Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Earn- the heron and a precious stone

One of the benefits and joys  of living in Strathearn is its wonderful choice of  walks . Walks to suit  all participants . Hill walkers can  access the peaks  above Loch Turret with ease  whilst  those older  members  of the community   can choose from a superb  variety of pleasant  but  non demanding rambles in some of  Scotland’s  most beautiful countryside . Recognised paths are clearly sign posted and rights of way are protected under the auspices of the local Council . The last few  decades have seen a network of long distance  walks and paths established  across Scotland – the best known in all probability  being the West Highland Way stretching from Milngavie ( pronounced Mul – guy !! ) just north of Glasgow  , all the way to Fort William at the fooft of Ben Nevis , our highest peak .Local writer , publisher and  out door  enthusiast Felicity Martin wrote recently in Facebook : 

“ Super walk today from St Fillans on Loch Earn in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park to Comrie. We were checking the route for the Three Saints Way, a pilgrim route planned from Killin (and eventually Iona) to St Andrews. Today's walk largely followed Day 6 of the Clan Ring, which I researched and wrote up earlier in 2014 for Breadalbane Tourism Co-operative”

There are  a number of  useful web sites which describe and evaluate the  many  walks in and around Strathearn . The annual Drovers Tryst ( pronounced Try-st not Trist ) lists  the  many walking and social events  that this  annual Crieff based festival arranges in the month of October . The Walk Highland will  list the suitability level for  a  wide  variety of  walks in this area . Last  but  certainly  not least is Martin Forsyth’s Crieff based Wandern Schottland  which provides outdoor holidays for  Germans  wishing to visit Scotland .

Web Sites

The Heron

The heron has  been around the wilds of Scotland  for many centuries . In the  far off Middle Ages the bird  came close to extinction .Our  ancestors regarded the heron as a  bird of sport and it  was  pursued relentlessly  by huntsmen with hawk or falcon . This majestic  bird   was oft  regarded as a fine delicacy and many a laird of the day offered his guests this bird on a plate . We know  from history that the  conservation policies of the Scottish Parliament were not the born of the “ Green Revolution “  but  existed a way back over  four centuries ago . In 1600 ,at the instigation of James VI ( James I of Great Britain ) ,  they passed an Act which stated

“ The slaughter of herons having been so frequent and common these diverse years within the Carse of Gowrie , Fife , Strathearn and other places thereabout , that few or none are left in the said bounds . A small number have begun to build their nests in the King’s park of Falkland and his Majesty being desirous to have them increase and multiply has ordered that the slaughter of these birds be forbidden in all the countryside adjacent . To this end , there is an Order to inhibit all persons from shooting, slaying or taking any herons from the bounds of  Fife , Kinross shire , the Carse of Gowrie , Strathearn from Comrie east upon the Earn and at Kilbuck ( Kinbuck ) east upon the Allan for a period  of three years after the date thereof . This under pain of imprisonment for one year for the first offence and banishment from the country  for the second fault “ 

  James VI 

This early act of conservation  may perhaps  have  been responsible  for saving this  , so beautiful of  birds . Herons currently abound  throughout the Strath . The Earn , the Turret and the Bennybeg Pond between Crieff and Muthill are popular  haunts  for the heron and can be enjoyed  by each and everyone of us throughout the year . I do wonder perhaps just how  many locals  of yesteryear  were indeed imprisoned or banished  for attacking our  feathered friend !

The Fresh Water Pearl Mussel

The rivers , burns and lochs of the Strath have  provided excellent fishing  for  trout , sea trout and salmon for countless generations . November saw a run of sea  trout ascend the Turret in considerable  numbers endeavouring  to proceed  beyond the  recently repaired weir and fish ladder at the north end of MacRosty Park in Crieff . It has been a number of years since  this fascinating spectacle of nature has  been  witnessed in this airt !

The River Earn flows  from Loch Earn in and easterly direction till it joins The Tay below Perth . It is  comparatively short ( 46 miles /74 Km ) in length and is fast  flowing and unnavigable . It is  noted  for  its salmon and sea trout  and gives seasonal sport to locals and visitors alike . Apart  from the fish  , it is home to the unique fresh water pearl mussel .This mollusc is historically fascinating . It is said that the real reason that the Romans invaded Britain was the rumour that the islands abounded is that  in pearls and that Julius Caesar who had a predilection for these gems,  led the way  for that very reason ! Caesar himself worshipped and paid  tribute to the gods . It  was to Venus in her temple  that the mighty emperor  dedicated his own breast plate in her honour . This piece of armour was embellished by British fresh water pearls . British  ? Scottish ? Strathearn ? Sadly , we shall never know ! What we do know , however , is that Scotland was that part of these isles  which was the most prolific in producing these comparatively rare shell fish . Pearl fishing  has  been for decades – nay centuries – been carried  out on both the Tay and the Earn here in Perthshire . James VI of Scotland was instrumental in reviving this industry which had in the earlier part of the 17th Century . The writer , John Monipennie , wrote, in 1612 :

