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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tunate accident, till the day of his death !



After a substantial repast on game and whiskey, we started from the
King's House for Tyndrum, over an immense morass, a thousand feet
above the level of the ocean, and sixteen or eighteen miles in diameter,
bounded by mountains, some far distant, some just behind us, round
Glenco. A tolerable road lay under our feet; but a silent, solitary,
waveless ocean of black bog stretched away in every direction. No
living creature, but ourselves, seemed to exist on this sombre chaos.
Not even the mountain bee was on the wing, to give life to the scene,
nay, the very midges seemed to have deserted the Black Moor. No
sound of murmuring rill fell on the attentive ear ; the stagnant pool
slept among the muddy sedges and the melancholy rushes of the bogs.
The storm, which ushered us through Glenco, had subsided into a calm ;
so that the stillness of the solitude was undisturbed by a single zephyr,
while the dreariness of the scene was exaggerated by its very extent.
No sheep, cow, or colt was visible in any direction. The eagle shunned
it ; and even the crows seemed to have wheeled their croaking flight to
regions where some crawling creatures existed for their prey. The dark
and wide-spreading roots of trees, perhaps antediluvian, washed bare by
the rains, reminded us, indeed, that the Black Moor was once a huge
forest, and, no doubt, tenanted by myriads of wild animals, affording
ample provender and sport for man, if lie was then an inhabitant of this
northern region ; but whether these mighty woods were swept away by
the Deluge, or since destroyed by fire, it would be idle to conjecture.
The very sound of our own voices, of the carriage wheels, and of the
horses' feet, was startling, so deep and dead was the silence of this
naked desert.

While steering our solitary course across this expanded moor, we
were thrown into the greatest astonishment at the sight of an immense
wooden house, twice the size of one of our largest travelling caravans,
built on the road itself, and appearing to leave no room for a passage on
either side ! Conjecture was now busy, whether this was a menagerie
for the exhibition or ^he collection of wild animals in the Highlands ;
and the balance was preponderating in favour of the latter supposition,
when suddenly the great ark opened one of its sides, and disgorged a~
score or more of armed men ; and in a minute afterwards, we saw a
dozen of weapons brandishing in the air, and apparently battering, with
brutal force, some unfortunate object, perhaps a traveller, prostrated on


the road ! The idea of the Trojan horse rushed on my mind, and I
could not help involuntarily repeating the line,

" Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes."

The young postilion, whom we had brought from Oban, and who
had never crossed the Black Moor before, could give us no information
respecting the astounding phenomenon within half a mile of us. We
therefore halted to reconnoitre; but still, as the work of batter)', if
not bloodshed, went on, we became convinced that no human being
could be the victim of such long and multiplied assaults in the open
clay. We ^herefore pushed forward; and lo ! the huge caravan, the
Trojan horse, was found to contain neither a collection of wild beasts,
nor an ambuscade of armed Greeks, but a colony of HIGH-WAY- MEV,
now dignified with the title of MACADAMIZERS, warring only against
granite making, mending, and moving along, the road over the Black
Moor, at the rate of a mile a month !

He who is longing for the sweets of retirement, and the advantages
of solitude, while loathing the turmoil of society, should pitch his tent
between the King's House and Tyndrum. It is not the mere absence
of human beings, however, that constitutes solitude. A man may live
and die a thousand miles from any of his species, and yet hardly ever
think. Every living thing, in the animal and vegetable world, affords
an exercise for some of the senses, and relief from reflection ; but, on
the sands of Arabia and the moors of Rannoch, a man will soon think,
if it were only how to get away from them.

We got safe to TYNDRUM, one of the highest and wildest inhabited
spots of the Highlands and we had comfortable lodgings and ample
provender, at an inn which has been falsely represented as one of the
worst in Donald's land. There is something base and ungrateful in
speaking ill of the roof under which we take shelter from the storm
and where, at a trifling expense, we command all the comforts that the
house or the country affords. It is unreasonable to expect that, during
a night at Ballahulish or Tyndrum, we can have all the luxuries of a
" Six Weeks at Long's," in Bond-street. But, even in the worst High-
land inn, there is enough of the necessaries, and some of the superflui-
ties of life, whatever the Cockney or fastidious traveller may say to the
contrary. And if these necessaries or superfluities were far more scanty
than they are, the good nature, and the anxiety of the host and hostess
to accommodate the stranger, ought to satisfy the mind of every sojourner
of sense in these comparatively unfrequented routes.



