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 3 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 3 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

winding beneath the elegant wooded pyramid of Craig-
y-barns on one side, and, on the other, under the pro-
longed and wild acclivities of Craig Vinean, which,
varied with rocks and deep hollows, and ornamented by
the woods of oak and fir that rise irregularly to its sum-
mit in magnificent intricacy from the valley below, con-
ducts the eye to the rich open vale of the Tay, as,
bounded by its lofty hills, and displaying the bright
raeanderings of its river, it terminates in the distant blue
summits of the remote Highlands. Here too are scenes
which do not refuse the painter's art; the compositions
being as perfect as they are grand and full of fine detail,
and nothing being wanting which can be required for
this style of rich landscape. It is in these and similar
wide landscapes, that Dunkeld shews itself the rival of
the most picturesque Highland scenes ; as, in its closer
scenery, in such scenery as is not within the-limitsof art,
it exceeds the whole. It is here too that the peculiar and
excelling richness of the woods of Dunkeld is best seen ;
a richness produced, no less by the great variety and
bold features of the ground, which bring all this wood
within the scope of the eye, and under every possible


aspect, than by the separate variety and grandeur of the
trees themselves, and by that intermixture which adds
to their ornament without destroying their breadth of
style and effect. If, in some places, different kinds of
trees are intermingled in a manner not consistent with a
correct taste, these parts are seldom very perceptible
where the leading features are so properly disposed.
One more view in this direction ought to be pointed out,
to be obtained from the river side near the further lodge ;
peculiarly fitted for a picture, displaying the same vale
from a lower level, with a foreground formed by ancient
beeches rising high over the deep and bold banks, and of
a style equally uncommon and grand.

But the most perfect and extensive view of the
srrounds of Dunkeld, will be found at an unnoticed sta-
tion opposite to the village of Inver, and at a considerable
elevation above the bridge of the Braan. Striking as is
the character of Craig-y-barns from all points of view,
no true conception of its magnificence and variety can
be formed from any other place ; the undulating and
broken outline rising in a gradual succession of woody
elevations, dark with trees and interspersed with preci-
pices, till it terminates in the noble pyramid which im-
pends high over the King's Pass ; displaying there one
broad bold face of lofty grey rock, variegated with the
scattered firs that root themselves in its fissures. East-
ward, this ridge is prolonged till its lines and its woods
gradually blend with the distant blue mountains, while,
continued westward, it unites to the long wooded ridge
of Craig- Vinean ; the whole presenting a huge and lofty
barrier of unexampled wildness and ornament united :
all the splendour of the grounds below being detailed,
together with the course of the Tay, and the nearer wind-


ings of the Braan, as it holds its way among woods and
trees by the little village of Inver.

The walks of Craig-y-barns present a class of land-
scape totally distinct, Avhether in the closer scenery or in
the more distant views. The latter look towards the far
remote south, to the Sidlaw and the Lomond hills, or
eastward over the rich valley that extends towards Blair-
gowrie, and upon the bright lakes that ornament its sur-
face. At hand, the towering precipices rise overhead with
their crown of firs, or huge masses of rock impending
over the paths, with their trees starting from the shelves
and fissures, form the various and wild foregrounds to
these pictures, or afford, in themselves, subjects for the
pencil, resembling the alpine landscapes of Switzerland.
No greater contrast can well exist than between the ap-
parently native rudeness of this spot and the decorations
of the lower grounds. But even here there is decoration:
in the variety of the trees, in the huge fragments which
are interspersed among them, covered with mosses and
giving root to all the bright feathering ferns, and, lastly,
in the plants and flowering shrubs which unexpectedly
occur, and which art has naturalized from the garden and
thвВђ shrubbery till they seem no longer strangers among
the roses, the junipers, the honeysuckles, and the various
wild flowers which cover the ground or trail along the
summits of the grey rocks. Among- the varieties of forest
scenery, there is a singularity and a beauty in this, which
can no where else be found, and which render these
walks among the most enticing of those which belong to
this place of endless walks and rides. The little lake,
Pol-na-gates, lying just at the entrance of the King's
Pass, cannot fail to attract attention ; presenting, in its
high towering and evergreen woods, its deeply secluded


and verdant recesses, and its water never ruffled by the
breeze, a romantic scene of peace and solitude; and,
even in winter, offering the aspect of never-dying sum-
mer. But I must leave the remainder of Dunkeld untold,
and to the industry of him who has other objects in tra-
velling than merely to hasten over a country because he
has undertaken to travel ; not to those who expect from
the future what they will not seek in the present, or
to whom it is enough that they are in motion, or that
they are doing what others have done before them. To
those who are satisfied with placing their important
names in the porter's book, or in wearing out unoccupied
time in a mode that is fashionable, what I have written
and what I have omitted to write will be alike.

