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Glenbuchat Heritage

69 My First Detachment -The Glenbucket Inn
The Glenbuchat Image Library
69 My First Detachment -The Glenbucket Inn

My First Detachment - A mess table yarn by Henry Curling

The following is a tale of a young soldier posted to Corgarff Castle where his job is to prevent. whisky production and smuggling. Travelling in winter snows he heads up donside to take up his post; he takes three days to get there.
He stops at still recognisable places, House of Skene , Bridge of Alford but mainly at an Inn at Glenbucket. The only Inn known in the Glen was at Delfrankie at the entrance to the glen. The story describes the inside of the inn, the food and the other guests.

“The 25th The Kings Own Borderers furnished this detachment in 1827. Since the days of Prince Charlie no red coats had occupied Corgarff and after the departure of the 25th no other party was sent there.” It is therefore assumed that this story takes place about 1820.

The writer is well versed in Scottish literature and has references to characters especially in Walter Scott’s novels. A glossary is placed at the end and * marks words with explanations.

Setting off from Aberdeen
I remember being sent on detachment, soon after joining a regiment in Scotland, to Corgarff Castle in the highlands of Aberdeenshire. Perhaps, unless on occasion of being sent to Siberia, nothing more dreary could be well imagined to an English eye. The detachment consisted of about seventy men and two officers and the immediate business in hand was ‘Still’ hunting. Corgarff Castle was at that time almost an unknown building. Amongst the good folk of Aberdeen it seemed to be regarded as a sort of visionary fortress, for though every one knew its name, no one appeared to believe in its existence.
“Pray can you inform me?” I inquired at the stable where I intended to hire a horse for the expedition “whereabouts is Corgarff Castle for I am going up there to morrow”. “Eh Sirs” ejaculated the stable keeper “ganging up to Corgarff said ye. Why it's a good seventy mile awa man, I dinna ken vera muckle about it mysel, but I’ve heard tell it's awa up in Stra’don somewhere.”

I went to a party that night and inquired of every gentleman of whom I had the slightest knowledge about Corgarff Castle. The reply was always the same, “I never was there, neither do I ken anybody wha kens aught about Corgarff, except that it's away somewhere in Stra’don”. I asked all the young ladies I danced with if they had ever heard of Corgarff, but not one could I find who had any idea what it was like. The following morning, on reaching the stables, I found a little old bald shot of a hostler who affirmed that he had seen a man who lang syne had caught a glimpse of the castle, hanging as it were, on the side of a rocky mountain, but no one that he had ever heard of had been in it or at it since bonnie Prince Charlie cocked his bonnet in Aberdeenshire. Alas!
How chances mock and changes fill the cup of alteration

Tis many years since I sought Corgarff on this service. The way was long, the wind was cold, the road in some places was almost impassable, and in others there was no road at. My horse's sides were furrowed with the spur rowel and my right arm as sore as if I had been threshing in a barn. The mountains environed me as I proceeded and each range of hills I surmounted seemed to shut me forever from the world. The snow came down with a driving wind that absolutely excoriated my visage. Twice I was nearly lost in some kelpies flow, thrice I had to re thread my dubious route and,
Darkness settled lone and still
On the smooth lake and mighty hill

when ,with my steed in my hand, I reached the little inn of Glenbucket, still ten miles from Corgarff. Now however the roads are levelled, a stage coach runs to the little inn at Glenbucket and I dare to say many an English sportsman has heard the heath-cock whirr over the waste, and, loitering beside the moss covered walls of Corgarff, listened to the howling wind as it moans along those barren hill sides.