In no country through which I have travelled, have I met with so
many HIGH-WAY ROBBERS (in an equal space) as hetween Tyndrum
and Dunkeld. We had scarcely left the former place, when we were
stopped, in broad day-light, and robhed on the king's high-way. This
happened several times afterwards, in the course of two days. There is
a chain of foot-pads along this road, who evidently act in concerf.
They do not despoil a traveller of all his property at once, (unless his
purse be very low,) but each leaves a portion for his next neighbour.
It may be a consolation to some travellers, that they are robbed
" according to law," and that they will not be murdered. They may,
however, be detained among the mountains, as in Calabria, if they
have not money or friends to purchase their liberty.

God bless the Duke of Argyle ! That nobleman has abolished TURN-
PIKES throughout his wide dominions, though his Grace keeps up
excellent roads. Not so a neighbouring potentate the MARQUESS of
BREADALBANE. His Lordship is evidently a stanch supporter of ST.
ANDREW ; for he has not only prohibited whiskey on his estates, but
discourages travelling on the " Lord's day " and, indeed, on every
day in the week, by imposing a heavy tribute on the tourist, in the shape
of toll-bars. Now, methinks that his lordship, to be consistent, should
not allow his agents " to profane the Sabbath, by receiving tolls on the
Lord's day " since the receiver of stolen goods is held equally
culpable with the thief who purloins them. In short, the Marquess of
Breadalbane levies as many fines on travellers between Tyndrum and
Kenmore, as FRA DIAVOLO ever did between Terracina and MOLA m
GAETA ! The tyrant of the Apennines, however, did not prohibit
ROSOGLIO ; while the Highland chieftain deprives us of the consolation
which a drop of GLENLIVAT would administer to the tired and thirsty
traveller, while crossing his territories. It may be urged, and with
some justice, that a Highland turnpike is like a summer theatre closed
in winter and, consequently, that his Lordship of Breadalbane, or his
trustees, should "make hay while the sim shines," a period of no very
long duration in these northern regions ! It is clear that his Grace of
Argyle has acted differently ; but every man has a right to " do as he
likes with his own." It is probable, however, that it would be Aviser
policy, and more practical economy, in the Marquess of Breadalbane,
to offer facilities to tourists, rather than difficulties, whilst traversing
his wide domains. The books of Killin and Kenmore would not then


contain so many protests of travellers against the multiplicity of turn-
pikes and paucity of whiskey on the banks of Loch Tay !

By the way, this prohibition of whiskey by the Earl of Breadalbane,
while his lordship allows travellers to get drunk as often as they please
with wine or ale, is a curioiis kind of morality ! Has his lordship's
taste changed with time ? Does generous Burgundy please his lord-
ship's palate better than " mountain dew?" I cannot, for a moment,
think that the Marquess of Breadalbane belongs to that class of saints,

" Compound for sins they are inclined to,
By damning those they have no mind to."

The drive from Tyndrum to Killin is by no means tame, or entirely
devoid of historical recollections. It was in this tract that THE BRUCE
was hunted by blood-hounds, by some of his base and bloodthirsty
clansmen, and where he exhibited those traits of heroism, fortitude, and
sagacity, which astonish the modern reader, excite his sympathy, and
call forth his indignation !

The scenery, too, was set off to advantage, rather than disfigured, by
the state of the weather. We had constant alternations or successions
of showers and sunshine squalls and calms dense clouds and azure
skies rains and rainbows heat and cold and all that variety of cli-
mate, which affords such ample themes for declamation and discontent
to the foreign visitor, as well as to the native resident in these unfortu-
nate isles.

