Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell
The '45
Extracts of Statistics from the Annexed Estates for Western Strathearn (1755-56)
The Reports of the Annexed Estates (1755-69)
A Tour of Scotland - Observations
Seismic Activity (1789)
Account of 1791-99 vol-11 - Comrie, County of Perth
Archibald MacNab (1734-1816)
Henry Dundas (1742-1811)
Sir David Baird of Seringapatam (1757-1829)
Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland – Sarah Murray (1799)
Roman Camp, Dalginross – October (1800)
Flash from the Caledonian Mercury – September (1814)
I've a Boat to Catch (1818)
A Picture of Strathearn - John Brown (1823)
St Fillan’s Highland Society (1827)
Letters from the Distant Past (1831 - 1859)
Comrie, St Fillans and Monivard (1837)
Statistical Account: Parish of Comrie (1838)
The Glen Lednock Census (1841)
The Queen’s Visit (1842)
The Road to Comrie (1857)
For the Sake of Nelly Fergus (1860)
From an Unknown Guidebook-circa (1892)
Comrie (1895)
Tales of Derring Do
Soldier, Soldier, won’t you marry me wi’…
The Adventures of Paddy or Highland Peter
Ghoulie Tales
A Serious Business
Mail Order Bride
The Man with the Powerful Voice
Double Entry bookkeeping
Hey, Gie’s ma Haun…or Murder Most Foul
Kate Mackenzie's Terrible Deeds
Watty and Meg Drummond
The Fencibles
Deacon Reid
Amazing Grace
The Day of the Penny Wedding
The MacArthur's were there before the Hills
The Beggar's Badge
A Pane by any other name can be a Pain!
The Powder Keg
The Coo didnae hae ony Teeth!
The Green Lady of Glen Lednock
The Queen of Tynasithe
The Great Wall of Comrie
Whisky, You're the Devil
A Wee Rumble
A Whale of a Time
An Encounter of the Third Kind
Another Debate
Bosom Pals
Getting Stoned in Comrie
Hanging about Comrie
It's Whisky in the Jar
Picking Other Folks' Brains
Porridge for Breakfast
Tarred and Buttered
The Convert
The Debate
The Schism
The Levitation
The Twa' Brithers
There’s a Hare in my Soup
Yer bum's oot the Window

18th & 19th Century

For the Sake of Nelly Fergus - 1860

Love’s Labour Lost

At the clachan at Trian, in Glen Artney, there on the beautiful hillside overlooking Comrie and Upper Strathearn can be found a soldier’s grave. However, very few folk know about the romance that enshrouds it. The clachan played a prominent part in the life of the glen being close to the crossroads of Blairnroar. Here the Langside road from Braco to Comrie met the road from the glen which continued on down to Muthill. At Blairnroar a toll house had been established and there was continuing traffic of one sort or another. Close by was one of the “healing wells” known to provide a cure for whooping cough. The tradesmen who lived there were an industrious lot who plied their various trades and skills throughout the district.

Amongst the tradesmen were a soutar whose name, strange to say was Johnnie (Soutar Johnnie) Simpson, a tailor (a whip o’ the cat) called Dewar, a blacksmith called Fergus, and a miller, Geordie McGrowther. The mill was a busy place where corn was ground. They also spun lint which was grown by the many crofters who lived in the glen. All in all it was a happy small community and most folk were content with the little they had.

At nearby Milntuim, the miller, Geordie McGrowther, employed several young folk to help him.Amongst them were Ian Campbell and Nelly Fergus. Ian was a son of one of the crofters who lived at Blairhorrie on the north side of the glen and Nellie was the fair-haired daughter of the blacksmith and she worked at the mill as a serving girl. She was a hard worker and like many Perthshire girls, very attractive. Nellie and Ian were constant companions. They undertook many of the daily tasks together including mending, herding, repairing, milking and all the sundry tasks required around the mill. Ian additionally had the task of hiring casual labour on an “as needed” basis. The two of them also shared most of their spare time together.

The miller’s wife, Meg, who had a great sense of humour, looked after them all like a mother hen. She was always up before dawn and down after dark. In fact she thought they were made for each other declaring that “the spark of love had been kindled and was burning brightly.” Her husband, who enjoyed a dram, was a couthie chap and enjoyed a good joke, thought differently. He passed the comment on one occasion that “it’s calf love, Meg, only calf love, it’ll no last. Johnnie Simpson, the souter, has an ee’ (shine) to her and will win her haun before Ian ken’s whaur he is.”

