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

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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 4 of 37)
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moment that he says " the Roman fleet is hovering on
our coasts." That Stonehaven must be the place, be-
comes therefore a simple case of dilemma; because none
other will answer all the conditions. As to the positive
class of proofs, from the prolongation of the Roman sta-
tions hither through Strathmore, and from the camp at
Arduthy, I need not enter on them.

But I must take my leave of Agricola, Sir Robert
Sibbald, and the Grampians ; but not without naming
Dunnotter, as that would be an absolute crime. If the
buildings had any character, or bore any relation or pro-
portion to the noble rock on which they stand, this would
be the pride of Scottish castles. It is almost that now;
for even the mean, confused fragments and walls, are
almost overlooked in contemplating the magnificent di-
mensions and disposition of the lofty mass on which they
stand. In some positions, indeed, they become grouped
in such a manner as to unite well with the general out-
line. This is particularly true in the view from the cliffs
near at hand, where the rock is seen below the horizontal


line of the sea; forming, in this position, one of the
grandest and most romantic scenes in this class of land-
scape, which it is possible to imagine.

Were Dunnotter castle not commanded from the
shore, it would not be easy to find a more impregnable
fortress, even in present warfare. Its former importance
is well known ; but its history is much longer than I can
here afford to trace. It is no small part of its reputation to
have been taken by Wallace in 1296. Nearly half a cen-
tury after, it was in Edward the Second's possession, and it
appears that he added much building to it. Again it was
taken by Sir Andrew Murray : and being besieged in the
civil wars, the church was burnt. This was the com-
mencement of its ruin ; which was CDmpleted to nearly
the state it now is, by the York Buildings Company,
which purchased and pulled down many of its buildings
in 1700. Thus have time, fanaticism, war, ignorance,
and poverty, all combined to rob Scotland of most of
its ancient records; while, respecting what remains,
its negligence seems to have been not much less than
its pride.



We must return to Dunkeld, for the purpose of pro-
gressing", as the new barbarians call it, along the banks
of the Tay. And he who does return hither from Stone-
haven or from Montrose, whether by Fettercairn and the
foot of the hills, or by Brechin and Forfar and Glann's
and Coupar, or intersecting the country by Kirriemuir,
or crossing it from Dundee, or from Dunsinnan castle,
(which by the bye never could have been the castle of
any Scottish king,) or in any other possible mode in
which Strathmore can be traversed or visited, will have
much occasion to congratulate himself in having made a
tour in Scotland of which he never heard ; nor any one
else. I believe I shall be obliged to write a tour book
myself for Strathmore too, some of these days; since I
have set up as a champion for so much of Scotland al-
ready. The world seems scarcely to have heard that there
was such a country as Strathmore, or such a river as the
Isla; and, certainly, was never told that three yards of
the Isla and its tributaries are worth all the Tweed put
together, and that three miles of it are worth the whole of
the Clyde and the Don ; besides Esks, and Galas, and
Etricks,and Avons, out of number, which have been sung
and said to very weariness, and which have little other
claim to notice than what they derive from an old song.
There is much in an old song : a great deal too much ; as


many other persons than poets and politicians know. Isia
is unsung; while every one knows Gala water and bonny
Doon : in song at least ; as few would think of looking
for them any where else. And thus too when the tune-
ful race thinks fit to sing of Tay, it must talk of the
" pleasanter banks of the Tweed." If this is poetical jus-
tice, we cannot have too little of it. But this is not the
fate of rivers alone ; for more false maxims, false philo-
sophy, and false morality, have been propagated and fixed
by two or three pair of rhymes, than by as many swords,
sermons, or syllogisms.

