Ash and Rowan Lament for Bovaglia (part 2)

Now Queen Victoria brings my mind to a rather special and dear cousin of Bovaglia – none other than John Brown, the Queen’s devoted Highland Servant. The bond comes through John Brown’s mother, who was a daughter of the Leys family. For years I had heard the whispers about John Brown and the Girnoc, but his place in the history of the Bovagli was only confirmed much later by an elderly relative.

“An elderly relative who used to visit the area met Gordon relatives when she lived in Berkshire. Some of them moved there when Queen Victoria bought the estate as they worked at Windsor Castle. John Brown’s mother or grandmother was a Gordon and he was related – so they told her.”

cousins-GirnocFigure 3.16 John Gordon ( great-great-grandfather), Bovaglia, and John Brown. All cousins

This all goes back to Camlet John and his brother Camlet Joseph. Their mother was Barbara Leys of Balindory. Detail is lost as the early parish records are so poor, but there can be no doubt about the coalescence of the two key families of the district – the Leys and the Gordons. It was matrimonial bonds between these two families that served as a long bridge between the small glen and Crathienaird.

In the summer of 2004, whilst on holiday, I was to stay at Crathie Manse with my young family. The bedroom was at the back, immediately next to the old churchyard. Little did I know that my bedfellow, on the other side of the wall, was none other than Francis Leys of Inver (1712-1787). This man was the old patriarch of the Deeside family of Leys. His tombstone, flat, prostrate and lost in the grass, was the first in a long row to the family. To make the tombstone readable I had to borrow the coloured chalks of my dear children Andrew and Rachel. This Francis Leys was the brother of Barbara (the mother of the Camlet Gordons.)

Francis Leys was a farmer and Innkeeper. His son James Leys, known as ‘Civil Bonnets,’ followed family tradition and became the best known hotelier in the district – at the Inver Inn. His story is perfectly recounted by Robert Smith in his book A Queen’s Country published in 2000. Francis Leys also had a daughter called Mary who lived to the good age of 94 years. On the 1851 census she appears with the Brown family of Crathienaird and is described as ‘formerly an Innkeeper.’ I have often found myself reflecting just how well this family knew their whisky! Quite handy when you think of the smuggling Gordons of the Girnoc!

Francis-LeysFigure 3.17: Francis Leys died 1787

In Crathie churchyard tourists from near and far tred the well worn grass to the tombstone of John Brown. No wonder, for the story of how Queen Victoria, the world’s most powerful woman and John Brown, a simple Deeside lad, entered into such an extraordinary friendship is both compelling and humbling. The portrayal of John Brown by Billy Connolly in John Madden’s 1997 BBC film was nothing short of brilliant and matched only by Judi Dench as Queen Victoria.

This stone is erected in affectionate and grateful remembrance of JOHN BROWN the devoted and faithful personal attendant and beloved friend of Queen Victoria in whose service he had been for 34 years. Born at Crathienaird 8th December 1826 died at Windsor Castle 27th March 1883.

That friend on whose fidelity you count, that friend given you by circumstances over which you have no control, was God’s own gift. Well done good & faithful servant.

The very next tombstone (to that above) is to John Brown’s mother and father. His mother Margaret Leys was revered by the Queen as grand-old lady of the glens. Margaret was daughter of the Ballachlaggan blacksmith Charles Leys, and granddaughter of Francis Leys of Inver. Ballachlaggan at the foot of the Fearder glen was where eighteen bonnet lairds were hung from the rafters of a ‘gyrt barn’ for upsetting the Laird of Invercauld. The story of Margaret Leys, mother of John Brown, is rather special and for those interested there is an article about her in the Leopard Magazine of 1998. It is again by Robert Smith and is entitled ‘The Other Mrs Brown.’

A photograph of Margaret Leys survives seated outside Bush of Crathienaird, with her son Archie. Now if you look closely, only just visible on Margaret Leys left hand is her wedding ring. There is reason for pointing out what surely must seem obvious – for this ring had a rather incredible fate.


