Scotland's Terrier: Bridge To A Breed
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Bridge to a Breed Graphic

Part One

Joseph Harvill, Ph.D., Editor of Great Scots Magazine

Argyllshire, Ancestral Home of Scottish Terriers
Hills of Argyllshire, ancestral home of the Scottish Terrier. Photo: J. Harvill

We went to the Western Highlands of Scotland in May 1998 in search of the roots of the Scottish Terrier. Our destinationwas to retrace the steps of Captain W.W. Mackie, who in the 1870s, toured the Highlands of Argyll in search of prime breeding stock of the then little known “Scotch Terrier.”

Scotland was my home from 1969-1976, but I had not seen her heathered hills for a quarter of a century. Twenty-five years is a long time. I knew I had changed a great deal during those years; I wondered if the old Glasgow I knew and loved had vanished in urban renewal and the wildness of the glens had been bulldozed by developers. Would I be disappointed? Did the Scotland I longed to reconnect with exist only in my heart?

Glasgow, Scotland's Argyll Hotel
The author at the Argyll Hotel, Glasgow.

We made Glasgow our home base. It's perfect for rail connections to all parts of Scotland, and especially the western highlands. We found a friendly hotel in the university area of the city which offerred Bed & Breakfast at a rate that suited our budget.

We made all our travel arrangements, including our British Rail Travel Passes, on the Internet.

Argyllshire: Birthplace of the Scottish Terrier

Earlier historical research into the beginnings of the modern Scottie turned up important clues which shaped our itinerary. Excerpts from Mackie’s travel diary preserved in D.J. Thomson Gray’s, The Dogs of Scotland (1891), identified the region of Tyndrum, Crianlarich, and Dalmally in Argyllshire as the location where Mackie purchased the terriers which genetically define our modern Scottish Terrier.

19th Century Scottish Terrier, Dundee
Early rendering of Dundee, the seminal genetic pillar of the modern Scottish Terrier, whose dam came from the Glen of Orchy.

Of special interest was finding Glen Orchy and the Bridge of Orchy, for it was in the vicinity of the bridge that Mackie bought an important breeding pair of “Scotch Terriers” from a deer forester named, McGregor.

I say important because the breeding bitch of that pair later whelped the champion ‘Dundee,’ who is the prototype of the Scottie as we know him today.

Bridge of Orchy

Scotland's Argyllshire: Origin of Scottish Terriers
Sheep dot the Argyll hills in the region where the Scottish Terrier was first bred. Photo: J. Harvill

We took the A82 road north out of Tyndrum and found the glen and the bridge little changed since Mackie’s visit. The

countryside is postcard Scotland, and as I stood on the bridge soaking up the wild beauty of the Highlands in all directions, I found myself thinking, if I could pick the place of origin for the breed I love, there could be no place lovelier than this spot in

Scotland's Glen Orchy Hotel
Glen Orchy Hotel sits beside the Bridge of Orchy on the Orchy River.

Argyll. Today a refurbished Glen Orchy Hotel stands on the roadside near the stone bridge-- old enough to have been in use when Mackie made his trek through Argyll by pony cart in the 1870s.

There were, of course, no pipers at the bridge welcoming us with skirls of ‘Scottie Dogs Forever.’ There were no fireworks in the sky marking the place of important beginnings. Indeed, the hikers and hill-walkers we encountered in Argyll scarcely knew anything of Scotties at all.

Glen of Orchy, Argyll, Scotland
The Glen of Orchy, looking south from the Bridge. Here, in the mid-1800s, was the whelping bin of the Scottish Terrier.

Today the dogs are gone from Glen Orchy, but for this Scottie lover the magic is still there.

A wildness attaches to the place, a palpable sense of harsh but beautiful environs where only the strong of will and limb belong. Here the Scottie spirit was bred and nurtured in rugged independence.

Here is the whelping bin of the Diehard. As I stood motionless on the bridge listening to the wind whisper through glens and conifer forests, it struck me how familiar that strange ‘whisper’ was.

Bridge of Orchy, Argyll, Scotland
Bridge of Orchy, near where Capt. Mackie in 1870s bought the breeding pair of "Scotch Terriers" that became the genetic pillars of the modern breed. Photo: J. Harvill

I thought of my dogs far away in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and of the debt I owe to Captain Mackie long ago.

Thinking and listening quietly on that old bridge, I could swear the Highland 'whisper' I heard that day sounded like a distant familiar Scottie dog “ah-r-r-r-r-o-o-o-o-o.”

©2002 Tartan Scottie