Glass Remembered … From “The Story of the River Deveron”

GLASS – Copied From THE STORY OF THE RIVER DEVERON (from Source to Sea) by W. MacGillivray, F.S.A. (Scot)

The name is said to be derived from a Gaelic word meaning “dark green”, but Professor Watson also derives Glass from “glais” a stream, or rivulet, as occurring in many names throughout Scotland and elsewhere.  A local authority says that Glass is undoubtedly descriptive of the grassy hills in the parish.  In Irish Gaelic it means green hence, the Emerald Isle.  In Scottish Gaelic it means rather grey or wan, that is the colour of our natural grass.

The scenery of the Deveron as it enters the parish at Linnburn has been described as typical of many other river valleys: green, rolling hills, their slopes plentifully dotted over with farms, the river swift and clear, as uplard rivers are, now rolling over rocks, now widening into some deep pool beloved of the angler, and the white road winding along the hillsides above.  The valley of the river as it quits the Cabrach has sunk to 800 feet above sea level.  The rapid river, with a north north-easterly direction, runs its course along a deep, narrow vale of nearly eight miles through the parish.

The prevailing geological formation along the valley and lower hillsides is syenite; but the rocks are mainly Silurian, greywacks, clay-slate and quartz, with veins of crystalline limestone.  The prevailing soil is a fertile, yellow loam, incumbent on gravel throughout the lower grounds, but poor and lighter over all the uplands.

The river, soon after entering Glass, flows through the estate of Beldorney.  According to Professor Watson, the name, Baile Dornaigh, means the pebbly town, or place.  The house of Beldorney was, on the same authority, the married home of the Gaelic poetess, Silis MacDonald of Keppoch.  This house was yet another of the numerous possessions of the different branches of the Gordon family.  The founder of this branch was Mr George Gordon, a natural son of Adam, Dean of Caithness, son of Alexander, First Earl of Huntly.  He build the house of Beldorney and his descendants lived there.

John Gordon of Beldorney fought at Culloden.  It is reported that his widowed mother occupied Beldorney Castle, and, shortly after Culloden, a man was employed to build dry-stone dykes on the estate.  This man must have been employed for some time, for the number of dykes erected by him was considerable; he was also inexperienced, for the dykes were not very well built.  One day he disappeared as suddenly as he came, and it subsequently turned out that he was none other than John Gordon of Beldorney, whose hurried departure was probably due to his identity becoming known to the authorities.

The next place of interest, where the valley widens somewhat, making a beautiful haugh, is the well-known Wallakirk Churchyard, close to the river.  Many Cabrach and Glass people are buried here, including Principal Geddes of Aberdeen University; Lady Bridge, widow of Sir Frederick Bridge, organist of Westminster Abbey, who resided for a time in Glass; and the Wardhouse family, interred in an enclosed vault in the centre.

The name is derived from St Wallach, or Wollok, said to have been the first Bishop in the diocese.  He is believed to have lived about the eighth century.  He is said to have lived the life of a hermit, though he also travelled through the country preaching and teaching.

Near the Kirk, according to one authority, is St Wallach’s Well, much frequented by sick folk.  The well was supposed to be useful in curing afflictions of the eyes, while St Wallach’s Baths, alongside the river, were specially good for weakly children who were immersed therein on the first of May by their superstitious mothers, who also hung garments on the bushes surrounding them.  But in 1748 the Presbytery of Strathbogie, meeting at Glass, ordained to restrain burials in the Kirk, and to censure all superstition at Wallakirk.

With regard to the place of St Wallach among the early Celtic missionaries, Dr Douglas Simpson, in “The Origins of Christianity in Aberdeenshire”, remarks: “It can be demonstrated that much of the credit commonly awarded to Columba and the Scotic school of Iona is rightly due to Ninian and his Britonic missionaries and successors from Strathclyde, a full century and a half before Columba set foot upon the pebbly beach of Iona.  St Wallach, ‘the foreigner’, was one of the last evangelists to be sent out to our district from St Ninian’s monastery at Whithorn, otherwise Candida Casa”.

