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The Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Chapter I - To The Highlands Bound


HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS, as we Scots chuckle to ourselves, is the one phrase which an Englishman cannot mispronounce. I read lately a book of Scottish travel by an American, who made my countrymen leave out their h's like any Cockney; then I at once laid aside this writer's observations as vain. The humblest Scot never drops an h, unless in words like hospital, which the Southron painfully aspirates in his anxiety not to be judged vulgar, as in living memory he has tacked this test of breeding on to humour and humble. More fairly we may be charged with overdoing the i sound; and there are two or three words in which we insert it: huz, for instance, said in some parts for "us." In the game of "tig," anglicé "touch" or "tag," my childish conception of the formula "who's hit?" made it a participle meaning "struck" or "touched," till I heard German children crying in like case "Ich bin es!" when I did not know how hit is the old English pronoun, preserved by Scots dialects, which are the truest copies of our national tongue.

Once, indeed—it was in Derbyshire-1 came across a man speaking with a strong West Highland accent, yet misusing the letter Ii. This seemed such a prodigy that I made a point of getting it explained. It turned out he was the son of a Yorkshire shepherd, who had taken service on the Isle of Mull. There the boy carne to be most at home in Gaelic, while what English he had was on a bad model - the reverse of lingua Toscana in bocca Romana. His younger brothers, he told me, grew up hardly speaking English at all, and he, the bilingual member of the family, had often to interpret between them and their mother, who could never get her tongue round the strange speech. We speak of a mother-tongue; but it is from their playfellows that active lads seem to learn fastest. The Italian author De Amicis relates an experience like that of this Yorkshire family: transplanted at the age of two from a Genoese to a Piedmontese town, he picked up the Piedmontese dialect so readily that his own mother could not always understand him when once he got loose from her apron-strings.

In the far Highlands and Islands can still be found countrymen of ours who speak no language but Gaelic, these hardly, indeed, unless among older people, the rising generation being schooled into the dominant tongue, in their case often a stiff book English, spangled with Lowland idioms and native constructions. Distrust the author who reports true Highlanders talking broad Scots after the school of Stratford-atte-Bow. This remark does not fully apply to the Central and Inner Highlands, where some generations have passed since people living a mile off spoke tongues foreign to each other, as may still happen on the borders of Wales. In the Highlands best known to tourists, the blending of blood, language, and customs has gone so far that a stranger may be excused for confounding a Perthshire strath with the true kailyard scenery. Beyond the Great Glen, still more markedly beyond the sounds, firths, and minches of the west coast, we find Highlanders less touched by the spirit of a practical age, whose first breath sets them shivering and drawing their tartans about them as they wake from fond dreams of a romantic past. All Scotland, alas! has been too much overrun by the alien clan of MacMillion, who, as one of its most eloquent sons complains, go on cutting it up into "moors" and "forests," and its rivers into "beats." Sheep-farming on a large scale and other industries have here and there brought Saxon sojourners, like my Derbyshire acquaintance, to the western wilds. The aristocracy are much Anglified, even in these "Highlands of the Highlands." But the mass of their human life is still Celtic, or at least Gaelic, if language can be trusted, with an old blend of Teuton infused both by sea and land, through Norse, Norman, and Saxon invaders, and with touches of Spanish Armada or other shipwrecked blood surmisable here and there among waifs and strays all going to make up a stock that may have absorbed who knows what prehistoric elements. The controversy between Thwackum and Square is not more famous than that hot debate between Mr. Jonathan Oldbuck and Sir Arthur Wardour, which stands as warning to a modest writer not to quarrel with any readers, at least at an early stage of his book, by taking sides on certain much-vexed ethnological and philological questions.

