HISTORY & HERITAGE

Welcome to Strathyre - the first village in the Highlands of Scotland heading North

EARLY VISITORS

Some of the earliest notable visitors to pass through Strathyre were men of the cloth – St Cuthbert, St Columba and St Angus whom many believe may have founded the ancient kirk of Balquhidder.

 

It is known Angus was a follower of St Columba who died in 597. Other records suggest he was sent to Balquhidder by St Blane of Dunblane in 590.

Historical information can become a little thin as you delve further and further back in time. Sometimes we only know, or believe, that someone existed because of evidence of them at a single place or in a single area. Saint Angus is one of those people. It is believed that he had Irish origins. Some have associated Angus with Aonghais Mac Cridhe Mochta Lughmhaigh, mentioned in the “Martyrology of Donegal”, a calendar of Irish saints. If so, then his feast day is 11 August.

 

Saint Angus is closely associated with the scattered village of Balquhidder. The parish church is home to a very old gravestone, which originally lay beside the altar of the old church, with parts of its original structure, nearby. The stone is carved with the figure of a priest holding a chalice. The stone is known as the “Clach Aonghais”, or Angus Stone, and the chalice is known as the Cup of Salvation.

LOCATION

The district of Strathyre extends from east of Balquhidder, following the River Balvaig, which flows out of Loch Voil almost due south to Loch Lubnaig. The River Balvaig is 8 kilometers in length, almost all of which lies in Strathyre. It falls by around 5 metres between Loch Voil and Loch Lubnaig. The former Callander and Oban Railway ran through the Strath up to 1it's closure in 1965. 

 

General Harry Pulteney's soldiers constructed the old military road through the strath in 1749 -1750 and a boundary marker stone still exists in a layby at the top of Loch Lubnaig.

The Strathyre Forest, which extends well beyond the limits of Strathyre proper, is managed by the Forestry Commission forming the easternmost part of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

Strathyre from the Scottish Gaelic (Srath Eadhair) is a district and settlement in the Stirling local government district of Scotland. It forms the south-eastern part of the parish of Balquhidder and was, prior to the 1973 reorganisation of local government, part of Perthshire. 

A brass plaque beneath the Angus stone notes that: “This stone, of unknown antiquity, represents St Angus, who was the first Apostle of the Gospel of Christ in the district of Balquhidder and his name still clings through the ages to places in the glen such as Beannach Aonghais etc. He is represented as holding the Cup of Salvation in his hands. The stone originally lay beside the altar of the ancient parish Church and was set up here in the year 1917 during the great war.”

Beannach Aonghais translates as “blessing of Angus” and is said to be the place where Angus knelt and blessed Balquhidder Glen when he first arrived there. Near the old manse is a small hill called Tom Aonghais where St Angus is said to have preached. In later centuries the saint’s name (and perhaps his feast day) lived on in the annual “Angus Fair” which was held at King’s House, where the modern A84 passes the end of Balquhidder Glen, on the Wednesday after the second Tuesday in August. This means the fair could take place on 11 August, which might support the identification of St Angus with Aonghais Mac Cridhe Mochta Lughmhaigh.

If the place name and physical evidence is reasonably convincing, the historical evidence is far hazier. As stated, the plaque under the stone suggests St Angus was active in the area in the 600s or 700s. On the other hand, some sources suggest he was a follower of St Columba, who died in 597; while other sources say he was sent to the area by St Blane of Dunblane who died in about 590. To fit him into the “year of birth” index it is assumed a birth year of 560.

LITERARY ASSOCIATIONS

Dugald Buchanan (Dùghall Bochanan in Gaelic) from Ardoch Farm, Strathyre in Perthshire Scotland (1716–1768) was a Scottish poet. He helped the Rev. James Stuart or Stewart of Killin to translate the new testament into Scottish Gaelic.

 

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet FRSE FSA Scot (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian who featured Strathyre in some of his works.

In September 1803, William Wordsworth (Poet), and his sister Dorothy (Author) stayed in the village and took walks in the local hills. Wordsworth was inspired to write his poem The Solitary Reaper following his stay in the village in what is now known as the Ben Sheann Hotel.

STRATHYRE GOLD

"There’s gold in them there hills", is widely associated with the early USA gold diggers. Strathyre had its own golden era when gold panners working for the Earl of Breadalbane had panners working on the eastern slopes of the Strathyre foothills panning in the small streams coming down towards the village and this extended northwards to Balquhidder Station where there is the remains of a gold mine.

 

The gold panners had small shacks that they erected on the eastern slopes to give shelter, especially during the winter months.

The gold panning activity was present in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The panners used sheep fleeces laid in the streams to capture small gold fragments being washed downstream with fine gravel, which were caught in the fleece and were easily spotted.

 

Amateur panners can sometimes be seen today checking the local streams in pursuit of the small gold nuggets.

ROYALTY LINKS

Queen Victoria was also a frequent visitor to the Station Hotel, now known as the Ben Sheann Hotel where she stopped for refreshments, arriving initially by horse and carriage, and at the turn of the century, by steam train. The small garden area in the grounds of the former station carries the title of Victorian Gardens named after the queen.

The village of Strathyre is largely a Victorian creation, having grown up with the arrival of the Callander and Oban railway in the 1870s and the establishment of Strathyre railway station.

In Victorian times, the population of the area was much lower than it is today. Strathyre was recorded by the United Kingdom Census 2001 as  100. In less than 20 years, the village has more than doubled its population to 230. Balquhidder's population is around 210 and Lochearnhead is close to 300.

 

ROB ROY MCGREGOR

Perhaps the area's most famous resident was Rob Roy Macgregor who was born at Glengyle, at the head of Loch Katrine, as recorded in the baptismal register of Buchanan, Stirling. His parents were Donald Glas MacGregor and Margaret Campbell. He was also descended from the Macdonalds of Keppoch through his paternal grandmother.

