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

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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 11 of 37)
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of precipice and grey rock separated by green and grassy
slopes, and from the beautiful disposition of the trees
which are scattered about it. Though its magnitude is
here swallowed up in the overpowering altitude of the
mountains around, it loses nothing of its beauty by this
position ; giving character, on the contrary, to the whole
surrounding scenery, and being the central and chief
feature of some of the finest landscapes which this valley
affords. Of these landscapes, wild, romantic, and numer-
ous, as they are singular and decided, I shall only add,
that the compositions are generally as perfect as can be
desired, that the illumination, under every position of the
sun, is what an artist would wish, and that the colouring


possesses that delicacy, arising- from a mixture of grey
with tender green, which harmonizes so well with the
airy gracefulness resulting from the scattered positions of
the wood and the light forms of the birch. Many days
would not exhaust the subjects which it offers to the
pencil ; nor are there many places where one day, at
least, would be better occupied than in a ride from
Comrie to Loch Earn head.

Of the town of Comrie I need say nothing; but its
situation is scarcely exceeded for beauty by that of any
place in Scotland. The pride of Strathearn lies from
here to Crieff'; a noble river, profusion of wood, a valley
where ornament and cultivation contend for the supe-
riority, art and nature both striving which shall embellish
it most, and, on each side, a range of hills partaking of the
richness of the grounds below, splendid in variety of form
as in wood, picturesque without rudeness, and offering
in themselves a thousand scenes of secluded beauty, in-
dependent of their effects in the general landscape. But
while Comrie is the sentinel of two of the Highland
passes, that of Loch Earn and that of Glen Lednach, it is
beyond ray prescribed bounds ; and I must therefore
return to this latter valley, which conducts a road to Loch
Tay, through scenery well deserving of a forenoon's at-
tention. The cascades of tke Lednach, situated in this
pass, and at a short distance from Comrie, are among the
enumerated spectacles ; but they possess no great merit,
either from their bulk or altitude, or from the surrounding-
scenery. The pass itself is, however, wild and richly
wooded, as is the whole of the ornamented land on this
declivity of the hill ; although it would not be easy to
find out any particular subjects of landscape. But be-
yond it, when we have reached the open vale of the Led-
nach, a valley of a pleasing and uncommon character,


some pictures of great beauty are found ; uniting a dis-
tant view of the rich extent of Strathearn and of its bound-
ing hills to the southward, with the bold middle ground
of the rocky and wooded ridge through which the river
cuts its way ; where the obelisk, erected to Lord Melville,
forms an object at once conspicuous and interesting.

That the Highlanders are inquisitive, and that a
Scotchman cannot give a direct answer to a plain ques-
tion, are truths not very new to you or any one else. The
Scottish Hierocles, for Joe Miller's authority is not clas-
sical here, will probably furnish you with an example or
two in point ; and you may consult him. Some of the
modifications of this process of answering one question
by proposing another, are amusing enough, and, occa-
sionally, not a little tormenting, particularly in the High-
lands ; as the difficulty of extorting the information which
you may want, is materially increased, or squared, as a
mathematician would say, by multiplying the indirect-
ness of the Scot by the curiosity of the Highlander.
Whatever the metaphysical anatomy of this may be, the
characteristic caution of the country is an ingredient in
this compound ; as clearly appears from the noted exa-
mination regarding a certain ferryboat, which you may
find, if you will take the trouble to look for it, loco ci-
tato. In the Highlands, there is a certain commercial
principle of barter or exchange combined : in short, if he
is to furnish information, he is determined to get all that
he can in return for it. But it is part of his birthright
and descent; for Csesar tells us the same of his ancestors
the Gauls ; and, I doubt not, was obliged to relate his
own history and motives whenever he wanted to know
his road.

