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 27 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 27 of 37)
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iiients of lines also appear in some places, which do not
belong to the principal ones, but which are easily ex-
plained by an action of water sin:iilar to that by which
these were produced.

1 need not detail more minutely what could not be
rendered intelligible without a map ; nor is a more mi-
nute detail necessary for the purpose of this popular view
of the subject. But it is important to describe the nature
of the lines themselves, that it may be seen how small
the resemblance is which they bear to roads. As the
surfaces of the hills are alluvial, except where rocks oc-
casionally interfere, the lines are necessarily and unavoid-
ably formed in, or of, alluvial materials, as roads might
be. This, which has been used as an argument for their
being- roads, proves nothing; as they could not have been
formed in any other manner ; and, indeed, had not these
alluvia been present, would not have been formed at all,
by any action of water. Both the internal and external
angles are very much rounded, and their surfaces are ex-
tremely irregular. There is no where an inferior talus
or slope ; nor a superior one, except in one casual spot;
circumstances inseparable from a road constructed on the
side of a hill. In one most essential circumstance, they
bear no resemblance to roads, inasmuch as they are not
level or flat ; the angles of their deviation from the horizon-
tal plane varying from twelve to thirty degrees, in which
last case they are scarcely distinguishable from the slope
of the hill on which they lie. Hence it is that they are
sometimes invisible, or nearly so, except from below,
where the shadowy line produced by the foreshortening,
renders them apparent. When we are on the same level,
so that they are prolonged from the eye, and when we
look down on them, we often cannot see them at all; and
when even on them, it is frequently very difficult to be


aware of it, far less to suppose that we are standing upon
a road. Where widest, they are about seventy feet in
breadth ; and from that they vary to one as low as ten
or twelve ; fifty or sixty being perhaps the most commoii_
dimension ; while, as might be expected from their
causes, they are most perfect, or most flat and most wide,
where the slope of the hill is least and the alluvia deepest,
and most obscure where the declivity is greatest and the
ground rocky. Where there are protruding rocks, they
do not exist: and they are deficient in the ravines and
water courses, although marked in some places, on the
outer parts of these.

Where the smaller valleys above-mentioned open into
Glen Roy, the lines are traced on them in a similar man-
ner. But what is of much more importance, the same
appearances, to a certain extent, are found in the greater
valleys with which it communicates. In Glen Spean, one
line only is found, corresponding in level to the lowest
of those in Glen Roy* ; much interrupted, but capable
of being traced in different places, and on both sides of
the valley, from the furthest extremity of Loch Laggan
to that spacious and open vale which lies between Tein-
drish and the foot of Ben Nevis; disappearing finally
about this place. This is not far from the point on the
north side of the valley, where was fought the celebrated
battle between Keppoch and the Macintosh ; the last act
of private warfare which the Highlands produced ; but
a tale that has been told again and again. The same
line enters into the valley of the Gulban, and also sur-
rounds Loch Treig. Lastly, with respect to the geogra-
phical distribution, similar appearances are found in
Glen Gloy, which opens from Low bridge, where it dis-
charges its waters into Loch Lochy, and which commu-
nicates with Glen Roy by a level so high as to exclude

C^ 'InJ^


the connexions of their respective lines. I need only
remark that the uppermost line of Glen Gloy appears to
be twelve feet higher than the highest in Glen Roy ;
which, if there is no error in the measurement, would
lead us to conclude that the appearances in the former
valley were in some measure independent of those in the

It is only further necessary to remark as to these
appearances, that where the lines terminate in the upper
parts of Glen Roy, by their meeting or approaching to
the bottom of the valley, they often end in those deltas
and terraces which are so common in alluvial valleys
every where. Numerous terraces, at various levels, also
skirt the present course of the river in these parts ; and
similar ones are found at the lateral entrances of the
streams which join the Roy. This also happens in Glen
Spean ; but I need not detail with geological minute-
ness, what is not necessary for a popular sketch of this
curious subject.

