Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

The Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Chapter V - Pibrochs and Coronachs


LONG before reaching Ben Nevis the delicate-eared Southron may shudder at a far-heard strain, which some strangers, indeed, find " not so bad as it sounds," as the Frenchman said of Wagner's music, while others will indulgently admit—

It was wild, it was fitful, it died on the breeze,
It wandered about into various keys;

It was jerky, spasmodic, and harsh, I declare,
But still—it distinctly suggested an air.

The bagpipes need no apology in ears to the manner born. They are well beloved in the Lowlands as in the Highlands; and even about a London terminus one is hardly more safe from them than in the wilds of Lorne or Lochaber. When the savant St. Fond came to Edinburgh, grave Adam Smith, learning that he held music part of the wealth of nations, took him to a bagpipe competition, which he describes as exciting such enthusiasm among sober citizens as might be expected on what is not the native heath of this instrument. It was once, indeed, no more specially Scottish than it was English, Irish, Italian, or, for the matter of that, European. What seems to have been added to it in the Highlands is the great drone, helping the pipes to express a fierce or melancholy music, whose strains, in turn exulting and wailing, recommended themselves strongly to the keenly-set feelings of the Gael. The chief's piper was an hereditary official in several clans, often one of no little dignity, having his acolytes and his pipe-bearer, and not condescending to play for common revels. There was a college of M'Crimmon pipers at Dunvegan in Skye, where the Macdonalds maintained a rival school of MacCarters ; and the names of other champion performers are not forgotten. The piper held his head so high in the Celtic world that still Highland pride seems typified in the swelling port and strut of his degenerate descendants. His finer notes are in danger of being lost, now that they will not be so much called on for occasions of state or mourning; but as often as we relapse into the savagery of war, there is found no screech like the bagpipe's to heat men's hearts to slaughter point, as some of our modern Highland stocks may have known to their cost when first they encountered the true children of mountain mists. In older days, "the harp that once through Tara's halls" is claimed as the stately music of the Highlands also, and if we went far enough back, we might find cows' horns the only music known to rude warriors, till some effeminate stranger introduced among them an art nursed on sunny Mediterranean lochs and sounds. But the reader need not fear to be let in for an antiquarian lecture. The bagpipes will serve me like the blessed word Mesopotamia as text for a rambling discourse on past and present in the country looked down on by Ben Nevis.

It seems typical of the new order that Ben Nevis, one of those mountains said to be held on a snowball tenure, belongs in part to a Southron whose very name denotes "England's cruel red," and in part to a family which has blended the once hostile blood of Campbell and of Cameron with that of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, the "Justice Shallow" whose deer Shakespeare poached, according to Elizabethan scandal. No contrast could be greater than between this property and the Lucys' lordly park in the flat Midlands. Rising to the heaven that names it, from a base thirty miles in circumference, the highest crest of Britain is not so much a towering peak as "a colossal bundle of the hugest of Scotland's mountains rolled into one mighty mass" of cloudy ridges and stupendous precipices, whose magnitude grows on the beholder from various aspects, most impressive perhaps that of the dark gulf filled with rolling mists that opens on the north-east side. These stern steeps that once echoed to pibrochs and coronachs, and gave their fallen stones for the cairns of many a forgotten feud, were in our generation crowned by a monument of the spirit of a new age. Monument indeed, for as I write comes news that the Ben Nevis Observatory has been deserted through an unromantic lack of funds, which in any other civilised country would have been supplied from the public purse.

For years this cloudy post was garrisoned by a band of intrepid weather watchers, bearing the brunt of the great Atlantic storms, in whose teeth they snatched hints to build up scientific meteorology. Not that their knowledge has as yet risen much beyond its foundations, when Mr. Robert Omond, the first captain of that crow's nest, truly then to be called highest British authority on the subject, rebukes more confident seers by the dictum that our weather's "coming events cast their shadows before" no farther than a day or two, and then not for certain. More striking results were deserved by the devotion of these hermits of science. With hares, foxes, and weasels for nearest neighbours, their chief complaint seems to have been of only too many visitors, in summer at least, when scores daily would toil up the path made for constructing and provisioning their eyry, whereon the weak-kneed Lowlander may stumble and murmur; yet had he seen this road "before it was made," he would rather bless the Scottish Meteorological Society that has done so much for it under such arduous circumstances. But again they would be weeks without seeing a human face, even on a postage stamp, unless some adventurer made an Alpine ascent through the snow to bring news from the outer world to their hermitage, built strong and solid like a lighthouse. At the height of summer banks of dirty snow may be found on the top, where John Leyden and his friends had an August snowball fight. In winter the crew of observers were often buried in snow-banks, through which they must dig themselves out; or it would be all they could do, roped together, to struggle against the wind to their instruments a few yards off. Sometimes it was im- possible to crawl to windward against such a gale as once for fifteen hours kept them imprisoned in their cramped quarters, the only exposed window broken by a bombardment of hard snow lumps torn up and hurled by the wind. Rainbows proved rare so far up in the clouds, and so did heavy thunderstorms, though the air has at times been found alive with frizzilings and cracklings of invisible electricity that made men's hair stand on end ; and once their telegraph apparatus was fused by lightning. As often as not their mountain solitude was wrapped in dark, dank, chilly fog, through which they durst not lightly trust themselves by the edges of the perilous abysses around. In one day they measured more than seven inches of rain. But again that ark of theirs would stand up in glorious sunshine above the lower tops lying islanded in a sea of mist, which had rolled back from the top to leave its high tide-mark sparkling with feathery crystals. I once spent ten Christmas days at Bournemouth without a glimpse of the sun, when a letter came from the top of Ben Nevis reporting a fortnight of dry, clear weather, lit through the short day by a wonderful play of colours in the sky. And at all seasons, from their hundred-mile prospect point above the clouds, the observers might catch wonderful optical phenomena, corona of most vivid colouring painted on a film of scud-cloud, fog-bows, both solar and lunar, and the weird adumbration called "glories," described by Mr. Omond:

