Where eagles soar (part 2)

Given such infamous inextricability, you may not be surprised to learn that Camlet John had brothers, and his elder brother Joseph is of particular interest. For clarity this Joseph has been given an eponym: ‘Camlet Joseph.’

It is not known for sure, when or where, Camlet Joseph was born, but there are strong indications that he hailed from Balindory a farmstead at the foot of Glenmuick, next to Wardhead and Braichlie. In a sororal mirror to his brother ‘Camlet John,’ he married twice, and had twelve children. The pathways of these children, bairns of the small glen, astonished me so much, that a few years back I penned an account on them entitled Joseph Gordon and his Incredible Bairns. Perhaps the most instructive facet of their collective account was the emergence of the helping hand of Abergeldy, without whom, they would not have prospered so.

For this book, focus shall be on only two of Camlet Joseph’s children:

  1. firstly, Joseph Gordon, Butler to the Earl of Airly, and
  2. secondly, Alexander Gordon, the most notorious smuggler on Deeside.

Joseph the Butler was indeed a man of ‘many pairts.’ His father, we know, was from the Camlet but it has been established, from the old parish records, that Camlet Joseph raised many of his children on the braes of neighbouring Bovaglia. Rudimentary education was the norm in upper Deeside, with only the laird’s family, and a few of the gentry, being properly schooled and then generally in Aberdeen.

The Girnoc boys and girls walked to school by the Loinmuie track to Glenmuick and with them they would have carried a peat for the classroom fire. Up to the end of the seventeenth century reading was from the Bible and the Shorter Catechism. There was little questioning, or understanding, of the subject matter. Dr Sedgwick informed us that in 1792, two years before Joseph the Butler was born, the schoolmaster in Glenmuick had a salary, fees, and session clerk’s emoluments coming to £14.1s ld, equal to about 1 shilling and 1 penny per day.

Joseph’s mental acumen was nothing short of astonishing. Still, to this day, I find it hard to reconcile that a bairn from The Camlet – a farm of toil – could be so learned. There is no doubt, that Abergeldy, took an interest in Joseph’s welfare, but perhaps especially he was instructed by his Uncle, John Tastard, who was Schoolmaster in Braemar. Whatever the explanation it is rather magical to think of such remotely propelled genius.

Joseph theButler had terrific gusto – he bettered his family in a thousand ways –yet he was never to find love. He was born at Bovagli in 1794, and died a bachelor, in a grand-mansion house called Springfield, in the heart of Dundee, in March 1888. Had it not been for some dogged detective work his story would have been lost. That would have been a shame as he was, without a shadow of doubt, the greatest bairn of the small glen. Both The Camlet and Bovagli would have been rightfully proud of him

Joseph, like the majority of his siblings, made new horizons, over the Mounth to the Glens of Angus. In his early twenties Joseph entered the Earl of Airly’s service and became butler at Cortachy Castle. After a decade’s service he went to Montrose and started a drapery business, becoming a Baillie of the town. In September, 1841, he emigrated to Australia, landing at Sydney, and settling at Bathurst as a general merchant. In the late 1860’s he returned to Scotland. As trustee on the estate of his brother John he and his co-trustees were found liable in the City of Glasgow Bank crash, and he had to find £30,000!

Springfield,-DundeeFigure 2.21: Springfield, Dundee

That is Joseph’s life in a snapshot, but it is a fascinating exercise to expose the detail. For some time I have speculated that Joseph was introduced to Airly by Abergeldy – this has both merit and foundation.

It has been established that there was a family connection between the Ogilvys of Airly and the Gordons of Abergeldy: it goes back to the mother of Rachel Gordon the tenth Laird of Abergeldy. Rachel’s mother was Euphemia Graham. This Euphemia seems to have lived to a grand-age, and was herself the daughter of John Graham of Morphie and Elizabeth Ogilvy of Inverquharity. Shared in the Ogilvy family, Cortachy castle neighbours Inverquharity.

Cortachy-castleFigure 2.22: Cortachy Castle, Angus, home to the Earl of Airly

Joseph Gordon was butler to David Ogilvy, sixth Earl of Airly (1785 – 1849) whose first wife: was Clementina Drummond. Amidst the personal correspondence of Clementina, Countess of Airly, there was a solitary letter from Joseph Gordon addressed to her asking acceptance of a volume of poetry he had just published ‘as they were mostly composed when in your Ladyships service’.

