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 23 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 23 of 37)
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plain, blocks of a black variety, which, from containing
hornblende, is very fusible. To pass over the obviously
more modern ruins at this place, as not concerning the
present question, there are, at a certain stage down the
hill, the well-marked traces of a work which once seems
to have encircled the whole. It is a kind of fortification

u 2


well knowu to antiquaries, as occurring frequently in the
ancient British bill forts ; and it resembles a modern mili-
tary field work, as it consists of a single ditch and wall ;
the latter being formed of loose stones, not vitrified. I
consider this as part of the original defences, because a
similar one is found on Noath.

The materials in the vitrified wall are, as at Dun Mac
Sniochain, partly roasted without adhesion, and partly
vitrified, or glazed, or scorified, in a similar manner. It
is easy to see tliat the dark granite forms the vitrified and
scorified substances; but, not to enter on the more minute
details, which rather concern the chemist and mineralo-
gist than the antiquary, but which are very interesting to
them, I shall only further remark, that wherever stones
not capable of vitrification themselves, have undergone
this change, it has been produced by the alkali of the
wood used in the process ; whence the glazed surfaces of
many unvitrifiable substances.

Now I remarked that, at Dun Mac Sniochain, the ma-
terials of the hill itself were not vitrifiable, but that a
very fusible rock was present at a short distance, or scat-
tered in fragments about the plain. The same is true
here ; and, in both cases, the forts are not erected out of
the materials nearest at hand, which are infusible, but
collected with considerable labour from a distance. It is
hence evident that the builders of these works were aware
of the qualities of these various rocks : and it is equally
evident that they chose the fusible in preference to the
infusible, although with a considerable increase of labour.
The obvious conclusion is, that they designed, from the
beginning, to vitrify their walls : and this single fact
might serve, in itself, to establish the truth of Mr.
Williams's views, against the theory of his ill-informed


To turn now to Noatli. This mountain is the highest
point of its own ridge, rising to a height of about 1800
feet above the level of the sea, and of 300 above any
part of the surrounding ground, with a steep acclivity.
The summit is a plain : and, as at Dunadeer, that plain
seems to have regulated the size of the fort, as it occupies
the whole space: an arrangement which is equally found
at Dun Mac Sniochain. Nothing can more clearly prove
the military and common design of all these works : since
they vary in form and size according to the ground they
stand on, and are so contrived, just as a military work
would be in the hands of a modern engineer, that they
may command all the points of access, and prevent the
enemy from advancing any where under cover. If the
Duke of Wellington chose to occupy Noath to-morrow,
he would order his works on the same principle. The
area on Noath is nearly twice as large as that on Duna-
deer; yet the same system is followed ; and in Dun Mac
Sniochain, as I already showed, though the mode of oc-
cupying the ground is different, the principle of a com-
plete command is equally kept in view ; while other va-
riations are made for the purpose of conforming to the
peculiar shape of the hill. If the same great soldier
were to fortify this hill too, he could only follow the plan
of his predecessor General Mac Sniochain ; whoever he
was. I notice these points, to shew the folly of that fancy
which chooses to consider these as beacons merely ; a
notion which could not have entered a mind that had ever
seen or heard of a military defence.

The enclosure on Noath is a long parallelogram, of
about 90 by 32 yards, slightly rounded at the angles ; and
it contains a well. Hence also we may conclude that this
was a station and a garrison. An entire deficiency of the
wall at the eastern side, seems to indicate the entrance^ or


gateway : a notion confirmed by its being continuous with
a spacious causeway that extends a considerable way
down the hill. That connexion also leads us to con-
clude that this causeway was not a posterior work, but
that it originally belonged to the fort. It is made of
laid stones, of considerable bulk, with great care and
strength; resembling a Roman road : and it is remark-
able that a similar causeway leads to the fort of loose
stone on the top of Ben-na-chie.