In winter when the sun is low, even at noon, the shadow of a person standing near the cliff that runs all along the northern side of Ben Nevis is cast clear of the hill into the valley below. In bright winter weather this deep gloomy gorge is often full of loose shifting fog, and when the shadow falls upon it, the observer sees his head surrounded by a series of coloured rings, from two to five in number, varying in size from a mere blotch of light up to a well-defined arch 6 or 8 degrees in radius. This phenomenon does not present quite the same appearance as the better-known Brocken Spectre, for here the shadow of the observer, in consequence of the distance of the mist from him, does not appear unnaturally large; in fact the image of one's head appears as a mere dark speck in the centre of the coloured rings. These glories are less common in summer—though they have been seen near sunrise and sunset.

At the foot of Ben Nevis lies Fort-William, a town once dubbed Gordonsburgh, and before that Mary- burgh, in honour of Dutch William's consort; but its old name was Inverlochy, famed by Montrose's dashing victory over Argyll, as by a former battle between the forces of James I. and his troublesome vassal, the Lord of the Isles. Cloudier history would have it an ancient royal seat of Scotland, where King Achaius is fondly believed to have made a treaty with Charlemagne, first seal of that league between two kingdoms often united in enmity to England. These are ticklish subjects: MacCulloch the geologist was hereabouts turned away from even Highland hospitality because he could not believe that Fingal made the parallel roads of Glenroy, in which Nature seems so artfully to have copied the works of man.

Legendary chroniclers have placed at Inverlochy the site of a great commercial city in the Highland golden age ; but the only trace of such antiquity is, not far off, one of those "vitrified forts," puzzling savants as to whether their ramparts were turned to slag by accident or design. There is a painful suspicion that the old castle, at one time held by the Comyns, may have been the work of an English king, three centuries before James VI. tried to found a town about it as civilising agent for the Highlands. It was certainly General Monk who began the modern fort that in William's time became strengthened to hold out against ill- equipped besiegers. This work, impregnable in i/, has now yielded to the railway company, whose station takes its place. Before the railway came here, Marshal Wade's roads and Telford's Canal had bridled the wild Highlandman as effectually as that chain of military posts hence reaching up to the Moray Firth by Kil-Comyn, the modern Fort-Augustus, and by Castle Urquhart on the banks of Loch Ness. This was another fortress of the Black Comyns, then of the Grants, taken by Edward I.'s soldiers, and assailed by many a fierce foe, till it gracefully surrendered to the shafts of time.

The Earth builds on the Earth
Castles and towers;
The Earth says to the Earth,
All shall be ours.

From Ben Nevis we look over that great cleft in which Loch Linnhe, running up from the Firth of Lorne, is continued by the lakes of Glenmore, a natural boundary-line for the Inner Highlands. The so-called Highland line formed by the face of the Grampians running obliquely from the Clyde across the Forth and Tay, then beside Strathmore to Aberdeenshire, walls in the Outer Highlands, in the main long mastered by stranger lords, who, indeed, soon fell under the Celtic charm and brought themselves to be as Gaelic as the born Gaels, not the less demonstratively as Saxon speech and Lowland customs crept in by the mountain passes. It is across that central cleft we must look for the Bretagne bretonnante of Scotland, among secluded lochs and glens where the people were longer sheltered from outside influences. The noblest summits and the most famous scenes are to the east of the Great Glen ; perhaps the grandest mountain mass is the block of the Cairngorms in the north-east, below which Balmoral basks in the sunshine of royal favour; but to the west rather lingers the soul of the Highlands. This is particularly true of the Inverness bens, glens, and lochs between Ben Nevis and Skye, a region that has for its proper name "The Rough Bounds" (Garbh Crioch), while it made part of old Argyll, "coast of the Gael," a name once extending as far up as Loch Broom.

