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A Tour in Sutherlandshire
With extracts from the field-books of a Sportsman and Naturalist by Charles St. John, Esq. in two volumes 2nd Edition (1884)


Volume I

PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION

It is with real diffidence that I offer these volumes to the public. I am induced to do so by the wishes of many of my friends and companions in the woods and fields, who, having received with indulgence my former volume on Highland Sports, have persuaded me to launch another barque laden with a similar cargo of odds and ends. That it should have as favourable a voyage as its predecessor is more than I can venture to hope. If, however, these pages serve to entertain for a few hours any of my fellow-lovers of nature, or if any whose occupations in life are of a graver and more laborious kind, find relaxation and amusement in their perusal, my object is fully gained.

I do not fear the criticism of the learned; my flight is far too humble to obtain even their censure: nor do I aim at instructing any of my readers, but solely at amusing them. The scientific naturalist must excuse my errors of description and my want of skill: but thus far, and thus far only, I can venture to say a good word in favour of my rough notes—that they are the result of actual and personal observation, and not of hearsay or second-hand information; and that, therefore, some reliance may be placed in them.

The present volumes consist of extracts from a Journal, written during a wandering excursion through Sutherlandshire, one of the most interesting counties in Scotland, and one of the least known; of a series of field-notes for each month in the year, written during my residence in the pleasant land of Moray ; and of a few miscellaneous chapters on matters of interest to the sportsman. Such as they are, I offer them to the public, trusting that they will receive them as the off-hand thoughts and observations of one who is more accustomed to the hillside than to the study—to the gun than to the pen.

January 1849

PREFATORY NOTE

The second edition of Mr] Charles St. John’s Tour in Sutherland is almost au exact reprint of the original, as published in 1849. Instead of altering the text or adding fresh notes so as to bring the hook up to the requirements of the day, the editor considered that it would he better to leave the work as the author wrote it, and to supplement the volumes by an entirely new chapter on the Fauna of the district. In carrying out this plan he was so fortunate as to secure the hearty co-operation of Mr. Buckley and Mr. Harvie-Brown, who have been careful students of the natural history of Sutherlandshire for the last seventeen years; the results of their experience, written from accumulated uotes kept during these years, are given in the Appendix. In addition to the authorities consulted, a list of which will he found on pp. 292-3 of vol. ii., “They have vol. i. b received most able and willing assistance from numerous friends and correspondents either resident in, or closely connected with, the county of Sutherland; and they beg to express their thanks to Mr. Houstoun of Kintradwell Dr. Joass of Golspie, Sheriff Mackenzie, and Mr. Hill of Helmsdale, for many valuable communications respecting the Fauna of the east and south-east districts ; to Mr. Crawford of Tongue for lists and notes from the north; and to Mr. L. MTver and Mr. Murdoch Kerr for Fish lists from Scourie and Loch Inver. From the Messrs. Peach, and from Mr. Mackay, Portnacon, they have received most ample lists and notes on Fish of the north coast of the county of Caithness and of the Moray Firth. Mr. Mackay’s notes were received too late, and were too long to print in extenso, but they hope to make a fuller use of these at a future date. From the west they have received very valuable assistance and practical aid from Mr. John Sutherland, and Mr. John Munro of Inch-nadampli, both being men well acquainted with the birds of the district. Dr. Day—than whom they could not have any better authority—has most kindly looked over and revised their list of Fishes. Nor can they omit mention of the keepers, shepherds, and ghillies, everywhere throughout the county, too numerous to mention by name, who have so often given them a helping hand, without which many a pleasant and successful nesting expedition would have proved a failure.”

The only other additions to the volumes are Capt. H. C. St. John’s brief recollections of his boyhood; and the vignette illustrations from the author’s sketch-books, which have been carefully drawn and engraved by Mr. John Adam, Edinburgh.

June 1884.

RECOLLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR.
By Captain H. C. St. John

I have been asked to jot down some few reminiscences of my father. I was only eighteen when he died, and as I had been to sea for four years, my recollections of him are almost those of a child.

I remember him — a slight, active man, of middle height, wiry and strong, with a handsome, animated face, blue eyes, and a singularly sweet smile. He became bald early, which showed to advantage the intellectually-formed head. In disposition he was calm and collected, and I never remember him violently excited about anything. When young, I have always heard he was gay, mixing a great deal in society; but my own recollections of him are as a thoroughly domestic man, devoted to his children, natural history, and sport. Perhaps he was rather too indulgent a father, for we boys had little difficulty in getting extra holidays, and this rather too frequently for our progress up the ladder of learning. In one way these holidays were not wasted; they were almost always spent with him on some long wild ramble, or shooting excursion, which he made valuable and instructive by his conversation, teaching us to observe carefully all we saw in nature. In the winter evenings he taught us drawing and chess, so graphically described by Mr. Iunes in his memoir of my father. A first-rate sportsman, an excellent shot, and fond of making a good hag for home use or for friends, yet he had no delight in killing, and thoroughly disliked battue-shooting. His chief pleasure was in watching and noting the habits of all creatures ferce nacturcc—as his hooks show.

