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Black Castle

Pitlochry Battles

This age of peaceful Christian penetration was not
without its crueller side, for Pictish annals record a bloody battle fought between the northern and the southern Picts in the year 729. The north was led by Drostan, king of Fodla or Atholl, and the south by Angus McFergus. The scene was beside the heathery wilds of Loch Broom, six miles east-north-east of Pitlochry.

It was a likely battleground, for the boundary line between the north and south Picts ran from Dalmally in the west, through Glen Lyon and Glen Tummel to Glenshee. The date was the 12th of August, an ominous
day for men of yesterday and for grouse of to-day The
Battle of Blathvlag was fatal for Drostan and for many
another Pict who lies buried in the waters of Lochan Dubh, and those who know the story still hurry past the eerie spot with a trembling of the heart.

In 903 AD. another battle rent the calm highland air, for Danes invaded from the east, and striking up Strathardle
they brought the Picts to action at Tulloch in lenfernate, but the impetuous attack of the Picts drove the invaders back to Enochdhu. As they fled in disorder the Danes suddenly turned upon “Ard-Feill “ or “ Head-Chief” and cut him to pieces. He lies buried at Dirnanean Lodge in his burial mound of sixteen feet and more, surmounted by a standing stone and surrounded in death by many a clansman and many a Dane.

The valley is well-named Strathardle or Strath-ard-feill.
But the Danes vanished never to return. The Normans
came, although William the Conqueror could not impose his feudal system upon the wild Caledonians. They followed undisturbed their ancient way of life for centuries, roused only at intervals by the rapid passage of the king on his way to inflict punishment on some rebellious noble. Even the death of the Maid of Norway in 1290 A.D. meant little to them, and it was ony the crowning of Bruce in 1306 A.D. at Scone by the Countess of Buchan that made news for them. It was a poor beginning for his reign to meet such a crushing defeat
at Methven, but the Earl of Atholl was his friend, so he chose as his refuge the snug corner where the Tummel and the Garry meet.

If you would like to see the resting-place of Scotland’s
greatest king, please cross the ersatz Bailey bridge at the southern end of the Pass and after half a mile cut left across a field to an isolated clump of trees and you will find in a gable an inscribed stone that will tell you the facts. It does not tell you all. The legend is, and legend always has a core of truth, that Bruce promised to the host who plied him with Atholl brose, a mixture of honey and whisky, that he would one day grant him every inch of ground his foot could cover while the brose was being despatched. It is a pleasing story, a typical Bruce derivation like that of the Glove Stone of Mannan. Unfortunately, there is a mortgage document among the Fraser Papers, dated 1282 A.D., which names the
place as Killbrochache, which rather belies the story.

But that Robert the Bruce lay there in hiding after Methven we have every reason to accept as fact.
Bruce, we know, went north to Kildrummie, and after
many adventures came to Bannockburn and his kingdom. Out of his loins came the Stewarts, and it was Duncan Stewart of Garth, son of the famous Wolf of Badenoch, who in 1389 A.D. led a strong force of Atholl men into Glenisla and Angus on the favourite ploy of thieving cattle. The plan succeeded and Stewart drove his spoil up Strathardle in triumph. But the Sheriff of Angus, Sir Walter Ogilvie, was hot on his track, and, assisted by Sir David Lindsay, Sir Patrick Gray, and others, brought him to action at Dalnagairn. Stewart chose ground too rough for horsemen to negotiate and soon Ogilvie was killed with several of his knights.

The rest were chased down the strath, some to die in “ The Field of Conflict,” others in “ The Battle Hollow,” and others again in “ The Field of Cairns.” The Atholl men named the defile where they had hid their cattle “The Pass of Thanksgiving,” and with good reason. These indeed were the rough days of rieving. More than a sport for nobles, it was rather the smash-and-grab “ technique of medieval agriculture, the accepted method of acquiring wealth.

The good old rule, the simple plan,
That he who has the power should take,
And he should keep who can.

Now, however, the king’s writ was beginning to run
further and further into the highlands. Probably as the result of the Battle of Dalnagairn, a Council was convened at Perth by the King on the 30th March, 1390 A.D., and Duncan Stewart and his Atholl men were declared outlaws. Andrew Wyntoun, the Prior of St. Serf on Loch Leven, describes how Sir David Lindsay planned rough justice by taking sixty clansmen from Atholl and making them fight on the. North Inch of Perth, thirty on one side and thirty on The othei. In this way he ensured that they would have quite enough of fighting!

Meanwhile, feudalism had been creeping up into the
highlands from the south. It took a century for the typical stone medieval castle to appear in Scotland, and we may be fairly sure that what is called the Black Castle of Moulin, the only definitely medieval structure surviving in the parish, was not built before the fourteenth century. This dark building measures 76 feet by 80 feet and had a round turret at each of the four corners. It originally stood in the midst of a shallow loch, through which a stone causeway was laid for more than 100 yards. Fifty feet of the south wall still stands.

The only nobleman whom we can trace who took his title from the place was Sir John Campbell of Moulin, and he is the most likely builder of the castle. As the nephew of King Robert the Bruce he acquired the lands, which had been held by David, Earl of Atholl, a Comyn, and about 1320 A.D. erected this stout defence for his own safety and the security of loyal inhabitants. But the Castle never figures in Scottish or even in local history and its end was unheroic.

In the year 1500 a devastating epidemic spread through the countryside. One legend asserts that a messenger from the south brought the plague to the occupants of Moulin Castle and that it wrought havoc among the parishioners. In order to stop the infection the castle was reduced with artillery and became a cairn for the dead rather than a refuge for the living. Since then the spot has been shunned as dangerous and few, if any, have dared to disturb the stones. it is to be noted that Sir John Campbell of Moulin was slain at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 and, being heirless, the title reverted to the Crown. And so through the medieval centuries noble and
retainer, chieftain and clansman, never and crofter fought and toiled and moiled down the dark glens and across the heather hills to keep and improve the good things of life for the inhabitants of Atholl.

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