Breadalbane is best defined as “about 50 miles long from west to east, and about 14 miles wide at an average”. It is “that part of the country whose waters flow from south and north to the loch and river of Tay as to a common centre”. (“General Report of the Agricultural State of Scotland” 1814).
Within Breadalbane, Crianlarich is at the junction of three glens. Glenfalloch runs south for 10 miles, to the head of Loch Lomond; Strathfillan follows the course of the river Fillan upstream for about 7 miles, to Tyndrum; and Glen Dochart follows the river downstream for about 12 miles, through Loch Dochart, to Killin, being bounded on both sides by high mountains. To the south are the Braes of Balquidder and to the north lies Glen Lochay. The whole area lies within the boundaries of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
It has been suggested that the mountains of Scotland arose through some ancient tectonic-plate movement, perhaps 1000m. years ago, and that the subsequent collision caused the “Caledonian” plate to rise up and over the intruding “American” plate. This underlying plate is said to stretch from the Appalachians to Greenland, lying deep under Scotland and only apparent in Colonsay, the Rhinns of Islay and the tiny island of Inishtrahul.
Evidently, it was the mountains of Breadalbane (lit. = “Upper lands of Alban”) that gave Scotland her Gaelic name (i.e. Alba from “ailb” = “eminence, height” cf. Alps, Albania etc.), and their significance can be readily appreciated locally. The immense stresses of their creation caused cleavages and distortions, venting molten and pressurised material from great depths and resulting in the distinctive dykes and intrusions that are admired today. Erosive forces sculpted the profile of the ancient landscape, but the upward thrust of isostatic forces helped counteract the loss in height.
The most obvious result of this truly ancient activity may be seen in the mineral deposits of the area. The most valuable of these have been exploited in the Clifton Mines at Cononish, on the northeast shoulder of Ben Lui. These mines (O.S. NN 291285) were opened in 1739 and leased by the Earl of Breadalabane to Sir Robert Clifton, for whom a part of Tyndrum is named. Under various changes of entrepreneur, almost 8,000 tons of lead was successfully extracted by 1790, but after that date any subsequent working was sporadic and unprofitable. In recent years, permission has been sought to commence mining for gold; it is believed that this will be a viable operation, despite the necessarily expensive measures to protect of the River Cononish, the very headwater of the Tay.
Lead and gold are just two of the important minerals in the vicinity, and Clifton is just one of the sites of exploitation. The Tomnadashan copper mine was on the south side of Loch Tay, near Ardtalnaig, a venture promoted by the Second Marquis of Breadalbane in the early 19th century. Mountaineer and author V.A. Firsoff wrote extensively about the geology of the region as it was then understood (“In the Hills of Breadalbane” pub. Hale, London 1954), and includes extensive references to the winning of iron pyrites, quartz, zinc blende, galena and even chance discoveries of silver and gold. He refers to a gold nugget discovered at Turrish in Glen Quaich, which “weighs two ounces and 24 grains” and is exhibited in the Natural History Museum, South Kensington. Firsoff also draws attention to the beautiful “cairngorms” for which Creag na Caillich (in the Tarmachans, north of Killin) was once famed, although he dismisses the stories of amethysts in Glen Lochay. Throughout the region, one can discover bloomeries – old smelting places (iron ore and charcoal), now identifiable as overgrown heaps.
The geology of the area was laid down in truly ancient times, but the landscape to be seen today is comparatively modern. The most recent “mini” ice-age finished only about 9,800 years ago, and was centred in this area. Rannoch Moor and Schiehallion were at the head of a range of mighty glaciers which fanned out in all directions – the ice sheet which ground its way to the southwest along Loch Awe and out through Corrievreckan was still 2000 feet thick by that point, as can be seen on the Paps of Jura. Another glacier wound its way along Glen Falloch and through the depths of today’s Loch Lomond, but as the thickness of the ice diminished its movement was baulked by the Braes of Balquidder, and diverted to the east. Traces of such glaciers may be readily traced in the landscape as they and their melt waters scoured the depths of Strathfillan, Glen Dochart, Glen Lochay and the Tay. An interesting feature from those days is the watershed at the head of Glen Lochy, just to the west of the junction with the A82; this appears clearly on Blaue’s 1642 map as Carn Druim (“Cairn at the watershed”) and more recently was known as Carndroma. Apparently there were two cairns to mark the spot, but unfortunately they do not appear on the usual O.S. maps. That point marks the centreline of Scotland, from which water breaks and flows either to the west and into the Atlantic, or eastwards and into the north sea. The nearby village of Tyndrum (“Taigh an druim” = “House at the watershed”) preserves the concept in its name.
During the last or “mini” ice-age, any previous inhabitants of Scotland will have been driven far to the south and the force of the ice will have scoured away all but the most fortuitously-preserved traces of their existence. It is therefore convenient to trace human activity forwards from that time, with the first archaeological remains in these parts dating to the early Mesolithic period, about 9000 years ago. At that time, “Britain” was not yet an island and these early inhabitants made their way across dry land to the southwest and southeast of the modern coastlines. Since they were hunter-gatherers they could travel light and far, but when they found suitable territory they tended to exploit it, camping seasonally at appropriate sites within the area.
