Set in stone

Just returned from a couple of days walking in the glens by Blair Atholl.   It’s such a solid place, all well-built stone houses, thick-walled inns, fine walls around the Castle and sturdy bridges across the fast-flowing rivers.  The stone is beautifully cut, weathering the highland winters and acquiring character.

So it seems fitting that the War Memorial in Blair Atholl should be a 20-ton boulder from the Atholl estate, hewn reputedly by the Duke himself after his brother died in the Great War, and erected in 1924.  It is bare and unadorned, with just the dates 1914-18 cut on it.  The names of the fallen appear on plaques fixed to the wall behind it.

The style of war memorials was a somewhat contentious issue.  The radical and novelist Lewis Grassic Gibbon ridiculed the sentimentality of the angel on the memorial at Segget in Cloud Howe published in 1933:  “.. an angel set on a block of stone, decent and sonsy in its stone night gown … and they set up THIS to commemorate THEM – this quean like a constipated calf!”

Perhaps the folk of Blair Atholl feared criticism that they had not bothered with such angels or other extravaganza.  The Duke was reported in the Perthshire Advertiser as saying, “Those who selected this form of memorial stone considered that the best handicraft of man could not be as adequate a one as this great, simple stone, though it is a small mite of the work of the Creator, and they felt that it would stand here for generations to come as a token of steadfastness in time of adversity, and would be in harmony with the surrounding hills and with the characters and traditions of the people who dwelt among them.”

So is it true that the people of a region take on the ‘character’ of their surroundings?

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