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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encompasses us on every side, with picturesque landscapes on the
shores of the lochs which we are navigating. We pass under the
towers of Dunstaffnage, and once more enter the port of OBAN.


A short excursion of a few miles from Fort William, into Lochaber,
brings us to one of the wonders of the Highlands the PARALLEL ROADS
sweeping round the valley of Glenroy midway between the streamlet
in the depth of the vale, and the summits of the enclosing arid almost
perpendicular hills. Three of these terraces or roads encircle the glen,
with interspaces of some hundred feet ; but each road perfectly parallel
'with itself and with the horizon, all round the valley. The inhabitants
maintain that these were roads formed by human hands, for the accom-
modation of their kings to hunt deer, and other game.

It is hardly necessary, at this time, to combat such an opinion, since
it is very evident that the roads, as they are called, were formed by the
action of the waters on their banks, when Glenroy was a lake, instead
of a valley. If the ledge of rocks at the Connal ferry were swept away,
Loch Etive would sink twenty or thirty feet below its present level, and


parallel roads would be found all round Glen Etive, to add another
miracle to those with which Dr. MacCulloch has already invested it.
LOCH LEVEN, I understand, has heen lowered a little by drainage, and
the same phenomenon presents itself on its banks. It will hardly be
maintained that these last were royal roads, constructed for the unfortu-
nate Queen Mary, to take the exercise of hunting, during her captivity
on an island in that lake ! Captain Hall discovered similar parallel
roads round a valley of South America, that had been changed from a
lake to a glen by the discharge of its waters. Colonel Stewart, of
whom I have made honorable mention in this tour, appears to side with *
the arguments adduced by the anti-geological party, in favour of the
artificial construction of the parallel roads in Glenroy. I am rather
surprised at this ; for their arguments are far from being either specious
or tenable. They object to the geologists that it is not probable that
the water (if it did exist in Glenroy) should remain so perfectly sta-
tionary, after the first declension, as to form a second parallel, of the
same breadth and formation as the first or that the second declension
should be so regular in time, and the water so equal in its action, as to
form a third terrace, of form and breadth perfectly similar to the two
others. Before answering these objections, I should like to ask the
anti-geologists, what possible purpose could the ancient Highlanders
have in view, when they formed three parallel roads round a rocky
valley, all within a few hundred feet of each other, and at an expense
of human labour that would, at the present day, and with Mr. Mac-
Adam as the highway-man, cost half a million of money ? Truly, the
exchequers of these Highland kings must have been PRODIGIOUS !

But these GLEN-ROYALS seem to think that the action of the waters
on the shores of a lake, in constructing parallel roads, must be propor-
tionate to the length of time the waters remained at the same level.
This is quite an error. A parallel road, as it is called, would be formed
by the action of the waters on the shores of a lake, as completely in
one hundred as in one hundred thousand years. This argument is,
therefore, of no avail.

The Highlanders also urge the impossibility of water having ever
been in Glenroy, " without an improbable convulsion of nature, to open
a way for its exit." Why, every glen in the Highlands proves reiterated
convulsions of nature, while many of the highest mountains of the
earth shew proofs of having been under water at some remote period !
What difficulty, therefore, is there in supposing, what indeed is mani
fest, that many valleys of Scotland, and other countries, were once
lakes, that had become dry by the evacuation of their waters and that
at no very remote period of time ?


But however constructed, whether by the hand of man or of Nature,
the parallel roads of Glenroy are worth a day's excursion, even at the
risk of a sprinkling from the clouds that hover round the lofty head of


The scenery between Oban and Inverary, by Port Sonachan, is not
so fine as by Loch Awe head and Glenorchy. Yet, from Taynuilt,
where the two roads separate, there are some magnificent views of Ben
Cruachan, and various other mountains. We there diverge to the
right, and strike away for Loch Awe, through a picturesque country,
well wooded and watered, till we cross the ferry, when we again ascend
Burke's Mountain, and wind down to Inverary.

