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Scotland's Book of Romance
Chapter XIII. Through the Central Highlands


Gaelic and English - The Reluctant Atholl Men - The Landscape-garden of Scotland - I Rest beside the Garry - Through the Pass of Killiecrankie - My Flight from Pitlochry.

HAD been too tired to eat anything the night I before, and I woke next morning with a stiff body. I had told the old woman who had given me a bed for the night that she was not to disturb me, and I found I had slept the full round of the clock. My bedroom was tiny, with wall-paper on which squiggles of primroses stood coyly among festoons of lilac-blossom; and beside the little iron bed with its feather mattress there stood a magnificent mahogany dressing-table around which the cottage seemed to have been built, for how it had been manoeuvred up the narrow staircase was a puzzle beyond my wit to solve. My landlady was talkative while I consumed my porridge and boiled eggs at breakfast in the kitchen; and when she learned that I had walked from the Western Highlands she said she had a relative in Arisaig and had just been on a visit there.

"Yes, it is lovely country in the West," she agreed, and added: "but when I got home again, ah, I did not think it was so beautiful as Blair Atholl. You'll not find many places so beautiful as Blair."

Which gave me something to think about. It seemed that she had lived all her life among this placid green scenery, but she could not explain why she did not like the West country so well. Perhaps it made her feel restless ; perhaps she thought the people outlandish. She glanced out of the little kitchen window at the quiet intimacy of woods and low rolling hills, and l could see a glow of contentment in her eyes. " I like to see the nice big motor-buses pass," she said. " You can get to Perth and Inverness from here."

"You go to Inverness sometimes?" I enquired.

"Oh, no, but you can go if you want to. In Arisaig you can go nowhere-it's that far away."

Then I began to perceive her point of view. Because Blair Atholl was more closely in touch with the outer world, it had a dignity that Arisaig lacked : not that she had any desire to see the outside world, but the thought of it comforted her.

"Yes, there is some Gaelic spoken in Blair," she said, "but not much, and everybody has the English too."

I made the remark that in the county of Inverness including the Isles-there were still over two thousand people who could speak no English at all.

"Ah, yes," she said, "but we are not so far back in Perthshire. I would not like the Gaelic to pass away, but you must have the English too. You would be a poor creature with only the Gaelic-folk would laugh at you." Which seemed to me to sum up the Highlander's attitude of Queen Victoria's time when Gaelic speakers used to be ashamed of their accent in speaking English in the South. Often I have heard a Highlander use the phrase, " Ach, he's no' so Heiland ! " By which he meant that So-and-so was not such a dolt a survival of the days when the Highlander knew the Southerner looked down on him ; but these days have passed, and the tendency is now to gush over the Gael and credit him with qualities that he has too much sense to claim for himself.

After breakfast I made my way to the post office, and asked if there was a parcel waiting for me. There was, and I opened it with pleasant anticipation. It was a tin of tobacco, for which I had telegraphed at Fort Augustus because I knew there was little chance of buying my own brand in any Highland shop. I had smoked the last shred in my pouch at Laggan, and I now filled a pipe with great contentment, and crossed the road to look at the War Memorial. Wise and artistic people put it up, for it consists of a huge piece of undressed rock from the hills, and it stands on a low paved platform in front of a stone wall. War Memorials are an old story now; we are apt to think about them only for two minutes at eleven o'clock on Armistice Day, and there are those who would have us forget them altogether. But if there are any memorials in this land that should be passionately remembered, it is those set up for men who died in the greatest blunder into which modern civilisation has led mankind. Sometimes, when I look at one of those simple and poignant stones like the one at Blair Atholl, and think about the next war which we all fear in our hearts will come sooner or later, I wonder what form the new memorial will take. Another stone set up beside the old one would seem out of place. Perhaps the Blair Atholl folk may decide merely to build another metal tablet into the wall with a list of names, but it will probably have to be a larger tablet than the last one. I re-lit my pipe, with the reflection that another war would be rather unpleasant, and then strolled away from the Memorial with my hands in my pockets which is exactly what millions of other fools in Europe are doing every day.

