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 29 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 29 of 37)
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he describes the Fountain of Heads ; a monument erected
in 1812, to commemorate the triumphs and the superior
merits of what is called feudal justice. The pleasing
spectacle of seven heads on a pyramid, is displayed, says
Mr. T^u Pin, to the admiring eyes of the cockneys who
wander this way; that they may learn to reverence jus-
tice and law : Highland justice and Highland law ; and
to regret that they cannot now be hanged and beheaded,
without the trouble and delay arising from counsellor*
in big wigs, and warrants, and habeas corpuses, aud wit-
nesses, and juries, and judges, and such like villainous
drafts on a man's time and patience. The owners of
these heads were supposed to have murdered the Kep-
poch family; — so says Mr. Du Pin: — they were be-
headed without trial by an ancient Glengarry ;— so says

B B 2


Mr. DuPin: — ^their heads were washed in this fountain
that they might be presented in a decent manner to Glen-
garry ; — so says Mr. Du Pin. And then Mr. Du Pin
says, — " May my feeble voice make known this infamous
monument from one end of Europe to the other." Fie !
Mr. Du Pin, how can you expose your ignorance in this

No one will stay an hour at Fort Augustus if he can
avoid it. This garrison was established in 1716; the
original design having been to build a Royal borough,
out of pique, it was said, to Inverness. Anger is com-
monly silly enough in its projects. But many of the
wild schemes for civilizing the Highlanders, had not that
additional excuse. However, there was just wit enough
left to abandon the project before the town was built;
when it was found that it was likely to prove a town
without inhabitants. It is amusing, to read the attempts
to explain why Loch Ness does not freeze. We laugh at the
vanity of those ambitious personages who are determined
to make the reason which they cannot find ; as we ridi-
cule the ancient dealers in occult causes, those who dis-
covered that opium was narcotic, because it possessed a
" virtus dormitiva, cujus est natura sensus assoupire."
Yet the lowest of the vulgar have their philosophical
reasons and systenis too, as well as their betters ; and,
in them, we ought to laud the aspiring efforts which, in
their superiors, are only the contorsions of vanity and
ignorance. The quarryman who accounted to me for a
fissure in a rock, by the earthquake which happened at
the CrucifixioUjShewed a bounding and philosophical spirit
worthy of a seat among the geologists of the age; and
might, with a little German discipline, have produced a
professor at Freyberg.




The new roads are now valued as they deserve; yet
the people still follow many of the ancient country tracks,
both on foot and on horseback, from their real or apparent
shortness. The roads, however, like the breeches, were
originally considered the infliction of tyranny, and an
innovation to be resisted ; and the " turnimspike," in
particular, was held in as much abhorrence as the gal-
lows would have been. That the sumptuary statute, the
parliamentary breeches, should have been galling, at
first, to Gaelic feelings, we can understand : but the dis-
like to the roads was only the eftect of that antinomianism,
which induces the universal people, every where, to re-
sist all law and regulation ; or of that respect for the
follies of their ataviand proavi, which is not less efficient.
Even I can remember when they were yet far from wel-
come. " Which is the road to Aberfeldie" — there were
two branching from a point. " You may gang either,"
said Donald. — " But the one looks better than the other."
J— « It is the most fashionable wi' they gentry." — "And
which is the shortest." — " The narrowest is the shortest."
" What is the use of two." — " They chused to mak a
new ane" — with a sneer and a huft. " Then I suppose
the old is bad," — " We like the auld ane best." — " Very
likely." — " It is the shortest," — trying to defend him-
self. " Which will take me to Aberfeldie soonest."—
" The new ane ;" in a surly tone. " Then it is the
shortest." — " It's three mile langer," said the advocate
of antiquity. " But it is an hour shorter — some new



fashions are good." Hungb ! said Donald, with a snort,
and walked away.

