Stonehaven To Cortachy
( Originally Published 1912 )
"And as for cattle one yearling bull
The Weathercocks of Stonehaven—The Sea Coast Road and the Mearns—Stock of the District—Bulls at Fernyflatt—Yorkshire Calf Trade—Angus Commentaries—The Kinnaird Valley—Old Montrose—Black Herds—The Kinnaird Castle Steading—Druid and Cupbearer—The Great Forfarshire Covers—Cullow Fair—Cortachy Castle—Highland Crosses —Laying down Permanent Pasture without a Crop—The Cortachy Herd and Dairy.
THE pigs, which, owing to their presumed capacity of scanning the " viewless forms of air," surmount most of the Stonehaven weathercocks, stood at I am., with their snouts due east. We had had a wild night of it, with the waves at very, boisterous play just behind the Ury Arms ; and the wind blew bitterly as we scaled the heights of the coast road towards Bervie. Our line of country was through a deep, alluvial loam, while the old Defiance road, which lay some miles to our right, winds its way through the lighter and more " gravelly soil of the Mearns." A large amount of potatoes, beans, and wheat is grown between Bervie and Montrose. The pastures and part of the turnips near the sea are let during the winter for blackfaced hoggs and wedders from the range 0f the Grampians ; and this system begins at Girdleness, and continues along the coast, and through the Mearns as well. " The little men of the Mearns " have arable farms of between two and four hundred acres. They breed very few cattle, and buy what they want in the Falkirk trysts or North of Aberdeen, mostly two-year-olds, to finish and turn off at three. Blackfaced wedders are sometimes bought and turniped along the coast ; but farmers in these parts, as a general thing, do very little with sheep on their own account. The Southdowns, which we had almost lost sight of since Gordon Castle, except at Mr. Walker's in the Aberdeen district, began to rear their heads again as we drew nearer to Keillor, once their great Scottish stronghold. Mr. Garland of Cairnton breeds and sells tups of the sort, as well as Leicesters. The latter are used to draft Cheviot ewes from Sutherlandshire, and at Fetteresso near Stone-haven the blackfaces have been crossed most success-fully with the Southdown. Two blood sires, Champ Fleury (so called after a celebrated West-Lothian meet), and Cortes by Alarm (bred by Mr. Greville and the sire of Jessie), travel about here, but it is not much of a horse district, and the youngest farmers continue faithful to life in a gig.
Mr. Arthur Glennie, who has, in proportion, nearly as Iarge a practice as judge at shows in Scotland as " Mr. Baron Unthank " in England, farms Fernyflatt which lies between the sea and the road. He breeds a few good polls, and feeds off annually, among other stock, a large number of bulls. We found no less than twenty, nearly all of them Shorthorns and from the North of Scotland, `stowed away in every nook and corner of his buildings, and had a faint realization of Bashan at last. There was every inducement to linger in that snug parlour, which was Lincolnshire to the life, but we had a heavy list of calls in our note-book, and a really fine afternoon was not to be spurned. The spray was dashing over the little pier of John's Haven, and every thing along that grand sea board was so full of life, that we seemed to feel for the first time that our heavy task was really beginning to " give."
There is some fine old grass land at Brotherton beyond Bervie, where Mr. Hercules Scott keeps Balwyllo blacks and Sittyton Shorthorns. Between Brotherton and Montrose there is very little grazing, but beasts are simply wintered and sold off gradually to the London and Glasgow dealers. Mr. Miller; the Montrose butcher, buys about fifty a week for Glasgow ; and Mr. Scott sends a great deal of dead meat as well both to London and Newcastle. It is a peculiarity of the latter market, which may be traced in the biddings at Earl Durham's annual sale, that it does not care for steers nearly so much as neat cutting heifers, both in winter and the hot summer months. Nearer Montrose and down towards Forfarshire the farmers do much more in store beasts, which some of them get from Falkirk ; but the Yorkshire calves are still in the highest request. They are of all ages from six months to a year, and cost from L4 to L7. Jackson, who has a park at Guthrie, will bring down five or six hundred, and Luke Land has a good supply as well. Some yearlings, which range from L8 to L111, share the trucks with them, and through-out September up to the middle of October a very brisk trade goes on. Some of the heifers are kept on to breed from ; and one farmer in Aberdeenshire lately purchased more than forty for this purpose.