Unsurprisingly, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers tended to settle in sheltered areas along the coastal fringe, so it was not until about 5,000 years ago, with the advent of the Neolithic period, that mankind first colonised the straths of Breadalbane. The people of the Neolithic or “New Stone-age” period were the first farmers – in fact the dawn of their era coincides neatly with the chronological dating of Adam and Eve in Biblical tradition. Evidence is scant, but finds include a stone axe from the period near the summit of Bogle Glen. It seems likely that the Neolithic people made their way up the valley of the Tay, moving westwards over time until they had reached Strathfillan. Since there is no particular evidence for any subsequent great movement of people, it is likely that the difference between those first settlers and some of today’s Breadalbane inhabitants is only the result of cultural influences. Possibly the modern science of DNA analysis may help to determine the matter – it would be interesting to know. Of course, this was always a major communications route and, at a later date, many hundreds of strangers lived locally in connection with the mines and great engineering projects, so it might be hard to identify truly ancient lineages.
Evidence of trading activities and cultural exchange exist from the earliest times, and it is clear that techniques to work copper and bronze were introduced from elsewhere – not least because of the element of design. People favoured the same tools, weapons and ornaments in Breadalbane as elsewhere, and they adopted similar building and burial norms. Because these were settled people, no longer hunter-gatherers, they had a greater sense of “place” and began to establish territorial boundaries, with ties based upon kin (as in “clann” = kindred) rather than mere tribe, also ceremonial rituals associated with life and death, and structures associated with the passing of time and the seasons.
Bronze Age burial cairns exist at Strathfillan (c. 150 yards south of St. Fillan’s Chapel) and at Carn Ban on Milton Farm at Ardtalnaig, soth side of Loch Tay. Stone circles of the period include the one at Croftmoraig, (O.S. NN7947), near to which there is a fine pair of Standing Stones at the main entrance to the castle. Careful study of the Ordnance Survey map will reveal a wide selection of Bronze Age sites in the vicinity of Killin, usually marked as Standing Stone, Cup & Ring or Stone Circle, but they may be found throughout the area (e.g. cupmarks at Inverhaggernie, 1 km. north of Crianlarich).
Thomas Pennant published an account of his Tour of Scotland in 1772, and recorded a local tradition:
“Bha da chaisteal deug aig Fionn,
Ann an Chrom-ghleann dubh nan Clach.”
Despite a slight error in the transcription one can perhaps render this into English as:
“Fionn had twelve castles in the dark, dog-legged glen of the Chapel.”
This seems to be a happy description of the full length of the glen from Tyndrum to Killin, with the dog-leg bend at Crianlarich, the reference to the church at Strathfillan and the “darkness” of Glen Dochart, although it would be hard to identify the twelve castles – it seems instead to have been a fitting poetic reference to the surrounding peaks. Significant forts that can actually be identified are near Killin (at O.S. NN6033) and at Drummond Hill (O.S. NN7847).
The crannogs of both Loch Awe and Loch Tay have been the subject of significant archaeological study in recent years, and were brought to widespread public attention by Dr. Ian Morrison in “Landscape with Lake Dwellings” (EUP, 1985). Modern diving techniques have enabled them to be examined and excavated in situ and an outstanding reconstruction and interpretative centre has been established at the Scottish Crannog Centre, on the south side of Loch Tay, towards the east end.
The main trade-routes of the Iron Age had been along the great river-systems of mainland Europe, but there was also a vital route from the Mediterranean which crossed the Iberian peninsula and up the Irish sea, permitting trade for the precious metals of Cornwall, Wales and Ireland. This route continued up the Firth of Lorn and the Great Glen, and across the North Sea, and the first Scots (from their homeland in northeast Ireland) moved into Argyll (“the eastlands of the Gael”) so as to get total control of this important artery. Before long, they brought Christianity too – and it is notable that St. Columba’s first priority was to secure the trade-route through to modern Inverness.
As trade developed, so did new routes – particularly towards the important Pictish powerbase at Dun Edin (Edinburgh). There is a natural thoroughfare from the top of Loch Awe to Carn Droma, and from there through Glen Dochart to the Tay, and it was near the watershed that St. Fillan established his religious foundation. Note that for speed and safety, people travelled along waterways wherever possible, and that St. Fillans site is exactly mid-way between Loch Awe and Loch Tay. There are in fact no less than sixteen Saints “Faolán” ( = “little wolf”), but this was the son of Kentigerna, a princess of Leinster, whose death was recorded in the Annals of Ulster at A.D. 734; his festival is January 9th. The history of St. Fillan and his foundation is quite extraordinary – in particular, one should examine his magnificent crozier and bell, both of which are preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities. The evocative remains of his foundation may be seen at Kirkton (formerly Clachán Shraitheo), his healing-stones are preserved at Killin (Breadalbane Folklore Centre, Old Tweed Mill), and the memory of his teaching survives at Suie (“suidhe” = “ecclesiastical seat”). The great clan McNab is said to be descended from a lay abbot of his foundation, and the local families of Dewar were the appointed custodians (“Deorach”) of his relics.
