Sporting Venues throughout the Ages
Sporting Venues & Social Interests
Fishing had always been popular as was poaching. In many cases the rivers, and all its contents, were owned to the local landowners. Wily poachers would go far out in the wasteland in Glen Artney around Auchnashelloch and Finduglen in the hope of snaggling a salmon in a wee burn, or streamlet. Of course, to the land owner, they were his by right. He did quite well during the seasons regarding it as his fiefdom and sometimes even shared the catch with his servants. I think this is where the meal called “potted heid” came from! Woe betides, though, the poacher who got caught! They normally threw the book at them!
Loch Earn was a regular favourite place for fishing. A long time ago folk from Comrie would cycle there at dusk and fish overnight. My father, as a small boy, always got the job of collecting the firewood for the fishermen so that they could come in periodically for a warm up.
Others became involved in looking for fresh water pearls, and others yet again even panned for gold!
Fresh Water Pearl Fishing
Deer hunting was the sport of the land-owning classes. The guns are led by ghillies and local men are employed as fetch and carry men. It requires several men to put a full grown 12 pointer on the back of a horse or landrover! In the main the ghillies are good shots, but some are rather careless. One of my friends, who used to shoot for the Scottish team, was accidentally shot by an overly ambitious ghillie at an organized cull. Fortunately he survived after having two deer slugs taken from his stomach! Today local estates hire out deer shooting runs in the summer months, grouse from August 12th – the Glorious Twelfth, and pheasant shooting during the winter months till February. It would take almost a blind person not to be able to hit a deer at half a mile with a high powered rifle with a scope. Strangers who may not have any qualifications, or who have never handled a gun before just pay the daily fee of several hundred pounds for the shoot or the ghillies time! Supervision can be cursory!
When it comes to shooting grouse the landowners get their gamekeepers to employ local people to act as beaters. The beaters form a line or semi-circle and beat up towards the guns where our brave fellows are sitting with growing anticipation. Then, sometimes, flocks of frightened grouse rise from below the feet of the beaters, and head in the direction of the guns. Our bravados then shoot, from behind their butts. There are shouts in the air of Golly, Wow, Well Done Herbert, etc, as well as too fast, or too low, or too high, but the mood is one of excitement and exuberance. At the end of the day the number of killed are totted up and drinkie poohs enjoyed by all as it seems that today’s bag was 157 brace or 300 brace or on a bad day 25 brace. In any event it is a real cause for celebration. The year’s crop of hand-fed grouse probably only ever made one flight, and then were extinguished for ever!
I knew of one Colonel who owned an estate in Innergeldie in Glen Lednock who demanded that the rate of pay for beaters in the 1920’s should be reduced from six shillings a day to four shillings and day, and in addition, demanded an extra beat in the late afternoon. One quiet inoffensive fellow thought that that was a bit much and persuaded his fellow beaters to down tools. There was a lot of growling and grunting by the gamekeeper and the colonel. Eventually, and with much reluctance, the colonel agree to pay them the going rate of six shillings a day but insisted on the extra beat. During the conversation he referred to the strikers as peasants and lazy good for nothings. When he said this, the inoffensive beater pointed out that eight of the beaters were undergraduate students at various universities, and that the money was for their education, and to help their families at a time when money was hard to come by. This, however, cut no ice, and for the rest of his life the gamekeeper refused to talk to the inoffensive youth. The colonel was invited over to Aberuchill to shoot pheasants which he did with great relish. He shot hundreds of them. He was not invited back and in time disappeared from the area sometime thereafter but one can still his name disported on my fine pubs throughout the UK. I know this story because the inoffensive youth was my father!
I knew one Comrie chap who got a faceload of pheasant shot fired by an over excited twit in the butts at Aberuchill. I also knew of an Arch Duke who should have been locked up. He was one of those Hapsburg idiots and was so dangerous with a shotgun that two men were appointed to stand on either side of him. They were called stick men and they curtailed his arc of fire from going beyond a certain point when aiming. Pointing may be a more appropriate word! He had a tendency to traverse the sky with his shotgun, and they had to limit his arc. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he was off the hill! In the photograph I have seen of him he looks like Colonel Zapt from the movie “The Prisoner of Zenda!”
