John Macculloch.

The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) online

. (page 10 of 37)
Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 37)
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cascades, which channel its wild and rocky surface, and,
with the deep hollows and the lofty precipices, produc-
ing a species of mountain landscape not unlike that
which is found among the hills of Mar. But I must leave
to the pencil that which the pen is inadequate to de-

Glen Dochart and Strathfillau, forming one valley,
scarcely admit of a remark. Loch Dochart is quite unin-
teresting, as is the whole of this nearly naked tract to
Tyndrum ; the lofty cone of Ben More, and the castle
situated on its island in the lake, being almost the only
objects capable of attracting- attention. Dochart castle
like many others in this line, belonged to the Campbells
of Lochow; and there is a little port on the shore, which
appears to have formed their landing place. It is a ruin
without any picturesque features. I believe that the
reputation of St. Fillan's well as a cure for maniacs, still
continues. By Crien-larich is the road which all should
take who desire to see Loch Lomond as it deserves to be
seen ; unless they should choose to ascend from Tarbet
or Luss as far as Glen Fallocb, and thus return again.



Should you by this time have cast your eye over all
the perilous geography of these volumes, over the quan-
tity and extent of strange flood and field that has been
traversed, and have computed how many times I and the
sun passed the Highland solstice together, you will won-
der, perhaps, what I was doing in this country so long
and so often ; why I explored the unexplored, why I
risked my neck every day on mountain and precipice,
and my whole carcase on flood and in ford ; why I walked
and rode and ferried and sailed and hungered and
watched, day after day and summer after summer. Not
for the purpose of writing such writing as this, you may
be assured. Not to amuse myself; unless it be amuse-
ment to toil, and to hunger, and to thirst ; to be drenched
in the rains of heaven and in the salt sea wave ; to wake
uneasy nights and spend laborious days; to live the life
of a Shetland seal at sea, and that of a Highland stot on

It was Geology, my dear friend ; Geology, divine maid.
Did 1 not look with eyes of anticipation to the day when
all my toils were to be rewarded by the display of the
map of Scotland, with all its bright array of blues and
greens and carnations and browns : all, all, my own
handy work : when every granite and every gneiss and
every porphyry, coal, lime, lead, gold, what not, was to
be spread out like a Turkey carpet before the wondering


eyes of Scottish mortals ; of all geolog-ical mortals from
the polar basin to the Himala. And did I not flatter
myself that I was to rank with the meritorious worthies
who occupy one of the sunny nooks, as we are told, of
Pluto's domain. And did I not foresee that my labours
were to bring to light the treasures of the unknown
world ; hidden wealth to Highland lairds and Scottish
heritors ; nay, to the very empire itself; exploring, like
Garth's delegate, those profound regions " where metals
ripen in vast cakes of ore." Thus vain mortals foresee
what is not to happen. Dis aliter visum : and instead of
writing about all such knowledge as was never known,
knowledge by which the child that is unborn should
profit, here I am, calling to mind all that I had marked
for forgetting: the idle visions of my lost and wasted
hours, the toys and trifles that had crossed my path,
uncared for as the grouse that rose before me while I
was extracting the square root of a mountain with my
hammer. The pen that should have sung of graywack^,
must, like Anacreon's lyre, now sing of cascades and
antres vast and anthropophagi.

I could lament over this too: but what on earth was
ever mended by lamentation. To be sure, I might con-
sole myself by the reflection that my stars were in fault :
but, verily, c'est se moquer, de vouloir adoucir un mal,
par la consideration que Ton est ne unlucky. Well,
what will you have: I have sunk my hammer, like
Prospero, ten fathoms deep : ten fathoms ! where line
never yet sounded. "Now take it up, quoth he, if any list."
Whoever does, will find it no small weight ; and he will
stand a fair chance of cracking his knuckles, or his brains
perhaps, with it before he has done.