Johnson and Boswell crossed this mountain on their way back from
the Hebrides, without taking the least notice of the magnificent view
from its summit. Johnson, indeed, seems to have had as bad an eye
for scenery as an ear for music and that was bad enough; for he
informs us he could just distinguish the sound of a drum from the
notes of a bugle ! The road from Oban to Inverary, by Port Sonachan,
appears to have produced a species of music, however, that pleased the
ear of the lexicographer. " The wind was loud, the rain was heavy;
and the whistling of the blast, the fall of the shower, the rush of the
cataracts, and the roar of the torrents, made a nobler chorus of the
rough music of Nature than it had ever been my chance to hear

On this journey, which occupied about nine or ten hours, we were
fortunate enough to have the stage-coach crowded, inside and out, with
highly intelligent and amusing characters, that would have rendered a
passage across the burning sands of the desert agreeable. We were
doubly fortunate, too, in having a pro temp, coachman, who was not
only a wag and a wit, but a bit of a lawyer into the bargain ! He had
so much dry humour about him, that he was fain to stop every two or
three miles, ostensibly to give the horses a little wind and water, but
really, to " moisten his own clay," as became apparent in the sequel.
Between the hero of the whip and a British tar, (a half-pay officer,) who
was a passenger, a brisk fire of national raillery was kept up, during a
great part of the journey, and with much spirit on both sides, to the
great amusement of the rest of the travellers. Two or three of these
intellectual broadsides may not be unworthy of record here. At a little
public-house, on the ascent of a hill, JEHU stopped, as usual, to give


the horses a mouthful of water, and take a glass of Glenlivet himself,
which he always did in the interior of the Locanda. As he was mount-
ing the box, the sailor accosted him thus : " I say, shipmate, you take
care to ' freshen the hawse ' pretty often on this road." " I do,"
said the coachman ; " it is necessary 7 to refresh the horses frequently,
else they would never drag such a cargo of live and dead lumber over
these mountains." " Oho '." rejoined the TAR, " but why do you * splice
the main brace' every time you water the horses?" "I deny the
fact," replied the coachman ; " the braces and traces are all as good as
new, and require no splicing." " I see," said the sailor, " that you
are not inclined to understand what I mean by ' splicing the main
brace.' Perhaps you can tell me why you * freshen the nip ' yourself,
whenever you wet the throats of the cattle ?" Donald, who either did
not understand, or chose not to understand, the first two phrases of the
sailor, appeared to take the hint in the third instance, as evinced by a
change in the colour of his nose, from crimson to purple, while he bit
his lip, and whipped the horses unmercifully. But a Scotchman has
always wit, or at least wisdom in his anger ; and JEHU preserved
silence for ten or fifteen minutes. He then resumed : " Pray, Sir,
have you not a HABEAS CORPUS law in England?" "I know very
little of the law," replied the tar, " as the articles of war and the naval
instructions are law enough for sailors; but I have heard of the
HABEAS CORPUS, in troublesome times." " Then," said Donald, (who
was, as I mentioned before, a bit of a lawyer,) " I wish your Whig
ministers would suspend the Habeas Corpus every summer, and con-
fine all fools at home during the travelling months." This cutting
sarcasm raised a laugh at the expense of the sailor; but the latter was
neither offended nor taken aback by the remark, though it was little
short of a personal affront. " By my faith, messmate," rejoined the
Tar, " the ministers need not extend the suspension of the Habeas
Corpus to Scotland, since none but fools will stay there, if they can
raise the means of removing elsewhere. The very act of crossing the
Tweed, southward, will prove that they are anything but fools." This
turned the laugh in favour of the Tar ; but he pursued his point a step
farther. " And let me tell you, shipmate, that if an embargo were laid
on all English fools in the summer season, the Inverary coach would
often go as empty to Port Sonachan as the stomach of its driver." A
slight glance at the passengers showed that the British tar had some rea-
son for this last observation, since there were not more than two Scotch
names on the way-bill. The Highlander felt the force of this " argu-
mentum ad hominem," and probably recollected that we were approach-
ing Inverary, where his perquisites were to be collected. He therefore


