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Robert Naylor.

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protection against the wind and rain; then we left the highway and
turned to the right, along the hill road. After a steep ascent for more
than a mile, we passed under a lofty elevation, and found ourselves once
more amongst the heather-bells so dear to the heart of every true Scot.

At this point we could not help lingering awhile to view the magnificent
scene below. What a gorgeous panorama! The wide expanse of water, the
bridge we had lately crossed and the adjoining small village, the fine
plantations of trees, the duke's monument rising above the woods at
Golspie, were all visible, but obscured in places by the drifting
showers. If the "Clerk of the Weather" had granted us sunshine instead
of rain, we should have had a glorious prospect not soon to be
forgotten. But we had still three miles to walk, or, as the people in
the north style it, to travel, before we could reach the Half-Way House,
when we met a solitary pedestrian, who as soon as he saw us coming sat
down on a stone and awaited us until we got within speaking distance,
when he began to talk to us. He was the Inspector of Roads, and had been
walking first in one direction and then in the other during the whole of
the day. He said he liked to speak to everybody he saw, as the roads
were so very lonely in his district. He informed us that the Half-Way
House was a comfortable place, and we could not do better than stay
there for the night.

We were glad when we reached the end of our nine-mile walk, as the day
had been very rough and stormy. As it was the third in succession of the
same character, we did not care how soon the weather took a turn for the
better. The Half-Way House stood in a deserted and lonely position on
the moor some little distance from the road, without another house being
visible for miles, and quite isolated from the outer world. We entered
the farmyard, where we saw the mistress busy amongst the pigs, two dogs
barking at us in a very threatening manner. We walked into the kitchen,
the sole occupant of which was a "bairn," who was quite naked, and whom
we could just see behind a maiden of clothes drying before the fire. The
mistress soon followed us into the house, and in reply to our query as
to whether we could be accommodated for the night said, "I will see,"
and invited us into the parlour, a room containing two beds and sundry
chairs and tables. The floor in the kitchen was formed of clay, the
parlour had a boarded floor, and the mantelpiece and roof were of very
old wood, but there was neither firegrate nor fire.

After we had waited there a short time, the mistress again made her
appearance, with a shovel full of red-hot peat, so, although she had not
given us a decided answer as to whether we could stay the night or not,
we considered that silence gave consent, especially when seconded by the
arrival of the welcome fire.

"You surely must have missed your train!" she said; but when we told her
that we were pedestrian tourists, or, as my brother described it, "on a
walking expedition," she looked surprised.

When she entered the room again we were sorting out our letters and
papers, and she said, "You surely must be sappers!" We had some
difficulty in making her understand the object of our journey, as she
could not see how we could be walking for pleasure in such bad weather.

We found the peat made a very hot fire and did good service in helping
to dry our wet clothing. We wanted some hot milk and bread for supper,
which she was very reluctant to supply, as milk was extremely scarce on
the moors, but as a special favour she robbed the remainder of the
family to comply with our wishes. The wind howled outside, but we heeded
it not, for we were comfortably housed before a blazing peat fire which
gave out a considerable amount of heat. We lit one of our ozokerite
candles, of which we carried a supply to be prepared for emergencies,
and read our home newspaper, _The Warrington Guardian_, which was sent
to us weekly, until supper-time arrived, and then we were surprised by
our hostess bringing in an enormous bowl, apparently an ancient punch
bowl, large enough to wash ourselves in, filled with hot milk and bread,
along with two large wooden spoons. Armed with these, we both sat down
with the punch-bowl between us, hungry enough and greedy enough to
compete with one another as to which should devour the most. Which won
would be difficult to say, but nothing remained except the bowl and the
spoons and our extended selves.

We had walked twenty-seven miles, and it must have been weather such as
we had experienced that inspired the poet to exclaim:

The west wind blows and brings rough weather,
The east brings cold and wet together,
The south wind blows and brings much rain,
The north wind blows it back again!

The beds were placed end to end, so that our feet came together, with a
wooden fixture between the two beds to act as the dividing line.
Needless to say we slept soundly, giving orders to be wakened early in
the morning.