On the west of the road that runs up Glen Tilt stands Blair Castle, and on the east is Lude House. After halting for a night at Dalnacardoch (which I had passed with no more than a casual glance the previous afternoon), the Prince arrived at Blair on the night of Saturday 31st August. In the days of the 'Forty-five, there had been a public-house at Dalnacardoch, but this was pulled down about thirty years afterwards by the Board that administered the forfeited estates, and a new inn was built. The Board thought it would cost them k300, but in the end they spent 1200 on it, and wrote a Latin legend about the "hospitium" above the door. In the eighteenth century, and indeed well into the nineteenth, these inns at short intervals on the road were necessary, and it is difficult now to appreciate what an ordeal it was to travel from, say, Edinburgh to Inverness. In 1740 Lord Lovat's coach was eleven days on this journey. Before the Union there was no postal communication between these two towns, and at the date of the 'Forty-five the mail was carried only once a week by relays of foot-runners, and there was no regular stage-coach for travellers between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Not very much more than a hundred years ago, it took the coach a full two days to go from Inverness to Perth, a distance of a little over a hundred miles. For the axle-springs or harness to break was a frequent thing, and in the floods or snow of winter the roads were impassable. And those who skim about Scotland in small cars, or enjoy the profounder luxury of a motor-coach, have only to read old guide books to realise that, in the days when their grandparents were young, to go on a journey in the Highlands was to set out upon a great adventure.

There were two Dukes of Atholl at the time the Prince was in Scotland. One was William, the duke by right, and he was usually called the Marquis of Tullibardine because he was attainted for having taken part in the Rising of 'Fifteen, while King George bestowed the title upon his brother James : Duke James the Jacobites called him in derision. William had lived in exile abroad, and he came to Scotland with the Prince, although stricken with gout, and was given the honour of unfurling the Standard at Glenfinnan.

He had of course lost his father's estates as well as the title, and on arriving with the Prince at Blair Castle he came to the old home he had not seen for nearly thirty years. He had left it as a young man of twenty-eight; he was now fifty-seven.

His brother James, on learning what was afoot, had hurried south to pay his respects to Sir John Cope at Crieff, and was now preserving his health at Edinburgh. He had left the house in the charge of his steward, a sharp-tongued old fellow called Thomas Bissat. Bissat had received orders to give no trouble if the Highland army came, and on the Saturday afternoon he walked along the road to meet his master's elder brother. William, Duke of Atholl, gave him instructions about the reception of the Prince and the quartering of the Highlanders, and Bissat hurried back to the castle. The Duke had already sent a message to the Hon. Mrs. Robertson of Lude asking her to act as the Prince's hostess, and she was waiting at the Castle to kiss his hand when he arrived at three o'clock. Bissat sat down that evening and wrote a letter to his master in Edinburgh. He referred to the Prince as "the young Gentleman," and said that he "seems to be good-natured, but I doe not think he hath verry much in him." As for the Highlanders, he declared that "two-thirds of them are the poorest naked-like creatures, and very indifferently armed." He did not think that half of their guns would fire, and many were armed with swords alone. There was truth in his news, for on Friday Locheil had sent back a hundred and fifty Camerons because they were imperfectly armed and would be more a hindrance than a help in battle.

For the first time since they had left home, the Highlanders to their joy found themselves in clover. Their food had been the flesh of the cattle they drove with them ; but here in Atholl there was bread in plenty. The keen-eyed Bissat walked among them, and on Sunday again wrote south to his master that if the army remained for another four or five days "all this poor country will be eat up and ruined."

The Prince had hoped that the Atholl men would join him, but they showed no alacrity. Their fathers had been Jacobites, but in the last twenty years Duke James had successfully damped the old spirit. The first Duke of Atholl had one of the largest followings in the Highlands; six thousand men were at his call -men of as pure Celtic blood as could be found in Scotland, for the Norse had no hold upon Atholl. Few of them bore the family name of Murray; this was the country of the Robertsons, the Menzies, the Fergusons, and the Stewarts ; and the Murrays of Tullibardine had not become landlords in Atholl until the seventeenth century. Not that their position as the owners of land occupied by other clans was unusual in the Highlands: for part of the country of the Camerons belonged to the Duke of Gordon; the Earl of Sutherland owned some of the Mackay territory; and many of the chiefs of smaller clans were but tenants who held the land under a superior.

