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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
VI. The Lochs and their Legends


LAKES add largely to the beauty and interest of our scenery They break the monotony of the moors, they relieve the gloom of the forest, and they both increase and reflect the glories of the mountains and the sky. The Lakes in this parish have been mostly formed by the action of drift. They are of various sizes. Some are mere tarns, called in the Gaelic Lochans. Thus there is Lòchan-na-bceinn, L. of the hill, on the north-west shoulder of Cairngorm. where good-sized trout are found. Then there are L. 'n Ei;an, L. of the island, in a moor about a mile east from Kincardine Church, rich in its season with Water Lilies; L. nan-nathrach, L. of the serpents, in Glenmore; and L. Uain, Green Loch, in the Abenethy Slugan. Of the larger Lochs, the first place mnst be given to Loch Morlich (1046), not only for its size, but for the grandeur of its surroundings. It lies in Glenmore, and is about two miles long, and half-a-mile broad. The chief stream which runs into it is the Allt-more, formed by the junction of the Feith-dhubh, the Allt-bàn, Allt-na-cisde, and the other streamlets that come from the corries of Cairngorm. Loch Morlich was famous for its trout, which are of the same sort as Loch Leven, running from ¼ lb. to 2, and sometimes 4 lbs., but of recent years they have decreased in number and size. This falling-off is attributed to the ravages of pike, but it is more likely due to lack of food, as when the Glen was under cattle and sheep there was a much larger supply of worms and other nourishment than there is now. There are Sithans at both ends of the lake. Those at the west are said to be the abode of Domhall-Mòr-bad-’n Shian, King of the Fairies. The sands and thickets at the east are the haunt of the Laimh-dhearg, the Spectre of the Bloody Hand, which was believed to be connected with the Stewarts of Kincardine. Robin Oig, son of one of the Barons of Kincardine, was once out hunting in Glenmore. He killed a hind, and was proceeding to gralloch it. Happening to lay down his sgian-dubh beside him, it disappeared. Then he took the knife from his dirk, and when he laid it down it too vanished. He finished his work the best way he could, and went away wondering. Some time after he met an old man on the sands of Loch Morlich, wrapped in a grey plaid, but with one hand red and bloody exposed. It was the Laimh-dhearg. "Is this you, Robin?" he said. "You are too often in the Glen, slaughtering my poor innocents. Do you remember the hind you killed in Glacan—bealaidh,  you call it Glacan-beadidh, but we call it Glacan-bealaidh. Here are your knives, but I counsel you to be more sober in the Glen in future." The distinction as to the name of the place is curious. The old name was taken from nature, from the Broom; the modern from some incident of life, something connected with a Beattie. The Red Hand was evidently a true Celt. Love of nature, fondness for animals, passionate attachment to home, yearning over the past, taking a glory from being far, are sentiments that run still in the blood of every Highlander, and will live with him till his heart grows cold.

Loch Garten lies in the midst of the fir woods of Tulloch. It is rather more than half-a-mile in length, and is 725 feet above the sea, the same level as the terrace on which the Church of Ahernethy stands. Having no value for fishing, its charm consists in the solitude and quietness of the scene, and the boundless contiguity of shade from the surrounding pines. According to tradition, this Loch and neighbourhood were once frequented by a Bodach, or Spirit, attached to the house of Gartenmore, whose cries might be heard on the death of a member of the family. The family has become extinct, and the Bodach has become extinct also. Perhaps the belief arose in an ignorant and superstitious age from hearing the cries of passing geese, or other wild fowl, which have an eerie effect when they fall upon the ear in the darkness of night or amidst the gloom of the forest. But there may be another explanation. These Lochs do at times give forth most unearthly sounds. Once, when passing through a wood in spring, three groans of a most startling kind were heard. Coming one after another, with increasing loudness, they seemed the cries of some animal in distress. But a little investigation shewed that they had proceeded from a small loch lying in a hollow, where the ice was in the throes of dissolution, and the imprisoned air was seeking escape. Lowell, in speaking of winter, refers to this phenomenon. He says—" As you walk homeward you may perchance hear the most impressive sound in nature, unless it be the fall of a tree in the forest during the heat of summer noon. It is the stifled shriek of the lake yonder as the frost throttles it. Thoreau calls it admirably well a whoop; but it is a noise like none other, as if a Demigorgon were moaning inarticulately from under the earth." Wordsworth has noted the sound, though his description savours of exaggeration. In "The Prelude" he says :-—

"From under East Water splitting fields of ice,
The pent-up air struggling to free itself
Gave out to meadow grounds and hills a loud
Protracted yelling, like the noise of wolves
Howling in troops along the Bothnic Main."

