[Scotland Illustrated Contents]
IN no other country does nature exhibit herself in more various forms of beauty and sublimity, than in the North of England, and the Highlands of Scotland. This is acknowledged by all who having studied their character, and become familiar with the feelings it inspires, have compared the effects produced on their minds by our own mountainous regions, with what they have experienced among the scenery of the Alps. There indeed all objects are on so vast a scale, that we are for a while astonished as we gaze on the gigantic; and all other emotions are sunk in an overwhelming sense of awe that prostrates the imagination. But on recovering from its subjection to the prodigious, that faculty every where recognized in those mighty mountains of dark forests, glittering glaciers, and regions of eternal snow – infinite all – the power and dominion of the sublime. True that all these are but materials for the mind to work on, and that to its creative energy nature owes much of that grandeur which seems to be inherent in her own forms; yet surely she in herself is great, and there is a regality belonging of divine right to such a monarch as Mount Blanc.
Those are the very regions of sublimity, and if brought into immediate comparison with them in their immense magnitude, the most magnificent scenery of our own country would no doubt seem to lose its character of greatness. But such is not the process of the imagination in her intercourse with Nature. To her sufficient for the day is the good thereof; and on each new glorious sight being shown to her eyes, she employs her God-given power to magnify or irradiate what she beholds, without diminishing or obscuring what she remembers. Thus, to her all things in nature hold their own due place, and retain for ever their own due impressions, aggrandized and beautiful by mutual reaction in those visionary worlds, which by a thought she can create, and which, as they arise, are all shadowy representations of realities – new compositions in which the image of the earth we tread is reflected fairer or greater than any realities, but not therefore less, but more true to the spirit of nature. It is thus that Poets and Painters at once obey and control their own inspirations. They visit all the regions of the earth, but to love, admire, and adore; and the greatest of them all, native to our soil, from their travel or sojourn in foreign lands, have always brought home a clearer insight into the character of the scenery of their own, a profounder affection for it all, and a higher power of imaging its attributes in colours or in words. In our poetry, more than in any other, nature sees herself reflected in a magic mirror; and though many a various show passes processionally along its lustre, displaying the scenery of “lands and seas, whatever clime the sun’s bright circle warms,” among them all there are none more delightful or elevating to behold, than those which genius, inspired by love, has framed of the imagery, which in all her pomp and prodigality heaven has been pleased to shower, through all seasons, on our own beautiful island. It is not for us to say whether our native Painters, or the “old masters,” have shown the greatest genius in landscape; but if the palm must be yielded to them whose works have been consecrated by a reverence, as often, perhaps, superstitious as religious, we do not fear to say, that their superiority is not to be attributed in any degree to the scenery on which they exercised the art its beauty had inspired. Whatever may be the associations connected with the subjects of their landscapes – and we know not why they should be higher or holier than those belonging to innumerable places in our own land – assuredly in themselves they are not more interesting or impressive; nay, though none who have shared with us the spirit of the few imperfect sentences we have now written, will, for a moment, suppose us capable of instituting an invidious comparison between our own scenery, and that of any other country, why should we hesitate to assert that our own storm-loving Northern Isle is equally rich in all kinds of beauty, as the sunny South, and richer far in all kinds of grandeur, whether we regard the forms or colouring of nature – earth, sea, or air –
“Or all the dread magnificence of heaven.”
What other region in all the world like that of the Lakes in the North of England! And yet how the true lover of nature, while he carries along with him its delightful character in his heart, and can so revive any spot of especial beauty in his imagination, as that it shall seem in an instant to be again before his very eyes, can deliver himself up after the lapse of a day, to the genius of some savage scene in the Highlands of Scotland, rent and riven by the fury of some wild sea-loch! Not that the regions do not resemble one another, but surely the prevailing spirit of the one – not so of the other – is a spirit of joy and of peace. Her mountains, invested, though they often be, in gloom – and we have been more than once benighted during day, as a thunder-cloud thickened the shadows that for ever sleep in the deepest dungeons of Helvellyn – are yet – so it seems to us – such mountains as in nature ought to belong to “merry England.” They boldly meet the storms, and seen in storms, you might think they loved the trouble; but pitch your tent among them, and you will feel that theirs is a grandeur that is congenial with the sunshine, and that their spirit fully rejoices in the brightness of light. In clear weather, verdant from base to summit, how majestic their repose! And as mists slowly withdraw themselves in thickening folds up along their sides, the revelation made is still of more and more of the beautiful – arable fields below – then coppice woods studded with standard trees – enclosed pastures above and among the woods – broad breasts of close-nibbled herbage here and there adorned by rich dyed rocks, that do not break the expanse – till the whole veil has disappeared, and, lo! the long lofty range, with its wavy line, rising and sinking so softly in the blue serenity perhaps of an all almost cloudless sky. Yet though we have thus characterized the mountains by what we have always felt to be the pervading spirit of the region, chasms and ravines, and cliffs and precipices, are there; in some places you see such assemblages as inspire the fear that quakes at the heart, when suddenly struck in the solitude with a sense of the sublime; and though we have called the mountains green – and during Spring and Summer, in spite of frost or drought, they are green as emerald – yet in Autumn they are many-coloured, and are girdled with a glow of variegated light, that at sunset sometimes seems like fire kindled in the woods.
The larger Vales are all serene and cheerful, and among the sylvan knolls with which their wide levels highly cultivated are interspersed, cottages, single or in groups, are frequent, of an architecture always admirably suited to the scenery, because in a style suggested not by taste or fancy, which so often disfigure nature to produce the picturesque, but resorted to for sake of the uses and conveniences of in-door life, to weather-fend it in storms, and in calm to give it the enjoyment of sunshine. Many of these dwellings are not what are properly called cottages, but Statesmen’s houses, of ample front, with their many roofs, overshadowed by a stately grove, and inhabited by the same race for many generations. All alike have their suitable gardens, and the porches of the poorest are often clustered with roses; for everywhere among these hills, even in minds the most rude and uncultivated, there is a natural love of flowers. The villages, though somewhat too much modernized in those days of improvement, and indeed not a few of them with hardly any remains now of their original architecture* – nothing old about them but the church tower, perhaps the parsonage – are nevertheless generally of a pleasing character, and accordant, if not with the great features of nature, which are unchanged and unchangeable, with the increased cultivation of the country, and the many villas and ornamented cottages that have risen and are rising by every lake and river side. Rivers indeed, properly so called, there are none among these mountains; but every vale, great and small, has at all times its pure and undefiled stream or rivulet; every hill has its hundreds of evanescent rills, almost every one its own perennial torrent flowing from spring, marsh, or tarn; and the whole region is often alive with waterfalls, of many of which, in its exquisite loveliness, the scenery is fit for fairy festivals, – and of many, in its horrid gloom, for gatherings of gnomes revisiting the glimpses of the moon from their subterraneous prisons. One lake there is which has been called “wooded Winandermere, the river lake” – and there is another – Ulswater – which you might imagine to be a river too, and to have come flowing from afar; the one excelling in isles, and bays, and promotories, serene and gentle all, and perfectly beautiful; the other, matchless in its majesty of cliff and mountain, and in its old forests, among whose hoary gloom is for ever breaking out the green light of young generations, and perpetual renovation triumphing over perpetual decay. Of the other lakes – not river-like – the character may be imagined even from that we have faintly described of the mountains:- almost every vale has its lake, or a series of lakes – and though some of them have at times a stern aspect, and have scenes to show almost of desolation, descending sheer to the water’s edge, or overhanging the depth that looks profounder in the gloom, yet even these, to eyes and hearts familiar with their spirit, wear a sweet smile which seldom passes away: witness Wastwater – with its huge single mountains, and hugest of all the mountains of England, Scawfell, with its terrific precipices – which, in the accidents of storm, gloom, or mist, has seemed, to the lonely passer-by, savage in the extreme – a howling or dreary wilderness – but in its enduring character, is surrounded with all quiet pastoral imagery, the deep glen in which it is embedded being, in good truth, the abode of Sabbath peace. That hugest mountain is indeed the centre from which all the vales irregularly diverge; the whole circumjacent region may be traversed in a week; and though no other district of equal extent contains such a variety of the sublime and beautiful, yet the beautiful is so prevalent, that we feel its presence, even in places where it is overpowered; and on leaving “The Lakes,” our imagination is haunted and possessed with images, not of dread, but of delight.
We have sometimes been asked, whether the North of England, or the Highlands of Scotland should be visited first; but, simple as the question seems, it is really one which it is impossible to answer; though we suspect it would equally puzzle Scotchman or Englishman to give a sufficient reason for his wishing to see any part of any other country, before he had seen what was best worth seeing in his own. His own country out to be, and generally is, dearest to every man. There, if nothing forbid, he should not only begin his study of nature, but continue his education in her school, wherever it may happen to be situated, till he has taken his first degree. We believe that the love of nature is strong in the hearts of the inhabitants of our Island. And how wide and profound may that knowledge of nature be, which the loving heart has acquired, without having studied her any where but within the Four Seas! The impulses that make us desire to widen the circle of our observation, are all impulses of delight and love; and it would be strange indeed, did they not move us, first of all, towards whatever is most beautiful belonging to our own land. Were it otherwise, it would seem as if the heart were faithless to the home-affections, out of which, in their strength, spring all others that are good; and it is essential, we do not doubt, to the full growth of the Love of Country, that we should all have our earliest imaginative delights associated with our native soil. Such associations will for ever keep it loveliest to our eyes; nor is it possible that we can ever as perfectly understand the character of any other; but we can afterwards transfer and transfuse our feelings in imagination kindled by our own will; and the beauty, born before our eyes, among the banks and braes of our childhood, and then believed to be but there, and nothing like it any where else in all the world, becomes a golden light, “whose home is every where,” which if we do not darken it, will shine unshadowed in the dreariest places, till “the desert blossom like the rose.”
For our own parts, before we beheld one of “the beautiful fields of England,” we had walked all Scotland thorough, and had seen many a secret place, which now, in the confusion of our crowded memory, seem often to shift their uncertain ground; but still; wherever they glimmeringly re-appear, invested with the same heavenly light in which, long ago, they took possession of our soul. And now, that we are almost as familiar with the fair sister-land, and love her almost as well as Scotland’s self, not all the charms in which she is arrayed, and they are at once graceful and glorious, have ever for a day, withdrawn our deeper dreams from the regions where,
“In life’s morning march when our spirit was young,”
unaccompanied but by our own shadow in the wilderness, we first heard the belling of the red deer and the eagle’s cry.