Cross-cow breeding is on the increase ; but many farmers seem to use anything with a hide and a stomach; and North of Aberdeen more especially there was too often a sad lack of loins among both pure Shorthorn and cross-bred beasts. As for a Water Esk beast, it is frequently a compound of Shorthorn, Poll, and West Highlander. It is great fun starting a regular cloddy cynic upon the Yorkshire question; and "rough things, heifers and bulls all grouped together, and not two inches of spine the same level among the lot," is the invariable commentary. "As for colour," says another of these unwavering ebony standard-bearers, " I tell my friends they ought to get a green bull, and then they'll be all round the rainbow."
"Pass on Traveller, safe and free of toll," is the inscription on Northwater Bridge, which boasts of three architects. After sleeping at Montrose, we passed with due reference the statue of brave, old Joey Hume in the " canny " heart of his native town, and made our way over ,the chain bridge towards the valley of Southesk, and down on the heavy clays of Old Montrose by the little ivied church of Maryton. We had not seen such land since we bade farewell to the early districts near Alves. The Howe of Kinnaird, as it is sometimes called, begins at Montrose, and extends six miles by three to Brechin, and joins the Howe of Mearns just about the point where the latter melts away into Strathmore. The whole valley belongs to the Earl of Southesk, and his castle of Kinnaird holds a wooded eminence in the very heart of it. Those pinnacles mark the only poll herd in the valley, and, in fact, there are nothing but Shorthorn crosses nearly all the way to Arbroath.
The Earl of Southesk's factor, Mr. Charles Lyall of Old Montrose, Mr. Goodlet of Bolshan, and. Mr. Swan of Inverpeffer, are almost the only sheep-breeders in this district. Mr. Lyall once divided his allegiance between Leicesters and Southdowns, but he has now given up " the copperheads," and retains a flock of Leicester ewes, principally of Cockburn of Sisterpath blood with an infusion of Sanday. Mr. Goodlet has a flock of half-bred ewes, to which he has latterly been using the Kelso tups. Three-fourths bred, half-bred, and grey-faced "mule" lambs are all at high pressure on cut turnips, cake, and grain during the winter. Some black-faced wedders are also busy among the turnips in the Vale, but they generally belong to dealers. In the " Shire of Angus " tares and turnips have increased of late years to an immense extent, and have quite taken the place of bare fallows. Potatoes flourish all the way from Old Montrose to Perth. Regents command a higher price than Rocks ; but the crop of 1863 was so tremendous, amounting in some districts to ten tons the imperial acre, that they had almost to be given away, and no one got more than a pound per ton. Hence the farmer was just as well off during the great disease of '46. Six tons are a fair average crop, and 43 the price of ordinary seasons. The potatoes thrive best on the black-loam edges of the Kinnaird valley, and beans on the strong clay of the flat. The valley was at this date the northern limit of the seven or eight steam ploughs of Scotland, and the very first that crossed the Border, to the order of a private purchaser, came in '61 to Mr. Lyall's farm at Old Montrose.
This farm-steading has a very warm, English look about it, with its sycamores and Spanish chestnuts, and its old garden walls ; and it was refreshing to see " a bit of Bates " at last in Little Go " by Fourth Duke of Oxford, who was purchased from Earl Airlie. The herd began with " Southesk, a Bates bull, one of the only four calves which Second Duke of Northumberland left, when Captain Barclay hired him in '41 for a season. Prince Ernest by The Baron (now Bowly's Little Go) did more in his day, and claims Leonora and the good-ribbed Ruby among the twenty pedigreed cows, of which Rosemary and the broad-backed Mysie loth, Jessamine from Sittyton, Barber's Duchess of Northumberland, Towneley's Duchess Nanny, and Queen of Beauty (who was too proud to go with the others), all caught our eye in the pasture.