Glenmore is a highway of civilisation well trodden/ by tourist generations. Of late years the extension of the West Highland line to the coast has opened up further romantic wilds, thick set with ruined strongholds and shrines, with crosses and cairns, and with monuments of less-forgotten history. One column marks the spot where Charles Edward raised his standard in Glenfinnan ; another commemorates the Lochiel Cameron who died at Quatre Bras, as loyal to King George as his fathers to Charles and James. In those cloudy recesses, beyond the forts of the Great Glen, gathered silently the storm of 17 to whirl far over Britain. Here Macdonalds and Camerons only half-welcomed their rash prince, the old chiefs too prudent not to see the risks of his enterprise, yet too proud to hold back from it when hot young heads panted to meet the Lowlands in battle array. The first encounter was on the Spean, by whose valley a branch line now holds up the Great Glen to Fort- Augustus. The main line winds round the head of Loch Shiel, and on to the deep fords near Arisaig, where the adventurer reached the mainland, and whence he made his perilous escape. From Arisaig, looking out on the picturesque islands Eigg, Rum, and Muck, the railway follows the coast to Mallaig, opposite the southern end of Skye, a region hitherto almost beyond the waterproofed tourist's ken, if not the sportsman's, now plying his expensive pastime among the lonely graves of clans who, for all their pride and valour, went down before the disciplined stranger because they could not keep their swords off one another.

It was not by chance of weather that Charles Edward landed in these parts, to start his Phaeton career from the Rough Bounds. Hence, if we take in Badenoch to the east and Lochaber to the south-east, came the strongest bodies of fighters in that lost cause, whose poet tells us how "the fiery cross was sped" with news that the "Prince had come again." As a matter of prosaic fact, the fiery cross seems to have gone out of fashion by 1745, when the only mention I can find of it is in Perthshire, there used, not very successfully, as summons to arms both for and against the Prince. On the Dee and the Tay he found followers, not so numerous as his well-wishers; but within a day's march from Glenfinnan was the first and the best recruiting-ground of "the clans of Culloden." This second-hand phrase I have "lifted" from Mr. Henry Jenner's series of articles in the Royalisi, organ of the "White Rose League," in which the subject is naturally treated with special sympathy. There is no lack of sympathy for those slain and scattered clansmen, their memory held in honour by that House that seems in little danger of being bowed off its throne by the "White Rose" ladies and gentlemen, when the top of Ben Nevis flared with bonfires to hail Queen Victoria's Jubilee and King Edward's Coronation. We are perhaps too ready to forget the coarse features of a life dressed in blood-stained tartans, and what might have come of Prince Charlie's winning a kingdom whose liberties have thriven best under sovereigns making neither picturesque nor lovable figures in history. But if we wish to drop a tear for the last romance of Britain, it may well be done under the rainy sky of the Rough Bounds, that sent out so many champions to dye the White Rose in bootless blood.

It is not to be understood that all those bellicose clansmen were born in the allegiance to which they might be soldered on by choice or circumstances. As among the Red Indian tribes, there seems to have been frequent adoption of "broken men," or fugitives from another name. We know how chieftains of the good old time were in the way of gathering about them adventurous banditti, whose bond of union was congenial bloodshed as well as kindred blood. The proudest Cameron of our day can be less sure of not having Campbell blood in his own veins than of its having stained his forefathers' hands. The portion of a Highland heiress would sometimes be part paid in "a set of stout men," who henceforth had to be loyal to the husband's tartan. Another hint of how clans, themselves no thoroughbred stock, might become mixed together is found in that ugly story of two hundred Farquharson bairns, made orphans by Gordon and Grant swords, scrambling in a half-naked herd to be fed like pigs from a trough at Huntly Castle, till the softer-hearted Grant chief adopted them into his own tartan. When the "Stewarts of Appin" went out in 1745, more than half the dead and wounded of their contingent appear bearing the names of miscellaneous Macs, who, had they not gathered to this standard, might have been swallowed up with others among the loyal Campbells.

