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Leaves from the Journal
First Great Expedition:—To Glen Fishie and Grantown
4 Sept. 1860


Hotel Grantown, Tuesday, September 4, i860.

Arrived this evening after a most interesting tour; I will recount the events of the day. Breakfasted at Balmoral in our own room at half-past seven o’clock, and started at eight or a little past, with Lady Churchill and General Grey, in the sociable (Grant and Brown on the box as usual), for Castleton, where we changed horses. We went on five miles beyond the Linn of Dee, to the Shepherd's Shiel of Geldie, or, properly speaking, Giuly, where we found our ponies and a guide, Charlie Stewart. We mounted at once, and rode up along the Geldie, which we had to ford frequently to avoid the bogs, and rode on for two hours up Glen Geldie, over a moor which was so soft and boggy in places, that we had to get off several times. The hills were wild, but not very high, bare of trees, and even of heather to a great extent, and not picturesque till we approached the Fishie, and turned to the right up to the glen which we could see in the distance. The Fishie and Geldie rise almost on a level, with very little distance between them. The Fishie is a fine rapid stream, full of stones. As you approach the glen, which is very narrow, the scenery becomes very fine—particularly after fording the Etchart, a very deep ford. Grant, on his pony, led me through: our men on foot took off their shoes and stockings to get across. From this point the narrow path winds along the base of the hills of Craig-na-Go'ar— the rocks of the “Goat Craig;”—Craig-na-Caillach; and Stron-na-Barin— “the nose of the queen.” The rapid river is overhung by rocks, with trees, birch and fir; the hills, as you advance, rise very steeply on both sides, with rich rocks and corries, and occasional streamlets falling from very high—while the path winds along, rising gradually higher and higher. It is quite magnificent!

We stopped when we came to a level spot amongst the trees. The native firs are particularly fine; and the whole is grand in the extreme. We lunched here—a charming spot —at two o’clock; and then pursued our journey. We walked on a little way to where the valley and glen widen out, and where there is what they call here a green “hard.” We got on our ponies again and crossed the Fishie (a stream we forded many times in the course of the day) to a place where the finest fir-trees are, amidst some of the most beautiful scenery possible.

Then we came upon a most lovely spot—-the scene of all Landseer’s glory—and where there is a little encampment of wooden and turf huts, built by the late Duchess of Bedford; now no longer belonging to the family, and, alas! all falling into decay—among splendid fir-trees, the mountains rising abruptly from the sides of the valley. We were quite enchanted with the beauty of the view. This place is about seven miles from the mouth of the Fishie. Emerging from the wood we came upon a good road, with low hills, beautifully heather-coloured, to the left; those to the right, high and wooded, with noble corries and waterfalls.

We met Lord and Lady Alexander Russell at a small farm house, just as we rode out of the wood, and had some talk with them. They feel deeply the ruin of the place where they formerly lived, as it no longer belongs to them. We rode on for a good long distance, 12 miles, till we came to the ferry of the Spey. Deer were being driven in the woods, and we heard several shots. We saw fine ranges of hills on the Speyside, or Strathspey, and opening to our left, those near Loch Laggan. We came to a wood of larch; from that, upon cultivated land, with Kinrara towards our right, where the monument to the late Duke of Gordon is conspicuously seen on a hill, which was perfectly crimson with heather.

Before entering the larch wood, Lord Alexander Russell caught us up again in a little pony carriage, having to go the same way, and he was so good as to explain everything to us. He showed us “The Duke of Argyll’s Stone”—a cairn on the top of a hill to our right, celebrated, as seems most probable, from the Marquis of Argyll having halted there with his army. We came to another larch wood, when I and Lady Churchill got off our ponies, as we were very stiff from riding so long; and at the end of this wood we came upon Loch Inch, which is lovely, and of which I should have liked exceedingly to have taken a sketch, but we were pressed for time and hurried. The light was lovely; and some cattle were crossing a narrow strip of grass across the end of the loch nearest to us, which really made a charming picture. It is not a wild lake, quite the contrary; no high rocks, but woods and blue hills as a background. About a mile from this was the ferry. There we parted from our ponies, only Grant and Brown coming on with us. Walker, the police inspector, met us, but did not keep with us. He had been sent to order everything in a quiet way, without letting people suspect who we were: in this he entirely succeeded. The ferry was a very rude affair; it was like a boat or coble, but we could only stand on it, and it was moved at one end by two long oars, plied by the ferryman and Brown, and at the other end by a long sort of beam. which Grant took in hand. A few seconds brought us over to the road, where there were two shabby vehicles, one a kind of barouche, into which Albert and I got, Lady Churchill and General Grey into the other—a break; each with a pair of small and rather miserable horses, driven by a man from the box. Grant was on our carriage, and Brown on the other. We had gone so far 40 miles, at least 20 on horseback. We had decided to call ourselves Lord and Lady Churchill and party, Lady Churchill passing as Miss Spencer, and General Grey as Dr. Grey! Brown once forgot this, and called me “Your Majesty” as I was getting into the carriage; and Grant on the box once called Albert “Your Royal Highness;” which set us off laughing, but no one observed it.