(_Distance walked twenty-seven miles_.)


_Saturday, September 23rd._

We were awakened at six o'clock in the morning, and after a good
breakfast we left the Half-Way House (later the "Aultnamain Inn"), and
well pleased we were with the way the landlady had catered for our
hungry requirements. We could see the sea in the distance, and as we
resumed our march across the moors we were often alarmed suddenly by the
harsh and disagreeable cries of the startled grouse as they rose
hurriedly from the sides of our path, sounding almost exactly like "Go
back! - go back!" We were, however, obliged to "Go forward," and that
fairly quickly, as we were already a few miles behind our contemplated
average of twenty-five miles per day. We determined to make the loss
good, and if possible to secure a slight margin to our credit, so we set
out intending to reach Inverness that night if possible. In spite,
therefore, of the orders given in such loud and unpleasant tones by the
grouse, we advanced quickly onwards and left those birds to rejoice the
heart of any sportsman who might follow.

Cromarty Firth was clearly visible as we left the moors, and we could
distinguish what we thought was Cromarty itself, with its whitewashed
houses, celebrated as the birthplace of the great geologist, Hugh
Miller, of whom we had heard so much in the Orkneys. The original cause
of the whitewashing of the houses in Cromarty was said to have been the
result of an offer made by a former candidate for Parliamentary
honours, who offered to whitewash any of the houses. As nearly all the
free and independent electors accepted his offer, it was said that
Cromarty came out of the Election of 1826 cleaner than any other place
in Scotland, notwithstanding the fact that it happened in an age when
parliamentarian representation generally went to the highest bidder.

We crossed the Strathrory River, and leaving the hills to our right
found ourselves in quite a different kind of country, a veritable land
of woods, where immense plantations of fir-trees covered the hills as
far as the eye could reach, sufficient, apparently, to make up for the
deficiency in Caithness and Sutherland in that respect, for we were now
in the county of Ross and Cromarty.

Shortly afterwards we crossed over the River Alness. The country we now
passed through was highly cultivated and very productive, containing
some large farms, where every appearance of prosperity prevailed, and
the tall chimneys in the rear of each spoke of the common use of coal.
The breeding of cattle seemed to be carried on extensively; we saw one
large herd assembled in a field adjoining our road, and were amused at a
conversational passage of arms between the farmer and two cattle-dealers
who were trying to do business, each side endeavouring to get the better
of the other. It was not quite a war to the knife, but the fight between
those Scots was like razor trying to cut razor, and we wished we had
time to stay and hear how it ended.

Arriving at Novar, where there was a nice little railway station, we
passed on to the village inn, and called for a second breakfast, which
we thoroughly enjoyed after our twelve-mile walk. Here we heard that
snow had fallen on one of the adjacent hills during the early hours of
the morning, but it was now fine, and fortunately continued to be so
during the whole of the day.

Our next stage was Dingwall, the chief town in the county of Ross, and
at the extreme end of the Cromarty Firth, which was only six miles
distant. We had a lovely walk to that town, very different from the
lonely moors we had traversed earlier in the day, as our road now lay
along the very edge of the Cromarty Firth, while the luxuriant foliage
of the trees on the other side of our road almost formed an arch over
our way. The water of the Firth was about two miles broad all the way to
Dingwall, and the background formed by the wooded hills beyond the Firth
made up a very fine picture. We had been fully prepared to find Dingwall
a very pretty place, and in that we were not disappointed.

The great object of interest as we entered this miniature county town
was a lofty monument fifty or sixty feet high,[Footnote: This monument
has since been swept away.] which stood in a separate enclosure near a
graveyard attached to a church. It was evidently very old, and leaning
several points from the perpendicular, and was bound together almost to
the top with bands of iron crossed in all directions to keep it from
failing. A very curious legend was attached to it. It was erected to
some steward named Roderick Mackenzie, who had been connected with the
Cromarty estate many years ago, and who appeared to have resided at
Kintail, being known as the Tutor of Kintail. He acted as administrator
of the Mackenzie estates during the minority of his nephew, the
grandfather of the first Earl of Cromarty, and was said to have been a
man of much ability and considerable culture for the times in which he
lived. At the same time he was a man of strong personality though of
evil repute in the Gaelic-speaking districts, as the following couplet
still current among the common people showed:

The three worst things in Scotland -
Mists in the dog-days, frost in May, and the Tutor of Kintail.