For years, in vain search was made for Joseph theButler’s work. The British Library, the National Library of Scotland, and the Airly Archives, were all considered. The breakthrough came when It was discovered that Joseph’s book had been published in Forfar in 1825 and that it had been catalogued, incorrectly under the wrong Gordon name. So it was that the book was found with George IV – the library.

Joseph, a man of grand eloquence, chose to remain anonymous, and gave his volume of poetry and songs, the less than poetic title, Poetical Trifles by an Obscure and Nameless Bard in the Braes of Angus. Opening the dusty volume, I found myself wondering if it had been opened by any other since Clementina, Countess of Airly?  Inside the cover, Joseph quoted Homer from the Odyssey: 

‘self taught I sing: by heav’n, and heav’n above
the genuine seeds of poesy are sown’

He dedicated his work to The Right Honourable Earl of Airly and stated that the following Trifles are most respectfully inscribed by his much obliged, most obedient and very humble servant, the Author. The Preface continued, and even after the passage of two centuries, the words seemed fresh and evocative, and recreated in prose, a most colourful and eccentric spirit. Joseph exhibited contrasting facets; grandiosity somehow, and most curiously mingled, with self-deprecation.  In my opinion, these are traits well recognised in the Gordons; now irreversibly linked back to the Camlet!

 Joseph admitted that he wrote the poetry ‘to relieve his own mind, under temporary depression, and amuse his own fancy in an idle hour,’ and claimed in his preface that ‘tis only a few weeks since the resolution was taken of putting them to the press; and were the author to assign his reasons for commencing authorship he would only be laughed at or disbelieved; he will therefore keep them to himself.’

Joseph concluded that his work could not match the poetical abilities of Hogg, Bloomfield, or Clace, ‘passing them, however, he does consider himself equal, if not superior to most of the Cottage Bards who have from time to time vainly essayed to attract public attention since the days of Burns.’

Joseph’s reach was vast; he took on all topics, from a Myrtle tree, a Travelling Cloak, to the Death of a favourite Hawk. He was neither indifferent to the simple domestic humdrum; he dedicated a poem to the Airly kitchen and another to a fly, ‘on seeing one burnt at a candle’; nor was he scared of greater horizons; for example writing of his travels, he included a poem written on top of Mount Saleve, near Geneva.

Joseph gave little clue to his small glen origins. Camlet did not feature in his writings. However he did write a short poem about histhree Weird sisters’ that gave support to the belief that his family had education:

An Eliza first made me a reader,
A second Eliza a poet,

A third an author,

What magic they used, Ah! They know it.

However one poem presented itself as my clear favourite, it was the amusingly entitled: A Hint to Distressed Poets on reading some of their Pitiful Productions

Hear me, ye whimp’ring, whining set,
Ye peddlers of Apollo,

Who trudge with shoes and stockings wet,

O’er many a height and hollow,

Collecting matter for your rhymes,

Or crying who will buy them

The yellow river of our chimes

The King was forc’d to fly them.

Joseph was clearly a man who enjoyed company, and wrote a lively piece about Kirriemuir where his brother Peter Gordon was once Merchant. This Peter died in June 1823 and Joseph had a memorial placed to him in Glenmuick churchyard next to the Camlet stone. He also had a stone raised next to Cortachy Castle in memory of his sister Jane who died aged just thirteen years. The stone is lovingly carved and is embraced with the saddest guardian angel that you will ever see.

angelFigure 2.23: The saddest guardian Angel for little Jane

Joseph wrote a moving poem to his dead hawk Jess. In the stanza he explained how his falcon was savaged brutally on Airly’s green by two dogs called Skene and Fury. On reading this, my mind recreated the scene of the bloody ravage. Fury seems to describe it all. Yet I acknowledge here, that I cannot associate the name Skene, with anything else but sinister. You see when I trained as a doctor and surgeon at MarischalCollege in Aberdeen, I was tutored in Anatomy by a certain Dr Skene. Anatomy lessons in the ‘dungeon,’ where the morgue and dank dissection tables were laid out, were made all the more sinister because of Dr Skene. He was a small, dark, bearded man, who arrived to work on a large motorbike. His intonation was quietly threatening and his psyche irretrievably reserved. Simply he was not a man of emotion. My lasting memory of Dr Skene places him hunched over his typewriter, punching-out single fingered results from the latest Anatomy degree – outside hanging on every moment, anxious students waited, as he turned and offered his grimacing sneer.

