Places of Interest, Ben Lawers and Drummond Hill

By James Irvine Robertson

T

he north side of the loch is dominated by Ben Lawers. At 3,984 feet, it is Perthshire's tallest mountain but a maddening 16 feet short of joining the expanding number of Scottish peaks - now nine - over 4,000 feet. It was up there with them once. In the nineteenth century a patriotic son of Perthshire, Malcolm Ferguson, raised a 16 foot-high cairn on the peak. But the frost and winter blizzards that sweep the high tops between here and Loch Rannoch have ground off all but a small scatter of stones. Lawers is a remarkable hill, in summer only a bracing walk to climb. Its complex Alpine flora, unique in Scotland, only just survived the Victorian plant collectors. On a clear day from its summit you can see Arthur's Seat to the east and Ailsa Craig off Ayrshire to the west and, of course, Ben Nevis.

In the last few summers, Glasgow University archeologists have been exploring the mountain and have discovered the remains of scores of little houses, ranging from the bronze age to the nineteenth century and reaching above the 3,000 foot contour line. Limestone underlies much of the surrounds of Loch Tay which creates sweet grass facing south to the sun.

Drummond Hill - Drummond comes from the Gaelic dromainn which means a ridge - used to have little farms upon it but was planted by the Breadalbanes in 1754 and was the first planned forestry plantation in Scotland. In the nineteenth century the marquis reintroduced the capercaillie to Drummond Hill. There are still a few of these turkey-size grouse around but they are trembling on the verge of extinction once again since, rather than fly over deer fences, they will try to fly through them with deleterious results. This same marquis stocked the lands round Taymouth with buffaloes, zebras and wildebeest and then invited his guests to shoot them. A buffalo skull with a brace of bullet holes in its head has surfaced from the Tay within the last decade.

'Cuimhnichibh na Doine o'n d'thainig sibh' (Remember the men from whom you have come) is the Gaelic tag carved on the statue of David Stewart at Keltneyburn. The lives of the many thousands of people whose remains fill the little burial grounds scattered across this, their country, were hard and dangerous compared with ours but filled with a rich culture of poetry, music and a spirituality that flourished here for a thousand years. Few descendants of those countless generations are left in these straths and even fewer retain the link to the land. But, just as their landscape was created by their Pictish predecessors, so the Gaels have bequeathed theirs to us. We should honour them and remember them. Perhaps our successors will accord us the same recognition.