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A Description of the Scenery of Dunkeld
Grounds of Dunkeld - River Walks


Before entering on these, the traveller should ascertain the time which he can allot to the objects of his pursuit. It is a common fault to desire impossibilities in this matter; to expect to see by a glance of the eye, that which it would requite many days to examine, and. in general, to lay plans for doing what no industry could accomplish in so limited a time. It is in vain to hope-to see this spot, in the manner in which it deserves to be seen, in one day -: while even that short space is rarely given to it. Two may be fully and profitably spent, even among the home scenes; and those who are desirous of seeing them more perfectly, must allow three days. If the time is limited to a single forenoon, as is common, the traveller must be content to take a single walk in the home grounds, and. possibly another at the Hermitage; but he will depart with very inadequate ideas of the place. If he can allow two, the best plan that he can adopt is to give up one to the Hermitage, the Humbling bridge, and the various other scenes on the south and west side of the river; while the second will be even more fully occupied, in the home grounds, and in the nearer walks of Craig-y-barns. Those who chose to extend their visit to three days, will not repent one spent in the more distant walks and rides; including the new plantations above Craig-y-barns, St. Columb's farm, and the Lochs of the Lowes.

The Lodge and the Stables, built from the designs and under the superintendence of Elliot, will first attract the spectator's notice, and may be taken as specimens of the style of the intended house. The design for this is very handsome, as well as chaste; to those at least who do not object to a slight mixture of the castellated and the ecclesiastical styles of Gothic architecture The erection being for the present suspended, the want of a house commensurate, in extent and beauty, to the grounds and to the rank of the family, is naturally an object of remark to those who do not know that the present was erected a more temporary residence, subsidiary to Blair, and in the reign of Queen Ann; long before the capacity of Dunkeld for improvement was either understood or valued. The present proprietor, in commencing, as every judicious improver should do, by rendering the domain what it ought to be. and by preparing his grounds to receive his house, thus forcing time into his service, and availing himself of that which never sleeps, has left nothing to desire but what a year or two may, at any time, render perfect. The grounds and the house were once mutually appropriate; but the former, in advancing, have loft the mere work of art behind.

The remains of the ancient style in the grounds, have almost disappeared before the modern improvements; though traces of it are still occasionally visible in a few places which need scarcely be pointed out, Stanley hill, however, which immediately meets the spectator on entering, is a very conspicuous object; the incongruity of which would appear extraordinary to any one who should imagine that it was the work of the same hand which rendered Dunkeld what it now is. Aa a specimen of the taste of a former age. it is a curiosity, and has been an expensive one.

Nor could it ever have been a very legitimate specimen of that taste which carried the forms of architecture into gardening, and which was often advantageously displayed; although, from our running into the opposite extremes, it has long been the fashion to censure that style, and to deviate from it as widely as possible. Though the squared and sloped military aspect of this mound is not very engaging to the eve, its walks are well worth visiting ; as well for their seclusion, as for the prospects which they afford over some parts of the grounds.

On the right hand, visitors are general!y conducted through a curved walk, separated from the lawn, and backed by a high wall of shrubbery, which is skirted by a flower border, its length being nearly a quarter of a mile. Nothing could have been more admirably contrived for a winter walk; being sheltered from all the prevailing winds, and exposed to the full influence of the mid-day sun. It would not be easy to find a lawn more favourably disposed and better proportioned, and from which all appearance of art is so completely banished. Every where, its boundary seems to have been dictated by nature, as if it could have been no otherwise disposed than it is; nothing appealing, as in the usual lawning system of improvers, to point out the efforts by which this object is attained; no nuked walls rising from it, as if they had been brought from a distance and laid down on the turf: no hard line of wood, cutting out the shape of the green carpet and defining its edge, as a park wail might do with nearly as good an effect, nor any hard dry clumps, making nature wonder what they are doing, and wondering themselves "how they got there." As the unevenness of the surface assists in conferring on this lawn that character of care, which art may strive after in vain, so there are no tw o places in which its boundary is similar; wide scattered trees of all kinds, dispersed about it, rod variety without confusion, and ornament without the appearance of design. Its prolonged and intricate form is a no less favourable feature; as there is no point whence it can all be comprehended in one view, nor scarcely any two trom which its general aspect is the same. It is a rare thing to attain variety in this department of landscape gardening: and still more rare to obtain the appearance of so much space in a spot of such limited dimensions. The traveller must not emit examining the two noted larches near the cathedral, as being not only the first that were introduced into Britain, but the finest specimens which exist. These were planted in 1738, having first been treated as greenhouse plants, when introduced from the Tyrol, by Mr. Menzies, of Culdares. There is little difference between the two, the height of the highest being about 90 feet: while the lateral spread of the branches is the same. At two feet from "he ground, the circumference is 14 feet 6 inches: and they are calculated to cont u l e^ch abort 300 cubic feet, or six loads of timber. As they are still in perfect vigour, and far from maturity, it may be expected that they will yet attain to far more considerable dimensions.

