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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gliding from street to street, with appropriate gravity ; but I do not
recollect seeing a single stratum of straw (that doubtful emblem of the
cradle or the grave too often of both!) before any house in Modern
Athens. These, and various other phenomena, positive and negative,
demonstrate that the staple commerce of Edinburgh consists, chiefly, of
intellectual wares, elaborated within the narrow precincts of that little
busy fabric, the skull, by an etherial superintendant of the wonderful
microcosm therein located !

Whether it be from early associations, or recollections of lang syne,
I know not, but the New Town of Edinburgh is not so great a favourite
with me as Auld Reekie. To a southern's eye, the former presents
little novelty, because every thing is new : while the latter exhibits
much that is novel, because there is much that is antiquated. He who
wishes to regale his eye with traits of Scottish character, will find those
traits better marked on the banks of the St. Lawrence, the Kistna, and
the Ganges, than in Princes-street or St. Andrew's-square, New Edin-
burgh !

I love to saunter along the High-street, from the Castle to the Canon-
gate, now sliding down a dark ravine now climbing up a steep crevasse,
between the ribs of the dragon-city, contemplating scenes of poverty,
filth, and vice, not much surpassed by similar haunts in London, Paris,
Rome, or Naples. The inhabitants of the wynds and closes of the Old
Town differ as much from the inhabitants of the New, as does the
Canadian from the Malay, the Patagonian from the Laplander, or the
Cossack of the Don from the Milesian of the Shannon. Civilization
and refinement do that for the exterior of man, which compo', chinam,
or Jloman cement does for the outside of houses. When the plasterer
has done his work, the spectator in the street is left to conjecture whether
the mansion be built of stone, brick, or wood. So, when the polish
plaster of society, and more especially the court plaster, has glossed the
outward man, all distinctive character, whether of individual or nation,
is pretty effectually concealed, though not perhaps obliterated. If to


contemplate the wigwam of the Cherokee or Iroquois, we must cross the
Alleghany and the Mississippi ; so we must dive deep into the wynds of
Auld Reekie, or wander far among the wilds of Ross-shire or Suther-
land, to recognize any trace of the Vich Ivors and Vich Alpines that
now live but in the pages of history or romance !

Those who cannot penetrate into the remote Highlands, then, had
better dedicate a portion of their time to the wynds of the Old Town.
These they cannot explore without some inconvenience. Although
cholera has proved itself to be one of the best scavengers that ever visited
Europe, yet he left a good deal of work undone in AULD REEKIE. The
Continental system of FLATS or, to speak more intelligibly, the ascend-
ing series of independent habitations, in Edinburgh, is very convenient
in some respects ; but is not without drawbacks. A common thorough-
fare, without toll or turnpike, is seldom kept in the best state of repair ;
and the stone stairs of Old Edinburgh will exemplify the truth of this

There is one peculiarity of Edinburgh, which I think has not been
remarked. It is the only capital of modern times, as far as I know,
which is not built on the banks of a running stream. In this respect,
it certainly resembles its ancient namesake of Attica. This is a great
misfortune ; for although the fountains of the Pentland Hills may be
compelled to sypf ionize to the back, or even the head of the dragon,
yet the wings must suffer from want of the perennial and inexhaustible
supply of a flowing river.


" FIVE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING ! " This was an hour so barbarous
in sound, and so unusual to a Cockney ear, that we determined to leave
the intellectual city, and sleep at Newhaven, in order to see, or rather to
hear, so strange a phenomenon on the banks of the Forth. Incredible as
it may appear, we were stirring long before the clock struck FOUR ! The
inn was crowded to excess, and one of the party, being glad to repose on
a sofa in the public sitting, smoking, and snuffing-room, where a gas-light
was burning, extinguished the brilliant flame, by getting upon a table and
puffing it out when he was retiring to rest. The consequence was, that
every apartment of the inn was soon fumigated with sulphuretted hydro-
gen ; and as each lodger awoke from his or her first sleep, a series of
exclamations was heard in the different apartments, all expressive of
some grievous calamity, but varied according to the habits, the sensibi-
lities, or the apprehensions of the individual. " Mercy on me," cried


