Car park at the Allt Druidhe Picnic Site.
Church in old Struan
Robertsons were the chief clan in Rannoch in the old days, owning
much land, including all the south side of the loch, in Gaelic,
Slios Garbh, meaning “the Rough Side’. One of their
most warlike chiefs was Alexander Struan Robertson. He took
part in all three Stewart Rebellions. He led his clan in 1689
at Killiecrankie, then in 1715 at Sherrifmuir, where he was
captured, and in 1745 at Preston Pans, from where he returned
triumphant in the captured coach of Sir John Cope, the enemy
in 1746, after the defeat of the Jacobites, the government troops
burnt his house, the Hermitage, and he lived his last years
near here (at Carie) where he could disappear into the woods
when in danger.
Bruce and the Robertsons
William Wallace’s remains had been taken down from the
gibbet at Perth, Rannoch was sheltering another hero. It was
in June 1306 that Robert Bruce took refuge here. He had not
long had himself crowned king at Scone when he was overwhelmed
by the English at Methven (near Perth). He had few supporters
with him which was not surprising. For as Earl of Carrick he
had been a respected noble but he had changed sides more than
once and he had just stabbed to death his likely ally, Red Comyn,
the powerful Lord of Badenoch. So here he was, hated by the
English and half of Scotland as well, with very few friends.
But in Rannoch he had a friend.
far the most powerful man here was Donnachadh Reamhar, second
son of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles (some would claim his descent
from the Celtic earls of Atholl). He had inherited from his
father a portion of the lands at the east end of Loch Rannoch,
and further extensive lands in the rest of Rannoch from his
two marriages. History or legend gives him heroic qualities
as befits the man who was the first chief of Clan Donnachaidh
and the progenitor of the famous Robertson Clan. For instance
he was called Gaisgeach Mor Fea Chorie which means the great
hero of Fea Corrie. This Corrie was used as a rallying point
for his troops before battle. It was to be on active service
on at least three occasions in support of Bruce and was used
in after years by the Robertson clan as their meeting place
after the fiery cross had gone round. Donnachadh took the side
of Bruce, and the two of them became fast friends. They were
the same age, with the same war-like instincts and both were
tall, hardy men. When Bruce cast off his panoply of armour and
joined Donnachadh the two of them took to the ways of the half-naked
mountaineers, making long journeys on foot, scrambling over
rugged ground and enduring cold and hunger. Whether this is
fact or fiction does not matter; they were both vigorous and
tough men and both were to prove it; Bruce as a hunted man suffering
extremes of hunger and exhaustion and as a warrior proving his
skill and bravery; and Donnachadh showing enterprise and endurance
in battle and loyalty to Bruce.
local history does not record Bruce as taking part in the local
battles, the Rannoch men built a home in Crossmount Wood for
him and his wife. Seomar an righ (King’s Hall) as it was
called was built in a gully opposite the ‘Queen’s
Pool’ in the Tummel. The latter takes its name from having
been used as a ferry by the Queen of Robert the Bruce. Also
a circular fortification was put up hereby for their safety.
The first occasion on which Donnachadh’s men were gathered
at Fea Come was when they were called to take action against
approaching forces from the South. The MacDougalls of Loin were
mortal enemies of Bruce after he had murdered Red Comyn because
a MacDougall was married to Red Comyn’s daughter. A force
of MacDougalls, English and what are called renegade Scots were
reported to be coming through the glen which later got the name
Glen Sassum (The Glen of the English). Donnachadh deployed his
forces to meet them at the point where the glen emerges into
the flat lands at the east end of Loch Rannoch. No more details
are known about the battle except that it was a victory for
the Bruce supporters. It was nevertheless an important battle
in Rannoch’s history because the names connected with
it are used to this day. Innerhadden was the name given to the
part where the battle started, Dalchosnie means Field of Victory
and that name that commemorates the battlefield is still the
name of a house and estate, and victory was celebrated from
the beacon (Lassintullich) signalling to all around the success
of the local heroes. All these names are in current use today.
next call to arms occurred shortly after this but this time
danger threatened from the north-west. Again the MacDougalls
were leading a war party against the Rannoch supporters of Bruce.