I used to beat during my summer holidays and it gave me a love of the countryside and nature. It was repulsive to see so many birds being killed or maimed. One of my fellow beaters was asked to find a wounded grouse. He eventually found it lying in a ditch. The gamekeeper bawled at him to kill the still-fluttering bird. My pal did not quite know how to do this, and was bawled at again being told, in no uncertain terms, to ring its neck. This he did and pulled the head right off the bird. Puking in the heather, he was then bawled at again to get in line for the next beat! I knew the gamekeeper and he was born bawling at everyone! When he was old I was told he was looked after by the women in Comrie who brought him tasty morsels of food and soup. Many said that he was just an angel and so kind and considerate! He is buried close by my father!
On one estate in Strathearn the most dangerous people around were high flying Americans. I passed through a crowd of them who were firing at hand-raised pheasants who had flown into some trees in a copse. At that time Aberuchill was owned by an oil rig supply company from Houston in Texas. None of them looked like Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday! I was delighted when they stopped firing! So were the pheasants, no doubt! It does not surprise me one bit that Mr Cheney shot one of his friends who was standing behind him at a shoot!
At the Cowden, as early as the 1800’s, metal target markers were put into the banks of the Bogton Braes. Few of the locals had guns, and fewer yet could afford them so it was used mainly by the landowners. Shooting and target practice became more popular as men tried their hands at this sport. A favourite meeting place was at Benny Beg between Crieff and Muthill. It was said that a crowd of sharpshooters from the 8th Crieff volunteers descended on the place to make their mark in the annals o shooting. One of them hit the target but the bullet shattered and a splinter hit a horse standing close by. At a later time when the Gallant Eighth were bragging about their marksmanship skills, a well known Breadalbane Volunteer named Duncan said, “Tamm you and ye gallants and eights and things, the first man you shot was a horse!” Later generations honed their skills and it became immensely popular before Word War I. Their skills became known during the First World War when the whole area gained glory, but lost so many, and suffered so much afterwards.
Later a shooting range was set up by the Home Guard using wooden slats that went up and down and was used by many people. During World War 11 the “Buffs” from East Kent built another range at Woodend in Cultybraggan.
One of the oldest curling clubs in the world was founded in Muthill and played on the Soldier’s Loch on the Drummond estate around 1739. Two other curling clubs were founded almost one hundred and fifty years later - the Monzievaird and Strowan clubs in 1849. They played at Muirend, on the south road from Comrie to Crieff. The Lawers and Comrie curling club was founded in 1854. This club played on the pond on the Lawers estate.
This great photograph was taken many years ago. The BBC wished to film a typical Scottish bonspiel. This one was held at Sir Robert Dundas’s pond near the Lednock around the 2nd of January. Conditions were more or less ideal for this sporting activity. The day was a grey day with an overcast sky and quite cold. The pond had frozen over and looked in reasonable shape looking at it from solid ground. It had a couple of unknown features in that no-one was quite sure about the depth of the pond, nor how thick the ice was. Sir Robert Dundas came along as skip and his team assembled. I spent most of my time with the BBC camera man as he busied himself to the task. It had been decided that they would do one or two ends then finalise the event with a typical Scottish toast.
It was a bitterly cold day on the ice, and every now and again, as we moved around on the ice, it twanged with ice splits occurring as it shot away from the weight epicentre. It was decided to speed things up a bit so the curling party then stood together in a line, and a bottle of scotch was produced. Mr. Goodwin, then the owner of the Ancaster Hotel, poured a dram for Mr. MacPherson of Craggish. As he raised the glass to his lips saluting the assembled throng, the ice collapsed under their combined weight. It was immediately obvious that if he was going to meet his maker, he wanted to make sure that he had a dram of Scotland’s finest. He polished it off with aplomb, before disappearing into the icy water. My closest friend, the late Iain MacPherson, much more alert than I, dived for Sir Robert and dragged him to the shore. I assumed he saved his life. It’s not every day you can grab a Baronet by the scruff of his neck! Others helped everyone and each other and we all tried to dry off as best as possible. It was televised throughout Scotland later that evening.
