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 36 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 36 of 37)
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on one side, high above, larch and fir continue the forest
to the sky, and, on the other, the mountain outline is
formed by the lofty and finely flowing lines of Ben-y-
gloe, contrasting, by their nakedness, the splendid
richness of the valley and the variety of the lower de-

The farm offices here form a highly ornamental and
appropriate object; similar in design to those at Dun-
keld, and to those which occur, very unexpectedly, in
the remote island of Rasay. It would be unjust not to
point out the merits of their architect, Stewart, when
others have been here shown up for punishment. Here,
there is elegance without expense, and ornament without
ornaments. All the beauty lies in the proportions ; in the
purity of the taste; and, on the same uncostly terms,
may all the beauty required of rural architecture be
everywhere obtained. " Something there is, more need-
ful than expense;" and indeed I know not where the
principles of that art which has here so often come under
review, are better laid down than in Pope's epistle to
Lord Burlington. The artist has the command and


cLoice ofronii and colour; and, on the good and the bad
in these, every thing depends. Such buildings are neces-
sary, and it is a grievous error that does not render what
is necessary, ornamental. It is a still greater act of folly
to conceal them. They belong to tbe character of British
landscape: and it is not by Greek temples and Follies that
we are to embellish our rural scenery, but by the struc-
tures which appertain to its nature and essence. We are,
especially, a rural people; and it is to our houses, our
lodges, our farms, our stables, and even our dog ken-
nels, that we should look for our ornamental architec-
ture, since the numbers of our churches and our bridges
must be limited. If proprietors knew, and artists would
reflect, how much could be done for this end, without
unnecessary expense, how little depends on mere ex-
penditure, our landscape would assume a far different
character from what it does at present, and we should
everywhere trace, not only the occupations of our coun-
try, but its taste; instead of being pained, sometimes by
deformity and sometimes by desertion.

For some miles along the course of the Tilt, the
scenery continues equally rich and still more various ; the
road passing through dense groves, or skirting the margin
of this picturesque and wild stream, or opening into green
meadows where the woods are sometimes seen towering
in a continuous sheet to the sky, and, at others, scattered
over the sides of the hills in a thousand intricate forms.
Innumerable torrents and cascades fall along their de-
clivities, adding, with the numerous bridges which cros&
them, much to the beauty of the scenes ; as do the roads,
which, winding about the hills in various directions, dis-
play those traces of human life, the want of which is so
often felt in Highland scenery. Thus there are formed
numerous landscapes, all distinguished by peculiarity of



character, as they are by their wild beauty. But these
characters are even better seen from the two roads which
are conducted above the glen at a high level. Each of
these displays many striking- landscapes of this valley, as
they do also of the valley of Blair; often including, in
the distance, the long- and varied ridge of Ferrogon and
Schihallien, and the more remote Highland mountains of
Loch Ericht. On these several scenes I cannot pretend
to dwell ; as Glen Tilt might, in itself, afford amusement
for many days.

Though the height of Cairn Gower, the hig-hest sum-
mit of Ben-y-gloe, is estimated at 3700 feet, it nowhere,
at hand, appears so high, from the great height of the
land in which it is entangled. It is only when viewed
from the distant eminences, from Schihallien or Ben
Lawers, that it is seen towering- above all the rest. The
ascent is easy, particularly from the south ; but the view
is quite uninteresting; presenting- but one continued sea
of mountains, among- which, nearly all are so equally
marked, that the particular characters of any one pass
unnoticed. From this remark, however, must be ex-
empted the mountains that lie about the sources of the
Dee ; their bold and broken precipices of granite being-
strongly distinguished, no less by their wild forms and
savage aspect, than by the snow which never melts in
their deep recesses.

On this mountain is found, in abundance, one of our
rarest and most elegant of alpine plants, the Azalea pro-
enmbens, as it also is on the range of hills opposite. The
neighbourhood of Blair is, indeed, a tempting field for
the botanist. Near the dense and trailing cushions of
this delicate shrub, and even among its bright crimson
flowers, it is not unusual to find the rare Rubus arctica
with its elegant berry, and the still rarer Cornus snecica.