At Noath too, as at Dunadeer, there is a similar field-
trench and wall, or outwork, on the declivity of the hill ;
and though much obscured, it seems also to have for-
merly surrounded the whole. In both cases, it seems to
have been intended as a covered way to retard the attack
on the body of the place. The vitrified enclosure is far
more perfect here than in any of these works in Scotland :
and it is infinitely more remarkable, since, being unen-
cumbered with soil and vegetation, scarcely even bearing
a lichen, we see at a glance the whole effect of its black-
ness, its bulk, its regularity, and its extent. We may
indeed wonder how any one could have imagined such
a work the produce of a volcano ; and not less, how any
one capable of the least degree of observation or reason-
ing could have conceived it the effect of beacon fires.

The parts of the wall which have been most perfectly
vitrified, are, as might have been expected, the most en-
tire : where highest, they measure eight feet from the
ground, and the accumulation of soil at the base would
justify the addition of two, or perhaps three feet more in
some places. That rubbish prevents the breadth from
being correctly estimated ; but this seems, as at Duna-
deer, to have been eighteen or twenty feet. And if, from
that rubbish, we may form an estimate of the total height
of the wall before dilapidation, and before the growth of


soil below, it may probably be taken at 12 feet. 1 must
also remark that the fallen rubbish, where the standing
and vitrified part is eight feet high, consists of unvitrified
stones : so that here, as at Dnn Mac Sniochain, and in
other examples, the wall, after having been vitrified to a
certain height, seems to have been raised, by some
courses of dry masonry, to its total altitude.

The state of the various materials that have here been
exposed to the fire, is so like their conditioji in the in-
jstances already described, that I need not repeat the de-
scription. But it will be useful to remark, that in many
of these works, and remarkably here, the largest frag-
ments of micaceous schist and gneiss are inflated and
contorted ; and that where quartz and felspar, or quartz
and mica, have been in contact, a species of porcelain
has been produced. These effects will enable us, will
enable chemists at least, to judge, both of the duration
and the intensity of the heat, and to prove, if additional
proof were wanted, the futility of that theory which
supposes they had been vitrified by accident, or by an

The presence of stones untouched by fire, of those
which formed the upper part of the wall, is equally valid
against both the idle hypotheses which I have here no-
ticed. No stone could have escaped, had the wall been
originally compounded of stone and wood, and burnt
down : and, in the same way, had the walls been the en-
closures of beacon fires, every stone from the summit to
the base must have felt their effects alike. It seems in-
deed a waste of words to argue against such a hypo-
thesis as this last, when we consider the great variety
found in the forms and sizes of these works, their obvi-
ously military and defensible character, and the enor-
mous size of some of them; as, for example, of the pre-

296 vn'KiFi!:u forts.

sent. The work on Craig Phadric is also very extensive
and complicated, and is as obviously a military post as
the present. At Amwoth, in Galloway, the hill has been
scarped by art, so as to form a deep ditch, close to the
foot of the wall. Nothing of this kind could have been
required for a beacon ; and it is further remarkable that
the transverse wall at Dun Mac Sniochain is a common
expedient for defence, in the ancient British works that
occupy peninsulas or promontories; as at Castle Trereen,
Zenor, and Tintagel, in Cornwall. The advanced co-
vered ways of Noath and Dunadeer, and the causeway
of the former, would be equally unnecessary on such a
supposition: nor, at Noath, could any possible purpose
of a beacon have demanded or justified such an enormous
work, whether we consider the area enclosed, or the
height and thickness of the walls. To imagine an area
of 2700 square yards covered with burning wood, and
to conceive a wall that would have required the labour
of many hundred men for weeks, built for no other pur-
pose than to enclose what did not want enclosing, are
dreams not deserving a serious examination. If a che-
mical argument were wanted in addition to these, it
would be found in the fact, that though all this wood, a
forest in itself, were collected and lighted, and lighted too
when a square yard would have served the purpose as well
as two or three thousand, it would not vitrify its enclosure
in the manner in which these walls are vitrified ; as the
current of air from without, would, by cooling the exter-
nal part, impede its action on the outside; where the
fusion is as complete as within.