But to understand it, it is still necessary to point
out the relation of the heights of these several lines to
the present elevations of the surrounding communications
with the sea. Supposing that water were now elevated
to the highest level or line in Glen Roy, it would flow
out at Loch Spey till it was depressed thirteen feet; that
being the difference of their respective heights. Its ele-
vation above the western sea is 1262 feet, and above the
German ocean 12G6, as far as the barometer can be depended
on ; while that of the lower line above the former is 9G8,
and above the highest part of the great Caledonian valley
at Loch Oich, which is 90 feet above the sea, 878. Thus,
through Glen Spean and this valley, water, so circum-
stanced, might flow, either into the Murray firth or the
Linnhe Loch ; while it might also find its Avay through


Loch Eil and Loch Shiel into the western sea, as the
elevation of the land is here also inconsiderable. At
the eastern extremity of Glen Spean, near the head of
Loch Lag-gan, the land is 304 feet below the uppermost
line of Glen Roy, or ten beneath the lowest ; so that if
Glen Roy and Glen Spean formed one lake, as must have
been the fact, at least at the lowest line, the water might
have issued at this aperture also, as well as by the greater
western communication. The same reasoning, as to the
western communications, applies to Glen Gloy.

Enough of the facts and appearances ; and we can
now more easily enquire about the causes. I need not
return to the subject of Inverlochy, or the Fingalian
kings, or the imagined traditions. But the use of these
pretended roads, is said to have been to give facility in
hunting the deer of former days. The valley, it is added,
has been covered with wood, so that these avenues give
access to it; while, being fenced in with stakes, which
are said to have been actually found, they served as
decoys to force the deer into some spot where they were
afterwards killed. That stakes should have been pre-
served for more than a thousand years, is not the least
wonderful part of this theory. It would be useful also to
show the necessity of avenues so numerous and so
parallel ; to shew further why they cease where they do
cease, in consequence of the rise of the valley, when the
Fingalian engineers might have continued them by
assuming a higher level ; why there are no remains of
bridges, as well as of stakes, since without these they
must have been useless ; why that enormous, yet variable
breadth ; why they follow every useless indentation,
useless for the professed object, merely for the sake of
preserving a mathematical level, where a mathematical
level was also useless. Deer never were, and never


could have been hunted on any such principle, as every
true Highlander knows ; so that, even if artificial, they
could not have answered the imaginary purpose, or any
other. We should also be pleased to know how the
Fingalian engineers contrived to preserve, not only in
Glen Roy, but throughout all the other valleys, levels
which would cost a modern surveyor, with the best of
instruments, no small toil and thought, and which,
without them, could not be executed at all : and, more
particularly, how this could be done when the valley was
a forest, and the surface, of course, invisible. I have
already shown that they bear no resemblance to roads,
in their form; while it is further evident, that if they had
ever been roads, they must have been most perfect or best
preserved where the bottom was rocky, where, on the
contrary, they are, invariably, either imperfect or want-
ing. But, enough of these fancies.

It has indeed been said by some who still choose to>
consider them works of art, that they were levels intended
for irrigation. Every objection already urged, applies
equally to this most unreasonable notion ; while we might
ask, in addition, what probability there is that irrigation
was used when agriculture was little known, and refined
systems of domestic pasturage, less ; and in a forest, and
on the sides of barren hills, by a nation of hunters, utterly
wanting in the arts that could have enabled them to
execute such works; since, of their high antiquity there
can be no doubt.

The mode in which they have been produced by
water, seems perfectly clear and simple ; whatever diffi-
culties there may be in explaining the posterior changes
which have taken place. Of four modes, however, that
have been suggested, there are three evidently incompetent
to the effects, and which could not have been proposed

350 GLtN ROY.

by any one who had bestowed the requisite attention on
the subject.