The philosopher whom I met at Killin, seemed to
think it an ornament and an honour; like a red ribband


or a blue garter. By what innate property is it that when
a man is a fool, he discovers it even before he speaks ;
nay, before he is seen. And, secondly, why does he
take so much more trouble to display his folly, than a
wise man to shew his knowledge. Is it the only gem
worth wearing; is it the only quality of which we ought
to be vain. While at breakfast, I received a message
from a " gentleman with a hammer," as mine host an-
nounced him, requesting the honour of a conference, as
he was in search of knowledge, and expected much illu-
mination from so celebrated a personage ; as well known
through all the Highlands as Jack Pudding himself. The
hammer was bright from the anvil : raw as the philoso-
pher that bore it; but was displayed in great state, as if
to gain consequence, as well in my eyes as in those of
Mr. Cameron, and of all the waiters and ostlers, of Killin,
and Tyndrum, and Loch Earn, and Callander. The folly
and the hammer were equally visible : for he wore both
on the outside of his coat: the more prudent conceal
them in their pockets. When it was the fashion for gen-
tlemen to be " angry," and to fight, every tailor carried
his sword by his side. Now, every blockhead who has
cracked a stone at Salisbury craig, must display a ham-
mer about the country, to the astonishment of innocent
people and his own vast inconvenience. The world will
never be the wiser for all their hammers. My philo-
sopher requested to know what the opposite mountain
was "made of" вАФ I answered, neglectingly, I know not
what ; but the word was not very long. He looked as
much confounded as if I had spoken in heathen Greek :
and thus, with one little word, not half an inch in length,
I fathomed the depth and bottom of his mineralogical
understanding. Yet he will write a book. And, what
is worse, he will tell the world his name. It is not for me


to gibbet him : every man has a right to perform this ce-
remony on his own person if he pleases.

This, however, has nothing to do with Loch Earn ;
and I need not say that this lake is most advantageously
visited from Perth, through a line of country scarcely
exceeded in Scotland for wealth and beauty and splen-
dour; equalled only by Strathmore, but, in one respect,
superior to it, from the dense succession of the highly or-
namented seats of the opulent, and from that incessant
repetition of artificial planting, which, from many points
of view, seems to render the whole northern side of
Strathearn one immense park and pleasure ground.
Much of this, however, lies out of our appointed limits;
and as I have also brought you to Killin, the examina-
tion will be better conducted from that point.

The short ride from this place to Loch Earn head, is
not without beauty in the midst of its wildness ; yet it
offers no very striking- character till the latter spot comes
into view, when a landscape occurs, well deserving of
more than a passing notice. To the advantages of an
inn, which, whenever I have visited it, I have found, like
that of Killin, one of the best in the Highlands, this place
presents, in addition, a scene of retirement and comfort
not often excelled; although unmarked by any very
striking features in its landscape, and therefore apt to
be underrated, after leaving the brilliant confusion of
pictures which distinguishes that singular spot. Though
the high road follows the northern bank of the lake, and
is of course the limit of most travellers, the beauties of
Loch Earn will be ill estimated by those who are content
to do what alone is conveniently done. It has been a
misfortune to this beautiful little lake, as it has been to
Strath Tay, that the new road, conducted on a conve-
nient and low level, has superseded the old one, which,


in the usual ancient fashion, held its undeviating straight
course over all obstructions, contemptuous alike of nature
and convenience. The difference in the appearance of
the landscape, produced by following- the one or the
other, is such as could scarcely be credited, particularly
towards the eastern extremity of the lake. Many years
ago, I had passed the better part of a day here ; and,
returning some time afterwards, I was surprised to find
that it was no longer the same place, and could scarcely
help feeling as in a dream, as if I had mistaken some
other lake for Loch Earn ; not at first perceiving the
change. Let the artist, at least, profit by this hint ; as
the ancient road is still accessible. For similar reasons,
let him follow the southern shore as far as he can ; not
only on account of the cascade of Edinample, which
stands in the list of objects to be visited, but because of
much more beautiful scenery which he will otherwise lose.
Limited as are the dimensions of Loch Earn, it is ex-
ceeded in beauty by few of our lakes, as far as it is
possible for many beauties to exist in so small a space.
I will not say that it presents a great number of distinct
landscapes adapted for the pencil : but such as it does
possess, are remarkable for their consistency of character^
and for a combination of sweetness and simplicity with a
grandeur of manner scarcely to be expected within such
narrow bounds. Its style is that of a lake of far greater
dimensions; the hills which bound it being lofty and
bold and rugged; with a variety of character not found
in many, of even far greater magnitude and extent. It
is a miniature and a model of scenery that might well
occupy ten times the space. Yet the eye does not feel
this. There is nothing trifling or small in the details ;
nothing to diminish its grandeur of style, to tell us that
we are contemplating a reduced copy. On the contrary,


there is a perpetual contest between our impressions and
our reasoning's : we know that a few short miles compre-
hend the whole, and yet we feel as if it was a landscape
of many miles, a lake to be ranked among those of the
first order and dimensions.