In those days there was some difficulty, if not a little danger, in getting in among some of the noblest regions of our Alps. They could not be traversed without strong personal exertion; and a solitary pedestrian excursion through the Grampians was seldom achieved without a few incidents that might almost have been called adventures. It is very different now; yet the Genius Loci though tamed is not subdued; and they who would become acquainted with the heart of the Highlands, will have need of some endurance still, and must care nothing about the condition of earth or sky. Formerly, it was not possible to survey more than a district or division in a single season, except to those unenviable persons who had no other pursuit but that of amusement, and waged a weary war with time. The industrious dwellers in cities, who sought those solitudes, for a while to relieve their hearts from worldly anxieties, and gratify that love of nature which is inextinguishable in every bosom that in youth has beat with its noble inspirations, were contented with a week or two of such intercommunion with the spirit of the mountains, and thus continued to extend their acquaintance with the glorious wildernesses, visit after visit, for years. Now the whole Highlands, western and northern, may be commanded in a month. Not that any one who knows what they are, will imagine that they can be exhausted in a lifetime. The man does not live who knows all worth knowing there; and were they who made the Trigonometrical Survey to be questioned on their experiences, they would be found ignorant of thousands of sights, any one of which would be worth a journey for its own sake. But now steam has bridged the Great Glen, and connected the two seas. Salt water lochs the most remote and inaccessible, it has brought within reach of a summer-day’s voyage. In a week a joyous company can gather all the mainland shores, leaving not one magnificent bay uncircled; and, having rounded St. Kilda and
“the Hebride Isles,
Placed far amid the melancholy main,”
and heard the pealing anthem of waves in the cave-cathedral of Staffa, may bless the bells of St. Mungo’s tolling on the first Sabbath. Thousands and tens of thousands, who but for those smoking sea-horses, had never been beyond view of the city spires, have seen sights which, though passing by almost like dreams, are not like dreams forgotten, but revive of themselves in memory and imagination; and, when the heart is weary with the work of the hand, quicken its pulses with a sudden pleasure that is felt like a renovation of youth.
All through the interior, too, how many hundreds of miles of roads now intersect regions not long ago deemed impracticable! – firm on the fen, in safety flung across the chasm – and winding smoothly amidst shatterings of rocks, round the huge mountain bases, and down the glens once felt as if interminable, now travelled almost with the speed of the raven’s wing!
In the Highlands now, there is no Terra Incognita. But there are many places yet well worth seeing, which it is not easy for all men to find, and to which every man must be his own guide. It is somewhat of a selfish feeling, indeed, but the pride is not a mean one, with which the solitary pedestrian sits down to contemplate some strange, or wild, or savage scene, or some view of surpassing sweetness and serenity, so far removed from the track of men, that he can well believe for a time that his eyes have been the first to behold it, and that for them alone it has now become a visible revelation. The memory of such places is sometimes kept as a secret which we would not communicate but to a congenial friend. They are hallowed by those mysterious “thoughts that, like phantoms, trackless come and go;” no words can tell another how to find his way thither; and were we ourselves to seek to return, we should have to trust to some conciousness mysterious as the instinct of a bird that carries it through the blind night to the place of its desire.
It is well to have in our mind the conception of a route; but without being utterly departed from – nay, without ceasing to control us within certain bounds – it admits of almost any degrees of deviation. We have known persons apparently travelling for pleasure, who were afraid to turn a few miles to the right or the left, for fear of subjecting themselves to the reproach of their own conscience for infirmity of purpose. They had “chalked out a route,” and acted as if they had sworn a solemn oath to follow it. This is to be a slave among the boundless dominions of nature, where all are free. As the wind bloweth wherever it listeth, so move the moods of men’s minds, when there is nought to shackle them, and when the burden of their cares has been dropt, that for a while they may walk on air, and feel that they too have wings.
“A voice calls on me from the mountain depths,
And it must be obeyed.”
The voice was our own – and yet though but a whisper from the heart, it seemed to come from the front of yon distant precipice – sweet and wild as an echo.
On rising at dawn in the shieling, why think, much less determine, where at night we are to lay down our head? Let this be our thought:
“Among the hills a hundred homes have I;
My table in the wilderness is spread;
In these lone spots one honest smile can buy
Plain fare, warm welcome, and a rushy bed.”
If we obey any powers external to our own minds, let them be the powers of Nature – the rains, the winds, the atmosphere, sun, moon and stars. We must keep a look out-
“To see the deep fermenting tempest brewed,
In the grim evening sky;”
that next day we may cross the red rivers by bridges, not by fords; and if they roll along unbridged, that we may set our face to the mountain, and wind our way round his shoulder by sheep-tracks, unwet with the heather, till we behold some great strath, which we had not visited but for that storm, with its dark blue river streaked with golden light, – for its source is in a loch among the Eastern Range; and there, during the silent hours, heather, bracken, and greensward rejoiced in the trembling dews.
There is no such climate for all kinds of beauty and grandeur, as the climate of the Highlands. Here and there you meet with an old shepherd or herdsman, who has beguiled himself into a belief, in spite of many a night’s unforeseen imprisonment in the mists, that he can presage its changes from fair to foul, and can tell the hour when the long-threatening thunder will begin to mutter. The weather-wise have often perished in their plaids. Yet among a thousand uncertain symptoms, there are a few certain, which the ranger will do well to study, and he will often exult on the mountain to feel that “knowledge is power.” Many a glorious hour has been won from the tempest by him before whose instructed eye – beyond the gloom that wide around blackened all the purple heather – “far off its coming shone.” Leagues of continuous magnificence have gradually unveiled themselves on either side to him, as he has slowly paced, midway between, along the banks of the River of Waterfalls; having been assured by the light struggling through the mist, that it would not be long till there was a break-up of all that ghastly dreariment, and that the sun would call on him to come forth from his cave of shelter, and behold in all its pride the Glen affronting the sea.
Some Tourists – as they call themselves – are provided with map and compass; and we hope they find them of avail in extremities, though we fear few such understand their use. No map can tell – except very vaguely – how the aspect of the localities, looked at on its lines, is likely to be affected by sun-rise, meridian, or sun-set. Yet, true it is, that every region has its own happy hours, which the fortunate often find unawares, and know them at once to be so the moment they lift up their eyes. At such times, while “our hearts rejoice in Nature’s joy,” we feel the presence of a spirit that brings out the essential character of the place, be it of beauty or of grandeur. Harmonious as music is then the composition of colours and of forms. It becomes a perfect picture in memory, more and more idealized by imagination, every moment the veil is withdrawn before it; its aërial lineaments never fade; yet they too, though their being be but in the soul, are mellowed by the touch of time – and every glimpse of such a vision, the longer we live, and the more we suffer, seems suffused with a mournful light, as if seen through tears.
It would serve no good purpose, supposing we had the power, to analyze the composition of that scenery, which in the aggregate so moves even the most sluggish faculties, as to make “the dullest wight a poet.” It rises before the mind in imagination, as it does before the eyes in nature; and we can no more speak of it than look at it, but – as a whole. We can indeed fix our mental or our visual gaze on scene after scene to the exclusion of all beside, and picture it even in words that shall be more than shadows. But how shall any succession of such pictures, however clear and complete, give an idea of that picture which comprehends them all, and infinite as are its manifestations, nevertheless is embued with one spirit?
Try to forget that in the Highlands there are any Lochs. Then the sole power is that of the Mountains. We speak of a sea of mountains; but that image has never more than momentary possession of us, because, but for a moment, in nature it has no truth. Tumultuary movements envelope them; but they themselves are for ever steadfast and for ever still. Their power is that of an enduring calm no storms can disturb – and is often felt to be more majestical, the more furious are the storms. As the tempest-driven clouds are franticly hurrying to and fro, how serene the summits in the sky! Or if they be hidden, how peaceful the glimpses of some great mountain’s breast! They disregard the hurricane that goes crashing through their old woods; the cloud-thunder disturbs not them any more than that of their own cataracts, and the lightnings play for their pastime. All minds under any excitation, more or less personify mountains. When much moved, that natural process affects all our feelings, as the language of passion awakened by such objects vividly declares; and then we do assuredly conceive of mountains as endued with life – however dim and vague the conception may be – and feel their character in their very names. Utterly strip our ideas of them of all that is attached to them as impersonations, and their power is gone. But while we are creatures of imagination as well as of reason, will those monarchs remain invested with the purple and seated on thrones.
In such imaginative moods as these must every one be, far more frequently than he is conscious of, and in far higher degrees, who, with a cultivated mind and a heart open to the influences of nature, finds himself, it matters not whether for the first or the hundredth time, in the Highlands. We fancy the Neophyte wandering, all by himself, on the “Longest Day;” rejoicing to think that the light will not fail him, when at last the sun must go down, for that a starry gloaming will continue its gentle reign till morn. He thinks but of what he sees, and that is – the mountains. All memories of any other world but that which encloses him with its still sublimities, are not excluded merely, but obliterated: his whole being is there! And now he stands on table-land, and with his eyes sweeps the horizon, bewildered for a while, for it seems chaos all. But soon the mighty masses begin arranging themselves into order; the confusion insensibly subsides as he comprehends more and more of their magnificent combinations; he discovers centres round which are associated altitudes towering afar off; and finally, he feels, and blesses himself on his felicity, that his good genius has placed him on the very centre of those wondrous assemblages altogether, from which alone he could command an empire of realities, more glorious far than was ever empire of dreams.
It is a cloudy, but not a stormy day; the clouds occupy but portions of the sky, – and are they all in slow motion together, or are they all at rest? Huge shadows stalking along the earth, tell that there are changes going on in heaven; but to the upward gaze, all seems hanging there in the same repose; and with the same soft illumination the sun to continue shining, a concentration rather than an orb of light. All above is beautiful, and the clouds themselves are like celestial mountains; but the eye forsakes them, though it sees them still, and more quietly now it moves along the pageantry below that endures for ever – till chained on a sudden by that range of cliffs. ‘Tis along them that the giant shadows are stalking – but now they have passed by – and the long line of precipice seems to come forward in the light. To look down from the brink might be terrible – to look up from the base would be sublime – but fronting the eye thus, horrid though it be, the sight is most beautiful; – for weather-stains, and mosses, and lichens, and flowering plants – conspicuous most the broom and the heather – and shrubs that, among their leaves of light, have no need of flowers – and hollies, and birks, and hazels, and many a slender tree beside with pensile tresses, besprinkle all the cliffs, that in no gloom could ever lose their lustre; but now the day though not bright is fair, and brings out the whole beauty of the precipice – call it the hanging garden of the wilderness.
The Highlands have been said to be a gloomy region, and worse gloom than theirs might well be borne, if not unfrequently illumined with such sights as these; but that is not the character of the mountains, though the purple light in which, for usual, they are so richly steeped, is often for a season tamed, or for a short while extinguished, while a strange nightlike day lets fall over them all a something like a shroud. Such days we have seen – but now in fancy we are with the pilgrim, and see preparation making for a sunset. It is drawing towards evening, and the clouds that have all this time been moving, though we knew it not, have assuredly settled now, and taken up their rest. The sun has gone down, and all that unspeakable glory has left the sky. Evening has come and gone without our knowing that she had been here; but there is no gloom on any place in the whole of this vast wilderness, and the mountains, as they wax dimmer and dimmer, look as if they were surrendering themselves to a repose like sleep. Day had no voice here audible to human ear – but night is murmuring – and gentle though the murmur be, it filleth the great void, and we imagine that ever and anon it awakens echoes. And now it is darker than we thought, for lo! one soft-burning star! And we see that there are many stars; but not theirs the light that begins again to reveal object after object as gradually as they had disappeared; the moon is about to rise – is rising – has arisen – has taken her place high in heaven; and as the glorious world again expands around us, faintly tinged, clearly illumined, softly shadowed, and deeply begloomed, we say within our hearts,
“How beautiful is night!”
