There are many old abandoned villages around the highlands of Scotland, but none can compete with the old village of Lawers for stories of mystery and genuine historical interest.
The old village is located on the north shore of Loch Tay near the modern Lawers village and is accessed by a track which starts just east of the Lawers Hotel. The hotel proprieter will allow you to leave your car in his car park providing you spend at the hotel before or after your visit to the ruins.
You are best advised to wear sturdy footwear as the track and the village itself can be quite rough underfoot and parts of the area are also a little soft in wet conditions.
The ruins are in three parts:
As you approach the ruins from the access track, a right turn leads down to the lochside and the remains of the old village pier. The pier was originally a single jetty but was extended to provide a double jetty at a later date, possibly in the 20th century to serve the modern village when a steamship plied the loch.
The left turn from the access track leads to the first large building on the right which is said to be the House of Lawers, possible originally a fortified keep prior to its destruction and rebuilding about 1600, this was the Laird's house and indeed, probably the home of the Lady of Lawers - more of which later.
An unidentifiable ruin lies to the north east of the Laird's house and this is followed by the ruined church - a large building considering the size of the village. The north-east wall collapsed only recently in 2004.
Passing on from the church and through a gate a causeway leads toward the main part of the village, crossing the remains of the lade which powered the millwheel at the village mill - the first building on the right. The mill race can still be seen on the north side of the mill.
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A number of dwellings can be seen in various stages of collapse to the north and west of the mill.
After passing through the ruined village a modern bridge leads over the Lawers Burn to the remains of at least 2 ruins - probably barns or other agricultural buildings.
Beyond the barns lies the burial ground which contains graves from the early 19th century, but also around a dozen or so horizontal grave slabs from earlier times. Inside the 'modern' hut by the opening in the wall is a large stone with a hollow cut into it, This may be a grinding bowl for meal, a partly completed lower hinge stone for a heavy door, or even an early font from the church.
Between the burial ground and the loch lie a number of old grave slabs, probably deposited there during the excavation of more recent graves.
The old road leading to the hill may be traced as an ill defined hollow to the north-west of the burial ground.
This section is based almost verbatum upon the book 'In Famed Breadalbane' written by the Rev Gillies of Kenmore as to re-tell the story in the modern idiom would spoil the feeling of the tale.
According to local tradition the residence of the lairds of Lawers on Lochtayside was situated close to the water's edge, a little distance to the west of the burn of Lawers, where the ruins of a two storied, thatched house still stand, (see map above). The original house of Lawers was probably a "castle" similar to the keeps that once stood on Wester Ardeonaig and Edramuckie, but after the house of Lawers was destroyed in 1645, it would be replaced by a less pretentious building; as the family were regarding Fordew as their principal seat. The old house was occupied by the tenants of the farm of Milton of Lawers down to the latter part of last century; but the ruins are still pointed out as Tigh Ban-tigheaona Larbhuir, "the House of the Lady of Lawers."
The Lady of Lawers, whose sayings are often quoted in the Highlands of Perthshire, is said to have been a Stewart of Appin, Argyll, and to have been the wife of one of the lairds of Lawers. This tradition, however, conflicts with the known records of these families; and although diligent search has been made among old records and genealogies no reference so far has been found to such a person. On the other hand the traditions about the Lady of Lawers are so strong and definite that there can be no doubt as to the existence at some period in the past, of a woman who was gifted with a wonderful measure of wisdom and shrewdness, and who was closely related to the lairds of Lawers. Tradition asserts that a family of Stewarts, known on Lochtayside as Na Combaich, "The Companions," first came to Lawers from Appin in Argyll, as an escort with the Lady, and references to these Stewarts in the Kirk Session records of Kenmore of two hundred years ago confirm the tradition as to their district of origin being " Appin of Stewart." Some of the Lady's prophecies refer to the old church of Lawers, now a ruined building beside her house. A stone over the doorway of this church bears the date 1669, which would suggest that she lived about the middle of the seventeenth century. It is possible that she was the wife of a younger brother of Sir James Campbell, the sixth laird, and that she resided in the house rebuilt after 1645, by which time Sir James and his family had removed to Strathearn.
