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 6 of 37)
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turesque ; affording many striking subjects for painting,
according to the different points whence it is viewed. I
care not though I pass for a Goth, in admiring what is
amenable to none of the former supposed receipts for
bridge building; for I still think that, to be picturesque,
is an essential quality of architecture, and particularly of
rural architecture, and that novelty and variety are as
essential to beauty as to pleasure in this art as in any
other. We are wearied with the incessant repetition of the
same style, and almost of the same objects, at least in that



architecture which we choose to consider classical. The
freemasons took a different and better view of this matter ;
but there is much to be done yet, before we shall get rid
of the pedantry of art and the servility of imitation.
Though Tay bridge had failed of its effect, it is no small
merit to have dared such a work. Being what it is, it
offers an example of what may yet be done in a line of
architecture which seemed to have been particularly ex-
hausted ; and if what I have been scribbling about it,
shall make it better known and more esteemed, I shall
not, as the boastful say, have written in vain. I cannot
help thinking that it has a strong savour of Gibbs or
Hawksmoor ; whom, with many barbarisms and failures,
it would be as well if we sometimes thought a little more
of imitating. But I shall be travelling out of the record
if I proceed.

As in the tablet at Dalwhinnie, and in many other
places, there is here a long and operose Latin inscription
from the pen of Dr. Friend, which relates how the military
roads were extended, over bogs and rocks, through a
space of two hundred and fifty " M. passuum ;" and how
this bridge was built over the indignant Tay, " indig-
nanti Tavo insultantem," with a courtly compliment to
his Majesty at the end : " Ecce quantum valeant Georgii
secundi auspicia." " Ultra Romanos terminos" too. The
Tay does not feel the least indignation at the matter, for
it is here remarkably tranquil ; and to say that the mili-
tary roads were carried so far beyond the Roman boun-
daries, is not true. A thousand years hence, when half
the letters shall be obliterated, some antiquary will be
puzzled to ascertain the name of the Legion and the
Prcefectus viaruni ; and may probably conclude that
Georgius was only a translation of Agricola; while, im-
proving on Sibbald and Chalmers, he will show that the



battle of the Grampians was fought at Aberfeldie. Why
could not all this have been told in plain English? If
we must be pedants, why not rather bonow from the
ancient than from the modern Babylon, and give the
record to the world in nail-head characters. It would
have the g-reater advantage of being- still less intelligible ;
and the only difference would be, that instead of apply-
ing to Dr. Friend, we must apply to Professor Grote-
fund. If the Highland Tay was to be insulted with a
bridge at all, it might as vreU have been insulted in the
language of its conquerors : for it was left to England
to do what Rome had attempted in vain. The very fact,
that a whole nation could not tell posterity that it had
built a bridge, without applying to the master of West-
minster school, renders the record as ridiculous as it is

Imagine yourself now at Kenmore : but imagine too
that you have now entered a narrow pass, among bold
hills and rich woods, that you are amid new scenery, and
that Loch Tay lies before you, stretching away broad and
bright, far towards the western sun.

F 2



I MUST diverge again from Kenmore, and from the
hackneyed track, to conduct you to scenery, which it is
peculiarly a disgrace to the herd of writers to have for-
gotten, because it is as accessible from this place, or from
Aberfeldie, as it is beautiful and various. I have already
named Glen Lyon as one of our finest valleys ; but it is
as little known as the Tumel ; much less indeed, and has
never, I believe, been yet visited by any traveller, or even
by any native unconnected with it. Though, to the upper
or proper valley of the Lyon, there is access beyond For-
tingal, from the Killin road, this mode of proceeding
would omit some of its principal beauties, which lie be-
tween its exit from that valley and its junction with the
Tay. It is also accessible by the military road from Tumel
bridge, but it is preferable to enter by Tay bridge or
from Kenmore ; each of these roads leading through the
rich scenery which attends the junction of the two rivers,
and each displaying this very ornamental country under
different views.