one, " this is worse than, any of the wynds in Auld Reekie." " Foh !
they must be boiling the oil out of putrid herrings," ejaculated another
" Rotten eggs and sulphur ! " cried a third but the most alarming
ejaculation, or rather prophecy, issued from the second floor, where an
elderly gentleman, bursting open the door, and rushing into the passage,
exclaimed, in the most dolorous and desponding accents, " The Lord
have mercy on our souls ; this is the cholera from Musselburgh !" The
astounding annunciation was scarcely uttered, when some of the inmates
(who were now generally roused from their beds) began to " heave"
and CHOLERAPHOBIA became epidemic throughout the Newhaven cara-
vansera ! Much mortality would probably have ensued, had not the
waiter, whose olfactories were more true to their office than those of the
lodgers, discovered, in the public sitting-room, the cause of all this
alarm namely, a current of gas, " wasting its sweets upon the desert
air," in consequence of the ignorance of the temporary tenant, as to the
proper mode of extinguishing the luminary.

The indignation of the company against the unlucky wight, who, by
putting out the light of science, had let loose the demons of darkness
and the phantoms of imagination, was soon appeased by a comfortable
repast of tea, coffee, kippered salmon, broiled herrings, honey, cream,
and all the substantial etceteras of a Highland breakfast.

The little Stirling steamer was soon under weigh, with a large cargo ;
and dashing up the narrowing Firth, at length began to thread the
mazes of the tortuous Forth, with equal celerity and precision. This
river, having wandered among mountains, glided through bogs, chafed
against rocks, and leaped over precipices, seems, all at once, to change
its character, on passing Stirling towers, and to seek repose after a toil-
some march. Stealing through a rich alluvial plain, whose beauties it
seems to admire in silence, the river, as if conscious that it was soon to
lose its identity in the great ocean, and anxious to procrastinate its fate
by incessant but graceful meanderings, like a human being on the verge
of life, employing every effort to spin out the short remaining thread of
existence, ever and anon casting

" A longing, lingering look behind ! "

Or, to use a less trite, but not a more just simile, the FORTH, after quit-
ting its native wilds, and reaching a fertile plain (like one of its coun-
trymen who has migrated from the rugged Highlands to a southern soil)
seems in no hurry to leave its new domicile ; but, on the contrary,
assumes a truly serpentine course, backwards

" And, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along."
Like man, too, the FORTH has not increased its pristine purity by corn-


munication with neighbouring streams, and by distance from its native


" So born and fed amid the Alpine snows,

Pure as his source, awhile the streamlet flows,
Through many a glen his loitering way pursues,
And quaffs, with nectar'dlip, the mountain dews
But broader grown, and bending to the main,
Drinks deep pollution from each tainted plain."

The weather, during this day's voyage, was not unfavourable ; con-
sisting of alternate sunshine and shower this moment enveloping the
surrounding scenery in haze and cloud the next, revealing it to our
view, resplendent with the beams of a glorious sun.

After climbing the steep streets of Stirling, and mounting the walls
of its ancient castle, a scene burst on our view, which no sensitive mind
can ever forget. " Who does not know its noble rock, rising, the mo-
narch of the landscape its majestic and picturesque towers its splen-
did plain its amphitheatre of mountain and the windings of its mar-
vellous river ? And who that has once seen the sun descending here,
in all the blaze of its beauty, beyond the purple hills of the west, can
ever forget the plain of Stirling the endless charms of this wonderful
scene the wealth, the splendour, the variety, the majesty of all which
here lies between earth and heaven." Fortunately for myself, as well
as the reader, Mr. Burford has spared me the labour of a description, by
giving us, not a picture, but the reality, in Leicester-square *. I am
inclined to give the view from Stirling Castle a preference to that from
Edinburgh. From the latter, it is true, we have a distant glimpse of the
ocean ; but this is well atoned for, in the former, by a view of the Cale-
donian Alps, Ben-Lomond, Ben-Ledi, Ben- Venue, Ben-Voirlich, and
others of the Grampian range, whose towering heads are magnified
rather than diminished by their distance from the spectator.

After a heavy storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, during which it
was somewhat dangerous to cross the High-street of Stirling, on account
of the torrents that foamed on each side, threatening to carry us back to
the Forth, we had two hours of bright evening sun, to contemplate the
magnificent panorama from the battlements of the Castle. While
standing on the highest pinnacle, gazing on the bright summits of the
Grampian Mountains, the following lines of Campbell spontaneously
burst from the lips of two of the spectators at the same instant:

* It is no great compliment to Britith taste, to inform the reader that this excellent
panorama was a dead loss to the ingenious artist ! Mr. Burford was obliged to remove
it in less than a single season, while other and inferior views (because exotic) lasted two
seasons or more !


