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Parish of Mortlach

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Mortlach
1834-45: Mortlach

Mortlach (anciently Murthlak, Murthelach, and Murthlache; Gael. ? Mohr-tulloch, 'the great hills'), a parish near the centre of Banffshire. It is bounded N by Boharm, NE by Botriphnie parish, for fully 3 ¼ miles near and at the extreme E corner by Aberdeenshire, SE by Glass parish and Cabrach parish, SW by Inveraven parish, and W by Aberlour parish. The boundary is largely natural, following along the NE a line of rising grounds, at the E corner for 1 7/8 mile the course of the Deveron, along the SE Edinglassie Burn and the rising grounds between the basins of the Fiddich and the Deveron, along the SW the line of heights between Glens Fiddich and Rinnes and Glenlivet, and at the W corner and W side for 4 ¼ miles the Burn of Favat to nearly its junction with the Corryhabbie Burn. The shape of the parish is very irregular, but the greatest length, from Hillhead of Kininvie on the N to Cook's Cairn on the S, is 11 1/8 miles; the greatest breadth, from the boundary with Aberlour parish between the Convals on the W to the Deveron at Haugh of Glass on the E, is 9 1/8 miles; and the area is 34,283.681 acres, of which 99.661 are water. The height above sea-level varies from 600 to 900 feet along the northern border, and from this it rises along the western border to the Little Conval Hill (1810), Meikle Conval (1867), the Round Hill, on the flank of Ben Rinnes (1754), and the Hill of Auchmore (1672) at the S end of Glen Rinnes; in the centre, between Glen Rinnes and Glen Fiddich, to Jock's Hill (1568), Laird's Seat (1498), Thunderslap Hill (1708), Tor Elick (1420), Hill of Glenroads (1544), and Corryhabbie Hill (E, 2653; W, 2393); in the Wood of Kininvie to Scaut Hill (1l94), and along the NE border, to Tips of Clunymore (1296), Carran Hill (1366), Tips of Corsemaul (1339); between the Markie and Fiddich to the Hill of Mackalea (1529) and the Scalp (1599); and along the SE border to Meikle Balloch Hill (1529), Cairn Crome (1657), Hill of Clais nan Earb (1717), Scaut Hill (1987), and Cook's Cairn, the extreme S, (2478). About one-sixth of the whole area is arable land, either alluvial along the valleys of the streams or poor high-lying land along the slopes of the glens. About 700 acres are under wood, and the rest of the parish is either upland pasture or heathy moor. The soil varies from good fertile loam - particularly along the lower Fiddich, `Fiddichside for fertility' being an old district proverb - to thin clay. The underlying rocks are granite, dark clay slate - both worked to a small extent for building purposes - and limestone of excellent quality, which is extensively worked at Tinninver and elsewhere, and in some places passes into an inferior quality of marble. A rock suitable for whetstones is also found as well as traces of antimony, lead, alum, and some small garnets. Near Kininvie House is a spring highly charged with lime, and there are chalybeate springs at several places. The drainage of the parish in the E is effected by the Markie and some other small streams that flow into the Deveron; and in the SW by the Favat and Corryhabbie Burns, which, after separate courses of about 3 ½ miles, unite at Mill of Laggan to form the Dullan which, for over 5 miles, drains the western part of the parish along the centre till it unites with the Fiddich at Dufftown. The S, centre, and N of the parish is drained by the Fiddich which has here, from its source till it quits the parish on the NE, a course of almost 15 miles - and the streams that flow into it. The glen through which the upper waters of the Dullan flow is known as Glen Rinnes, and that along the upper waters of the Fiddich as Glen Fiddich, the surrounding district forming a deer forest belonging to the Duke of Richmond. It was by the road along Glen Rinnes that the Queen drove when she visited Glen Fiddich Lodge in September 1867. Her Majesty's impressions are thus recorded in More Leaves from the Journal of a Life in the Highlands (1884):` We drove on for an hour and more, having entered Glen Rinnes shortly after Tomnavoulin, with the hills of Ben Rinnes on the left. There were fine large fields of turnips, pretty hills and dales, with wood, and distant high hills, but nothing grand. The day became duller, and the mist hung over the hills; and just as we sat down by the roadside on a heathery bank, where there is a very pretty view of Glenlivet, to take our tea, it began to rain, and continued doing so for the remainder of the evening. Lindsay, the head keeper, fetched a kettle with boiling water from a neighbouring farmhouse. About two miles beyond this we came through Dufftown - a small place with a long steep street, very like Grantown - and then turned abruptly to the right past Auchindoun, leaving a pretty glen to the left. Three miles more brought us to a lodge and gate, which was the entrance of Glenfiddich. Here you go quite into the hills. The glen is very narrow, with the Fiddich flowing below, green hills rising on either side with birch trees growing on them, much like at Inchrory, only narrower. We saw deer on the tops of the hills close by. The carriage-road - a very good one - winds along for nearly three miles, when you come suddenly upon the lodge, the position of which reminds me very much of Corn Davon, (near Balmoral, not far from Loch Bulig,) only that the glen is narrower and the hills just round it steeper.'