Those who prefer a good road and their ease above
all other things, will take the road to Inverness by the
west side of the lake ; and those who are of the contrary
opinion, will follow Marshal Wade on the east; not,
however, because of Donald's reasons. This is as wild a
line of road as can well be : since it speedily leads up
among the mountains, to a high table land which is the
source of the Findhorn and the Nairn rivers. There is
something unexpected in meeting with large lakes in
such a situation, when we had imagined that we had
surmounted the region of lakes: and we feel a surprise,
as if we were in a new country, with other skies, when
we find repeated what we had left a thousand feet below.
With such a general view, ordinary observers must be
content; as this is a very inconvenient country to traverse.
There is something alike terrifying and melancholy, in
the snow-poles, which lift their bleached bones at inter-
vals, to the winds and rains of this wild region; remind-
ing us of winter and death and abandonment, and of the
figure our own bones would soon make, under the event
against which they stand a warning and a speaking

We receive the first notice of the fall of Fyers, by
the drizzling rain which crosses the road, and by the
perpetual dripping of the birches, and the freshness of
the green ferns. But there is a smaller cascade above
it, which must not be overlooked; as it affords some
excellent landscapes in this class of scenery, and, par-
ticularly, when viewed from the bottom of the chasm,
Avhere the bridge is seen towering over head. The
Highlands do not afford many better scenes in this par-
ticular style ; but even these are soon forgotten in the

PYERS. 375

overwhelming magnificence of Fyers, or of the greater
fall ; since the same river forms both. This celebrated
cascade, not more celebrated than it deserves, may serve
to prove how much of the merit of this kind of scenery
belongs to the surrounding parts, and how little to the
water. The river is small, and if the fall is high, we see
little of it, from the impossibility of gaining a sufficient
access. Yet this defect is not felt: and even were the
water absent, Fyers would still be a striking scene.

From above the cascade, and near it, those who are
contented with noise, and smoke, and spray, may enjoy
all these things with little trouble; and it is the interest
of such spectators to choose rainy weather, as, in dry
seasons, the fall is trifling indeed. But the dryer weather
is preferable : as, without this, it is nearly impossible to
reach the really dangerous point from which alone this
magnificent scene can be viewed in perfection. The
fall is always sufficient to give all the character that is
required to the landscape; and, when largest, it does
little more, as it never bears any proportion to the mag-
nitude of this deep and spacious chasm. Chasm is not
a very correct expression ; as it is rather an open cavity ;
the rocks rising on one hand, in complicated cliffs and
perpendicular precipices, to the height of 200 feet,
beautifully ornamented with scattered trees and masses
of wood, and the other side presenting a mixture of rocks
and of steep slopes similarly wooded.

Nothing can well exceed in beauty that combination
of grandeur and of profuse ornament which is here pre-
sented. Still, the first impression is, that the scene is of
no unusual magnitude, and that the trees are but bushes ;
so uncommon is it to find landscapes of this character,
of such overwhelming dimensions. It is not till we dis-
cover that we are contemplating trees of the ordinary

376 FYERS.

size, repeated again and again in succession from the
very bed of the river to the sky, that we become fully
impressed with the magnitude of the whole. At the
further end of this spacious cavity, is seen the cascade,
descending in one stream of white foam ; its origin and
termination alike invisible, and thus receiving any alti-
tude which the imagination chooses to suggest. The
smoke rising from it as from a furnace, curls aloft among
the woods, distinguishing the parts while it adds conse-
quence to them ; and, by diffusing a damp atmosphere
throughout the whole, producing that aereal perspective
and harmony of colour, which give that effect of unity
and of delicacy so peculiar to cascade scenery. Soon
after the first cascade is lost, it re-appears in the form of
a second fall and of a boisterous torrent : thundering
along in a succession of rapids and cascades, among huge
fragments of rock, and amid trees, far beneath our feet,
till it is finally lost to the eye by the closing of the chasm
below. It is matter of much regret, that so little access
is afforded to this place, and that it is impossible to attain
the margin of the river; as, from the extent and intricacy
of its course through the chasm, and from the variety of
the forms, these landscapes nlust be as numerous as
magnificent. It cannot be disputed thatFyers is the first
in order of all our cascades : but it is as vain to attempt
to compare it, in respect of beauty, with that of the
Tumel or those of the Clyde, as it would be to compare
a landscape of Cuyp with one of Rubens, or the bay of
Naples with Glenco. Such pictures are not comparable ;
and, to draw comparisons, is to compare names, not
things : it is only in the word cascade that there is a

If, hence to Inverness, the country presents no pictur-
esque scenery, there is one part of the road which may



well redeem the whole. There is none such throughout
the Highlands, so that it adds novelty to beauty ; a green
road of shaven turf, holding its bowery course for miles,
through close groves of birch and alder, with occasional
glimpses of Loch Ness and of the open country. I passed
it at early morning, wheu the branches were still spangled
with drops of dew ; while the sun, shooting its beams
through the leaves, exhaled the sweet perfume of the
birch, and filled the whole air with fragrance.

