HISTORY OF NEWPORT AND THE PARISH OF FORGAN ; AND RAMBLES ROUND THE DISTRICT, by J. S. Neish, 1890
After spending a few hours very pleasantly in Tayport, we set off to visit Scotscraig, which we had arranged to take on our way back to Newport. The mansion and grounds are pleasantly situated on the southern slopes of the high grounds to the south-west of the village. The place is a favourite resort of excursion parties from Dundee and the surrounding country, who, by the kindness and courtesy of the proprietor, Admiral Maitland-Dougall, and his estimable lady, are permitted to visit it in the summer season. Almost every week, especially on Saturdays, during the summer months, Sunday Schools, Good Templar Lodges, and similarly-organised pleasure parties, visit the mansion house and grounds, where they are warmly welcomed by the generous-hearted proprietor, and are allowed to wander about the policies, and amuse themselves on the grassy lawns. On the particular afternoon when we visited the place, there were four or five different parties of Sunday School children enjoying themselves in the grounds, as children only can enjoy the pleasures of a day's 'outing' in the green fields and shady woods. Private parties are also admitted, permission, of course, having to be obtained from the proper quarter, the only restriction being a guarantee of the respectability of the applicant.
We entered the grounds by the east gate. On reaching the crest of the hill beyond Tayport, pause for a minute and survey the beautiful coast scenery. The hill descends gradually to a great flat meadow, which spreads away like a vast carpet of green to the south, where its general features are lost in the distance, and to the east, where the green merges into the blue immensity of the German Ocean. This vast tract, known as Tents Moor, was at some remote period covered by the sea; its soil is light and sandy, and water can be obtained all over its surface at the depth of about two feet In early historical times it was a favourite hunting ground of the Scottish kings, and a royal hunting lodge once stood on its margin in the neighbourhood of Leuchars. At a later period the Moor was a monster rabbit warren. In the last century it was occupied by a race of crofters, who had squatted down on it and built themselves wretched turf huts, and lived ostensibly by cultivating small patches of the sandy soil; but in reality they were neither more nor less than a community of inveterate smugglers. These squatters and their huts have now been cleared away, and the ground they occupied has been converted into farms. Large tracts still lie in moorland, where broom and heather grow luxuriantly. Many curious relics of the primitive races that inhabited Scotland have been picked up on this vast Moor, such as 'arrow heads' and fragments of ancient pottery, some of the relics belonging to what antiquarians call the 'stone period'. The greater part of the northern division of the Moor is included in the Scotscraig estate. The Admiral has lately introduced grouse on the Moor, with complete success. These birds thrive admirably amongst the heather, and all that they seem to want is a supply of fresh water, which has to be provided for them in the dry seasons. By this means the gallant Admiral can enjoy grouse shooting on his own estate.
In the course of our rambles around Newport we come on the footprints, as it were, of some of the chief actors in the tragedy of Magus Moor. The district is intimately associated with that great event and those which led up to and flowed from it; and here, at Scotscraig, we are brought into direct contact with the private life of the famous Archbishop himself. Scotscraig was Archbishop Sharpe's private estate, his country residence, where he retired to enjoy rest from the cares and toils of official life.
In Tayport we were shown a panel of an old oak cabinet which had been elaborately carved with fantastic designs, and which was supposed to have once belonged to Archbishop Sharpe, probably a portion of his private cabinet. Of course, the original use of the old panel was quite a matter of conjecture, but its antique appearance, and the elaborate carving with which it had been ornamented, were sufficient to make it worthy of preservation. It belonged to the late Dr. Blair, and he had put it into the hands of Mr. Berry, joiner, to repair and restore the original as much as possible. Relics of the Archbishop are still to be met with in and around the house and grounds of Scotscraig, and no one, in whatever light he may view Sharpe's character as an ecclesiastic and a politician, can look on these silent memorials of a bygone age without a considerable degree of interest. How or when Sharpe became the owner of Scotscraig we are unable to say, but probably it was one of the rewards bestowed on him for his services to Charles II. Scotscraig was once the property of the Scotts of Balwearie, from whom Michael Scott, the 'Wizard,' was descended. From the Scotts it took its name, having been termed Scott's Craig, or Scotscraig, to distinguish it from other crags or craigs which abounded in various parts of the country.
Approaching the grounds by the eastern entrance, the first objects that attract attention are two pillars of an ancient gateway that formed the approach to the house in former times. The date 1680 is carved on the pillars - 16 on the one, and 80 on the other - which shows that they must have been built in the Archbishop's time; but, beyond their antiquity, there is nothing remarkable in their architecture. They are built into the boundary wall, and stand about one hundred yards to the north of the present entrance. Following the carriage drive, you pass the home farm, and approach the rear of the mansion, which occupies a fine situation on an elevated plateau facing the south, and overlooking a large, sloping lawn. The house, which is sheltered on all sides by fine spreading woods, is quite a modern structure. It is a large, plain building, three storeys high, with a pediment elevation over the main entrance. A broad flight of steps leads from the terrace to the main door, from which you can see St. Andrews and the coast all round to the mouth of the Tay.
