Glen Callater—Loch Candor—Lochnagar—Admiral
Jones—Priest’s Well—Fairy Hillock.
LEAVING Castleton for
the present, we proceed up Glen
which runs almost due south, and separates the Glen
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
On the opposite or west side are 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
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
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
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
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
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
By the side of Loch
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
the well is also called the Priest's
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
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,
Loch, and the little stream is the infant Muick,
which has its source near Cairn
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
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.
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
its interesting surroundings. About midway between the Loch and Glen
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,
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