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 24 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 24 of 37)
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fording- even a glimpse of Loch Treig, with a detailed
picture of the wide range of wild mountains which ex-
tends to the eastward. Thus also it displays, in great per-
fection, the no less wild, but more marked and picturesque
groups of mountains which stretch from Glenco to Crua-
chan, surrounding Loch Etive and Loch Creran ; the
variety of their outlines, and the intricacy and distinctness
of their valleys, producing much more beauty than is
usual in scenery of this class. The bird's-eye view of
Loch Leven itself, forms a very splendid and amusing
scene ; as does the long inlet of the Linnhe Loch, hold-
ing its course northwards beneath the rugged mountains
of Ardgower, till it is lost among the mountains of Loch-
aber; and, at the other extremity, exhibiting the endless
variety of the bay of Oban, and all its creeks and islands.
The western sea presents a picture equally various and
engaging, in the whole of the islands from Jura even to
Sky: among which Mull forms a leading object; as the
eye ranges over the promontory of Airdnamurchan and
along the shores of Loch Sunart, hence exhibited with
all the distinctness of a map. Unfortunately, Glenco is
but partially visible from this point; taking a sudden
turn among the hills, so that we can only conjecture its
place, from the general appearance of a chasm among the
rugged summits that enclose this wild valley.

As I have so recently noticed some of the Highland
ferries for evil, it is but justice to say, that the readiness,
and precision, and commodiousness, of the Balahulish
ferry, confer great credit on the proprietors. It is fortu-
nate when a ferry does fall into the hands of men of



business and right feeling- ; who, instead of tyrannising-
over a helpless public, because they dare so to do, are
anxious for their convenience and accommodation, and
justly attentive to render services for reward, not to take
the latter and withhold the former. In a country like
ours, where the whole empire is in perpetual motion,
where so much of its commercial prosperity depends on
facility of intercourse, and where so much has been done
for that end, by means of roads and bridges and public
carriages, it is perfectly incredible that this barbarous
remnant of feudal monopoly should be suffered to con-
tinue, to the injury of the public, and often to the defeat
of all the other conveniences by which travelling is se-
cured or accelerated. While a long line of road is the
public property, managed for the public benefit, by per-
sons who can have no motives, from interest or temper,
to do wrong, and placed under the controul of laws which
prevent them from doing wrong by neglect, that portion
of such a road, its waters, which is the most important as
it is the most inconvenient, is suffered to remain a private
monopoly, where every species of abuse, of delay and
danger and extortion, may be accumulated, and almost
with impunity ; as there are scarcely the means of legal
redress, and as these means are too expensive and operose
to be available in the ten thousand petty delays and vex-
ations which thus occur in the course of travelling, and
which are not the less grievous because they would not
make much figure in a court of justice. Thus the public
is obliged to bear with every kind of hazard, as well as
of delay and extortion : incommodious or dangerous land-
ing places, insufficient boats, and incapable, or insolent,
or drunken boatmen, whose convenience, or will, they
must conform to or wait for, and who exert their petty
powers of tyranny with impunity, because they too are


monopolists, not subject to competition and scarcely to
legal controul. We may bring an action, possibly, for
tbe loss of life or property, against tbe proprietor; but
we have no reniedy if a drunken boatman keeps us for
hours in fear and risk of our lives, or exposed to storms
and rain ; or if an insolent or a lazy one chooses to delay
us for half a day, perhaps to our serious inconvenience
or loss. Nay, while these absurd rights are suffered to
exist, a proprietor may, as happens now in Wales, refuse
to keep a sufficient boat, and refuse to permit any other
boat than his own to land on his estate; thus having it in
his power to put a total stop to travelling.

