I’ve been intrigued by the lost community of Smithton since I climbed Smithton Hill this time last year, and then read David Dorward’s description of its namesake—“Former farm-toun W of Lundie village, deserted, abandoned and demolished within the past half-century.”
This was living memory for Dorward, writing in 2004, because he used to visit Smithton with his father when he was a child. Dorward senior was a keen apiarist, and would move his hives to Smithton in the summer months so that his bees could exploit the heather bloom in the hills. Dorward wrote:
[I]t was almost completely obliterated shortly after its last inhabited cottage was vacated in the 1960s.
The Smithton was a crofting community at the top of a track leading west from what is now the village hall in Lundie […] The track was passable for a car when I was young, but is now not used even by tractors, since the upper gate is locked and fenced against rabbits; the alternative access, from Lochindores, once the main access and still marked by a line of trees along the hillside, is now equally impassible. […] I was told that the old croft at Smithton was bulldozed by order of the laird; the result is that a once pleasant spot is now derelict.
In Angus or Forfarshire: The Land And People, Descriptive And Historical (1880), Alex J. Warden rendered the name Smistoun, and claimed it was so-called “because mists lie long upon it”. (But one wonders why it wouldn’t have been called plain old Mistoun, in that case.)
More likely, then, is Dorward’s derivation, from Smith’s toun—referring to either the personal name or the trade of blacksmith. Although he writes “[t]here is no known smiddy that could have occasioned the name”, the Ordnance Survey one-inch map (revised 1895) shows a cluster of buildings beside the track between Lundie and Smithton, labelled “Smithy”. Interestingly, by the 1900 survey for the six-inch and twenty-five-inch maps, those buildings have disappeared, and the label “Smithy” is attached to what is now Lundie village hall. (The previous smithy site is now occupied by what may well be the muddiest farmyard in the Scottish Lowlands.) So it seems reasonably likely that Smithton was the blacksmith’s toun, and we don’t need to invoke any of the ubiquitous Smith family.
Smithton sat on top of a low rise called Smithton Knowe, above a pair of springs called Horse Well and Craig Well, and despite the lack of access along the old tracks, I wanted to take a look at the site. I started from Tullybaccart and walked up through Pitcur Wood, then along the eastern shore of Ledcrieff Loch.
Behind the the fishery building at the head of the loch, a path strikes northeast to reach the edge of the forestry at a gate (NO 272372). From here, a path runs below Lundie Craigs, coming out at the place where I had a close encounter with a herd of Highland cattle during a previous walk. So I combined my trip to Smithton with reascents of Lundie Craigs, Ardgarth Hill and Smithton Hill, but I won’t bore you with the details.
It’s possible to get directly to the site of Smithton from the forestry gate, if you turn immediately right up the hillside, following a path that runs alongside the fence. At NO 274369, this brings you to a gate, which gives access to a tractor track that runs across the boggy ground below Smithton Loch, then skirts around the north side of Smithton Hill and descends directly towards Smithton Knowe. There’s a maze of new barbed wire lower down, which occasionally cuts across the original line of the track, but the way ahead is always obvious.
The Knowe itself is a lumpy diamond of open woodland, 300 metres long by 100 metres wide, floating 50 metres above the lower farmland to the east. Very little evidence of the old buildings remains, but there is still a deep, rectangular, turf-covered depression at the site of the Old Mill Dam—once there must have been a pool here, providing a head of water for the buildings a short distance below.
I could see no sign of the original terrace of cottages, or the larger building beyond, but on the south side I came across the low remains of terraced walls, and a couple of gateposts mysteriously left standing.
These gateposts cause me a little excitement, because I had seen them before—in Colin Gibson’s pen-and-ink drawing of Smithton in its heyday, reproduced in Dorward’s book. I won’t infringe Gibson’s copyright by reproducing the whole thing here, but I’ll just show you a relevant sliver:
You can see that the small trees Gibson recorded within the wall are now fully grown. Messing around with the National Library of Scotland’s georeferenced maps of the area, and adjusting the transparency to fade back and forth between the twenty-five-inch Ordnance Survey sheet and aerial photographs, I could also make out that the group of trees at the east end of the Knowe trace the original line of the walls of the larger building in that position. They seem too large to have sprung up from seedlings rooted in the ruined wall—I think, like the ones in Gibson’s drawing, they must have been planted as a windbreak within the walls when Smithton was still thriving.
Of Horse Well I could find no sign, but Craig Well is still there—a little brick structure isolated in the middle of a broad, muddy seepage from the hillside.
And that’s it. As Dorward says, the old routes from Lundie and Lochindores are essentially impassable—overgrown slots between two boundary fences, showing occasional remnants of the old stone walling; a line of new electric fencing cuts across the south side of the Knowe.
It’s still a pleasant spot, although it has a melancholy feel when you know its history. I wonder why anyone took the trouble to bulldoze the buildings?