There are many such table-lands as the one we have now been imagining, and it requires but a slight acquaintance with the country to conjecture rightly where they lie. Independently of the panoramas they display, they are in themselves always impressive; perhaps a bare level that shows but bleached bent, and scatterings of stones, with here and there an unaccountable rock; or hundreds of fairy greensward knolls, fringed with tiny forests of fern that have almost displaced the heather; or a wild withered moor or moss intersected with pits dug not by men’s hands; and, strange to see! a huge log lying half exposed, and as if blackened by fire. High as such places are, on one of them a young gorcock was stricken down by a hawk close to our feet. Indeed, hawks seem to haunt such places, and we have rarely crossed one of them, without either seeing the creature’s stealthy flight, or hearing, whether he be alarmed or preying, his ever-angry cry.
From a few such stations, you get an insight into the configuration of the whole Western Highlands. By the dip of the mountains, you discover at a glance all the openings in the panorama around you into other regions. Follow your fancies fearlessly wherever they may lead; and if the blue aërial haze that hangs over a pass winding eastward, tempt you from your line of march due north, forthwith descend in that direction, and haply an omen will confirm you – an eagle rising on the left, and sailing away before you into that very spot of sky.
No man, however well read, should travel by book. In books you find descriptions, and often good ones, of the most celebrated scenes, but seldom a word about the vast tracts between; and it would seem as if many Tourists has used their eyes only in those places where they had been told by common fame there was something greatly to admire. Travel in the faith, that go where you will, the cravings of your heart will be satisfied, and you will find it so, if you be a true lover of nature. You hope to be inspired by her spirit, that you may read aright her works. But such inspiration comes not from one object or another, however great or fair, but from the whole “mighty world of eye and ear,” and it must be supported continuously, or it perishes. You may see a thousand sights never before seen by human eye, at every step you take, wherever be your path; for no steps but yours have ever walked along that same level; and moreover, never on the same spot twice rested the same lights or shadows. Then there may be something in the air, and more in your own heart, that invests every ordinary object with extraordinary beauty; old images affect you with a new delight; a grandeur grows upon your eyes in the undulations of the simplest hills; and you feel there is sublimity in the common skies. It is thus that all the stores of imagery are insensibly gathered, with which the minds of men are filled, who from youth have communed with nature. And it is thus that all those feelings have flowed into their hearts by which that imagery is sanctified; and these are the Poets.
It is in this way that we all become familiar with the mountains. Far more than we were aware of have we trusted to the strong spirit of delight within us, to prompt and to guide. And in such a country as the Highlands, thus led, we cannot err. Therefore, if your desire be for still ascending and ascending, along some vast brow, that seems almost a whole day’s journey, and where it is lost from your sight, not to end, but to go sweeping round, with undiminished grandeur into another region. You are not yet half way up the mountain, but you care not for the summit now; for you find yourself among a number of green knolls – all of them sprinkled, and some of them crowned with trees – as large almost as our lowland hills – surrounded close to the brink with the purple heather – and without impairing the majesty of the immense expanse, embuing it with pastoral and sylvan beauty; – and there, lying in a small forest glade of the lady-fern, ambitious no longer of a throne on Benlomond or Bennevis, you dream away the still hours till sunset, yet then have no reason to weep that you have lost a day.
But the best way to view the mountains is to trace the Glens. To find out the glens you must often scale the shoulders of mountains, and in such journeys of discovery, you have for ever going on before your eyes glorious transfigurations. Sometimes for a whole day one mighty mass lowers before you unchanged; look at it after the interval of hours, and still the giant is one and the same/ It rules the region, subjecting all other altitudes to its sway, though many of them range away to a great distance; and at sunset retains its supremacy, blazing almost like a volcano with fiery clouds. Your line of journey lies perhaps, some two thousand feet above the level of the sea, and seldom dips down to one thousand; and these are the heights from which all above and all below you look most magnificent, for both regions have their full power over you – the unscaleable cliffs, the unfathomable abysses – and you know not which is the more sublime. The sublimity indeed is one. It is then that you may do well to ascend to the very mountain top. For it may happen to be one of those heavenly days indeed, when the whole Highlands seem to be reposing in the cloudless sky.
But we were about to speak of the Glens. And some of them are best entered by such descents as these – perhaps at their very head – where all at once you are in another world, how still, how gloomy, how profound! An hour ago and the eye of the eagle had not wider command of earth, sea, and sky, than yours – almost blinded now by the superincumbent precipices that imprison you, and seem to shut you out from life.
“Such the grim desolation, where Ben-Hun
And Craig-na-Torr, by earthquake shatterings
Disjoined with horrid chasms prerupt, enclose
What superstition calls the Glen of Ghosts.”
Or you may enter some great glen from the foot, where it widens into vale, or strath – and there are many such – and some into which you can sail up an arm of the sea. For a while it partakes of the cultivated beauty of the lowlands, and glen and vale seem almost one and the same; but gradually it undergoes a strange wild change of character, and in a few miles that similitude is lost. There is little of no arable ground here; but the pasture is rich on the unenclosed plain – and here and there, are enclosures, near the few houses or huts standing, some of them in the middle of the glen, quite exposed, on eminences above reach of the floods – some more happily placed on the edge of the coppices, that sprinkle the steep sides of the hills, yet barely mountains. But mountains they soon become; and leaving behind you those few barren habitations, you see before you a wide black moor. Beautiful hitherto had been the river, for a river you had inclined to think it, long after it had narrowed into a stream, with many a waterfall, and in one chasm a cataract. But the torrent now has a wild mountain-cry, and though there is still beauty on its banks, they are bare of all trees, now swelling into multitudes of low green knolls among the heather, now composed but of heather and rocks. Through the very middle of the black moor it flows, yet are its waters clear, for all is not moss, and it seems to wind its way where there is nothing to pollute its purity, or tame its lustre. ‘Tis a solitary scene, but still sweet; the mountains are of great magnitude, but they are not precipitous; vast herds of cattle are browsing there, on heights from which fire has cleared the heather, and wide ranges of greensward upon the lofty gloom seem to lie in perpetual night.
The moor is crossed, and you prepare to scale the mountain in front, for you imagine the torrent by your side flows from a tarn in yonder cove, and forms that series of waterfalls. You have been all along well pleased with the glen, and here at the head, though there is a want of cliffs of the highest class, you feel nevertheless, that it has a character of grandeur. Looking westward, you are astounded to see them ranging away on either side of another reach of the glen, terrific in their height, but in their formation beautiful, for like the walls of some vast temple they stand, roofed with sky. Yet are they but as a portal or gateway of the glen. For entering in which awe, that deepens, as you advance, almost into dread, you behold, beyond, mountains that carry their cliffs up into the clouds, seamed with chasms, and hollowed out into coves, where night dwells visibly by the side of day; and still the glen seems winding on beneath a purple light, that almost looks like gloom; such vast forms and such prodigious colours, and such utter stillness, become oppressive to your very life, and you wish that some human being were by, to relieve, by his mere presence, the insupportable weight of such a solitude.
But we should never have done were we to attempt to sketch, however slightly, the character of all the different kinds of glens. Some are sublime in their prodigious depth and vast extent, and would be felt to be so, even were the mountains that enclose them of no great majesty; but these are all of the highest order, and sometimes are seen from below to the very cairns on their summits. Now we walk along a reach, between astonishing ranges of cliffs, among large heaps of rocks – not a tree – scarcely a shrub – no herbage – the very heather blasted – all lifelessness and desolation. The glen gradually grows less and less horrid, and though its sides are seamed with clefts and chasms, in the gloom there are places for the sunshine, and there is felt to be even beauty in the repose. Descends suddenly on either side a steep slope of hanging wood, and we find ourselves among verdant mounds, and knolls, and waterfalls. We come then into what seems of old to have been a forest. Here and there a stately pine survives, but the rest are all skeletons; and now the glen widens, and widens, yet ceases not to be profound, for several high mountains enclose a plain on which armies might encamp, and castellated clouds hang round the heights of the glorious amphitheatre, while the sky-roof is clear, and as if in its centre, the refulgent sun. ‘Tis the plain called “The Meeting of the Glen.” From the east and the west, the north and the south, they come like rivers into the sea.
Other glens there are, as long, but not so profound, nor so grandly composed; yet they too conduct us nobly in among the mountains, and up their sides, and on even to their very summits. Such are the glens of Athol, in the neighbourhood of Ben-y-gloe. From them the heather is not wholly banished, and the fire has left a green light without quenching the purple colour native to the hills. We think that we almost remember the time when those glens were in many places sprinkled with huts, and all animated with human life. Now they are solitary; and you may walk from sunrise till sunset without seeing a single soul.** For a hundred thousand acres have there been changed into a forest, for the sake of the pastime, indeed, which was dear of old to chieftains and kings. Vast herds of red-deer are there, for they herd in thousands – yet may you wander for days over the boundless waste, nor once be startled by one stag bounding by. Yet may a herd, a thousand strong, be drawn up, as in battle array, on the cliffs above your head. For they will long stand motionless, at gaze, when danger is in the wind – and then their antlers to unpractised eyes seem but boughs grotesque, or are invisible; and when all at once, with one accord, at signal from the stag, whom they obey, they wheel off towards the Corries, you think it but thunder, and look up to the clouds. Fortunate if you see such a sight once in your life. Once only have we seen it; and it was, of a sudden, all by ourselves,
“Ere yet the hunter’s startling horn was heard
Upon the golden hills.”
Almost within rifle-shot, the herd occupied a position, high up, indeed, but below several ridges of rocks, running parallel for a long distance, with slopes between of sward, and heather. Standing still, they seemed to extend about a quarter of a mile, and as with a loud clattering of hoofs and antlers, they took more open order, the line at least doubled its length, and the whole mountain-side seemed alive. They might not be going at full speed, but the pace was equal to that of any charge of cavalry; and once and again the flight passed before us, till it overcame the ridges, and then deploying round the shoulder of the mountain, disappeared, without dust or noise, into the blue light of another glen.
We question, if there be in the Highlands any one glen comparable with Borrowdale in Cumberland. But there are several that approach it, in that combination of beauty and grandeur, which perhaps no other scene equals in all the world. The “Gorge” of that Dale exhibits the finest imaginable assemblage of rocks and rocky hills, all wildly wooded; beyond them, yet before we have entered into the Dale, the Pass widens, with noble cliffs on one side, and on the other a sylvan stream, not without its abysses; and we see before us some lovely hills, on which-
“The smiling power of cultivation lies,”
yet leaves, with lines defined by the steeps that defy the ploughshare, copses and groves; and thus we are brought into the Dale itself, and soon have a vision of the whole – green and golden fields – for though most are in pasture, almost all seem arable – sprinkled with fine single trees – and lying in flats and levels, or swelling into mounds and knolls, and all diversified with every kind of woods; single cottages, with their outbuildings, standing every where they should stand, and coloured like the rocks from which in some lights they are hardly to be distinguished – strong-roofed and undilapidated, though many of them very old; villages, apart from one another a mile – and there are three – yet on their sites, distant and different in much though they be, all associated together by the same spirit of beauty that pervades all the Dale. Half way up, and in some places more, the enclosing hills and even mountains are sylvan indeed, and though there be a few inoffensive aliens, they are all adorned with their native trees. The mountains are not so high as in our Highlands, but they are very majestic; and the Passes over into Langdale, and Wastdalehead, and Buttermere, are magnificent, and show precipices in which the Golden Eagle himself might rejoice.
