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Crathie and Braemar, Aberdeenshire

Historical Description

CRATHIE and BRAEMAR, a parish, in the district of KINCARDINE O'NEIL, county of ABERDEEN, Crathie being 22 miles and Braemar 32 miles (W. by S.) from Kincardine O'Neil; and the whole containing 1712 inhabitants. The word Crathie is supposed to be of Gaelic origin, and derived from the words crag and tir or thir, which signify "stony or rocky land," and are descriptive of the general appearance of the surface. The ancient parish of Braemar (a name expressive of the highest land in the three districts, Buchan, Garioch, and Mar, into which the county was once distributed) was in early times called St. Andrew's, and subsequently Bridgend, the latter name in consequence of a bridge having been built over the Cluney at Castletown by Malcolm-Ceann-Mor, who had a hunting-seat here. It received its present designation towards the end of the reign of Mary, when the lands about Castletown became the property of the Earl of Mar; but at what time it was united to Crathie is uncertain. The united parish extends about forty miles in length and twenty in breadth, and is situated in the heart of the Grampian range. The principal part was in ancient times covered with wood; it was included in the great Caledonian forest, and has always been celebrated for its abundance of superior timber, and the number of fine deer which traverse it. This district was the rendezvous of the inhabitants of the country in the time of the Romans, and afterwards a stronghold of the Highland clans. On the lands of Monaltry, on the north bank of the river Dee, in a narrow pass, is Carn-na-Cuimhne, "the cairn of remembrance", so named on account of the chieftains, in times of danger, marching with their followers through the pass, and causing each man to lay down a stone, by which they might ascertain, on their return, how many had followed them to battle, and what number had been lost in the conflict. The castle of Braemar was built as a seat of the ancient Earls of Mar, but was subsequently used as a garrison to keep in awe the lawless chieftains, and in 1748 was let to government for barracks, the great military road from Blairgowrie to Fort-George and Aberdeen passing through the district, close by Carn-na-Cuimhne. In the vale of the Dee, near the castle, the Earl of Mar, in 1715, first erected the standard of the Pretender, as noticed in the article on Castletown.

The PARISH comprises 199,658 acres, of which, in comparison with the extent of the district, but few are under cultivation, between 10,000 and 11,000 are occupied by wood, natural and planted, and the remainder is arable land, hill pasture, mountains, and moor. The scenery of the whole is highly diversified, and can scarcely, for grandeur and sublimity, be surpassed by any in the county. Braemar, which is especially mountainous, and the forests of which are well stocked with deer and game, is said to be the highest land above the sea in all Scotland, and the furthest removed in every direction from the coast. The principal lochs are those of Callader and Bhrodichan, in the midst of hills on the estate of Invercauld; the former contains salmon, and the latter red trout. The Dee, which rises in the mountain of Breriach, from a well or fountain 4060 feet above the level of the sea, flows through the parish in a serpentine course, augmented by numerous tributaries, and displays several beautiful cascades, especially one called the Linn of Dee. It falls into the German Ocean after a course of more than ninety miles from its source, at Aberdeen, where it forms the harbour of that city. There are also cascades, which are much admired, on the Quoich, the burn of Corymulzie, and the Garrobhalt: that at Corymulzie is particularly striking. The most lofty mountain is Ben-Macdhui or Bennamnickduidh, rising to an elevation of 4390 feet, and which, by a recent survey, has been found to be twenty feet higher than Ben-Nevis, previously reputed the highest mountain in Britain. Cairntoul and Bennabuird are respectively 4220 and 3940 feet above the sea, and, with Bennamnickduidh, are the principal elevations, all situated on the north-west boundaries of Braemar: Lochnagar, on the south-eastern side of the parish, rises 3815 feet. These imposing mountains, covered to a great extent with wood of almost every kind and hue, and exhibiting in many places their boldly-shelving cliffs, with the grassy plains and winding streams ornamenting the lower grounds, form a rich assemblage of natural beauties which can scarcely fail to charm the tourist.

The SOIL in some places is shallow and sandy, and in others loamy and dry, incumbent on clay or gravel. Oats and bear are raised, and the green crops comprise turnips, potatoes, peas, and hay. Live stock is much attended to; the black-faced sheep and small black-cattle are the prevailing breeds, and the large quantity of hill pasture attached to each farm affords a fine range for their support. Agriculture has much advanced within these few years; and among other improvements, many stone dykes have been constructed as inclosures, and several secure embankments have been raised against the overflowings of the river Dee. The rocks, which are covered with a thin mossy soil of dark hue, are chiefly pure granite, of different colours, and of so close and firm a texture that, when highly polished, it resembles marble. Limestone is also abundant in the district, masses of which protrude in many places; and there is a species of very hard flinty stone or rock found, which is supposed to contain a portion of iron-ore. The proprietors of the parish are, the Earl of Fife; the Farquharson family, of Invercauld, and the Gordon family, of Abergeldie. The annual value of real property in the parish is £6600. The natural wood consists principally of Scotch fir, birch, mountain-ash, poplar, and alder; the plantations contain the various firs, but chiefly larch, which is of quick growth, and is much esteemed as a substitute, in many cases, for hard-wood, to the growth of which the climate is not suited. Some of the firs in the forest of Mar are supposed to be between 300 and 400 years old, and exhibit specimens rarely, if ever, equalled in any other part of Britain.

