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 28 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 28 of 37)
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pliment, even in that blame which thus acknowledges
his rank in the department of mind.

It really is very hard upon poor Scotland, that its
money should be thus spent in blotting" and deforming
its land with such monstrosities; of which it is full from
one end to the other ; from Nelson's Pillar on the Calton
Hill, though that is not the worst, to the genealogical
tree which I have either seen or dreamt of. Are we
never to acquire a decent portion of architectural taste;
yes; when the Parthenon is built: I hope so. A pillar,
a cairn, even an obelisk, (and let any one invent a meaner
object if he can,) would have been preferable to this un-
lucky mallet. Surely it must be the same Ostrogoth
who has covered the country with turrets, and tower-
lings, and turretinis, who has intermixed castles, abbeys,
churches, houses, Greek, Gothic, Chinese, Flandrikan
no one knows what, all in the same building : for it is
as impossible that there should be two architects of this


calibre, as that there should be two men, (as the judge
wisely remarked) called Richard Tittery Gillies. Let
him repent as fast as he can. The public at large has a
claim over the architecture of a country. It is common
property, inasmuch as it involves the national taste and
character: and no man has aright to pass himself and
his own barbarous inventions as a national taste, and to
hand down to posterity, his own ignorance and disgrace,
to be a satire and a libel on the knowledge and taste of
his age. Against this, we have all an interest in enter-
ing our protests ; and thus, for the present, ends the ex-
plosion of my architectural anger. Do, my dear Scott,
put yourself in a passion for once, like Archilochus, and
write some Iambics against these people.

Loch Ranach, which shortly follows on this road, is
pleasing though small ; having that miniature air, de-
rived from the variety of its boundary within such narrow
limits, which gives it the appearance of a toy ; an imi-
tation, in a model, by the hand of Nature herself, of her
own more extensive works. In arriving at Loch Aylort
head, the mountains, now further asunder, display their
forms, even to the summit, in all that intricacy of rocky
surface which is so peculiarly characteristic of this tract
of country. Here too we first obtain sight of salt water,
if not of the sea; as the maritime connexion of Loch
Aylort is not at first visible. Its character is that of
wildness and grandeur united ; but its scenery is little
accessible except from the sea. After passing this spot
we enter on the more intricate, yet more open country of
Arasaik ; if that can be called open which is one entire
confusion of rock and hill. But there is rarely any thing
so high as to obstruct the view ; and we thus acquire a
general conception of that peculiar class of country which
occupies so considerable a space on this coast; an idea



not to be obtained so well in any other place. There is
no very accessible tract of Scotland that bears much
resemblance to this last portion, consisting- of eight or
ten miles, which leads to the villag-e of Arasaik : and
there are few more entertaining, from its variety and
beauty as well as from its singularity, than the first few
miles, somewhat resembling theTrosachs and not inferior
to that well-known spot. At one moment you are on
the top of a rock, at the next in a deep valley, or en-
tangled among wild woods, or in a ravine, or ascending
a hill that seemed impracticable, or descending in the
same manner, or crossing- a bridge, or hanging over a
precipice, or on the sea shore, or winding through an
excavated rock; and all these varieties are repeated
within the space of a few hundred yards, over and over
again, throughout a considerable extent. Jumble, is a
vulgar word ; but I know none else that will convey a
notion of this strange country. It seems as if it was a
first conception, an accumulation of materials intended
for another purpose ; or as if some powerless hand had
attempted to imitate Nature in her mountains and valleys
and rocks, and had made, out of her fragments, a
dwarfish blunder and a caricatured model.

The first impression which it conveys, is, that no road
can possibly lead through such a labyrinth of confusion ;
and it is impossible to give too much praise to the inge-
nuity which conducted this, as well as some other of
these Highland roads. But that praise has too often been
bestowed on those who have little title to it. In many
cases, the new roads have been traced, along, or very
near to, the ancient cattle and country tracks ; leaving
little for the engineer to do but to make slender and
obvious alterations: and, in many more, the distribution
is due to the common Highlanders themselves, sometimes


contractors, and sometimes overseers ; when the engi-
neer, who has done nothing- except receiving- his pay for
the ideas and exertions of others, carries off all the credit.
But that is too common in many matters besides road-
making-. Only, I, for one, will lift up my voice, as the
fanatics have it, in defence of the talents and ingenuity
of these Highland workmen: among the lowest of whom
I have found such an eye for ground, and such a quick
conception of its height, and distribution, and inclination,
and relations of all kinds, as even a general officer or a
quarter-master might often envy. They are natural geo-
graphers : and as this has formed a part of my trade, I
think, as Jock Jaboz says, I should ken something about
it by this time. Whoever thinks Donald a dull fellow,
never made a greater mistake in his life ; and whoever
thinks that he cannot be improved by attention, would
probably, if he was in the same situation himself, remain
in it for ever.

