Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Harvest Home

Harvest Home

We had three harvest homes to keep in Rothiemurchus: a very small affair indeed at the Croft; a luncheon in the parlour for us children only, and a view of the barn prepared for the dinner and dance to the servants. It was a much merrier meeting at the Dell; my father and mother and all of us, stuffed into the carriage, or on it, drove there to dinner, which was served in the best parlour, my father at the head of the table, Duncan McIntosh at the foot, and those for whom there was not room at the principal board went with at least equal glee to a side table. There was always broth, mutton boiled and roasted, fowls, muirfowl*****—three or four pair in a dish—apple pie and rice pudding, such jugs upon jugs of cream. Cheese, oatcakes and butter; thick bannocks of flour instead of wheaten bread, a bottle of port, a bottle of sherry, and after dinner, do end to the whiskey punch. In the kitchen was all the remains of the sheep, more broth, more mutton, haggis, head and feet singed, puddings black and white, a pile of oaten cakes, a kit of butter, two whole cheeses, one tub of sowans*, another of curd, whey and whiskey in plenty. The kitchen party, including any servants from house or farm that could be spared so early from the Croft, the Doune, or Inverdruie, dined when we had done, and we ladies, leaving the gentlemen to more punch, took a view of the kitchen festivities before retiring to the bed chamber of Mrs McIntosh to make the tea. When the gentlemen joined us the parlour was prepared for dancing. With what extasies we heard the first sweep of that masterly bow across the strings of my father’s Cremona. It had been my grandfather’s. A small very sweetly toned instrument lent to Mr McIntosh to be kept in order. He thought it wanting in power, his reels could not be given with spirit from it, so he enlarged the S holes. What became of this valuable instrument I know not. It had been spoiled. The first Strathspey**** was danced by my father and Mrs McIntosh; as the principal personages. The other pair to form the foursome was of less consequence. If my mother danced at all, it was later in the evening. My father’s dancing was peculiar; a very quiet body and very busy feet, they shuffled away in time quick time steps of his own composition, boasting of little variety, sometimes ending in a turn about which he imagined was the fling; as English it was altogether as if he had never left Hertfordshire. My Mother did better, she moved quietly in highland matron fashion, ‘high and disposedly’ like Queen Elizabeth and Mrs McIntosh, for however lightly the lasses footed it, Etiquette forbade the wives to do more than ‘tread the measure.’ William and Mary moved in the grave style of my Mother; Johnny without instructions danced beautifully; Jane was perfection, so light, so active, and so graceful; but of all the dancers there, none were equal to little Sandy**, the present Factor, the son of Duncan McIntosh, though no son of his wife.

Harvest Home

We were accustomed to dance with all the company, just as if they had been our equals; it was always done and without injury to either party. There was no fear of undue assumption on the one side, or low familiarity on the other; a vein of thorough good breeding ran through all the ranks, of course influencing the manners and rendering the intercourse of all most particularly agreeable. About midnight the carriage would be ordered to bring our happy party home. It was late enough before the remainder separated.

The Doune harvest home was very nearly like that at the Dell, only that the dinner was in the farm kitchen and the ball in the barn, and two fiddlers stuck up on tubs formed the orchestra. A whole sheep was killed, and near a boll*** of meal baked, and a larger company was invited, for our servants were more numerous and they had leave to bring a few relations. We always went down to the farm in the carriage drawn by some of the men, who got glasses of whiskey apiece for the labour, and we all joined in all the reels the hour or two we staid, and drank punch to every body’s health made with brown sugar, and enjoyed the fun, and felt as little annoyed by all the odours of the atmosphere as any of the humbler guests to whom the Entertainment was given.

*sowans: Oats and meal steeped in water for a week until sour, when they are strained; the jelly-like liquor is left to ferment and separate; the solid matter is sowans.

**Mr McIntosh spent the winter isolated in the forest “with no companion but Mary, of a certain age, and never well-favoured. The result was Sandy, a curious compound of his young handsome father and plain elderly mother. It was this Mary who was the cook at Inverdruie, and a very good one she was, and a decent body into the bargain, much considered by Mrs McIntosh. There was no attempt to excuse, much less to conceal her history; in fact, such occurrences were too common to be commented on… [Mrs McIntosh] had brought little Sandy home at her marriage and as much as lay in her power acted a mother’s part by him; her children even accused her of undue partiality for the poor boy who was no favourite with his father. If so, the seed was sown in good ground, for Sandy was the best son she had. It was a curious state of manners, this.

***boll: 6 bushels or 48 gallons

****the Strathspey:,

*****muirfowl (red grouse)



Memoirs of a Highland Lady

‘I was born on the 7th May 1797 of a Sunday evening at No. 5 N. side of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, in my father’s own lately built house and I am the eldest of five children he and my mother raised to maturity.’ Thus opens one of the most famous set of memoirs ever written. Since its first bowdlerised edition in 1898, they have been consistently in print. This is the first ever complete text. Written between 1845 and 1854 the memoirs were originally intended simply for Elizabeth’s family, but these vivid and inimitable records of life in the early 19th century, and above all on the great Rothiemurchus estate, full of sharp observation and wit, form an unforgettable picture of her time. The story ends with the thirty-three-year-old Elizabeth finding her own future happiness in marriage to an Irish landowner, Colonel Smith of Baltiboys. ‘A masterpiece of historical and personal recall.’ Scotsman


Memoirs of a Highland Lady

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