The River Earn

Following the fissures in the earth structure, rivers were formed. The principal river in Highland Strathearn is the river Earn which flows for 32 miles to the east from its fresh-water source at Loch Earn (Loch Ēireann) – possibly Loch of Ireland. Loch Earn, a veritable diamond, is unusual in that it has its own tidal system called a seiche. The tidal action is created by the prevailing wind blowing along the loch. This wind pressure on the surface causes the water level to build up at one end of the loch, followed by a reverse action returning water to the opposite end of the loch, over time. In the case of Loch Earn, this movement cycle, which can be measured, takes about 16 hours although it is difficult to observe. The resulting currents can create complex turbulence patterns, as higher layers of warmer water on its surface mix with the lower lying colder waters of the loch.

Loch Earn from the Braes of Balquhidder

The River Earn sources itself in that most beautiful stretch of water, Loch Earn. Loch Earn is about seven miles in length, and about one mile wide. At its western end lies the village of Lochearnhead lying equidistant between Killin in the north, and Strathyre in the south. Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell knew it well, and at a quieter time three centuries or so later, the Findlater sisters, Mary and Jane, spent their early youth here. They eventually became well known novelists.

Mary Findlater

Jane Findlater

The loch runs west to east and on both its steep sides can be found the traces of small communities and clachans. Following its North shore and close by the loch are the farm touns of Derry, Dalveich, Ardveich and Carnlea. At a much higher elevation, and three miles to the East, are the clachans of Easter and Wester Glentarken. Further along for a mile or so, but on the lochside, can be found St. Fillans. This little village was known at various times as Little Port, Meikleport, Lochearnend, and Portmore. It is a bonny wee village which is situated at the point where Loch Earn empties it waters into the River Earn.

Village of St Fillans (Note that slate roofs are displacing thatch on cottages, and the Stagecoach further along the Road)

St Fillans (Main Road to Lochearnhead)

Rustic Bridge over the River Earn at St Fillans. It was dismantled when the Hydro put in a water control point

Further to the east at narrowest part of the river there still stands a wee “humpty-back” stone bridge. It joins a beautiful little road leading off to the west. This road follows the course of the Loch on its south side back towards Lochearnhead. Standing at this point one can look towards the west taking in the magnificence of the hills, and Neish or Neishes Island, especially when seen in the evening rays of a summer evening, and as light fades into night.

The Old Bridge at St. Fillans

The old village of St. Fillans waves the river farewell on its journey and it passes Kindrochat (Bridgend – ceann drochaid) – a very ancient place complete with its Neolithic grave site, then Dunira (fort of the west ford), where it is joined by the beautiful Boltachan (marsh) Burn.

The Old Mill Wheel at Dunira Saw Mill was located at the junction of the Boltachan Burn and the River Earn. It was originally used at the Millside Mill near Comrie House on the Lednock. It was the last working wheel on the River Earn.

Moving eastward and towards Comrie, the river passes by the hill known as Dundurn or St. Fillans Hill which played a dual role in history. In 520 AD St. Fillan, the Leper or Stammerer, brought Christianity to the Picts of Fortrenn. As a religious person he preached from its summit where can be found a naturally shaped stone seat. At the foot of the hill was a Holy well which was used for centuries to cure a variety of ailments. It was recorded in 1791 than at least seventy people visited the well seeking relief from sore eyes, barrenness and rheumatism. The remedy for the latter ailment was strange in that the cure appeared to be a lot worse than the affliction. The invalid had to ascend the hill, sit on the seat, then lie down on their backs and be pulled to the bottom of the hill, by their feet. Not bad if the slope was green and grassy and smooth, however the surface contains thousands of tons of scree and loose rocks and stones! Originally a Pictish stronghold of the Kings of Fortrenn, Dundurn’s (the Fort of the Fist), its dominance commands the plain below. Here in 878 AD the Pictish King, Girig or Gric was slain and it was recorded that he was “mortuus est in Dundeorn.” Who knows maybe he died of the cure for rheumatism! Close by is a rock which is shaped like a crocodile and a local family for the last hundred years have kept it painted as a crocodile!