The principal chief in the Atholl district was Alexander Robertson of Struan, an infirm man of seventyfive who had .joined Claverhouse fifty-six years before and had been a keen Jacobite ever since. This bibulous, good-natured, happy-go-lucky poet threw in his lot with the Prince without delay and appointed Robertson of Woodsheal to lead the clan. Sir Robert Menzies followed suit, and his factor led out the Menzies men. Lord Nairne rode north from Dunkeld bringing his brother and young Oliphant of Gask, as well as the famous John Roy Stewart, a personal friend of the Prince in France, a soldier and a writer of much topical verse and some good Jacobite songs. There were conferences at Blair Castle and dancing at Lude House upon the hillside, and on Tuesday the Prince marched south through the Pass of Killiecrankie to the old town of Dunkeld.

I went into the grocer's shop across the little square to buy food. It was difficult to make a choice, even with the help of one of the brisk young men who stepped forward to attend to me, and for the first time since my arrival in Blair Atholl I realised that there was after all some advantage in living on a main road. That grocer's shop seemed to contain nearly everything a man could wish to eat; the smells in it were multitudinous and delightful, evoking hunger; and in the end I left it so stocked with food that I might have been in Dawson City and about to take a sled across Alaska behind a team of huskies. I stuffed what I could into my pack, left the remainder with my landlady, and about noon set out for Killiecrankie.

It was my intention to make a short stage, for I was tired, and I decided to stop for the night at Pitlochry. I took it easy because the day was like the last one, with a scorching sun and no wind to temper it; and I began to wish I had waited until the cool of the evening, even though it meant arriving in Pitlochry after dark. Somebody - I forget who - has called this part of the Highlands the Garden of Scotland, but as I have said I think the Landscape-garden is a more accurate title for it. As I walked forward between those rounded hills with their neat woods, I felt that not a single pine-needle was out of place; and the cottages, tidy and respectable, had prim little gardens, and Dorothy Perkins roses, and nice rustic trellis-work that might have come from the Garden Department of Gamages in Holborn. But I reminded myself that my landlady in Blair Atholl thought it a beautiful place. Put any Londoner down in that glen through which the Garry flows, and he would tell you at once it was as beautiful as a picture postcard. He would be perfectly correct; it is picture-postcard scenery at its best; and unless you pass through it rapidly, it cloys. Besides, I was beginning to grow sick of the sight of that wide smooth grey road. In the heat it was like a stream of lava, and I felt it was bubbling subterraneously and at any moment would burst with a snarl through the melting film on the top. Admirable for motor-tyres, it is hell for the feet of men and of horses-not that I had seen a single horse, so far as I could remember, since I had left Laggan. To take some rest, I climbed over the dyke on the right, walked across the metals on the railway-line, and dropped down among the bushes beside the Garry. One hundred and sixty odd years ago, Thomas Pennant travelled beside this river and called it "an outrageous stream whose ravages have greatly deformed the valley, by the vast beds of gravel which it has left behind." Tastes differ; myself, I think the gravel bottom adds beauty to the Garry ; and at the point where I lay, it was a wide and noble stream. I watched the skyreflecting waters that had come down from the little loch among the hills in the Forest of Craiganour, and I remembered that hump in the glen at Dalnaspidal which had prevented it from flowing northward to join the river Spey and go hustling through Inverness and Elgin to the North Sea near the mouth of the Moray Firth : whereas, in fact, it meets the Tummel that comes out of Rannoch, and runs southward through Perthshire, mingling at last with the Tay, that sedate old gentleman of a river that once made the town of Perth a seaport and separates the men of Angus from the folk of Fife. It was odd to think that if I pitched a match-box into the water it might in a day or two go bobbing past the city of Dundee and be washed up on the golf -links at Carnoustie. And so I lay dreaming for an hour and more, with my pack as a pillow, and my jacket on the gravel beside me; and after eating a little of the monstrous store of food I had bought at Blair Atholl, I began to feel better. The cure was completed by a pull at a half-mutchkin of whiskey I had purchased, and I climbed back to the road and headed southward again, with my head full of Claverhouse and Killiecrankie, for the famous Pass lay little more than a mile ahead of me.