To reach those rain-bitten and wave-carved coasts where the true Highlander mainly holds his own, we have various ways now made smooth by arts which go on sapping his seclusion. It does not much matter which way the stranger takes, for he can hardly go wrong, to understand how right Gray was when he told his mole-eyed generation, "the Lowlands were worth seeing once, but the mountains are ecstatic, and ought to be visited in pilgrimage once a year." All roads to the Inner Highlands lead through the Outer Highlands, more fully described in Bonnie Scotland.

For leisurely tourists the choice road is still by water, down the Clyde from Glasgow. If the name of this river be derived, as is said, from a Celtic word meaning clean, that title has become a mockery, since its banks from Glasgow to Greenock sucked together the most industrious life of Scotland. "Come, bright Improvement, on the Car of Time!" sang Glasgow's youthful poet, but lived to exclaim against the questionable shape in which came a spirit he had invoked so hopefully:

And call they this Improvement?—to have changed,
My native Clyde, thy once romantic shore,
Where Nature's face is banished and estranged,
And Heaven reflected in thy wave no more;
Whose banks, that sweetened May-day's breath before,
Lie sere and leafless now in summer's beam,
With sooty exhalations covered o'er;
And for the daisied green-sward, down thy stream
Unsightly brick-lanes smoke, and clanking engines gleam.

The banks of the Clyde have not grown more Arcadian since Campbell's day, so the traveller does well to hurry by rail over the windings of the smoky river, embarking at Greenock or Helensburgh, where it broadens out into a firth deep enough to drown the offences of man. Here launch forth a fleet of steamboats, whose admirals, almost alone in Britain, rival the luxurious arks of the Hudson and the Mississippi; and here begins a "delectable voyage," too often spoiled by rain, else warmly praised by a hundred pens, for instance in Colonel Lockhart's Fair to See, one of the most amusing of Highland novels, as readers might not guess from this opening passage:

The mountain panorama which greets you as you start, noble though it be, is but the noble promise of still better things for it cannot show you the exquisite variety, the contrasts, the combinations, the marvellous chiaroscuro, the subtle harmonies, the sublime discords, that meet you and thrill you at every turn, passing through the inner penetralia of all that is most glorious in the land of mountain and of flood. Gliding through those strange sounds and estuaries, with their infinite sinuosities, traced about peninsula and cape and island—traced as it were with a design of delighting the eye with sudden presentments of scenic surprises, as it were with a design of furnishing not one, but twenty points of view, wherefrom to consider each salient wonder and beauty round which they seem to conduct you proudly on their glittering paths—there must be something far wrong with you if you find no delight in all this. For here indeed you have a succession of the noblest pictures,—no mere iteration of rugged mountains, monotonous in their grim severity and sublime desolation,—no mere sleepy tracts of unbroken forest, nor blank heaths losing themselves vaguely in the horizon, nor undulating expanses of lawn-like pasture-land, but with something of all these features blending in each of the splendid series; every feature in turn claiming its predominance, when all the others seem to pose themselves about the one central object, sinking for the moment their own individualities that it may be glorified.

For the first stage of this voyage, indeed, the shore is too much masked by a long line of bathing and boating resorts, to which Glasgow folk love to escape even from the comforts of the Saltmarket. On the right-hand side stands Dunoon, whose fragment of ruined fortress looks stranded above a flood of hotels, shops, and villas, in which several villages have run together into a town. Farther down, on the Isle of Bute, Rothesay makes the focus of Clyde pleasure trips, no mushroom resort, but seat of an ancient royal castle that titled the heir of Scotland. The Stuarts still flourish here in the person of the Marquis of Bute, who is as great a man in the Principality of Wales as in the Dukedom of Rothesay. The old town has expanded into a couple of miles of esplanade, curving below green hills upon a land-locked bay, its surface lively with yachts, pleasure boats, and steamers that in the summer season turn out myriads of excursionists to sack the joys of the place. I was about to belittle Rothesay by calling it the Southend of Glasgow; but in view of its hydros, its mineral spring, and its background of dwarf Highland scenery, its character may better be expressed in terms of chemical analysis:

