Braemar via Perth—Glenshee—Pass
of the Caimwell—Castleton—The Gathering, etc.
BESIDES the usual route to Braemar from
the east up
there is another from the south
via Perth and Blairgowrie,
straight through Glenshee and Glen
right into the heart of Braemar. So,
to finish up my previous description of that locality, I give some
cursory notes of a visit to Braemar by
that route some years ago.
My travelling companion (a thorough Braeniarian) and
myself having reached Blairgowrie,
our first*care was to find out some means of transit through the
glen; and soon found that a coach ran daily during the months of
August and September.
When fairly on the road, with Blairgowrie several
miles in the rear, the scene presenting itself was exceedingly
striking and impressive. In front, mountain began to rise behind
mountain, in apparently endless succession ; their superficial
outlines not conical, but rounded and wavy, while all were clothed
to their summit in a deep green.
As we drove on, I sat gazing at the interminable maze, wondering
where the road could be ; and on inquiry, learned, to my great
surprise, that it lay right through the hills ; although every one
of them, from our present point of view, seemed to intimate as
plainly as possible that there could be
no passage that way.
As we went on, the dwellings became much more scattered. Among the
last of them was a farm-house of considerable size, and once of some
importance, named Feith-nan-Ceann a
Gaelic name signifying Bog or Burn of the Heads, and is pronounced Fenny-gang. The
name originated thus:
A race of the name of Campbell were once lords superior of Glenshee,
and did indeed lord it over their less powerful neighbours, as well
as their own immediate retainers. Once a year, it is said, they made
the circuit of the glen for the purpose of exacting tribute. Bells
were attached to the heads of their horses, so that when the
tinkling was heard the oppressed people might bring out their tithes
without any trouble to the receivers. By and by their spirit was
roused ; and, so the legend goes, James Stewart of Drumforkit,
with twelve gallant fellows, instead of bringing out their tithes,
made a fierce onslaught on the Campbells, andr after
getting the mastery, cut off their heads and rolled them into a burn
or boggy place, from that time named
After passing the Spittal
of Glenshee, now
an inn, the scenery becomes increasingly grand; and as we enter
deeper and deeper into this mountain wilderness, not a trace of
human habitation is visible. Life of every kind except the
vegetable, and that only of the lowest type, has fled the scene :
not even a single sheep browsing in any quiet nook can be detected.
Such a strange sensation of utter loneliness creeps over one—what a
contrast to the strife and din of the fevered city.
We have been gradually but slowly ascending for some time. Now we
are come to what is worth the name of ascent, said to be about noo
feet. Up this our road winds zig-zag fashion. A peculiarly dangerous
part of this road is called the ‘Devil's
know not for what reason, except that, while descending, the merest
trifle would send the coach with all its occupants spinning down the
precipitous sides of the Cairnwell, which
is said to rise 3116 feet above the level of the sea. Still, lonely
and even dangerous as this place sometimes is, it has a mysterious
loveliness—a terrifying fascination peculiar to itself. How cold it
is, too, on the bleak summit ! and this the nth of August. Yet there
is something delightful in the bracing mountain air:
‘How one bounds along with the living breeze,
For here Ćolus is always blowing!'
Glen Cluny, through
which we next proceed, is a continuation of the same scenery, except
that the hills have assumed purple robes instead of green, i.e. the
grass has given place to heather; and as it is now at its best, in
full bloom they really look lovely.
There is little to mark in this glen, excepting numerous sites of
ruined dwellings. But as it is rich in legendary lore, busy fancy,
ever on the alert, will think of this ruin as being the place whence
a hapless little fellow was stolen by a wolf, but strangely spared
by the female, and brought up with her young ; or of that other ruin
as being the dwelling of the Cam-Ruedh. Who
is the Cam-Rtiedh
you inquire. A famous archer he was, who with his own unaided bow
could put a whole host of the Katrin to flight. We have just passed
the scene of one of his exploits—‘ the Katrin
s Howe,’ the
scene of the battle of the Cairn-well, when
the Cam by
his prowess completely turned the fortunes of the day. With his own
bow alone fourteen of them were laid low, while the remainder were
soon put to an ignominious flight. The graves of the slain may yet
be seen on the opposite or south side of the road ; but more of the Cam and
his exploits after.