It is always fortunate for a traveller when he has
arrived at a place which is known to the whole world,
because it saves him a marvellous quantity of trouble.
Unless, indeed he wants to make a book. Even then,
who would not prefer cooking up new cookery books,
like Dr. Kitchener, to manufacturing gazetteers. The
man who can quietly sit down to compose Guthrie's
Geographical Grammar, or even a tour in Scotland, ought
to be immortal, like the steam engine which he rivals:
for his arteries and nerves, like that, must be of brass
and iron, and his first mover, instead of a heart, must*
like the boiler, be his stomach. When I have said that
Inverness is a clean town, and a good-looking town, and
that it has a handsome bridge, and that its castle has va-
nished, and that it possesses the best, and the civilest,
and the cheapest inns in Scotland, and that it has a steeple
to its jail instead of to its churchy there seems nothing
left to say about it.

But who shall describe its beautiful situation in ten
times that number of words. When I have stood in
Queen street and looked towards Fife, I have sometimes
wondered whether Scotland contained a finer view in its
class. But I have forgotten this on my arrival at Inver-
ness. I will not say that I forgot Inverness when I
stood on the shore at Cromarty ; nor do I know now


which to choose. Surely, if a comparison is to be made
with Edinburgh, always excepting its own romantic dis-
position, the firth of Forth must yield the palm to the Moray
firth, the surrounding country must yield altogether, and
Inverness must take the highest rank. Every thing too
is done for Inverness that can be effected by wood and
by cultivation ; the characters of which here, have alto-
gether a richness, a variety, and a freedom, which we
miss round Edinburgh. The mountain screens are finer,
more various, and more near. Each outlet is different
from the other, and each is beautiful ; whether we pro-
ceed towards Fort George, or towards Moy, or enter the
valley of the Ness, or skirt the shores of the Beauley
firth; while a short and a commodious ferry wafts us to
the lovely country opposite, rich with woods and country
seats and cultivation. Inverness has been strangely un-
der-rated. To compare the country again with Edin-
burgh, since it is the nearest comparison that can be
made, there is an air of careless wealth of surface about
it, a profusion of rurality, as the grandiloquous phrase it,
which is strongly contrasted with the dry and cold eco-
nomy of Edinburgh, where the trees that are seen, only
serve to remind us of the millions that are wanting, and
where every field and road is deformed by a stone wall,
as if it was a land of thieves and law, as if the bones of
a country were appearing through its meagre surface. It
is also the boast of Inverness to unite two opposed qua-
lities, and each in the greatest perfection ; the characters
of a rich open lowland country with those of the wildest
alpine scenery : both also being close at hand, and, in
many places, intermixed ; while, to all this, is added a
series of maritime landscape not often equalled.

The singular hill, Tom-na-heurich, and the hill of
Craig Phadric, add much variety to the valley of the Ness,


which is now a noble river, broad, clear and strong :
nor do the extensive sweeps of fir wood produce here that
arid effect which so commonly attends them ; contrasted
and supported as they are, by green meadows, by
woods of other form, and by the variety of the surface.
Tom-na-heurich, not ill compared to a vessel with its
keel uppermost, is, or rather was, a reputed haunt of fai-
ries; and it is plainly a relic of the ancient alluvium,
the remainder of which has been carried forward to the
sea; and of the original depth of which, in this part, it is
a standing measure and testimony. Of Craig Phadric I need
take no particular notice, as I have had occasion to men-
tion its celebrated vitrified fort already. It is by no
means however so satisfactory a specimen as that of Dun
Mac Sniochain, in regard to its plan, which is far more
difficult to trace : nor, in its vitrification, or perfection in
any respect, is it to be compared with the example on
the hill of Noath.