While its mountains thus rise in majestic simplicity
to the sky, terminating in those bold and various and
rocky outlines which belong to so much of this geological
line, from Dunkeld and Killicrankie even to Loch Cate-
ran, the surfaces of the declivities are equally various
and bold; enriched with precipices and masses of pro-
truding rock, with deep hollows and ravines, and with
the courses of innumerable torrents which pour from
above, and, as they descend, become skirted with trees
till they lose themselves in the waters of the lake. Wild
woods also ascend along their surface, in all that irregu-
larity of distribution so peculiar to these rocky moun-
tains ; less solid and continuous than at Loch Lomond,
less scattered and less romantic than at Loch Cateran ;
but, from these very causes, aiding to confer on Loch
Earn a character entirely its own.

If the shores of the lake are not deeply marked by
bays and promontories, still they are sufficiently varied ;
nor is there one point where the hills reach the water in
that meagre and insipid manner which is the fault of so
many of our lakes, and which is the case throughout the
far greater part, even of Loch Cateran. Loch Earn has
no blank. Such as its beauty is, it is always consistent
and complete. Its shores too are almost every where ac-
cessible, and almost every where so wooded as to produce
those foregrounds which the spectator so much desires ;
while, from the same cause, they present much of that
species of shore scenery which is independent of the
mountain boundary. Elegant ash trees, springing from


the very water and drooping their branches over it, g-reen
and cultivated banks, rocky points divided by gravelly
beaches which are washed by the bright curling waves
of the lake, the brawling stream, descending along its
rocky and wooded channel, and the cascade tumbling
along the precipice which rises from the deep and still
water below, these, and the richly cultivated and green
margin, with the houses and traces of art that ornament
its banks, produce, in themselves, pictures of great va-
riety, marked by a character of rural sweetness and
repose not commonly found among scenery of this class.
Thus also the style of Loch Earn varies as we assume
different points of elevation for our views, and perhaps
in a greater degree than any of the Highland lakes:
assuredly more than in any one of similar dimensions.
At the lower levels, and perhaps most of all at the western
extremity, where the banks are lowest, and at the eastern,
where the beautifully wooded island forms a leading
object in the picture, every landscape is marked by tran-
quillity and gentleness of character : a character adapted
to glassy waters and summer suns, to the verdure of
spring and the repose of evening. High up on the hills,
the grandeur of the bold alpine landscape succeeds to
the tranquillity of the rural one; and amid the wild
mountain forms and the rude magnificence of aspiring-
rocks and precipices, enhanced and embellished by the
gleaming lights of a troubled sky and the passage of
clouds, we almost forget the placid and cultivated scenes
we have just quitted, and imagine ourselves transported
to some remote spot of the distant Highlands.

Every one is bound to notice the 'new village of St. '
Fillan's, situated at the eastern extremity of this lake, as
an instance of what may be done by good sense and ex-
ertion, in reforming the comfortless and dirty habits of


the rural population of this country. The inhabitants are
now as fond of their roses and honeysuckles as they for-
merly were of their dunghills and g-utters ; a sufficient
proof that the people are tractable when properly managed,
and that many of the faults of the lower classes in the
Highlands which arise from carelessness of comfort and
cleanliness, and from a want of that petty industry and
ambition which soon extends itself to more important
concerns, ought to be attributed to their superiors, who,
themselves, unjustly complain of what they never attempt
to remedy. St. Fillan's indeed is near the Lowland bor-
der, and might, in the progress of time, have acquired
that polish which it now displays: but the reform has
been as sudden as it is complete : the consequence of
regulations rigidly enforced at first, but which are now
no longer wanted. Every proprietor in the country has
the same power ; and, unquestionably, the facility is the
same for all : and it is really incredible, that men of rank
and education, even without Lord Gwydir's example
before their eyes, should suffer, on their estates, and even
at their very doors, those disgraceful sights of neglect,
and dirt, and of the apparent extremity of poverty and
misery, which, without oppression, rather to the benefit
of their poor tenants as of themselves, they might remedy
by the most simple and justifiable regulations.