Mar-CollegeFigure 2.24: Marischal College, Aberdeen and Dr Skene the Anatomist

One further poem stood out, indeed, I very nearly chose one line from it as title for this book ‘I sought the distant pathless glen.’ Apt when you think how well nature has reclaimed the Girnoc – the Butcher’s walk, Lonmuie track, and the skylich – all pathways lost now in the heather. The poem makes further reference to Joseph’s early introduction to literature and his thirst for the prosaic. He must surely be a match for John Grant Michie’s Sennachie. Sometimes history needs to be re-written.

In my young days, nor yet has age
With tottering pace approached me nigh

I por’d o’er the poetic page

With melting heart and kindling eye

I sought the distant pathless glen,

When ev’ning filled her lap with dew

And left the tedious hum of men

To tongues that more loquacious flew….

It is time to divert from poetry to history. David Ogilvy (1725-1803) the fourth laird of Airly was ‘attainted’ during his father’s lifetime for his support of the 1745 rebellion. Indeed in 1746 ‘Hunter of Burnsyde escaped after Culloden with Lord Ogilvy in a party of twelve or thirteen persons.  After hiding in Buchan, they ‘got safe to Bergen’ in Norway before moving on to Sweden and finally to France.’ In terms of the Girnoc, and the history of the Camlet in particular, there is a point of significance in all this: David, Lord Ogilvy of Airly was a companion of David Hunter of Burnsyde, both of whom were suffering greatly after Culloden in 1746. The Hunters of the Burnsyde married into Abergeldy. It was the friendship between Burnsyde and Airly, brought about by the 1745 rebellion that finally brought Joseph Gordon to Airly.

In September 1841, aboard the ‘Spartan’ Joseph Gordon emigrated to Australia, landing at Sydney, and settling at Bathurst as a general merchant. Aboard the ship were a number of Deeside folk, including John Coutts of Balachallach and Janet Grant of Glengairn.

A fascinating fragment survives, printed in the Sydney Morning Herald of November 1844, which accused Joseph of setting up business in Bathurst and selling goods under the cover of night and without proper license. It also, not that subtly, linked him to the local Inn, and in so doing, seemed to point a finger at his character.

– 13th November 1844.

This day, JOSEPH GORDON appeared before the Bench on a summons charged with a breach of the Hawkers and Pedlar Act.  G. Wright, Esq., appeared for the prosecution; the defendant conducted his own case. The defendant it appeared arrived at Bathurst early last week, and a few days after a quantity of goods that he had raveledd before he left Sydney, arrived.  From the time of his arrival at Bathurst until yesterday morning, he had become the inmate of an inn kept by Mr. P. White; on Saturday last, he engaged Mr. John Trewren, auctioneer, to sell those goods by auction for him, defendant receiving the cash for the lots as they were knocked down – a private sale was also proved.  The defendant attempted to show having become a resident, but in this he failed as the occupancy of the premises he stated to have hired did not commence until two days after the offence he was charged with had been committed; he called but one witness, who instead of being useful to his case, made more against it than otherwise.  The Police Magistrate intimated that the Bench considered a claims case could not be made out and he was convicted in a penalty of £10 (pounds) and 15s. costs. The defendant first gave notice of an appeal to the Quarter Sessions but has now intimated his intention to pay the fine.

The Police Magistrate intimated to the auctioneer, that a strong dislike was felt by the Bench to the practice of night auctions – and that if he continued holding them, he would do so at the risk of having the usual certificate necessary to a renewal of license, refused when he applied for it; for that he,  as one of the Bench, should object to the granting of it, were he to continue the practice. 
Sydney Morning Herald

Joseph did not like this at all – he felt a sleight of hand by the editor and misrepresented by sleer. True to a man of words his riposte was stern, robust, and beautifuly articulate. He wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald explaining his case in detail and arguing each point in turn and asked them to insert his reply into their ‘widely circulated journal.’ He concluded his statement:

‘This may be thought to be the vindictive and acrimonious language of a defeated, and therefore prejudiced party; it is not so; it is maturely weighted and well considered and uttered in the calm, sober, serious, and full assurance of its solemn truth.

Your very obedient servant, Joseph Gordon
, November 21st 1844’  

Two weeks later, the paper had the final say. One can only imagine that Joseph was left seething!

‘Our reporter has sent us a lengthy justification of a police report which was attacked by a person named GORDON; but we do not think it necessary to insert it, as there was no reason to doubt its accuracy, notwithstanding Mr. Gordon’s letter.’