changed the subject a little. " Ah, weel !" said he, " we Highlanders
had something to eat and to drink too, long before the Inverary coach was
started, or Fingal's Cave began to attract so many of your countrymen
to the islands yonder. I have heard our old folks say that, lang syne,
a great shooting party softie forty thousand or more of you southrons,
came down here one summer, with the. king of England, and most
of his great officers of state, just to have a little sport among these
mountains, and that three-fourths of them took such a liking to the
land, that they never went back again to merry old England. So you
see there were fools on both sides of the Tweed before the nineteenth
century." " That is true, and well put," rejoined the seaman. " My
countrymen did not long enjoy the chase, however, among your moun-
tains, the air of Bannockbum not agreeing with their constitutions.
But you had a Bruce for your king and commander at that time ; and
if you had always had such princes and generals, I doubt whether the
white cross would ever have been unfurled on the field of Culloden, or
the red-coats have penetrated farther among the Grampian hills than
their predecessors the Romans. But those days of warfare, pillage, and
conquest, are now happily at an end; and you must acknowledge, Mr.
Donald, that the English come to Scotland to spend money, while the
Scotch go to England to make it." " If 1 admitted your position,''
said Donald, " I fancy it would only amount to this : that the Eng-
lish have more wealth, and the Scotch more wisdom in their move-
ments." " I am not quite sure of that,'' said the Briton. " There is
no greater proof of wisdom than a wish to acquire useful knowledge.
And, as practical economy is a favourite study of these times, I know
not a better school of instruction than Scotland. Leaving out of the
question the pleasure of seeing your wild mountains and romantic glens,
we return to England much better acquainted with the value of a shil-
ling, than when we left our own country ; and this knowledge is worth
a journey to Sky or Caithness at any time."

The sun had now descended behind the mountains of Mull the
woods of Inverary were darkening the scene the roads were rather
steep and the larboard lamp of the stage refused to illumine that side
of the defile. It is probable, too, that the coachman began to think the
conversation had taken a somewhat unlucky turn towards economy, when
we were within a couple of miles of our destination. Be this as it may,
a lee lurch, which landed half the outside passengers on the top of the
park wall, spilled the remainder in various directions, and left the
coach at an angle of forty-five degrees, with one wheel in the ditch, and
the other on the road, changed suddenly the national conversation into
individual conservation! We had reason, once more, to bless the


Duke of Argyle, for building a wall along the road, to prop the Inverary
coach, in case of being overtaken by the shades of night, when a little
top-heavy or when the " mountain-dew " had rendered the road
rather slippery, and objects liable to " loom," or appear double in the

We all got safe to Inverary ; where a hot supper and a bowl of toddy
diffused such an exhilarating influence through every heart, followed by
such a restorative opiate to the senses, during seven hours of uninter-
rupted sleep, as some MONARCHS might cheaply purchase at the expense
of their crowns and millions of SUBJECTS, by the sacrifice of their
wealth or ambition !


I never could have believed that one Scotchman would wrong I had
almost said defraud another, had I not breakfasted at the pretty little
inn of Cairn-Dow, on the edge of Loch Fine. No sooner had a few
words passed between the landlady and the postillion, than the former
opened such a torrent of abuse upon the latter, as brought us out in
consternation from the breakfast-room, though the herrings were
smoking on the table, and the water hissing in the urn. The cause
was easily explained. The innkeeper at Inverary (I shall mention no
names) told us there were no horses on the road to Tarbet, and there-
fore we must rest his jades an hour at Cairn-Dow, and then proceed
onwards. He took care, meantime, to make us pay the whole fare
before we started. Now, there are horses and cars at Cairn-DoAV ; but
the innkeepers of Inverary and Tarbet send on their tired horses the
whole way, assuring travellers that there are no relays between the two
places ! The hostess said she was tired of appealing to the justice or
generosity of her countrymen, and would now appeal to the public.

Who would expect to find a SIR GILES OVERREACH at each extre-
mity of a Highland glen, combining to crush a poor woman living mid-
way between their domains ! The hostess of Cairn -Dow has not
appealed in vain. The obscure traveller to whom she poured out her
complaints, and from whom she expected little redress, will wring
reluctant justice from her oppressors, by exposing their mercenary
meanness to every future tourist.