But it would be unjust to censure the Highlanders for
their inattention to cleanliness, as if it was exclusively
the fault of this portion of Scotland. Where Mrs. Ha-
milton's Glenburnie lies, no one knows ; but we need
not be very anxious ; as we can find a Glenburnie every
where, and, assuredly, as easily in the Lowlands as in the
Highlands. The Maclartys are an ancient and a powerful
family ; I wish I could add that it was an antiquated one
also; but I fear that it is still a thriving race. If it was


but possible to prevail on this family to have one thing,
but one thing, clean about them, the rest would follow
of course. If it was their persons, then their houses
would soon become clean, as a necessary consequence :
or if it was their houses, their persons would probably
follow, for the sake of uniformity. If but the water or
the salt was clean, if there was a clean spoon, a knife, a
plate, if there was even a clean surface on a looking glass,
it would detect the vices of the rest so effectually, that,
like one sturdy honest man in a parish, it would in time
reform, or at least shame, the whole. But, unfortunately,
in this family of the Maclartys, every thing is so consist-
ently, constantly, uniformly, perenially, dirty in every
part, inside, outside, top, bottom, middle, sides, longitu-
dinally, transversely, and diagonally, that no article, nor
any part of any article, is left to tell the tale on another,
or to blush it into reform. Were I the Dey of Algiers,
or a Highland Laird, I would enhance even on Lord
Gwydir, and keep an officer of health, with power to
wash Mr. and Mrs. Maclarty and all their family by force,
or to fumigate them like rats, and, in default of ultimate
reformation, to burn them out.

I sometimes fear that you will not believe me when I
bestow, as I have so often done, praise, and praise too
that may seem extravagant, on scenery which lies at our
own doors, which is visited by hundreds, and yet which
no one describes or even mentions. I premise this re-
mark here, because I am again about to do the same, in
pointing out the tract which lies between the end of Loch
Earn and Comrie. But I must not be deterred by such a
fear. If you doubt me, come and see; and then say,
what is rather the truth, that I have failed, not exceeded.
Why others have not been equally struck by these scenes,
it is not for me to explain.



The space in question is the narrow valley which
attends the course of the Earn from the lake to near
Comrie, exceeded in romantic beauty, as it appears to
me, by few places of equal dimensions in Scotland, and
dissimilar to every other; except inasmuch as the style
reminds us of the best parts of the extremity of Loch
Cateran. But it is a subject for painting", not for verbal
description : abounding also in landscapes, almost beyond
the power of reckoning; as distinct, as perfect in com-
position, and as consistent in their own peculiar charac-
ter, as they are distinguished from all other scenes, ex-
cept those to which I have just compared them. Nor,
omitting the lake, do they often fall short of the land-
scapes of Loch Cateran, either in beauty, in variety, or
in their fairy-like and romantic characters ; uniting similar
grandeur and breadth of manner to all that delicacy and
multiplicity of ornament which form the leading features
of that well-known spot.

Though the river and the road hold a parallel course,
in a general sense, the meauderings of the former are
such that they are often widely separated, so as to add
much to the variety of the scenery, as far as that depends
on the river's banks. Where they approach, or when we
choose to follow the wanderings of the stream, we gain
access to a species of river landscape not less various and
rich than that of the finest of the Perthshire rivers ; but
which, with the exception of the best parts of the Tumel,
maintains a character more consistently alpine and wild
than any. Though, in some parts, the Earn here holds
a sinuous course through flat meadows, it is never tame
nor naked ; nor is it ever wanting in those marked ac-
companiments which are formed by the rocky declivities
of the southern mountains. These give a wildness of
character to its course, even where the flow of the water



is tardy; and it is everywhere attended by trees, often in
great and splendid profusion, which, while they add
ornament to the general landscape, serve to break the
continuity of its reaches, and to give value to its bright
glimpses as they are seen glittering among the dark
green and under the shadows of the impending moun-

