James Johnson.

The recess, or Autumnal relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands; being the home circuit versus foreign travel, a serio-comic tour to the Hebrides online

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land of cakes. These certificates are great taxes on the gentry of all
countries, and I have made a point of never availing myself of them, ex-
cept in cases of necessity, and where money could not command accom-
modation at that hospitable mansion AN INN. He who wishes to see as
much as possible in the shortest space of time, will not intrude on the
domestic circle, or take up his abode for a week or two with each of his


friends. Pennant, MacCulloch, and fifty other Scottish tourists would
have given us better delineations of man and the earth which he inhabits,
had they worked harder and eaten less. Had they paid for every thing
they put into their mouths, the public would have had better and cheaper
articles comina; out of that reservoir.


The Scotch have been satirized, beyond measure, for the mean or the
mercenary act of selling one of their kings and that for the sum of
FOURPENCE. Yet, on an impartial review of their crowned heads, from
Kenneth downwards, leaving aside the interminable list of UNUTTER-
ABLES, presented to the Pope by Robert Bruce, and tracing a long line
of regal ancestors up to Pharaoh, king of Egypt we must confess that,
even of those who were crowned at Scone, or on the Irish Stone, not
a few could be singled out, who would not have fetched a groat had
they been put up to auction in any of the most legitimate monarchies
of Europe. But those who cast reproaches on Scotland, should recol-
lect that, if she, sold one king, she bought three, two of them the
dearest bargains that ever crossed the Tweed. For one, (David the
Second), the Scotch nation paid one hundred thousand marks in gold,
and that for the " dishonorable tool of England," whose " life was a
uniform contrast to the patriotic devotion of his father " THE BRUCE.
For the other, (William the First,) Scotland paid the heaviest penalty
and the dearest ransom that a nation ever paid for a prince, forfeiture
of independence ! As for James the First, that vigorous monarch
levied such a capitation tax on the Scotch aristocracy, in Stirling Castle
and elsewhere, as Caledonia had never before experienced ! Still, as
the king's motto appears to have been

" Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos,"

his ransom of forty thousand marks was not extravagant, considering
the expense of his education. However this may be, the English and
French should be the last people in the world to taunt the Scotch with
selling their king. It was infinitely better to make a penny by a sale
than by a scaffold, and far more -consonant with those ideas of pru-
dential economy that are early instilled into a Scotchman's mind. It
is true that in Scotland, as in other countries, kings have come to un-
timely ends. They, like too many of their subjects, have /alien by the
assassin's blow. But, of all murders, the legal murder is the most
terrible, on account of the long and torturous note of preparation that
precedes it, and the revolting mocker)' of justice which sanctions it.

i 2


Yet Scotland had, on one occasion at least, some excuse for regicide,
had she been inclined that way. Few palaces have presented the
frightful scene of a noble guest stabbed to the heart, after dinner, by
the royal host who invited him to his table, and shared with him
in the banquet. Even here, the murder of Douglas was not without
provocation, though certainly without excuse, and the tenor of James
the Second's life showed, that probably a gust of passion, when flushed
with wine, led to the horrible breach of pledged faith, of kingly honour,
of common hospitality, and of God's commands, rather than premedita-
tion on the part of the royal perpetrator.

It must be conceded to Scotland, that she never concurred in the
murder of that Charles whom she delivered up ; and that she took
more energetic steps to prevent an English parliament from beheading
its own king, than to prevent an English queen from beheading a queen
of Scots !


It has been very well observed by a modern and highly-gifted travel-
ler in the Highlands, that the exaggerated descriptions which we find
in some books of tours, deprive the spectator not only of his anticipated
pleasures, but of those which the scene itself would have afforded, had
the colouring been natural. No one has experienced these disappoint-
ments more frequently than myself; so that I have long learnt to dis-
trust the glowing descriptions of many travellers. Such writers appear
to be seized with a fit of the STUPENDOUS, the moment they see a cliff or
a cataract, a high mountain or a rugged rock ; and labour to excite
vivid sensations in the minds of their readers, although they probably
felt none at the time themselves. With them, bogs are always bottom-
less rivers impassable seas running mountains high rocks tottering
cascades thundering bridges trembling under the feet of passengers,
while the mountains are impending over their heads. The road always
lies on the brink of a fathomless precipice, where one false step must
precipitate the traveller a thousand feet into the yawning gulf below.
Caverns are gloomy and dangerous the clouds involve them in dark-
ness visible and night falls on them with all its horrors.

