IN the extreme north-west of Perthshire, and stretching into the shire of Inverness, lies the wild and lonely Loch-Ericht, – a sheet of water nearly fourteen miles in length, but in few places exceeding a mile in breadth. Nothing can exceed the solitude and desolation of its shores. Vegetation there is none, save a slight sprinkling of scantiest herbage scattered here and there; rocks bared by the winter-storm, – abrupt, craggy, and precipitous, – or shivered and disparted from the surrounding mountains by some tremendous power, and scattered about in huge and shapeless ruin, – everywhere surround it with a cincture of arid and perpetual sterility. Nought animates this solitude. The cry of the shepherd, or the bleating of his fleecy charge – sounds familiar in the most rugged districts of our Scottish Highlands – seldom, if ever, break the silence, absolute and solemn, of this “silent place;” there is no road along its banks, and no house, with the exception of a solitary hunting-lodge near its upper extremity.
The tourist who delights to find himself alone amid the silence of Nature, – of Nature in her wildest forms, – may approach the southern extremity of Loch-Ericht from the head of Loch-Rannoch, along the banks of the Ericht; or from the inn at Dalnacardoch on the Great North road. It was while pursuing the former of these two routes that our artist, Mr. William Brown of Perth, sketched the present scene, in which a glimpse of the solitary waters of the lake is caught just under the towering mass of Benalder’s mist-enshrouded form, which rises in the middle distance, while the Water of Ericht, which conveys the surcharge of the lake southwards to Loch-Tummel, whence it flows into the Tay, is seen rushing down its rock-strewn and devious channel in the middle foreground. The scene is bleak and barren, but the effect is rare and decided. There is a solitary grandeur in the two pine-trees eminently characteristic; the shadows are well-marked, and the combination throughout is good; and what is wanting in the picturesque is abundantly made up in the success with which the artist has infused the sentiment of solitude – the only sentiment apparently intended to be conveyed – into his sketch, and that without having recourse to any of the artificial accessories usually employed by painters with such an object in view.
Dr. Macculloch, in his ‘Letters on the Highlands and Western Islands,’ [vol. i. p. 452,] says of this lake, in his usual caustic manner, that he found it an enormous gutter, or huge cess-pool; and makes sundry sore grumblings about the difficulties he encountered on visiting it, and the small pleasure received in viewing it after these had been surmounted. That a visit to Loch-Ericht is indeed an arduous and laborious task, few who have made the attempt will deny. But the objects to which it was assimilated in the imagination of the learned doctor, will occur to few minds except such as are familiar only with the streets and lanes of the metropolis, – whose knowledge of picturesque scenery is bounded by the waterfall in Vauxhall, or the chef d’œuvres of Covent-garden. That the scenery around Loch-Ericht is not beautiful, is certain; and it is equally so that it is not picturesque. But few cultivated minds can contemplate the wild shores of this lake without acknowledging their sublimity, and feeling emotions of awe press upon the soul. Even the doctor, with all his talent for sarcasm, could not have written what we are about to quote from him, in the present article, while his impressions of this scenery were recent. In the solitude which reigns around Loch-Ericht there is sublimity; in the utter silence – here undisturbed even by the hum of an insect – there is another source of the sublime; while amid the dark mountains and lofty black rocks which form the boundaries of the lake, the spectator is at once impressed with the variety, the greatness, and the grandeur of Nature. At the south end of Loch-Ericht, is a rock of 300 or 400 feet perpendicular height. On its summit, which is accessible with difficulty, is an ancient fortification.
On the east side of the lake, about a mile or two from the south end, a small cave is pointed out as having afforded shelter and concealment to the young Chevalier after the battle of Culloden. He had wandered for some time previously amid the wilds of Moydart, the Islands, and Lochaber; and had made many hairbreadth escapes from being captured by his ruthless pursuers, when, learning that Cameron of Lochiel, and McDonald of Keppoch, two of his most devoted followers, were concealed in Badenoch, he set off to them, and found them in this cave on the shores of Loch-Ericht. The cave is small, and is formed by detached blocks of stone, which, having slid into their present situation, form a small rude chamber into which two or three individuals might creep. The fugitives, however, had enlarged its dimensions, by erecting a hut of trees in front of its entrance, from which circumstance it obtained the name of ‘the Cage,’ by which it was popularly known at the time. A more effectual place of concealment, or one less likely to be intruded upon than this at Loch-Ericht, could hardly have been selected. – Dr. Macculloch says: “At the southern extremity, Loch-Ericht terminates in flat meadows, vanishing by degrees in the moor of Rannoch, and in that wild and hideous country which extends to Glen Spean along the eastern side of Ben Nevis. This is indeed the wilderness of all Scotland. The wildest wilds of Ross-shire and Sutherland are accessible and lively, compared to this. They might, at least, contain people, though they do not; which this tract never could have done, and never will nor can. I know not where else we can travel for two days without seeing a human trace: a human trace, – a trace, a recollection of animal life; and with the dreary conviction that such a thing is impossible. It is indeed an inconceivable solitude, – a dreary and joyless land of bogs, a land of desolation and grey darkness, of fogs ever hanging on Auster’s drizzly beard, a land of winter and death and oblivion. Let him who is unworthy of the Moor of Rannoch be banished hither; where he can go next, I know not; unless it be to New South Shetland!”