The valley which stretches away eastward from Dun-
keld, gradually passes into Strathmore, and conducts us
beyond the Highland boundary. On entering it, the
transition from the scenery of that place is as complete as
it is sudden ; but it affords a succession of pleasing views,
without much of decided landscapes, till it disappears
in the wider expanse of the eastern lowlands. One ex-
tremely beautiful picture must however be pointed out :
a lake scene, which, though on a small scale, is not often
rivalled, while it is of a distinct character from that of
any Highland lake. It is the usual fault of lake scenery,
that, while beautiful in nature, it is very deceiving when
we attempt to reduce it to painting ; displaying too often
a vacuum of sky and water, blue and faint mountains
whose effect is lost on the canvas, and a meagreness of
colour and composition for which its grander features
cannot atone, because they are thin and unsupported.
Such it almost always is when the water occupies too
large a space in the picture, and when the boundary is
remote ; and this, from the generally great scale of High-


land scenery, is the common fault of our lakes. Here,
there is water enough to decide tlie character of the land-
scape, and to give it that life and brilliancy which form
the captivating part of this style. With this, there is here
also a profusion of appropriate ornament : woods, in all
the variety of colour and disposition, skirting its margin,
covering its promontories, and edging its bays : rising up
beyond this in irregular distribution, along the skirts of
the rocky hills which bound the valley, and which afford
an outline equally uncommon and graceful, till, in the
further distance, one mountain, of a form no less elegant
and appropriate, terminates the picture.

Three of these small lakes, called the Lochs of the
Lowes, are here accumulated within a small space, un-
usually rich in wood and cultivation ; and hence the
valley continues to the small and picturesque Loch of
Clunie : a scene of summer and repose which almost
seems a work of art. The house, or castle, an ancient
strong hold of the Ogilvies, appearing to float on the
water upon its little woody island, is the reputed birth-
place of that notorious personage the Admirable Crich-
ton ; the Cagliostro of his day, whose lucky fate it has
been to scramble up to the temple of Fame, as the
Brodums and the Katterfeltos might have done, had they
lived in the same age and turned their attentions to logic
and fencing, instead of to cordial drops and cups and
balls. The Loch of Marlie follows this ; less picturesque,
but wooded and rich, and preserving that air of ancient
opulence, in the cultivation around it, and in the hedge-
row trees and roadside avenues which are so peculiar to
all this valley even to Blairgowrie, and which render
the whole space a remarkably pleasing ride, little known
to travellers. It reminds us of many parts of the north of
France ; nor is it improbable that, like much of our Scottish


architecture, it is indebted for its character to French
example or recollections. This conjecture receives some
confirmation from the fact of there having been once five
religious establishments in this neighbourhood : the me-
mory of two being still preserved in the names of these

From Clunie or from Blairgowrie, the road into Brae-
mar by Glen Shee, hereafter mentioned, is traced ; being-
one of the ancient military branches. The situation of
Blairgowrie, commanding one of the Highland passes, is
very pleasing*; while it is an opulent and a handsome
village. The Erroch, which runs to join the Isla, form-
ing one of its greater branches, here holds its course
deep through a rocky ravine, affording some picturesque
and some very striking scenes. I can only afford to
notice that at Craig Hall : no less singular than romantic,
from the enormous altitude and absolute perpendicu-
larity of the sandstone cliffs, which rise at once from the
deep and woody channel of the river; the house itself
appearing perched aloft, like a crow's nest, on its very
brink, forming an object which is absolutely fearful. Of
this class of scenery, not unlike to that of Roslin, but on
a far greater scale, there is much more which I cannot
afford to particularize ; as I must also pass over some
scenes that occur near the junction of the Airdle with
the Erroch.

