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Braemar Highlands
Part the First - Chapter II


Description of Ben-Macdhui—Linn of Dee—Glen Ey—Colonel’s Cave —Castle of Inverey—Glen Lui—Falls of Corrymulzie;—Linn of Quoich—Braemar Castle—Ceann-Drochaide Castle, etc.

A MORE minute description of the interesting localities of Braemar fittingly begins with the monarch of its mountains—Ben-Macdhui. As before stated, it is the highest summit of theCairngorm range, being some 4297 feet.

The scenery from any part of it is very grand, often overpoweringly so, from the awe which the profound solitude of such a mountain wilderness induces. The prospect from its summit is a glorious one, but varies much both in extent and distinctness, according to the state of the atmosphere.    .

As several elaborate descriptions have been given of the wondrous panorama, and lately an exceedingly correct one by Her Majesty the Queen, it is unnecessary to give fresh details of it. I may just glimpse, instead, at the appearance of one or two of

Ben-Macdhui's compeers,—Cairn- Toul, for instance, as its sugar-loaf shape particularly attracts attention; or perhaps Brae-Riach, which is still more interesting, as from its steep brow the infant Dee is seen gushing like a long wavy line of silver.

To one standing on the western side of Ben-Macdhui, Brae-Riach presents the appearance of a long wall of precipice, said to be at least 2000 feet in height; and so near does it appear, that one imagines it would be easy to throw a stone across the gorge to the top of it. This great wall extends several miles, and forms one side of the valley through which the Dee runs before it turns to the east. One beholding this tremendous precipice for the first time, will fully admit that they are indeed

‘Grisly rocks, which guard
The infant rills of Highland
 
Dee'

After the Dee has taken its abrupt turn to the east, if we follow its course along the road on the south side of the river some four or five miles, we come upon the Linn of Dee, one of the ‘lions of Braemar.'

It does not at first sight strike you as anything extraordinary, as it is far more curious than grand, and the mind requires time to realize that. Before reaching the Linn, the river—it now deserves the name—appears very uneasy in its passage, giving the idea of a sensitive spirit, shrinking back from some not very clearly-defined ill in prospect. Then, as if resolved to brave the worst, it rushes forward with tremendous fury through the narrow gorge which the yawning rocks open to receive it.

After tumbling over a small height of some four or five feet, with increased desperation it rushes through a longer gorge of some four hundred yards. At length, clearing itself from all its conflicts, it steals away softly over the stones.

Round the Linn are some fine old trees, the remains of the Old Forest.’ What a noble spectacle this valley must have been in the height of its woody glory! How it would enhance the grandeur of these mountains, when their rugged slopes and precipitous sides were hung with one continuous sheathing of fragrance and verdure! But with ruthless hand the proud honours of ‘Sylva Caledonia’ have been laid low; for at this point only a few trees remain to tell of the perished splendour. It is stated as a fact, that in five years’ time 80,000 of these hoary veterans of the forest were cut down in this part of the valley.

The Linn is spanned by a bridge (finished in 1859), which will doubtless now be looked upon with considerable interest, from the fact that its opening has been described in the recently published volume of Her Majesty the Queen.

Descending the river by the road on the south side, we come upon a small village or clachan. Somewhat less than a mile farther on, we come upon another, considerably larger. These areInverey the little and muckle; between them Glen Ey opens into Strathdee.

Glen Ey, a narrow valley, stretches southward some eight miles. Looking up the glen, a low rounded hill seems to stand sentinel at its mouth. On each side of this hill a stream comes rushing through rocks, which appear rent as if for the sole purpose of letting it pass. A wooden bridge over each gives all facility for crossing.

One of these bridges—that over the eastmost stream, or Ey—is named ‘Drochaide-an-leuml' i.e. Bridge of the Leap. About two miles up the glen, in the rocky gorge through which the Eypasses, there is a curious place, known as the ‘Colonels Cavel' or bed.

After visiting the place, I became curious to know the origin of the name; and, having ascertained, give the notes I took on next visiting the cave. ‘After a long walk through lovely hills, robed in richest crimson, i.e. heather in full bloom, we reached our destination—a romantic spot, where the Black Colonel, or Col. John Farquharson of Inverey, hid after Killie-crankie. Not having made his submission, his castle was burnt, and a price set on his head.

''And now for the place. Apparently there is nothing here. Not yet; but see, there is a narrow path which leads down: for remember it is a hiding-place we seek, and so need expect little external indication of its existence. This path and these steps are artificial: conceive them away, and wouldn’t you have a hiding-place?

‘But before you descend, look to the stream rushing and tumbling over its rocky bed, as it enters deeper and deeper into the ravine. I suppose we may expect a pretty turmoil when we see it again farther down. And we must be careful in descending. No wonder, reader; for it is a fearful-looking chasm, between high perpendicular cliffs, with the waters which we saw a few minutes before rushing and tumbling over the rocks in such a hurry, now strangely hushed to rest, and looking so black, and deep, and still, that a subtle sort of terror creeps over one; and should we slip !!!

