Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 12 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 12 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sword, grappled with the chief, and got him under; but Lochiel's
presence of mind did not forsake him, for grasping the Englishman by the
collar and darting at his extended throat with his teeth, he tore away
the bloody morsel, which he used to say was the sweetest morsel he had
ever tasted."

We felt that the people hereabouts were still of another nation. The
descendants of Prince Charlie's faithful adherents still clung to their
ancient religion, and they preserved many of their old customs and
traditions in spite of the changes in outlook which trade and the great
canal had brought about.

It was therefore not to be wondered at that, after impressing our
memories with these and other fearful stories and eating the heavy
supper provided for us by our landlady, our dreams that night rather
disturbed our slumbers.

[Illustration: SCENE OF THE MASSACRE OF GLENCOE. "Especially
interesting to us was the account of the cruel massacre of Glencoe. Here
was enacted one of the blackest crimes in the annals of Scottish

Personally I was in the middle of a long journey, engaged in
disagreeable adventures in which I was placed at a considerable
disadvantage, as I was walking without my boots, when I was relieved
from an unpleasant position by the announcement that it was six o'clock
and that our boots had arrived according to promise.

(_Distance walked nine miles_.)

_Friday, September 29th._

There was a delightful uncertainty about our journey, for everything we
saw was new to us, and we were able to enjoy to the fullest extent the
magnificent mountain and loch scenery in the Highlands of Scotland, with
which we were greatly impressed. It was seven o'clock in the morning, of
what, fortunately for us, proved to be a fine day, as we left Fort
William, and after coming to the end of the one street which formed the
town we reached a junction of roads, where it was necessary to inquire
the way to Glencoe. We asked a youth who was standing at the door of a
house, but he did not know, so went into the house to inquire, and came
out with the information that we could get there either way. We had
already walked along the full length of Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch
Lochy, so we decided to walk alongside Loch Linnhe, especially as that
road had the best surface. So on we went at a quick pace, for the
half-day's holiday yesterday had resulted in renewed energy. We could
see the great mountains in front which we knew we must cross, and after
walking three and a half miles we met a pedestrian, who informed us that
we were on the right way, and must go on until we reached Ballachulish,
where we could cross the ferry to Glencoe.

This information rather troubled us, as we had determined to walk all
the way, so he advised us to go round the "Head of the Loch" - an
expression we often heard used in Scotland - and to make our way there
across the open country; in this case the loch was Loch Leven, so we
left the highway and Loch Linnhe and walked to a small farm we could see
in the distance. The mistress was the only person about, but she could
only speak Gaelic, and we were all greatly amused at our efforts to make
ourselves understood. Seeing some cows grazing quite near, my brother
took hold of a quart jug standing on a bench and, pointing to the cows,
made her understand that we wanted a quart of milk, which she handed to
us with a smile. We could not ask her the price, so we handed her
fourpence, the highest price we had known to have been paid for a quart
of the best milk at home, and with which she seemed greatly pleased.

We were just leaving the premises when the farmer came up, and he
fortunately could speak English. He told us he had seen us from a
distance, and had returned home, mistaking us for two men who
occasionally called upon him on business. He said we had gone "three
miles wrong," and took great pains to show us the right way. Taking us
through a fence, he pointed out in the distance a place where we should
have to cross the mountains. He also took us to a track leading off in
that direction, which we were to follow, and, leaving him, we went on
our way rejoicing. But this mountain track was a very curious one, as it
broke away in two or three directions and shortly disappeared. It was
unfenced on the moorland, and there were not enough people travelling
that way to make a well-defined path, each appearing to have travelled
as he pleased. We tried the same method, but only to find we had gone
out of the nearest way. We crossed several small burns filled with
delightfully clear water, and presently saw another house in the
distance, to which we now went, finding it to be the shepherd's house.

