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Scotland's Book of Romance
Chapter XIV. Evening in Dunkeld


South by the Tummel - The Minister in the Motor-coach - Queen Victoria's Hotel - At the Smoking-room Fire - A Great Fiddler - Millais and the Carpenter - The Deer-stalker's Point of View - In the Old Cathedral.

THERE was a loud-voiced minister behind me in the motor-bus, and his knowledge was awe inspiring. He boomed information into the ear of his wife (I think she must have been his wife, she was so patient), and those around him got the benefit of his running commentary. Here was a new kind of travel-film, I said to myself as I settled down more comfortably in my plush fauteuil ; the countryside unrolled itself beyond the windows of the motor-bus; and instead of the nasal voice of a Hollywood commentator, we listened to the rumbling tones of a dogmatic Scot.

For a long way, the road ran alongside the railwayline, which cut off the river Tummel from our view. But the high hills on the left were worth looking at, and I could see that we were coming into a countryside even more rich in trees than Blair Atholl. When we reached Ballinluig, where the river lay low in the open strath, the minister in the seat behind told his wife that across the burn was Logierait. I gathered that it wasn't much of a place now; and the minister omitted to say that its name had once been spoken with awe from end to end of Atholl, for there the Regality Court had been held, and with fifteen of his tenants, the head of the Atholl family sat by hereditary right and had power to drown or hang a malefactor (pit and gallows, they called it), or to order him to be nailed by the ear to a post-a power which was not abolished until three years after the 'Forty-five. At Logierait, the river Tay comes down from the west, and a mile or two further on it joins the Tummel ; from this point onward, although the honour should belong to Tummel, the united streams are called the Tay ; and the voice from behind me broadcast the information that this is the biggest burn in Scotland. I have a particular affection for the Tay, having spent some of the happiest days of my life at the foot of Ben Lawers, and I wish the loch and the river had a more noble-sounding name; but perhaps the old goddess after whom it was called would not have wished her worshippers to choose a more suitable title than "the Silent One," for the Tay is a silent stream, and there is a dignity in silence.

We swept at a great rate past a little grey hamlet in a hollow and came to another with the quaint name of Guay. The minister behind me pretended he knew how to pronounce it, but I felt sure he was bluffing. I forget what he told us about Dowallay; and then, for the first time, he said something that made me forgive him for all the twaddle which had poured from beneath his big coffee-coloured moustache. The Duke of Atholl had planted those woods on the hillside (he said), and had been showing them off to a friend, who stared up at the larches on the crags. "And how did you plant trees up there?" he asked the Duke. "Did you fire the seeds from a cannon?" That pleased me at the time, and it pleased me still more afterwards when I found out for myself that the minister's little anecdote was true, and the man who cracked the mild joke with Atholl was Thomas Telford, our friend of the Caledonian Canal. I was told the other day that it was not a joke at all-that the Duke did actually scatter these high crags with larch-cones fired from a cannon-but I refuse to believe a word of it.

We saw Birnam Woods ahead; and if they were not the woods that came to Dunsinane and scared Macbeth out of his wits, at least they were growing upon the authentic hill of Birnam. I perceived that the old town of Dunkeld lay in the hollow, and presently the motor-bus had stopped in the main street. I looked about me anxiously, but the anxiety changed to relief. Here were no sleek heads and bare legs; here were no pretty-pretty, damnably ugly, natty little cottages, no chromium shop-fronts or the spurious glitter of the cheap john. This was a good old robust glowering grey Scots town; it pleased me immensely; and I decided to stop at Dunkeld for the night, if Dunkeld would have me. I crossed the street and asked a man if he could recommend a good hotel.

"Guid hotel?" he repeated, and then he pointed. "That yin," he said, "might suit ye. And what for no'? It was quid enough for Queen Victoria!"

