Episodes 33 and 34 – Aberangell, Gwynedd and Aberarder, Inverness

Aberangell

Our next tour stop is a small village in the Welsh county of Gwynedd. Situated on the border of Snowdonia National Park, Aberangell is a short drive north-east of the market town Machynlleth, on Wales’s west coast.

Here Afon (or river) Angell arrives at Afon Dyfi. If you love nature then it’s a great place to visit and explore the forest and hills. You might also find the ruins of old slate mines, where a great hole would be dug out of the ground to form a quarry.

Once there was a railway station at Aberangell, opened in 1867. Passengers went on the line until 1901, when passenger services ended. Freight continued until 1908 when it was finally closed down. The station at Aberangell was used as an exchange from the Hendre-Ddu tramway system onto the main railway system.

The Hendre-Ddu trams didn’t run on the same type of tracks as the main line. It was a private line, carrying timber and slate down from the Hendre-Ddu quarry. This output nearly a thousand tons of slate in 1883, with 31 men working there. Over time production decreased and in 1946 it closed for good.

One slate mine owner lived in Aberangell, and bought his home – Bryn Derwen – for just £6,000. It is still lived in today.

Aberarder

We now need to travel a long way. Back into England, up the M6, through Scotland almost all the way to Inverness. Here is Aberarder, one of four villages around Loch Ruthven, to the south east of Loch Ness. It is at the top of Strath Nairn, where the River Nairn first forms its course before making its way to the sea.

Here in the Scottish Highlands, for hundreds of years the rule of law was given by the lairds who managed these difficult lands underneath the lordship of their clan chieftains. Aberarder’s first laird appears in the 1600s, Duncan son of Chief Lachlan Mor Mackintosh. Duncan would become the founder of the Aberarder branch of the family, which would last two hundred years.

Duncan lived until 1651, in the middle of the Civil War period. He should have been buried in the family plot at Petty, but there was a problem – Oliver Cromwell and his English Army were in the neighbourhood. The Mackintosh clan were firmly Royalist, as were many in Highland Scotland, so it would not have been wise to risk going there for the burial. Instead, he was buried at Dunlichity.

The Black Baillie of Aberarder

Duncan’s heir was his son, William, known as the ‘Black Baillie of Aberarder’. A ‘baillie’ is a local judge. All the Mackintosh lairds would have been baillies, but William is particularly well-known. In 1883, his name could still be seen carved over the door and the chimney of the old family house. There was also the remnant of a cairn marking the location where criminals would be executed under his orders.

It is said that William desired to get hold of the neighbouring property of Glenbeg for his own. And so the Black Baillie set out a devious plan.

He ordered his servant up to Glenbeg to steal away some of the owner’s corn from his fields. The owner was a rash man, and when he heard what was happening he rushed on the servant and killed him. Immediately after, the owner realised what he had done and was so horrified that he fled the country.

The property was left abandoned. William seized it and took it.

Another story about William is that he sent his attendant Calum Luath (meaning ‘swift’) to Edinburgh with papers for an ongoing lawsuit. The journey being over a hundred miles through difficult terrain, it would take many days to go both ways.

When Calum arrived in Edinburgh, he was told that his master was needed in the city as soon as possible. So instead of resting he immediately headed back to Aberarder.

William could not believe his eyes when he saw Calum back so quickly. In fact, he disbelieved that the man had even got to Edinburgh. Furious at this perceived unfaithfulness, he stabbed the man with his dirk (a small knife). When he saw the papers his attendant had brought back with him, he realised he had been wrong and wept tears over him. Whether Calum recovered or not, we do not know.

William Mackintosh died a little before 1660, and was succeeded by his son Lachlan, third laid of Aberarder.

Battle of Maol Ruadh

For a long time the Macdonalds of Keppoch had been holding onto land at Lochaber that the Mackintoshes had a claim to. The chief of Clan Mackintosh, also called Lachlan, decided to press the issue. The Scottish Privy Council granted him a ‘Commission of fire and sword’ against Archibald MacDonald, which meant he could take justice into his own hands. The clans would go to war.

In 1682, Archibald died. His son Coll succeeded him. Young Coll was a student at St. Andrews University, and believed that he could get out of this issue without a fight. He tried to have a peace negotiation with the Mackintoshes, offering that the MacDonalds pay rent for the land they were holding, but Lachlan rejected it and threw Coll into prison for a short time. Bad mistake.

In 1688 the government renewed the commission. But it would not just be clan against clan. Government troops would be joining the Mackintoshes in their battle.

The Mackintoshes, along with a number of other clans they held allegiance with, marched on Lochaber. The MacDonalds retreated to call for aid from their kinsmen.

On 4 August, Coll MacDonald had 800 men – half the number of his enemy. But he was smart. He placed them on a hill called Maol Ruadh. The Mackintoshes would have to come up the hill to meet him.