When John Brown died at the end of March 1883, Queen Victoria, in a state of mourning, took his mother’s ring and wore it as her symbol of enduring love. It never left her finger. Unknown to the Queen’s close family the ring was on her wedding finger when she was interred within the ornate marble Mausoleum of Frogmore. So that was how the ring of Margaret Leys was to eternally grace Queen Victoria. Deeside’s reach was indeed wide and far.

It is time now to reflect on the glory years of the farm, when it prospered like no other in the district, and when the Bovagli sheep were renowned at the market for their quality and health. So whilst all the other small glen farms stuttered into subsistence (especially the Camlet) Bovaglia flourished. This reversal of fortune has been hinted at before in this chapter but it was all down to Queen Victoria and her Balmoral Mutton Larder.

Bovagli became Royal territory – true it was never owned by the family – but they did have three consecutive forty year leases of the Abergeldy estate which only changed with the coming of John Howard Seton Gordon. ‘Auld Prodeegous’ has been introduced earlier in the chapter; he was also known as ‘Red Donald,’ for unusually for a Gordon, he had red hair. He was the brother that displaced Crovie John. Bovaglia was where these two titans of temper clashed. Literally the scattered stones that survive today represent their battle ground. It is worthy of reflection here that the mother of these two Gordon boys was a Camlet quine, Elspet Gordon, so arguably some of this ferocity of spirit came from the elbow!

In the time of ‘Auld Prodeegous’ the farm was transformed, from the pocket sized 18 acres of pasture in 1826, to the truly extensive holding of about 2000 acres of hill pasture just forty years later. Donald had a faltering start to his career as Royal ‘flumgummer.’ In 1850 he had an illegitimate son John. He was born at Bellamore and seems to have been utterly disowned by his father. Indeed there is nothing to suggest he saw any of the riches that later came the way of Prodeegous.

You may recall 1860 was a sad year in the history of the Camlet. It was at exactly this time that the fortunes of the two farms ran in opposite directions. By this date Bovaglia was on the up. On the last Friday of a cold 1855 January, the forty three year old Prodeegous married his distant cousin Margaret Smith. By 1860 their new farmhouse was built and it was by far the grandest in the glen.

Bovaglie-farmFigure 3.19: The farmhouse built for Auld Prodeegous

The boarded and long-abandoned Bovagli farmhouse is depicted in Figure 3.19, yet somehow its original grandiosity manages to present itself. In this house Donald’s bairns were born and raised. The view from the sitting room on Christmas morn to a snow-capped Lochnagar must have been truly special. The small glen must have been a wonderful place for the Gordon children to play in free abandon. Daily they would have walked the Bovagli Roadie, passed the Camlet, and Lynvaig, onto the new schoolhouse at the Bridge of Girnoc which was mastered by Patrick Kidd and his sister Margaret. By the time of the 1871 census Donald Gordon was listed as head of his family, aged 59 years and farming a massive 2000 acres of arable land. By this date, he was employing ten shepherds, and five servants. It was not just Crovie John that was reeling, can you just imagine the envy of the Kennedy family on the floundering Camlet. That was indeed the sad demise of The Camlet, ‘Capital’ of the small glen!

Donald-GordonFigure 3.20: Auld Prodeegous

What startles me most about the small glen is that it is a glen of secrets and contrasts especially with the opposing fates of the chief farms: Camlet and Bovaglia. This contrast was never more obvious than with ‘Auld Prodeegous.’ For while he prospered, his wider family ran into trouble; especially his three cousins; James, Francis, and Peter Gordon. These boys had indeed some infamy! They were the most notorious cattle thieves in the district and spread their ploy wide and far. In 1833 they were the subject of an interdict raised by Lord Panmure. The interdict stated that the hill grounds in the parishes of Edzell, Lethnot, and Lochlee had “been infested by a gang of poachers of the most desperate character”. The interdict was extended in 1834, 1835, and 1836.