Now both lads were handsome but Johnnie had his own business as a blacksmith and was always going to the bank to deposit his hard-earned money. It was said that he had a well-lined purse and an eye for a pretty girl! Nellie’s father, the blacksmith also rated Johnnie’s chances high saying that it was “as likely a match” and on occasions did not scruple to show his desire to have him as a son-in-law.

The relationship however between Nellie and Ian developed and soon it was well beyond the “calf love” stage.They were evidently deeply in love with each other and never happier when in each other’s company. After work they would spend all their time together and in the summer evenings could be seen sitting under the branches of the Rowan tree which stood on the hillside at the top of the brae which still bears her name. During this period of time Johnnie Simpson would come around the mill in the hope of finding Nellie but all to no avail and, after a while, when it was evident that his suit was not being successful, he gave up calling and left the field to Ian.

It was customary in the glen that the crofters would get together and would go down to the Cluggie Fair in Comrie held on the first Saturday in October. There they would sell their stirks which were herded at Trian and then driven down the original road past the Cowden. At the Fair they would sell the beasts to the highest bidder and trade and barter their wares. They would also meet all their neighbours from the Village and surrounding countryside and catch up with the news of the day. Ian, as the herdsman of the miller’s cattle, was in charge of the safe delivery of the cattle to the Fairwater the business was transacted it was common for all the men to get together for a dram at Lucky Ferguson’s tavern at the Brigend.

The first toast was to the health of the buyers and thereafter to all and sundry. It could be said that a good time was had by all as no doubt, each participant had more than one dram. The womenfolk in the meantime were busy visiting all the stands and stalls which had been set up in the streets of the Village. It was indeed colourful. Shows and shies of various types for young and old, quacks selling medicines which could cure anything from rheumatism to sore feet, booths where fortunes could be told, people selling pots and pans with all trying desperately to separate the Villagers money from their persons! It was less creative, and somewhat rougher than the Comrie Fortnight!

That fateful day, mingling among the crowd was a tall handsome kilted soldier in full dress uniform. His red tunic showed a sergeant’s stripes, and on his chest was a dazzling array of medals and he marched ramrod-straight. He had come from Stirling Castle with the intent of recruiting potential candidates for the colours. His criteria were simple. If a likely lad had two legs, two arms, a head and was under sixty, he would do! The sergeant was in the 93rd Highlanders and his feather bonnet displayed the recruiting colours of red, white and blue.

Sergeant in the 93rd Highlanders, later the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Ian who had been over at Lucky’s Tavern and had had a skinful was much impressed as he came along the street and saw the soldier and it crossed his mind that he would like to have a kilt as handsome as the one the soldier wore. Come in to my parlour said the spider to the fly! The sergeant was also aware of Ian’s interest and a conversation was struck with Ian being told that if he would like a kilt like this all he had to do was to take the offer of a shilling and become a soldier of the Queen. They say that “when the drink is in, the man is oot” and without realising it Ian signed up on the spot. Michty, michty me! All his thoughts were towards wearing the kilt and impressing Nellie in his braw new outfit, and such was his befuddled frame of mind as he wandered home to Trian.

The following day when he told the miller and his wife what had transpired they were mortified. A pall of sadness hung about the place with the miller blaming himself for all that had happened. Meg had lost the place and had lambasted him for his carelessness at letting Ian out of his sight. Just as she had finished her flyting lecture the door opened and in stepped Mr. Dewar, the tailor. He was considered to have a lot of common sense and given to solid and sound advice. He had just called in to have his coggie of peasemeal replaced and he believed that peasemeal was an essential ingredient in building a strong constitution!

The miller now thoroughly cowed by the tongue-lashing he had received from his wife thought that his appearance had saved him and welcomed Dewar in to the ingle side. Sensing that something was quite wrong the tailor said, “there’s surely something wrang this morning, you are no’ in your usual happy mood Meg?” “Nae wonder,” she replied, “a’ things are gang wrang. Geordie cam hame wi’ mair than was good for him frae the Fair and forbye he squandered maist o’ the siller he got for the stirks, and the rent to pay at November, an’ if we canna pay the rent, the Laird’ll turn us oot o’ hoose an’ hame, and forbye, tailor, Ian’s gane and found the sojers, an’ whaur will we get anither callout like Ian Campbell. Never!" “Weel, weel,” said the tailor, “sae that’s aw’ yer troubles, there’s naething ava, a mere moudie hillock, the millers six month follification Meg is naething to flyte aboot, and forbye the price o’ the stirks will be a’ richt when Geordie finds his bearings, and as far as Ian Campbell is concerned there are as guid lads around in the Water o’ Ruchill as ever cam oot o’ it, an’ you’ll find as guid a lad in Glen Artney, tak my word for it. Bear your wee cross patiently Meg, and a’thing will cam richt. The morn's sun will shine as brichtly as ever o’er Milntuim and Geordie and you will be again as coshie (comfortable) as twa doos (doves).