No particular attention is paid to pigs in this district ; but Berkshires have been introduced through Mr. Charles Carnegie, M.P., who took a fancy to them when he was a student at Cirencester College. They are thrifty feeders, and hold the yards in winter along with some small whites of Brandsby descent. Dealers go round and buy them up when they are between seven and eight stone, and pack off the carcases in crates to London. Clydesdales come for the season from the Glasgow districts, and Mr. Wilson of Portsoy, has more than once sent some of his champions to take the prize at the Angus Agricultural. This show takes place just before the Highland Society, and includes in its circuit Forfar, Dundee, Montrose, Brechin, Arbroath, and Kirremuir. Horses, like the farms, do not grow larger as they approach the Grampians. The General, who was then in Mr. Charles Lyall's hands, left some good stock about here during his three seasons, and so did Lord Strathmore's Master Robin. The blood of Lord Panmure's Cleveland has worn pretty well ; but not a soul would look at The Cure in the days when he was down in the world.
There was once no better polled stock to be found in Angus than at Fullerton's of Mains of Ardovie, whose Queen of Ardovie was the dam of M'Combie's Queen Mother. The Keillor herd is dispersed, but the rest keep Aberdeenshire, Kincardineshire, Banff-shire, and Morayshire very fairly at bay in the High-land Society's lists for the honour of the " shire." Besides Lord Southesk and Mr. Bowie, Mr. Mustard of Leuchland is a very old breeder, and has always crossed with Keillor and Kinnaird Castle blood. Lord Southesk's brother, the member for the county, keep a few at Arrat's Mill, which has always been celebrated for its old breed, and bought some more at the last Balwyllo sale and Mr. Goodlet of Bolshan posed the two Walkers, who were represented by Jehu and Sambo, with his Dahomey by Windsor, from Oriana by Cupbearer (so called after his noble owner's State office), in the two-year-old bull class at Stirling.
Mr. Lyell of Shiel Hill, near Kirremuir (brother to Sir George Lyell, the great geologist), who dipped well into Southesk Mariner, had a first prize with his Prospero at Battersea, and a third with Commodore Trunnion at Kelso ; and Mr. Leslie of The Thorn, Blairgowrie, defeated the Black Prince of Tillyfour and the Black Diamond of Montbletton, both for the first and second yearling prizes, at Stirling, with his President 3rd blood. Mr. Scott of Balwyllo died in 1842, since which time the herd has been carried on by his widow. He was always great for heads and necks, and took prizes with his slashing year-olds, whose size atoned for a slight family sharpness in the hair. The prices at the '63 sale were well up to the mark. " Portlethen " and " Tillyfour " fought for Alice Maud as far as 62 gs., and then the former was up to time with another guinea, and got her, while Heather Bell 60 gs, became Lord Southesk's.
His lordship's steading lies about three miles from Balwyllo, and about half way up that long avenue of beech, elm, and sycamore which leads to the castle, for which nature seems to have reserved all the variations of ground. There are about ten thousand acres in the whole estate, of which 1,500 are within the park fence. The herd has been in the family for fifty years, but the present one may be said to have taken a fresh start since '52, when his lordship came to the title ; and Cupbearer by Pat (29), from Rose by The Colonel, has been its great mainstay. Mr. Walker bought him from Mr. Bowie after he had won the first Highland Society prize as a two-year-old at Perth, and got L20 for his bargain. He was a very cheap one to the Earl at L55, as he was used for five or six seasons, after which he wasted so fast that he had to be killed without loss of time. His back was rather slack as he stood, but "he swelled when he moved," and several of his stock inherit his white beneath and on the inside of both thighs. A great number of bulls by him were sold, but the best was kept, to wit, Druid, from Dora of Ruxton of Farnell's breeding and of a Keillor strain. This cow was a very remarkable breeder, and never missed, except upon the occasion of her Paris trip. She also bred Dulcinea, an own sister to Druid, and a first-prize taker at the Angus show. Her Diodorus by Windsor took a first International prize at Hamburg, and was sold to Russia and her Kathleen by Strathmore (one of old Grannie's calves) is now quite a herd notable, as she is the dam of Calliope by Raven, a Druid bull, and granddam, through Calliope, of Clio, the first-prize yearling at Kelso.
