The Royal Forest of Alyth

A 12th century Royal Hunting Reserve.

As you travel from the Bamff Estate towards Bridge of Cally and Blairgowrie, either as a walker along the Cateran Trail or by cycling or driving the single track road, you will pass through undulating countryside that was part of the Royal Forest of Alyth from around the 12th to the 16th century. Records show that at one time it covered 7,500 acres.

In the Middle Ages a foresta in Latin meant a hunting reserve, an area where the holder controlled the vert (the vegetation) and the venison (the game). This enabled the lord, the holder of these forest rights, to control wood-cutting, ploughing, the growing of crops, grazing of cattle and sheep and access through the forest since all these activities could damage the habitat of the deer. In practice he usually permitted these activities on the payment of a fine or a fee. Hunting deer and boar was, however, more strictly controlled though poaching must have been fairly common.

Forests were not recognisable features in the landscape. They were simply a set of rights or rules imposed over an area of land held by its lord who could be a king, baron, bishop or abbot.

Woods often survived better in forests and so gradually by the 16thcentury in Scotland the word came to mean a wooded area as it does today. The old meaning, however, still survives on today’s maps in the names of various former Scottish deer forests such as the Forest of Atholl, the Forest of Alyth and Ettrick Forest.

Evidence of this royal reserve can be found in place names such as the Hill of Kingseat to the northwest of the road and through archaeological traces on the Bamff Estate and at Corb a little further north.

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