“Sound advice,” said the miller, “sound advice” feeling somewhat relieved that there was some support at this turn of events.”Patience is a virtue tailor, and if Meg would just exercise a wee bit o’ that virtue, aye, if the maist o’ women would do the same, there would be less wrangling aboot naething at aw.” With his hand on the door sneck the tailor related some of his well-worn stories leaving both the miller and his wife laughing, and seeing they were almost reconciled, left the house no doubt breathing a sigh of relief!

When the tailor left Geordie and Meg made a review of the sale of the stirks and found that Geordie had carefully deposited the money in the inner lining of his sleeve just as a precaution in the event of some slight of hand by someone at the Fair. When she saw that the money was safe Meg danced with glee and gave her word of honour to her “ain Geordie” that never again would she lose her temper even “should she lose a’ the siller she possessed.”

Ian Campbell awoke the following morning nursing a sore head and reflecting upon his actions and immediately felt pangs of regret and foreboding about what he had done. He was now a recruit in the army of the Queen. In his hangover he realised that the life of a soldier would not be a life of ease and pleasure and the kilt and the feathered bonnet was only worn by the recruiting sergeant as a lure. Nelly was dreadfully upset when she heard the news and was quite downcast. She did not look forward to his departure and the attendant long years of loneliness. She also knew that she had lost the companionship which had been built up over a long period of years and felt that the future for her was not very bright.

The day arrived and it was cold and dreich with black clouds over the Aberuchills. At Milntuim, that lonesome spot , the whole community turned out to see him off on his new career and his great adventure. Meg and Geordie showered him with blessings wishing him Godspeed. Nelly walked him over to the Blairnroar crossroads. There the Langside road led to to Braco following the course of the Knaik burn, and thence onwards to the mighty castle at Stirling where he was to undertake basic training. She was much distraught and slowly kissed him and gave him a loving embrace wishing him a fond farewell. The earth stood still as it does at moments like this. And then ever so slowly he took up his pack, and walked away the road, the loneliest road in the world! As he was passing the “healing well” he stopped for a moment, and drank the water, and as he bent his head he vowed that he would return and make Nelly Fergus his bride. Raising himself he surveyed the surrounding countryside and, like this author, may have said that this would be the last time he would see this view!

Arriving at the castle he was greeted as a new recruit and sent to see the officer in charge. From there he was sent to see a sergeant-major who took him to the barracks which were to be his new home for the foreseeable future.

Ian initially did not take well to barrack life with its strict discipline, poor food and the uncouthness of some of his fellow soldiers. There was constant shouting and constant drilling and training. Ian was an apt pupil, however, in the study of arms, and the duties of a soldier and, in time, settled into army life. He decided early on that if he was to make good he would have to gain promotion and through his diligence and hard work was soon promoted.

At Trian the normal work continued on and at sheep shearing time the crofters would join forces to gather in the sheep for clipping. There, around the Hirsel stone on the hillside, they would use their shears to clip the wool which was then gathered together in bundles for shipment to the Lednock mill where it was woven into tweed. It was the custom of Johnnie Dewar, the tailor, to visit all the crofters so as to measure them for their clothing and his visits were looked forward to with great interest. He always had a story to tell and pass on the news of the day. The romance of Ian and Nelly was discussed as was the possible prospect of Johnnie Simpson entering the chase. It was however largely accepted that Ian would continue to woo and eventually win the maiden’s hand when he returned from the army. After all he deserved her - he had shown all that he had a brave heart by becoming a soldier of the Queen.

Several months later Ian completed his training and was given a spot of leave prior to joining his regiment and without hesitation he set out for Trian some thirty miles distant from Stirling. Everyone in the clachan knew he was on his way and were happy. They felt proud that one of their own would soon be with them resplendent in the uniform of a Highland soldier in the British army. As Ian passed the “healing well” he stooped and took a drink from the sparkling water just as he had done when he left to join the colours. He passed the rowan tree and reflected on the happy hours he had spent there with his beloved Nell and then on up the brae to Milntuim.

The first person he met was Meg, the miller’s wife, who gasped in admiration. “Ae, but your a braw lad, Ian, are there mony mair sojers like you?” He next met Nell whose embrace was poetry to see, great affection and joy. Ian was offered and accepted a room at the mill and during the course of the day everyone with the exception of Johnnie Simpson, the soutar, came to see him. Johnnie had been depressed ever since he had heard that Ian was coming home and had made himself scarce.