The story went that the tutor had a quarrel with a woman who appeared to
have been quite as strong-minded as himself. She was a dairymaid in
Strathconon with whom he had an agreement to supply him with a stone of
cheese for every horn of milk given by each cow per day. For some reason
the weight of cheese on one occasion happened to be light, and this so
enraged the tutor that he drove her from the Strath. Unfortunately for
him the dairymaid was a poetess, and she gave vent to her sorrow in
verse, in which it may be assumed the tutor came in for much abuse. When
she obtained another situation at the foot of Ben Wyvis, the
far-reaching and powerful hand of the tutor drove her from there also;
so at length she settled in the Clan Ranald Country in Barrisdale, on
the shores of Loch Hourn on the west coast of Inverness-shire, a place
at that time famous for shell-fish, where she might have dwelt in peace
had she mastered the weakness of her sex for demanding the last word;
but she burst forth once more in song, and the tutor came in for another
scathing:

Though from Strathconon with its cream you've driven me,
And from Wyvis with its curds and cheese;
While billow beats on shore you cannot drive me
From the shell-fish of fair Barrisdale.

These stanzas came to the ear of the tutor, who wrote to Macdonald of
Barrisdale demanding that he should plough up the beach, and when this
had been done there were no longer any shell-fish to be found there.

The dairymaid vowed to be even with the tutor, and threatened to
desecrate his grave. When he heard of the threat, in order to prevent
its execution he built this strange monument, and instead of being
buried beneath it he was said to have been buried near the summit; but
the woman was not to be out-done, for after the tutor's funeral she
climbed to the top of the pinnacle and kept her vow to micturate there!

As our time was limited, we were obliged to hurry away from this
pleasantly situated town, and in about four miles, after crossing the
River Conon, we entered Conon village, where we called for refreshments,
of which we hastily disposed. Conon was quite an agricultural village,
where the smithy seemed to rival the inn in importance, as the smiths
were busy at work. We saw quite a dozen ploughs waiting to be repaired
in order to fit them to stir up the soil during the ploughing season,
which would commence as soon as the corn was cleared off the land. Here
we observed the first fingerpost we had seen since leaving John o'
Groat's, now more than a hundred miles distant, although it was only an
apology for one, and very different from those we were accustomed to see
farther south in more important but not more beautiful places. It was
simply an upright post with rough pieces of wood nailed across the top,
but we looked upon it as a sign that we were approaching more civilised
regions. The gentry had shown their appreciation of this delightful part
of the country by erecting fine residences in the neighbourhood, some of
which we passed in close proximity. Just before crossing over the
railway bridge we came to a frightful figure of a human head carved on a
stone and built in the battlement in a position where it could be seen
by all. It was coloured white, and we heard it was the work of some
local sculptor. It was an awful-looking thing, and no doubt did duty for
the "boggard" of the neighbourhood. The view of the hills to the right
of our road as we passed along was very fine, lit up as they were by the
rays of the evening sun, and the snow on Ben Wyvis in the distance
contrasted strangely with the luxuriant foliage of the trees near us, as
they scarcely yet showed the first shade of the autumn tints.

About four miles farther on we arrived at a place called the Muir of
Ord, a rather strange name of which we did not know the meaning,
reaching the railway station there just after the arrival of a train
which we were told had come from the "sooth." The passengers consisted
of a gentleman and his family, who were placing themselves in a large
four-wheeled travelling-coach to which were attached four rather
impatient horses. A man-servant in livery was on the top of the coach
arranging a large number of parcels and boxes, those intolerable
appendages of travel. We waited, and watched their departure, as we had
no desire to try conclusions with the restless feet of the horses, our
adventures with the Shetland pony in the north having acted as a warning
to us. Shortly afterwards we crossed a large open space of land studded
with wooden buildings and many cattle-pens which a man told us was now
the great cattlemarket for the North, where sales for cattle were held
each month - the next would be due in about a week's time, when from
30,000 to 35,000 sheep would be sold. It seemed strange to us that a
place of such importance should have been erected where there were
scarcely any houses, but perhaps there were more in the neighbourhood
than we had seen, and in any case it lay conveniently as a meeting-place
for the various passes in the mountain country.