Despite all of this unpleasantness Joseph became a successful storekeeper in Bathurst, continuing there for two decades, when as a wealthy man, but still unmarried, he returned to Scotland. In 1878 the City of Glasgow Bank crashed and Joseph benevolently came to the aid of one of his brothers who had invested heavily – £30,000 – and lost all.

Joseph died in Springfield House the finest of the terrace developments in Dundee in the spring of 1888 – he was in his ninth decade. His estate was worth £2,400, but had it not been for the crash of the City of Glasgow Bank it would have been worth a whole lot more.

City-of-Glasgow-bankFigure 2.25: Failure of the City of Glasgow Bank

The name Springfield was to be ingrained on the later Camlet Gordons. Joseph’s brother James Gordon (born at Bovagli) became gardener at Crawford Priory by Springfield, Fife. Later this James Gordon emigrated to CapeColony but in the first raid of the Boers into British territory, he and his wife were attacked and massacred, only their young son, escaped by hiding himself. The fate of this lad is unknown. James Gordon was brought to Crawford Priory by the Architect James Gillespie Graham who was probably also responsible for designing Joseph’s house ‘Springfield’ in Dundee. James Gillespie Graham was related through marriage to Abergeldy.

Crawford-PrioryFigure 2.26: Crawford Priory as it is today

It is time now to leave Joseph the Butler and to explore the life of his less salubrious sibling, Alexander. Before doing so I would like to offer a few more of Joseph’s words, which I can only wish were my own, for they surely return us to the Girnoc:

The more we drank, the more we spoke
The funnier still gre ilka joke,

Frae this to that, like fire an’ smoke

We flew wi’ speed

An talk’d ‘bout droll auld-farrant folk

That’s lang syne dead.

Alexander Gordon, born at Bovagli in 1801 was the most notorious smuggler on Deeside. No starker carer contrast could there be to his brother Joseph. Alexander was caught many times and imprisoned but managed twice to escape from Perth Prison! In 1830 he was charged with an assault as follows:

Charge against Alexander Gordon, Labourer in Burnside
That upon the thirteenth day of February eighteen hundred and thirty, or on one or other of the days of that month, or of January immediately preceding, or of March immediately following, the said Alexander Gordon did, at or near to, the dwelling house at Burnfoot of Braickley, then and now or lately occupied by John Stewart, wickedly and feloniously attack and assault Donald Coutts, now or lately Farmer or Crofter at Ballintobar, and did, then and there, strike the said Donald Coutts a severe blow on the head, with a fist or a stick, or some other hard substance, and did thereby knock the said Donald Coutts to the ground, and while he was lying on the ground, the said Alexander Gordon did again strike the said Donald Coutts several severe blows on the head and other parts of his person – with his fists or with a stick, or some other hard substance: by all which the said Donald Coutts nose were fractured and he was otherwise much bruised, and wounded on the head, and to the great effusion of his blood, and was, in consequence, confined to Bed for several days thereafter.

Donald Coutts, an old man, survived the vicious attack on him by Alex the smuggler, but by all accounts was left disabled. In three statements to the panel Alex declared that he was, at the time of the assault, with his father Joseph Gordon of The Camlet and brother Francis, as well as other Girnoc folk including John Gordon of Lynvaig. He absolutely denied that he had struck Donald Coutts. He was lying. It was clear that all, or most of the group, were worse for liquor. It is worth pointing out they had been partying with John Robbie the Innkeeper of Inchnabobart who liked to boast that he had ‘no liking’ for the Exciseman.

W.Simpson, the Aberdeen Advocate was well acquainted with Alex Gordon and sent the following report to the Crown Agent in which he described Alex as a ‘desperate character – while the smuggling system was going on.’

Aberdeen 9th April 1830
To James Tytler Esq.
Crown Agent, Edinburgh
Re: Assault & Prev conviction. Alex Gordon.

I send you proceedings in this case, as per Inventory.

I was in hopes of being able to get another of the persons who were present at John Stewart’s house (and whom it was said, knew something of the matter) examined as a Witness: but I have not fallen in with him; and I delayed reporting the case till I should see if, or not, I was able to find him – I now learn that there is no chance of his being got – Gordon, the accused does not suffer by that delay – as he found bail immediately on his being lodged in jail.

Alex Gordon is considered in the Country as a desperate character – while the smuggling system was going on, he was engaged in that traffic: and had frequent encounters with the Revenue Officers – For one of these he was lodged in Forfar Jail for trial – He broke out of the jail; but having been again apprehended, he was tried at Perth and convicted of Assault and deforcement before the Circuit Court of Justiciary – an Ext of that Conviction is herewith transmitted.