Such, or nearly similar, are the reflections of Dr. MacCulloch, and
with which he ushers in the description of a place, such as human eye
never before saw. It is quite clear that the worthy doctor would take
good care not to exaggerate, after the philippic in which he has indulged
against the exaggerations of others. The statements then are, no doubt,


the naked truth. But to put the reader out of suspense. A few hours'
row or sail from Bun awe, up Loch Etive, will bring the tourist to the
Enchanted Valley, commonly called GLEN ETIVE. In this valley, we
are informed by the doctor, " there is that sense of eternal silence and
repose, as if in this spot creation had for ever slept. The billows that
are seen whitening the shores, are inaudible, the cascade foams down
the declivity unheard, the clouds are hurried along the tops of moun-
tains, before the blast, but no sound of the storm reaches the ear. I
wandered from my companions, and thought that I had proceeded but
a few yards ; yet the boat was a cockle-shell, and the men were invi-
sible. The sun slione bright, yet even the sun seemed not to shine. It
was as if it never penetrated to the spot since the beginning of time."
Vol. ii. p. 152.

Burning with impatience to see a place where the laws of Nature
appeared to be reversed or annulled, and where man, at the distance of
a few yards, was not merely without shadow, but without substance,
I sailed up Loch Etive ; but the first experiment convinced me that the
sly doctor had hoaxed me completely. I landed on the bank opposite
Ben-Cruachan, and paced two hundred and fifty yards in a direct line
from my fellow traveller. I then turned round, with a palpitating
heart : I saw him as large as life and the very dog at his feet was as
plainly visible as if he had been by my side ! I looked up to the sky,
and the sun was shining splendidly in the south-west : I looked down
on the ground, and my shadow was distinctly painted there, in a north-
easterly direction. A smart breeze swept over the surface of the lake,
and the waves were heard plashing on the shore. I cast my eye towards
Ben Cruachan, and I heard the rivulets murmuring down their rocky
beds ! Oh, Dr. MacCulloch, how you will laugh at the success of your
waggery when you read this !

If, indeed, I had previously reflected for a moment on the doctor's
representation, I might have been a little puzzled how the " eternal
silence and repose" of Glen Etive should have prevented the billows from
being heard while dashing against the shores, or the cascades from
being audible while tumbling over the precipices. When the judge, in
other parts of the world, wishes to hear distinctly the words of a wit-
ness, he commands silence in the court ! But things are different in the
enchanted valley of Glen Etive !

I am free to coiifess, however, that there is a gigantic simplicity about
the whole scene, which is very impressive. No ornament intrudes on
that solitary vastness that surrounds us. The rocks and bays on the
shore are swallowed up in the enormous dimensions of the circumjacent
mountains. Clifl's of grey granite, mixed pastures of a subdued brown,

118 APP1N.

rise all around, from the water's edge to the misty summits of Cruachan
and Buachaille. The unapprehended distance lends to those sober
tints an atmospheric hue, which brings the entire landscape to a tone
of sobriety and repose. All around, water, rock, hill, and sky, is one
broad mass of peace and silence.

I wandered several miles along the margin of the lake, (by a newly
constructed bridle-road,) contemplating the solemn and solitary scene,
while the boatmen enjoyed a nap in a narrow creek, without seeing a
human being, or distinguishing a human habitation. The weather was
fine; but before I got back to the boat, the winds roared, the torrents
fell, the clouds swept rapidly over Ben-Cruachan, and two or three
heavy peals of thunder reverberated from mountain to mountain, as if
the foundations of the hills were tearing up by the roots. None but
those who are acquainted with Alpine climates and scenery, can form
an idea of the suddenness with which the whole face of nature is
changed in such localities. The ebb tide and the western gale were
contending for mastery ; and in the strife between these elements, our
little cockle-shell boat was nearly foundered. I was glad to get back
to Bunawe ; though the old Charon, or ferryman there, is an exorbitant
Jew. But he is beneath notice.