In winter, when "Wee Macgreegors" and the like desert its waters, Rothesay becomes the Ventnor of Scotland, recommended by a sheltered western mildness, which indeed its own guide-book advocate has to qualify as "rather humid." Even in ordinary winters it may bear comparison with South Devon or the Isle of Wight, while sometimes a whim of Nature has set the thermometer standing higher here than at Mentone. This mildness is attested by exotic plants in Lord Bute's park, whose late owner, Disraeli's "Lothair," for a time maintained colonies of kangaroos, beavers, and other outlandish creatures. Whatever harsh things may be said of Eastern Scotland's climate, the West Highland skies are more apt to be "soft," and to snow only "whiles." Some patriotic Scots go so far as to claim that their country is on the whole warmer than England, no part of the former being over forty miles from the Gulf Stream that so muggily wraps the islands of our far north.

For the rest, Bute makes a miniature of the Highlands, once rich in chapels and hermitages, as in monuments of a dimmer faith, too many of which have been destroyed, like that monastic ruin carted away to baser uses by a thrifty farmer, who thought to gain his lord's approval for "clearing" a beautiful spot. A modern memorial, not to be pointed out to French visitors, is the woods of Southhall, planted by a veteran owner as plan of the battle of Waterloo. The boss of the island, Barone Hill, rises over Soo feet, from which, or from the park above Rothesay, fond local eyes have tried to count a dozen counties, and half a dozen are certainly in view. "Why don't you pretend to see to America, while you are about it?" quoth a rude Southron to some local prospect-monger; and the dry answer was, "Ye can see farther than that—as far as the moon!"

Bute, of course, sinks to a mere Isle of Wight when compared with the grandeurs and loveliness of Arran, lying to the south. This island indeed has scenery which some declare unsurpassed in Britain, notably on the flanks of its Goatfell summit. Yet while Glen Rosa, Glen Sannox, and Loch Ranza have often been famed by painters, it seems the case that poets, novelists, and other artists in words make not much copy out of the charms of Arran. One feels inclined to suspect authors

Glen Rosa, Arran
Glen Rosa, Arran

of Sybarite tastes, since a weak point of Arran as tourist ground is, or has been, a want of accommodation under the shadow of a ducal house that looked askance on building. The only two towniets on the island, Brodick and Lamlash, count their population in hundreds; and their hotels are hard put to it to accommodate the strangers who have often had to be content with a shakedown in the room used as an English chapel, or with shelter in one of the few bathing machines; I have heard of a whole boatful of excursionists lodged in a hay-field. Holiday quarters in this paradise are engaged for a year ahead, and Piccadilly prices may have to be paid as rent of a hovel. Thus hitherto Arran has been preserved as a haunt of real nature-lovers, and within two or three hours' sail of Glasgow one could find an almost pristine solitude of purple heather and solemn crags all unprofaned by watering-place gaiety or luxury. The sourest Radical of sound taste might here exclaim, "God bless the Duke!"—not of Argyll —yet one wonders what a late duke's creditors thought of such a demesne being kept clear from vulgar considerations of profit.

I am not going to try my hand at word-pictures of these glorious landscapes, for "how can a man can what he canna can?" as I once heard a Highland lad sagaciously express himself in our foreign tongue. One had better not invite one's readers even to land on Arran, lest there might be a difficulty in getting them off again; but if they do, let them not omit the ascent of Goatfell, no perilous adventure, for a view hardly surpassed in Scotland, as shown in Black's Where shall we go? a work over which the present author has some rights of plagiarism.