The Druid won more than his sire, and, including the L25 at Chester (where he and his sister Dulcinea and' his half-sister Oriana took firsts in three classes), he gathered up £100 among the show-yards in his day. He was more of a show bull than Cupbearer, more level in his points and longer in his quarters, and with finer style altogether ; but although he was used for a season or two more in the herd, he did not leave such a mark for good. He was sent to Battersea when he was eight years old and had quite lost his bloom ; and although the judges allowed that he was " perhaps in some respects better," despite his age, they could only place him second to Prospero, " a bull of very fine quality but small in size." The portraits of him and his sire hang side by side in the Castle library.
Windsor succeeded the Druid, and took the first old-bull honours at Edinburgh in '59, as the Druid had done at Glasgow in '57, and Cupbearer at Berwick three years before that. Of the other purchases, M`Combie's Empress, which was a calf at the foot of Charlotte in Paris, has done well for her 60 gs., and so have Emily by Old Jock, Walker's Princess (a great milker), and Balwyllo's Queen, which was second at 71 years, at Kelso, to Wemyss's Nancy, a Tillyfour cow of no great touch, but well made up, and with youth on her side. The herd scarcely ever competes, except at the Highland Society and Angus Shows, and, fortunate as it has been with bulls and heifers, it has never yet won a Highland Society first with a cow.
The steading, which cost under £4,000 and measures 270 feet by 132, is a very great feature, with its platforms and beautiful slate ventilation, and, above all, that grand sense of airiness and Australian elbow room, which results from its cattle courts being half open and half under cover. Several cattle were put up to feed, and among them was a red Angus with a white nose; Antiquity will have its say, and some poll breeders maintain that no statute of limitations prevents the blacks from throwing yellow, red, and brindled calves at times. Mr. M'Combie has had calves of this colour, but not within the last seven years, when he sternly vanished "every beast of colour" from his breeding farm. Quadroona by Windsor from Queen (445), and quite the young black belle of Kelso was by her side calfless, and with Smithfield, where she was first in her class, as her future portion; but we had to look afield for Clio by Windsor and Clarissa by Don Rhoderick, which were first and second in the younger class at Kelso, and kept their relative places at Stirling, where a Montbletton heifer beat them both. Clio would be an excuse, if there had been no Quadroona, for liking the Windsor heifers.
There were racks for thirty-six in the byre, where Old Violet stood fallow at last in her sixteenth year. She has been one of " the Kinnaird milkers," up to her twelve quarts at a meal, and in regular descent from Old Bell and Lady Anne. Windsor was looking wistfully out towards the pastures in one of those ten cow and calf boxes with yards, at the south end of the building, which are all furnished with double sliding doors. His fine quarters made you forget his roughish shoulders, and as he stood foreshortened in his yard, with a field of golden barley beyond, and the Castle pinnacles rising through the trees above it, we thought we had never seen a more beautiful picture to hand.
The vast Forfarshire woodlands were wont to be full of foxes, which have suffered in their time quite as much from politics as from hounds. Two-thirds of the three thousand acres in the great common forest of Montreathmont or Mountroman Moor belong to Lord Southesk. In some parts it is fully two miles across, and is principally planted with Scotch fir and larch ; but the rough heather bottom is so wet and cold that there is not much good lying. In frosty weather " it was beautiful running when other packs were idle." Tom Rintoul (who was wont to boast that the majority of huntsmen " wouldn't get a pack out of it in eight days") killed 61 brace of foxes from it in one season, as it is quite a city of refuge for them. It is also full of roe deer ; but Tom's hounds had been well broken to " War,! Hench I" before they came there, and therefore they took no notice of "the finest scent in the world." Legaston is a capital 200-acre gorse, and so thick that, to quote Tom again, " my hounds used to come out with their sterns as bare as a whip-thong, and so bloody that I hardly knew them." Catterthune above Brechin was another fine cover ; and so was Marcus, five miles to the west, with a splendid Leicestershire country, and a burning scent over heather right away to the Grampians. Colonel Maule, who died in the Crimea, was the last regular master ; and when Major Douglas was appointed field-master, he bought 25 couple of the Hursley for £300, and, with Ben Boothroyd and Markwell as his huntsmen, carried on the game for four seasons more. A better sportsman never spoke to hound ; but all his fine riding did not prevent him from leaving one or two of his best horses dead upon the hills above Cortachy, and trudging back with the saddle and bridle on his arm, when a straight-necked, dark-coloured "traveller " had "gone home in a hurry " from Marcus. Mr. Hay, of Letham Grange, is another grand, old county sportsman, and has had harriers for more than forty seasons. Fitchit has long been his trusty aide-de-camp in stable, field, and kennel, and they are not severed on Mr. Gourlay Steell's canvas.
