Hundreds and even thousands of parishes in England so closely or exactly resemble one another in all their features of landscape, that a sufficiently graphic description of one might be superscribed successively with the names of all. But so wondrously diversified is the surface of Scotland, that each of all its parishes, except a few, has some broad distinctive features of its own, each of the great majority might be the subject of a picture replete with individuality, and each of very many offers to the painter entire groups, sometimes multitudinous clusters of scenes which are rich in the peculiarities of their respective elements. Any general description of such a country is in the highest degree susceptible of colouring from the bias of aversion or of favourable predilection. Scotland has spots as lusciously lovely, or as superbly magnificent as ever poet sang, and spots as unutterably dreary or as inhospitably sequestered as ever a dreaming or misanthropic anchorite conceived; and, in respect both to scenery and to climate, can probably exhibit some actual tract of territory to justify, or at least to countenance, on the one hand, each sneer or sarcasm which has been written against her by illiberal prejudice, and, on the other, each of the most impassioned panegyrics which have been sung upon her by patriotic and enthusiastic admiration. To be fully understood, the country must be seen or studied in minute detail: no general description of it can be made the vehicle of very distinct ideas. Only such readers as acquaint themselves with it through some such medium as a copious Gazetteer, can be said to comprehend it, – examining it piece by piece in such large districts as those of counties and grand divisions, and then looking in detail at its parishes, its principal mountains, its lakes, its rivers, and all its various interesting objects. Whoever shall peruse the present work, first in the great and comprehensive articles, and next, in the multitudinous briefer articles which exhibit the individual objects, and describe the minute features of the grand picture, must rise, we should hope, from the perusal with conceptions of the surface of Scotland incomparably clearer than if he had read any conceivable amount of consecutive description. He will be surprised, perhaps bewildered, by the amount of variety; he will be delighted, or even thrilled, by the frequency with which scenery occurs, ever new or peculiar, and addressing itself by turns, or in combinations, to every power of taste, from the love of the calmly beautiful to the sturdiest and sternest capacity for the awfully sublime; he will wonder to discover many a fairy nook or striking lusus naturæ [freak of nature] in a district which probably rash satire had pronounced repulsive even to a savage; and when he reflects how spiritedly and copiously Wordsworth and Scott, and many other masters of song, have written upon Scottish landscape, he will conjecture how mighty an impulse they must have felt, and how resistlessly they were hurried along, and into what a whirl of poetic excitement they were carried, in the careering of their descriptive poetry. But he must be aided, in this introductory article, by such a general view of the surface of the country as, though unneeded and useless for the purposes of description, will indicate to him the prevailing characteristic, where there is one of each great district, and assist him to see the mutual connexion of counties, mountain systems, valleys, and the basins of the great rivers.
Scotland, then, as to its mainland, is naturally and very distinguishably separated both into two and into three great divisions. The two great divisions are the Highlands and the Lowlands, so noticed and traced in separate articles in the body of this work, that they need not be further mentioned. The three great divisions are, the Southern, lying south of the friths of Forth and Clyde, and of a great valley which connects them, and now traversed by the Forth and Clyde canal, – the Central, lying north of this line, and south of the Glenmore-nan-albin, or great Glen of Caledonia, occupied by a chain of slender lakes, and now traversed from the Beauly frith to Loch-Linnhe by the Caledonian canal, – and the Northern, lying north and north-west of the Glenmore-nan-albin.