In the Breviary of Aberdeen there is preserved an interesting account of St Wallach’s mode of life, with a highly unflattering picture of the inhabitants of Aberdeenshire at the dawn of the eighth century.  He preferred a poor little house, we are told, woven together of reeds and wattles, to a royal palace.  In this he led a life of poverty and humility, on all sides shunning the dignities of the world that he might achieve to himself a higher reward in heaven, and for eternal guerdon, receive a perpetual crown.  But the race whom he preferred to convert to the path of Christ, and whom actually by his preaching and exhortation he did convert, no one would hesitate to describe as fierce, untamed, void of decency of manners and virtue, and incapable of easily listening to the word of truth, and their conversation was rather that of the brutes that perish than of men.  For they had neither altar nor temple, nor any oratory in which they might return thanks to their Creator, and, as they believed not that Christ had been born, so they had neither knowledge nor faith, but, like brute animals given to eating, sleeping and gorging, they finished their lives in the blindness of unbelief, asserting that there was no eternal punishment for sins to be inflicted on the unjust.

The churchyard of Wallakirk has been well described by Principal Geddes as “one of the most pleasing spots in respect of situation and surroundings and old associations that northern Scotland can show.”  Above we can discern the frowning crags of the Succoth, and, over both kirkyard and glen, there seems to brood a spirit of pastoral, or rather Ossianic, melancholy: for the spot lies secluded among the alders and hazels, fringing a fine reach of the Deveron, which murmurs or gurgles sweetly along as if joyous at having escaped from the dark gorge beneath the Castle of Beldorney.  The place is thus one of quiet peace in a lonely glen, with memories stretching back into the early Celtic times.

An interesting story of Walla Kirk is related as follows: Away in the sequestered and ancient burying place of Walla Kirk, within sight and sound of the waters of the upper Deveron, there is a tombstone that puts on record the gallant deed of a Gauld of Glass, who, at an engagement in the Peninsular War, with Gordon companions, leaped into the deep swirling stream of the Tagus, swam to the other side under a shower of hostile bullets, and brought back boats by means of which the success of the enterprise that was on hand was made complete.  The gallantry of Private James Gauld on this occasion was later brought to the notice of the War Office by the Duke of Gordon, and he received a pension for the rest of his life.  His family held the farm of Edinglassie, and were a branch of the famous fighting family known as the old Gaulds of Glass, in which parish James’ descendants still live.

The old Castle of Beldorney, according to a local authority, stands on a wooded knoll on the western bank of the Deveron.  It is a place of great interest, as well as of great beauty, for at this point the wild rocky scenery is almost unequalled in the whole run of the Deveron.  It was just below the Castle that the immortal St Wallach lived and laboured in the early centuries.  Beneath the falls of Brockness there is a natural rocky enclosure which still bears the name of St Wallach’s Bath.  Then, a little below the Bath, is the old romantic kirkyard which also bears the Saint’s name, and in which in many ages the rude forefathers and the lordly barons have slumbered together.  From Walla Kirk the river flows in a comparatively level stretch till it turns at right angles towards Edinglassie, immediately below the former Free Church Manse which on high ground, commands one of the most beautiful prospects of the river valley.

Following the river we come to Edinglassie shooting lodge, beautifully situated amidst its embowering trees. Alongside the river, at a little distance, is the farm of Edinglassie.  At one time, it had the dignity of a castle, and, in 1680, was occupied by Sir George Gordon, Joint Sheriff Principal of the County.  In that year the battle of the Haughs of Cromdale was fought, and some of the Highlanders, on their way from Strathspey to Strathbogie, burned the Castle.  On the return of the clans a few weeks later, Gordon had his revenge, for, seizing eighteen of the Highlanders, he hung them on the trees in his garden.  They were afterwards buried on the moor and the spot is still known as “The Hielanman’s Mossie.”

At no great distance from Edinglassie is Glenmarkie shooting lodge, and, not far from the left bank of the river, is the home of the late Mr Geddes, a native of the parish, who build Blairmore Castle, which is finely situated on the top of a wooded hill and occupies a central place in the valley.

Mr Geddes was a member of a distinguished family which included Sir William Geddes, Principal of Aberdeen University.  He had a remarkably successful career as a business man in America, and, on his return to this country, he became the owner of the greater part of his native parish.  He carried out extensive improvements on his estate.  To his life and work the following tribute has been paid by one well qualified: – “Alexander Geddes was a great Scotsman.  All his successful career never affected his genial bonhomie and his plainness and frankness.  The inscription on the grave of the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral is; ‘Si monumentum requires, circumspice’; and if regard be had to the bountiful change he wrought on the physical appearance of the parish of Glass, which he loved so greatly, altering as he has done bare hillsides to lovely wooded straths, and introducing to this upland parish some of the latest features of scientific attainment, then such an inscription would be applicable in the case of Alexander Geddes.”

