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The Caravan Pilgrim

@ Peter Anson

Eleven

Fetternear—Huntly—Rothiemay Castle—Portsoy--—Buckie-----­

Tynet—Preshome.

 

St Peter's Aberdeen


 Getting away from Blairs proved almost as difficult as arriving. For Jack jumped a fence and had to be chased all round a field by Tony and the grieve before he was caught. They led him back to the farm, where after a drink of water he submitted to being yoked. Once more we bumped along that rough cart-track and were glad to reach the main road. This we followed as far as Mill Inn. Here we turned right and crossed the Dee. Bill never liked bridges and it took some persuasion before he would venture on to this one.

We stopped at Peter Culter to do some shopping. “You’ve a hilly road before you get to Huntly,” an old man informed Tony. “Aye! But it’s a gran’ life. An’ what a bonnie pair of horses.”

Leaving Peter Culter we turned right, passing through bleak treeless country, where as Tony remarked it looks as if a giant had been playing about with granite boulders, and then run away and left them.

We stopped for a few minutes outside the lodge gates of Dunecht, one of the many ostentatious erections put up by the late Lord Cowdray who seemed determined to ‘leave his mark’ on Aberdeenshire. The stone dykes which surround his vast estates are another striking feature. They seem to express the whole mentality of this millionaire Yorkshire contractor.

From Dunecht one road led past Castle Fraser, one of the finest examples of ‘Scottish Baronial’ architecture, a glimpse of which could be obtained through the dense woods which surround it on almost every side.

 Benachie—that famous Aberdeenshire mountain—now appeared on our left as we dropped down into the valley of the Don. We crossed the river at Kemnay, a straggling village of no great interest.

I was uncertain exactly where the Catholic church at Fetter-near was located, but as we were moving along a quiet country lane, we sighted its roof hidden among trees to our right. On reaching the drive which led up to it I wondered if the caravan would be able to pass, for the boughs of the trees so badly needed clipping that there was scarcely room to get beneath them. Our chimney barely escaped being knocked off.

Fr. Colin Macdonald allowed us to leave the caravan in front of the church, but came with us to a neighbouring crofter who let us put the horses in one of his fields. It seemed that he was a regular reader of the Universe and said to Tony, who had remarked on the quality of the grass in the meadow, “Why, no grass could be too good for the Pilgrim Artist’s horses.” I hope Jack and Bill realise how privileged they are on account of their master!

The lands of Fetternear belonged to the Bishops of Aber­deen in pre-Reformation times. They were conveyed to the family of William Leslie of Baiquhain in 1566 by the last Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen, William Gordon. Leslie had protected the Cathedral from destruction by a mob in 1560. The grant was confirmed by Pope Clement X in 1670, and renewed by Pius IX in 1870. These historic events are recorded in the stained glass windows of the present church, a well proportioned grey granite building opened in 1869.

The mansion of Fetternear was burnt down some years ago, and as I wandered round its now overgrown ruins on that June evening, I recalled the tragic history of the great family of Leslie who at one time were so powerful in Aberdeenshire that, even in the times of most bitter persecution, they genera­ally managed to keep a priest in their households.

  

Our Lady of the Garioch and St John, Fetternear

In 1714 the local Presbyterian minister complained with indignation of the chapel, at Fetternear, “put to no use but idolatrous worship.” To-day it is only the birds who chant the praise of their Creator within the charred ruins of Fetternear.

I left the ruins and wandered on to the Old Kirk of St. Ninian, now disused, which stands beside the river Don. Here Bishop Hay was laid to rest in 1811. He died at the neigh­bouring seminary of Aquhorties, to which I made my way after leaving the church. The buildings still remain in much the same state as when they housed the lads who were being educated for the Scottish priesthood, and among whom Bishop Hay passed his last years.

We left Fetternear about 9.30 after Mass and breakfast, and took a short cut. “It’s rough country as well as a rough road,” said Tony as he looked at the stony fields and the jagged outline of Benachie which rose up on our left. Having jogged along for about five miles we stopped to give the horses a feed while we ourselves had a cup of coffee.

A few miles further we stopped again beside the famous Maiden Stone, and examined the curious carvings with which its sides are covered. We wondered what could be the mean­ing of the dog, elephant, comb and mirror. An elephant in Aberdeenshire seems rather exotic.

There was a long pull up over the Foudland Hills; bleak exposed country, once the dread of travellers in winter when the road was often blocked with snow drifts. There were fine views over rolling farm lands as we descended into Huntly which we reached about 7 o’clock.

I called at the presbytery where Mgr. Mulligan told me he had arranged for us to park the caravan in a field near the ruins of the castle. A place of many memories, for it was long the home of the Earls of Huntly, once the most powerful family in this part of Scotland. They remained Catholic for more than a century after the Reformation, and generally managed to keep a priest as chaplain.