The ancient and ruined castle of Combra is only a
vulgar house, of the very worst style, and is rather a de-
formity than an ornament ; but higher up, at Coshiville,
is a station where a day may be spent, and where it
will seldom be spent to more purpose by an artist. Nor
is it interesting to an artist alone ; since there are few
places more uniformly beautiful in this particular style,
than the space contained between Garth castle on the


one hand, and Fortingal on the other; even indepen-
dently of the various landscapes which it affords. Though
the general character is that of a narrow alpine valley,
traversed by a deep and rocky stream of small dimen-
sions, the Keltnie burn, there are also some splendid views
of widely extended scenery, as well as much river land-
scape, on a close but larger scale, upon this portion of the
course of the Lyon.

Garth castle is the object which will naturally attract
most attention, nor will it easily attract more than it de-
serves. The building is, in itself, nothing, in an archi-
tectural view ; as it is merely a ruined square tower,
without appendages or variety. But it is an import-
ant object in the picture, in many positions, merely as an
object; while its interest in this respect, is much in-
creased by the romantic singularity of its position, and
by the moral interests and recollections that are always
attached to these buildings. It occupies what may be
called a lofty and acute promontory, at the confluence of
two streams running in deep rocky channels ; so that,
almost from its very base, on each hand, we look down a
perilous and perpendicular chasm, on waters so remote
that we do not hear them roaring below. Noble and an-
cient ash trees spring up all around ; in many places, hang-
ing from these lofty cliffs, and throwing their branches
and their drooping foliage high across the dark abyss.
Around, the hills sweep up on each side, wooded and cul-
tivated as far as wood and cultivation can reach ; and,
behind, stretching far away into the lofty and wild moor-
lands that decline from Schihallien. But this station,
more open in front, presents one of the most noble land-
scapes in the Highlands; extending down the ravine,
and over the valley, which declines rapidly from the eye,
carrying along its rocky and foaming stream amid trees


and precipices, till it disappears in the still richer course
of the Lyon. On each hand, the hills continue to rise in
the same bold sweep, but more wooded and more rich ;
while, in front, the fine woody hill which separates the
Lyon from the Tay, partly terminates the picture ; but,
yielding on one side, opens also to a distant sight of the
rich valley of the Tay, and of the ridge, no less rich and
various, which conveys the cascades of Moness. This
view will easily recall to mind that from Castle Campbell ;
as the position of the castle of Garth will also remind us
of that splendid place. It would be too great praise how-
ever, to say that it ranks with that, amongst the most
sublime of Scottish landscapes ; yet it is second to it, in
this particular style ; resembling it in variety and rich-
ness, but with far less magnificence, as well as with very
inferior dimensions in the essential parts : in the castle
itself, in the scale of the ground on which it stands, and
in the scenery within which it is more immediately in-

Each of the small streams now mentioned, but the
Keltnie in particular, after the junction, is the seat of
much beautiful scenery. After seeing so many hundreds
of rivers, I might have supposed their possibilities ex-
hausted, had I not known that the resources of nature are
unbounded. The character of the landscapes on this
little river, differs from all others in the same class; and
I know not how better to explain it, than by reminding
you, if you have chanced to see them, of a celebrated
picture of Rubens representing the termination of the
deluge, and of one of Titian, containing a single conspi-
cuous figure of a sleeping nymph. These are lofty objects
of reference ; but the landscapes which may be found in
this spot will justify it. The deep rocky bed of the
stream itself, offers numerous examples of close river


scenery, such as belongs to cascades : the water being*
rapid, and often beautifully broken by stones and insu-
lated rocks, the including precipices being infinitely va-
ried, and the fractures broad and graceful ; while all the
ornament and richness which trees can confer, are given
by the beautiful ashes, which spring from them, or tower
and close in from the banks and hills above. In the
deeper parts of the chasm, and most remarkably near the
castle, and in the rivers before their junction, the nar-
rowness of the ravine and the height of the sides, rising
perpendicularly, but irregularly, to the height of an hun-
dred teet, produce scenery of a still different character ;
resembling that of the celebrated rumbling bridge over
the Devon, and the equally well known one of the same
name near Dunkeld. But these views do not exhaust
the scenery on this entertaining river : as, from various
points, its peculiar landscapes become combined with
those of the glen through which it flows, so as to pro-
duce many pictures of a wider scope and of a distinct
character. Garth castle thus forms a very principal object,
in various modes and from many points ; but to detail
these would be useless labour. My object is attained
if I can induce you, or any one else, to add this place to
the general list of Scottish landscapes ; and as one which,
from its facility of access, as well as its beauty, ought to
find a place in every Highland tour.

