PARISH OF BELLIE.
(Synod of Murray*, Presbytery of Strathbogie.)
By the Rev. Mr. James Gordon.
Name, Extent, Situation, etc.
Bellie has been imagined by some to be the Gaelic word Belllaidh, signifying
"broom;" but others, more justly, reckon it is a compound from the two Gaelic
words Beul-aith, meaning "the mouth of the ford." This etymology is perfectly
natural, as, a little above the church, there was, till the prodigious flood in
1768 destroyed it, and opened various channels, one of the finest fords upon the
Spey. There his Royal Highness, with his Majesty's army, passed with great safety
in 1746, a few days before the battle of Culloden, the Duke of Kingston's light
cavalry leading the van. A gentleman once would, jocularly, have this place Bel-lieu.
Indeed, Bellie's Hill is a most beautiful spot, commanding a delightful prosepct
of Gordon Castle, of the river and part of Murray, of the Murray Frith, and the
mountains of Sutherland and Caithness.
All the old names of farms here are of Celtic origin, as Dalachy, the plain field;
Auchenreath, the field of heath; Auchenbalrigg, the field of spectres or hobgoblins,
etc. The Gaelic tongue, however, has long disappeared in this part of the country;
the language, in general, being that dialect of English common to the North of
Scotland; though, among all persons who pretend to anything like education, the
English language is daily gaining ground.
Bellie extends from S. to N., near 6 measured miles, and from E. to W. almost
4. It is bounded on the N. by the Murray Frith, and on the W. by the river Spey.
A considerable part of this space, to about 4 miles from the sea, is contained
within the ancient banks of this river, which are very high. What these banks
enclose may be considered as the range or territory of the Spey at this place,
though it has greatly shifted its channels in different periods.
At Gordon Castle, which is between them,but near that on the E, these banks
are near a mile distant from each other. They gradually widen on their approach
to the sea, and where the river falls into the frith, are near 2 miles asunder.
Between the bank on the E., and the present bed of the Spey, is a fine extensive
plain, with many farms, and a great number of inhabitants, the river having kept
near the W. side for time immemorial, though it has frequently made ravages, that
have rendered many embankments and bulwarks requisite.
This bank is for about
a mile below Gordon Castle, handsomely dressed in imitation of nature, and adorned
by fine plantations of trees and shrubs, with very pleasant walks. Here is a very
great number of large clusters of hollies, which have procured it the appellation
of the Holly Bank, as below it is styled the Bank of Bellie.
At the S. end of
this charming level stands Gordon Castle. It has a front of 568 feet. I will not
attempt to describe this most superb and elegant structure. It is well known to
be one of the noblest palaces in Britain, and attracts the notice of all travellers,
who never fail to return highly gratified *. Here many a costly
drain has been employed to form the enchanting landscape it now exhibits.
There is an immense extent of plantation, a large park of fallow deer; and
here we are charmed with all the melody of the grove. Here the woodcock visits
us about the end of October, the fieldfare in the winter, and the green plover
in the spring.
About a mile N. of Gordon Castle, and 3 miles S. of the Frith,
is the church of Bellie, upon the old east bank of the Spey, soon to be translated
to Fochabers, where a very commodious, elegant church is to be built, which will
be greatly ornamental to the place. The old manse is in ruins, and the minister
has got an excellent house in the town of Fochabers.+
* The ancient residence here was called Bogra-gbdhu, or
windy bog, there being a very free circulation of air from the Frith and the W.;
and the ferry-boat is still the boat of Bog. This habititation was long known
all over the N., by the name of The Bog, for an obvious reason. Spalden, if I
remember right, seldom uses any other term for it. The castle has doubtless been
built here with a view to strength, by ditches and inundation, when property was
not so effectually sescured as in our happy days, by the regular execution of
wholsome and equitable laws. I need not say how necessary it was in those times
to erect fortresses on rocks and in marshes.
+ Fochabers is compunded of the two Gaelic words, Foich, a
green plain, properly a plain for rendezvous or weapon-shaw, which was oftern
practised here, and Aber, a bay or junction of two waters;s the burn of Fochabers
here uniting itself with the Spey. Some years ago, Fochabers was removed soutward
from the vicinity of Gordon Castle to a rising ground, near a mile distant, and
built on a neat plan, with an extensive square in the centre. It is a burgh of
barony, and has a baron bailie. A physician resides among us. We have three annual
fairs, one of them for black cattle; and a weekly market for butter and cheese,
eggs, poultry,etc. but it is not much resorted to. There are several retail shops,
and an ordinary number of the usual artificers. There are two goods inns, well
frequented. We have a friendly society pretty numerous. Its funds are accumulating,
and will, in a little time, answer very benevolent and useful purposes.