That this view is not overcharged, must be well known
to all those who have travelled much in England and
Wales. In the latter country, it is notorious; and the
Conway ferry, in particular, is not only a disgrace to its
proprietor, but to Great Britain : it would even dis-
grace the negroes of the Congo and the Niger, or the
barbarians of the Jenisei or the Lena. The numerous
and serious accidents which occur every year at our fer-
ries, arise indirectly from this system of monopoly : from
misconduct on the part of the proprietors or the lessees,
over whom the public has no effectual check. There
need never be any loss of lives at any ferry in Britain;
and when there is, it may always be traced to causes that
might, with proper care, have been avoided. It would
be easy to collect a volume of tragic events in proof of
this assertion : but I am not writing the preamble of a
bill for Parliament. The very last time that I crossed at
Conway, and with a heavy cargo of cattle and carriages
and passengers, both the boatmen were so drunk that they
fell, one after the other, overboard into the water. It
was with great difficulty that we saved them from drown-
ing; but we were obliged to stow them away in the

X 2


bottom, and to navigate the boat ourselves. Had there
been no male passeng-ers, the boat and the men too would
probably have been lost. Yet this event neither excited
comment nor enquiry; a sufficient proof of the ordinary
state of things here. We may well ask, what are the
feelings of the proprietor of this ferry. Having none of
his own, it should be the business of the law to make him
feel, by obliging him to part with a property which he is
unfit to manage. It would no more be an oppression to
compel the lords of ferries to sell their rights to the public,
than it is to oblige them to give passage to roads through
their lands. Ferries should, in all cases, form a part of
the system of the roads, and be placed under the same
controul ; so that the public might have a complete
check over their management, and over the conduct of
the people employed on them. If ever, like Sancho, I
should be King and Parliament for a day, Charon and
his crew, wherever they may be found, shall be among
the first to feel the weight and impulse of a new broom.
The north shore of Loch Leven is much superior
in point of scenery, to the south one, whether as to the
character or the number of its landscapes. For a con-
siderable space, even from the point where it turns north-
ward towards Fort William, the road side presents a con-
tinued succession of pictures, in a style which is at once
grand and simple and ornamented. The noble extent of
water is bounded by a distant screen of mountains, as
striking in the outline as they are various in the forms ;
descending in a gradual succession of lower lands to the
edge of the Loch, varied by woods, and terminating, at
length, in an intricate and picturesque line of cultivated,
rocky, and rude ground. In the middle and fore grounds,
we have a long shore sprinkled with scattered trees and
farms and houses, in variety of disposition ; rising gra-


dually up into a beautiful range of hill, which is covered,
on its lower declivities, by ancient woods, and by groups
and scattered trees ; while its higher region is diversified
by rocks and intersected by torrents, which, as they
reach the lower grounds, become beautiful mountain
streams, ploughing their way through their wild chan-
nels, under the shade of ancient ash trees of the most
luxuriant and picturesque forms. These objects, ever
varying, and united to the numerous boats which are
drawn up on the shores or employed in navigating the
Loch, and to the frequent passage of sloops and vessels
of larger size to the quarries, combine to render the whole
as lively as it is picturesque.

Proceeding westward along the ancient road, the cha-
racter of the nearer or immediate grounds undergoes an
important change; while, as we also rise higher above
the level of the water, the distant mountains and the in-
tricate expanse of the Loch, assume new consequence
and new forms. The hilly ridge above us becomes here
more rocky; rising into cliffs or precipices, which, in
many places, tower over head, or descend suddenly to
the water beneath. Protruding rocks, and deep hollows,
often giving passage to some mountain stream, also con-
duce to vary its surface, and to multiply its intricacies ;
thus producing a peculiar class of mountain scenery, in-
dependent of the lake and the distant hills. The general
character is precisely that of the beautiful declivity of
Ben Venn at Loch Cateran ; and it is wooded in the same
various and intricate manner, with wide forests of oak and
birch, or with the lines and groups of wood which take
advantage of some rivulet or sheltered spot, or with single
trees, perched on the shelves of the rocks and the sum-
mits of the knolls, or rooting themselves in the fissures.
The elegant pendent forms and light foliage of the birch,


here, as in that place, give that airiness to the outline
which produces an effect so beautiful, and, at the same
time, so peculiar ; communicating a lig-htness and a grace
even to the solid masses of rock, and conferring a ten-
derness and transparency on the colouring, which no
one who has seen Loch Caferan can ever forget.