Tora-na-heurich, however, requires another word,
from some traditionary tales connected with it, that are
not without their interest, in more ways than one. It is
the reputed burial place of our poet, Thomas of Ercil-
doune, the rhymer; though by what means this hap-
pened, it would be difficult to say. It is, in itself, the
tumulus that covers his body ; his barrow : and it is as-
suredly a most respectable one, as the armies who fought
at Hara Law might all lie under it, and find room withal.
But this is not all. About three hundred years ago,
there arrived at Inverness two itinerant fiddlers,who gave
public notice of their profession, and were shortly hired
by a venerable old gentleman with a long beard. By
him they were conducted, in the night, to a palace, of
whose previous existence they knew nothing, and the
name of which they could not divine. They found there


an assembly of august personag-es, to whose dancing they
played all night, and by whom they were well enter-
tained. In the morning, being dismissed, they were sur-
prised to find that it was not a palace which they were
leaving, but the side of a hill. They walked, of course,
back into the town, where they were also surprised to
find, in so short a period, extraordinary changes: houses
in ruins, faces which they did not recognise, and other
marks of antiquity and decay. In vain they looked
round for their former acquaintances ; till, at last, an old
man recollected that they must be the same persons
whom his grandfather had entertained a hundred years
before. They attended him to the church, it being
Sunday, when, behold ! at the very first word which the
clergyman uttered, they fell to dust.

Here is the very story, you see, of Rip van Winkle,
in another shape, and substituting Thomas Lermont for
Old Hudson. But the Highlanders have not borrowed
from GeoflTrey Crayon. It is the same well-known Ger-
man tale which is the common and remote parent of both ;
The two fiddlers must represent Peter Claus as well as
they can ; but our mountain countrymen have a far other
claim to it than the excellent American poet, and a claim
of a far other antiquity. Whence this community be-
tween the superstitious and fairy lore of our Highlanders
and of their Celtic and Gothic progenitors, I need not
tell you ; but I shall have occasion hereafter to trace
some of these points of resemblance more particularly.
Why Thomas the Rhymer, above all men, should have
been selected as the fairy king, it would be hard enough
to conjecture : possibly from his imputed prophetic ta-
lents and supposed extramundane knowledge. But some-
thing similar happens in all countries. The old tale
continues to be transmitted ; sometimes modified by the


peculiar usages or feelings of the people to which it
passes, and not unfrequently corrupted in various ways ;
while the popular hero of one country is substituted for
him who was popular in another. Michael Scott here
builds the bridges, which, elsewhere, are constructed by
no less a personage than the Devil himself. Jack Hick-
athrift, who slays the Danes with the axle tree of his
cart, and who, after all, is not a genuine Norfolkian, be-
comes the ploughman Hay, who destroys other Danes in
other places with his yoke. The Highland wife, be
her name what it may, who performs her cantrips by
means of hell broth made out of a white snake or a dead
man's head, is often no other than Medea in a tartan
cloak, just as Conan is Theseus, or as Thor is Jupiter,
or as Diana herself has a head for each region of the
universe, because Siva had three heads before she was
born. But enough of this kind of learning for the

Those who have not seen the Highland fair washing
clothes in the Ness, have probably seen the same displays
elsewhere ; yet they have not any where seen this show
in greater purity and perfection. But it has hot hap-
pened to every one to see the Inverness ferry-boat
launched by the same hands. Hands, to be sure, is not
the right word ; but it must pass, for want of a more ma-
nageable term. President Forbes, and other physiologists
have asserted that the activity of the Highlanders is owino-
to the use of the kilt, which renders the inferior muscles
elastic. Thus also, says this great lawyer and worthy
patriot, the scanty clothing of these mountaineers pre-
vents them from suffering by the inclemency of the wea-
ther. " My wound is great because it is so small." I
need not fill up the couplet ; but the learned Judge has
left his own conclusions incomplete. How much better


would it be for the Highlanders to wear no clothes at all ;
and thus study, like the Scythian of old, to be " all face."
Face is not the word either; but that also must pass.
From the same cause, doubtless, must arise the elasticity
of the nymphs of Inverness. The winds of heaven visit
them quite as roughly, in launching ferry-boats and in
washing in the Ness; and thus their — faces — assume the
same Scythian insensibility.

