Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

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to be a small house on the moor about a hundred yards away. We
approached it very cautiously, and found it was a small hut. How glad we
were to see that hut! We struck a light, and at once began an
exploration of the interior, which we found contained a form, a rustic
table reared against the wall, and, better than all, a fireplace with a
chimney above it about a yard high; the door was lying loose outside the
hovel. It may have been a retreat for keepers, though more likely a
shelter for men who had once been employed on the land, for attached to
it was a small patch of land fenced in which looked as though it had
been cultivated. With a few sticks which we found in one corner and a
handful of hay gathered from the floor we lighted a fire, for we were
now becoming experts in such matters; but the smoke seemed undecided
which way it should go, for at one minute it went up the chimney, at
another it came down. We went outside and altered the chimney a little,
for it was only formed of loose stones, and thus effected an improvement
for a time. The door gave us the most trouble, since being loose we had
the greatest difficulty in keeping it in its proper position, for the
wind was now blowing hard - so much so that we thought at times that the
hut itself would be blown over. At last a tremendous gust came, and down
went the chimney altogether. The fire and smoke now made towards the
doorway, so that we had frequently to step outside in order to get a
breath of fresh air. We tried to build the chimney up again, but this
was impossible owing to the velocity of the wind and rain and the
exposed situation. Our slender supply of fuel was nearly exhausted,
which was the worst feature, as it was imperative that we should keep
ourselves warm; so we decided to go back towards the river, where we had
seen a few small trees or bushes lining the bank between our track and
the water. Luckily, however, we discovered a dead tree inside the
enclosed land, and as I was somewhat of an expert at climbing, I
"swarmed" up it and broke off all the dead branches I could reach with
safety, it being as much as I could do to retain my hold on the slippery
trunk of the tree.

With the dead wood and some heather and pieces of turf we returned laden
and wet through to our dug-out, where we managed to get our fire burning
again and to clear away some of the stones that had fallen upon it.
Still there was no sleep for us that night, which was the most miserable
one almost that we ever experienced.

But just fancy the contrast! In the dead of night, in a desolate
Highland glen, scaling a stone fence in a pitiless storm of wind and
rain, and climbing up a dead tree to break off a few branches to serve
as fuel for a most obstinate fire - such was the reality; and then
picture, instead of this, sitting before a good fire in a comfortable
inn, with a good supper, and snug apartments with every
accommodation - these had been our fond anticipations for the week-end!
We certainly had a good supply of wet fuel, and perhaps burned something
else we ought not to have done: but we were really prisoners for the
night. The merciless wind and rain raged throughout, and we had to stick
to our novel apartment and breathe until daylight the awful smoke from
the fire we were compelled to keep alight. Yet our spirits were not
entirely damped, for we found ourselves in the morning, and often during
the night, singing the refrain of an old song:

We'll stand the storm, it won't be long;
We'll anchor by and by.

Just occasionally the gloom thickened when we ventured to think of
details, among which came uppermost the great question, "Where and when
shall we get our breakfast?"

(_Distance walked, including that to Dalmally, forty miles_.)

_Sunday, October 1st._

Soon after daylight appeared the rain moderated, and so did the wind,
which now seemed to have exhausted itself. Our sleep, as may easily be
imagined, had been of a very precarious and fitful character; still the
hut had rendered substantial service in sheltering us from the fury of
the storm. Soon after leaving our sorry shelter we saw a white house
standing near the foot of a hill beyond the moor, and to this we
resolved to go, even though it was a long distance away, as it was now
imperative that we should obtain food. A knock at the door, more than
once repeated - for it was still very early - at last roused the mistress
of the house, who opened the door and with kindly sympathy listened to
our tale of woe. She at once lit the fire, while the other members of
the family were still asleep in the room, and found us some soap and
water, our hands and faces being as black as smoke and burnt sticks
could make them. After a good wash we felt much better and refreshed,
although still very sleepy. She then provided us with some hot milk and
oatcake, and something we had never tasted before, which she called
"seath." It proved to be a compound of flour and potatoes, and after our
long fast it tasted uncommonly good. Altogether we had an enormous
breakfast, the good wife waiting upon us meanwhile in what we supposed
was the costume common to the Highlands - in other words, minus her gown,
shoes, and stockings. We rewarded her handsomely and thanked her
profusely as she directed us the nearest way to Dalmally.

