Blair-Atholl


Blair-Atholl
   BLAIR-ATHOLL, a parish, in the county of Perth, 20 miles (N. by W.) from Dunkeld; containing, with part of Tenandry quoad sacra parish, 2231 inhabitants. This place, of which the name, in the Gaelic language, signifies "the plain of Atholl," comprises the four ancient parishes of Blair, Lude, Kilmaveonaig, and Strowan, united into one parish in the early part of the 17th century. In the reign of James V., that monarch, with his mother, and the pope's legate, were entertained at Blair Castle with great hospitality, by the Earl of Atholl, who, for their diversion, accompanied them in a celebrated hunt on the north side of the mountain Beinnghlo. The castle afterwards became the head-quarters of Viscount Dundee, in the memorable battle of Killiecrankie, which took place on the fields of Runrory, on the north side of Girnag mountain. It was, indeed, frequently occupied as an important military station, not only during the times of feudal warfare, but also in the rebellion of 1745, and in 1746 was garrisoned with a force of 300 men, under the command of Sir Andrew Agnew, whom the Duke of Cumberland, on his arrival at Perth, had despatched to take up his quarters here, and so cut off all communication between the northern and southern parts of the country. In order to gain possession of this station, Lord George Murray, accompanied by several officers of the Highland army, and with a force of 100 men, was sent to surprise the castle, which, from its scanty supply of provisions, he attempted to reduce by famine; and having made prisoners of all the detached out-posts, he took up his head-quarters in the village, and closely blockaded the castle. But, after having reduced the garrison to the last extremity, he suddenly raised the blockade, and returned to join the army of the Pretender, at Inverness; and on the following day, the garrison were relieved by the Earl of Crawford, and received the thanks of the Duke of Cumberland, for their gallant defence.
   The parish is bounded on the north by the Grampian hills, and is about thirty miles in length, and eighteen miles in average breadth, comprising 105,000 acres of hill pasture, 3000 arable land under cultivation, and 2500 woods and plantations. The surface is finely varied with hills and valleys; on both sides of the river Garry, is an extensive and fertile plain, constituting the vale of Garry, and extending from the pass of Killiecrankie to Strowan, terminating in hills of which the slopes are under cultivation, and the summits clothed with heather. In the Grampian range are several lofty mountains, of which Beinn-ghlo, Beinn-mheadhonaidh, Beinn-chait, and Beinn-deirg are the principal; the mountain Beinn-ghlo, which stands upon a base many miles in circumference, has four detached summits, of which one has an altitude of 3720 feet above the level of the sea, and the others are little inferior in height. The surface is also diversified with lakes, of which one of the chief is Loch Garry, near the boundary of the counties of Perth and Inverness; it is inclosed on all sides by hills of lofty elevation, and is about six miles in circumference, abounding with trout of excellent quality. Loch Tummel is a picturesque sheet of water, four miles in length, and nearly a mile in breadth, tastefully embellished with an island of artificial formation, on which are the ruins of a castle, and inclosed with banks richly cultivated, and interspersed with small hamlets; this lake also abounds with pike and trout of the largest size. The river Garry issues from the lake of that name, and, after a course of nearly thirty miles, in which it receives the streams of the Erichkie, Bruar, and Tilt, falls into the Tummel, at the south-eastern extremity of the parish; the Tummel has its source in Loch Tummel, and urges its rapid and impetuous course but for a short way through the parish. The river Tilt, from the loch of that name, on the summit of the Grampian range, after a course of sixteen miles, flows into the Garry at Blair, and, in its progress, displays a succession of beautifully picturesque scenery. Almost all the rivers form interesting cascades; the falls of the Garry, obstructed in its course by shelving rocks, are peculiarly interesting, and those of the Tummel are magnificently grand, from the vast body of water which is precipitated from rocks clothed to their summits with stately birch-trees. The Bruar, also, descending from a height of many feet, forms a succession of cataracts, rendered still more striking from the beauty of the surrounding scenery.
   The soil is various; in the valleys, and on the slopes of the hills, a light loam, or a gravelly soil, prevails, and the more elevated lands are mossy. The chief crops are, different kinds of grain, and turnips, for which latter the soil is well adapted, and of which large quantities are raised; the farm-houses are generally well built, and considerable improvements have been made in husbandry, under the auspices of the Atholl Club, which distributes annual prizes for the promotion of agriculture and the breed of stock. The cattle are usually of the black Highland breed, to the rearing of which great attention is paid; about 1200 milch cows are regularly pastured, and 30,000 sheep are annually fed, all of the black-faced breed. The rateable annual value of the parish is £11,847. Atholl forest, formerly enjoying many privileges, is partly in the parish, and about 12,000 head of red deer are found within its limits. The natural woods situated in the parish are principally oak, ash, birch, alder, and aspen; and the plantations, which are very extensive, consist of Scotch firs, spruce, and larch, with lime, elm, and plane trees, of which there are some very fine specimens in the park of Blair. The substratum is chiefly limestone, part of the great vein extending from near Callender to Braemar, and is quarried for manure and other purposes, but not in sufficient quantity for the lands, in consequence of the scarcity of fuel for burning it; marble, also, of various colours is abundant, especially a vein of green colour, much esteemed for mantel-pieces and other ornamental purposes.
   Blair Castle, already noticed, the baronial seat of the Murray family, and the residence of Lord Glenlyon, is a spacious well-built structure, supposed to have been erected by John Cumin, of Strathbogie, who became Earl of Atholl in right of his wife; in 1750, it was reduced by the taking down of two stories, and converted into a family mansion. It contains a handsome suite of state apartments, but its castellated appearance has been lost, by the removal of its turrets; it is inclosed in a very extensive park, embellished with ancient timber and thriving plantations, and the grounds, which are laid out with great taste, command a rich variety of scenery. Her Majesty and Prince Albert, on their second visit to Scotland, spent three weeks at this place, in September 1844; the castle was prepared by Lord Glenlyon for Her Majesty's reception, and he introduced to the royal notice the most remarkable features of the vicinity. Lude House, a spacious modern mansion, likewise within the parish, occupies an elevated site, and forms an interesting feature in the scenery of the Garry; Auchleeks is also a handsome modern mansion, pleasantly situated. A post-office has been established, which has a daily delivery; and fairs are held at Blair-Atholl, on the 2nd of February for general traffic, and the third Wednesday in May for horses and cattle; at Tilt Bridge, on the 25th of June and the 20th of August (O. S.) for cattle; and at Trinafour, on the third Tuesday in March (O. S.), for horses, and the Wednesday in October before the tryst of Falkirk, for cattle. The parish is in the presbytery of Dunkeld and synod of Perth and Stirling; the minister's stipend is about £200, with a manse, and the glebe is valued at £150 per annum. The parochial church is a handsome and substantial edifice, of modern erection, adapted for 650 persons, and the churchyard is spacious; a church was erected in the Strowan district, in 1829, for a congregation of 450 persons, and divine service is performed on two consecutive Sundays at Blair-Atholl, and every third Sunday at Strowan. The old church of Kilmaveonaig was rebuilt in 1791, and appropriated as a place of worship by the Episcopalians; and there is also a meetinghouse for Baptists. The parochial school affords education to about a hundred scholars; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with £30 fees, and a house and garden. There are vestiges of an old religious establishment on the banks of the Tilt, called Cill Aindreas, consisting chiefly of sepulchral remains; and in various parts of the parish are upright stones, the remnants of Druidical circles, near some of which are traces of ancient cemeteries. The walls of the church of Lude are also still remaining.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.