We soon arrived at Beauly, which, as its name implied, was rather a
pretty place, with its houses almost confined to the one street, the
Grammar School giving it an air of distinction. Our attention was
attracted by some venerable ruins at the left of our road, which we
determined to visit, but the gate was locked. Seeing a small girl
standing near, we asked her about the key, and she volunteered to go and
tell the man who kept it to come at once. We were pressed for time, and
the minutes seemed very long as we stood awaiting the arrival of the
key, until at last we decided to move on; but just as we were walking
away we saw an old man coming up a side street with the aid of a crutch
and a stick.

[Illustration: ON THE BEAULY RIVER.]

He pointed with his stick towards the cathedral, so we retraced our
steps and awaited his arrival with the key. A key it certainly was, and
a large one too, for it weighed 2 lbs. 4 ozs. and the bore that fitted
the lock was three-quarters of an inch in diameter. It was the biggest
key we saw in all our long journey. We listened to all the old man had
to tell us about the cathedral, the building of which begun in the year
1230. It measured 152 feet in length and about 24 feet in breadth, but
was ruined in the time of Cromwell. He showed us what he described as
the Holy Water Pot, which was quite near the door and had some water in
it, but why the water happened to be there the old man could not
explain. The front gable of the nave was nearly all standing, but that
at the back, which at one time had contained a large window, was nearly
all down. The old font was in the wall about half-way down the
cathedral; the vestry and chapter house were roofless. The grave-stones
dated from the year 1602, but that which covered the remains of the
founder was of course very much older. Beauly was formerly a
burial-place of the ancient Scottish chieftains, and was still used as
the burial-ground of the Mackenzies, the name reminding us of our
friends at the "Huna Inn." Rewarding our guide and the bairn who had
returned with him for their services, we walked quickly away, as we had
still twelve miles to walk before reaching Inverness.

[Illustration: BEAULY PRIORY.]

After crossing the bridge over the River Beauly we had the company for
about a mile of a huge servant-girl, a fine-looking Scotch lassie, with
whom we ventured to enter into conversation although we felt like dwarfs
in her presence. She told us she had never been in England, but her
sister had been there in service, and had formed a bad opinion of the
way the English spent their Sundays. Some of them never went to church
at all, while one young man her sister knew there actually whistled as
he was going to church! It was very different in Scotland, where, she
said, all went to church and kept holy the Sabbath day. She evidently
thought it a dreadful offence to whistle on Sundays, and we were careful
not to offend the susceptibilities of the Scots, and, we may safely say,
our own, by whistling on the Lord's day. Whistling was, however, an
accomplishment of which we were rather proud, as we considered ourselves
experts, and beguiled many a weary mile's march with
quicksteps - English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish - which we flattered
ourselves sounded better amongst the hills of the Highlands of Scotland
even than the sacred bagpipes of the most famous Scotch regiments.

We thanked our formidable-looking friend for her company and, presenting
her with a John o' Groat's buckie, bade her farewell. When she must have
been a distance away we accelerated our pace by whistling "Cheer, Boys,
Cheer!" one of Charles Russell's songs. We could not keep it up for
long, as we were not only footsore, but sore in every joint, through
friction, and we were both beginning to limp a little when we came to a
junction in the roads. Here it was necessary to inquire about our way,
and seeing a farm quite near we went to it and asked a gentleman who was
standing in the yard which way we should turn for Inverness and how far
it was. He kindly directed us, and told us that town was nine miles
distant, but added, "I am just going there in my 'machine,' which will
be ready directly, and will be glad to give you a lift." This kind offer
formed one of the greatest temptations we had during our long journey,
as we had already walked thirty miles that day, and were in a pitiable
condition, and it was hard to say "No." We thanked the gentleman
heartily, and explained why we could not accept it, as we had determined
to walk all the way to Land's End, and with an effort both painful and
slow we mournfully took our way. We had only travelled a short distance
when he overtook us with a spirited horse and a well-appointed
conveyance, bidding us "Good night" as he passed.