The summit is composed of mighty rocks, ensconced among which one may shelter from the searching wind and gaze in comfort at the wild picture around and below—Glen Rosa at our feet, with its sharp precipices beyond rising into the pinnacled heights of A Chir and Cir Vohr; the saddle into Glen Sannox (the glen itself is invisible from here), and the equally sharp and even loftier ridges beyond that glen ; the nearer range of Goatfell itself extending round a nameless glen below us, and terminating in a sharp peak that overhangs the village of Corrie; and beyond the limits of the island itself and the broad belt of sea which allows the eye to range unchecked, a glorious bewilderment of heights and hollows innumerable, with here the smoke of a manufacturing town, and there the familiar shape of some mainland mountain-giant, the view extending on a clear day, it is said, from Ben Nevis to the Isle of Man.

Arran owes its unsophisticated state also in part to lying a little off the highway of travel. Strong- stomached voyagers may round the Mull of Cantyre, to be tossed upon Atlantic waves, and thus get a chance of seeing Ailsa Craig, "Paddy's Milestone," whose cliffs are in some respects finer than the much- visited Staffa. The gentle tourist takes an easier and straighter line to Oban. His boat threads the beautiful Kyles of Bute, then stands across to Tarbert, on the Isthmus of Cantyre, from the farther side of which goes the steamer to Islay. Up Loch Fyne is reached Ardrishaig, terminus of the big ark whose Oban-bound passengers are transferred to a smaller craft for the Crinan Canal cut, that brings them over to the island- studded and cliff-cornered sounds of the west coast. Well then for the land-lubber that he fares forward on one of Messrs. MacBrayne's stout craft! To play the Viking here without experience were a perilous task, so thick-set are these waters with rocks and shallows, so tormented by sudden shifty squalls, so distracted by currents, eddies, and rushing tideways. But the steamer pants masterfully through the Dorus Mor, keeps clear of the Maelstrom of Corryvreckan, whose roar may be heard leagues off in calm weather, and steers safe along the islands of the Firth of Lorne, past the great slate quarries on Easdale, round the bridged island of Seil, and inside the dark heights of Kerrera, by a narrow sound to reach its port at Oban, whose once mighty strongholds are overshadowed by such an eruption of smart hotels and villas.

Here we come into touch with the Caledonian Railway, which is the shortest way to this "Charing Cross of the Highlands." Having entered the mountains beyond Stirling Castle and Dunbiane, passing near the Trossachs and under the Braes of Balquhidder, the line turns westward to wind through the mountains of southern Perthshire, and reaches Argyll by some of Scotland's grandest scenes, finding a way between the head of Loch Awe and the mighty Ben Cruachan, after a glimpse, at Dalmally, into the strath of Glenorchy, oasis-like after terrific Glen Ogle and dreary Glen Lochy. The railway holds on through the stern Pass of Brander, scene of the Highland Widow, where cairns still record the crushing of the Macdougalls of Lorne by Robert Bruce. Then we gain Oban by Loch Etive, whose upper part runs into one of the grandest of Highland glens, and its waters rush out with the tide in Ossian's Falls of Lora, through the narrow throat now bridged by a branch to Ballachulish.

On one side, this line takes in tributaries of tourist traffic from Loch Earn and Loch Tay, and roads through the grand Breadalbane Highlands marked by their name as heart of ancient Albin. On the other side, by coaches and steamboats, Ben Cruachan is reached from Inveraray or from the head of Loch Long. Campbell seems the dominant name now in this country, but once it was the land of the Macgregors, whose hearts still turn to fair Glenorchy, whence they were driven landless and nameless. This ancient clan stood as model for Scott's Vich-Alpines, a name which they in fact claim as descended from Gregor, son of King Alpin. Not every one reads Scott nowadays; few read his introductions and miscellaneous essays; and perhaps nobody, without special interest in the subject, will go through Miss Murray Macgregor's elaborate history of her name; so there will be many of my readers to whom may not come amiss a short digression on the peculiar fortunes of a clan distinguished by ferocity among warlike neighbours in a ruthless age. It was not the Saxon that to them "came with iron hand," but men of their own blood and speech, who "from our fathers rent the land" about which the moon could be significantly known as "Macgregor's Lantern," as also indeed "Macfarlane's Lantern," and the lamp of other Highlandmen bent on business that would not well bear brighter light.