Though the Southern division is all comprehended in what are called the Lowlands, and contains much champaign country, or many of the districts which obtain in Scotland the name of plains, it contains very little level ground except in the alluvial tracts, – the luxuriant and the richly screened Scottish ‘haughs’ and ‘holms,’ – along the courses of the greater rivers. Its southern extremity, comprising all Wigtonshire except a belt on the north, is strictly neither mountainous nor lowland, – a remarkably tumulated expanse, – a sea of hillocks, very thinly crested with wood, and wearing the changeful hues of constant hesitation between wilderness, green pasture, and arable cultivation. Along the north of Wigtonshire, but chiefly in the adjacent portions of Kirkcudbrightshire and Ayrshire, from the head of Wigton-bay on the east, to the sea at Loch-Ryan, and to the frith of Clyde opposite Ailsa-Craig, commences a very broad and far-stretching system of mountains which are often called the Scottish Southern Highlands, and which form the grandest feature of the southern district of the country. This system extends in a broad phalanx of spurs and ridges cut by gorges and glens, quite across the kingdom in the direction of north-east by east, to the Cheviots on the boundary of Roxburghshire, and there passes on to Northumberland. It attains its highest altitudes about mid-distance in the country, and thence sends off huge spurs northward to the great bend of the Clyde round Tinto, north-north-eastward to the abrupt stoop of the Pentland-hills, a few miles south of Edinburgh, and north-eastward to the termination of the Moorfoot-hills in the vale of Gala-water. From the western end up to the central masses, no regular ridge can be traced; the mountains form an elevated region unmarked by order, and penetrated in various directions by deep long gorges and vales. East of the central heights, a distinctly marked but deeply serrated ridge, constituting an uniform water-shed, and shooting up in a continued series of summits, runs along the northern boundary of Dumfries-shire and Liddesdale, and afterwards bends north-eastward and northward along the boundary with England, to the vicinity of Yetholm. The heights, in a few instances, have sharp and pinnacled outlines, or present a bare and rocky aspect; but, in general, they are soft in feature and in dress, angularities being rounded away from side and summit, and verdure successfully struggling to maintain ascendency over heath. On their south side they run far down in lateral ridges, and frequently subside with comparative suddenness, allowing the parallel narrow valleys to open boldly and sweepingly out into a great plain. In their main broad line they occupy the northern parts of Kirkcudbrightshire and Dumfries-shire, and the southern, parts of the counties of Ayr, Lanark, Peebles, Selkirk, and Roxburgh. Their altitude, in the central masses, averages nearly 3,000 feet above sea-level, and, in other, parts, varies from 700 or 800 feet to a little upwards of 2,000. The great plain, or rather champaign country, which lies between them and the Solway frith, exhibits on the east a considerable expanse of level ground, – in the centre, an agreeable variety of flats, and. gentle hilly ridges, – and in the west, an irregularly tumulated surface. Greatly the boldest variety in this quarter, is the ridge of the Criffel-hills, which lifts a grand summit in the immediate flank of the Solway, at the mouth of the estuary of the Nith, and thence runs inland in a considerable ridge of 10 or 12 miles. The broad spurs toward Edinburgh and Gala-water, fill all Peebles-shire and Selkirkshire; they are quite as irregular as the great main line, not so bold, more softly dressed, and forming over a considerable space a hugely undulated expanse of verdure. As they become identified with the Moorfoot-hills in the south of Mid-Lothian, they lose much of both their greenness and their altitude. After the intervention of the vale of the Gala, they rise suddenly up in a broad and very moorish ridge, which takes the name of the Lammermoor-hills, occupies the northern part of Berwickshire, and the southern part of East-Lothian, and extends in a direction north of east to the German ocean at St. Abb’s-head. An irregular triangle, formed by the east end of the main line of the Southern Highlands, and the spurs onward to the coast of the Lammermoors, constitutes the basin of the parent-stream and the affluents of the Tweed. This, over a large part of its extent, is identical with the dells, and glens, and vales of the mountain-territory; but in the eastern and southern divisions of Berwickshire, and a small part of the north-eastern division of Roxburghshire, it forms the largest plain in Scotland, an expanse of very slightly undulated ground, closely resembling many districts in England, – the luxuriant, calmly pretty, garden-looking Merse. Intervening between the South Highlands and the friths of Forth and Clyde, the great champaign grounds of Lothian and Strathclyde extend from sea to sea, the former a hanging plain, declining to the north, and picturesquely variegated with hill and rising ground, and the latter a great valley opening broadly out from among the glens and vales of the Highlands, stretching westward in agreeable undulations, which decline on both sides to a line along