These roads are, however, very treacherous, in spite
of all the care bestowed on them: for, against torrents, it
is often impossible to calculate, and, even when foreseen,
they are sometimes not to be resisted. Many a time have
I found the bridge vanished, and indeed the road too ;
and many a time have I expected to sleep in the moors.
By some means or other, however, we get out of these
adventures : on foot, commonly well enough ; with a
horse, comparatively ill ; but with a carriage, not at all.
Even from day to day, there is no security. This very
road was in perfect repair when I passed it first. When
I returned in a few days, a foundation wall had slid
away from a steep face of smooth rock, and the road was
gone. We read of narrow ways along precipices, and of
terrors and dangers, because perhaps the declivity be-
neath is a thousand or two thousand yards long or deep,


when there is no more real dang-er than on a high road.
The three or four hundred yards of depth in this place
would have served the purpose as effectually as the same
number of miles : for the rock descended to the valley
unobstructed and unbroken. I never made myself
smaller, and never trod on ice with a lighter foot; nor
did I ever hold a rein with a lighter finger.

It was here, on this very sea-shore, at Boradale, that
Prince Charles landed, and not in Loch Moidart, as is
sometimes said ; and it was hence also that he reimbarked.
From the hill above, is seen the first and the finest view
of Arasaik itself; forming a landscape as singular in
character as it is extensive and crowded with unexpected
forms and objects. Tn the blue expanse of sea, and far
off in the misty horizon, the romantic ridge of Egg rises,
more striking, and assuming an air of greater magnitude
in this position, than under any other distant view that
I know. In the same place, the congregated mountains
of Rum add to the richness of the distance ; while the
intermediate sea displays numerous rocky islands ad-
vancing into the open entrance of Lochan na nuagh, and
forming many pleasing combinations with its flat rocky
irregular shores and promontories. Skirting the intricate
bays, are seen the scattered houses which belong to
Arasaik, Avith their boats drawn up on the beaches and
lying at anchor in the creeks ; while a confusion of rock
and hill and valley fills the remainder of the scene. The
sea shores about the village, and most parts of the sur-
rounding country, abound in similar scenery ; nor are
there many points on the west coast where a traveller in
search of amusement may enjoy himself more, from the
variety of the landscape, as well as from the freedom of
motion in every direction, which is so seldom to be found
upon these shores.


It is another reason why Arasaik should form part of
a Highland tour, that it is the readiest, and, indeed, the
only convenient way to Egg, as it also is to Rum. I have
elsewhere said, that there is nothing in theAVestern islands
much better worth visiting than Egg ; or, at least, nothing
which is, at the same time, of such easy access. It does
not imply one quarter of the trouble, expense, and in-
convenience, of a journey to Staff a ; and a traveller can
never be disappointed of landing; while the voyage is
scarcely so long as that from Ulva to that celebrated

Hence also there is a ferry to Sky ; if that is a ferry
which is derived, according to the well-known rule, a
non ferendo. I had been directed to Sky by this route,
as the best and the most commodious, and as there was,
at Arasaik, the best of all possible ferry boats. But when
the enquiry came to be made, nobody knew any thing
about a ferry boat. There might be one, or not : if there
was, it was uncertain if it would carry a horse; whether
it was on this side of the water or the other; whether it
would choose to go; whether there was a ferryman;
whether the wind would allow it to go; whether the tide
would suffer it. The Arasaik road had been made on
account of the ferry, or the ferry on account of the road;
and though a carriage ferry, and a horse ferry, there was
no boat that could hold a carriage, and no horse had ever
dared to cross. Furthermore, the ferry-boat, if there
really was one, was two miles from Arasaik, somewhere,
among some rocks; and there was no road to it, nor any
pier. Lastly, I at length found a ferry-boat, a mile from
the sea, as fit to carry a camelopardalis as a horse, and a
ferry-boat man who could not speak English.

