Mr. Macqueen travelled with us, and directed our
attention to all that was worthy of observation. With him we went to see an ancient
building, called a dun or borough. It was a circular inclosure, about forty-two feet in
diameter, walled round with loose stones, perhaps to the height of nine feet. The walls
were very thick, diminishing a little toward the top, and though in these countries, stone
is not brought far, must have been raised with much labour.
the great circle were several smaller rounds of wall, which formed distinct apartments.
Its date, and its use are unknown.
Some suppose it the original seat of the chiefs of the Macleods. Mr.
Macqueen thought it a Danish fort. The entrance is covered with flat stones, and is
narrow, because it was necessary that the stones which lie over it, should reach from one
wall to the other; yet, strait as the passage is, they seem heavier than could have been
placed where they now lie, by the naked strength of as many men as might stand about them.
They were probably raised by putting long pieces of wood under them, to which the action
of a long line of lifters might be applied. Savages, in all countries, have patience
proportionate to their unskilfulness, and are content to attain their end by very tedious
If it was ever roofed, it might once have been a dwelling, but as
there is no provision for water, it could not have been a fortress.
In Sky, as in every other place, there is an ambition of exalting
whatever has survived memory, to some important use, and referring it to very remote ages.
I am inclined to suspect, that in lawless times, when the inhabitants of every mountain
stole the cattle of their neighbour, these inclosures were used to secure the herds and
flocks in the night. When they were driven within the wall, they might be easily watched,
and defended as long as could be needful; for the robbers durst not wait till the injured
clan should find them in the morning.
The interior inclosures, if the whole building were once a house,
were the chambers of the chief inhabitants. If it was a place of security for cattle, they
were probably the shelters of the keepers.
From the Dun we were conducted to another place of security, a cave
carried a great way under ground, which had been discovered by digging after a fox. These
caves, of which many have been found, and many probably remain concealed, are formed, I
believe, commonly by taking advantage of a hollow, where banks or rocks rise on either
side. If no such place can be found, the ground must be cut away. The walls are made by
piling stones against the earth, on either side. It is then roofed by larger stones laid
across the cavern, which therefore cannot be wide. Over the roof, turfs were placed, and
grass was suffered to grow; and the mouth was concealed by bushes, or some other cover.
These caves were represented to us as the cabins of the first rude
inhabitants, of which, however, I am by no means persuaded. This was so low, that no man
could stand upright in it. By their construction they are all so narrow, that two can
never pass along them together, and being subterraneous, they must be always damp.
They are not the work of an age much ruder than the present; for
they are formed with as much art as the construction of a common hut requires. I imagine
them to have been places only of occasional use, in which the Islander, upon a sudden
alarm, hid his utensils, or his cloaths, and perhaps sometimes his wife and children.
This cave we entered, but could not proceed the whole length, and
went away without knowing how far it was carried. For this omission we shall be blamed, as
we perhaps have blamed other travellers; but the day was rainy, and the ground was damp.
We had with us neither spades nor pickaxes, and if love of ease surmounted our desire of
knowledge, the offence has not the invidiousness of singularity.
Edifices, either standing or ruined, are the chief records of an
illiterate nation. In some part of this journey, at no great distance from our way, stood
a shattered fortress, of which the learned minister, to whose communication we are much
indebted, gave us an account.
Those, said he, are the walls of a place of refuge, built in the
time of James the Sixth, by Hugh Macdonald, who was next heir to the dignity and fortune
of his chief. Hugh, being so near his wish, was impatient of delay; and had art and
influence sufficient to engage several gentlemen in a plot against the Laird's life.
Something must be stipulated on both sides; for they would not dip their hands in blood
merely for Hugh's advancement. The compact was formerly written, signed by the
conspirators, and placed in the hands of one Macleod.
It happened that Macleod had sold some cattle to a drover, who, not
having ready money, gave him a bond for payment. The debt was discharged, and the bond
re-demanded; which Macleod, who could not read, intending to put into his hands, gave him
The drover, when he had read the paper, delivered it privately to
Macdonald; who, being thus informed of his danger, called his friends together, and
provided for his safety. He made a public feast, and inviting Hugh Macdonald and his
confederates, placed each of them at the table between two men of known fidelity. The
compact of conspiracy was then shewn, and every man confronted with his own name.
Macdonald acted with great moderation. He upbraided Hugh, both with disloyalty and
ingratitude; but told the rest, that he considered them as men deluded and misinformed.
Hugh was sworn to fidelity, and dismissed with his companions; but he was not generous
enough to be reclaimed by lenity; and finding no longer any countenance among the
gentlemen, endeavoured to execute the same design by meaner hands. In this practice he was
detected, taken to Macdonald's castle, and imprisoned in the dungeon. When he was hungry,
they let down a plentiful meal of salted meat; and when, after his repast, he called for
drink, conveyed to him a covered cup, which, when he lifted the lid, he found empty. From
that time they visited him no more, but left him to perish in solitude and darkness.
We were then told of a cavern by the sea-side, remarkable for the
powerful reverberation of sounds. After dinner we took a boat, to explore this curious
cavity. The boatmen, who seemed to be of a rank above that of common drudges, inquired who
the strangers were, and being told we came one from Scotland, and the other from England,
asked if the Englishman could recount a long genealogy. What answer was given them, the
conversation being in Erse, I was not much inclined to examine.
They expected no good event of the voyage; for one of them declared
that he heard the cry of an English ghost. This omen I was not told till after our return,
and therefore cannot claim the dignity of despising it.
The sea was smooth. We never left the shore, and came without any
disaster to the cavern, which we found rugged and misshapen, about one hundred and eighty
feet long, thirty wide in the broadest part, and in the loftiest, as we guessed, about
thirty high. It was now dry, but at high water the sea rises in it near six feet. Here I
saw what I had never seen before, limpets and mussels in their natural state. But, as a
new testimony to the veracity of common fame, here was no echo to be heard.
We then walked through a natural arch in the rock, which might have
pleased us by its novelty, had the stones, which incumbered our feet, given us leisure to
consider it. We were shown the gummy seed of the kelp, that fastens itself to a stone,
from which it grows into a strong stalk.
In our return, we found a little boy upon the point of rock,
catching with his angle, a supper for the family. We rowed up to him, and borrowed his
rod, with which Mr. Boswell caught a cuddy.
The cuddy is a fish of which I know not the philosophical name. It
is not much bigger than a gudgeon, but is of great use in these Islands, as it affords the
lower people both food, and oil for their lamps. Cuddies are so abundant, at sometimes of
the year, that they are caught like whitebait in the Thames, only by dipping a basket and
drawing it back.
If it were always practicable to fish, these Islands could never be
in much danger from famine; but unhappily in the winter, when other provision fails, the
seas are commonly too rough for nets, or boats.