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THE GRANTS OF STRATHSPEY

In Scottish histories the Clan Grant is first mentioned in the 13th Century, the first fully documented Clan Chief was Ian Ruadh Grant Sheriff of Inverness in 1434. From him there is an unbroken line of Chiefs, passed from father to son to the present day.

The first Grant to win lands in Strathspey was John le Grant who acquired Inverallan in 1316. Castle Grant dates back to the early part of the 16th Century. It underwent  a couple of re-builds and name changes but it is not known to have ever been taken from the Grants by force. The castle stands in a strategic position commanding the three principal routes from Strathspey to the prosperous North Eastern coastal lowlands north from Aberdeen to the North coast and Inverness.

 

It was occupied by Jacobite forces for a whole two days in 1745, however  the Laird and entire garrison were absent at the time and not a shot was fired.  Legend has it that as soon as the Jacobites saw the returning Laird and his soldiers in the distance, they high-tailed it out of the Castle and off in the opposite direction, so it is dubious if this counts as being taken by force.

 

Originally known as Freuchie, then Balloch Castle, it was extensively rebuilt in the 1690's when the Grants acquired a Royal Charter to their lands with their residence Castle Grant. ( see the section on The Traditional Economy PageXX). The castle has been much added to and over the years it has been turned from a traditional defensive castle to the comfortable home of a landed family. Having said that it was not enough of a comfortable family home for them to want to return there to live after it was requisitioned during World War 2. After its return to there Grant family it stood empty until 1983 when it was sold.

The town of Grantown on Spey was founded in 1765 by the 4th Earl, the so called "Good sir James". He was clearly one of the more progressive landlords and genuinely cared about the lot of his tenants. No doubt this was combined with a canny sense for business, he seemed to be one of the earlier land owners to understand that a well fed, contented population with a decent standard of living was far more likely to be able to pay their rents in full than starving wretches living in squalor.

Having said this his compassion extended to selling his Edinburgh town house to pay for large amounts of grain to be imported and distributed to the local people when a series of disastrous harvests brought famine in the late 1700's. Whilst most would have considered this above and beyond the duties of even the most benevolent landlord, it resulted in him being held in high regard in the area. 

The Grants would seem to have been benevolent landlords both before and after "good Sir James". In general the Earls of Seafield have been very conscious that the livelihoods of many thousands depended on their actions and how they managed their estates. The fact that they stayed loyal to the Crown eschewing the Jacobite cause was enormously beneficial. Not only were they spared the worst depredations of the Duke of Cumberland's army after Culodden but the lands were not confiscated and passed on to some absentee Noble who was happy to take the income but cared not a jot for the people living in a place he had never seen.

The Grants of Strathspey.

Second only to the Earl of Findlater & Seafield, the Grants were (and still are ) the pre-eminent land owning family of the area.  Clan Grant had lived in Strathspey since ancient times and had successfully defended it against all comers, especially the Camerons of Lochaber.  It is fair to say that until Locheil's peace initiative, The Camerons and Grants cordially loathed each other taking any opportunity to nick each other's cattle, and bump off each other's warriors. Subsequently things settled down to a reasonable extent that actually allowed the population to increase a bit.

Between themselves, the Earl of Findlater & Seafield and the chief of Clan Grant at Castle Grant owned over 90% of the land in the Spey Valley south of Grantown on Spey . Very few farmers actually owned their farms until comparatively modern times, the vast majority being tenant farmers. Unusually for the time, a difference between the Speyside Estates and most of the Highlands, was that most of the tenant farmers leased their land directly from the Estate, not via a Tacksman. This quirk had its good and not so good points. If a tenant farmer had problems, wanted something from the Estate or even (God forbid) had a suggestion to make, The person above him on the social& economic ladder was the actual land owner, or his agent anyway, not some venal Tacksmans, so he could make his representations to the one person in a position to actually do something about it. On the other hand, dealing directly with the Laird did leave the Tenant somewhat exposed, with no intermediary to hide behind.

Fortunately Both the EFS and Castle Grant estates had long been well managed and for the most part were good landlords who did not excessively exploit their tenants. One particular laird, Sir James Grant of Grant the first Baronet of Strathspey went down in history as " The Good Sir James".  He lived from 1738-1811 he was dedicated to the public good and was an enthusiastic "land improver".

 

Rothiemurchus.

The present day Rothiemurchus estate with its house The Doune, was part of the lands of the Shaw Clan until the 16th Century when, following a number of skirmishes it was taken from them and held by  John Grant of Freuchie and his son Patrick Grant of Muckerach .  Whilst not part of the Grant line of succession, they were closely related and this branch or the Grant family lived at The Doune until the mid 20th Century.

Rothiemurhus is a large agricultural & forestry estate occupying almost all of the land between Aviemore and the top of the Cairngorm Mountains.  As this includes Glenmore and all of what is now the Cairngorm ski area, after the second World War as tourism started to recover, the forward thinking owners of the estate saw the great opportunity that the estate';s location gave them and drove the huge investment needed to develop tourism both summer and winter.  