Yet, of all the climates under which I have sojourned, between
Tristan d'Acunha, in the south, and Baffin's Bay, in the north, commend
me to that which lies between Shakspeare's Cliff and the Pentland
Frith. It is with climate as with most other things in this life there
is nothing so pleasant, nothing so salutary, as VARIETY. Let those
who doubt this postulate, go and live between the tropics, where the sun
rises and sets at six o'clock, where the length of the day scarcely
varies from January to June, from June to January where the glorious
orb of light hardly ever veils his scorching spit-fire face, or hides his
burning blushes, during ten hours of the day, and ten months of the
year and where, during the other two months, we only escape the
flames, by being immersed in cataracts from the clouds, encircled with
sheets of lightning, or blown about, like chaff, by the furious tornado !
It is in these torrid regions that the soul of man dies within him, from
the monotony of his existence ! while his vitals are burnt to a cinder,
baked into ague-cakes, or swelled out into monstrous and morbid growths,
by the intolerable heat of the climate !

From the Equator, let us fly to the Pole. There we have one day


and one night in the year, pretty considerable lengthy ones, certainly !
During the six-month day, the sun circles round the horizon every
twenty-four hours, it is true; but as his motions are imperceptible,
monotony is equally the order of the day, as in equatorial climes. As
for the other six months of the year, whatever the poet may say as to
the felicity of the Laplanders, during their

" Long nighls of revelry and ease,"

while burrowed in the earth, or buried in snow, I envy them not their
semestral hibernations. Perhaps Captain Ross will show the beauties
and the pleasures of a polar night in the Arctic regions.

But then, say the British malcontents, we have the vernal gales, the
balmy zephyrs, the cloudless skies, the moonlight, star-bright nights of
fair Italy, as contrasts to the gloomy fogs, rains, and storms of Albion.
True : with the trifling exceptions of the freezing tramontane, the suf-
focating scirocco, and the poisonous malaria, which sap the springs of
life, curtail the range of existence, and double the ratio of mortality on
the classic soil of the Romans, as compared with that of Britons *.

From a somewhat extensive acquaintance with various countries, I
have, long ago, come to the conclusion that the climate of England,
after all, combines the greater number of qualities that conduce to
health and happiness. The bills of mortality prove the superior
longevity of the English ; and it is very improbable that health and
longevity can be fairly dissociated from happiness.

But is there nothing but the physical enjoyment of the senses to be
looked to, as connected with climate ? is the morale not to be taken
into consideration ? Is it to be inferred that, because we cannot sit the
livelong day, and great part of the night, in the open and balmy air, we
are therefore deprived of much enjoyment ? The clouds, the rains, the
storms, that drive the English into their houses and confine them there,
produce, indirectly, moral habits that are rarely found in other coun-
tries, blessed, as is the phrase, with more genial skies. In many of
those highly favoured countries, the pleasures of a cheerful fireside in a
stormy winter-night, are unknown ; together with the profitable intel-
lectual commerce which thence results.

* The ratio of annual mortality in Italy, as compared with England, is just about
double. See the note under the head " EAST TARBET."



This is one of the Lions of the Highlands a royal African, if we may
trust the taste (and who can doubt it ?) of MacCulloch. " If (says he,
in a letter to Sir Walter Scott) you know KILLIN, you know that it is
the most extraordinary collection of extraordinary scenery in Scotland,
unlike every thing else in the country, and perhaps on earth, and a
perfect picture-gallery in itself; since you cannot move three yards
without meeting a new landscape." When I read these lines, I made
a mark with my pencil, indicative of " disappointment" And, sure
enough, in the very next page, we find the talented geologist in conver-
sation with a traveller, who told the doctor that he had come out of his
way to see this said Killin ; but that " he never saw an uglier place in
his life." I have seen a thousand uglier places, however, in my pere-
grinations round this globe and some much handsomer. KILLIN is
by no means uninteresting ; and the reason why it did not come quite
up to the picture which MacCulloch gives of it, may be partly dis-
covered in the following sentence of the doctor himself. " To find out
the beautiful landscapes of Killin, (says he,) it is necessary to pry
about into corners, like a cat." As cats see best in the dark, and as I
had not this happy faculty of the cat tribe, there is no doubt that I lost
many beautiful prospects about Killin, by not spending the night there.
I passed several hours, however, of a beautiful day at Killin and I was
much gratified.