While I was meditating on this ingenious mode of
reaching Sky, I was soon surrounded by the various naval



characters, who expected to extract as many guineas out
of the Sassanach as he should prove silly enough to give.
One of these Vikingr, half drunk, his mouth streaming
tobacco from each angle, desired to know if I was the
gentleman who wished to carry a horse to Sky, and in-
vited me to drink a glass of whiskey with him. " Had
I seen the ferry-boat :" " I had seen two boats." " And
which did I like best." " The one with the blue side."
" Aye," said he, " that is my boat ; Dugald Finlay."
" Are you then the ferryman." " Na — God forbid I
should tak the bread from any man ; for ye see," with a
leer and a whisper, " I belong to the same place ; and he
pays for the ferry ye ken ; he pays rent; but his boat
canna carry a horse : and suppose your horse was to put
his foot through the boat : and he has no rigging ; but I
dinna want to carry you ; na ; my name is Dugald Finlay
— ye may ask the landlord — nor tak awa any body's
bread — ye may ask the landlord — and I live in the same
place as he, ye see ; but his boat is no worth ; and ye
may ask the landlord — I'm telling ye the truth — but I
dinna want to tak awa any body's bread — ye may ask the

In the mean time it blew a gale of wind and was Sun-
day ; and all those who had heard the sermon, and those
who expected to get five guineas out of the stranger, col-
lected in the public house, where, as Froissart says,
" ils se saoulerent tres grandement, et s'amuserent selon
la coustume de leur pays bien tristement." In the morn-
ing, the whole affair seemed to have been forgotten, and
I proceeded to the rival boats. Both were high aground;
they would not float till the evening; so that, to the other
blessings, of a rotten boat and a drunken Celt, there was
to be added a night voyage of fifteen miles on a stormy
s€a with a refractory horse. It was impossible also to


reach Sky without the flood tide ; and the boats were so
ingeniously drawn up at high-water mark, that they could
not float till the ebb. The Highlanders have somewhat
degenerated from their ancestors of Norway in the matter
of boats, it must be allowed. At last, it was discovered
that the blue boat was still drunk, and that he of the
black was unwilling to go. It would be better to go
to-morrow. To-morrow, the boat was found alongside a
rock. Alongside; — it was not worth while to speculate
how the horse was, first to jump fifty yards, then clear
the back stay and the shrowds and the fore stay, and,
lastly, not make his way through the bottom of the boat;
because, firstly, he could not get on the rock, nor, second-
ly, stand on it if he had been there. It was little worth
M'hile to speculate on any thing; for the ferryman was
gone, no one knew where, and there was no one to na-
vigate the vessel but the ferryman's wife, and she was
employed in whipping her children. Thus I rode my
horse to Sky by the best of all possible roads and

I turned to the small ferry-boat. Still there was no
ferryman ; but that was of no consequence, as the boat
had been lent to some men, to go somewhere or other.
In the end, the men admitted me, where I ought to have
admitted them ; with a promise to land me somewhere in
Sky; if they did not change their minds. The horse did
as he liked : it is good to conform to all events in this
part of the world ; and I was thus accommodated, " where-
by I might be thought to be accommodated," with a
passage to Sky, or elsewhere, in a ferry-boat over which
I had no controul : in a ferry-boat which was not a ferry-
boat, and which had no ferryman. All the arrangements
were of the usual fashion ; no floor, no rudder, no seat
aft, oars patched and spliced and nailed, no rowlocks, a


ii»ast without stay, bolt, or haulyards ; and all other
things fitting, as the advertisements say.

