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 31 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 31 of 37)
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has not, by levelling portions of them, introduced ave-
nues and glades and roads, the variety of the soil and
surface have produced the same effects. Here a stream
holds its course through them, or a small lake, or a mo-
rass, or a portion of rocky ground, repels the growth of
the trees; while, elsewhere some huge rock serves to
contrast, by its grey faces, with the dark green above,
and with the bright splendour, below, of the arbutus and
the vaccinium, whose vivid green is also embellished by
their profusion of scarlet berries.

But even this is but a small part of the variety which
prevails throughout this wide forest. In many places, it
rises high up the rocky sides of the mountains, or sweeps
down into the valleys, or is seen following the course of
a ravine ; while the broken margin where the growth of
the wood becomes gradually checked, or the outstanding
and irregular clumps which have chosen for themselves


some favourable position, with the sing-le and separated
trees, stationed like out-posts on its borders, by which the
forest fades gradually into the mountain, produce effects as
beautiful as they are unexpected by him who has con-
templated at a distance its wide extended sweep of heavy
and solid green. More entertaining and unexpected still,
are the rocky hills that shoot suddenly up in the middle
of the forest ; lifting their grey crags high above the
surrounding wood, and crowned with ranks and masses
of trees, the very formality of whose long rows of trunks,
as they range along the edge of the precipice, is cha-
racteristic and ornamental. Here too, some solitary fir,
taking advantage of a fissure, or perched on an occasional
shelf, and throwing far out its wide arms and dark fo-
liage, serves to embellish the broad tints of grey, and to
soften the harsher masses which crown the summit or
spread in one broad body of green beneath.

Of the lakes which are here found, adding also much
to the variety and beauty of this forest, I need only no-
tice Loch-an-eilan. A fir lake, if I may use such a term,
is a rare occurrence ; and indeed this is the only very
perfect example in the country. No other tree is seen ;
yet, from the variety of the shores, there is not that mo-
notony which might be expected from such limited ma-
terials. In some parts of it, the rocky precipices rise
immediately from the deep water, crowned with the dark
woods, that fling a profound shadow over it; in others,
the solid masses of the trees advance to its edge ; while
elsewhere, open green shores, or low rocky points, or
gravelly beaches, are seen ; the scattered groups, or
single trees, which, springing from some bank, wash
their roots in the waves that curl against them, ad-
ding to the general variety of this wild and singular
scene. This lake is much embellished by an ancient


castle, standing on an island within it, and, even yet,
entire, though roofless. As a Highland castle, it is of
considerable dimensiions ; and the island being scarcely
larger than its foundation, it appears in some places to
rise immediately out of the water. Its ancient celebrity
is considerable, since it was one of the strong holds of
the Cumins; the particular individual whose name is
attached to it, being the ferocious personage known by
the name of the Wolf of Badenoch. It has passed now to
a tenant not more ferocious, who is an apt emblem and
representative of the red-handed Highland chief. The
eagle has built his eyrie on the walls. I counted the
sticks of his nest, but had too much respect for this wor-.
thy successor to an ancient Highland dynasty, even to
displace one twig. His progeny, it must be admitted,
have but a hard bed : but the Red Cumin did not proba-
bly lie much more at his ease. It would not be easy to
imagine a wilder position than this for a den of thieves
and robbers, nor one more thoroughly romantic; it is
more like the things of which we read in the novels of the
Otranto school, than like a scene of real life. If ever you
should propose to rival the author of Waverley in that
line of art, I recommend you to choose part of your scene
here. As I lay on its topmost tower amid the universal
silence, while the bright sun exhaled the perfume from
the woods around and all the old world visions and
romances seemed to flit about its grey and solitary ruins,
I too felt as if I could have written a chapter that might
hereafter be worthy of the protection of Minerva ; the
Minerva of Leadenhall-street. But, for these things, we
must have the licence of speech which belongs to those
cases. Such is the necessity of acting in character. We
may perform any antics we please, if we choose to put
on Harlequin's jacket, to wear the whole purple cloak ;


but there is no mercy for him who tacks two or three
rags of the purpureus panniis to his dingy cassock or
liis amice of sober grey.

