In the morning we went again into the boat, and were
landed on Inch Kenneth, an Island about a mile long, and perhaps half a mile broad,
remarkable for pleasantness and fertility. It is verdant and grassy, and fit both for
pasture and tillage; but it has no trees. Its only inhabitants were Sir Allan Maclean and
two young ladies, his daughters, with their servants.
does not often exhibit a scene that strikes the imagination more than this little desert
in these depths of Western obscurity, occupied not by a gross herdsman, or amphibious
fisherman, but by a gentleman and two ladies, of high birth, polished manners and elegant
conversation, who, in a habitation raised not very far above the ground, but furnished
with unexpected neatness and convenience, practised all the kindness of hospitality, and
refinement of courtesy.
Sir Allan is the Chieftain of the great clan of Maclean, which is
said to claim the second place among the Highland families, yielding only to Macdonald.
Though by the misconduct of his ancestors, most of the extensive territory, which would
have descended to him, has been alienated, he still retains much of the dignity and
authority of his birth. When soldiers were lately wanting for the American war,
application was made to Sir Allan, and he nominated a hundred men for the service, who
obeyed the summons, and bore arms under his command.
He had then, for some time, resided with the young ladies in Inch
Kenneth, where he lives not only with plenty, but with elegance, having conveyed to his
cottage a collection of books, and what else is necessary to make his hours pleasant.
When we landed, we were met by Sir Allan and the Ladies, accompanied
by Miss Macquarry, who had passed some time with them, and now returned to Ulva with her
We all walked together to the mansion, where we found one cottage
for Sir Allan, and I think two more for the domesticks and the offices. We entered, and
wanted little that palaces afford. Our room was neatly floored, and well lighted; and our
dinner, which was dressed in one of the other huts, was plentiful and delicate. In the
afternoon Sir Allan reminded us, that the day was Sunday, which he never suffered to pass
without some religious distinction, and invited us to partake in his acts of domestick
worship; which I hope neither Mr. Boswell nor myself will be suspected of a disposition to
refuse. The elder of the Ladies read the English service.
Inch Kenneth was once a seminary of ecclesiasticks, subordinate, I
suppose, to Icolmkill. Sir Allan had a mind to trace the foundations of the college, but
neither I nor Mr. Boswell, who bends a keener eye on vacancy, were able to perceive them.
Our attention, however, was sufficiently engaged by a venerable
chapel, which stands yet entire, except that the roof is gone. It is about sixty feet in
length, and thirty in breadth. On one side of the altar is a bas relief of the blessed
Virgin, and by it lies a little bell; which, though cracked, and without a clapper, has
remained there for ages, guarded only by the venerableness of the place. The ground round
the chapel is covered with grave-stones of Chiefs and ladies; and still continues to be a
place of sepulture. Inch Kenneth is a proper prelude to Icolmkill. It was not without some
mournful emotion that we contemplated the ruins of religious structures and the monuments
of the dead.
On the next day we took a more distinct view of the place, and went
with the boat to see oysters in the bed, out of which the boat-men forced up as many as
were wanted. Even Inch Kenneth has a subordinate Island, named Sandiland, I suppose in
contempt, where we landed, and found a rock, with a surface of perhaps four acres, of
which one is naked stone, another spread with sand and shells, some of which I picked up
for their glossy beauty, and two covered with a little earth and grass, on which Sir Allan
has a few sheep.
I doubt not but when there was a college at Inch Kenneth, there was
a hermitage upon Sandiland.
Having wandered over those extensive plains, we committed ourselves
again to the winds and waters; and after a voyage of about ten minutes, in which we met
with nothing very observable, were again safe upon dry ground.
We told Sir Allan our desire of visiting Icolmkill, and entreated
him to give us his protection, and his company. He thought proper to hesitate a little,
but the Ladies hinted, that as they knew he would not finally refuse, he would do better
if he preserved the grace of ready compliance. He took their advice, and promised to carry
us on the morrow in his boat.
We passed the remaining part of the day in such amusements as were
in our power. Sir Allan related the American campaign, and at evening one of the Ladies
played on her harpsichord, while Col and Mr. Boswell danced a Scottish reel with the
We could have been easily persuaded to a longer stay upon Inch
Kenneth, but life will not be all passed in delight. The session at Edinburgh was
approaching, from which Mr. Boswell could not be absent.
