Glenlyon History Society
Comann Eachdraidh Ghleann Lìomhann
The Glenlyon HS, Scotland, is run by local residents of Glenlyon (map) with an interest in the local history of the glen.
The Glenlyon HS, Scotland, is run by local residents of Glenlyon (map) with an interest in the local history of the glen.
The recollections below have been submitted to the society by Rena Stewart written in her own words. We would like to express our sincere thanks for this material. Rena also supplied a collection of photographs which can be browsed on our photograph archive.
If you can add to this information - or clarify any anomalies - please contact the Society.
First of all, to explain my connection with the Smithy Cottage at Invervar and to give a little bit of family history: My great-grandfather Thomas Robertson was the blacksmith there. He originally came from Kinloch Rannoch where his father, James, was the smith. I don''t know when he came to Glenlyon but he was listed as being at Invervar in the 1841 census. In 1850 he married Euphemia Stewart, who was a Stewart of Tempar in Rannoch. They had five children: Alexander, who died young and is buried beside them in Invervar cemetery; sons James and Thomas who joined him in the blacksmith business, and daughters Christina and Isabella. The last named (christened Isabella Stewart Robertson) was my grandmother. She trained as a teacher, obtained a post at the school in Lundin Links and married the headmaster there, David Milne Stewart, originally from Alyth.
My father and his siblings spent all their childhood holidays with their grandparents, Thomas and Euphemia, at Invervar. They all loved Glenlyon but particularly my father who for the rest of his life thought he hadn't had a holiday unless he had been to the Glen. So all my family holidays, in my childhood and beyond, were spent in Glenlyon. At first we took lodgings, mainly with the MacGregors at Innerwick, but when the Smithy cottage fell vacant in 1933 (with fewer and fewer horses to shoe) my father wrote to Major Wiseley at Invervar Lodge offering to buy it. The Major, however, wanted to retain some control over who was living at the end of his drive but he agreed to let us have it at a rent of £8 per annum. Obviously we were reluctant to spend too much money modernising the cottage when we could be given our notice at any time; so we had no water supply or electricity. Instead we carried water in from the spout beside the door and went to bed by candlelight.
My father had many tales to tell about his boyhood holidays in Glenlyon. Two of them concerned the redoubtable Lizzie Lothian. When my father knew her, Lizzie was living in retirement at Invervar in a "black house" next door to Maggie Cameron - and at daggers drawn with her neighbour! Maggie was a shy, gentle soul and Lizzie was the exact opposite. One day Lizzie had gone down to the burn to fetch water and on her way back spotted a flint arrowhead that hadn't been there when she went down. For Lizzie this was proof positive of the arrowhead's origins: the fairies had shot it at her out of jealousy because she was such a pretty girl. Wherever it came from, the arrowhead was a genuine relic and eventually found its way to the Chamber Museum in Edinburgh [National Museum of Scotland]. On another occasion, something happened to make Lizzie think that she was dying; whatever it was it didn't incapacitate her because she marched along to the smithy calling at the top of her voice (in Gaelic): "James Robertson! Come and witness my end!"
When my parents married in 1913, my mother had no choice about where the honeymoon was to be spent: it had to be Glenlyon. By that time there were no longer any Robertsons at Invervar, so they took lodgings at Derricambus. One day they went up to Bridge of Balgie in the mail motor and walked back, calling in at all the houses where my father was known. They were offered tea at every house and by the time they got back to Derricambus my father had had nine boiled eggs and my mother seven.
The mail motor was something of an institution when very few people had cars. As well as delivering and collecting letters, it was the only form of public transport, and also served to deliver many other things. It stopped at Invervar at about 10am and we would put our milk can on board to be taken to Ruskich to be filled. It was then collected on the way back and duly delivered. There were frequently baskets of hens on board the mail motor and once I shared a seat with a calf wrapped in sacking with just its little head poking out. The driver was Jimmie Macdonald, later to be succeeded by Willie Hood.
There was quite a gathering at the smithy for the arrival of the mail motor. The people who lived at Invervar at the time were: the Misses Flemington at the Schoolhouse (the teacher and her sister, who kept house); Bob Michie, the roadman, his wife and two little girls (Helen and Moira) in the cottage next to the school; Mr and Mrs Donald Stewart in the house by the bridge (I think Donald was a forester on the Chesthill estate); and the people in Wester Invervar whose names I've forgotten. And, of course, the Wiseleys at the Lodge. Peggy Macfarlane (later, Mrs Hogg) the postgirl, would walk down from Cambusvrachan every day, and pick up the letters for the farms on the south side of the Lyon. I used to enjoy going with Peggy on her round, and we were usually invited in for refreshments at Balnahanaid.