From very early times the Macgregors passed for Ishmaelites, every hand against them, their fastnesses again and again threatened by commissions of fire and sword as soon as troubled Scottish kings could attempt to settle the quarrels of the Highland border. Their most resounding offence was the slaughter of the Colquhouns at Glenfruin by Loch Lomond, a little before James VI. posted off to his softer throne in London. This was a fair fight, made flagrant in tradition by the murder of the Dumbarton schoolboys who had come out to see the battle, as in our day lads might go some way to a football match. It is stated that the Macgregor chief bid these non-combatants take refuge in a church, either to keep them out of the way of shots, or to have under his hand a troop of hostages from among the principal families in Scotland; and that it was his foster-brother or some of his followers who stabbed the unfortunate youths, to the chief's indignation. Another legend tells of a barn in which the poor boys were burned to death. One tradition points out two murderers, who henceforth lived as outlaws from the clan. Miss Murray Macgregor naturally defends her kinsmen from the charge of an atrocity so heavily weighing on their own conscience that for long no Macgregor would cross after nightfall the stream in that "Glen of Sorrow," believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the victims. It is in print, though I cannot find any authority of weight, that up to the middle of the eighteenth century the Dumbarton schoolboys annually went through a ceremony of funeral rites on what was taken for the anniversary of the massacre, their dux being laid on a bier and with Gaelic chants carried to an open grave as effigy of those luckless predecessors.

The story of the scholars may have been exaggerated. But when eleven score widows of the slain Colquhouns, dressed in black on white palfreys, each bearing her husband's bloody shirt on a spear, came before James demanding vengeance, this object-lesson deeply moved the pacific king. The very name of Macgregor was proscribed on pain of death. The clan was handed over to the Campbells for execution; and when its chief surrendered to Argyll on promise of escaping with exile, this condition was kept to the letter by sending him over the English border and at once bringing him back to be hanged at Edinburgh. Throughout the century, acts of proscription against the Macgregors were repeatedly renewed, most of them having to disguise themselves as Campbells, Drummonds, Murrays, or other neighbour names, while one branch, settled in Aberdeenshire, took that of Gregory, and some wandered north as far as Ross. The bulk of their lands passed to the Campbells. But still a tough stock of them held fast near their old seats, not to be rooted out by all the power of the crown or of the Campbells, as we know from Rob Roy's exploits, who, "ower bad for blessing, and ower good for banning," hardly played the hero in the political strife of his day, but did a good deal of doughty fighting for his own hand.

This last of semi-mythical heroes had come to look on Argyll as a protector, and turned his depredations chiefly against the house of Graham; whereas in the former century many of the clan had followed Montrose, which was worth to them the favour of Charles abolishing the penal laws against their name, afterwards reenacted under William. It was not till George Ill.'s reign, when the tamed Macgregors had amply proved their loyalty in arms as well as their ability in other walks of life, that their proscription was finally annulled, the scattered clan free to take their own name, for which they recognised Sir John Murray as chief, in a deed signed by over 800 Macgregors. Rob Roy had represented the junior branch of Glengyle, claiming descent from that ruffian on whom was laid the blood of the Dumbarton scholars. Rob appears to have died a Catholic; but a contemporary divine of his clan tells how they were in the way of boasting that they had a religion of their own, "neither Papist nor Protestant, just Macgregors! " So much for a stock that seems to have been more unlucky but not more undeserving, perhaps, than its neighbours.

