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The Land of Heather
By Clifton Johnson (1926)


Introductory Note

HEATHER is not peculiarly Scotch. It grows on the moors and waste lands of all parts of Britain and is found in most sections of the continent of Europe. But in Scotland it is omnipresent to an unusual degree, and, besides, it has become so closely associated in literature, both of fact and of fiction, with this particular country as to have acquired many synonymous attributes. The flowers are of a lilac-rose color, but vary much in depth of tint, thus adding materially to the beauty of the wilds which they delight to inhabit. The heather is in its glory in late August and early September, and one who sees it then would he apt to forget that it had any other mission than to delight the eve; yet it is not without its utilitarian aspect as well. The domestic bees find their richest feast of the year in its blossoms; the plants contribute much to the formation of peat; the shrubby growth makes admirable cover for the game birds, and is often used for thatching cottages, or is tied to handles for brooms and in bunches for scrubbing brushes and still other uses might be mentioned.

Naturally one would expect the heather to be the Scotch national flower, and perhaps it might have been had not a chance incident conferred the distinction oil thistle. History says this choice was due to James lII, who took the thistle to illustrate his royal motto, "In Defence"; but according to tradition the preference given the thistle dates back to the time when the Norsemen ravaged all the shores of northern Europe. On occasion, in the dead of night, an invading Norse force approached unperceived the camp of the Scots who had gathered to oppose them. But while the Norsernen paused to ascertain the undefended points of the camp they proposed to assault, one of their spies stepped on a thistle, and the sudden pain brought forth a violent oath. This aroused the Scots, and they hastened to attack the invaders, gained a complete victory, and afterward adopted the plant which had been the means of delivery as their emblem. The thistle's thorny vigor perhaps very well expressed the Scotch character in those long-gone fighting days, but now the hardiness and warm bloom of the heather, to mind, indicate more exactly the racial individuality.

This book and its companion volumes on England, Ireland, and France are so often consulted in planning trips abroad that I outline here a few possibilities for making a limited sojourn in Scotland most fruitful. You can conveniently start in the country of Robert Burns. Dumfries, in and near which the Poet spent his later life, is near the English boundary line and about fifty miles to the northwest is his birthplace, the outskirts of Ayr. In the latter vicinity are Tam o'Shanter's Kirk and bonnie Doon.

See Glasgow, but don't linger. Keep on from there to beautiful Loch Lomond, voyage up it, and then go overland to delicious little Loch Katrine. All this region is famous in song and story. You miss much if you do not visit one or more of the wild islands off the west and north coast. Skye is good and is fairly easy of access. Its scenery is wonderful and the life there is strangely primitive. If you want to adventure farther north it seems to me worth while to go to John o'Groat's House, the jumping off place on the mainland.

When you return to the south you will of course visit picturesque Edinburgh, and on the way to it you should see Stirling Castle, and the neighboring battleground of Bannockburn.

Perhaps you could not do better than to end your tour by going to Melrose Abbey and to the near-by home of Sir Walter Scott, who shares with Burns the distinction of giving to Scotland its unexcelled romantic and idyllic charm.

CLIFTON JOHNSON.

Contents

Chapter I. A Rural Hamlet
Chapter II. Village Happenings
Chapter III. The Ways of the Farm Folk
Chapter IV. An Excursion
Chapter V. Historic Ground
Chapter VI. Thrums
Chapter VII. A Highland Glen
Chapter VIII. Lochs and Bens
Chapter IX. The Isle of Mull
Chapter X. The Crofters of Skye
Chapter Xl. A Country School
Chapter XII. The Sabbath and the Kirks
Chapter XIII. A Burns Pilgrimage
Chapter XIV. A Glimpse of Galloway


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