Comrie(/ˈkʌmri/; Gaelic: Cuimridh; Pictish:Aberlednock;Roman: Victoria) is an affluent village and parish in the southernhighlands of Scotland, towards the western end of the Strathearn district of Perth and Kinross, seven miles (11 km) west of Crieff. Comrie is a historic conservation village, recognised for its outstanding beauty (for which it has received many awards) and history and is also situated in a National Scenic Area around the river Earn. In addition Comrie is a thriving local community with over 50 local groups covering all ages and many interests. Situated on the Highland Boundary Fault, the village experiences more earth tremors than anywhere else in Britain. The town is twinned with Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada
There is significant evidence of prehistoric habitation of the area, characterised by numerous standing stones and archeological remains, which give some insight into the original pre-historic, Pictish and later Celtic societies that once lived here.
In 79AD the Roman General Agricola chose what are now the outskirts of Comrie as the site to build a fort and temporary marching camp, because of the area’s strategic position on the southern fringe of the Highlands. The fort is one of the line of so-called “Glen blocking” forts which runs from Drumquhassle to Stracathro and includes the legionary fortress ofInchtuthil. The temporary camp was c. 22 acre (c. 9 ha) in size. An infamous battle between the Celts and Romans is known to have taken place on the unidentified mountain calledMons Graupius, and the area surrounding Comrie, Strathearn, is one of several proposed battle sites.
Comrie’s early prosperity derived from weaving. This was mostly done as piecework in people’s own homes. Comrie was also important as a droving town. Cattle destined for the markets of the Scottish Lowlands and ultimately England would be driven south from their grazing areas in the Highlands. River crossings, such as at Comrie, were important staging posts on the way south. Much of the land around Comrie was owned by the Drummond family, Earls of Perth, latterly Earls of Ancaster, whose main seat was Drummond Castle, south of Crieff. Another branch of the Drummonds owned Drummondernoch (Gaelic: Drumainn Èireannach – Drummond of Ireland), to the west of the town. Aberuchill Castle, however, just outside Comrie was originally a Campbell seat.
Over the years the village has grown to incorporate many of its smaller satellite settlements, including The Ross (Gaelic: An Ros) a small settlement to the west of the village contained within a river peninsula (An Ros literally translates as peninsula) which became more accessible when ‘The Ross Bridge’ was constructed in 1792. Prior to this the peninsula was only accessible via a river ford. Similarly, the once isolated communities in the glens and mountains around the village, such as Invergeldie in Glen Lednock and Dalchruin in Glen Artney have generally come to be considered part of Comrie village. Previously, these communities existed as small isolated settlements – for instance, Glen Lednock contained 21 different settlements of 350 individual structures and 25 corn-drying kilns. However, these exclusively Gaelic-speaking hamlets were largely eviscerated by The Highland Clearances during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Comrie underwent something of a renaissance in the early 19th century and Victorian periods as an attractive location for wealthy residents and visitors, an image which has been maintained to the present day. A result of this popularity was the coming of the railway in 1893, when the Caledonian Railway completed a branch line from Crieff. This line was later extended to meet the Callander and Oban Railway at Lochearnhead. The line from Comrie to Lochearnhead was closed in 1951 and the Comrie to Crieff line closed in 1964, due largely to the improved road network in the area.
Comrie’s mountainous location with an abundance of streams and lochs meant that the early 20th century saw the development of a number of hydro-electric power schemes in the area. A dam was built in Glen Lednock and water was piped from Loch Earn in the west to another power station.
Today Comrie is an attractive retirement village, recording the largest proportion of over-65s in Scotland in the 1991 census. The village’s economy is supplemented by adventure and wildlife tourism.
The White Church, the former parish kirk, is Comrie’s most striking building, with its prominent tower and spire situated on the roadside of the ancient churchyard at the heart of the village. This is an early Christian site, dedicated to the obscure early saint Kessog (or Mokessog), who may have flourished in the 8th century. The Comrie Parish Church is of a grand Gothic style, disproportionate to anything else in the village dominates the distant skyline. It was designed and built in 1881 by George T Ewing. Comrie is also graced by a little-knownCharles Rennie Mackintosh building, a shop in the main street with a first floor corner turret built in a version of the Scottish vernacular style (not visible in the above illustration). Some of the buildings and homes in the village date back hundreds of years with many traditional highland cottages built in dry-stone and/or clay which all would have originally been endowed with thatched roofs. In the higher mountain glens surrounding the village traditional highland blackhouses, most now in ruins, are also to be found. There are also a number of grand estate homes and historic castles in the local area. For the most part however, in the main quadrants of the village are to be found Victorian and Edwardian buildings, including many large detached villas and small terraces. In the newer parts of the village more modern properties from the 1950s onwards dominate, including extremely modern properties of varying character.
The village has won the Royal Horticultural Society “Large Village Britain in Bloom Winner” in 2007 and 2010. Comrie also won a number of awards in the 2009 Beautiful Scotland Campaign, including Best Village and a special award for Continuous Community Involvement. In 2013 Comrie won gold in the village category of the Beautiful Scotland Awards, as well as a special Community Horticulture Award.
Comrie has a number of local amenities which include a primary school, a post office, two hotels (‘The Comrie Hotel’ and ‘The Royal Hotel’, both of which contain their own restaurant and bar), 3 churches of various denominations, two small cafés (one of which is also the local fish and chip shop), a restaurant (‘The Deil’s Cauldron’), and an independent petrol station.
An annual two-week festival, called the Comrie Fortnight, is held in the village during July and August. The Comrie Fortnight started in the late 1960s and has evolved over the years, now consisting of a wide range of activities including competitions, outings, dances and a float parade. Profits from the Comrie Fortnight are used to support events and groups in the local community.
The Flambeaux Parade and Hogmanay Celebrations
Comrie has a unique and somewhat curious Hogmanay ritual. Each Hogmanay, on the stroke of midnight, a torchlight procession marches through the village. Traditionally the procession involves the twelve strongest men of the village carrying long, thick birch poles, to which burning tarred rags are attached, to each of the four corners of the village. The procession is usually accompanied by the village pipe band and villagers with floats and dressed in costume. After the procession the torches are thrown from the Dalginross Bridge into the River Earn. The precise origins of the ceremony are unclear. It is generally assumed to have pre-Christian Celtic or possibly Pictish roots and to be intended to cleanse the village of evil spirits in advance of the new year (albeit the new year‘s commencing in January is a relatively modern convention). The use of the birch tree specifically may have significance as the first letter of the Celtic Ogham alphabet, and a symbol of new beginning.
The spectacle attracts thousands of visitors from all around the world to the small highland village each Hogmanay. A countdown to midnight is usually held at Melville Square and after the processions people gather here again for traditional Scottish music and dancing. Drinking alcohol in the street is commonplace and tolerated. Parties in village homes are common and other Scottish Hogmanay traditions like first footing are also observed.