Foolishly, this is what they did. It was slaughter. One of the men wounded there gave a testimony of the battle:

The two clans was both on Foot and our Companie was still with McIntosh, who marched towards McDonald and his Clan, until we came in sight of them, (which made me wish I had been spinning tobacco). McIntosh sent one of his friends to McDonald to treat with him, and see if he would come to reasonable terms, McDonald directly denyed, but would fight it be the event as it would: Then both parties ordered their men to march up the hill, a company being in the front, we drew up in line of battle as we could, our company being on the right: we were no sooner in order, but there appears double our number of the McDonalds, which made us then fear the worst, at least for my part, I repeated my former wish, (I never having seen the like). The McDonalds came down the hill upon us without either shoe, stocking, or bonnet on their head, they gave a shout, and then the fire began on both sides, and continued a hot dispute for an hour; then they brok in upon us with sword and target, and Lochaber axes, which obliged us to give way, seeing my captain sore wounded, and a great many more with heads lying cloven on every side, I was sadly affrighted, never having seen the like before, a Highlander attacked me with sword and targe, and cut my wouden handled bayonet out of the muzel of my gun; I then clubbed my gun and gave him a stroke with it, which made the butt-end to fly off; seeing the Highland men to come fast upon me, I took to my heels and run thirty miles before I looked behind me, every person I saw or met, I took for my enemy…

Laird Lachlan of Aberarder and his brothers were present at the battle, and all were killed. Chief Lachlan Mackintosh survived.

Lachlan’s son and heir was William, the fourth laird, who came into his inheritance in 1692. William had trained as an advocate at Kings College, Aberdeen. He died around 1723, leaving two sons and a daughter. The eldest son Lachlan, fifth laird, died soon after, and his second son William, sixth laird, succeeded him.

A Bad Marriage

This William is supposed to be the builder of Aberarder House. It was to be where he and his wife Isabella Macpherson would live following their marriage in 1729.

But the marriage got off to a rocky start, literally. When Isabella entered the house, the mantel stone of the dining room fell and broke in two. This may have caused the start or rebirth of a saying that a Mackintosh and a Macpherson could never agree. Most likely the damage was actually caused by an extra-hot fire being set up to welcome the new couple home after their long journey across the hills.

Either way, the marriage only got worse. William was violent towards his wife, and in the end she had to leave her family for her own safety. She lived until 1783, long after her husband and children had died.

William died in 1743, succeeded by his son John Mackintosh, the seventh laid. Don’t celebrate too long about having a different name than Lachlan or William. John only lived a few more years, died unmarried, and in turn was succeeded by his brother. William, the eight laird.

Battle of Bergen

William died in 1763 leaving his son William as his heir. I’ve not seen him called laird of Aberarder, though. William was a captain in the 92nd Gordon Highlanders in the British Army.

Following the French revolution, the new French Republic began a series of wars against its neighbouring countries. The other European nations had to decide whether they supported the revolutionaries or the French king. The British came down in support of the monarchy.

The French invaded Holland in 1795, turning it into a French satellite nation called the Batavian republic. The British responded by taking over Dutch colonies abroad. They also intended to land troops in Holland and take it back.

One of the battles in the war for Holland was The Battle of Bergen, which took place in 1799. Britain and Russia were on one side, and the French and the Batavian Republic on the other.

The allies landed in North Holland with a numerically superior army. They should have won. But the plans took no account of the poor state of the roads, and this delayed the arrival of vital reinforcements at a key moment in the battle.

Another problem was that even though the British and Russians had set a timetable for their plans, they forgot to synchronise their clocks. Russia was swamped by the French before the British even got there, and facing severe losses was forced to retreat.

The first division of the army landed on the morning of the twenty-seventh of August without opposition; but the troops had scarcely formed on a ridge of sand hills, at a little distance from the beach, when they were attacked bt the enemy, who were however driven back, after a sharp contest of some hours’ duration. The 92d, which formed a part of General Moore’s brigade, was not engaged in this affair; but in the battle which took place at Bergen on the second of October it took a very distinguished share. General Moore was so well pleased with the heroic conduct of the corps on this occasion, that, when he was made a knight of the Bath, and obtained a grant of supporters for his armorial bearings, he took a soldier of the Gordon Highlanders in full uniform as one of his supporters, and a lion as the other. In the action alluded to the 92d has Captain William Mackintosh, Lieutenants Alexander Fraser, Gordon Machardy, three sergeants and fifty-four rank and file, killed and colonel, the Marquis of Huntly, Captains John Cameron, Alexander Gordon, Peter Grant, John Maclean, Lieutenants George Fraser, Charles Chadd, Norman Macleod, Donald Macdonald, Ensigns Charles Cameron, John Macpherson, James Bent, G W Holmes, six sergeants, one drummer and one hundred and seventy-five rank and file, wounded.

Despite the best efforts of the 92nd Highlanders and the other British forces, the earlier mistakes meant they had to retreat. William was amongst a total of six British officers killed. For the British it was not a heavy loss, but the Russians and the French Republicans suffered total losses in the thousands.

William’s sister Mary had died twenty years previously. Since neither William nor Mary had any children, the inheritance of Aberarder went to their Aunt Jane, who did not live much longer.

After some contest, Mary’s husband John Mackintosh, Provost of Inverness, gained Aberarder in 1800.

Now we enter the nineteenth century. John and his second wife Katherine had several children, who inherited the property after he died. But they left no heirs, and after the younger son Charles’s death the property finally left the hands of the Mackintosh family.

Aberarder House was rebuilt in 1873 by architect Alexander Ross, who was involved with designing many buildings across Scotland. His was one of the designs proposed for St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, though it lost by a very narrow margin. Today, the house is a private estate.

In April this year, approval was given for a wind power farm to be set up in the area.

Next week we shall leave this highland home and head south, just past Perth, to Aberargie. Join me next week.


References

Aberangell

Aberarder

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