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 20 of 37)
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me to sit on, lent a hand to hold down the leaves of my
book in a gale of wind, and begged to look at the draw-
ing when it was done. As I was amusing myself here with
drawing the Cobler among a crowd of herring fishers,


one of them who had been very intent on the proceeding,
said, when it was done, "I wish I could draw like you."
I remarked that herring fishing was a better trade. " I
canna think fhat," was the reply. I assured him I made
nothing of it. " That's your fault," said the fisherman ;
" if I could draw like you, I would make money of it."
So would I, were I Parmenio.

There is but little beauty in the ride round the upper
extremity of the Loch, even to the mouth of Glencro ;
although, about the point where the road quits the water
to plunge into this rude defile, there are some striking
shore landscapes, including the house of Ardgartan. The
sun never shone on a brighter vision than the house of
Ardgartan contained in our younger days : doubtless,
you remember it well : but many suns have rolled over
your head and mine since that time, and our flaxen locks,
at least, no longer glitter in his beams.

But, to the Cobler, time rolls on in vain. Still he
lifts his head to the clouds, defying the sun and the storm ;
still he hammers at his last, unmoved, unchanged; look-
ing down from his proud elevation on the transitory sons
of little men, reckless as his noted namesake, of the tur-
moils and mutations of the world at his feet. Absurd as
is this object, the resemblance is indeed striking. This
name is, however, modern : as, to the Highlanders, this
strange hill is known by the appellation of Arthur's Seat,
like the ponderous guardian of your own smoky and
romantic city. Arthur, who has a mountain and a seat
also in Brecknockshire, Cadair Arthur, as well as a castle
in Brittany, has been a puzzling personage at all times, in
all his characters and places, since Milton and Hume are
at issue even about his existence ; but no where more
than on this s de of Tweed. The south of Scotland in-
deed was filled with his fame, while the romances of the


north of England even place his court at Carlisle: but
how did he obtain a throne in Glencro. His Queen
crossed me formerly, at Alyth and Glamis ; and if I could
not solve the enigma as to the lady and her ubiquity, I
am not a whit nearer the mark here, where her lord is
concerned. If, however, Arthur had three spouses, all
of the name of Gwenhwyfar, then indeed Pennant and
Glamis church-yard may be right still, and I must beg
that worthy man's pardon : and the lady who lived at
Alyth, is not the lady who deviated with Sir Lauucelot
and took the veil at Ambresbury, nor the lady, if that be
a different one, whose skull was found by Edward Long-
shanks, and preserved, together with her lord's, as a relic.
I hope that you have a theory on this subject, as you are
in honour bound to have. Perhaps the Arthur of Loch
Long is Owen's allegorical personage, and not he who
is descended from the Trojan Brutus, who kept a round
table, had a frail wife, was buried at Glastonbury, born at
Tintagel, conquered all Europe, and is now flying about
in the shape of a raven. If so, he is the Great Bear,
Charles's Wain; the Northern Wain of our Scandinavian
ancestry, the chariot of Odin or Thor. These allegorical
personages are very convenient on occasion. If that will
not do, then, Arar, in the ancient British, signifies a hero;
so that this may have been the mountain of the hero, ge-
uerically. It would be a base conclusion, after all this
learning, to suppose it had been named after some mo-
dern Highland Arter, or Macarter, of the race of Campbell.
But why should I trouble myself about what is not the
business of Davus : as my concern at present is with the
mountain itself, not with its godfathers and godmothers.

It is well worth ascending: and, as far as the foot of
this extraordinary object, the ascent is not difficult. The
resemblance is preserved in all its integrity, even to the


base of the precipice ; but the whimsical effect of the
form is there almost obliterated by the magnificence of
these bold rocks, towering high above, and perched, like
the still more noble Scuir of Egg, on the utmost ridge of
the mountain. The effect here is truly grand ; from the
extent, no less than from the altitude, of these cliffs, and
from the beauty and breadth of style which render these
rocks a study for a painter. In one sense, however, it was
my misfortune to have a day of bright sunshine : for I
can easily conceive the romantic effects this object would
assume, if seen, as I have seen the rock of Egg, amid
the driving mists and among the wild and changing* clouds
of a stormy sky. Even amidst all the glaring and un-
poetical truth of a full sun and an azure heaven, it was
almost a scene of enchantment, like the work of a magi-
cian ; the castle of the gigantic genius of the mountain
and of the wide spread and wonderful landscape beneath.
An English s^avant, whom I met in Glencro, was nearly
of the same opinion. "Whose castle is that: the fellow

must be a d d fool to build it so high."

