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 13 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 13 of 37)
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region are the reason that sun dials are so common in this
country ; not only at Kilmahog, where there are a dozen,
but wherever you go. So it is in almost all the villages ;
and even the solitary house, that has not a stone step to
its door, or any pretence to geometry in its walls, carries
the evidence of its mathematical knowledge on its front,
in the shape of a rusty gnomon. These incessant dials
in this land of clouds, offer some apology for the cele-
brated question respecting the use of the sun to the dial.
The policy is, however, profound : because if he should
miss it at Inverness, he may hit it at Callander, or else-
where, some time between the vernal and the autumnal
equinoxes. But nothing equals the ingenuity of the
artist at Glamis, who seems to have been determined that
if time escaped him on one quarter, he would catch it on
some other. It would be hard indeed, if, in the revolu-
tion of a year, the sun did not light upon one of the hun-
dred faces of this most ingenious polyedron : for he can
scarcely peep through a pin hole, without being caught


in the act by the tip of some one of the gnomons, that
bristle their north poles like a hedgehog- all round it.

I wish I could speak of the inns at Callander as I have
spoken of that at Dollar; but it is a mixed world, inns and
all, and we must take it as it comes. I mistook the golden
head over the door for that of Galen or Hippocrates : if
it is not yours, it ought to be ; for the owner is certainly
more indebted to you than to either of these worthies, or
to any merits of his own, for his practice. All the var-
nish of this inn is insufficient to varnish its defects : from
the stable to the kitchen, and the kitchen to the parlour,
and the parlour to the bed room ; wants of all kinds,
except of pride and negligence ; and of bells, which, the
more you ring", the more nobody will come. But what is
this to John Macpherson's inn, to which you may go if
you please, and whither, possibly, you may be compelled
to go. It is a genuine specimen of the Maclarty spe-
cies ; and is indeed so generic, that it will serve, as well
as Tyndrum or any other, for a model of what this kind
of hostelry is and may be.

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 ming,

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 bye a knife and fork ; sue-


cessively, a plate, a candle, and salt. When the mntton
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 di-
rections, 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 sucli a climate.
The blankets feel so heavy that you expect to get Avarni
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 kick-
ing 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

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
withouta looking glass; because, if there isone, it is so fur-
rowed and striped and striated, either cross-wise, or per-
pendicularly, 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 di-

VOL. I. 31


rection. 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 morning 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 pick-
ing 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, pos-
sibly a bagpipe, a wooden beaker, an empty gill and a
pint stoup, a water bucket, a greasy candlestick, a rake,
a spinning wheel, two or three frowsy fleeces and a shep-


herd's plaid, an iron pot full of potatoes, a never-washed
milk-tub, some more potatoes, a griddle, a three-leg-ged
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 wondering
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 break-
fast, which will probably be ready in two hours.

Loch Cateran, it need not be said, forms the great
attraction of Callander; since, although this is not the
only road to that beautiful spot, it is the most convenient
one. Such is my orthography, or, if you prefer it,
Ketterin : but Catharine or Katrine, can by no means be
permitted. Nothing can possibly be plainer ; except to
etymologists, who so often take a wrong road when the
right one is before them. Why otherwise the very
Highlanders, scholars, and natives of the place them-
selves, should never have seen the obvious origin of
this name, I know not, Kett urrin, says some one ;
urrin signifying hell, and kett being added euphonise
gratia: and what others say is of much the same quality.
But what is this to Mr. Whiter and his Etymologicon
magnum. Sleep, says Mr. Whiter, is derived from cabin,
because the first huts were places to sleep in ; and soap is
derived from sleep, because they are both connected
with notions of softness. Vir, says the same philoso-
pher, is the same as fear, because man is subject to be
frightened ; and war too is the same word as vir and



fear, because it is the chief of human occupations.
Enough of the etymologists.