There is not a more picturesque or interesting tract of road in the
Highlands than that which lies between Dunstaffnage and Ballahulish.
First, we have the Connal ferry to pass ; and as the boat is generally
on the side opposite to that which we approach, we have plenty of time
to contemplate that stupendous " MARINE CASCADE," as it is called in
the Guide-Books, the Niagara of the North, where Loch Etive, in its
daily visits to Loch Linhie, falls five ivhole feet, in the space of half a
mile or so ; and, about the middle of ebb-tide, makes some noise, and
shows a rippling surface. Such a magnificent scene could not escape
the excited imaginations of poetical tourists and exaggerating road-book
manufacturers. At length old Charon hears or sees some of the many
signals made, and drags his lazy boat to the bank ; when a tedious
train of operations ensue, before the Highland horses are coaxed,
thrashed, and ultimately pushed into the vessel ! From the Connal to
the Shian ferry, a distance of only five or six miles, we have all the
materials for rich descriptions all the elements of splendid scenery.
We have mountains, lakes, woods, rocks, castles, sea, ships, cultivation,
&c., all strangely intermixed and blended ; to which may be added, (for


the sake of geologists and antiquaries,) extinct volcanos, vitrified forts,
and departed cities. The view from ARDMUCHNISH HOUSE, is likened,
by MacCulloch, to that from the Acropolis at Athens as far as the
Doctor could judge from the panorama of the Grecian metropolis, exhi-
bited in the Strand. I have seen both prospects in the original; and,
excepting the placidity of the Mediterranean sea, the blueness of the
eky, the almost tropical verdure of the vegetable world, and the white-
ness of the human habitations and religious structures, I would say that
the Appin landscape is superior to the Athenian.

Here the antiquarian will be delighted to learn that the ruins of the
ancient capital of the Highlands, Berigonium, may be traced at least
in tradition. The very names of the streets, built three centuries be-
fore the Christian era, are known, and wooden pipes, for conveying
water to the, city, have been discovered, proving that the ancient
Highlanders were far more advanced in certain domestic comforts, than
the modern Athenians, till very lately, were ! It is clear that the climate
must have changed very much about Appin since the flourishing days of
Btrigonium ; for, if pipes were at all wanted, it would now be for the
purpose of carrying away the water that falls so abundantly from the
skies in this part of Great Britain ! To doubt the existence of a High-
land capital in this place, would be a great offence to Highlanders, and
a great drawback on antiquarian curiosity and pleasure. Therefore I
pass on, a true believer. " Credo, quia non possibile."

The drive from Appin to Ballahulish, on the banks of Loch Leven,
(not Queen Mary's,) along the edge of Loch Linhie, is one of the most
picturesque, as I said before, in all the Highlands. The ruins of
STALKER CASTLE, on the left of the road, arrest our attention. It is
little more than a small square tower, and yet it is nearly as large as
the islet on which it is built. I cannot conceive the reason of selecting
such a spot for a castle, when so many beautiful and romantic emi-
nences are scattered around, in every direction. A cliff or a mount
would surely have afforded the chief and his family better air, and a
more cheerful prospect, as well as greater security against assault, since
the islet is not thirty yards from the main. The water could be of little
use, for it is salt, and fit for neither drinking nor washing. " De gus-
tibus nil disputandum."

The road to Ballahulish displays a lively and moving picture of boats
and various vessels gliding to and fro, on Loch Linhie, to the left;
while, on our right, rises a rude and magnificent scene of mountain
boundary, covered with woods, and diversified by rocks and torrents
by cliffs and glens and by picturesque recesses among the hills. Over
Ballahulish rises the high mountain of BEN-NA-BEAR, which is of easy


ascent, and commands very magnificent prospects, which every tourist
should survey, if the weather be favourable. The ascent is easy, though
somewhat tedious.

The banks of LOCH LEVEN are represented, by an excellent judge of
scenery, as well worthy the attention of the tourist. The weather was
unpropitious for investigation, and therefore I have nothing to say on
the subject. The following remarks on a bury ing-ground in an island
of Loch Leven, are so applicable to places of sepulture generally in the
Highlands, that I shall make no apology for the short quotation.