In January 1693, at Corrie Arklet farm near Inversnaid, he married Mary MacGregor of Comar (1671-1745), who was born at Leny Farm, Strathyre. The couple had four sons: James Mor MacGregor (1695-1754), Ranald (1706-1786), Coll (died 1735) and Robert (1715-1754 – known as Robin Oig or Young Rob).

 

It has been claimed that they also adopted a cousin named Duncan, but this is not certain.

CALLANDER & OBAN RAILWAY

Strathyre had its own railway station which ran from Stirling to Oban. The station opened on 1 June 1870 along with the first section of the Callander and Oban railway, between Callander and Glenoglehead (originally named ‘Killin’).

The station was laid out with two platforms, one on either side of a crossing loop. There were sidings on the east side of the station. Final closure came on 27 September 1965 following a landslide in Glen Ogle.

 

Around the turn of the century, Strathyre became famous by winning the best-kept station in Great Britain award, which was a water fountain statue of a heron presented to the station master. The statue still exists today and can be seen in a garden opposite the site of the former railway station.

A commemorative plaque can be found on the wall of the Victorian garden, which is an old one penny piece around 30cm diameter in bronze colour dated 1965 to commemorate the closure of the railway.

To the south of Strathyre is a small former township of 8 houses known as Immervoulin with the Immervoulin campsite beyond and around 1 mile to the north is the former township of Rusgachan which had 11 cotter crofts – with only one remaining occupied today. The origins of the townships of Immervoulin and Rusgachan date back to the 1600s.

JACOBITE RISING

Along with many Highland clansmen at the age of eighteen, Rob Roy together with his father, joined the Jacobite rising of 1689 led by John Graham 1st Viscount Dundee, known as “Bonnie Dundee”, to support the Stuart King James II who had fled Britain during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Although victorious in initial battles, Dundee was killed in 1689, deflating the rebellion.

 

Rob’s father was taken to jail, where he was held on treason charges for two years. Rob’s mother Margaret’s health failed during Donald’s time in prison.

 

By the time Donald was finally released, his wife was dead. The Gregor chief never returned to his former spirit or health.

GLEN SHIRA

The gravesite of Rob Roy MacGregor also marking his wife (Helen) Mary, and sons Coll and Robert is found in Balquhidder churchyard.

 

In 1716 Rob Roy moved to Glen Shira for a short time and lived under the protection of  John Campbell 2nd Duke of Argyll also known as Red John of the Battles, “Iain Ruaidh nan Cath.” Argyll negotiated an amnesty and protection for Rob and granted him permission to build a house in the Glen for the surrendering up of weapons. “Traditionally the story goes that Argyll only received a large cache of rusty old weapons.” A sporran and dirk handle which belonged to Rob Roy can still be seen at Inveraray Castle. Rob Roy only used this house occasionally for the next three or four years.

In July 1717, Rob Roy and the whole of the clan Gregor were specifically excluded from the benefits of the Indemnity Act 1717 which had the effect of pardoning all others who took part in the Jacobite rising of 1715.

All that remains of the Glen Shira home is the ruined walls.

Despite many claims to the contrary, Rob Roy was not wounded at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719, in which a British Government army with allied Highlanders defeated a force of Jacobite Scots supported by the Spanish. However, two of the Jacobite commanders, Lord George Murray and the 5th Earl of Seaforth, were badly wounded.

 

Robert Roy MacGregor is claimed in many accounts to have been wounded, but the actual text of Ormonde’s account of the battle has the following – “Finding himself hard-pressed, Lord Seaforth sent for further support. A reinforcement under Rob Roy went to his aid, but before it reached him the greater part of his men had given way, and he himself had been severely wounded in the arm.”

 

Note that this does not state that Rob Roy was wounded, but Seaforth was. Sometime around 1720 and after the heat of Rob’s involvement at the Battle of Glen Shiel had died down, Rob moved to Monachyle Tuarach by Loch Doine and sometime before 1722, Rob finally moved to Inverlochlarig Beag on the Braes of Balquhidder.

Photograph by Alan Reid
ROB ROY LATER LIFE

Rob Roy became a respected cattleman. This was a time when cattle rustling and selling protection against theft were commonplace and a means of earning a living. Rob Roy borrowed a large sum to increase his own cattle herd, but owing to the disappearance of his chief herder, who was entrusted with the money to bring the cattle back, Rob Roy lost his money and cattle and defaulted on his loan. As a result, he was branded an outlaw and his wife and family were evicted from their house at Inversnaid, which was then burned down. After his principal creditor, 1st Duke of Montrose seized his lands,

 

Rob Roy waged a private blood feud against the Duke until 1722 when he was forced to surrender. Later imprisoned, he was finally pardoned in 1727. He died in his house at Inverlochlarig Beg, Balquhidder, on 28 December 1734, aged 63.

Another version of this series of events states that Rob Roy’s estates of Craigrostan and Ardess were forfeited for his part in the rebellion of 1715. The Duke of Montrose acquired the property in 1720 by open purchase from the Commissioners of Enquiry.  K. Macleay, M.D., in Historical Memoirs of Rob Roy and the Clan MacGregor, quotes, “but he had taken the resolution of becoming a Roman Catholic, and he accordingly left the lonely residence we have described, and returning to Perthshire, went to a Mr Alexander Drummond, an old priest of that faith, who resided at Drummond Castle.” Macleay takes the view that Rob did this out of sorrow for his crimes.

With thanks to Kim Proven – Chair Lochearn Tourism Initiative for access to local information. Further information can be found at www.robroycountry.com