That similarity is even more remarkable in wandering
along the margin of the water, wherever that is accessible.
At the place now mentioned, the boundary of the Loch
is very irregular, and strongly marked ; projecting in
bold and varied promontories, and retiring in deep and
intricate bays; the trees, as they start from the precipices
or crown their summits, hanging over the lake, or des-
cending along the intermediate hollows till they are seen
reflected in the waves ; while the cliff's sometimes rise
suddenly out of the deep water, or, descending more
gradually, are skirted with insulated rocks and fragments,
adding much beauty and endless variety to these rich
and uncommon foregrounds. Thus there is produced a
species of scenery partaking equally of the shore scenery
of lakes and of that which belongs to mountain decli-
vities; presenting numerous landscapes of great beauty,
resembling in many places the analogous scenes of Loch
Cateran, and, in others, excelling them, by uniting, with
these details of rock, and wood, and precipice, and water*
the magnificence of a more varied expanse of lake and of
a grander alpine distance.

The upper extremity of Loch Leven, is rather wild
than picturesque ; and the cascades which are mentioned
in some of the tour books, are rather grotesque than
beautiful. The slaty rocks which conduct the torrent,
are excavated into bad forms, which are at war with all
the principles of grace or of landscape. But the road
never ceases to be interesting, and the navigation of

LOCH LliVKN. 311

the Loch is not less pleasing. In many places, the views
from the water are extremely beautiful, but no where
more than under that singular hill which rises above the
house of Glenco ; where a continued sheet of wild rock
and wood towers aloft to the skies, not unlike a part of
Killicrankie, and where, as it reaches the lake below,
it produces a continuous fairy landscape of wood and
water and rock intermixed, luxuriant as it is wild, and
strange as it is new. Every where, at this part of the
navigation, we forget that we are upon an arm of the
sea ; nor even when we see the brown weeds laid bare
by the falling of the tide, can we easily convince our-
selves that the trees, whose branches are dipping in the
water, and whose roots are laid bare by the wash of its
waves, are growing on the shores of the ocean.

At the upper extremity of this Loch indeed, though
an open inlet, the water is quite fresh for a considerable
space. And such indeed is the check to the tide at the
very narrow strait of Balahulish, that it is no where
thoroughly salt : the great supply from the rivers, not
only serving to freshen it, but generally staining it of a
dark colour throughout : a colour often carried out, even
to the sea. Hence also there is a rapid current of fresh
water at the upper extremity, at the fall of the tide; from
the great accumulation which has taken place during its
flow. I have reason to remember it well. To have been
drowned in a boat, by settling on a stone in a current in
Loch Leven, in a calm, after all that I had weathered for
so many years among the endless perils of the Western
Islands, would have been as provoking as the case of the
unlucky Admiral, who, after retiring from forty years
service, and having escaped a dozen of shipwrecks, was
drowned in his fish-pond.

St. Mungo's Island is an interesting spot, no less



on account of the various views which it affords, than
because of its burying ground, crowded with grave-
stones and ornaments, and with sculptures which, in a
place so remote and unexpected, attract an attention
that more splendid works would scarcely command in the
midst of civilization. There is an impressive effect also,
a check, and an awe, produced, by thus suddenly meet-
ing with the emblems of mortality in these wild and se-
cluded spots : a feeling well known to those who have
thus, in their wanderings among the Highlands, un-
warily fallen upon these repositories of the dead. The
English church-yard is habitual to our sight, nor is it
ever unexpected ; proclaiming itself from afar, by its
spire or its church, by its walled enclosure or its ancient
elms. We pass it coldly ; and if we look at its monumen-
tal stones, it is seldom but to amuse ourselves with their
barbarous emblems or the absurdities of their mortuary
verse. But in this country, in the midst of the beauties
and sublimities of the fairest nature, when, rejoicing in
the bright suns of an alpine summer, in all the loveliness
that surrounds us, we are suddenly and unexpectedly
recalled to the thoughts of that hour when these glorious
scenes shall be to us as to those who are sleeping at our
feetf then it is that we feel the full force of the narrow
green mound, the rude letters, and the silent stone,
which seem to say, — the time is at hand when thou too
shalt see these bright lakes and blue hills no more.