It has been asserted that these vitrified forts actually
did communicate in chains, or in connexion, throughout
the country. Nothing but a similar ignorance respecting
these works and their places, could have led to such an


assertion : it is not the fact : in many instances it is phy-
sically, geographically and optically impossible: and
the mere supposition involves equal ignorance of the po-
litical state of Scotland in ancient times, or else a hypo-
thesis respecting its union under one organized govern-
ment, which is purely gratuitous. Many of them indeed
are placed in situations so low or so entangled among
hills, as to preclude all communication of this nature; as
is the case in Isla, in Morven, in Airdnamurchan, in Gal-
loway, and apparently along the course of the Bogie in

It is fruitless to say more on this hypothesis, and not
necesary to say much more respecting the manner in
which these works became vitrified. I remarked already
that the appearances of the burnt and vitrified substances
proved that a long continued heat had been applied, and
that this heat had also been intense. Neither of these
effects could have arisen from the burning down of a
wall formed of stone and wood ; even if it were easy
to imagine what the nature of such a wall must be. It
must have been of far greater dimensions originally, of
dimensions inconceivable, to have admitted of wood
enough for the production of this eflfect : and the result
must have been the subsidence of the stones into a form-
less pile of rubbish; whereas the walls, at Noath in par-
ticular, where they are most perfect, are erect, and, if
not possessing parallel sides, are at least of a mural

The antiquary who is the father of this theory, had
forgotten that he was unacquainted with chemistry. But
really there are so many sciences which must conspire to
the making of a good antiquary, since there are none on
which his pursuits may not touch, or whose aid they may
not require, that we may perhaps pardon the present one,


as not more presumptuous than many of his fraternity.
It has been an unlucky opinion, that antiquities, or anti-
quarianism (to coin a word) was a pursuit and a distinct
trade, of itself. As if it was not the very perfection and
overflowing", the luxuriance of accurate knowledge in
every art and science on which it may touch : as if it was
not the most abstruse and refined species of criticism, and
as if he could be a critic in antiquities who was not a
critic in all those arts and sciences which they may in-
volve ; in literature, poetry, language, history, architec-
ture, music, painting, geography, the art of war : but why
prolong the enumeration. The Roys and the Rennels
are the true antiquaries in their own departments; as are
the Burneys in music and the Carters in architecture ;
and even the gigantic Seldens and Lipsius', if they have
grasped more than one department, it is because they
were Lipsius' and Seldens.

The plan suggested, that of constructing a species of
furnace by means of earthen mounds, into which stones
and fire were introduced till the structure was erected,
not only answers all the conditions, and among the rest,
that of vitrifying the materials below more perfectly than
the upper ones, but is confirmed, as to its efficacy and
probability, by a practice in use in some parts of India,
where, according to the report of a French engineer,
M. Legoux de Flaix, houses of clay are burnt into a solid
brick, in this very manner, and at this day, to prevent
the effects of inundations. Nor does this art appear,
from other circumstances, to have been absolutely limited
to Scotland ; although the same proceeding has been re-
sorted to for the production of a different effect. Not
very long ago, there was demolished, in Shropshire, Gat-
acre house : a part of which was of unknown antiquity,
and, in all probability, very ancient, as the same vener-


able family has now resided on the same lands from the
time of Edward the Confessor. This part, the western
gable, was covered with an entire crust of glass ; appa-
rently designed to guard against the effects of weather.
But enough of these details : as it must be impossible
any longer to question, either the purpose for which these
works were intended, or the manner in which they were

Before attempting to form any conjecture respecting
the antiquity of these buildings, which, after all, is per-
haps a hopeless task, it is interesting to remark the
analogy existing in the practice of Hindostan, just men-
tioned. It is the same principle, the same system, ap-
plied to different materials, and to different purposes. It
is not less remarkable, that in Sir John Chardin's travels,
a similar process is described as in use in some of the terri-
tories which he visited. And I have also read, what it is
almost fruitless thus to recollect by halves, since I cannot
now refer to the author, that vitrified towers existed in
some parts of Tartary. I did not then foresee that I
should ever care whether even Ben Nevis itself had been
vitrified ; else my Tartarian evidence should have had
two legs instead of one. In spite of this deficiency, there
appears thus to be an oriental cast about the history of
this art and these vitrified forts, which leads us back to
the early Celtic tribes ; while this species of antiquity
and origin, is countenanced by all those numerous facts
noticed in various parts of these letters, which indicate
the remote eastern origin of that far-spread people.