The Rubus clmmaemorus, and the more ordinary alpine
plants, are found in profusion ; and, in one place, there
is a miniature forest of the Betula nana ; a plant almost
limited to this spot. The rare Lichen nivalis occurs all
over Ben-y-gloe, as it does on Cairn Gorm ; and, on
Ben Derig, the Lichen islandicus almost covers the
ground in some places; while the more ordinary alpine,
shrubby and imbricated plants of this tribe, abound every-
where upon the higher hills. On the calcareous skirts of
Glen Tilt, the Dryas, with the Satyrium viride and hir-
cinum and some other rare Orchidese are seen every-
where; and here, even in the bed of the stream, at a
lower elevation than I have ever elsewhere seen it, the
rocks are covered with the long- trailing stems and bril-
liant crimson flowers of the Saxifraga oppositifolia. Here
also, as in Shetland, the cushioned Silene acaulis grows
at a low level; while there are few of the alpine Saxi-
frages which are not found somewhere : the golden
flowers of the Autumnalis decorating every rill and cas-
cade, a treasure in itself when all the plants of the sum-
mer have vanished. In the wet grounds above, the
Anthericum calyculatum occurs in profusion, as does the
Trollius, a plant far from common in Scotland. About
Blair, the delicate starry flower of the Trientalis is the
daisy of the heaths and woods; as the two commoner
Pyrolse emulate the lily of the valley in profusion, as
they do in odour. In the fir woods also, the very rare
Pyrola secunda abounds; and, near the Fender, I found
the most rare of our plants, the Convallaria verticillata,
only known as yet in one other place, near Dunkeld. Of
the Fungi, the parks and woods of Blair are a perfect
magazine ; containing almost every Agaricus that exists,
together with a great number of species in all the other

H Il2


From Ben y gloe towards the Bruar and the Geonly,
lies tlie extensive forest of Atholl, a portion of this dis-
trict, the Adtheodle and Gouerin of some ancient geogra-
phers, the Athochlach of the Colbertine manuscript. It
is a wild mountain range ; a forest, only in the sense of
the chace ; containing about an hundred thousand Eng-
lish acres, and allotted to deer. Till lately, it contained
the chief, indeed almost the sole remains of these ani-
mals, now extending over the contiguous estates of the
Duke of Gordon, Lord Fife, and Invercauld ; and it is
estimated to possess about six thousand. Here is a sur-
viving specimen of the taste and occupation, I may almost
say of the population, of ancient Scotland ; producing
amusement instead of profit, and occupying the room of
nearly 20,000 sheep. But that concerns not us who fatten
on the well-fed haunch, and who rouse the noble stag
from his wild lair in the mountain. Taylor, the waterman
and pedestrian, has told the world his adventures ; and
Pennant, among many more, has transcribed Pitscottie's
account of the Earl of Atholl's magnificent hunting party.
Such huntings cannot now befall ; but the deer do not
rest in peace, nor does the hospitable board of the modern
Duke ever cease to smoke, beneath venison as abundant
and wine as profuse, as ever the ancient Earl placed upon
it. Four lodges, situated in different parts of this forest,
afford convenient stations for the hunters, and not a day
throughout the whole season passes in repose. It is a
noble sight to watch the army as it advances over the
brow of the hill, with all its forest of horns, like a winter
wood, on the sky, to see it smoke along the face of the de-
clivity, with its long train of vapour, ascending, as from
a furnace, to mix with the mists of the mountain. It is a
noble sight too, to uncouple the rough deer hounds, to
bring the lofty animal to bay, to see him with his bacli to


the precipice, or perched on a rock in the midst of the
foaming torrent, looking disdainfully at the dogs, who,
afraid to advance on him, make the hills and valleys ring
with the echoes of their long and deep baying. Nor is
the last scene of all to be disdained ; when, after the mist
and the moor, the hot sun, the wild shower, and the keen
blast of the hills, the white towers of Blair are seen gleam-
ing in the last rays of the twilight, and when, amidst
splendour and plenty, surrounded by elegance and beauty,
the triumphant haunch is placed on the welcome table.