Lochaber was the country of the Camerons, whose leader, the "gentle Lochiel" of 1745, appears one of the noblest Highland nobles, as to whom, when he died a colonel in the French service, a poet on the other side of politics declared that he "is now a Whig in heaven." He exerted himself to put down creagli raids among his clansmen; but the old blood was stronger in another Cameron of the French army, who, after Culloden, under the name of "Sergeant Môr" became renowned as a Rob Roy of Lochaber. Lochiel's brother, Dr. Cameron, betrayed and hanged in 1753, made the last martyr of Jacobitism. Sir Alan, son of one of the Camerons of Culloden, lived to raise three battalions for King George, whose fame and name have been inherited by the Cameron regiment, now perhaps enlisting no more Camerons than find their way into the Cameronian corps of such different origin. The most celebrated Cameron was the Lochiel of Cromwell's time, Sir Ewen the Black, who came to the chieftainship as a boy, and died under George I., a doughty champion of the Stuarts through his long life. Argyll, his guardian, had sent him to school to be brought up in sound Whig principles, but, like other boys one knows of, he "preferred the sport of the field to the labours of the school." Among the exploits attributed to him is the killing of the last wolf in Britain, an honour also claimed for a later Nimrod farther north. In his teens he was already at the head of the clan, a thorn in the side of Campbells, Covenanters, and English Roundheads; and after being the last royalist to submit to General Monk, he lived to fight beside Dundee at Killiecrankie, then to send his clansmen out in 1715, when he himself, it is said, came to be rocked in a cradle of second childhood ; but another account describes him at ninety as able to read the smallest print and keeping all the teeth with which he had torn out the windpipe of one of Cromwell's officers, as they locked in a deadly struggle like FitzJames and Roderick Dhu. [Mr. Drummond-Norie, in his Loyal Lochaber, records the amusing legend "of an incident that occurred during Sir Ewen Cameron's visit to London many years later. He had occasion to go into a barber's shop to get his beard and hair dressed. The garrulous barber having fixed him in position, and probably guessing from his accent that he was not born south of the Tweed, remarked 'You are from the north, sir, I believe?'-'Yes,' answered Lochiel, 'I am; Do you know people from the north? '—'No,' shouted the angry barber, 'nor do I wish to; they are savages there. Would you believe it, one of them tore the throat out of my father with his teeth; and I only wish I had the fellow's throat as near me as I have yours just now!'"—The end of the tale is that Lochiel never again trusted himself in the hands of a barber.] In the interval he had waged many private wars, notably with his neighbours the Mackintoshes, which luckily ended in a treaty wiping out the feud of centuries. The last clan battle in the Highlands appears to be that between the Mackintoshes and the Macdonalds of Keppoch, fought in Glenroy, 1688. [In Bonnie Scotland I rather loosely spoke of the Campbell invasion of Caithness as the last private war, meaning by this term to exclude a collision between adjacent clans.]

The Mackintoshes were a branch—with the fear of Cluny Macpherson before us, we must not say the senior branch—of that Clan Chattan that fought on the Inch of Perth, from which also appear to have sprung the Camerons, the Shaws, the Magillivrays, the Farquharsons, and several other names. Their opponents, the Clan Kay, seem more shadowy. Those Mackintoshes are said to have been once at home about Lochaber; but the later world they bustled in was farther north, where they had for neighbours the Red Comyns of Badenoch, as once the Black Comyns of the Great Glen. The Comyns were a clan of Norman origin, at one time masters in Lochaber, as again for a time were the Gordons, whose head, Lord Huntly, vied with Argyll in playing chief policeman for the Highlands. There is a grim story of the Mackintoshes and the Comyns : the one clan bidden by the other to a feast at which, these cat-and-dog convives sitting alternately, the appearance of a boar's head was to be signal for the hosts to stab each man his guest; but the guests had the very same idea, and carried it out with more prompt dexterity. Chroniclers strangely differ as to which clan here played the active and which the passive part; and the same story, with the same doubt, is told of my Forbes forebears and their Gordon neighbours. It must be feared that such treachery made part of Highland social amenities in the good old days. A record more honourable to the Clan Chattan is of a battle that left in the hands of the Murrays—mere Lowlanders disguised in tartan—some two hundred Mackintosh prisoners, from not one of whom could torture or shameful death wring the secret of their chief's hiding-place. Another Mackintosh chief was not so 'lucky, who stooped to put himself in the hands of the Marchioness of Huntly, and as humiliating condition of forgiveness for injuries, even laid his head upon the kitchen block, when this dissembling dame had it struck off by the cook's hatchet—so much for trusting a Gordon I In the the clan did not stand shoulder to shoulder, its chief, an officer in King George's militia, falling prisoner to his own wife, "Colonel Anne," who had taken the field on Prince Charlie's side. In later times, after the benignant fame of Sir James the Reformer, this name's most shining exploit has been the invention of an armour against rain, the enemy most to be feared among those mountains, where the Mackintosh of our degenerate days perhaps does not disdain to cover his gay tartan with a waterproof.

