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Royal Deeside : History of the Dinnet Area

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A Brief History of Dinnet

Although man is known to have arrived in Dinnet in the Mesolithic, more intense colonisation began around 2000 BC, towards the end of the Stone Age, when an advanced race of people from Holland and the Rhineland came to the area. With them came new ideas, new 'technologies' and the advent of the Bronze Age

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Castle Island, Loch Kinord,  Dinnet by Ballater
A Crannog is visible just behind Castle Island on Loch Kinord, Dinnet near Ballater

Bronze Age
Much has been gleaned about the Bronze Age and these early inhabitants from their burial sites found all over Deeside, visible remains of which can be seen on Mulloch Hill, New Kinord and the Burn O'Vat, all in the Muir of Dinnet. These so-called "short-cist people" or "beaker people" buried their dead in a crouched position in short cists made out of slab stone. These cists would often contain a beaker, or drinking vessel, to provide for the journey into the next world. There is nothing to suggest that these times were anything but peaceful and harmonious, with the community working on and living off the land, forests and rivers. Life would have been calm and quiet in those days - a state of affairs that wasn't to last much longer!

Iron Age
Around 700 BC, Celtic speaking immigrants, commonly thought of as the Celts, thought to have come from the continent, and fleeing the might of the Roman invaders, began to settle in the area in ever increasing numbers, bringing with them their already established techniques in defence and construction work, thus heralding the beginning of the Iron Age. Whether they blended in to the existing community, or simply eradicated them, is unknown, but further settlements were established and more intense farming began. Although many of the remains are now obscured by woodland, you can still identify parts the settlements at Old Kinord. These ruins, and others around them between Lochs Kinord and Davan, would have housed quite a sizable population, which remained for many hundreds of years.
During the second century AD, the population is known to have decreased drastically. Did the Romans finally track them down?

The Romans
On the earliest map of Scotland, prepared by the Roman astronomer Ptolameaeus in 146AD, is shown a settlement called Devana. Devana translates to "the town of the two lakes" and has been placed, by some, very near Lochs Davan and Kinord. Although all the remains in this area are known to be from the original Iron Age settlement, it is not inconceivable that it was sacked and taken over by the Roman invaders. Cynics may say that the size of the site hardly equates with that of a Roman town or even encampment and, indeed, that there is no archaeological evidence to prove that Devana was anywhere nearby, but you never know!!
So the Romans (possibly!) came and went and the population of Dinnet fell and rose again. Little changed until, towards the middle of middle of the first millennium AD, Christianity was introduced to the area.

The Christians
"A long, long night of darkness and silence now overshadowed Loch Kinord, broken only by a little star-light that shone through the gloom when the Christian religion was introduced among this ancient people" (Michie, 1877)
The last of St Ninians missionaries came to Deeside from Whithorn in the early 8th century. St Walloch, whose mission included Dinnet and surrounding lands, was believed to have been a foreigner although his true origins are unknown. He must have had quite a time in the area as his parishioners at the time were described by the historian Camerarius as "brute beasts….void of decency of manners and virtue…given only to eating, sleeping and gorging" I am happy to say of our forefathers, that Walloch succeeded in converting many to the Christian faith before his death in 733 AD. During his time in the area, he founded a church at Logie-Coldstone (4 miles from Dinnet), and at the cemetery there you can still see
"St Wallochs Stone", an enormous boulder erected in his name.

(Picture of St Wallochs stone)

Although sketchy, and not oft written about in great detail, the Middle Ages proved to be an exciting and fraught time for the inhabitants of Dinnet. Most of the remains still visible today are defensive sites, suggesting that the peace of the Dinnet folk was greatly disrupted yet again! Most of the sites, sadly, have not been well documented, therefore giving rise to debates on exact location, uses and inhabitants. One in particular that has been alluded to is a 'motte and bailey castle' somewhere on the shores of Loch Davan. This would have been a man-made earthen mound occupied by a castle, surrounded by a moat connected to the Loch by a sluice gate. This has been linked by some to the Hall of Logie-Rothwayne - or Ha' of Ruthven - the HQ of Andrew de Moray's troops before the Battle of Culblean. Although the exact location has always been a matter of debate, it is probable that the site is now home to Glendavan House, a Victorian Shooting Lodge overlooking the Loch. Castle Island, on Loch Kinord, which hosts an awesome history, was a stronghold for many hundreds of years, and most of the historical recounts about Dinnet in these times centre around here.

Battle of Culblean
(Picture of Culblean Hill)

On St Andrews Day 1335, a battle took place in the Muir of Dinnet that is said to have been instrumental in the Second War of Succession and Independence.

On the death of Robert the Bruce in 1329, his 5-year-old son David II was crowned the new King of Scotland. Being a minor, the law dictated that a 'Guardian of the Kingdom' be appointed until the new king came of age. At this time, the office was held by Sir Andrew de Moray.