" St. Mungo's Island is an interesting spot, no less on account of the
various views which it affords, than because of its burying-ground,
crowded with grave-stones and ornaments, and with sculptures which,
in a place so remote and unexpected, attract an attention that more
splendid works would scarcely command in the midst of civilization.
There is an impressive effect also, a check, and an awe, produced by
thus suddenly meeting with the emblems of mortality in these wild and
secluded spots : a feeling well known to those who have thus, in their
wanderings among the Highlands, unwarily fallen upon these reposi-
tories of the dead. The English churchyard is habitual to our sight,
nor is it ever unexpected ; proclaiming itself from afar, by its spire or
its church, by its walled enclosure or its ancient elms. We pass it
coldly ; and if we look at its monumental stones, it is seldom but to
amuse ourselves with their barbarous emblems, or the absurdities of
their mortuary verse. But in this country, in the midst of the beauties
and sublimities of the fairest nature, when, rejoicing in the bright suns
of an Alpine summer, in all the loveliness that surrounds us, we are
suddenly and unexpectedly recalled to the thoughts of that hour when
these glorious scenes shall be to us as to those who are sleeping at our
feet, then it is that we feel the full force of the narrow green mound,
the rude letters, and the silent stone, which seem to say, the time is
at hand when thou too shalt see these bright lakes and blue hills no

The cemetery in question is that of GLENCO ; and he must be of
insensible heart, who can contemplate it without experiencing poignant
and painful emotions, on recalling to mind the massacre perpetrated in
the once populous, but now deserted valley of that name !

* MacCulloch, vol. i. p. 312.



There is no valley or spot in the Highlands that can make much
pretension to the sublimity of Alpine scenery or solitude, except Glenco.
The cliffs, crags, and steeps that rise in rude and barren majesty, some
two thousand feet, on each side of this narrow valley or ravine, appear
like the gigantic ribs of some huge earth-born monster, from which time
and tempest had long swept away every thing but the solid granite

The scenic phenomena produced by dense vapoury clouds, or rather
fogs, floating slowly over a lofty ridge of serrated rocks, fractured and
worn into all kinds of shapes, are among the most extraordinary that can
be presented to the wondering eye. They are seen to advantage in the
middle regions of the Alps above the boundary of vegetation, but below
that of glacier and snow namely, in the sombre zone of desolation and
naked rock. They appeared in as great perfection, in the valley of
Glenco, as in the vicinity of Chamouni.

A particular condition of atmosphere is necessary for their production.
The clouds must be low, and the breeze must be light. The scene is
incapable of being represented by the most skilful pencil, since its cha-
racteristic feature is incessant change. The painter might as well attempt
to fix and embody in one picture, the intermingling mutations of a magic
lantern, as the fluctuating forms of this MOUNTAIN MIRAGE.^ It would
have afforded excellent materials for the descriptive powers of a Byron
or a Radclifle ; but they either never witnessed it, or forgot to notice it.

Standing on the banks of the Cona, we behold, on each side, an ex-
pansive veil of vapour, a curtain of white cloud, rising to a great height
in the air, or blending with the dense and gloomy atmosphere overhead.
The veil or curtain appears to be motionless at first ; but presently one
or several dark spots are seen to stud the surface of the snowy drapery.
They darken and enlarge, till they assume something of form or shape;
but not like any thing into which even the fancy could convert them, as
objects hitherto known. In this stage, the whole diorama is sometimes
suddenly or slowly veiled from our sight, and the scene is again to be
renewed. But more frequently another and more striking metamor-
phosis takes place. The shadowy forms of things unknown begin to
take on, not only definite shapes of their own, but the outlines of almost
every thing which a retentive memory can recall, or the most fertile
imagination invent. At one moment, we have before us, in the air, a
gloomy castle, or a frowning fortress, with moats nd mounds, towers


and keeps, battlements and banners. But a slight difference in the
depth or density of the vapoury medium, through which the objects
loom, will give rise to the most singular optical illusions. The castle
or fort changes into a mouldering ruin, a lofty ship under all sail, a huge
pyramid, or a magnificent temple.

Suddenly a breeze of wind sweeps along the valley the figures
become all confused by the rolling of the vapours the curtain draws up,
and we find ourselves in a narrow valley, by the side of a small stream,
and surrounded by wild, barren, and fractured precipices !

