Walking Kirrandrum June 2018

Panoramic view from the Fleming house of hills and Ben Vrackie
Panoramic view from the Fleming house of Tay Valley and the hills

Kirrandrum as Roy Fleming explained, “was that small portion of land about two acres in extent situated on the brow of the hill directly above the village of Ballinluig.” The farm had named from the two Celtic words: “Kirrean meaning a rooster’s comb and drum meaning top or summit, descriptive of the topographical shape of the place.” However, in total Kirrandrum had about sixty-five acres of farming land, according to Roy.

In fact, the track to enter the land is scarcely a mile out of Ballinluig on the Tulliemet Road – turn to the right before Port of Tummel. In the Canmore records for Historic Scotland, a search for Kirrandrum brings up Dalnabo, an adjacent farm with the former Kirrandrum to its north.  See this map for Canmore ID 131784. (Copyright restrictions prevent reproduction here.)

James Stewart leased the land as a tenant from the Duke of Atholl from 1800 to 1851, having taken over the lease from his wife’s family, Janet MacIntosh.  Jean, their eldest daughter in a family of eleven children, married Alexander Fleming from the Mains of Killmorich. They settled at Kirrandrum, living there for most of the years between 1824 to 1843 when they emigrated to Canada. Alexander, a stone mason by trade, built their house and the garden walls.

Roy described the farm in detail after a visit in 1903 with his Aunt Jennie, Uncle James, and cousin Minnie. Assisted by his Aunt Jessie’s recollections from her time there as a  young girl, he was able to sketch the layout. That drawing is reproduced below with thumbnails of photographs taken on the property. Larger images and the video are included in the text below.

Sketch of Kirrandrum by Roy Fleming with photographs taken of the farmland in June 18, 2018
Sketch of Kirrandrum by Roy Fleming with photographs taken on June 18, 2018. [Click here for larger size ]

Many Flemings have visited this  “ancestral land”.  The stories about their ancestors’ lives in Kirrandrum and their attachment to the Highlands have been passed down through four generations. Roy’s cousin, C.A. Fleming from Owen Sound, visited in 1924.  Bruce Fleming, Roy’s son, came and took a photo in 1945, and travelled again with his daughter Ruth and wife in the 1960s. Roy’s sister Annie and husband John McKinnon came in 1936. Others have also made the pilgrimage.

Roy described the arrangement of buildings and gardens. (Alexander Fleming is shortened to AF.)

Attached to AF’s house was another equal in size, where James Stewart, a cotter, lived (No relation of the family), and where the schoolmaster Robert Ferguson boarded. In front of these two houses, nearer the brow of the hill was the house of James Stewart father of Jean Stewart. On the south end of the enclosure were the steadings where the cows and fodder were kept. The vegetable garden occupied the remaining ground above the hillside on the west side of the dwellings. Around the little settlement was a solid dyke of stone built by AF – owing to the slope of the west towards Tay valley, the ground was filled in level with the top of the dykes and the wall is visible therefore only on the outside of the garden.

But in 1903, the visitors from Canada found few signs of habitation.

The double houses in the north end of which AF lived, we found amongst ox-eyed daisies, nettles and Scotch thistles, and even a few blue bells. There still was left the foundation stonework a foot or so high, and a part of the open fireplace that once gave warmth and shelter to the family that so often gathered round it, and where was taught that kindliness of heart and nobleness of character which it was the parents desire to instill into the minds of their children, and which we trust may follow after in all the generations.

In June 2018. when guide Eddie Thomson (Heartland Tours) and researcher Gwen Harris visited Kirrandrum, the Scotch thistles were growing with digitalis among the stones from demolished walls and yellow daisies dotted the fields. The garden wall that ran the length of the property still stands securely, but of Alexander’s double house only mounds of rocks remain, and some faint traces of other buildings can be found in the grasses.

Eddie Thomson at site of Alexander Fleming's house

Eddie Thomson standing by Alexander Fleming’s house

Rock pile of stones at the site of Alexander Fleming's house
Rockpile of stones at the site of Alexander Fleming’s house with digitalis
The dry-stone wall that Alexander Fleming built in the 1820s.

Entrance to the property is from the northern corner on the upper ridge. Walking directly east across the field, we passed an old forge on the left and across to the remains of the Fleming house. Looking southwest affords a magnificent view of the Tay and Tummel Valley and of the hills of Creag Moiseach and the Woodend of Logierait. The first third of the property is on higher land but has a sunken circular expanse that gets soggy in the spring and is likely the former flax pond.  A fence of stones, oak and common beech trees, mark the separation of Alexander’s area from the downward sloping hill leading to his father-in-law’s house, barns, stables, and small cottages – as drawn by Roy.

View of field from Fleming house to the line of trees.
View of the field from the Fleming house to the line of trees similar to the photo taken by Bruce Fleming in 1942

Stones and trees separate upper part of farm from the lower

Stones and trees of oak and common beech separate the upper part of the farm from the lower area.

We were able to identify a wall of what had likely been the stables in the lower, east corner, and could see where the stream from the flax pond exited the property.

*** Eddie points out the walls in this video.

Remains of a wall, probably the stables.
Remains of a wall, probably of the stables.

Kirrandrum - Dry stream bed at end of the dyke. Would have drained the old flax pond.
Dry stream bed at the end of the wall/dyke.

The land slopes rapidly from this point and ends at the Dalnabo Farm, a well-kept and seemingly prosperous place. Roy’s drawing shows a milk house and unspecified farm buildings at the end of the land area, but that might have been based on his Aunt Jessie’s recollections rather than direct observation. Nowhere in the Fleming papers is there any mention of Dalnabo.

Looking downhill to Dalnabo Farm. Would have had farm buildings.
Looking downhill to Dalnabo Farm. This area would have had farm buildings.

Dalnabo Farm adjacent to Kirrandrum at south end. Note stone barn and

Dalnabo Farm

Dalnabo Farm, adjacent to Kirrandrum at the south end, has a large stone barn and a “blackhouse” stone shed that might be a converted farm building or former living quarters.  The blackhouse used to be the traditional abode in the Highlands and suggests that the farm had a history.  Donald Macgregor lived there in 1872 (1), and he was the tenant at Kirrandrum in 1871 (2). Perhaps Macgregor took on the lease for Dalnabo and absorbed Kirrandrum?

One thing is sure – this is a beautiful landscape. The sky is big and the hills are green, the streams are fast flowing and the salmon jump. It may rain, but the sun will break through. If you are seeking ancestral lands (and have wondered how we walked Kirrandrum), know that in Scotland the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003  grants the right of access by foot onto land for educational and recreational purposes.  More about public access in Scotland and “freedom to roam.”

Reference:

  1. Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, (W Blackwood and Sons, 1897). Donald Macgregor is listed as a member of the society since 1872, Dalnabo Cottage, Ballinluig. Source: Google Books, https://books.google.ca/books?id=9pQZAQAAIAAJ (accessed 9 July 2018)
  2. Fleming, Roy.  Fleming Family History. List of tenants and rents of Kirrandrum Farm – research done through Blair Archives by Roy Fleming. Privately published.