Loch Cateran, from its convenient vicinity to the Low-
lands, and from the unsearchable nature of its wild
recesses, was one of the most noted resorts of ban-
ditti; maintaining that character to the latest period at
which any of these tribes existed ; a period not "sixty
years since." A plainer origin for the name could not
well be desired; and as the radicals themselves are
Gaelic, it is the more surprising that Gaelic scholars
should have first made these blunders, and then persisted
in them. Cateran, pronounced nearly according to the
orthography, Cath earn, signifies men of war, or sol-
diers, and, by courtesy, thieves and banditti. Hence,
according to the Gaelic elided pronunciation, we have
Cearn, and in the plural Cearnach ; the common name of
the Donald Bean Leans and the rest of that tribe. The
old writers sometimes spelt Carnanach, and hence ap-
parently the Ka, of Ptolcniy ; as his Kepuveq seem to
mean the same thing, from Cearns, or Kearns. Fordun,
I think, calls them Quatrani ; and I need not tell you that
Shakspeare's Kernes are the same personages. Ket-
terin, is, I believe, the last form into which this word has
been tormented. Thus much for the honour of etymo-
logy and of Loch Cateran ; and though I may differ
from the author of the Lady of the Lake, what can be
said, except that etymologists will differ, and sounder
casuists fail than you or me. Sir Walter.

Loch Venachar, the first object that occurs in pro-
ceeding from Callander towards Loch Cateran, is but an
insipid piece of water, except when, as seen from the
westward, it partakes of the scenery beyond it which be-
longs to Loch Achray ; under which form it offers some


very pleasing- pictures. The first very striking view of
the scenery to which we are approaching, is obtained
from the hill above the bridge of Turk. Ben Venu, des-
tined to act so principal a part in all the future landscape,
is here a leading object : forming a magnificent termina-
tion to a picture which fills the eye by its parts and its
ornament. But the chief interest in this part of the ap-
proach to Loch Cateran arises from Loch Achray; a
name often unjustly swallowed up in that of its greater
neighbour, since it may well stand a competition with it
for the beauty of its landscapes. Those who hurry from
this lovely lake to reach Loch Cateran, are of the tribe
which follows where it is led, and which might frequently
as well stay at home. Unless indeed they come for the
same reason as a Lady whom I once met, and who drove
up as if she had been driving through Bond Street, look-
ing at nothing, but calling for a guide to shew her the
place where Fitz James first saw the fair Ellen. This
was the very sword Avhich was exhibited as the one that
Balaam wished for when he was angry with his ass; but
the Lady was satisfied, and drove back to London again.
The very guide seemed to hold his employers in no
small contempt. I had accompanied, on one occasion,
a cockney friend whom I met here, and who, after scram-
bling among the rocks and bogs for an hour, expressed
vast indignation when he had reached the Coir nan
Uriskin. " Lord, Sir," said the man, "there is no cave
here but what Mr. Scott made himself." "What the

d 1, no cave?" "Na,sir, but we go where the gentry

chooses, and they always ask for the goblin cave first."

All that can be said is, that here the Poet and the
Lake divide the crown ; so that whatever indignation
Nature and Loch Cateran may feel at this neglect, you,
Sir Walter Scott, have reason to be pleased with the


triumphs of imagination over reality. Why the scenes
of a fictitious tale should excite the same interest as
those where the great drama of life has been acted in its
various forms, I shall leave you to explain, as this is your
affair, not mine: but I am quite sure that many of the
well-informed personages who come here to see, believe
the whole tale as firmly as you and I once believed in
Valentine and Orson and More of Morehall. It was not
very long ago since I met another party in search of
this cave of your Uriskins, looking about them on all
hands, with a mixture of fear and expectation, as if some
of this Highland satyrhood were about to start up, like
roebucks, from the bushes.

But what can one expect from such a clanjamfray as
your poem has let loose upon this place. I thought my
Killin friend had been as perfect an example as could be
desired, of the power of picturesque scenery on the mind,
of that enjoyment of Nature which we charitably sup-
pose others to possess, because we possess it ourselves.
But it was at the same place that I met a party which had
come to see the beauties of the country, and which ar-
rived after it was dark in a coach and four ; departing- the
following morning with day light, that they might reach
Callander in time for dinner. Thus the world goes on ;
upon trust and credit. I wish this was the worst ; but
Loch Cateran seems in a fair way of being belaked by
the same unholy crew which has made the English lakes
a standing nuisance. The last time I was here, I found a
young cockney apothecary who had taken a lodging in
one of the cottages, and who was employing the
Edinburgh summer vacation in practising on a French
horn. After three months of weary labour, he had at-
tained the fourth bar of God save the King; and the
whole, valley, rock, mountain, and water, resounded all


day long with the odious notes and their more odious
echoes. I could have wished for Helen Mac Gregor to
have treated, his horn at least, as she did the exciseman.
Nay, I am not sure that I was not a little angry with you ;
wishing you had laid the venue of your poem any where
else than at Ben Venn. Do, pray, take these matters to
heart ; and, in future, let it be St. Kilda, or John O' Groat's
house, or the wilds of Rossshire. There is room enough
in the Highlands for these irruptions of the Vandals;
places without number, where they may indulge them-
selves with the French horn, or any thing else, without
annoying their sober neighbours.