Auld Prodeegous (1811-1897) had a liking for a dram (or two) and used to take his horse and cart through the Bovagli wuid, past the Genechal, and Tilfogar, down the glen to Easter Balmoral and along the Dee to the Inver. On the way home he would sometimes have a sleep in the cart whilst his understanding horse would take him home on its own. One day two boys were waiting for him and they unhitched the cart from the horse, with Donald still sleeping soundly, and then hitched it back together – after first passing the shafts of the cart through the spars of the gate. They then hid and waited eagerly. A dazed Donald Gordon studied his predicament before he was heard to say himself…

“I doobt the diel himsel has been at work here the day!”

Donald Gordon had the prosperity, the Royal patronage, and the largest farm on Deeside. He was the Eighth of his family to farm Bovagli and had easily surpassed any of his forebears. He had even become wealthy enough to be a laird in his own right. Yet look at his picture above (Figure 3.20) in which he looks stern and miserable. It surely presents a much truer cartography of the man, especially if you compare it to the romanticized coloured, lithograph portrait of Donald in Clan tartan painted by Kenneth Macleay for Queen Victoria in 1868 (Figure 3.21) I must say that I cannot see the true ‘Prodeegous’ in Macleay’s picture, which encompasses a softness of feature, that I truly doubt was defining.


The Notice on the reverse of this RSA painting states:
“Donald Gordon (aged 57 – 1868) occupies Bovagli. As the Estate of Abergeldy is leased to the Queen, he is personally known to Her Majesty and ‘turns out’ with the Queen’s Highlanders…. He holds another Farm, Wester Morven, on the Marquis of Huntly’s Estate (which was considered locally a great catch for him to get). The family have lived for Eight generations on the Abergeldy property”

For a long period ‘Prodeegous’ was well known at all the big sheep fairs and must have been quite distinguishable with his red whiskers and paunch. With success, Donald later bought a property in Dee Street in Aberdeen, which he used during the winter months. That must have presented quite a contrast for his children. It is recorded that Donald was an elder in Crathie Parish Church, and that he ‘was greatly respected as a clear-thinking, upright and far-seeing business man, and as possessing wide sympathies and largeness of heart’. Again I find myself wondering what Crovie John would have made of these sentiments? A fierce reaction surely!

These days Auld Prodeegous’s farm is utterly desolate. One cannot review it without feeling an all-prevailing sadness. The guard-house, simply guards no more. It looks out blindly to Lochnagar: both sight and spirit long gone. The painted woodwork is flaked but still shows through an original emerald green gloss. The porcelain toilet lies outside the shuttered windows. It is shattered in three pieces – the throne of Bovagli. The gate has rusted, but still squeaks open; the slates have dropped, one by one, from the roof. The moss is rampant, and fungi crop from every corner.

That ‘largeness of heart’ was the one that Donald was truly to need, for despite his relative prosperity, he (and his wife Margaret) did indeed have sorrow – the deepest of sorrows. I first became aware of this many years back when I encountered a lichen encrusted stone in old Crathie churchyard. It was a very plain stone erected by Donald Gordon to three of his children lost at Bovagli to smallpox: John lost aged 2½ in 1860; Mary lost in 1864 in her ninth year and David in 1870 aged ’11 months and 20 days.’ Yes it must have felt as if the Guard-house was losing its role as protector. It was no wonder that Donald bought his property in Dee Street, Aberdeen to shelter his family in the winter months.


Somebody out there is still a friend of Bovagli, because when I returned to Crathie churchyard some years later to take a picture of the Bovagli tombstones I found that they had been cleaned back to sparkling granite (Figure 3.29.)

The old Victorian farmhouse has two large south facing public rooms, which look out onto the majestic and shimmering ridge of Lochnagar – an outlook of incomparable beauty and at the envy of every other home in Deeside. A tour within this now shuttered and boarded farmhouse reveals this former splendour: beautiful Victorian fireplaces, with mahogany carved lintels that match ornate plasterwork ceilings. The last of the Bovagli Gordons to live in the house was Miss Lizzie Gordon (born in the house in 1865), who continued the Bovagli tenancy until the pre war years (WWII), and who, as a spinster, entrusted the management of the estate to Victor Cook of Counteswells House, Bieldside, the son of her sister Victoria.