No – there is no glen in all the Highlands comparable with Borrowdale. Yet we know of some that are felt to be kindred places, and their beauty though less, almost as much affects us, because though contending, as it were, with the darker spirit of the mountain, it is not overcome but prevails; and their beauty will increase with years. For while the rocks continue to frown aloft for ever, and the cliffs to range along the corries, unbroken by trees, which there the tempests will not suffer to rise, the woods and groves below, preserved from the axe, for sake of their needful shelter, shall become statelier till the birch equal the pine; reclaimed from the waste, shall many a fresh field recline among the heather, tempering the gloom; and houses arise where now there are but huts, and every house have its garden:- such changes are now going on, and we have been glad to observe their progress, even though sometimes they had removed, or were removing, objects dear from old associations, and which, had it been possible, but it was not, we should have loved to see preserved.
And one word on those sweet pastoral seclusions into which one often drops unexpectedly, it may be at the close of day, and finds a night’s lodging in the only hut. Yet they lie, sometimes, embosomed in their own green hills, among the most rugged mountains, and even among the wildest moors. They have no features by which you can describe them; it is their serenity that charms you, and their cheerful peace; perhaps it is wrong to call them glens, and they are but dells. Yet one thinks of a dell as deep, however small it may be; but these are not deep, for the hills slope down gently upon them, and leave room perhaps between for a little shallow loch. Often they have not any visible water at all, only a few springs and rivulets, and you wonder to see them so very green; there is no herbage like theirs; and to such spots of old, and sometimes yet, the kine are led in summer, and there the lonely family live in their shieling till the harvest moon.
We have all along used the same word, and called the places we have spoken of – glens. A fine observer – the Editor of Gilpin’s Forest Scenery – has said, “The gradation from extreme width downwards should be thus arranged, – strath, vale, dale, valley, glen, dell, ravine, chasm. In the strath, vale, and dale, we may expect to find the large, majestic, gently flowing river, or even the deeper or smaller lake. In the glen, if the river be large, it flows more rapidly, and with greater variety. In the dell, the stream is smaller. In the ravine, we find the mountain torrent and the waterfall. In the chasm, we find the roaring cataract, or the rill, bursting from its haunted fountain. The chasm discharges its small tribute into the ravine, while the ravine is tributary to the dell, and thence to the glen; and the glen to the dale.”
These distinctions are admirably expressed, and perfectly true to nature; yet we doubt if it would be possible to preserve them in describing a country, and assuredly they are very often indeed confused by common use in the naming of places. We have said nothing about Straths – nor shall we try to describe one – but suggest to your own imagination – as specimens – Strath-Spey, Strath-Tay, Strath-Earn. The dominion claimed by each of those rivers, within the mountain ranges that environ their courses, is a strath; and three noble straths they are, from source to sea.
And now we are brought to speak of the Highland Rivers, Streams, and Torrents; but we shall let them rush or flow, murmur or thunder in your own ears, for you cannot fail to imagine what the waters must be in a land of such glens, and such mountains. The chief rivers possess all the attributes essential to greatness – width – depth – clearness – rapidity – in one word power. And some of them have long courses – rising in the central heights, and winding round many a huge projection, against which in flood we have seen them dashing like the sea. Highland droughts are not of long duration; the supplies are seldom withheld at once by all the tributaries; and one wild night among the mountains converts a calm into a commotion – the many-murmuring voice into one roar. In flood they are terrible to look at; and every whirlpool seems a place of torment. Winds can make a mighty noise in swinging woods, but there is something to our ears more appalling in that of the fall of waters. Let them be united – and add thunder from the clouds – and we have heard in the Highlands all three in one – and the auditor need not care that he has never stood by Niagara. But when “though not o’erflowing full,” a Highland river is in perfection; far better do we love to see and hear him rejoicing than raging; his attributes appear more his own in calm and majestic manifestations, and as he glides or rolls on, without any disturbance, we behold in him an image at once of power and peace.
Of rivers – comparatively speaking – of the second and third order – the Highlands are full – and on some of them the sylvan scenery is beyond compare. No need there to go hunting the waterfalls. Hundreds of them – some tiny indeed, but others tall – are for ever dinning in the woods; yet, at a distance from the cataract, how sweet and quiet is the sound! It hinders you not from listening to the cushat’s voice; clear amidst the mellow murmur comes the bleating from the mountain; and all other sound ceases, as you hearken in the sky to the bark of the eagle – rare indeed any where, but sometimes to be heard as you thread the “glimmer or the gloom” of the umbrage overhanging the Garry or the Tummel – for he used to build in the cliffs of Ben-Brackie, and if he has shifted his eyrie, a few minutes’ waftage will bear him to Cairn-Gower.
In speaking of the glens, we but alluded to the rivers or streams, and some of them, indeed, even the great ones, have but rivulets; while in the greatest, the waters often flow on without a single tree, shadowed but by rocks and clouds. Wade them, and you find they are larger than they seem to be; for looked at along the bottom of those profound hollows, they are but mere slips of sinuous light in the sunshine, and in the gloom you see them not at all. We do not remember any very impressive glen, without a stream, that would not suffer some diminution of its power by our fancying it to have one; we may not be aware, at the time, that the conformation of the glen prevents it having any water-flow, but if we feel its character aright, that want is among the causes of our feeling; just as there are some scenes of which the beauty would not be so touching were there a single tree.
Thousands and tens of thousands there are of nameless perennial torrents, and “in number without number numberless” those that seldom live a week – perhaps not a day. Up among the loftiest regions you hear nothing, even when they are all aflow; yet, there is music in the sight, and the thought of the “general dance and minstrelsy” enlivens the air, where no insect hums. As on your descent you come within hearing of the “liquid lapses,” your heart leaps within you, so merrily do they sing; the first torrent-rill you meet with you take for your guide, and it leads you perhaps into some fairy dell, where it wantons awhile in waterfalls, and then gliding along a little dale of its own with “banks o’ green bracken,” finishes its short course in a stream – one of many that meet and mingle before the current takes the name of river, which in a mile or less becomes a small woodland lake. There are many such of rememberable beauty; living lakes indeed, for they are but pausings of expanded rivers, which again soon pursue their way, and the water-lilies have ever a gentle motion there as if touched by a tide.
It used, not very long ago, to be pretty generally believed by our southern brethren, that there were few trees in the Lowlands of Scotland, and none at all in the Highlands. They had an obscure notion that trees either could not or would not grow in such a soil and climate – cold and bleak enough at times and places, heaven knows – yet not altogether unproductive of diverse stately plants. They know better now; nor were we ever angry with their ignorance, which was nothing more than what was to be expected in persons living perpetually at home so far remote. They rejoice now to visit, and sojourn, and travel here among us, foreigners and a foreign land no more; and we rejoice to see and receive them not as strangers, but friends, and are proud to know they are well pleased to behold our habitation. They do us and our country justice now, and we have sometimes thought even more than justice; for they are lost in admiration of our cities – above all, of Edinburgh – and speak with such raptures of our scenery, that they would appear to prefer it even to their own. They are charmed with our bare green hills, with our shaggy brown mountains they are astonished, our lochs are their delight, our woods their wonder, and they hold up their hands and clap them at our cliffs. This is generous, for we are not blind to the fact of England being the most beautiful land on all the earth. What are our woods to hers! To hers, what are our single trees! We have no such glorious standards to show as her indomitable and everlasting oaks. She is all over sylvan – Scotland but here and there; look on England from any point in any place, and you see she is rich, from almost any point in any place in Scotland, and you feel that comparatively she is poor. Yet our Lowlands have long been beautifying themselves into a resemblance of hers; as for our Highlands, though many changes have been going on there too, and most we believe for good, they are in their great features, and in their spirit unalterable by art, stamped and inspired by enduring Nature.
We have spoken, slightly, of the sylvan scenery of the Highlands. In Perthshire, especially, it is of rare and extraordinary beauty, and we are always glad to hear of Englishmen travelling up the Tay and the Earn. We desire that eyes familiar with all that is umbrageous should receive their first impressions of our Scottish trees at Duneira and Dunkeld. Nor will those impressions be weakened as they proceed towards Blair Athol. In that famous Pass, they will feel the power possessed by the sweet wild monotony of the universal birch woods – broken but by grey crags in every shape – grotesque, fantastical, majestic, magnificent, and sublime – on the many-ridged mountains, that are loth to lose the green light of their beloved forests, retain it as long as they can, and on the masses of living lustre seem to look down with pride from their skies.
An English forest, meaning thereby any one wide continuous scene of all kinds of old English trees, with glades of pasture, and it may be of heath between, with dells dipping down into the gloom, and hillocks undulating in the light – ravines and chasms too, rills, and rivulets, and a haunted stream, and not without some melancholy old ruins, and here and there a cheerful cottage that feels not the touch of time – such a forest there is not, and hardly can be imagined to be in Scotland. But in the Highlands, there once were, and are still other forests of quite a different character, and of equal grandeur. In his “Forest Scenery,” Gilpin shows that he understood it well; all the knowledge, which as a stranger, almost of necessity he wanted, Lauder has supplied in his annotations; and the book should now be in the hands of every one who cares about the woods. “The English Forest,” says Gilpin, “is commonly composed of woodland views, interspersed with extensive heaths and lawns. Its trees are oak and beech, whose lively green corresponds better than the gloomy pine with the nature of the scene, which seldom assumes the dignity of a mountain one, but generally exhibits a cheerful landscape. It aspires, indeed, to grandeur; but its grandeur does not depend, like that of the Scottish forest on the sublimity of the objects, but on the vastness of the whole – the extent of its woods and the wideness of its plains. In its inhabitants also the English forest differs from the Scottish; instead of the stag and the roebuck, it is frequented by cattle and fallow-deer, and exchanges the scream of the eagle and the falcon for the crowing of pheasants, and the melody of the nightingale. The Scottish forest, no doubt, is the sublimer scene, and speaks to the imagination in a loftier language than the English forest can reach. The latter, indeed, often rouses the imagination, but seldom in so great a degree, being generally content with captivating the eye., The scenery, too, of the Scottish forest is better calculated to last through ages than that of the English. The woods of both are almost destroyed. But while the English forest hath lost all its beauty with its oaks, and becomes only a desolate waste, the rocks and the mountains, the lakes, and the torrents of the Scottish forest make it still an interesting scene.”