We had a painful walk for the next three miles, and it was just at the
edge of dark when we called for tea at the "Bogroy Inn." We were shown
into the parlour by the mistress herself, a pleasant elderly lady, very
straight, but very stout, and when my brother complimented her on her
personal appearance, she told him that when she first came into that
neighbourhood thirty-five years ago she only weighed eleven stone, but
six years since she weighed twenty-two stone; now, she rather
sorrowfully added, "I only weigh seventeen stone!" She evidently thought
she had come down in the world, but she was an ideal landlady of the
good old sort, for she sent us some venison in for our tea, the first we
had ever tasted, and with eggs and other good things we had a grand
feast. Moreover, she sent her daughter, a prepossessing young lady, to
wait upon us, so we felt ourselves highly honoured.

As we were devouring the good things provided we heard some mysterious
tappings, which we were unable to locate. My brother suggested the house
might be haunted, but when the young lady entered the room again we
discovered that the tappings were outside the house, on the shutters
which covered the windows, for every one in the Highlands in those days
protected their lower windows with wooden shutters. The tappings were
accompanied by a low whistle, by which we could see the young lady was
visibly affected, until finally she left the room rather hurriedly,
never to appear again; nor did we hear the tappings any more, and the
requiem we sung was:

If she be not fair for me,
What care I how fair she be?

We were sorry to leave the "Bogroy Inn," as the mistress said she would
have been glad of our further patronage, but we had determined to reach
Inverness as a better place to stay over the week end. With great
difficulty we walked the remaining six miles under the trees, through
which the moon was shining, and we could see the stars twinkling above
our heads as we marched, or rather crawled, along the Great North Road.
On arriving at Inverness we crossed the bridge, to reach a house that
had been recommended to us, but as it was not up to our requirements we
turned back and found one more suitable across the water. Our week's
walk totalled 160 miles, of which thirty-nine had been covered that day.

(_Distance walked thirty-nine miles._)


_Sunday, September 24th._

After a good night's rest and the application of common soap to the
soles of our feet, and fuller's earth to other parts of our
anatomy - remedies we continued to employ, whenever necessary, on our
long journey - we were served with a good breakfast, and then went out to
see what Inverness looked like in the daylight. We were agreeably
surprised to find it much nicer than it appeared as we entered it, tired
out, the night before, and we had a pleasant walk before going to the
eleven-o'clock service at the kirk.

Inverness, the "Capital of the Highlands," has a long and eventful
history. St. Columba is said to have visited it as early as the year
565, and on a site fortified certainly in the eighth century stands the
castle, which was, in 1039, according to Shakespeare, the scene of the
murder of King Duncan by Macbeth. The town was made a Royal Burgh by
David I, King of Scotland. The Lords of the Isles also appear to have
been crowned here, for their coronation stone is still in existence, and
has been given a name which in Gaelic signifies the "Stone of the Tubs."
In former times the water supply of the town had to be obtained from the
loch or the river, and the young men and maidens carrying it in tubs
passed this stone on their way - or rather did not pass, for they
lingered a while to rest, the stone no doubt being a convenient
trysting-place. We wandered as far as the castle, from which the view of
the River Ness and the Moray Firth was particularly fine.

We attended service in one of the Free Churches, and were much
interested in the proceedings, which were so different from those we had
been accustomed to in England, the people standing while they prayed and
sitting down while they sang. The service began with the one hundredth
Psalm to the good old tune known as the "Old Hundredth" and associated
in our minds with that Psalm from our earliest days:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell,
Come ye before Him, and rejoice.



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 9 of 66)