We had a long three hours’ drive; it was six o’clock when we got into the carriage. We were soon out of the wood, and came upon the Badenoch road—passing close by Kinrara, but unfortunately not through it, which we ought to have done. It was very beautiful—fine wooded hills—the high Cairngorm range, and Ben Muich Dhui, unfortunately much obscured by the mist on the top—and the broad Spey flowing in the valley, with cultivated fields and fine trees below. Most striking, however, on our whole long journey was the utter, and to me very refreshing, solitude. Hardly a habitation! and hardly meeting a soul! It gradually grew dark. We stopped at a small half-way house for the horses to take some water; and the few people about stared vacantly at the two simple vehicles.

The mountains gradually disappeared,—the evening was mild, with a few drops of rain. On and on we went, till at length we saw lights, and drove through a long and straggling “toun,” and turned down a small court to the door of the inn. Here we got out quickly—Lady Churchill and General Grey not waiting for us. We went up a small staircase, and were shown to our bed-room at the top of it—very small, but clean—with a large four-post bed which nearly filled the whole room. Opposite was the drawing and dining-room in one—very tidy and well sized. Then came the room where Albert dressed, which was very small. The two maids (Jane Shackle was with me) had driven over by another road in the waggonette, Stewart driving them. Made ourselves “clean and tidy,” and then sat down to our dinner. Grant and Brown were to have waited on us, but were “bashful” and did not. A lingletted woman did everything; and, when dinner was over, removed the cloth and placed the bottle of wine (our own which we had brought) on the table with the glasses, which was the old English fashion. The dinner was very fair, and all very clean:—soup, “hodge-podge,” mutton-broth with vegetables, which I did not much relish, fowl with white sauce, good roast lamb, very good potatoes, besides one or two other dishes, which I did not taste, ending with a good tart of cranberries. After dinner, I tried to write part of this account (but the talking round me confused me), while Albert played at “patience.” Then went away, to begin undressing, and it was about half-past eleven when we got to bed.

Wednesday, September 5.

A misty, rainy morning. Had not slept very soundly. We got up rather early, and sat working and reading in the drawing-room till the breakfast was ready, for which we had to wait some little time. Good tea and bread and butter, and some excellent porridge. Jane Shackle (who was very useful and attentive) said that they had all supped together, namely, the two maids, and Grant, Brown, Stewart, and Walker (who was still there), and were very merry in the “commercial room.” The people were very amusing about us. The woman came in while they were at their dinner, and said to Grant, “Dr. Grey wants you,” which nearly upset the gravity of all the others: then they told Jane, “Your lady gives no trouble;” and Grant in the morning called up to Jane, “Does his lordship want me?” One could look on the street, which is a very long wide one, with detached houses, from our window. It was perfectly quiet, no one stirring, except here and there a man driving a cart, or a boy going along on his errand. General Grey bought himself a watch in a shop for 2/- !

At length, at about ten minutes to ten o’clock, we started in the same carriages and the same way as yesterday, and drove up to Castle Grant, Lord Seafield’s place,— a fine (not Highland looking) park, with a very plain-looking house, like a factory, about two miles from the town. It was drizzling almost the whole time. We did not get out, but drove back, having to pass through Grantown again; where evidently “the murder was out,” for all the people were in the street, and the landlady waved her pocket-handkerchief, and the ringletted maid (who had curl-papers in the morning) waved a flag from the window. Our coachman evidently did not observe or guess anything. As we drove out of the town, turning to our right through a wood, we met many people coming into the town, which the coachman said was for a funeral. We passed over the Spey, by the Bridge of Spey. It continued provokingly rainy, the mist hanging very low on the hills, which, however, did not seem to be very high, but were pink with heather. We stopped to have the cover of leather put over our carriage, which is the fashion of all the flys here. It keeps out the rain, however, very well.