I am sure you will agree with me, that whatever su-
periority the scenery of Loch Cateran may possess, in
respect to romantic wildness, or variety, or grandeur, or
splendour of alpine ornament, it does not present many
landscapes more perfect than those of Loch Achray. It
is a frequent fault in Loch Cateran, that its landscapes,
like those of lakes in general, consist, for the most part,
of a distance and a foreground only ; the vacant water
occupying the place of the middle ground, and thus pro-
ducing a meagreness of composition, of which every one
must be sensible. At Loch Achray, there is water enough
to stamp the character of the landscape, and to give life
and brilliancy to the surrounding objects, without en-
feebling the picture, either by its position or its extent.
Whether occupying a portion of the middle ground, or
of the foreground, or of both, it only performs that acces-
sary part which water should ever do ; contrasting, by
its vacancy, its tranquillity, and its breadth of colour,
with the splendour and bustle and multiplicity of the
rocks, the woods, and the trees ; and thus, while it adds
variety and life to the landscape, conferring on it that
repose so essential to good composition. I need not des-


cribe the particulars of views which can scarcely be over-
looked by the dullest spectators; but there are two, at
least, of this lake, which ought to be pointed out, because
they lie out of the ordinary track, and have probably been
seen by few. These are to be obtained by ascending the
hill in the direction of Loch Ard, and they are most per-
fect under a morning sun. At the uppermost point, Ben
Venu occupies a prominent place in the picture; its long
rocky ridge sweeping down in a beautiful curve, and
separating Loch Cateran from Loch Achray ; the former
stretching far away to the west, embosomed in its bold
mountains, and the latter buried beneath the romantic
and rocky ridge of Binean. A finer mountain view is
rarely to be seen, though it is of a map-like character :
but at a lower point. Loch Achray itself offers a picture,
not only well adapted for the pencil, but exceeded in
grandeur by few of the landscapes of this fertile and
splendid tract. Its elements are the same; but the rich
mixture of rock and wood which closes the western end,
is here seen in all its wonderful splendour of detail,
uniting with the romantic ridge beyond, to enclose, like a
diamond in a rich casket, this lovely sheet of water, and
towering high over it, as if to protect it from the injuries
of the elements and the intrusion of man.

There is a sinoular and a romantic scene where
the Teith is crossed, just before its entrance into Loch
Achray, by a rude alpine wooden bridge. The myste-
rious source of the water among the closing rocks, their
lofty grey faces, and the oaks, rooted in their fissures and
throwing out their knotted branches and dark green fo-
liage in contrast with the naked precipices, produce a
picture altogether in harmony with the whole of this
collection of wild and almost unparalleled landscape.
When first I visited this place, when the name of Loch


Cateran was scarcely known, even at Edinburgh, that
bridge was entire. I returned after many years, and
found it so full of holes, that, like the bridge in Mirza's
vision, it was easier to fall through than to walk over it.
In a few more, I found it again, but now reduced to its
two elementary poles; and though the only mode of
communication across this water, and between two near
neighbours, neither had thought of saving it from des-
truction, by repairs that would not have cost a few hours
of labour. Had it been the only instance of this kind,
I should have concluded that it was the very bridge in
Glenburnie. But, as I told you before, there are Glen-
burnies every where,