Every one has witnessed the similitudes and metamorphoses presented
by ranges of fantastic clouds along the western horizon, on a summer's
evening. The mirage of the mountain exhibits somewhat similar illu-
sions ; but they are of a wilder and more imposing nature. The silence
and the solitude of Glenco, where no voice of living creature is heard
where no figure or habitation of man or animal is seen, (save the eagle
soaring in the air,) add greatly to the effect of the scene, and excite
ruminations in the mind of the most thoughtless traveller.

Glenco is the reported birth-place of Ossian ; and no place could have
been better calculated for calling forth those sublime, sombre, and me-
lancholy effusions of the imagination, which predominate in his poems.
Scepticism is the bane of fancy as welt as of happiness ! I am sure
that Ossian was born here lived here wrote his battles here and
drew most of his metaphors, similes, and gorgeous scenery and machi-
nery of his poetry from the MIRAGE of his native mountains. Would
that all the battles and murders of Glenco had been as bloodless as those
of the bard !

In the annals of crime and the history of mankind (which are nearly
synonymous) there is not a more revolting example of infamy and
cruelty than this sequestered and romantic valley has put on deathless
record ! Even in these degenerate days, we can scarcely credit the astound-
ing and tragic fact, that the hero of our " glorious revolution" should
have signed and countersigned the worse than edict of Nantes an order
for the massacre of a whole clan, after its chief had submitted, and when
the cottagers were reposing peaceably on the faith of royal security and
honour ! The infamous Campbell entered this lonely dell, under the
pretence of levying arrears of hearth-money averred, on his honour,
that he came as a FRIEND partook of the hospitable fare of his destined
victim, for fifteen days parted, one evening, from his host, with pro-
fessions of enthusiastic friendship and then, mustering his myrmi-
dons, (who could hardly be brought to the horrid deed,) murdered
man, woman, and child in the middle of the night ! If many escaped,
under cover of darkness, it was not from any mercy in the assassins,


but from inability to slaughter all against whom their daggers were
pointed ! It is true that William, Prince of Orange, and King of Eng-
land, pretended that he signed this murderous death-warrant, without
noting its import ; but he took good care not to punish the authors of
it ! Talk of Punic faith the treacheries of Jugurtha or the cruelties
of Marius ! History does not furnish us with any thing more atrocious
than the massacre of Glenco. One clan may have suffocated another in
a cavern, under the influence of mortal hatred, and goaded on by the
orders of feudal and ferocious chieftains; but that a great monarch
should have ordered, under the sign manual, such a massacre and that
a subject, and that subject a Scotchman, should artfully and deliberately
execute it, upon his own countrymen, exceeds all belief, and would
almost lead the misanthrope to conclude that MAN was not created by
GOD, but by SATAN, and had no claim to a future state of existence or
at least of happiness ! Let us hope, however, that he is destined to a
future state of rewards and punishments and that the murdered inha-
bitants of Glenco will, one day, rise as witnesses against WILLIAM and
his agents, at a tribunal where power, rank, and riches will plead in
vain !

We are informed by Colonel Stewart, in his Sketches of the High-
lands, that the belief that punishment for cruelty, oppression, or mis-
conduct, in an individual, descended as a curse on his children, to the
third and fourth generation, was not confined to the common people.
All ranks Avere influenced by this belief. The late Colonel Campbell, of
Glen Lyon, retained this creed during a thirty -years' intercourse with
the world, as an officer in the 42d' regiment. He was grandson of the
laird of Glen Lyon, who commanded the military, at the Massacre of
Glenco. In the year 1771, he was ordered to superintend the execution
of a soldier condemned to death by the sentence of a court-martial. A
reprieve in the mean time arrived, with an order that the , ceremony
should proceed till the very moment of execution, when it was directed
to supersede the fatal order to fire. The Colonel gave strict orders to
the men not to fire till he pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket
as the signal. When all was prepared, and the clergyman had per-
formed the last sacred rites of religion, the Colonel pulled the reprieve
from his pocket but with it the white handkerchief at the sight of
which, twenty bullets pierced the heart of the reprieved victim ! ! The
paper dropped from the Colonel's hand, and striking his forehead, he
exclaimed in unutterable agony " The curse of God and of Glenco is
here!" He instantly retired from the service, and wept over this unfor-

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Online LibraryJames JohnsonThe recess, or Autumnal relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands; being the home circuit versus foreign travel, a serio-comic tour to the Hebrides → online text (page 14 of 28)