Here the loud and savage barking of a dog brought out the shepherd's
wife, who called the dog away from us, and the shepherd, who was having
his breakfast, also made his appearance. He directed us to a small
river, which he named in Gaelic, and pointed to a place where it could
easily be forded, warning us at the same time that the road over the
hills was not only dangerous, but difficult to find and extremely
lonely, and that the road to Glencoe was only a drovers' road, used for
driving cattle across the hills. We made the best of our way to the
place, but the stream had been swollen by the recent rains, and we
experienced considerable difficulty in crossing it. At length, after
sundry walkings backwards and forwards, stepping from one large stone to
another in the burn, we reached the opposite bank safely. The only
mishap, beyond getting over shoe-tops in the water, was the dropping of
one of our bags in the burn; but this we were fortunate enough to
recover before its contents were seriously damaged or the bag carried
away by the current.

[Illustration: THE PASS.]

We soon reached the road named by the shepherd, which was made of large
loose stones. But was it a road? Scotland can boast of many good roads,
and has material always at hand both for construction and repair; but
of all the roads we ever travelled on, this was the worst! Presently we
came to a lonely cottage, the last we were to see that day, and we
called to inquire the way, but no English was spoken there. This was
unfortunate, as we were in doubt as to which was our road, so we had to
find our way as best we could. Huge rocks and great mountains reared
their heads on all sides of us, including Ben Nevis, which we could
recognise owing to the snowy coverlet still covering his head. The
country became very desolate, with nothing to be seen but huge rocks,
inaccessible to all except the pedestrian. Hour after hour we toiled up
mountains - sometimes we thought we reached an elevation of two thousand
feet - and then we descended into a deep ravine near a small loch. Who
could forget a day's march like this, now soaring to an immense height
and presently appearing to descend into the very bowels of the earth! We
must have diverged somewhat from the road known as the "Devil's
Staircase," by repute the worst road in Britain, for the track we were
on was in one section like the bed of a mountain torrent and could not
have been used even by cattle. Late in the afternoon we reached the
proper track, and came up with several herds of bullocks, about three
hundred in number, all told, that were being driven over the mountains
to find a better home in England, which we ourselves hoped to do later.

[Illustration: IN GLENCOE.]

We were fortunate in meeting the owner, with whom we were delighted to
enter into conversation. When we told him of our adventures, he said we
must have missed our way, and congratulated us on having a fine day, as
many persons had lost their lives on those hills owing to the sudden
appearance of clouds. He said a heap of stones we passed marked the spot
where two young men had been found dead. They were attempting to descend
the "Devil's Stair," when the mist came on, and they wandered about in
the frost until, overcome by sleep, they lay down never to rise again in
this world.

He had never been in England, but had done business with many of the
nobility and gentlemen there, of whom several he named belonged to our
own county of Chester. He had heard that the bullocks he sold to them,
after feeding on the rich, pastures of England for a short time, grew to
a considerable size, which we thought was not to be wondered at,
considering the hardships these shaggy-looking creatures had to battle
with in the North. We got some information about our farther way, not
the least important being the fact that there was a good inn in the Pass
of Glencoe; and he advised us to push on, as the night would soon be
coming down.

[Illustration: THE PASS IN GLENCOE.]

At the close of day we could just see the outline of a deep, dark valley
which we knew was the Pass of Glencoe, with a good road, hundreds of
feet below. Acting on the advice of the drover, we left the road and
descended cautiously until we could go no farther in safety; then we
collected an enormous number of old roots, the remains of a forest of
birch trees which originally covered the mountain-side, and with some
dry heather lighted an enormous tire, taking care to keep it within
bounds. A small rill trickling down the mountain-side supplied us with
water, and, getting our apparatus to work and some provisions from our
bags, we sat down as happy as kings to partake of our frugal meal, to
the accompaniment of the "cup that cheers but not inebriates," waiting
for the rising of the full moon to light us on our farther way to the
road below. We were reclining amongst the heather, feeling thankful to
the Almighty that we had not shared the fate of the two young men whose
cairn we had seen on the hills above - an end we might easily have met,
given the weather of yesterday and similar conditions - when suddenly we
heard voices below us. Our fire now cast a glare around it, and
everything looked quite dark beyond its margin. Our feelings of surprise
increased as from the gloom emerged the gigantic figures of two stalwart
Highlanders. We thought of the massacre of Glencoe, for these men were
nearly double our size; and, like the Macdonalds, we wondered whether
they came as friends or foes, since we should have fared badly had it
been the latter. But they had been attracted by the light of our fire,
and only asked us if we had seen "the droves." We gave them all the
information we could, and then bidding us "good night" they quietly