If there be river gods in the Highlands, (and I see no reason to the
contrary,) they have the roughest beds and the hardest bolsters that
ever divinities reposed on in this, or in any other world. His godship
of the DOCHART has had a cruel fate, and an untimely end. For more
than half a mile before he finds his quietus in Loch Tay, he is tossed
and ivhambled down a series of cataracts, and over ten thousand frag-
ments of rock, of all shapes and sizes, from those of a paving-stone in
the street, to those of the Druid's Circle at Stonehenge ! Had the
Roman bard been banished to the banks of Loch Tay, instead of the
shores of the Euxine, we should probably have had an additional fable
in the Metamorphoses. He would have told us in smooth verse, that,
in some dreadful Titanian combat between the giants of these wild
mountains, Ben-Lawers had his skull fractured, and a portion of his
granite brains beaten out, and hurled down into Glen Dochart there
to assist in forming cataracts, for the benefit of pictorial tourists in
after ages.



The blue waters of Loch Dochart do not pay the " debt of nature,"
and sink into the grave of Loch Tay, without a violent and agonizing
struggle. They chafe, and fret, and roar, till, in one last and convul-
sive pang, which is echoed from the surrounding hills, they are precipi-
tated, in a winding-sheet of foam, into the tomb of the placid lake.

From the picturesque bridge nearest to the village, and which spans
one of the cataracts, we have a varied and romantic view of hill and
dale, pine woods and corn-fields, rock and river, lake and meadow-
grounds, torrents and water-mills, peaceful cottages, comfortable inns,
and towering mountains.

I was standing on this bridge, eyeing the splendid and variegated
scene around me, when a Highlander, with his mull in one hand, and
cap in the other, invited me to visit the burial ground of the MacNabs.
It is situated on a small islet, close to the bridge, with the roaring
stream rushing past it on both sides. Small as is the space which it
occupies, and which man requires for his last home, it is much larger
than many of the island dots on which the Highland chiefs pitched
their feudal castles. If the manes of the MacNabs can be consoled by
the hoarse music of their native streams, chafing against rude rocks,
they could not have selected a better spot. The strains are louder
(credat Judaeus !) than those of the pibroch and far more harmonious.
The last of the MacNabs, who fell in the battle of Waterloo, amid the
roar of artillery, and to whom a monument is here erected, may still,
perhaps, fancy, in the long and dreary dream of his everlasting slum-
bers, that he hears, in the resounding torrent, the thunder of the cannon,
and the shout, of victory, which faded on his ear in the moment of
death !

Siste, viator ! Behold that minute speck of ground, which now affords
ample habitation for twenty generations of a warlike tribe ! The stream of
time, like the torrent that rolls under your feet, never, for an instant,
suspends its course, till it wrecks you, in " shadows, clouds, and dark-
ness," on that shore of oblivion, whence traveller never yet returned !

What do these rocks, and tomljs, and torrents teach ? Not, I ima-
gine, to spend half cf life in the contemplation of death not to court
mortification in this state of existence, as a preparation for another
not to spurn, but to enjoy every gift of Nature, according to the dictates
of reason and the laws of God.

" Garpe diem," w r hich signifies, " make the most of the present
moment " may not be the most scriptural maxim ; but I apprehend
that it is one which is pretty generally acted on, even in this land of
sanctity. It was beautifully illustrated here in KILLIN, by one of the
most sleek-faced, Presbyterian innkeepers that I have met between Ayr


and Inverness. The influx, efflux, and reflux of travellers, at this
" picture gallery " of MacCulloch, occasioned a most plentiful scarcity
of post-horses on the road; and my first inquiry at the head inn, was
to ascertain if I could have a pair of these locomotives, or, as they are
designated in London, " MACHINERS," to convey us to Kenmore. The
answer was sedately affirmative, and from the lips of a man who would
have dignified a pulpit, by the candour, benevolence, and signature of
sincerity impressed on his countenance. I was perfectly satisfied with
his physiognomy, and had no opportunity of examining " mine host "
craniologically. After two or three hours spent in " prying about like
a cat," to see the lions of Killin, I began to reproach myself with the
cruelty of keeping the machiners waiting so long for us at the inn.
Thither, therefore, we repaired, and found that one of the locomotives
had to be caught in the mountains when caught, that he was to be
shod and when shod, that he was dead lame ! In the interim, my
sanctified host had kindly allowed two excellent horses belonging to his
neighbour, Mr. Allen, of Kenmore, to go back without any fare
purely, I am certain, from a benevolent desire not to impose a double
task on the " dumb creatures " of his friend at Taymouth. Another
mark of mine host's consideration was evinced in my presence. An
Irish baronet was on his way to a shooting cottage in the neighbour-
hood ; but, as the road lay over a shoulder of Ben Lawers, Master Boni-
face, or Holy-face, urged the Hibernian, in strong terms, to put four
horses, instead of two, to the Noah's ark which contained his materiel
for sporting and fishing. The baronet was very unwilling to employ
this auxiliary force, and applied to me for advice. Knowing the nature
of a Highland cross-road over a steep mountain, I was soft enough to
second the recommendation of mine host for which I richly deserved
the recompense that followed. The lame horse, that was probably de-
signed for the rich baronet, had not arrived from the mountain, and
therefore we had an opportunity of " prying about like cats," for
another hour, before our post-chaise was ready.