The Tree of the Highlands is the Pine. There are Scotch firs, indeed, well worth looking at, in the Lowlands, and in England, but to learn their true character you must see them in the glen, among rocks, by the river side, and on the mountain. “We for our parts,” says Lauder very finely, “confess that when we have seen it towering in full majesty in the midst of some appropriate Highland scene, and sending its limbs abroad with all the unrestrained freedom of a hardy mountaineer, as if it claimed dominion over the savage region round it, we have looked upon it as a very sublime object. People who have not seen it in native climate and soil, and who judge of it from the wretched abortions which are swaddled and suffocated in English plantations, among dark, heavy, and eternally wet clays, may well call it a wretched tree; but when its foot is among its own Highland heather, and when it stands freely in its native knoll of dry gravel, or thinly covered rock, over which its roots wander afar in the wildest reticulation, whilst its tall, furrowed, and often gracefully sweeping red and grey trunk, of enormous circumference, rears aloft its high umbrageous canopy, then would the greatest sceptic on this point be compelled to prostrate his mind before it with a veneration which perhaps was never before excited in him by any other tree.” The colour of the pine has been objected to as murky, and murky it often is, or seems to be; and so then is the colour of the heather, and of the river, and of the loch, and of the sky itself thunder-laden, and murkiest of all are the clouds. But a stream of sunshine is let loose, and the gloom is confounded with glory; over all that night-like reign the jocund day goes dancing, and the forest revels in green or in golden light. Thousands and tens of thousands of pines are there, and as you gaze upon the whole mighty array, you fear lest it might break the spell, to fix your gaze on any one single tree. But there are trees there that will force you to look on themselves alone, and they grow before your eyes into the kings of the forest. Straight stand their stems in the sunshine, and you feel that as straight have they stood in the storm. As yet you look not up, for your heart is awed, and you see but the stately columns reddening away into the gloom. But all the while you feel the power of the umbrage aloft, and when thitherwards you lift your eyes, what a roof to such a cathedral! A cone drops at your feet – nor other sound nor other stir – but afar off you think you hear a cataract. Inaudible your footsteps on the soft yellow floor, composed of the autumnal sheddings of countless years. Then it is true that you can indeed hear the beating of your own heart; you fear but know not what you fear; and being the only living creature there, you are impressed with a thought of death. But soon to that severe silence you are more than reconciled; the solitude, without ceasing to be sublime, is felt to be solemn and not awful, and ere long, utter as it is, serene. Seen from afar, the forest was one black mass; but as you advance, it opens up into spacious glades, beautiful as gardens, with appropriate trees of gentler tribes, and ground-flowering in the sun. But there is no murmur of bee – no song of bird. In the air a thin whisper of insects – intermittent – and wafted quite away by a breath. For we are now in the very centre of the forest, and even the cushat haunts not here. Hither the red deer may come – but not now – for at this season they love the hill. To such places the stricken stag might steal to lie down and die.
And thus for hours may you be lost in the forest, nor all the while have wasted one thought on the outer world, till with no other warning but an uncertain glimmer and a strange noise, you all at once issue forth into the open day, and are standing on the brink of a precipice above a flood. It comes tumbling down with a succession of falls, in a mile-long course, right opposite your stance – rocks, cliffs, and trees, all the way up on either side, majestically retiring back to afford ample channel, and showing an unobstructed vista, closed up by the purple mountain, that seems to send forth the river from a cavern in its breast. ‘Tis the Glen of Pines. Nor ash nor oak is suffered to intrude on their dominion. Since the earthquake first shattered it out, this great chasm, with all its chasms, has been held by one race of trees. No other seed could there spring to life; for from the rocks has all soil, ages ago, been washed and swept by the tempests. But there they stand with glossy boles, spreading arms, and glittering crest; and those two by themselves on the summit, known all over Badenoch as “the Giants” – “their statures reach the sky.”
We have been indulging in a dream of old. Before our day the immemorial gloom of Glenmore had perished, and it ceased to be a forest. But there bordered on it another region of night or twilight, and in its vast depths we first felt the sublimity of lonesome fear. Rothiemurchus! The very word blackens before our eyes with necromantic characters – again we plunge into its gulphs desirous of what we dread – again “in pleasure high and turbulent,” we climb the cliffs of Cairn-gorm.
Would you wish to know what is now the look of Glenmore? One now dead and gone – a man of wayward temper, but of genius – shall tell you – and think not the picture exaggerated – for you would not, if you were there. “It is the wreck of the ancient forest which arrests all the attention, and which renders Glenmore a melancholy, more than a melancholy, a terrific spectacle. Trees, of enormous height, which have escaped, alike, the axe and the tempest, are still standing, stripped by the winds, even of the bark, and like gigantic skeletons, throwing far and wide their white and bleached bones to the storms and rains of heaven; while others, broken by the violence of the gales, lift up their split and fractured trunks in a thousand shapes of resistance and of destruction, or still display some knotted and tortuous branches, stretched out, in sturdy and fantastic forms of defiance, to the whirlwind and the winter. Noble trunks also, which had long resisted, but resisted in vain, strew the ground; some lying on the declivity where they have fallen, others still adhering to the precipice where they were rooted, many upturned, with their twisted and entangled roots high in air; while not a few astonish us by the space which they cover, and by dimensions which we could not otherwise have estimated. It is one wide image of death, as if the angel of destruction had passed over the valley. The sight, even of a felled tree, is painful: still more is that of the fallen forest, with all its green branches on the ground, withering, silent, and at rest, where once they glittered in the dew and the sun, and trembled in the breeze. Yet this is but an image of vegetable death. It is familiar, and the impression passes away. It is the naked skeleton bleaching in the winds, the gigantic bones of the forest still erect, the speaking records of former life, and of strength still unsubdued, vigorous even in death, which renders Glen More one enormous charnel house.”
What happened of old to the aboriginal Forests of Scotland, that long before these later destructions they had almost all perished, leaving to bear witness what they were, such survivors? They were chiefly destroyed by fire. What power could extinguish chance-kindled conflagrations, when sailing before the wind? And no doubt fire was set to clear the country at once of Scotch firs, wolves, wild-boars, and outlaws. Tradition yet tells of such burnings; and, if we mistake not, the pines found in the Scottish mosses, the logs and the stocks, all show that they were destroyed by Vulcan, though Neptune buried them in the quagmires. Storms no doubt often levelled them by thousands; but had millions so fallen they had never been missed, and one Element only – which has been often fearfully commissioned – could achieve the work. In our own day the axe has indeed done wonders – and sixteen square miles of the Forest of Rothiemurchus “went to the ground.” John of Ghent, Gilpin tells us, to avenge an inroad, set twenty-four thousand axes at work in the Caledonian Forest.
Yet Scotland has perhaps sufficient forests at this day. For more has been planted than cut down; Glenmore will soon be populous as ever with self-sown pines, and Rothiemurchus may revive; the shades are yet deep of Loch-Arkaig, Glengarry, Glenmoriston, Strathglass, Glen-Strathfarrar, and Loch-Shiel; deeper still on the Findhorn – and deepest of all on the Dee rejoicing in the magnificent pine woods of Invercauld and Braemar.
We feel that we have spoken feebly of our Highland forests. Some, perhaps, who have never been off the high-roads, may accuse us of exaggeration too; but they contain wondrous beauties of which we have said not a word; and no imagination can conceive what they may be in another hundred years. But, apparently far apart from the forests, though still belonging to them, for they hold in fancy by the tenure of the olden time, how many woods, and groves, and sprinklings of fair trees, rise up during a day’s journey, in almost every region of the North! And among them all, it may be, scarcely a pine. For the oak, and the ash, and the elm, are also all native trees; no where else does the rowan flush with more dazzling lustre; in spring, the alder with its vivid green stands well beside the birk – the yew was not neglected of yore, though the bow of the Celt was weak to that of the Saxon; and the holly, in winter emulating the brightness of the pine, flourished, and still flourishes on many a mountain side. There is sufficient sylvan scenery for beauty in a land of mountains. More may be needed for shelter – but let the young plants and seedlings have time to grow – and as for the old trees, may they live for ever. Too many millions of larches are perhaps growing now behind the Tay and the Tilt; yet why should the hills of Perthshire be thought to be disfigured by what ennobles the Alps and the Appenines?
Hitherto we have hardly said a word about Lochs, and have been doing our best to forget them, while imagining scenes that were chiefly characterized by other great features of Highland Landscape. A country thus constituted, and with such an aspect, even if we could suppose it without lochs, would still be a glorious region; but its lochs are indeed its greatest glory; by them its glens, its mountains and its woods are all illumined, and its rivers made to sing aloud for joy. In the pure element, overflowing so many spacious vales, and glens profound, the great and stern objects of nature look even more sublime or more beautiful, in their reflected shadows, which appear in that stillness to belong rather to heaven than earth. Or the evanescence of all that imagery at a breath may touch us with the thought, that all it represents, steadfast as seems its endurance, will as utterly pass away. Such visions, when gazed on, in that wondrous depth and purity they are sometimes seen to assume, on a still summer day, always inspire some faint feeling as this; and we sigh to think how transitory must be all things, when the setting sun is seen to sink beneath the mountain, and all its golden pomp at the same instant to evanish from the lake.
The first that takes possession of the imagination, dreaming of the Highlands as the region of Lochs, is the Queen of them all, Loch Lomond. A great poet has said, that, “In Scotland, the proportion of diffused water is often too great, as at the Lake of Geneva, for instance, and in most of the Scottish lakes. No doubt it sounds magnificent, and flatters the imagination, to hear at a distance of masses of water, so many leagues in length, and miles in width; and, such ample room may be delightful to the fresh water sailor, scudding with a lively breeze amid the rapidly shifting scenery. But who ever travelled along the banks of Loch Lomond, variegated, as the lower part is, by islands, without feeling that a speedier termination of the long vista of blank water would be acceptable, and without wishing for an interposition of green meadows, trees, and cottages, and a sparkling stream to run by his side. In fact, a notion of grandeur as connected with magnitude, has seduced persons of taste into a general mistake upon this subject. It is much more desirable for the purposes of pleasure, that lakes should be numerous and small or middle-sized, than large, not only for communication by walks and rides, but for variety, and for recurrence of similar appearances. To illustrate this by one instance: how pleasing is it to have a ready and frequent opportunity of watching, at the outlet of a lake, the stream, pushing its way among the rocks, in lively contrast with the stillness from which it has escaped; and how amusing to compare its noisy and turbulent motions with the gentle playfulness of the breezes that may be starting up, or wandering here and there, over the fainty-rippled surface of the broad water! I may add, as a general remark, that i lakes of great width, the shores cannot be distinctly seen at the same time; and therefore contribute little to mutual illustration and ornament; and if the opposite shores are out of sight of each other, like those of the American and Asiatic lakes, then unfortunately the traveller is reminded of a nobler object; he has the blankness of a sea-prospect without the grandeur and accompanying sense of power.”