The principal walk within the home grounds follows the course of the river for nearly two miles, when it tails in with a drive which holds the same course fo- about as much more: issuing into the high road at St. Columb's Lodge. It is in the traveller's option to follow the whole, or any portion; as there ere many points whence he may return, by other paths of great variety : but those who have time will do well to investigate the whole. Commencing from the cathedral, this walk is accompanied by p shrubbery and flower border, overhung with trees of various character, till it terminates in an American garden, laid out with luxuriant specimens of rhododendron, kalmia, and other analogous plants and shrubs, and beautifully sheltered by surrounding trees, other paths branching away from it. From this point it is resumed, under a diversity of character, till its termination ; various seats, alcoves, and grottos being placed at those points where the views are most interesting. The principal change of the general character occurs where the Tay makes a right angle, beneath the woods of Craig Yinean; as far at least as regards the views: but, in itself it varies at almost every hundred yards, so as to keep the attention always alive. Where this walk commences, a broad parallel terrace of turf runs for some distance near to it, forming a bowery walk of deep green shade, where the sun is moderated bv the dense foliage that overhangs it, and which seems designed for solitude and meditation. It is impossible for the imagination to conceive a scene of more undisturbed repose. Shorter walks of a similar character, called the Bishop's Walks, communicate from it with the lawn, which, on this side, is further skirted by a similar green walk, lined by larch trees of fine growth, and joining also with the American garden.

The views from this part comprise chiefly the close scenery which bounds the river itself, the more distant prospects being generally concealed, so as to add to the seclusion of the scene. On both sides, the margins art: varied m every possible manner; sometimes rough and broken by the force of the stream, at others sloping down in green banks of endless forms; often, for a long space, feathered over by overhanging shrubs and bushes, under which the river glides, dark, silent, and smooth; while here and there some marks of a work of art, which necessity or the remains of the ancient grounds have left, serve to add, by contrast, to the interest and beauty of the whole. An artificial cascade, remaining as a memorial of the taste of our ancestors, will only offend those who, by reading Price, and by-talking of Kent, and Brown, and Repton, have persuaded themselves into a species of systematic orthodoxy in matters of picturesque beauty; without having formed any definite opinions of their own on the subject, and without knowing when rules are better departed from than followed —as if all beauty could be reduced to an invariable canon, and as if the resources of nature, and of art too, where it undertakes to modify the landscape, were not infinite. It is true enough, however, in this particular case, that the cascade has nothing to do with the landscape ; and it is precisely in consequence of this utter distinctness of character, that we may look at it without offence, as we might on any other work of mere art. Had it made even an approximation to the character of nature, then indeed it might have been a real blemish.

To the pencil, this walk offers few objects. Nor is that defect at all inconsistent with the greatest beauties. There can be no greater error, though it is one into which artists frequently fall, than to imagine that there is nothing beautiful but the picturesque, nor any thing to be admired but that which may be rendered an object of admiration in a painting. On the contrary, it often happens that there are no two things more at variance than beauty in nature and picturesque beauty ; a fact which ought to be far too familiar to require illustration. Nevertheless, some points occur here, from which an artist may select at least two pictures of very distinct characters, and which will, at any rate, be dwelt on with admiration. Looking down the river, the bridge forms, from many different stations, a very beautiful object; being distinctly projected on the dark wooded hill beyond, and its breadth of ware, light being increased by the reflection of the tranquil stream. The church of Little Dunkeld, receiving a bright spot of light which acquires an increased value from the trees among which it is shrouded, adds much to the effect of the distance Thus is formed the centre of a picture; the sides of which are constituted by the river banks, overhung by wood, and varied with trees of every character, while the immediate foreground change at every step; the general view itself undergoing many variations, as more or less of the bridge is concealed by the trees which, on each side, close in on the banks, and from the gentle undulations of its margin.

In looking up the Tay, the view is of a very distinct and of a much grander character. Different foreground may be procured for it from different points; and the best positions are at the opposite ends of the American garden, where the trees form admirable groups for that purpose. The bold sweep of Craig Vinean here rises, a lofty and solid mass against the sky, to form that which is, at once, distance and middle ground. its rocky and uneven surface being disposed in varied forms, covered with rich wood of every character, and reaching down to the water, over the tranquil surface of which it throws a deep and broad shadow The dark river, scarcely marked by a ripple, seems to rest in tranquil repose between its wocidy banks, giving to the scene a solemnity like that of the twilight; a single gleam of light at the extremity, separating it from the profound shade of the woods from which it appears to derive its mysterious origin.