From Cairn-Dow, we leave the lake, and plunge away into the narrow
Glen Kinglas, the emblem and seat of solitude. No human figure, hut,
or habitation, meets the eye for many miles no sound of man, beast,
or bird, vibrates on the ear. There may there must be sheep on the


impending mountains ; and a solitary shepherd, here and there tending
his flocks ; but they are indistinguishable from the grey rocks and stones
scattered along the steeps. The eagle may scream from its eyrie, the
herdsman may whistle, the sheep may bleat, or the dog may yelp ; but
the sounds are lost in multiplied echoes among the crags, or absorbed
by the surrounding cliffs. On standing and listening attentively, how-
ever, a kind of faint murmur is heard ; but it is difficult to say whether
or not it is the breeze sweeping along the summits of the peaks. It is
produced, no doubt, by the innumerable rills trickling down the deep
furrows of the mountain's brow ; and which, in the dry season, are all
concealed from our sight. These silver sounds dissolve, as it were, in
the tranquil atmosphere, blending with the silence, and harmonizing
with the solitude of the scene, so as to be indistinguishable, except by
the most attentive ear.

The diminution of fern and heather, with the increase of grass on the
precipitous flanks of the hills and mountains, indicates unerringly the
substitution of an instinctive for a rational population of profitable
animals for productive, but unprofitable men*! It is, perhaps, need-
less to speculate on this change of inhabitants in the Highland glens.
The immediate effects must be misery to a few the ultimate conse-
quences may be happiness to many. The departure of emigrants from
the land of their forefathers to seek other and richer soils beyond the
Atlantic, affords fine subjects for the poet, wherewith he may harrow
up the feelings, and excite the sympathies of those readers whose hearts
are glowing with philanthropy, but whose heads are not overburthened
with philosophy. I remember sitting for half an hour on a jutting crag
overhanging the harbour of Tobermorey, listening to the merry pibroch
and the boisterous dance, on board a vessel preparing to sail for
America, and laden with emigrants from the Highland glens. If in-
ward joy can be estimated by external gestures, happiness (or the anti-
cipation of happiness) reigned triumphant among the self-expatriated
passengers ! The portraits which Goldsmith and others have drawn
of the wretched feelings experienced by emigrants on departing from
the land of their nativity, are all fictions of the poet's fancy. I appeal
to the memory of every individual who has migrated to distant climes
in pursuit of those comforts which were denied at home, whether or not
the heart was buoyed up with ardent hope, and every hour seemed an
age, while crossing the pathless deep, to the land of promise, on the

* Sheep check the growth of fern and heather, by browsing and treading on these
vegetable characteristics of the Highland mountains. Soft and fine grass is, therefore,
encouraged and promoted by the very animals that feed on it.


hanks of the Niagara, the Delaware, or the Mississippi ? In age, in-
deed, where ease is the chief, almost the only, enjoyment and where
sad experience has demonstrated the " vanity of human wishes," regret,
and that of a poignant character, must naturally he felt, on quitting the
hallowed seats of our juvenile days and pleasures ; but in youth, the
ardent imagination glows, and has always glowed, with the prospect of
new scenes and adventures 011 a foreign shore.

The spirit of migration must have been infused into man at his first
creation. The human race could not have existed, even for a short
time, without the exercise of this primeval impulse ; and there is not,
at this moment, a nation or an individual on the whole surface of the
globe, that is not an emigrant, or the descendant of emigrants from
other, and more or less remote lands ! But there are other kinds of
migration besides that of removing to foreign countries. One of these
may be designated LOCO-MIGRATION.