There is a tradition that the heir of the Campbells of
this country, was obliged to seat himself on its loftiest
peak, and that, in default of this heroic deed, his lands
passed to the next heir. I had no lands to inherit or lose,
no tenement but the uncertain lease of a worthless car-
case, but was resolved to place it as high as ever did a
Campbell. Not, however, to boast of more courage than
was really my own, 1 could not well shun the honour;
for I found myself, unwarily, in that position, common
enough in these cases, where it was easier to ascend than
to go downwards. This clambering of mountains is not
unlike that moral clambering which leads us on, occa-
sionally, to a descent equally involuntary and rapid.
Whatever the fact may be in this latter case, it is often


much easier to ascend a mountain acclivity than to des-
cend it : the labor et opus is to go down hill ; and the
steeper and the more difficult the ascent, so much greater
is the necessity of ascending. We feel an imaginary
security in the next step which we have not in the pre-
sent; but when we have attained it, all the danger still
lies downwards, and still we hope for a surer and a firmer
footing on the next shelf or the next tuft of grass. Thus
clambering, and thus moralizing, I reached the summit
of the ridge, and found myself astride on this rocky
saddle, with one foot in Loch Long and the other in
Glencro: in the very position, doubtless, of the bold
Campbell's bold heir. There is a pride and a pleasure
in surmounting' difficulties, even when there is no one
present to applaud.

I was surprised to find the summit so acute and so
narrow. It was the bridge Al Sirat, the very razor's
blade over which the faithful are to walk into Paradise.
But it was a magnificent scene ; and, secure in my ele-
vated seat, I could contemplate it without anxiety or fear.
The cliffs themselves form a set of objects at once sublime
and picturesque ; and, most of all, that square mass at
the western extremity, which rises, in lofty and broad
magnificence, to a height of 200 feet or more, like a gigan-
tic tower rooted on the mountain's brow. These huge
masses of rock, equally grand in style and powerful in
their effect, give this an advantage over most of the moun-
tain views which I have seen in Scotland, by the wonder-
ful foregrounds which they afford ; but the surrounding
and distant scenery is also various and splendid. To the
sea of mountains eastward and northward, among which
Ben Lomond towers, distinguished from all the rest, and
to the bright gleaming waters of Loch Cateran and Loch
Lomond, beyond which even Stirling is recognised, sue-


ceeds, to tbe west, the wild chasm of Glencro, on which
we look doAvn, a tremendous depth below. Beneath,
stretches the whole sinuous extent of Loch Long ; wind-
ing bright beneath our feet, and prolonged between its
mountain boundaries till it reaches the Clyde and the
sea. The glittering courses of the Gare Loch, of Loch
Goil, and of Loch Fyne, add to the variety and bril-
liancy of this landscape map ; and we pursue the Clyde
through all its boundaries, displaying on its wide ex-
panse the well-recognised Cumbrays, the lofty rock of
Ailsa, and the rude mountains of Arran ; while, beyond
all, I could distinguish what appeared to be the island of

Glencro, with its continuation Glen Kinglas, has na-
turally attracted the attention of the general body of
travellers; as it is the only valley of this peculiarly
wild character which lies in the course of the ordinary
tours. Yet it is very uninteresting : rude, without gran-
deur or beauty of any kind, and nearly as void of variety
as of magnificence or grace. The prolonged simplicity
of Glen Kinglas, is, in my own estimation, far more strik-
ing than the rudeness of Glencro ; though, in neither, is
there any thing capable of making a strong impression
on the mind, and, certainly, nothing picturesque. The
single point where the road attains the highest elevation,
well known for its resting- place and often-quoted in-
scription, is, perhaps, the only striking one along the
whole line ; though the small lake, surrounded by rude
and misshapen hills and rocks, has neither beauty nor
interest. At the termination of Glen Kinglas, the inn of
Cairndhu introduces us to Loch Fyne and to disappoint-

To me, at least, it was disappointment at my first
visit; and, instead of improving on the second, at each time