I was considerably troubled here respecting certain
roads, and applied to an old snuffy-looking native who


was cutting" some hay with his pocket-knife by the way
side. It is true, I saw the inquisition painted in his face ;
but there was no choice, so I made up my mind to a
cross-examination of more than the ordinary length, and
was determined to indulge it for once. " How far is it
toKillin?"— « It's a fine day."— « Aye, it's a fine day
for your hay." — " Ah ! there's no muckle hay ; this is an
unco cauld glen." — " I suppose this is the road to Killin,"
(trying him on another tack). — " That's an unco fat beast
of yours." — " Yes, she is much too fat; she is just from
grass." — " Ah ! it's a mere I see ; it's a gude beast to
gang, Ise warn you." — " Yes yes it's a very good pony."
— " I selled just sic another at Doune fair, five years by-
past : I warn ye she's a Highland bred beast." — " I dont
know ; I bought her in Edinburgh." — " A weel a weel,
mony sic like gangs to the Edinburgh market frae the
Highlands." — " Very likely ; she seems to have High-
land blood in her." — " Aye aye ; would you be selling
her." — "No, I dont want to sell her; do you want to
buy her." — " Na ! 1 was na thinking of that : has she had
na a foal." — " Not that I knoAv of." — " I had a gude colt
out of ours when I selled her. Yere na ganging to Doune
the year." — " No, I am going to Killin, and want to know
how far it is." — " Aye, ye'll be gaing to the sacraments
there the morn." — " No, I dont belong to your kirk." —
" Ye'll be an Episcopalian than." — " Or a Roman Catho-
lic." — " Na na, ye're nae Roman."—*" And so it is twelve
miles to Killin," (putting a leading question).—" Na, it's
najust that." — "It's ten then, I suppose." — "Ye'll be
for cattle than, for the Falkirk tryst." — " No, I know
nothing about cattle." — " I thocht ye'd ha been justane
of thae English drovers. Ye have nae siccan hills as this
in your country." — " No ; not so high." — " But ye'll hae
bonny farms." — " Yes yes, very good lands."—" Ye'll


nae hae better farms than my Lord's at Dunira." — '< No
no, Lord Melville has very fine farms." — " Now there's
a bonny bit land ; there's na three days in the year there's
na meat for beasts on it ; and it's to let. Ye'll be for a
farm hereawa." — " No, I'm just looking at the country."
— " And ye have nae business." — ** No." — " Weel, that's
the easiest way." — " And this is the road to Killin." —
*' Will ye tak some nuts," (producing a handful he had
just gathered). " No, I cannot crack them." — " I sup-
pose your teeth are failing. Hae ye any snuff." — Yes
yes here is a pinch for you." — " Na na, I'm unco heavy
on the pipe ye see, but I like a hair of snuff; just a hair :"
touching the snuff with the end of his little finger, appa-
rently to prolong time and save the answer about the
road a little longer, as he seemed to fear there were no
more questions to ask. The snuff however came just in
time to allow him to recall his ideas, which the nuts were
near dispersing. " And ye'll be from the low country."
— " Yes, you may know I am an Englishman by my
tongue." — " Na, our ain gentry speaks high English
the now." — " Well well, I am an Englishman, at any
rate." — " And ye'll be staying in London." — " Yes yes."
" I was ance at Smithfield mysell wi some beasts : it's
an unco place, London. — And what's yere name ; asking
your pardon." — The name was given. " There's a hantel
o'that name i'the north. Yere father '11 may be be a High-
lander." — " Yes ; that is the reason why I like the
Highlanders." — " Weel, (nearly thrown out) it's a bonny
country now, but it's sair cauld here in the winter."
" And so it is six miles to Killin." — " Aye, they call it
sax." — " Scotch miles, I suppose." — " Aye aye, auld
miles."—" That is about twelve English."—" Na, it 'II
not be abune ten short miles, (here we got on so fast
that I began to think I should be dismissed at last) but


I never seed them measured. And ye'll ha left your
family at Comrie." — " No, 1 am alone." — " They'll be in
the south, may be." — " No, I have no family." — " And
are ye no married." — " No." — " I'm thinking- it's time."
— " So am I." — Weel weel, ye'll have the less fash." —
" Yes, much less than in finding the way to Killin." —
" O, aye, ye'll excuse me ; but we countra folk speers
muckle questions." — " Pretty well, I think."— Weel
weel, ye'll find it saft a bit in the hill, but ye maun had
wast, and its na abune tan mile. A gude day."