Of his rival, Cluny Macpherson, it was told in my youth how he sternly rebuked an effeminate clansman who visited him under an umbrella. The Cluny of Culloden was the hardy chief who for years after lurked in a "cage" of sticks and turf, close to his own castle, where he occasionally ventured himself, and once had nearly been caught by the redcoats through the unheroic accident of his getting so drunk that his servants had to carry him out in a plaid and hide their unconscious bundle in the woods till the search was over. The most widely famed Macpherson in modern days was that author or editor of "Ossian." If any of this clan desire more unquestioned renown, let him invent some defence of proof against the midges that are the most bloodthirsty swarms of the Highlands, now that the pibroch and the coronach die away in dance music.

For his services at Bannockburn the Lord of the Isles was rewarded by Bruce by a grant of Lochaber. So this region in part, with the Rough Bounds, came to be the country of the Macdonalds, in their various septs, distinguished by the name of their seat, or sometimes by a minor patronymic, as the MacTans of Ardnamurchan and of Glencoe, while some came to write themselves Macdonell, but all boasting to be of the great Somerled's line, in which, indeed, the sons of Dougal seem entitled to the first birthright. The clan Donnachie, though disguised as Robertsons, claim also to be of the same stock. Other septs, now bearing separate names, were as proud to count themselves of Donald's prolific race. The Macintyres, for instance, "sons of the carpenter," tell about their ancestor, an illegitimate shoot of the Lord of the Isles, that when in a boat with his father, the peg coming out, the whole crew would have been drowned if this ready youngster had not chopped off his thumb with an axe to stop the hole, and the admiring chief exclaimed, "The thumb- carpenter!"—a nickname that stuck. A Lowland hero under the same circumstances would probably have been canny enough to use his thumb as a plug without cutting it off.

Wherever they came from, the Macintyres drifted inland into Lorne, and at Glenorchy gave birth to Duncan Ban, one of the most famous of unlettered Gaelic bards, who died in 18 12 as a veteran of the Edinburgh City Guard, his muse more scrimply fostered than that of Burns, though now his memory is honoured by a stately monument at Dalmally. He fought in the '45, perhaps not very heartily, as a private soldier of King George, while his contemporary rival, Alexander Macdonald, was out with Prince Charlie, in whose praise he made the very popular song of Morag. There would be few of his name on the other side ; and Mr. Jenner, for his part, stoutly denies the story that Culloden was lost through the Macdonalds holding back in offended pride.

At Ardtornish, on the Morven coast, the Lords of the Isles held parliaments of their own, and once presumed to make a treaty with an English king, foe of their lightly regarded suzerain. Even when that quasi- regal state had crumbled, we find Macdonald chiefs proposing negotiations with Queen Elizabeth, sending out troops to fight in Ireland, and hiring mercenaries to serve in their own private wars. Their name, made famous abroad by the Duke of Tarentum who served Napoleon so well, became at home split into sub-clans not always on the most clannish terms. Heaven forbid that any peaceful scribbler should touch that bristling question, which of the sons of Donald represents the senior branch from John of the Isles? Between Clanranald and Glengarry has been in hot dispute a distinction which to the mere Sassenach might suggest that between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I am instructed by an earnest genealogist that Clanranald, now a peaceful householder of London, is the true prince. The Glengarry family, on the other hand, has made more noise in the world. The heir of Glengarry, like his neighbour Lochiel, viceroy of an exiled chieftain, held his head gallantly in and after the '45 ; but alas! his memory has lived to be branded as "Pickle the Spy" in two books by which Mr. Andrew Lang turns an accusing light on the "shabby romance" of later Jacobitism.

This blot of then invisible ink on his scutcheon would be unknown to the Glengarry of Scott's day "Mac-Mic-Alaister," as he styles himself on a local monument—who posed so proudly, the last of the chiefs. His friend, Sir 'Walter, speaks of him as a Highland Quixote, and is understood to have taken him as model for Fergus M'Ivor. But the chief of Waverley showed more sense and more craft than Glengarry, who in town and country strutted about with his "tail," including a bard, whose strains have been drowned by those of our Lowland last minstrel. Not to speak of his controversy with Clanranald, more than once this warm-hearted but hot-headed hero had to answer to the law for violent proceedings in the good old style. He killed a young grandson of Flora Macdonald in a duel, for which he was tried and acquitted, the code of honour being still received as testimony in courts. At the coronation of George IV. he appeared in full Highland costume, including showy pistols which set a lady screaming at him for a would- be regicide; and the indignant chief had to submit to disarmament, in vain protesting that his weapons made as much part of the character as his tartans. When the fat king came to Edinburgh in kilts, and poor Scott sat down on the glass out of which sacred majesty had drunk, Glengarry insisted on his swash-bucklers being adopted in the royal bodyguard. He appeared to most advantage as a Nimrod, lying out on the hills for a week together in his kilt and plaid. His excellent breed of deerhounds was celebrated, one of them as Scott's Maida, named after a battle in which the chief's brother fought for King George. Such a picturesque survival of the past died, 1828, in a prosaically modern accident, leaping from a steamboat that had struck the rocky shore, where Loch Linnhe narrows to the bent Loch Eil. A thousand guests came to his funeral feast and coronach.