Of course, by this date many additional religious foundations were in existence throughout Breadalabane but the essence of temporal power had slipped into the realms of feudalism. At first, the ancient families of MacNaughton, MacMillan, MacNab, Menzies etc, held their lands from the crown, but by the early 15th century the Campbells of Loch Awe had married into the Stewart royal family and had gained title to extensive territories. Colin Campbell, 1st Laird of Glenorchy, obtained his estate from his father in 1432 and by 1677 his direct descendant, Sir John Campbell, was elevated to become the Earl of Breadalabane.
The history of the period is described in some detail by Rev. William Gillies, sometime Minister at Kenmore, “In Famed Breadalbane” (1938 and later re-prints); it is a largely political story, culminating in the Reformation (legally recognised in 1560) and the Union of the Crowns (1603). The lives of “ordinary” folk saw little if any improvement; the great lairds obtained and wielded the power of pit and gallows, whilst lesser men – and all their followers – were reduced to outlawry or serfdom. One such “hangman’s hill” (Tom na Croiche) is opposite the entrance to Achtertyre.
At all events, the subsequent whitewash took account of public feeling against him and the Earl was briefly imprisoned until the usurping monarch had him released on the grounds that he had been engaged in “a negotiation he had been employed into by our allowance, and for which he had our exoneration and approbation…”
It seems reasonable to suppose that Breadalbane was merely pragmatic in attempting to negotiate with the Highlanders in 1691, because in 1715 he permitted his followers to support the cause of the “Old Chevalier”, James VIII – whose sovereignty had already been recognised by France, Spain etc. The men of Breadalbane achieved heroic status in the campaign, and the Earl himself was restored to popular affection.
Curiously enough, matters were very different in the ’45; Rev. Gillies suggests that this was due in large part to the fact that Presbyterian religion had supplanted Episcopalianism in Breadalbane, but the interests and influence of the 2nd Earl were certainly opposed to the concept of another Restoration. Thus the area was but little affected, and did not suffer the devastation inflicted elsewhere by “Butcher” Cumberland.
The careers of the 1st and 2nd Earls were bridged by that of the famous Rob Roy MacGregor (1671 – 1734), who is so closely associated with the Braes of Balquidder. He was “out” in both 1690 and 1715, spent most of his life as a dealer in cattle but became over-extended and embroiled in a lengthy feud with his principle creditor, the Duke of Montrose, which led to his imprisonment (1722 – 27). The ruins of his house at Corriechaorach (foot of Benmore) are marked on the large-scale Ordnance map, and his grave may be seen at Balquidder. Rev. Gillies records that from 1713 he served for a while as Bailie (or “justice”) on the Earl of Breadalbane’s estates in Argyll.
The agencies of both education and religion were adapted to the needs of the State, but this led to some difficulty. Attempts were made to eradicate the Gaelic language from such schools as existed, and the appointment of Presbyterian ministers was left in the “gift” of the local lairds. Not surprisingly, ministers found it hard to criticize the activities of the lairds, even in respect of the Clearances. Breadalbane had at one time been quite populous, but during the 1830’s “no less than 500 families, or about 2500 souls, were driven into exile by the hard-hearted Marquis of that day.”
Charitable S.S.P.C.K schools competed with Parochial establishments, both being supplemented by peripatetic self-employed teachers who would move from one clachan to another, staying perhaps a few months in each. Eventually, the Scottish Education Act of 1872 established public schools and compulsory attendance, but the difficulties of religion were less easily resolved.
Many people felt that Ministers should be called by God rather than by the landlord and, in the testing years of poverty, clearance and famine, they returned to first principles. Thus it was that from 1796 home missions arose in Scotland – leading spirits were the Haldane brothers and they quickly split with the established church. They were very active in Breadalbane and at first embraced the Congregationalists, then, from 1808, the Baptists. This was an Evangelist movement which spread to sections of the established church, leading before long to the Disruption of 1843 and the subsequent succession of divisions and realignments which persists until the present day. Breadalbane is therefore well-endowed with ecclesiastical buildings, in a variety of materials and style; although many are now redundant, they are witness to the vigour of the Highland Church. For the overall history, see “The People of the Great Faith” by Douglas Ansdell (Acair 1998), and for local background see “The Independent and Baptist Churches of Highland Perthshire and Strathspey” by Donald E. Meek (Proceedings G.S.I. Vol. LVI).
The advent of railways and the motor-car made Breadalbane readily accessible and today it is treasured as the romantic, beautiful, largely empty “wilderness” that it is. There is complete freedom to walk the hills, admire the scenery, study the flora and fauna. There are almost limitless sites of historic and natural beauty to examine without fee, and excellent - often world-class - facilities for golf, stalking, fishing etc. at modest charge.
The range of antiquities locally is very great and there is ample information readily available about the major sites. There are specialist websites to give additional information and one of the best may be found by searching the Internet on “Stirling Council Sites and Monuments Record”.