I’ll start today by setting the scene with an extract from “An Angus Parish” in the 18th century.
“When she invited her within, lo there was the great, monstrous tyke of a Highland smuggler, who had arrived throughout the night with a string of shalties and kegs.
“The Kirktoun at night, when the Highland scoundrels arrived with a fresh cargo, was past speaking about.
“There was a local gauger called George Dickson, and a very sharp and strict officer he was. On one occasion he took a turn round his way, and proceeded to examine a peat and turf stack belonging to his father. The peat stack was supported by strong boards. When Dickson rammed in his searcher he struck the wood, whereupon he suspected there was a keg. He wrocht and fought and took down the stack, but got nothing for all his pains. Dickson made a fair fool of himself, and there was a fine laugh at his expense.
“But George often found kegs in all sorts of out-of-the-way corners. He often found them on the Eastfield road, in hedges and holes, and in the adjoining woods. He knew a still-keeper well at Parkside, called Kinnison, he was often in jail that lad, for ye see, if you couldna pay your penalty, then it was just a case of being run in. There was Stevenson who did a roaring trade at Balkello. There was John Stewart, who carried on an awfu’ way of doing at Edderty, and then ower at the Haining the houses were at times fairly crowded up with Highland smugglers. Ye see the place was just made, ye might say, for the business.
“There was a master of stratagems known as Andrew, who, on the occasion of a raid made by the officers on a well-known bothy at the back of Auchterhouse Hill, rammed a few old pots and pans into a sack, and making as much din as he possibly could with them, in order to draw the gangers off the scent, led them a pretty hunt over the hill, while the real tools of the trade were removed from danger long before the great chase concluded”.
Balkello is well known but where, you might ask, is the “Haining”?
The old Scots word ‘haining’ means an enclosure of ground by fences, hedges or walls and five years ago a great moorland blaze raged at the back of Auchterhouse Hill and the heather and scrub was burnt off around 80 acres of the hill, exposing the foundations of the old settlement for the first time in living memory.
Denoon Glen is a valley in a beautiful glen and contains the farms of W. and E. Denoon, together with the site of Denoon Castle and Denoon Law Pictish fort with a wealth of archaeology - burial sites, and bronze age cup and ring-marked stones in the Sidlaw Hills.
The use of enclosures suggests the use of the settlement as an inn or stopping point on the drove road to Dundee.
The Valuation Roll of 1856-57 shows the farm of Haining on Airlie Estate (owned by the Right Hon. Earl of Airlie) in the parish of Auchterhouse with a tenant of David Robertson.
But what of Andrew at the Haining and his efforts to dupe the guagers?
There was a duty of 20s on a gallon of whisky in the 18th century - both rich and poor resented this and refused to pay it.
The Act was repealed in 1742 but raised again after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
The area north of Dundee was notorious for smuggling. The best spot for a bothy was one where the smoke could not be seen. Provided there was plenty of water, inaccessibility was an advantage.
The bothies required an abundance of peat, barley and water, and all this could be found at the Haining.
In March 1813 excise officers seized whisky in a field near the Sidlaws. Smugglers attacked the Excisemen on their way back to Dundee and got back some of the whisky. Methods of concealment included milk pails with false bottoms and bladder skins from animals which women hid under their dresses. It seems likely the stopping point in the Seedlies was at the Haining and this location was crucial to this trade.
In the bygone days this was a well-known route from the Angus glens to Dundee favoured by drovers and smugglers alike, and although little used nowadays, what a sight it must have been with all the cattle crossing the Sidlaws heading for market in Dundee.
It makes me wonder what stories these old stones could tell of the smugglers plying their trade with the drouthy Dundonians? I’m sure a worthy TV drama could be made of such a tale.