Tales of the Old Days on Aldourie Estate
This booklet was originally compiled by Neil Fraser-Tytler in the 1920s, with additions or corrections by Iain Cameron in 2002. Neil’s chief sourcewas James Gow of Erchit Wood, who was born in April 1803 and died in September 1903. He had a wonderfully clear memory up to the very end. Many of his stories were taken down by Dr Sinton, minister in Dores around 1900, either at the Manse, or when driving with him in the district.
Gow’s father had been ploughman at Ballagan, living close behind the present farm steading at the Losait House, and dying there when James was 8 years of age. James pointed out where he stood weeping bitterly when the coffin was carried out (1811). After the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, his grandfather was, for thirteen weeks, concealed in Gorrie’s cave. (Gorrie had been a notorious reiver.) The Duke of Cumberland had been sending out parties to burn and spoil the country, killing male children in their cradles. James’ grandfather (John Fraser), known as Iain MacUilleim (John the son of William) and fifteen other boys were concealed in this cave until, at last, the King forbade Cumberland to perpetrate such cruelties. James’ great grandmother was a widow who had a holding opposite Knockie. One day, having heard that the soldiers were coming, she directed the herd to drive away her six milk cows to a certain spot. As ill luck would have it, they met the soldiers. Everything was taken away. The poor widow had a lame goat – one of the troopers milked it into his helmet, then stabbed it dead with his bayonet.
Gow remembered seeing Alexander Fraser-Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee, on the Estate. (Alexander married Ann Fraser to become the first Fraser-Tytler of Aldourie.)
When in his teens, he entered the service of a Colonel Lester who had shooting in Stratherrick, and continued as his groom for four years. His employer’s Estate lay near Maidstone in Kent. The Colonel went south by coach, James and the other servants by sea. Occasionally, when winds were adverse, they took a long time, five weeks or so. Once, when sailing up the Thames, he remembered seeing eighteen pirates hanging in pairs from poles. The hotel he and his employer patronised was the “Golden Cross”, near Charing Cross. On the devil getting the upper hand of his employer, James left him and some £7 that was owing to him, and came to London, where, by visiting the War Office and other places, he was given in tips from Lester’s friends sufficient money to pay his passage to Inverness, refusing various offers of employment in England and America. James told how, when the Queen and Prince Consort were to land at Fort William in 1847, Sheriff Fraser-Tytler and a servant went west to make preparations for her reception. He took a web of Fraser tartan and laid it down at the landing place. The Sheriff took the Queen on his arm across the quay.
After his early service in England, Gow never left Stratherrick again, though his three brothers in the army saw service in many lands. One of them kept guard for five years over Napoleon’s grave in St. Helena. This brother used to tell how Napoleon had spent no less than 3 lbs of snuff while watching the Battle of Waterloo, as a strong east wind carried most of it away.
James had been pretty constantly engaged in smuggling and illicit distillation, having bothies in different places in the district. Once, when going to Dell with two casks of whisky concealed in sacks of grain on either side of a horse, he was met on Torness brae by and Excise Officer. The Officer was suspicious, and questioned where he was going. James told him. The Officer with his staff struck one of the sacks and asked its contents. James, giving all up for lost, said “It is seed oats for the tenant of Dell”, and, God helping him, as he said, the Officer allowed him to pass on.
He married a Fraser from Stratherrick and had a considerable family, two of whom live in Erchit Wood now (1922).
You can download the full document as a pdf file for a comprehensive account of life and times on the estate.
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