Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Scotland's Book of Romance
Chapter XII. A night in Badenoch


With the Road-engineer - Anne Grant of Laggan - The Man at the Churchyard Gate - I Visit the Minister and Leave for Dalwhinnie - The Pass of Drumochter - The Solitary Woman - On to Blair Atholl.

WHY an engineer should have been more good-natured about his personal belongings than, say, an architect or a chartered accountant, I did not understand, but I took the word of my hostess for it. To my satisfaction, I found that the spare shirt and flannel trousers in my pack were dry; and stripping off my wet clothes, which were to hang for the night before the kitchen fire, I shuffled downstairs to the sitting-room in the engineer's dressing-gown and slippers.

He was a young man with a lean pleasant face, and he was filling a huge briar pipe from a tin of "Country Life " tobacco. When I began to thank him for the use of his things, and to apologise for thus breaking in upon his privacy, he laughed and pushed an armchair towards the fire for me. "So you've been over the Corrieyairack?" he said.

Presently, I learned that my companion was a road-engineer, and his name was Melville.

"You were on Wade's road all the way," he explained, "except that new bit from the Catholic chapel at the Dun. I'm on a rather interesting job here, - for I'm re-making Wade's roads, and some of them haven't been touched-except for the potholes-since the old boy made them two hundred years ago . . . Are you interested in General Wade?"

If the gods had been unkind to me during the day, they could not have made more generous reparation in the evening. I had been led, as it were, blindfold to a man who knew every contour of that countryside -and who was eager to talk about General Wade! There was no place in all Badenoch where I would rather have spent the night.

"Wade knew his job," said Melville, lighting his big pipe. "Whenever he could, he laid his roads so that an army couldn't be ambushed on them. He would often build a road a little way up the hillside when it would have been easier to put it right down in the valley. A shrewd old chap. When he came to a marsh he didn't try to dig foundations-that would have been a hopeless job-he floated his road on hundreds of bundles of wood-faggots. Come to think of it," Melville continued, "that's just about what we're doing to-day. We float the roads over marshy ground on rafts of concrete. History repeating itself! I don't say Wade was as great an engineer as Thomas Telford - the Caledonian Canal man. Telford knew a lot more about bridges than Wade, but he was a great old fellow all the same." And then he laughed. "Queer to think that General Wade built these roads so that the Government could keep a closer eye on the clans - and it was these very roads that helped Prince Charlie to get to Edinburgh before Johnnie Cope !"

Melville was interested to know that I was walking in the footsteps of the Prince, and was determined to cover all the country through which he passed both in Scotland and England and as a fugitive in the Isles. My present destination was Edinburgh, I told him, and later I would go to Derby, then turn and walk north to Culloden, and finally follow his tracks through the heather.

The idea fired Melville to sudden enthusiasm. "You know the song called 'The Road to the Isles'?" he said, and began to hum it: "` By Tummel and by Rannoch and Lochaber I will go, by heather tracks I'll foot it in the wild . . .' Well, last year I did that walk to the Isles-but it's the Prince Charlie road for me next time! I dare say the Corrieyairack's the worst bit . . ."

We were interrupted by supper, and afterwards we talked until the hour of one chimed on the mantelpiece clock-a clock which, an inscription told me, had been a prize at a sheepdog trial - and I went upstairs to my bedroom, where huge sheep-skin rugs lay upon' the floor ; and I fell at once into a sound sleep.

I was awakened next morning by the sun glittering on the window at my bedside. Whether the rain had gone for good, I could not tell, and after breakfast both Melville and the farmer thought there was more of it yet to come. I was tempted to stop in Laggan for a day or two, but a full week had passed since I had left Moidart, and I had still more than a hundred and fifty miles to cover before I reached Edinburgh, so I decided to push on that morning. Melville said he was going to Laggan Bridge, three quarters of a mile away, and he offered me a lift on the back of his motor-cycle, which I accepted ; and while I straddled his pillion seat, like a witch on a broomstick, he took me at a terrific pace across that wide green hollow among the mountains that has given the place its name. Clumps of trees were on the hillsides around us, and to the west I could see the conical hill called the Dun, clothed to the summit with firs and pines. A few cottages were scattered about, but there were more ruins than habitations, and it was a little saddening to think that a hundred years ago the population of this parish was over twelve hundred. Leaning his motor-cycle against a dyke, Melville went to attend to some business in a cottage where he had a temporary office, and I strolled into the kirkyard.