I shall never forget those happy young days, when trotting in my kilt by his side, or left in the path or track by which the roe-deer would leave the wood, while he went round with the dogs to drive them to where he had placed me. In this way I killed my first deer—a feat my father was as proud of as I was.

The love of natural history fostered in us has always been of good service to my brothers and myself; never have I visited any part of the world, however wanting in general amusements, without being able to find continual interest and pleasure.

Of all our many Scotch homes, Invererne was, I think, my father’s favourite; it was charmingly situated, close to the river Findhorn and the lame bay of that name. The wild sandhills, and the equally wild stretch of coast, made an excellent locality for the naturalist and sportsman. About a mile and a half from the mouth of the river it divides (or did so in those days), forming an island in the fork, the habitat of rabbits and all kinds of wild-fowl. Here an almost fatal accident occurred. One day, after refusing to let my brother and myself fish in the river, he took us to the island ferreting. In the course of the afternoon, without the least warning, we saw the river “ coming down,” like a great brown wall, ten feet high, sweeping everything before it. We had barely time to reach the highest point, for in a few seconds the island, barring a dozen square yards on which we stood, was a seething mass of water several feet deep. If we boys had been fishing nothing could have saved us. My father often spoke of this providential escape, as he did not anticipate the rise of the river, and had no reason for refusing our request. At all our homes we had a varied menagerie of the tamest and most intelligent of pets. He had great power and influence over animals; and his dogs, from being his constant companions, were remarkable for their sagacity. The “ College,” our Elgin home, rejoiced in a great walled garden of about four acres. In one part was a grass plot, where my father kept trained Peregrine falcons, which he used to fly after the fashion of bygone days, and much amusement it afforded him and us boys.

The art of training and flying hawks was taught us by our dear old friend Mr. John Hancock, the celebrated naturalist.

My father was fond of flowers, and the lighter kinds of gardening, budding, pruning, etc.

He must have been a very even-tempered man.

I cannot remember a single instance of his being angry or irritable. When out shooting with him once, he caught sight of a poacher, who, on being run down, threatened to shoot my father. Giving me his gun to hold, he very quickly took the gun from the poacher, whom he simply made promise not to trespass again, and allowed him to go home. This was all done in the coolest manner, without anger, and with very few words.

When at Invererne he was often warned by Dr. Allan (then at Forres, since well known in London) that he was ruining his constitution by over-exposure to cold and wet, particularly in duck-shooting during the winter; but no one anticipated that fatal results were so soon to be developed.

At the time of his seizure my father was alone at the “College” (the rest of the family being at the sea-side). He then occupied an unused room—the proverbial haunted room which belongs to most Scotch houses. Something very strange seems to have happened to him in this room, hut what I know not, as he never would speak of it. The next day he went out shooting in company with Major Campbell, and was suddenly seized with loss of power in the left side—paralysis. Strange to say, the only other time my father was in company with that gentleman he met with a very nasty accident: A dying roe-deer kicked the hunting-knife into his foot, inflicting a deep wound, severing the tendon of the big toe, which was stiff ever after.

My poor father never regained power after his first attack, and became a confirmed invalid. He bore this terrible affliction for two long years with wonderful resignation and patience. The enforced idleness was particularly trying to one so active in mind and body; and yet, I believe, he never lost his cheerfulness.

I left England for China in January 1855; and in October 1856 my father died, at the early age of forty-six.

March 10, 1884.

CONTENTS

Chapter I
Sutherlandshire; its Wild-birds not sufficiently known—Our Start and Conveyance—Kyle of Sutherland—Woods of Rosehall; old Keeper there; his recollection of me—Oykel Inn—Altnagalcanach; Origin of Name; Fishing at—Conveying Boat to Loch Urigil—Wild-geese and Divers 011 the Loch—Large Trout of these Lakes—Drive to Inchnadamph —Value of rare Eggs — Heronry — Peregrine Falcon and Buzzards’ Nests—Climbing over the Rocks.