The same traveller, at the same time, cannot contrive
to leave Dunkeld for Strath Tay by both its roads. He
must manage that, however, in the best way he can ; but
I must do it at present. Speaking by the road book,
the western is the road to Loch Tay, and the eastern leads
to Blair; and both have their beauties. By the western,
we see once more the beautiful scenery beneath Craig
Vinean, its narrowest part presenting two or three land-
scapes of great magnificence, and the whole road being,
for some miles, unusually rich. At Dalguise, there is a
mountain cascade that well deserves a visit ; but though
the road itself abounds, even to the flexure of the valley,
in much beautiful close scenery, the views of this splen-
did vale are far more perfect from the western, or the
Blair road. Along this line, the spectator may trace a
considerable part of the plantations formed here by the
Duke of Atholl ; but those who are interested in this de-
partment of rural economy, will find a wider scope for
their observations beyond the summits of Craig-y -barns.
The plantations of Scotch fir are very extensive; but this
tree has long since been abandoned, in favour, first of
larch exclusively, and, now, of larch and spruce toge-
ther; the latter wood occupying (hose lower and moister


spots which are unfavourable to the growth of the other.
The two larches, whence the taste for planting that wood
first originated here, are still flourishing on the lawn at
Dunkeld : noble trees, of ninety feet stature and of the
same breadth, and with an extreme circumference of
nearly fifteen feet. So little was this tree known when
first introduced in 1738, that these two plants were first
placed in the greenhouse. The total number of trees
planted by this very active cultivator, amounts to about
thirty millions; and the plantations of Dunkeld alone,
which are still in progress, cover eleven thousand acres.
How the country has been thus converted, in this place,
from a brown rocky desert to what it now is, is too plain
to be indicated ; and what it is yet to effect, will be ob-
vious to those who examine the young woods that are
shooting up. It is something to have done this, were it
only for beauty ; but it is much more, thus to have
added to the public and private resources of the country.
The larch has already been used in ship-building, so
that its value is ascertained : but it has been also disco-
vered to possess an advantage that was unforeseen, in
reducing the barren and brown hills to green pastures.
Within twenty years, all the heaths, rushes, and former
vegetation of the mountains disappear; and the ground
among the woods thus becomes green, and applicable to
the feeding of cattle, so as, from a former value of a few
pence, to produce a rent of many shillings for the acre.

To return now to the western road, the first remark-
able object is the narrow rocky pass, called the King's
Pass, which opens suddenly on a view of this valley ;
producing at first a dazzling effect, and no part being
more striking than the dark depth of wood through
which the Tay winds, silent, black, and majestic, far
below. The huge fragments of fallen rock, and the trees


that spring- from their crevices, render the pass itself a
scene of considerable interest ; and, among these rocks,
tradition still shews a fissure, said to have been the den
of an ancient Highland Caciis, called Duncan Hogg. He
is reputed to have dragged the cows which he lifted,
to this hole; to devour them, like a hyrena, at his lei-
sure. There is much virtue in a term : liftinq, sanctifies
the robberies of Duncan Hogg, as it did the whole breed
of Cearnachs, when stealinrf would have destined them
to a halter; the language changed, the matter still the
same. Thus, it is said, that Duncan would not have
taken a purse on the same road on which he would have
lifted a cow, as being a dishonourable term.', although
we have never been informed where there were any
purses to be taken in the Highlands, unless it were
an empty spleuchan. To be portable and useful, formed
the chief merit of the pecus; and the pecunia, it is
likely, had it been to be lifted, would not have been
much more sacred. It is very plain, that as Duncan
could not possibly have dragged the whole carcase
into his inconvenient lair, he must have had recourse
to the delicate expedient of pulling it limb from limb.
Doubtless, it is very proper and necessary that this
practice should be revived, as well as the wearing- of
kilts ; and as meetings and olympic games for the dismem-
berment of living cattle have been already founded, we
must shortly look to see a new society established, under
some triply-compounded Greek term, which I will not
suggest, lest I should rob it of any portion of its rights.

