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Pitlochry Picts

Long ago the valley of the Tummel was covered by
an ice-cap higher than Ben-y-Vrackie, but by about
5,000 B.C. warmer weather had so melted it that vegetation was covering the rugged surface, and, not long after, the first invaders came from the south and settled on the slopes of Baledmund and Knockbarrie. No records survive of these prehistoric folks. In the shingle bed of the Tummel, below the Green Park Hotel, some thirty years ago a stone was found, specially shaped by an early man for the killing of a giant ox, already trapped in a pit. The skulls of four Urus Oxen were found, in the Cuilc in the eighteenth century. No flints or arrow-heads of Neolithic times have been found in the Pitlochry district. It was the Bronze Age that saw a large and flourishing community on the hillsides of Atholl. A flat
axe of copper was discovered in 1890 in the grounds of the Atholl Palace Hotel, the only metal evidence of a culture that flourished for a thousand years right up to 500 B.C. More than fifty hut circles covered the slopes above Moulin, all of which can be identified to-day, and, it is reckoned, a population of 2,000 Gaelic-speaking people occupied these shelters. They lived by hunting, fishing, and very primitive farming. The circles of low boulders are all that remain of the homes of a large community, but doubtless they sheltered themselves with branches and clods of earth and thatchings of heather, not unlike the houses still to be seen at Skara Brae
in Orkney.

This was the people that raised the stone circles still to be traced at Dunfallandy House and on the Faskally
Road. These were associated with hillocks and barrows,
where they buried their dead, a defence, no doubt, against wild animals. Sometimes, however, stones are found in isolation, as at Balnakeilly House entrance and Kiliiecrankie battlefield. A Pictish fort can still be identified in the centre of the Golf Course, and lately excavations have revealed a Pictish palace at Auldclune. A large boulder of mica schist near Dalnagairn is called the Gled, or kite-stone, and legend says that long ago a shepherd finding an infant there took it home to his wife to nurse and so started the Gladstone family.

One wonders if William Ewart Gladstone, while holidaying
in the district, was told of the humble origin of his family.
The Iron Age was ushered in some centuries before
Christ by the arrival of the Brythons, who mixed with the
northern natives to form the typical Pict. They tattoed their skins, according to the Romans, in order to increase their look of fierceness. The use of bronze gave place to the tougher, sharper iron. Celtic became the language, the parent of modern Gaelic. Stone querns still survive in which they ground their corn. Iron lamps or crusies gave a crude light. The clothing was of skin, as is proved by the excavations of St. Serf’s tomb at Culross.

This populous area was guarded by outposts at Dunavourd, and in the centre of Pitlochry, above the blacksmith’s yard, there exists a large stone, the
explanation of the place-name, which means “ The Place of the Sentinel’s Stone.” The natives excavated underground weems or chambers in which to store their grain and shelter in the inclement winter weather. These were built and roofed with stone and one was discovered fifty years ago on Balnadrum Farm, with a passage no less than forty-five feet long. The cup-marked stone in Glen Briarachan still witnesses to the old culture, but no one has solved the riddle of its ancient use.

The most familiar stone in the area stands in the field
below Baledmund House, where for long enough the Moulin Market was held. It was the custom at the market for a deal to be confirmed by the dealers clasping hands at this stone. The Market was called Feill Machalmaig, which means The Market of Blessed Dear Colm. This indicates not merely the presence of a Christian saint in the area, but that the stone had an undoubted sacred association in the days of druidical worship.

It was this Pictish way of life that prevailed when
Caesar crossed the Channel in 55 B.C., and even when in
209 A.D. Septimus Severus led his ten thousand Romans
across a pontoon bridge into Caledonia. Some would like to think that the Lindum on Ptolemy’s map is the Pictish town of Moulin, but not a single scrap of evidence survives to prove that the legions ever marched in Atholl. Their only effect would be to make the Picts strengthen their defences and extend their outposts. Ardoch was certainly for two centuries a pivotal Roman barracks, but Atholl is a very different place to occupy even for the toughened soldiers of Caesar.

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