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More Leaves from the Journal
Expedition to Loch Maree 12 Sept 1877


Wednesday, September 12, 1877

A dull morning, very mild. Had not a good night. Up at a quarter-past eight, breakfasting at a quarter to nine (I had packed my large boxes with papers etc., with Brown, before breakfast on Monday, as all the heavier luggage had to be sent on in advance), and at a quarter-past nine left Balmorat with Beatrice and the Duchess of Roxburghe, leaving Leopold, who was himself to start at ten a.m. for Dunkeld. Brown on the rumble of the landau, his leg now really fairly well, but he looks pulled. It began to rain very soon, and went on till we almost reached Ballater, when we got into the railway. Here General Ponsonby and Sir William Jenner met us. Wilmore, Morgan, Cannon, Francie Clark (with darling Noble), and Heir went with us. Annie Macdonald, Hollis the cook, Lockwood, Seymour (who replaced Lizzie Stewart (the housemaid) went on before us on Monday.

The day cleared and gradually became very fine. Passed through Aberdeen, which looked very handsome, and where we much admired a new tower added to a college. Stopped at Dyce Junction at nineteen minutes to twelve. Near Aberdeen we saw the corn already cut, which is unusually early. Passed close under Benachie, the heather beautiful everywhere. At one o’clock we had our luncheon, and dear Noble came in and was so good and quiet. At twenty-five minutes past one stopped at Keith, where we had stopped in 1872, and where we had then been obliged to take two people into the carriage to open a door through which the maids passed, and which had got fixed. The volunteers and a number of people were waiting for us here. About Keith the corn was sadly destroyed, but around Elgin it was better. Soon after this appeared the lovely hills of the Moray Frith— really beautiful: the land-locked sea so blue, with heavy fields of yellow corn (harvesting going on) in the undulating ground, with trees and woods here and there, formed a lovely picture. An old ruined church (Kinloss Abbey) we passed to the right, and Fyrres at eighteen minutes past two. Then Nairn, lying low on the Frith, but very picturesque with the hills rising around. Near here poor Jane Churchill’s sister, Cecilia Brinckman, died on August 16, which is the cause that dear Jane is not with us noft. The heather was so brilliant, and the sea, though very rough, was blue, which had a lovely effect; but the bracken, and even the trees, have begun to turn here, as well as with us. Good crops about here. We passed near Fort George, which lies very prettily on the shore of the Frith, but where we did not stop, and Culloden. At three minutes past three passed through Inverness, where many people were out, and went quickly past Btauly. As far as Dingwall we had travelled precisely the same way in going to Dunrobin in 1872. At twenty minutes to four reached Dingwall, charmingly situated in a glen, where we stopped, and where there were a good many people waiting for us.

Here Sir Kenneth and Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch met us with their three children, two boys and a girl. He is a pleasing courteous person, and wore the kilt. He has an immense property about here, and all round is the Mackenzie country. Lady Mackenzie is the elder sister of Lady Granville, and excessively like her. Soon after this we took tea, which was pleasant and refreshing. From Dingwall we turned to the left, and, instead of going on by the main line to Tain, went through the celebrated Strathgeffer, which is extremely pretty—a wooded glen with houses and cottages dotted about; then on through a wild glen, with hills, partly rocky, but with grass, heather, and bracken, and some trees running up amidst them. The railway goes along above and at some distance from the village, proceeding by way of Strath Bran and Loch Luichart. There were occasional showers, with gleams of sunshine always between.

We left the railway at Achnasheen, where we arrived at a quarter to five, and where there are only a small station and two or three little cottages. We three ladies got into the sociable (Brown and Cannon on the box), the two gentlemen and three maids followed in the waggonette, and the other servants in “traps.” Sir Kenneth Mackenzie came as far as this small station, where there were a Gaelic inscription and some plaids arranged in festoons. The twenty miles drive from here, through a desolate, wild, and perfectly uninhabited country, was beautiful, though unfortunately we had heavy showers. The first part winds along loch Rusque (Gaelic Chroisg), a long narrow loch, with hills very like those at the Spital and at Glen Muich rising on either side. Looking back you see the three high peaks of Scour-na-Vuillm. The road continues along another small loch : and then from the top of the hill you go down a very grand pass called Glen Dochart. Here Loch Maree came in view most beautifully. Very shortly after this you come upon the loch, which is grand and romantic. We changed horses at Kinlochewe, a small inn, near to which is a shooting-lodge, which was for some time rented by Lady Waterpark’s son-in law, Mr. Clowes, and he and his wife used to live there a good deal. They are now living near Gairloch, at Flowerdale, another shooting-lodge of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.