There are matters in the King's Pass better worth
examining than Duncan Hogg's Hole. It is easy to
trace an excavation in the rock, which must have once
formed a cascade in the Tay. At a somewhat lower
level, on the other side of the small hill on the left called



the King's Seat, there is a similar mark no less distinct ;
and in the pass of Birnani, at Newtyle Quarries, there is
a third, equally corresponding in elevation, and thus
serving to prove that this general level once formed the
course and bed of the Tay. These appearances are
analogous to those before pointed out at the Hermitage,
which equally indicate the former altitude of the Braan.
Now, in examining the ground at Dunkeld, it will be
seen, that, high above the town, there is a flat alluvial
terrace, and that a similar set of terraces exists on the
opposite side of the river. It will also be found that the
levels of these correspond on both sides ; indicating that
they have been produced by the same causes and at the
same time, and that they are the remains of a once con-
tinuous alluvial plain. Further investigation will shew,
that similar terraces extend through the pass of Birnam;
while, above the King's Pass also, they may be traced
as far as Logierait, and even further, if it were necessary
for the present purpose. Such interruptions as they
undergo, can be explained by the passage of lateral
streams from the hills, or by the peculiarities of the
ground, or by the varying position of the Tay in shifting
its place sideways and alternately, during the operation
of sinking from its higher to its present level. Thus,
having once flowed on a higher strath, it has at length
sunk to its present stage ; carrying before it all the land
that has been removed, to form the Carse of Gowrie, and
thus to convert sea into land.

That this is the true explanation is most evident. It
has been thought that Strath Tay once formed a lake,
which, breaking its barriers at the Pass of Birnam, left
the river where we now see it: a supposed case resem-
bling what is the true one in Glen Roy. But it is plain
that, under such a supposition, the river could not have


left those traces in the rocks which I have just pointed
out, as these imply its flowing- at the higher lerel ; while,
as these marks correspond in elevation to the terraces, it
follows that both are equally implicated in the present

The height of this ancient level may be taken at about
100 feet above the present bed of the river; and thus,
while it is easy to see how far the Tay has sunk, it would
not be very difficult to compute the quantity of land or
earth that has been removed and carried forward towards
the sea. When we look at this enormous waste, we need
not be surprised at the formation of the Carse of Gowrie,
nor at the deposits which are still augmenting- it : shoal-
ing the sea about Dundee, and laying the foundations of
new meadows. For this operation is still going on, and
must go on as long as the Tay shall continue to flow ;
though diminishing in rapidity, as the declivity,and con-
sequent velocity, of the river itself diminish. If it is
curious to speculate on the period when Perth, had it
then existed, must have been a sea port, and when the
narrow Tay, far above and below it, was a wide arm of
the ocean, it is not less so to consider Avhat the aspect
of Strath Tay itself was, when the present place of
Dunkeld was buried deep beneath the earth. Nor is it
difficult, even to see what it must have been. By laying
our eye on any of the terraces, it is easy to bring the
opposed one in the same plane, and thus to exclude all
the valley beneath : reducing it once more to what it was
when the river was flowing above. These speculations,
thus pursued, may interest the artist, as well as the
geologist and the geographer: since, not only here, but
in every deep valley of the Highlands, he would, in
making such trials, be at a loss to recognize, in the
original shallow and rude glen, the spacious and rich


valley which is now the seat of beauty and cultivation.
Contemplating", in this manner, not only the Highland
mountains and valleys, but those of the world at large,
we are lost in the magnitude of the changes which have
carried the ruins of the Himala to the mouths of the
Ganges, which, from the sediments of the Nile, have
formed the land of Egypt, and which have created, out
of the lofty ridges of America, the plains that now form
so large a portion of its continent.

From the King's Pass, even to Moulinearn, the whole
of this ride is one continued landscape, ever splendid in
the distance, and equally rich and amusing in the closer
ornaments of the road. If, to this space often miles, we
add the ten which extend from Moulinearn to Blair, we
may fairly say that no twenty miles in all Britain can be
compared to it, for the variety, the continuity, and the
magnificence of its scenery. While the lower portion,
now under review, is scarcely equalled for beauty and
richness by any of the Highland straths, it displays many
general landscapes well adapted for painting, and so
strongly marked with their own peculiar characters, a&
to be distinguished from all other analogous scenes; But
the most complete general notion of this portion of Strath
Tay, will be formed from a situation somewhat elevated,
near the Duke of Atholl's farm, which also affords one of
the most splendid landscapes upon this portion of the
river. Indeed, tvith the exception of Stirling, there is
scarcely a place in Scotland which presents a view of
vale scenery, at once so spacious, so rich, so grand, and
so easily admitting of being formed into a picture. The
broadest part of the valley, for a space of about six
iftfles, is here detailed before the eye so minutely, that
every part of its various ornament is seen in the most
advantageous manner; the Tay winding along from its