We started, at last, with the limping machiner ; and many a time
did we halt to survey the beauties of Loch Tay, during the first five
miles of the journey. At length the poor animal became utterly in-
capable of putting the near hind-foot to the ground and I learnt, to
my astonishment, that it was affected with " a lumbar abscess," for the
cure of which, it had been turned into the mountains, for " change of
air," about a month previously! As we had a light open carriage,
with very little luggage, I strenuously advised the postilion to give the
poor animal another month's relaxation on the banks of the lake, and
proceed slowly with the other horse. But this counsel was rejected,

K 2


especially as we saw a white mare tethered near some straggling cot-
tages, on the road-side. The postilion dismounted and whistled
whistled again and again till at length a Highlander appeared, followed
by several others, and at last, a whole posse comitatus of men, women,
and children. A scene ensued, which would have afforded Wilkie most
ample scope for his pencil. It was an exquisite specimen of a High-
land PALAVER. It did not last quite so long as the Congress of Vienna,
or the Belgi-Batavian conference ; but it was carried on with so much
vociferation, and protracted to so late an hour in the day, that we. fully
expected to sleep on the mountains that night. The natural politeness
of the Highlanders at length prevailed, especially as there were ladies
in the question, and the white mare was ultimately buckled to the black
horse, while the limping animal was tethered (though that seemed
needless) to the stake in the field. The mare had evidently under-
stood the nature of the protracted negotiation, being familiar with the
language, and seemed determined to add her mite to the difficulties of
the final adjustment,- since she was destined to be the greatest sufferer.
She first bolted forwards then sideways and at last made a violent
effort to retrograde, by wheeling round, in order to regain the field she
had lost ! In this she very nearly succeeded ; and was on the point of
hurling us over a precipice into the Tay, when half a dozen sturdy
Highlanders surrounded her, and compelled the unruly animal, by
kicks, blows, and Gaelic imprecations, to proceed for Kenmore.

I am perfectly certain that the altercation was not founded on the
question of assistance to the strangers, in this case or, in parliamentary
language, on the principle of the bill; but on certain details, of a
pecuniary nature, which we could not comprehend. The conduct of
the Highland cottagers was as hospitable, as that of the Killin landlord
was impolitic not to say avaricious. He grasped at a paltry fare he
lost, in all probability, a valuable horse ! Every Scotchman iinder-
stands Latin for every Scot has a good education. Let Boniface, or
Holy-face, of Killin, remember, that although " Carpe diem " is a
celebrated expression, " Perdidi diem " is still more so ! The one was
uttered by a poet the other by a philosopher.

If the journey along the romantic banks of Loch Tay was chequered
by the foregoing incident, it was not overclouded or embittered. The
drive is exceedingly beautiful Ben Lawers towering on our left, and
Loch Tay, like a mirror, lying far beneath us on the right. The beauty
of the scenery, however, did not prevent a train of reflections from
intruding on the mind; and on opening a volume of Sir Walter's that
happened to be in the carriage, I stumbled on the following portrait of
the Scottish character, as drawn by the Wizard of the North.



" Discretion, prudence, and foresight, are their leading qualities ;
these are only modified by a narrow-spirited, but yet ardent patriotism,
which forms, as it Avere, the outmost of the eccentric bulwarks with
which a Scotchman fortifies himself against all the attacks of a generous
philanthropical principle. Surmount this mound, you find an inner
and still dearer barrier the love of his province, his village, or, most
probably, his clan. Storm this second obstacle, you have a third his

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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 15 of 28)