Probably our closest friends in Glenlyon were the Camerons of Ruskich. In particular, my mother and Mrs Cameron were great friends. She was a Maclellan from Milton Eonan. At the time I knew them, the eldest daughter, Anna, was married with a small daughter and living near Oban. One of the twins, Tish (real name Elizabeth) was a nurse in Edinburgh though she was frequently home on holiday. The other twin, Jean, the son, Ian and the youngest of the family Dolly (real name Christina), were all at home helping with the farm. They were basically sheep farmers but also had four cows (Bridget, Midget, Fidget and Grannny) to supply their own needs and those of occasional customers like us, hens which were Dolly's department, and two Highland garrons [highland ponies], Charlie and Dora; Charlie bit and Dora kicked or the other way round, I could never remember which, so I avoided both ends. One of my great treats was to be allowed to drive the horse rake at haymaking time when I was safely ensconced on the seat of the rake.
The Camerons were Free Church and I get very irritated with people who sneer at the "Wee Frees" for supposedly being dour and humourless. Mr Connal, who was the Free Church precentor, was one of the funniest men I've ever known, and the Cameron house was always filled with laughter and singing.
When my mother's father died in the 1930s we were on holiday in Glenlyon and had one of my schoolfriends staying with us. My parents and sister returned to Fife for the funeral but it was decided to leave Elsie and me behind. The ever-hospitable Mrs Cameron agreed to have us to stay in spite of the fact that her sister's family, the Millers from Alloa, were already there for a holiday. (The Millers regularly holidayed in Glenlyon and are buried in the Innerwick churchyard). Where we all slept, I can't imagine - the Ruskich farmhouse wasn't all that big. While there we came across one example of Free Church practice: every evening, just before bedtime, the family gathered round a table and read a chapter of the Bible, taking it in turns each to read a verse. There was no attempt to choose suitable chapters: they simply began at the first chapter of Genesis and continued to the last chapter of Revelation and then began again. This meant we had to read these interminable genealogical chapters irreverently known as the Begatitudes, giving much scope for the mispronunciation of the names of who begat who - which seemed hilarious to two giggly schoolgirls, especially when the Miller boys were doing their best to make us laugh.
Proceeding up the Glen, we come next to the Walkers of Slatich. It could be a terrifying experience being offered a lift by Mrs Walker - when speaking to her passengers, which was most of the time, she took her eyes off the road and turned right round to face them. Then there was Craigainie; for a while the Anguses ran that as a guest house. At Cambusvrachan there was the Free Church manse, and in the 1930s the incumbent was the Revd John Robertson, whose impressive white beard made him look like an Old Testament prophet. A big man, he had been a blacksmith until he was called to the ministry late in life. Like many Free Church ministers, his sermons were not noted for their brevity. Peggy Macfarlane, the postgirl, and her parents - and later her husband James Hogg - lived in the house just beyond Cambusvrachan.
The farmer at Ballinloan was Maggie Campbell (always known as Maggie Ballinloan - most of the farmers were called by the names of their farms). Towards the end of one summer one of her lambs was killed by a car. The motorist called at the farm to say what had happened, adding that the lamb had run out in front of the car and it wasn't his fault. "Of course it's your fault," snorted Maggie. "That lamb's been running around here all summer and it's never been killed before."
Before we rented the smithy cottage, we used to spend every summer with the Macgregors at Innerwick. The family at that time consisted of three brothers - John, Duncan and (I think) Donald - and two sisters, Mary and Kate, none of the married. John, the eldest, was a big man with a bushy black beard, and on our first visit there, when I was about two years old, my mother thought I might be frightened of him. Not a bit - I adored him! I can just remember trotting round the farm with him clutching his little finger (his hand was too big for me) and chatting non-stop, calling him "Gegor" ( I couldn't manage "Mr MacGregor"). Every night my mother would carry me through the farmhouse kitchen and I had to say (in Gaelic - but this is phonetic): Eich va, scattel va, airich tralmuchra" which I was assured meant "good night, sleep well, rise early in the morning". Over the years that we were there, John and Kate died, and the Macgregors' nephew and niece, Jimmie and Janet Fraser, came from Fortingall to help on the farm. Jimmie was partly disabled; he had what was then called St Vitus' Dance, but still managed to do a lot to help his uncles and aunt. Janet was very good with children and became one of my favourite people in the Glen.
The other people at Innerwick at that time were: Malcolm McKerchar and his daughter Elsie - I think he was a retired gamekeeper; McPherson, the roadman, known as "The Wolf", with his wife and two sons, Billy and Davy. The Innerwick smithy was still in use then though there was not enough work for a full-time smith. The Dewars from Keltneyburn came up for the day, I think about once a fortnight, and I loved to watch them at work.