It was a classic moment and one of my finest memories of Comrie. Mr Mac came from Barra, and was a Gaelic speaker. He was one of the Barra folk that rowed out to the SS “Politician” when she sank with 12000 cases of Scotch whisky in her. Sir Compton Mackenzie wrote the story in his book ‘Whisky Galore”. Mr. Mac used to tell the real story of Whisky Galore as a party piece. I had a wonderful time with all the MacPherson children at Craggish and with Iain in particular in other places. He is sadly missed.
There was a gliding club which used to meet regularly. The glider was kept at Fordie, near Lawers. There was also a club for Kiters and the members used to fly their kites in the Field of Refuge. It was here also that travelling Magic Lantern shows were put on. At MacPherson’s garage, next to the War Memorial Insitute, was placed a German field gun. This was the closest Comrie ever got to war booty! It disappeared, probably to be remelted into bombs which were dropped on Germany in the Second World War! Ach, they are all away now and narra a trace remains!
Cock fighting was also very popular amongst the farming community and many farms, including the Lower Lechkin farm hosted these nefarious events.
The golf club opened on March 20th 1891 and is still a considerable challenge. Its setting, on a nice day, matches any course in the world! One of the local ministers got a hole in one on the fifth hole. Obviously an amazing shot, but one wonders if he received any help! Two of their members, Carly Booth and her brother, Wallace, are world class players. Both have very bright futures in the game.
The Comrie Golf Course with New Clubhouse
A putting green was also established. It was in a corner beside the River Lednock and was called “The Fairy Den.” My parents first met there. My mother was on holiday from Glasgow, and my father was doing a summer job there when on holiday from St. Andrews University. He was reading a book in Greek when they first set eyes on each other! The rest is history!
The Fairy Den, Comrie
During the 1890’s Comrie created its own soccer team. It was originally called Comrie Athletic with the name being changed in 1910 to Comrie Rovers. It is still one of the undiscovered gems of the soccer world and today would give Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic a run for their money!
In 1908 the Royal Oak or Strathearn Ancient Order of Good Templars held a bazaar to help with their Hall. The bazaar raised the tremendous amount of £417-16-6d.The author’s grandfather was a member and throughout his whole life was a strict teetotaler. The meeting normally finished just about 9.00 p.m. around the same time as the pubs shut. On the way home he often he met up with one of his friends who was certainly not TT. They would walk home together and cross the Ross Bridge. At the junction of the Back Road the other man would head for Aberuchill shouting out as loudly as possible, “Are ye aw richt, Davie, are ye aw richt?!” “Can ye see yersel hame the nicht?” with his voice fading as they distanced from each other.
Cricket had been played on occasion before 1909 but formalized as a club that year. One of its longest serving members was Sir Robert Dundas of Comrie House. He was a tall and kindly fellow, and much admired by all. I played for the club for a couple of years when a boy and when meeting him would notice how impeccably dressed he was in white trousers with a striped jacket and a striped cap. He played with a runner well into his eighties and died two weeks short of his 100th birthday.
Comrie Cricket Club in Kenya
Games of chance such as “Catch the Ten” or “Scotch Whist” as well as Bridge, were very popular in the community to while away the time on a Saturday evening before the Sabbath. Earlier we recorded a game of Catch the Ten which took place at Auchengarrich.
St. Fillans can claim to have held the first ever Highland games in 1821 and Crieff followed suit in 1870. Highland games were introduced in Comrie in 1925. It was a fun day for all and at one 24 pipe bands showed up for the contest. “Pudding” Sandy MacGregor, who had written the Comrie war book, was very involved with the pipe band and what a braw figure he made. Comrie in those days sported two pipe bands which is incredible for a place of its size! The reason for two bands was that members of the original pipe band could not get along with each other so they agreed the best way to solve the problem was to split. Both were excellent! The weather seemed always to be good in July and it was sometimes called McGregor’s Weather!
Mr MacGregor’s Comrie Pipe Band, 1923
Comrie Pipe Band
A tennis club was inaugurated in 1924 much to the enjoyment of many. The tennis courts were situated where the current Fire Brigade Station is located in Dalginross.