Our camp site was picturesque, but we wished the midges had been less ravenous. But they were nothing to what we had to endure later on in the West Highlands.

 While we were eating our supper a policeman came to have a look at us and find out what was our business. However I managed to convince him we were quite harmless even if we did look like tinkers.

Remembering the drastic treatment meted out to gipsies and “peer fowk” in Aberdeenshire during the 17th and 18th centuries I was relieved to find this Huntly policeman did not order us to leave the town at once, or even send us back to England as did the Aberdeen baillies when dealing with vagrants. In spite of their efforts they were not always success­ful for in the Old Statistical Account we are told that the parish of Peterculter was “often infested with vagrants of various descriptions, who by threats or otherwise, compel people to give them money and the best vivres their houses afford. They likewise pick up poultry, apparel, and what they can lay hold of. Their exactions are oppressive, their numbers often formidable, and it hurts the feelings of the humane to see so many young people trained up to the same pernicious courses.”

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, writing about 1698 informs us in the Second Discourse on the Affairs of Scotland, that there were “about one hundred thousand of those vagabonds who had lived without any regard or subjection either to the laws of the land or even those of God and Nature.” He gives a grim picture of how “they meet together in the moun­tains, where they feast and riot for many days; and at country weddings, markets, burials, and the like public occasions, they are to be seen—both men and women—perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and fighting together.” I hope the Huntly policeman did not take us for one of this crowd of vagabonds. If so he might have recommended (like his famous 17th century countryman) to have us “presented to the government of the state of Venice to serve in the gallies against the common enemy of Christendom, under pain of scourging.” In 1700 a gipsy named James McPherson was condemned to death at Banif on a charge of ‘thieving, purse-cutting, and other crimes of masterful bangstrie and oppression.’

But not all the 18th century vagrants were gipsies, some were Irish who came to Scotland “on the pretence of visiting their relatives.” There were likewise a vast crowd of beggars of Scottish origin, greatly despised and hated by the genuine gipsies, and who shared none of the better qualities of the latter.

St Margaret's Huntly

I went to Mass the following morning, and found myself in a curious octagonal shaped building unlike any church I have ever seen. I remember having read an account óf its opening in the Catholic Directory for 1834, where it is described as a “new and splendid chapel.” The writer went on to tell how funds for its erection were provided by Mr. John Gordon, of the family of Wardhouse, then living at Cadiz. There can be little doubt that his association with Spain must have influenced the style of architecture. Incidentally it was the first Catholic chapel in Scotland to be provided with a bell since the Refor­mation. What a sensation it must have caused when that bell rang out for the first Mass when, so we are told, the choir of St. Peter’s, Aberdeen, “executed several pieces of sacred music in a very superior style.” No doubt it scandalised some of the older worshippers who would not have forgotten Bishop Hay’s strict injunctions against any kind of singing at Mass, as being a dangerous novelty.

 

I found breakfast ready for me on my return from Mass. Tony always protested he was no cook, but this was really false modesty.  The midges were no better that morning. They found the unprotected flanks of Jack and Bill provided a satisfying meal, and Tony decided to rub them down with parafin. The smell certainly seemed to be effective.

After doing some shopping we got away about 11.30. This was the hottest day we had so far met with, and both of us cast off as many clothes as we could, finding a shirt and trousers quite sufficient.

Crossing the Deveron we left Aberdeenshire and entered Banffshire. Following the wooded bank of the river we soon reached the village of Rothiemay. I had received an invitation from Colonel Ian Forbes of Rothiemay Castle to call here, but when the caravan passed under the battlemented archway leading into the drive (the chimney only just clearing), the lodgekeeper came rushing out in a state of wild excitement.

“You cannot go up there,” she exclaimed in horrified tones. “The Colonel doesn’t allow tinkers in his grounds, and this drive only leads to the Castle. You must turn round at once.”

I smiled at her, and she looked completely mystified when I explained that the Colonel was expecting me to lunch with him and that it was already after one o’clock. She realised that we couldn’t be ordinary tinkers, but what on earth should the Deputy Lieutenant of Banffshire mean by inviting such strange guests to his table was too much for her powers of imagination.

Gazing at the caravan and me, and not knowing what to do, she said. “Well it’s not my fault if the Colonel objects. I’ve done my best to stop you.”

Tony drove on up the long avenue with rhododendrons in full bloom on either side. Just as we got to the stables a martial looking figure in a kilt appeared round a corner. Tony, who had never before seen a Scottish laird on his native heath got rather a shock. But any nervousness he may have felt, was at once dispelled when the laird started to help him to unharness the horses, in the manner of an expert.