Thus much of the philosophy of Glen Tilt can be ap-
preciated by all the world. What remains, belongs to
those who seek their pleasures in other quarries than the
quarry of a wounded deer. The geology of Glen Tilt is
far too abstruse for you and me ; partners as we are in
the present adventure ; you to read, and 1 to write ; your
duty to read all that I do write, and mine to take care
that I write nothing which you may be tempted, most
ungratefully, to skip. He who would not be skipped,
must take care that he writes nothing skippable. But
beautiful marbles and beautiful specimens are every one's
business ; and in these Glen Tilt abounds. The quarries
that have been opened, render them visible to all. Is it
not odd that in this country of ours, the land of philoso-
phers and ologists of all kinds, the land of Huttonian
theories, and of disputes as fierce as ever were the homoi-
ousian and the homoousian squabbles. Glen Tilt should
have been made of marble, that it should have had bridges
of marble, and that its marbles should have remained un-
known, though the scenes of geological examinations and
dissertations without end, till I, even I, thought fit to fire
at an enormous stag three yards off and missed him.
Such, says the philosopher M'hose optical range is limited
to his nose, is the history of all discovery : Me look for a


mouse and we find a mountain. But such, says the
seaman, a truer philosopher, is the consequence of keep-
ing a bright eye to windward. Yet thus 1 missed the deer.
While the green marble of Glen Tilt is exceeded by few
foreign kinds in beauty, its minerals are also numerous and
beautiful ; including, among- many more, huge rocks of
that rare substance Salite, and the largest, the most splen-
did, and the most numerous varieties of that most brilliant
of minerals, Tremolite, which the world has ever produced.
If Glen Tilt displays, in its mountain torrents, the
power of water in cutting through solid rocks, these also
preserve some histories of past days, which, but for that
aid, might have slept in peace. Did I wish to preserve
my name for posterity, I would as lieve lose my puddings
at Alt na marag-, as be the incendiary of Ephesus. " That
is the pudding burn," said Mac Intyre the forester. I
thought of plum puddings or black puddings; I ought
to have been thinking perhaps of plum pudding stone;
but each way I should have been wrong. Cumin, (they
were all alike,) thinking it proper to envy Mac Intosh of
Tirinie, attacked him in his castle of Tomafuir, murdered
the family, and took possession of his estates. This is
what the admirers of the Highland Libitina call honour-
able warfare. But one child was saved by a tenant called
the Bigstone Carle, and placed under the care of Camp-
bell of Achnabreck in Argyllshire. It is pleasing to find
some good among all this bad. When Owen had grown
up, he proved to be an expert bowman, and proceeded to
Blair to revenge his father's death. Cumin was routed
and chased up Glen Tilt ; where, in the pursuit, one of
his followers, blowing his nose, (thus minute and Homeric
are the particulars,) it was shot off and fell into a stream,
now called Alt an sroin, the brook of the nose. "The
puddings of another," said Mac Intyre, were " let out" at


Alt namaiag. As to the Cumin himself, his hand was nailed
to his head by an arrow, as he was wiping the sweat from
his brow, and his cairn is still shewn at Loch Lochs.

At Forest Lodge, Glen Tilt becomes a bare valley,
bounded on both sides by steep and lofty hills; and thus
it continues for many miles, seeming almost to lengthen
as we go. From the upper part of this portion, it pre-
sents an extraordinary spectacle, prolonged almost be-
yond reach of the eye, an uniform^ deep, straight
section of the country ; a ditch to guard and separate a
world. Some parts of the road here are sufficiently
fearful to an unpractised traveller ; being a mere sheep
track along the side of the hill, high above the bottom
of the valley, and the declivity being so steep as to appear
like a precipice to the inexperienced. The ford of Tarff,
who is quite as furious and uncontroulable at times as
his horned namesake, will serve the purpose of drowning
a man, as effectually as any ford 1 ever saw in my
life. This seems to have been a favourite name for
rivers ; or a comparison at least : " sic tauriformis volvitur
Aufidus." He who escapes the bogs that lie between the
Tarff and the Dee, will do better than he who escapes
the Tarff alone ; and he who crosses all the fords of the
Dee in safety, will do best of all. Why there should be
so many fords on one river, I did not at first discover : a
wiser man will take care that he does not cross one of
these convolutions, till he is quite sure that he will not
be compelled to cross the second, and as many more as
shall happen ; and he will also keep an account of the
odd and even numbers, lest, like me, he finds himself,
after crossing four of them at the risk of his carcase, on
the same side of the river that he commenced from.

With all my efforts, and all my Pagan love of high
places, I cannot trace the springs of the Dee for you :

472 !MA«.