" At summer's eve, when heaven's aerial bow
Spans with bright arch the glittering fields below,
Why to yon mountain turns the musing eye,
Whose sunbright summit mingles with the sky ?
Whv do those cliffs of shadowy tint appear
More sweet than all the landscape smiling near?
'Tis DISTANCE lends enchantment to the view,
And robes the mountain in its azure hue."

I have some doubt, however, whether it is to mere distance we are to
attribute this attraction which a mountain scene has over a flat land-

The historical recollections which Stirling Castle calls up in the mind
are of a very exciting kind though not always the most pleasurable.
The murder of Earl Douglas by the hand of James the Second, in this
fortress, and at the king's own table, is a tolerable, or rather intolerable
specimen of those times. It is a melancholy reflection that the TOWN
of STIRLING was burnt in revenge for the crime committed by the king !

'" Delirant reges plectuntur populi."

Notwithstanding the march of intellect, a somewhat similar consequence
of the " delirant reges," has been witnessed in our own days, on the
banks of the Scheldt !

We pace thoughtfully the spot where the unfortunate Mary was
crowned where her son, James the Sixth, or, to distinguish him better,
James the Pedant, sucked in more classical learning than heroic courage
from Buchanan, whose dark dog-hole of a residence is still shown in the
town. The long train of legal and illegal murders committed within
these airy towers rise perpetually on the memory, and blight one of the
most enchanting prospects that was ever spread before human eye.

" Ye towers, within whose circuit dread
A Douglas by his sovereign bled,
And thou, O mad and fatal mound !
That oft hast heard the death-axe sound,
As on the noblest of the land
Fell the stern headsman's bloody hand."

Among the exciting scenes which are surveyed from Stirling Castle,
there is probably none more interesting than the Gillies Wood, close to


The sight of a weak man struggling with a strong of a handful of
warriors in deadly combat with a numerous army, will always enlist
our sympathies in favour of the former parties, whatever may be the


object for which they contend, whatever the cause in which the collision
originated. But, when we see a small band of patriots standing in the
breach of their country's ramparts, and stemming the torrent of a foreign
invasion, our feelings are wound up to the highest pitch, and we would
almost wish rebellion success in such an unequal conflict.

Bannockburn is the Marathon of the North, and the parallel, between
these two celebrated fields of battle, is so remarkable, that I wonder it
has not been often drawn. The preliminary struggle at Thermopylse,
may be compared with that between Randolph and Clifford, on the left
wing, where the fourscore spearmen resisted and broke the cloud of
cavalry that came galloping forward to trample the Earl of Moray and
his little band in the dust. Randolph, however, was more fortunate
than Leonidas. He lived to see the issue of the grand struggle, where
Bruce, like Miltiades, dispersed the southern host, compelling Edward,
like Xerxes, to fly for his life, and, like the Persian monarch, too, to
embark his broken fortunes in a solitary skiff, in order to regain his own
dominions. The parallel is not less singular in the comparative loss of
the invaders and invaded, at Marathon and Bannockburn. The Athe-
nians lost only one hundred and ninety-two men, while slaughtering the
Persian army. Bruce's loss was a mere trifle, while EDWARD lost thirty
thousand troops ! !


On parting from our kind hostess of Stirling, she desired the postilion
" not to forget the WHEEL," an injunction which we did not understand
at the time. Diverging from the road, our postilion conducted us to
Torr Mill, near the seat of Mr. Drummond, to see the great Persian
wheel, which is an ingenious contrivance in itself, and capable of excit-
ing a train of reflections in the mind. A small stream is divided into
three portions. The middle portion runs under a gigantic wheel and
turns it round. The side streams are conducted along at a higher level
than the middle, and fall into buckets fixed to the wheel, by which they
are raised to the top of the machine, and there emptied into a reservoir,
from which the water runs along a conduit a mile or two to the moss of
Kincardine, which it floats down to the Forth, leaving the arable land
ready for culture. Never was the great political maxim, " divide et
impera," more beautifully illustrated. The stream is divided one por-
tion turns the wheel and raises the other portion for the benefit of man,
who looks on and enjoys the results of his own ingenuity ! There is no
good without some attendant evil. It is said that the moss of Kincar-
dine, when it leaves the fat soil beneath to the plough of the farmer,


takes its revenge by poisoning the salmon in the Forth, and thus im-
poverishes the fisherman who administers to the palates of Stirling and