These were dangerous and uncertain times in Scotland, with divided loyalties amongst the gentry and an ever-present threat from the English. For these reasons, the young king was sent to France for his own safety and the Royal family moved to the stronghold of Kildrummy Castle.

Edward III of England, capitalising on the political unrest in Scotland and the vulnerability of the Scottish Royal family, and wanting to re-establish English overlordship, engaged the help of David de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl - a devious and ambitious young man, who, himself, had rather spurious aspirations to the Scottish Throne. Along with an English-sponsored army, Atholl, or Earl Davy as he is more commonly known, marched north. Knowing that the timing could not be better, with the young king in France, the Royal family at Kildrummy Castle, and the Guardian in the Scottish Borders, Earl Davy moved quickly.

Earl Davy and his army, marched on and laid siege to Kildrummy Castle intending to overthrow the Royal family who were housed there. Included in the Royal party was Dame Christian Bruce, aunt to the young king and wife of Sir Andrew, the Guardian. She managed to send word to her husband, informing him of their unhappy situation and the implications to the whole of Scotland if Earl Davy were to succeed.

Sir Andrew reacted quickly, assembling an army of men from the Lothians including many from nobility, faithful to the Scottish throne. They marched north over the Grampians towards Dinnet, from where they intended to make all speed to Kildrummy to confront Earl Davy. In the meantime, Davy, having heard of the imminent arrival of Sir Andrew's troops from the south, lifted the siege at Kildrummy and hastened south. It is unsure as to whether he was fleeing or, more likely, hoping to surprise the Royalist troops with an early, unexpected attack. Regardless, on the 29th November 1335, the two armies found themselves camped 'within striking distance' at the foot of Culblean Hill.

Earl Davy had set up camp in the Burn O'Vat, and Sir Andrew's Headquarters was the 'Hall of Logy-Rothwayne'. The exact location of this camp has always been a matter for debate, although it is thought to have been the existing motte and bailey castle on the eastern shores of Loch Davan. Both armies are said to have been made up of about 3000 men, although with the arrival of John of the Craig, who had joined Sir Andrew's forces from Kildrummy, the Royalist forces had the slightly upper hand, in particular with a larger cavalry division.

Map of Culblean Battlefield, Dinnet near Ballater
Map from Marrens or Wyness book illustrates the Culblean (Kulblane) battle ground

Believed to be the 'first of it's kind in military history', Sir Andrew and John of the Craig, a brilliant military tactician, and benefiting from his extensive knowledge of the area and the terrain, devised a plan to launch a surprise attack on Earl Davy from behind. In the cover of darkness, and moving silently, Sir Andrew and John of the Craig left their camp at midnight and marched stealthily through the forest of Culblean, positioning themselves above and behind the rebel forces without being detected. The remaining troops, led by Sir William de Douglas, charged the rebels at dawn and clashed at Marchnear burn on the shores of Loch Davan (see map)

Earl Davys men, surprised and caught off guard with the early attack by Douglas, were already struggling and retreating when the pincer movement of Sir Andrew's troops, charging them from behind, sealed their fate. As they faced attack on both sides, the rebel army disbanded and fled, seeking refuge in the surrounding hills and forests. The battle was won for Sir Andrew in very short time; Earl Davy, with his back to a great stone, fought on until slain by Earl Gordon, his successor in the lordship of Strathbogie. Many other troublesome noblemen were killed, or surrendered - most notably Sir Robert Menzies, who, having fled to his stronghold on Castle Island, gave himself up the very next day.

Marchnear became known as the "bleddy burn", and "Earl Davy's stane", where he met his death, still lies on the slopes of Culblean. A monument was erected by the Deeside Field Club in 1956 to commemorate the Battle and can be found on the shores of Loch Kinord, overlooking the area where the two armies marched.

With the exception of these landmarks, however, there is little now to suggest that such a battle ever took place in these peaceful and beautiful surroundings. Indeed, over time, the terrain itself has changed - the lochs a great deal smaller than they were and the oakwoods and bog, now replaced by pine, birch and fields full of sheep and horses. Imagine and remember, however, as you explore the area, that you are possibly standing on the very spot that history was made here on St Andrew's day 1335.

Dinnet has managed to keep it's name out of the history books for several centuries - the community remained and flourished, refusing to be chased out by the Celts, Romans, English or the Christians!
Towards the end of the 19th century, when Royal Deeside was discovered by Queen Victoria and the Deeside Railway wound its way up the valley, Dinnet, as we know it now, came into being. The majority of the land encompassing the two lochs now makes up a Nature Reserve - 'The Muir of Dinnet' - opened by Prince Philip in 1977 - in which you can wander, view the abundant wildlife, take in the picturesque views and marvel at the ancient history, illustrated by the geological and archaeological remains dotted around the area.

Although traces of it's turbulent past can still be viewed, today, we promise that your visit will be peaceful, your tranquillity only disturbed by the thousands of greylag geese who will noisily remind you of their presence on Loch Davan.


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