Shelter at House of Skene
I shall not indeed easily forget that ghastly ride the first time of making an excursion into the highlands in winter and rough weather. The snowstorm had commenced as I left the town of Aberdeen early in the morning and, before I had proceeded, a dozen miles I had fairly lost my way. However, I held onwards and threading my dubious route through pine woods and nearly blinded by the storm, ran my horse's nose against a castellated mansion, called the House of Skene. Here I came to a halt and roared lustily for somebody to direct me on my route but no soul answering to the summons. I dismounted and commenced a game at snowballs with an immense bel, which dangled above my head. Still its own dull sound was all I could obtain in reply to the endeavour at bringing myself into notice. Like some lone Chartreux* stood the good old hall. Silence without and apparently fasts within its wall, I rambled all about the building in the vain hope of discovering some out door domestic, but not a creature could I see though from the old world look of the place I almost expected at every turn to see some daft companion, some David Gellatly,* come capering along the avenues I was exploring. At some little distance from the building I found the stables, but the stalls were untenanted, the dog kennel empty, the dovecote deserted. At length, returning, I opened a door in the courtyard and made my way into what appeared the servant’s hall and so on into the kitchen. A peat fire was alight and an old and infirm pointer dog, deaf as a post, roasting himself before it. He uttered a sort of sepulchral howl, which he intended for a bark, but saving by himself, the house seemed deserted. Poor house that keeps thyself, me thought. Not to be, I called aloud “Ho who's here. If anything that's civil speak, if savage take or lend. Ho, no answer “then I ll enter.”

A full-length portrait of a Highland officer in bygone uniform hung in the first room I entered. He wore bonnet and trews but the stripes of the tartan were large in pattern and gave him more the look of a harlequin than a soldier and the whole dress and accoutrements were somewhat quaint, when contrasted with the modern garb of our Highland regiments of the present time. As no one was yet to be seen, I made bold to open another door and found my way into a hall hung around with pikes and guns and bows. Progressing onwards I entered a goodly parlour here, although still without living inhabitant. I beheld breakfast spread upon the table. A roaring fire of billets blazed upon the hearth, and the kettle sung melodiously before it. Half frozen and my toes and finger ends in a state of absolute torture, hungry as a hunter too, the sight was delightful. The clock upon the mantelpiece struck eight as I entered. The family, I conjectured, having not yet made their appearance, the breakfast waited, but as it was not my cue to prompt them, I retired the way I came. Once more in the courtyard of this apparently enchanted castle, where everything seemed furnished without hands, I was blessed by the sight of a door opening on the further side and a small barelegged lassie with a basket under her arm making her appearance. The first glimpse, however, effectually put her to flight and vanishing by the way she came, she fled like a lapwing. At length to my especial relief, half a dozen more little ones made their appearance with a full grown female trudging after them. The little ones, like the wild urchin I had just arrested, retreated as soon as they caught sight of a stranger and took shelter behind the approaching female, whom I now hastened to meet. She greeted me as an expected guest before I had uttered a sentence. “Yer servant Sir,” she commenced, “ Eh but I did na expect company this hour yet.” I now found that a party of gentlemen, in whose hands the estate was held in trust, were to arrive on that morning on especial business, that the house was untenanted although always kept in order, and as the party were expected at nine o clock, breakfast had been prepared by the housekeeper, who was apparently the sole guardian of the place. “I was awa down at the lodge” she said “to get some eggs and that's why ye found no one to answer to your call, but come away ben and warm yersel. As ye say ye ken the laird, he ll be right glad to meet wi ye. Corgarff eh, but ye r na ganging to Corgarff in siccan a day as this is like to prove. Hout tout! ye ll no gang awa frae Skene without your breakfast any how.” In short I re-entered the building. The good dame had meanwhile received a letter to say that owing to the weather, her expected guests deferred their meeting till the next day, and as I was a friend of the ‘muckle laird's’, I soon found myself quietly seated beside a glowing fire in one of the most comfortable apartments I ever saw.

The weather brightened as I supped my tea and demolished the eggs, baps* and haddies,* set before me, the snow storm abated, the sun shone through the window, the trees glittered as though covered with diamonds and I thought with Burns, that man need ask no more
“Than just a highland welcome”
But pleasures, says the same delightful poet:
“are like poppies . You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed.”