Hence the road branches into Strath Airdle and
into Glen Shee : the former conducting through the wild
Glen Fernat to the Tarff, and also over the hills, to
, Edradour and Moulin, as I have remarked in another
place. Though Strath Airdle is a pleasing valley, it
scarcely offers any decided landscape scenery ; and of its
celebrated rocking stone I need take no further notice,
though it is still considered here as a Druidical work.


Of the road into Braemar, there is little or nothing to be
said ; as it is one uniform scene of wildness and deser-
tion, with little character of any kind, and with nothing
to vary its wearisome prolongation, but the very excel-
lent inn, the Spital of Glen Shee ; a welcome sight in the
desert, and justifying a name, of which, though common
in Wales, this is, I believe, the only instance in Scotland.
We may return to Blairgowrie.

But as the hills which extend hence to Stonehaven,
are themselves the Highland boundary, 1 dare not tres-
pass into Strathmore, and thus break my agreement;
however willing to travel with you through this magnifi-
cent valley, the pride of the Scottish valleys, and among
the strange and delicious solitudes of the Sidlaw hills, as
little known as if they were situated in the moon. While
we wander away to Inverness and Rossshire, for what,
after all our trouble, does not always occur, we are
ignorant or forgetful that, at our very doors, within a
few miles of Perth itself, we may enjoy all the seclusion
and wildness of alpine scenery, on the top of the Sidlaw
and in its deep recesses ; and that, from its summit on
the one side, we can look down on the splendid magnifi-
cence of the Carse of Gowrie, and over the rich and wild
hills of Fife; adding to our landscape the broad and
brilliant Tay with its endless variety of shipping, and the
noble houses of the opulent, that rise on its banks, or
skirt the declivities of this beautiful line of hills. On the
northern declivity of the same range, as we quit some
wild scene of heath and rocks, or some unexpected
picture of peace and fertility embosomed in the desert,
and descend along the winding roads amidst enclosing
trees, the whole vale of Strathmore breaks suddenly on
us, in all its splendour of wood and cultivation ; stretch-
ing away till it vanishes, and backed by the long range


ofhillstothe northward, above which are seen, far re-
tiring, the lofty, blue, and varied mountains of the High-
lands. Of all these roads, that perhaps is the finest
which descends on Glamis, amid the prolonged and
broad sweep of woods, blending, as they reach the vale
below, with its trees and its fields, and with the rich parks
that surround the towers of this picturesque castle.

But I must return to the skirts of the Highland bills,
my proper place : and, even on these I must be brief,
for even there I am trespassing. The length of this
continuous line, and the decided separation from Strath-
more by which the hilly is here so easily distinguished
from the low country, convey a stronger idea of the dis-
tinction between the Highlands and the Lowlands, than
can easily be obtained any where to the westward ; where
the inferior ridges of the Ochiis, the Campsie, the Kil-
patrick, and others, render that boundary less obvious
to an ordinary inspection. This line is therefore easily
followed, from Stonehaven even to Blairgowrie, without
interruption ; but from this place, westward, to the pass
of Birnara, nature has not so well marked the distinction,
as the hills which branch hence to include the valley
of the Lowes, interfere with its precision. But from
Birnam even to Comrie, the boundary is again well
marked; as it afterwards is, if somewhat less decidedly,
to Callander, and thence, with similar or greater obscu-
rity, even to Dumbarton, where, meeting the sea, its place
can no longer be questioned. This therefore, towards
the south, is the natural, as it is the artificial boundary
of the Highlands, and as it once was the political one.
To the east, their political limits were never very well
defined ; nor can any proper natural boundary be as-
signed, which will not somewhere interfere with any
political one that we can fix. The capricious line here



drawn by the excise, was chosen because nothing more
certain offered. But this is out of our present pursuit.