But the greater part of its course is of a far other
character; rapid, and wild, forcing its way among rocks
and trees, a truly alpine river. In some places, having
cut its own passage where the mountains meet from op-
posite sides, it struggles among promontories and cliffs
and overhanging rocks, foaming along its deep and sha-
dowy bed : in others, it is seen dividing to surround
islands which it seems to have detached from the skirts
of the mountains, and which, rising in the middle of its
wandering and intricate channels, wooded and wild with
dark firs and with the more graceful forms of the pendent
and silvery birch, conceal its mysterious course, and
cause it to appear as if springing from some unknown
recesses of the mountain. The bridges, of stone, and of
rude trees, which cross it, add much to its beauty in dif-
ferent places : nor does its picturesque character cease,
even when, escaping from this narrow pass, it opens into
the wider plain at Comrie, to wander now at liberty
through its own Strathearn.

But even this river scenery, beautiful as it is, forms
but a small part of the attractions of this romantic valley.
On each side, in some places, the continuous mountain
declivities descend rapidly and suddenly, so as nearly
to meet below, and to give room to little more than the
river and the road ; in others, leaving a space occupied
by flat but wooded meadows, yet varied by undulating*
ground. The northern side contains the ornamented


grounds of Dunira, rich with planted and natural wood;
but it is by the southern boundary that the brilliant land-
scapes of this singular spot are chiefly produced. This
consists of the skirts of Ben Vorlich, extending in one
continued and lofty wall from the southern side of Loch
Earn, till it terminates at the junction of the Earn and
the Ruchil. With the exception of Ben Venu, the lead-
ing feature of Loch Cateran, no mountain in Scotland
presents a declivity so wild and so various ; a continued
succession of bold precipices and deep hollows, of ravines
and torrents, and of woods dispersed in every mode of
picturesque distribution. As these descend to the river
and the valley, the knolls, which seemed, when aloft in
the mountain, but protuTjerances on its surface, assume
the dignity of distinct hills ; producing thus a variety
and an intricacy of scenery, as romantic as it is unusual
and unexpected. Thus the mountain itself, to those who
choose to wander among its strange recesses, presents
numberless landscapes of alpine rock and wood, scarcely
paralleled any where ; lofty cliffs following each other
in wild confusion to the sky, deep hollows shaded from
the light of day, torrents and cascades, trees springing
from the rocks, or crowning their summits, or distributed
in all that variety of wild forest so peculiar to the High-
land hills. As at Loch Cateran, which is never out of
our mind in contemplating this spot, the oak and the
birch are the principal trees ; but it is to the superior
advantage of the present scenes, that the fir is also found
among them ; in groups, or in solitary grandeur spring-
ing from the precipices ; adding much to the variety of
character, and peculiarly harmonizing with many of the

It is by these subsidiary hills, bold and various,rugged
and precipitous, and rich with all their ornament of wood,



that the peculiar character which distinguished this sce-
nery from almost all others is produced. Uniting with
the wanderings of the river below, and with the green
and woody valley, they produce scenes of splendour, of
ornament equally rich and wild, which receives support
and majesty alike, from the lofty and broad acclivity
above, rising to the sky, and terminating in an outline no
less graceful than it is rugged and bold. It is by this com-
bination of breadth in the general form, and of extended
and massive shade, with multiplicity and variety in the
parts, with profusion of ornament, and with the perpetual
play of lights and shadows and half tints and reflections,
which belong to these rocky knolls and clitfs and hollows
and undulating woods, that here, as on the Tumel, mag-
nificence is combined with richness, and grandeur of style
with minute splendour of detail.

Among these subsidiary hills, St. Fillan's is conspi-
cuous, as well for its grace as for its prominence in the
picture. Elsewhere, it would be a little mountain; and
did it rise, like our Arthur's seat, from a plain, all Scot-
land would not produce an object much more striking;
from the elegance of its conical form, its successive stages

Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 37)