A Brief History of Dufftown


Traces of the Pictish occupation remain in the shape of the mysterious 'Elephant Stone' and a weathered Pictish cross almost six feet high. There are a few stones from around the area that have come to light over the years, mainly around the Rhynie area, which is just a few miles from Dufftown.
 
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      Pictish Stones
 
A Christian community was started in 566 AD when St Moulag founded Mortlach Church, one of the oldest Christian settlements in Scotland. It was also the site of a Scottish victory against the Danes in 1010 AD. There is a legend that King Malcolm II extended the church three spears' lengths as a thanksgiving after defeating the Danes on the haugh below the church. The north wall with its postern door has a leper's squint and in the graveyard is the watch-house used to guard against body-snatchers.
 
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Balvenie Castle was built in the thirteenth century by the Comyn Earls of Buchan and visited by King Edward 1 of England. It was retained by the Stewarts, Earls of Atholl, from 1459 to the seventeenth century. In 1562 Mary Queen of Scots spent two nights at the castle on her northern campaign against the Gordons. It also gave refuge to the Marquis of Montrose in 1644 and was stormed by the Royalists in 1649. In 1689, after the Battle of Killiecrankie, victorious Jacobites occupied it. The castle was last occupied by government forces in 1746.
 
Dufftown itself was founded in 1817 by James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife, It was built close to the hamlet of Laichie to give employment after the Napoleonic wars and was originally called Balvenie. As with other villages of the period, Dufftown has spacious streets laid out in a regular plan with the four main streets converging at the Clock Tower, which was completed in 1839. Originally the town jail, later the Burgh Chambers and lately the home to the Tourist Information Centre.
 
The clock, in the tower, is known locally as "The clock that hanged MacPherson". MacPherson of Kingussie was an infamous freebooter condemned to death at Banff in 1700 for robbing the rich and giving it to the poor. The local inhabitants raised a petition for his reprieve but when the pardon was on it's way, MacPherson's arch enemy, Lord Braco, the Sheriff of Banff, put the clock forward a quarter of an hour to make sure MacPherson would hang. The clock was later removed from Banff and installed in Dufftown's tower.
 
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Dufftown is unique in the world. There is nowhere else, even in Scotland, with such a concentration of distilleries: "Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown stands on seven stills" The name of Dufftown has become synonymous with Scotch Whisky, its famous "seven stills" having risen to nine since the rhyme was composed. It has been said that Dufftown raises more capital for the Government per head of population than any other place in the UK.
 
The first of the seven stills was Mortlach Distillery which was granted a license in 1823 and the owner, George Cowie, was the first to create new markets for whisky as far south as London. William Grant spent twenty years at Mortlach until he purchased some secondhand equipment and set up on his own.

The distillery he then founded became Glenfiddich, which became the first distillery to sell single malt whisky, as opposed to the normal blended whisky, to the UK and export markets. Glenfiddich was also the first distillery to open its doors to visitors over forty years ago.

William Grant opened another distillery some five years later, next door, this was Balvenie. Balvenie remains different to most other distilleries, even today, by having its own maltings floor and farmland to grow most of its own barley. It has nine stills which have longer necks than Glenfiddich stills and as a result produces a distinctly different single malt.

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The Convalmore Distillery, now forming part of the Glenfiddich site is also sadly closed, established in 1894 as the Convalmore-Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd, suffered a major fire in 1909 and was subsequently rebuilt. This distillery experimented with a continuous distillation process, similar to grain whisky distillation, but abandoned the experiment in 1915. Two more stills were added in 1964 to boost production but finally closed in 1985. The site was then purchased by Glenfiddich in 1990 for warehousing.

Parkmore Distillery was opened in 1894 but closed (became silent) in 1931 due to water source problems, although its maltings continued to be used up until the 1960s and the warehouse facilities are still in use today. Unfortunately Parkmore whisky is no longer available, rumour has it that all casks were smashed when the distillery closed its doors for the last time.

1887 saw Glendullan Distillery built just upstream from Parkmore with two stills. It was renovated in 1962 and had a new building next door to boost production erected in 1972 with three stills, the original distillery becoming mothballed in 1985. Glendullan was supposedly the favourite whisky of King Edward VII.

Dufftown Distillery was founded, with two stills, in 1895 as the Dufftown-Glenlivet Distillery in a converted meal mill by two entrepreneurial Liverpudlians. Dufftown Distillery decommissioned their maltings in 1968, underwent expansion in 1974 with a further two stills and was further expanded in 1975 with the building of a sister distillery in the same complex, Pittyvaich Distillery. Pittyvaich Distillery was mothballed in 1993 and then, sadly, demolished in 2003.
 
Massed Pipes and Drums  Dancers
 
The origins of the Highland games has its roots firmly embedded in the Clan system of old. The games were held for entertainment for the clans people and also to find the strengths of each Clan. Through the competitions held the Clan Chieftan could ascertain the fastest runners, probably for messengers, the strongest men would perhaps become personal bodyguards and of course the best dancers and musicians for their entertainers.
 
As the power of the Clans diminished many of the competitions died out whilst others took the form of outings or picnics attended by whole families as it was possibly the only day off during the whole year except for Christmas. In the Dufftown area such outings became known as Gatherings and were held on the banks of the River Dullan near Mortlach Church. These were known as the Fiddich and Dullanside Gatherings, taking its name from the two rivers, Fiddich and Dullan.
 
It was moved to a field near the Fiddich in 1892 with the programme of events becoming more of the traditional type we know today. It was reported that over six hundred people attended the 1892 Gathering which is surprising given that transport was difficult for most people at that time. The Highland Games, as they are known today, take place every year on the last Saturday in July.
 
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