Loch Garten is often covered with ice, which, in hard winters, lasts long. About a hundred years ago there was a severe frost, and the loch continued frozen over till the middle of March. A crofter of the name of Smith or Gow crossed it on his way to Tulloch, and spoke rather proudly of the feat as something wonderful. He was advised not to return the same way, as there were signs of thaw. The old saying was quoted: An uair a leumas e an Fheill-Brìghde cha ‘n earb an sionnach earball ris an deigh, "When St Bride’s Fair (Candlemas) is past, the fox wont trust his tail to the ice." But counsel and remonstrance were in vain. Gow persisted. He said it was a short cut, and what he had done once that day he would do again. But he never reached his home. Search was made, and his blue bonnet, with a bunch of birch withs, floating on the now open water, told too surely of his fate. "Once too often" has brought many to harm. Loch Garten is connected with a smaller loch to the west, which bears the ominous name of Lock Mallachaidh, the Loch of the Curse. The belief was common in olden time that curses might be laid upon things and living beings. The Curse of Moy is well known. There was also a curse upon the Gordons and the Grants. The tradition as to the latter is worth recording. Ballintomb was of old the gathering place of the Clan, and there the Chief used to sit in judgment. There is still a Carragh, or standing-stone, and the remains of terraced seats, to mark the spot. Once it happened that a young man, the only son of his mother, was charged with some offence, and, after trial, condemned to death. His mother pleaded earnestly on his behalf. My informant, the late Ann Cameron, daughter of the Cean-tighe head of the Kincardine Camerons, graphically described the scene. The Chief sat by himself, stern and relentless. He kept silently munching bread and cheese, while the widow knelt and poured out her cries at his feet. At last the poor woman, seeing that all was in vain, burst into a passion of tears and imprecations. She prayed that the wrath of heaven might fall upon the merciless, and that his house might never be without a "fool." Loch Mallachie is the source of the Mullin-garroch Burn, which runs into the Spey opposite Boat of Garten Station. The curse, which is said to have come from a disappointed bridegroom, was believed to follow the water, and to fall specially on newly-married people. So strong was the faith in its potency, that even in the last generation there were persons who would rather go far round than cross the stream on their wedding day. It is curious that a superstition of the same kind exists in England. There is a bridge called Gold-brook, in Suffolk, that is said to have at one time borne the inscription, "Cursed be the wedding party that passes this bridge." The inscription has disappeared, but the tradition is so well known that a bridal party will take a circuitous route rather than pass over the bridge.

There is a small loch in the plantation of Balliefurth called Loch-na-h-Ulaidh. It is said to contain a treasure, guarded by some dragon or other monster. Efforts have been made to find it, but in vain. Tradition says that one daring man set to drain the loch, but, just as the water began to run, fire came out of the ground and slew him. His grave is marked by two broom bushes! Another version of the legend connects the treasure with a stone, which still stands in the dyke at the east end of the plantation. Long ago, it is said, a man in Ireland dreamt of a treasure to be found in a certain place in Strathspey, which he saw in his dream. He set out in search. After much travel, he came to Achernack, where he fell in with a man, called Alan, casting divots, with whom he had some talk. The appearance of the place, with the stone standing on the moor, and the burn running past, agreed with what he had seen in his dream. He asked Alan to assist him, and they soon unearthed the treasure. The Irishman went on his way, and Alan hurried to Achernack with the news. "You fool," said his mistress, "why did you let him go? After him, and if you bring back the gold I will marry you." Alan set off, overtook the Irishman at Castle Roy, and, with one blow of his flauchter.spade, killed him. He returned, married the lady, and took her name. His own name being Alan, a Cameron from Lochaber, called in Gaelic Alain-nam-foide, from his trade as a turf-cutter, the family came to be known among the Grants as the Clan Alan! This is one of those stories, not uncommon, that seem to have been constructed to account for a name or "ulaidhs" are common. There is hardly a parish but has its story of some man who had become suddenly rich by finding a hoard that had been hidden in time of war or trouble. It was the same in the East in ancient days. The custom was for rich men to divide their goods into three parts. One they employed in commerce or for necessary support; another they turned into jewels, which could be easily carried about, and were always valuable; and a third they buried. The place where the money was buried was kept secret, and, in consequence from deaths and changes, the knowledge of it was often lost, or it was afterwards found by chance (cf. Jer. xli., 8; Matt. xiii., 44). There is a Greek story that Mardonius, defeated. at Plutza, left great treasures buried under his tent. Polycrates, a Theban, bought the ground, but could find nothing. He consulted the Oracle at Delphi, and got the enigmatical reply, "Turn every Stone." He did so, and prospered. Another story is told by Gibbon (" Decline and Fall," i., p. 28). Julius Atticus, of the family of Herod, though claiming descent from gods and heroes, "must have ended his life in poverty and contempt had he not discovered an immense treasure buried under an old house, the last remains of his patrimony. According to the rigour of the law, the Emperor might have asserted his claim, and the prudent Atticus prevented, by a frank confession, the officiousness of informers. But the equitable Nerva, who then filled the throne, refused to accept any part of it. and commanded him to use without scruple the present of fortune. The cautious Athenian still insisted that the treasure was too considerable for a subject, and that he did not know how to use it ‘Abuse it then,’ replied the monarch, with a good-natured peevishness, ‘for it is your own.’" Gibbon states in a note that Hadrian afterwards made a very equitable regulation, which divided all treasure-trove between the right of property and that of discovery.