After luncheon the Colonel showed us round the Castle, typical of many another in Scotland with its immensely thick walls, crow step gables and queer little turrets. We were taken to the recently excavated ruins of the old church, built on the site of a chapel founded in,, the 6th century by St. Drostan, a disciple of St. Columba. We gazed at the even more ancient stone circle, a Scottish Stonehenge, with its altar marked with stars, only clearly visible on Midsummer Eve.

 I could write much more of Rothiemay Castle; its little chapel where Mass is said from time to time; its many historic portraits and other treasures collected in the course of centuries.

It is good to feel that this famous old Scottish home has now come back into Catholic hands, and three of the present generation of Forbes have found religious vocations—the eldest son, formerly an officer in the Grenadier Guards, being a Benedictine monk at Ampleforth, and two of his sisters  Canonesses Regular of the Lateran.

 It was not until nearly six that we managed to get away from our host. Three hours later we come in sight of Portsoy. It was still broad daylight when we sat down to supper about 11 o’clock, for Tony had to take the horses to a farm some distance away. We received a most friendly welcome from the parish priest, Fr. James Bonnyman—indeed was there any place in Scotland where the priests did not welcome us and put themselves to no end of bother in making provision for man and beast? The caravan was parked beside the “chapel,” as the Catholic church is invariably called in Scotland; the word “Kirk” being confined to Presbyterian places of worship. Even more tired than usual after this long day and the heat, we fell asleep about midnight.

 The Catholic Church at Portsoy, dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation, was built by the Rev. Alexander Grant just over a century ago. It is typical of many others erected in the north-east of Scotland at that period; plain solid little churches, with no fuss or nonsense about them. They are a material expression, so one might say, of that sturdy deep-rooted faith which had managed to survive three hundred years of persecu­tion. A type of Catholicism that lends literary expression in the writings of Bishop Hay; a kind of piety which is literally foreign to the rush and hurry of present day life.

When the church was built the congregation numbered about five hundred. The priest also served Banff and Aberchirder.

 

Church of the Annunciation, Portsoy


To-day the Catholics in and around Portsoy have decreased to no more than seventy. Most of them live too far away to get to Mass regularly, and the normal Sunday morning congregation seldom exceeds twenty. The lonely life of a priest in such a place as this cannot be easy, and it demands a peculiar vocation to carry on year after year.

We spent an enjoyable Sunday at Portsoy, a small fishing village which I have known and loved for nearly twenty years. It became quite famous in 1936 as the home port of the drifter “Boy Andrew” which won the Madame Prunier trophy for the biggest shot of herring during the East Anglican Autumn season. It seemed strange that it should need the enterprising proprietoress of a fashionable London restaurant to bring Portsoy into the newspaper headlines!

 Tony had to go into Banff the following morning to visit a saddler, a new strap being needed for the harness. So it was not until well on in the afternoon that we drove away from Portsoy. I knew the road very well indeed and as we passed by the fishing villages of Sandend, Cullen and Portknockie, recalled many days in byegone years when I had sketched their harbours and little grey houses. To-day with a bright sun, blue sky and sea, they looked as attractive as ever.

About a mile before reaching Buckie I was pleased to find my old friend “Jeems” Clark, a fisherman with whom I had spent some happy rimes at sea in his father’s drifter, on the look out for us. He greeted us warmly and said he had been waiting nearly on hour. I apologised and explained that we had been later in leaving Portsoy than I had intended. “Jeems” climbed up into the caravan and remarked that it rolled almost as much as a fishing boat,

“You don’t feel sea sick, do you?” I  asked.

Jack and Bill had grazed in many strange fields during their long journey, but it was a new experience for them to find themselves in sole possesion of the football ground of the “Buckie Thistles.”

We failed to get in with the caravan for the entrance gate was far too low. So in the end it rested on a plot of grass land in Duguid Street. Here live the McWilliam family who, as on many previous occasions, gave me the expected welcome. It was not long before my companion had made himself equally at home in their midst.

 Tony found much to interest him at the harbour. I introduced him to some of my fishermen friends who initiated him  into the mysteries of their craft. He became so fascinated that I began to wonder if he would be abandoning his horses and taking to the sea for a change. In fact he did talk seriously of going out for a night’s fishing in the Moray Firth, but eventually decided it was better not to do so in case he could not get back on the day we had arranged to leave Buckie.

When I first got to know the Moray Firth coast nearly twenty years ago all the fishing villages were in an extremely prosperous condition. The fishermen were in possession of smart and well cared for steam drifters, and many of them lived in houses which they had built for themselves regardless of expense. They were a proud, independent community. But a few years after the war the herring industry began to decline, and a series of unremunerative seasons culminated in 1934 when hundreds of families found themselves reduced to absolute poverty. The average Scotsman, still less the average Englishman, knew or cared little how or where his breakfast herring was caught. He did not realise that fresh herrings were only a very small part of the industry on which over 80,000 of his fellow countrymen depended for a living before the War.

