We are still researching the history of Loch of Blairs and if you have any information about its past we would be delighted to hear from you (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org ).
What we do know is that the loch was made some time between 1830 and 1870. How do we know this?
Well, the renown cartographer, John Thomson, published a map of the area in 1830 (see opposite) and there is no sign of Loch of Blairs. Loch Dallas is clearly shown on the map and there is very little chance that Mr Thomson made the mistake of missing a body of water the size of Loch of Blairs.
When the Ordnance Survey produced their first county maps in 1872 (surveyed in 1870) Loch of Blairs was clearly recorded. Interestingly the map shows a drainage ditch running from the loch to the Mannachy Burn but gives no indication of the feed lade that we know today. What is shown is a boat house building in the same location as the current one.
It is pretty certain that the loch was made from a “stank”, an area of water logged land with no discernible inlet or outlet burn, and could even be in the area of historic peat extraction works.
During the dredging of the boat channel in the summer of 2018 there was clear evidence of a layer of clay below the root growth of the Phragmites Reeds. It may be that this is a natural layer in the subsoil strata but at the time the loch was made it was common to use a technique of “puddled clay” to create artificial water bodies like small lochs, lochans, ponds and canals. It is quite possible that the Laird of Altyre had the loch, and its earthen dam, constructed using this innovative technique.
What we do know with some certainty is that the original boat house and bothy was built in the late 1890’s. Whilst clearing up some of the internal wooden lining in the bothy one of the volunteers ( “Eagle eyed Jim” 🙂 ) spotted some writing on the back of a piece of wood from above the fireplace.
The writing, in pencil, reads….
“John Main Mason – Forres
Robert Murray Mason – Manachy Lodge Altyre
Built this fireplace in October 23rd 1896”
Now we don’t know if John & Robert were father and son, or brothers, but they were skilled craftsmen and they made a wonderful job of the fireplace. We will have to preserve this lovely piece of provenance and have it on show when the renovation works gets completed.
The loch was subjected to a bathymetric survey in 1904 by R C Marshall and included in the register of fresh water lochs of Scotland published by John Murray (a pioneering British oceanographer, marine biologist and limnologist) & Laurence Pullar (a Scottish businessman, geographer and philanthropist).
When a couple of Friends of Blairs Loch (Bob Laughton & Brian Higgs) did a simple survey from a boat in 2018 the depth profile across the loch was remarkable similar to that found by Mr Marshall.
The loch has been a popular place for recreation including Curling and the photograph below shows a busy Bonspiel taking place in 1891.
The current Laird, Sir Alastair Gordon Cumming, recalls his father having major maintenance works carried out to the dam in the early 1960’s and we think that this was when the concrete over-spill, that the footpath crosses, was installed. The main outlet is hidden in the undergrowth and consists of a 9 inch clay pipe set into the earthen bank dam.
The maintenance and running of the trout fishing on the loch was taken over by The Moray Council in the late 1970’s and a second boat house was installed by the “Game Angler’s Club” of RAF Kinloss about the same time. The loch was regularly stocked with Rainbow trout and became a popular place for local fly fishers.
Due to tightening local authority budgets the costs of ongoing maintenance became too high for The Moray Council and they ended their involvement with the loch in the early 2000’s. The photograph opposite, which we think dates from about 2005, shows two of the boats full of water and boat house & bothy starting to fall into disrepair.
The loch has sat quietly in its surroundings becoming, sadly, overgrown with Rhododendrons, Phragmites Reeds and dense aquatic weeds. It remains, however, a haven for bird life and a popular walking venue for “those in the know” of its beauty. It can, and will, be restored back to its former glory and become a wonderful community amenity for both recreation and education.
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