Welcome to Blairgowrie
Blairgowrie is Perthshire’s second biggest town. It lies on the eastern banks of the River Etrich, Gaelic for ‘beauteous river,’ across from its sister town Rattray. This is an area of glens, gorges, fast flowing watercourses and beautiful mountain scenery. Meikleour, a couple of miles south, boasts the tallest hedge in the world, planted in 1746. The Blairgowrie area was an area of tremendous importance in early Scotland, where some of the earliest of the country’s kingdoms emerged into history.
Glenshee nr. Blairgowrie
The varied Celtic peoples of Scotland were named by the Romans ‘Picts,’ or ‘painted people.’ Over the 600 years which followed Roman withdrawal from the British Isles, the Picts were to forge the first substantial kingdoms in Scotland. The Perthshire area was to be the focal point for this development, where the major tribal chieftains eventually emerged as kings of large swathes of Scotland.
Before historic evidence becomes available we have to rely on myth and legend. One interesting legend in the Blairgowrie area involves a king called Fingal and his champion Diarmid. Diarmid’s fearsome talents gained him great prestige and admiration, from fellow warriors and court ladies alike. When the king discovered that Diarmid and his wife were having an affair he hatched a plan to rid himself of his enemy. At the time the inhabitants of Glen Shee, to the north of Blairgowrie along the River Etrich, were complaining about a mad boar that was damaging property and killing livestock and farmers. The king challenged Diarmid to hunt the boar down and kill it, which he did, but not without first being injured. He took the boar’s head back to the king but Fingal conspired to keep medicine out of Diarmid’s reach. Diarmid died. On hearing the news the Queen committed suicide. On the south-east of Bad an Loin, at a place place marked by four standing stones known as ‘The Tomb,’ Diarmid is said to lie at rest. Viewed from the east, the stones point to where he killed the boar.
Clan Campbell claim direct descendance from Diarmid and have taken the symbol of the boar as their motif. There are some Campbells who claim that Diarmid was the basis for the Sir Lancelot of Arthurian legend. There is an account of a Queen Guinevere who came from the Blairgowrie area and lived at the same time, who was executed by being thrown into a pit filled with starving dogs, said to be a Pictish punishment for an adulterous woman. It has been claimed that a carving on a Pictish standing stone, called ‘Meigle 2’ depicts this execution. Judge for yourself if this seems likely by visiting the stone at the Museum of Meigle, just to the east of Blairgowrie, where Meigle 2 is just one carved Pictish stone amongst many in the museum which boasts the greatest number in Scotland. The fact that most of the stones were locally discovered testifies to the area’s importance during these centuries.
After the fall of the Pictish Kingdom in 843 AD the area maintained its importance. Scone, just over 10 miles to the south, became the site of the anointment of the kings of the united kingdoms of Pictland and Scotland. The ‘stone of destiny’ used in the anointment ceremony was taken here, and became commonly known as the ‘Stone of Scone.’ In 850 AD Dunkeld Cathedral, about 8 miles to the west of Blairgowrie, became the primary ecclesiastical centre in Scotland in place of Iona; St Columba’s relics were moved to Dunkeld for safekeeping from Viking attacks on the west coast.
The Blairgowrie area has become associated with one king in particular: MacBeth. It is undoubtedly Shakespeare’s play which has led to this association. Two sites in particular are significant in Shakespeare’s Macbeth; Birnam and Glamis. It was the witches prediction of Birnam Wood’s movement to Dunsinane Hill (15miles to the south east), which spelled MacBeth’s tragic end. Birnam lies on the southern bank of the river Tay opposite Dunkeld. Glamis is to the east, beyond Meigle. In the play MacBeth was titled ‘Thane of Glamis.’ To what extent the real historic MacBeth, who ruled wisely in the 11th century, is connected with these places is open to debate; Shakespeare was a dramatist and not a historian.
Shakespeare was sent by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1599 to perform in front of James VI of Scotland and may have visited Birnam and Glamis. Either he was merely inspired by these places as possible locations for drama, or learned on his travels some details relating to his tragic king. Indeed, it is agreed that Perthshire was one of MacBeth’s power bases.
With or without MacBeth Glamis and its castle has a long and interesting history. It was here that King Malcolm II died in 1034, the castle was claimed by James V as crown property in 1542, it was the site of the burning of Lady Glamis, accused of witchcraft, in 1537, in 1562 was visited by Mary Queen of Scots, and more recently was the birthplace of the late Queen Mother and her daughter, Princess Margaret. It is also considered to be amongst the most haunted buildings in the country.
In the midst of this folklore, legend and intrigue, the town of Blairgowrie has developed rather peacefully over the centuries. It became a burgh in 1634 and became a stopping off point on a military road north to Braemar in 1724. In the 19th century it developed as one of Scotland’s most significant flax spinning centres, the first mill, followed by many others, being constructed in 1798. In Keathbank the largest ever water wheel in Scotland was built for a jute mill in 1870. In recognition of the town’s growing importance the railway arrived 1855.
Around 1900 the town took a new direction. With the establishment of the Glen Shee Ski areas, Blairgowrie became one of the principle accommodation sites for the growing industry. Blairgowrie is also famed as the centre of the country’s soft fruit growing industry. All of this activity has kept this charming red brick town alive with a healthy bustle.