This church was a more recent building than the one which the Rev. James Grant built towards the end of the eighteenth century, and to-day the Rev. James is remembered only as the husband of the famous Anne Grant of Laggan. On the previous forenoon, as I had climbed up the north slope of the Corrieyairack, I had looked into the green glen where their courtship had taken place. What an extraordinary life that woman had. She had been brought up beside the lonely Hudson River in America, where her father settled before returning to Scotland broken in health to become Barrack-master at Fort Augustus. In New England she had learned to speak Dutch, and in Laggan she acquired Gaelic so that she could talk to her husband's parishioners. The manse was a place of hospitality, the stipend was small, and when her husband died she found herself without a penny and eight children to look after. She took a farm, but this failed, and soon she was worse off than before. In 1803 she published her first literary work, a volume of poems, which provided food and shelter for a time, and in 1806 her friends persuaded her to publish three volumes of the letters she had written from the Laggan manse. These Letters from the Mountains brought her both money and fame, and can be read with even greater interest to-day than at the time when they were written. One of the wisest of the many wise remarks you may read in these delightful pages is that the Highlanders resemble the French in being poor with a better grace than other people.

Later, she published a volume of essays on the superstitions of the Highlands, and there she told a grim story of a Laggan glen that was haunted. A chieftain discovered that his daughter was in love with one of the cottagers, and in his wrath he seized the man and bound him naked on an ant's nest. The lover died in agony and the girl went mad. She roamed up and down the glen until her death, and her phantom remained to haunt the place. The Laggan people, in terror of the Red Woman, refused to go near the sinister glen until Mrs. Grant's husband laid the ghost by holding a religious service at the place where it had been so often seen.

Towards the end of Mrs. Grant's life, Sir Walter Scott had to soothe her feelings, which were hurt by the smallness of the civil pension allowed her by George IV. In his Journal, Scott calls her "proud as a Highland woman, vain as a poetess, and absurd as a bluestocking." But he added: "Catching a pension in these times is like hunting a pig with a soaped tail. Monstrous apt to slip through your fingers." Much sorrow came to her; all her children died except her youngest son; an accident crippled her, so that $he was confined to the house for the last twenty years of her life. But she had many friends; her talk was brilliant; and in the end, several legacies dropped into her lap, making her a comparatively wealthy woman. To-day she would be called a reactionary and a romantic, and she even hated the idea of roads being built through the Highlands. These roads, she said, would afford access to strangers who despise the Highlander ; and luxuries would be brought into the glens that the people could not afford to pay for, and would be happier without. She knew how little her Red Indian friends by the Hudson River in America had gained by being civilised; and she had the same fears for the Highlander. She foresaw that the ancient culture of the Gael would be destroyed instead of being allowed to grow and sweeten under the influence of an appropriate education; and the many Scottish institutions that are to-day trying to pick up the lost threads, and reanimate the old culture, show how wise were the words of Anne Grant.

There is little of the fine old tradition in Laggan to-day. At least, so I gathered from a stranger with whom I fell into talk at the kirkyard gate. He lived at Kingussie or Newtonmore - I forget which-and he seemed to know the district well. "There's still a lot of bitter Calvinism in the Highlands," he said, when our talk turned to the old and better days. "When the Gael becomes `unco guid,' he isn't a very pleasant specimen. You see, he's instinctively an artist, he lives emotionally, the old songs and stories are in his blood. But repress him, deprive him of his emotional life, and he's a dry stick, suspicious and self-righteous. I'm not a Catholic myself," he went on, "but Calvinism in the Highlands did a lot of harm to the spirit of the Highlander."

I wondered who the stranger was. His voice suggested that he was a Gaelic speaker; he talked with a quiet intensity; and I liked his thoughtful eyes. "If you're interested in the Highlands," he said presently, "there's a man living up there who can tell you more about them than anybody I know. He's one of the finest men in Scotland-the minister of Laggan." And he mentioned a name that is known and reverenced in every corner of the country. " I'm going up to the minister now," added the stranger. "Come and meet him."

I gladly accepted, and leaving my pack in Melville's little office, with word that I would be back in about twenty minutes, I went up the drive with the stranger to the manse of Laggan.

The minister greeted us at the front door. He was an unforgettable figure of a man, with a lock of iron-grey hair across his forehead, the deep eyes of a poet, and a resonant musical voice. He took us in to a pleasant sitting-room, where a bagpipe with a Ross tartan lay on the piano. He smiled when my eye kept straying to it, and we began to talk about bagpipe music. I remarked upon how vile it used to sound in the officers' mess on guest nights, and the minister nodded.

