Strathard Heritage Digital Archive

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The Battle of the Pass of Aberfoyle

    Three articles on the Pass of Aberfoyle from previous Strathard News issues were amalgamated, edited and re-published in Strathard Life, Issue 117, Winter 2020, as part of a series entitled ‘Stories from Strathard’.

    That on the ‘Pass of Aberfoil’ was written by Ian R Nicholson, and it first appeared in Strathard News, October 1987. The two articles on the ‘Battle of the Pass of Aberfoyle’ were unattributed, appearing in the Strathard News, March 1988 and in Issue 16, August/September 2004 (in italics). 

    Note that there are discrepancies, viz Colonels Kydd and Read are both described as having led Cromwell’s troops from Stirling. According to Peter Joynson’s book ‘Local Past’, “Kidd is probably a mistake for Read”.

    The Pass Of Aberfoil

    I suppose in the story of any place, or indeed of any person, there are “gaps” left.  For example, names and places are mentioned but exact locations or descriptions are lost.  I’m going to give you my version of the Pass of Aberfoil, whether you agree with it or not!  First of all, the Pass of Aberfoil, together with the Passes of Balmaha, Trossachs and Leny enabled the McGregors of Glengyle to seal off, at will, all these routes to the north.  We’ll let these other places worry about their own “passes”, but, where was ours?  All historians site the Pass somewhere near the foot of Loch Ard.  Some say on the south side of Loch Ard, others say it was sited nearer the Milton but, inevitably, Ian, the fool, disagrees!  “Why”, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you!

    ½” Bartholemews map   1904

    The old roadway can be traced, in places, from where it leaves the Milton and by a very circuitous route reaches near to the present entrance to Cuilvona.  Behind Cuilvona the roadway climbed up through a narrow gorge between the rocks and proceeded on its merry way to Stronachlachar and beyond.  So, “This gorge is Aberfoil Pass”, he says, but wait, “There’s more!”

    It must be remembered that the present road between Cuilvona and Laraich was not hacked from the rocks until the early 1800’s. Previously, they were more inclined to hack each other and, in fact, the middle 1600’s were lively times in Aberfoyle with murder and mayhem the “in-thing”.  At this time, two quite sizable skirmishes are recorded in military records as having taken place at the “Pass of Aberfoil”.  It was the practice, in this period, to bury the dead of a battle on the battlefield.  For smaller affrays, two communal graves, one for each side, were constructed a little apart.  Today’s visitor to the “Pass of Aberfoil” can stand below the gorge and look up in wonder at this lonely and forbidding place, then look down and there, one on either side of the old roadway, are the two burial mounds of men who came here all those years ago and never did return home again.

    Ian R Nicholson

    The Battle of the Pass of Aberfoyle

    The engagement at the Pass of Aberfoyle took place by the 5th–6th September, 1653

    The Earl of Glencairn as General of King James VI forces in Scotland raised a force at Duchray in 1653.  The force consisted of:-

           Laird of Duchray     40 footmen

           Donald McGregor     80 footmen

           Lord Kenmure     40 horsemen

           Colonel Blackadder      30 horsemen

           Laird of McNaughton     12 horsemen

          Captain Hamilton     60-80 footmen

    In total 200 footmen and 82 horsemen

    Colonel Kydd, Governor of Stirling marched with his regiment of foot and a troop of horse.

    On hearing of the approach of Cromwell’s troops under Colonel Read, the Earl of Glencairn took care to secure the high ground beside the pass.  Duchray Castle is situated about a mile to the east, and a spot, in the trees below the confluence of the Duchray and the Avondhu is still called Bad an-t-Sasunnaich, the Englishman’s thicket, where an English officer was shot from the opposite side of the river.  Glencairn and his men probably crossed the river at Daldannet.  He positioned his foot, Hamilton’s cravats (so-called because they were light infantry resembling soldiers from Croatia) and Graham of Duchray’s volunteers, in the best positions on either side of the pass, and drew up the horse under Lord Kenmure in the centre.  Read must have realised that he would be at a disadvantage if he tried to carry the pass, but he made the attempt.  His advance was driven back at the first charge with the loss of between 20 and 80 men.  The whole of Read’s party turned their backs and fled,. Glencairn’s horse and foot pursued them, some running from hill to hill, flanking Cromwell’s troops, harrying them, and causing further losses.

    The English forces were then routed by the horsemen, 60 were killed on the spot and a further 80 in pursuit.  No prisoners were taken on either side.

    A local castle was burnt by Colonel Kydd’s men before the battle.  Originally this was thought to be Duchray castle but evidence points to Dounans castle as the one which was burnt.

    Burial mound in the Pass of Aberfoyle