We shall not be suspected of an inclination to dissent, on light grounds, from any sentiments of Wordsworth. But finely felt and expressed as all this is, we do not hesitate to say that it is not applicable to Loch Lomond. Far be it from us to criticise this passage sentence by sentence; for wee have quoted it not in a captious, but a reverent spirit, as we have ever done with the works of this illustrious man. He has studied nature more widely and profoundly than we have; but it is out of our power to look on Loch Lomond without a feeling of perfection. The “diffusion of water” is indeed great; but in what a world it floats! At first sight of it, how our soul expands! The sudden revelation of such majestic beauty, wide as it is and extending afar, inspires us with a power of comprehending it all. Sea-like indeed it is – a Mediterranean Sea – enclosed with lofty hills and as lofty mountains – and these indeed are the Fortunate Isles! We shall not dwell on the feeling which all must have experienced on the first sight of such a vision – the feeling of a lovely and a mighty calm; it is manifest that the spacious “diffusion of water” more than conspires with the other components of such a scene to produce the feeling; that to it belongs the spell that makes our spirit serene, still, and bright, as its own. Nor when such feeling ceases so entirely to possess, and so deeply to affect us, does the softened and subdued charm of the scene before us depend less on the expanse of the “diffusion of water.” The islands, that before had lain we knew not how – or we had only felt that they were all most lovely – begin to show themselves in the order of their relation to one another and to the shores. The eye rests on the largest, and with them the lesser combine; or we look at one or two of the least, away by themselves, or remote from all a tufted rock; and many as they are, they break not the breadth of the liquid plain, for it is ample as the sky. They show its amplitude; as masses and sprinklings of clouds, and single clouds, show the amplitude of the cerulean vault. And then the long promontories – stretching out from opposite mainlands, and enclosing bays that in themselves are lakes – they too magnify the empire of water; for long as they are, they seem so only as our eye attends them with their cliffs and woods from the retiring shores, and far distant are their shadows from the central light. Then what shores! On one side where the lake is widest, low-lying they seem and therefore lovelier – undulating with fields and groves, where many a pleasant dwelling in embowered, into lines of hills that gradually soften away into another land. On the other side, sloping back, or overhanging, mounts beautiful in their bareness, for they are green as emerald; others, scarcely more beautiful, studded with fair trees – some altogether woods. They soon form into mountains – and the mountains become more and more majestical, yet beauty never deserts them, and her spirit continues to tame that of the frowning cliffs. Far off as they are, Benlomond and Benvorlich are seen to be giants; magnificent is their retinue, but they two are supreme, each in his own dominion; and clear as the day is here, they are diadem’d with clouds.
It cannot be that the “proportion of diffused water is here too great;” and is it then true that no one “ever travelled along the banks of Loch Lomond, variegated as the lower part is by islands, without feeling that a speedier termination to the long vista of blank water would be acceptable, and without wishing for an interposition of green meadows, trees and cottages, and a sparkling stream to run by his side?” We have travelled along them in all weathers and never felt such a wish. For there they all are – all but the “sparkling stream to run by our side,” and we see not how that well could be in nature. “Streams that sparkle as they run,” cross our path on their own; and brighter never issued from the woods. Along the margin of the water, as far as Luss – ay, and much farther – the variations of the foreground are incessant; “had it no other beauties,” it has been truly said, “but those of its shores, it would still be an object of prime attraction; whether from the bright green meadows sprinkled with luxuriant ash-trees, that sometimes skirt its margin, or its white pebbled shores on which its gentle billows murmur, like a miniature ocean, or its bold rocky promontories rising from the dark water rich in wild flowers and ferns, and tangled with wild roses and honeysuckles, or its retired bays where the waves dash, reflecting, like a mirror, the trees which hang over them, an inverted landscape.” The islands are for ever arranging themselves into new forms, every one more and more beautiful; at least so they seem to be, perpetually occurring, yet always unexpected, and there is a pleasure even in such a series of slight surprises that enhances the delight of admiration. And alongside, or behind us, all the while, are the sylvan mountains, “laden with beauty;” and ever and anon open glens widen down upon us from chasms;’ or forest glades lead our hearts away into the inner gloom – perhaps our feet; and there, in a field that looks not as if it had been cleared by his own hands, but left clear by nature, a woodsman’s hut.
Half-way between Luss and Tarbet the water narrows, but it is still wide; the new road, we believe, winds round the point of Firkin, the old road boldly scaled the height, as all old roads loved to do; ascend it, and bid the many-isled vision, in all its greatest glory, farewell. Thence upwards prevails the spirit of the mountains. The lake is felt to belong to them – to be subjected to their will – and that is capricious; for sometimes they suddenly blacken it when at its brightest, and sometimes when its gloom is like that of the grave, as if at their bidding, all is light. We cannot help attributing the “skiey influences” which occasion such wonderful effects on the water, to prodigious mountains; for we cannot look on them without feeling that they reign over the solitude they compose; the lights and shadows flung by the sun and the clouds imagination assuredly regards as put forth by the vast objects which they colour; and we are inclined to think some such belief is essential in the profound awe, often amounting to dread, with which we are inspired by the presences of mere material forms. But be this as it may, the upper portion of Loch Lomond is felt by all to be most sublime. Near the head, all the manifold impressions of the beautiful which for hours our mind had been receiving, begin to fade; if some gloomy change has taken place in the air, there is a total obliteration, and the mighty scene before us is felt to possess not the hour merely, but the day. Yet should sunshine come, and abide a while, beauty will glimpse upon us even here, for green pastures will smile vividly, high up among the rocks; the sylvan spirit is serene the moment it is touched with light, and here there is not only many a fair tree by the water-side, but yon old oak wood will look joyful on the mountain, and the gloom become glimmer in the profound abyss.
Wordsworth says, that “it must be more desirable, for the purposes of pleasure, that lakes should be numerous, and small or middle-sized, than large, not only for communication by walks and rides, but for variety, and for recurrence of similar appearances.” The Highlands have them of all sizes – and that surely is best. But here is one which, it has been truly said, is not only “incomparable in its beauty as in its dimensions, exceeding all others in variety as it does in extent and splendour, but unites in itself every style of scenery which is found in the other lakes of the Highlands.” He who has studied, and understood, and felt all Loch Lomond, will be prepared at once to enjoy any other fine lake he looks on; nor will he admire nor love it the less, though its chief character should consist in what forms but one part of that of the Wonder in which all kinds of beauty and sublimity are combined.
We feel that it would be idle, and worse than idle, to describe any number of the Highland lochs, for so many of the finest have been seen by so many eyes, that few persons probably will ever read these pages to whom such descriptions would be, at the best, more than shadowings of scenery that their own imaginations can more vividly recreate. There are other reasons for not saying a single word about some of the most beautiful; for genius has pictured and peopled them and the surrounding regions in colours that will never fade. Besides, in the volumes to which these “Remarks” are a preface – contributed with pleasure, somewhat impaired indeed by the consciousness of its many defects and imperfections – views of them all are submitted to the eye; and it is not to be thought that we could by words add to the effect of the works of such artists. These objections do not apply to what we have written respecting the character of the Scenery of the Highlands, apart, as far as that may be, from their lochs; and it may have in some measure illustrated them also, if it has at all truly characterized the mountains, the glens, the rivers, the forests, and the woods.
We may be allowed, however, to say, that there cannot be a greater mistake than to think, as many we believe do who have only heard of the Highland Lochs, that, with the exception of those famous for their beauty as well as their grandeur, beauty is not only not the quality by which they are distinguished, but that it is rarely found in them all. There are few, possessing any very marked character, in which beauty is not either an ingredient or an accompaniment; and there are many “beautiful exceedingly” which, lying out of the way even of somewhat adventurous travellers, or very remote, are known, if even by that, only by name. It does not, indeed, require much, in some situations, to give a very touching beauty to water. A few trees, a few knolls, a few tufted rocks, will do it, where all around and above is stern or sterile; and how strong may be the gentle charm, if the torrent that feeds the little loch chance to flow into it from a lucid pool formed by a waterfall, and to flow out of it in a rivulet that enlivens the dark heather with a vale of verdure over which a stag might bound – and more especially if there be two or three huts in which it is perceived there is human life! We believe we slightly touched before on such scenes; but any little repetition will be excused for the sake of a very picturesque passage, which we have much pleasure in quoting from the very valuable “Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland,” by the brothers Anderson. We well remember walking into the scene here so well painted, many long years ago, and have indeed, somewhere or other, described it. The Fall of Foyers is the most magnificent cataract, out of all sight and hearing, in Britain. The din is quite loud enough in ordinary weather – and it is only in ordinary weather that you can approach the place, from which you have a full view of all its grandeur. When the Fall is in flood – to say nothing of being drenched to the skin – you are so blinded by the sharp spray smoke, and so deafened by the dashing and clashing, and tumbling and rumbling thunder, that your condition is far from enviable, as you cling, “lonely lover of nature,” to a shelf by no means eminent for safety, above the horrid gulf. Nor in former times was there any likelihood of your being comforted by the accommodations of the General’s Hut. In ordinary Highland weather – meaning thereby weather neither very wet nor very dry – it is worth walking a thousand miles for one hour to behold the Fall of Foyers. The spacious cavity is enclosed by “complicated cliffs and perpendicular precipices” of immense height, and though for a while it wears to the eye a savage aspect, yet beauty fears not to dwell even there, and the horror is softened by what appears to be masses of tall shrubs, or single shrubs almost like trees. And they are trees, which on the level plain would look even stately; but as they ascend ledge above ledge the walls of that awful chasm, it takes the eye time to see them as they really are, while on our first discernment of their character, serenely standing among the tumult, they are felt on such sites to be sublime.
“Between the Falls and the Strath of Stratherrik,” says the Book we were about to quote, “a space of three or four miles, the river Foyers flows through a series of low rocky hills clothed with birch. They present various quiet glades and open spaces, where little patches of cultivated ground are encircled by wooded hillocks, whose surface is pleasingly diversified by nodding trees, bare rocks, empurpled heath, and bracken bearing herbage.” It was the excessive loveliness of some of the scenery there that suggested to us the thought of going to look what kind of a stream the Foyers was above the Fall. We went, and in the quiet of a summer evening, found it
“Was even the gentlest of all gentle things.”
But here is the promised description of it. “Before pursuing our way westward, we would wish to direct the traveller’s attention to a sequestred spot of peculiar beauty on the river Foyers. This is a secluded vale, called Killean, which, besides its natural attractions, and these are many, is distinguished as one of the few places where the old practice of resorting to the ‘shieling’ for summer grazing of cattle is still observed. It is encompassed on all sides by steep mountains; but at the north end there is a small lake, about a mile and a half length, and from one-third to half a mile in breadth. The remainder of the bottom of the glen is a perfectly level tract, of the same width with the lake, and about two miles and a half in length, covered with the richest herbage, and traversed by a small meandering river flowing through it into the lake. The surface of this flat is bedecked with the little huts or bothies, which afford temporary accommodation to the herdsmen and others in charge of the cattle. This portion of the glen is bordered on the west by continuous hills rising abruptly in a uniformly steep acclivity, and passing above into a perpendicular range of precipices, the whole covered with a scanty verdure sprouted with heath. At a bend of the lake near its middle, where it inclines from a northernly course towards the west, a magnificent rounded precipice, which like the continuous ranges, may be about 1200 feet in height, rises immediately out of the water; and a few narrow and inclined verdant stripes alone preserve it from exhibiting a perfectly mural character. To this noble rock succeeds, along the rest of the lake, a beautiful, lofty, and nearly vertical hill-side, clothed with birch, intermingled with hanging mossy banks, shaded over with the deeper tinted bracken. The eastern side of the plain, and the adjoining portion of the lake, are lined by mountains corresponding in height with those opposed to them; but their lower extremities are, to a considerable extent, strewed with broken fragments of rock, to which succeeds an uninterrupted zone of birch and alder, which is again overtopped in its turn by naked cliffs. An elevated terrace occupies the remainder of this side of the lake; above the wooded face of which is seen a sloping expanse of mingled heath and herbage. About half a mile from the south end, Mr. Frazer of Lovat, the proprietor, has erected a shooting lodge; viewed from which, or from either end, or from the top of the platform on the north-east side of the lake, fancy could scarcely picture a more attractive and fairy landscape, than is unfolded by this sequestred vale, to which Dr. Johnson’s description of the ‘Happy Valley’ not inaptly applies. The milch cows, to the number of several hundreds, are generally kept here from the beginning of June to the middle of August, when they are replaced by the yeld cattle. The river sweeps to the northward from Loch Killean through richly birch-clad hills, which rise in swelling slopes from its banks. A large tarn which immediately joins it from the east is crossed at its mouth by a rustic bridge, from which a single footpath conducts across the brow of the hill to Whitebridge, a small public house or inn, four miles distant.”