junction with the Tumel, through its bright meadows in-
terspersed with trees, till it rolls along, deep among its
wooded banks, a majestic and silent stream beneath our
feet. On each hand rises a long- screen of varied hills,
covered with woods in every picturesque form ; the whole
vista terminating" in the remoter mountains, which,
equally rich and various, are softened by the blue haze
of the distance, as they close in above the pass of Kil-

This general view, varied in many ways by changes
of level and of position, forms the basis of the landscape
for some miles; but so great are the changes in the mid-
dle grounds, and so various the foregrounds, that although
the same leading* character is preserved, the separate
scenes are always strongly distinguished. Many distinct
pictures can thus be obtained, and each of them perfectly
adapted for painting; so that Strath Tay is here an object
to charm every class of spectator ; him who desires to see
every thing preserved in his portfolio, and him who seeks
for nothing in Nature but beauty, come under what form it
may. Nor must I forget to remark, that many minor land-
scapes, of narrow or close scenery, occur on the road side,
among- the infinitude of objects, ravines, bridges, rivers,
mills, houses, farms, woods, and trees of the most luxuriant
growth, which border it through all this space. The
small village of Dowally, among- other points, will par-
ticularly attract attention in this respect, indepen-
dently of its two tall monumental stones, which are here
imagined to be, as usual, Druidical. While on this sub-
ject, I may also mention, that there is a small circle in a
field north of Pitlochrie, and that a larger one occurs in
the western division of Strath Tay, not far from the road.
In addition to the landscape scenery of this most en-
gaging ride, it presents, in June, a spectacle of united


splendour and luxuriance which is unparalleled, in the
brilliant profusion of broom which, then in full blossom,
covers, like a dense grove of gold, all the sandy terraces
which, beyond Dowally, hang over it. Nor is it a small
pleasure, to witness, in the cottages of the swarm of
tenants which crowds it, those marks of comparative opu-
lence and of attention to comfort, which seem always
connected, and which are so rarely seen in the remoter
Highlands. Happiness may perhaps be equally distri-
buted among both; but we cannot help imagining that
where there is the aspect of negligence and poverty, there
must be less ; and we are at least the happier ourselves,
in contemplating the presence of the elements of comfort
and of comparative enjoyment. Such will the Highlands
be more widely, as example shall spread ; since there is
nothing here but what the same industry might effect in
many other places where it is yet unknown.

Logierait is the place which marks, alike, the junction
of the Tay and the Tumel, and the divergence of their
two valleys ; and it is accessible by a ferry from the west-
ern road. As there is also a road to Loch Tay on the
north side of the river, by the way of Weem, a travel-
ler may make his election in this matter, and will pro-
bably, if he should try both, be unable to determine
which is the most entertaining. The remains of the
regality court of Atholl arc still to be seen at Logierait;
a building once so spacious as strongly to mark the feu-
dal importance of this great family. It is said, I know
not with what truth, that Robert the second once resided
here, and also that it was an occasional residence of
Alexander the third.

Though the western and upper branch of Strath Tay is
not perhaps equal in splendour to the lower and southern
one,itstiIl maintains the same character ofrichnessthrough-