It is easy, in a geographical view, to perceive that
the southern boundary now before us, which, to a person
coming from the low country, appears a ridge of hills, is
not a ridge, or a chain as it is commonly called, but the
declivity of an irregular group, or of a kind of table land
of mountains, which, with more or less continuity, occu-
pies the whole north-western side of Scotland with part of
the northern ; advancing branches to the eastward in an
irregular manner, and intersected by valleys which pre-
serve no fixed or common direction. Yet, to this, there
has been assigned the term Grampian mountains ; and
the people, even those who ought to know better, speak
familiarly of a Grampian chain, which some describe as
a continuous chain of hills reaching from Aberdeen or
Stonehaven to the Clyde, and to which others have at-
tached ideas much more vague, since they extend the
term to the northward ; no one knows whither. If there
is no such thing as a Grampian chain, as little are there
any Grampian mountains that are intelligible ; since no
one knows what or where they are, unless all the moun-
tains of Scotland are Grampian mountains. The Gram-
pian mountains are not, however, a very recent con-
trivance ; though not much unlike Berigonium in reality,
and probably very little heard of in modern times, till
young gentlemen were taught to spout '* My name is

The original blunder seems to lie with Richard of
Cirencester. Tacitus says, that the battle with Galgacus
was fought " ad montem Grampium ;" and as that Mons
Granipius is a mountain near Stonehaven, it can scarcely
form even an integrant part of the mass of the Highland
mountains. It may have been corrupted from Grans-ben,


or Grant-ben, or Garvh-beii, (Grant's bain in Camden) for
aught that any one can prove to the contrary ; but these
are quite as likely to have been afterwards fitted to the
Roman term: whether or not, the blunder certainly did
not originate with the Highlanders, who are far too good
natural geographers to have so misapplied any term.
Richard, who seems the real sinner in this case, de-
scribes the Tay as dividing the province of Vespasiana
into " two parts," and then he says again that the " hor-
rendusGrampius jugus" divides it also into " two parts."
In another place, he speaks of part of the Grampius Mons,
as forming a promontory extending far into the German
ocean, somewhere near the Dee. Then again, the Va-
comagi to the west, or in Moray, are divided from these
Dee men, the Taixali, by the " series" of the " Montes
Grampii ;" and, in the map belonging to his itinerary,
these are represented as a chain extending from Fraser-
burgh to Loch Lomond : a chain that has no existence. It
is utterly impossible to reconcile a confusion, at which we
cannot nevertheless be surprised. It is tolerably plain that
he had picked up the name from Tacitus, making it fit
wherever he was in want of a term ; and that he had, him-
self, no notion, of this part at least, of the geography of
Scotland. But I might as well have spared this discus-
sion ; for a Grampian chain they will probably remain to
the end, like all the chains which have no existence in
any place but the map-makers' heads ; since the name is
now as firmly rooted as the hills themselves.

From Blairgowrie, or Alyth, to the road over the
Cairney mount, this long acclivity is far too difficult of
access to lie within the scope of ordinary travellers ;
nor indeed, excepting perhaps the Reekie Linn, does
it produce much .temptation to such persons. Though,
at the foot of the declivity, the scenes are often fine,




these belong rather to the Vale of Strathmore than
to the Highlands. Near Alyth is the ruin of the castle
of Barry hill ; about which Pennant has picked up a
story, I know not where. It was the prison of Queen
Gueniver the wife of Arthur ; and her monument, as he
also says, is to be seen in the church-yard of Glamis. It
is certain that there are many monuments there in want
of claimants; but Queen Gueniver must have had the
ubiquity of Ossian himself, if she is buried at Glamis,
because she lies also at Glastonbury. At least if ever
there was an Arthur and a Gueniver ; since Edward and
Eleanor performed a journey to Glastonbury, and dug up
the body of the presumed Arthur, where he was lying in
peace by the side of his wife, that they might prevent the
rebellious Welsh from thinking that he was still alive.
That Pennant, a Taffy himself, should have known so
little of his own kings and queens, makes it probable that
Walpole was not very far wrong when he abused him for
publishing the head of Rembrandt's wife as that of the
Countess of Desmond ; and for other matters.