Loch Pytoulish is a beautiful little lake, partly in Kincardiue.. and partly in Rothiemurchus. It is 674 feet above the sea, the same height as Loch Dallas, behind K.inchirdy. Its environment is rich in memories of the past. To the west is the Callart, a rocky height, which till lately was densely covered with larch. It stands now cold and bare. Dr John Brown, of "Rab and His Friends," in speaking of a similar hill that had been recently cleared, said, "it looks like a plucked fowl"; and this is exactly the present appearance of the Callart. At the east end, near the march, is Lag-nan-Cuimcanath, where Shaw of Rothiemurchus, the captain of the clan in the combat at the Insh of Perth, 1392, waylaid a party of Cummings and slew them. The remains of their graves may still be seen in the hollow. There is an island in the loch, which appears when the water is low. It is evidently artificial, and probably was used as a place of defence. Perhaps it had a crannoge as part of the structure, or it may have been connected with the Stone Fort on the hill above (Creag Chaisteal). On the east side of the loch there is a well-defined terrace, with the remains of hut-circles and cairns. It is about 30 feet higher than the lake, and makes, with the surface of the water, as striking a parallel as the famous Roads of Glenroy. This terrace, which many mistake for a road, and others at a higher level (700, 800, 900), may be traced for miles on both sides of the Spey. It was in Loch Pytoulish that Colonel Thornton killed the monster pike, of which he gives so glowing an account in his book. The loch was said to have been of old one of the haunts of the Water Kelpie. Once upon a time the Baron’s heir and some other boys were playing by the loch side. One of them cried out with surprise, "Look, the pretty pony!" They went to see. It was a palfrey, gaily caparisoned, with saddle and bridle bright with silver and gems, feeding quietly in the meadow. The boys tried to get hold of it, but could not. They were allowed to come close, and then, with a toss of its head, it was off. Thus frolicking, they drew nearer and nearer to the loch. At last they caught it by the bridle, when, with a wild shriek, it rushed for the water. The lads struggled hard, but their hands were glued fast to the bridle, and they could not loose them. But the Baron’s son, who had his right hand free, drew his dirk and gashed his fingers till he gained release. He alone escaped; the other’s perished in the waters. This legend, like most of these old world tales, is not without its moral. It teaches our Lord’s lesson, that things are not what they seem, that it is dangerous to grasp at unhallowed pleasures, and that it is better to part with a right hand or a right eye rather than, by self-indulgence and sin, to lose the Kingdom of Heaven. Mr Ellice, in the "Place Names of Glengarry," tells a similar story of a place near Ardochy, on the Garry, which is called Eilean-na-Cloinne, the Island of the Children. In this case, it is said, eight children were playing on a Sunday near the Kelpie’s Pool. The Kelpie came out, and seven of them clambered on his back for a ride. But the eighth, more cautious than the rest, put out his hand and touched the beast with his finger, when he found, to his dismay, that it was glued fast. Quick as thought, he seized a sickle that lay on the grass, and cut himself free. The others perished.

"This is peace,
To conquer love of self and lust of life,
To tear deep-rooted passion from the breast,
To still the inward strife;
For love, to clasp Eternal Beauty close;
For glory, to be Lord of self; for pleasure,
To live beyond the gods; for countless wealth,
To lay up lasting treasure
Of perfect service rendered, duties done
In charity, soft speech and stainless days:
These riches shall not fade away in life,
Nor any death dispraise." - ARNOLD'S "Light of Asia."

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