There is little to be conjectured respecting their date,
from any local evidence or appearances. If indeed, put-
ting aside Berigonium as a visionary capital, we could
find any proof, or render it probable, that Fergus, the
real Fergus, had actually built the fort on Dun Mac


Sniocbain, as is not impossible, we sbould bave dis-
covered tbe date of tbese works, or tbe age at least wbich
produced tbem. But as Fergus and his followers were
Irish, or Hibernian Scots, we sbould be entitled to ex-
pect similar structures in Ireland, where none bave as
yet been found.

I can extract nothing like an argument from nearly
all the rest of these buildings. Noath and Dunadeer
alone, are situated in a country where the presence of
other ancient remains may allow us, at least to form con-
jectures. These seem to be of different ages, and to
have been tbe works of different people. Druidical
works, as they are called, sculptured stones, and circular
stone forts, are the chief. The age of the latter is so far
conjectured, that they seem to be safely referable, both
to the natives before the northern, even the latest Nor-
wegian invasions, and to those invaders themselves.

Now it is remarkable, that although in this part of
Aberdeenshire, where these works abound, the work, or
masonry, if it may so be called, of the vitrified forts, and of
the stone forts, is so very different, the same military prin-
ciple pervades both. It is equally the case in Cornwall,
where the principal work, or body of the place, has a de-
tached or advanced field work, or covered way, like those
at Noath and Dunadeer. Further, the stone fort on
Bennachie has a causeway like that of Noath ; and there is
a similar causeway to the most splendid and perfect of all
our circular forts, that of Castle an Dinas in Cornwall.
These are remarkable coincidences : they may probably
be nothing more; yet they may give a colour to the sup-
position that the vitrified and the circular stone forts are
the produce of nearly the same age and people.

I know of only one other point which we might endea-
vour to bring to bear on this question. These works


occur in Galloway, in the Highlands, and in the Low
country of Scotland on its eastern side. If therefore, as
might be concluded without much presumption, they were
the works of one people, they ought to have been built
when one people possessed all this country. Now the
ancient Caledonians, or Picts, never seem to have pos-
sessed the Highlands. The Scots, the real Scots I mean,
whether the Dalriadans or others, and the more modern
Highlanders, consisting of Scots and Norwegians, had, on
the other hand, no possessions on the east of Scotland.
Thus, if built by one people in these widely separated
places, they ought to belong to a time prior to the divi-
sion of Scotland into a Pictish or Caledonian, and a
Scottish, or a Celtic and Norwegian dominion. Thus they
should be referred to the aboriginal Celts, or first settlers
of Scotland ; that people whom the Pictish invaders
found, and on whose defeats they settled themselves.
This speculation may probably be thought to give sup-
port to the notion of their being specimens of remote
Celtic or Oriental art; and, in the same manner, to receive
support from that view of their nature and origin.

But, after all that we can do or conjecture, the date of
these works, and the people by whom they were erected,
must remain a problem: and it is one not very likely
to be solved. Yet I should be unworthy of the office of
antiquarian bottle-holder into which I have unwittingly in-
truded, if I also did not declare my own hypothesis, by
stating my hope that some future traveller in the East,
will find further reasons to prove that they are among the
earliest military works of our oriental Celtic ancestors.

302 AppiN.


The road from the Shian ferry to Balahulish is,
throughout, interesting, and presents much landscape
scenery. It is perhaps most so where it skirts the mar-
gin of the water; displaying a lively and moving picture
produced by the crowd of vessels and boats which navi-
gate the Linnhe Loch ; a picture much enhanced in value
by the magnilicence and rudeness of the mountain boun-
daries, and by the islands which are scattered through
this part of that great inlet. Among these, Eilan Stalker
is a striking' object ; from the strange disproportion, often
remarked, between the building and the domain on which
it stands. It is a very perfect and entire specimen of the
ancient incommodious Highland castles, but is utterly
without beauty : a kind of square tower with different
roofs, in the worst possible taste. But I need not detain
you on this road ; as there is no want of a guide here,
where every thing is open to the most inattentive spec-