I must therefore "jog on the foot-path way," in the
old matter of fact pace, to Glen More ; though it was
not quite merrily that I passed " the stile a." I have
passed many stiles, but never one like the entrance into
Glen More, I voav. There is the clamber stile, where
you find yourself astride on a knife edge, like a dragoon
on the wooden horse ; and there is the in and out stile,
which reminds you of what philosophers call the vis in-
ertia; and the turn-stile, Avhere you either break your
behind or your before ; and the squeeze stile, where you
stick like the weasel in the fable; and the gate stile
where you break, first your shins and then your heels ;
and the ladder stile, which if you escape without break-
ing your neck, it is well ; and the Cornish stile, where
you slip your foot, crack your tibia, the bone protrudes,
the apothecary saws it off, and you die of a lock jaw.
When I had scrambled to the top of the Glen More stile,
among cross branches, and brambles, and thorns, plumb
beneath me was a deep and wide river roaring along,
with a bridge formed of a single fir tree, M'hich nature,
or the water-kelpie more probably, had kindly thrown
across the torrent to entice gentlemen to drown them-
selves. Perpendicularity of conduct and character is of
many other uses in life besides that of hitting on the axis
of a fir tree and on your own axis at the same time, across
a deep river in Glen More. Spite of these mathematics,
I might have remained balancing yet; but all the chi-
valry of Kinrara was on the other side, and I — oh how
deep and strong did the water seem, and how narrow
did the smaller end of the tree become.

What a fearful sight is Glen More. But it will not



do to begin in this violent manner. It had long been
known that the timber of these ancient fir woods was
very valuable; and, of all Scotland, the trees of Glen
More were the finest. The Duke of Gordon still preserves
one plank from near the root, which is s-ix feet wide.
But so backward in science was our dear country, that it
was esteemed impossible to transfer this wood to the sea
at such a price as could be repaid. The engineer em-
ployed by the York Buildings Company, however,
thought otherwise ; and it was accordingly purchased for
£10,000. How it was carried off, partly by aid of the
Spey, is well known ; and the profits are said to have
been £70,000, Of such value is the old maxim in our
spelling books : the learning was more valuable than the
land, in this case at least.

Without any picturesque features. Glen More is a
magnificent scene, from its open, basin-like form, rising
at once up the lofty acclivities of the high and unbroken
mountains which surround it, from its wide extent, and
from its simple grandeur of character. High above all,
towers the summit of Cairn Gorm ; and, in the valley,
Loch Morlich adds the variety of its black, still, shining
waters to the whole. Every where is seen rising-, young-
wood of various ages, promising, when centuries shall
have passed away, to restore to the valley its former ho-
nours. But it is the wreck of the ancient forest which
arrests all the attention, and which renders Glen More a
melancholy, more than a melancholy, a terrific spectacle.
Trees, of enormous height, which have escaped, alike, the
axe and the tempest, are still standing, stripped by the
winds, even of their bark, and, like gigantic skeletons,
throwing far and wide their white and bleached bones to
the storms and rains of heaven ; while others, broken by
the violence of the gales, lift their split and fractured


trunks in a thousand shapes of resistance and of destruc-
tion, or still display some knotted and tortuous branches,
stretched out, in sturdy and fantastic forms of defiance, to
the whirlwind and the winter. Noble trunks also, which
had long resisted, but resisted in vain, strew the ground ;
some hanging on the declivity Avhere they have fallen,
others still adhering to the precipice where they were
rooted, many upturned, with their twisted and entangled
roots high in air; while a few, prostrated with all their
branches still entire, astonish us by the space %yhich they
cover, and by dimensions which we could not otherwise
have estimated. It is one wide imaffe of death : as if the
angel of destruction had passed over the valley. The
sight, even of a felled tree, is painful : still more is that
of the fallen forest, with all its green branches on the
ground, withering, silent, and at rest, where once they
glittered in the dew and the sun, and trembled in
the breeze. Yet tliis is but an image of vegetable death :
it is familiar, and the impression passes away. It is the
naked skeleton bleaching in the winds, the gigantic bones
of the forest still erect, the speaking records of former
life, and of strength still unsubdued, vigorous even in
death, which render Glen More one enormous charnel

The ascent of Cairn Gorm is easy, with little variety
from protruding rocks or water courses. Yet, though
among the highest of the Scottish mountains, the views
from it are very uninteresting. One smooth and undu-
lating surface of granite mountain, Avithout the variety of
bold precipice or deep ravine, follows another, so far and
so wide, that when other objects appear, they are beyond
the reach and power of the eye, and produce no effect.
It is even less interesting than Ben Nevis while, to the
botanist, it is almost a blank ; its dry stony soil produc-

D D 2


ing few alpine plants, and none, except the Lichen nivalis,
of any peculiar rarity.