Bridge of Alford
Accordingly, the sudden retire of the bright sun and re commencement of the storm warned me that I had better leave the haven I had got into and make my way onwards if I had any intention of reaching my destination. The wind howled, again dismally around the house of Skene, as I mounted and the hospitable dame offered her parting instructions, as kindly as she had offered her breakfast, and reiterated her hope over and over again that I would bide the night at Alford. “Haud on till ye reach the lodge at the end of the avenue, tak the right hand till ye reach the brig of Alford. Stay ye there if ye be wise”, she continued bawling after me with her gown drawn over her head, “ stay ye there the night. Gang on to Glenbucket the next day and tak Corgarff the day after, unless ye want to get yersel washed away in the Don.”
“She prophesy d that late or soon
Thou would st be found deep drown d in Doon:”

thought I, and following her instructions, after some difficulty, spite of wind and snow and rain, I managed to skate my horse onwards and reached the bridge of Alford where I proposed baiting the animal. The weather meanwhile had not improved, what with snow and sleet and rain, I was powdered from top to toe. Taking care to see the best part of my steed's feed down his throat, I entered the inn's best room; it was without the appearance of comfort, not even a wood fire, and contrasted with the breakfast parlour at Skene, it made me melancholy to contemplate; so I e’en betook me to the kitchen, after which I filled my pocket pistol with whiskey and again took the road The very hostler shrunk into the house and closed the door against the storm as I spurred onwards and I shall never forget the dreary look of the country before me.

The road wound at times round the base of barren rocks, occasionally a desolate plantation of firs hung on either hand and then dreary and white looking hills lay before me, which seemed as though there was no end to their interminable wilds. Sometimes the snow fell so fast that, as Falstaff has it, “thou could’st not see thy hand”; then again the sun peeped through and the way was more perceptible. My steed was also occasionally wading up to his knees and snorting with alarm. More than once we fell head over heels together. Twice we stuck fast and were brought to a stand still for some minutes and then floundered forwards again and thus we fought our way onwards for some hours. Luckily the beast was strong for the fatigue of the journey was immense. At last we came quite to a stand still and were completely puzzled. Very uncomfortable reflections suggested themselves. I sat down in the snow, the beast stood knee deep beside me, and in order to consider the best course to pursue, I determined to smoke a pipe over it, and accordingly struck a light and ignited a cigar. Before I had smoked it half through, I felt warm and comfortable, all except my toes fingers and nose. I even began to think the situation was romantic and chanted Amiens song.
“Here shall you see no enemy
But winter and rough weather”


When I arose, blinded by the snowdrift, I forgot which was the front and which the rear. However remembering that the wind had been in my teeth I set my face against it. Luckily at this moment there came a lull in the storm, still all looked white and drear, the chances seemed against us both; we had missed the road. It was a tombstone looking spot, hills upon hills, not a cot not a hut, not a sheep, not even a bird to be observed. At length however I spied a something not quite so white as the rest of the world, it looked like a bridge, nay it was a bridge. After toiling over precarious ground for half an hour we won it and once more gained the road, though indeed it was easier far to regain it than to keep it. The snow had now in many places drifted and the way became more difficult. I knew full well that to be benighted in a snow storm in this waste was to perish. I had no overcoat, only my regimental frock. The cold was intense. I lighted a second Havannah and looked into the Siberian region before me, then behind, then on either hand; all was desolate and dismal nothing but hills, The sky too seemed to have a bilious and ill tempered look. There was neither bush nor shrub to bear off the weather. However I felt more hurt and chagrined at having left the gay and festive scenes in the good town than at my present condition. “To night” I thought, as I puffed out volumes wreathed smoke from my Havannah, “to night is an assembly night and ‘woe the while’, here I am buffeting about, miles and miles away, and quadrilling it with my four footed partner in a snow wreath. And here we are again, fast as a church and up to the saddle girths. Dance quotha! it will be a dance of death I’m thinking. However, it's of no use to give it in, let's try eight bars more, come let me see thee caper” I said laying on with all my might. “Higher ah higher Excellent”

We were through the difficulty, then came more floundering, more bastinadoing, and more melancholy thoughts at having to leave the most delightful quarter in the world for such a region. It was now a labour of some time to gain twenty yards to the front, and dismounting, I led my horse through the deep road. We were now rounding the base of a hill, the night came down sudden and dark and the snow again began a fearful cannonade, stinging my visage like so many sharp bodkins.
“Foundations fly the wretched”
My horse hung back obstinately, he appeared knocked up. I took a pull at my whiskey flask and began to bawl aloud. No one answered but the bog bittern. I got in rear of my steed and let fly a thundering bastinado on his crupper, for I was now determined not to part company. I remembered to have heard of killing a horse and getting inside him on such an occasion. The idea was not a bad one. I had my rapier with me and if all else failed, why not perform the Caesarean operation.