Incredibly, Victor Cook was to beckon me from the grave, in the form of a dream in which he gave me a tour of Counteswell House (his home) and recounted the story behind a cascade of child portraits hanging on the wall. Victor, you see, was no ordinary son of Bovagli and whilst never a father himself, he was to become a ‘welfare custodian’ to Scotland’s children. A remarkable man of compelling vision his legacy was to roll on like a Bovagli stone gathering selfless good. When he died in March 1990, Victor left his vast fortune (four Million) to the trust he had set up a quarter of a century before. That trust was named in honour of his mother Victoria Gordon and so it was that on the 18th February 1974 in Aberdeen ‘The GORDON-COOK FOUNDATION’ was born.

Sunday 28th January 2007

Dear Irene,
Bill Gatherer’s book on Victor is wonderful. It really brought this champion of a man alive. After reading Bill’s book I dreamt of Victor showing me around Counteswells House!

I was in Aberdeen from 1985 till 2001. I wish now that I had spoken to Victor about his family, his life, and his Trust.

With two of my own children at Primary School I cannot help feel buoyed by the work of the Foundation and Victor’s lasting legacy for the moral good of the children of our nation. It somehow feels right that that legacy comes from Bovaglia!

Best wishes,


Victor pioneered Moral Education for schools. It was his personal crusade to encourage the good in children. This was a vision of extraordinary foresight but was initially received as old fashioned, naïve, and of the Baden-Powel mould. Yet Victor, at times inflexible yes, had stoneball belief in his moral code. He gathered, in his Foundation, a group of astounding minds, all personal friends, in whom he placed his trust – Bill Gatherer was one of those. Bill later wrote Victor’s biography ‘Pioneering Moral Education.’

Victor had the mind of an Engineer; like the shining brilliance of polished steel, yet, rigid as the mould. He had the combined strength of his grandfathers: Donald Gordon (1811-1897) ‘Auld Prodeegous’ and Charles Cook (1836-1918). These two men, the DNA structure of the Gordon-Cook Foundation, are pure upper Deeside

We have heard all about Donald Gordon, but what of Charles Cook? Well can you imagine how they met? Well it was over a dram at the Invercauld Arms, where Charles Cook was the venerable host. That ‘Stoneball’ tipple had indeed, reaching powers!

Charles Cook’s fortune was turned at Invercauld. He was a canny-man of vision and 1889 he bought an Iron Foundry in Aberdeen and started the Company of Barry, Henry and Cook. Victor’s parents were married seven years later and even by then business was flourishing with the family investing widely. Then suddenly came loss, not financial but bodily.

Invercauld-ArmsFigure 3.24: The Invercauld Arms of Charles Cook
In 1918 peritonitis took away grandfather Charles Cook, and two years later, to the very same condition, father Robert Cook died. He was just fifty. So it was that young Victor was left to oversea the vast Engineering Works. Victor turned to his mother Victoria Gordon, a woman of true substance, and a woman born of Bovagli.

Victor never left his mother again, and when his only brother Norman was killed tragically young in a motorcycle accident in 1927, he set up their home in Counteswells House. From that day forth, mother Victoria, and son Victor, formed an unbreakable bond. Their home was in Bieldside, but that beating-heart was still Bovagli. Victor took over the management of his Mother’s farm a place in which he felt a belonging. Even in his nineties he used to drive his car up the steep four mile track from Balmoral to visit Bovaglia. Indeed he was known to take his friends on the Royal tour. It was a journey they never forgot!

Do you know, I am not often accused of fancy, but when I visit Bovagli I hear the chattering excited voices of the children that once festooned the farm. It is my belief that Victor heard the whoops and laughter too, and that Bovagli was the spiritual guide to his pioneering Foundation. Perhaps that is nonsense, but one cannot deny the spell-bound relationship between, Victor, his mother, and the farm!