‘But our fears magnify the danger: we are down safely, and looking about us for the cave. And having penetrated a little farther among the jutting abutments and ledged recesses, casting occasionally glances somewhat askance to the frowning cliffs overhead, and the deep pool in such close 'proximity, we reach the cave, and find it to be simply a narrow recess on a ledge of the rock on which we stand, overhung by the rocks above it,—a place, except to the initiated, little likely to be known.’

Leaving the cave, and proceeding a little farther up the valley, we come upon a ruined cottage. Here Dr. M‘Gillivray says he sat down and made a survey of the glen. ‘Shall I rejoice?’ he inquires, or take up a lament? Subjects of grief and gladness are before me: a fine green strath, smooth as a well-kept lawn, and covered with herbage of the finest quality, beautiful as that of an English park. Brown .hills almost encircle it. A stream glides pleasantly through it. Birch and alder trees fringe its banks. About the middle of the valley a beautiful little birch wood, but not a living creature to be seen—not even a single sheep!’—

‘For the stalkers of deer keep their scouts in the glen,
Which once swarmed with the high-hearted, brave Highland men.'

At no very remote date nine families lived in Glen Ey; now, not one but a gamekeeper’s. I may notice, ere leaving the glen, that a little below where the stream of the Ey enters the Dee, is a low sandy flat, now covered with young trees, called ‘Sliabh Fear-chair,’ in English Farquhar's Plain; and on the hill at the mouth of Glen Ey, a spring called ‘Tobar Mhoirelor St. Mary’s Well (2).

Nearly opposite Glen Ey, from the north, Glen Lui opens into Strathdee, with its tributary, a considerable stream ; so, according to our former figure, they form the first great pair of ribs branching out from, or rather running into, the back-bone of the Dee.

Glen Lui is comparatively small, being only some five miles in length, and of no great breadth.

The hills which bound it are pretty lofty, but round, smooth, and covered with grass. The rocky pass, however, by which you enter the glen is fenced with trees.

With all its softness and beauty, Glen Lui is extremely lonely; for, like Glen Ey, it is without inhabitant, though once it could boast of families sufficient to put a meal mill in requisition, to supply their wants in that particular department.

About five miles up, a mountain thrusts a spur into the glen, and divides it in two. The valley opening to the left is Glen Lui Beg, or Glen Lui the Little, through which runs the best and shortest path to the top of Ben-Macdhui. The other valley to the right is Glen Derry, one of the passes towards Loch Avon and the basin of the Spey. The forest in Glen Derry, unlike the others, is quite in a state of nature, as any attempts made to apply the wood to civilised purposes have proved abortive, from the difficulty of removing the trees.

In passing the clachan of Muckle Inverey, I must notice the ruins of its old castle. Little remains of it but a crumbling wall. Yet straggling heaps of ruins tell effectively the story of former greatness. Near the castle is the churchyard of Inverey, also in a most desolate condition. No wall environs it, while its swelling mounds have been trodden by the foot of time, or otherwise, into a level with the surrounding plain. Yet interesting, almost extraordinary, memories linger round the two places; also an old pine tree in a wood on the opposite side of the road, known as the 'Dark Doow'ts Pine 

Still farther down, on the north side of the Dee, is a noble hill range, Craig Valloch. It is densely wooded, and at its base lies Old Mar Lodge, a structure in the old baronial style, and somewhat imposing-looking in the distance. In front, a beautiful lawn stretches down to the river, which in this place takes a capricious curve, as if to cool the base of the opposite hills. The road, in consequence, no longer lies in the depth of the valley, but along the side of the hill for several miles.

Opposite Old Mar Lodge' on the south side of the river, is ‘Corrymulzie Cottage' or 'New Mar Lodge', at a height of 1250 feet above the level of the sea, and is said to be the highest gentleman’s residence in Scotland. It belongs to the Earl of Fife.

A tremendous precipice rises sheer up from the great plateau on which the cottage stands, and the great rock would indeed be ‘Lonely and bare' here not every ledge and crevice hung with trees, which transform it into an object of wild and singular beauty. It is named Craig Fetheach, i.e. the Raven’s Craig. The torchlight ball described by Her Majesty was held here.

Shortly after passing Corrymulzie Cottage, we come upon the iFalls of Corrymulzie'. In many of the glens the rocks are, as it were, rent asunder to let the streams pass. Some of these crevices are a great depth, and would have a very gloomy appearance, but for the trees which adorn their sides.

One of the most interesting of these places is the ‘Fall of Corrynmlzie'. The stream which forms it comes down the hill to the east of New Mar Lodge. The ravine in which it runs crosses the road, but a bridge preserves the level; and did one not previously know of its existence, there is little from the road to make it known, unless indeed the delicious sound of falling water lure you to find out whence it proceeds.

On looking over what appears to be the side of the road, a stream is seen hurling itself down the gorge. There is also a little gate, and narrow zig-zag path leading down the steep banks overlooking the ‘Falls', evidently for the use of those who wish a better view of the glancing down-come.

Those descending will have to be careful of their steps, as a slip down these precipitous crags would have rather disagreeable consequences. Down a short distance is a small rustic house, where we may have a view of both; for it is a sort of double fall—height in all, forty feet.

