MORTLACH

CASTLE OF AUCHINDOUN

ln our former ramble at Auchindoun, we stopped at the account given of the burning of the castle, in two different popular ballads. The first one, of which only a fragment has been preserved, is very old, and very probably gave a pretty accurate account of the whole trans­action; the other’ is entirely a modern composition, founded upon a tradition that was prevalent in the dis­trict. It was written by the lamented Dr Gordon of Keith whose melancholy fate at the Lynn of Keith, was so much deplored. The state of society and manner of life at this ancient stronghold was, however, feebly repre­sented by these metrical histories, for the now peaceful and desolate ruin that rears its bleak and crumbling walls upon yonder isolated peak, seems during the whole of the 16th century to have been nothing else than a mili­tary garrison, where the Gordons of Auchindoun alternately retreated to defend themselves against their enemies or issued from it with all the ferocity of the times to join in the rebellions and forays of that turbulent era. We have already said in a former paper, that the military genius of Adam Gordon of Auchindoun reduced the whole of the north of Scotland to the authority of Queen Mary, and in his zeal to maintain his position as deputy-lieutenant. He often inflicted most cruel wrongs upon those who were opposed to her practices or rule; and in a few years later, when misfortunes fell thick and fast upon the unfortunate Queen, when her son had assumed the reins of Government, and by conceding too much to the Church, left the lands and persons of even those whom he wished to befriend, at the mercy of over-zealous and bloodthirsty divines, the evils which the Gordons in­flicted upon their neighbours in the north, were in a large measure returned upon their own heads—and Auchindoun, from being the seat of the most potent gentlemen of the north, and the place where the delegate of Royalty issued his mandates, was turned into the fortress of a rebel, who lay under the ban of both Church and State.

            When the celebrated Spanish conspiracy was discovered in 1592, by the arrestment of George Kerr, the bearer of the treasonable despatches, the name of the Laird of Auchindoun was among those of the other Popish gentlemen who had affixed their signs and seals to the “blank sheets” which were to be filled up and given to the King of Spain, inviting him to land thirty thousand men on the west coast of Scotland, where he was to be joined by the Roman Catholic lords with all the forces they could muster- and he was one of those specially selected and pointed out to the King by the Protestant barons and leading divines to be apprehended, declared a traitor, and his lands forfeited. The King, however, looked with less alarm upon this formidable conspiracy than the great body of the Protestant party, and was not over well-pleased with them for their forward interference with what he considered his own prerogative. He was par­ticularly angry at the bloodthirsty spirit of the Pro­testant clergymen, and though he issued a proclamation in which he expressed his determination to bring the culprits to trial, and called upon all ranks of his subjects to be ready with arms in their hands to support him when required, there is reason to believe that he had no serious intention of proceeding against the traitors, far­ther than he should feel absolutely necessary to do in deference to public opinion. But the Protestant barons believing the King to be sincere, offered to raise three thousand horse and one hundred foot, and the offer being accepted, “the whole force was commanded to meet the King at Aberdeen, on the 25th February, in order to proceed against the traitors Huntly, Errol, and Auchindoun, if they should fail to deliver themselves up, as they had been previously charged to do, by the 5tlh of the same month.” While these preparations were going on, Auchindoun, like his confederates, was busy strength­ening the defences of his castle, and preparing for a siege; but on the arrival of the King at Aberdeen, with the large force at his command, he deemed it more prudent to flee along with Huntly and Errol to the mountains, and like them leave the keys of his castle with his lady, to he delivered over to the King in token of submission, when he should arrive to demand his surrender. This policy suited the designs of the King remarkably well, and he accordingly treated the ladies with courtesy, and placing garrisons in the castles, left the Earl of Athol as his lieutenant beyond the Spey. The lands of Auchindoun, like that of the other lords, were confiscated, or rather were pretended to be confiscated, for as Lord Burgh expressed it, it was but a “dissembled confisca­tion,” and the barony of Auchindoun, though ostensibly under the management of the Earl of Athol, who was living at Balvenie, was only held in trust for the Knight of Auchindoun, until the popular outcry should suffi­ciently subside to allow him again to take possession.