In point of colouring, the richness of ail this scenery is unexampled. There is a depth and solidity in the general tone of subdued green which forms the mass of colour, that is quite peculiar to this spot; while a thousand local hues, infinitely diversified by demi-tints and reflections from the surrounding masses, and by the brown and purple atmospheric colouring of Highland scenery, vary, without interfering with, the breadth that gives repose arid solemnity to the whole. Thus form and colour both combine to give that air of grandeur so peculiar to this spot, and which is rendered even more perfect by the deep-brown waters of the Tay, so admirably harmonizing with the subdued tone of the whole. Though all lights serve to display this river scenery, if with some variation, yet always with beauty, it is perhaps never so striking as after sun-set, or near to that hour. When the last gleam of evening illuminates the bridge, it acquires additional interest from the repose which begins to steal on all the surrounding colouring; and when Craig Vinean, on the other hand, is under the shades of evening, the silence of that scene acquires an additional solemnity, which a poet might truly call sublime.

The general, character of this scenery does not undergo any material change for some time after turning the angle formed by the river; the woods rising high on the opposite side, and the walk being still conducted by the water's edge, under the shadow of overhanging trees, and of the high mass of wood which extends up the hill of the King's seat. 3ut the spectator must remark a very picturesque scene, the place of which is indicated by a rustic seat, and by a rude stair descending to a ferry boat; since it forms a » very good subject for the pencil. For some time after this, various pleasing views occur - the riiver still running under the deep shade of the impending hill, skirted by oak woods and overhanging trees, tiil at last, the walk emerging into the drive formerly mentioned, a total change of character takes place.

The general scenery now becomes more open , and though the lofty and wooded screen of Craig Vinear still skirts the river for some space, and its banks are closed in by woods and detached trees, the distance opens in a fine vista to the blue ranges of the Highland mountains. That which was a narrow walk has now become an open green road, unconstrained by hedge or boundary; the wooded hills of Craig-y-barns rising high on the right hand, and the river, on the left, working its way through at the varieties of close woods, open meadow, impending deep banks, and gravelled shores. Ancient beeches, and elms of luxuriant growth, skirting the track, or disposed in accidental groups, serve to form foregrounds for innumerable pictures; while they also diversify the walk, to which a deep ravine, here and there descending from the hill, and filled with shrubs and trees in picturesque confusion, adds fresh and frequent variety.

It is the peculiar character of the grounds of Dunkeld, in most other places, to present little else but close and wooded scenery. Suddenly emerging here from the most magnificent and deepest scenes of this class, the contrast afforded by the open heath and the distant blue of the mountains, is the more striking. At the same time, the character of that distance is perfect g the rich variety of the open v alley of the Tay displaying itself in a perspective series of diminishing woods and trees, till it is terminated by the elegant mount. in outline, of which Ben Vrackie forms the most characteristic feature. Throughout the whole of this portion of the walk, the artist will find many river scenes adapted to the pencil, with choice of foreground in perfect harmony with the whole, and with trees which, in themselves, might form studies for his portfolio. As it would be endless to describe the whole of these, I must limit myself to one, which it is the more essential to point out, because the proper station for viewing it does not lie absolutely in the path. It is to guide the tourist to that which he would not ot' himself discover, that these pages were wiitten.

The proper station for this view is on some high green banks which overhang the river to the left of the road, and a few hundred yards short of St. Columb's Lodge. By bringing a rustic birch summer house about two hundred yards to the north of the spectator's position, the true point of view w ill be easily found. The elegant outline of Ben Vrackie forms the middle of the blue distance; and beyond, is seen, in fainter colours, the ridge of Ben-y-gloe. To the left, the plantations of Dalguise descend gently into the splendid valley of the Tay, wooded in gay and rich confusion; in the middle of which the hill of Dunmore. crowned with dark firs, forms a very characteristic feature. As the bright meandering line of the river advances towards the eye, it becomes lost in the middle grounds among numerous wooded inlands, displaying an intricate and dazzling mixture of trees and land and water: till forcing its dark way on one side under an abrupt woody hill, and skirting ou the other a tine expanse of green meadow, bordered by trees, it rolls its huge volume of waters beneath the lofty banks, which, high overhanging it, form the spectator's station. To the right, the foreground, rising far above the horizontal line, affords that mass of rich ornament so much valued by painters; lofty Dunkeld and broken banks, crowned with noble beeches unfolding beyond each other in retiring succession, while the road, which they have thus separated from the river, is seen at intervals in an intricate perspective above the eye, till it plunges among the ravines and woods of the overhanging mountain. It is rare, indeed, that the painter (rill find in nature a picture so perfect in all its parts : whether we regard the contrast and variety of form which determines the composition, the admirable balance and intricacy of colour which prevails, even from the extreme distance to the nearest foreground, or the facility with which the natural lights may be managed to produce brilliancy of effect. There is scarcely a .;ne or an object which we could wish to remove or to alter.


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