There is much beauty, uniting a secluded rural cha-
racter to the wildness of mountain scenery, through the
whole of this valley, and about the picturesque and un-
expected village of Invergeldy, (I hope that is its name),
after which the road enters a narrow and rugged pass
among the mountains, striking to those who are new to
Highland scenes, but not sufliciently marked or uncom-
mon to attract much notice from those who are familiar
with the various wild valleys of the central counties and
of the west coast. Nor is there much interest in the
views from the summit of Ben na Chony, which I as-
cended ; although the mountain itself, particularly on
the east and south sides, offers some wild rocks and
ravines of a striking and picturesque character. To the
north, the prospect is one of wild and rude hills, entirely
excluding the sight of Loch Tay, but displaying the
sources of the Almond ; and, to the south, it is not far
diflferent, as the mass of hills in this direction equally
excludes the valley of the Earn. But I need not trouble
you with details of a country through which neither you
nor any one else is ever likely to follow me. Had I in-
dulged, like Bruce and others, in registering the log
book of all my Highland geography, had I described,
with the watch. and compass in my hand, what I saw at


ten and what at eleven, this brook, and that stone, and
the other tree, I should have wasted precious paper and
more precious time in writing what no one would have
read when told of our own country, and what, I suspect,
very few read when it is told of Caucasus or Sennaar.
Life may be better occupied; on both parts: and the
value of other things than the Sibyl's books, may be in-
creased by the sheers. The worst of it is, that My Lord
cannot see his own excrescences : as little as Sir Geoffrey
Hudson, who feels the struggles of a soul six feet long,
can conceive that it is imprisoned in a carcase no bigger
than a fiddle caise. Fortunately, we can all see each
other's humps; and I therefore invest you with the full
rights of top lop and crop, after which we will consider
what is to be done next.

In the mean time 1 must go on in the old way ; look-
ing askance at Strathearn as I looked at Strathmore, and
half inclined to smuggle across the Highland border,
Ardoch and the Romans, and Drummond castle, and
Auchtertyre, and Tomachastle, and the ten thousand
beauties of the lovely Earn, not only to Crieff but beyond
it. But this would be an utter breach of contract : and
luckily it is a country that need not be told ; for it is like
the glorious sun at noon-day, not to be shut out. Every
one can see the encampment between the Earn and the
Ruchil, the false scene of the battle of the Grampians,
which I have already noticed, and of which we have heard
more than enough. Every one too can see the strange
and picturesque hills of Tomachastle, can wander till he
is weary, about the banks of the Earn and the declivities of
both ranges of hills, and every one, — who can draw — may
draw till "his fingers are weary, his pencils worn out, and
his paper expended. Every one too may visit what is
here worth visiting, if he will run the risk of steel traps


and spring- guns, and of prosecutions according- to law ;
a refinement in hospitality, thank heaven, which is rather
English than Scottish, and which has not yet found its
way across the Highland border. Let those who own the
treasures thus guarded by the dragons of law, who de-
light to live in a state of warfare Avith the whole world,
enjoy, in solitary hostility, their possessions as they may :
let him delight in hare and partridge if he can, who
values them above human life and liberty. Far different
was the theory of good old Admiral Gell, who planted
goosebenies and currants in his fields and hedge-rows at
Crickhowel, for a treat to the boys of the neighbourhood.
It is but a step in embellishment, from the painted board
to the gallows ; and the latter would be a more orna-
mental form and a more effectual warning. Unfortu-
nately, all our ideas of rural beauty, of peace and of
happiness, of the calm seclusion of groves and gardens,
and of the liberality of free and bounteous nature, are
apt to fly before the images that are conjured up by these
odious warnings ; the summons, the pettifogger, the writ,
the trial, and the jail. Let those enter at the legal gate
who delight in steel traps of their own setting : others
will be content to remain on the outside of this forbidden

But every one may visit Drummond castle, without
risk of life, limb, or attorney : yet why none of our thou-
sand travellers and writers have done justice to Drum-
mond castle, is more than I can say. If it is not all that it
might be rendered, it is still absolutely unrivalled in the
low country, and only exceeded, in the Highlands, by
Dunkeld and Blair. Placed in the most advantageous
position to enjoy the magnificent and various expanse
around, it looks over scenery scarcely any where equal-
led. With ground of the most commanding and varied