But this was not likely soon to take place; for the ministers of the church and several members of the King’s Council, more than suspicious that the king intended to deprive them of the pleasure of slaughtering their Popish enemies, took every measure in their power to ensure their destruction. They passed an act in Council pro­hibiting any persons from interceding with the king in their behalf, and administered an oath to his domestic servants to the same effect; but after all, by the dexter­ous policy of the king, “it was declared and ordained that William, Earl of Angus, George, Earl of Huntly, Francis, Earl of Errol, Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindown, and Sir James Chisholm of Carnelix, knights, hav­ing been suspected and called before the late Parliament for treasonable crimes, upon occasion of blanks and letters intercepted concerning trafficking with strangers tor troubling of the true religion and liberty of the realm, shall be free and unaccusable in time coming of the said crime, and all processes thereanent to be abolished, delete, and extinct, and remain in oblivion forever.” He was unable, however, to prevent the passing of the famous Act of Abolition—which, to the everlasting disgrace of the Presbyterian clergymen of the period, was deemed too bloodless and lenient: and not only those concerned in the Spanish plot, but every one re­fusing to profess the reformed religion, were commanded to “ depart forth of the realm to such parts beyond seas as his Majesty shall please and be contented with, be­twixt and the next day of February next to come, and there remain.” This tyrannical and disgraceful act, which, if obeyed, would have depopulated a large proportion of the north of Scotland, and Auchindoun altogether, was disregarded by the Catholic lords, who, con­fident in their strength and the secret favour of the king, again resumed their Spanish intrigues. Their case was again, however, brought up before Parliament, and Huntly, Angus, Errol, Auchindoun, and all concerned in the “Spanish blanks”, were declared guilty of high treason. Their estates and honours were forfeited, and their banners ordered to be torn at the public market-place. A commission was also given to the youthful Earl of Argyle, who was the declared enemy of the three Earls, to enter and lay waste their territory and pursue them with fire and sword. Agreeably to his commission, Argyle took the fields with a large army, and proceeding by Badenoch, arrived at Drumin in Glenlivat on the 2d October, 1594, where he proposed to await the arrival of Lord Forbes with a reinforcement of horsemen. On the following day, however, Huntly, Errol, and Sir Patrick Cordon having assembled their forces, marched from Auchindoun to give them little battle, and succeeded in com­pletely routing the youthful Earl at Altahulichan in Glenlivat. The van of the Popish army was led by Errol and Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun, the latter of whom became entangled in a morass, and lost a great many of his men in the attack; but on extricating himself and the survivors of his band, his great stature rendered him a conspicuous object for the Highland marksmen, and he fell from his horse, pierced by a bullet, and was instantly despatched by the Highlanders, who, cutting off his head, carried aloft in triumph the bloody trophy. Though the assailants were victorious in this conflict, they were reduced to extremities and their castles destroyed by the subsequent advance of the king, and Auchindoun was only saved from sharing the same fate as the rest by the low state of the king’s exchequer, who obliged him to retire after he had blown up the greater part of Huntly Castle it would be fruitless, however, to follow the Lairds of Auchindoun farther in this ramble. Suffice it to say that their near connection with the Earls of Huntly almost always involved them in the same triumphs and defeats as the reigning head of the clan; and whether Huntly divided the spoils of his triumphs with the knight of Auchindoun, the latter was almost certain to suffer spoliation at the same hands as that of his more noble kinsman. For example, Spal­ding tells us that “the Marquis of Huntly being absent himself in England, Marischall sends to his good-dame’s sister, the Marchioness of Huntly, to render the keys of Strathboggie, herself dwelling in the Bog, whilk she wil­lingly obeyed; then they fell to meddle with the meal girnels, whereof there was store within that place, took in the office-houses, began shortly to bake, brew, and make ready good cheer, and when they wanted, took in beef, mutton, hen, capon, and such like, out of Glenfiddich and Auchendown, where the country people had transported their bestial and store, of purpose out of the way from the bounds of Strathboggie.” We may fur­ther quote from the same author another passage Con­nected with Auchindoun, which illustrates forcibly the state of the times:—“ In the meantime, a notable limmar, seeing the world go so, brake loose, called also John Dugar, an Highland rogue, and fell to in his sort of plun­dering likewise: he stole, reft, and spoilzied, out of the sheriffdom of Murray, a great number of country people’s horse, nolt, kine, and sheep, and brought them without rescue to the fields of Auchendown, where he was feed­ing them peaceably. Monro hearing of this, sends out riek-master Forbes, with good horsemen and twenty-four musketeers, to bring back thir goods out of Auchendown frae this robber thereof; but John Dugar stoutly bade them, and defended his prey manfully. Monro then commanded them to charge them on horseback, whilk also they bade, till they shot all their guns, syne fled all away, and Forbes followed no more, but returned back, whereat Monro was angry, seeing he did not follow and take those limmars. He answered, it was not riding- ground. The laird of Auchendown being within the place with about four hundred of his friends and others, who fled to the samen as a stronghold for refuge, seeing this pell-mell betwixt John Dugar and thir soldiers, issued out of the place about sixteen horse, and set upon riek-master Forbes, betwixt whom was some bickering without great scaith. Monro with more number of men comes forward to this guise, and Auchendown was forced to flee back to the place with no scaith. Monro pursued not the house, finding it difficult to conquest, but shortly fell to plundering, and out of thir bounds took Dugar’s goods and others, above two thousand five hundred horse, nolt, and kine, with a great number of sheep, and brought them with him to Strathboggie, and were sold by the soldiers to the owners back again for a merk the sheep, and a dollar the nolt, but still kept the horse unsold. Shortly thereafter the place of Auchendown was willingly rendered, the men within left the same desolate, and the keys were delivered to Monro. Forbes took for his part of this spoilzie about sixty head of nolt, and sent them to be fed upon the bounds of Dyce, his good-brother’s lands. Monro hearing of this, compelled him to bring back the same nolt frae Dyce to Strathboggie, and to sell them to the owners with the rest, and thereafter worthily eashiered him for his feeble service in not following Dugar more closely than he did.”