But the sunshine that slept on Cairn Gorm, g-ave
beauty, even to its barren and torrid surface, and the
waste and vacant expanse smiled to the wide azure of a
cloudless sky. Still brighter was that sun and bluer
were those skies beneath the influence of other smiles ;
and even the arid rock and the misty desert seemed to
breathe of loveliness and spring. A single mind ani-
mated all the landscape ; that mind which animated all
it reached, which diffused happiness around, the joy and
delight of all.

Yet the happiest, like the most wretched hours, must
end. That day fled fast indeed. But I did not then fore-
see, that, for Her, that blooming and youthful, that intel-
lectual and lovely being, who seemed born to be a light
and a blessing to all around her, the record which this
useless hand is now writing, would be written in vain.
We ascended the hill together, we looked together for
Craig Elachie and Tor Alvic. Often have I seen Tor
Alvie since ; but She can see it no more.

Hence it is easy to descend into Loch Avon ; a scene
which Nature seems nearly to have buried beyond hu-
man resort; as, though accessible also from Mar, the
distance from any habitation is, on that side also, such,
that it is scarcely possible to go and return within the
longest summer day.

The surface of Cairn Gorm is strewed in some places
with fragments of the well-known brown crystals, which
are generally named from this mountain, from whatever
place they may be procured. But they are by no means
peculiar to this spot, since they occur on Ben-na-Chie,
in Braemar, in St. Kilda, in Arran, at Loch Etive, in
Morrer, and in many other situations. They are the ob-


jects of a petty and poor trade among the country people
and the shepherds, and of a much more profitable one
among- the jewellers of Edinburgh, who sell Brazil crystal
under this pretence, at twenty times its value ; thus wisely
making a profit out of a silly modification of patriotism.
Of the brown crystal indeed, which is thus sold. Cairn
Gorm, or even all Scotland, does not produce the fiftieth
part; and of the bright yellow, and only beautiful kind,
it never furnished a single specimen. These stones, in
fact, are almost all imported from Brazil, of whatever
colour they may be, and often ready cut, at a price of a
few shillings, which, by elevating them to the dignity of
Scottish crystals, become converted into as many pounds.
Such is one of the varieties of vanity. Even on the spot,
the shepherds demand guineas for what pence will pur-
chase in London : and if they can find purchasers, I
know no good reason why they should not. I cannot
defend in the same manner the harpy whose horse I rode
for a hundred yards, and who could not have been more
master of his art if he had been educated at Oban or in
Mull. The ingenuity of the plea indeed almost deserved
the money. One of the party had hired the horse, and,
wishing to walk over some particular spot, requested me
to mount in his place. The hour of reckoning being
come, the knave insisted that I should. pay a day's hire
also, as his pony had thus been let to two persons. Is it
wonderful that a late traveller calls the Highlanders
" the most impudent extortioners on the face of the earth."
One remark, however, I must oflTer, for the consolation
of those whose anger may be roused, not by the quantity
of the fraud but by its spirit, as is the fact in all these
cases. Did they know how well the gains are applied,
to compensate for the wrong by which they are obtained,
they would probably often give freely, that which they


indig-nantly withhold when thus claimed. The High-
lander is an economist, and a good and generous one.
The money thus obtained will not be wasted in riot and
drink, but laid by to pay his rent, or better his farm, or
maintain his poor relations. There is a balance of good
in Donald's extortion, unknown to most of those who
suffer from it.

