We are enjoying some beautiful Autumnal days at the moment and I’ve been enjoying getting out and about in the countryside close to home. My latest place to visit was the Achray forest just 30 minutes from our house in a beautiful part of the country known as the Trossachs.
The Trossachs are known as Rob Roy country after the 18th century legend and folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor. He was a latter-day Robin Hood who was well known and revered by many in Scotland. This was a turbulent period of Scottish history with a Jacobite movement that supported the restoration of the House of Stuart to the British throne.
Rob MacGregor was born in February 1671 at Glengyle at the head of Loch Katrine in the Trossachs. He was the third son of clan chief Donald Glas MacGregor of Glengyle. He inherited his red hair from his mother leading to his nickname, Rob Ruadh (Gaelic for Red) which was later anglicised into Rob Roy.
He started out his business life as a cattle dealer taking cattle to the market town of Crieff for sale. As in other parts of the world cattle reared in remote communities were driven long distances, on foot, to where the denser human populations lay who would buy and consume the cattle. This was the source of the droving trade in cattle in Scotland and the men who drove the cattle were called “the drovers.”
He was very successful and used his growing wealth to become the laird of Inversnaid, on the east side of Loch Lomond. Late in 1711 Rob Roy borrowed £1,000 from the Duke of Montrose to purchase cattle for the following year’s market. But in early 1712 Rob Roy’s head drover, having purchased the cattle, then sold them on and disappeared with the funds. Rob Roy returned from an unsuccessful search for the drover to find he had been bankrupted and outlawed by the Duke of Montrose, his lands had been seized and his family evicted.
Rob Roy sought revenge on the Duke of Montrose through a sustained campaign of cattle-rustling, theft and banditry. This included kidnapping Montrose’s factor, complete with over £3,000 of rent money he was carrying at the time. The targets for Rob Roy’s banditry grew to include other landowners who were not prepared to pay him to “protect” their stock and property. Meanwhile, his vendetta against the Duke of Montrose gained him a powerful ally in the Duke of Argyll, a long-standing enemy of Montrose.
During the 1715 Jacobite uprising, Rob Roy acted as guide to the Jacobite army as it marched from Perth towards Stirling. This culminated in the Battle of Sheriffmuir, a short distance from our home, where a much smaller government army prevented the Jacobites from reaching the Lowlands.
For his part in the uprising Rob Roy emerged with a price on his head for treason in addition to the earlier charges of banditry and for safety he set up home close to the Duke of Argyll’s base in Inveraray.
Rob Roy’s exploits resulted in him becoming a folk hero for many but a criminal as far as the authorities were concerned. He was captured by government forces more than once only to escape. Then in 1723 Daniel Defoe, remembered for his novel Robinson Crusoe, published Highland Rogue, and in 1726 Rob Roy received his Royal Pardon by public acclaim.
Rob Roy MacGregor died on December 28, 1734 in Balquhidder Glen and was buried in Balquhidder Kirkyard. Rob Roy’s story has grown further since his death. Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel, Rob Roy about him in 1818, and he was the subject of two Hollywood films in the 1900s. The Trossachs have become known as “Rob Roy Country”.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at [email protected]