In the morning our boat was ready: it was high and strong. Sir Allan
victualled it for the day, and provided able rowers. We now parted from the young Laird of
Col, who had treated us with so much kindness, and concluded his favours by consigning us
to Sir Allan. Here we had the last embrace of this amiable man, who, while these pages
were preparing to attest his virtues, perished in the passage between Ulva and Inch
Sir Allan, to whom the whole region was well known, told us of a
very remarkable cave, to which he would show us the way. We had been disappointed already
by one cave, and were not much elevated by the expectation of another.
It was yet better to see it, and we stopped at some rocks on the
coast of Mull. The mouth is fortified by vast fragments of stone, over which we made our
way, neither very nimbly, nor very securely. The place, however, well repaid our trouble.
The bottom, as far as the flood rushes in, was encumbered with large pebbles, but as we
advanced was spread over with smooth sand. The breadth is about forty-five feet: the roof
rises in an arch, almost regular, to a height which we could not measure; but I think it
about thirty feet.
This part of our curiosity was nearly frustrated; for though we went
to see a cave, and knew that caves are dark, we forgot to carry tapers, and did not
discover our omission till we were wakened by our wants. Sir Allan then sent one of the
boatmen into the country, who soon returned with one little candle. We were thus enabled
to go forward, but could not venture far. Having passed inward from the sea to a great
depth, we found on the right hand a narrow passage, perhaps not more than six feet wide,
obstructed by great stones, over which we climbed and came into a second cave, in breadth
twenty-five feet. The air in this apartment was very warm, but not oppressive, nor loaded
with vapours. Our light showed no tokens of a feculent or corrupted atmosphere. Here was a
square stone, called, as we are told, Fingal's Table.
If we had been provided with torches, we should have proceeded in
our search, though we had already gone as far as any former adventurer, except some who
are reported never to have returned; and, measuring our way back, we found it more than a
hundred and sixty yards, the eleventh part of a mile.
Our measures were not critically exact, having been made with a
walking pole, such as it is convenient to carry in these rocky countries, of which I
guessed the length by standing against it. In this there could be no great errour, nor do
I much doubt but the Highlander, whom we employed, reported the number right. More nicety
however is better, and no man should travel unprovided with instruments for taking heights
There is yet another cause of errour not always easily surmounted,
though more dangerous to the veracity of itinerary narratives, than imperfect mensuration.
An observer deeply impressed by any remarkable spectacle, does not suppose, that the
traces will soon vanish from his mind, and having commonly no great convenience for
writing, defers the description to a time of more leisure, and better accommodation.
He who has not made the experiment, or who is not accustomed to
require rigorous accuracy from himself, will scarcely believe how much a few hours take
from certainty of knowledge, and distinctness of imagery; how the succession of objects
will be broken, how separate parts will be confused, and how many particular features and
discriminations will be compressed and conglobated into one gross and general idea.
To this dilatory notation must be imputed the false relations of
travellers, where there is no imaginable motive to deceive. They trusted to memory, what
cannot be trusted safely but to the eye, and told by guess what a few hours before they
had known with certainty. Thus it was that Wheeler and Spon described with irreconcilable
contrariety things which they surveyed together, and which both undoubtedly designed to
show as they saw them. When we had satisfied our curiosity in the cave, so far as our
penury of light permitted us, we clambered again to our boat, and proceeded along the
coast of Mull to a headland, called Atun, remarkable for the columnar form of the rocks,
which rise in a series of pilasters, with a degree of regularity, which Sir Allan thinks
not less worthy of curiosity than the shore of Staffa.
Not long after we came to another range of black rocks, which had
the appearance of broken pilasters, set one behind another to a great depth. This place
was chosen by Sir Allan for our dinner.
We were easily accommodated with seats, for the stones were of all
heights, and refreshed ourselves and our boatmen, who could have no other rest till we
were at Icolmkill.
The evening was now approaching, and we were yet at a considerable
distance from the end of our expedition. We could therefore stop no more to make remarks
in the way, but set forward with some degree of eagerness. The day soon failed us, and the
moon presented a very solemn and pleasing scene. The sky was clear, so that the eye
commanded a wide circle: the sea was neither still nor turbulent: the wind neither silent
nor loud. We were never far from one coast or another, on which, if the weather had become
violent, we could have found shelter, and therefore contemplated at ease the region
through which we glided in the tranquillity of the night, and saw now a rock and now an
island grow gradually conspicuous and gradually obscure. I committed the fault which I
have just been censuring, in neglecting, as we passed, to note the series of this placid