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Leaves from the Journal
Ascent of Ben Muich Dhui 7 Oct. 1859


Friday, October 7, 1859.

Breakfast at half-past eight. At ten minutes to nine we started, in the sociable, with Bertie and Alice and our usual attendants. Drove along the opposite side of the river. The day very mild and promising to be fine, though a little heavy over the hills, which we anxiously watched. At Castleton we took four post-horses, and drove to the Shiel of the Derry, that beautiful spot where we were last year—which Albert had never seen—and arrived there just before eleven. Our ponies were there with Kennedy, Robertson, and Jemmie Smith. One pony carried the luncheon-baskets. After all the cloaks, &c. had been placed on the ponies, or carried by the men, we mounted and began our “journey.” I was on “Victoria,” Alice on “Dobbins.” George McHardy, an elderly man who knew the country (and acts as a guide, carrying luggage for people across the hills “on beasts” which he keeps for that purpose), led the way. We rode (my pony being led by Brown most of the time both going up and down) at least four miles up Glen Derry, which is very fine, with the remnants of a splendid forest, Cairn Derry being to the right, and the Derry Water running below. The track was very bad and stony, and broken up by cattle coming down for the “Tryst.” At the end of the glen we crossed a ford, passed some softish ground, and turned up to the left by a very rough, steep, but yet gradual ascent to Carrie Etchan, which is in a very wild rugged spot, with magnificent precipices, a high mountain to the right called Ben Alain, while to the left was Cairngorm of Derry. When we reached the top of this very steep ascent (we had been rising, though almost imperceptibly, from the Derry Shiel,) we came upon a loch of the same name, which reminded us of Loch-na-Gar and of Loch-na-Nian. You look from here on to other wild hills and corries— on Ben Maan, &c. We ascended very gradually, but became so enveloped in mist that we could see nothing —hardly those just before us! Albert had walked a good deal; and it was very cold. The mist got worse; and as we rode along the stony, but almost flat ridge Ben Muich Dhui, we hardly knew whether we- were on level ground or the top of the mountain. However, I and Alice rode to the very top, which we reached a few minutes past two; and here, at a cairn of stones, we lunched, in a piercing cold wind.

Just as we sat down, a gust of wind came and dispersed the mist, which had a most wonderful effect, like a dissolving view—and exhibited the grandest, wildest scenery imaginable! We sat on a ridge of the cairn to take our luncheon,—our good people being grouped with the ponies near us. Luncheon over, Albert ran off with Alice to the ridge to look at the splendid view, and sent for me to follow. I did so; but not without Grant’s help, for there were quantities of large loose stones heaped up together to walk upon. The wind was fearfully high, but the view was well worth seeing. I cannot describe all, but we saw where the Dee rises between the mountains called the Well of Dee-—Ben-y-Ghlo and the adjacent mountains, Ben Vrackie—then Ben-na-Bhourd —Ben A'an, &c.—and such magnificent wild rocks, precipices, and corries. It had a sublime and solemn effect; so wild, so solitary—no one but ourselves and our little party there.

Albert went on further with the children, but I returned with Grant to my seat on the cairn, as I could not scramble about well. Soon after, we all began walking and looking for “cairngorms,” and found some small ones. The mist had entirely cleared away below, so that we saw all the beautiful views. Ben Muich Dhui is 4,297 feet high, one of the highest mountains in Scotland. I and Alice rode part of the way, walking wherever it was very steep. Albert and Bertie walked the whole time. I had a little whisky and water, as the people declared pure water would be too chilling. We then rode on without getting off again, Albert talking so gaily with Grant. Upon which Brown observed to me in simple Highland phrase, “It’s very pleasant to walk with a “person who is always ‘content.’” Yesterday, in speaking of dearest Albert’s sport, when I observed he never was cross after bad luck, Brown said, “Every one on the estate says there never was so kind a master; I am sure our only wish is to give satisfaction.” I said, "they certainly did."

[We were always in the habit if conversing with the Highlanders—with whom one comes so much in contact in the Highlands. The Prince highly appreciated the good-breeding, simplicity, and intelligence, which make it so pleasant and even instructive to talk to them.]

By a quarter-past six o’clock we got down to the Shiel of the Derry, where we found some tea, which we took in the “shiel,” [“Shiel” means a small shooting-lodge.] and started again by moonlight at about half-past six. We reached Castleton at half-past seven—and after this it became cloudy. At a quarter-past eight precisely we were at Balmoral, much delighted and not at all tired; everything had been so well arranged, and so quietly, without any fuss. Never shall I forget this day, or the impression this very grand scene made upon me; truly sublime and impressive; such solitude.


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