The course of the Lyon between the junction of the
Keltnie and Fortingal, is also very beautiful, if not easily
amenable to the rules of landscape painting. The pro-
fusion of wood all through this valley, the narrowness
of the glen, the height of the hills, and the beauty of the
river itself, with the noble trees that hang over it, render
the whole space, short as it is, one which has not many
rivals in this country. There is also throughout it, a sin-


gular and unexpected air of seclusion, which adds much
to its charm; as if it were, in itself, a little world, un-
knowing and unknown. If these are things that can
produce happiness, I know not many places where a man
might be happier than at Garth ; and if all the scenery
which 1 have described belongs to its possessor, he may
well be proud of his dominions.

I have elsewhere mentioned, or, if I have not, I have
intended to do so, the accurate, and often minute and
extensive, geographical knowledge of the common High-
landers. This, in a people who are assuredly acute in
general, gives them an additional air of acuteness, to
travellers who may chance to require such information.
It is peculiarly striking to the mere inhabitant of towns,
who finds the ordinary lower classes, and often the higher
ones, utterly ignorant, even of the roads about their own
dwellings, and of the places to which they lead. I
chanced to be sitting on a limestone rock in the Keltnie,
part of an extensive bed here traversing the country,
and had observed formerly that the people fetched this
commodity from a quarry many miles off; being unaware,
as is not uncommon, of its existence so near them. A
flock of little boys and girls happened to be coming from
their school, and I called to the biggest of them, a crea-
ture often years old, to shew it him, and to ask him where
his father obtained his lime for his farm. He not only
described to me the quarry whence I knew it to come,
but every known bed of limestone in the country, for many
miles round ; some of which I then knew to be truly in-
dicated, and others which I was thus led to examine.
But this was a philosopher in an egg shell, in many more
shapes. His school was one where English was taught,
and where it was prohibited to speak Gaelic. He ex-
plained to me the whole discipline, and snoke of the re-



puted policy of this measure, and of general education,
as if he had been a reader of Reviews. I had a quantity
of pence in my pocket, and as pence are shillings at this
age, I gave them to him to divide among his fj lowers,
who seemed all to hold him in reverence, and were all
silent whenever he spoke or appeared about to speak.
Unluckily there were fourteen children, and only thirteen
pennies; and as he was about to retain the last for him-
self, he saw one little girl who was so small that she had
been overlooked. He immediately gave her his own,
and seemed happier than the rest when he had done it.
Such a hero as this might become a Rennel, or a Malthus,
or a Bayard : but he will flourish and fade unseen, at the
plough or the mattock, unless Lord Breadalbane or Co-
lonel Stewart should discover in him the germ of a Simp-
son, a Ferguson, or a Burns.

After all, it is only thus that we can learn the nature
of a people : as the author of Waverley and his host well
knows. It is vain to travel in barouches, and to act up
to the reputed character of a gentleman. Hence the com-
parative advantages of the pedestrian system. Not that
I pretend to this latter bold character : but I should have
known much less than I do of the Highlanders, though
you may possibly think that little enough, had I not
made bosom friends of the boatmen, acted King Pippin
among the children, driven cattle with the drovers, list-
ened to interminable stories about stots, and sheep, and
farms, partaken of a sneeshing with the beggar, drank
whisky with the retired veteran, sat in the peat reek
with the old crones, given ribbons to the lassies and pills
to the wives, and fiddled to balls in Rum. And as the
conclusion of all is, that I should be very well pleased
to do the same every summer, I know not what other or
better proof I can give of my esteem for Donald and all