The far reaching international complications involved in the closing of “foreign markets” for cured herring were of little interest to the general public until comparatively recently.

Buckie, and most of the other ports on the Moray Firth Coast are sad places to-day. Few of the young lads feel any wish to become fishermen and find it more profitable in the long run to stop at home and live on the dole—or the “buroo” as they call it. These once prosperous towns and villages have acquired almost the same atmosphere of hopeless despair that one finds in the depressed areas of South Wales or Co. Durham. What is to be their future time alone can show.

 

St Peter's, Buckie

There are certain persons who seem to feel that the Scottish herring industry will pass into the hands of English companies and vessels owned and financed from England. This woul.d be sad fate for what was formerly one of the most profitable industries in Scotland. Is it too late to avert such a national disaster?

Buckie has a large Catholic population, being situated in the Enzie district, always one of the strongholds of the old Religion throughout the Penal Times. Until 1832 the nearest place of worship was at Preshome, about three miles distant, where the Vicar’s Apostolic usually resided. In that year a temporary chapel was opened; replaced by the present building in 1857. A contemporary journalist described it as “altogether a most splendid church,” but the Presbyterian fishermen looked upon it with horror and alarm. The twin spires, visible many miles out at sea, were referred to as “Yon twa horns o’ the Dei!.” Catholics often called it the “cathedral.”

The interior was enlarged and redecorated by the late Mgr. Provost Mackintosh, a much loved priest who spent many years in Buckie. He was immensely proud of the extremely ornate marble High Altar and reredos, designed by Charles Ménart, and I often found it difficult to hide my own feelings when he was praising. its beauty to me.

One day during this stay in Buckie I made a sketch of St. Ninian’s, Tynet; having heard rumours that the oldest Post-Reformation Catholic Church in Scotland was in danger of being replaced by a modern structure. When the Rev. Alexander Godsman built this low long barn like structure in 1755 he took the precaution of turning sheep into it lest its ultimate purpose should be discovered. It would not have been safe to have advertised of a Popish Mass House at that date.

 

Even to-day when passing along the main road from Cullen to Fochabers you would never suspect that the building is a Catholic church. It was enlarged in 1787 when the congrega­tion was much more numerous than to-day. Dry-rot is spread­ing and the roof has been shored up to prevent collapse. The walls too are likely to give way. It is a pity this historic sanctuary cannot be scheduled as a National Monument. But few pilgrims seem to visit this “Banifshire Bethlehem” as it well deserves to be called. The interior, with its delightfully “primitive” Gothic altar is unique. There is an old pulpit and surrounding board; also a gilt dove suspended above the altar, said to have been brought here from the chapel which formerly stood in St. Ninian’s cemetary, a mile or so beyond Tynet. Here are buried Bishop Nicolson, the first Vicar Apostolic in Scotland, and many other missionary priests.

That same afternoon I also revisited St. Gregory’s, Preshome. This most interesting church dates from 1788 and was the first attempt after the Reformation to build a Catholic place of worship to look like a church. Over the door is a tablet bear­ing the curious inscription “DEO 1788.” As many visitors have remarked it is not often that you find a church dedicated to Almighty God in this uncompromising manner.

The West front remains unspoilt, except that one or two of the Grecian urns on the parapet have fallen down. A Gothic Sanctuary and an elaborately carved reredos, designed by Peter Paul Pugin, have completely altered the effect of the interior.

 

 

 

 

TWELVE

 

Keith—Dufftown—Glenlivet—Tombae—--Scalan—Forres

—Elgin—Inverness—Eskadale.

The weather broke the morning we left Buckie and- it seemed quite strange to be driving with rain on our faces. Our departure had not been without certain thrills. Having led down Jack- and Bill from the footbáll ground where they had become very fresh after four days’ peaceful rest, we tethered the latter to some iron railings in front of our hosts’ garden while we were harnessing Jack. He got excited and pulled off a large piece of the iron-work! Apologising for the damage we drové away, amid much waving and cheers from our kind friends and their relations.

Passing through the hamlet of Clochan, we climbed up the long hill to the summit of Aultmore. The rain ceased within a mile or so of Keith, and for the rest of the afternoon the sun was too hot to be pleasant.

No more striking proof of the survival of Catholicism in the north-east of Scotland during the Penal Times could be found than the large number of churches erected in Banif-shire within the first ten years after Catholic Emancipation. One of the, most striking of these churches is St. Thomas’, Keith, an imposing building in the Doric style, which was opened in 1831. The façade is said to be a ‘free adaptation’ of S. Maria degli Angeli at Rome. The altar piece was presented by King Charles X of France, at that time living in exile at Holyrood Palace. As you will see from my sketch the church has a somewhat foreign-looking appearance, yet it does not seem out of place among the wide streets of grey stone houses which surround it. The copper dome is a recent addition to the church, which was enlarged from the designs of Charles Ménart.