We had a special 'permit', and on announcing ourselves the Admiral appeared, and gave us a cordial welcome, and with the utmost courtesy conducted us over the garden and grounds, and pointed out the various objects of interest. A number of cannon balls arranged on either side of the steps leading to the front door attracted our attention. The balls were of various calibre, those on the right hand side being made of iron, and those on the left of stone. The stone balls had an antique appearance, moss adhering to them all over, and, though not perfectly spherical, they were marked here and there with small indentations on their surface. These balls, we learned, had been dug up in the neighbourhood of Broughty Castle, and were supposed to have been fired by the English when they were besieged in Broughty Castle during the Regency of Queen Mary of Guise between the years 1547 and 1550. The others were missiles used in more modern wars, one of the largest, a 68-pounder, having been fired by H.M.S. Bulldog at the bombardment of Sveaborg, in the Baltic, during the Crimean war. The garden is extensive and tastefully laid out, and occupies the site of the old house, a little to the north of the modem mansion. It is enclosed with high and massive walls, portions of which formed part of the old mansion house inhabited by the Archbishop. The garden is divided into two terraces, and is reached by flights of stone steps of a massive and durable nature. Entering the enclosure by a door in the west wall, you are conducted by a narrow passage between high walls to the steps of the first terrace, which leads to what is known as the 'old garden', which in former times was overlooked by the old house. This is now the modern flower garden. In the centre, surrounded by a circular flower bed, stands an antique sundial, which was erected by Archbishop Sharpe. Its construction is peculiar. The pedestal is formed of a massive column of freestone, about four feet high, and this is surmounted by a stone cross, the points of which are set to catch the beams of the sun as he traverses the heavens, which are reflected on a plate marked to indicate the degrees of time.
Another flight of steps leads to the upper terrace, which is laid out as the fruit and kitchen garden. We are now within the precincts of the old house, which was built in the form of a quadrangle, with a court in the centre. The entrance was by an arched gateway on the east, which is still standing. In the centre of the arch is a sculptured stone showing a mitre and a star, with the initials A. J. S. (Archbishop James Sharpe), and the date 1667. Close to the gateway, but outside the garden, grows a fine old sycamore tree called the 'bell tree'. On one of its branches a bell was suspended, which was used in Sharpe's time for summoning his domestics at meal times and other occasions. The bell continued to hang on the tree till the beginning of the present century, when it was removed, but it is still retained by the present proprietor as a relic of antiquity. There are some very old trees in the garden which sheltered and shaded the Archbishop's mansion, and are still vigorous and healthy in their old age. The largest of these old trees - a fine walnut, is now a wreck, having been blown down by the hurricane which swept the Tay Bridge to destruction on that ever-memorable 28th December, 1879.
All that remains of this grand old walnut is the massive trunk, broken off about twelve or thirteen feet from the ground. It was about sixty feet high - its branches covered nearly a quarter of an acre, and its trunk, now overgrown with ivy, is about 17 feet in circumference. It now stands as a relic of bygone ages, and a memorial of a recent but never-to-be-forgotten event in the history of the district. About twenty minutes past seven o'clock on that eventful night, just when the Tay Bridge went, the gardener, Mr. Clark, happened to be standing about twenty yards from the old tree, and was an eyewitness to its fall. Thus, it would seem that the same gust which hurled the Bridge and the ill-fated train and passengers to destruction, had also levelled the gigantic tree with the dust. In its fall some of the branches alighted on the garden wall and tore down a large portion of the solid masonry. While the foresters were clearing away the wreckage, some hard substance repeatedly turned the teeth of the saw as they were cutting through the trunk near to where it had broken off. The circumstance was rather unaccountable, and it was only explained when the cutting was finished. Then it was discovered that several pieces of English coal were embedded in the wood. How they got there was an enigma, but it was supposed that at some distant period, they had been put into a hole in the trunk, and that in the course of time the hole had been filled up with a fresh growth, and the coal thus got embedded in the heart of the tree.
