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Braemar Highlands
Part the First - Chapter III


Glen Callater—Loch Candor—Lochnagar—Admiral Jones—Priest’s Well—Fairy Hillock.

LEAVING Castleton for the present, we proceed up Glen Cluny, which runs almost due south, and separates the Glen Ey range of mountains from that of Lochnagar. Some two miles up, a large rounded hill seems to divide the glen. On each side a stream comes flowing down, and unites in front. The one from the west is called the Baddoch, from a small glen of the same name; the other is the Cluny.

Near the junction of the streams, on the west side of the Cluny, is a small farm-house named the Col-drach: it was once a lairdship. On the east bank of the Cluny stands a much larger one called Auchalatar, formerly a lairdship also ; and to the interesting old lady, once its mistress, I am indebted for much of my legendary information.

Here I may notice that these ancient lairdships consisted very often of only a few acres of arable land, with a wide range of hill country. They varied in size, however.

A few yards beyond Auchalatar, Glen Callatar opens into Gleyi Cluny from the east, with its tributary, a considerable stream. This glen is remarkable chiefly for its desolate scenery, said to be second in this respect to Glencoe. But after passing the lake, some four miles up, it becomes magnificent. Here I may inform my readers, that in whatever direction a glen may stretch towards its mouth or opening, was always spoken of as down, and vice versa. 

Glen Callatar is narrow, and bounded by lofty hills, very bare, and totally destitute of trees: their only covering is a rough mosaic of stones and heather. The noisy Callatar, however, rushing over its stony bed, relieves the monotony not a little. Emphatically may its bed be called stony; for in some places compact masses present the appearance of paved work, and at other places heap themselves up as if to bar the passage of the stream, so causing it to toil round and over them, and break into miniature falls, cascades, whirlpools, etc., in making its escape. The beauty of this appearance depends, of course, very much upon the size of its stream.

About four miles up the glen we come upon the loch, which is not at all imposing in appearance, as nothing diversifies its shores but a few large stones about the margin. The hills skirting the sides of it are moderately high, and have neither precipice nor torrent-groove to give them a dash of the picturesque.

Loch Callatar, which is only about a mile in length, is formed by some torrents from the outlying ridges of Lochnagar, and by two rapid streams from the magnificent hills at the head of the glen, and of which we obtain a glimpse from the northern extremity of the loch.

Like most of its compeers in Braemar, Glen Callatar is uninhabited. It possesses only one dwelling, the gamekeeper’s, which stands at the lower end of the loch. Near the house the ascent toLochnagar commences, as that ‘Jewel of Mountains' is most easily visited from Castleton by this glen.

After passing the loch, the mountains along the east side of the glen are connected with Lochnagar. The principal are Cairn Taggart, i.e. the Priest’s Hill; Craig-an-Leisdhair, the Arrowmaker’s Hill; Craig Pharig, Peter’s Hill; Cairn Bannock, etc. On the opposite or west side are Cairn Turc, Cairn Turc beagh, or Little Cairn Turc, Cairn-na-Caillich, etc.    .

The glen terminates in a sort of oblong plain, most extended from east to west. This plain is bounded by four mountains, Cairn-a-Claishie, Tollman, Cairn-na-Caillich, etc. These mountains present a perfect contrast to the rough bleak heights of the lower parts of the glen, as they are covered with a deep green, relieved by the silvery appearance of the rills which slightly groove their surface. One, on gazing at them, is forcibly reminded of the lines :

‘Far on the heights the runnels shine,
In many a noiseless silvery line.’

One of these runnels in particular attracts attention. One of the huge masses seems to rise almost sheer up; and over its green perpendicular face hangs a single silvery line, like a thread of gossamer waving in the breeze. That is the celebrated Break-neck Watetfall. Soft and gentle as it now appears, were we only near enongh, it would startle us with its voice of thunder, as it pours into the detritus at the mountain’s base.

About a quarter of a mile from this fall is Professor Blackie’s

‘Lonely, lonely, dark Loch Candor'

Lock Candor and its corry well repay the trouble of a visit. The word corry is from the Gaelic corrie, signifying a caldron; and they have generally the appearance of a scooped-out hollow. They are of all varieties of size and situation: sometimes they are found upon the top of a mountain, on its side, or in the valley at its base.

