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 30 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 30 of 37)
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vation and trees, among which are scattered the country
houses of the opulent proprietors. Advancing to the
west, the blue mountains of Rossshire continue to open in
endless variety : leading the eye along into numerous
wild and rocky valleys, at the entrance of which are seen
plantations of fir, and the cultivated grounds of the


Erasers, Chisholms, and others, who are the ancient inha-
bitants of this district. A handsome new bridge renders
easy the access to the miserable town of Beairley and to
the ruins of its abbey. Little of this establishment re-
mains; and the church, which is the principal part, is
neither picturesque nor interesting; being built of a dark
red sandstone, and without any features of architecture to
atone for its disagreeable raw colour. It is a ruin without
even those hues of age and other accessories, which so
often render, even more shapeless masses picturesque or
pleasing. The floor is covered with tombstones, but
evidently of very different dates. On those whicli appear
the most ancient, are sculptured crosses with the usual
accompaniments of flowery patterns,swords, animals, and
other obscure symbols. On a few, dated in the fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries, are inscriptions in the Saxon cha-
racter, which I need not detail, as this piece of antiquity
is well known, and has been sufiiciently described.

Much wild and entertaining scenery is found in the
neighbouring valleys which lead into the Highlands; but
he who has arrived thus far, will scarcely open his eyes
to look at it. It is the sugar plums, whicli are first en-
ticing, which at length become insipid, and which end in
being maukish. There is little attraction in the road to
Diuo-wall. Nor is there aught on the wild roads which
branch hence to Loch Broom, Loch Ewe, Loch Carron,
and Loch Duich, to compensate for their inconveniences,
or to entice a traveller whose sole object is the gratifica-
tion of ordinary curiosity. In general, it is wildness and
rudeness without beauty or grandeur; and if a casual
scene occurs worthy of attention, it is overwhelmed in
the surrounding waste, and neglected amid the weariness
and toil and disappointment by which it is sought. I need
not occupy pages in describing what none will visit: in

VOL. I. c c

386 NAIRN.

repeating, I may add, descriptions which can have no
value except to those who have seen, or are to see, the
objects themselves. For other reasons, I may pass over
Fort Georg-e, often described ; a strong place, though
neither built by Tielke nor Vauban, yet without any in-
terest but that which arises from its military strength.
For similar ones, I may ojiiit all else that lies in this di-
rection between Inverness and the Highland border;
even Castle Stewart and its pepper boxes. The country
is every where uninteresting: and of Calder Castle, and
Tarnaway, and other well-known objects, I could tell
nothing that has not often been told before. As to Nairn,
what ran I say. They build ships in ditches in the sand,
and cut them out when ready. Part of the people speak
Gaelic, and the rest English, because it is the Highland
boundary. The baker and the brewer are not so rich as
at Inverness, and the attorney, being poorer, is probably
a greater rogue. Those who trust to the apothecary, die
of him, here as elsewhere ; the old maids abuse their
neighbours ; and those who have the misfortune to come
into the town, get out of it again as fast as they can. It
is otherwise in proceeding- to the southward, whither we
may now bend our steps.

After quitting the brilliant shores of Inverness and
losing sight of its magnificent firth, there is little beauty
till we reach Aviemore. This country appears too the
more dreary, from the scenery which we have just quitted ;
nor is it much otherwise when, having taken the contrary
course, we recollect that we have so recently parted with
the romantic Spey at Rothiemurchus and Kinrara. Those
who know that they shall not pass in vain over the scenes
of great or noted deeds, those who flatter themselves that
they may feel what is reserved but for the chosen few,
and those whose highest ambition is to purchase or pick

MOY. 387

up a bullet as a memorial of Culloden, will, all equally,
turn aside to seek for its green graves ; and the particular
gentleman, who fancies that he can amuse and instruct
the world, as we all do, good and bad, will leave a blank
in his memorandum book, that he may hereafter fill it, in
peace and opportunity, from the pages of John Home
and the Chevalier Johnstone. But this is the business
of the apothecaries, as Old Burton calls them. The plain
of Marathon itself, is not a much more trodden subject.