forms, including water, and rock, and aWupt hill, and deep
dell, and gentle undulations, its extent is princely and its
aspect is that of ancient wealth and ancient power. Noble
avenues, profuse woods, a waste of lawn and pasture,
an unrestrained scope, every thing* bespeaks the care-
lessness of liberality and of extensive possessions ; while
the ancient castle, its earliest part belonging to 1500,
stamps on it that air of high and distant opulence which
adds so deep a moral interest to the rural beauties of baro-
nial Britain. Yet Druramond Castle is neglected by its
owners, and yet its owners have taste : while it is capable
of every thing, but wanting almost every thing* which art
might add. Nor would it require the work of creation,
nor the aid of time, to make it all, of which it is suscep-
tible. That which it chiefly wants, is access. It is a
wilderness from which even its owners are excluded. It
requires little or nothing of those additions which, while
Nature is making, man dies. Art might accomplish in a
few brief years, all which is here demanded, and render
Drummond Castle the pride of the Lowlands and the
third jewel, at least, of Scotland.

But I must return to my appointed bourne and limit.
There is a wild and pleasing ride into the mountains
from Crieff, to the little alpine lake, Loch Turrit, whose
wild ducks have been sung by Burns ; but I know not
that it is sufficiently tempting for the ordinary traveller.
Not so Monzie : and every one who intends to proceed to
Glen Almond from Crieff, should choose the circuitous
road through this beautiful valley. But the beauties of
Monzie are only to be fairly appreciated from the hill
above ; where it forms the middle ground and the con-
spicuous feature of one of the most magnificent of the
extended landscapes of Scotland. The house itself is
sufficient to give a centre of unity to the picture : and


nothing can exceed the felicitous arrangement of the rich
woods which surround it, occupying its valley, and rising
up the hills in all that happy mixture of carelessness and
decision, which holds the due line and limit between
the profusion of nature and the restraint and attentions of
art. What art may have done, and what nature has done,
I know not ; but it is probable that the former has done
little, and it is at least certain that it never planned or
executed here, that which it generally contrives to mar
where it interferes on so large a scale. While Monzie
may offer a lesson to the gentlemen of the capability
school, it occupies a species of undecided and undulating
ground which occurs all over Britain ; and whatever
therefore it has done, may be done in a thousand other
places. But few parts, even of Scotland, can parallel the
noble landscape in which it lies: a landscape which
seems to have been created for it, and for which it seems
to have been created ; a continuous scene of richness and
beauty, of wood, and cultivation, and hill, retiring in
varied and endless succession till it terminates in the dis-
tant blue mountains of Loch Earn. While the long
range of the Highland boundary on the right, guides the
eye through the splendid vista of Strathearn to the pic-
turesque and crowded forms of Ben Vorlich and its at-
tendant mountains, the richly wooded hill which sepa-
rates the vale of Monzie from Crieff, is followed by the
more distant southern range which is the limit between
Strathearn and Strathallan, equally rich, but losing itself
in the hazy distance. Hence the peculiarity which dis-
tinguishes this view from all the great vale landscapes of
the Highlands. It is not, like Strath Tay or Strathmore,
a continuous valley bounded and terminated by continu-
ous and consistent ranges of hills ; nor is it , like many
others, a mere landscape of mountains, and of mountains


which seem to derive from each other and to belong to
the same family. On the contrary, it opens to the eye a
little world of hill and dale, of luxuriant cultivation and
plain and forest and mountain, of Lowland wealth and of
Highland grandeur: mountains of every character, yet
all so disposed that nothing trespasses on the unity and
integrity of the scene ; while we marvel how, with objects
various as they are, and numerous enough for a hundred
pictures, nature has managed to bring the whole into
one grand harmonious composition.

Monzie lies in the way, and before the very eyes, of
those who visit Glen Almond, and who yet manage to over-
look it. This valley has often been described, and is
therefore well known. But though dreary and wild, it
presents no remarkable features. While on a contiacted
scale, there is nothing marked in the character of its hills,
or in the course of its stream. It is dark and desolate,
but no more. To those who are not conversant with
Highland scenery, it has the recommendation of novelty;
and thus it naturally has atti'acted more attention than
its intrinsic merits claim. That it is one of the reputed
burial places of Ossian, may be an attraction to those to
whom shadows are as realities, and who find no property
in truth but its inconvenience. Though the large stone in
question has been used as a monument, it is a fragment
fallen from the hill above, where the very place whence
it has been detached is visible: while, from some indi-
cations that remain, it seems to have been adopted as
the centre of a circle, a few distinct traces of which are
still to be seen. But if this be the stone mentioned by
Birt, as it cannot fail to be, since there is no other, it
must have originally been moved for the purpose of being-
used as a monument, before it was displaced by the sol-
diers who made this road : as he says that, under its