I remain Sir Your very obliged Servant,
W. Simpson Advocate in Aberdeen

It is time to leave the wider happenings of the family of Camlet Joseph and return to the farm of the Camlet itself. Here we are back with ‘Camlet John.’ You will recall that the deid-clothes’ prepared as the customary practice for a newly-wed, were to be used by Euphemia McAndrew, the wife of Camlet John, rather too soon.

The cleaning and spinning of wool was an important domestic industry that was still in its prime in the time of Euphemia MacAndrew, indeed it was an income of vital importance for the Gordons of The Camlet. Obviously family requirements had to be met before the surplus wool was sold to the local weaver or to Aberdeen merchants who made trade in the city or abroad, usually to the Dutch. However, just thirty years after Euphemia’s death, with the coming of power-driven machines, such domestic industry was nearly at an end. By 1860 there were no more home produced goods in the small glen.

It was not much more than a year or two after the death of Euphemia that Camlet John remarried. His second wife was also a Gordon (that inextricable sibness again), and was born at Tornouran, on the other side of Craig nam Ban. Her name was Margaret and she lived a very long life, being born in June 1768, and dying at Camlet just a couple of months short of entering her 93rd year.

Margaret Gordon was the Camlet matriarch. She oversaw its ‘middle-years’ and was truly the last of the old cotter-toun folk. She witnessed the emptying of the farm-toun, from up to a dozen families at the time of her marriage, to just three by the time of her death. Margaret was there when the Factor to the Royal Family ‘Mr Cameron’ came to evict families, but she was formidable and fought tooth and nail for her tenancy. No Margaret would not let Cameron remove her family fae the Camlet!

This forced removal by the Royal family has not been talked of before. It is a tightly guarded, and hidden truth. It is a Clearence unique to the Girnoc. When, in 1848, the Royal family took the first of three consecutive 40 year leases of the Abergeldy estate, they wished to form one large shooting and hunting estate, linking Birkhall to Balmoral. The effort to clear the estate of the cotter-folk was a ruthless campaign and the small-glen folk were left very afraid. Security hung by a thread for the Girnoc folk. A visit from ‘Cameron’ the Factor for the Queen cast deep unease as was rehearsed by ‘Crovie John’ in a scribbled, but torn, and thus incomplete inclusion, to his eponymous ‘Bovagli Manuscript.’

‘The new lease of 19 years from and after Whitsunday 1829 was drawn out for Father’s signature but not according to bargain or missives I held on the bargain. So Father would not sign, as I told him not to do so. Then Cameron being, or had other in view for the glen, he would now wish to brake bargain (but I had the rent receipts and the missives) which I found out first by Aunt Margaret Camlet and me to take care of myself for he told me that it would go over his neck if he did not flit the Gordons of Bovaglie.

Then Cousin Hellen Gordon who was nurse to Cameron and Margaret, the children told me in secret that as she was creeping through with the children in the room, she observed Cameron writing something like a petition for the tenants to sign and she thought that it was something for Lynvaig for the tenants to sign. And I had occasion to meet Mr Cameron soon thereafter and says

“Sir, I hear, by a quiet rumour, that Lynvaig is going through amongst the tenants with some sort of a petiton against my Father.”

“Puff” he says “John I do not believe nothing of the kind but depend upon it Lynvaig should the like be, it must come to me and I shall let you know”.

Between 1840 and 1860 there were only three families at The Camlet all housed in separate biggins.

  1. In the first household, Alexander had continued to live with his mother up until her death.
  2. The second household was for the Kennedy family, and
  3. in the third household was James Gordon, his wife Isabella, and family.

With the coming of improvements in farming the days of the old biggins were numbered. Examination of the census returns for the Camlet, reveals that by 1871 all such ‘old style’ buildings had been deserted. The thatched roofs, made of straw as well as heather, were simply ripped off and used as manure. Farming improvements brought new income allowing the Abergeldy Laird to build new houses for his tenant farmers. The shuttered farmhouses we see today at the Camlet, Bovagli and Lynvaig, were all built as such, using dressed as well as rough stone, and slate roof tiles.

1860camletFigure 2.27: The 1860 revolution

1860 was a turning-point in Camlet’s history and it is no coincidence that this was the year that the 93 year old matriarch, Margaret Gordon, died. Shortly after, her two sons, Alexander and James left the small glen and never returned. Only daughter Elizabeth and her husband James Kennedy remained. It was also around this time that the new farmhouse (above) was built, and by 1861, Elizabeth and James Kennedy with their ten children had moved in – compared to their old draughty, basic and cumbersome biggin, it must have seemed utterly luxurious!