[Illustration: "THE SISTERS," GLENCOE. "Here was wild solitude in
earnest.... The scene we looked upon was wild and rugged, as if
convulsed by some frightful cataclysm."]

The darkness of the night soon became modified by the reflected light
from the rising moon behind the great hills on the opposite side of the
glen. We extinguished the dying embers of our fire and watched the full
moon gradually appearing above the rocks, flooding with her glorious
light the surrounding scene, which was of the sublimest grandeur and

[Illustration: THE RIVER COE, GLENCOE.]

Many descriptions of this famous glen have been written, and no one who
could see it under such favourable and extraordinary conditions as we
enjoyed that night would be disposed to dispute the general opinion of
its picturesque and majestic beauty. Surely Nature is here portrayed in
her mightiest form! How grand, and yet how solemn! See the huge masses
of rock rising precipitously on both sides of the glen and rearing their
rugged heads towards the very heavens! Here was wild solitude in
earnest, and not even the cry of the eagle which once, and even now, had
its abode in these vast mountain recesses broke the awful silence which
that night prevailed in the Pass, disturbed only by the slumberous
rippling of water. The scene we looked upon was wild and rugged, as if
convulsed by some frightful cataclysm, and we saw it under conditions in
which Nature conspired to enhance its awfulness - a sight which few
painters could imitate, few writers could graphically describe. The
infidel may deny the existence of the Creator of the universe, but there
was here sufficient to fill the soul with awe and wonder, and to
influence even the sceptic to render acknowledgment to the great God who
framed these majestic hills. The reflection of the moon on the hills was
marvellous, lighting up the white road at the upper end of the pass and
the hills opposite, and casting great black shadows elsewhere which made
the road appear as if to descend and vanish into Hades. We fancied as we
entered the pass that we were descending into an abyss from which it
would be impossible to extricate ourselves; but we were brought up sharp
in our thoughts, for when we reached the road it suddenly occurred to us
that we had forgotten to ask in which direction we had to turn for the
"Clachaig Inn" named by the drover.

We sat down by the roadside in the hope that some one would come from
whom we might obtain the information, and were just beginning to think
it was a forlorn hope when we heard the sound of horse's feet
approaching from the distance. Presently the rider appeared, who proved
to be a cattle-dealer, he told us he had some cattle out at the foot of
the glen, and said the inn was seven miles away in the direction in
which he was going. We asked him if he would kindly call there and tell
them that two travellers were coming who required lodgings for the
night. This he promised to do, and added that we should find the inn on
the left-hand side of the road. We then started on our seven-mile walk
down the Pass of Glencoe in the light of the full moon shining from a
clear sky, and in about an hour's time in the greatest solitude we were
almost startled by the sudden appearance of a house set back from the
left-hand side of the road with forms and tables spread out on the grass
in front. Could this be the inn? It was on the left-hand side, but we
could not yet have walked the distance named by the cattle-dealer; so we
knocked at the door, which was opened by a queer-looking old man, who
told us it was not the inn, but the shepherd's house, and that the forms
and tables in front were for the use of passengers by the coach, who
called there for milk and light refreshments. Then the mistress, who was
more weird-looking still, came forward, and down the passage we could
see other strange-looking people. The old lady insisted upon our coming
in, saying she would make us some porridge; but my brother, whose nerves
seemed slightly unstrung, thought that we might never come out of the
house again alive! We found, however, that the company improved on
closer acquaintance.