I do hope that one day Victor Cook will be as recognized a name as Baden-Powell. For I like to think, Victor’s reach out to children, will impact future generations in a way that his Victorian-counterpart may never do. However, in truth, I know this to be most unlikely. Some ideas have redundancy as mankind moves on, but a code for moral good, and citizenship, are as fresh as the blossoming bulbs of Bovagli.

The following code is pure Victor – yes it has an Edwardian naiveté but also it is the foundation of a Trust. A cause, that now far more sophisticated, reaches every schoolchild in our land. At last the ‘Bovagli Code’ has become curriculum. Victoria Gordon would have been proud of her son.

Bovagli-codeFigure 3.25: Victor’s Bovagli Code (illustration by Rachel Gordon)

As a postscript I would like to tell you of Victor’s longevity. He died in March 1990 age 93 years, his mother Victoria lived to 94 years, and his ‘Bovagli Granny’ to 97 years.

Earlier in this chapter an oblique reference was made to the great walled garden of Auchernach and the ‘Gardener of Bovagli.’ Strictly this statement was misleading, for the man in question, David Morrice Gordon, was great-grandson of both Bovagli and Camlet. ‘One Man’s Dream’ tells the life story of a man whose life (somewhat remarkably) spanned three centuries.

David Morrice Gordon, like Victor Cook, was a true pioneer in his field and invested his incredible lifelong drive into his native memorial – Myall Park Garden in Queensland, Australia. Yes for although vastly different characters, there was a commonality about these two loons well beyond their remote Girnoc beginning. It is indeed interesting to reflect that both men were thrown head-first into grim-responsibility when their respective fathers succumbed fatally young to illness. In David Morrice’s case he was left at the age of fifteen to run the farm and provide for his family, his only brother Jack serving his country in the First World War.

It was David’s grandfather, Joseph, that left Scotland for Australia in the 1850’s and his father James Morrice who first settled in Queensland at the century’s turn. They Gordons settled in the Lagoons but the land was poor and the prickly pear was the widespread curse of the incoming farmers. At that time the settlers invested all their energies into clearing the land by poisoning, burning, and hacking. But in 1910 on his free-holding on the river, James Morrice Gordon did not follow the popular line. The bush to him was like a garden. Trees along the river were left, and grand and unusual trees grouped for shade. Neighbours, all around, thought the Gordons were mad and could not understand why they revered such ‘poor’ trees as the Boonarees and Gums.

James Morrice Gordon recognized the challenge ‘I have a hard job to hoe here.’ On hearing his comment I chuckled to myself, thinking that his Girnoc grandfathers would have understood! There is indeed something about the Gordons, harsh-terrain, and a challenge! James Morrice Gordon worked unsparingly on his land but as time went on he became increasingly aware he was ill. Having only just started his venture, and with a family of nearly all daughters, James doggedly continued but was eventually forced into hospital where he died. That was the summer of 1914, the start of the war, and the making of young David.

David Morrice Gordon lost not just his father but also his role model and hero. Early responsibility was thus thrust, without choice, his way and David coped by turning to what he understood – the land. Tall and athletic in frame, he supported his mother, and his many sisters, before in 1932 they moved upstream to Myall Park. It was to become David’s ‘Dream.’ His energies saw no bounds; he built a new house on the hill, cultivated the 52,000 acres of land, preserved the best of the native flora, and planted many more (mostly Eucalypts.)

David’s passion masked an emotional reserve. He was a stern man of few words and to emote was seen by him as a measure of weakness. His connection was with the land, the plants, and the soil. It is remarkable then that he ever found love – but he did. He was heading towards bachelorhood (like Victor) when aged nearly fifty, he met, on the neighbouring homestead of ‘Braemar’ a young seventeen year old ‘wildflower artist’ called Dorothy. He was smitten, but it took the reserved David, five years to seal his betrothal. In 1952 they were married and over the following decade four children were born.