out; while, instead of the flat extended meadows which
mark the latter, it displays a considerable undulation of
g-round. Thus the vale of the Tay, from Dunkeld even to
Kenmore,a space of twenty-five miles,is a continued scene
of beauty; a majestic river winding- through a highly
wooded and cultivated country, with a lofty and some-
what parallel mountain boundary, which is itself cultivat-
ed as far as cultivation is admissible, and is everywhere
covered with continuous woods, or trees, as high as wood
can well grow. It contains, of course, much picturesque
scenery; presentingnotonly landscapes of a partial nature,
comprising reaches of the river, or transient views in the
valley produced by the sinuosities of the road, but dis-
playing the whole to its furthest visible extremity, under
aspects which are varied by the casual variations of level
or position, or by the accidental compositions of the fore
and middle grounds. Where Ben Lawers is seen tower-
ing above all in the remotest distance, these views are
peculiarly magnificent; nor is any thing ever wanting
which the artist could require to give fulness and interest
to the nearer parts of the landscape, where, after all, the
chief interest must always lie. I must however remark,
that as a picturesque ride, this line has suffered much by
the change from the ancient military line to the new turn-
pike road; which, being conducted upon a lower and more
uniform level, has deprived the traveller through this part
of the valley, of many of the beauties which it formerly ex-
hibited. Those who have it in their power, should therefore
chuse the old road, which is still practicable, and which,
in particular, opens those spacious and general views in
which so much of the grandeur of Strath Tay consists.

I believe it is but just to say, that Strath Tay is, in
point of splendour and richness, the first of the Scottish
valleys. This remark, however, implies a comparison,


only with those which correspond with it in general
character and extent, and it bears a reference, at the same
time, to its dimensions. There are others which are
equally brilliant, and more picturesque, for a short space ;
but there are none which, through so continuous an ex-
tent as twenty miles, preserve that character unim-
peached. With Strathmore, it cannot be compared at
all; because that is a district rather than a single valley.
To the valley of the Forth, lying between Menteith and
the sea, it is assuredly superior; although the compa-
rison, in this case also, is not very easily or properly
made. That of the Clyde, is out of the question. So is
Strathspey ; since its beauty lies in so very limited a
space. The valley of the Tumel, from the junction of
these great rivers to that of the Garry, is too narrow to
admit of a just comparison ; and the next five miles are
a still narrower glen. That portion of this valley which
contains the lake, is equally splendid perhaps, but then
it is not more than five miles long ; and the same may be
said of the valley of Blair. The vale of the Dee at
Invercauld, is unquestionably more grand, and, for a
space, equally rich ; but the splendour of this also,
scarcely occupies one third of the length through which
that of Strath Tay extends.

Thus as the Tay is the largest of our rivers, it is also
their pride. This portion of its course alone, from Loch
Tay to Dunkeld, would render it so, independently of the
richness and brilliancy, of a far different character,
which occur in some parts of its course from Birnam to
Perth, which attend it at that beautifully situated town,
and which accompany it hence to the sea. If we were to
include with it, its tributary streams, even omitting the
Tumel, the picturesque scenes which would thus belong*
to it, would be increased to an incalculable extent. We

E 2


may even exclude the Lyon and the Isla; and there
would still be much remaining, in the smaller tributaries
which join it in various parts of its course. If Loch Tay
be considered, what it truly is, a collector of tributes to
the Tay, the extent, and complication, and distance of
its sources, will appear quite extraordinary. It is in-
deed the many-headed Tay ; and it is from this cause that
there is less inequality in its stream than in that of the
Spey, or indeed of most of our rivers. This variety of
origin affords a compensation of rain, by which, except in
seasons of extreme drought, a sufficient altitude and bulk
of water for beauty is always preserved : while the vary-
ing distances of these sources also, prevent its floods,
however high, from being as sudden as those of the Spey
or the Dee. The map will show the extent of country
which it drains, from the north, the west, and the east;
and also the variety and extent of the ground which it
traverses by means of all its contributing branches.
Thus we can see from what various and widely separated
districts, the materials which are employed in shoaling the
firth of Tay, and in laying the foundation of new lands,
or in augmenting those already deposited, are collected :
while, from the extent and bulk of these additions, we
can also explain the rapidity of this process, which will
probably, in no great number of centuries, produce ef-
fectual obstructions to the port of Dundee.

But what the map does not explain, I have examined
on the ground itself; having traced every one of its
branches, even in their remote ramifications, and many
of them to their very springs. Thus, from the great va-
riety of the rocks through which they flow, we can ac-
count for the multiplicity of substances found in the bed
of the Tay towards Dunkeld and Perth ; while, in a few

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 4 of 37)