Both Dullan and Fiddich are good fishing streams, and except where the latter is within the deer forest of Glen Fiddich, they are open to the public. There is some pretty scenery along their banks, particularly on the Dullan about the `Giant's Chair,' and at the small waterfall called the `Linen Apron.'

Many parts of the slopes in these glens are occupied by crofters, to whose comfortable position the following testimony is borne by a writer in the North British Agriculturist (l883), speaking of Mortlach, Glenlivet, Cabrach, and Kirkmichael. After noticing the village groups at Knockandow in Glenlivet and elsewhere, and the benefit they confer on the district by retaining in it tradesmen who might otherwise be lost, and by forming also nurseries for the best of agricultural labourers, though 'the ground would have been worth more t0 the landlord in its natural state,' he proceeds:- 'Where no such thing as village order is observed, and people have planted themselves down on the hillside, the size of the crofts is greater, though still various. Even in this case the rent is only the eighth part of a sovereign - that is to say if there was no arable land to start with. Son e, however, had such facilities for reclamation that from 20 to 30 acres are now under the plough, in a few cases in the parish of Mortlach. Nevertheless, the rent goes on at the same mite year after year. Some of the crofts were made up of outlying portions of arable farms. In other words, the land had been under the plough before. In that case a common rent is £2 for from 7 to 10 acres - sufficient to keep two cows and a stirk, or a cow, a calf, and a pony. This is extremely cheap. The crofters seem content, and so they may. They cannot fail to observe that their brethren on most other properties are not so leniently or generously treated. Within the last few weeks we ascertained that many crofters in the same county, who occupy land on other properties that was arable before they got it, pay nearly three times as much rent as the Duke's small holders do. In fact, we have not, from one end of Scotland to the other, found so generous treatment dealt out to small holders as prevails on his Grace's upland Banffshire estates,.. that they [the crofters] have for so many years been, and still are, sitting almost " rent free, " and are generally happy and prosperous, in our opinion, deserves notice in these columns, particularly at a time when almost all that is heard or read publicly of crofters, takes the form of grievances, rack-renting, and alleged ill-treatment. The Duke has a very small revenue indeed from his crofts, but they serve, as already explained, a good purpose, not only for his own estates, which are very extensive, but for the country.. His crofters occupy an enviable position among their brethren. There is no word of and no necessity for a Royal Commission to inquire into their condition. In this respect, as in most others, the Duke of Richmond and Gordon shows a noble example to his brother landlords.' A pass near Auchindoun Castle, called the Glacks of Balloch, is said to be the locality alluded to in the song of Roy's Wife of Aldivalloch, and the writer in the Old Statistical Account says that 'Tibbie Fowler of the Glen' also lived near Auchindoun, but the allusion to Tintock Tap seems to negative this statement. The mansions are Balvenie, which is separately noticed; Buchromb House, a building in the baronial style, erected in 1873-74; and Kininvie House, erected partly in 1725-26 and partly in 1840-42, but with a keep dating from the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century. The Leslies of Kininvie are cadets of the family of Balquhain, and have held the estate since 1521. The Duke of Richmond has a shooting-lodge in the S of the parish, in Glen Fiddich. The old castles of Auchindoun and Balvenie are separately noticed; and Keithmore, 2 miles E of Dufftown, was the property of Alexander Duff. one of whose sons became Duff of Braco, and the ancestor of the present Earl of Fife. There is a circular British hill fort on the top of Little Conval Hill; and in Glen Rinnes, not far from Mill of Laggan, are three large stones lying on a spot known as The King's Grave. Below the church of Mortlach (3 ½ furlongs S of Dufftown), on the bank of the Dullan, is the Stone of Mortlach, a so-called 'runic' stone, with the usual symbols, a drawing of which will be found in the first volume of the Spalding Club Sculptured Stones of Scotland. The traditional account of it is, that it was erected to commemorate a victory which Malcolm II. gained over the Northmen or 'Danes' at this spot in 1010. This battle rests pretty much on a brief mention in Fordun and a full and elaborate account in Boece, where we are told that the Scots being likely to be beaten Malcolm looked up to the chapel dedicated to St Moloc, which was near at hand, and lifting up his hands, prayed to God for aid, vowing that if it were granted he should erect there a cathedral church and found a bishop's see. His prayer was heard, the rout was stayed, and his army returned to the fight; while Malcolm himself, finding the leader Evetus prancing up and down the field without a helmet, as if the Scots had been finally defeated, slew him with his own hand, and the Danes were driven into Murrayland, totally defeated. That some battle ay have taken place is highly probable, as the Norsemen, under Sigurd the Stout, had just before overrun the province of moray, and they may, therefore, while attempting to press across the Spey and penetrate Alban, have been metand defeated by the king of the latter region but all the details given by Boece must be received as merely proofs of that spirit of invention which characterised him, and which has made so much of the early history of Scotland down even to our own day, a mere tissue of fabricated legends. Fordun merely states