Chapter II
Mill at Inchnadamph—Liberal System of the Duke of Sutherland—Facility of Travelling — Beauty of Country — Loch Assynt—Nest of Osprey—Large Spring of Water—Water-ousel — Dense Mist—Wild Country near Kylesku — Country between Kylesku and Scowrie—Nest of Osprey; curious position of—Eagle.

Chapter III
Inn at Scowrie—Another Osprey’s Nest—The old Ospreys — Eggs of—The River Laxford—Inn of Rhiconnich—Drive to Durness—Beauty of Scenery—Drive round Loch Erriboll—Glenmore—Loch Maddie—Crows — Gray Geese; time of breeding — Old Nest of Osprey—Stag in the Loch — Foxhound — Black - throated Divers — Aultnaharrow — Loch Laighal—Squall of Wind.

Chapter IV
Return to Sutherland — Travelling from Edinburgh — Skye Terrier ; peculiarities of—Lairg—Loch Shin—River Shin —Reserve of the English—Mr. Young’s Experiments respecting Salmon ; Anecdotes of Salmon—Manner of Spawning; Food of Salmon—Drive to Aultnaharrow—Curlews, etc. — Loch Navcr — Phalaropes — Widgeon — Green -shank, etc.

Chapter V
Length of Day—Sedge Warbler—-Different Birds near Loch Naver — Ben Cleebrick — Rain — Loch Maddie — Frost — Ben Laighal—Foxes—Sheep Killing—Catching Wild-ducks —Peregrine Falcon ; manner of catching their Young — Golden Eagles—Tongue—Fine Scenery of Bay of Tongue and Islands—Wild-cat—Seals.

Chapter VI
Ferry from Tongue—Difficulties of our Start—Seals—Shepherds, etc. — Emigration — Hcilam Inn — Storm — River Hope — Drive to Durness—Cave—Rock-pigeons—Inn at Rhiconnich—Search for Osprey’s Nest—Swimming to Nest —Loch of the Eagle-fisher—Stalking the Osprey—Row up the Bay—Loss of Fishing-line—Scowrie—Island of Handa —Innumerable Birds, etc.

Chapter VII
Another Osprey’s Nest; Variety of Eggs — Golden Eagle; Manner of Hunting; deerease of—Egg Collectors—Mr. Haneoek’s Collection—Nests of Eagles; Animals killed by—The Mountain Hare—Fishing of Osprey.

Chapter VIII
County of Sutherland; Variety of Climate and Soil — List of Birds; of Hawks ; Owls; of the smaller Land Birds; of the Crow Tribe; Pigeons, etc.

Chapter IX
List continued—Game Birds; Destruction of by Shepherds— Plovers—Sandpipers and Snipes, ete.—Water-fowl; Swans, Geese, varieties of Dueks, Grebes, Terns, Gulls, ete.—Deerease of many kinds of birds—Egg-dealers.

Chapter X
Deer-hounds — Deer-forest in Sutherlandshire—Effect of the Forests on Deer—The Stag easting his Horns—Hinds and Calves—Courage of the Hind—Poaehing Shepherds—Value of Horns—Fighting of Stags—Highland Forester—Breed of Deer-hounds.

Chapter XI
Agriculture in Sutherlandshire — Facilities of reaehing the County — Caledonian Canal — Travelling in Sutherland— Inns, excellent management of—Lairg—Tongue—Durness — Seowrie — Inchnadamph — Inveran — Conclusion of Sutherlandshire.

Chapter XII
JANUARY
Wood pigeons — Feeding of Widgeon and Mallards — Wild -fowl—Water-rail—Wild-duck Shooting—Change of colour in Trout.

Chapter XIII
FEBRUARY
Change of colour in Stoats—Affection of Otters for their young —Roe-hunting—Attachment of Birds to their Mates—Food of Fieldfares during Snow—Widgeon—Wild-fowl shooting at Spynie—Incidents in Shooting—Winged Swan—Cats— Food of Wild-geese—Brent Goose.

Chapter XIV
MARCH
Wild-swans—Loch of Spynie; Wild-fowl on it—Pochard— Carrion Crows —Death of Wild-swan —Domestication of Wild-fowl; flavour of—Arrival of Geese.

Chapter XV
APRIL
Field-mice — Brent Geese—Arrival of Migratory Birds — Instinct of Crows in Feeding—Instinct,of Thrushes—Disappointments in Shooting Wild-geese—Death of White-fronted Geese—Shetland Pony—Heronry—Anecdote of Roebuck— Wild-duck’s Nest.

Chapter XVI
MAY
Nests of Birds—Cross - bills, etc.—Lateness of Season—Bean-geesc—Partridge’s Nest—Northern Diver—Coot’s Nest— Teal and her Young—Wren’s Nest—Badgers; cunning of; anecdote of—Aurora Borealis; sound made by.