Their approach was reported and they camped within sight of
Rannoch. Before committing his forces to action Donnachadh decided
to see for himself ~-he strength of the foe. So he dressed up
as a travelling packman, a fairly good disguise for those days
for such men were frequent visitors to lonely glens. He was
able to wander round the MacDougall camp with impunity. However,
something made them suspicious for as he was leaving some started
to follow him. He had to take to his heels with more and more
of the enemy chasing him. According to old accounts they had
him trapped at the River Ericht but by making a prodigious leap
over the river he was able to escape them. The rocky place where
this feat was performed is called after him, Leum Donnachadh
Reamhar (Fat Duncan’s Leap). The distance was estimated
at a standing leap of 16 feet. Unfortunately there is an Hydro-Electric
dam at this spot now.
now had enough information on which to base his attack, and
early next day he put his plan into action. It is not difficult
to imagine the surprise caused as he made use of his knowledge
of the area to swoop down from the high ground and trap the
enemy in the Cone, in the boggy ground near the burn. Now called
The Red Come
Earra Dheargan after the action there. Not only were the MacDougalls
defeated but their general, Alexander was captured.
is a familiar story in the district that Duncan placed his prisoner
in the Island Fortress (now called Isle of the Gulls) from where
he escaped by tricking his captives. When his jailors brought
him food, which included a sack of apples he caused them to
fall and spill all over the floor. As the jailors were greedily
scrambling for them MacDougall is said to have made his escape
in their boat and landed safely on the south side at the rock,
now called MacDougall’s Rock.
Donnachadh’s men next answered the summons to Fea Come
it was for a much sterner battle. This was in June, 1314 and
we read of the route the local forces took on their way to Bannockburn.
It was a long journey! East of Schiehallion, by Ben Lawers to
Killin, then by the Pass of Leny to Callander and thence to
Bannockburn. It was on the final muster that they acquired the
famous crystal that has been the Robertson charm stone to this
day. When they were pulling the chiefs standard out of the ground
a round rock crystal was adhering to it. They carried the Clach
na Brataich into battle and have regarded it with reverence
ever since. The story tellers of the district will tell you
that they did so well in the ensuing battle that Bruce approached
his old friend Donnachadh and said, ‘You have fought courageously
for me. No more call yourself Clann Donnachadh, Children of
Duncan but Sons of Robert, my children.’ ‘This’,
say the story tellers, ‘was how Clan Robertson got its
is more than likely that the Chief received Bruce’s congratulations
before he marched back to Rannoch but not his name, because
history tells us that the Robertsons got their name some years
later from the 4th Chief of the Clan Donnachaidh, Robert Riabhach.
Donnachadh certainly did not return empty handed because he
had the Clach na Brataich, the charm stone, and he also had
the feeling of pride at having helped his king to success. Both
these have been treasured possessions of the Robertsons through
the years and both have played a significant part in their fortunes.
They have been loyal to the Bruces and their descendants, the
Stewarts throughout their long history and they have consulted
the charm stone at moments of crisis before making decisions.
stone did not bring Donnachaidh’s son Robert much good
fortune for, although he was a loyal supporter of his king,
David II, at the Battle of Neville’s Cross he was captured
and spent many years in a Durham jail. He suffered another misfortune
in 1392 when he lost a large portion of his land as the result
of a clan fight. This fight occurred because his wife owned
land in Angus which he was expecting to acquire, but it went
to her nephew Sir David Lindsay instead. Arguments passed back
and forth until a meeting was arranged to discuss the matter.
It seems that only the Angus men turned up. Thereupon they sent
a man to Rannoch to find out the reason for their absence and
he ‘disappeared’. Accusations followed, the result
of which was that the fiery cross was sent round and a war party
was gathered together. A fearsome band it was because not only
did it contain the men of Rannoch but also, Duncan Stewart,
the dreaded son of the dreaded Wolf of Badenoch was with them.
and the young Donnachaidh chiefs (Robert was too old to go himself)
swept into Angus and laid the country waste. This was said to
be their first major battle as a clan, when their motto Garg’n
uair dhuisgear which means ‘Fierce when roused’
was to be heard. And fierce they must have looked as they swept
in with their enormous two-handed claymores nearly as big as
themselves. Sir David Lindsay himself was wounded by one. He
had a dying Rannoch man pinned to the ground with his lance
but this man had enough strength to cut through Lindsay’s
steel boot to the bone.