Of all the well-known battles fought on Scottish soil - Bannockburn, Pinkie, Drumclog, Killiecrankie, Culloden, and the others-Killiecrankie had perhaps the smallest effect upon the affairs of the nation. Indeed, it could be argued that apart from the death of the great Claverhouse-I prefer to think of him as Claverhouse rather than Viscount Dundee-it had no effect at all; for, although it was a victory for the Jacobites, they were knocked into a cocked hat by some Cameronians a few weeks later, a defeat that was due not to-lack of valour but the want of a leader. With the right man to inspire them, the Highlanders could accomplish miracles ; and well might King William have cried: "The war is ended with Dundee!" And so it was. But there was one change that followed the Battle of Killiecrankie. After the Government troops fired their muskets, they had no time to fix bayonets to meet the onset of the Highlanders, and General Mackay invented the device by which a musket could be fired with the bayonet fixed.

The battle was not fought in the Pass of Killiecrankie at all, but a little north of it, and for years the Highlanders called it the Battle of Renrorie. The Jacobites had been leading General Mackay such a dance, skipping here and there among the mountains, that a less dogged man might have been tempted to give up all hope of joining battle; and the reason why the two armies at last met each other is a simple one. General Mackay decided to seize Blair Castle, which I guarded the road and was thus the key to the northern Highlands. Claverhouse was determined to keep it as a Jacobite stronghold; and by the time he arrived, Mackay's troops were already marching through the Pass of Killiecrankie. To have fought in the Pass itself would have been a tactical blunder, for Claverhouse knew his only hope of victory lay in the torrential force of a Highland charge. His army was about the size of the one Prince Charles Edward Stuart led south on that same road fifty-six years later, and he was outnumbered in proportion of about seven to four.

Mackay drew up his troops three deep below the present house of Urrard, then called Renrorie, and Claverhouse's men were on the hill above it. The sun began to set on that Saturday evening in July, and Mackay was anxious to fight at once, but Claverhouse knew that twilight was the best time for him to attack. At last the sun went down over the shoulder of Tulach Hill. In spite of the entreaties of his officers to think of his own safety, Claverhouse rode to the front of' his cavalry. The bagpipes began to play, and the Highlanders slowly advanced down the hill.

In spite of the hot musket-fire of the Government troops, they kept their heads. Mackay's artillery consisted of a few guns made of tin and leather, and when a spent ball hit the targe of one of the Jacobite officers and knocked him over he picked himself up with a laugh, crying: "Sure the Boddachs are in earnest now!" One volley only Claverhouse's men delivered at short range, then rushed forward with wild cheers and waving broadswords. On Mackay's left wing, his men ran like startled rabbits, some of them trying to ford the Garry, others going helter-skelter down the Pass, where the Atholl men (who had not joined in the battle) were waiting to slaughter them. Mackay afterwards declared that there were only two units in his force. that did not behave like cowards. Claverhouse, who had led the victorious charge in the centre, galloped over to his left wing to direct the battle. Some say he paused for a moment to water his horse at a stream, and leant down to speak to one of his soldiers; a shot struck him in his right side below the cuirass, and he fell into the arms of the man at his bridle.

"How goes the fight?" he asked as soon as he had recovered from the first shock of his wound.

"Well for the king," replied the man, "but I'm sorry for your lordship."

"It is the less matter for me," said the general, " seeing the day goes well for my master."

By the time his officers returned from the pursuit, he was dead. Some say his body had already been stripped by a looting Highlander, but the story is no doubt as untrue as the one invented by some fanatical Covenanter who declared that Claverhouse was in league with the devil and had been killed by a silver button fired by a man who knew that lead would have no effect upon one of the devil's own.

His officers wrapped his body in a plaid, carried it to Blair Castle, and buried it in the church, but it is believed his bones were afterwards removed to Old Deer in Aberdeenshire. Macaulay's account of the battle is a graphic piece of prose in the big drum style, but his statements about Claverhouse have long ago been riddled. The "bloody Claverhouse" was a monster only in the imagination of the Covenanters; Wodrow's story about the murder of John Brown of Priesthill before the eyes of his wife is largely false, and the version of Patrick Walker (who wrote better prose than Macaulay) contains more than one obvious error. Claverhouse was a stern and ambitious soldier, and the worst that can be said of him is that he was often as harsh and stubborn as the fanatics he helped to harry. The Covenanters were loyal to their conscience, and Claverhouse was loyal to his king, though the Covenanters would no doubt have refused to believe that the man they called a blasphemous monster was as devout as many a one who groaned with spiritual fervour at the conventicles, and indeed conducted family worship regularly morning and evening in the privacy of his own house. Taking him all in all, John Graham of Claverhouse was a pretty stout fellow.