” In most of the rivers in Scotland besides the marvellous plenty of salmon and other fishes gotten there, there is a shell fish called the horse mussel , of a great quantity , wherein are engendered innumerable fair, beautiful and delectable pearls , convenient for the pleasure of man and profitable for the use of phisicke . Some of them are so fair and polished that they may be equal to any oriental pearls ; and generally by the providence of Almighty God , when dearth and scarcity of victuals are in the land , then the fishes are most plentiful taken for the support of the people “ .

The king responded to this writing  by presenting the Privy Council with a missive  regarding the protection and harvesting of the mussel . This was passed as an Act on the 30th January 1621 and its preamble stated :

“ For as much as the fishing and seeking of pearls in the waters of this Kingdom ( a commodity which being rightly used would prove honourable to the country and beneficial to his Majesty )has been these diverse years neglected or used at such inconvenient and unseasonable times as has done more harm by the spoiling of the breed and quality of the pearls than benefit by taking thereof and whereas  the King , His Majesty has the undoubted right  to all pearls breeding in waters  as to the metal and precious stones found in this land within his Majesty’s  dominions “ .

The Act fixed the time  for pearl fishing to be in July and August as in these months the pearls were considered  to be at their most perfect  both in colour and in quantity . Initially only the rivers in the  North of Scotland were  covered  by the Act but on the 26th February  1662 , another Act was passed  which included the Tay and the Earn . It cannot be said that the  industry was  ever very profitable  although  many fairly good  pearl of their  kind have been taken  from time  to time in the Earn near Crieff .One especially fine example  was  found in  September 1864  and was exhibited locally  for a time.

Current Danger To The Mussel

The freshwater pearl mussel, already critically endangered, is facing a potentially terminal threat from another foreign invader. American signal crayfish released into the wild have spread through the nation’s rivers in recent decades and now directly threaten the remaining colonies of the rare molluscs. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the government’s countryside protection agency, says crayfish are now just 20 miles away from a prime colony of freshwater pearl mussels in the Tay. Anglers are being encouraged to protect the mussel beds from being destroyed. The Tay Fisheries Board is urging fishermen and other river users to avoid anything which could help spread the crayfish, such as eggs which have attached to fishing gear. They also stress the need to kill any adult crayfish found and never return them to the water.
The warning follows SNH-supervised experiments which have demonstrated that crayfish will attack colonies when they eventually invade mussel habitat. Scottish Natural Heritage’s freshwater adviser, Dr Colin Bean, said they now had evidence of a “mortal” threat to the mussel beds.

“Upstream in the River Earn, there are crayfish around Comrie,” he said. “You get mussels as far down as Perth. They haven’t clashed yet on the Tay, but there is a threat given how fast they spread. It’s not far away.”

Scotland is home to half the world’s population of freshwater pearl mussels. They have been harvested close to extinction on the off-chance they might contain a pearl, and are sensitive to pollution.The precise location of surviving colonies is publicised as little as possible to give the mussel numbers a chance to recover.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Coal Mines that would have changed the Strath – a fortunate escape !

The 19th century in Strathearn was one in which industry grew and expanded . Auchterarder  was a thriving power and hand loom weaving centre for  cotton fabric . Crieff housed a multiplicity of new and expanding enterprises  including brewing , distilling ,paper making ,tanning , rope making, oil mills weaving and dying !
What is oft forgotten is that in the early 19th century , in common  with so many  other areas not that far distant , there were incredible efforts by entrepreneurs , individuals and corporate bodies  , to explore , discover and develop the vast  coal resources  that lay under Scottish soil . Here in Strathearn , we were  no different  from  our neighbouring contemporaries in Stirlingshire ,Clackmannan and Fife .

The story of the  efforts made locally are  well documented  by Porteous in his “ The History of Crieff “ and I replicate a few  of these tales of yesteryear . It  was in 1819 , just after the Napoleonic Wars  that things began in earnest. Trial sinkings  were carried  out at Cultoquhey some 3 miles east of Crieff. The journal of a local worthy recounts the following :

Friday 31st December 1819 : Went up the Ferntower Road with the intention of going on to Gilmerton  to look at the place they are digging for coals , but poor Major got quite lame with the snow and the intensity of the frost , in pity to him I turned .