The meal was served in two deep bowls, and was so thick that when our
spoons were placed in it on end they stood upright without any further
support, so it was, as the Lancashire people describe it, proper "thick
porridge." We were unable to make much impression on it, as we had not
yet digested the repast we had enjoyed on the hills above, and the good
old lady added to our difficulties by bringing a plentiful supply of
milk. It was the first time we had tasted meal porridge in Scotland.
Needless to say, after paying our hostess for her hospitality, we were
allowed to depart in peace, nor were we molested during the remainder of
our romantic evening walk. After proceeding about two miles farther
amidst some of the most lonely and impressive scenery in the Highlands,
we arrived at the "Clachaig Inn." It was after closing-time, but as the
gentleman on horseback had delivered our message according to promise,
the people of the inn were awaiting our arrival. We received a friendly
welcome, and proceeded to satisfy what remained of a formerly voracious
appetite by a weak attack on the good things provided for supper, after
which, retiring to rest in the two beds reserved for us, we slept so
soundly that in the morning when roused by a six-o'clock call we could
not recall that our dreams had been disturbed even by the awful massacre
enacted at Glencoe, which place was now so near.

(_Distance walked thirty miles_.)

_Saturday, September 30th._

By seven o'clock a.m. we were again on the road bound for Inverary,
which place we were anxious to visit, as it had recently been the scene
of a royal wedding, that of the Princess Louise with the Marquis of
Lorne. The morning was beautifully fine, but there had been a frost
during the night and the grass on the sides of the road was quite white.
The sky was clear, not a cloud being visible as we resumed our walk down
the glen, and in about three miles we reached the village of Glencoe.
Here we heard blasting operations being carried on quite near our road,
and presently we reached the edge of the loch, where there was a pier
and a ferry. We now found that in directing us to Inverary our friends
at the inn had taken it for granted that we wished to go the nearest
way, which was across this ferry, and we were told there were others to
cross before reaching Inverary. We therefore replenished our stock of
provisions at the village shop and turned back up the glen, so that
after seeing it in the light of the full moon the night before we had
now the privilege of seeing it in the glorious sunshine. We walked on
until we got to the shepherd's house where we had been treated to such a
heavy repast of meal porridge the previous evening, and there we had a
substantial meal to fortify us for our farther journey. On our way up
the glen we had passed a small lake at the side of our road, and as
there was not sufficient wind to raise the least ripple on its surface
it formed a magnificent mirror to the mountains on both sides. Several
carts laden with wool had halted by the side of the lake and these also
were reflected on its surface. We considered the view pictured in this
lake to be one of the prettiest sights we had ever seen in the sunshine,
and the small streams flowing down the mountain sides looked very
beautiful, resembling streaks of silver. We compared the scene in
imagination with the changes two months hence, when the streams would be
lines of ice and the mountain roads covered with a surface of frozen
snow, making them difficult to find and to walk upon, and rendering
travelling far less pleasant than on this beautiful morning. We often
thought that we should not have completed our walk if we had undertaken
it at the same period of the year but in the reverse direction, since we
were walking far too late in the season for a journey of this
description. We considered ourselves very fortunate in walking from John
o' Groat's to Land's End, instead of from Land's End to John o' Groat's,
for by the time we finished deep snow might have covered these Northern
altitudes. How those poor women and children must have suffered at the
time of the massacre of Glencoe, when, as Sir Walter Scott writes -

flying from their burning huts, and from their murderous visitors,
the half-naked fugitives committed themselves to a winter morning of
darkness, snow, and storm, amidst a wilderness the most savage in the
Western Highlands, having a bloody death behind them, and before them
tempest, famine, and desolation when some of them, bewildered by the
snow-wreaths, sank in them to rise no more!

[Illustration: BRIDGE OF ORCHY.]

They were doubtless ignorant of the danger they were in, even as they
escaped up the glen, practically the only way of escape from Glencoe,
for Duncanson had arranged for four hundred soldiers to be at the top
end of the pass at four o'clock that morning, the hour at which the
massacre was to begin at the other end. Owing to the heavy fall of snow,
however, the soldiers did not arrive until eleven o'clock in the
forenoon - long after the fugitives had reached places of safety.