On arrival at the well-appointed inn there, we received every
attention, and retired to our bedrooms, giving strict orders to the
waiter to see that we were called in time for lunch, and for the English
service at the kirk, which he told us would be held that day between one
and two o'clock. In accordance with our instructions we were called, but
it was not surprising, after walking quite forty miles since Saturday at
daybreak, that we should be found soundly sleeping when the call came.

Lunch was waiting for us, and, after disposing of it as hungry folk
should, we went to Glenorchy Church, only to find that, unfortunately,
there was no service that day. The minister, who had charge of two
parishes, was holding a service at his other church, seven miles distant
up the glen! We therefore hurried to the Free Kirk, which stood in
another part of the village; but as the Gaelic service had been taken at
one o'clock and the English service followed it immediately afterwards,
the minister had already begun his sermon when we arrived. The door was
shut, so entering quietly and closing it behind us, we were astonished
to find a table in the vestibule with a plate exposing to our view a
large number of coins evidently the result of the collection from the
worshippers within. We were surprised at the large proportion of silver
coins, an evidence that the people had given liberally. We added our
mites to the collection, while we wondered what would have become of the
money if left in a similar position in some districts we could think of
farther south. We were well pleased with the sermon, and as the
congregation dispersed we held a conversation and exchanged views with
one of the elders of the church chiefly on the subject of collections.
He explained that the prevailing practice in the Scottish Churches was
for the collection to be taken - or rather given - on entering the House
of God, and that one or two of the deacons generally stood in the
vestibule beside the plate. We told him it was the best way of taking a
collection that we had ever seen, since it did not interrupt or
interfere with the service of the church, and explained the system
adopted in the churches in England.

In our youthful days collections were only made in church on special
occasions, and for such purposes as the support of Sunday schools and
Missionary Societies. The churchwardens collected the money in large and
deep wooden boxes, and the rattle of the coins as they were dropped into
the boxes was the only sound we could hear, for the congregation
remained seated in a deep and solemn silence, which we in our youthful
innocence thought was because their money was being taken away from

In later years brass plates were substituted for boxes in some churches,
and each member of the congregation then seemed to vie with his
neighbours for the honour of placing the most valuable coin on the
plate. The rivalry, however, did not last long, and we knew one church
where this custom was ended by mutual arrangement. The hatchet was
buried by substituting bags, attached, in this case, to the end of long
sticks, to enable the wardens to reach the farthest end of the pews when

This system continued for some time, but when collections were
instituted at each service and the total result had to be placarded on
the outside of the church door, with the numbers and total value of each
class of coin recorded separately, the wardens sometimes found a few
items in the bags which were of no monetary value, and could not be
classified in the list without bringing scandal to the church and
punishment to the, perhaps youthful, offenders; so the bags were
withdrawn and plates reinstated, resulting in an initial increase of 10
per cent, in the amount collected.

The church was a large one, and a great number of ladies attended it on
Sundays, their number being considerably augmented by the lady students
from the Collegiate Institutions in the town, who sat in a portion of
the church specially reserved for them.

The Rector of the parish was an elderly man and an eloquent preacher,
who years before had earned his reputation in London, where in a minor
capacity he had been described by Charles Dickens as the model East End

Eight gentlemen were associated with him as wardens and sidesmen, all
well-known men in the town, one of whom being specially known for the
faultless way in which he was dressed and by his beautiful pink
complexion - the presence of the light hair on his face being scarcely
discernible, and giving him the appearance of being endowed with
perpetual youth. His surname also was that of the gentleman for whom all
young ladies are supposed to be waiting, so it was not to be wondered at
that he was a general favourite with them, and that some slight feeling
of jealousy existed among his colleagues. It was part of their duties to
collect the offerings from the congregation, and afterwards assemble at
the west end of the church, marching two and two in military step to the
east end to hand their collections to the clergyman who stood there
waiting to receive them.