I have revisited it the disappointment has been greater
I oug-ht to be in the wrong, nevertheless, as no place is
more talked of or more visited than Inveraray. But how
is it possible we should all agree on these and similar
matters, when a man finds it sometimes difficult enough
to agree with himself; as, if he keeps a journal of his tra-
vels during successive years, he assuredly will. What
chance is there that half a dozen different persons, labour-
ing under the various accidents of dullness, wit, inexpe-
rience, study, watchfulness, inattention, learning, igno-
rance, besides the other more casual incidents, of rain,
sunshine, good humour, bad, before dinner, after, to say
nothing of the toothach and other aches, should agree;
and what wonder is it that we do not always agree with
ourselves, when we are not always ourselves. At any
rate, let us not quarrel about the beauties of Inveraray,
but recollect the eleg'ant apologue of Jack Sprat.

But if I am in a right minority, then the multitude is
wrong, as happens occasionally in other matters than their
judgment of picturesque beauty. And this is probably
true, when the praises which are lavished on this place and
on Taymouth, are withheld from Killin, and Dunkeld,
and Drummond castle, and Blair, and Kinrara, and the
Tumel, and a hundred other places which have had no
advocate, which have not been pufted into fame. If there
are places which are deservedly admired, it is not because
their beauties have been discovered by these admirers,
but because, like Inveraray, they have been written into
notice ; Loch Cateran by yourself, and Loch Lomond and
others by a numerous herd of tourists. But it is the same,
in this case, for men as for lakes and mountains. It is a
mistake of the heathen goddess that she goes before with
her trumpet, instead of following in the rear of perform-
ance. Thus the various wonders of the day are blown
VOL. r. s


into notice; in science as in literature ; in talents as inвАФ
what not ; it is all the same.

I know no term by which I can so well characterize
the style of Loch Fyne from Cairndhii to Inveraray, as
meanness. There is wood at Ardkinglas, and there is a
profusion of it at Inveraray ; but, excepting those places,
the hills are rude and bare. Even rudeness and bareness
may however be beautiful, as they are at Loch Long, pro-
vided the forms and the outlines are fine. But there are
no such redeeming beauties here. The form of the water,
the form of the hills, the shores, the outline, all is tame,
though lofty, and, though rugged, deformed. And this
is as true of Inveraray itself as of all that surrounds it.
The hill of Dun y quaich is the only characteristic feature
it possesses, and that is rather an object than a beauty.
The style of the house, or castle, could not well be worse:
a heavy solid square, one story of which is absurdly
sacrificed by being sunk within the ground, bearing a
sort of double casino ; as if, in succession, the three parts
had been protruded, one out of the other, like a telescope,
or as if the whole, had, like the Santa Casa, flown, no one
knows whence, to alight on the top of this ponderous
mass, itself pitched naked on a green lawn. The praise
of magnificence, in point of extent, and wood, and wealth,
must however be allowed to the parks or pleasure grounds.
But that is all. Nothing here displays that character
which we should expect in an alpine country : and that
splendour which results from their space and their profu-
sion of fine trees, though it would render the pleasure-
grounds of Inveraray a noble domain in an open country
like England, is here insuflBcient to atone for the utter
want of that picturesque beauty which we are entitled to
expect among the mountains of the Highlands, and which
we meet almost wherever we go. The present building,


I need scarcely say, is modern ; but the stone of which it
is built is not potstone, as is commonly said, but a soft va-
riety of micaceous slate, approaching to the talc slate of
mineralogists. There was an ancient castle here prior to
1480, but it has long since disappeared.

It was not very long since, that I was in a company,
where a gentleman, describing Inveraray, mentioned, as if
incidentally, that the castle was built of lapis lazuli.
The company stared, particularly as he was what is called
a man of science, and had been talking about rocks and
minerals. In hopes of giving him an opportunity of re-
calling his raalaprop blunder, which was obvious enough,
I whispered the word ollaris; to which the dignified an-
swer was, " you must give me leave, sir, to understand
these things, as this is a subject to which I have paid par-
ticular attention." The argument was unanswerable, and
lapis lazuli it remained. I have been for some time watch-
ing for the publication of this philosopher's travels; but
it is probable that the printer's devil will interpose to pre-
vent the catastrophe of the lapis lazuli. This class of
people nevertheless does write books, and we read them :
like Macaulay, whom I have elsewhere mentioned, and
who found that St. Kilda was 5000 feet high. He was
equally fitted for an observer and a traveller, with whom
I was dining not very long ago. There was a white lilac
tree in full bloom opposite the window, which he must
have seen on every summer day of his life, for many
years before. " You cannot conceive" said he " what a
beautiful purple that will be in a week."