Above, and to the north-east, sits the proud eminence of Dunmore Hill with its monument to Viscount Melville, Henry Dundas who was also known as the “Uncrowned King of Scotland.” In all probability those reluctant “pioneers” who left the area for Canada in 1811 helped erect the Monument which was hewn from the granite quarry at Innergeldie in Glen Lednock.

Shortly the river takes a wide turn at Wester and Easter Tullybannocher (the great horn-ed bend in the river). Tullybannocher provides evidence of Stone-Age circles and was considered very old even in 1818. From here Isabella (Issabella) Stalker of Tullybannocher sailed on the “Curlew” and married John Cram of the Milton, Comrie. The family name of Cram became well known in the Carleton Place, Ontario, area. Her parents are buried in the White Church in Comrie. Isabella is buried outside Carleton Place, along with dozens of other Comrie folk. It has been estimated that there are approximately 30,000 people in North America whose surname is Cram. All originated from the Comrie area.

Gravestone to Isabella (Issabella) Stalker (Cram) of Tullybannocher in Carleton Place Cemetery. Her parents are buried in Comrie.

From Tullybannocher the river meanders slowly picking up speed at the Mill of Fortune on the Back Road where its power was used to drive a sawmill, and then on to the Ross Bridge.

Peter Murray at the Mill of Fortune, Comrie in 1916

The Ross Bridge

The Ross Bridge, in my opinion, is one of most beautiful bridges ever constructed and was built in 1792 of feathered granite worked locally. It has a splendid curvature, and connected the main road between Comrie and St. Fillans, on the north side of the river, with the village of the Ross, located on the other bank. It replaced the old ford, so that it was now possible to go between the two communities without getting one’s feet wet!

Ath nan Sop Ford on the River Earn

There is a story told about the ford located there called Ath nan Sop (ford of the whisps of hay). It was used for hundreds of years to cross the Earn, and before the Ross Bridge was built. There, on one occasion, a noted minister of the Free Church of Scotland was passing alongside the river which was in spate. It was a wild, stormy night and through the roar of the wind he heard a plaintive cry coming from the middle of the swollen waters of the river, “Help, help me, I’m drowning.” Someone had been trying to cross the river at the ford but had slipped on a rock. Moving quickly into action he shouted back “Aye, aye, but which Church are you a member of?” No doubt thereafter he took practical steps to aid the person who had slipped and fallen into the river. East of here, it meets the village of Comrie where it is joined by the River Ruchill.

The River Ruchill joins the River Earn at Comrie

As the Earn passes through the middle of modern Comrie (Cuimrigh-Comar-meeting or confluence of the waters, ruith-flowing) and Dalginross (Dail-chin-ross-the field at the head of a point), Within half a mile it is also joined by the River Lednock, followed very quickly by the Milton Burn, before ambling round the Big Bend, and on downstream to Strowan (St. Rowan, struthan – a streamlet) and Monzievaird (Moivard).

Old Bridge at Strowan with the Baird Monument

Its onwards eastern flow passes to the south of Crieff (Craoibh-tree) where it is bridged by a stone bridge. This bridge was partly destroyed by the retreating Highlanders in the rebellion of 1716 after the Battle of Sheriffmuir (Blàr Sliabh and t-Siorraim) and the town was burned. The river’s progress continues eastwards and close by, to the south, is the old village of Muthill. Again, further down river, it is bridged at Kinkell by a narrow parapetted bridge. In the distance to the north-east lies Methven and beyond, to the east, is the County town of Perth.

Kinkell Bridge over the River Earn

Continuing its movement it flows by, and near, Auchterarder-Uachdar Ardair - the Lang Toun) and close by Dunning, and thence to Bridge of Earn and its estuary meeting with the Tay. It is this river and the human evolutionary process of those who lived close to its banks in the western part of Strathearn that is the subject of our story.

Bridge of Earn

The Old and New Bridge(s) of Earn