the centre, and becoming pent up in the west between the Lennox-hills and a ridge in Renfrewshire. The water-shed between these two great champaign districts is everywhere very slightly marked, and contains less hill, and greatly less boldness and variety, than several ridges. or congeries of heights in the interior of Lothian. An insulated range, vacillating in character between hill and mountain, commences behind Greenock, at the west end of the valley of the Clyde, and runs southward near the west coast to the hill of Knockgeorgan, 700 feet high, about 3 miles north of Ardrossan bay. Mistie-Law, near the middle of the range, rises 1,558 feet above sea-level. From the heights north of Ardrossan, the high land or water-shed, makes a circular sweep to the south, with the concave side to the west, enclosing in a sort of amphitheatre the great hanging plain of Ayrshire, frequently, but very slightly, tumulated, containing much level ground, and, in its southern part, several bold heights, and having a prevailing declination to the west. This water-shed, after leaving the insulated chain from Greenock to Ardrossan, is for a long way of very inconsiderable elevation; and where it forms the boundary-line between Strathclyde or the vale of Avon, and the plain of Ayrshire, it is so low as to admit, from some points on the east bank of the Clyde in the centre of Clydesdale, not more than.120 or 160 feet above sea-level, a view of the heights of Arran, distant 50 miles in the frith of Clyde; but over its southern half it becomes identified, for some distance, with the water-shed of the main line of the Southern Highlands, and then sweeps westward to the sea, immediately on the left bank of the outlet of Girvan-water. The extreme north of the southern division of Scotland, or that which forms the middle part of the common boundary between it and the central division, is a strath or belt of low land, stretching along the south base of the Lennox-hills, from the head of the estuary of the Forth between Grangemouth and Stirling, to a point a little above the head of the estuary of the Clyde, between the village of East Kilpatrick and the vicinity of Glasgow. This strath is identical, at its west end, with the valley of the Clyde; in the chief of its central part, it forms a detached district of Dumbartonshire; and in its west end, and the rest of its central part, it constitutes the plain of Stirlingshire. So low and slightly variegated is its surface, that a glance at its appearance and position brings conviction of its having once lain under water, and formed a natural sea communication, or continuous frith, between the eastern and western marine waters of Scotland.
The Lennox-hills, which skirt the central division of the kingdom between the Forth and the Clyde, extend from Stirling to Dumbuck, immediately above Dumbarton, in the direction of west-south-west. Along the north side, a moorish descent terminates, over the western half, in a narrow and richly variegated vale, chiefly traversed by the river Endrick, and partly declining to Loch-Lomond, and the channel of its superfluent stream the level, – and over the eastern half, in a flat broad belt of carse-ground, which is very sinuously watered by the river Forth, and which, after sweeping past a narrowed and pent-up part at Stirling-castle, becomes identified with the plain of Stirlingshire. The mountains beyond extend over a vast region; occupy, with their intervening vales and lakes, the whole of the middle and western portions of the central division of Scotland; and press closely on the whole flank of the Glenmore-nan-albin. One of the highest summits of the region, as well as of all Scotland, is Bennevis, 4,380 feet above sea-level, situated on the south-east side of Loch-Eil, near the entrance of the Caledonian canal. The boundary of the most mountainous part of the region extends south-westward from this monarch-height to Ben-Cruachan, on the south side of Loch-Etive; it runs thence south-eastward to the mountains of Arroquhar on the east side of Loch-Long, one of the most northerly branches of the frith of Clyde; it extends thence eastward to Benlomond, at the sources of the Forth; it thence passes on in the direction of east-north-east to Benledi, on the west side of the fresh-water lake Loch-Lubnaig; it thence diverges eastward to the enormously-based Beniglo, in latitude 56° 50′, and west longitude 3° 40′; it runs thence due east to the lofty ridge of Lochan-nagar, nearly in latitude 57°, and west longitude 3°; it extends thence northward, to the water-shed between the sources of the river Deveron and those of the Avon, an affluent of the Spey; it thence passes on westward to the northern extremity of Loch-Ness; and it thence extends south-westward along the flank of the whole of Glenmore-nan-albin to Bennevis. All the