The hotel looked a pleasant old-fashioned place, with its front door opening on the pavement, and the only sign of modernity about it was a petrol-pump beside an archway that led through into a big courtyard at the side. But I wondered why Queen Victoria made a habit of stopping here, and the landlord explained. Last century, Dunkeld was a coaching centre, and it was here the Queen broke her journey on her way to Balmoral. Dunkeld is the gateway to the Highlands; it was not until the 'sixties that the railway was continued into the North; and within the memory of living people, the pageantry of the eighteenth century survived, and coaches came clattering in and out of the town. In those days, you could get an inside seat in the coach that went from Perth to Inverness for thirty-five shillings, but if you travelled outside, the charge was only twenty-five shillings, while a seat in the mail-gig cost you about twopence-halfpenny a mile. Breakfast in one of the posting inns was a florin at the most; dinner was anything from a florin to three shillings and sixpence; and if you travelled on horseback, you would probably be given a bed in the inn free of charge. A meal for your servant would cost you sixpence, and you could buy whiskey at three shillings the pint. And if you liked your toddy of an evening-which you probably did-you carried a bag of lemons with you. In the eighteenth century, many of the inns were kept by the younger sons of gentlemen; and when German troops were quartered in the Central Highlands in the closing days of the 'Forty-five, the commanding-officer of the Hessian cavalry found to his surprise that the inn-keeper at Dunkeld was a man of good family and could talk with him in fluent Latin, the only language they both understood.

I had not chatted long with the landlord, a young Edinburgh man, before I saw that he took his job seriously. He told me that the hotel was built a hundred years ago, but there was not a single bathroom in it until 1919, and four years later the rooms were still being lit with candles. "Now we've even got central heating," he added, and then he laughed. "Look at this." He pointed to a framed notice that hung in the hall. " The landlord who put that up must have been a comic."

Here is the notice I read:

"This hotel has been built and arranged for the special comfort and convenience of its visitors. On arrival, each guest will be asked how he likes the situation ; and if he says that the. Hotel ought to have been placed up upon the knoll, or farther down towards the river, the location of the house will be immediately changed. . . .

"Baths, gas, hot and cold water, laundry, telegraph, restaurant, fire-alarm, bar-room, billiard-table, daily papers, sewing machine, grand piano, a clergyman, and all other modern conveniences in every room. . . . Every guest will have the best seat in the dining-hall and the best waiter in the house.

"Any guest not getting his breakfast red-hot, or experiencing a delay of 16 seconds after giving his order for dinner, will please mention the fact at the Office. Children will be welcomed with delight, and are requested to bring peg-tops to spin on the velvet carpet, and hoop-sticks and shinties to bang the carved rosewood furniture specially provided for the purpose. They will be allowed to bang on the piano at all hours, yell in the halls, slide down the banisters, fall downstairs, and make themselves as disagreeable as the fondest mother can desire.

"A discreet waiter who belongs to the Masons, Oddfellows, Knights of Pythias, and who has never been known to tell even the time of day, has been employed to carry milk-punches and hot toddies to the ladies' rooms in the evening.

"The office clerk has been carefully selected to please everybody, and can lead in prayer, match worsted at the village store, play billiards, waltz, amuse children, and is a good judge of horses. As a railway and steamboat reference he is far superior to `Layer's ' or any other Guide, and can answer questions in Hebrew, Greek, Choctaw, Gaelic or any other polite language. . . .

"Dogs welcome in every room in the hotel."

The name of the dead wag who composed this genial squib for the education of his guests, I do not know; but I doubt whether it made one troublesome visitor the less; troublesome, so ready are we to chuckle over satire in the assumption that it is directed at some other fellow, never at ourselves.

After a plain but admirable dinner, I felt better; I had successfully shaken off the Central Highlands. I knew there was no good in ignoring the fact that during the last two days I had been depressed and cynical, and I realised what was wrong with me. That long deep glen through the Grampians and the southern foothills had outwardly been picturesque enough for any epicure, with barbaric mountainsides as far as Blair Atholl, and with woodland nearly all the way to Dunkeld, but it had lacked the glamour of the West. And I disliked being upon that wide, hard, sophisticated highway. Not that I had seen as much traffic as I had expected. But I had longed to get away from the road, to find myself once more among people who lived quiet lives out of the sound of motor-horns. That road from Dunkeld to the North is to-day a motorist's paradise : not a walker's.