Soil and Agriculture
The ground, which has been recovered from the Spey, is, in general, by a very long course
of frequent manure, and, being in small farms, abundantly fertile. We have a good deal of
loamy soil, There is not much clay land: that upon the coast is sandy. In general, we depend
very much upon the dews of heaven. In a droughty July, our crop near the sea, though promising,
swindles amazingly. We enjoy, however, upon the whole, a happy climate: our agricultural
system has nothing very different from that of our neighbours all around. We have
very few enclosures, except at Gordon Castle, (where an extensive farm is totally
enclosed), and at Auchenhalrigg. We cannot boast much of our other modes of melioration,
though we commonly do the best we well can.
The people are industrious, and labour
hard; and you will not see anything like a farm, where you do not behold a field
of sown grass, a piece of turnips, and some potatoes. The potatoe is much cultivated
by those who have but small spots of ground, and proves very useful. The sea-weed
is much used as manure, to the distance of 2 or 3 miles along the coast; and no
work is suffered to interrupt the pursuit of it. Our crops of grain consist chiefly
of barley, oats, pease, and rye.
The average wages for common labourers are 6d. a-day in winter, and 8d. in summer.
For harvest work, women receive 6d., and men 10d. A common artificer gets 10d. to 1s. a-day.
With these payments, they generally have their victuals. A good man servant for the half year
seldom has less than 3l, and the women, for the same period, receive about 20s. And these
point at continual increase.
There are in the parish upwards of 1000 black cattle, mostly of the common country breed,
many of which are sent away in the summer to graze, pasture grass being scarce upon the coast.
We have about 340 horses, many of them rather small sized, and something above 2200 sheep,
generally a mixture of the Linton breed. Gordon castle will readily be supposesd an exception to
all these, where the cattle, horses and sheep are large. Many plough with a pair of horses.
Indeed, it is the most frequent practice, the ground being light and easily managed; Some put a
yoke or two of black cattle behind them. There are but few ploughs, comparatively, drawn by oxen
entirely. A cart among the country people may generally be reckoned for every horse:
Carts drawn otherwise, are not many in comparison.
Manufasctures and Fisheries.
One manufacturer of some eminence, has long resided on the burn of Fochabers, and manages very
considerable business in weaving stockings of cotton, thread, and worsted, and some pieces for
waistcoats and breeches. He also deals a little in the thread trade. Another, who is also
a merchant, carries on a manufacture of lint, thread and tobacco, to some amount.
There is an capital salmon fishery here upon the Spey, chiefly the property of
the Duke of Gordon, from which his grace derives a rent of 1500 l. a-year, from
Messrs Gordon and Richardson. It extends from Speymouth about 5 miles, and terminates
in a complete row of cruives across the river.
There is a large lofty edifice
near the sea for the gentlemen that hold the lease. There are buildings for the
overseers, coopers, etc. and that furnish every accomodation for the fishery.
They have got a very good ice-house. An hundred and thirty men, or more, are employed
in this fishery. There is also a salmon fishing upon the coast, called stell fishing.
Ssome thousands of salmon are sent to London early in the season, covered with
ice: Afterward they are exported in kits steeped in vinegar, of which many hogsheads
are yarly laid in for the purposse. These kits contain about 36 pounds of salmon
When the great city is splentifully supplied, and the price much reduced,
it becomes convenient to salt the salmon, and to send them to the foreign markets.
The natural effect of this demand, is dearth of salmon here. Indeed, the expense
of living had increased very considerably within these 20 years in almost every
article. In this we are not singular.
he Duke of Gordon is our only resident heritor, and indeed, the sole proprietor of the oarish,
except of one farm belonging to the Earl of Linklater.
The return to Dr. Webster in 1755, was 1730. The parish of Bellie now contains 1919 souls, viz.
country part 984, and the village 935. Of these, there are 859 males, and 1060
females. This disproportion has not been occasioned by emigration, for of that
we have had very few instances, but from the military genius exerting itself on
We have of married couples 272, and of young people about
10 years old, and under, 437, viz. 205 boys, and 232 girls. Though it be known,
that a superior number of males is born into the world, these little difference
will happen in particular corners, by removals and other causes.
For 14 years
past, 10 couples, at a medium, have been married yearly, and 31 children registered,
viz. 16 males, and 15 females. The latter article cannot be exact as to the number
born in the parish, it being difficult to bring some, even of our own people,
to insert the names of their children, with all the care that can be taken.
are in the parish 458 dwellings; 250 in Fochabers, and 208 in the country. The
average numbers in these habitations is a little more than 4.