country comprehended within these boundaries, excepting Strathspey and a few deep glens, lies probably at a minimum of 1,000 feet above sea-level; it embosoms multitudinous scenes of grand and magnificent beauty, and of alternately savage and picturesque sublimity; it has many tracts which afford rich pasture, and not a few which are finely and productively feathered over with forest; it even contains, in well-sheltered situations, spots, small individually, but considerable in the aggregate, which are available for agriculture; but over by far the greater part of its extent, it either sends up wild and untameable summits to the clouds, or is an impracticable waste and wilderness region of rocky steeps, unproductive moors, and extensive bogs. Large tracts of continuous mountains lie on all sides, except the north-west, immediately beyond the boundaries we have indicated, and form, jointly with the great territory within these boundaries, the upland district of the central division of Scotland; but, though equally inhospitable, they are much inferior in mean height, and, in general, have less boldness, angularity, and rockiness of surface. The greatest range of the whole region cuts it from west to east into not very unequal parts, forms all the way a water-shed between streams respectively on the north and on the south, has a breadth of from 12 to 25 miles, runs at no great distance south of the 57th parallel, and extends from Bennevis by Loch-Ericht, and along the northern boundary of the counties of Perth and Forfar, to Mount-Caerloch in Kincardineshire, 18 miles west by north of Stonehaven, and thence sends off two hilly ridges to the coast, one terminating at Stonehaven, and the other at Girdleness. It thus bristles up as a stupendous rampart from sea to sea, sends up many summits 3,000 feet above sea-level, has probably a mean altitude, west of Caerloch, of 2,500 feet, measures in length from Bennevis to Girdleness about 100 miles, and, besides carrying the great north mail-road over the east end of its forking hilly ridges, is pierced in three places with gorges or passes which admit the transit of military roads. Another range commences in the vicinity of Loch-Lydoch, several miles from the south side of the former range, in west longitude 4° 35′; and runs south-westward to Bendoe, and thence southward, by the mountains of Arroquhar, along the west side of Loch- Long and the frith of Clyde, to a soft and gentle termination at Toward-point, the eastern peninsular headland of the district of Cowal. This range is not more than 50 miles in length, and, in Cowal, not more than 6 in mean breadth, and considerably less than 2,000 feet in the average height of its summits; but, north of Arroquhar, it is from 12 to 15 miles broad, sends up numerous summits to the height of nearly 3,000 feet, and forms a water-shed between the streams which flow respectively to the German and the Atlantic oceans. The section of the mountain or Highland district lying east of this range, and south of the great central range from Bennevis to Caerloch, somewhat nearly resembles in outline the figure of a quadrant, and contains many elevations, such as Benlomond, Benvenu, Benledi, Benvoirlich, Benlawers, and Schihallion, which rise about 3,000 feet or upwards, and in one instance even 4,000 feet, above sea-level. Its mountains are in some cases isolated; but, in general, they run in lateral spurs or offshoots eastward from the south and north range, and more or less parallel with the great central range. These are short in the southern part of the district, but towards the north they gradually increase from 10 to 15 or 18, and even to upwards of 20 miles; they enclose glens which are deep throughout, and in part high above sea-level, which have a contracted narrowness on the west, akin to that of profound gorges, but usually expand into vales toward the east, and which contain aggregately large pendicles of arable land and forest, and embosom a great proportion of the loveliest and far-famed scenery of the Highlands. Between the most northerly of these flanking screens of the glens, and the great east and west central mountain-range, extends the vale of Rannoch, traversed along the east by the tumultuous river Tummel, and occupied on the west by Loch-Rannoch; and from the west end of this lake, past the northern termination of the north and south great range, away south-westward to the spurs of Bencruachan, extends the moor of Rannoch, an immense level bog lying about 1,000 feet above the level of the sea, a dismal wilderness occupying an area of about 400 square miles. The section of country south and south-west of this, north of the peninsula of Knapdale and Kintyre, and west of the north and south mountain-range, measures about 40 miles by 25, and with the exception of the stupendous mass of