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Nether Lochaber
Chapter XIII


Extraordinary Heat and Drought—Plentifulness of Fungi—Cows fond of Mushrooms— Shoals of Whales—A rippling Breeze, and a Sail on Loch Leven.

If of late we had to admit—somewhat reluctantly he it confessed—that it was "wet, very wet," even for Lochaber, we have it in our power now at length [1st August 1870] to strike a different key-note, and to say that it is dry, very dry; bright, very bright; hot, very hot,—so dry, bright, and hot, in fact, that one might as well be on the banks of the Nile or Niger as on the shores of Loch Leven, were it not for a delightful sea breeze that never fails to come to cheer and gladden us evening and morning; and then you may fancy—that is, if you can swim, dear reader— the unspeakable delight of a headlong plunge into the cool and sparkling waters of the advancing tide! The heat is in truth something extraordinary, and if it weren't that you felt yourself fast retrograding into the same condition, it would be an amusing study to watch a certain class of people, generally the most staid and stiff and correct possible, who, as a rule, would rather die than violate the least of the proprieties, now going about in a semi-nude state, as if they had just escaped from a lunatic asylum, panting the while as if they were in the last stage of asthma, and streaming with perspiration as if they had resolutely made up their minds to melt away and dissolve like untimely snowballs.

Crops everywhere are splendid, and, after all the rain of the earlier part of the season, which gave them growth, this is just the weather that suits them in their present stage, strengthening and consolidating their tissues, and bringing them to a rapid and healthy maturity. The meadow hay crop is unusually heavy everywhere. We saw a field belonging to Mr. Maclean of Argdour in the act of being cut the other day, and we never saw anything finer or heavier fall before a scythe. This is precisely the weather for securing such a heavy swathe in good order, although one cannot but feel for the poor scythesman, who, brown as an Indian and bathed in sweat, wields his glittering weapon under a burning, blazing sun, such as at a pinch might serve the turn of our cousins of Jamaica or Demerara. Some idea of the extraordinary heat and drought of the past week may be gathered from the fact that it was frequently found possible to stack or carry into the barn in one day the hay that had only been cut on the day previous—something hitherto unheard-of, we should say, in Lochaber, or, indeed, in any part of the Highlands.

We cannot recollect having ever before seen all kinds of fungi so plentiful as they are throughout Lochaber this season. You meet mushrooms of all sizes and of all shapes, both edible and poisonous; while fairy rings are so common that you may encounter one or more of them in every bit of old pasture and in every greenwood glade. One of these rings we had the curiosity to measure a few days ago, and we found" its diameter to be precisely fifteen feet, giving it a circumference of upwards of fifty feet, as nearly as possible a a perfect circle, the emerald outline, studded with its peculiar pretty white, button-like Agaraci, amid the lighter green of the surrounding herbage, aS distinct and easily traceable, even at several hundred yards distance, as ever was halo round the moon. We noticed that a cow, happening to come the way while we were examining another of these fairy rings, ate them all with evident relish, browsing so steadily along and around, that when she completed the circle she hail not left a single one. We hope that they agreed with her, though we should not like to have joined in the repast, for we have a salutary horror of the whole mushroom tribe. The so-called edible mushroom is said to bo delicious when properly cooked : should it ever in any form be a disli on a table at which we are seated, we promise to give our share of it, totus, teres atque rotundus, whole and unimpaired, to the first that will accept it. To the present intense heat, coming so suddenly on the back of long-continued rains, is probably due the extraordinary abundance of all kinds of fungi.

The shoal of whales at present disporting themselves in Lochiel, intending probably, tourist fashion, to visit Inverness by-and-by, via the Caledonian Canal, if they can only arrange it with the authorities, did us the honour to visit Loch Leven, spending an entire day with us, evidently very much to their own satisfaction, if one might judge from their lively somersaultings and incessant gambollings. These whales — a shoal of some five or six hundred, we should say—were a very interesting sight as they gambolled about within a hundred yards of us, blowing loudly the while and lashing the sea with foam, until you might have heard the hurly-burly from the top of the highest mountain in the neighbourhood. They were of all sizes, from full growth, and old age perhaps, down to veriest babyhood. In the shoal, two kinds of whale were mingled together in apparent amity and good-fellowship : the common bottlenose (Balcenoptera acuto-rostrata of La Cepede—the highest authority on cetaceous animals), measuring some twenty or twenty-five feet in length, and the broad-nosed or rorqual whale (Balcena musculus, Linn.; B. rorqual, La C&pede), from fifty to sixty feet in length, and appearing beside a bottlenose, as they came to the surface to breathe, like a Clydesdale horse beside a Shetland pony. It will be strange if our friends at Fort-William do not manage to bag some of them ere they repass the narrows at Corran Ferry.

The heat is oppressive within doors; but Loch Leven, we observe, is darkening under a rippling breeze from the south-east, and we are off for a sail in our tidy, little craft, that, with lugsail sheeted home, will go to windward of anything of equal size on the coast.


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