The mansion of Invercauld is situated in the noble valley of the Dee, in the midst of some of the grandest scenery in the Highlands: in front of it is a spacious lawn, formed of the eastern extremity of the haughs of Castletown, and behind the mansion rises a finely-wooded mountain. Within the parish are also the seats of Balmoral and Abergeldie in Crathie, and Mar Lodge and Corymulzie in Braemar. Of these, BALMORAL forms the Highland residence of Her Majesty the Queen, the reversion of the lease formerly held by the late Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Gordon having been purchased by His Royal Highness Prince Albert in 1848. The first royal visit was paid in the month of September of that year: Her Majesty and the Prince, the Prince of Wales, Prince Alfred, and the Princess Royal, arrived here with their attendants from Aberdeen on the 8th of September, and quitted Balmoral on the 28th for Montrose, thence proceeding by railway to London, where they arrived on the 1st of October. A second visit was paid the next year: after their visit to Ireland, the royal family, consisting of Her Majesty, the Prince, and four of the royal children, proceeded by way of Glasgow and Perth, to Balmoral, where they arrived on the 15th of August, and remained until the 27th of September. Since the first visit the house had been much improved, and the pleasure-grounds newly laid out. A third royal visit was paid in the year 1850. The neighbourhood of this royal retreat presents some of the most majestic natural features in the whole country. Here the south bank of the Dee forms a fine peninsula and verdant lawn, encircled by a belting of luxuriant birch-trees. The foreground is occupied by the slope of Craigoun, a hill that rises from the valley, by a gentle acclivity, to the height of 1000 feet above the level of the sea, The face of the hill is covered with wood, and forms part of the forest of Mar. Over the left shoulder, when seen from the north side of the river, appears the summit of "dark Lochnagar", a mountain celebrated for its "steep frowning glories"; while a noble range of heath-clad mountains, disposed in a curve within a radius of ten miles, constitute a background grand in the extreme. In the centre of the peninsula, within this magnificent amphitheatre, and just at the base of Craigoun, stands the castle of Balmoral. Abergeldie Castle has been taken for a term by H.R.H. The Duchess of Kent. Mar Lodge forms the shooting-quarters of the Duke of Leeds: opposite to it, on the south side of the valley, is a hill called Craig Nich, a term said to signify "the rock or hill of the eagles". Corymulzie, situated about a mile from Mar Lodge, is another Highland retreat, and, for quiet loveliness, has no equal on all Deeside: it is the shooting-box of General Sir Alexander Duff. The parish contains the villages of Castletown and Auchindryne, both in the Braemar district, and at the former place, which is the more important, three annual fairs are held, two of them principally for cattle, and the other for sheep and cattle: an annual fair is also held at Clachnaturn, in Crathie. There are two excellent inns in Braemar, where post-horses are kept; and also a daily post from Aberdeen. Messrs. Begg have a distillery for whisky in the parish, called the Lochnagar distillery.

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 £233. 10., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £8 per annum. The church, built in 1806, stands on a foundation hewn out of a rocky terrace, which juts out at the base of Craigoun, on the north side of the new Deeside road. It is a plain structure, of no pretensions in point of architecture, but commands a very fine view of the valley of the Dee. Nearly opposite, only a little to the west, the river makes a noble sweep round a fair and spacious haugh, on which stands the castle of Balmoral, surrounded by ancient and stately trees. The sacred building contains 1400 sittings. An ordained missionary regularly officiates at Castletown, and there is a Roman Catholic chapel at the same village; also a place of worship for members of the Free Church in the parish. The parochial school affords instruction in the usual branches; the master has a salary of £26, with a house and garden, and £8 fees. There are two schools for boys, and three for girls, supported by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; a school is supported also by the General Assembly, and two schools are kept in Braemar, during the winter, by the Roman Catholics. A friendly society was established in 1815, and remodelled in 1830, under the title of the Braemar Highland Society: its annual meeting is held in August, when many gentlemen attend; and its funds are appropriated partly to the relief of sick and aged members, and the purchase of annuities for widows and orphans, and partly to the encouragement of ancient games. A savings' bank was instituted in 1816, and has now a capital of upwards of £2000. The ruins of the castle built by Malcolm-Ceann-Mor are still standing.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis