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Robert Dick of Thurso
Chapter I. Tullibody


The village of Tullibody stands on rising ground situated between the windings of the Forth and the Devon, in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, the Devon takes its rise among the burns and rivulets which flow down from the Ochil Hills.

At the upper part of the river, stands some of the most romantic scenery in Scotland is to be, found. At the Caldron Linn the, Devon forms a series of cascades, which rush down through precipus rocks into almost unseen depths. Boiling about down Caldrons, it passes with a violent noise under the Rumblin’ Brig, which spans the rocks about a hundred and twenty feet above the bed of the river.

Another affluent of the Devon comes down from the Ochils at Castle Campbell—Castle of Gloom, as it used to be called—a ruined building occupying a wild and romantic situation on the summit of a high and almost insulated rock. The mount on which it is situated is nearly encompassed on all sides by thick bosky woods; and the mountain rivulets which tumble down through the chasms on either side, become united at the base. The whole of the scenes about the upper Devon are of the most romantic kind, and are strikingly different from all other Scottish scenery.

As the river winds out from its rocky bed below the Caldron Linn, it enters the beautiful open valley which runs along the foot of the Ochils, taking on its way the rivulets which flow down from the mountains. It runs westward near Dollar, Tillicoultry, Alva, and Menstrie; then, winding sharp round towards the south near Tullibody, it joins the Forth .at Cambus a little below the ruins of Cambuskemmeth Abbey.

Among his many beautiful verses descriptive of the rivers of Scotland, Burns has not forgotten the Devon :—

"How pleasant .the banks of the clear winding Devon,
With green spreading bushes and flowers blooming fair!”

The verses were composed as a poetic compliment to Miss Charlotte Haminton, a charming lady, then residing at Harvieston, near Dollar.

The lofty range of the Ochils is a prominent feature in the scenery of the Devon. The hills are soft, green, and pastoral. Their sunward slopes are here and there varied with magnificent wooded glades, intermingled with copse and whins, which in their golden summer yellow are supremely beautiful. The burns and streamlets come down in cascades through the deep rifts of the hills, and are turned to use in many mills along the valley.

The glens and wooded copses behind it are full of beauty. The old ballad nevertheless assumes the supremacy of Menstrie, near the foot of Dunmyat:—

“Oh, Alva’s woods are bonnie,
Tillicoultry’s hills are fair,
But when I think o’ the bonnie braes o’ Menstrie,
It makes my heart aye sair.”

The village of Tullibody looks down upon the “bonnie braes o’ Menstrie.” A valley lies between, along which runs the clear winding Devon. A bridge spans the river near Tullibody, from which a fine view is obtained of the winding Devon, the hill of Bencleuch, and the village and woods of Alva at its base. In this neighbourhood the famous adventure of James the Fifth and the Gudeman of Ballangeich occurred. On the Gudeman’s visit to Stirling, the King designated him as “King of the Muirs.” The cottage in which King James took shelter lay on an eminence near Tullibody, about a mile south of the Ochils.

Tullibody seems in some way to have been connected with that mythical people the Picts. Who were the Picts or Pechs? Many have tried to unravel the story, but the result has been mere guesswork. Some say that they occupied the Orkneys, Caithness, and Sutherland; others that they inhabited Mid-Scotland, between the West Highlands and the Lowlands north of the Forth. We hear of them at Brechin, at Galloway, and along the Picts’ Wall. Some say they were Celts, others Scandinavians. The riddle is as yet quite unsolved.

The story goes that the Picts were totally defeated by King Kenneth in the neighbourhood of Tullibody, or Dunbodenum3 in the year 843, after five successive battles. It is said that the final overthrow of the Piets took place near the village of Logie, close under Dunmyat; and others that it took place at Cambuskenneth Abbey, which “ was built by David the Second on the very spot where his royal ancestor gave the final blow to the Pictish dominion.”

In commemoration of the event it is said that a “Standing Stane” was first erected at Tullibody,—a usual method of distinguishing the site of a battle in ancient times. The “Standing Stane” was, however, demolished about fifty years ago, the broken fragments being found useful in mending the roads.

The Abbot of Cambuskenneth took Tullibody under his charge, whether in connection with the victory of Kenneth Macalpine over the Picts, or because the place was in his immediate vicinity, does not appear. At all events, a primitive place of worship was erected at Tullibody, which long continued to be an appendage to the wealthy Abbey of Cambuskenneth.

At the period of the Reformation in Scotland, when the French troops under Mary of Guise were flying westward through Fife and Clackmannan on the arrival of the English fleet in the Forth, William Kirkaldy of Grange, to impede their progress, destroyed the eastern arch of Tullibody bridge.

The French, under General D’Oysel, never at a loss in an emergency, unroofed the church at Tullibody for the purpose of repairing the bridge. To use the words of John Knox:—“Ye French, expert enough in sic feats, tuke downe ye roofe of a paroch kirk, and made ane brig over ye water called Devon, and sae they escapet and gaed to Stirling, and thereafter to Death.”

For a long time nothing was done to repair the church, after the French had unroofed it. The ancient walls fell to decay, and became covered with wild weeds. The body of the church was used as a burial-place. The place might have gone to utter ruin but for the Aber-cromby family, who own the estate of Tullibody. They roofed over the church, and seated it as a place of worship. They erected some fine monuments and memorials in and about it to the memory of the distinguished men of the family. Among them is a cenotaph to the distinguished Sir Ealph Abercromby, the hero of Aboukir.

Having thus described the scenery of the Ochils and the Devon, amongst which Robert Dick spent many of his early days, we proceed to relate the story of his life.


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