The Pow - Strathearn's Historical Drain !

“A Pow in Perthshire rises in some mosses below Methven; runs mainly along a ditch or artificial canal, formed to drain off its stagnant and marsh-making waters; pursues a sluggish course of 11 miles to the Earn, near Innerpeffray; and is noted in some doggerel song well known in the country around it” Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885. It is somewhat intriguing that the waters of the Pow Burn or “ The Pow ” flow somewhat contrary to those of its better known neighbour the mighty Earn which tumbles from the loch of that name , eastwards towards the ocean seeking Tay . Ours is but one of the many Pows in Scotland and Northern England – the name according to Groome is derived from the Gaelic poll- and means a stagnating , sluggish water course . Actually two Pow Burns arise in Methven Moss , the marshy ground south west of the village between the farms of Bachilton and Greenhill .The East Pow is a small stream, formed by the junction of Methven Burn and a drain, flowing out of the Moss .It has an easterly course and empties itself into the River Almond . It is however the westerly flowing Pow Burn that is the subject of this blog . I related the story of Inchaffray Abbey in the Parish of Madderty which although founded formally in 1199 as an Augustinian house, it had been existence for centuries prior to this , as a centre for the Culdees or Celtic Church . The very name “ Inchaffray” tells us much despite its anglicised format . Meaning literally the “ island of masses “ , the elevated piece of ground on which the abbey was built was a virtual island amidst a marshy terrain . Abbot Maurice of Inchaffray was the man who led the celebration of mass for the Scottish troops before the Battle of Bannockburn in1314 . It was King Robert the Bruce who ordered the draining of the marshy ground as a token of his thanks to the Abbot and thus the transformation of the flat marsh lands to the north of the Gask Ridge began . It is apposite to quote here from that fascinating little book penned by the remarkable Bessie MacLaggan in 1932 – “ Madderty – A Short History of an Ancient Parish ”. James Oliphant of Williamston procured an Act of Parliament of the Scottish Parliament in 1690 together with Sir Robert Murray of Abercairney , Sir Patrick Murray of Ochtertyre and Mungo Graham of Gorthy . The Act authorised “ the cutting of a channel six feet deep and twenty four feet wide for the waters of the Pow ” . This Act compelled all the neighbouring heritors (ie riparian proprietors ) to drain and ditch the Pow and eleven Commissioners were appointed to tax the adjacent heritors for the work .This I the only instance on record of a great agricultural improvement being effected under the authority of the Scottish Parliament and doubtless occupied a good deal of James Oliphant’s time and thought . The eleven Commissioners were John Hadden ( Haldane ? ) of Gleneagles , James Graham of Orchil , John Drummond of Pitkellanie, David Drummond of Invermay , Duncan Campbell of Monzie , David Smith , brother German to the laird of Meffen ( ie full brother , with same mother and father ) , Mr William Murray of Ardbennie , Thomas hay of Balhousie , Colin Campbell of Lochland , John Drummond of Colquhillie, and Mr Mungo murray , brother German to Patrick Murray of Dollerie. The Pow still gives much trouble by flooding the adjacent ground, and the present body of Commissioners are much concerned how best to deal with it , in fact, unless some stringent measures , such as those resorted to by James Oliphant , are again tried the results are to be very serious for the agriculturists of the present who have lands beside its banks . It has at all times proved troublesome .There is an interesting record of this found in rather a curious way nearly 200 years later . The old Free Church in Commissioner Street , Crieff was sold in September 1882 to Mr T Clark , coachbuilder . It was converted into a carriage works and while alterations were being done a piece of planed wood was found nailed to the wall behind the wooden lining .On it was written the date , May 11th 1848 , a list of the workman’s names follows and then , this statement : “ Tred is verey slak in the Ples, onley a gret wark Depnn the Pow at Dolirae, signed John Young ”. The “wark” at this time cost £12 900 . The date mentioned above for those whose minds follow a historical bent will no doubt strike a cord . It was the decade of the tattie famine both in Ireland and Scotland as well as a period of the “ Clearances ” which occurred not only in the Northern Highlands but also here in Perthshire . Labour to dig the and improve the Pow was abundant . We had the first real surge of Irish migration and step migration to the Strath as the navigators or navies arrived in numbers . A few decades later there was a lively debate in the local press as to the effect this had on the town . The local police presence at that time was apparently somewhat thin on the ground with a single cell and but one cop based in decrepit premises in Lodge Brae ( Street ) . The influx of the heavy drinking hard working labourers saw the douce town rocked on its heels ! The police “station” was moved to Dr Malcolm’s College Buildings . Adequate cells were now created in the basement area and the gendarmerie increased virtually overnight to three officers to handle the disquiet and attempt to restore the Calvanistic sobriety of the past ! I wonder if anyone recalls the doggerel song referred to by Groome ? Am sure it contains further gems !


  1. The Pow streams are quite extraordinary to a geomancer - they are all dug in an obvious zig-zag pattern. If you project these ditches you will find that four are aligned with Drummond Castle, three with Quoigs burial ground, three with Strageath burial ground, two with Muthill church and burial ground, three with Concraig Farm standing stone, one with Gilmerton Neolithic Burial Chamber, one with Rottenreoch Neolithic Burial Chamber, and nine with the Stayt of Crieff, originally a Neolithic burial chamber.


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