Afterwards at the smoking-room fire, I had the good fortune to fall into talk with a local man who had come to discuss some business with the landlord. He was proud of his native town, and he knew a lot about its history. This pride in one's own district is keener, I believe, in Scotland than in England. The Englishman will shout lustily for his own town at a local football match, but I feel that the Scot has his roots more deeply in his native place, . and I have often been surprised to find how many of them take a pleasure in its past. This brisk ruddy keen-eyed little man told me, among other things, that the Society of Chapmen used to meet every two years in Dunkeld : these chapmen were wandering merchants who had received a charter from James V, and they hawked their wares through the shires. Their meeting was called a "Court," and every chapman was compelled to display his weights and measures, which were checked by some office-bearer of the town. The Dunkeld man advised me to take a walk up Strath Bran, a glen in the parish of Little Dunkeld that runs eight or nine miles westward as far as Amulree. Less than a hundred years ago there were three thousand people in this parish who spoke nothing but Gaelic ; and against the wishes of the people, the patron of the living put in a minister who could preach only in English. The folk protested again and again, and at last they took the matter to court. The judge's decision is still remembered. "Little Dunkeld," he said, "is the mouth of the Highlands, and a Highland mouth should have a Highland tongue." And so they got their Gaelicspeaking minister in the end. But I wonder how many folk can talk Gaelic in Strath Bran to-day.

"You know the picture called 'Bubbles'?" asked my companion beside the fire. "Ay, the one you used to see on the advertisements of Pears' Soap. Millais painted it here in Dunkeld. The wee boy in the picture was his own grandson-he's now Admiral William James. Millais lived in Dunkeld for years -and he was very well liked. I used to know an old joiner here called Jackson. Jackson made the packing-cases that Millais's pictures were sent away in. He was ordered to go up to the house one day to take the measurements of a new canvas-it was the picture of a beautiful young lady that everybody in the town knew. Jackson told me he went into the studio, and he drew back and cried out, 'Beg pardon, mum !' He didn't say how complete was the costume the young lady had on . . . Man, you should have heard Jackson tell the story. He would leave you guessing for a minute, and then he'd laugh. It wasn't the young lady at all-it was her picture ! A picture so life-like he could hardly believe it in the half-mirk. I don't know whether you'll think Millais a great artist now-adays," he added, "but old Jackson the joiner thought so then."

He began to talk about Niel Gow, Scotland's most famous fiddler, who lived at Inver, on the other side of the Tay, and I had always thought it was his birthplace as well as his home.

"Na," said my companion, "he was, born at Carrody, a deserted village in Strath Bran. He was a great character, Niel. There was never a fashionable ball in Perth or Edinburgh chat Niel wasn't asked to fiddle at. Talk about Jack Payne's band ! If folk knew that Niel was to play for the dancing, they went in crowds. Oh, ay, and he liked his dram. Mind you, he was as sober as a judge when he had fiddling to do, but when the dance was over the fashionable folk used to offer him plenty. He was a great friend of the Duke of Atholl's, and Niel could say anything to him without giving offence. One day His Grace was talking about the fine new road he had made from Perth. The old military road had been a gey twisted one, but the Duke's road ran straight. 'I like the auld yin better,' said Niel. 'When I was walking home from Perth at night after a drop whiskey, the zig-zags suited me fine !' Another time an elder of the kirk took Niel to task: `I'm afraid ye were the worse of drink last night,' he said. `The waur o' drink !' cried Niel. `Ye're wrang, man, ye're wrang ! I may have been fou o' drink, but I've never been the worse of it !' He was a good man for all that, and had family worship in his cottage every night and morning. He made a lot of money, but he lived as simple as when he started, and his son Nathaniel made money too: he followed his father as a fiddler, and he was worth twenty thousand at one time. But he couldn't look after it like the old man, and died without a penny. But for the Gows, father and son, many a fine old Scotch tune would have been lost."

And from one thing to another our talk drifted, until presently we were joined by two other men.