I never could reach the summits of these mountains. 1
have been about and about them, many times ; but in
vain. I had calculated that all Highland impediments
were to consist in rain, and I never expected to find the
very grass of the mountains converted into dust. Far
and wide had I travelled before this, in search of High-
land dust, and often as I had been in Mar, I would
willingly have given gold dust, if I had had any to give,
for the dust Montaigne complained of, or for the clouds
which attended Lot and Belisent, " for the poudre of
whose charging, no might man see sonne shining." One
entire July month did I wait to see the dust of Mar. But
he that travels in the Highlands must learn to " make
content with his fortunes fit." At lengfth, however, the
shower ceased, or seemed to cease. I met a shepherd.
" Will it rain to-day." " Na,Sir, it's a fine day, — but it
rains here every day." Then you have no dust in this
country." — "Dust!" said the shepherd: enough, I
thought, and rode on. I arrived at Braemar. I was re-
ceived by the Maid, by Peggy : the ground was stream-
ing water through all its channels. " Pray did it rain
here yesterday." — " Oh no, Sir, it has not rained here
these many days." — " Why, then, are the roads so wet."
— " Oh, Sir, it rained last night." — Admirable distinction.
But at last Aquarius was departed and gone, to Fort
William, or elsewhere; the sky was burning and blue,
the grass itself was dust, the rivers had left their beds,
or remained at peace in their mountain springs, and the
waterfalls had ceased to roar. It is a trifle in the land-
scape that the waters under the firmament are all burnt
up, that the long grass of the lake is bleaching on its
hot shores, and the cascades mourning their fountains
dry. Let the rivers and lakes cream and mantle, and
the torrents run with stones. Let the Misses of Grosveuor


Square or Cranbouru Alley lament the emptiness of the
waterfalls, so that we are smothered in the dusty whirl-
wind, and that the dogs are lolling out their tongues and
running mad for want of water. Thus would I see the
Highlands ; and thus, at length, I saw Mar, even Mar.
It was in 1819. But it was as impossible to ascend the
hills as if they had been made of ice. Thus I was pre-
vented ascending Ben Avon and Lochan na gar by the
sun, as I had often before been prevented by mist and
rain. But the infant Dee is a bare and wild torrent
without interest. It is not till near Mar lodge, at the
rapids commonly called the Linn of Dee, that it begins
to assume any beauty; but hence, as far at least as Ban-
chory, it amply compensates for all former wants; being
rivalled by few of our rivers, while it resembles none.
While the structure of the landscape is marked by its
magnificence of design, it is no less distinguished by
its peculiarity. It is like nothing else. Neither the
Tay nor the Spey, in any of their numerous branches,
offer the least resemblance to it. Though the glen is
narrow and the mountains lofty, they are totally unlike
those which bound the Tumel or the Lyon; and though
the peculiarities of its character depend chiefly on the
fir and the birch which form its woods, these do not
here produce the same system of landscape as they do
about Rothiemurchus and Kinrara. Yet the Dee is un-
known, except to the citizens of Aberdeen, who come
here to wash off the rust of the counter and the smoke
of the shop, and who probably hold it in much the same
estimation as the cockneys do a trip to Margate or an
expedition to Richmond.

Before reaching Castletown from the west, the gene-
ral valley presents many splendid landscapes, of what
may be called vale scenery. Whatever of richness the


straths formerly described may show, no one of them dis-
plays any where that wildly alpine boundary, at once dis-
tant and lofty, which characterizes the vale scenery of the
Dee. The river also, winding through green meadows, is
everywhere skirted by trees of various kinds, which, whe-
ther solitary or in groups, cover the plain. As they rise up
the steep acclivities of the hills, the oak and the ash give
way to birch and to fir, which continue upwards to the
very limits of vegetation, in all the wildness of nature; suc-
ceeded by precipices and rocks, where a few solitary strag-
glers are still seen, adding ornament to their grey faces and
deep hollows, and lightening the outline on the sky.

Castletown is a wild, straggling village, scattered
amid rocks and rapid streams, and among a confusion
of all kinds, that seems as if it had been produced by the
subversion and wreck of a former landscape. Those who
enter it in the night, for the first time, will wonder
where they are, and what is to happen next. After a
house, you meet a plain, or a hillock, or a rock, or a
thundering river; and then there is a house again, or a
mill, or a bridge, or a sawpit. You follow some jack-a-
lantern of a light, and when you think it is close at hand,
you find yourself separated by a ravine : all around you
are lights, you cannot conjecture where, with the roar-
ing of water, and the noises of saw-mills and fulling
mills, and when the village seems to be at an end three
or four times, it begins again. I thought of Sancho and
his mills more than once, and, when the day broke, was
not much less surprised than I had been in the night.