But St. Mungo's Island is the cemetery of Glenco;
and it is impossible to contemplate it without recalling to
mind an event which the lapse of more than a century
seems to have left in all its freshness of horror. We
cannot help feeling that we are walking on the remains
of those unfortunate victims of feudal cruelty, and that
we are now viewing the very spot where this tragedy was



acted. The tale, too painful to relate, is also far too fa-
miliar to be related again, since it has passed into English
history. But whatever blame we may throw on William,
we must remember that, like other kings on too many
occasions, he was misled by interested advisers : advi-
sers so conscious of the wrong they were meditating, as
to force him to the unusual step of doubly signing his
warrant. Let us remember too, that the really guilty
were Breadalbane and Glen Lyon ; guilty of every thing;
of unjustly extending the power of the unjustly obtained
warrant, and of enforcing it, thus doubly unjust, by an
act of cowardly treachery. Let us do justice to all.
The massacre of Glenco was not the act of Wil lirm.If
his ministers were culpable in having sanctioned the
eventual and possible penalty, they were wrought on by
the demon of feudal and civil jealousy and revenge ; but
the deed itself was executed by Highlanders against High-
landers, in the true and ancient spirit of clan treachery
and clan vengeance. Such a deed could have been per-
petrated, only in the spirit of ancient feuds, and by none
but Highlanders of the ancient leaven. Let the stigma
remain where it is due; not on the house of Nassau, but
on that of Campbell.

The slate quarries of Balahulish have generated a
considerable village: and the workmen, the noise, the
shipping, the women and children, and the confusion of
all kinds, form a strange contrast with the dark and
dreary solitude of Glenco itself, scarcely a mile removed.
It is a busy-looking and an industrious population ; yet
possessing all those Highland peculiarities which are
more or less rapidly disappearing, wherever similar
manufactories produce an intimate communication with
Lowland shipping and Lowland opinions. Here only,
and among the poor people at Bercaldine Castle, (let me


say it for the honour of the country) throughout all my
wanderings, I found in vogue that pleasure which our
Solomon is reported to have thought too great for a sub-
ject. My English companion, on this occasion, was de-
lig-hted, as I had persisted in denying the existence of
this pleasure in modern days. I was obliged to allow
him his triumph at last ; after having long assured him,
on the faith of the well-known French proverb, that it
was indifferent whether it was in his imagination or his
fingers, which were never to be seen without gloves.
Whether the name of this amusement proves it to have
been peculiarly a Celtic one, gale quasi Gael, is a ques-
tion of etymology into which I cannot enter.

Here too I saw, what is not often to be seen now, the
wauking of a cloth : coming suddenly on the bare legged
nymphs in the very orgasm and fury of inspiration, kick-
ing and singing and hallooing as if they had been pos-
sessed by twelve devils. Surely the twelve Valkyrs
whom Darradus saw, and whom the Saga and Gray have
sung, must have been one of these living fulling-mills :
or the Highland practice has been derived from the my-
thology of Ostrogard and Asgard, from the Pantheon of
the North. The web of fate here, was but a blanket ;
notwithstanding all this labour, which a couple of
wooden hammers would have performed much better,
and, if with less fun, certainly with far less noise. As
to the music, it is worthy of the dance : and with all my
regard for Highland airs, I must confess that the fulling
song-, as well as that of the Highland Argonauts, the
Ho ieroe of your Lady of the Lake, is too sublime for my
comprehension. But they have all equally the merit of
classical antiquity and example in their favour. If the
music of the Quern is no better than their argonautics, still
the auld wife who drones it through her nose ayont the fire.


may boast that she sings, probably, as good a song as the
Lesbians, who, as Clearchus tells us, had a Quern song
also, called, 'eTn/AvXtov. I have heard the '€ntifA.vKto<; d^ in St.
Kilda, and it is worthy of the fulling song.