So 1860 was a sad year in the history of Camlet, marking not just the death of the matriarch but also the death of the ‘farm-toun.’ It marked a revolution in the long history of the farm.

As an Aberdeen medical student I used to enjoy the Hospital Art Exhibition held in Foresterhill Hospital. It was at one such exhibition that my eyes fell upon a painting by Eric Auld. Unbelievably it was of The Camlet! I recognized it immediately and in the foreground was an old car, an Austin 7, looking rather worse for wear. It seemed utterly impossible to believe that a car could have made it all the way up to the Camlet – surely it was the first case of “the unstoppable force that overcame the immovable object!”

Camlet-&-John-Jolly's-carFigure 2.28: The Car of the Camlet King

The Austin a 10hp Lichfield from around 1935 had belonged to John Jolly the grandson of Peter Gordon Kennedy – that ubiquitous and inextricable small glen name! This returned my thoughts to the Micras and the self-appointed king, perhaps grandiosity was getting the better of me, but surely I thought this Austin Seven was the ‘car of the Camlet King.’  For only a king could have got this car all the way up to the Camlet! John Jolly was a resourceful chap and maintained his car with brilliant ingenuity, his sister Edith Kennedy recalled that her brother’s car ‘was a ‘Faithful Servant’ to him considering the rough road it had to contend with – many’s a lift I had in it – seldom did it let him down.’

Can you imagine what the cotter-folk of the day would have made of John’s car – a metallic and utterly foreign beast – at the Camlet?! Not so far back the small glen folk traveled nearly everywhere by foot, or occasionally on the back of a garron. Goods had to be carried in panniers, one strung on each side of a pony, to balance. The folk of the glen thought nothing of walking long distances, and it was not uncommon for them to travel 20 to 30 miles in a day.

Peter Gordon Kennedy married late in life, and on the cusp of the century’s turn. His wife to be was his housekeeper, Adeline Cooper from Strathdon. The Gordons have a long tradition of finding love close to home. In their wedding photograph, blackened on the back from sitting on the mantelpiece above the Camlet range, Peter appears lean and handsome, and considerably nattier than I ever imagined. He looks youthful and vital for his fifty years and looking into his eye, I think I can see his grandfather ‘Camlet John’ the great founder of the family.

The Kennedy family was, until the years of the Second World War, better at producing boys than girls. Peter Gordon Kennedy had seven brothers, but thankfully, his only son John, brought forth the new flowers of Deeside – Margaret, Edith, Violet and Gertrude. All, except Margaret, were born at the Camlet during those dark war years of WWII. It has since crossed my mind that John Kennedy did not want boys to be born into a world where they would serve their country only to die. But then, we have no jurisdiction oversuch matters!

Peter-Gordon-Kennedy-weddinFigure 2.29: Adeline Cooper and Peter Gordon Kennedy

Edith Kennedy now lives in Aboyne with her husband James. She still cares for her mother Margaret the last true chatelaine of the Camlet – now a frail 93 year old.  Edith has that soft unassuming Doric tongue and marvels not at her old Camlet days. Without any inflection she states ‘that was the way of life back then.’

The Camlet range was the family garner and comforted generations of Kennedys. Edith Kennedy who was born at The Camlet in 1940 recalled this to me:

“Cooking was on the ‘black range’ – an open fire with an oven at the side – the water being heated in the ‘back-boiler.’ The range had to be cleaned with black-lead and brasso for the clear parts. The kettles got ‘furred up’ on the outside with soot, so had to be scraped and black-leaded too. Many a girdle-scone, pancake and oatcakes was baked by mother on the girdle over the open fire.”


Figure 2.30: John C. Kennedy

Edith Kennedy found amidst her mother’s old photographs an old picture of The Camlet. It may be under-exposed and dog-eared but it returns us to the working hustle and bustle of the farm of the early twentieth century. Visit The Camlet today, and you will find it takes much imagination, to recall such lost vitality. Soon, like Auchernach’s lost garden, The Camlet will be hidden like ‘Beauty’ in the trees.

