go again to Kcills. I think I shall keep to the old and familiar
word. The post-office has taken the name of Ledaig—the name of the
hill and the farm to the south. I prefer to call it Keills—the name
of the little church, of which scarcely a score of stones remain,
and of the churchyard.
still refuse to yield to the name of Selma; although there is both
Selma and New Selma. Is that not rather unfeeling?
have argued that point before, and I must keep to my principles.
Keills is an old and respected word, Selma is the embodiment of a
do you try to remove the romance from this spot? Look only at that
heath we are passing. I cannot see it without covering it with the
spirits of the heroes that lived here. I have already referred to
the "traveller unseen, the bender of the thistle of Lora." Excuse me
returning to this topic which is so dear to me.
translation, if it is one, is not quite clear enough. Dr. Clerk
renders it so:-
"Thou genial breeze,
for evermore unseen,
Swaying thistles round Lora of storms,
Wandering through narrow glen of the wind,
Why so suddenly forsake my ear?"
I confess, however,
the word "narrow glen" does not suit this broad heath of Connel or
Loudoun —That is one
of the passages that seem to me more beautiful and natural in the
Gaelic, if I can judge; there may be thousands of the same of which
I cannot judge. That is the first sentence in Macpherson's Ossian.
It is a fine poetic impersonation. I shall try to translate it
"Thou pleasant but
ever unseen breeze, bending the thistle of Lora of storms; thou that
art wandering up the narrow glen of the wind, why so suddenly hast
thou left mine ear?"
That is my picture:
it personifies the breeze travelling along, a lonely visitor, never
seen but by its effects, and it comes at once like a weird spirit
that we can never escape. I seldom now see a thistle bending without
a mysterious presence seeming to make itself partially known.
should like you to prove that Lora is a name associated with the
falls and the moss and the hill.
would gladly prove it, if I could, but first I see no narrow glen,
and next I see no reason for calling the peaceful plain "Lora of
storms." The scene suggests some place in the mountains. Glencoe or
upper Glen Etive would suit better; many other places would suit
is there not an Ossian's cairn over there among the trees, and can
you not prove that he was buried there?
fear we cannot. There are many claimants, and this has only of late
come into notice. I fear it is a name given for want of a name, as
one might say, "Giant's grave," and very much as people give names
to their houses in Glasgow or in London, the names that are dear to
them, however remote in romance or in reality. The mere name is not
a proof without the examination of circumstances. Lora seems to me
as hard to find as Loda's Hall on Cruachan Ben. This does not
destroy the fine feeling of the lines or the deep significance which
these vague forms have, as shown in nature here, and in the soul of
man, who must so often bend in awe in contemplation of its effects,
as well as before its occasional violence. You see therefore that I
have sympathy with the feeling, whoever the author may be.
scarcely like to think of the time you spoke of when glaciers filled
the valleys; it would be dreary, and the loch would be impassable.
Surely no one could have lived here; it would be a cold desert.
is not a fair conclusion. We like to go to Chamouni, which is most
pleasant in summer if not very pleasant to most men in winter.
think people must have lived here even then, because they say that
the Dun was an island, and that may be a tradition.
say so without reason. It would appear that man did not live here in
the glacial period of this island, and certainly not advanced man,
but after all we do not know if that age was very long ago. The Dun
of Uisnach was not an island when the oldest remains were set up in
the plain. The standing stone in the field is very old and
weatherworn, apparently older than the Dun. It was not put up when
the Dun was an island; it might have happened that the sea came in
on the north side and extended pretty far, but not a quarter of a
mile; we have another standing stone barring its progress, if we may
so speak, and pointing to the fact that people do not put up
standing stones in the sea.
look at Ledaig Hill, on the south-west there seem to be cliffs
caused by the sea.
that may be, and quite in accordance with what has been said.
that there is a place at Ledaig, very little south from the
hexagonal school-house, called Tir nan biorlinn, the place of boats,
as if it were usual to put boats up there. Biorlinn is a very
ancient word, meaning a boat made of one log of wood.
suggests a difficulty, but I may give at once a reason why even in
very early times the sea can be shown not to have come so far in all
probability. South of the clachan of Ledaig, and not far south of
the point where the roads from Connel Ferry and Achnacree meet, a
few yards from the road on the west side and in a gravel mound,
there was found a little stone coffin, one of the smallest, roughest
things that could be imagined, as if for a small infant. For
rudeness and simplicity nothing could surpass it. It was only about
two feet long, made with the boulder stones abundant there. The
interior resembled the section of an egg lengthways, and to cover it
were two pieces of the clay slate of the district, of the length of
the exterior. No remains were found, and no charcoal. It was out of
the usual confines of Christian burial, and we can imagine that at a
time when only the chief people were buried in cairns or stone
structures, some mother had determined that her little one should
also have a similar honour, and put up this small one to its memory.