Arrival at Glenbucket Inn
I thought I heard the bark of a dog come down the wind, it grew plainer and plainer, a twinkling light threw its beams from afar, it was like a ray of hope. I led my jaded beast towards it we had won the Inn at Glenbucket. The Inn at Glenbucket, like the establishment at the Clachan of Aberfoil,* had its guests although there was no wand stuck up at the door to warn off travellers from the only house of entertainment, as Bailie Nicol Jarvie* had it for miles round. The apartment I made my way into, too, like the one at Aberfoil, had its sleepers and its revellers at the same time; closets like the berths in a steam boat, being cut in the wall, which were occupied at the same moment that three or four persons were enjoying themselves at a table in the midst. Two of them were armed to the teeth, but there all similitude to Aberfoil ended, for there was neither a Galbraith,* with “more brandy than brains in his head,” a Highland militiaman with trews and singed pladdie, nor a shock headed Dougald* creature in kilt targe and claymore. The armed men wore blue with black belt, cutlass, pistols and fusee.* They were sailors belonging to a cutter and stationed amongst the hills for the same purpose that I myself had been sent, so far namely to look after smugglers. Mine hostess and family were also of the party and the assemblages were at that moment about to commence their tea delightful task. There could be nothing more fragrant than the odour of that herb to the nostrils of a man, cold and wearied with travel. Ever while you live remember to call for tea at a Highland inn it is a perfect feast. There was bread, and bannocks,* eggs and finnon haddies,* mutton collops,* marmalade and a dozen things beside. But more than this, than these than all, there was another Highland welcome. It might reasonably have been supposed that having undergone this inclement ride, I should now be delighted to take mine ease in mine inn, but no I felt restless and miserable. The party had dispersed and I sat alone watching the embers on the hearth. Distant scenes were brought to my recollection and as I mused on past times. I grew more discontented with my present situation. Now and then came a prolonged snore from the sleepers, bitter thoughts intruded. I philosophised upon life. What was it, after all, but (as some man somewhere says) a stone shied into a horsepond. There was a terrible run upon the cigars that evening and yet I could not get mine own content. Why had I been thus sent to eat the bitter bread of banishment at Corgarff? Tis the curse of service, I again philosophised aloud, preferment goes by letter and affection. Like all young soldiers, I thought myself aggrieved at what I ought to have rejoiced. I shall never look upon my northern friends again, said I mournfully, and having satisfactorily made up my mind to believe so, I arose and went to look upon my horse. The snowstorm had ceased, the sky had somewhat brightened and the frost was more intense. I felt I could never in my present state of mind remain where I was. Corgarff, I said, once more philosophising, I ll find thee out this night.