their way home they were pursued by the Angus men who were said
to be on horseback and to be wearing chain mail. But in spite
of that they were cut to pieces in Strathardle and the Rannoch
men returned victorious. However, the Crown decided to punish
them and the Chief lost his Aulich lands in the north of Rannoch.
were soon in favour with the king again for Duncan, the 3rd
chief, offered himself in 1406 as ransom with other noble hostages
for James I who had been captured by the English. When he returned
he became a man of some importance, living at Bunrannoch with
the fine title of Lord of Rannoch. However, it was his successor
who regained the lost land and acquired much more.
I was assassinated in Perth in 1437 and his murderer Sir Robert
Graham sought sanctuary in Atholl where he was captured by Robert
Riabhach, the 4th Chief of Clan Donnachaidh. Some accounts give
the place of his capture as Glenmore the wild country south
of Schiehallion. Much more likely is the shelter bed where he
was supposed to be surprised at the burn that now has his name
Alit Ghramaich (Graham’s Burn) which flows into Loch Bhac.
He was said to have fought ferociously but he had determined
opponents for not only did he have Robert to contend with but
also Stewart of G’arth joined in the chase. John Graham
would without a doubt have fought even harder if he had known
what his fate was to be. If he expected mercy from James’
Queen; after all James used to call her his ‘milk-white
dove’, he certainly did not get it. He was nailed to a
tree and dragged through the streets; his body was torn with
pincers his son was tortured- and beheaded before him, and at
length he was put to death.
got the lands back that his father had lost. As well as the
lands of Struan, there was Glen Erochty, the two Bohespics Tummel
Cane, Innerhadden, and much more. He was made Baron ‘Of
Struan’ and to his armorial bearings he had added a ‘savage
man in chains’ which commemorate his capture of ‘the
dastardly traitor’ Sir Robert Graham, and ‘a hand
supporting a crown’. It is from Robert that the Robertsons
take their name.
incidents occurred during his time for he frequently led small
raiding parties against the rich church lands, frequently to
Dunkeld but even to the lands of the Bishop of St. Andrews.
It was said that when the royal charter was granted to him in
1451 for his part in the Graham affair he was dying of wounds
received in one of these raids. His successors enjoyed a similar
existence. Appropriate epithets for them are ‘wild’
and ‘warlike’. Alexander, Robert’s son is
noted for an attack on Dunkeld Cathedral when he and his clansmen
chased Bishop Lauder and the worshippers at High Mass. The bishop
had been unwise enough to imprison a Robertson for stealing
cattle. Although Alexander had a bad reputation it was nothing
compared to William, the 6th Chief who was a real tyrant. He
was said to terrorise the whole country. On more than one occasion
he was reputed to have 800 men out with him. In spite of the
spoils and plunder he brought back from his spreagh he was a
rash man for he got into heavy debt and in consequence lost
much of his land trying to clear it. But it was his love of
fighting that was his undoing. He foolishly took on the Earl
of Atholl who was much too strong for him. He was captured and
was ‘heidit’ without ceremony at Tulliemet in 1516.
was in 1545 that the next chief was captured by the MacGregors,
as wild a bunch as the Robertsons. It is not known what he promised
them but he was released to die a quiet death in his bed. Which
is more than his successor did. William, the 8th Chief got heavily
into debt, lost more of the Robertson lands and was murdered
in 1587. Donald the 9th Chief is not recorded as doing anything
of note apart from being the father of Robert, the 10th Chief.
Robert unfortunately lived at a time when the ruling monarchs
were getting fed up with their unruly subjects in the highlands
and steps were taken to restore order in Rannoch. . . not an
easy thing to do in such a place so well fortified by nature.
Soldiers were sent in from the garrison at Dunkeld, said to
be the King’s Guardsmen, but they did not have great success.
They only ventured as far as Foss where they attempted to arrest
a Neil Stewart. Here Robert came upon them at night. He set
them off as a warning to their fellows on the 18 mile walk home
without their horses or their boots. When they said they came
on the king’s business he said he ‘caird not for
his Majestie’. James VI then did a wise thing; he charged
the Earl of Atholl to answer for ‘the present misrule’
of the area. Robert’s house at this time was Invervack,
just on the doorstep of Blair Castle, and when the Earl rounded
up a dozen Robertson clansmen there was nothing Robert could
do about it, and for a while the Robertsons were quiet.
was plenty of action during the time of the next two Chiefs.