David, always interested in his Scottish homeland, commissioned Donald Whyte F.H.G, Chair of The Genealogical Society, to draw up a Manuscript on his family ‘The Gordons in Upper Deeside.’ It took two decades in production, never made print, but has since surfaced as the template for all further research. In honour of his Gordon forebears, David named features in his Myall Park garden after ancestral seats like ‘Terpersie’ – the Gardener’s cottage. Unfortunately David had high pretensions and in his commissioned research many leaps-of-faith were made. This saddens me somewhat as I recognize there is no shame in ordinariness. The Girnoc Gordons should, I think, always be inextricable. It matters not whether we have Terpersie, Abergeldy, Glenbuchat, or Hallhead blood. It has taken the writing of this book to make me realize that.

Myall-parkFigure 3.26: Myall Park: designed, laid out and planted by David Morrice Gordon

Nevertheless the Terpersie Ladies were renowned for their beauty. David’s oldest daughter Robyn was ‘true Terpersie’ and even as a tiny child she took interest in her father’s garden. She was the apple of his eye, and understood the plants as innately as her father. Thus when Robyn took ill, David’s world stopped.

There is something about a sick child that reaches out to everyone. Robyn, loved by all, aged seventeen slipped, through cancer, from her father’s clutches. Her funeral service in Glamorgan brought out the whole neighbourhood in a collective out-pouring of grief. From the church the cortege took solemnly to Myall Park, where Robyn was buried in her favourite spot overlooking the lake.

With Dorothy beside him, David weathered this dreadful time. David could not talk of Robyn with others. He could not ‘talk through’ his grief. Talking was not his way. There was only one way – working the Garden. And he threw himself into that with his considerable energy.

By now in his sixties, David turned to natural hybrids, and when a beautifully delicate, yet vivid Grevillia came along, he dedicated it to his lost daughter. Grevillea Robyn Gordon turned the tide of Australian preference:

“before Grevillea Robyn Gordon, no grevillea had so much going for it. Semi-prostrate, large flowers all year round, hardy and adaptable to a wide climatic range and soil types it is a delight for the native, nectar-eating honeyeaters and parrots. Market-wise it is was a winner. The public readily gave it a place in their gardens. Landscapers looked upon it as a ‘gift from above’ and it was planted by tens of thousands.”
Australian Horticulture (May 1984)

Robyn-GordonFigure 3.27: Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

There could not be a better way to be remembered; and with Grevillea Robyn Gordon David had swayed the opinion of the average Australian gardener towards including native plants in their home gardens and parks.

In 1985 David and Dorothy Gordon made a pilgrimage to the Girnoc. They visited Bovagli, The Camlet, and the Cosh and Dorothy sketched what she saw. David would have understood the Girnoc. Tragically, just days after their return journey to Australia, Dorothy was killed in a car accident.

David-&-Dorothy-GordonFigure 3.28: David and Dorothy Gordon of Myall Park

The ‘Grand Old Man of Australian Flora’ died in Surat on the 21st July 2001 and was buried in Myall Park beside his daughter Robyn and wife Dorothy. As a champion of native conservation it is surely right that he was a loon of the ‘Small Glen.’

“As a child I remember a stern, unsmiling man who only talked of plants.”

As a postscript I would like to say that I feel a coalition of spirit with auld David. My love of plants took me out of Medicine for three years, and some would say, despite my current profession, that I am better with plants! I have designed, created and planted several gardens, notably Tillybin and Mossgrove.

DMGordonFigure 3.29: David Morrice Gordon sitting on a Eucalypt

David did call a Grevillea after his son Peter Gordon. However, young Peter, hated being called after a flower and it was changed to be named after his sister Merinda. At any rate that hybrid was notorious from straying from its pure form, and universally disliked by Nurseryman. Such was the fate of Grevillea Peter Gordon!

It was Joseph Gordon who brought that first cart to the Girnoc in 1813, and we can only imagine how much the small glen children must have enjoyed getting a ride on it. “We used tae think it was great getting a lift in the cart. Fan we were kids we used to open the gate for the folk that used tae come up and doon fae Bovagli and sometimes they would throw ye a penny” Modernity had at last encroached the glen and gosh they must have been glad of it! 150 years later and the small glen had its first, last, and only taxi – it was Wollie Merchant’s old Massey-Ferguson! The Merchant family took over Bovagli from the Gordons, and were there during the war years, when the Girnoc’s depopulation was welcomely reversed with evacuees from Glasgow.