My companions were soon tired of rowing, and, as
usual, would set a sail. As it could not be hoisted, for
want of haulyards, the yard was fastened to the mast, and
thus it was all set up together, after much flapping and
leeway. It was then found that there was neither tack
nor sheet ; besides which, three or four feet at the after
leach were torn away. The holes in the sail were conve-
nient; because they saved the trouble of reefing, in case
of a squall. I tried to prove that it could be of no use in
this state, upon a wind. That Avas too refined a piece of
nautical philosophy. One of them made a tack of his
arm, and held it over the gunwale: another pursed up
the after leach with a rope's end ; so that when the sail
was set, it was very much of the shape of a night-cap.
And then the boat began to go backwards. I did not
care ; it was a fine day and a long day, and an entertain-
ing- coast: they were good-natured fellows, and I was as
well at sea as in Sky or Arasaik. But every now and
then, the night-cap turned inside out, and then the men
began to suspect that the Sassanach duine wassel was in
the right, and that we should soon be at Arasaik again, or
elsewhere. So the mast and the sail were first diaouled
and then struck, and, by the time it was dark, I was
landed, very much like a mutinous Buccaneer, on some
rocks; which proved, in the end, to be Sky. As to the
boat, for aught I know, it may be in Sky still. But we
must return to Lochaber — you and I.

And we must also bid farewell to Lochaber ; since we had
passed High bridge before. Well might I, at least, hasten
from Lochaber. Not merely on account of its rain, which
must have been the reason why King Robert Bruce died of
an universal rheumatism, but because there was a genera!


commotion in Lochaber. When I opened the stable
door, there rushed out an army of horses, in pads and
sacks and halters and bridles and all sorts of accoutre-
ments. " This is an odd way of packing- horses, my good
friend." — " They're no pack horses," said the ostler ;
" they're a preaching- yonder out bye." Which of all
the dissents the orator belonged to, 1 know not ; but (he
dissensions of the horses in the stable were considerable.
As my horse belonged to the Established Church, I
kicked the remainder of the dissenting- horses out of
doors, lest they should either kick him, or try to convert
him ; as is usual with this tribe. This is one of the un-
countable mishaps which dog the heels of an unlucky
traveller, to fill the vacuity left by a fair, or a visitation,
or a meeting of justices, or a convocation of commissioners
of taxes, or a divan of drovers, or the halt of a regiment
or the debates of a presbytery, or a bevy of excisemen,
or a pack of fox-hunters, or a flight of fiddlers, or a drop-
ping of road trustees, or a county ball. If you escape
the sessions, it is but to fall on the assizes, or on the gal-
lows which they have left in their rear: if you dodge
the overture at the Warwick music meeting, it is but to
light on the finale at Birmingham or the races at Shrews-
bury ; or, if there is not a bull-fight at Wrexham or Stam-
ford, some squire is born, and there is a bull-feast at
Grantham or Chirk. If the Highlands have not all these
varieties, they have enough ; while they make up in
noise for what may be wanting in numbers.

When all is done, it is but a dull journey from Fort
William to Inverness ; compared, at least, to the other
lines which belong to the fashionable tours. But what
would the ghosts of Carthon, and Darthula, and Oscar,
and of the Fingalian dynasty which made the Parallel
roads, say, if they were to see the stage coach now travel-


ling- this way, and the steam boat ploughing- its fiery
career over Loch Ness: or their Sassanach conquerors, the
Guelphic dynasty, sailing its frigates where they chased
their deer.

Low bridge has the merit of producing some little
variety on this dull and uniform line of scenery ; and
hence, those who wish to examine the water-lines of Glen
Gloy, may enter it. But that valley presents no other
interest. Having passed this point. Loch Lochy is with-
out features : the forms of the boundaries being- such, that
the whole valley resembles a notch in a cheese as much
as any thing else. At Letter Finlay, this nakedness of
character is seen in great perfection. Yet, in many parts
along this road, there is an effect produced by the pro-
longation of vacuity, which is greater perhaps than any
variety in the scenery would have yielded. While, on
each hand, the mountains rise with an acclivity, alike
sudden, uniform, and unbroken, bounding a valley so
narrow, as to leave but a small space where they meet
below, they confine the eye, and concentrate its efforts
within this narrow line. Thus, whether looking back-
wards or forwards, it pursues the long, linear, empty
vista, straining for a termination which it is not to see.
The impression is almost painful ; conveying the feeling
as of a goal which is never to be reached, an image of
the eternal future. Who has not felt this, when looking
forward through a lengthened avenue, or chasing with
his eye, a long line of straight road. But who can ever
feel it as he may here; when, after travelling miles, the
same lofty walls are on his right hand and on his left,
and still no termination appears, and still nothing occurs
to divert his eye from the emptiness towards which his
course is directed: when still he is compelled to fix his
sight on that vacuum, and when, leaving emptiness


behind him, and hoping- that he is to leave it at length
for ever, the coming is like the past ; a hopeless nothing.
There is a rague sublime, an appalling stamp of eternity,
on that which has neither beginning nor end. The
bridge in the vision of Mirza would lose all its effect, if
we could disperse the dark clouds which hang on its

