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Alexander McDonald

Alexander McDonald© Seton Gordon Literary Estate

Alexander 'Sandy' McDonald was the resident keeper at Bynack Lodge from the late 19th century into the early 20th century, and at Luibeg Cottage in the early 20th century.

In 1860 Sandy was born on the 24th of February to John McDonald, and Ann Gruer in Corriemulzie.

In 1861 the census of that year shows him for the first time, living at Corriemulzie aged 1 year old.

In 1894 Sandy was a labourer at Mar Lodge when he married Jane McHardy on the 3rd of July.

By 1896 they were living in Woodside Cottage, Little Inverey, and Sandy was a still a labourer when their daughter Ann was born on the 30th of June.

By 1898 they were living at Bynack Lodge, and Sandy was now a keeper when their daughter Mary was born on the 22nd of April at Cliff House, Braemar.  The birth extracts for the district frequently show children being born in the cottages of Braemar to parents living 'up the glens'.

In 1901 the census of that year shows the family, including 4 children, still at Bynack Lodge.

In 1912 they'd been living at Bynack Lodge for about 14 years when they moved to Luibeg Cottage.  It's during the residence at Luibeg Cottage that we come to know him.

In 1916 Mar Forest itself became directly involved with the war of 1914-1918 when a Zeppelin flew over the area.  In Wyness (1968) the author describes the flight of the Zeppelin writing :

... in February, 1916, a complete black-out was ordered.  This measure was so successful that on the night of 2nd May, the Zeppelin L20 lost its course.  Coming inland from the North Sea near Arbroath, L20 passed over ... Inverey, Derry Lodge and so to Aviemore ... an interesting memento of the Zeppelin's visit - the metal holder of a flare-light dropped on the slopes of Sgòr Dubh, opposite Derry Lodge

- Wyness (1968) (p295)

The finding of that 'holder of a flare-light' by Sandy McDonald is a curious sequel to that flight.  In the summer of 1921 Sandy found a metal object on Sgòr Dubh behind his cottage.  Later that year Sandy was out stalking with Edward, Prince of Wales, and showed his metal object to the Prince.  The Prince took it away for identification, returning it to Sandy afterwards.  The principle behind the operation of the flare-light was its chemical reaction to water - the flare-light would only 'flare' if it was dropped in water.  A bit crude, but at least you'd know whether you were flying over land, or water.

The Prince was friend of Seton Gordon, and appears to have known the keepers of Mar Forest well.  A letter to Seton Gordon from Edward, Prince of Wales dated October 20th 1913, containing what appears to be references to Donald Fraser, and Sandy McDonald - reads :

... I am glad to hear you were at the Derry the other day & saw the "goat" & McDonald.  They are both such nice men & am glad they liked the presents.  I always try to give those people things that are & will be useful to them through the winter, and I know their tastes & requirements pretty well now !!!

- Edward, Prince of Wales

There's no doubt that Seton Gordon knew Sandy well, and references to Sandy are dotted through his books.  In Gordon (1925) - the author writes :

Nowadays it is a very rare event for a native of the district to walk through the Lairig, and Sandy MacDonald [sic] of Lui Beg crossed for the first time at the age of 65 in the summer of 1924

- Gordon (1925) (p70)

Beyond Glen Dee the waters of the small Lochan Feith na Sgor lay in strong light ; beyond them one noted the green ''flat'' where Sandy MacDonald [sic] the stalker of Glen Lui Beg cuts his peats

- Gordon (1925) (p94)

I assume this ''flat'' is the haugh opposite Luibeg Cottage, on the north-bank of the Laoigh Beag.

Sandy died at Greenfield Cottage, Braemar on the 13th of March 1939.  He is buried in the graveyard at Braemar.