One was an Englishman, a big bronzed broad-shouldered man of about fifty with a manner that was a little over-confident. The other was a Scot; and I learned that they had motored up that day from Newcastle. The conversation became general for a time, until the Scotsman-a little man in dapper brown tweeds-mentioned that they were heading for Ross-shire and the deer-stalking. I made some remark about deer which caused the Englishman's eye to glitter.

"You aren't one of those fellows," he said, "who would have the red deer cleared out of Scotland?"

I told him I felt it would be a pity to clear anything out of Scotland except rats, grey squirrels, half the rabbits, and all the Communists.

"Not even the Irishmen from the Clyde?" he asked, cocking a quizzical eye at me.

It was the Dunkeld man who answered. "We brought over the Irishmen ourselves," he declared, "and they were useful on the Clyde in the War. But mebby a few more priests to keep them in order wouldn't be a bad thing."

"They say the Irishmen are responsible for nearly a third of the crime in Scotland," remarked the Scot in the brown tweeds.

"What about the English?" said the Dunkeld man quickly. "I'm told there's more Englishmen living in Glasgow than Scots in London. It seems as if the English found Glasgow a pretty good place. And not only Glasgow-the Highlands in the autumn!"

"Don't they bring good money with them?" demanded the Englishman. "Look at the rents they pay for the deer forests."

"True," nodded the Dunkeld man, "and a lot of that siller goes into the pockets of absentee landlords. Which means it's really spent in the South or abroad. Absentee landlords are one of the curses of the Highlands. And so," he added stoutly, "are the deer forests."

The Englishman laughed. "My good fellow ! It was the deer forests that saved the Highlands after the price of wool slumped and lairds were on the point of going broke. About a hundred years ago, I doubt if you'd find half a dozen deer forests in all Scotland. I happen to know what I'm talking about. I'm not defending the Clearances of the people-in Sutherland it was a filthy business. But what about the thousands of Highlanders who emigrated on their own? They simply couldn't scratch a living out of the land. In fact, at one time the Government tried to stop emigration, and the people simply had to make a bolt for the emigrant-ships. As for the deer forests, good lord, can you blame the landowners ? They had to do something. The fact that deer-stalking became a popular sport saved lots of them from bankruptcy when tenants on the sheep farms defaulted."

The Dunkeld man leaned forward. "Do you happen to know how many men are employed in the deer forests of Scotland to-day?" he asked.

"Not many, I'll admit. About a thousand, I suppose. Another thousand or so are 'taken on as gillies in the autumn. But that's better than giving work to nobody."

"A thousand men permanently employed," repeated the other, "and what's the area of the deer forests? More than a quarter of the Highlands, I'll warrant ! "

"You can't blame the landlords for that," said the Englishman quickly, "any more than you can blame a sheep-farmer for the few men he employs. A shepherd can look after a couple of thousand sheep. But something is being done for the Highlands. Take afforestation. That employs a man for every fifty acres. I was reading about it in The Times the other day." He made an impatient gesture. "We all want to see more people back in the Highlands, but this talk about re-populating the glens makes me sick. When the glens were crowded, the people lived on the edge of starvation. I grant you, it's better for a man to scrape a poor living out of the land than to hang about the street corners of a slum drawing the dole. But, believe me, farming needs skill-and specially in smallholdings ! What's the good of shoving people back on the land, simply to go bust? Take the experiment at Erriboll in Sutherland- a flop ! It'll need years of training to do any good, and pots of money-yes, and better conditions than we're likely to have for years to come. You'll hear some reformers shout that cattle are the solution, others say sheep. But neither sheep nor cattle alone will solve it." He turned to the man in the brown tweeds. "You ought to know something about this, Jim."

"It's a difficult business," agreed the other. "You have heard the old saying, cattle for the black ground, sheep for the green. It's true. Local conditions must be studied. There's fishing on the west coast, but the Highlanders were never great fishermen. As for dairy-farming, lots of places are too far away from the markets. There it is, a hard situation all round."

"A hard situation," repeated the Englishman, "and meantime I'm all for the deer forests. If you can afford it, it's the best sport in the world. And I don't see why anybody but a damned Communist can object to other people's pleasures."