Except the ruins of Doune Castle, there is nothing very interesting in
the drive to Callander and even in this romantic spot, the march of
intellect, or rather Sir Walter Scott, has prevented the tourist from
enjoying the luxury of a most exquisite specimen of a Highland inn, as
drawn by that accurate surveyor of men and mountains that great man
of mica, trap, and granite Dr. MacCulloch. No one can relish pro-
sperity who has not tasted adversity ; for we appreciate the value of
things more by their loss than by their possession " rem carendo non
fruendo cognoscimus." On this account, the tourist who is regaling
himself sumptuously on ptarmigan, salmon, and Glenlivet at the foot of
Ben-Ledi or Ben-Nevis, in a Highland inn, can hardly have a better
relish set before him, to whet his appetite, than the following inimitable
portrait of what has now ceased to exist except in the pages of the
aforesaid traveller.


" When you hear Pe ggy called, as if the first vowel was just

about to thaw, like Sir John Mandeville's story, and when you hear

Pe ggy answer co rning, you must not prepare to be impatient,

but recollect that motion cannot be performed without time. If you
are wet, the fire will be lighted by the time you are dry ; at least if the
peat is not wet too. The smoke of wet peat is wholesome : and if
you are not used to it, they are : which is the same thing. There is
neither poker nor tongs ; you can stir it with your umbrella : nor
bellows ; you can blow it, unless you are asthmatic ; or what is better
still, Peggy will fan it with her petticoat. " Peggy, is the supper
coming?" In time, comes mutton, called chops, then mustard, by and
by a knife and fork; successively, a plate, a candle, and salt. When
the mutton is cold, the pepper arrives, and then the bread, and lastly
the whisky. The water is reserved for the second course. It is good
policy to place these various matters in all directions, because they
conceal the defects of Mrs. Maclarty's table-cloth. By this time, the
fire is dying ; Peggy waits till it is dead, and then the whole process of
the peats and the petticoat is to be gone over again. It is all in vain.
" Is the bed ready ?" By the time you have fallen asleep once or twice,
it is ready. When you enter, it is damp : but how should it be dry in
such a climate ? The blankets feel so heavy that you expect to get
warm in time. Not at all : they have the property of weight without


warmth : though there is a fulling-mill at Kilmahog. You awaken at
two o'clock ; very cold, and find that they have slipped over on the
floor. You try to square them again, but such is their weight that they
fall on the other side ; and, at last, by dint of kicking and pulling, they
become irremediably entangled, sheets and all ; and sleep flies, whatever
King Henry may think, to take refuge in other beds and other blankets.

" It is vain to try again, and you get up at five. Water being so
contemptibly common, it is probable that there is none present : or if
there is, it has a delicious flavour of stale whisky : so that you may
almost imagine the Highland rills to run grog. There is no soap in
Mrs. Maclarty's house. It is prudent also to learn to shave without a
looking-glass; because, if there is one, it is so furrowed and striped
and striated, either cross-wise, or perpendicularly, or diagonally, that, in
consequence of what Sir Isaac Newton might call its fits of irregular
reflection and transmission, you cut your nose if it distorts you one
way, and your ear if it protracts you in the opposite direction. The
towel being either wet or dirty, or both, you wipe yourself in the moreen
curtains, unless you prefer the sheets. When you return to your sitting-
room, the table is covered with glasses, and mugs, and circles of dried
whisky and porter. The fire-place is full of white ashes : you labour
to open a window, if it will open, that you may get a little of the morn-
ing air : and there being no sash-line, it falls on your fingers, as it did
on Susanna's. Should you break a pane, it is of no consequence, as it
will never be mended again. The clothes which you sent to be washed
are brought up wet ; and those which you sent to be dried, smoked.