They could not have been formed by a diluvian and
temporary current, or rather by three successive currents,
depositing on their margins, as is said, a line of gravel
or alluvium. The forms of the valleys and of the sur-
rounding land, will not admit the possibility of such a
current : it could have had no origin : while, even could
it have existed, it must have formed the lines on a de-
clivity, not on a level, by spreading in dimensions, and
thus losing its depth, in advancing from the shallower
and narrower, to the deeper and wider parts of the val-
ley. Nor could it thus have been distributed through
the communicating valleys, by any contrivance ; nor
could a current through Glen Spean and one through
Glen Roy, have maintained a common level. And, to
say no more, the appearances at the salient and re-
entering angles, are not those which such a current
would have produced ; as it would have left its deposits
in those places only where the motion of the water was

Next, they are not the traces of the action of a river
on a solid alluvial plain which it has cut down ; the re-
mains of the terraces so common in such cases, and of
which there are examples here. The river which wan-
ders through such a plain from side to side, as it cuts its
way downwards, leaves, necessarily, the terraces of
opposite sides at different levels : nor, in any case, could
such an accuracy of dimension, so prolonged, so distinct,
and so narrow, and such a regular correspondence, have
been preserved ; while, to suppose that the common level
line of Glen Spean and Glen Roy could thus have been
maintained over ground of such extreme irregularity,
throughout such an enormous extent, and through val-

GLEN ROY. 351 v\

' »i


leys of forms and dimensions so various, is to suppose y

more than a miracle; a physical impossibility. The ^

connexions of these lines with some of the terraces, are >^

easily explained on the true theory of their nature and ^^

causes. '

Lastly, they cannot be the shores of the sea, as has ^

also been suggested. To suppose this, is to suppose that 4^

the sea once stood here, 1262 feet higher than its present >

level. It could not, since it was the sea, have stood thus ^

hiffh without coveringfmore than the half of Britain. It could "X

not have stood thus high over Britain, unless the whole ,

ocean had once been 1262 feet higher than it is now ; ^
and we need not ask, either respecting causes or con-

sequences, in this case. Those who propose such ex- 4q

planations, must be strangely unwilling to admit an ob- L

vious and simple solution, for the sake of suggesting an ^
impossible one, or of appearing to have a distinct system
of their own.

The Parallel roads are the shores of ancient lakes, or
of one ancient lake, occupying successively different

levels, and long since drained. In an existing lake j^^

among hills, it is easy to see the very traces in question, ^\^

produced by the wash of the waves against the alluvial ^ C

matter of the hills. By this check, and by the loss of x^

gravity which the stones undergo from immersion in ^

water, they are distributed in a belt along the margin of \ i

the lake : a belt broadest and most level where there are C\^

most loose materials and where the declivity of the hill is ,s^ ^

least, narrowest and most imperfect where these circuni- . ^ Ci

stances are different, and, wherever rocks protrude, ceas- ^

ing to be formed. In every one of these points, the shores ^^ '^

of a living lake agree precisely with the lines of these ^ >^

valleys; and were such a lake suddenly drained now, V; ^J
it would be a Glen Roy. Thus also is explained the


coincidence of the great terraces and deltas of Glen Roy
with the lines. In the living lake, the delta at the main
entrance is necessarily prolonged into its shores, as are
those of the lateral streams ; and this is precisely what
occurs in Glen Roy.

Ancient Glen Roy was therefore a lake, which, sub-
siding first by a vertical depth of eighty-two feet, left its
shore, to form the uppermost line, M'hich, by a second sub-
sidence of 212 feet, produced the second, and which, on
its final drainage, left the third and lowest, and the pre-
> sent valley also, such as we now see it. At its lowest
level at least, it formed a common lake with the valley of
the Spean, of which lake Loch Laggan remains a memo- •
rial, as does Loch Treig of the portion which occupied
that valley. Whether Glen Gloy was united with this
great lake at its lowest extremity, is a difficult point, to
be examined immediately ; but I have already shown,
that, from the high level of its communication through
Glen Turrit, there could have been no communication at
that end.