Now we come upon Auchalatar, within
twomiles of the Castleton
of Braemar. Here
we are to reside for some time. It is well for us that we have not
to go a lodging-hunting, as we have happened to visit the village at
no ordinary time. To-morrow is the great gathering : the Prince and
Princess of Wales are expected to be there, and consequently the
influx of visitors is tremendous : lodgings of every kind are at
fabulous prices; but more of this anon.
On arriving at Auchalatar,
as the day was not far spent, after resting a little we went on to
see the village. About a mile and a half farther down the glen, at a
slight turn of the road, the beautiful little capital of the Aberdeenshire
in all its loveliness before us.
There it lay, amidst an amphitheatre of hills— mountains I should
rather term them—covered to their summit with heather in full
blossom, like an unbroken sheet of gorgeous velvet; the lovely green
of the birch trees, and the meadow through which the Dee was
gliding in quiet loveliness, serving as a foil. And, as if to add
the last touch to this scene of beauty, the descending sun was
steeping the whole in a perfect flood of purple and gold.
As we neared it, however, the spell was partially broken : not that
its loveliness was less—its beauties will bear inspection—but it was
far from being the quiet spot we expected. It looked rather like a
beehive, swarming at every point, and people still pouring in to
join those already engaged in a vain search after lodgings.
Before midnight set in there was a near approach to the old Highland
custom of pulling a sufficient quantity of the bushy heather, and
lying down on it in some quiet nook ; as lofts and every available
place were spread with hay, and many, a weary pedestrian gladly
stretched himself thereon.
But to some that was a luxury quite unattainable. One poor fellow,
out at every point, was fain to creep into an empty cask at the end
of the store. Coaches, etc., were in general requisition as
bed-rooms; and two ladies found out one of still more romantic
character, in the little rustic house at the Falls
one sleeping and the other watching alternately.
It is needless to enter into detail ; so, after sauntering about for
some time, we turned our backs on the sweet village, into which,
though already so full, others were continually pouring.
Morning dawned most inauspiciously. Fierce gusts of wind swept along
the glens, accompanied by all the usual premonitions of rain. For a
little space it seemed to relent, as if unwilling to cast a shade
over Braemar's only
gala day. But anon the pitiless storm burst forth, to the great
discomfiture of the pleasure-hunting pilgrims.
Before this, surly as the day was, we had started per gig to see
some of the ‘lions’ of Braemar. Our
road, as already described, lay along the south side of the Dee, past Old
Mar Lodge, in
front of which the games were to be held that year, not at the usual
place on the Invercauld estate,
owing to the recent death of the proprietor.
Though it was pretty early, the Highlanders were already astir ; and
who could but admire the stalwart fellows in their picturesque
dress, with their distinctive tartan, and badge of holly, broom,
etc., stuck in the side of their Highland bonnets, so well termed ‘the
simple covering of a manly head?'
Before starting, we had no intention of being present at the games;
but as my friend had not seen the Princess, and I had no objection,
but rather desire, to see the Highlanders en
we resolved to gratify our curiosity. The Prince and Princess of
Wales soon arrived, with the Earl and Countess of Fife, and many
other ladies and gentlemen, and immediately after the games
commenced ; and some quarter of an hour after, as the weather
continued very unpropitious, we took our homeward route.
Thus far, then, the physical features of Braemar, as
looked at with the eyes of an ordinary sight-seer. In the following
part of this volume it is my intention to record all that I found
remaining of traditions, legends, etc., that still loom out with
considerable distinctness from the mist - enshrouded past; not,
however, becoming responsible for the absolute truth of these
legends, nor for anything further than a correct relation of
statements made to me.