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August 11th 1760

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Bishop Richard Pococke's tour

Bishop Richard Pococke was born in Southampton in 1704, and though an Englishman, became in due course Bishop of Ossory and Meath in Ireland.

In 1737 he found time from his spiritual duties to spend almost five years visiting Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Syria and Cyprus and later published two volumes under the general title of ‘A description of the East and of some other Countries.’ The books attracted considerable attention and ensured that Bishop Pococke enjoyed a continuing reputation as an accurate observer of the architectural and antiquarian glories of the East.

It was much later, in 1760, that he made his tour of Scotland; a tour lasting five months and covering most parts of the country. He showed great interest in church buildings, castles, Roman remains and the gentry and a complete lack of concern or curiosity in the life of the common people and the changes that were taking place in Scotland at this time.

“We crossed a low hill, came in between rocky mountains, and passed by a very pleasant place called Gairn Tully belonging to Sir John Stuart finely planted with firrs. (Actually it was Murthly, belonging to Sir John Stewart of Grandtully. The Bishop was not too good on place names either.) Here the hills appear in such a manner, that a traveller can hardly imagine that there is anything beyond them but rocky mountains. But as we entered in between them, we found ourselves in a narrow valley with high mountains on either side; and a little before we came to Dunkeld had a view of it situated in between these Grampian mountains which open for some way and form a kind of amphitheatre through which the Tay runs.

The Duke of Athol has a seat here and I did myself the honour to wait upon his Grace and the Duchess, and staid at their house meeting with a most polite reception.” 

There follows a description of Dunkeld Cathedral. “A little to the north of the church is the Duke of Athol’s house, which is not large. But as there is a warm winter situation, the Duke has built extensive offices and the finest kitchen I believe in Britain. Behind them is a very handsome kitchen garden, on the east side of which is a long narrow hill beautifully shaped into walks, and at the end of it over the avenue to the house is a statue of the Gladiator. On the south and west side of the house is a lawn, from which the road is crossed to the wood and fields, that are divided by a high road that comes round by the end of the church, and there is a communication made between them by a bridge over the road……” 

Later he comes “to the famous pass of Gillicranky”  and to Blair Castle. He was, understandably, impressed with Blair Castle. From Blair Atholl, the Bishop travelled by Loch Rannoch and Loch Tummel to Taymouth and Lord Breadalbane’s house. This was before the present Taymouth Castle had been built. Even so he gives a long description of the policies pertaining to the Duke.

“The house is near the east side of it (the Tay) and behind it and the offices is a fine lawn of uneven ground adorned with single trees. To the west of it by the river is a broad walk finely planted which extends within a quarter of a mile of the mouth of it, and where it makes the greatest bow, a fine walk of lime trees of great size and meeting at the top forms the string. Towards the end of the walk on an eminence is a pleasant summer house commanding the view of the rich country to the east and of the Lake to the west, with the hills to the south of it highly cultivated, and at the end of the walk is a triangular mount for the turning seat.”  Etc etc etc.

Finally he finishes up in Perth. “We came to Perth by the finest turnpike road in Britain, which leads from Edinburgh……This place is most delightfully situated in a most beautiful country, there are small hills to the south and west, the fine river Tay and the rising ground beyond it to the east. It is open to the north on which side is adorned with noble plantations, among which are those of Bussy, belong to Lord Kinoul, a furlong from the town, and what adds greatly to the picture the waters of the Almond, two miles distant is brought round the town: and in summer is entirely carried off this way. At each end of the town is a large green belonging to the community, which is let to the town at so much a head for cattle; and the north green is much used for bleaching and washing. The town consists chiefly of two streets, from east to west, near half a measured mile long, and two streets which extend one to the south, and the other to the north from the great street.” 

The Bishop was naturally interested in St John’s Kirk and intrigued by the evidence of the four monasteries that used to exist in the town. He mentions the Gowrie conspiracy and inspected Gowrie House where the event took place. He also adds his own version of the Battle of the Clans “fought in the north inch betwixt the Clans Chatan and Kay, and the victory obtained by the valour of Henry Winder, a saddler of Perth who undertook for a French half crown to supply the place of one who had fled.” 

If his accounts seem a little lacking in interest today, he was obviously considered an important visitor at the time. “Soon after I arrived the Provost and another of the Corporation came to see me and with great politeness showed me everything about the town, and in the evening presented me with the freedom of the place.” 

It had become something of a habit, as in addition to Perth, he received the freedom of Aberdeen, Glasgow, Lanark, Forres, Nairn and Dornoch.

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