"Other people are welcome to their pleasures," said the Dunkeld man. "That's one of my objections to deer forests. More than a quarter of the Highlands is fenced off for the sport of a few folk. Damn it, man, that's helping to make Communists ! How many mountains in Scotland are folk like me forbidden to climb ? Over four hundred, I'm told. Mountains that should be free to everybody."

"Free?" The Englishman shrugged his shoulders. "It'll ruin the forests. Why? Deer are nervous animals-a single hiker can scare them into another district if he walks to windward of a herd. Take my own case. I share a forest in Ross-shire with a friend, and I don't care who tramps over it up to the end of July. But I want nobody after that. If the landlord - I won't mention his name-threw the place open in the autumn then he'd have to find a new tenant next year. I wouldn't touch it ; no stalker would ; and the Laird would just about go broke. There's many a place in the Highlands where sportsmen contribute eighty per cent of the local rates-the rates, mark you, that keep things going ! And that's why the deer forests are closed to walkers. I'm sorry, but as things are, you can't help it."

"And a pretty sorry state of affairs," was the Dunkeld's man comment as he finished his drink and rose to go.

Soon afterwards, I left the Englishman thumping on the arm of his chair and the dapper little Scot agreeing with him, and I went upstairs to sleep in the room that Queen Victoria used to occupy. But whereas her late Majesty had climbed up into her high four-poster by a little wooden platform with steps, as though she were entering the portico of a temple, I slipped into a comfortable modern bed to dream that I was tramping over every deer forest in Scotland with an angry Englishman stalking me from glen to glen and taking pot-shots at me with a high-velocity rifle.

It was not the rustling brocade of a Victorian lady-in-waiting that awakened me next morning, but the brisk knock of a chambermaid with shaving-water; and a good Scots voice with a faintly Highland lilt told me that the hour was eight o'clock.

It was a fine morning; and I could hear someone in the street below switch off the engine of his motor-car to fill up the tank with petrol. The two men who were bound for Ross-shire were finishing breakfast as I entered the coffee-room-I have never been able to understand the name "coffee-room" in a hotel - and they came over to say good-bye. I wished them good sport in the hills, and hoped that no erring walker would get on the windward side of any stag they might be stalking, and finally I promised to read the works of both Scrope and Charles St. John.

After breakfast, the landlord asked me if I was going to have a stroll through the "policies" of His Grace the Duke of Atholl. He described the gardens, and the artificial paths that had been made through the woods over a hundred years ago, and I asked him how long the walk might take me.

"Maybe a longer time than you've got to spare," he said, with a smile. "There's fifty miles of footpaths -and another thirty of carriage drives, forbye." Instead of setting out on a four days' tramp through the duke's gardens, I decided to have one glimpse of the cathedral, and then turn my steps southward.

I arrived before the hour when the place was open for visitors, but the custodian deserted a baking of girdle-scones to come and unlock the church for me; and leaving me alone, she hurried back to her kitchen fire. I do not think it possible for a man to look upon what is left of Dunkeld Cathedral without being moved. It is one of the noblest ruins I have ever seen ; and the history of its site is linked up with the history of Scotland for more than a thousand years, for this place must have been a religious centre long before the beginning of the ninth century when the Norsemen sacked Iona, and Dunkeld became the religious capital of the Pictish kingdom. To go still further back, it is probable that about the year 600, St. Fintan (a companion of Columba) founded a monastery near here, and at that time Dun Chailleann was the capital of the Caledonians. So the place has antiquity. The old idea that the name Dunkeld meant the Fort of the Culdees is no longer held; nor is the notion that the tribal name Caledonians meant the Men of the Forests: these have gone into a limbo of dead theories along with the old contention that the Picts were so called because they were painted men. The first church building at Dunkeld was probably of wood and wattle ; the foundation stones of the cathedral were laid either in the twelfth or thirteenth century; and the present nave was completed in the fifteenth. A hundred years later came the order from the Privy Council of Scotland, an interesting document that is still in existence:

"To our traist friendis, the Lairds of Arntilly and Kinvaid.