I have rarely been so disappointed of reasonable ex-
pectations, as with the views from the summit of Ben
Venu. Its situation naturally leads us to expect a very
various and splendid expanse of landscape : but, by a
fatality in the distribution of the mountains, many of the
interesting objects that we might have hoped to see, are
excluded. In particular, a good deal of the wild scenery
of the Trosachs and of the lower extremity of its own lake,
as well as of Loch Achray, are nearly invisible ; from the
difficulty or impossibility of attaining that declivity, so
as to look down from the summit. There is still, how-
ever, much of their interesting anatomy to be seen. Wild
as this face appears from below, no conception could be
formed, from any other place, of its inaccessible nature ;
of its tremendous cliffs and precipices, and of the depth
of the intervening hollows. It is truly a fearful scene,
yet a splendid one : as much from the variety of the
ground, as from the scattered wood which covers it, and
from the naarks of apparent destruction and ruin which
it displays, in its broken rocks and deep fissures. On
the other sides, the views present little else than the well-


known mountains of Loch Lomond and the west : yet
there is much grandeur in them; while those which
stretch from Ben Ledi towards Loch Earn are also visible,
though the moderate elevation of this mountain does not
permit a very extensive view over the opener country
that extends beyond Callander. The places of Glasgow
and Greenock are easily seen : but, as usual, these towns
and the Clyde are suffocated in their own smoke.

There are two common mistakes committed by those
who visit Loch Cateran : the one, and the chief, that of
making exclusive use of a boat ; and the other, that of
limiting the walk to the northern and most accessible
side of the water. By the former practice, nearly all that
distinguishes this place from every other, all the wonder-
ful and wild variety of its foregrounds and middle
grounds, is nearly lost; little also remaining but the
bioad unvarying declivity of Ben Venn, which, however
grand or picturesque as a distance, loses its interest and
much of its effect when it forms the chief or sole object,
rising from a straight line of vacant water. Thus viewed,
the picture is a distance without middle or fore ground ^
nor is this object, grand as it is, and romantic as is the dis-
tribution of its parts, free from a similar fault, even when
seen from the opposite shore with the advantage of a
line of foreground, while the intermediate space consists
of water only. This is one of the worst modes of lake
scenery, as it is the most common ; and though, from the
magnitude and splendour of the objects, the defect is
here less sensible in nature than it would be in painting,
the landscape at length becomes wearisome by its uni-
formity. But many beautiful views may be procured
along this shore, by a judicious management of those
angles and bays which occur : using them so as to ex-
clude a superabundance of water, and to break that


straight line which is, throughout, the foundation of the
distance. Thus there may be procured that which, if it
is not really a middle ground, answers, to a certain de-
gree, the same purpose ; by interposing, in some measure,
between the immediate foreground and the mountain,
and thus diminishing that sudden and, here, almost in-
variable, immediate contrast between the foreground and
the distance, of which the effect is so disagreeable.

But these remarks regard art chiefly. In nature, and
without such reference, the whole of this line of scenery
must always be beautiful ; uniting the utmost magnificence
with a fairy-like and romantic character, and with a splen-
dour of ornament which is almost unparalleled in Scotland :
unparalleled I might perhaps say. The declivity of Ben
Venn has no rival any where ; whatever resemblances to
it may be found in some of the scenes formerly pointed
out. It is the singular felicity of this mountain, that
while its outline is every where elegant or graceful, its
simplicity and breadth of form and of general surface,
serve to support and to harmonize, according to the true
rules of beauty, whether in nature or in art, that endless
variety of parts of which it consists: its cliffs and knolls
and precipices and ravines and dark hollows, with the
masses of wood that are scattered in picturesque confu-
sion along its side, and the single trees to which are
chiefly owing that lightness and airy grace which form
such striking features throughout all the scenery of this
lake. To this concurrence of circumstances, must be
added the breadth of shadow, which, at most times, and
at noon day principally, involves this mountain; sup-
porting the playful lights which glitter in the endless
multiplicity of the rocks and trees of the fore and nearer
grounds, and casting a tone of sober repose over the
broad water. No where, perhaps, does so much depend


on the position of the sun as here ; important as its place
is to landscape in all situations. To sit still in any one
spot and to watch its progress from morning- to evening,
is to witness a succession of pictures equally striking and
unexpected. Though the outline continues unchanged,
every new light detects some hidden form ; bringing
into view, hills and woods and precipices and deep
valleys before unsuspected, and producing an ever-mov-
ing and changing scene, as if the hand of magic were
hourly operating a new creation. In the foregrounds,
an incessant variety occurs in proceeding along the mar-
gin of the lake, as the road skirts the edge of the water
under overhanging rocks and trees, or enters some se-
cluded bay, or clambers the precipice and winds along
the intricate hollows, or lastly, as taking its stand on

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 13 of 37)