Friday 3rd March 1820 : Met young Christy coming out at the door   to see if  I would go east to Cultoquhey to see the boring for coals . Spoke in with Jessy . We all set out together and a cold blast  we got . Went the Old Perth Road thinking it would be warmer . Took us much further about .After having to jump over dykes , hedges and palings got it at last .Five men busy working in the way of boring. Had a great deal of conversation with the projector . Wretched looking men altogether “ .

Despite the failure to find any coal deposits in the vicinity of Gilmerton , searching  continued in other  parts of the Strath . In 1839 it was thought that coals  could be found about Tullibardine , between Muthill and Auchterarder . A Committee  was formed  to consider the best plan to be adopted to carry out a trial bore in that area . On 14th February 1837 they published and circulated a pamphlet  outlining their proposals :

Proposal for Sinking a Coal Shaft in Strathearn
The Tenants of the Estates of Strathallan ,Drummond Castle and a number of the Inhabitants of Auchterarder and adjoining villages met at the Boohall ( Hall of the Home Farm ) Strathallan on the 14th Current, and took into consideration a report which had long prevailed in the country , that there is a seam of coal lying in the Farm of Peddie’s –fauld, on the Estate of Tullibardine. They examined  several witnesses who remembered the traditionary account of a bed of coal being found there , but which was then concealed from the Public  for some reason now unknown .They were also informed that there is a continued stream of water flowing from  the remains of an old coal bore , which leaves a sediment of a dark and glutinous   nature  resembling the slime of a coal pit , and mixed with small particles of black matter which when ignited , burn like the best coal “ .

The result of this pamphlet saw a sum  of money raised locally  to fund the project . Accounts  of this state a total figure of  some £661 of which Crieff and Parish contributed £ 129 . The representatives of the town were Mr Robert McIlvride ,Mr William Kemp and Mr William Taylor of Cornton . The Committee met on the 27th April 1837 in the house of Mr McIlvride in Crieff and appointed William Brown , writer (  solicitor ) as Secretary . They agreed  to proceed to advertise for contractors  to undertake the works . As a result of this a Mr James Snaden of Saline in Fife was appointed and an agreement was  signed  with him on the 15th June 1837 .It was not a very well structured arrangement as  it transpired that Snaden did  not have the necessary plant and equipment to commence  operations at Peddie’s –fauld. The Contract  was terminated  before work had commenced !Undeterred , the Committee now headed to South Sauchie ( near Alloa ) and approached a miner  their  by the name of Adamson and obtained a suitable estimate  for the sinking of the shaft . 

To quote Porteous : “ Shafts were sunk at the appointed places , but no coal was found . The whole undertaking came to a conclusion with a battle royal between the Contractor and the Committee . It is well that there are no coal strata in Strathearn and that the sylvan beauties of the vale have been preserved “ .

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lady Mary’s Walk

Lady Mary’s Walk

A Crieff Beauty Spot

Lady Mary’s Walk is  one of Crieff and Strathearn’s  most popular and enjoyable of walks . It was formed in 1815 by Sir Patrick  Murray of Ochtertyre  and being a favourite walk of his daughter Lady Mary Murray , became  known  by her name . Lady Mary’s runs  for about a mile along the banks of the Earn from  what is known as Ling- a –wing . Miss Margaret Wright  in her journal mentions that on 12th May 1815 she “ went a little on the new walk  by the water side  , made by Sir Patrick . It must be delightful “ .  Miss Wright in these last words expresses feelings confirmed  by every native and visitor to Crieff in the last 200 years . In the account of Lady Mary’s walk in Porteous “ The History of Crieff “ , it states ( and this was  written in the first decade of the  20th Century ) that : “ It is , however  to be regretted , that the peaceful amenity  of the walk  has been somewhat spoilt by the close proximity of the  Comrie Railway  which runs  parallel to it  and the jarring rattle  of the occasional train detracts  from the true  enjoyment of the peaceful surroundings erstwhile broken  only by  the gentle murmour of the river . “

The railway , sadly is long since gone . I have always  regretted not having been able to enjoy that quite serene passage through what is surely our most picturesque landscape . Much still remains of the old line  but sadly it is no more and Strathearn is the loser . The River Earn is the superb back drop . I remember that, for a number of years , the  former Oakbank Inn sponsored a raft race from Comrie  to Crieff . A fantastic  spectacle  battling man against nature , Again – sadly no more !

All that remains of the railway viaduct across the Turret on the path  down to the Walk


Signs of the old railway