One or two of the prophecies ascribed to the Lady may be echoes of sayings credited to other well known Scottish seers: Some relate to the church of Lawers, others to social and economic changes on Lochtayside, and a few to happenings in the history of the Breadalbane Campbells. The sayings were uttered in Gaelic, and have been handed down in that language from one generation to another. A saying of a general nature is to the effect that the feather of the goose would drive the memory from man, which no doubt referred to the destructive influence of writing upon the power of remembrance. In olden days when people in the Highlands could neither read nor write many persons were to be found who could recite thousands of lines of poetry from memory. With the introduction of printing and of books this gift has to a great extent been lost. A prophecy about fire-coaches yet to be seen crossing Druimuachder Pass was accepted as foretelling the coming of the Highland Railway, and it may be compared to the prophecy of the Brahan Seer with regard to the "English mares with hempen bridles that would be led round the back of Tomnahurich," which was taken as forecasting the Caledonian Canal.
Several remarkable sayings are connected with the ruined church of Lawers, which was probably built by Sir James Campbell, the sixth laird, and the erection of which the Lady appears to have watched with special interest. When the building was nearing completion, she said that the ridging-stones would never be placed on the roof. The builders brought stones for the ridge from Kenmore by boat, and as the workmen threw them on the shore they said, " We shall prove the Lady to be a liar." That night, however, a terrific storm raged along Loch Tay, the stones were swept into the depths. and no attempt was made to recover them. The ridge of the church was covered with some other material.
She said that a tree, which probably she herself planted, would grow near the church, and at various stages of its growth certain events of importance would happen. When the tree reached the height of the gables of the church the Church of Scotland would be rent in twain. It was said that this stage corresponded with the Disruption in 1843. When the tree attained the height of the ridge the house of Balloch, Taymouth would be without an heir, which came to pass in 1862 when the second Marquis died.
The Lady further predicted with regard to this fateful tree that whoever should cut it down would be sure to come to an evil end. About sixty years ago John Campbell the tenant of the Milton farm along with a neighbour had the temerity to lay an axe to the stem of the tree. As they did so the neighbours shook their heads, feeling assured that they were courting disaster. The neighbours' fears were shortly confirmed. John Campbell was gored to death by his own Highland bull, while his assistant lost his reason, and had to be removed to the district asylum. Even the horse that was employed in carting the tree away did not escape. It came to a sudden and unaccountable end, although quite a young, strong animal.
Several of the Lady's sayings predicted changes that would take place in the social and economic conditions of Lochtayside. She first foresaw a period when the population would greatly increase, during which time the land would be intensively cultivated. She said that there would be a meal mill on every stream and a plough in the hands of every lad, and that the two sides of Loch Tay would resemble a hail garden. These prophecies would appear to have come true about the end of the eighteenth century when there were fourteen mills on tile, whole lochside, and on the south side alone there were nearly two hundred ploughs between Auchmore and Taymouth. The land was carefully, although not skilfully, cultivated on the runrig system, under the old in-field and out-field arrangement that was brought to an end when the fourth Earl of Breadalbane formed compact farms surrounded by dry stone dykes.
Looking beyond this period, when there was a large population in the district, the Lady foretold a time when the district would first be riddled, and then sifted of its people. This prophecy was understood to predict the evictions that took place on Lochtayside during the early years of the second Marquis, who allowed his factor to clear the people off the land and to form large sheep-runs. Before 1838, fourteen families had been removed forcibly from Rhynachuilig, twelve from Edramchie, thirteen from Kiltyrie, nine from Cloichran, and nineteen from the farm of Acharn, all places lying at the west end of Loch Tay.