From the gardens we were conducted through the grounds, which are extensive and artistically designed, nature and art combining to render the surroundings of Scotscraig one of the most romantic and beautiful of country seats in the north of Fife. The scenery combines all the features of a Highland region; wooded hills, shady dells, crags, and caves, around which linger strange and mystic legends of former ages. At the bottom of a narrow glen, between two rocky heights that seem as if some convulsion of nature had riven them asunder, a small lake has been constructed out of what was once a quaking bog. It is now a beautiful sheet of water surrounded by tall trees - its shores overgrown with rank vegetation, and a hilly-looking island in the centre, planted with American trees, gives it all the appearance of a lonely tarn in some desolate region far from the haunts of man. To add to its natural charms, it has a little tragic legend attached to it. About the beginning of the present century a gipsy girl disappeared in this neighbourhood rather mysteriously; what became of the unfortunate child of the forest no one could tell. Foul play was suspected; but, notwithstanding that every inquiry was made, no trace of her could be discovered. About five and twenty years ago, while some workmen were engaged cleaning out the moss, they discovered the skeleton of a girl embedded in the bog, and the remains were believed to have been those of the missing gipsy. A fine carriage drive, named the 'Serpentine', skirts the side of the lake, and winds through the narrow dell to the north entrance on the Tayport and Newport road, making a fine sweep of nearly two miles in extent. Walks are cut around the hills, and by easy ascents their summits can be reached. The hill on the right or north is known as the 'Tower Hill'. On its summit, at a height of 400 feet above the level of the Tay, is a curious round tower called 'Waterloo Tower'. It was originally a watch tower, and was a very ancient structure, but it had been allowed to go to ruins. In the year 1815 the owner of Scotscraig, Mr. Dalgleish, restored the tower, and dedicated it as a memorial of the battle of Waterloo. It stands on the very summit of the hill, surrounded by trees on all sides except the east, which is kept clear, so that the tower may serve as a landmark to mariners, for which purpose it is painted black to enable it to be more easily visible from a distance against the clear sky. A piece of ground at the base of the tower is planted with flowers and shrubs, which appear to thrive well, and, amongst other plants, we were particularly struck with a fine fuchsia in full bloom. A substantial wooden staircase inside leads to the summit of the tower, which is 60 or 70 feet high, and from a bartizan on the top one of the most magnificent and extensive views can be obtained both by land and sea. The Duke of Edinburgh paid a visit to Scotscraig on 30th June, 1863, and the event is recorded on a tablet over the door of 'Waterloo Tower'.
There is a legend that at some far distant period in the 'misty past' a chest of gold was buried somewhere about the summit of this hill.
The belief in the existence of hidden treasure is kept alive by an old rhyme, which runs thus -
'Here I sit, and here I see,
St Andrews, Broughty, and Dundee,
And as muckle below me as wad buy a' three,
In a kist'.
A few years ago, some of the foresters on the estate, when engaged in the wood, near the summit of the hill, thought they had discovered the 'treasure trove'. In the course of their labours they came on two flagstones firmly embedded in the ground; but, alas, like many a treasure-seeker, their hopes were doomed to disappointment.
The scenery on the opposite hill is thoroughly Alpine in all its features. The western face presents a succession of rocky crags rising in four tiers from the plain. The lower tier forms a precipice of about one hundred feet in height, and is known by the name of the 'Bishop's Quarry'. Until recently quarrying operations were carried on there. A narrow footpath, not more than two or three feet in breadth, winds along the base of the third tier of rocks, and forms a most romantic walk of nearly a mile in length. The path is but a mere ledge on the face of a precipice, and can only be traversed in Indian file. It is a wild and weird scene, the cold, bare rocks rising like a wall of adamant on the one hand, and the steep hill descending on the other, thickly covered with tall fir trees which rise from the very depths of the defile, their green
foliage contrasting beautifully with the yellow-tinted rocks. Here and there a great fissure yawns in the face of the precipice. One of these openings assumes the appearance of a small cavern, and is popularly known by the name of the 'Hermit's Hole'.
'Beneath a mountain's brow,
The most remote and inaccessible by shepherds trod,
In a deep cave, dug by no mortal hand,
A hermit lived; a melancholy man.'
How could he be anything else than 'a melancholy man' who could live in such a dreary spot remote from his fellow men? But who the hermit of Scotscraig was, and when he lived and died, no one seems to know. There is mystery about this hermit, as there is about hermits generally, but whoever he was he could not boast of spacious apartments, for there is barely room in the hole to admit two ordinary-sized mortals at one time. Perhaps the story of the hermit is a myth; but there is also a tradition in the locality that some of the persecuted Covenanters found a hiding place amongst these rocks and crags, and very likely the legend of the 'hermit' may have taken its origin from that circumstance.
The shades of evening were deepening and casting a solemn gloom over the woods as we bade adieu to Scotscraig. We made the circuit of the grounds, leaving by the west gate, and in returning to Newport passed Cliff Terrace and the farm of Inverdovat. At the west lodge we presented our respects to the lady of the house, and she kindly gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers, which we carried home as a souvenir of our visit.
Return to: Library Contents