Bencruachan and some attendant heights, is a series of table-lands, elevated from 500 to 700 feet above sea-level, separated by narrow and deep glens ploughed up by water-courses, and covered partly with heath and grass, and partly with moorish soil and bog. The glens, though deep, are, in general, open, or expand into vales, and in common with the banks of far-stretching bays and marine lochs, are subject to the plough or luxuriant in wood. The long narrow peninsula of Knapdale and Kintyre, extending nearly 50 miles southward, with a mean breadth of about 7 miles, rises at its southern extremity to an altitude of about 1,000 feet above sea-level, but elsewhere is very moderately and even gently hilly, has many interspersions of plain and valley, and wears an arable, sheltered, and softly picturesque appearance. From the north side of the great central range, at a point north-north-west of Beniglo, a range upwards of 30 miles in length, and about 10 or 11 in mean breadth, goes off in the direction of north by east, to the stupendous mountain-knot of the Cairngorm heights – according to some authorities, the loftiest in Britain – and there forks into two branches, the one extending north-eastward, and lowering in its progress, along the right flank of the upper basin of the Deveron, and the other, under the name of the Braes of Abernethy, running northward between the vale of the Avon and the valley of the Spey, to the terminating and lofty heights of Cromdale. This range, except near the north end of its divergent branches, is unpierced by any road or practicable pass; and, from the Cairngorm group to its junction with the great central range, has a mean altitude of probably about 3,000 feet. In the triangle, the two greater sides of which are formed by the Glenmore-nan-albin, and the western moiety of the great central range, stretches north-eastward, a range 30 miles in length, and considerable in breadth, called the Monadh-Leadh mountains. These heights commence, at their south-west end, in the Corryarrack mountains, 18 miles north-east of Bennevis: they divide in their progress into two branches, which enclose the upper basin of the river Findhorn, and terminate nearly due south-east, from the frith of Beauly entrance of the Caledonian canal; and they possess an extreme altitude above sea-level of not much more than 2,000 feet. The south side of the east end of the great central range from Caerloch to Beniglo, and the ends facing the south-east and east, of the lateral offshoots of the great range north and south, have a broad fringe of shelving upland, which, in a general view, may be described as descending in tiers, or as forming a declination by successive gradients to the Lowlands. This fringe – mountainous on the inner side, and merely hilly in the exterior – varies in breadth from 3 to 8 miles toward the south, and from 6 to 12 miles toward the north; it is everywhere chequered or striped with glens and vales, bringing down the roaring and impetuous streams cradled among the alps to the champaign country below; it exhibits, as seen from a distance, a magnificently varied breastwork thrown round the Highlands; and it encloses in its glens and vales a surpassing rich assemblage of scenery, a vast aggregate area of picturesque and romantic forest, and not a small proportion of excellent arable ground. Along the whole south-east side of this far-stretching and sublime and myriad-featured declivity, from the Forth, between the vicinity of Stirling to the vicinity of Aberfoil, to the German ocean at Stonehaven, a distance of about 80 miles, extends the plain of Strathmore, or the Great Valley, from 1 mile to 16 miles in breadth, over the most part from 6 to 8, and almost everywhere level, and in fine cultivation. This fine strath sends off to the German ocean at Montrose, a short one of kindred character, and farther north it becomes narrowed, and assumes the name of the Howe of Mearns; and at the point where it is crossed by the river Tay, it looks down a transverse valley watered by that stream; but over nearly all its length it is flanked along its south-east side by ranges of heights which, in some places, almost vie with the Grampians along the north-west side, and in others wear the aspect of soft and gentle hills. The most considerable range, called the Ochils, extends from a point 2 miles from the river Forth, and about 4 miles from Stirling, in the direction of east-north-east, to the frith of Tay; it is 24 miles in length, and has a mean breadth of about 12 miles; and it is loftiest toward the Forth, and attains an extreme altitude of 2,300 feet above sea-level. Another range, called the Sidlaw-hills, is continuous of the Ochils, except for the intervention of the valley of the Tay; it rises abruptly up a little below Perth, in a surpassingly picturesque height