One Sunday morning, when the favourite collector reached that end of the
church where most of the young ladies were located, he was surprised to
notice that all of them received him with a smile as he handed them the
plate. Several of them actually went so far as to incline their heads
slightly, as if adding a nod to their smiles. He thought at first that
they were amused at something connected with his new suit of clothes - of
which, by the way, he was quite proud - but a hasty examination of his
person from collar downwards showed everything to be in perfect order.
He felt annoyed and very uncomfortable when the ladies continued to
smile as he visited each pew, without his being able to ascertain the
reason why, and he was greatly relieved when he got away from them to
rejoin his colleagues. As he was advancing with them up the centre of
the church his eye chanced to rest for a moment on the contents of his
plate, and there, to his horror, he saw a large white mint-drop about
the size of a half-crown, which had been placed face upwards bearing the
words printed in clear red letters, "WILL YOU MARRY ME?" Then he
understood why the young ladies smiled and nodded acceptance so
pleasantly that morning, for, unconsciously, he had been "popping the
question" all round; although inquired into at the time, the mystery of
the mint-drop was never satisfactorily solved.

A gentleman to whom we told this story said it reminded him of another
of what he called a "swell" - a fine young fellow, with apparently more
money than sense - who dropped into a country church for service and was
shown into the squire's pew. The squire was old and of fixed habits.
After settling in his seat he drew out his half-crown as usual and
placed it on the ledge in front. His companion pulled out a sovereign
and ostentatiously put it on the ledge too. The squire stared hard at
him and soon reckoned him up. He then placed a second half-crown on the
first, and the stranger produced a second sovereign. Five times was this
repeated during the service. At last the churchwarden brought his brass
plate, which the squire gravely took and held out to his neighbour, who
swept the five sovereigns on to it in a very grand manner. The squire
picked up one half-crown for the plate and, with a twinkle in his eye,
returned the rest to his pocket!

Since the days of King David singing has always been considered a most
valuable aid in the offering up of prayers and praises to the Almighty,
and nothing sounded better in our ears than the hearty singing of a good
old hymn by the entire congregation. But why this period in the Church
Service should have been chosen in later years as a suitable time for
the wardens to disturb the harmony and thoughts of the parishioners by
handing round their collection plates was beyond our comprehension. The
interruption caused by that abominable practice often raised
unchristian-like feelings in our minds, and we wished at times that the
author of it, whoever he might be, could be brought to the gallows and
publicly hanged for his services; for why should our devotions be
disturbed by the thought that at any moment during the singing of a hymn
the collector might suddenly appear on the scene, possibly sneaking up
from the rear like a thief in the night, to the annoyance of every one
within reach? If the saving of time is the object, why not reduce the
length of the sermon, which might often be done to advantage? or,
failing that, why not adopt the system which prevailed in the Scottish


