The Family of Birnie

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1798 Parish Survey

Situation, Soil, Climate.  Besides the valleys which the rivers occupy, and may be conceived to have formed, in the chain of mountains ftretched  along the fouthern fide of the low lands of the Moray, one valley, in which there is no river, opens fourthward from the wideft part of the plain, where the weftern fide of the parifh of Elgin borders with the eaft of Birnie, and extends quite through the mountain to the banks of the Spey. A fquare hill, about 6 miles long the bafe of every fide, is hereby infulated on the fide of this defile, having the plain of Rothes on the fourth, on the eaft partly Rothes, and partly Speymouth, and the champaign of Moray on its northern fide. The Mountain on the weftern fide of this defile extends beyond its length to either hand, from Craig Elachy overhanging the Spey, to the lake of Mofstowie in the parifh of Alves; as if that river, once occupying a channel along its bafe 60 feet higher than its prefent bed, had then poured its whole ftream through this defile, and winding over the plain, on a variety of courfes during different ages, into the fea.

 The parifh of Birnie is placed in the entrance of this defile, extended partly on the plain, and partly on the fide of the mountain, through which the water of Loffie, iffuing from its own valley in the mountain, bends from its original direction parallel to the Firth, winds northward along the plain, doubled almoft  in its ftream by the increafe of three brooks, the Lenoch, Bardon, and Rafcrook, each tumbling from the hill through its own narrow vale. It appears by the Chart. Mor. That the parifh  has bore the name Brenuth fince times that were ancient in the beginning of the 13th century, a Gaelic appellation, fignifying, in its literal interpretation, the north hill fide. The cultivated land is generally a fhallow (missing text), a fhallow foil, fandy, ftoney, and fteep, lying on a bed of rock, or much concreted gravel. Thefoil on feveral fields on the banks of the Loffie is loam incumbent on fand, or clay; and over the whole parifh, plots of mooifh or pear foil are found. The air, though healthful, is rather moift and cold in the hills, where thefroft is earlier and fharper, and more rain and fnow fall, than on the plain.

State of Property.  The whole parifh was part of the lands of the bifhrick. The Regent Earl of Moray obliged Bifhop Hepburn, on the pretence of entertaining his outlawed nephew Bothwell, about the year 1566, to annex it with other lands, to his private eftate. The hills affording game in abundance, one croft, for the Earl's accommodation in the hunting feafon, was affigned to the vintner, for the yearly payment of a rofe, and another to the blacksmith for the annual delivery of a horfe-fhoe, if required. This laft has ftill remained a feparate property, and appertains to Thomas Stephen Efg. Phyfician in Elgin, valued in cefs book of the county at L.616s.6d. Scots, now rented at about L.12 Sterling. The remainder of the parifh appertains to the Earl of Finflater, valued at L727. 17s amounting to L.360 sterling of yearly rent, from which the feu-duties to the Earl of Moray are 8 bolls and L.1. 10s. 10d. The whole arable land of the parifh is 850 acres, of which two farms only are rented above L.50 sterling: and there are 40 under that extent. The uncultivated ground, confifing of moor foil and peat earth, with fome interjacent plots of green pafture, amounts to 5000 acres.

State Eccefiafticial.  The church was the firft cathedral in the diocefe. There is no account when the prefent fabric was built; although fmall, it is wholly of free ftone, neatly fquared and cut, and is dftinguifhed by its nave and choir.  The fourth Bifhop, Simon de Tonie, was buried in it in the year 1184.  The ftipend is Lxx,16s. 5d. and 38 bolls 2firlots of victual. The glebe is nearly 9 acres. The right of patronage appertains to the Earl of Moray. The falary of the fchool is L.5; ans as the number of fouls in the parifh, of whom 2 only are Seceders, amounts to 402, the compliments of the office, arifing from about 20 fcholars, must be in-confiderable. The provifion for the poor arifes from two feparate bequeathments amounting together to L.2 10s.; and the double of thafum is added by the contributions of the people who attend public worship in the parifh church, which, after the neceffary deductions to the feffion clerk and officer, affords a forry pittance to 18 people, enrolled on the parifh lift.

Mifcellaneous Information. The people, though poor, are induftrious, cheerful, and temperate: mufic is their favorite diverfion; many play on the bag pipe, and feveral on the violin. There is a very ancient bell of copper and filver; it is called the Coronach: its figure is not round; it is fquare, having two fides wider than the other two: all of then are cut into open decorations near the top.  It was made in Rome, and confecrated by the Pope. The confecrated font remains alfo entire, though now tumbled about without reverence in the church-yard. It is a free ftone veffel, the fruftum of a cone, and appears to have been divided by a plate of iron. That the water for the baptifm of males might not be mixed with that of females. The church is ftill held in great veneration. It is believed that prayers there for the fick, for three following Sundays, will be heard; and people at the diftance of 60 miles, have defired thefe proayers: and it is a jocular rebule amoung the common people, upon undue complaint for any fight diftrifs or improper behavior, that "fuch muft be prayed for in the church of Birnie, that they may end, or mend".  The cairn of Kilforeman, although a pile of ftone 300 feet in circumference at the bafe. Hath ceafed to tell the purpofe of its own accumulation; and the Bible Stone, about a mile eaftward from the church, having the figure of a book diftinctly engraven, no longer marks the property of the Bifhop: but the cave in the rock of Gedlock still records the tradition of its having been the haunt of a band of armed robbers, who plundered and diftreffed the country, and reminds the paffing generation of the fuperior advantages of the prefent conftitution, by which every fpecies of oppreffion, unauthorized by law, is moft entirely quelled. The veftiges of an encampment, protected on the weft by the brook Bardon, and on the north and eaft by a deep defile, is ftill to be traced.

A ridge of rock extends from the eaft to weft through the middle of the parifh. And quarries of free ftone, flate, and lime-ftone, have lately been difcovered. There are oak and fir are dug in the tracts of peat earth. Broom, furze, juniper, floes, and bramble, are in plenty, and the water-lily in the Gedloch is peculiar to the parifh. It is embellifned alfo in fome degree by two water-falls, the Lin of Shoggle, and the Efs of Glenlaterach, each about 20 feet in height.

Chapter III, pages 142-145 K.Birnie

Birnie Kirk

Birnie Palace