Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XXIV -
Oban and Dalmally
we have a long ride before us, we must go to King's House; we need
not stay on the road.
will fatigue us. I fear. I should like to stay at Dalmally and see
want to go slowly on the road and feel happy as we go along.
we give up the public coach and hire a carriage; we can have a
waggonette. It will give us an hour longer before starting, and I
can also again look down on Dunstaffnage and beyond to the fort of
the sons of Uisnach, and up Loch Linnhe; I know few scenes so fine.
is Dunstaffnage. The little hill here is called Dunbeg. I have not
seen it well; some people say it is vitrified. However, I may tell
you a story here about a true Celtic hero, Colkitto; he was a
prisoner of the Lord of Argyll's, and Campbell of Dunstaffnage had
him in charge. It was an easy prison, for although the prisoner was
expected to be in view, Campbell had good feelings towards him and
let him move about as he pleased, if he only promised to return when
wanted. This was not pleasant to his enemies, and they complained to
Argyle, who was a marquis at that time. This complaint, made at
Inveraray, was answered by sending a messenger to find what Colkitto
was doing at the time of arrival. The messenger went rapidly, but a
friend was off a little sooner, and as he came, perhaps to the
ground near the neck of land, he saw Colkitto amusing himself by
helping the shearers. He shouted in Gaelic, "Col in irons! Col in
irons!" Colkitto ran as fast as he could and had his irons put on by
the time the messenger got into Dunstaffnage.
to Colla Kittoch Gillespick or Macdonell, afterwards killed at
Dunstaffnage. In a similar way the Macpherson of Cluny who went with
Prince Charles was saved when a band of redcoats came to take him.
There is a rapid turn of the road about five miles north of Cluny
Castle, and on a mound there, one of the soldiers fell down and
roared as in agony on the grass. He was left to get better, but as
soon as the soldiers disappeared he was off by the short cut, whilst
they went round the bend, and he had barely time to warn Cluny off
to a long expatriation. This faithful friend was on the mound again
when the soldiers returned.
We pass the ferry,
but do not cross, and we see the falls of Connel again; a little
beyond it there is now the Board school building. Education is
becoming easier and commoner, but I am not sure if deep thought or
wisdom is. It may be often said that science is very valuable for
teaching you to obtain riches out of land called poor, and rocks
that never gave wealth, and that it gives you even a knowledge of
the laws of nature, so searching that with the commonest things,
fire and water, you can do the greatest wonders. It is bringing a
demon out of poor matter which we thought to be dead, and I should
not wonder to find that our peat bogs gave out food and our hills
yielded gold. This science makes us wonder, but it seems also to
increase our greediness and destroy the simplicity of our natures ;
it is an improved quality of industry.
But here we pass
Lusragain, the sedgy river: the sedges are not down here but up
nearer the sources. Above to the right is Luachragain, the river of
rushes, rising at Deechoid, and Lundragan, the sluggish river,
rising at Barguillein.
We pass Ach-na-Cloich;
it is a small place; up the hill to the right they have built a good
modern house in which the owner of all this district sometimes
lives. They have translated the Gaelic into Stonefaeld, as I told
But on we must go,
although I am saddened at the desolation and the ruins of two
ancient civilizations seen in the stone circle and in the ruined
abbey. I am not sure but in this wood we have a third. We come to
young birches grown for timber, cut every twenty-four years and made
into charcoal for that unsatisfied furnace at Bunawe. It may have
been a wood since the days of Naisi; at any rate it is a wood now,
and as it is called by his name when he is forgotten here, it must
have been called so long ago. We may let the waggonette stay here,
and I shall give you a walk, very beautiful, through a forest with
occasional openings, and smooth but with occasional romantic depths,
so that you may imagine great variety visible in it, and especially
when you look towards Cruachan Ben from this centre, and the
beautiful undulations between us and its feet.
you say so often Cruachan Ben instead of Ben Cruachan?
the usual name. I think it means that the hill is a Cruach or heap
nam Beinnof mountainsas piled on each other till they arrived at a
In this wood of Naisi
I become sad and think of the many dead, and I fear for the many
changes of the country, of which I am a native. Still I am connected
with the past, and I sometimes think that the future may connect
itself with me.