If I have told you how you may dine at Kinloch
Rannoch and elsewhere, I am bound in honour also to tell
you, that you may dine at Castletown, of a dinner that
Apiciushiaiself might have eaten, if he had ridden through
Glen Tilt hither, and forded all the crooks of Dee. I am


of a very different opinion, as you have long seen, from
the old poet who says, " All wyes men will hald me
excusit, For never in land quhair Eriche was usit, To
dwell bad I delyte." There is abundance of " delyte" in
the Highlands ; even in their dinners, for those who do not
carry about them that which renders all appliances vaio.
The amiable Peggy who performs all the functions of this
place, was officious with her custards and her preserves,
and was mortified that I would not eat of them. Thus it
is ; when we were young and delighted in custard, we
were not allowed to eat it, and now that we are grown
old, and custard delights no longer, we may eat till we
burst. Thus, in other things than custard, by one false
system or other, the age of delight is made an age of
mortification, and when the period of inevitable mortifi-
cation is at length arrived, we are pestered with happi-
ness which we can no longer enjoy. There is no want of
plausible pretences to restrain the enjoyments in which
the happiness of childhood exclusively consists, by con-
finement, privation, study, punishment ; what not. But
we are to be tormented in early youth, that we may
better bear the disappointments which are to be our lot
hereafter. They will arrive soon enough : and is the well-
flogged breech less sensible to a kick than that which is
unprosodied, unannealed. Will not the head that ached
at fourteen, ache at forty also. And will the tooth indeed
live to be hollow to which the sugarcandy is forbidden.
It is not a matter of indifference whether the years of
childhood are spent in happiness or misery. Let the age
of tops and sugar plums have its adapted enjoyments :
the time will soon come when we shall say, I have no
pleasure in them. Is it that life is so filled with enjoy-
ment that our whole attention should be sedulously
turned to appropriate checks. But it is the dregs of the


Ascetic system. Because we like wine we must drink
water: because we prefer a soft bed we must sleep on a
hard one, we must walk for exercise when we would
rather sit still, and eat horse because we delight in wood-
cock. And this is the road to heaven, say the Francis-
cans and the Flagellants. And Nature fabricates pine-
apples and venison and eiderdown to tempt us to our
destruction. There is a better and a better temperea
philosophy than this. There is — there will be a disserta-
tion if I do not stop ; and thus end my Meditations on a
custard. Harvey would have made more of it.

Notwithstanding the occasional deliberation of Peggy,
it is still a pleasure to find a female attendant in these
Highland inns, instead of the clumsy, half sober, half
dressed, male Highland animal who affects the manners
of a Bath waiter, — quantum distans, — and who is now
fast usurping the place so much better filled everywhere
by the charming sex. This affectation of quality here,
is most ludicrous : but it is amusing too to trace the pro-
gress of refinement, in this matter, as in every thing else.
In the primitive hostelry, the traveller who walks in at
night, wet and wearied, is received with civility and
treated with kindness. If he chance to come with a horse,
alacrity itself is exhausted for his reception. In the
second stage of refinement, the pedestrian is received
with coldness, and civility is reserved for the man who
rides or drives a horse ; while worship is paid to him who
comes in a chaise and pair. It is not long before the inn-
keeper learns to scan from head to foot the man who at-
tempts to walk into his inn : he who comes on a sole
horse must call the ostler twice, and the waiter is reserved
for him who drives boldly up in the sounding chaise. It
must thunder with four horses, however, before it can
bring the landlady and her whole establishment to the


gate. As pride and wealth increase, the pedestrian is
refused admittance, the horseman, neglected, turns away
elsewhere, the chaise and pair drive to the other Lion,
the four horses are barely welcomed ; but the dignity of
the landlord is consoled by the barouche and four and
the coronet. In time, his ambition rises to two mounted
servants and an outrider, and the end is the Gazette and
*he King's Bench.

The castle of Braemar is perfectly French ; a pepper-
box square, with a high roof, and within a wall. It
would have no analogy to the scenery if it was even

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 36 of 37)