No contrast can well be more striking than that of the
rich, and open, and beautiful scenery of Loch Leven,
with the wild, and narrow, and terrible Glenco; and no
transition can well be more sudden than from its smiling
banks and green woods and glittering waters and bright
sunshine, to this rocky and dreary valley, without tree
or verdure, a valley of shadows, where the sun scarcely
penetrates, and where there is twilight even at uoon-day.
We entirely lose sight of all the previous scenes, as we
enter its narrow depths; the commencement of a succes-
sion of barrenness and desolation, which is scarcely to quit
us again till we reach KillinorRannoch. I must not for-
get that Ossian was born in Glenco; or buried : it is indif-
ferent which ; and that the little stream, the Cona, which
runs out of it, was sung by him : or by Macpherson. He
who sang Caracalla, may be allowed to sing Cona: be
he who he may. There is nothing to which the scenery
of Glenco can be compared : there are only two scenes
with which it can be named : Coruisk in Sky, and Glen
Sanicks in Anan. But there is no resemblance, in either
case. Coruisk is a giant, before which this valley, even
such as it is, sinks into insignificance. Glen Sanicks is
single and simple in its sublimity: a terrible vacuum.
In Glenco every thing is wild and various and strange:
a busy bustling scene of romance and wonder: ter-
rific ; but terrific from its rudeness, and its barrenness,
and its spiry rocks, and its black precipices, not from sub-
limity of forms or extent of space. In its own character,
it excels all analogous scenes: and yet there is in it, that
which art and taste do not love; a quaintness of outline;


forms unusual in nature, and therefore extravap^ant :
when painted, appearing- fanciful and fictitious rather
than true. Such it is also when viewed in nature : we
rather wonder than admire : and the gloom of its lofty
and opposing precipices, the powerful effect of its deep
shadows, the impression produced by its altitude and
extent and bulk, are injured by a form of outline which
attracts the eye as unnatural, and which forces it to ana-
lyze and reason, instead of allowing it to feel.

Thus, though Glenco presents many scenes of suffi-
cient unity, its pictures are scarcely pleasing, and they
are also deficient in grandeur. If the bizarre which it
displays in nature is somewhat overcome by its magni-
tude, that advantage is lost in the representation : and
we dwell on what is wrong, unable to balance or over-
come it by what is right. Nor, even in nature, does it
display much variety, though its extent is so consider-
able. The southern mountain outline, which is alone vi-
sible, although it undergoes variations of form as we pro-
ceed, is never thoroughly altered. We trace the same
shapes from the beginning to the end : and are almost
wearied at length by finding that our hopes of promised
novelty are disappointed. Thus also it diminishes in
interest in proceeding from the eastward : the most per-
fect view being found near a bridge at the commence-
ment of the descent, and nearly all the scenes that fol-
low being depreciated changes of the same. Hence it is
preferable, if we have a choice, to enter it from Balahu-
lish, or, what is best, to pass it twice. He who has time,
however, must be told that all the beauty of Glenco will
not be found from the road side. The noble ravine which
conducts its waters, the deep chasm through which they
flow, the perpendicular precipices, the varied rocks, and
the scattered trees wildly dispersed among them, oflfer


many scenes of a close character, of great interest and of
much grandeur. But, for these, we must labour, as they
are not otherwise to be attained. The change of cha-
racter, in proceeding eastward, is completed as soon as
we have surmounted the ascent, and reached the common
head of the eastern and western waters. But here
Buachaille Etive forms a noble object ; rising in a regu-
lar pyramid, the king of the rude chain to which it
seems to belong. All, every beauty, every thing, va-
nishes before we reach the King's House ; where the
hideous, interminable, open moor of Rannoch is spread
before us, a huge and dreary Serbonian bog, a desert of
blackness and vacuity and solitude and death ; the death
of nature.

It was on my last visit to Glenco that I formed the
courageous resolution of exploring this almost unknown
spot ; unjustly, perhaps, neglected, since it might form an
easy connexion between the central Highlands and the
Western Sea. If you know how you may breakfast at
Tyanuilt, why should I not also tell you how you may
hire a horse in Glenco. I had taken the precaution of
engaging mine on the preceding evening, and it was pro-
mised by six in the morning ; the distance to Rannoch
being called twenty miles; a day's journey. The price
for the horse and guide was two guineas ; which, for one
day's ride upon a Highland poney with two shoes, whose
value was five pounds, and whose annual keep was no-
thing, while the usual day labour of the guide was a shil-
ling, should have satisfied even a Glenco conscience.
The same sum would have procured a chaise and a man
and two horses, for the same distance, or more, at London
or York ; but Donald, no longer able to make a creagh
on Saxon cows, must now, he seems to think, compensate
for it by a creagh on a Saxon purse. In the morning,


the equipage, of course, was not to be found; as the
horse had slept on the hill, and was to be caught, not

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 24 of 37)