must not have melancholy sentiment. They were Irishmen who gave the
name to the wood, and it is I who may lament most; but I shall leave
unwillingly this park or paradise and its varied undulations, with
its memory of Naisi, and I must confess that I go forward with a
certain hope and pleasure, as I want to see the fishing stream,
which is said to be the finest in the Highlandsthe Awe. What a
rush, what a noble stream! not an Amazon, but a gigantic trout
stream and a living place for salmon; and what a gorge cut by
violence out of a hard rock, first by nature and widened by man; it
is rather terrifying, and I do not wonder at any stories of wild
cats up in the woods, or of wild Highlanders on the hills.
it was up on the left there, at a steep place where it is said
Macdougall and Robert Bruce fought, and of Bruce it is said that in
struggling with Macdougall he lost his brooch just on that rock
above the stream.
You have heard of the
brooch of Lorn.
have heard of another place where it was lost, much farther inland.
I confess myself mystified about that brooch: it is said to have
been lost in a fire at the Macdougall's, and also to have been
presented to the Queen, and to be still in the possession of the old
Somerled familywhich version is true? The brooch is an interesting
piece of work as represented in engravings. We rush along and here
is Loch Awe. After all I like to get out of a pass, and to see the
open sea or land, and I like to look at these islets and to think of
that island of the Druids. I suppose that is the meaning of the
name. I could stay here long.
call Innis Draighneach island of Druids, but everybody does not do
so. I hope you will like to stay a while at Dalmally. Here take
notice of the sides of Cruachan, or rather of the hill next to it,
forming a base although called by another name. You look up Glen
Strae and you see at the top the hills that form part of the Black
Mount, and over which is Inveroran.
remember that glen long ago, it has not changed, there is not even a
new cot in it, I believe. When you look round from it you see the
great corry of Cruachan, where snow remains till after mid-summer,
and sometimes until it meets the snow of the new season.
But of all changes,
that of the village is greatest, this long village of Stronmialchoin,
long and broken, no two houses together, each separate and having a
croft, and each on some rising ground, a veritable village of little
mounds, looking pleasantly on the great mountain, the old castle of
Kilchurn, and the beautiful lake. It is no crowded lane, it never
was, but it was pleasantly and fully inhabited, and the ground
socially occupied; now indeed it is only a few scattered houses
along a road for about a mile and a half. The flat ground below grew
the fuel, it used to be well covered with pits, the crofts grew and
still grow potatoes and oats, and the hill behind grew sheep and
cattle. It is one of the half-cleared places which is now likely to
change again and to increase its inhabitants. One wonders that men
can dare to thrust so many out merely that they may have more room.
Murder is bad, and when many are turned out of house and home, some
must die in the trial. Surely if repentance is pleasant, we shall
call them back as we are doing in some places. But will they come? I
remember when many left, but I daresay it was good on the whole for
the young. I allude to a long time ago.
a new thing to me to come to a town, a place with a railway station.
True, to you Dalmally is only an inn and a few houses; to me it is a
connection with the active world out of which I am shut by nature
and habit. We have time to eat and have a pleasant walk and another
feast on the landscape before sleeping.
shall look at the mouldy old church, damp looking and little used,
and we shall go down past the roaring Orchy and seek out a boat. Mr.
Hamerton has some poems on the isles of Loch Awe, and one about
Kilchurn Castle; we can listen if any one will tell of them.
and I hope you will continue rightly as you do to call it "Kilhuirn,"
and not "tchurn" as some people do. Margaet.There is a story of a
knight who went from this to fight, I do not know where; his wife
was thrifty, saved money and built the castle for him, but he was
seven years away and she was persuaded to agree to marry a
Macquorkadale. The knight, Sir Colin Campbell, came like Ulysses in
the guise of a beggar to the marriage feast, but he had not such a
struggle for the restoration of his position as the old Greek. He
was a Breadalbane Campbell, and the land is still in their hands. Do
you think it is true? He was recognized by shewing a ring.
