THE capital of Perthshire, the seat of a presbytery and a synod, and formerly the metropolis of Scotland, stands on an alluvial plain, on the right bank of the Tay, about twenty-eight miles above the influx of that noble river to the sea. The town has a rich urban aspect, second in Scotland only to that of Edinburgh; it presents, over more than one-half of its outskirts, arrays of architectural elegance and finish, which may almost compare with the brilliant displays of the metropolis; it is wood in front by the majestic Tay, and fanned on both sides by breezes circling over large and bright-green expanses of public meadow; it looks away, through a pure atmosphere, to the hazy summits of the Grampians, and yet is, on all sides, and at a brief distance, encinctured with soft and gentle and undulating hills, thickly gemmed with embowered villas, or worked into luscious picturesqueness, with wood an culture; and from the summits of two of these heights – Moncrieff, ‘the glory of Scotland,’ and Kinnoul, that museum of beauty and romance – it offers to its citizens and to tourists a series, a whole circle of views, whose profusion and magnificence of landscape fill even a dull mind with rich and long-remembered images. Of several views of the gem-city itself, seen jointly in its own brilliance and in the lustre of its setting, a very rich one, the subject of our present Illustration, is obtained from Moncrieff island, immediately below in the Tay; another form the bridge – especially when the sun is sinking beyond the distant Grampians, and the background of mountains is enshrouded in the purple of a summer’s evening – is truly exquisite, and has but few rivals in Scotland.
The Inches of Perth, or public grounds devoted to a free ventilation of the town, and to the promenading and out-of-door amusements of the inhabitants, are so spacious and beautiful as instantly to attract the notice of a stranger, and entirely vindicate the taste which makes them figure prominently in every description of ‘the fair city.’ They derive their name from having formerly been insulated by the river; and they still extend close along its margin. The south Inch, situated – as its epithet implies – on the south side of the town, is nearly a square of about 680 yards each way. A noble avenue of stately trees adorns it on three sides; and, previous to 1801, when it began to be edificed on the north by the fine street-line of Marshall-place, went completely round it. Another sylvan avenue, nowhere excelled in Scotland for the beauty and tasteful arrangement of its trees, bisects the Inch a little eastward of its middle. Along this avenue runs the new Edinburgh road, opened about the year 1770, and presenting to the tourist, as he surmounts Moncrieff-hill, and then debouches through the Inch, a singularly imposing approach to a city. This fine expanse of ground was, in former times, the arena of the athletic sports of the citizens, and frequently the theatre of active military movements. many feats of archery, in particular, were performed upon it, – an accomplishment for which the town appears to have been celebrated. – Adamson, in the ‘Threnodie,’ gives high credit to the citizens of his younger days for their dexterity as bowmen; and he appears inclined to draw a small share of the honour to his own account. Thus does he laud the benders of the yew:
And for that art our skill was loudly blown,
What time Perth’s credit did stand with the best
And bravest archers this land hath possest.
We spar’d nor gains nor pains for to report
To Perth the worship, by such noble sport;
Witness the links of Leith, where Cowper, Grahame,
And Stewart won the prize, and brought it home;
And in these games did offer ten to three,
There to contend; Quorum pars magna fui.
Mr. Cant, Adamson’s continuator, informs us that the distance between the stones in the Inch, marked for the flight of an arrow, was 500 fathoms. The North Inch is more spacious and less umbrageously shaded than its rival; and has at various modern dates received considerable additions. It forms a broad and long band of about 1,400 yards by 350, extending north-westward from the vicinity of the bridge. A race-course, curved at the ends, straight along the sides, and measuring about 950 yards from end to end, and 370 from side to side, is laid out upon it parallel to the river. Previous to about the year 1790, when the present line of road was formed, considerably to the west, the Inch was traversed through the middle by the road to Dunkeld and Inverness. The Inch is now used for the open air exercises of the inhabitants, and for reviews of the military; and, in ancient times, it seems to have been the favourite arena for judicial combats. In the reign of Robert Bruce, and under that monarch’s eye, it was the scene of a combat between Hugh Harding and William de Saintlowe; and in the reign of Robert III., it witnessed a deadly encounter between chosen parties of the McPhersons and the McKays, or of the clans Chattan and Quhele, – one of the most striking events of its class in the ancient history of Scotland.
The Earl of Dunbar and the Earl of Crawford, having failed to effect an arrangement of a feud between the McPhersons and the McKays, proposed that the quarrel should be settled by open combat. Accordingly, on an appointed day, the combatants – thirty of each clan – appeared on the North Inch, to decide, in presence of the king and queen and a large body of nobles, the truth or justice of their respective claims. According to some accounts, one of the McPhersons fell sick; or according to Bower, one of them, panic-struck, slipped through the crowd, plunged into the Tay and swam across, and, although pursued by thousands, effected his escape. As the combat could not proceed with the inequality of numbers thus occasioned, the king was about to break up the assembly when a diminutive and crooked man, Henry Wynd, a burgher of Perth, and an armourer by trade, sprang within the barriers, and thus addressed the assembly:- “Here am I! Will any one fee me to engage with these hirelings in this stage play? For half-a-merk will I try the game, provided, if I escape alive, I have my board of one of you so long as I live.” This demand, or proposal, of Gow Crom – that is, Crooked Smith, as Henry was familiarly styled – was granted by the king and nobles. A murderous conflict then took place. Victory at last declared for the McPhersons, but not until twenty-nine of the McKays had fallen; nineteen of the McPhersons were killed, and the ten remaining were all grievously wounded. Henry Wynd, and the survivor of the clan McKay, escaped unhurt. This passage of history, or of arms, if so it may be called, is vividly exhibited in the ‘Fair Maid of Perth;’ and it is also told well and succinctly in Dr. Browne’s ‘History of the Highlands and Highland Clans.’