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Braemar Highlands
Part the First - Chapter IV


Glen Cluny—Castleton of Braemar—Auchendryne—Morrone— Kenneth’s Craig—Croy, etc.

AS we return to Castleton, down Glen Cluny, we observe that it widens out very gradually, and at its mouth assumes something like a bell-shape; then, by means of the rounded hills of Morrone on the west, and Craig Choinaich on the east, gracefully turns itself into Strathdee. The Cluny Water, which about half a mile up the glen, winds very near the base of Morrone, then strikes diagonally across the plain, and enters the Dee in front of Craig Choinaich.

In the centre of the triangular plain formed by the widening of Glen Cluny, lie the united villages of Castleton and Auchendryne. Glen Cluny separates the Glen Ey range of mountains from those of ochnagar range, which terminates in Craig Choinaich, while the hill Morrone is the most outlying of the Glen Ey range; and an immense mass it is, one side of it running parallel with Glen Cluny, while the other fronts Strathdee, so forming a sort of corner-piece.

The base of this hill slopes very gradually; so much so, that it is cultivated to the height of 1500 feet, the highest cultivated land in Scotland. This cultivated part of the hill is called Tomintoul’ i. e. the Hill of the Two Views, from the fact that it commands a view of both glens. ‘The Highlanders' it has been remarked, ‘are famous toponimists;’ and-they do generally, in the names they give places, express in the shortest, simplest manner possible, their principal characteristics.

At the head of the cultivated part of Tomintoul there is a plateau of considerable size, from which rises Morrone, rough and bleak, to the height of 2796 feet. In the hollows and crevices in its sides the snow lies until midsummer.

It is a stiff climb to the summit; but by the time you reach it, such is the delightful effect of, I suppose, the rarefaction of the air, that you begin to imagine it quite a possible thing to fly, ‘if/ as a friend remarked, ‘one were only started.’

When at the highest point, you quite lose sight of the village and glens, but are fully compensated by the wondrous panorama of hills spread out before you ; while from the position of Morrone one has the idea that it is the great centre-piece round which they all spread, circular fashion.

If you look to the south, Lochnagar presents its scarred front, and seems to frown at you over the heads of its lesser neighbours. If to the north, the noble Ben-Macdhui demands your homage, as king of the mountains; if to the east, the Glengairn hills lower themselves a little, that you may catch a distant glimpse of the sylvan palace of our much-loved Queen.

Looking in the same direction, through vistas of the nearer hills, Invercauld House appears at this distance pre-eminently beautiful. You have, however, to descend from the highest point ere you see it, and only then from certain positions.

At a still lower point, and looking towards the north-west, you have a view of the whole valley of the Dee—a gorgeous mosaic, on which, according to season, there is a perpetual change of beauty. If it is August, the hills are draped in rich crimson, contrasting beautifully with the dark green of the stately pine, or the lighter shades of the graceful birch. And then, in the depths of the valley, amid the deep, rich, almost transparent green which fills up the centre, the Dee winds gracefully, flashing back the light like a long wavy line of burnished silver.

If it is autumn, the drapery of the hills is a rich colouring of brown, in all its variety of tints, which, with the green and sparkle beneath, produces a singular effect. If it is winter, they are grand beyond description, as they assume such a defiant appearance. Theirs is then stem grandeur; but it is grandeur, and the magnificence of it!

But I must have done with Morrone, after stating that, at a point still farther down, the village and many other points of interest come into view. And here, when one has become sufficiently acquainted with the storied legendry of the district, what traditional visions will pass before the mental eye, as you gaze on the places connected with them!

While descending the hill, a large handsome edifice attracts attention: it is the Roman Catholic chapel. Fully one-half of the population are of that persuasion. It stands on one of the angles formed by the junction of the Dee and Cluny. Behind it is a small height named Tom-Ghainmkaine, pronounced Geean, i.e. Hill of Peace.

Also on the Auchendryne side of the village are the Free Church, manse, and schoolhouse—all within a very tasteful and well-kept enclosure. On the Castleton side, close by the banks of the Cluny, is the Established Church, a small handsome structure, in a beautiful situation. Dalvreckachy, the manse, lies just at the foot of Tomintoul, embowered in a beautiful birch wood. The school and schoolhouse are on the Castleton side of the Cluny.

I must notice, in passing, two points on the Cluny Water, close to the Established Church: these are the Cheese Peev, or Pool, and ‘Put an Sassenieh; i.e. the Englishman’s Butt; I will have occasion to notice them after.

Nearly opposite the Established Church is the Invereauld Anns, a large, handsome inn. The Fife Anns, also very extensive, is on the Auchendryne side of the village, on the Earl of Fife’s property.

Behind the Invercauld Arms, where its offices now stand, was an old building, formerly known as the Earl of Mars Courthouse. After his defection it was used as an inn, but was accidentally burned down some years ago.

On a knoll in front of the present inn, the standard of rebellion was raised by the Earl of Mar in 1715. The exact spot where the standard was fixed is now occupied by a large bow-window at the east side of the inn.

Passing on the road a little is the churchyard, on the left, a secluded spot: it is surrounded with a large wall and some fine trees. In the centre of the churchyard, formed partly from the ruins of the old church, is the burying-place of the Farquharsons of Invercauld. Near the entrance to this enclosure is a grave of some note—that of Peter Grant, the last rebel in Scotland. He outlived all his compeers at Culloden, etc., as he reached the extreme age of a hundred and ten years.

Another thing in this churchyard which strikes one, is that people of the same name are all laid beside each other, in their own division; but perhaps this is common in the Highlands. This, too, is the place where another local celebrity absolutely refused to rest after he was buried, and obliged his relations to let him have his own way, and bury him, as he wished to be, in the churchyard of Inverey.

Passing the churchyard a short distance, we come upon Braemar Castle, as already described, at the mouth of the Cluny, near its junction with the Dee. The road passes along the side of the park in which the castle stands, round the base of Kenneth Craig. This road is modern : conceive it away, and the situation of the old castle is superb.

Craig Choinaich, or Kenneth Craig, is a remarkably beautiful hill. ‘Romantic’ and ‘picturesque’ are words commonly used in describing it, and they are not unfittingly applied. It takes its name from Kenneth II., who, it is said, used, when he was old, and no longer able to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, to go up this hill, and view it conducted by others through the strath below.

Near the junction of the rivers there is a ford, a place also called the Croy, i.e. large stones laid at regular distances through the bed of the river. These stones, tradition says, were laid there by the Romans about 185.


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