The drive along the lochside, for ten miles to the hotel of Loch Maree, is beautiful in the extreme. The hills to the right, as you go from Kinlochewe, are splendid —very high and serrated, with wood at the base of some of them. One magnificent hill towers above the rest, and is not unlike the Pilatus in shape, seen as it is from our hotel, just as the Pilattts is seen from the Pension Wallis. The windings of the road are beautiful, and afford charming glimpses of the lake, which is quite locked in by the overlapping mountains. There are trees, above and below, of all kinds, but chiefly birch, pine, larch, and alder, with quantities of high and most beautiful heather and bracken growing luxuriantly, high rocks surmounting the whole. Here and there a fine Scotch fir, twisted, and with a stem and head like a stone-pine, stands out on a rocky projection into the loch, relieved against the blue hills as in some Italian view. Fart of the way the road emerges altogether from the trees, and passes by a mass of huge piled-up and tumbled* about stones, which everywhere here are curiously marked, almost as though they were portions of a building, and have the appearance of having been thrown about by some upheaving of the earth. We had several heavy showers, which produced a most brilliant rainbow, with the reflection of a second, quite perfect. Then it quite cleared up, and the sky was radiant with the setting sun, which gave a crimson hue to all the hills, and lit up Ben Sleach just as I remember having seen it light up Ben Nevis and the surrounding hills at Inverlochy.

It was a little after seven when Loch Maree Hotel, which stands close to the loch and to the road and is surrounded by trees, was reached. At the entrance there is no gate, merely a low wall open at either side to admit carriages etc. It is a very nice little house, neatly furnished. To the left, as you enter, are two good rooms —a large one called the coffee-room, in which we take our meals, and the other, smaller, next to it, in which the gentlemen dine. Up the small but easy short winding staircase to the right come small, though comfortable, rooms. to the left Beatrice’s, and Brown’s just opposite to the right Then up three steps is a small passage; at the end, to the left, is my dear little sitting-room, looking on to the loch, and to Ben Sleach and the road; it is very full with my things. At the other end is my bed-room, with two small rooms between for Wilmore and Annie.

On arriving heard that the Russians had bombarded Plevna on the 9th, and had repulsed a sortie of the Turks with heavy loss. The bombardment continued again the following day, and General Skobeleff occupied the heights. We two and the Duchess dined together. The Duchess read to me a sketch of Thiers’ life. Good Brown waited, and brought in my usual glass of water. Felt rather tired.

Dear Louis of Hesse’s birthday—God bless him!

Thursday, September 13

It had rained a great deal through the night, and the morning was dull. Had slept well. Beatrice and I breakfasted together downstairs, where we also lunched. Began to sketch, though there was no light and shade; but the splendid mountain was clear. At eleven walked out with Beatrice on the road to Kinlochew, about a mile, and back, greatly admiring the magnificent hills. There is a bridge over a stream called Talladale, and near it was a cottage, a miserable hovel, in which an old man lived; he wore a coat and a high hat, and was much pleased to see me, but said he “had very little English,” which is the case with most people here. We gave him something, and when Brown took it to him he asked the old man the names of some of the hills.

The atmosphere was very close. In at half-past twelve, and then I drew and painted. So hot! It turned to rain. Painted, read, wrote, etc., and then we took tea, and at half-past five started with Beatrice and the Duchess of Roxburghe (Brown and Francie on the box), and drove on down the loch (the contrary way to that by which we had come), under trees, through a larch wood, winding above the loch for two miles, till we reached a bridge, which goes over the stream of Garvaig, where there is a descent to above Slatterdale, and thence drove up a mountain pass to the left. There the hills are much lower and curiously tumbled about, grass, fern, and heather growing up their sides, with rocks at the tops— curious serrated, knobbed hills.

Passed a small loch called Padnascally, out of which runs the Kerrie Water into another little loch. Here the road winds along almost like the roads in Switzerland, and is very precipitous on one side, passing above the fine falls of the Kerrie, of which there are two or three successions, with fine rocks and wooded banks, through which the river seems to force its way. As Brown truly observed, it was like Glenfeshie, only Glenfeshie has no road, but a very narrow path, where one has to ford. Looking back before you corrie to the falls there is a fine view of Ben Evy. We drove quite down this pass to Kerriesdale, at the bridge of which is a very pretty spot with wooded hills leading on to Gairloch. We turned, as it was late, and drove back the same way, getting home by half-past seven. It was dull, and grey, and dark, but did not rain till we came back. The Duchess finished reading Thiers’ life.