his race. In indiscriminate praise, however, there is no
value; because unmixed merit is not the lot even of
Highland life. Non melius de laudato, pejus de lau-
dante. Universal approbation is suspicious, when it is
not false: marks of merited censure are the shadows
which give truth as well as brilliancy to the lights of the
landscape. As to the miseries of the Highlanders, I should
rejoice if all that I have said and written would lighten
them but by one grain. But I can never teach myself
to weep with the haberdashers of the pathetic, because
they do not now see ghosts and tell long-winded stories
about Fingal ; nor because " the happy vassal" can no
longer " sit under a tree" or a stone, and " chant his
poems to the mountain breeze." The happiness of vassal-
age is a new discovery ; and there is something else neces-
sary in this life than lying in the rain all day, dreaming
about ghosts, or singing songs ; nor will these occupa-
tions fill the Highlander's belly, or augment his com-
forts. Nor can I grieve over the loss of that chivalrous
fidelity of which we have heard so much ; because I have
long ceased to lament at what is inevitable.

The celebrated yew tree in the church-yard of For-
tingal is going fast to decay. Besides that it is a rare
tree in Scotland, this specimen is remarkable for its size,
as well as for its marks of high antiquity ; resembling
those which still exist about the English lakes. The
original circumference is said to have been 56 feet. It is
supposed, of course, to have been planted for the pur-
pose of furnishing wood for bows, at the time when this
weapon was in use. That it was an object of attention to
the legislature, in the Lowlands, is well known. It is
remarkable, however, that no specimen of the bow and
arrow has been preserved in the Highlands, among the
other arms still treasured up, and that none were found


during the execution of the disarming act ; insomuch that
some persons have doubted whether those arms were
ever used by the Highland clans. There is no doubt
however of this fact, as it can be proved by the most
positive testimony ; although it does not appear that this,
or other missiles, were ever much in request among the
northern nations, any more than among the Highlanders,
or that they were very expert in the use of them. This
defect may perhaps be accounted for by the laborious
training which the bow required : so laborious, that, even
in England when its reputation was fully established, it
was always falling into disuse or neglect, and required
successive statutes, directed to enforce the practice of
archery. In that country, the bow seems to have been little
used for many years after the invasion and settlements of
the northern nations; and it was at a comparative late pe-
riod that the English archers acquired that dexterity in
the management of this weapon, in which they were ac-
knowledged to excel all nations,and the destructive effects
of which induced the Scottish crown to cultivate its use
among the Lowlanders. It was from the event of Cressy,
that its reputation was established : and thus it was not
till the time of Edward the third, that it came into gene-
ral use in England. It seems to have been established
in France long before, as there was a King's Bowyer;
and it was there called artillery, yet never seems to
have acquired much reputation. The frequent discovery
of arrow heads made of flint, proves that the bow was
known to many nations, long before they became ac-
quainted with the working of metals. It is remarkable
that these have been found all over the world, even in
Hindostan ; and wherever they do occur, they exactly
resemble the various stone utensils of war that are manu-
factured, even at this day, by the islanders of the South


Seas. In Shetland and Orkney, as in the Western
Islands, where they are frequently picked up, that
superstition is scarcely yet expired among the common
people, which considers them as the arrows of fairies, and
as the causes of diseases among- the cattle. Animals thus
injured, are cured by touching them with the elfshot, as
it is called, or by sprinkling them with water in which it
has been dipped. But it is only the gifted few who can
discover the cause of the disease ; who can discern the
undiscernible mark which this fairy weapon leaves on
the skin ; and who, should the animal die, can follow it
to its lodgment in the pineal gland or the os coccygis ;
or, probably, in default of that, to their own pockets.

Although certainly known to the Saxons and Danes,
the bow and arrow do not seem to have been much
used in war, as I have already said. But their use is
rendered unquestionable by their being among the sculp-
tures in the Stone of Forres, commonly called Sueno's
Stone; the date of which is probably not more recent
than the ninth or tenth century. It appears also, from
the tapestry of Bayeux, in which they are represented,
that William employed archers at the battle of Hast-
ings. This weapon does not seem however to have
been common till after the time of the crusades ; when its
value appears to have become better known, from the in-
tercourse of the European armies with the East ; where it
seems, from the testimony of ancient writers, to have
been in great request from a period of high antiquity.