Just below the bridge the stream slips into two, and shoots down, in double file, a steep plain, at the bottom of which it again unites to form a boiling pool. From this it again emerges, and jostles its way-over several other falls, linns, whirls, etc. At last it escapes away, moaning most piteously as it hurries through the deep gloom below. By means of a rustic bridge and narrow footpath, those who feel inclined will get to the bottom of the ravine, and along the side of the stream to a considerable distance.

This ravine is, on the whole, very beautiful. Its precipitous sides, blanched and gaunt, do indeed rise up darkly; but they are gorgeously decorated with a rich tapestry of trees and plants, and gracefully festooned with fern and wild-flower. Then, when you descend, all is deeply sunk in shadow; and in the very heart of the delicious gloom, the living water hurling down its liquid mass, forms at all times a scene not only beautiful, but exquisitely enjoyable.

Still farther down, on the opposite or north side of the Dee, Glen Quoich opens into Strathdee. On the Quoich Water is a beautiful linn, quite a region of romance. It very much resembles that on the Dee, excepting the steep, wild cliffs which overhang it.

Through the linn, which is very narrow at its commencement—little more, perhaps, than three feet across — the waters rush with tremendous fury, surging and foaming; and as they escape into a wider part of the gorge, their dazzling whiteness becomes shaded into a beautifully pellucid green. A delightful place this is! And what a luxury to sit there in solitary meditation, lulled and solemnized by the voice of the torrent chanting its eternal psalm!

On one side of the linn the cliffs rise sheer up; on the other side they are so far removed as to admit of a narrow footpath, by which you may descend to a considerable distance. Some little way down this path, a pine tree, torn from its sockets by some wild blast, lies across the stream, forming a fantastic, toy-looking bridge; and, almost unconsciously, one begins to maze at the fragile crossing near such a dangerous point, and wonder if any one would ever dream of using it. But as you approach, it explains itself: you see it to be but the birth of an accident; and if it has lured you farther down the path than intended, you will be amply repaid by the fine view from that spot of the linn, and also of a series of rapids stretching up the glen beyond it, as far as the eye can reach.

From that point downwards, the Quoich continues to dash its troubled waters, until it reaches the mouth of the glen, where it spreads over the Strath of Dee, submerging the ancient lairdship of the Crciggins, and has done so since the great flood of 1829. In olden times, a fierce battle was here ended by the fall of Semus-na-Gruaig, i.e. James of the flowing locks, Laird of Rothiemurchus.

The Cniach or Quoich, i.e. Goblet, derives its convivial name from a number of circular cavities hollowed out in the gneiss by the action of the water; one of these cavities in particular being called 'The Earl of Mar's punch-bowl.'

Somewhat farther down, Glen Cluny opens into Strathdee from the south, and so may be said to form, with the Quoich, the second great pair of ribs entering the Dee. At the junction of theDee and Cluny stands the Castle of Braemar, built on the site and from the ruins of one much older. Among some stray papers of a Braemarian, now in a better world, I found the following description of it:—

‘One of the most interesting objects in the wide domain which once pertained to the proud and powerful Earl of Mar, is the Old Castle. Its situation is beautiful almost beyond description, and curious too, from being built on the top of an isolated knoll in the centre of the great park at the foot of Kenneth’s Craig.

It was originally one of the hunting-seats of these Earls, and was built at a time when thick and substantial walls had greater charms than airy rooms and large windows. Previous to 1715 it had in a great measure fallen to ruins (it was burnt down towards the end of the sixteenth century). At that date it was rebuilt, at the expense of Government, for the purpose of overawing the Farquharson race, as at that time they were the most powerful chiefs in this part of the Highlands— peculiarly “their country.”

‘When it was rebuilt, a rampart enclosing a considerable portion of ground was added. But neither the rampart nor the modern portion of the building make any pretensions to the massive proportions of the early part, though it is supposed that, so far as outline is concerned, the original plan was pretty closely followed.’

Turning up Glen Cluny, a short distance from Braemar Castle, we come upon a beautiful village, or at least a village beautiful for situation. One half of it, lying on the east bank of the Cluny, is called Castleton of Braemar; the other half, on the west side, is called Auchendryne. A bridge over the beautiful ravine unites them.

Close by the bridge, on the rocky banks of the Cluny, are the ruins of the Ceann-Drochaide Castle (Kindroket), i.e. Bridge Head or End Castle. It was built by Malcolm Canmore in 1059, and in it he often lived with Margaret his Queen.

Kindroket Castle stood then in the very centre of Sylva Caledonia, not a trace of which now remains in its vicinity. The castle itself i‘s also a mass of shapeless ruins; but very interesting they are, from the memories of the royal Malcolm and his saintly Queen, which still linger round them like echoes of the past.

This village—which is, in fact, the capital of the Braemar Highlands—is fast becoming a celebrity; and little wonder: its pure bracing air, magnificent scenery, warm-hearted and intelligent population, have found a fitting climax in being reinvested with that peculiar charm which the presence of Royalty always creates. A native poet has contrived to give expression—though not very elegantly—to a feeling now deeply seated in many a heart:

The valleys of Mar shall be sacred to me.


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