The elder of the Free Kirk at Dalmally was much interested in what we
told him about our English Services, where the congregations both prayed
and sang in positions differing from those adopted in Scotland, and to
continue the conversation he walked with us as far as Dalmally Bridge,
where we parted company. We then continued on our way to visit a
monument erected on a hill we could see in the distance "to the memory
of Duncan-Bann-Macintyre, the Glenorchy poet, who was born in the year
1724 and departed this life in 1812"; and, judging from the size of the
monument, which was in the style of a Grecian temple in grey granite and
inscribed to the memory of the "Sweetest and Purest of Gaelic Bards," he
must have been a man of considerable importance. From that point we had
a fine view of Loch Awe, perhaps the finest obtainable, for although it
is above twenty miles long, the lake here, in spite of being at its
greatest breadth, appeared almost dwarfed into a pool within the mighty
mass of mountains with lofty Ben Cruachan soaring steeply to the clouds,
and forming a majestic framework to a picture of surpassing beauty. The
waters of the lake reflected the beauties of its islands and of its
mountainous banks. These islands all had their own history or clan
legend and were full of mysteries. Inishail, once a nunnery, and for
ages the burying-place of the clan chieftains; Innischonell, from the
eleventh century the stronghold of the Argyll, whence they often sent
forth their famous slogan or defiant war-cry, "It's a far cry to
Lochawe"; Fraoch Eilean, where the hero Fraoch slew and was himself
slain by the serpent that guarded the apples for which the fair Mego

We then retraced our steps slowly to the Dalmally inn, where we were
served with tea in the sumptuous manner common to all first-class inns
in the Highlands of Scotland, after which we retired to rest, bent on
making good the sleep we had lost and on proceeding on our journey early
the following morning.


_Monday, October 2nd._


We left our comfortable quarters at Dalmally at seven o'clock in the
morning, and presently reached Loch Awe, with the poet's monument still
in sight and some islands quite near to us in the loch. We soon left
Loch Awe, turning off when we reached Cladich and striking over the
hills to the left. After walking about two miles all uphill, we reached
the summit, whence we had a fine backward view of Loch Awe, which from
this point appeared in a deep valley with its sides nicely wooded. Here
we were in the neighbourhood of the Cruachan mountains, to which, with
Loch Awe, a curious tradition was attached that a supernatural being
named "Calliach Bhere," or "The Old Woman," a kind of female genie,
lived on these high mountains. It was said that she could step in a
moment with ease from one mountain to another, and, when offended, she
could cause the floods to descend from the mountains and lay the whole
of the low ground perpetually under water. Her ancestors were said to
have lived from time immemorial near the summit of the vast mountain of
Cruachan, and to have possessed a great number of herds in the vale
below. She was the last of her line, and, like that of her ancestors,
her existence was bound up with a fatal fountain which lay in the side
of her native hill and was committed to the charge of her family since
it first came into existence. It was their duty at evening to cover the
well with a large flat stone, and in the morning to remove it again.
This ceremony was to be performed before the setting and the rising of
the sun, that its last beam might not die upon nor its first ray shine
upon the water in the well. If this care were neglected, a fearful and
mysterious doom would be the punishment. When the father of the Calliach
Bhere died, he committed the charge to her, warning her of its
importance and solemnity and the fatality attending its neglect. For
many years this mysterious woman attended carefully to her duties, but
one unlucky evening, tired with her exertions in hunting and ascending
the hills, she sat down by the fountain to await the setting of the sun,
and falling asleep, did not awake until morning. When she arose she
looked around, but the vale had vanished and a great sheet of water
taken its place. The neglected well had overflowed while she slept, the
glen was changed into a lake, the hills into islets, and her people and
cattle had perished in the deluge. The Calliach took but one look over
the ruin she had caused, and all that remained of her large possessions
in the glen was Loch Awe and its islands! Then she herself vanished into

It is strange how these old stories are told with but little variation
in so many places. This very story appears in Wales and Ireland and
other regions where Celts predominate, and except in one instance, that
of the destruction of the Lowland Hundreds, now under the water of
Cardigan Bay, always in connection with a woman. We first heard it in
Shropshire, but there it was an old woman who lived in a small cottage
and possessed the only well in the place, charging the townspeople one
farthing per bucket for the water. In those remote times this formed a
great tax on the poor people, and many were the prayers offered up that
the imposition might be removed. These prayers were answered, for one
night a great storm arose, the well continued to overflow, and in the
morning the old woman and her cottage had disappeared, and in place of
the well appeared the beautiful Lake of Ellesmere.

[Illustration: INVERARY CASTLE.]