It is maintained by some writers, and especially by MacCulloch, that
the extension of flock-feeding, though it has changed the residences,
has not diminished, but rather increased, the population of the High-
lands. This is possible. The stranger's attention is not arrested by
the towns and villages on the shores, as he knows not how long they may
have existed ; but he is struck with the absence of man, and 4he substi-
tution of sheep in the glens ! The great question, however, is not
whether the population has increased or decreased by the modern
policy, but whether the people have been rendered better or happier ?
It will be marvellous if the change from agriculture to commerce (of
which fishing is a branch) shall improve the moral condition of man-
kind ! It is acknowledged, on all sides, that the Highland peasantry
are very poor and that, sterile as is the land, it is far from being every
where cultivated to the highest pitch of its capacity, for want of capital.
But Highland poverty is not attended by its usual accompaniment, or
consequence, in other countries depravity of the moral qualities. In
England, and in some other places, poverty is too intimately inter-
mingled with luxury and wealth, not to generate envy, hatred, and
malice towards the upper classes while it fosters discontent, and sows
the seeds of rebellion towards the government. In the Highlands, the
people are too much on a par, and have too few humiliating compari-
sons before their eyes, to render their own condition either distressing
or degrading. What has been said of other Alpine peasants, may be
said of the Gaelic. The Highlander sees few palaces rearing their
heads to contrast with his own humble dwelling. His lot is the lot of
all. If he has coarse fare, coarse clothing, a sordid habitation, and ill-
requited toils, he is not tortured by the sight of luxury, idleness, pro-


fligacy, and pride, at every step he takes. The absence of discontent is
nearly tantamount to contentment. Comparison is the bane of happi-
ness in highly-civilized society. If the shopkeeper and his wife, who
eat and drink of the best who dress well, and lie on beds of clown,
are still burning with jealousy at the equipages and retinue of the gentry,
what must be the feelings of the mechanics and labourers, when they
look up through the long vista of real or fancied enjoyments and com-
forts possessed by those above them ? Among these mountains, things
are very different.

" Poor, therefore, as the unfortunate Highlander may sometimes be,
he is not deserted by his proper pride, by his manly feelings, nor by
the many other virtues by which he is characterized. Difficult as it
may generally be to rouse his industry by ordinary inducements, yet to
avoid charity, or to maintain his parents and dependents, he will
undergo any privations, and exert his utmost energy. This would, in
itself, atone for all his national defects ; which, after all the anger that
is excited by the mention of them, are not often really important. It is
this rectitude of mind also, added to his habitual submission and con-
tentedness under slender accommodations, that makes him bear, without
complaint, the misfortunes which may be his lot. It is often said, that
it is dangerous to tamper with the stomach of the people. Judging by
the outrageous clamours of " the English poor," when deprived of
their wheaten bread and their porter, their beef and their tea, the maxim
is as true as the proofs of it are disgusting. Here, it fails ; nor can
any thing excite more surprise in a stranger, than the patience with
which occasional, as well as habitual want, is borne by the Highlanders.
It is far from unusual for them to decline receiving, not only common
charity, but even parochial relief. It is known to many, not only that
this has been refused when offered, but that another object has been
indicated, by the person himself, as more deserving : that a -portion of
what had been accepted has been returned, when the sufferer considered
that he had overcome the most pressing part of his difficulties. If this
be a digression from the main subject, I can only wish for opportunities
of making many more of the same nature. Could such a feeling be
excited in England, could every Englishman become, in this respect,
a Highlander, more would be done for the welfare and the peace of the
nation, than by all the laws and all the systems that ever were promul-

The author of the foregoing passage is vehemently declaimed against
by Scotch writers, as giving an unfavourable view of the Highlanders !

* MacCulIoch, vol. iv., p. 127.


What would you have, gentlemen ? You will, in time, have a very dif-
ferent portrait. Every steamer that ploughs the Firth and the Clyde
the Crinan and the Caledonian canal will melt down a portion of
Highland character, and tend to amalgamate Celt with Sassenach.
The instance which I have already noticed, of a Highland tinker being
employed in constructing a kaleidoscope, soon after its exhibition in
London, is a sufficient example of the rapid transmission of literature,
science, and art, from the banks of the Thames to those of the Tay.
As population increases with commerce and manufactures, in the
creeks and harbours of the Highlands and islands, a learned and en-
lightened pauperism will grow up also and will soon demand elee-
mosynary establishments. The antiquated ties by which the peasant
felt himself bound to support his poor relations in the glens, will present
little cohesion in the sea-ports and " the POOR-LAWS of suicidal
England," (as MacCulloch expresses it,) will, in spite of the doctor's
prophecies, penetrate to Oban and Tobermorey to Portree and Ding-
wall. Nor can it possibly be otherwise. The transition from agricul-
ture to manufacture from rural to civic life not only tends to dissolve

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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 20 of 28)