 

St Thomas' Keith

We left Keith behind us and made our way through the valley of the Isla. We passed two small boys on the road who stopped to stare at us. Summoning up his courage one of them asked if this was the Pilgrim Artist’s caravan. He told us that he had been following our journey every week in the Universe and seemed very proud to meet us.

We had tea near Drummuir, where the road winds along above a narrow gorge, with dense woods on either side. About six o’clock we drove into Dufftown, a quiet little town with whisky distilleries and cloth mills. Here we managed to find a good field behind the Catholic church with plenty of space in which the horses could roam about.

I have a great affection for the little church of Our Lady of the Assumption at Dufftown. This is one of the oldest missions in the north-east of Scotland. Even during the worst persecutions of the 17th and 18th centuries a priest was generally found in this part of Banif shire. Living in constant da:nger of being arrested, imprisoned and banished, these heroic missionaries ministered to their scattered flock in the parishes of Mortlach, Aberlour, and the Cabrach.

For a while they had no permanent centre. But during the 18th century chapels—if they deserve the name—were built at Shenval and Keithock. In spite of its secluded position the latter chapel was discovered by the English soldiers, who set fire to it after the Battle of Culloden. Mass was then said in private houses, or in lofts over farm buildings, at Tullochallum and elsewhere. The chapel at Keithock dates from about 1790, and is really no more than a bare loft above the cottage which served as a presbytery.

In 1817 the modern village of Dufftown was laid out. The Rev. John Gordon, then stationed at Keithock, obtained land from the Earl of Fife upon which he erected the present church which was opened in July, 1825. From the point of view of architecture it is of the greatest interest. To have built a Gothic vaulted roof at that period was indeed the last word of ‘modernism.’ Mr. John Gordon must have been a priest of wide culture, for he has left another proof of his efforts to promote a more dignified standard of worship than which was common at that date in the shape of a book of Church Music, which contains both Masses, motets and hymns. It was the first publication of its kind to be issued in Scotland since the Reformation and it continued to be used in many places until quite recently.

I must confess that I regret the removal of that curious domed shaped baldachino (reminiscent of the Brighton Pavilion) which surmounted the High Altar. It had been put up by the Rev. John Kemp in 1858 and I cannot recall any other example quite like it. Mr. John Devlin’s new marble altar and oak reredos are more liturgically ‘correct’ but they lack the charm and originality of the old baldachino, which was discovered to be so badly affected with dry rot that it had to be destroyed.

I think that Tony will chiefly remember Dufftown as the place where it was so hot, It surprised him to find that there could be really hot weather in the far north of Scotland. While I was sketching the interior of the church my companion took Bill to be shod. Jack rushed round the field as he always did whenever he was separated from his mate. It was amusing to watch the welcome which took place when Bill returned from the blacksmith’s.

We got away about 3.30 in the afternoon, having decided that it was too hot to make an earlier start. Our road lay up Glen Rinnes and we had a long climb to over 1,000 feet above sea level. We stopped for tea near a drinking trough which had been erected in commemoration of the Coronation of King Edward VII. We were grateful to the donor, whoever he was; for not only the horses but also their drivers enjoyed a drink of the ice cold water on that sweltering afternoon.

The country became wilder; farm lands giving place to small crofts, and then moor and bog. Down into Glenlivet, past a comfortable looking manse where the minister and his wife were sitting beneath the shade of a tree on the lawn. They stopped talking and stared hard at the caravan. Tony waved to them; the lady gave him a gracious smile but the minister didn’t respond to the salutation of ‘tinkers.’

The road twisted and turned as it followed the course of the river. I pointed out the famous Minmore distillery to my companion, and then, on reaching the hamlet of Tomnavoulin, we turned left along a narrow road. I walked on ahead as I wanted to find out from the priest, who was awaiting our arrival, where the horses were to graze. It was about nine o’clock when we arrived at Tombae, which merely consists of a Catholic church, presbytery, school and cemetery. No other houses are visible but there are many small crofts hidden away in the surrounding hills. Fr. Bennett had almost given up hope of our arrival that night. He pointed out a field for the horses and told us that we could park the van in a yard behind the ‘chapel house.’

It was so hot that we decided to sleep in our little tent in preference to the stuffy caravan which felt like an oven. But we were rudely awakened about 4 a.m. It was raining hard and the water had found its way through the canvas. I roused my companion and we made a hasty retreat into the caravan; one of us laden with blankets, the other with pillows. Then the rain ceased. But we were not going to risk another wetting so spent the rest of the night in the van. There was no need to rise early that Sunday morning for at Tombae, as in most of the country missions in the Aberdeen diocese, there is only one Mass and that at 11 o’clock, except once a month when there is an ‘Early Service’ (to borrow an expression which I remember in my Anglican childhood). On informing a zealous young priest in the south of England of this custom he remarked, "They must be quite ‘Low Church’ up there. Do they go in for Evening Communion as well?" But the explanation may be found in the conservative habits of the older people who have the same feelings about the reception of the Sacraments as did their grandparents, and who seldom went to Holy Communion more than four or five times a year. Old traditions are clung to tenaceously and are not easily uprooted in the country missions in the North East. At the same time it must be remembered that the majority of the congregations live some distance from the ‘ chapels.’ It is not easy for farmers or crofters to get to an early Mass without serious inconvenience.