In any country, less empty and less dull, the rocky
ravine of the Nairn would be unnoticed : such is the good
fortune of the borgnes dans le pays des aveugles. It is
not much otherwise for Moy ; which is like a pearl in a
hog's nose, and no great pearl either, looking as if it had
mistaken its way to come and sit down in this hopeless
country. Its lake, and its trees, and its island, are a gleam
of sunshine in a cloudy day: yet one that makes all the
surrounding brown browner, and all the wide waste that
encloses it, more dreary. Moy, however, as the seat of
the ancient and powerful Clan Chattan, has its historical
interest as well as its beauty. At what remote period it
possessed a castle, is unknown ; but the island where
that was situated, is said to have been garrisoned in 1420,
or thereabouts, by 400 men. Thus, it is probable, this
structure must have resembled Chisamil, and was not
merely the strong house of the chief: while the strength
of such a standing force bespeaks, what scarcely require
such testimony, the opulence and power of this long-
independent dynasty. The marks of the ruins are in
themselves sufficient to prove the magnitude of this build-
ing; but the date which remains, indicates a later erec-
tion, or later additions ; since it only reaches to 1665.
Lauchlan, said to be the twentieth Chief, is the recorded
founder of at least this part. A smaller island, which is

c c 2

388 MOY.

thought to be artificial, is related to have been used as a
prison. Its name is Eilan na Clach ; and the tale is, that
it was so kindly contrived, that its inmates were com-
pelled to stand up to their middles in the water. It must
be presumed that those who could remain long here,
must have been amphibious animals, but that, less dex-
terous than frogs, they could not swim. The sword of
James the fifth, a present from Leo the tenth, is still
preserved at Moy.

As I was about to quit the ruins of Moy, I observed
that a very smart gentleman, not a gentleman rider I
assure you, but a gentleman in a barouche, who happened
to be investigating them at the same time, slipped a large
card, together with his shilling, into the Cicerone's hand.
Being a printed one, my curiosity could not be improper.
It was the trade card of a certain noted Baronet, &c. &c.
" as above :" in which the dignified manufacturer assured
the good people all wherever they be, that he would
serve them, and so forth, on the lowest terms. The
young Squire, in the true spirit of trade, had filled his
pockets with these warnings, that, ^mid the pursuit of
pleasure, he might not forget the main chance. Sic fortis
Britannia crevit. Two and two make four.

Many a tale offend and battle is related about Moy,
and many times have most of them been told. 1 shall
only notice one, a familiar one, because it has also been
related of the Forbeses and the Gordons, and because I
suspect that it is not the only one which, like many other
pointed tales, and many pointed sayings, has been ap-
plied to whomever it will fit. To appropriate such an
action, or to claim the exclusive right to it, would not
now appear an object of ambition or pride: but when
treachery was a virtue, and when cruelty and revenge
stood high in the scale of morality, a Cumin and a Forbes

MOY. ;i89

might laudably have disputed the priority of the inven-
tion and the right to the praise. In a great battle be-
tween Cumin and Macintosh, the former was defeated,
and being unable or unwilling to renew the war, a peace
was proposed and accepted. To celebrate it, the Cumins
invited the Macintoshes to a feast ; the hospitable de-
sign of these hospitable and honourable personages,
being to seat a guest alternately among themselves, as
a distinguished mark of friendship, and, at a concerted
signal, to murder them ; each stabbing his neighbour.
The signal was the introduction of a bull's head ; but its
purpose having been revealed by the treachery of a
Cumin, (for thus do words change their significations,)
the tables were turned on the hosts, and all the Cumins
were killed.

3.90 riNi>noRN.