this particular story being true or not I have no opinion, but as to
the probability it is of the very highest kind. I do not doubt that
in early times, when travelling was difficult, such things were very
common. They occur abundantly even now; people are so afraid of
believing romance, that the length of the absence of Ulysses has
been held wonderful. It is the telling and the adventures that have
made it so. I have heard of a woman that has kept her husband's
apartment unaltered for forty years expecting his return, and her
mind is apparently sound. I know another who has waited more than
twenty. I know one who waited as long expecting her son, how much
longer I do not know.
an inconvenience to have such a distance to walk to the boat, but it
is beautiful when we are on the smooth mouth of the river.
occurs to me that I do not remember seeing a sail on Loch Awe; it is
a very gusty loch ; people ought to have oars or steam.
have seen a sail, but it was not held wise to use it.
The stories of
Kilchurn are not numerous; there is more historic romance connected
with the Argyll Campbells, whose house was at Ardchonnel some ten
miles below; there was Dugald Dalgetty when he took in his
formidable provision for three days, and before he went to Inveraray.
But not the less this Kilchurn castle has been painted oftener. The
situation is fine, and we look from the cultivated to the wild, so
that the natives, as well as people from the cities are attracted by
this contrast; if not rich, it is not a desolate wilderness, but one
that actively engages the eye and the thought in whatever direction
we look. A waste is also a contrast with the city, but it leaves
little to love and only uniformity to hate.
do I see? a monument; is there something here to be remembered?
much; we have had our remarkable men here. You may be tired of the
sons of Uisnach, even although they hunted here, but you will wonder
at Duncan Maclntyre, or Donnachadh Ban, white Donald, who was born
in this glen at Druimliaghart. He died about 1812, an old man, who
had spent much of the latter part of his life as one of the city
guard or police of Edinburgh. There he made his poems. He had in his
strongest days been forester in Coire Cheathaich and on Ben Dorain,
and also on Buachail Eite. We shall see these places, and I will
give you a specimen of his poetry. Many people love the name of
MacIntyre, and I like to give away copies of his poems. We ought
here to have Professor Blackie to translate the poem on Glenorchy,
but as he has not done it I will tell you in prose a part of what it
"A glen, warm
Where very well grows the cornfood green,
Where there are the fields
And where the corn is planted.
(Rich) branchy corn will grow there,
As soft and white as curds,
Strong, nourishing, and juicy,
Heavy, fruitful, full and thick.
We were happy there in winter,
At the wedding we had our sport,
Of the flowing pipe the music would not let us tire;
And the stirring music of the fiddlers
Playing the whirling reels;
The maidens with their own songs,
With their sweet and clear voices.
We found salmon going
up every stream,
And grouse in plenty,
And thousands of black cocks.
The little scraping roe,
The little kid and goat
O glen, where the deer forests are,
And the many huntsmen !"
simple thoughts make a pleasant poem.
I suppose we must
leave it to the guidebooks to tell of all the wondrous places, and
to describe the castle; we are searching rather after that which is
older than history, but young compared with man, not to speak of
nature. We shall get the novelist and the poet to help us with
meditations. But we cannot be wholly in the past; we must fill our
souls with the impression caused by this collection of scenes, for
it is a picture on every side. It needs a song, a lyric poemto my
mind the finest kind of poem.
if the finest, why are there more fine lyric poems by far than
dramatic or epic poems.
reason is clear. The soul bursts out into its highest feelings only
for a short time; why is the brightest lightning only a flash; no
man has ever through a whole epic spoken in the full glow of his
power. It is usually a series of links for the fits of inspiration.