Gle.alivet -has always remained one of the most Catholic districts in Scotland. Around the hamlet of Tomnavoulin where the church is situated, there has always been a more or less regular succession of priests since Mr Francis Carolan, who was stationed here between 1687 and 1701. I was delighted with the church at Tombae, a Gothic structure erected in the year of Catholic Emancipation. In a contemporary description of the epening function much praise is given to the "elegant Gothic front of fine polished granite." The same writer informs us that the priest "will gladly accommodate two or three respectable Catholics as boarders," and suggests that "to persons of retired and religious habits, the situation will be most eligible, the climate most salubrious, and the scenery altogether beautiful and picturesque." I wonder if any ‘respectable Catholics of retired and religious habits’ took advantage of the invitation and came to live as paying guests in the ‘chapel house’?

Tombae certainly seemed a charming spot during the three days we spent there and nothing could have exceeded the kind hospitality shown us by Fr. Bennett behind whose presbytery the caravan rested.

One afternoon I set out across the moors to walk to the Braes of Glenlivet, a remote district cut off from the outside world and shut in on every side by mountains. In about three miles I reached the hamlet of Chapeltown where in 1827 a little church was built by the Abbé Paul Macpherson, who as a contemporary writer informs us, also provided "a small but comfortable dwelling house and appendages for the clergyman, as well as all the necessary vestments and furniture." In 1908

 

 

 Tombae, Glenlivet

 

the old chapel was replaced by a beautiful church designed by Archibald Macpherson. Few modern Catholic churches in Scotland seem so perfectly in harmony with their surroundings as this building with its rough harled walls and simpje round-headed windows.

The ornate richness of the interior was a surprise to me. But how entirely satisfactory is the clever mingling of vivid scarlet, green and gold on the walls and ceiling. If only church architects would take a hint from those of Scandinavia and realise how much better their interiors would be for white walls as a foil to bright colour decoration!

From Chapeltown I took a rough track through fields and then across rough moorland. My way led me still further into the heart of the Braes where the steep mountains seemed to prevent any further advance. Had I not been told I should not have suspected that I should eventually come to a farm house, for it lay hidden behind a low ridge. This humble building was used as a seminary during the 18th century. Within its walls were educated more than a hundred priests between 1717 and 1799.

It must have baen a thrilling experience to have been present in the little chapel of Scalan on that morning in 1725 when Bishop Gordon oMained two students to the priesthood. An even more memorable event was the episcopal consecration of George Hay in 1769. This saintly bishop often resided in the college and loved to share in the austere life and simple pleasures of the young students. After the battle of Culloden Scalan was burnt down by English soldiers, but was rebuilt a few years later. In 1799 the college was abandoned ánd the students removed to Aquhorties, which, as I have already related, we had visited during our stay at Fetternear.

It was sad to find this venerable sanctuary in such a neglected state. For over a century it has been used as a farm, and its present condition is a reproach to its owners. It is a pity that Scalan cannot be purchased by the Scottish bishops and put to a better use. For it is witness to the fidelity and loyalty of Scottish Catholics during the worst times of persecution. Moreover Scalan recalls to those outside the Fold of Peter that Catholicism in modern Scotland is not an alien religion imported from Ireland as many of them would have one believe. I made two sketches of the buildings and it was nearly dusk by the time I got back to Tombae.

The following afternoon Tony and I went to Tomintoul by motor bus as I wanted to make a sketch of the church in this very Catholic village,~ situated on a windswept plateau, 1,160 feet above the sea.

On our return to Tombae Fr. Bennett invited us to supper. Tony will always remember his first taste of real Glenlivet whisky. He sipped it with relish and soon became somewhat loquacious. However he may protest that his companion was more argumentative than usual. Anyhow neither of us had to put the other to bed.

We set the alarm clock at 5.30 for we had a long journey ahead of us and an early start was essential if we were to reach Forres that same day. Jack was unusually tiresome that morning, and iii the end Bill had to be put into the shafts to pull the van out of the yard on to the road.

A thin drizzling rain damped our spirits and did not help to improve our tempers. However by the time we had reached Ballindalloch and crossed the Spey at Blacksboar, the rain had ceased and the sun came out. As we were jogging along two carts passed us and we were surprised to notice that in each instance the horses shied at the caravan. This was the first time such a thing had ever happened. And if I remember rightly it was on this morning that Jack and Bill first showed signs of their dislike of tar barrels. What exactly was the reason of this peculiar fear of anything in the shape of a barrel always remained a mystery. Anyhow we soon learned to be cautious whenever we saw barrels ahead of us, and to keep a good hold on the reins.