of 632 feet above sea-level, and extends to a point some miles south of Montrose, sending up, over the earlier half of its progress, numerous summits upwards of 1,000 feet in altitude, and afterwards forming naturally moorish terraces, which now are either arable, or, for the most part, clothed with wood. South-eastward of the Ochils, all the way to the German ocean, the surface is singularly rich in the calm and soft beauties of landscape, and exhibits an interminable blending of valley, slope, and gentle hill; its boldest variety being an isolated table-ridge, a few miles from the Ochils, 4 miles in length, and shooting up at the extremities into beautifully outlined summits, respectively 1,466, and 1,721 feet high. Eastward from the south end of the Sidlaws, and along the north shore of the frith of Tay to the vicinity of Dundee, stretches the Carse of Gowrie, a level expanse of wheat-bearing soil, unsurpassed in strength and richness. The surface elsewhere between the Sidlaws and the sea, is partly diversified with the soft low heights called Laws, and partly consists of sandy downs, but in general is a waving, well-cultivated plain. North of the great central mountain-range from Bennevis to the German ocean, and east of the strictly Highland region, some high hilly ridges run eastward to near the sea, and send aloft numerous summits of mountainous aspect and altitude. The surface of the ridges and the intervening tracts, alternately pleases and tantalizes by incessant change; it abounds in rocky ruggedness, and steep declivities, and niggard moorlands; and it admits the dominion of the plough only or chiefly on the low grounds of its glens and valleys. The country lying to the north-east, and terminating in Kinnaird’s-head, at the entrance of the Moray frith, has plains which, in some instances, run 10 or 12 miles inland from the sea, and swell into hills, most of which are graceful in outline, and beautifully verdant, while some are ploughed to the summit, and all, with one exception, rise less than 600 feet above the level of the sea. The country lying along the Moray frith to the north-east end of the Glenmore-nan-albin, has a breadth between the Highlands and the sea of only from 12 to 18 miles; its level ground along the sea-board runs 9 miles inland in the vicinity of the Spey, but elsewhere is seldom more than 2 miles broad; its interior district is traversed seaward by lofty offshoots of the mountain region beyond; and its sea-board on the Beauly frith is a barren moor 10 miles by from 2 to 3, – the famous moor of Culloden. The Glenmore-nan-albin extends north-east and south-west, in a straight line from sea to sea; it is 60 miles in length from Loch-Eil to the Beauly frith; and it is principally occupied by three long stripes of fresh-water lake, aggregately upwards of 37 miles in length.
The northern or third great division of Scotland, with the exception of two comparatively small portions, is all Highland. One of the low tracts consists of the peninsulæ respectively north and south of the Cromarty frith, and of a tract round the head of that frith from 2 to about 4 miles in breadth, which unites them. The southern peninsula, seaward from an isthmus which nowhere rises more than 50 feet above sea-level, swells on its west side into a fiat-backed height, which, with a mean breadth of 2 miles, extends northward to the coast. The northern peninsula, though much and roughly variegated with high moorish grounds, and lifting up in one place a bold rampart on the coast, is crossed by the fine Plain of Fearn, stretching from Tain to the most northerly bay of the Cromarty frith. The other level, though somewhat variegated district, comprehends about four-fifths of the whole of Caithness, and will be quite understood as to both its character and its relative position, by reference to the article on that county. The mountain region, while vast in area and multitudinous in feature, exhibits such masses and congeries of heights, and is so undisposed in ridges or ranges, that only a longer description than the patience of most readers could endure would serve to depict it. Its greatest elevation extends across nearly its centre, from Ben-Wyvis on the east, to Loch-Torridon on the west, and sends aloft its summits from a base lying at probably 1,500 feet above sea-level. On the north side of this line, or toward Cape-Wrath, the elevation decreases more than on the south, or toward the peninsula of Morvern. On its west side occur most of those Iong and narrow indentations of the sea noticed in the sections on the coasts and the marine waters; remarkable for rendering so desolate a region inhabitable, and especially for their being of a class which occurs elsewhere only on the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and the hyperborean country around Hudson’s Bay.