Around Clackmannan

 

Clackmannan is the smallest county in Scotland. There are several Parishes, among them are Clackmannan, Alloa, Tillicoultry and Dollar and the parish covers an area of 30,477 acres, stretching 10 miles North and South between Perthshire and the river Forth, and 11 miles East and West between Stirlingshire and Fife.

It is located just South of the line from Dumbarton in the West to Stonehaven on the North Sea that marks the southern geographic boundary of the "Highlands." Clackmannan, along with Kinross and Fife are part of the peninsula formed by the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay, that was historically called the Kingdom of Fife.

The township of Clackmannan is an ancient site made attractive to warring settlers by a hill that dominates the surrounding countryside. From the hill a defender could see enemies approaching from any direction, and that made it a natural location for the tower and castle first built there some time in the Ninth Century. The nearby Forth also provided access to the sea.

The area was once part of the territory of the Gododdin, descendants of Iron Age Votadini tribe, centred around what is now Edinburgh.

The origin of its name is one of Clackmannan's mysteries. The consensus explanation is given in T. Crouther Gordon, The History of Clackmannan, published in 1936. According to Dr. Gordon, "clack" means "stone" in Gaelic and "Mannan" or "Manau" was a Celtic sea-god (who also provided the name for the Isle of Man). Evidently the name was applied to this particular site because there was an stone, ancient whinstone boulder called the "clach" originally on the bank of the Forth, that was regarded by the Picts as a dwelling place of the spirit of the water.

The dominant characteristic of Clackmannan is the Ochil's, breaking the rolling pastoral land with majestic hills to provide a view breathtaking in its diversity. The hills provide shelter for the "Hill foots" villages below, a fertile place to graze sheep and also provide ample motive power for mill wheels in local textile factories during the early industrial revolution. The legacy of woollen products dates back to the 16th century and possibly much earlier, when the people of Clackmannan began taking advantage of locally available wool to start a textile industry.

Clackmannan was a royal residence for three centuries. Malcolm IV, who reigned from 1141 to 1165, is the earliest Scottish king to have been in residence, and hunting seems to have been the primary attraction. The most famous royal resident was Robert the Bruce who reigned from 1306 to 1329. Bruce was of Norman descent, and most of Bruce's adult life was spent at war. He emerged as one of two primary contestants for the crown of Scotland after a long dispute. Edward I of England had been asked to arbitrate the question of succession, but he claimed the kingdom himself. Bruce secured Scotland's independence from England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Bruce's son David II (his tumultuous reign lasted from 1329-1371) was the last royal resident of Clackmannan. After languishing in an English prison for eleven years following the battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, David raised part of the money for his ransom from the English by selling the castle in Clackmannan to a cousin.

Clackmannan Tower stands stands on the site of an even older stronghold at the top a long ridge, which runs down through the town of Clackmannan below. The land was granted in 1360 to Robert Bruce, an illegitimate son of King David II (and thus a grandson of King Robert the Bruce). An original 14th century rectangular tower was added to in the 15th century by a taller square tower, creating an L-plan layout.

The old Tollbooth, Merkit Cross and King Robert's Stone can be found the in the centre of Clackmannan town. The tower is all that remains of the Tollbooth, which was an administrative building for the town, Taxes, Courts and prison to name a few. The Merkit Cross or Market Cross marked the site of the town market. It is inscribed with the coat of arms of the Bruce family.

As the Eighteenth Century ended Clackmannan was a prosperous town of approximately 120 houses and 700 people. It was a market town and the site of the annual St. Bartholomew's Fair. Most of the residents were undoubtedly farmers, but there was other industry. Several shallow shaft coal mines provided upwards of 7000 tons annual production, and Kilbagie distillery was famous as far away as London. Other residents worked as shoemaker, butcher, baker or in the woollen mill on the Little Devon. Within a generation, however, its prosperity was on the wane, and many of Clackmannan's residents left for the new world or larger cities.

Part of Clackmannan's folklore is a story about Robert the Bruce. He lost a glove there while hunting. Ever the thrifty Scot, he sent his lieutenant back to find it. "Go to a path near Clackmannan village," he instructed him, "and look aboot ye." The road is called Lookabootye Brae to this day, and tourism has adopted the slogan, "Look aboot ye," for visitors.