But this is the scene cf much heavier questions
than Queen Gueniver or a Grampian chain. There is no
stronger instance of the influence of a thing once said
and once repeated, than the labour which has been used
in vain to subvert the popular theory respecting the place
of the battle of the Grampians. Some dreaming antiquary
or random etymologist proposes something; and, often,
not much knowing or caring what : another follows ; the
mob, which has always " adampnable adherence unto au-
thority," takes it all for granted, and it becomes a piece
of philosophy or history which Archimedes himself could
not afterwards move. Sibbald, who thought too much
of frogs and butterflies to be very trust-worthy in
weightier matters, first misled the pack ; and I doubt if


Dr. Janiieson will easily set them right again. 1 reinein-
ber visiting all these places twenty years ago, and then
wondering how such a question could ever have been
agitated at all. If the merest schoolboy who had read
his Tacitus had been asked the question, he would have
said that such a battle could not have been fought near
Ardoch ; because that place is in the very teeth of a
record, so pointed and so plain that it cannot be for a
moment mistaken. That Sibbald had never read that
work, seems tolerably clear ; but why my most learned
friend Chalmers, that giant in all Scottish antiquarian
lore, should go on believing, is a question which none but
himself can answer.

It is provoking that the blackness of a book should
give it authority, or the antiquity of a folly render it wis-
dom. But thus I suppose it must always be. If so
shallow an antiquary as Gordon, or Sibbald, was to come
forth now, his book >vould find its way to the snuff shop
in a week, and he himself would either be laughed at or
forgotten. Now, there is a dingy folio, not to be pro-
cured but at a' high price, and a man, of whom we know
nothing but the name, looming high and large through
the mists of age. For no better reasons, we venerate
the one and believe the other ; or go on discussing inter-
minably whether they are wrong or right, and fabricat-
ing commentaries bigger than the originals, when the
reasonable proceeding would be to toss the whole into
the fire. Thus it is for our ancient history. Some drowsy
monk, shut up in his cell, in Cumberland, or Shetland,
or Paris, (for it is pretty much the same where,) ignorant
alike of the world and of books, betakes himself to the
writing of a chronicle, or a history, of people and lands
which he never saw, and of ages that were past before
he was born. And these become our histories, and our


chronicles; to be believed, or disputed about, or collated,
or rectified, and finally, in some shape or other, to find
their way into what is called history, and into what we
believe to be belief. We never think of enquiring how
such a person procured the births, names, parentages,
deaths, and actions, of an hundred and forty British kings,
from centuries when no one could write, or how he could
describe motives, and characters, and battles, and trea-
ties, even of his own times, when there was neither ex-
tended social communication nor printed documents cir-
culating, and when he himself was alike a stranger to
camps and cabinets. In our own times, when every one
is every where, and every person knows every thing,
and when there are fifty newspapers, and fifty more,
printed every day, all over Europe, we are troubled
enough to get at bare facts, and those who produce mo-
tives must invent them. And yet we believe in such a
historian as this or the other ancient, because he hap-
pened to live five or ten centuries ago, and because his
name is Boece, or Fordun, or Barry; often, much worse
names than even these. If a monk of Mount Athos or
Carmel were now to write such histories of Turkey or
Arabia, we should turn them into winding sheets for fish ;
but who knoM's whether a posterity too will not be found
hereafter, which shall buy them with gold, and swear
to the truth of what their very authors produced as

But to come back to master, Sir Robert, Sibbald.
Dealgin Ross is a moor near Comrie ; and Sir Robert
being somewhat deaf, and not comprehending Donald's
mode of pronunciation in his nose and throat, imagined
he heard Galgachan. This produced Galgacus; and
Richard's Grampian chain, fortunately, suited any place ;
Fraserburgh, Stonehaven, Comrie, or Loch Lomond ; or


Cape Rath, had it been in Sir Robert's way. Thus the
battle of Agricola was fought at Comrie; and neither
this learned personage himself, nor one of his hundred
followers, ever thought of enquiring whether the Roman
fleet was anchored in Loch Earn or upon the top of
Drummond castle. Tacitus seems to have supposed that
it must have sailed on the sea. He says, at least, that
Agricola sent forward his navy to spread terror among"
the Caledonians, and that they were dismayed by the
sight of this fleet, and that his camp contained seamen, as
well as horse and foot. Lest he should have made a mis-
take, Agricola himself says that he crossed immense arms
of the sea ; in plain terms, the firths of Forth and Tay.
As to Galgacus, since Tacitus speaks for him, it is of less

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 3 of 37)