Tom Rintoul always speaks of Kirremuir as " a rough place," from the fact of his having been nearly mobbed one night as he was bringing the hounds through it during a weavers' riot. The shuttle goes flashing through the loom with a sound which seems very foreign to an ear which has been accustomed for weeks to nothing but the bleating of flocks and the lowing of herds ; but it is worth climbing up that weary hill towards Cortachy, if only to see the panorama of the Vale of Strathmore. We were too early for Cullow, where the blackfaced wedders—the gatherings of the glens and the Grampians from Glenshee to Glenesk—are mustered seven to ten thousand strong about the 18th of October. Ballater and Braemar furnish many of the wedders, and if they are not sold at Castleton fair, they come on here as " Grampian sheep." Four-fifths of the whole are really Lanark lambs, which are bigger and better bred than the mountaineers. The predominance of them makes this the best blackfaced wedder fair in Scotland ; factors buy them up as twos and threes chiefly to stock the policies ; and Mr. Geekie, sen., will occasionally take as many as fifty score for Earl Mansfield's home farm at Scone. A great many go into Forfarshire and Perthshire, and some few into Fife. Last year the top price was 40s., which is the highest on record ; and the lucky lot came from the grazing farm of Mrs. Kennedy, at Glenmaye,
The Highland games of the clan Ogilvy were in progress at Clova, but we did not care to wend our way ten miles in search of them, and perhaps get into difficulties behind Caen Lochen, and his cold, rival height of Catlaw, both of which are sometimes powdered with snow in June. A clear frosty night had blackened the potatoes and the fir cones when we left our snug ale-house " hole in the wall," and made our choice for the day between Clova and Cortachy. This " bonnie house of Airlie " is in a very beautiful spot five miles from Kirriemuir, and just under the well-wooded spurs of the Grampians. The first two or three miles are not inviting, but the rustic seats and fountains along the road as you approach the Castle grounds give you quite a "Rest and be Thankful " feeling, and help to cheat the toil.
A small flock of Shetland sheep, black, white, and black-and-white, were in Craigiss field. They had been there nearly a year, but they were still as shy as rabbits, and would smeuse anywhere. Only a few of the lambs have been killed as yet ; but the second-year fleeces weighed from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2lbs., and the ewes bid fair to kill at 10 lbs. a quarter, so that a more generous diet has worked well. The West Highland crosses were in the snug lying of Ball Field on the opposite side of the Southesk. They were by a Short-horn from black cows, and the colours have fallen black, dark brown, black with a brown streak, blackand-white, and grey. They take the form of the sire very much, with the exception of the head, neck, and horn, and look pretty nearly as large when yearlings as a West Highlander at four. Perhaps for this county the cross with a pure Angus bull struggles better with a hard winter. The characteristics pair off precisely the same way, but the colours are almost restricted to black and blue grey.
Grass is not too abundant in a Grampian climate. There is not much to speak of till nearly the middle of June, and it begins to fail early in August. Since Mr. Peter Geekie came, as factor, the Earl has adopted the plan of laying down all his permanent pasture without a crop, and it has so far proved a much more profitable method than the old one. There is no risk of a wet summer laying the crop and rotting out the grass. The sward is compact and firmly rooted before frost sets in, and is consequently not so readily thrown out, while it is better prepared to brave the winter, and come away early in the spring. It stands to reason that it should be better the second year for more causes than one, but chiefly from the fact of its not having been nursed and drawn up in the shelter of a crop during the mild part of the season, and left after the cutting of the crop exposed to the bleakest and coldest weather.