In the Macgregor country the Caledonian line crosses its rival the West Highland Railway, that from Helensburgh turns northward up the shores of Loch Long and Loch Lomond to mount into the wilds of Perthshire, the great Caledonian Forest of old, still showing a wide waste, the Moor of Rannoch, about which lay hid Charles Edward in fact, as Stevenson's David Balfour in fiction slunk before the redcoat dragoons over that naked moorland, crawling on all fours from patch to patch of heather among its moss bogs and peaty pools. Above the loftiest point of the line stands a shooting-lodge which used to boast itself the highest habitation in Britain, but has been far overtopped by the Observatory on Ben Nevis, round whose snow-streaked flanks the railway turns west at Fort-William towards its terminus on the coast.

This is bound to be a somewhat flat chapter, in which one can merely hint at the landmarks of rapid routes to the Inner Highlands, most of them by scenery already traversed in Bonnie Scotland. From Ben Nevis there is a straight way to Inverness by the bed of the Caledonian Canal. To that "capital of the Highlands," the highroad from the centre of Scotland is by the famed Highland Railway over the wilds of Atholl and Badenoch. Other lines lead less directly from the south to Inverness. The Caledonian through Strathmore, and the North British over the Firths of Forth and Tay, unite to reach Aberdeen by the rocky coast on which stands out Dunottar Castle, that old Scottish Gibraltar, honoured with the custody of the Regalia, and accursed by the cruel confinement of Covenanters. At Aberdeen, close to the rounded and trimmed beauties of Deeside, avenue for Balmoral and Braemar, one has a choice of routes to Inverness, over a fine half-Highland, half-Lowland country, or along the rocky coast of the Moray Firth.

Aberdeen from the harbour entrance

From Inverness a single line runs on to the far north, with a branch to the ferries of Skye, rivalled now by the West Highland extension to Mallaig. Half a century ago Dean Stanley declared it easier to get to Jerusalem than to Skye. Jerusalem to-day has its railway ; while Skye is reached by steamers from Oban, besides the easy crossings for which cyclists wind upon good roads through the bens and glens beyond Inverness.

Oban, Fort-William, and Inverness are the chief bases of West Highland touring. To Lorne and to Lochaber we shall return anon. Of Inverness, properly a Highland frontier city, if capital of the Highland Railway, enough has been said in my former volume; but here I would take the opportunity of correcting a slight anachronism by which I there spoke of Inverness Castle as used for a prison. I learn that within the last two or three years it has been freed from this degradation. The Highlands have not much need of prisons; the Fiji Islanders did not more quickly shift a character for fierce violence. But for whisky and political or religious agitation, there would be little need of police in this country. It is many a year since a Highlander was "justified." During the last quarter of a century or so, some half-dozen executions have served all Scotland; and it is stated on good authority that not one of the criminals was of native blood or religion indeed, sound Presbyterians have the satisfaction of noting—but let sleeping dogs lie!

Peacefulness and honesty were not always characteristic virtues of the Highlands; and even yet, now that we are about to visit Donald in his native wilds, let us understand how, like the rest of us, he has his weak points as well as his strong ones, both of them sometimes exaggerated into a caricature as like the original as is the rigid Highlander of a snuff shop. His critics are apt to dwell on certain faults which may be often regarded as the seamy side of fine qualities that also distinguish him. His groundwork of laziness will be chequered by spells of energy and endurance. He may still put too much of the hard drudgery on women; but he does not shrink from tasks of danger and death. His want of smart practical turn goes with his readiness for romantic imaginings. His hot temper is related to a pride that begets chastity and courtesy as well as brawls. His loves as well as his hates catch fire more briskly than in the coarser Saxon nature, whose affections, indeed, if harder to kindle, may burn with an intenser glow when once well alight. The Lowlander is a better man of business, but the Highlander more of a gentleman, as the stranger will soon remark. And now that old feuds have smouldered out, the dourest Whig will not care to contradict a Tory poet—

Nowhere beats the heart so kindly
As beneath the tartan plaid.

All the same, Aytoun might have found cause to choose another epithet for Highland hearts, if, in those loyal old days of his, wearing a MacTavish plaid, let us say, he had chanced to forgather on some lonely moor with the tartans of "ta Fairshon."


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