The first striking feature in this country is the Pass of Dal Dhu, above which the road winds,—a steep corrie, with green hills. We stopped at a small inn, with only one other house near it; and here, the poor wretchedly-jaded horses got a little water, and waited for about ten minutes. Further on we came to a very steep hill, also to a sort of pass, called Glen Bruin, with green hills, evidently of slate formation. Here we got out, and walked down the hill, and over the Bridge of Bruin, and partly up another hill, the road winding amazingly after this—up and down hill. We then came in sight of the Avon, winding below the hills; and again got out at a little wood, before the Bridge of Avon; the river is fine and clear here. We re-entered our carriages (Lady Churchill and I for this short time together), and drove about a mile further up a hill to Tomintoul; our poor horses being hardly able to drag themselves any longer, the man whipping them and whistling to them to go on, which they could not, and I thought every instant that they would stop in the village. We took four hours to drive these 14 miles; for it was two o’clock when we were outside the town, and got out to mount our ponies. Tommtoul is the most tumble-down, poor-looking place I ever saw—a long street with three inns, miserable ditty-looking houses and people, and a sad look of wretchedness about it. Grant told me that it was the dirtiest, poorest village in the whole of the Highlands.

We mounted our ponies a short way out of the town, but only rode for a few minutes as it was past two o’clock. We came upon a beautiful view, looking down upon the Avon and up a fine glen. There we rested and took luncheon. While Brown was unpacking and arranging our things, I spoke to him and to Grant, who was helping, about not having waited on us, as they ought to have done, at dinner last night and at breakfast, as we had wished; and Brown answered, he was afraid he should not do it rightly; I replied we did not wish to have a stranger in the room, and they must do so another time.

Luncheon (provisions for which we had taken with us from home yesterday) finished, we started again, walked a little way, till we were overtaken by the men and ponies, and then rode along Avonside, the road winding at the bottom of the glen, which is in part tolerably wide; but narrows as it turns, and winds round towards Inchrory, where it is called Glen Avon. The hills, sloping down to the river side, are beautifully green. It was very muggy —quite oppressive, and the greater part of the road deep and sloppy, till we came upon the granite formation again. In order to get on, as it was late, and we had eight miles to ride, our men,—at least Brown and two of the others,—walked before us at a fearful pace, so that we had to trot to keep up at all. Grant rode frequently on the deer pony; the others seemed, however, a good deal tired with the two long days’ journey, and were glad to get on Albert’s or the General’s pony to give themselves a lift; but their willingness, readiness, cheerfulness, indefatigableness, are very admirable, and make them most delightful servants. As for Grant and Brown they are perfect—discreet, careful, intelligent, attentive, ever ready to do what is wanted; and the latter, particularly, is handy and willing to do everything and anything, and to overcome every difficulty, which makes him one of my best servants anywhere.

We passed by Inchrory—seeing, as we approached, two eagles towering splendidly above, and alighting on the top of the hills. From Inchrory, we rode to Loch Bulig, which was beautifully lit up by the setting sun. From Tomintoal we escaped all real rain, having only a slight sprinkling every now and then. At Loch Bulig we found our carriage and four ponies, and drove back just as we left yesterday morning, reaching Balmoral safely at halfpast seven.

What a delightful, successful expedition! Dear Lady Churchill was, as usual, thoroughly amiable, cheerful, and ready to do everything. Both she and the General seemed entirely to enjoy it, and enter into it, and so I am sure did our people. To my dear Albert do we owe it, for he always thought it would be delightful, having gone on many similar expeditions in former days himself. He enjoyed it very much. We heard since that the secret came out through a man recognizing Albert in the street yesterday morning; then the crown on the dog-cart made them think that it was some one from Balmoral, though they never suspected that it could be ourselves!    “The lady must be terrible rich,” the woman observed, as I had so many gold rings on my fingers!—I told Lady Churchill she had on many more than I had. When they heard who it was, they were ready to drop with astonishment and fright. I fear I have but poorly recounted this very amusing and never to be forgotten expedition, which will always be remembered with delight.

I must pay a tribute to our ponies. Dear “Fyvie” is perfection, and Albert’s equally excellent.


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