To quit our poetics, the soberer impression is, that
the island is here divided into two parts, and that, at each
end, we ought to discover the sea. And this is the truth.
This long valley, the Glen more na Albin of the High-
landers, generally called the Great Caledonian Glen,
extending for a space of nearly sixty miles, is a continua-
tion of that valley which contains the Linnhe Loch, and
its direction is accurately parallel to the stratification of
the rocks which form the country. Taking the length
from the angle of Morven, or from Loch Don, which may
be assumed as the extreme southern point, it amounts
altogether to ninety miles. The greatest elevation of its
surface above the sea-level westward, is ninety feet; so
that if the sea ever did communicate through it, that
depth, and much more, of the materials, must be gravel,
or an alluvial deposit. This is what we are never likely
to know ; whatever probability may attend the suppo-
sition. That, at a great depth from the surface, this is
the fact, is certain ; and that both Loch Lochy and Loch
Ness have been thus separated from the sea, appears
more than probable. There is less certainty respecting
Loch Oich ; nor could any thing but an examination that
must ever be impracticable, settle the doubts that must
naturally arise on the whole of this subject. Supposing
that the whole valley, or at least the great bulk of it,
•were alluvial, it is not very difficult to shoAV how these
materials might have been accumulated thrpugh a long



course of time : but I shall become too geological if I
enter further into this subject.

It is said that Loch Arkeig is a picturesque lake,
though unknown ; which seems probable, from the forma
of the hills and the nature of the country. But, on this,
I must confess ignorance and plead misfortune, not guilt :
the flight of what never ceases any where to fly, — time;
and the fall of what seldom ceases here to fall, — ^rain. The
latter is the great enemy of all Highland tourists, and the
former is the universal enemy: the indomitable foe of the
idle when it stands still, and the implacable, unappeas-
able one of the busy when it moves. It is easy enough
to visit Loch Arkeig from Low Bridge, or from Letter

It is not quite so easy to be satisfied with these roads;
particularly after quitting such very different specimens
of road-making as are found on the lines of Arasaik or
Loch Laggan. The epigram on Marshal Wade is well
known ; but we might easily make a Marforio to it, and
turn up our eyes at the manner in which the roads are
made. If Fingal was a far greater hero, he was un-
questionably also a much better road maker : and, really,
it is somewhat marvellous how the Marshal could have
imagined he had adopted the best of all possible plans,
when he formed the heroic determination of pursuing
straight lines, and of defying nature and wheel-carriages
both, at one valiant effort of courage and science. His
organ of quarter-masteriveness must have been woefully
in arrear ; for there is not a Highland Donald of them all,
nay, not even a stot or a quey in the country, that could
have selected such a line of march. Up and down, up
and down, as the old catch says; it is like sailing in the
Bay of Biscay, No sooner up than down, no sooner
down than up. No sooner has a horse got into his pace


again, than he is called on to stop ; no sooner is he
out of wind, than he must begin to trot or gallop.
And then the trap at the bottom, which receives the
wheels at full speed. The traveller, says some sentimen-
tal tourist, is penetrated with amazement and gratitude,
and so forth, at General Wade's roads. Tlie amaze-
ment is probable enough. Pennant, who, if he is not
very sentimental, is at least the very pink of good-
humoured travellers, supposes the General had some
valid military reasons for his hobby-horsical system:
which is very kind. Yet thus we must arrive at Loch

The old castle of Glengarry offers some variety after
all the preceding sameness ; but else, Loch Oich is suf-
ficiently insipid. Loch Garry, they say, is picturesque ;
but I have the same excuse for not having seen it. When
I was here, there was nothing particular to be seen ; or
else, possibly, I was seized with the malady of not
marking. Mr. Du Pin tells another story now j when

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 28 of 37)