There is a loch of a very different character from Killean, almost as little known, (one view of it is given in the book,) equal to any thing in the Highlands, only two miles distant from Loch Lochy, in the Great Glen – Loch Arkaig. We first visited it many years since, having been induced to do so by a passage in John Stoddart’s “Remarks on the local Scenery and Manners of Scotland;” and it was then a very noble oak and pine forest loch. The axe went to work and kept steadily at it; and a great change was wrought; but it is still a grand scene, with a larger infusion of beauty than it possessed of old. The scenery of the valley separating it from Loch Lochy is very similar to that of the Trossachs; through it there are two approaches to the loch, and the Mile-Dubh, or the Dark Mile, according to our feeling, is more impressive than any part of the approach to Loch Katrine. The woods and rocks are very solemn, and yet very sweet; for though many old pines, and oaks and ashes are there, and the wall of rocks is immense, young trees prevail now on many places, as well along the heights as among the knolls and hillocks below, where alders and hawthorns are thick; almost every where the young are intermingled with the old, and look cheerful under their protection, without danger of being chilled by their shade. The loch, more or less sylvan from end to end, shows on its nearer shores some magnificent remains of the ancient forest, and makes a noble sweep like some great river. There may be more, but we remember but one island – not large, but wooded as it should be – the burying-place of the family of Lochiel. What rest! It is a long journey from Loch Lochy to Kinloch Arkaig – and by the silent waters we walked or sat all a summer’s day. There was nothing like a road that we observed, but the shores are easily travelled, and there it is you may be almost sure of seeing some red deer. They are no better worth looking at from a window than Fallow – no offence to Fallow, who are fine creatures; indeed we had rather not see them so at all; but on the shores or steeps of Loch Arkaig, with hardly a human habitation within many, many miles, and these few rather known than seen to be there, the huts of Highlanders contented to cultivate here and there some spot that seems cultivatable, but probably is found not to be so after some laborious years – there they are at home; and you, if young, looking on them feel at home too, and go bounding, like one of themselves, over what, did you choose, were an evitable steep. Roe, too, frequent the copses, but to be seen they must be started; grouse spring up before you oftener than you might expect in a deer forest; but, to be sure, it is a rough and shaggy one, though lovelier lines of verdure never lay in the sunshine than we think we see now lying for miles along the margin of that Loch. The numerous mountains towards the head of the loch are very lofty, and glens diverge in grand style into opposite and distant regions. Glen Dessary, with its beautiful pastures, opens on the Loch, and leads to Loch Nevish on the coast of Knoidart – Glen Pæan to Oban-a-Cave on Loch Morer, Glen Canagorie into Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel; and Glen Kingie to Glengarry and Loch Quoich. There is a choice! We chose Glen Kingie, and after a long climb found a torrent that took us down to Glengarry before sunset. It is a loch little known and in grandeur not equal to Loch Arkaig; but at the close of such a day’s journey, the mind elevated by the long contemplation of the great objects of nature, cannot fail to feel aright, whatever it may be, the spirit of the scene, that seems to usher in the grateful hour of rest. It is surpassing fair – and having lain all night long on its gentle banks, sleeping or waking we known not, we have never remembered it since but as the Land of Dreams.
Which is the dreariest, most desolate and dismal of the Highland Lochs? We should say Loch Ericht. It lies in a prodigious wilderness with which perhaps no man alive is conversant, and in which you may travel for days without seeing even any symptoms of human life. We speak of the regions comprehended between the Forest of Athol, and Bennevis, the Moor of Rannach, and Glen Spean. There are many Lochs – and Loch Ericht is their griesly Queen. Herdsmen, shepherds, hunters, fowlers, anglers, traverse its borders, but few have been far in the interior, and we never knew anybody who had crossed it from south to north, from east to west. We have ourselves seen more of it, perhaps than any other Lowlander; and had traversed many of its vast glens and moors, before we found our way to the southern solitude of Loch Ericht. We came into the western gloom of Ben Auler from Loch Ouchan, and up and down for hours dismal but not dangerous precipices that opened out into what might almost be called passes – but we had frequently to go back for they were blind – contrived to clamber to the edge of one of the mountains that rose from the water a few miles down the Loch. All was vast, shapeless, savage, black, and wrathfully grim; for it was one of those days that keep frowning and lowering, yet will not thunder; such as one conceives of, on the eve of an earthquake. At first the sight was dreadful, but there was no reason for dread; imagination remains not longer than she chooses the slave of her own eyes, and we soon began to enjoy the gloom, and to feel how congenial it was in nature with the character of all those lifeless cliffs. Silence and darkness suit well together in solitude at noonday; and settled on huge objects make them sublime. And they were huge; all ranged together, and stretching away to a great distance, with the pitchy water, still as if frozen, covering their feet.
Loch Ericht is many miles long – nearly twenty; but there is a loch among the Grampians not more than two miles round – if so much, which is sublimer far – Loch Aven. You come upon the sight of it at once, a short way down from the summit of Cairngorm, and then it is some two thousand feet below you, itself being as many above the level of the sea. But to come upon it so as to feel best its transcendent grandeur, you should approach it up Glenaven – and from as far down as Inch-Rouran, which is about half-way between Loch Aven and Tomantoul. Between Inch-Rouran and Tomantoul the glen is wild, but it is inhabited; above that house there is but one other – and for about a dozen miles – we have heard it called far more – there is utter solitude. But never was there a solitude at once so wild – so solemn – so serene – so sweet! The glen is narrow; but on one side there are openings into several wider glens, that show you mighty coves as you pass on; on the other side the mountains are without a break, and the only variation with them is from smooth to shaggy, from dark to bright; but their prevailing character is that of pastoral or of forest peace. The mountains that show the coves belong to the bases of Ben-Aven and Ben-y-buird. The heads of those giants are not seen – but it sublimes the long glen to know that it belongs to their dominion, and that it is leading us on to an elevation that ere-long will be on a level with the roots of their top-most cliffs. The Aven is so clear 0 on account of the nature of its channel – that you see the fishes hanging in every pool; and ’tis not possible to imagine how beautiful in such transparencies are the reflections of its green ferny banks. For miles they are composed of knolls, seldom interspersed with rocks, and there cease to be any trees. But ever and anon, we walk for a while on a level floor, and the voice of the stream is mute. Hitherto sheep have been noticed on the hill, but not many, and red and black cattle grazing on the lower pastures; but they disappear, and we find ourselves all at once in a desert. So it is felt to be, coming so suddenly with its black heather on that greenest grass; but ’tis such a desert as the red-deer love. We are now high up on the breast of the mountain, which appears to be Cairngorm; but such heights are deceptive, and it is not till we again see the bed of the Aven that we are assured we are still in the glen. Prodigious precipices, belonging to several different mountains, for between mass and mass there is blue sky, suddenly arise, forming themselves more and more regularly into circular order, as we near; and now we have sight of the whole magnificence; yet vast as it is, we know not yet how vast; it grows as we gaze, till in a while we feel that sublimer it may not be; and then so quiet in all its horrid grandeur we feel too that it is beautiful, and think of the Maker.
This is Loch Aven. How different the whole region round from that enclosing Loch Ericht! There, vast wildernesses of more than melancholy moors – huge hollows hating their own gloom that keep them herbless – disconsolate glens left far away by themselves, without any sign of life – cliffs that frown back the sunshine – and mountains, as if they were all dead, insensible to the heavens. Is this all mere imagination – or the truth? We deceive ourselves in what we call a desert. For we have so associated our own being with the appearances of outward things, that we attribute to them, with an uninquiring faith, the very feelings and the very thoughts, of which we have chosen to make them emblems. But here the sources of the Dee seem to lie in a region as happy as it is high; for the bases of the mountains are all such as the soul has chosen to make sublime – the colouring of the mountains all such as the soul has chosen to make beautiful; and the whole region, thus embued with a power to inspire elevation and delight, is felt to be indeed one of the very noblest in nature.
We have now nearly reached the limits assigned to our “Remarks on the Character of the Scenery of the Highlands;” and we feel that the sketches we have drawn if its component qualities – occasionally filled up with some details – must be very imperfect indeed, without comprehending some parts of the coast, and some of the sea-arms that stretch into the interior. But even had our limits allowed, we do not think we could have ventured on such an attempt; for though we have sailed along most of the western shores, and through some of its sounds, and into many of its bays, and up not a few of its reaches, yet they contain such an endless variety of all the fairest and greatest objects of nature, that we feel it would be far beyond our powers to give any thing like an adequate idea of the beauty and the grandeur that for ever kept unfolding themselves around our summer voyagings in calm or storm. Who can say that he knows a thousandth part of the wonders of “the marine” between the Mull of Cantire and Cape Wrath? He may have gathered many an extensive shore – threaded many a mazy multitude of isles – sailed up many a spacious bay – and cast anchor at the head of many a haven land-locked so as no more to seem to belong to the sea – yet other voyagers shall speak to him of innumerable sights which he has never witnessed; and they who are most conversant with those coasts, best know how much they have left and must leave for ever unexplored.
Look now only at the Linnhe Loch – how it gladdens Argyle! Without it and the sound of Mull how sad would be the shadows of Morvern! Eclipsed the splendours of Lorn! Ascend one of the heights of Appin, and as the waves roll in light, you will feel how the mountains are beautified by the sea. There is a majestic rolling onwards there that belongs to no land-loch – only to the world of waves. There is no nobler image of ordered power than the tide, whether in flow or in ebb; and on all now it is felt to be beneficent, coming and going daily, to enrich and adorn. Or in fancy will you embark, and let the Amethyst bound away “at her own sweet will,” accordant with yours, till she reach the distant and long-desired loch.