Like many other travellers before us, we could not resist passing a
bitter malediction on the perpetrators of this cruel wrong, although
they had long since gone to their reward. And yet we are told that it
hastened that amalgamation of the two kingdoms which has been productive
of so much good.

We had our breakfast or lunch served on one of the tables ranged outside
the front of the shepherd's house, and in quite a romantic spot, whence
we walked on to a place which had figured on mileposts for a long
distance named "Kingshouse." Here we expected to find a village, but as
far as we could see there was only one fairly large house there, and
that an inn. What king it was named after did not appear, but there was
no other house in sight. Soon after passing it we again came in contact
with the master cattle-drover we had interviewed the day before, who
told us that he had brought his bullocks from the Isle of Skye, from
which place they had to travel seventy-one miles. We also passed several
other droves, some of which we might have seen previously, and by
nightfall came to Inveroran. Here we saw a comfortable inn which would
have just suited us, but as there was no church there and the next day
was Sunday, we decided to walk to the next village, about three miles
farther on, where we were informed there was a church, and a drover's
house quite near it where we could get lodgings. By this time it was
quite dark, and we passed Loch Tulla without either seeing it or knowing
it was there, and arriving at the Bridge of Orchy we found the drover's
house near the church. To our great disappointment the accommodation had
all been taken up, and the only place that the lady of the house knew of
in the direction we were going was a farmhouse about four miles away,
where she said, with a tone of doubt in her voice, "we might get in!" We
crossed the bridge and passed over the River Orchy, which connected Loch
Tulla with Loch Awe, some sixteen miles distant.

Fortunately for us the moon now rose, though obscured by great black
clouds, which we could see meant mischief, probably to make us pay
dearly for the lovely weather during the day. But luckily there was
sufficient light to enable us to see the many burns that crossed the
surface of the road, otherwise it would have been impossible for us to
have found our way. The streams were very numerous, and ran into the
river which flowed alongside our road, from among some great hills the
outlines of which we could see dimly to the left. We were tired, and the
miles seemed very long, but the excitement of crossing the rushing
waters of the burns and the noise of the river close by kept us awake.
We began to think we should never reach that farmhouse, and that we had
either missed our way or had been misinformed, when at length we reached
the desired haven at a point where a gate guarded the entrance to the
moor. All was in darkness, but we went to the house and knocked at the
front door. There was no response, so we tried the shutters that
barricaded the lower windows, our knocks disturbing the dogs at the back
of the house, which began to bark and assisted us to waken the
occupants. Presently we heard a sleepy voice behind the shutters, and my
brother explained the object of our visit in a fine flow of language
(for he was quite an orator), including references, as usual, to our
"walking expedition," a favourite phrase of his. As the vehement words
from within sounded more like Gaelic than English, I gathered that his
application for lodgings had not been successful. Tired as I was, I
could not help laughing at the storm we had created, in which the
"walking expedition" man heartily joined. But what were we to do? Here
we were on a stormy night, ten miles from the inn at Dalmally, which for
aught we knew might be the next house, hungry and tired, cold and wet;
and having covered thirty miles that day and thirty miles the day
before, how could we walk a further ten miles? Our track was unfenced
and bounded by the river on one side and the moors on the other, but
presently we came to a place where the surface of the moor rose sharply
and for some distance overhung the road, forming a kind of a cove. Here
we gathered, some of the dry heather that extended under that which
ornamented the sides of the cove, made quite a respectable fire, and ate
our last morsel of food, with which unluckily we were poorly provided.
To add to our misfortune, the wind grew into a hurricane and whirled the
smoke in every direction, forcing us at last to beat a hasty retreat.

We now faced the prospect of a night on the moors, and resolved to crawl
along at a sufficient speed to keep up our circulation, stopping at the
first house we came to. Here again the subdued light from the moon
proved useful, for we had not gone very far before we saw what appeared

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 12 of 66)