" Let no man say, — come, I will write a duodecimo."
Take up your pen, says Dr. Johnson, and if there is
any thing- in, it will come out. The pen is indeed the
key or the picklock, the " open sesame" that is to give
access to all the trash which has contrived, in the pro-
cess of time, to get itself crammed and crowded into the
cells and nooks of a man's brain. But, unluckily, when
the dyke is perforated and the water begins to flow, who
knows where the current will stop, whether the duo-
decimo may not prove a quarto, whether an inundation of
ink and ideas may not follow ; till some lump of mud, or
a dead rat, comes, fortunately for the reader, across the
aperture, and stops the breach. Mr. Locke says that the
animal spirits walk up and down in a sort of garden walk:
but they have an unlucky trick, at the same time, of di-
verging into the several bye-paths which lead to fish-
ponds and hog-sties and other such things, and so on
from one ramification to another, till a great deal " comes
out" that had better staid within, and the reader is in
danger of becoming distanced by the vagaries of the
writer. Let him who feels the disease of concatenation
stealing- on him, concatenate his own legs, like the hero
in the fairy tale, lest he overrun his game or vanish from
the reader's sight. But surely a walk among fir trees
may be allowed, even in Mr. Locke's garden; and a
writer's hands are not to be tied up from gathering such
flowers as grow by the margin of his great gravel walk.


Near the Duliiaiti river there are the remains of an ex-
tensive fir forest, stretching* far up the valley, which still
g"ives employment to a few saw mills ; and similar woods
are still remaining on the Findhorn, here utterly with-
out beauty, to its very source. This mountainous tract
indeed, included between the great Caledonian valley
and Strathspey, and reaching to the sources of the Nairn,
the Findhorn, the Spey, and the Roy, is, though high,
the least interesting and the least marked of all the High-
land mountain land. The fir woods, however, to which
I here allude, bear no resemblance to those magnificent
reniains still found in Braemar, in Glen Finnan, and else-
where; the far greater number of the trees being of com-
paratively modern date, and many of them less than a
century old. As they still propagate by means of the
winds, we have an opportunity of seeing the Scottish fir
in its natural state at all ages, and of remarking the
striking difference between its character and that of the
artificially planted wood. Where the latter produces
only tall poles with few lateral branches, and those of no
dimensions, the former throws out strong ramifications at
short distances from the ground, which proceed to en-
large with the growth of the tree, finally producing a
form which is often as broad as it is tall ; while, in the
planted wood, all the lateral shoots decay in succession
towards the summit, leaving at length a scraggy and
scanty foliage on the top of the mast-like trunk. This
also remains slender to the end of its existence ; almost
ceasing, after a certain time, to increase in its lateral
dimensions; when, in the natural tree, the trnnk and the
branches enlarge alike, so as to produce those magnifi-
cent and picturesque objects which scarcely have a rival,
even in the oak. The timber partakes, in the samejnan-
ner, in both cases, of the general character : being feeble

392 Fiij WOODS.

in the planted tree, and bciiring the lowest possible price
of fir wood, while the natural wood is nearly equal in
value to the best timber of this nature. Lastly, it is
necessary to remark, after the age of seventy or eighty
years, or within a century, the planted wood ceases to
grow, and very often Avastes till it dies; when, in the
natural forests, trees of three or four centuries are found
flourishing with all the luxuriance of youth.

So striking are these differences, that it has become an
opinion among some planters, that the natural and the
planted fir were distinct species ; and this has even been
maintained by botanists and professional nurserymen,
whose duty it was to have known their art better. Other
persons have attributed the difference to the practice of
transplantation : and thus remedies have been sought in
sowing the seed where it was to remain, and in sowing
the seeds of the natural instead of the cultivated tree. It
might be thought surprising that experience should never
have taught planters the real reason, and that oppor-
tunities of observation, prolonged through centuries, had
produced no fruit, did we not know that experience is as
nothing without capacity to profit by it, and that to see
facts daily displayed before the eyes, does not constitute
observation. It may be thought more surprising, that
those whose scientific or practical pretensions ought to
have enabled them to apply one of the simplest princi-
ples of botanical physiology, should have thus gone on
in this error, and should so long have overlooked a solu-
tion so perfectly simple.