Nelly and Ian spent all his furlough in each other’s company. They revisited all the places where they had worked and courted. There shared the intimacies that only come when one is in love. Little did they know what was to follow. There was trouble brewing with the Russians far away over the mountains and over the sea at an unknown place called the Crimea.

On their last day together they went to the Hirsel stone at the top of the hill. On the face of the Hirsel stone were carved the names of hundreds of shepherds and they added their own names. Clasping each other’s hands around the stone they swore allegiance to each other to be “faithful unto death.” There, on a glorious summer’s evening, with the sun setting over the Aberuchill hills they parted with a loving and sad farewell promising to share their lives together when Ian left the army.

On his return to his regiment the 93rd were given orders to proceed south and then embark aboard naval vessels for the Crimea. Immediately upon landing Ian was engaged in the advance towards Sebastopol. From there his regiment crossed the river Alma all the time under hard fighting. As with all Scots Ian acquitted himself well. At Balaclava he was a part of the “thin red line” where the 93rd (true as steel) held off the Russian advance. Ian was given a medal for his bravery in this action. Another soldier in the line that day was an ancestor of the author!

The Thin Red Line at Balaclava

Throughout the campaign, which was especially cruel and hard with much suffering and privation, his only thoughts were of the day he would returnto Nelly Fergus and marry her. When the war ended in 1856 he was sent to other parts of the world, Egypt, and onwards to the “Jewel in the Crown”, India. Before each posting he hoped that he would be discharged so that he could return to his native heath but it was not to be and it was many years later that he finally was demobbed and set off towards his home.

In the intervening years there had been many changes in Comrie and at the Trian, Nelly had almost given up hope of ever seeing her lover again. The demand for woven cloth had fallen and one by one the crofters gave up and left the glen to seek employment and pastures new elsewhere. Some went to England, some to South Africa, others to Australia and many to Canada. Milntuim suffered during these bad years and eventually Meg and Geordie gave up the mill and left Trian never to return. The old mill gradually disintegrated and the walls crumbled. Johnnie Simpson crossed the seas to seek his fortune, and eventually Nelly and her father left for the city just to keep body and soul together. The clachan was deserted and became, like Carthage, a ruin.

At last Ian’s time in the army came to a conclusion. He was in poor health having been wounded in several places in different military campaigns and like his Comrie forebears at Waterloo was discharged in Kent and walked all the way home! With eager anticipation at seeing Nelly again. On feeble legs he went over the Langside road and stopped at the healing well at Blairnroar. Here he had a drink from the well and pinned on his medals to his tunic, took in the view of Glen Artney and the rowan tree of happy memory, and then came round the final bend in the road before arriving at Trian. It was in a ruinous state. Seeing it he slumped to the ground in despondency to rest and gather some strength. He kept asking himself and wondering aloud as to what had happened? Pressing on down the hill he came to Milntuim which also was in ruin and long abandoned. Where were Meg and Geordie? And mostly where was Nelly? Bracing himself he moved on further up the hill to Trian and found it too in ruins and no sign of life and no sign of his beloved.

He sat down and wept bitter tears. His only thought was for Nelly Fergus. With great effort, a heavy heart and a leaden body he dragged himself up Trian hill to view his childhood home at Blairhorrie and saw that that too was abandoned and just a ruin. Continuing on he came to the Hirsel stone and sat down there with a broken heart. He took a knife from his pocket, the same knife that they had used all those years before and, scraping away the moss that had gathered on the stone and saw his own name and Nelly’s engraved there. He was overcome with grief. Taking a piece of paper from his pocket he wrote, “I have come to keep my promise, faithful unto death, but where is the lass I loved? I am an old and broken-hearted soldier who has suffered the deprivations and horrors of war, my guiding star has ceased to shine, and the clachan of Trian is but a dream. I have honoured my obligations to my country and to Nelly Fergus. I can do no more. Bury me with the hard-earned decorations I prize at this spot where Nelly and I pledged the love I have most faithfully kept, where the whaups and peewits will chant their wail over the grave of this weary and broken-hearted old soldier.” A kindly shepherd from the glen found the prostrate body of Ian Campbell the following day grasping his last message to his heart, “faithful unto death” and there he was buried.

Nelly Fergus also kept her pledge and after a few years in the city died of a broken heart. She was buried amongst her kinsmen at the old cemetery at Tullichettle.

Author’s Notes: It was thanks to Miss Jennie MacGregor that I included this story in here. It was written by her father Alexander McGregor. In talking with some of the old farmers in and around Comrie they tell me that the story was fanciful, but there was an old dray horse called Nelly and used to pull heavy loads up the brae below Milntuim from Cultybraggan! I think I prefer Mr. MacGregor’s tale!

Photographs of Paintings found on Wikipedia