BIRSE, a parish, in the district of Kincardine O'Neil, county of Aberdeen, 2½ miles (E. S. E.) from Aboyne; containing 1295 inhabitants. This place was formerly called Press, a word of Gaelic origin, signifying a wood or thicket, and most probably used in reference to the extensive forest and woods in the district. The parish is situated at the south-eastern extremity of the county, and approaches in form to a square, varying in length from eight to ten miles, and in breadth from six to nine or ten miles. It comprises upwards of 40,000 acres, of which about 3360 are cultivated, nearly 4000 in wood and plantations, and the remainder wet and rocky, a large part of which is too rugged to be brought under the plough. The surface consists of hills and mountains, with three valleys stretching eastward. The valley on the south is the largest; and though narrow, bleak, and wild at its western extremity, where it is called the forest of Birse, about five miles further it begins to expand, and continues to improve in its scenery from this point to its termination in Kincardineshire, at the union of the Feugh with the Dee, near the village of Banchory. The former of these two rivers waters the valley, and much adorns the rich and beautiful scenery in the midst of which the stream takes its departure from the parish. The valley called Glen-Chatt is smaller than the former, and is watered by the Cattie burn. The third strath forms a portion of the vale of the Dee, but is divided into two parts by the burn of Birse: it is ornamented in its centre by the church and manse. The Grampians constitute a marked barrier on the southern limit of the parish, and one part of the range, called Mount Geanach, rises there to a very conspicuous height, and gives to the locality a wild, and in some parts a romantic, appearance. On the south-eastern boundary runs the river Aven, a tributary of the Feugh; while the Dee flows along the northern boundary, and unites with the peculiar features of that portion of the parish to render its scenery most attractive. The moors abound with grouse and a great variety of wild-fowl, and the rivers and mountain streams with trout; the Dee has also salmon, grilse, eel, and pike, and the lovers of angling find here every facility for their favourite amusement.
The soil is a light loam, in many parts rather gravelly, and takes its leading character from its mixtures of decomposed granite and sand, which are sometimes clayey. Oats and barley are the usual grain cultivated; and potatoes and turnips, with grass for pasture and hay, also form a considerable part of the produce. The sheep are the black-faced; the cattle are much mixed, and in general small and of inferior quality, but the kind which most prevails is the Aberdeenshire polled and horned. The state of husbandry is backward, compared with the better cultivated districts of the south, but has been improved within the last twenty or thirty years, the rotation of crops having been introduced, with a few other modern usages. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4106. The rocks comprise granite, a blue stone called heathen stone, and limestone, of which last there are two or three quarries in operation, the produce being generally used for agricultural purposes; the granite is found in large blocks, scattered on or near the surface, and is used for building, without the trouble and expense of quarrying. A fine specimen of red porphyry is found in the river Dee at the Bridge of Potarch.
The mansion of Finzean, in the south-east of the parish, and in the vale of the river Feugh, is an ancient structure, built in the form of three sides of a square. That of Ballogie, situated in the valley of Glen-Chatt, is a neat and comfortable residence, partly ancient and partly modern, and, like the former, surrounded with well laid-out grounds and thriving plantations. The male population are chiefly engaged in husbandry, and many of the females during winter in knitting worsted stockings, for which most of the wool produced here is purchased. A suspension-bridge over the Dee, on the west, was built by the Earl of Aboyne in 1828, and rebuilt in 1830 in consequence of its destruction by flood; a communication is thus opened with the north, and another bridge over the Dee, called the Bridge of Potarch, built in 1813, forms part of the road from Brechin to Huntly and Inverness, over the Cairn o' Mount and Grampians. The turnpike-road on the south side of the Dee, from Aberdeen to Braemar, also opens up an important means of intercourse. Four fairs are held at Bridge of Potarch in April, May, October, and November, for cattle, sheep, horses, coarse linen, sacking, &c.; that in October being the principal.
Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Kincardine O'Neil, synod of Aberdeen, and in the patronage of the Crown: the minister's stipend is £158. 7. 4., a portion of which is received from the exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe of four acres. The church, inconveniently situated in the north-western part of the parish, is a neat substantial edifice, erected in 1779, and capable of accommodating between 500 and 600 persons. There is a Roman Catholic chapel near Ballogie. The parochial school affords instruction in the usual branches; the master has a salary of £28, with a house, £6. 10. fees, and an allowance from the Dick bequest. Another school is supported by money derived from the fund of Dr. Gilbert Ramsay, who was rector of Christ-church, Barbadoes, and left £500 for the endowment of a free school in this, his native parish, £500 to the poor, and a sum for the erection of a bridge over the Feugh. A religious library was established in 1829, and a savings' bank in 1837. The chief relic of antiquity is a castellated ruin called "the Forest", said to have been erected by Bishop Gordon of Aberdeen for a hunting seat.
Online maps of Birse are available from a number of sites:
- Bing (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- Google Streetview.
- National Library of Scotland. (Old maps)
- old-maps.co.uk (Old Ordnance Survey maps to buy).
- Streetmap.co.uk (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- A Vision of Britain through Time. (Old maps)