It could be . built in half an hour. Unfortunately when it was once
opened, people, who had left it all their lives unheeded, disturbed
it too much to allow a drawing to be made, even a few days
afterwards. Besides this, there was the cairn at the school-house,
where many urns were found.
these on the level of the moss and hank at the Dun, I suppose? Still
there might have been an inlet of the sea reaching to the spot for
is true enough, but at the same spot may be seen a pretty deep peat
bog, and this, in all probability, covers an old lake, on which
people rowed or kept boats in rough weather. It may have been part
of the same in which the lake dwelling was found. That is a little
farther south, not far from the junction of the roads, and a little
east. But we shall spend a day there.
may as well walk on to the ferry. That little stream has made a deep
bed which is pleasantly green.
and it shows you what the whole land here is made of—rounded
boulders, of a small size, with earth intermixed. I dare say the sea
is heaping up a little more in certain parts where the tide rolls in
most violently. I referred you once to a curious circular spot here
when, at Lochanabeich, we had a conversation about a supposed
Thingwald, a place for a court according to Norwegian fashion. It is
a little south of Ledaig farm-house. I may be wrong. and others
might prefer to call it a rath, but it seems too small for any
defence. It is more like a place for a baron's court, if such were
ever held here, but that might be doubted.
idea of a baron's court rose from the name given to the similar but
much larger circle over at Loch-a-nan-Ragh, which we saw only for a
few minutes. Instead of going straight to the ferry, let us cross
the moor to Lochanabeich, and see the deep basin, and then pass over
to Loch-a-nan-Ragh. I shall read here an account I brought with me,
and we may take this occasion to pay a second visit as we intended
at the time. It is well to see how another man views it, and I
should like to examine it more carefully" When the Baron's Cairn was
visited by us, a place near it was noticed called Cuairt a' Bharan,
the court of the baron. The court consists of the greater part of a
circle, which has been made by throwing up the soil, at present
about three feet high, thus making a ditch outside, now filling up
with peat moss. In the middle of the circle nearly is an artificial
and elongated mound. The circle is not complete to the north-west,
and opposite this opening is a large mound nearly as large as the
circle itself, and higher than its banks or walls. The wall forming
the circle has no peat upon it, but only a little grass on the rough
gravel. The mound inside the circle is entirely of peat 3 to 4 feet
deep, or much more than the moss around. The inner mound has
evidently been raised, that is, in contradistinction to being cut
out, and the same may be said of the outer mound; peat could not, so
far as I know, grow to such a height above the level of the
neighbourhood. I imagined this to be the home of the baron whose
cairn was near, and I therefore cut trenches in several directions
in order to find traces of the homestead. But within the circle the
level part is only grass on a thin soil, the peat having been
removed to make the mound, with a little gravel sufficient to
indicate this. There were really no remains of a house ; and it
appeared much rather as if a Thing or Scandinavian court had been
there. And this I do not doubt. The name and the appearance alike
point to it. The courts were not held close to towns. The elongated
mound in the centre was in all probability a platform of security,
as well as of dignity, for the court. The outer mound opposite the
open part of the circle would suit well as a place for spectators.
Indeed, some such place was absolutely necessary, where outside the
wall there was only a ditch. This would account for all that we see.
Extremely ancient, therefore, we cannot consider it ; we must look
to the Scandinavian times first probably, and to the introduction
after that of the more southern institutions, and the court of the
"When examining this
court, I was told of the other mentioned as about midway between
Connel and Ledaig. This was also examined by trenching, but nothing
was found. Towards the sea, on the north-west, there is, as at this
court, a raised part. It would hold few people certainly, but the
circle was small also. I suppose it was a very general thing, if not
a rule, for these courts to be in secluded places. Protection was
required for the officers. In the story of Burnt Njal, we see why
that protection was required. A difference of opinion on an
important point in the trial ended in a battle, and the death of
about thirty people. Let us imagine a similar dispute to have taken
place at the simple peat court on the shore of the small and shallow
Loch-a-nan-Ragh on Ledaig Moss, and we can easily finish the quarrel
by the death of the baron, and have him buried under the cairn now
called the Baron's Cairn, standing near the Baron's Court. This is,
of course, a mere conjecture, but it is one in accordance with a
very probable event, as well as the facts of the case as they now
stand connected with traditionary names."
However, I judge this
cairn to be not from prehistoric times, but, in all probability,
from a comparatively modern time. Of course, one may say that the
name of the court may have been transferred to the cairn, and if a
very great deal depended on the matter, greater care would be
required before con-eluding; but there is at present nothing hanging
on the result, and I shall leave it with the belief that the
traditionary name is correct until some positive reason, however
small, shall be found to throw suspicion upon it. Tradition, we see,
has much to boast of in this district, as the retention of ancient
It has been asked,
why the courts were made round? We may also say, why were circles
made, instead of squares, &c.? Is it not a mark of early work?