ossian's tomb. 14Ji

centre there was found a stone coffin of two feet square,
containing bones and ashes. He imagines this to have
been the urn, as he calls it, of a Roman officer ; but
without reason, as the use of stone coffins and the burn-
ing of the dead were common among the ancient inhabi-
tants of this country. Moreover, there is no probability
that the Romans penetrated the Highlands in this di-
rection, although they did so more to the eastward, nor
that they ever used those rude stones as monuments.
Being almost unquestionably a place of British sepul-
ture, it seems to confirm an opinion which I have sug-
gested on other occasions ; that many of the stone circles,
whatever the purpose of others might have been, were
monumental, or funereal : the central stone, which an-
swered the same purposes as the Cromlech, forming the
stela, and the surrounding ones being an enclosure, giv-
ing imaginary protection, and indicating the rank or dig-
nity of the person interred ; as in those cases where that
wall was erected round the cairn, which became, in after
times, and among the Greeks in their stage of refinement,

the icepioMobofM/j,

It is an interesting circumstance about this coffin,
mentioned by the same author, that as soon as the disin-
terment became known, « the Highlanders assembled from
distant parts, and, having formed themselves into a body,
carefully gathered up the relics and marched with them
in solemn procession to a new place of burial ; discharg-
ing their fire-arms over the grave, as supposing that the
deceased had been a military officer." Not a word is
here said about Ossian ; and the manner of the ceremonial,
with the reason assigned for it, prove that no such notion
was entertained at that time. In fact, Ossian and Fingal
were then scarcely known. They are never once men-
tioned by this author : a neglect which would have been

144 ossian's tomb.

impossible, considering his long residence, and his inti-
mate knowledge of the country, had these names been
popular, as they are now, throughout the whole of the
Highlands. I have elsewhere remarked that they were
equally unknown to Martin. It is since the publication
of Macpherson's translations, that they have become
both popular and diffused, and that all these imaginary
tombs have been discovered and named. Had the stone
in Glen Almond been thought the tomb of Ossian in
1720, it would assuredly have been called so by the
Highlanders who then proved their respect for an un-
known name. But, like a hundred other stones and hills
and caves, it has received that appellation in our own day :
these heroes, like Solomon among the Arabs, appro-
priating to themselves all the waifs and strays that claim
no owner. And this is what is called tradition.

But I believe that the term, Ossian's Tomb, or stone,
has here in some measure arisen from the corruption of
another word ; as, in Staffa, the name of Fin, or Fingal,
seems to have been imposed in a similar manner on the
the great cave. It is, or was, a popular theory in this
part of the Highlands, that the lark, or some other bird,
was not to be found further north. The name is uisog
(I know not if I spell it right) and thus Clach na Uisog,
the Stone of the Lark, became converted, from some
similarity of sound, aided by the now fashionable belief,
into the Clach of Ossian.

The cause for the observance above-mentioned, as
assigned by a Highland officer to the author whom I
have quoted, was not respect to the memory of the dead,
as has been generally imagined, but superstitious fear.
They believed, in those days, whatever they may now,
that if a dead body should be disinterred by malice or
accident, and that the funeral rites were not immediately


performed, "storms and tempests vTOiikl arise, destroying
their corn and blowing away their huts," and that many
other misfortunes would follow the neglect. These have
been opinions of wide prevalence ; but little trace of them
remains at present in the country. I have seen human
bones scattered about, and contemplated with as little
fear as respect, not only in the cave of Egg and in that
of Oban, but at Portree, and in Barra, and in many other

The road through Glen Almond (Avon, properly) is
that which communicates between Stirling and Dalna-
cardoch, by Tay bridge; passing through Amulrie and
by the pleasing little lake, Loch Freuchie. It is now so
little used, and, like most of the ancient military roads,
so much neglected, as to be in very bad repair : a con-
sequence of that mixture of well-meant extravagance

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 11 of 37)