We now entered Morayshire. Tony was always proud when he could add a new county to his list which by this time numbered about thirty. It made him feel more and more of a hardened traveller.

Our road climbed up over wide moorlands, the views in every direction become more extensive as we proceeded. The surface might have been better for only the wheel tracks had tar-mac on them. We reached the summit about 2 p.m. Here we had a late luncheon, letting the horses graze among the scrubby grass and heather. We were now well over 1,000 feet up and the air was quite cold, so we preferred to shelter within the van rather than picnic outside.

We had been warned that the road over the moors had a bad surface, but so far it had been tolerable. But within quarter of a mile from where we had stopped for lunch we realised only too well that the warnings were correct, for never in all our journeys did we again meet such an appalling surface. It would be better to describe it as loose shingle and stones. We began to fear serious damage to the van, would be the penalty for not having listened to good advice. After a mile or two of terrific bumps and jolts I noticed that one of the brass axle caps was missing. I walked back some distance but could not find it. So we went on again, and were thankful to reach the village of Dallas where we found ourselves on ordinary roads again. We passed a tinkers’ camp. Two of the men accosted me and made envious remarks about our ‘bonny pair of horses.’ Well might they do so, for their own nags were skinny looking beasts.

It was getting late when we drove into Forres, People stared at the caravan, evidently thinking we were part of a circus, and disappointed not to see elephants or camels in our wake.

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Fr.- Lewis McWilliam gave us a warm welcome and arranged with a neighbour for us to leave the van in his front garden. The horses had to be led away to a field at the other end of the town. Tony sat astride Jack bare backed, while I followed with Bill. A man shouted to us, "Is it a Buffalo Bill show you’ve got?" He seemed disappointed when we told him we were merely a couple of ‘tinks,’ and I doubt if he believed us. So at last, very weary after one of the most exhausting days we had experienced, we turned in to sleep.

 

I made a sketch of the pretty little church at Forres, and also visited Elgin in order to draw the only pre-Reformation Franciscan friary in Great Britain which has been restored to Catholic worship. Greyfriars, Elgin, was desecrated in the 16th century, its buildings being allowed to fall into ruin. About fifty years ago they were purchased by the Marquis of Bute, who restored them at great expense. They are now occupied by the Sisters of Mercy. The lovely 14th century church was re-opened on St. Francis Day, 1898. The interior, with its oak rood screen dividing the nave from the choir, is in perfect taste. The painted crucifix which surmounts it is copied from the miraculous crucifix preserved in St. Clare’s Convent, Assisi. On the left of the screen is an altar, whose reredos depicts saints of the Order of Mercy. On the right is a reredos with five Franciscan saints. On the north wall of the sanctuary is a fine example of a typical pre-Reformation ‘Sacrament House,’ or aumbry, in which the Blessed Sacrament used to be reserved in the Middle Ages throughout Scotland.

Greyfriars, Elgin, is a sanctuary of which Scottish Catholics may well be proud. Nowhere else in the country can one visualise what its Catholic churches must have been like before John Knox and his followers did their best to destroy the ‘superstitious idolatry’ of the ‘Scarlet Woman’ of the Apocalypse.

I wrote up these notes last night while sitting in the van after tea the last evening we spent at Forres. The following morning we got away about 10.30. No startling events hap-. pened on the road. We crossed Hardmoor, the ‘blasted heath’ where Macbeth and Banquo met the witches, but saw no sign of them on this bright June day under a cloudless sky. We stopped for lunch outside Nairn, and found camping ground at a farm close to the sea shore within a couple of miles of Inverness, to which we were directed by one of those ever-helpful A.A. scouts, who are seldom too proud to come to our aid, just as if we were touring in a luxurious motor trailer instead of a disreputable old gipsy van.

Some real gipsies—or more correctly tinkers—were camping in a small tent near the farm. They made friends with us and were glad of a present of coal and cigarettes. The farmer’s wife told us that ~she made quite a good profit from campers during the summer months. In fact this is the case in all parts of Great Britain. Farmers have begun to realise that caravans and hikers are worth encouraging.

We had the usual trouble with Jack on leaving the farm. He refused to stand still and had to be chased round the yard. Finally we got away about 9.30 and made for Inverness. We crossed the suspension bridge and stopped in front of the Catholic church where my old friend, the late Canon Shaw, who, being country born and bred, came out to have a look at the horses whose good qualities he knew how to appreciate.

