“Michaelmas Market though shorn of its former glory is still considered the principal one in Crieff. At one time the crowd attending it extended from what is now the Crown Hotel to Comrie Street and from James Square down to the Market Park. To a great extent it held its former reputation as a cattle market, the cattle being gathered together in the Market Park. All sorts of goods were for sale including boots, shoes, cloth, tin ware, pails and tubs while apple and pear carts and sweetie stands abounded. In addition, at this, as well as at other markets, there were shows of different kinds, exhibiting giants or dwarfs or other freaks which were usually well patronized as were also merry go rounds, jugglers and cheap jacks.”
— Porteous, written in 1912.
Crieff was chosen as the venue for the yearly fair for mainly geographic reason. The Sma’ Glen was the traditional route from the north, cattle from the north east (Aberdeenshire) came down Strath Tay or from Blairgowrie and Alyth converging at Dunkeld and heading west up Strath Bran to Amulree and then down to Crieff. The large numbers from Argyll and the islands made their way by Rannoch Moor, Glen Dochart and Lochs Tay and Earn to Crieff.
This coupled with easy access for the buyers from the south promoted the town.’Mackey’s Journey though Scotland’ published in 1723 recalls his visit to the Tryst. There were then 30,000 beasts being sold for 30,000 guineas. The highland drovers often continued southwards offering their services to the dealers for one shilling a day for the southern trip and returning at their own expense.
The Market was held in the second week of October. It was under the control and patronage of the Earl of Perth who held a Court for the purpose of regulating disputes and keeping order. According to the schoolmaster for Monzie in the Statistical Account of 1793 the good citizens of that Parish “went in fear of their lives from the Highland drovers who broke into their houses, forcibly billeting themselves and often carried off part of the house hold goods and removed the potatoes from their fields”.
The Account for Crieff, written some 20 years after the demise of the Tryst, adopts a somewhat different approach: “The old people here sometimes speak with deep regret of the glorious scene displayed to view when 30,000 black cattle in different droves overspread the whole adjacent country for several miles around the town.”
Much of the trade was done by means of bills and by the second quarter of the 18th century Crieff came to be regarded as one of the main financial centres of Scotland. In 1770 the Tryst was transferred to Falkirk by the Commissioners of the Forfeited Estates.
With thanks to Colin Mayall and ‘The Story of Strathearn’Drovers’
The Scottish Tartans Authority has kindly designed a tartan for The Drovers’ Tryst.
Based on the Crieff tartan of 1797, this beautiful blend of old colours shows the brown and green of the moors, forests and grazings on the drove routes; the blue of the seas, lochs and rivers that the drovers crossed with their herds; the black and brown of the hardy little Highland cattle themselves and finally, the ancient red for the warmth of the sun on their backs and the camp fires at the end of a long day.