This was when the religious controversy raged. The great General
Montrose was attempting to win Scotland for Charles I against
the Covenanters. It is unlikely that the people of Rannoch understood
the main issues concerning Episcopacy and Presbyterianism but
when the fiery cross went round they understood that all right.
The Robertson chiefs, always Royalists is spite of Robert the
previous chief temporarily falling from grace as we have just
seen, they would be only too keen to lend their support, and
of course there would also be plunder. There was probably plenty
of this to bring back to Rannoch because they took part in all
the Royalist victories in 1644 and 1645. It was Alexander Robertson
of Struan as the 11th Chief was called, who led the clan on
1650 they were out again but this was a different story. At
the Battle of Dunbar they came under the leadership of a good
general David Leslie, but they were beaten by a better one,
Earl of Glencaim was in Rannoch in 1653 looking for support
for Charles II. He raised the MacGregors from the ‘Isle
of Rannoch, MacGregors’ Hall’ as the historian calls
it. He would have no difficulty recruiting them because one
of their opponents was the Earl of Argyll, a Campbell, one of
their hereditary enemies. At the same time young Alexander,
the 12th Robertson Chief led his men from Fea Corrie. Both forces
met above Annat and marched up the old path to Loch Garry. History
informs us that the leaders quarrelled so much amongst themselves
that the Cromwell General, General Monk had little difficulty
in winning the ensuing Battle of Dalnaspidal.
all the Robertson chiefs the most individual and the most unlucky
was Alexander, the thirteenth baron of his line. Called Struan
Robertson the poet-chief, he was at St. Andrews University when
his father died, leaving him as chief. On top of that came news
of the revolution. His mother afraid for him wrote to his uncles
to check this headstrong boy of hers with great possessions
to lose from supporting King James. To no avail. He rallied
his clansmen; there were said to be 600 of them in the Fea Corrie
and this young chieftain led them off to join Bonny Dundee.
clan was too late to take part in the Battle of Killiecrankie
(1689). The highlanders’ famous charge had defeated General
Mackay but Dundee was dead and the highlanders lost heart without
their leader. Mackay soon regained his confidence and scattered
the Robertsons as they made towards Perth, and for his share
in this the young chief was exiled to France.
was pardoned in 1703 after Queen Anne had ascended the throne
and for a dozen years he was a good landowner to his clansmen
although he was beginning to accrue debts. But when the fight
began again in 1715 he was quick to join the Earl of Mar with
five hundred of his men behind him. At the Battle of Sheriffmuir
the Robertsons saw their leader captured. They rescued him but
he was recaptured and he was again exiled to France.
sister looked after the estates for him until he came back,
but he treated her badly, even locking her up on the Island
of Rannoch. He never did get on with women or trust them. They
say that this was because he found his own mother a terrifying
person. She was said to have starved her brother to death so
that she could ensure the succession and it is a tradition in
Rannoch that ‘as often as she went abroad ‘to ride
or walk, the crows followed her in great numbers, making a hideous
croaking as if upbraiding her guilt’.
yet it was women who came to his aid when a persistent creditor
accosted him at Carie and demanded payment. The women of the
neighbourhood seized the man, stripped him naked and kept him
under the spout of the mill-wheel till the poor creature was
almost killed with cold. For this the chieftain was tried at
Perth, but acquitted for want of evidence.
the time that Prince Charles landed in Scotland in 1745 Struan
was seventy-five. Still he set off on his third rebellion. A
hundred or so Robertsons went with him. He got as far as Prestonpans
where his men joined the Athollmen. He saw the victory and was
driven back to Rannoch in Sir John Cope’s captured carriage.
After the defeat of Prince Charlie at Culloden the government
seems to have felt that this last escapade of Old Robertson’s
was too harmless to punish him although the Struan estates were
taken over by them. He died at Carie in 1749 from where his
body was escorted by two thousand men 18 miles through Robertson
country to be buried at Struan.
To Tour Rannoch