Thus far all is simple ; but the difficulty that remains,
is to account, not merely for the waste or destruction of
the barriers which dammed these lakes, but for the places
which they must have occupied. Whether they were
demolished by the usual causes, the corroding actions of
the issuing streams, or by more sudden and violent ones,
it is not easy to conjecture; but the decided interval
between each line, would induce us rather to suppose the
latter, of whatever obscure nature they may be. We can-
not admit, in this case, of the action of earthquakes, the
vulgar solution of most similar difficulties ; because such
catastrophes should have disturbed that beautiful regu-
larity which forms the most striking part of these appear-
ances. ^^

1^ .. r^y.>?^H<U- H^ ^ C^<^ '/^ ^^^. '^2Sl



A very violent supposition, violent in every sense,
might be proposed on this system, capable of solving- the
whole difficulty of the western barriers, and of the Great
Glen na Albin also, at one blow. But such theories
transcend the bounds of legitimate philosophy, and must
be left to those to propose seriously, who are fonder of
system than anxious for evidence or truth. Let it be
imagined that the Great Glen had formerly no existence,
and that its opposite or including mountains were once
in contact. If it is further supposed that the present se-
paration had actually been produced by some great sub-
sidence or enormous fissure in the line of the stratification,
or by what the vulgar call a convulsion of nature, then
the waters in question would find an exit, and produce
the appearances under review. This supposition, it is
plain, requires many modifications, and it is also liable to
the objections just stated.

The more important difficulty, however, is to assign
the places of these dams or barriers. There must have
been one at Loch Spey, at least equal to the present dif-
ference of its elevation and of that of the uppermost line.
But that is trifling; and it is not very difficult to sup-
pose causes capable of wearing it down to the present
level of this waterhead. There must have been another
at Loch Laggan. If Glen Spean and Glen Roy formed
a common lake at the level of the highest of the lines, of
which there are no indications, that obstruction must
have had an elevation of about 300 feet, as before shown :
if this was not the case, except at the lowest level, one of
ten feet would have been sufficient. In this case, Glen
Roy, at its two higher levels, was a distinct lake, and must
have had a dam towards Glen Spean,where the two valleys
join, which must have given way at successive intervals^
before these two valleys formed one common lake.

A'OL. I. A A

354 GLF.N ROY.

Of the causes which destroyed the barrier, or eastern
dam at Loch Laggan, it is unnecessary to enquire further ;
but it is now plain that, under any supposition, there
must have been one at some point beyond that where the
lines of Glen Spean, which are the lowest of Glen Roy,
terminate, and where the valley is about five miles broad.
If this were the case, then Glen Gloy must have had a
separate barrier, because it opens into the great Cale-
donian valley at a distant point ; and in this case also,
the phenomena of Glen Gloy must have been indepen-
dent of the others, and its lake a distinct one. If the
lines are really on a different level, this must have been
the fact.

There is only one other supposition to be made ; which
is, that this latter valley communicated at its mouth with
Glen Spean, through the intervention of that portion of
the great Glen which lies between them. But from the
circumstances I already stated respecting the elevations
of the land in this quarter, it would require, in this case,
that the Caledonian Gicn should have had one barrier to
the north, one towards Loch Shiel, and another towards
the Linnhe Loch; a supposition which is still more com-
plicated and eventfuK Unquestionably, from the great
breadth of the valley of the Spean near Teindrish, where
the lines terminate, the difficulty of imagining a barrier
there, and that barrier removed so as to leave what we
now see, is considerable : while, in this case, we must
suppose a distinct one for Glen Gloy, as well as a sepa-
rate one for Glen Roy, as far, at least, as the lowest line,
besides the eastern ones, which, however, under any
view, are necessary. Yet perhaps this is the least difficult
supposition of the two, and ought to be that in which we
should rest. Whatever difficulties yet remain to be ex-
plained, it must be remembered that there is in this


theory, neither geological nor mathematical impossibility,
nor even improbability, involved : and, such as the diffi-
culties are, they are a »al(>i>oiis to hundreds that we meet
with in every attempt to explain the posterior changes of
the earth's surface.

Thus the solution of the phenomena of Glen Roy and
its associated valleys, is as complete as we can expect in
the present state of our knowledge ; and it is, at any rate,
sufficient, as including a positive class of proofs, to esta-
blish their natural origin in opposition to their artificial
one, even independently of the negative arguments before
adduced against this theory. I will not examine the
other remarkable geological deductions which may be
made from these appearances, because that is beyond
my prescribed limits. But if the indignation of a Fin-
galian can be satisfied by any thing, he ought to be
proud in the possession of one of the most striking and
magnificent phenomena of the universe; si ngula r, unex- 'f-^'- /^
ampled, and no less interesting to philosophy than it is f '^ « ^'
splendid in its effects and captivating by its grandeur '^' "^"^
and beauty. Let us hope that we shall all at length be
reconciled, and that we shall learn to pride ourselves on
our real, and not on our imaginary, merits.