I fell in with one of the armed sailors in the stable and we made a bargain to try and reach the Castle together. At last I found a man who knew where to put his hand upon Corgarff. “Hire yon shelt” said the man “if ye re wise for we’ll ha ea tussle for’t ere we win through”. My new comrade was a rough looking fellow with pistols in his belt, hanger by his side and short black stump of a pipe in his mouth. He was no bad representative of Dirk Hatteraik* or at least one of “der fine fellows” composing the crew of his lugger. He strode manfully on for some distance and I followed after upon the shelt. It soon however became necessary for him to slacken his pace as the depth of the snow made the road in some places almost impassable. Thus we held onwards for some hours till I began to be suspicious that Corgarff was either indeed the visionary fortress it had hitherto appeared, or that it must be retreating before our laboured advance, or what was more probable than either that my guide had lost his way. I was the more convinced the latter was the case from his now frequently coming to a halt, scratching his knowledge box, and staring into the unpicturesque landscape around. Accordingly, I thought it best to have an explanation at once. “My friend,” said I “you have been making several tacks lately but you don’t seem to regain your course Another such treacherous foundation as you led me into just now and you’ll make a shipwreck of the expedition altogether.” “Why yes” he answered “I find myself rather puzzled here. However though I don t exactly know where I am I’ll take my davy we can t be far from Toumantoul, that I ll swear to anyhow.” “Come my man” I said “light up your dudeen, take a pull at my whiskey flask, and move forwards. It's no use remaining stationary, we shall take root where we stand if you don t resolve on something soon.” “I m thinking” said the sailor, “that I begin to ken something more of the part of the country we’re in. If I m not very much deceived there's a hut on the side of yon rise.” “Now heaven be praised for it,” I exclaimed,” let us have at it instanter.” As friend Sancho* says ‘He that hath good in his view and yet will not evil eschew his folly deserveth to rue’. Spurring my pony impetuously forwards in the direction pointed out in a few minutes, he floundered forwards and sunk up to his middle in a slough of despond, it was in vain to try and deliver him from. In this extremity most provident in peril, I threw myself off as he rolled into the mire though not in time to prevent being glued up to the middle in a mud bath from which my friend and guide was fain almost to lug me out by the ears. The steed being thus stabled in a half frozen morass, the sailor proposed making the best of his way to the cottage in order to procure assistance, whilst I remained where I was. I cannot say that I ever felt perfect solitude, till that moment. Zimmerman* could have no idea of it. A gloomy feeling enveloped my mind and a thick coating of half frozen mud my body. Without stopping to say good-bye, my only friend had turned his back upon me and left me in this unpleasant dilemma. I felt inclined to despair. What if my guide finding the difficulties of the situation beginning to accumulate and not finding the hut, had resolved to leave me to my fate. Every minute seemed an hour. I was perfectly chilled and could not walk a step further. The snow, as if to add to my misery, began to fall sounding in the wind as if hissing me to scorn. Even the pony who was blowing like an otter only a few yards from me, was now hidden from my view. My flasket had like myself become a body without a soul almost and I felt perplexed in the extreme. I began to call aloud. Was that the howl of the wolf or the cry of the hill fox. To my relief it was neither, twas the voice of my sometime comrade. Two sturdy Highlanders drew out the shelt with ropes and being assisted on his back, we breasted the hill and were in a few minutes withinside the hut. Here we procured some of the mountain dew, which brought the tears into our eyes and warmth to our hearts. The turf fire was alight, some bannocks made a grateful supper and one of the Highlanders offering to guide us to Corgarff which he affirmed was not a mile distant, we started again with renewed spirits and after a rapid walk of some minutes began to ascend a small hill. “There's the castle”, said the Highlander slapping his hand upon a white mass almost indistinct in the pelting snow. “Where, where I prithee, where” I exclaimed in my eagerness to behold the long sought fortress.

The rattling sound of a musket and fixed bayonet brought to the port and the challenge of a sentinel on the other side of the loop holed wall instantly proclaimed its whereabout. “Who comes there?” shouted the sentinel within the walls. “Friends to this ground and liegemen to the Dane Sergeant of the guard”, roared the sentinel “here's the officer from Aberdeen.” The word passed from sentinel to sentinel, the clash and clatter of armed men rushing out of the guardroom was heard. A ponderous gate was unlocked and swung open, the door closed upon us as we entered, three turns like the twist of a turnkey again secured it and we were at last within the fastness.

Description of Duties:
Angry winter passed away and the approach of spring still found us lying at pleasure at Corgarff. Each day was a month Captain McLean, having so effective an officer, had given himself leave of absence, and left me sole and solitary in command, king of Strathdon. To incessant snow had succeeded constant rain. I had laboured in my vocation and carried the war so successfully into the glens and fastnesses around, that the blackened rafters and umbered remains of what were once the bothies of the hardy whiskey brewers, are now all that the adventurous grouse shooter can discover of that popular trade, when, one wet morning the Captain returning in haste ordered a heavy marching order parade, formed advance and rear guards, locked up the castle and putting the key in his pocket prepared to depart.

