The trials, tribulations and the pleasures of living in Corgarff

A RESPECTED Scottiish author has written a personal account of her days in the remote rural community of Upper Donside.  Author Jean Cantlie Stewart’s book Pine Trees And The Sky describes the trials, tribulations and pleasures of living in Corgarff through a collection of anecdotes and informative comment on the area where she spent many holidays with relatives as a youngster and where she lived between 1954-1973.

She was born in Edinburgh and due to her father’s career with the Royal Navy, educated at private school before studying English and History at St Andrews University.  She graduated and taught with the Red Cross while trying to break into publishing with a collection of short stories with no success. A spell at the London School of Journalism enabled her to develop her style and things gradually changed for the better.

Pine Trees And The Sky is Jean’s seventh book and is based mainly on her personal recollections of life in Corgarff, where she moved in 1954 to live in a cottage on the Allargue Estate, which was owned by her cousins.  Several of the chapters deal with the problems and privations of rural living, especially those experienced by the author in her early attempts to renovate her new abode Auchmore—a rather dilapidated cottage near the now-defunct hamlet of Milltown—and turn it into a home for herself and her young son, Hugh.

Other chapters reveal the struggle to restore a passable track between the cottage and the road which had a tendency to disappear at the first hint of rain, and the problems of keeping rats from invading the house.  It was at this time Jean came to realise the generosity of the people and the pages constantly reveal assistance freely offered and given without asking.

Jean says “We have a theme running through the book—the magnificence of the scenery and the fact that this is part of the character of the people.”  “The people were generous with gifts of time and labour which gave everyone a feeling of kinship and kindness. The articles were all on the subject of remoteness and the incredible extremes of climate which gave the people a tremendous feeling of togetherness.”

Pine Trees And The Sky depicts the sheer and rugged, yet peaceful beauty of the surrounding land, thus the title of the Rupert Brooke poem, and contains descriptions of the vast variety of wildlife to be found amongst the birds, flowers, insects and animal life of the remote glen.  Sadly, however, it also deals with demographic changes in society, working and living practices and the resulting depopulation which in turn led to communities reduced to piles of stone and the eventual closure of the once vibrant Corgarff post office and shop and — so poignant this year — the closure of Corgarff School.

Jean’s book does not so much tell a story as paint a picture with words of Scottish rural life and which people can identify without resorting to a large list of statistical, historical and academic facts and figures.  It would prove extremely useful as background reading for students of Scottish rural communities and their culture. Upper Donside residents will easily recognise those people mentioned, the photographs and some of the stories.  G.A.

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