It is by the agency of the leaves, not of the roots, that
all the matter of vegetables is formed ; the wood and the
bark, as well as the blossom, the fruit, and the leaves
themselves. The roots supply the simple elements ; but,
without the leaves, these cannot be converted to their


destined purposes. The leaves may be considered the
stomach of the plant, as the root is its mouth. Thus, a
tree possessed of all the leaves which nature has allotted
to it, proceeds through its destined stages and performs
its natural functions; its produce in wood, being- in a
certain sense, proportional to the bulk or quantity of its
leaves, because, on their actions, that production de-
pends. Whatever therefore is taken from the leaves, is
taken ultimately from the wood : for every leaf which is
destroyed, a proportional quantity of wood is not formed;
if the whole are destroyed, the growth is suspended.
This principle, therefore, explains the apparent mystery.
Excluded from the light by close planting, leaves are not
produced where they otherwise would be. Thus the
branches which depended on their actions, first cease to
grow and then die. Hence the trunk also is robbed of
its organs of nutrition, and the tree is checked through-
out; and as the evil proceeds upwards, from the in-
creased operation of the cause, the branches and leaves
disappear in succession, till, the few remaining leaves at
the summit being now incapable of maintaining the vital
actions, the whole tree dies. Hence also becomes evi-
dent, the folly of removing the lateral branches of trees,
for the purpose of increasing the quantity of timber in
the trunk. That operation may modify its form, but it
diminishes the total weight and bulk, as it sometimes does
the good quality of the wood. In this way are the
trimmed elms of England destroyed ; and in this way, I
am sorry to observe, are some recent planters of spruce
ruining their trees, with the notion of forcing them up
into mast timber. That tree, left to its own resources,
will produce better masts, with all its lateral branches in
vigour, than when thus trimmed : and if this system is to
be pursued, or if the Norway spruce is to be planted in

394 spEY.

this country as close as the Scottish fir has been, with
the hope ot" producing Norway timber, the event, under
the former practice, will be little better than it has
proved in the case of our native tree ; although it is
a property of the spruce to preserve its leaves and
lateral branches, even in woods, when not excessively

It is also a leading error in planting, a consequence of
the same ignorance of principles, to set the trees at short
distances, whether these be fir or larch ; hoping to make
profit of the thinnings first, and to obtain valuable forest
timber afterwards. The planter must learn to be content
with one of these; for it is certain that he cannot obtain
both. It is far too late to remove the superfluous plants,
when those which are to remain have lost their lateral
branches. These cannot be replaced; and though the
upper ones may perform a portion of the necessary duty,
that will always be imperfectly done, and the best of such
trees will for ever be comparatively feeble. If planters
will not be convinced by this reasoning, they have only
to examine their own forests, where they will find that
the outermost trees are the largest, and that, in every
situation, that is the largest trunk which possesses the
most branches, or, what is the essential fact, the most
leaves. That they have here mistaken cause for effect,
is also certain : conceiving that it was the vigorous trunk
that produced the full foliage and the healthy tree, when
the full foliage is the parent and cause of the healthy and
thriving trunk.

As soon as we approach Aviemore, we become sen-
sible that we have entered on a new country : a wide
and open space now intervening, between the hills that
we have quitted and the distant and blue ridge of Cairn
Oorm. Through this lies the course of the Spey ; and

SPEY. 395

here, principally, are concentrated such beauties as that
river has to show. I have traced it from its mountain-
well to the sea : and, whatever the Strathspey men may
boast, it would be a profanation to compare it, in point
of beauty, with almost any one of the great branches of
the Tay ; as it would equally be to name it as a rival to
the Forth, and, I must add, to the Dee, and to the Isla,
and to the Earn. In point of magnitude, I believe it must
follow the Tay : and in beauty, it may be allowed to fol-
low the Earn ; preceding alike the Tweed, and the Clyde,
and the Don, but being still inferior to many of our larger
rivers, in the important particular of not being navigable,
and in being therefore nearly useless. The small lake,
or rather pool, whence it originates, is its most un-
questionable head ; since, unlike the Tay, none of its
subsidiary streams, not even the Truim, can pretend to
compete with this primary one. It is one decided Spey
from its very spring; receiving numerous accessions,
but no rival. Its course is almost every where rapid ; nor
does it shew any still water till near the very sea. It is
also the wildest and most capricious of our large rivers ; its
alternations of emptiness and flood being more complete
and more sudden than those of any of the streams which
I have named. The causes of this are obvious, in con-
sidering the origin and courses of its tributary waters ;
while the elevation of its source, amounting to more than
1200 feet, accounts for the rapidity of its flow. Though
inferior, both to the Tweed and the Tay, in its produce
of salmon, it must be allowed the third rank in this re-
spect; and the single fishery at its mouth, belonging to
the Duke of Gordon, is rented for more than £6000 a year.
From the spring, its course displays little beauty till
it reaches Clunie and Spey bridge. Hence, nearly, it
increases in interest as it approaches Kinrara ; whence.