These evictions were carried out with ruthless severity. No sooner were the people turned out of their homes than men with grapes climbed to the roofs. The thatch was thrown down, and the whole set on fire to prevent the poor people from returning. A man who was very active as an agent in carrying out the dastardly work was himself evicted, and forced to emigrate. As he was leaving the township someone asked him " Is there no more dirty work to be done in Breadalbane when they are sending you away ? "
The Lady further said that the jaws of the sheep would drive the plough out of the ground, that many holdings would become one holding, that the homesteads on Lochtayside would yet would be so far apart that the one cock would not be able to hear his neighbour crow, that Ben Lawers would become so cold that it would chill and waste the land around it for seven miles. The last prophecy is somewhat difficult to interpret, but the import of these sayings taken together would appear to indicate that the Lady foresaw the conditions that now exist. Although the evictions came to an end, depopulation continued, and the land has gradually gone out of cultivation. The old primitive houses built with dry-stone walls and thatched roofs decayed. The young people left the district. The estate had no housing policy. Tenants had no security of tenure, and there was no assurance that they would be compensated for improvements that they effected. The result was that holding was added to holding and farm to farm until there was not sufficient man power to work and manage the land. The country-side is rapidly reverting to the state of nature from which generations of industrious toilers reclaimed it by clearing away the brush-wood, gathering out the stones, and erecting those miles and miles of boundary walls that fill us with amazement. Fields that were not so long ago under cultivation are now covered with briars, thorns, bracken, and birch. In this way have the Lady's predictions been fulfilled to the very letter.
It would appear from several of the Lady's sayings that she had a very strong antipathy towards the Campbells of Glenorchy. The two families had quarrelled during the time of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, and the feud still remained. With reference to the lairds of Balloch (Taymouth) she said, " John of the three Johns, the worst that has come, or will come; but nothing will be right until Duncan arrives." The third John in the Glenorchy line of chiefs was the first Earl who bears an unenviable reputation in history. Duncan was his eldest son, who might have been expected to succeed as second Earl of Breadalbane, but he was passed over by his father in favour of his brother John. She said that the family of Glenorchy would attain to the height of its glory when a certain prominent rock would be covered with trees, and that when Clach an Tuirc, the Boar's Stone at Fearnan, would topple over, a strange heir would come to Balloch. The rock referred to is not known; but it may be taken that the splendour of Taymouth was never greater than when the second Marquis entertained Queen Victoria in 1842. Clach an Tuirc is a mighty boulder, and it is difficult to conceive of it ever toppling over; but the Lady's prophecy regarding it gives an added interest to this landmark.
The sayings that have been most frequently quoted in recent years relate to the breaking up of the vast Breadalbane estates. The Lady foretold that the estates of Balloch would come in time to yield only one rent, and that ultimately they would yield no rent at all, and that these estates, which had been put together in hides, would be put asunder in laces. The effect of taxation and of other economic conditions has brought about the virtual fulfilment of these prophecies. Each successive laird of Glenorchy from Sir Colin, the Black Knight, to the First Marquis made it his policy to " conques and to keip thingis conquest " until the Breadalbane estates stretched for one hundred miles across Central Scotland. The process of disintegration, begun in 1922 when the eastern portion was sold, has been continued, and it is possible that in time the Lady's prophecies in this respect may be completely fulfilled.
The only prophecy of the Lady with regard to the Macnab lands is to the effect that they would be added to the Breadalbane estates when a broken branch from a fir-tree would fall on another fir-tree, and then grow as part of the tree on which it fell. It is said that such an instance of grafting did actually take place about the second decade of the last century when the Macnab lands were acquired by the First Marquis of Breadalbane.
During the Lady's time a drowning accident happened on Loch Tay whereby a number of people lost their lives. The district was deeply affected, but the response of the Lady was that a greater loss would yet occur on Loch Tay when a ship with smoke would sink and cause the death of a great number of people. This prophecy has kept net a few persons from ever venturing for a sail on the Loch Tay steamboat.
One saying attributed to the Lady was inscribed on a peculiarly shaped stone that used to lie near the summit of Ben Lawers. The stone disappeared some fifty years ago, having probably been carried away by a collector of antiques.
The saying on the stone was as follows,
"Caith mar a gheibh,
is gheibh mar- a chaitheas,
Caomhain 's co dha?
Cuimhnich am bas."
" Spend as you get,
And get as you spend,
Save, and for whom ?
By her personality and her prophecies the Lady of Lawers made a strong and lasting impression upon her own generation in Breadalbane, and the succeeding generations have watched with interest, not unmixed with awe, the fulfilling of many of her remarkable predictions. It is said that at her own request she was buried beside the old church with which so many of her sayings are associated. It was here apparently that her faithful servant, An Combach Ruadh, had been laid, and it was her desire to rest near him who had been her friend in the land of the Campbells.