There is a bowling Club but I cannot trace its history. My aunt Nan was a very active member in it. I once tried it thinking it was an old folk’s game and found, to my amazement, that it was not as easy as it seems and required a fair amount of skill! I can only say they were very kind and the only thing I felt was deep humiliation!
Croquet was also played in the village and was enjoyed by many. A croquet league was established and followed with great interest by all.
My Grandfather with his croquet measuring stick
Throughout time of course ploughing matches were held at various locations such as at Monzievaird Farm. One recorded in the Dundee Courier on February 19th, 1927. It is well worth including in our story as it lists events and prizes all of which go to make up our canvas.
“STRATHEARN PLOUGHING CONTEST"
Monzievaird Farm Results
Favoured with seasonable weather the annual match in connection with Monzievaird and Strowan, Comrie and District Ploughing Society took place on the farm at Braincroft, Monzievaird, owned and tenanted by Mr. John Comrie, the Secretary of the Society.
There were 20 ploughs forward. The work all over was highly commendable, and a large gathering of spectators evinced much interest in the competition. In the course of the day the judges, committee, and others were hospitably entertained at luncheon and tea by Mr. and Mrs. Comrie, and a number of appropriate toasts were pledged.
The judges were:-Ploughing-Messrs Peter McIntosh, Strageath Hall Muthill, and McLaggan, Balgour, Dunning. Horses, harness, grooming, and decorations-Messrs John McNee of East Dundurn; Murdoch, Benchill, Stanley; A. Walker, East Mains, Tullibardine; and William Reid, Netherton, Bridge of Allan.
The following is the prize list:-
Ploughing-1 J. McNaughton, Drumchork; 2 R. Anderson, East Lochlane; 3 Wm. McNab, Cultycraggan; 4 R. Lambie, Innergeldie; 5 John Campbell, Garrichrew; 6 Wm. Kay, Lechkin; 7 Geo. Ross, Culcrieff; 8 J. Grey, West Tullybannocher; 9 Wm. Mitchell, Balmuick; 10 J. Davidson, Mid Lochlane; 11 J. Munroe, East Lochlane; 12 Geo. Hutchison, Fairness; 13 Geo. Munroe, Strowan; 14 D. McLaren, Comrie.
Feering (Feering – the furrow drawn out to mark the area to be ploughed) – 1. Wm. Kay; 2. Wm. Mitchell; 3. J. Gray. Levellest Feering – Wm. Kay. Straightest Ploughing – R. Anderson. Levellest Ploughed Ridge- J. McNaughton.
Best Groomed Horses (Clipped) – 1. G. Ross, Culcrieff; J. Dewar, Culcrieff; J. Gray, West Tullybannocher; Geo. Hutchison. Best Groomed Horses (Unclipped) – Wm. McNab; 2 Wm. McRaw, Braincroft; 3 W. McCulloch, Cowden; 4 Jas. Paterson, Mains of Callander. Best harness on the Field – 1 Jas. Paterson; 2 C. Gillies, Muirend. Best Kept Harness in Everyday Use – 1 W. McRaw; 2 Geo. Ross; 3 John Campbell; 4 J. Gray; 5 Geo. Hutchison.
Best Decorations – 1. Geo. Ross; 2 C. Gillies; 3 Geo. Hutchison; 4 R. Anderson; 5 J. McNaughton. Best Single Horse or Mare – 1 J. Campbell; 2 Wm. McCraw. Best pair Horses or Mares – 1 J. Davidson; 2 Geo. Ross; 3 J. Gray. Best Driven Horses (age considered) – J. Davidson. Youngest pair Horses or Mares – R. Anderson. Steadiest Going Horses – Wm. McNab, Tullybannocher. Horses. Harness and Grooming (best on field) – Geo. Ross. Man First Finished in a Workmanlike Manner – Wm. McCulloch. Man Coming Longest Distance – R. Lambie, Innergeldie. Man with Largest Family (school age and under – Wm. Kay, Lechkin. Man First on the Field – J. Paterson, Mains of Callander. Ploughman in Longest Present Employment – J. Campbell, Garrichrew. Oldest Ploughman on Field – D. McLaren, Comrie. Youngest ploughman – J. Munro, East Lochlane. Best-Looking Ploughman – Wm. McRaw. Man Kindest to Horses and All Dumb Animals – Wm. McRaw. Man with Least Assistance – Wm. McCulloch. Best Horses with Plain Harness. W. McRaw. So we can see that many got a prize or mention.