It was quite in keeping with this chief's personage to leave his estate so much encumbered that the heir had to seek new fortunes in Australia. Now, there is hardly a Macdonald in this country, once safe for no other name, while there are thousands thriving in one corner of Nova Scotia and in the Glengarry county of Ontario, where a jury has been known to be half Donald Macdonalds. Much of Glengarry's property passed to Edward Ellice, a well-known Liberal statesman of the Bright and Cobden period, intimate with men of light and leading whom the old Glengarrys would have looked on as anathema. On Loch Quoich, the "cup" so well filled by rain, stands a luxurious shooting lodge, provided with electric light, motor-cars, and comforts undreamed of in the Saltmarket, its visitors' book enshrining a generation of distinguished autographs. Glenquoich has been let on a long lease to a famous Sassenach brewer, who here entertains King Edward VII. in princely style among the wilds through which that poor Chevalier slunk ragged and hungry, scared from the camp fires of his pursuers, and glad to take refuge in a cave of robbers, scorning to betray him for more gold than was ever handled by Pickle the Spy. A royal visit called forth an article in the Scotsman, whence one may borrow a purple patch.

If there is in Scotland a grander view than can be seen from the shore of Lochquoich on an autumn evening, the writer does not know of it. The fairy land of the Celt was one of "seven bens and seven glens and seven mountain moors," but the moors and the glens and the bens around Glenquoich fall to be numbered by the hundreds, and not by sevens. Sheer from the water edge rise the mountains, green at their base, flecked with heather along their sides, ridge upon ridge, peak upon peak, overwhelming the mind with a feeling of that Omnipotence which weigheth the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance, before whom men are altogether vanity. West from the lodge the loch bends slightly towards the south, and, narrowing as it recedes, it stretches out towards the setting 5Ufl) pushing a tapering finger among the roots of the giant hills; and the farther west it goes, the higher rise the enveloping mountains. And the wonderful autumn sunsets of the west flush them all—Sguir a' Mhoraire, Sguir a' Shlaidhemh, Sguir Gairoch, Meall a' Choire Bhuidh—till their splintered peaks and pinnacled heads glow and glitter in amethyst and gold, while their sides gleam with a hundred polished silver shields, and the stray clouds, sailing inward from the western sea, glide high over their crests, swimming in glory. And the light, still radiant above, fails in the corries below, covering the slopes with a deep, deep blue, such a blue as one sees only in the west when a mountain comes athwart the setting sun. When the evening is still (and often the wind that rustles during the day sinks at eve into a calm), the face of the loch is as a sheet of glass, and deep in its translucent depths. The mountain crests and the transfigured clouds melt one into another, trembling with the ecstasy of their mingling, till the whole face of the loch is a veil through which there glows a kaleidoscope of radiant colours, darting hither and thither as if greeting and embracing one another.

The Rough Bounds include a dozen freshwater lochs that hitherto have had too little note in guidebooks, the most renowned of them Loch Arkaig, where the Macdonalds and other clans tried to rally after Culloden, and where Prince Charlie's treasure was hidden to be a Nibelungen hoard of contention among their leaders. One of his hiding-places here, near Lochiel's seat, Achnacarry, was a cave in the "Dark Mile," a scene not less deserving of fame than the Trossachs. Then the shores of this region present "one continued succession of picturesque and grand objects, in every variety that can be produced by bays, promontories, rocks, straits, and islands," their aspects again varied by "silent calm succeeding to all the fury of a raging ocean, by the dark tempest and gale, the bright blue of the cloudless sky, and the evening and morning splendours of a lingering sun." From Ardnamurchan, the westernmost swell of the mainland, the coast is almost equally divided between bare peninsular ridges and deeply pierced fords, often wooded to the water's edge, or bordered by meadows that glow greener below the savage rocks of their background, where sometimes Nature would seem to have heaped up materials for some abandoned design. The intricate inlets of Loch Moidart are succeeded by those about Arisaig, then comes the freshwater trough of Loch Morar, tumbling down to the sea under a bridge at its mouth. A narrow ridge keeps this from mingling with the tide of Nevis, "Loch of Heaven," itself separated by the Knoidart Hills from Loch Hourn, "Loch of Hell," indeed a place of gloom, its approach pronounced by Lord Avebury "the most desolate and savage scene" in Scotland ; and it gave a congenial home to Barrisdale, that ruthless tyrant of Jacobite days, whose chivalrous varnish Mr. Andrew Lang has roughly scratched to show the Tartar beneath. Thus we come to Glenelg with its Pictish doons and its Hanoverian barracks of Bernera, for which, a quarter of a century after Culloden, a corporal and six men were garrison enough. Beyond this Skye almost touches the mainland.