Chapter XVII
JUNE
Trout-fisliing — Sea-trout in the Findhorn — Breeding-place of Black-headed Gulls — Salmon - fishing — Gray Crows— Hair Worms—Fishing—Cromarty—Goats—The Peregrine Falcon.

Chapter XVIII
JULY
Shore Birds; arrival of—Foxes—Herring, and Herring-fishing; Birds, etc., feeding on them—Herring-fishing in Sutherland— A Sharper—Numbers of Flounders — Young Wildfowl— Eoe; habits of—Midges—Angling—Floods in the Findhorn — Prophecy of a Woman — Escape of a Shepherd.

Chapter XIX
AUGUST
Golden Plover—Ring-dottrel—Migratory ‘Birds — Butterflies —Crabs; their manner of casting their shells — The Sea Angler — The Deal Fish — Habits of Woodcocks — A pet Eoe — Grouse - shootings and Grouse — Wild-fowl.

Chapter XX
SEPTEMBER
The 1st of September—Partridge-shooting—Migratory Birds— Grouse - shooting in September — Widgeon — Jack-snipes; Breeding-places of—Landrail—White variety of the Eagle— Sea-trout fisher—Stag’s Horns—Deer-stalking—Cunning of Deer—Disappointed in getting a Shot.

Volume II

CONTENTS

Chapter XXI
OCTOBER PART I
Migration of Birds—Quails—Arrival of Wild-geese—White-fronted Goose—Arrival of Wild-swans ; decrease of—Feast-ings of our Ancestors—Food of Ducks, etc.—Field-mice— Roe feeding—Hawks — Peregrine and Wild-duck—Training of Hawks—Migration of Eagle.

Chapter XXII
OCTOBER PART II
A SEA-SIDE WALK IN OCTOBER.
Beauty of a fine October morning—Departure and arrival of Birds—A walk along the Coast—The Goosander—Goldeneye and Morillon — Plovers—Widgeon; habits of in feeding ; occasionally breed in Scotland—Sands of the Bay— Flounders—Herons — Curlews, Peewits, etc.—Oyster-birds — Mussel - scarps — Sea View — Long - tails — Mallards — Velvet Ducks ; mode of feeding—Rabbits and Foxes— Formation of the Sandhills ; remains of antiquity found in them—Seals—Salmon - fishers — Old Man catching Flounders—Swans—Unauthorised Fox-chase—Black Game —Roe.

Chapter XXIII
The Snow Bunting—Regularity of appearance—Tomtit and Thrushes; worthy of protection—The Water Ousel—Trout—Otters; their defence of their young — Otter-hunting—Habits of Otters—Seals; power of remaining under water; habits of; decrease of—Wild-swans — Povers, etc. —Dun Divers—Hares.

Chapter XXIV
DECEMBER
Owls; destruction of Mice by them—Frogs—Snakes—Roe-bucks—Fondness of Birds for Sunsbine—Loch of Spynie—Habits of Wild-fowl; rapidity of their flight—Retrievers— The Otter; shooting of, by night—Eley's Cartridges—Wildswans —Accidents in Shooting —Variety of Country in Moray—Forres; public Walks of—Rabbits—Foxes—Immigration of Birds—Conclusion.

Chapter XXV
Deer-stalking; enjoyment of—Fine Stag; ill-luck in stalking; escapes of Stag; start in pursuit of him—View of Country —Roebucks—Hare and Marten—Tracks of Deer; find the Stag; death of—Meet the Shepherd—Cottage.

Chapter XXVI
Sleeping in Shepherd's House—Start in the Morning—Eagle—Wild-geese—Find Deer; unsuccessful shot—Rocky Ground —Wounded Stag—Keeper and Dog—Walk Home.

Chapter XXVII
Length of Life of Birds—The Eagle—Swan—Geese—Falcons—Fowls —Pigeons —Small Birds —Great age of Eagles and Foxes—Red-deer—Destruction of Old Stags—Roe—Sheep —Rifles; size of their bore—Double-barrelled Rifles—Size of Small Shot—Cartridges—Impossibility of laying down general rules —Necessity of discretion in all writers on Natural History.

Chapter XXVIII
Disease amongst Grouse; difficulty of assigning its cause — Supply of Grouse to Poulterers —Netting game, legal and illegal — Disguised Poachers — Game - Laws — Preserves — Criminality of Poachers —Epidemics amongst Hares, etc. — Black Game—Hybrids—Wood-pigeons—Geese—Sentinels.