Among the rubbish dug up a good many years ago of the ruins of this castle, were found several articles of value. Among them was a massive gold chain of three links, on which was inscribed a motto, which, from being only possible to read in one direction, is supposed to have been a family relic containing the pass-word of the Gordons of Auchindoun.

Leaving the castle of Auchindoun, and holding still up the glen of Fiddich, we soon arrive at the porter lodge of Bridgehaugh, where the road enters the forest of Glenfiddich. Before, however, entering this well-known shooting ground, we may take a run for a mile or so to the other side of the stream, to the Glack of the Ballach, celebrated in Mrs Grant’s popular song of “Roy’s Wife of Aldivalloch.” This is one of the most remark­able passes in the north. The road, after rising by a succession of windings to a considerable altitude up the side of a bare, heath-covered hill, suddenly takes a turn and pierces through it by a deep and narrow gully, the sides of which rise almost perpendicularly, and envelope the pass with a perpetual gloom. It is by this pass that the inhabitants of the Cabrach come to Mortlach; and from the extreme solitariness of the place, many a Cabrach lass, as well as the wife of Aldivalloch, “has vowed and sworn to her Johnny that she loe’d him best o’ ony;” but as we intend at some other day to make ourselves better acquainted with this pass, and the country beyond it, we shall return to the gate of Bridgehaugh, and prose­cute our ramble to

GLENFIDDICH.

Here the hills that enclose the glen so nearly meet that the lodge, or gamekeeper’s house, with the road on the one side and the stream on the other, almost entirely! fill up the opening. Entering the open gate, we pass along the road, which skirts for two or three miles the windings of the stream. On each side the hills rise abruptly, and at short distances from each other, shutting up the view entirely to their own rounded summits and the vault of heaven. Trees of natural growth, and appa­rently old, though stunted, are pretty abundant, and delightfully scattered along the declivities. The hills are covered alternately with green sward and blooming heather, save where the rainy torrents have tom up the soil or where an ancient tree that had braved the storm of many a winter, has at last yielded to the blast, and been torn from its roots, and left to rot and die by the very spot where it drew its life and support. Above and around us, birds of every kind and plumage are warbling their notes, beneath the stream murmurs over its pebbly bed, and past us the gentle breeze is wafting the sweet perfume of the heath and wild flower of the mountain; while far off, in the corries and sheltered places of the hills, the roe and red deer are browsing, or rearing the “antlered fronts” to snuff the “tainted air,” while we are only approaching them from afar. Onward we travelled through the delightful glen, every turn giving us fresh cause for admiration, until we reached the lodge. It is a low house, something in the cottage form, consisting of two long wings that lie at right angles to each other; and though neat and com­fortable like, and possessing large accommodation, has nothing particularly striking about it. It is situated in one of the deepest recesses of the glen. On one side the hill rises almost perpendicularly to the height of several hundred feet, and on the other to about the same, though the elevation is more gradually attained. Our thoughts, after the first feeling of admiration had some­ what subsided, was to think of it as a winter residence. Just now, when the heath is in bloom, when the trees are in foliage, when the balmy air Is laden with the sweets of a thousand perfumes, it is such a spot as man might fly to from the machinations of society, to hold communion with the calm but stirring mysteries of nature; but in winter, when the wind bellows over the inter­minable mountain tops, and sweeps in whirlwinds through the glen —when the frost dries up the rivulets, and the snow dams up every avenue that leads to human habita­tion—what a dreary lot must the two or three domestics who live here experience! Beyond the lodge, as hinted above, there seems to be an endless succession of hills; but as our time was limited, we did not prosecute the journey through. We believe had we done so, we would have found still wilder scenery, and more desolate glens, and may before long find leisure to explore them.