Friday, September 14

An awful storm of rain, with wind, all night and a good part of the morning. Breakfasted as yesterday. At length we two went out, and walked for more than a mile on the road by which we drove yesterday. The rocky hills, rising above the road, with the fine trees and undergrowth beneath them, remind me of the Lion's Face, and of the Trossachs and Loch Eil. It cleared, the rain ceased, and the day became fine, but very hot and oppressive. In at twenty minutes to one. The view from my little sitting-room is quite beautiful, Ben Sleach on one side, and the splendid loch, with the other fine rocky mountains and green island, on the other. One would like to sketch all day. More telegrams.

At half past three we started in two carriages, we three ladies in one, and the two gentlemen in the waggonette (Brown with us, and Francie with the next). We went just the same way as yesterday, but changed horses at Kerrie's Bridge, and turning to the left went a short way down a bad read, through a small wood of oaks, to Shieldaig, where there is a small cottage on the sea with a pretty garden, where Lord Bristol and Mr. Bateson live. But there is no read beyond, and we had to turn and go back again. We then drove over the bridge by a !ovely wood of larch and other trees, through which flows a small river, and ascended a hill, passing by Flowerdah to Gairloch, which is on the sea. It consists of only a very few houses dotted about—the kirk, manse, bank, and on the highest point the hotel. The hills immediately to the right and left of the fine bay are not very high. But high wooded hills are at the back of the Gairloch, which is open to the Atlantic. Here we turned round and drove straight back again the same way, the few inhabitants having come out to greet us. After passing Kerrie's Bridge, we stopped to take our (made) tea. The afternoon and evening were beautiful. We got home at a quarter to seven. The post comes in at a quarter to four and at half-past nine. The climate is very warm and muggy. Dinner as usual. After dinner played with Beatrice on the piano.

Saturday, September 15

A fair morning. Up early after a very good night There is a perfect plague of wasps, and we are obliged to have gauze nailed down to keep these insects out when the windows are open, which, as the climate is so hot, they have to be constantly. I had to put on quite thin things again. Decided, after some little doubt, to make an expedition for the day to Torridon, described as fine and wild. There was a heavy shower before we started. Had been sketching and painting.

At half-past twelve we started in the waggonette, with Beatrice, the Duchess (who is delighted with everything), and General Ponsonby and Brown on the box. The day was very fine ; we had only two or three showers, which lasted a few minutes. We drove on to Kinlochewe, where we took fresh horses, and a capital pair of bay ones we had. The sun was brilliant, and lit up the magnificent scenery beautifully. Halfway we crossed the bridge of Grudie (from which Ben Sleach is seen to advantage), a very pretty rapid burn, With fine fir trees, and a glen running up to the right—i.e. to the south. At Kinlochewe we turned up to the right by the stream of Garry, mountains towering up, as we advanced, like mighty giants, and coming one by one and unexpectedly into view. To the left we passed a pretty, small loch, called Loch Clare, which runs back into a wooded glen at the foot of high hills. Sir Ivor Guest has a shooting-lodge near, and you can just see a snail house amongst the trees.

Soon after this the grand, wild, savage-looking, but most beautiful and picturesque Glen of Torridon opened upon us, with the dark mural precipices of that most extraordinary mountain Ben Liugharh, which the people pronounce Liarach. We were quite amazed as we drove below it. The mountains here rise so abruptly from their base that they seem much higher than our Aberdeenshire mountains, although, excepting Ben Sleach (3,216 feet) and a few others, the hills are not of any remarkable height, and the level of the country or land itself is barely a hundred feet above the sea, whereas Balmoral is eight hundred feet to begin with. All the hills about Loch Maree and this glen, and elsewhere in this neighbourhood, are very serrated and rocky. Ben Liarach is most peculiar from its being so dark, and the rocks like terraces one above the other, or like fortifications and pillars—most curious ; the glen itself is very flat, and the mountains rise very abruptly on either side. There were two cottages (in one of which lived a keeper), a few cattle, and a great many cut peats.

We came to the Upper Lock Torridoti, which is almost landlocked and very pretty. In the distance the hills of Skye were seen. Village there really is none, and the inn is merely a small, one-storied, “harled” house, with small windows. We drove beyond the habitations to a turn where we could not be overlooked, and scrambled up a bank, where we seated ourselves, and at twenty minutes to three took our luncheon with good appetite. The air off the mountains and the sea was delicious, and not muggy. We two remained sketching, for the view was beautiful. To the right were the hills of Skye, rising above the lower purple ones which closed in the loch. To the south, nearly opposite to where I sat, was Applecross (formerly Mackenzie property), which now belongs to Lord Middleton, and the high mountains of Ben Hecklish and Ben Damph, with, in the distance northwards, the white peaks of Ben Liarach. We were nearly an hour sitting there, and we got down unwillingly, as it was so fine and such a wild uncivilised spot, like the end of the world. There was a school, standing detached by itself, which had been lately built. The property here belongs to a Mr. Darroch, whose two little boys rode past us twice with a groom. An old man, very tottery, passed where I was sketching, and I asked the Duchess of Roxburghe to speak to him; he seemed strange, said he had come from America, and was going to England, and thought Torridon very ugly!