Chapter XXIX
The Landrail; Arrival and Habits of — Cuckoo — Swift — Associations connected with Birds — Enjoyment of Life by- Birds — Falcons — Water-Fowl; their different modes of Swimming — Wild-fowl shooting — Wounded Ducks — Retrievers; care which should be taken of them — Plumage of Water-Fowl; its imperviousness to wet; the cause and limits of this.

Chapter XXX
Taming and Education of Wild Animals—The Eagle ; his want of docility—Courage and Intelligence of the Noble Falcons —The Hound—Return of Cats to their home—Maternal Instinct of Cats — The Carrier-pigeon — Wood-pigeons— Dovecot-pigeons—Sight of Pigeons — Blue-rock Pigeons — Crested Titmouse—The Robin; pugnacious disposition of —Sparrows; impudence of.

Chapter XXXI
Instinct of Birds—The Woodcock carrying her young—Herons —Water-ousel—Nest of Golden-eye Duck—Habits of Birds —Talons of Falcons and Hawks—Stuffed Birds—Plumage, etc., of Owls—The Osprey and Sea Swallow—Manner of Fishing—Carrion - feeding Birds—Manner of finding their Food—The Eagle—Sense of Smell in Birds—in Ducks and Geese—Power of communicating with each other—Notes of Alarm—A few words respecting destroying Hawks, etc.— Colour of Birds adapted to concealment—Instinct of Birds finding Food—Red-deer—Tame Roebuck.

Chapter XXXII
Scotch Streams and Lakes
Rivers, Streams, and Lakes in Scotland—The Tweed—The Lakes and Streams of Argyleshire—Loch Awe—A Contest with a Salmo ferox—Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, and Sutherland— Pike not an injurious destroyer of Trout—Char—The River Shin—Pertinacity of Salmon in ascending Streams — The Bcauly—The Findliorn—The Spey—The Dee—Decrease in the number of Salmon; its causes and its cure—Extent of the trade of Fly-making.

Chapter XXXIII - Dogs
Learned Dog and Show-woman— Education of Sporting Dogs —Hereditary Instinct of Dogs—Tlieir thievish propensities descend to their offspring—Bad-tempered Dogs—Breaking of Dogs — Their jealousies—Their hunting alliances — Attachment of a Dog to his Master—Dog-eating reprobated —Bloodhounds—Skye Terriers—Dogs combining against a common enemy—Old Dogs—Singular instance of sagacity in one.

Chapter XXXIV - Winter Sketches
Grouse; Hardiness of— Difference of Climate in Morayshire —Migratory habits of Partridges—Grubs, etc., destroyed by Pheasants—Ptarmigan—Ptarmigan-shooting during Winter —An Expedition to the Mountains—Early start—Tracks of Otters— Otter-hunting— Stags —Herons—Golden-eyes— Wild-cat—Mallards—Tracks of Deer—Gray Crows—Eagle— Shepherd’s hut—Braxy Mutton—Ascent of the Mountain— Ptarmigan—Change in the weather — Dangerous situation —Violent Snowstorm—Return home—Wild-duck shooting —Flapper-shooting.

Chapter XXXV - Highland Sheep
Introduction of Sheep into the Highlands—Version of Highlanders to Sheep; disliked by Deer also — Prophecy — Activity of black-faced Sheep; instincts of—Mountain Sheep in enclosures—The Plaid ; uses of; various ways of wearing; manufactures of; invisible colours—Shepherds— Burning of Heather—Natural enemies of Sheep—Shepherds’ Dogs—Origin of Dogs.

Chapter XXXVI - Game Dealers
Poulterers’ Shops — Supply of Game—Red-deer—Deer killed in the Fields—Roe—Grouse and Black Game ; calling of— Shooting Hares by night—Pheasants—Advantages attending the sale of Game by the fair Sportsman and the Landed Proprietor— American Game — Wild-fowl in Shops — Bird-deal ers in Leadenhall Market—Norway Game—Manner of collecting—Hybrids—introduction of new species of Game into Britain—Prolific Birds—Sea-fowl; their breeding-places —Solan Geese—Migration of Fish.

Chapter XXXVII - Fisheries
Supply of Fish in Scotland—'Herring - fishery—Highlanders coming to Herring-fishing—Fishermen of East Coast—Difference of Language in Nairn—Departure of Herring-boats; dangers to which they are exposed—Loss of Boats and Lives —Fishing in good weather—Loch fishing—Fishing Stations on West Coast—Fishing for Haddocks, etc.—State of British Sea-fislieries.

Appendix

A Season in Sutherland
By John E. Edwards-Moss (1888) (pdf)


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