"Of course it would," he agreed. "It's an openair instrument. The Clarsach - the harp-and the fiddle can be played in the house, but the bagpipe needs God's out of doors. At least it does for the Caol Mor - that's the Pibroch, the classical music of the bagpipe. It's being revived, I'm thankful to say, the Caol Mor. Music and song and the love of all beauty-this is the heritage of the Gael. But many insidious forces have helped to cut us off from that heritage. For example, the Disarming Act after the 'Forty-five; it was a wonder that the classical music of the bagpipe survived, but it did."

I spoke about the age of the bagpipe, how Dr. MacBain the Celtic scholar declared that it appeared first in the Lowlands of Scotland, and was not introduced to the Highlands until the sixteenth century.

"I know," nodded the minister, "MacBain believed that the bagpipe wasn't of Gaelic origin at all, and he's a difficult man to contradict. But this much is certain. It was the Scottish Highlanders, and particularly the Macrimmons of Skye, who made the bagpipe what it is to-day. Possibly the big drone was added in their time. But, ah, so much of the lovely Macrimmon music has been forgotten. They were the masters of the Pibroch."

I begged him to dispel a little of my ignorance about the Pibroch, and I learned that there are four kinds, the Lament, the Salute, the Battle-piece, and the Pastoral Meditation. "The Pibroch had been perfected centuries before it had ever been written down on paper," said the minister. "The master taught his pupil
orally. There was a special notation, a sequence of letters that formed words, and by learning these words the pupil got the actual form of each Pibroch into his head. That was the method of the Macrimmons."

The minister went on to tell me about this great family. "Seven hundred years ago they owned land in the island of Harris. They were conquered by Paul Balkison, and he is said to have bequeathed his territory to the ancestor of the MacLeods, so the MacLeods became the overlords of the Macrimmons. It was the eighth MacLeod chief, Alasdair Crotach, who endowed the college of pipe music at Boreraig, a few miles from the castle of Dunvegan. That was four hundred and fifty years ago, and the college continued until after the 'Forty-five. No music except Caol Mor was allowed to be played at the college of the Macrimmons; they prohibited small music like marches, strathspeys, reels, and the melodies of songs.

"When a piper was composing a Pibroch," went on the minister, "he fasted for two days beforehand, and would neither eat nor sleep until the tune was completed. This custom probably dates back to the time of the Druids. You'll find the Pibroch only in the West. I know of but one Pibroch that belongs to the eastern Highlands . . . Of course there were other schools of pipers, such as that of the Mackays, the MacArthurs, and the Rankines, but they were only offshoots from the Macrimmon college. You know the old story of Patrick Mor Macrimmon and Charles II -how a group of pipers were brought into the presence of His Majesty, and the king asked why one of them had not uncovered his head. A courtier replied that this was Macrimmon, the king of pipers. 'Bring forward the king of pipers,' said Charles, with a laugh, extending his hand to be kissed, and in honour of the great occasion Patrick composed that loud bombastic piece, ` I have Kissed the King's Hand.' But it shows that the Macrimmons did regard themselves as extraordinary men, which of course they were ...

"I've often told the story of the blind piper Ian Dall Mackay," the minister continued. "He was a pupil of the Macrimmons, and had heard how other musicians had interpreted in their music the beauty of the sunset. Well, the greatest ambition of Ian's life was to compose a Pibroch describing the colours of the rainbow. One fine summer evening he was told there was a rainbow in the sky, and he raised his face in reverence to the beauty his blind eyes could not see. When a lark started singing he cried in sudden exaltation, `That's the tune of the rainbow !' The same evening he composed his Pibroch . . . It's obvious that in many of their battle-pieces the Macrimmons went to nature for their themes-you can hear the voice of thunder in their music, and the sound of a mountain torrent, the cry of an eagle, and sometimes the roar of the Atlantic breakers on the rocks at Skye . . ."

Of the four kinds of Pibroch which the minister had described, I wondered which could be regarded as the finest.

"The Lament," he said quietly. "In the Lament, the spirit of the Gael touches the highest point of beauty. It springs from the deep sadness in his heart. As a Pibroch, 'The Lament for the Children' stands alone . . . No, I would rather not play it now-look at the sunshine out of doors. It needs the hour of twilight and the appropriate mood for that great sad music."

It was nearly eleven o'clock before I left Laggan Bridge, and I hoped to reach Blair Atholl by nightfall. This was optimistic I knew; but since I was now heading for the south on the main road down through the Central Highlands, I had little fear of being stranded for the night. There was bound to be traffic on that road, I concluded, and at the worst I would probably be able to beg a lift for the last few miles into Blair Atholl.