"Traist friendis, after maist harty commendacion, we pray you faill not to pass incontinent to the Kyrk of Dunkeld, and tak doun the haill images thereof, and bring furth to the Kyrk-zayrd, and burn them openly, and siclyk cast doun the altaris, and purge the Kyrk of all kynd of monuments of idolatrye; and this ze faill not to do, as ze will do us singular empleseur ; and so committis you to the protection of God.

"From Edinburgh, the xii of August, 1560.

"Faill not, bot ze tak guid heyd that neither the desks, windocks, nor durris, be ony ways hurt or broken - eyther glassin work, or iron wark.

"AR. ERGYLL.
"JAMES STUART.
"RUTHVEN."

But the two lairds did not stick to their orders. The Reformation had gone to their heads, and they not only smashed the "glassin work," but made havoc of the "windocks and durris." It has often been said that the destruction was completed when the victors of Killiecrankie came to Dunkeld and joined battle with a small force of Cameronians which they would have mopped up in twenty minutes if Claverhouse had been alive to lead them. The Cameronians entrenched themselves around the cathedral, and the Highlanders came down . from the hills and occupied the town. Both sides kept up a brisk fire for three or four hours, and the officer commanding the defenders decided that his quickest way to clear the enemy out was to set the town on fire, so he sent out men with burning faggots, and in a short time Dunkeld was in flames. Many of the Highlanders were burned alive; and the clansmen retreated north, crying out - to each other that the Cameronians were not men but devils. Three hundred dead were left behind in the smoking ruins of the town, but the cathedral was not touched by the flames, and I doubt whether the musket-fire of the Highlanders did very much harm to it. It is more likely that the havoc of the Reformers was completed by the tooth of time. The choir has been roofed over and restored, to be used as the present parish church, and one of the first things that caught my eye was the effigy of the notorious "Wolf of Badenoch." He was the fourth son of Robert II, the first Stewart king, and in the fourteenth century few men in Scotland lorded it over greater estates than this Alexander, Earl of Buchan. Badenoch and Strathavon he owned, and lands in Banff, Aberdeen, Inverness, Sutherland, Atholl, Fife, Galloway; the islands of Skye and the Lewis; and in addition to these, some of the lands and the Earldom of Buchan and of Ross came to him through his wife. And yet he was almost always in debt. Possibly his career has been a little over-coloured in the chronicles of the monks whose pleasant nests he harried, but there is no doubt that he was a turbulent and vicious scoundrel, and the only man who had control over him was his father. After Robert II died, the Wolf of Badenoch snapped his fingers at the world. In the end his brother brought him to his knees, but not before the Wolf had burned the town of Elgin to the ground, and there went up in flames the cathedral that was "the mirror of the country and the glory of the Kingdom." One hundred years ago, Stewart of Garth said there were four thousand direct descendants of the Wolf living in Atholl. Though the inscription below the effigy begins with the words "Hic Jacet," it is doubtful whether he was buried in Dunkeld; and as I walked back to the open nave, my thoughts strayed to a man of different temper - Gavin Douglas, the most famous of the Bishops of Dunkeld, who turned Virgil's Aeneid into braid Scots over four hundred years ago, completing the task in the leisure hours of eighteen busy months. This was the earliest metrical translation into the English or Scots language of any classical work, and it helped to brighten Scotland's lustre beyond the Tweed. Nobody would claim for Douglas that he was as great a poet as his contemporary Dunbar, but all of his poetry can be read with pleasure. I could not help wondering what he would think of the roofless nave and the ravaged windows of his great cathedral if, in some new avatar, he returned to visit it to-day.

A little west of the cathedral stands a house of the Duke of Atholl. The old house where Prince Charles stayed during the night of Tuesday 3rd September on his southward march was pulled down about a hundred years ago ; it was a pleasant-looking place with tall narrow windows, a little like a French chateau, and the Atholl family used it in the winter months. Locheil and Lord Nairne with four hundred men had already pushed southward, and on the day the Prince arrived in Dunkeld the city of Perth was in their hands.

Strapping on my pack in the hotel, I crossed the Tay by Telford's magnificent bridge; and entering a glen of trees, I left the Highlands behind me.


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