Meet your ancestors at Spittal of Glen Muick

THE lives and struggles of some of the hardiest people of Scotland's past will be brought to life in a special event at Spittal of Glen Muick on Monday (31 August).

For nearly 200 years, the secrets of a clutch of granite shapes at the business end of Loch Muick slumbered in the heather, unrecognised as the valuable archaeological and historical markers of a time when The Spittal – as it's known locally – was a droving and commercial highway, and an entire village scratched a living from the inhospitable slope.

The site is now part of Balmoral Estate, whose Ranger Service have worked with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) to unveil the mystery of the old township which had gone from hub to rubble in a few short years and wasn't even recorded on the first Ordinance Survey map of the area.

Under the Scotland's Rural Past (SRP) scheme, the rangers and archaeologists have discovered ten longhouses, a whisky still, corn drying kiln, barn, kale yard, drove road and the remains of an old inn.

The community consisted mostly of peasant farmers and their families who worked on the land, growing crops of oats and barley in the old runrig system. Most walls were made of granite, but the people couldn't cut it, so the corners of their homes were rounded. It was the evidence of so many of these, spotted from the air, that first showed a greater scale than had ever been recorded.

Roofs were thatched with whatever they could find, usually heather; the dirt floor was strewn with straw and the family lived at one end with the cow at the other. The hearth was in the middle, with the smoke going out through a hole in the thatch.

Yet, these people were skilled in all manner of things and had a bigger glimpse of the outside world than many other communities of the time because of the volume of passing and seasonal human traffic.

Their fascinating lives and legends can be glimpsed on Monday when the Balmoral Rangers are offering a free guided tour of the Spittal of Glen Muick township.

Head Ranger Glyn Jones said: "Come along and meet the township residents along the way. You'll hear some of their tales and find out how they live."

Meanwhile, the last of four summer children's fun events was held at the Spittal on Monday, 17 August, when Balmoral Ranger Chris Taylor built on the success of the previous one, which had concentrated on shelter building.

The natural tent shelters were still standing, so Chris let the new group of children examine them thoroughly, before leading them to a different site to practise firelighting with just one match, then leaving no trace in the natural surroundings.

Although Chris intended the fires to be an expansion of his survival theme, the flames gave added comfort by keeping at bay some particularly vicious midgies who were threatening to spoil the party.

Later, in the midge-free safety of the Visitor Centre, the children had great fun dissecting barn owl pellets, which look like some kind of poo, but are the indigestible bits of fur and skeletons which the birds cough back up after eating their prey.

This was followed by a storytelling session featuring legends about trees, and the afternoon was rounded off with a wild boar hunt (Muick is Gaelic for wild boar).

The Meet Your Ancestors event is at Spittal of Glen Muick from 2 – 4pm on Monday, 31 August. It is free, but booking is essential. Telephone (013397) 55059.

For more information, go to: www.scotlandsruralpast.org.uk; www.balmoralcastle.com; www.rcahms.gov.uk.