Camlet-workingFigure 2.31: The Camlet as a working farm circa 1930’s

The local School was at the foot of Girnoc a sturdy 2½ miles walk down the Glen, but there was no school meals in those days

“We used to carry a ‘piece’ – the teacher was good to us and made hot-chocolate for us before she went over to her lodgings at Littlemill for her own lunch – we would huddle round the coal-fire – there was a big guard round it and eat our lunch – that’s if we hadn’t eaten it at play time. The school closed Easter of 1952 – we had to go to Ballater Secondary   School then. John and Margaret were already there (being that bit older.) It was a big transition from a one-teacher school. We still had to walk to the foot of the Glen and catch the ‘school car’ to take us to Ballater. The two older ones had bikes – they cycled to Polhollick bridge and caught the bus at the other side of the Dee to Ballater. In winter we were ‘boarded out’ in Ballater during the week but we still missed quite a few days schooling if the weather was really bad and lots of snow on the ground as there was back then. We had to wait and go in ‘daylight.”

Polhollich-bridgeFigure 2.32: The Polhollick Brig traversed by the Kennedy children on bike each day to school

Edith’s recall was as fresh as the Camlet harvest in which she and her siblings helped. Farming was a family affair and the children did all the, ‘mucking out’ the hens, pigs, and goats houses. They also kept a ‘watch’ on the bees in case they flew away when they swarmed. When they did swarm, Edith recalled:

“We had to rattle a zinc pail with a stick this seemed to make them settle. A white sheet or a ‘rusky’ – a dome-shaped basket was then put over them and father attended to them when he came home at night and put them in a bee-hive. They were kept for the heather honey they made – it being sold. Many a bee-sting we got.”

The hill ground and some of the park land was let out for sheep grazing – they were to be looked after too. They spent the day-time on the fields and night-time on the hills – you usually got them waiting at the gate to get back into the field in the morning.

The other livestock was goats, pigs, hens, geese and ducks. Mother used to ‘set eggs’ under broody hens and rear chicks that way – or sometimes a ‘brooder’ was used if day-old chicks were brought – an artificial way of rearing and keeping them warm – holding up 30 chicks at a time.

We had butcher meat maybe once a week – at the weekend. But there was plenty rabbits, hares etc to be had – very healthy eating. Another job was to ‘lock the snares’ and take home any rabbits that were caught in them. Father also planted up the garden, so there was always plenty fresh vegetables to be had. The Grocer’s van came round once a week. No electricity, so no fridge or freezer, just a marble-lab in the ‘milk house.’ The light was a Tilley-lamp or candles – the tilley gave out quite a bit of heat too.

Camlet-harvestFigure 2.33: The Camlet Harvest with John Cooper Kennedy up top

In dry hot summers the water supply to the Camlet was not reliable and sometimes the children had to carry water from a ‘spring’ further round the hillside.

“Baths were in a big earthen-ware sink – usually on a Sunday – one child ‘plopping in’ after another was bathed. We had a ‘dry-lavvy’ out by the sheds – a thought on a cold day – cut up newspapers was the ‘loo paper.”

In the summer months they used to trek the Skylich to Kantore to meet up with her mother’s family the Jollys. Edith recalled, with a gentle hint of excitement, how Bovagli had the only phone in the Glen and that when the Deer finally cored the electricity cable, the Kellas family brought in their own generator. The Camlet had no such luxuries.

Edith and her sisters used to enjoy helping the Kellas family, as they had no children. In particular tending the kailyard was a favourite, but did not carry anywhere near the excitement of Christmas parties held by the Kellas family in the grandeur of their VictorianMansion. Yes those parties were a real calendar highlight for the beautiful Kennedy girls.

Edith’s Memoirs of The Camlet’ may just present ordinary country life, but it is a lost way now, and few farms were as remote as The Camlet. Easily my favourite picture is that of Edith and her family (and dog Jean) outside the Camlet on a hot summer’s day. It speaks of this lost way of life and survives as a reminder to all those who now tread Camlet’s forlorn way.

Kennedy-family-at-The-CamleFigure 2.34: The Kennedy family outside The Camlet in the post war years

Over the last decade John Howard Seton Gordon (JHS), the current Laird, and 21st incumbent of Abergeldy has become a friend to me. John is a kindly but eccentric man who literally gives his all for his Abergeldy estate and in particular his cattle farm. This is a farm that he has personally overseen and developed widely since he came to Abergeldy with his wife Gillian in 1966.

When JHS first came to Abergeldy he started first to farm Strathgirnoc and later Littlemill. In May 1967 there was a large roup, and in search for a home for a handful of cows, the Camlet was found. This kindled a fondness in the heart of the laird for the capital of the small glen.