The corry of Loch Candor is therefore simply a hollow of a large size, scooped out of a mountain near its top. It looks pretty much as if the mountain had been split open, with one of the sides, rocky and bare, rising up almost straight, while the other slopes away more gradually, and is covered with green. In the bottom lies the waters of the loch, dark and deep. They change their inky hue, however, when the sun shines brightly upon them, to a beautiful bluish green. The length of the loch, which is somewhat circular in shape, is not more than half a mile, while the height of the enclosing rock is some 800 feet. .    .

Into some of the precipices about the Corry and Break-neck Fall the sheep often descend, enticed by the verdure on their broken shelves ; and unable to return, they have to be rescued by letting down a man by a rope, sometimes to the distance of 150 feet.

Sheep, however, have not been the only sufferers on the precipices. There is danger necessarily connected with a visit to these places; and occasionally there has been a thrilling little episode, one of which is worth relating.

Some seven years ago, Rear-Admiral Jones was pursuing his researches on the precipices near the Break-neck Fall. Like the sheep, he got into a position whence he could not return. It was accidentally, however, by the shifting or slipping of some looser portion of the rocks. But his hammer, fortunately, was so wedged in by the stones, that he could hold himself steadily by it. And thus he stood on the face of that tremendous precipice, for part of three days and two nights, with only a few inches of standing room, and holding on by his hammer.

Occasionally, he said, some of the sheep would come to the bottom of the precipice and gaze up a considerable time; then, as if unable to unravel the mystery, turn and go away. Some people have expressed much surprise that he could hang so long in such a position; but his hands and arms had so stiffened in that terrible grasp, that they would have never relaxed, even had death ensued.

He had appointed to meet his servant at Loch Callatar at two P.M.; and when night came on, and no appearance of him, all the men of the village set out in search ; but although it was continued, he was not discovered until the third day.

At length one man had his attention providentially directed to the spot where the sufferer stood, and he was speedily rescued. It is said his first act was to kneel down and give God thanks for his deliverance. The grateful man also wished to reward the people who had come in search ; but to their honour it must be stated, not one of them would receive his money. Before leaving the village, however, he arranged that the sum of ten pounds annually should be distributed among the very poor.

By the side of Loch Callatar, near a large lichen-covered stone, is a spring called the ‘ Priest's Well! The name is said to have originated thus: Frost had been unusually severe one winter, and continued so long, that, when May had come, not a plough had been got into the ground/ Famine was feared; and the people, in great distress, repaired to the priest, beseeching him to pray for a thaw.

People and priest then repaired to this well; and as he prayed, it thawed sufficiently to supply them with water for mass. After mass he still kept praying, until the thaw fully set in; and the hill on which the blackness first appeared was from that time called Cairn Taggart, or the Priest's Hill. So the well is also called the Priest's Well\ in commemoration of the deliverance.

Another version of the story is, that the well in the first place sprung up in answer to his prayers, in order to supply water for mass, and that people and priest then repaired to the hill, where he continued praying until the thaw came. Whichever way, his prayer was looked upon as the procuring cause of the deliverance; and until some years ago, no Roman Catholic would have passed the well without dropping in a pin. The cause of this singular observance I have not been able to ascertain.

But to return. As before stated, it is through Glen Callatar that Lochnagar is most easily visited from Castleton. As so much has already been written and sung of its glories, it is quite unnecessary to give any elaborate description; and, in reality, nothing short of a visit is likely to do it justice ; but being so near, it may be well to take a cursory glimpse in passing.

The stereotyped route to it begins at the gamekeeper’s house, at the lower end of the loch. It is a toilsome ascent; but those who have not physical strength for it may procure a pony, etc., from either of the inns at the village.

After a pretty long ride, or walk, we begin to ascend a ridge of Cairn Taggart. When its corresponding descent is crossed, we come upon a noisy brook, which hurls itself along towards what appears from this point of view a rather insignificant sheet of water. Such an estimate of it, however, would be exceedingly incorrect ; for that is the famous Duloch, i.e. Black Loch, and the little stream is the infant Muick, which has its source near Cairn Taggart, and flows through the deep ravine separating it from Lochnagar. This ravine widening out between the Craigs of Corbreach and those of Cairn Bannock, the Duloch is formed by the closing again of their magnificent precipices.