The Rough Bounds are now broken in on by the line to Mallaig ; but should the laudator temporis acti be scared away from that thread of iron rail, he can turn his back on such intrusion, holding down Loch Shiel or Loch Sunart to the mountainous promontory of Ardnamurchan; or southwards on the peninsula of Morven; or into the Moidart country northwards, fastnesses of the old customs, the old tongue, and the old faith. But ah!-

Deserted is the Highland glen,
And mossy cairns are o'er the men
That fought and died for Charlie

The scattering and displacing of the clans had begun before Cufloden, when the heads of the Camerons and the Macdonells were in exile with their legitimate sovereign. On the edge of the Rough Bounds the Government had settled strangers, some of whom proved but perverse agents of their civilising mission. Soon after 1715, as we learn from a story in Burt, Glengarry had already been invaded by a troop of woodcutters under leadership of an English Quaker. An industrial undertaking of a kind rare in the Highlands was the lead-mining at the head of Loch Sunart, where Strontian, famed also for a rare variety of spar, has given its name to the metal whose carbonate was first found here. Iron-smelting was another promoted industry. What with miners, woodcutters, English flunkeys, Lowland shepherds, transported gillies, rich proprietors, and sporting tenants, the population is much transmogrified since the days when each glen made a more or less happy family, as often as not on unhappy terms with its neighbours. Of all the strangers brought here upon Marshal Wade's roads, the most effectual missionaries of the new order have been the Presbyterian clergy, ordained to scant sympathy with the line that tried in vain to dragoon them into Prelatism. Norman Macleod tells the story that when a Morven laird came to church with a pistol, threatening to shoot the minister if he prayed for the king, that undaunted divine laid two cocked pistols on the pulpit cushion, and kept both eyes wide open while performing this ticklish part of his function.

But where the Church by law established has the stipends, there are still nooks where Rome has the hearts of the people, elsewhere over the Highlands much given to the Free Church, two generations old. The best preserves of Catholicism lie here and there on this west coast, taking in some of the opposite islands, and straggling across the centre of the Highlands into Braemar. Of these oases of faith, as seen from one point of view, from another it is said that, as in Switzerland and in Baden, they can be distinguished at a glance from the Protestant districts by their aspect of greater poverty, with concomitant shortcomings. At least they have a chance to be richer in the spirit of a people once more disposed to the principles of the Royalist than to those of the Edinburgh Review. The Free Church clergy have been specially inquisitorial against old customs, fostered rather by the priests, who, so long as mass be not neglected, smile indulgently at the diversions and the memories of their flock, nor frown too sternly even at superstitious traditions. There was a time, of course, when this Church appeared as champion of the new against the old. It may be that in future generations we shall find enthusiasts as earnestly contending for "Sabbath blacks" as once for tartans, cherishing magic-lantern lectures when such have replaced Highland reels, and sighing over the beloved national strains of the hurdy-gurdy silenced by the gramophone, the diabolophone, or whatever sweetness musical invention have in store for us—so easily do new customs grow to old ones, and so soon are conservative souls set firm on their high horse of sentiment!

Yet as the bagpipes have had a long lease in the Highlands, they may be good for many lives still, in spite of clerical and artistic condemnation. Nature here sets keynotes for the fierce exultation of the pibroch and the wail of the coronach, with which are in tune the songs and stories of this people. I am not going to wake the ghost of Fingal, nor to rouse echoes of controversy over Ossian, a poet said to have been blind like Homer and Milton, if he were not of the same shadowy stuff as Thomas the Rhymer: he has been guessed as identical with the Welsh Taliesin. Fin MacCoul's kingdom of Morven is unknown to history; but at least, for the Gael both of Albin and of Erin, such a hero lived in popular imagination as truly as Arthur and Achilles. It seems pretty well settled that the poems first published under Ossian's name owed much to Macpherson, who thus showed truly unpoetic modesty in standing back from renown that rang through Europe, though in England, nowadays, Leslie Stephen is not the only critic to yawn over what once enchanted Goethe and Napoleon; and Macaulay speaks with his cock-surest scorn "of a story without evidence and of a book without merit." It is also agreed that Macpherson worked upon some documents, human or written. When Dr. Johnson came hunting purblindly for evidence against a real Ossian, there were bards alive in the Highlands who could neither read nor write, yet whose poems passed as household words from one unlettered fireside to another.