With regard to longevity,
there is nothing her peculiar. We are blessed with a mild, pure, temperate air.
Some live to 70, some to 80 years of age, though few, in comparison, it may
be supposed. A few are now alive on the very borders of 90. A man died at 90 some
little time ago, and another at 108, or upwards.
There are no diseases incident,
in any uncommon way, in this corner. The fishermen, from their employment, are
sometimes seized with palsies in the lower parts, and sever rheumatism. These
maladies are guarded against by the care taken of them, and the quantity of spirits
Ecclesiastical State, etc.
By far the greater part of the people are of the established church. We have, however, a very
considerable number of Roman Catholicks, with a priest of the church of Rome, and a large chapel.
There are a few Protestants of the Episcopal persuasion; and 4 or 5 Seceders reside
among us. We all live very cordially and happily together. The body of the people,
it is but justice to say, are of respectable character.
We have, alas! exceptions:
And what community is without some, whose conduct in lifen is matter of very sserious
regret. The custom that prevails more and more, not in this corner alone, among
the lower classes, of substituting dram-drinking for a draught of good beer, has
a most pernicious tendency, with regard to health and morals. The people her are,
in general, of a ssober, rational, religious disposition, regular in their attendance
on public ordinances, and careful of the social duties.
Near the confines of
this and Rathven parish, a neat chapel has been lately built for the itinerant
minister, who has a considerable district of this parish as part of his charge.
He has something from a fund collected, and accumulating, for the benefit of that
mission, in addition to his salary from the society, and a glebe of 8 acres. A
house is also intended him. The stipend of Bellie is 72l. 6s. 4 1/2d., including
allowances for communal elements. The glebe at Bellie was lately excambed for
one at Fochabers, which measures 13 acres of good land.
Schools and Poor
There is a parochial school at Fochabers. The schoolmaster teaches English, Latin, writing,
arithmetic, and book-keeping. His salary is 14 bolls of meal. He has a small fee
as session-clerk, the school dues, and payment for registration of baptisms and
There is a society school about 3 miles from Fochabers, of the utmost
consequence to the very great number of poor creatures, who could not possibly
attend, or be accomodated in the parish school.
We have not many common beggars,
yet a numerous list of poor, among whom are distributed the collections insnthe
church, which (especially when our great family is at home) are of much benefit,
the dues from the mortcloth, and the interest of a little money. A chalder of
meal is annually bestowed upon the poor about 2d February, the Marquis of Huntly's
birth day. There are ssome bedesmen who, by an ancient provision in the family,
receive meal and money, which give a very comfortable subsistence. They are old
worn-out men. Private donations are given; and the people, in general, are charitably
Curiosity and Antiquity
The only rare plant in the parish, is Satyrium Repens, which grows in plenty within a mile of
Fichabers. There is a field of little more than 3 acres, a little to the N. of the church of
Bellie, to which tradition has given the name of the Danish Camp. Large remains of the entrenchments
have been preserved. It is upon the od E. bank of the Spey, and the river had
then flowed at the bottom, which had occasioned the choice of the post. This camp
may have connectd with the battle between the Scots and Danes, in the neighbourhood
of Cullen. From the square figure ofthe encampment, it should rather seem to have
been a Roman camp, though it be difficult to say when the Romans were here, unless
Agricola might land a detachment in his traverse on the coasts of Scotland. Bridge
over the Spey.
I cannot conclude this sketch of the parish of Bellie, without
taking notice of the necessity of throwing a bridge over the Spey at Fochabers.
This is, upon the most solid grounds, the ardent wish of all who know this passage.
Fochabers is a very considerable thorough-fare, and Spey is well known to be a
large and rapid river. Numberless travallers of all descriptions from every part
of Britain, pass this way, who are frequently detained by floods and boisterous
winds, and sometimes cross with danger. The post-boy is, at times, detained, though
they waft him over when they wouldnot run the risk with any other person. Not
long ago, he was stopped 3 nights in the courses of one week. They sometimes ferry
over the mail, when they dare not take the horse in the boat.
A bridge here would
be of utmost consequence to the country, in driving cattle to and from the markets,
of which many fine droves travel this way, and are often reduced to great hardships.
It would be extremely beneficial in bringing limestone from Banffshire to Murray,
where it is exceedingly wanted; and it would be of unspeakable importance to his
Majesty's troops, who almost always march by this route; especially would it be
of the last moment, when the public service requires dispatch.
The universal sense
of the propriety of this measure, has already been strongly evinced by very considerable
subscriptions, to which, it is to be hoped, liberal additons will yet be made.
Public aid, however, is indispensibly necessary: and we may humbly presume, that
aid will very generously be granted, when the state of national affairs can properly
admit of it.