On the back of his motor-cycle, my civil engineer swept me up over the hill by Catlodge (which used to be called Cattleack), and past the little lonely grey schoolhouse near the summit. On the fence at the roadside I saw that bunches of heather had been tied to prevent grouse from killing themselves against the wire in flight, and we came down to a few scattered cottages in the middle of a flat plain. I watched Melville on his machine until he was out of sight, and then turned my face to the south country.

I knew nothing about the land that was now before me; and the road that joins Perth with the North had all the freshness of a new countryside. But the very fact that I was on a main road depressed me; I was illogical enough to resent the thousands of other eyes that had stared at those hillsides since the month of June; and as I strode forward, I thought of the fairy-haunted land of the West I had left behind me a week before.

But a surprise awaited me. Far from finding myself in a countryside littered with ugly little teashops, I found myself tramping into the mouth of a strath as desolate as that great hollow glen between Glenfinnan and Loch Eil. At Dalwhinnie, which lies in a saucer among the hills, the Prince halted for the night on Thursday 29th August 1745. Tradition has it that he slept beside his men in the heather, although near at hand there was the inn that Sir John Cope had occupied three nights before. Why did he not sleep at the inn ? No doubt he preferred the heather to a bed that Cope had occupied. This inn had been built by General Wade, and- the old building now forms part of the present hotel near the road. But before the Prince reached Dalwhinnie that Thursday night, a prisoner was brought to him, a man of importance in the Highlands, and his name was Evan Macpherson of Cluny.

He held a Captain's commission in Lord Loudoun's regiment, which was part of Cope's army. His wife, a daughter of Lord Lovat, was at heart a Jacobite, but she did all she could to prevent Cluny from joining the Prince. She said that his oath to King George could not be broken without dishonour, and Cluny had reported himself to Sir John Cope at Dalwhinnie on the Monday night, when he had received a surly order to gather his clan and be ready to march on the following day, but Cluny had done nothing except nurse his resentment at being treated like a junior subaltern. His home was only a few miles away ; and when Cope's army marched past Cluny Castle in the morning the Chief had been ordered to follow, but Cope had gone on to Inverness without him.

The Prince got an inkling of what had happened, sent off a hundred Camerons from Garvamore to take Cluny prisoner. One is tempted to conjecture that there was a twinkle in Cluny's eye that evening. Writing about him afterwards to the Secretary of State, Duncan Forbes of Culloden said: "He was seiz'd by the Rebels that Night in his house, whether with or without his consent did not then appear, nor does it now." But the fact remains that, after having been kept a prisoner for about a week, Cluny returned' to Badenoch and raised three hundred of his clan for the Prince, and there was no more loyal officer in the Highland army-and for his loyalty few men paid more dearly.

At noon the next day, when the Prince was about to continue his march to the South, a company of Camerons arrived with long faces. On the day before, they had left the main body to capture the Ruthven Redoubt under the impression that it contained a great store of meal. The only garrison that Cope had left behind to defend the place was a corporal and twelve men under Sergeant Terence Mulloy; but as Dr. Archibald Cameron soon discovered, Mulloy was a bonny fighter. The Doctor sent him a message advising him to throw up the sponge, but Mulloy made answer that he was "too old a soldier to surrender a garrison without first seeing some bloody noses." In Mulloy's own words, "the Grandee went off with a vast deal of threats." The Camerons attacked at night, but were compelled to draw off with one man dead and a few others wounded. When the Prince heard of the outcome of the affair he was more distressed at the loss of the dead Cameron than at the failure to capture the Redoubt, for he had disapproved of the attempt from the start. Indeed, the one man who stands out strongly in the affair of the Ruthven Redoubt is Sergeant Mulloy himself, and when Cope heard of his dogged resistance he recommended him for a commission, which was granted. Shortly after noon on Friday, the Highland army marched south.

I bought some food at a tiny shop; soon the pagodalike tower on the top of the big distillery was out of sight ; and passing the end of Loch Ericht, one of the highest lochs in Scotland, I found myself in a great strath with two mountains on my right called the Boar of Badenoch and the Atholl Sow. Their slopes were scarred by gullies in which the morning sun cast black shadows; and beyond them I saw Loch Garry (not to be confused with the Garry north of the Caledonian Canal), with its river racing southward beside the railway-line. Wade's stone stands in that lonely pass. The rough piece of rock, eight feet high, was erected by the General in 1729 when he finished the road. He was an unusually tall man, and they say that when the stone was set up he placed a guinea upon it, to return a year later and find his coin still there. If this yarn about Wade's guinea is true, then the Pass of Drumochter in the eighteenth century was as desolate as it is to-day, for if any boy had lived within a league of this stone, could he have refrained from climbing to the top of it? As I tramped onward, I noticed that the modern highway here and there takes a short cut, leaving the old military road to wind its solitary way among rocks and heather, soon to be overgrown and to disappear from the eyes of man.