 

The result now is a profitable estate whose main business is tourism.  Given the vagaries of the Scottish climate, this was never going to be bask in the sun type tourism. Instead the whole area is devoted to "Outdoor activity tourism". As well as the obvious ski-ing, the Loch Morlich area is given over to water-sports, such as  sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, or just about anything that needs water without waves. Those partaking are protected from the arctic temperature of the water by freely available wetsuits, so allowing water-sport to be enjoyed rather than just endured. For those happy to watch, there are pleasant cafes where one can sit in the sun to watch, or more usually, shelter from the freezing rain!

For those who want to exercise in the dry, Glenmore and the Cairngorm Mountains have a network of well marked and maintained routes that cater for all abilities from a Sunday stroll by loch an Eilein to serious snow & Ice climbing.

As well as the facilities for the activities themselves there is also the infrastructure needed to support tourism. Accommodation from the cheap & cheerful to luxury apartments, restaurants where you can pay a little or a lot depending on your desire and wallet !! Even the mundane such as car-parks and toilets are all needed and have to be provided.

 

Once again given the vagaries of the climate, there will frequently be lots of skiers but no snow, or not enough. Many have to book their holidays far in advance, so they will be there hoping for the best , snow or no snow.  When its no snow they need diversions and entertainment so that they still have a good holiday and want to come back.  The Aviemore Centre with its Swimming, Cinema, Go-carts and suchlike is there as a backstop, for large scale activities. Various businesses have grown up to cater for snowless skiers and washed out campers on a smaller scale, such as the fish farm where you can look at the fish, buy the fish for your tea ( and mighty fine they taste too !) or if you prefer, an instructor will teach you the rudiments of fly-fishing in the morning, so that you can go out and catch your supper in the afternoon.  OK so fishing at a fish farm may not present a great challenge, however handling a 12 foot fly rod is actually not easy and the whole thing is a really good day out.

He was the founder of Grantown-on-Spey in the mid 18th Century, wanting those on his estates to have better living conditions. At various times served as a Member of Parliament, Cashier of Excise for Scotland, Lord Lieutenant, and Sheriff of Inverness-shire. In the last decade of the 18th century, Sir James raised and served as Colonel of two regiments – the 1st Strathspey Fencibles and the 97th Inverness-shire Highlanders.

The late 18th Century was a particularly difficult time for the Highlands, in addition to the aftermath of rebellion, there was a long period of appalling weather, bad even by Scottish standards with crop failure, floods, drought, snowstorms and ultimately famine. 

Unlike most landlords of there time, Sir James did not sit back and ignore the plight of his tenants, whilst still demanding that rents must be paid. On numerous occasions he personally paid for large quantities of grain and other food to be imported and distributed to his tenants. Where rents were not paid very few if any were evicted and he did his best to find employment for as many as possible on his estate works.  This did however have the inevitable consequence of making Sir James' finances get into a parlous condition and when he died at Castle Grant in 1811 he left his heirs a somewhat reduced (Though still vast ) estate 

 

Over the years Sir James’ personal debts mounted. His massive financial burdens were brought about by his own tenants’ inability to pay their rents. He also had to deal with the tragic personal loss of children, the mental illness of his eldest son and heir, Lewis Alexander, the eventual loss of his wife, and finally his own declining health. Sir James Grant of Grant, Baronet, “the good Sir James,” died at Castle Grant in 1811.  He was greatly missed by many.

The Doune.

The Doune is the mansion that comes free with the land if you buy Rothiemurchus. It is    t' big'owse where t'Laird lives. Or it was anyway.  It is situated in a truly delightful backwater where the road from CoylumBridge South towards Dalnavert, passes between the Spey and loch An-Eilein. Here an unobtrusive aside turn takes you to The Doune.  

It is a beautiful old house that looks so much like part of the landscape that nit is easy to think that it grew with the trees rather than having been built.

The main body of the house was built on the mid 16th Century, subsequently being extended and re-modelled as large houses tend to be.  In particular in the latter years of the 18th Century a large extension was built that gave the current house its elegant Georgian frontage. The Grant family lived at The Doune until the mid 20th Century.

The Doune was very much the largest "Big House" in the area, the next comparable ( though much bigger ) house would be Castle Grant at Grantown on Spey. In Victorian times such houses needed a very large staff  to keep them going, virtually all tasks still being done by hand.  This provided a great many job opportunities for the local people.  A considerable number of the household staff would live in,  mostly women they would be housemaids, ladies-maids, kitchen-maids etc. There would also be The Butler, and various footmen inside the house.  Outside it would mainly be men, many being the husbands of the indoor staff.  There would be Gardners and skilled tradesmen such as joiners or builders employed in the near constant maintenance of a large old house in the Scottish climate.

A house such as The Doune made a considerable difference to the local economy,  a family like the Grants would not stints themselves when it came to the good things in life and if local craftsmen and traders could organise themselves to supply the better quality goods and services, then there was money to be made.

Quite a number of Cameron family members worked at The Doune in various capacities. The most notable being James Cameron(1836-01900) who was Grieve at the Doune for quite a number of years in the late 19th Century.

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