Nowhere is the world to my thinking so gracious as between the green woodlands of Earlstoun and the grey Duchrae Craigs.
Glimpses of the Glenkens
GLIMPSES OF THE GLENKENS
The sweetest and the sunniest God's Acre in Scotland, and since such things must needs be, doubtless a right desirable place for any tired wanderer's resting-grave.’
Crockett knew that history and its narrative was written by the victors. His fiction offers an alternative perspective, foregrounding the ‘ordinary’ rural folk and keeping the traditional ‘big’ heroes in the background.
Of the Balmaghie living he wrote: ‘The folk here like a tairgin' maisterfu’ man. Hark ye to that! They canna bide chiels that only peep and mutter. The lads atween the waters o' Dee and Ken tak' a man maistly at his ain valuation, and if a minister thinks na muckle o' himself— haith, they will e'en jaloose that he kens best, and no think muckle o' him either!’
And of the dead: ‘Dear dust lies in that kirkyaird, and as the years pass by, for many of us, more and more of it gathers under the kirk on the hill. The tides of the world, its compulsions, its needs, and its must be's, lead me up the loaning but seldom. Indeed I am not often there, save when the beat of the passing bell calls another to the long and quiet rest.’
In 1914 Crockett was buried in Balmaghie along with many of his family forebears. ‘when the years are over, many or few, and our Galloway requiem, "Sae he's won awa," is said of me, that is the bell I should like rung. And there in the high corner I should like to lie, if so the fates allot it, among the dear and simple folk I knew and loved in youth.’
Balmaghie is also the setting for Crockett’s fictionalised version of the turbulent life of John Macmillan. The Standard Bearer turns what might otherwise be dry religious history into an historical adventure romance: ‘Suddenly a gun went off, as it seemed in my very ear. I sprang a foot into the air, for who on honourable business would discharge a musket in that wild place at such a time.
But ere I had time to think, above me on the ridge a figure stood black against the sky —a girl's shape it was, slim, tall, erect. She carried something in one hand which trailed on the heather, and a musket was under her arm, muzzle down.
I had not yet recovered my breath when a voice came to me.
‘Ah, Hob MacClellan, the ill deil tak' your courting-jaunts this nicht! For had ye bidden at hame I would have gotten baith o' the red foxes that have been killing our weakly lambs. As it is, I gat but this.’
And she held up a great dog fox by the brush before throwing the body into a convenient moss-hole.
It was Alexander-Jonita, the lass whom our college-bred Quintin had once called the Diana of Balmaghie. I care not what he called her. Without question she was the finest lass in the countryside. And that I will maintain to this day.’
Evocative natural description, humour, and use of local dialect all wrap round and enhance the bare history. With Crockett there are no small characters and no small stories. His flexible approach to ‘fact’ may not always appeal to historians, but to lovers of the Glenkens he should be seen as a hero in fact and fiction.
Balmaghie also features in the Covenanting novels The Men of the Moss Hags and its sequel Lochinvar.
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Honorary President: Richard D. Jackson. Founder: Cally Phillips.