Having crossed the Muick, and trudged up-hill in a north-easterly direction for some two miles, we come upon the first object of our pursuit—the northern corry of Lochnagar. It is on a large scale. Its great sides are strewn with huge blocks of granite and detritus, to such an extent as to give the idea of a mountain in ruins; and at the bottom of this great cavity are three small lakes, the largest of which is called Lochan-ean. From these lakes issue several streams, which, after traversing the Balloch-bhni Forest by different routes, again unite to form the stream of the Garrawalt, on which are some fine falls.

From this corry a stony slope has to be ascended, and then we stand upon the summit of Lochnagar; and on moving a little to the south-east, we are fully in view of the chief of those

‘Craigs that are wild and majestic,
The steep frowning glories of dark
 
Lochnagar.'

or, as one would say in plain prose, its eastern corry. An immensely large one it is. The depth of its enclosing rocks has been estimated at 1300 feet. What a feeling of awe creeps on one while gazing down the yawning gulf at the deep dark lake, enclosed by such wondrous battlements! As a poet says,

‘We creep stealthily, and catch a trembling glance
Into the dread abyss.
From such a scene,
So awfully sublime, our senses shrink,
And fain would shield them at the solid base
Of the tremendous precipice/

Great blocks of stone rest on the upper part of the corry, and appear like so many bastions to the grim wall formed by its huge precipices. It differs much in appearance from different points of view; but the idea of walls and battlements is peculiarly vivid while gazing upwards from the loch, to which we can descend by the slope at the northern corry.

The summit of Lochnagar is marked by two large cairns; and while passing along to the northern one, the corry is seen to great advantage. From that point of view it appears to be divided into several portions by, projecting ridges, which form occasionally precipitous gorges, which for darkness and depth might well lead into the bowels of the earth; and anything like an active imagination could easily conjure up any amount of phantom shapes or mystic forms. On this spot one can repeat, with new powers of appreciation, the stanza:

‘Shades of the dead! have I not heard your voice
Rise on the night-rolling breath of the gale?
Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind o’er his own Highland vale.
Round
 
Lochnagar, while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car.
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark
 
Lochnagar.

The view from the top of Lochnagar is very extensive, but essentially mountainous. To use a phrase of Royalty, a perfect  sea of mountains ’ stretches round us, ‘ whose billows,’ it has been beautifully remarked, ‘ are aye at rest, and whose wavy surface no wind can ever ruffle.’ Such are some of the wild sublimities of Lochnagar; but they must be seen to be fully understood, for words are weak and cold when the endeavour is made to picture out its memories.

One other thing I must notice before leaving Glen Callatar and its interesting surroundings. About midway between the Loch and Glen Cluny we pass a circular hillock, on which Dr. M'Gillivray remarks, that ‘a man yet living had seen the fairies dancing.’ A curious fairy legend connected with this hillock I may give in passing, having first remarked that the Daoine Shith, or Shi, i.e. men of peace, or fairies of the Highlands, were supposed to have their abode below such grassy eminences. During moonlight they celebrated their festivities on the outside ; at other times they kept within.

One winter evening about Christmas two men were down about this knoll ; and one of them coming upon an opening in it, went in, and heard the ‘most beauti-fu’ music that ever he heard, and saw a lot o’ little fouk dancing—the heartiest fouk that ever he saw'.

After some time he went out for his friend, that he might share his pleasures, and both went in together. But the new-comer knew the danger, and hurried out as fast as possible, after vainly trying to induce his companion to follow.

As the loiterer never made his appearance, the other was taken to task, as having been last seen in his company; and it was like to go hard with him. The poor man could only tell his wonderful story, and plead for time, that he might try and get him back. And accordingly he made many visits to the knoll, but never succeeded in getting in until Christmas came round again. On entering, he found his friend standing just as he left him; so he at once took hold of him,, and began to pull him away by force.

But the other continued to pull and pull, until he got him out. Still nothing would convince him that he had been in so long, until he went home and saw the difference on his family. Such is a specimen of the fairy tale, a belief of which still lingers in the district.


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