that Malcolm, in 1011, thinking over the many benefits he had received from God, determined to promote the power of Christianity, and s founded a new bishopric at ' Murthillach, not far from the place where he had obtained a victory over the Norwegians. ' It is, however, certain that, as we must reject the fictitiouis details of the battle, we must reject as equally untrue both the date and the circumstances of the foundation of the see of Mortlach. In fact, there never was a see of Mortlach. ' It was not,' says Dr Hill Burton, ' the day when kings of Scotland erected bishoprics offhand. We have here an in stance of the provoking practice, to be hereafter dealt with, by which history and documents were tampered with, for the purposes of carrying into remote antiquity the phraseology and practices of later ages of the Church.' The records of the see of Aberdeen, from which, probably, both Fordun and Boece drew, still remain, and remain in a suspicious state. ' The charters, ' says Cosmo Innes, ' quoted by him [Boece] are all to be found in the extant registers, and some of the alterations of the record and dates superinduced on the margin, agree in so surprising a way with his book, that they give the impression of his own hand having made them.' All the first five charters recorded in the Registrum Episcopatus Aberdonensis must we fear, be regarded as forgeries - and indeed, in the first, which has been originally written so as to refer to Malcolm III., an attempt at alteration has been subsequently made, so as to try to make it refer to Malcolm II. There is also other evidence that proves that at that time the only bishopric in Scotland was that of Dunkeld. If we admit that Malcolm III. may have granted some lands to Mortlach for ecclesiastical purposes, and that a church scribe in the diocese of Aberdeen afterwards recorded this in a form common at the time when he wrote, we have allowed all that the authentic evidence will permit. The ordinary story of the foundation of the see by Malcolm II., and of its transference to Aberdeen by David I., must be rejected. Mortlach was, however, the site of a religious establishment at a very early date, and if Malcolm did not look up and see 'a chapel dedicated to St Moloc,' he might have done so. The patron saint is sometimes also styled St Wollock, Makuvolokus, or Makuolocus, and is assigned to the beginning of the 8th century; but he must rather be identified with the Irish saint, Moloc or Mo-luag, who was a disciple of St Brendan, and who died, according to the Chronicon Hyense, in 592.* He assisted St Boniface in his labours in the north, and may possibly him self have taught at Mortlach and in the neighbourhood, for his name is als associated with a well in the parish of Glass. Whether this was so, and he was the founder of the cell, or whether it was founded and dedicated to him by one of his disciples, cannot be settled; but when the Columban Church began to spread over the north in the 8th century, one of their monastic establishments was fixed here; and in a Bull of Adrian IV. in 1157 we find 'villam et monasterium de Murthillach cum quinque ecclesiis et terris eisdem pertinentibus,' and also the dependent 'monasterium de Cloueth' or Clova, confirmed to Edward, the first Bishop of Aberdeen. Heads of and connected with this monastery were probably the four clerics who figure as the bishops of the supposititious see, viz.: Beyn, Donort, Cormac, and Nectan. Practically nothing is known of them but their names. The present church, which consists of a main portion standing and W, with an aisle projecting from the centre of the N side, was long implicitly believed to date from the 11th century; and a mark 18 feet from the W end of the main portion was pointed out as showing the point from which, in accordance with Malcolm's vow, it was lengthened three spear-lengths. The eastern portion, measuring 72 feet by 28, and with walls more than 4 feet thick, formed o f small round stones, such as may be found in the bed of the Dulnan, set in run lime, dates probably from the 12th century, and it has been afterwards really extended for 18 feet to the W in much later masonry. The N aisle was added in 1826. In 1876 the whole building was extensively repaired at a cost of £1400, and 10 feet were added to this northern portion. During the operations, it was found that an old three-light lancet window in the E gable had been partly built up, and this is now restored to its original condition and filled with stained glass. An old effigy of a knight in armour, supposed to represent Alexander Leslie, the first of Kiniuvie, which used to stand upright, has been replaced in its proper position in an arched recess. An old circular-headed doorway was also discovered, which shows that the floor of the church must originally have been about six feet below its present level. An old 'jougs' which was dug up inside has been fastened to the wall. In a niche in the wall is also an old ecclesiastical hand-bell. Prior to the repairs in 1826 three skulls, traditionally those of Danes slain in the battle, occupied niches in the wall of the church. Both in the church and in the churchyard there are a number of interesting monuments, from 1417 downwards; but many of the inscriptions that existed at the beginning of the present century have now become illegible. It is now (1884) proposed to introduce an organ. The other churches are noticed in the article on the police burgh of Dufftown, in which they stand; and a new Established church was built in the quoad sacra parish of Glenrinnes in 1883. Four public schools - Auchindoun, Mortlach, the female, and the infant - and Dufftown Roman Catholic school, with respective accommodation for 60, 200, 119, 63, and 281 pupils, had (1883) an average attendance of 25, 85, 80, 68, and 60, and grants of £23, 0s. 6d., £89, 18s. 6d., £7, £59, 10s., and £38, 3s.

