The Fergussons of Balquhidder

By Catriona Oldham nee Fergusson

There have been Fergussons both single and double ‘s’ in Balquhidder since at least 1660 but according to family legend Fergussons came to Muirlaggan just after 1745. Before that date Muirlaggan (Murlagan) or Lagan-an-Fraoich, Bochuider according to the fly-leaf of books found in the house, was worked by three MacIntyre brothers.

Encouraged by Robert Fergusson, Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh but who lived in the original Stronvar more Fergussons came into the glen.

Fergusson Crest

The motto is Dulcius ex Asperis , sweeter out of difficulty, and the crest is a thistle with a bee surrounded by a buckled belt.

One side of the family came from Ardandamh, a house on the west bank of Loch Lubnaig opposite Ardchullarie where the author James Bruce lived and who was a friend of the family. Ardandamh was lost when General Wade built the road along that side of the loch later used for the railway line and finally becoming the cycle track that we have today. The road on the East side of Loch Lubnaig is the one which had to be built when the railway line was laid and with few changes is the road used today. The other side of the family came from Carnlia, a settlement at Glenbeich on Loch Earn. Robert Fergusson brought with him Am Bodach, an old  figurehead which had stood at the roadside by Carnlia and which was chipped by boys throwing stones at it. Recently the date 1341 was deciphered carved into the side of the figurehead.

In 1750  Muirlaggan was extended. The original ‘But and Ben’ remains at the front of the house but the back was added and the beams brought from Ardandamh made the kitchen ceiling while Am Bodach was built into the stones above the back door.

Two more bedrooms and a bathroom were added in 1910 to complete the house as it stands now.

The then Mrs Carnegie decreed that the roof had to be flat so that Muirlaggan would not look as imposing as Stronvar.

Very recently, in the old part of the house, we removed the 1950’s fireplace to find the one from the 1920’s and behind that one that was in use in 1858 and even further back into the wall was the huge original inglenook with a stone mantle of 18 inches high  by 5 feet across.

My great grandfather Robert married a Janet Cameron from Acharacle, Argyll linked to the Camerons of Locheil. Of that generation Robert Menzies Fergusson became minister at Logie church Stirling and Samuel minister at Fortingall Perthshire.

My grandfather Robert married Catherine MacIntyre from Tulloch when she was 16 years old and it was he who built a dyke round Muirlaggan, drained the lands to improve the fields for crops to feed the hill cows, milk cows, pigs ,horses and of course the family which extended by eleven children.

Centre top row, Robert Fergusson (Catriona's Grandfather). Below from left: John, Catherine (Catriona's grandmother), Annie, Robert, Janet (Catriona's Great Grandmother) Donald and Jenny at Muirlaggan, Balquhidder
Centre top row, Robert Fergusson (Catriona’s Grandfather).
Below from left: John, Catherine (Catriona’s grandmother), Annie, Robert,
Janet (Catriona’s Great Grandmother) Donald and Jenny at Muirlaggan, Balquhidder

The rule in the family was that the boys who did not go to university were given farms, so Donald became a Professor of Forestry, Duncan a Doctor and Alasdair an Estate Manager while John worked Blaircreich farm, James worked Muirlaggan and Monachyle Tuarach, and Angus had a dairy herd at Braendam, Thornhill where my grandparents moved to in the 1920’s.

Catriona's Grandmother Catherine (MacIntyre)
My Grandmother Catherine (MacIntyre)

The remaining brother Robert died aged only 29 years after an accident on the hill. Eldest daughter Janet and her husband worked Monachyle Mhor farm.

Although both my grandparents died at Braendam they are buried in Balquhidder graveyard and the saying goes that by the time my grandmother was buried the grave was not deep enough so a family stone was moved and laid on the grave.

This stone is marked A.F.1663 and thought to have been a relative from the Fergussons who lived at  Immervoulin farm at Strathyre. My great grandmother’s gravestone lies flat not far from that of Rob Roy’s  but the writing is no longer readable.

My father’s working life was hard at times starting at 14 years old when he left school.

Catriona's Grandparents Robert and Catherine with their children at Muirlaggan
My Grandparents Robert and Catherine with their children at Muirlaggan

He would walk to Mallaig to collect sheep and walk the herd to the tryst at Crieff. In November 1939 a Whitley bomber crashed at the back of the hill behind the house. A survivor was found by our shepherd at Tuarach and brought home. In atrocious weather my father had to lead a search party up to the hilltop to the crash site to look for more survivors. None were found and the bodies were brought down to Muirlaggan to be removed by the police and RAF officials.

Gaelic was the family’s first language and my father had a large repertoire of Gaelic songs but his first love was his violin which he played for hours for sheer pleasure. When he was young he would walk over the hills to Brig o’ Turk, play for a dance and then walk home again.

When I was young our sitting room throbbed to the music of the violin with my mother at the piano and often accompanied by friends on an accordion or more violins. Magical for a child who lived here but that is another story.

The Fergusson tartan is very similar to the MacLaren tartan but with a white stripe in place of the yellow. However there is also a Fergusson of Balquhidder tartan which is mostly green and much brighter than the original.

My grandparents Robert and Catherine Fergusson had eleven children as follows; Janet in 1884, John in 1886, Robert in 1889, Donald in 1890, Annie in 1893, Duncan in 1895, my father James in 1898, Mary in 1900, Alistair in 1902, Isabella in 1904 and lastly Angus in 1906! Also I had aunts, uncles and cousins living in the surrounding farms of Blaircreich, Ledcreich, Tulloch, Immeroin, Stronslaney, Monachyle Mhor and Gartnafauran in the Balquhidder area.