We walked along, the people came out to see us, and we went into a little merchant’s shop, where we all bought some trifles—just such a “shoppie” as old Edmonston’s, and the poor man was so nervous he threw almost everything down. I got some very good comforters, two little woven woollen shawls, and a very nice cloak. We had spoken to a woman before, but she could not understand us, only knowing Gaelic, and had to ask another younger woman to help.

A little farther off the road, and more on the slope of the hill, was a row of five or six wretched hovels, before which stood barelegged and very ill-clad children, and poor women literally squatting on the ground. The people cheered us and seemed very much pleased. Hardly any one ever comes here. We had now to get into the carriage, and one of the horses was a little restive; but we soon started off all right, much interested by our adventures. We admired the splendid mountain again on our way back, and enjoyed our expedition very much. One very short shower we had, before coming to Kinlochewe, where we again changed horses, and were home at our nice little house by nearly seven, when Beatrice and I had some welcome tea. Later our usual dinner; then Beatrice played, and we afterwards played together.

Sunday, September 10

A most beautiful bright morning, with a slight cloud overhanging Ben Sleach, which is very often not clear at the top. There was a heavy shower, which came on quite unexpectedly. We walked out at half past eleven, and after some three hundred yards turned up a path to the right, off the road to Kinlochewe, under oak and rowan trees, through very wet grass and fern, to where stood two very poor looking low cottages. We looked into one, out of which came a tidy-looking woman, but who could hardly understand or speak a word of English. We then looked into the second, where Baldry lodged )

it was wet and muddy, almost to the door, and the inside very low and close, but tidy. The “gudewife” came up and spoke to us, also like a foreigner, with difficulty. She was a nice, tidy-looking woman, and gave her name as Mrs. McRae, and the place is called “Sliorarh." She knew us—at least Brown told her it was the “Bhan Righ” with her daughter, and gave her some money.

We returned as we had come, and went on some way in the other direction, coming in at twenty minutes to one. Read prayers, etc. There is no kirk nearer than Kinlochewe and Gairloch, and people had been seen passing on foot as early as half-past seven to Gairloch. At half-past four Beatrice, the Duchess of Roxburghe, and I started in a four-oared gig, steered by Hormsby the landlord, a very nice, quiet, youngish man, and rowed to the Isle of Mane (“Eilan Maree")which is not visible from the house, being concealed by some of the larger islands. Contrary to what is stated in the Guide, it is the smallest of them. It was delightful rowing through these wooded and rocky islands, with the blue, calm loch—not another sound but the oars—the lovely blue and purple distant hills on the one side, and the splendid peaks of Ben Sleach and its surrounding mountains on the other.

The boat was pushed on shore, and we scrambled out and walked through the tangled underwood and thicket of oak, holly, birch, ash, beech, etc., which covers the islet, to the well, now nearly dry, which is said to be celebrated for the cure of insanity. An old tree stands close to it, and into the bark of this it is the custom, from time immemorial, for every one who goes there to I insert with a hammer a copper coin, as a sort of offering to the saint who lived there in the eighth century, called Saint Maolruaoh or Mulroy. The saint died near Applecross in 722, and is said to have rested under a rock, which is still shown, close to Torddon. Some say that the name of Mane was derived from “Mulroy,” others from "Mary." We hammered some pennies into the tree, to the branches of which there are also rags and ribbons tied. We then went on to where there are some old grave-stones: two belonged to the tomb of a Norwegian or Danish princess, about whose untimely death there is a romantic story. There are also modern graves, and only eight years ago one of the family of the McLeans was buried there, the island being their burying place. The remains of the old wail of the monastery are still to be seen. The island is barely a quarter of a mile across at the widest part, and not above half a mile in circumference. Some of the larger islands have rod deer on them. We walked along the beach and picked up stones, then rowed back as we had come. It took about twenty minutes. Four very respectable-looking men (one a very good-looking young farmer) rowed the boat. After landing, we got into the waggonette and drove to a bridge just beyond where the trees cease on the Gairloch Road, about two miles from the hotel. Here we first took our tea, and then got out and scrambled up a steep bank to look at a waterfall, a pretty one, but very inferior to those in our neighbourhood at Balmoral; walked down again and drove home by a quarter-past seven.