" You now become impatient for the breakfast ; and as it will not
arrive, you go into the kitchen to assist in making the kettle boil.
You will not accelerate this : but you will see the economy of Mrs.
Maclarty's kitchen. The kettle, an inch thick, is hanging on a black
crook in the smoke, not on the fire, likely to boil to-morrow. If you
should be near a forest, there is a train of chips lying from the fire-
place to the wood corner, and the landlady is busy, not in separating
the two, but in picking out any stray piece that seems likely to be
lighted before its turn comes. You need not ask why the houses do
not take fire : because it is all that the fire itself can do, with all its
exertions. Round this fire are a few oat cakes, stuck on edge in the
ashes to dry ; perhaps a herring : and on the floor, at hand, are a heap
or two of bed-clothes, a cat, a few melancholy fowls, a couple of black
dogs, and perchance a pig, or more; with a' pile of undescribables,
consisting of horse collars, old shoes, petticoats, a few dirty plates and
horn spoons, a kilt, possibly a bagpipe, a wooden beaker, an empty gill
and a pint-Btoup, a water -bucket, a greasy candlestick, a rake, a spin-


ning-whecl, two or three frowsy fleeces and a shepherd's plaid, an iron
pot full of potatoes, a never-washed milk-tub, some more potatoes, a
griddle, a three-legged stool, and heaven and earth know what more.
All this time, two or three naked children are peeping at you out of
some unintelligible recess, perchance contesting with the chickens and
the dogs for the fire, while Peggy is sitting over it unsnooded : one
hand in her head, and the other, no one knows where, as she is wonder-
ing when the kettle will not boil ; while, if she had a third, it might be
employed on the other two. But enough of Mrs. Maclarty and her
generation ; for I am sure you can have no inclination to partake with
me of the breakfast, which will probably be ready in two hours*."

I have recorded this humorous delineation, because ten or fifteen
years have effected a wonderful change in the scene, and the prototype
is now but seldom to be found at least in those routes usually fre-
quented by tourists in the Highlands. Although this intelligence may
be unwelcome to those who are travelling in search of the picturesque
or ludicrous ; yet the information must be very acceptable to the deli-
cate or the valetudinary southron, who may not like to bring back rheu-
matism on consumption, as a tax on the pleasure of a Highland tour.
The young and the adventurous, however, need not entirely despair. If
they deviate far from the beaten tracks of travellers, they will have oppor-
tunities of seeing tolerable approaches to the hotels of Mother Maclarty
and Maister M'Pherson especially in Skye, Ross-shire, and Suther-
land. It is only the spoiled Cockney, or the Home-circuit traveller,
however, that will growl and rail at these specimens of northern hos-
telrie. For my own part, the good nature, and ardent desire to oblige
the stranger, so universally evinced by the people in these remote and
little frequented localities, have always proved ten times more pleasant
than the pert and surly sauciness, so generally experienced at English inns.
Those who have do miciliated in Italianlocandas, among the Apennines or
the Abruzzi, would probably prefer a Highland hut, with salmon, her-
rings, grouse, whisky and perfect security, to a more imposing cara-
vansera, with maccaroni, rosoglio, dulcet language and FRA DIAVOLO
in the neighbourhood !

But the tourist who is disappointed at Callander by finding all the
comforts and accommodations of modern life, will be delighted to trace
there the remains of a Roman encampment. Let him be content with
the guide-books, however, and ask no questions. Nothing is so sub-
versive of happiness as knowledge. If these remnants of a Roman camp
should have been formed by the TEITH, which left terraces to mark its

* MacCulloch, Vol. i. p. 160-3,


change of position, it ought not to alter our sentiments of wonder and
admiration respecting everything antique. It will perhaps be seen, in
the course of our perambulations, that Roman camps have been formed
by Vulcan as well as Neptune, in these northern regions, for the benefit
of antiquarians.


In our way from Callander to the Trosachs, we skirt two sister lochs,
Vennacher and Achray, the first Scotch lakes which are encountered in
this route to the Highlands. They may be compared to two other cele-
brated sisters of warmer blood Jeannie and Effie Deans. Loch Ven-
nacher, like the elder sister, is as tame a piece (whether by land or
water) as I have ever seen ; but Achray, like Effie, has much of the
wild and beautiful to attract the eye of the stranger. It is more owing
to its neighbours, however, than to itself, that Achray becomes interest-
ing, since it kisses, as it were, a scene now celebrated over the whole

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 6 of 28)