The earliest evidence that I have been able to trace
of its use among the Highlanders, if that indeed be High-
land evidence, is in the sculptures on some of the grave-
stones in Beaulieu Abbey, the date of which is about the
year 1300. In Ayrshire, there is a charge in the Sheriff's
accounts, for bows required at the battle of Largs, nearly


half a century before. In Henry Vllth's time, according
to Polydore Virgil, the Highlanders also fought with
bows and arrows. Much later, in the time of Cromwell, as
we find in the life of Sir Ewen Cameron, archery was also
in use among the Highlanders ; although it does not
appear that, even at this late period, the bow and arrow
was a general weapon. The last instance on record is
in 1665, in the time of Charles lid ; and here the archers
seem to have been of considerable importance. In a
dispute between Cameron of Lochiel and the Macintosh,
about some lands in Lochaber, the latter chief, aided by
Macpherson, raised 1500 men, and Cameron, with the
Mac Gregors, met him with 1200, of whom 300 were
archers. Another action of a similar nature, however, I
must remark, took place, about the same time, between
Glenco and some Breadalbane men, at Killin. These
were the last archers that ever were seen in a body in
the Highlands ; and, from that time, this weapon seems
to have disappeared ; its fall being acccelerated, doubt-
less, by the increasing use of fire arms.

There seems little doubt that, before this time, the bow
and arrow had been occasionally employed by small par-
ties, as by the proscribed banditti of the clan Mac Gregor
and others ; and if Martin's authority is valid on such a
point as this, it continued to be used in the same manner
even down to his day, in 1700. Yet that it was never much
resorted to, might almost be proved from an examination
of the ancient castles, which are rarely supplied with
loop holes for defence, and which seem to have relied
for their security chiefly on the strength of their walls.

Having thus far become entangled in war, we may as
well fight the battle out, and see what has really been left
us respecting this first of all arts in the ancient Highlands.
It is one thing to examine evidence, and another to be-


lieve and repeat whatever has been imagined and told,
of a state of things, and of times, respecting which na-
tional reporters know no more than the rest of the world,
and about which they are far less likely to form a correct

The warfare of the Highlands was necessarily that of
all early nations, if the term savage may not also be pro-
perly applied to their early condition. To believe other-
wise, is to believe that human nature differed there from
what it has been ever since the creation everywhere, or
that the progress of society from barbarism to civiliza-
tion has not always been the same. It is to believe that
Fingal was a Dunois or a Tirante, as we have been ordered
to think. Idleness, division, revenge, destruction ; these
are the leading points, (cause and consequence,) in the
features of all early nations. It is folly to think other-
wise, or to wince at such reflections ; as if it was not once
alike true of all Europe. We have been what America
and Polynesia are now. Our splendid continent, the seat
of arts and the focus of light, consisted once of a thou-
sand wandering nations, without towns, arts, or agricul-
ture. Hunting and wild fruits, the acorns of the golden age,
supplied the food of England and Italy, as they do now that
of the Iroquois and the Crees. Inroads, conquest, des-
truction, were their business and their amusement alike ;
war was even the religion of the north. Cruelty and in-
justice are features of savage life everywhere ; idleness
produces disquiet, and thence war and rapine. The fear
of death is no restraint, because life, having no comforts,
is not worth retaining; and it was by rendering life
miserable in Sparta, that Lycurgus produced that con-
tempt of death which marked the odious savages of this
barbarous government. There can be no stronger proof
of unhappiness than that carelessness of life which is


found invariably, whether there be a government or not,
where the people are miserable.

That all this, and much more, should be true of the
Highlands, and at a date not extremely remote, is no
cause for wonder or anger : the singularity consists in
the period, not in the condition. All Europe had, for
some considerable time, emerged from that state, when

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 6 of 37)