One year the Macgregors couldn't have us to stay because of illness and we found accommodation at Roroyere with the Mackenzies. They were far more like outsiders' conception of a Wee Free household than the Camerons or the Connals. The Free Church used to hold evening services at the school at Invervar and we would sometimes go just to show that there were no hard feelings between the Wee Frees and the Auld Kirk. One evening it was announced that Brother Mackenzie would lead us in prayer (as you probably know, you stand for the prayers at the Free Church). One of the men thereupon walked over to the high window and leaned against the wall, resting his head on the windowsill. Twenty minutes later, when Brother Mackenzie was still in full flood, we understood why! The story was told about Mackenzie that one day he was holding forth about observing the Sabbath when someone said to him: "Do you mean to say, Mackenzie, that if one of your sheep got stuck in a fence on a Sunday you wouldn't go and set it free?" "Indeed I would not," replied the devout Christian, "I would send my son, Dick."
We used to go to the church at Innerwick every Sunday and my father would take over the playing of the harmonium from Chrissie Campbell of Kerrowmore, who was the regular organist and very glad to have a respite. The minister, the Revd George Drummond, let my father choose the hymns and he in turn let us pick our favourites. The first one of the holiday was for obvious reasons always "I to the hills will lift mine eyes". My mother always chose "Summer suns are glowing" - but only if they actually were, and there would be a rapid substitution if it was raining.
The manse family consisted of two sons and two daughters: George, Ian, Christine and Mary (known as Topsy). George was a powerful swimmer and he occasionally rescued people who had unwisely gone swimming in the pool just below Bridge of Balgie. On one occasion we were in the post office and it happened that George was also there - I remember my mother coming rushing in, crying: "George, there's a job for you." (Strangers were tempted to go into the pool on a hot day not realising that the water would be icy cold.)
The post office at that time was run by Jimmie Macdonald, with his sister Hattie looking after the shop. After Mr Drummond retired, the new minister was called Vass - Jimmie married Elsie Vass and I can't remember whether she was the minister's daughter or his sister. Hattie, who of course was one of the Glen's great characters, never married though Alec Campbell of Kerrowmore courted her unsuccessfully for many a long year. Mr Connal, in a postscript to a letter to my father in 1945, wrote: "Alec and Hattie are waiting till the Old Age Pension comes on which won't be long - then they will see about a wedding". But they never did.
The Connals lived at Oakbank, next to the post office. They had one daughter, Mary, who died of (I think) TB when she was in her thirties, to the Connals' great grief. (To the end of their lives, they addressed each other as Father and Mother). Mary was a sweet, gentle girl and I think of her when I read Robert Louis Stevenson's poem In the Highlands. (In the Highlands, in the country places/Where the old plain men have rosy faces/And the young fair maidens/Quiet eyes). She is buried in Kerrowmore cemetery.
Connal was a very amusing man and was always making us laugh. Two stories about him concern the fact that he and Mrs Connal used to provide teas for any traveller in search of refreshments - usually sent down from the shop by Hattie. On one occasion, two bedraggled walkers presented themselves at Oakbank and were duly given tea. One of them, noticing a wireless, asked Connal if he ever listened to the programmes given by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir. "I certainly do," he replied. "I think they are the finest things the BBC puts on" and went on enthusing on these lines. "I'm very glad to hear it," said the visitor, "because I'm Sir Hugh Robertson". Connal, in no way overawed at being in the presence of the founder of the Orpheus Choir, replied: "Oh well, you and I are in the same line of business - you lead the singing down there in Glasgow, and I lead the singing here in Glenlyon" (being, as you may remember, the precentor in the Free Church).
On another occasion, we had been invited to tea at the Connnals' and had just sat down at a table laden with teatime goodies, when there was a knock at the door. The hungry travellers were taken into the sitting room and the Connals began a frantic search to find enough food for them, returning time and time again to the table where we were sitting and snatching plates away until there was nothing left but a plate of plain bread and butter. My parents and sister thought this was hilarious, but I was bitterly disappointed - I'd been looking forward to Mrs Connal's potato scones all week.
Moving up from Bridge of Balgie: we were very friendly with Jimmie Dewar, the head gamekeeper at Meggernie, and his wife Annie. At Meggernie I also remember a gardener called Adam Main, who had a daughter, Audrey, about my age. I used to play with her while my parents were visiting the Dewars and I seem to remember that we were sometimes joined by Tommy Finlayson from Gallin.
I have enjoyed remembering all these lovely people who helped me to store
up happy memories from my childhood. I'm sure there will be other stories
which will come back to me later but I'd just like to end with an account
of a conversation between Hattie and one of her customers, relayed to us
by Hattie herself. This man remarked to Hattie that there were a lot of visitors
to the Glen. "Really?" said Hattie, "I hadn't heard
of any." "Well," he began, "there are people called
Stewart at Innerwick..." And Hattie said: "The Stewarts?
They're not visitors - they belong to the Glen". We could
have desired no prouder accolade.
Author Rena Stewart, 2006.
The Society endeavours to meet three times a year. For meeting details see the bulletin board.