“Seid suas”* he shouted as he drew his claymore strike up quick march. The detachment moved forwards, they descended the slope upon which the castle was situated, and as the head of the party was seen to emerge from the mists, they had so long been dwellers in the pipes after sending forth a wailing cry, struck up the celebrated dirge with which the Highlanders march to the shore, when about to embark for some distant clime. “Cha till mi tuille” – “ we return no more McLean,” I said, as I ventured to accost him after we had safely stemmed the torrent of the rushing Don, “are we fairly quit of these fastnesses Do you really mean to say we are sounding farewell to Strathdon?”
“Even so Ensign Marvel” he replied “I believe we have now quite done with that loveliest spot of earth.”
“And our destination” I said “is it headquarters McLean”
“There lies my way due west” said the chief pointing his claymore down the pass before us
“Then westward ho” said I joyfully “for England, cousin, if you will.”
“Not so good swabber” returned the captain putting an official into my hand “you are to hull here a little longer. Although the mortality in the west hath made it necessary to order out an extra draft, till we sail good sir, we have to pursue our present employment. Accordingly I am marching this morning, Ensign Marvel, towards Deeside in order to relieve the forty twa stationed in the Castle of Braemar”


Glossary

Bannock is any of a large variety of flat quick breads. The word can also be applied to any large, round article baked or cooked from grain. When a round bannock is cut into wedges, the wedges are often called scones. But in Scotland, the words bannock and scone are often used interchangeably.
Bap (often a larger soft roll, roughly 5-6 inches in diameter). Dough can contain fats such as lard or butter to provide tenderness to dough. Can come in multiple shapes dependent on region. Baps as traditionally made in Scotland are not sweet, unlike the Irish version which may contain currants. The 9th Edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) says that the word "bap" dates from the 16th century and that its origin is unknown.
Finnan Haddies: One form of smoked haddock is Finnan Haddie, named for the fishing village of Finnan or Findon in Scotland, where it was originally cold-smoked over peat. Finnan haddie is often served poached in milk for breakfast
Scotch Collops are a traditional Scottish dish. It can be created using either thin slices or minced meat of either beef, lamb or venison. This is combined with onion, salt, pepper, and suet, then stewed, baked or roasted with optional flavourings according to the meat used. It is traditionally served garnished with thin toast and mashed potato.
Fusee: An old word for "flintlock rifle"
Dirk Hatteraick alias Jans Janson a Dutch smuggler captain :Guy Mannering.
Bailie Nicol Jarvie was a Glasgow tradesman and magistrate: Rob Roy",
Galbraith of Garschattachin Major Duncan a militia officer: Rob Roy
Davie Gellatly the simpleton at Tully Veolan ; Waverly Novels
Chartreux The shorthair natural breed of cat in France.
Dougald, it appeared from his own mouth, had for years past been largely engaged in the distilling and smuggling trade He was concerned wi many o the largest stills in Perthshire a : Highland Smugglers
Clachan at Aberfoil, Inn visited by Nicol Jarvie in Rob Roy
Sancho, presumably Sancho Panza, squite to Don Quixote
Seid suas: Galeic Blow up i.e. start up the bagpipes. “The imperative ‘seid suas’- blow up, is addressed the musical performer who is frequently a bag piper oftener especially in the Braes of Athol a fiddler generally plays his native airs with peculiar expression effect”
Zimmerman Adam Zimmerman a burgess of Soleure :Waverly Novels


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History Texts

126 Cattle Rustling in the Glen88 1696 Poll Book Belnacraig87 Original 1696 Poll Book91 Wandering in the Highlands 188185 Sketch of 'Old Glenbucket' about 174575 Peatfold70 New Statistical Account of Strathdon 184571 Descendants of the Great Glenbucket4 St Margarets Chronicle Free afternoon Glenbuchat3 St Margarets Chronicle at Castle Lodge 1940