. Blinded and in agony he plunged over the precipice and was drowned in the black pool below.
At harvest time the last sheaf to be cut, called the “maiden” was brought into the house, sometimes decorated with ribbons etc., and hung above the fireplace. There it remained until the first furrow of the new season’s ploughing was to be cut. Then it was taken down and fed to the horses before being yoked. On a few farms it was only the coming of the tractor that brought an end to this quaint custom, which probably came down to us from pagan times.
In those far-off days also originated the burning of Beltane Fires by the youth of the village. This continued till about 100 years ago, and the place where these fires were lit is still known as “Cnoc-an-Teine” or the Knoll of the Fire.
Hallowe’en until about fifty years ago celebrated “old style” on the 11th November, was another occasion for “high jinks” on the part of the youth of the village and gave an opportunity of avenging grudges harboured against their elders. Garden gates, ladders, wheel-barrows or other portable articles would be removed – not stolen – but deposited perhaps a couple of miles away in some inaccessible place; a particularly annoying trick was to separate the body and wheels of a cart and trundle the latter away to another farm a mile away and hide them in a clump of bushes.
When a young man chose a bride he invited a friend to go with him in asking for her hand and to help him to arrange about the dowry. If the father was a farmer this would probably consist of a few head of stock. The bride provided her own trousseau and household plenishments such as linen and blankets, but the bridegroom presented her with her wedding shoes or boots! The wedding was always held in the bride’s home and never in Church, and the invited guests frequently contributed towards the feast – fowls, legs of mutton, “kebbucks” of cheese and great bakings of bannocks. The ‘piece de resistance’ was a huge pot of thick broth made with stock and barley without vegetables called in Gaelic “cnotan bainnse” or “marriage broth” and of course there were copious potations of “mountain dew”. The bridegroom’s party would assemble at his home and, headed by a piper, march to the bride’s home. At one time the bridegroom went to his wedding with all the knots and ties on his clothing undone in token that he renounced all former ties. If the weather permitted the ceremony might be performed out of doors and after the feast there would be dancing in the barn till morning. It was the custom to fire a gun in the air for luck after.