If the Spey presents little beauty henceforward to the
sea, there is equally little interest in the remaining tract
of the Highlands to the northwards. The vale of the
Spey itself, those of the Avon and the Fiddich, and a
few other small tracts which are traversed by rivers, are
the only accessible parts ; the rest being a mass of rude
uninteresting mountains. Indeed neaily the whole moun-
tain tract to the northward of the great central granite
mass of Aberdeenshire, including Cairn Gorm and the hills
of Mar, is without distinguishing features ; Bell Rinnes,
the great ridge of the Cabrach, and that of Bennachie,
forming almost the only exceptions ; while, with little
exception also, the rivers and valleys are very deficient
in picturesque beauty. It would be unjust however to
the Spey, not to say that the rides along its banks, north-
ward from Aviemore, are, in many parts, pleasing, if
not striking ; while, of some, I am bound to plead such
imperfect knowledge as I could obtain by the light of a
comet ; not an usual lantern to travel by.

Balvenie is perhaps the most interesting object in this
tract of country. The valley is pleasing, and the situa-
tion of this castle on an independent knoll, is such as to
display its effect to great advantage ; while its magni-
tude aids in rendering it one of the most striking of our
ancient buildings. It is apparently an erection of dif-
ferent periods ; though we cannot be sure that any of it
is of so old a date as the eleventh century, when there


was a castle of some kind here. There is a tradition that
Malcolm the second defeated the Norweg-ians in an action
at this place; and, to confirm the possibility at least of
this beino- the actual spot, there are traces of ancient
monuments sufficient to indicate some field of battle.
The tower at the south-west angle is strong and large*
and appears to be the oldest part of the building, but
those at the other angles are ruined. The histories at-
tached to this castle are far longer than 1 have time to
relate ; and it seems to have undergone the singular for-
tune of having been as effectually as it was often assailed'
so as to have passed in succession into many different
hands. Cumins, Douglases, Stewarts, and others, seem
to have been in turn its masters ; and, among many other
cognizances, the " Furth fortune and fill the fetters" of
the Atholl family, is still visible over the gateway. But
I must return with you to the south^vard.

The pearl muscle is found in the Spey, as in all these
rivers ; but this fishing- is rather a trade than a general
pursuit. And wisely : since, at Conway and Bangor,
this lottery produces universal poverty among the people
Avho pursue it. It is there the remains of the Roman
commerce in pearls ; one of the apparent inducements to
the invasion of Britain. Hollinshed, a motive monger
by trade, is very metaphysical on this subject. " Doubt-
lesse, they have as it were a natural carefuUnesse of their
commoditie, as not ig-norant how great estimation we
mortall men make of the same amongst us ; and therefore
so soon as the fishermen do catch them, they binde their
shells together." The cunning of the Welsh muscle,
like much other cunning, outwits itself; since he is boiled
and made into sotjp for his pains.



The little lake of Alvie, which lies at the gates of
Kinrara, is a jewel in this barren road ; nor is Loch
Inch M'ithout its merits. I cannot indeed say that they
have much picturesque beauty. Yet there is, in the least
of all these Highland lakes, a charm, which depends, not
on their boundaries or their magnitude, their variety or
their grandeur; a beauty which even the cloud and the
mist, that conceal their mountain summits and destroy
the landscape, can scarcely obliterate. This lies in their
foregrounds ; in their local colouring and minuter forms.
It is the pellucid water murmuring on the pebbly shore,
the dark rock reflected on the glassy surface or dancing
on the undulating wave, the wild water-plants, the broken
bank, the bending ash, the fern, the bright flowers, and all
the poetry of the " margent green," which give to these
scenes a feeling that painting cannot reach ; a beauty
that belongs to nature alone, because it is the beauty of
life ; a beauty that flies with the vital principle which
was its soul and its all. If I cannot give much praise to
the elegant town of Kingusie, I cannot admit that this
portion of the Inverness road, as far at least as Spey bridge,
is so detestable as it is commonly reputed, Pitmain is
far from being an ugly spot ; and to those who do not
enquire too minutely, Ruthven may still pass for an an-
cient castle ; thus deceiving them into the enjoyment of
a vision quite as good as the reality. It Mas indeed an


ancient castle once, belonging to the Cumins ; but that
metaphysical entity commonly called Government, which
is no more free from Gothicism than Alaric and Attila,
thought proper to pull it down and replace it with the
barrack, which may, in its turn, be an object of antiqua-
rian admiration to our posterity. Doubtless, it will be
then a record of events somewhat more important than
the squabbles of savage Highland chiefs, and not so easily
forgotten. It was built in 1718, assaulted by the High-
land army in 1745, and burnt in 1746; having been de-
fended by twelve men under the command of Sergeant
Mulloy ; a hero, doubtless ; but what is a hero with three
chevrons on his arm.

