The Balloch Hill, the Monks Cairn and Modern Technology by Isobel Shanks

Let’s go back in time, to when the Cistercian Abbots and monks of Kinloss reigned supreme in their St Mary’s Monastery Church and Fortalice in Grange and owned much of the vast lands of the Barony of Strathisla. The Barony had been granted to them by William the Lion, King of Scotland and stretched from the Balloch to the Knock Hills.

Their neighbour Sir Thomas Gordon, Tam o Riven, disputed the boundary line between his Daugh of Ruthven (Aberdeenshire) and the Barony of Strathisla (Banffshire). Tam o Riven challenged the monks to ‘fight it out’ and this was accepted with the proviso that only the leaders would be involved, in fact a ‘duel’ between Tam o’ Riven and the Abbot arranged.

The day dawned and the Abbot and Tam o Riven faced one another with their men behind them, the monks well out numbered. The two leaders began their battle and tragically both were fatally wounded. Despite the agreement, Tam o’ Riven’s men, angered by the loss of their leader and out for vengeance charged the retreating monks and a bloody skirmish took place. This resolved nothing and resulted in the loss of some fine young men and of course their leaders.

Tam’s men, who survived, decided to erect a monument to him and this took the form of a stone effigy, complete with his armour and sword, within a bower in St. Cyril’s Church Ruthven. This can still be seen today on a wall of the now ruined Kirk of Ruthven.

The Abbots and Monks, not to be outdone and as a form of atonement, decided to build a large Cairn on the very spot where Brother John had been so fatally wounded. For centuries afterwards many stones were added to the Cairn by passing travellers in memory of the Abbot who lost his life for what they felt was a just cause.

But where on the Balloch Hill was the Monk’s Cairn?

Well at this point more than 500 years later modem technology helped the Heritage Group to find the “lost Cairn” and this is how it happened.

Heritage members while researching for their booklet Keith Historical Walks, found a reference to a Monks Cairn on the Balloch hill. The position was located on an O.S. map and all involved were confident that they knew where to find the Monks Cairn, however, the position of the Monks Cairn remained a mystery.

After many fruitless searches it was decided to involve those who walked the Balloch regularly but again the Cairn’s position remained a mystery. Then Bill McLean entered the scene with his walking companion John Perkin and his GPS computer, which is a Global Positioning System instrument and is connected to thirteen American satellites placed in space to aid navigation for those on land, sea or air. The two intrepid adventurers programmed the GPS with the map references and off they set along the forestry road.

After a time the Parish of Grange came into view soon they passed by the old site of Grange station and Garrowood. On and upward they went until the tree line stops and the panoramic view of a lush green valley with a backdrop of purple hills appeared and the GPS stated ‘you have reached your destination’, ” Eureka,” the Monks Cairn had been found! There it was, a huge mound over 500 hundred years old and covered in green fern, a truly lasting memorial to a brave young man who gave his life for the boundary of land separating the Daugh of Ruthven (Aberdeenshire) from the Barony of Grange (Banffshire).

The irony of this discovery was not lost on the Heritage Group or on our adventures as the Monks Cairn is now on the Aberdeenshire side of the boundary – no longer within the Banffshire boundary!