The parish is in the presbytery of Strathbogie and the synod of Moray, and the living is worth £342. The civil parish contains also part of the quoad sacra parish of Glenrinnes. Prior to the Reformation it was in the deanery of Mar in the diocese of Aberdeen. After the formation of presbyteries and synods it was placed at first in the synod of Moray, but after the union of the synods of Banff and Aberdeen it was placed in the presbytery of Fordyce in the synod of Aberdeen, in which it remained till 1688, when it was again transferred to the presbytery of Strathbogie and the synod of Elgin, an arrangement sanctioned, however, by the General Assembly only in 1706. There are good district roads throughout the parish, and the N end is traversed for 4 ¾ miles by the Keith and Elgin section of the Great North of Scotland railway system, with a station called Dufftown 1 mile N of the police burgh of that name. The principal proprietors are the Duke of Richmond and the Earl of Fife, and one other besides holds an annual value of £500 or upwards, 1 holds between £500 and £100, 3 hold between £100 and £50, and there are a few of smaller amount. Valuation (1860) £6677, (1884) £l0, 736, including £540 for the railway. Pop. (1801) 1876, (1831) 2633, (1861) 3095, (1871) 3059, (1881) 2934, of whom 1448 were males and 1486 females, while 283 were in the quoad sacra parish of Glenrinnes.—Ord. Sur., shs. 85, 75, 1876.

* Although a good deal of confusion exists as to St Moilc and St Wollock, they seem to have been entirely different person, the feast of the former being on the 25th June and of the latter on 29h January, Both seem to have laboured in the north. St Moloc's fair at Mortlach was held on the flat ground below the church about the sculptured stone already noticed.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer


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