In the next century scores of collections of Gaelic poetry came to be made; and still monotonous strains are murmured in the native tongue of the mountains. There are also stirring marches and choruses, like Gabhaidh sinn an rathad mar, a tune known to Cockneys as their degraded "Kafooziem," that from the mouths of Appin Stewarts pealed defiance to the Macintyres, who had their own clan anthem in the grand song of Criachan Beann. But sadness is the main note of these intricate and assonant metres, long drawn out round themes of love, war, and misfortune, like the "old unhappy things" of Ossian. In later times hymns as long as sermons have coloured the Celt's less active life. Angry satire is another mood of his muse, and riddles seem to have had zest for his boyish mind; but he shows little taste for hearty humour. In Scotland we have a vulgar saw that it takes a surgical operation to force a joke into an Englishman's head; and that reproach might as truly be applied to a pure Highlandman, of whom it is well said that his very language, in its weakness of a present tense, seems always looking forward to a melancholy future or back to a melancholy past.

Nor have schoolbooks and newspapers yet banished the homely tales and traditions that linger about the smouldering light of peat fires. We have seen how these legends often recall those of other lands, all shaped as they may have been in some far-off nursery of the race. But here they take on sombre colours and congenial shadows, flickering and glooming in the alternation of long pale twilights and short dark days. One interest they lack, that hinted at in the phrase "smoking-room stories," a spice better relished in Saxon palaces than in Gaelic shieling or bothy. The character of these tales is well expressed by Alexander Smith, who, if he did not know Gaelic, had a poet's ear for the universal language of human nature, and moreover seems to have drawn at that fountain of Highland folk-lore, J. F. Campbell's Popular Tales of the West Highlands:

As the northern nations have a common flora, so they have a common legendary literature. Supernaturalism belongs to their tales as the aurora borealis belongs to their skies. Those stories I have heard in Skye, and many others, springing from the same roots, I have had related to me in the Lowlands and in Ireland. They are full of witches and wizards; of great wild giants crying out, "Hiv! Haw Hoagraich! It is a drink of thy blood that quenches my thirst this night"; of wonderful castles with turrets and banqueting halls; of magic spells and the souls of men and women dolefully imprisoned in shapes of beast and bird. As tales few of them can be considered perfect; the supernatural element is strong in many, but frequently it breaks down under some prosaic or ludicrous circumstance: the spell exhales somehow, and you care not to read further. Now and then a spiritual and ghastly imagination passes into a revolting familiarity and destroys itself. In these stories all times and conditions of life are curiously mixed, and this mixture shows the passage of the story from tongue to tongue through generations. If you discover on the bleak Skye shore a log of wood with Indian carvings peeping through a crust of native barnacles, it needs no prophet to see that it has crossed the Atlantic. . . . Many of these stories, even when they are imperfect in themselves, or resemble those told elsewhere, are curiously coloured by Celtic scenery and pervaded by Celtic imagination. In listening to them, one is specially impressed by a bare, desolate, woodless country; and this impression is not produced by any formal statement of fact, it arises partly from the paucity of actors in the stories, and partly from the desert spaces over which the actors travel, and partly from the number of carrion crows, and ravens, and malign hill-foxes which they encounter in their journeyings. The "hoody," as the crow is called, hops and flits and croaks through all the stories. His black wing is seen everywhere. And it is the frequent appearance of these beasts and birds, never familiar, never domesticated, always outside the dwelling, and of evil omen when they fly or steal across the path, which gives to the stories much of their weird and direful character. The Celt has not yet subdued nature. He trembles before the unknown powers. He cannot be sportive for the fear that is in his heart. In his legends there is no merry Puck, no Ariel, no Robin Goodfellow, no half-benevolent, half-malignant Brownie even. These creatures live in imaginations more emancipated from fear. The mists blind the Celt on his perilous mountain-side, the sea is smitten white on his rocks, the wind bends and dwarfs his pine wood, and as Nature is cruel to him, and as his light and heat are gathered from the moor, and his most plenteous food from the whirlpool and the foam, we need not be surprised that few are the gracious shapes that haunt his fancy.

Campbell of Isla was just in time to save from oblivion the Gaelic shape of far-travelled tales which even a generation ago the Gael felt half ashamed to repeat before unsympathetic strangers, and which now linger only in secluded glens and islands, told in the native tongue round peat fires by old folks too dim-eyed for newspapers. Superstition dies harder than romance; but of his superstitions he still less cares to speak, nor always to confess them to himself. They too are catholic and human, shaped by the environment of his life from the same materials as in fatter lands have dwindled to a horse-shoe nailed on a stable door. The student of mankind needs little research to fashion such shadowy images as come so ready to the mind's eye, "where every object of nature, even the unreasoning dreams of sleep, are mirrors which flash back death"; and from the Highlander's misty shrouds of moor and sea, from the wraiths of his swollen waters, from ominous lights burning on cruel waves, from ghostly stirrings and tappings about his lone home, he may well have turned to the faith preached by St. Columba, yet is slow of assured belief that—

God's in His heaven,
All's right with the world


Return to Book Index Page