It was around this time that tractors were beginning to make an appearance with Fordson Majors and Fergusons being amongst the most popular. The day of horses and horsepower were over. Today one would have to look hard and walk many a mile to see that most beloved of creatures, a horse!
A Ploughing match in Hampshire getting underway
Throughout the year people went to Church and every day there was something on, and something to do. There were Sunday schools for the children, choirs for the adults and fellowship groups where life was discussed. There were Sales of Work, Baking and Cake Sales, Bazaars, Jumble Sales, Summer Fairs, Sunday School Picnics, Moodey and Sankey sing alongs, and even Highland Games at the Laggan Park. I
There were various Flag Day drives to raise money for a variety of causes and seemed to be almost a weekly occurrence. All participated.
For young men there was a Cub and Scout group – the 21st Perthshire. There was also a Masonic Hall and all were very active.
This Photograph shows the 21stPerthshire Boy Scout and Cub Group in the early 30’s. Morris Dinnie is the boy on the far left in the back row and the author’s late uncle Ian is third from the right in the second row. Morris now lives in Montreal. This photograph was in the possession of Mr McGlashan. His father had been one of the local policemen in the village
The 21stPerthshire Scout Troop and some Army Cadets
During the summer months of mainly July and August the village population swelled by as much as three times as visitors flocked into the village and all the way from Crieff to Lochearnhead. During the first half of the nineteenth century the area was visited by Sarah Bernhardt, Samuel Peploe, Rudyard Kipling, and many others. A veritable paradise for artists.
The Ross, Comrie - Peploe
Country dances were held in various halls and all who attended had a good time. Ah, it was good to do a Gay Gordons, or a Dashing White Sergeant, or a Strip the Willow, or an eightsome, or a foursome. There was never any violence at them. It was also great to hear the local bands and individual musicians. I still tap my feet to Scottish country dance music – it is just something that is done. Jimmie Shand, his band and the music are immortal. I miss the sound of a live accordion or piano being played. They were played by very gifted musicians. Even today the Fiddlers concert is pure joy, as is watching the individual fiddle players with their dexterous fingers and beautiful tunes. Ceilidhs also were great fun with everyone participating wth a song, or music, or a rhyme and joining in the various reels which were called. At one I saw a three legged man do his performance – he brought the house down! Sadly they faded away in the late sixties. What a miss!
Seasonal events also occurred with the celebration of Robert Burns, on the 25th January, Halloween of Guy Fawkes night, the Flambeaux on New Year’s Eve celebrating the coming of the new, and hopefully better year to come, as well as high days and holidays when raffles were very popular. I once won a glass doe-eyed looking dog which I still have. It was the only thing I ever won so it has a treasured place.
Bird egg collecting was enjoyed by many and introduced young people to ornithology and twitching became a very time consuming and enjoyable pastime. Never take more than one bird’s egg from a nest is a cardinal rule. It was incredible the variety of birds in our patch of land and the shapes, colours and sizes of their eggs. We were able to research them through an encyclopedia. This was also true of all the plants and flowers as well as their hues and scents, colours and configurations and growing cycles. We used to press them in old books and turn to them whenever we wanted to find out more about them. In our web book I have dedicated a section to the birds and the flora and fauna in our strath.
Stamp collecting was a big issue in those days and many had huge collections neatly assembled in large books identifying, countries and places in different parts of the planets. It seemed to me that the most colourfull came from faraway and very small places.
Others took to photography and painting and drawing and every now and again slide shows were put on enthralling the local people. Our family friends John and Jim Mitchell were superb photographers. Jim would put on slide shows in the village halls periodically to show nature in all its seasons. The quality of photographs was of the highest and has never been equalled.
There was never a shortage of things to do or become involved with, and even today, whilst many changes have occurred, it still is a very busy place.