We had a fine walk down Glen Aray, with the River Aray on the left for
some distance to keep us company, and after about four miles' walking we
came to a ladder inserted in a high stone wall to the left of our road,
which was here covered with trees. My brother climbed up to see what was
on the other side, and reported that there was a similar ladder in the
wall for descent, that he could see the river rushing down the rocks,
and that a pretty little pathway ran under the trees alongside the
stream. We had not met a single person since leaving the neighbourhood
of Cladich, and as there was no one about from whom to make inquiries,
we took "French leave" and climbed over the fence, to see at once a
pretty waterfall and to follow a lovely path for a mile or two until it
landed us in one of the main drives from Inverary Castle. Here we
stopped to consider whether we should proceed or retreat, for we were
sure we had been trespassing. My brother reminded me of an experience
that occurred to us in the previous year in London. Before we began our
walk home from that great city we visited as many of the sights of
London as we could, and amongst these was the famous Tower. We had
passed through the Gateway, but were then uncertain how to proceed,
when, peeping round a corner, we saw a man dressed in a very
strange-looking uniform, whom we afterwards learned was called a
"Beef-eater." We approached him rather timidly to make inquiries, to
which he kindly replied, but told us afterwards that he knew we were
Englishmen the minute he saw us coming round the corner. Foreigners in
coming through the gateway always walked firmly and quickly, while the
English came creeping along and looking round the corners as if they
were afraid. "My advice to you, young men," he said, "when visiting
strange places, is to go on until you are stopped!" So on this occasion
we decided to follow that advice and to go on towards the castle we
could see in the distance. We had not proceeded very far, however,
before we met a couple of two-horse open carriages followed by quite a
number of persons on horseback. Feeling rather guilty, we stepped upon
the grass by the roadside, and tried to look as if we were not there,
but we could see that we had been observed by the occupants of the
carriages and by their retinue. We knew from their appearance that they
belonged to the aristocracy, and were not surprised to learn that the
second carriage contained the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, while the
people on horseback were the younger members of their family. We had
almost reached the castle when we were stopped by a servant in livery,
to whom we explained the cause of our presence, asking him the nearest
way to Inverary, which he pointed out. He told us, among other things,
that the Duke could drive many miles in his own domain, and that his
family consisted of thirteen children, all of whom were living. We
thanked him, and as we retired along the road he had directed us, we
considered we had added one more adventure to enliven us on our journey.
We had only walked a little way from the castle when a lady came across
the park to speak to us, and told us that the cannon and the large
wooden structure we could see in the park had been used for the "spree"
at the royal wedding, when the Marquis of Lome, the eldest son of the
Duke, had been married to the Princess Louise of England. She also told
us that the Princess and the Marquis had been staying at the castle a
short time before, but were not there then. Who the lady was we did not
know, but she was of fine appearance and well educated, and from her
conversation had evidently travelled extensively both at home and
abroad. We thanked her for her courage and courtesy in coming to speak
to us, at which she smiled and, bowing gracefully, retired towards the
castle. How her conduct compared with that of some people in England may
be judged from the following extract which we clipped from a Scottish
newspaper shortly afterwards:

A War Office clerk was riding outside the Oban coach from Inverary. A
fellow-passenger at his side remarked, "What a glorious view! what a
lovely scene!" to which the young gentleman of the War Office, with a
strong glance at the speaker, replied, "Sir, I don't know you; we
have not been introduced."

It was a fine afternoon, and Inverary town looked at its best and quite
pleasant in the sunshine, for most of the houses were coloured white. We
halted awhile at the picturesque sculptured cross, where many a weary
pilgrim had rested before us, with a glorious view over Loch Fyne and
the mountains beyond. The church stood at the end of the street, and the
"Argyll Arms Hotel" would have been a fine place to stay at for the
night. There was also quite a large temperance hotel where carriages
could be hired; but we had only walked about sixteen miles, so we had to
resist these attractions and walk on to Cairndow, a further distance of

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 13 of 66)