Every one who can find time or make it, should be-
stow a day on an excursion from Fort William to Arasaik.
It is a beautiful ride of forty miles. As to the road itself,
it is, like all the new ones which are so little used, a kind
of plusquam perfectum road, more like a gravel walk in
a garden, than a highway. Indeed there are few gravel
walks to be compared with them : for it is no exaggera-
tion to say, that you might often eat your dinner from
them without a table-cloth ; so smooth and so compact
are they, and so much resembling a piece of dressed
sandstone. It is a great pleasure, unquestionably, to see
and to use such roads as these ; but it would be much
more pleasing to find them cut up, or, at least, marked
by wheel tracks and hoof marks ; that we might have
the satisfaction of knowing that they were used, and that
some interchange of something, if it was but that of ideas,
was going on in this country.

After losing sight of Ben Nevis and of Loch Eil, al-
though the road is wild and varied and pleasing, it dis-
plays no very distinguishing features till we arrive near
Glen Finnan. The form of this valley, opening in four
different directions, is uncommon ; and, from some points,
picturesque. Its interest is much increased by the ter-
mination of Loch Shiel ; of which lake, two or three miles
are seen, till, by the closing of the hills, it disappears.
The boundaries of Loch Shiel, however, have the irre-
mediable fault of smoothness and uniformity, though in a
much less degree than many other of the remoter High-


land lakes. In Glen Finnan, the most striking scenery
lies near its entrance from Fort William; the forms of
the hills being, not only fine, but their acclivities being
diversified by rocks and precipices, in a grandeur of
style extremely rare ; while their beauty and variety are
much enhanced by the remains of an ancient fir forest
scattered over them ; exhibiting magnificent examples of
the Scottish fir, in its most picturesque forms, flourishing
with as much luxuriance as in the wilds of Braemar. The
bleached trunks of huge oaks, prove that this was once also
the seat of one of those oak forests, the traces of which are
still found in many parts of the Highlands.

It was in Glen Finnan that Prince Charles first raised
his standard, when as yet his army was not much more
than sufficient to have dethroned the two kings of Brent-
ford. Thus Glen Finnan combines, «'ith its natural at-
tractions, a degree of interest, about which, were I in
the humour of it, as Pistol says, I might write a page or
two, even without copying from my predecessors. But
that may be left for the notes to your next poem; and,
therefore, to far better hands. Whenever you do under-
take this task, I trust you will give all due praise to Mr.
Macdonald, Glenalladale I think, who, most generously,
has erected a monument to perpetuate the memory of
an event, which was followed by consequences too deeply
important, to permit such a spot as this to be neglected
without disgrace to all of us.

But when you do write these annotations, I do be-
seech you to remonstrate with the architect, be he who
he may, if he is yet alive, who made that monument a
cake house. A cake house, without even the merit of
containing cakes ; and with a tower — tower, is a profana-
tion of such a word, since the whole building resembles
a carpenter's mallet with the handle uppermost. It is


said that Winstanley's Edystone was modelled after
the pattern of his pastry; and, if we may reason in this
manner, we should conclude that the projector of this
deformity was a carpenter. I am glad that I never heard
his name ; as I should not like to be obliged to tell him,
that I hope he will never put his hand beyond the mallet
and chisel again as long as he lives. But an architect,
like a poet, is a public character. His works are pub-
lished for the world, and the world is his critic. No
one receives praise more universal and more permanent,
when it is merited ; and he who labours for praise,
must, if he misses it, learn to endure censure. Let him
M'ho may shrink under criticism, recollect that he is thus
ranked among the finer spirits of the world, and that he
has thrown his lot, not as an artisan, but for the chance
of lasting reproach or permanent fame. There is a com-

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 27 of 37)