for a few miles, it is attended by a series of landscapes,
alike various, singular, and mag-nificent. If, after this,
there are some efforts at beauty, these are rare, and offer
little that is new or striking: while, near its exit from the
mountainous country, it loses all character, and continues,
from Fochabers to the sea, a wide and insipid sheet of

Though many splendid landscapes are obtained along-
the road side between Aviemore and Kinrara, constituted
by the far-extended fir woods of Rothiemurchus, the
ridge of Cairngorm, the birch-clad hill of Kinrara, and
by the variety of the broken, bold, and woody banks of
the Spey, no one can form an adequate idea of the beau-
ties of this tract, without spending days in investigating
what is concealed from an ordinary and passing view.
By far the larger proportion of this scenery also, is found
near to the river, and far from the road ; and the most
singular portions of it lie on the east side of the water,
and far beyond it, in places seldom trodden and scarcely
known. This too is a country hitherto undescribed, and
therefore unseen by the mass of travellers ; though among
the most engaging parts of the Highlands, as it is the
most singular : since there is nothing with which it can
be compared, or to which indeed it can be said to bear
the slightest resemblance. Much of this depends on the
peculiar forms and distribution of the ground and of the
mountains, and still more on the character of the wood,
which is always fir and birch ; the latter, in particular,
assuming a consequence in the landscape, which renders
the absence of all other trees insensible; and which is
seen no where in the same perfection, except at Blair,
and for a short space along the course of the Tuniel.

Of this particular class of beauty, Kinrara is itself
the chief seat; yielding to very few situations in Scot-


land for that species of ornament, which, while it is the
prodnce of Nature, seems to have been guided by art,
and being- utterly distinguished from the wohle in
character. A succession of continuous birch forest,
covering- its rocky hill and its lower grounds, intermixed
with open glades, irregular clumps, and scattered trees,
produces a scene at once alpine and dressed ; combining
the discordant characters of wild mountain landscape
and of ornamental park scenery. To this it adds an air
of perpetual spring, and a feeling of comfort and of
seclusion, which can no where be seen in such perfec-
tion : while the range of scenery is, at the same time,
such as is only found in the most extended domains. If
the home grounds are thus full of beauties, not less
varied and beautiful is the prospect around : the Spey,
here a quick and clear stream, being- ornamented by trees
in every possible combination, and the banks beyond,
rising into irregular, rocky, and wooded hills, every
where rich with an endless profusion of objects, and, as
they gradually ascend, displaying the dark sweeping
forests of fir that skirt the bases of the further mountains^,
which terminate the view by their bold outlines on the
sky. A week spent at Kinrara had not exhausted the
half of its charms; and when a second week had passed,
all seemed still new. But time flew, never to return : —
for I had scarcely taken my leave of its lovely scenes,
when the mind that inspired it was fled, and the hand
that had tended and decked it was cold. That was a
loss indeed. But these matters must not be thought on

To wander along the opposite banks, is to riot in a
profusion of landscape, always various and always new:
river scenery, of a character unknown elsewhere, and a
spacious valley crowded with objects and profuse of


wood, displaying every where a luxuriance of variety,
as well in the disposition of its parts, as in the arrange-
ments of its trees and forests and the versatility of its
mountain boundary. Advancing further into the in-
terior, we are soon lost amidst the woods of Rothiemurchus,
which, for many miles, cover the ground, extending far
away to the great and noble Glenmore. Here we may
imagine ourselves wandering in an American forest :
while this impression is aided by the saw mills, the log-
houses, the dams for floating the timber into the Spey,
and the trees in all the stages of preparation, which are
lying in the various open glades which the woodman's
axe has made. Nor must it be supposed that these
woods exhibit that wearisome and interminable unifor-
mity which is found in the great plantations about Foch-
abers, or in the other forests of planted fir. Nature, who
performed this work, has avoided that error. Where art

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 30 of 37)