The dramatic quality may keep up coherence: it is a long continued
instinct, leading clearly to an end. But when the mind is fatigued
the dramatic force weakens, and no reasoning has been able to retain
it, although the industrious poet goes on to finish his work. The
epic is intellectual, and so far less poetic than the lyric.
not the "Highland widow" live about here?
lived at the foot of Cruachan Ben, Scott tells us, where a wild
brook ran into the wild Awe, and where there are fine trees. We
passed the place after leaving Bun-Awe two or three miles. You
remember the account of the old oak where haspat sat; her memory is
a monument to this place; even nature is less interesting when man
or his fate is quite absent. Every corry is more dreadful when man
suffered there, and every hill more beautiful when man triumphed
there. For this reason I like the monument to Wallace on the Abbey
Craig at Stirling. Some people speak evil of it, but I say it
lightens up the most interesting of the plains of Scotland, for
which Pict and Scot and Saxon have in their turn fought and now
forget the Romansbut they are gone.
you are right and fresh from history; Agricola's Valium would give
of itself a pleasant tour, and so would the battle-fields of Arthur,
but we shall keep to our Gaels for this season.
Druids really live on that island pointed out to us over there and
which you named?
not know any exact history of the place; but, perhaps, we have had
enough of- the Druids said to have been here. When I was young we
preferred to run after the salmon; and many a time have I gone up
Glen Strae with a spear and a lantern, and sought for the shining
princes of the stream. We were often frightened by people coming
after us, but we darkened our lantern and hid among the bushes, and
luckily there were no blood-hounds to hunt us down.
was not that wicked? Do you not think you were stealing?
whom did I steal? These salmon came from the ocean to the land of my
fathers, a gift of heaven to us men, and a joy to young hearts and
could you not say that of everything that nature gives, or at least
something near it. The grass grows on these hills and no one helps
the grass grows, but the sheep need care. I obey the laws of my
country; but in early times, even in my recollection, it was
scarcely required to protect salmon on all the rivers ; on some it
certainly was. The time comes when so many parties are interested
that to give liberty of fishing to all would be to destroy all the
salmon, and indeed that time did come to many places and made laws
necessary. New habits cannot enter rapidly into a country.
I remember that not
far off there lived a Highland woman and three sons; they were a
very lawless family, the well-taught offspring of those who resented
Saxon laws. It was not easy to get rid of these people. Perhaps they
fed on the mutton of the hills, having but a small croft and the
right to feed only a few sheep of their own; they, I dare say, ate
good salmon, but they refused to work. Strong men the sons were, and
the mother would not hesitate to beg, and, when refused, to speak
evil with a most alarming tongue. They were bad neighbours, but they
would not leave. The cottage was deprived of windows by the farmers;
that was not enough the door was taken, but they still remained; the
roof was removed, and even that was not sufficient; but the removal
of some of the walls at last sent them away. I wonder what became of
them. There was here at least an apology for driving away people.
why were the people bad? Perhaps they were starved.
field of labour was too small, and they fought against powers too
great for them ; with better chance of success they might have been
better men; but powerless wrath is a melancholy sight, and the old
woman and her curses haunt me, and therefore I spoke. Curses give a
bad effect to language, and people who use them are lowered in their
own eyes and in the eyes of others, not because they are always
worse, but because it is a habit taken up by the ignorant, weak, and
bad, on account of its being an easy mode of apparent revenge,
whilst the curses themselves are often the production of cultivated
minds. On the other hand, we sometimes find the worst persons refuse
to curse in words; they even bless, because they know the effect of
appearance, and hypocrisy is a power.
is little doubt that the Saxon people altered the character of the
Gaelic population and kept it from its natural development for
centuries. I at least believe it. It is the character of revolutions
to destroy the past, and the new requires long building. Men who
fight become rough; they lose homes, leisure, and culture. For this
reason the living world moves forward by a succession of ups and
downs like our own hills and glens. Sometimes it remains longer at
one place than at another.
Even this spot
changes. It used to be very difficult to come to Dalmally, and still
more so to go to Oban. It was a natural difficulty. The Pass of Awe
forms a long road and a hungry one, and there are no resting places.
Even the rats found it hard ; more than forty years ago our now
common rats had reached Dalmally, but had not got the length of Loch
Etive in 1835. There was no inducement to cross Cruachan or its
spurs. They are across now, but I do not know the road they took.
Mountain chains interrupt armies both of men and rats.
we return. Photographs will scarcely remind me of this place. I hope
I may obtain a memorial in a good painting; if not, I must come now
and then and renew the impressions which the greatness of nature and
the violence required to struggle with it leave on the spirit, when
these great old rocks look down upon us.
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