Violet-&-Edith-KennedyFigure 2.35: Violet and Edith Kennedy at the Camlet Lime-kiln (2002)

The photograph below shows Andrew Gordon walking the Camlet sweep in July 2006, guiding him overhead was our ‘eagle.’ If this magnificent bird has returned to The Camlet it may indeed cast its beady eye over the Muirburn seen so clearly behind Andrew on Ben Nathraichean. Muirburn, as far as I can ascertain, has mixed ecological considerations – for yes it allows fresh regeneration of heather and grass shoots, but if carried out incorrectly, can diminish variance. Muirburn is of course Man’s imposition on Nature to create better Grouse Moor. Bad muirburn practice, for example taking on areas which are too large, with fires which are too hot, can result in the total loss of the beneficial cover of heather to the detriment of all wildlife and to the needs of grazing animals. Furthermore fires can easily get out of control – thirteen out of fourteen wildfires tackled in Badenoch and Strathspey in 2003 were the result of human action, and 29% were started by muirburn activities that got out of control, destroying 1135 hectares of habitat.

Andrew-Gordon-at-The-CamletFigure 2.36: Andrew Robert Gordon on the Camlet approach (south track)

For the reasons cited above the Scottish Parliament brought in The Muirburn Code setting out both statutory and good principles. Notably this included an area to be excluded half-a mile around nesting Eagles.

My personal view on Muirburn is that it has long since been husbandry of theHighlands. It is a way of life for Shooting Estates and should continue, but must follow the recommendations of the Code. The overall ecological message seems mixed and is dependent on the heat and extent of burning. One study in theJournal of Applied Ecology (2001) found Bird species diversity increased from west to east and on moors with more muirburn. On the contrary, another study found that Muirburn had significant impact on the growth of wild orchids. It is welcome then that more ecological research continues with the brightest minds in our land – at EdinburghUniversity, Matt Davies is doing a PhD on the very subject

The very last of the Camlet folk were ‘two old ladies’ who tenanted and stayed at the Camlet in the summer months up until its final days in 1976. This year, 2006, then marks thirty years, one year after another, when the Camlet has laid sadly empty. Sad to think after at least seven centuries of occupation.

The current laird did plan to invest in the Girnoc farms, and after the lease expired in 1976, he had an estimate drawn up to see how much it would cost to erect electricity supply to The Camlet, Bovagli, and Lynvaig. At £30,000 it was more than any laird could afford. Furthermore with the Camlet in particular, the water supply had never been that reliable (particularily in hot summers) and the maintenance of the approach tracks always costly and difficult.

It has been rumoured that the last two ladies of the Camlet were rather ‘close’ and that the remote Camlet was chosen to hide their clandestine relationship. They could not have chosen a more hidden spot. I am inclined to doubt the truth in the story, as gossip and glens, were once bed-fellows of fancy. One of the ladies, Mrs Roberton, used to work as a caretaker at AberdeenUniversity’s Halls of Residence. I have since wondered if our paths crossed?

Peter-Gordon-at-The-CamletFigure 2.37: Peter Gordon at the Camlet in 1999

One hundred and forty years on from the last Gordons, I stayed overnight at The Camlet with my son Andrew. The glen was empty and our camp was pitched inside one of the old biggins. I found myself reflecting on the Camlet journey now at an end, with the ‘Capital of the glen’ rightfully pulled back to earth by unrelenting nature. I could see that the steading had lost its entire roof and the thresher inside no more than scattered artefact. The door to the farmhouse had been blown-off giving it the look of a toothless, destitute, and rather miserable vagabond.  Inside the farmhouse was the old range and the pitch-pine paneling. The living room floor had been breached by rotting timbers and a cupboard left open was lined with a 1974 newspaper. Upstairs the boarding had come off from outside the bedroom window and the room was bright and pink. The view was spectacular. On the floor was a mattress and the fireplace was surrounded in candles. Somebody had been back!

Camlet-bedroomFigure 2.38: The Camlet still awaits its guest

It was then that I received a phone-call from my mother! The first Gordon to Gordon telephone call the Camlet had ever had. This would have warmed the hearts of the inextricable. Two worlds, modern and ancient, collided in my mind, but the voices on the braes sang, and all felt good in the world of Peter.

2 Replies to “Where eagles soar (part 2)”

    1. Thank you Serena. That was most kind of you to write and say.

      Sadly, Abergeldie castle is in the news today, as following ‘storm Frank’ the most ancient castle is perilously close to collapsing into the river Dee.

      Peter Gordon

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