It was Inverness fair. The streets were crowded
with little Highland carts and little Highland ponies and
stots and gingerbread and ribbons and fishwives; and
when the fair was over, the great ferry-boat was aground.
Twenty damsels, and more, besieged the ferryman, and
the ferryman vowed that the boat would not float for two
hours. They might launch her if they were in a hurry
for a passage. No sooner said than done. To lift her out
of the mud by force of hands, was impossible: but, in an
instant, a dozen or more ranged themselves on each side,
and, at the word of command, two lines of native fairness
were displayed in contrasting contact with ber tarry sides,
when, with one noble effort, they bore her on their backs,
(that is an incomplete word too) and launched her into the
sable flood. O for the pencil of AVilkie. I thought that
my English friend would have died on the spot : so bad
a philosopher was he, as not to know that it was easier to
wash the tar out of the other place than out of the

The Caledonian canal isflnished : at last. What shall
I say about the Caledonian canal. What, except that I
wish, since the object was to spend money, that it had
been built on arches, like the Pont du Card; that poste-
rity too might have some enjoyment for its expense, that
Britain might hand down to futurity some testimonial of
its wealth and magnificence, that he who, two thousand


years hence, shall seek for its public works, its aque-
ducts, or its Coliseums perchance, may not be condemned
to labour for them, he knows not where, in vain, or, as
here, to seek them in the doubtful ruins of a ditch. But
its public wealth flows in mouldering- canals and ploughs
the sea in perishable ships, its bridges are of rotting iron
and its houses of crumbling gingerbread ; " and when
time with his stealing steps shall have clawed us into his
clutch," our public works shall be " as if they had never
been such," and the future artist and unborn antiquary
shall ask in vain for what their fathers did, shall labour to
account for evaporated millions, and, weary of the search,
turn to the still youthful remains of Egypt, and deter-
mine, perchance, that it flourished at a day when the his-
tory of Britain was that of some unknown people of the
ages of the flood. Rome too thought otherwise : else the
rivers which art brought to purify and adorn her towns,
would have tended to, " rumpere plumbum," and have
sought their way, like moles, beneath the ground, unseen
and unknown. Yet we too have wrought for posterity.
Long yet shall Conway and Carnarvon stand, the records
of energetic Britain ; but, alas, that her ecclesiastical
splendour should be subject to the fate of all beauty.
But fashions change; and the strong-built castle, the
rival of the rock on which it stands, the temple that aspires
in airy magnificence to heaven, is superseded by the
workhouse, the hospital, the bedlam, and the jail. These
are the buildings which are to descend to posterity, the
records of our diseases and our crimes ; which now adorn
the entrances of our towns and greet us at every avenue,
as if our miseries were our pride and our vices our boast.
The posterity that contemplates the ruins of agricultural
Egypt, of philosophical Greece, and of warlike Rome,
finds the records of theirreligion, their arts,their splendour.


their pleasures, and their triumphs: the posterity that shall
seek, two thousand years hence, for the character of Britain
in her works, if indeed it finds aught, will conclude that
she had outlived her relig-ion, that her art was commerce,
her pleasures, disease and misery, and her triumphs, the
triumphs of executive justice.

But, you will ask if this is all that can be said on the
Caledonian canal. No ; it is not. It is a splendid work.
Is it not more: who shall answer that question. Opinions
differ: I have no opinion; and why should I thrust my
fingers among the contending parties. It is enough that
I have had to fight my way through Glen Roy, to besiege
Berigonium and attack Inverlothsea, to draw the sword in
defence of Mr. Williams, to bring down on my midnight
dreams the grim and angry ghosts of Boece and Maule
and Moniepennie and Lesley, and to rouse the Fingalian
dynasty in their airy halls of mist. I have had my share
of fighting windmills : let whoever chuses, kill the next
Percy himself. Besides, like Old Jack, I only war with
the dead. It shall stagnate in peace for me.

There are not many rides of a more various and ani-
mating character than that from Inverness to Beauley.
The road runs along the border of the firth, which is ge-
nerally enlivened by boats and by shipping; and there is
an air of comfort and opulence, rarely seen in Scotland, in
the cottages and farms by which it is skirted. The oppo-
site side is singularly rich and picturesque ; sloping
gently down to the water's edge, and covered with culti-

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 29 of 37)