Adjoining Blairmore Castle, St Andrew’s Church and manse look out on the river.  As a parish church, St Andrew’s was comparatively recently enlarged and improved.  With a number of fine glass-stained windows the church is now one of the best appointed along the whole course of the river.

Below Blairmore Castle the river valley broadens out into a comparatively wide, fertile strath, with a fine prospect stretching towards Huntly.  The beauty of the river now flowing peacefully along, is enhanced by the wooded hills and the well tilled farms.

One of the farms, close to the right bank of the river, is Asswanley, six miles from Huntly, the farm building sheltered by fine old trees.  Here lived Elizabeth Cruickshank, the mother of “Jock” and “Tam” Gordon, on the question of whose legitimacy authorities are divided.  It was also the residence of Hutcheon Calder, who stole the sup from the Earl of Crawford as related in a history of the Gordons, published in 1754.  The story is as follows;

“There was one, Hutheon Calder, in company with Huntly when he went to the battle of Brichen against the Earl of Crawford, who, by his cunning and courage, got into the camp of Earl Beardy, otherwise the Tiger, and likewise into his tent, who, after supper, brought away the said Earl’s drinking cup (which cup Calder of Asswanley keeps to this day) being a large silver cup, overlaid with gold, holding a Scots pint and two gills, of fine engraven and carved work, and, with a cape in which there is an inscription, which is now lost: wherewith, returning to the camp in the silence of the night, he gave account to Huntly of the situation of Earl Beardy’s camp and number of forces, and, as a testimony of his being there, produced the said cup: upon which intelligence they attacked Crawford in the morning and defeated his forces, for which service the said Hutcheon Calder, obtained the lands of Asswanley, whose posterity possess it to this day.  The Earl of Crawford was the terrible Earl Beardy who figures in the weird and awful tales of the haunting of Glamis Castle, the family seat”

Further along the left bank of the river is the large farm of Cairnborrow.  This is a place of some antiquity, being mentioned in a charter of 1353 as belonging to William of Keith, Earl Marischal of Scotland, whose daughter married one of the Gordons, into the possession of which family it had passed in 1512, when the name occurs in a charter.  In 1594 it is recorded that the Marquis of Huntly came to Cairnborrow in search of recruits for his army before the battle of Glenlivet.  He asked the lady of the house if she could let him have some men, and she answered without hesitation that she would send her husband and her eight sons, with their attendants.  Huntly wished the laird to remain at home, for he was an old man and had done his share of fighting,: but “Na, na, my lord, I’ll blood the whelps myself”, they’ll bite the better”, said old Gordon, and he and his eight sons, each with a jackman and a footman, went to the battle, from which they all returned safely.

Before leaving Glass some account must be taken of the fishing, which is of considerable importance, not only in this part of the river, but all along its course.  Dr. J.O. Wilson, Huntly, a veteran angler, with a most intimate knowledge of the Deveron, has described the fishing from Glass downwards.  He remarks that on entering Glass water there is a famous large pool called the “Intake of Lynebain”; it is often full of salmon.  Further down are Backside of Beldorney and the Wrightstone pools.  On the Blairmore water there are two excellent salmon pools.  The lower one is called “Crombie” being double, like a figure 8, and about six feet deep.  The Intake of Howmill is a nice pool further along.  Some 150 yards down the river enters a very fine pool called Laing’s Pot, and below this is the Cat’s Loup.  When the Grants owned Beldorney they had the right of “net and cobble”.  They used occasionally to fish with a sweep net.  When there was a run of grilse they sometimes got a few nice fish fresh from the sea.

Below Beldorney Castle the river runs in a deep groove in the rock which is known as the “Bath”.  Underneath the footbridge is a fine pool, the deepest in the Upper Deveron, opposite Wallakirk.  A Pool, opposite the farm of Netherton, is called the “Smooth Pool”, and often holds salmon.  Under the old Free Church there are two other sure casts.  Under the Edinglassie bridge is a large and deep pool, which always holds fish.  Opposite Mains of Edinglassie, is the “Kiln Pool” and a “lie” called the “Blue Craig.”  Upper and Lower Craigmutch are further down.  Below Invermarkie Lodge is a small pool called “Tam’s Pot”.  The Intake of Asswanley is a deep pool further down.  On the Cairnborrow water there is a famous pool called “St Anne’s” which always holds salmon, and often yields good sport.  Sir Frederick Bridge and his family have landed many fish from this pool.  A very fine pool further along is called the “Battle Bog”  The last pool in the Glass water is the “Pot of Terryhorn” a very favourite salmon and trouting stream.

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