Who shall praise Dalwhinnie. No one, surely, but the
commissioners who built it, and who desire you to be very
thankful that you have a place to put your head in. But
these thanks can be paid only by the gentlemen who have
not forgotten what they acquired at school ; for, like the in-
scription on Tay bridge, it is a Latin tablet. That bridge
might better have stridden over Tay in its own tongue; and,
pardon the pun again, I cannot help thinking this an in-
sult to our own language, spite of the opinion of Dr. John-
son. Is not this vile pedantry. As if the English language
will not last as long as that of ancient Rome, as if we are
to descend to posterity, a nation without a tongue of its
own, or as writing what we can neither read nor speak,
or as despising a language which, in a few brief years,
has produced more valuable literature, and conveyed
more instruction to posterity, than all which Rome ef-
fected from the time of Romulus to that of Constantine.
Thus, we have epitaphs which the very owners could not
read, were they alive again ; inscriptions, which, if they
record any thing, it is that a pagan people erected a
Christian church, and a Roman king, unknown in the


annals of that city, called Georgius tertius ; nay, a whole
series of Gothic Tudors, and Plantagenets, and Stuarts,
and Guelphs, all Roman Kings. Why is not all this done
in Greek : it is a more enduring and a nobler language ;
it would confer still more of the honours of pedantry ;
and, as to the story which is to be told, the Latin itself is
but Greek to the million. But the days of logic are
passed, and those of other pedantries must pass too;
whenever the S^avans en us shall have discovered that
education means something more than a knowledge of
as in prsesenti, or a memory for all the overwhelming
learning enclosed in the treasures of the Gradus ad Par-

In spite of this learned tablet, and though the
" tellus calva benignuni monstrat viatori signum," no
one will ever wish to enter Dalwhinnie a second time;
and no one who has crossed its hideous, cold, desolate,
naked, starved, melancholy, moors, will ever willingly
cross them again. The vicissitudes of human life are
strange enough. Yesterday I was in a Highland cottage,
with an assemblage of three Duchesses and a Comet,
with many minor stars of no small note and bearing ; and,
to-day, at Dalwhinnie, in company with three travelling-
haberdashers and a farthing candle. But we must bear
this and much more, in our transit, Avhether through the
Highlands or through life : we must even endure the wet
peat of Dalwhinnie, which, since fire and water are ever
at variance, as Ovid and Milton assure us, chooses to send
forth nothing but indignant smoke. Hence you may go
by the way of Garvie More, and across Coryaraick, to
Fort Augustus ; but it is probable that this road will now
be deserted in favour of the new line by Loch Laggan.
By Garvie More also, lies a road into Glen Roy, if road
it can be called ; and, to study Glen Roy as a philoso-

BLAIR. 411

pber, this is the most useful method of proceeding. There
is much wild and rocky scenery about Garvie More ; but
it is scarcely such as to tempt an ordinary traveller from
the main road. All that I need say of Loch Laggan, is,
that the eastern extremity is somewhat picturesque, but
that it does not afford much variety of scenery. The
most remarkable feature is a rocky hill, split by a fissure
of great magnitude, and conveying a strong impression
of recent and sudden violence.

With the slight exception of Loch Garry, of which a
glimpse is afforded in proceeding from Dalwhinnie south-
wards, and which, any where else, would be unnoticed,
it is all a Dalwhinnie, not only to Dalnacardoch,but even
to the bridge of Erochie ; houseless, treeless, lifeless ;
wanting in every thing but barrenness and deformity,
while there is not even an object so much worse than
another, as to attract a moment's attention. Like life
itself in the same circumstances, it is as tedious in the
passage as it is disagreeable; but, when passed, leaving
no impressions of time or space. But it forms an admi-
rable introduction to Blair, which shortly breaks on the
eye like sun-rise after a stormy night. The first view of
this magnificent and rich valley is obtained near the
bridge of the Bruar, but it is still an imperfect one; and
it is one of the chief boasts of this place, that it proceeds
increasing in beauty till the moment at which we part
with it entirely. Those who may visit it from the south,

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 31 of 37)