Bovagli has returned us to its resting souls in Crathie churchyard many a time; John Brown, the Bovagli bairns, and Francis leys of Inver. One stone however gives no indication of the heartache it represents. That is the stone to the Merchants of Bovaglia.

After waking early on the morning of the 14th June 1940, Charles Merchant, a sixty year old farmer, got out of bed from his grand Victorian farmhouse of Bovagli. He went to his gun store, picked up his shot gun, and quietly left for an out-building. He left behind his wife, peacefully sleeping in bed. With a single shot he brought his life to a sad and premature end. His death, by suicide, was certified by Dr William Newlands of Ballater who made an external examination of the body. Charles Merchant junior had to make the sad duty of informing the Registrar.

Ten years to the day passed. That was when they found Charles junior floating in a small lochan approximately 400 yards south-east of Loch Builg, in the upper reaches of the Gairn. Glen Builg the chosen spot was the remotest reach of Deeside that Charles could find. The second generation of Merchant, and the second son of Bovagli, was dead; again by suicide.

BovagliesketchFigure 3.31: Capturing Bovaglia – by Peter Gordon

I have wrestled with my conscience as to whether include this account of the most terrible loss of Charles Merchant, father and son. Yet I feel it is right, as difficult as it may be, to be open. Helen Crawford, Merchant wife, and mother, carried that pain with her all her days. She soon left Bovaglia and with her son Wollie flitted by the Skylich to Khantore. In her latter years, perhaps as a defence against the deep hurt of such painful memories, she demented. She spent her last years in Royal Cornhill Hospital, in a long-stay bed for the insane. Not only did she die in the hospital in which I trained for ten years, but she also left her memories behind the year I was born.

The sadness of the Merchant family has made me realize why nature has tried so to completely heal Bovagli’s scar.

Bovaglie-aerialFigure 3.32: Bovaglia from above – taken in 2001

Wollie Merchant was one of the Girnoc’s favourites. He was a character of loveable qualities, and scattered vagrancy, yet remained a life-long bachelor. His nephews, the ‘Ellis boys,’ used to love visiting him at Bovagli, and in the years between the wars, they joyously helped out on the farm. One memory was of Wollie dousing the young lambs mouths in Jeyes fluid as antiseptic to the wounds opened up by adder bites!

James Esson was the very last to farm Bovagli (from 1957 till 1981). He ‘knocked about’ in the six bedroomed farmhouse, with only his wife for company. The current laird of Abergeldy remembers him well and recalls how his wife Gillian used to help him out on the farm! In 1981 the Bovagli front door was closed by James Esson for the last time and in that moment seven centuries of occupation came to an end.

After Farmer Esson the farm was let out by Abergeldy to graziers. However no agreement could be reached as to whose responsibility it was to maintain fences, and so in the summer of 1994, grazing stopped. A year later ‘upper and lower Bovagli,’ under a Forestry Commission grant, were planted with an evergreen carpet.

There is something innately beautiful and peaceful about Bovaglia. It has an understated brilliance that radiates in the glow of Lochnagar. It is the sorrowful gem of the glen. Yes nature is doing her best, as she always does, to reclaim seven centuries of man – but there will always be the scattered rickles of the Bovagli stanes to remind the visitor of the days of hustle and bustle.

Even on my first visit to Bovaglia I felt that so familiar clasping emotion. I was sitting on a cold February morning on the old doorstep beside a currant bush, when I noticed in a small patch of snow, almost reaching out and growing before my eyes, the first glowing buds of a daffodil. It was as if the Bovagli folk were speaking: ‘Please don’t forget us. Please.’


“If their outward life was grey and rough they had within them, as all true Celts have, an inner world of dreams and joyous imaginings which gave a charm and beauty to their character”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.