Children always build round at first: it is for want of a definite
idea; they hasten to make the lines meet. Dr. Livingstone could not
prevent his Africans from making round walls. A straight line and an
angle are exact ideas of later growth.
one has been able to explain the meaning of Loch nan Ragh, because
they spelt it wrong. Let it be Radh, which is the same in sound and
is Gaelic (whereas the other is not Gaelic, so far as I know), and
we have at once the Loch of the Speeches or Decisions. See the use
of a Thingvalla in that wonderful book, Burnt Njal. It quite agrees
with all the rest, and is a beautiful piece of old history.
not Rath, the Loch of the Rath, and this court might have been a
Rath as well as a court?
it is possible, but Radii refers more to speaking, although more
fanciful than Rath. We have also the Norse and German word Rath,
counsel, for a derivation. It would not seem that this form for a
court could be called Celtic, in which case it does not take us to
very early times, and I must leave the exact relation to be found.
But the baron seems to have been buried near to this, and I shall
read an account of the place. We had our luncheon here once, and it
is well to come again to renew our acquaintance. It certainly
suggests difficulties. "The Baron's cairn" (see Plate) is not so
large as some others, and nothing remarkable is seen about it—a
dreary heap of stones in a moss. It is not chambered. An opening was
made at the top in order to see, and without disturbing the sides in
the slightest. Indeed it is too low to be chambered. It has been
mentioned by several who have written of this district, and been
sometimes spoken of alone as if it were important, but its only
importance seems to consist in its having a name that speaks of
times less distant than in other cases. No one can tell who was the
the enclosure called the "Baron's Court," do you not think that it
may have been the homestead as well as the court of the baron? This
old garden, as I suppose it to have been, may have enclosed a house.
One cannot mistake the changes that take place on turf near
inhabited places. The site was chosen probably to be a little off
the moss, and near the small lake. It is not mentioned in Sir John
Sinclair's Notes, or in the Statistical Account. The choice of place
may have arisen from the accessibility. The way from Loch Etive is
less mossy if one keeps on the road near to the first little lake,
and skirting it for a while, goes on to the second. It may, however,
be that the frequent passage of feet has rendered this more solid.
It may also be that the solid grass plots around houses near a moss
are obtained in a great measure by the occasional tread of feet
pressing and draining, as well as by the waste products nourishing a
richer vegetation. At present it is interesting to connect a cairn
with the old dwelling-place of its occupant. The "Baron's cairn"
stands on the soil below the moss, and there is a depression round
it as if the moss had been cut down to make abundant room for the
cairn. It is not at all probable that a burial, which evidently took
a good deal of trouble, would take place in the wet moss. I think
this the proper explanation of the resting place of such a cairn,
although the weight of stones might cause a depression; and water
passing, along with air, continually through the cairn, would remove
the side of the loch from Connel Ferry westward, we come to several
cairns. One is very large, and the farm takes its name from it,
Achnacarn. I will not at present pretend to characterize every one.
All those along the road have been diminished in size, and some are
scarcely distinguishable. That they should be found along the roads
speaks in favour of their being raised when the moss was difficult
to traverse. It is true that these roads are new (forty years old);
but consider that the line along which they go would even in remote
times be passable; that towards the lake manifestly so, as the moss
ends there, and that towards the hill would no doubt have been made
passable from its convenience for those going from the extreme
points of l3endcrloch. The latter must have been frequently
traversed, even if the place were thinly inhabited, exactly as it is
daily now passed by many persons as well as the postman. At any rate
the cairns are near the roads, as a rule, and I think this shows the
moss to be older than they. There are one or two towards the
cottages of Loch-a-nan-Ragh, and three near Lochanabeich. These were
not less than fifty feet in diameter; only the bases remain. Dr.
Wilson is quite correct in saying that they stand in the soil below,
but we need not consider them older than the moss, nor does he say
that they are, although one might infer it. One at the house of
Lochanabeich cost a great deal of trouble in digging, but nothing
was found. It was large, and the houses and byres were built out of
it. Who knows if it was not a mere collection of stones to clear the
land, as we see so often in Deeside.
But we may now return
to Oban, crossing the ferry again.
us watch: at about a mile from the ferry on the road to Oban, we
find the house of Sir Donald Campbell of Dunstaffnage, somewhat
retreating from the sea. Not far east of the entrance is a small
plantation, it marks the spot of a stone circle which was destroyed
long ago. Now Sir Donald preserves reverently the very site. One
wonders at the usual destruction, as the people spend more strength
upon it than would serve to put their garden walls in order, and to
sow vegetables, or clean the cow-houses. A little nearer Oban, in
the same valley and on the same level as the above, is the farm of
Salmore. Inland from the house was a mound partly natural; an
opening was made to obtain sand, I believe, in 1874, when a large
stone kist was found. The men were below the level of it, and the
whole fell down. The stones were built into the wall along the
highroad next the house, and when I arrived a few days afterwards,
no trace was left on the original spot except a hole in the earth.
As this happened only three years ago, we see how memorials of the
past leave us.
We shall soon now be
in Oban, and as we look at that Castle of Dunstaffnage, we see that,
if the situation is not so good for defence as Dun Uisnach, it is at
least more convenient for men who sometimes wish to go farther