It is with justice that Glenco is celebrated as one of
the wildest and most romantic specimens of Scottish
scenery ; but those who have written about Glenco, forget
to write about Loch Leven, and those who occupy a day
in wandering from the inns at Balahulish through its
strange and rocky valley, forget to open their eyes upon
those l)eautiful landscapes which surround them on all
sides, and which render Loch Leven a spot that Scotland
does not often exceed, either in its interior lakes or its
maritime inlets. From its month to its furthest extremity,


a distance of twelve miles, this Loch is one continued suc-
cession of landscapes, on both sides ; the northern shore
being accessible by the ancient road which crosses the
Devil's Staircase ; but the southern one turning away from
the water near to the quarries. The chief beauties, how-
ever, lie at the lower half; the interest of the scenes
diminishing after passing the contraction which takes
place near the entrance of Glenco, and the furthest ex-
tremity being rather wild than beautiful.

I was much amused by meeting here with an antiquary
and virtuoso who asked me where he should find Loch
Leven castle. He had been enquiring among the High-
landers, and was very wrathful that he could obtain no
answer. I was a little at a loss myself at first ; but soon
guessed the nature of his blunder. He had been crazing
himself with Whitaker, and Tytler, and Robertson, and
Chalmers, like an old friend of mine who used to sleep
with the controversies under his pillow, and had come all
the way from England to worship at the shrine of Mary ;
stumbling, by some obliquity of understanding, on the
wrong Loch Leven. This genius would have made a good
antiquary for Foote : but he was a perfect Hearne, com-
pared to an old Lady I had met not two months before at
Bullock's museum. Among other things, there was a
bronze of the well-known wolf; and her companion, who
was reading the catalogue, came to the names of Romulus
and Remus. Romulus, said the old lady: " Ah, Ire-
member, he was Serjeant at arms in the time of Burdett's
riots," The good old gentlewoman had entangled her
identities in no common manner ; first confounding the
Officer of the House with Sir Samuel Rorailly, and then
turning him into the Roman King.

Approaching- from Ardshiel to Balahulish, the road-
side is a continued picture : the bright water of the


Linnhe Loch stretching away on one had, bounded by the
rug-ged mountains of Morven and Ardgower, and the
hills, on the other, descending with a rapid and various
slope; covered with woods, and diversified by rocks and
torrents, and by valleys leading into many wild and pic-
turesque recesses among the hills. Some striking land-
scapes occur, in particular, as we approach to the narrow
strait which forms the ferry ; the two inns, on opposite sides,
appearing like the guardians of the passage, and the re-
markable saddle-shaped mountain which rises beyond
the house of Glenco, forming a conspicuous feature in the
distance. You may take your choice of these Yspyttys,
for each has its merit. I had asked an old dame whom I
met by the way side, which was the best, seasoning my
question with asneeshing. She assured me that I ought
to go to Mrs. Forsyths', as she was " a very sensible
woman, a very sensible woman indeed ; she had al-
ways plenty of good meat and drink in her house." This
is not a very bad definition of sense to a hungry traveller :
and if it is the Highland one, we can only lament that
sense is so rare a quality in the country. The definition
of wisdom is not so well judged. I had hired a horse
that would only go his own way, and his way was not
mine. On complaining to his friend вАФ " Ah," said he,
" he is a wise horse." This is a scene which particularly
demands two feudal castles in the place of these mean
buildings: and if ever I regretted the past days of High-
land turbulence, it was here, where I could have wished
Cameron of Lochiel and Stewart of Balahulish at war,
each threatening the other from his high tower, and each
levying pontage and murage on the wights who should
pass between their hostile shores.

The ascent of Ben-na-vear, on the south side of the
ferry, is not difficult, though long, as it is a lofty moun-


tain ; and if its prospects are not to be compared with
those from Ben Lawers or Ben Lomond, they are far more
interesting- than the views from Ben Nevis. Of Ben
Nevis itself, this position affords a very perfect view ; af-

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 23 of 37)