As I have elsewhere noticed the remainder of Loch
Fyne, hence to the sea, I may now conduct you to Glen-
orchy; accessible from this quarter, as well as from Kil-
lin and by the way of Tyndrum. There is nothing
remarkable in the valley of Glen Ara, nor throughout



this ride of twelve miles, till we gain sight of Glenorchy
itself. And that I may here dismiss the greater portion
of Loch Awe and of the country through which it extends,
I may as well add, that almost the only interestmg part
of this lake is that which lies between its upper extremity,
in Glenorchy, and its exit, which, contrary to the usual
rule in our lakes, is at its side, and not very far from this
extremity. To the mere traveller, there is no induce-
ment to pursue this long lake throughout its exten-
sive course ; as it lies in a dull and uninteresting tract of

In approaching from Inveraray, the first views of the
lake are very striking, and, I may add, equally magni-
ficent and wild. They are very different in character
from those which occur in approaching from Tyndrum;
the water appearing to be a confined basin enclosed
among lofty mountains, rude and savage in their aspect,
but lofty and grand ; filling at once the eye and the pic-
ture, and, literally, towering to the clouds. It is the
elevated ridoe of Cruachan which forms the distant boun-
dary: majestic and simple, and throwing its dark sha-
dows on the Avater, which, spacious as we know it to be,
seems almost lost amid the magnitude of the surrounding
objects. The castle of Kilchurn, hence a mere spot in
the landscape, adds much to the sublimity of the effect,
as affording a scale and an object of comparison.

Tyndrum, the ramifying point of the road to Glenco,
is noted, only for the dreary aspect of its position, and,
if it is not changed since my day, for its unspeakable
badness and dirt as an inn. This is a base remark: but
I only follow the example of all my predecessors. What
would modern travellers do, without an inn to abuse.
And then, when I have found three bad inns, why should
I not say that all the Highland inns are bad. Here too I


am borne out by abundant examples: and besides, this is
the exact mode of philosophizing laid down by my Lord
Bacon ; which proceeds to generalization from a few sim-
ple facts. He who does not find comfort, even at Tyn-
drum, must learn to make it: and if it is on this and such
like things that he has pinned his happiness, let him stay
at home ; in Portsoken ward, or elsewhere. The lead mine
in its neighbourhood was never very productive, and has
been wrought, and again abandoned, at different times,
as the price of the metal has fluctuated.

Pennant, whose general accuracy I need not here
praise, as I shall often have occasion to do so, thought fit
to imagine, I know not why, that Tyndrum was the highest
inhabited land in Scotland; I think he says Britain, for I
have not his book. It would be easy to shew him many
houses in far more elevated positions, in his own princi-
pality; and, in Scotland, there are numerous inhabited
places which far surpass it in elevation. Dalwhinnie ex-
ceeds Tyndrum by many hundred feet; as does Garva
more, together with many situations in Badenoch. Boles-
kine, and an extensive tract of inhabited land about the
sources of the Nairn, are much higher; and, about Blair
in Atholl, corn is cultivated, both on the skirts of Ben-
y-gloe and above the pass of Killicrankie, at a far more
considerable altitude. It is the same in Glen Isla, and in
many other places along the whole southern ridge of the
Highland mountains : the Duke of AthoH's house at
Fealair is probably not much less than a thousand feet
higher : but 1 need not extend an enumeration that might
easily be quadrupled.

If no one would willingly go to Tyndrum a second
time, or remain there an hour, so, no one will, from choice,
take the road from this point to the King's house and
Glenco, which is dreary in the extreme. Loch Tulla


makes no kind of atonement for the hideous blank pre-
sented by the remainder of the way over Baadnashoag-,
or the Black Mount, and for the dreary vacancy of the
moor of Rannoch, along the margin of which it is con-
ducted. If there be any advantage in Tyndrum and its
chilling deserts, it is that of rendering the first view of
the vale of Glenorchy and of Loch Awe more acceptable.
That view forms a fine landscape, more various, though
less grand, than the fii-st sight of the lake from the In-
veraray road, and deriving from the tower of the church,
bad as is its style, an air of civilization the more striking
from its contrast with the preceding blank. The inn of
Dalmally is a convenient station for those who are desir-
ous of mastering all the beauties of this noble valley,
which may assuredly be reckoned among the most at-
tractive spots of the Highlands.