On our way through the streets a shabbily dressed old man stopped Tony and said he would give a good price for the ‘big horse ‘—meaning Bill. "No," shouted Tony. "I don’t want to sell him." "Why you don’t need two horses," said the man. "I know, cos I’ve driven hundreds of miles in a van like yours. I’ll give you fifteen pounds down if you’ll sell." But Tony was not moved by this unexpected offer from the disreputable looking gentleman, whose clothes did not lead ne to suppose that he had so much money to spend on a horse.

Leaving Tony to talk to Canon Shaw and his curate I re-crossed the river to make a sketch of the church. There is not much left to-day in the capital of the Highlands to remind one that St. Columba said Mass here in the 6th century. Presbyterian Kirks—Established, ‘Free,’ and of other species, also an Episcopalian Cathedral, have taken the place of friaries and convents. Only the name ‘Greyfriars’ remains as witness of

 

 

St Mary's Inverness

 

the flourishing Catholic life of Inverness before the Reformation. After the introduction of Calvinism in the 16th century it is doubtful if Mass was ever said here until 1810, when a room ,was obtained in which a few Catholics, mostly from Strathglass, used to meet for worship. They were looked after by the priest from Eskadale.

The present church was opened in 1837. Funds for its erection were collected by the Rev. Terence Maguire, who had been appointed to Inverness ten years before. It was an Irishman who had brought the Catholic Faith to Inverness in the 6th century. Another Irishman restored it thirteen hundred years later. The exterior of St. Mary’s Church still remains as an unspoilt and most interesting example of the early Gothic Revival. But one regrets that the ‘elegantly painted cornices and gilt ceiling’ to which a contemporary writer refers have been removed. Yet in spite of its altar decked out with wedding cake-like crockets and pinoacles in the characteristic Peter Paul Pugin manner, the interior still retains a pleasant feeling of ‘Early Victorianism.’

We said good-bye to Canon Shaw and drove on towards Clachnaharry. We had not gone very far when the would-be purchaser of the horse caught up with us. He saluted me and said: "Sir, your man tells me he’ll sell the big horse. I’ll wait until you get back to England. Fifteen pound, and the money down. I’ll put it right into your hand. Your humble servant, William Ross."

He gave me his address and I said I would write to him later on if I wanted to sell Bill. It seemed strange that we get so many offers to buy our horses in Scotland. Perhaps it is due to the universal Clydesdale horse all over the country. No doubt there are many advantages in a smaller and less powerful beast for certain jobs.

We stopped for lunch just beyond Moniack Castle. An inquisitive policeman interrupted our meal and wanted to know all about our business. Anything that suggests a tinker always seems to rouse the suspicions of a Scottish policeman. I feel sorry for our fellow vagrants whose life must be none too easy. So on again to Lovat Bridge. We turned left here, and

crossing the river near the Falls of Kilmorack, and took a rough road which climbed up over a hill, then descended once more into the valley. On our right lay Eilean Aigas, at that time rented by Mr. Compton Mackenzie, who was making preparations to migrate to his new home on the Isle of Barra. We nearly lost the chimney on this road, for the branches of the trees hung down very low. It was always difficult for the driver to calculate just how much room there was to spare, if indeed he had time to take his mind off the horses. So quite often I had to give warning, "Look out for the chimney! Branches ahead!

The sun was sinking down behind the mountains; the trees casting long shadows across the road, when we drew up besides the church at Eskadale, where Fr. Geddes soon made us feel at home. The beauty of the landscape was somewhat spoilt by the plague of midges from whose attack it was impossible to escape, except by shutting all the windows in the van, or by smoking hard We little knew how much we should have to endure from midges and clegs during the next few weeks. This was merely the beginmng of our purgatory.

We spent a quiet week-end in Eskadale. The caravan was parked on the side of a road which led through the woods, and from our doorstep we could look out over the river. Neither Tony nor myself will forget the characteristic ‘Highland welcome’ we received from Fr. Geddes, the kind and genial parish priest.

The lower end of Strathglass has always remained a Catholic oasis in the midst of a Presbyterian desert, mainly due to the loyalty of the Chisholms and Frasers to the Old Religion. There are records of ‘Popish chapels’ in different parts of Strathglass throughout the 18th century. The present church at Eskadale was built by Lord Lovat in 1826, "on a scale of grandeur hitherto unknown in the Highlands," to quote a

 

St Mary's Eskadale

 contemporary writer. I was surprised to see such massive ‘Norman’ columns separating the nave from the aisles, and must confess that I found the primitive low-backed benches more conducive to penance than comfort when occupying one of them at Mass on Sunday morning. Lord Lovat and his family ~tre more fortunate than their dependents. They occupy armchairs in a raised pew at the back of the church as if to emphasise their exalted station in the social hierarchy.

Fr. Geddes pointed out to us the graves of seven priests in the churchyard, where also lie the two brothers Sobieski-Stuart, who claimed descent from ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie.’