“Loch-Sunart! who, when tides and tempests roar,
Comes in among these mountains from the main,
‘Twixt wooded Ardnamuchan’s rocky cape
And Ardmore’s shingly beach of hissing spray;
And while his thunders bid the sound of Mull
Be dumb, sweeps onwards past a hundred bays
Hill-sheltered from the wrath that foams along
The mad mid-channel, – All as quiet they
As little separate worlds of summer dreams, –
And by storm-loving birds attended up
The mountain-hollow, white in their career
As are the breaking billows, spurns the Isles
Of craggy Carnich, and green Oronsay
Drench’d in that sea-born shower o’er tree-tops driven
And ivyed stones of what was once a tower
Now hardly known from rocks – and gathering might
In the long reach between Dungallan caves
And point of Arderinis ever fair
With her Elysian groves, bursts through that strait
Into another ampler inland sea;
Till lo! subdued by some sweet influence, –
And potent is she though so meek the Eve, –
Down sinketh wearied the old Ocean
Insensibly into a solemn calm, –
And all along that ancient burial-ground,
(Its kirk is gone,) that seemeth now to lend
Its own eternal quiet to the waves,
Restless no more, into a perfect peace
Lulling and lull’d at last, while drop the airs
Away as they were dead, the first risen star
Beholds that lovely Archipelago,
All shadow’d there as in a spiritual world,
Where time’s mutations shall come never more!”
These lines describe but one of innumerable lochs that owe their greatest charm to the sea. It is indeed one of those on which Nature has lavished all her infinite varieties of loveliness; but Loch Leven is scarcely less fair, and perhaps grander; and there is matchless magnificence about Loch Etive. All round about Ballahulish and Inverco the scenery of Loch Leven is the sweetest ever seen overshadowed by such mountains; the deeper their gloom, the brighter its lustre; in all weathers it wears a cheerful smile; and often while up among the rocks the tall trees are tossing in the storm, the heart of the woods beneath is calm, and the vivid fields they shelter look as if they still enjoyed the sun. Nor closes the beauty there, but even animates the entrance into that dreadful glen – Glenco. All the way up its river, Loch-Leven would be fair, were it only for her hanging woods. But though the glen narrows, it still continues broad, and there are green plains between her waters and the mountains, on which stately trees stand single, and there is ample room for groves. The returning tide tells us, should we forget it, that this is no inland Loch, for it hurries away back to the sea, not turbulent, but fast as a river in flood. The river Leven is one of the finest in the Highlands, and there is no other such series of waterfalls, all seen at once, one above the other, along an immense vista; and all the way up to the farthest there are noble assemblages of rocks – no where any want of wood – and in places, trees that seem to have belonged to some old forest. Beyond, the opening in the sky seems to lead into another region, and it does so; for we have gone that way, past some small lochs, across a wide wilderness, with mountains on all sides, and descended on Loch Treag,
“A loch whom there are none to praise
And very few to love,”
but overflowing in our memory with all pleasantest images of pastoral contentment and peace.
Loch Etive, between the ferries of Connel and Bunawe, has been seen by almost all who have visited the Highlands – but imperfectly; to know what it is you must row or sail up it, for the banks on both sides are often richly wooded, assume many fine forms, and are frequently well embayed, while the expanse of water is sufficiently wide to allow you from its centre to command a view of many of the distant heights. But above Bunawe it is not like the same loch. For a couple of miles it is not wide, and it is so darkened by enormous shadows that it looks even less like a strait than a gulf – huge overhanging rocks on both sides ascending high, and yet felt to belong but tot the bases of mountains that sloping far back have their summits among clouds of their own in another region of the sky. Yet are they not all horrid; for nowhere else is there such lofty heather – it seems a wild sort of brushwood; tall trees flourish, single or in groves, chiefly birches, with now and then an oak – and they are in their youth or their prime – and even the prodigious trunks, some of which have been dead for centuries, are not all dead, but shoot from thier knotted rhind symptoms of life inextinguishable by time and tempest. Out of this gulf we emerge into the Upper Loch, and its amplitude sustains the majesty of the mountains, all of the highest order, and seen from their feet to their crests. Cruachan wears the crown, and reigns over them all – king at once of Loch Etive and of Loch Awe. But Buachaille Etive, though afar off, is still a giant, and in some lights comes forwards, bringing with him the Black Mount and its dependents, so that they all seem to belong to this most magnificent of all Highland lochs. “I know not,” says Macculloch, “that Loch Etive could bear an ornament without an infringement on that aspect of solitary vastness which it presents throughout. Nor is there one. The rocks and bays on the shore, which might elsewhere attract attention, are here swallowed up in the enormous dimensions of the surrounding mountains, and the wide and ample expanse of the lake. A solitary house, here fearfully solitary, situated far up in Glen Etive, is only visible when at the upper extremity; and if there be a tree, as there are in a few places on the shore, it is unseen; extinguished as if it were a humble mountain flower, by the universal magnitude around.” This is finely felt and expressed; but even on the shores of Loch Etive there is much of the beautiful; Ardmatty smiles with its meadows, and woods, and bay, and sylvan stream; other sunny nooks repose among the grey granite masses; the colouring of the banks and braes is often bright; several houses or huts become visible no long way up the glen; and though that long hollow – half a day’s journey – till you reach the wild road between Inveruran and King’s House – lies in gloom, yet the hillsides are cheerful, and you delight in the greensward, wide and rock-broken, should you ascend the passes that lead into Glencreran or Glenco. But to feel the full power of Glen Etive you must walk up it till it ceases to be a glen. When in the middle of the moor, you see far off a solitary dwelling indeed – perhaps the loneliest house in all the Highlands 0 and the solitude is made profounder, as you pass by, by the voice of a cataract, hidden in an awful chasm, bridged by two or three stems of trees, along which the red-deer might fear to venture – but we have seen them and the deer-hounds glide over it, followed by other fearless feet, when far and wide the Forest of Dalness was echoing to the hunter’s horn.
We have now brought our Remarks on the Scenery of the Highlands to a close, and would fain have said a few words on the character and life of the people; but are precluded from even touching on that most interesting subject. It is impossible that the minds of travellers through those wonderful regions, can be so occupied with the contemplation of mere inanimate nature, as not to give many a thought to their inhabitants, now and in the olden time. Indeed, without such thoughts, they would often seem to be but blank and barren wilderness, in which the heart would languish, and imagination itself recoil; but they cannot long be so looked at, for houseless as are many extensive tracts, and therefore at times felt to be too dreary even for moods that for a while enjoyed the absence of all that might tell of human life, yet symptoms and traces of human life are noticeable to the instructed eye almost every where, and in them often lies the spell that charms us, even while we think that we are wholly delivered up to the influence of “dead insensate things.” None will visit the Highlands without having some knowledge of their history; and the changes that have long been taking place in the condition of the people will be affectingly recognised wherever they go, in spite even of what might have appeared the insuperable barriers of nature.
“Time and Tide
Have washed away, like weeds upon the sands,
Crowds of the olden life’s memorials;
And ‘mid the mountains you as well might seek
For the lone site of fancy’s filmy dreams.
Towers have decay’d, and moulder’d from the cliffs,
Or their green age, or grey, has help’d to build
New dwellings sending up their household smoke
From treeless places once inhabited
But by the secret sylvans. On the moors
The pillar-stone, rear’d to perpetuate
The fame of some great battle, or the power
Of storied necromancer in the wild,
Among the wide change on the heather-bloom
By power more wondrous wrought than his, its name
Has lost, or fallen itself has disappeared;
No broken fragment suffer’d to impede
The glancing ploughshare. All the ancient woods
Are thinn’d and let in floods of daylight now,
Then dark and dern as when the Druids lived.
Narrow’d is now the red-deer’s forest reign;
The royal race of eagles is extinct.
But other changes than on moor and cliff
Have tamed the aspect of the wilderness;
The simple system of primeval life,
Simple but stately, hath been broken down;
The clans are scatter’d, and the chieftain’s power
Is dead, or dying – but a name – though yet
It sometimes stirs the desert; to the winds
The tall plumes wave no more – the tartan green
With fiery streaks among the heather-bells
Now glows unfrequent; and the echoes mourn
The silence of the music that of old
Kept war-thoughts stern amid the calm of peace
Yet to far battle plains still Morven sends
Her heroes, and still glittering in the sun,
Or blood-dimm’d, her dread line of bayonets
Marches with loud shouts straight to victory.
A soften’d radiance now floats o’er her glens;
No rare sight now upon her sea-arm lochs
The sail oft-veering up the solitude;
And from afar the noise of life is brought
Within the thunders of her cataracts.
These will flow on for ever; and the crests,
Gold-tipt by rising and by setting suns,
Of her old mountains inaccessible
Glance down their scorn for ever on the toils
That load with harvests now the humbler hills,
Now shorn of all their heather-bloom, and green
Or yellow as the gleam of lowland fields.
And bold hearts in broad bosoms still are there,
Living and dying peacefully; the huts
Abodes are still of high-soul’d poverty;
And underneath their lintels beauty stoops
Her silken-snooded head, when singing goes
The maiden to her father at his work
Among the woods, or joins the scanty line
Of barley-reapers on their narrow ridge,
In some small field among the pastoral braes.
Still fragments dim of ancient poetry
In melancholy music down the glens
Go floating; and from shieling roof’d with boughs,
And turf-wall’d, high up in some lonely place
Where flocks of sheep are nibbling the sweet grass
Of midsummer, and browsing on the plants
On the cliff-mosses a few goats are seen
Among their kids, you hear sweet melodies
Attuned to some traditionary tale,
By young wife sitting all alone, aware
From shadow on the mountain-horologe
Of the glad hour that brings her husband home
Before the gloaming, from the far-off moor
Where the black cattle feed; there all alone
She sits and sings, except that on her knees
Sleeps the sweet offspring of their faithful loves.”
We love the people to well to praise them – we have had too heartfelt experience of their virtues. In castle, hall, house, manse, hut, hovel, shieling – on mountain and moor, we have known, without having to study their character. It manifests itself in their manners, and in their whole frame of life. They are now, as they ever were, affectionate, faithful, and fearless; and far more delightful surely it is to see such qualities in all their pristine strength – for civilization has not weakened, nor ever will weaken them – without that alloy of fierceness and ferocity which was inseparable from them in the turbulence of feudal times. They are now indeed a peaceful people; severe as are the hardships of their condition, they are, in the main contented with it; and nothing short of necessity can dissever them from their dear mountains. We devoutly trust that there need be no more forced emigration – that henceforth it will be free – at the option of the adventurous – and that all who will, when the day cometh, may be gathered to their fathers, in the land that gave them birth. Much remains to be done not only to relieve but enlighten; yet Christian benevolence has not been forgetful of their wants; schools and churches are arising in remote places; and that they are in good truth a religious as well as a moral people is proved by the passionate earnestness, with which, in their worst destitution, they embrace every offer of instruction in the knowledge that leads to everlasting life. the blessing of heaven will lie on all such missions as these – and the time will come when we shall be able to contemplate, without any pain, the condition of the race who, to use the noble language of one, though often scornful and sarcastic overmuch, yet at heart their friend, “almost in an hour subsided into peace and virtue, retaining their places, their possessions, their chiefs, their songs, their traditions, their superstitions and peculiar usages; even that language and those recollections which still separate them from the rest of the nation. they retained even their pride, and they retained their contempt of those who imposed that order on them, and still they settled into a state of obedience to that government, of which the world produces no other instance! It is a splendid moral phenomenon; and reflects a lustre on the Highland character, whether of the chiefs or the people, which extinguishes all past faults, and which atones for what little remains to be amended. A peculiar political situation was the cause of their faults; and that which swept away the cause, has rendered the effects a tale of other times.”
2 thoughts on “Remarks on the Scenery of the Highlands, pp.i-lii.”