The following mixture of seeds was used by Mr. Geekie in sowing down permanent pasture without a crop :
Field No. 1 was sown in April, 1863, after turnips. Before sowing, it was carefully drained 4 feet deep and 24 feet apart ; afterwards ploughed and subsoiled, and well limed with about 4 tons of lime per acre ; then ploughed again, and harrowed and rolled till a fine seed-bed was obtained, when the seeds were sown and lightly harrowed and rolled in. By the middle of July it afforded a free bite for sheep, and before winter set in there was a beautiful, close sole of grass. This year it has been most luxuriant.
Nos. 2 and 3 were sown down this spring, and are now excellent pasture. Both were sown after green crop, and the land prepared in the ordinary way as if for sowing down with a crop.
In sowing down in this way, weeds are very apt to get up in large quantities and choke the young plants ; and when this occurs, no time should be lost in "skimming" them over with a scythe. The grass gets up very quickly after this operation.
The church, with its thick yew and laurel girdle, stands hard by the Castle-lodge on the banks of the Southesk. We look through the window of the family burying-place and read on marble how the fifth Earl of Airlie, " in the generous enthusiasm of youth joined the Chevalier at Edinburgh, 1745, with a regiment of six hundred.” The inscription on one old, grey tombstone records the frail assurance of a survivor for its inmate,
" Who by a course of verteous acts Eternal life secured ; "
and a poet has evidently been engaged to set forth the crowning act of another Forfar worthy, who died in 1732 :
"Here lyes lames Winter
Adding the date was the finest touch of the whole. Ledenhendry, it seems, led the attack against the Cateran, and was getting the worst of it in a single combat with their leader the " Hawkit Stirk," when his friend Winter got behind the " Stirk " and ham-strung him. At all events, this is the country comment on the third line of the poem.
There were enough well-favoured Irish bullocks on Fat Haugh to raise two or three such Water of Saugh strifes; and in a field hard by were Warbler by Fourth Duke of Oxford, with Queen, Sultana, Lady Blanche, and another of Lord Raglan's daughters. There are not more than eight cows in the herd ; and Canary, the dam of Confederate, the present bull, died just before her son won the reserve number in the year-ling class at Stirling. The Cure was at Cortachy for a time, and it has also been a resting-place, temporary or final, for distinguished Shorthorns. Lord Raglan came here from Lord Kinnaird's when he was a twoyear-old, and was passed on to Sittyton for L100. Young Ben, the winner of the aged bull class in '61 at Dublin, was fed off here, and so was the victorious Ivanhoe of the deep forequarter. The weary age of Rose of Autumn, who founded the Atheistaneford herd, found here a peaceful hermitage, when she had taken her second gold medium medal as a fifteenyear-old at Perth, and was sold to his lordship " at butchers' price if not incalf." Her days were nearly over, but the herdsman still dwelt lovingly on her " pleasant countenance " and her " grand braid hurdies."
Ere the family piper had done pacing the sward in front of the Castle, and sounding his reveille through the crisp, bracing air, we had finished our stroll with the dairy. It is a pretty cottage building at the end of the flower-walk. The effect of the interior is all the more striking from the utter absence of anything elaborate. The milk-pans are of plain white dell, and the cream testers are marshalled, like the Commissioners on the woolsack in the Reform Bill picture, all in a row on the centre slab, and flanked by blue glass jugs and drinking cups. The curds and cream service stands on a rustic table in Lady Airlie's room, which looks into the dairy, and the plain cocoa-nut matting, the grey stone fender, and the cane-bottomed oak chairs with nothing to "give colour," except one scarlet leather back, all blend into one harmonious whole with the distaff and the spinning-wheel.
"Kilve, thought I, is a favoured lace,
but, always reserving Sutherland, give us an autumn morning's ramble through Penryn, Cortachy, and the Valley of the Hodder.