Reading; writing. Beatrice’s room is a very pretty one, but very hot, being over the kitchen. Brown s, just opposite, also very nice and not hot, but smaller. After dinner the Duchess of Roxburghe read a little out of the newspapers. Saw Sir William Jenner.

Monday, September 17

A splendid bright morning, like July! Have had such good nights since we came, and my own comfortable bed. Sketched and painted after breakfast. At ten. minutes past eleven walked out with Beatrice the same way as yesterday, and turned up to the right and looked at the farm, where the horses for the coach are kept. This coach is like a great break, and is generally full of people; we met it each morning when out walking. We then went on past Talladale, where lives the old man to whom we spoke on Thursday, and whom we saw get off the coach this morning, having been to Gairloch for church, of which he is an elder. Here three or four very poorly dressed bairns were standing and sitting about, and we gave them biscuits and sandwiches out of the luncheon-box. The midges are dreadful, and you cannot stand for a moment without being stung. In at twenty minutes to one. I remained sketching the lovely views from the windows in the dining-room, and then sketched the beautiful mountain also.

After luncheon some doubt as to what should be done, but decided not to go to Pool Ewe, beyond Gairloch., but on to Kerrie\s Bridge to meet the good people who had asked permission to come over from Stornoway, in the Isle of Lewis, to see “their beloved Queen.” Drew again. At ten minutes past four we two and the Duchess of Roxburghe started in the waggonette, General Ponsonby and Brown on the box. We went by the same pretty winding road; but the Kerrie Falls were not nearly so full as on Friday after the heavy rain.

As we approached Kerrie's Bridge, we saw a number of people standing on the road, and we drew up to where they were and stopped the carriage. General Ponsonby presented the minister, Mr. Greenfield, who had come over with them. They sang “God save the Queen” with most loyal warmth; and their friendly faces and ringing cheers, when we arrived and when we left, were very gratifying. It took them three hours to come over, and they were going straight back. There were two hundred and fifty of them of all classes, from the very well dressed down to the poorest, and many fishermen amongst them. We met many of these on Saturday coming back from having sold their fish, and also on the coaches. As we returned, we met the coach where there was only just room to pass.

We stopped after we had got up to the top of the hill, overlooking the falls, and took our tea (already made, and brought with us), but were much molested by midges. We drove to above Slatterdale, where there is such a splendid view of the loch and of Ben Sleach; and the hills looked so beautifully pink. We walked on down to the small waterfall which we visited yesterday, and then drove home (General Ponsonby having walked back) by half-past seven. Reading and writing. Continued telegrams. General Ponsonby and Sir William Jenner dined also with us.

Got a few trifles from Gairloch, though very few were to be had, to give as souvenirs to my good people. Brown’s leg, though he had to stand so much, did not hurt him, which I was thankful for, and he has waited at all our meals, made my coffee in the morning, etc. I was sorry it was our last night here, and would have liked to stay two or three days longer; but dear Arthur has been, since Saturday, at Balmoral, and he must leave again on the 29th. Have enjoyed this beautiful spot and glorious scenery very much. The little house was cosy and very quiet, and there were no constant interruptions as at home. Only dear Beatrice suffered much from rheumatism, which was very vexatious. Nearly opposite is a Mr. Banks’s place, called. Letter Ewe, which he lets.

Tuesday, September 18

A wet, misty morning, no hills whatever to be seen. Got up early and breakfasted at half-past eight, and at a quarter to nine we left with regret our nice cosy little hotel at Loch Maree, which I hope I may some day see again. Changed horses at Kinlochewe. The beautiful scenery was much obscured, but it got better as we went on, though it was not a really fine day. At a little before half-past eleven we reached Achnasheen, where Mr. (now Sir Alexander) Matheson, M.P. (who is chairman of the railway company, and has property farther north), met us. Here we got into the train, and went on without stopping to Dingwall; Strathpeffer, and oastle Lead, which belongs to the Duchess of Sutherland, partly hidden among trees, louked very pretty. The lochs of Luichert and Garve are most picturesque. We stopped at Dingwall, and Keith, and Dyce Junction as before. We had our luncheon at one o’clock, before coming to Keith, and tea after the Dyce Junction. Dear Noble was so good on the railway, and also at Loch Maree, where he came to our meals; but he was lost without his companions.

We reached Ballater at six. A very threatening evening. Such dark, heavy clouds, and the air much lighter than at Loch Maree. We reached Balmoral at a quarter to seven. Dear Arthur received us downstairs, and came up with us and stayed a little while with me. He had been out deer-stalking these two days, but got nothing.


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