For centuries the cattle of the highland glens had found a ready market in the lowlands though it was probably the growth in demand from England following the union in 1707 which prompted local landowners to organise the first cattle markets which sixty years later would eclipse all others in Scotland. The first trysts were held on Reddingmuir but by the early 1770s had moved to a second location to the south-west of the town at Roughcastle. The construction of the Forth and Clyde canal caused difficulties for the drovers who had to negotiate yet another obstacle on their journey southwards and in 1785 the sales were moved to the site at Stenhousemuir. The big sale days were the first Tuesday of the months of August, September and October.
The ground set aside for the trysts consisted of around 200 acres, and early Ordnance Survey maps indicate the boundaries as the Bellsdyke Road to the north, Muirhall Road to the west, Main Street to the south and, possibly, Muirhead Road on the east. In other words, all the land at present covered by the golf course, the cricket ground, the football park as well as fringe areas which have been lost to housing and industrial development over the last century.
At their height the trysts were a sensational sight with as many as 150,000 cattle, sheep and horses arriving in great streams from all corners of Scotland and settling in the fields with their drovers, perhaps as many as two thousand with ponies and dogs, sleeping in the open or in portable bivouacs. Here they met with hundreds of buyers from all over Britain. The bustle and clamour was remarked on by many observers who came to marvel at the scene. One thought ‘certainly Great Britain perhaps even the whole world does not afford a parallel’. Supporting the dealers the was a large tented village of banks, shops and taverns offering all manner of services.
The arrival of the railways in the 1840s made it possible for dealers to buy ‘off the hill’ and sellers to transport the stock south on wheels. By then the availability of open ground en route from the hills to Falkirk was decreasing and the fatter, carefully bred cattle were less able to take the long walk to market. The tryst did continue but the numbers of livestock steadily declined until by 1900 the great markets were all but dead. All that remained, and still remain, are the annual sideshows and fair which are the direct descendants of the services and other activities which surrounded the trysts at their height. Other than the name ‘tryst’ for the golf course, the cricket club and the road there are no memorials or plaques to indicate that this is one of Scotland’s most historic sites. Apart of course from the annual fair already mentioned and McCowan’s toffee (with its Highland cow symbol) which is made on part of the tryst ground.
Ian Scott (2005)