I had expected to meet a lot of traffic, but I was surprised at how little there was. One or two private motor-cars raced north, and there was a long spell when I saw not a living creature except some goats grazing near the road, and a woman pushing a baby in a perambulator. She was young and well-dressed, and I felt an almost irresistible impulse to stop her arid ask where in the world she had come from and where she was going to. She looked as if she had stepped straight from among the nursemaids in Princes Street Gardens, yet there she was, with a sleeping infant, miles from any village or any living thing except the goats. At a burn a little distance from Dalnacardoch I halted for ten minutes to eat the food I had bought. The hard smooth road made walking unpleasant, and the blazing sun added to my discomfort; I thought of the mist and rain on the Corrieyairack the day before, and the storm through which I had trudged by the river Spey ; and by the time I reached Dalnacardoch, I would have welcomed a thunder-cloud with a shout of joy.

But my depression, I think, was more than physical. That pass, which lies between Badenoch and the Forest of Atholl, is a savage place. Even in bright sunlight, there is something inimical about it. You feel that nothing could grow on those barren mountainsides; you feel that no human being could live there long without becoming hostile to his fellow men. The place does not strike the mind with awe like some of the majestic parts of the Highlands-like Glen Lyon, for example-and it does not stir the fancy like the land in the West through which I had travelled the week before. This central pass through the Grampians was once the home of robbers and outlaws, and they could not have found a more suitable lurking-place. It was late in the afternoon by the time I reached Calvine, where I drank some tea, and was told that the Falls of Bruar were half a mile away - the Bruar that Burns visited, and then wrote to the Duke of Atholl begging him to plant the sides of the stream with trees. The petition was in verse, and ended with the toast to "Atholl's honest men, and Atholl's bonny lassies" which Burns had proposed at the Duke's table during his visit to Blair Atholl - the two happiest days of his life. Twenty-five years later William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy came to see the Bruar Water, and in her journal Dorothy described how the Duke had granted the poet's petition and had planted the glen with firs and larches - "children of poor Burns's song." If the stranger at Calvine who reminded me about Burns's poem had told me about Dorothy Wordsworth's visit, I might have been tempted to go to the Falls of Bruar for her sake, as she had gone for the sake of Rab; and after drinking my tea within sight of Struan - once the home of the chiefs of Clan Donnachie - I set out for Blair Atholl, four miles distant.

The hills on either hand were now low and smooth and green. The hand of man was apparent everywhere-or rather the hand of the landscape-gardener. The sun was low on my right, and I fancied I could see a smug smile on the face of the countryside. I remembered how my first glimpse of the green slopes around Loch Moidart had reminded me of Surrey, and I realised how absurd that comparison had been. Loch Moidart could no more be compared with Surrey than Surrey could be likened to the parade-ground of Edinburgh Castle. But here at Blair Atholl was a bit of Surrey, suave and fat and self-satisfied, ripe for redroofed bungalows and the pseudo-Elizabethan horrors of retired City men. I felt that I was coming to the fringes of some new garden-city, a trim and finicking place where people wore no hats and lived the artificially simple life in rows of little villas . . . So my thoughts ran until I pulled myself up. There was nothing wrong with this place, I said: I was dogtired - so tired indeed that everything seemed detestable except a clean bed and the promise of twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.. A lorry came trundling along behind me, and I acted on a sudden impulse and put up my hand to the driver. "Ay, hop in, sonny," he said, removing the stub of the cigarette that was glued to his lower lip, and lighting another. He glanced at the pack on my back, "A hicker ? Ye're fond! " He laughed. "Chaps me no' for the hickin' - I'd rather hae ma lorry."

"There's a lot to be said for a lorry," I agreed fervently, loosening the laces of my shoes and lying back on the jolting seat. A lift in Jove's chariot could not have been more welcome. We rattled forward on a long straight road under a canopy of trees, and around the shelter of a hill I saw the peaked top of Ben Vrackie. Below us, the river Garry crept southward over its bed of pebbles. Not a soul did we meet on that road, not a motor-car. "Aweel," said the driver, drawing up, "here's Blair Atholl for ye. Ay, ye'll get a bed here." He waved his hand, the lorry rumbled on its way, and I found myself in the shadow of a gorgeous hedge of purple-leafed plum that surmounted the top of a high stone wall, with the village ahead of me.


Return to Book Index Page