As I walked down the steep footpath into the Pass of Killiecrankie, I could not help smiling at the doubtful story about the terror of the German troops who marched north in the 'Forty-five before Culloden. The place is said to have looked so fearsome in their eyes that they turned tail and marched back to Perth ; but there is nothing fearsome about it to-day. A magnificent water-fall drops into a brown pool, and there are graceful silver birches everywhere. I suppose thousands of sightseers step out of motor-coaches and walk through this gorge every summer, and when I climbed back to the road at the other end an R.A.C. man in powder-blue uniform told me that sometimes six hundred cars a day pass in July and August. I was glad the month was now September, and I went into Pitlochry to look for a lodging for the night.

I drank some tea in a tea-shop, which in the chromatic variety of its cakes and sweetmeats reminded me of the vanished Rumpelmeyer's. The tea itself was excellent, but the cakes I touched not. I gazed at them in puzzled admiration, and then looked at the clean and nimble waitresses, and I began to wonder whether I was still in the Highlands. When I paid my bill at the cash-desk, where the price of my tea bobbed up in red figures from an automatic machine, I was still wondering. But I had not walked ten yards down the main street before I knew without a doubt: I was no longer in the Highlands; I was in the spick-and-span London suburb of Golder's Green. All the most baggy plus-fours in the United Kingdom, all the most sleek and oily heads, seemed to have been collected in that street. Immaculate coiffures (of two seasons before) glided along beside the oily polls, and beside the plus-fours stalked bare legs that had been slabbered over with what I believe is called liquid-powder. There were tennis-rackets everywhere, and golf-clubs, and shiny Baby Austins; there were cheap cigarettes and expensive-looking finger-nails; but worst of all there was that detestable accent which is called "refained." In my dolour I glanced at my old tweed jacket and dusty shoes ; this was no place, I said, for a tramp like me; I felt like a blot on the landscapeand I decided to remove the blot with all speed. An S.M.T. bus stood by the kerb, and the driver was swinging himself up. I stared at that bus for several seconds; it began to move ; and with a sudden leap, I was upon the step. My flight from Pitlochry had begun. I told myself I never wanted to see the place again.

But of course I was all wrong about Pitlochry. A half-blind man could have perceived that Pitlochry was a neat, clean, respectable little town; that the shopkeepers behind their counters were brisk and dapper; that the policemen were models of what policemen ought to be; that the gardens might have been lifted straight out of the Ideal Home Exhibition; and that everything was in fact a terrific success. I have taken the trouble to consult a guide-book, and I have read about the salubrious situation of Pitlochry, and the walks of undeniable charm for young and old; I have learned that Pitlochry is the "Switzerland of Scotland," and has several hotels with excellent cuisine, and a Hydro with a garage for fifty cars and extensive private grounds; I know now that there is fishing to be had at Pitlochry for "devotees of the piscatorial art," and numerous delightful excursions can be made in the surrounding district, which is very historical and romantic. I suspect there is also a cinema-house in this favourite summer resort, where one may relax after a day devoted to a historical and romantic excursion. In short, Pitlochry can be summed up in the fine old Scots phrase which I heard a pair of plus-fours utter in a strong Glasgow accent to a pair of powdered legs as I came out of the tea-shop: "Cutie, it's a wow!"

Why then, in heaven's name, did I decamp from that "wow" of a place? The natives of such a pretty little town are no doubt as charming as any folk in Perthshire; perhaps they are proud of their "toney" visitors, and it would be uncommercial to reproach them for their pride, or the visitors for their presence ; but the rugged fact stands that Pitlochry, although it is in the Highlands, seemed to me on that September afternoon no more Highland than the Palace Pier at Brighton. As I left Pitlochry, I tried to picture the Prince and his Highlanders moving down the main street on their march to Dunkeld, but my imagination went topsy-turvy; it was clogged with the atmosphere of Brighton front; and in my sick and twisted fancy, some of the clansmen wore baggy plus-fours, and the bare hairy legs of others had been slabbered over with liquid-powder, and Locheil in a shiny Austin Seven was smoking a gasper. I discarded the day-dream and unfolded my map.


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