Of all the civil and political usages of the Highland
inns, I perceived that the one which most surprised the
London companion whom I had on one occasion, was the
very kingly and courtly practice of keeping a fool. The
Davie Gellatly at the court of Dalmally, seemed to be
kept partly for the purpose of sweeping the court, and
partly, I suppose, for the entertainment of the courtiers
and the guests ; unless there were better reasons in the
raggedness of his nether garments and the club which he
wore in resemblance of Hercules, whose duty also he per-
formed in the stable. He of Tyanuilt, might have sat as
a model for the god Anubis; wearing his arms by his
sides with the most inveterate perpendicularity, and
always moving both together as if they had been copied
from a parallel ruler. But the varieties here are infinite.
It is a branch of the human species indeed, well worth
studying, and which has not yet met with half the atten-
tion it deserves; though you have given it a good-na-


tured push yourself in the poetical Davie. There was
another here, a merry fool, who, had he been well rubbed
down and decorated with a cap and a bauble, might have
procured a place at a higher court than the miry court of
Tyanuilt, in the olden time. I cannot discover that any
particular worship is now here paid to this much neg-
lected race, as of yore ; but it is plain to be seen that
some latent wisdom is thought to lie hid under the ob-
vious deficiency of it ; as, in the world at large, a want of
common sense is ordinarily held to conceal sense too deep
for vulgar use and every day wear.

Whatever grandeur and variety the lake may here
derive from the lofty mountains by which it is surrounded ,
from its fine expanse, and from the bold and various
character of its margin, Kilchurn castle forms its leading-
object and chief attraction ; producing, in itself, many
fine pictures, and being the principal feature of many
more. In the Western Highlands, at least, it claims the
pre-eminence, no less from its magnitude and the inte-
grity of the ruins, than from the very picturesque arrange-
ments of the building; nor indeed has it many rivals in
the country at large. If there is nothing very marked
in the style of its architecture, the lines and masses are
finely disposed, and the irregularity of its form causes it
to appear under a great variety of picturesque aspects.
At the same time, the various and bold back-grounds
produced by the surrounding bills, and the fine sheet of
water in which it is nearly insulated, serve to add, ma-
terially, both to the beauty and the number of these

It is not recorded, as far as I can discover, that the
rocky elevation on which it stands was ever an island in
the lake. Yet there can be no doubt of this; whether
the building was originally erected on the island, or only


after it had become a peninsula. The flat and wide
meadow which now connects it with the higher shore, is
evidently alluvial, even now subject to inundation, and
obviously rescued, at no very remote period, from the
water. This has probably been the result of two distinct
operations : the one being a gradual elevation of the bot-
tom of the lake at this part, from the deposits of mud,
and the other being the deepening of the bed of the Awe
by the action of the river, causing a partial drainage of
the water. Whether that bed might not yet be further
deepened by art, so as to rescue much more land in the
same manner, is a question which does not appear to have
been examined as its importance merits.

The date of Kilchurn castle is 1440; having been built
while Sir Colin Campbell, who was a Knight Templar,
was absent at the crusade. While it bespeaks a degree
of architectural taste, such as it is, and of splendour, un-
usual in Scotland at that period, it is also an evidence of
the opulence of this ancient family. That opulence is ren-
dered more striking by the number of castles possessed
by his son, the next Sir Colin, named Dhu ; consisting
of Finlarig, Tayraouth, Dochart, Bercaldine, and two
others whose names I cannot at this moment recollect, as
well as by the great extent of that property which now
belongs to the title of Breadalbane, Kilchurn was gar-
risoned in 1745; and it would be a stigma on its present
and late owners that it should have been allowed to fall
to decay, were it possible to maintain and occupy all the
ancient buildings on an estate of such enormous extent.
On Innis Fraoch, elsewhere noticed as the region of one

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 20 of 37)