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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LI. - Off to England


DECEMBER, 1860, was a month of severe wintry weather. Having spent the previous night with my hospitable friend, Mr Alexander Macdonald, the farmer of Cambusmore, I took the morning train at Callander when the sun was shining on whitened hills and vales, and ice-bound lochs and streams. In the south snow was falling again before I crossed the Tweed for the first time. The low and dreary Northumbrian coast, under its snow sheet, I felt depressive, and such is the force of first impressions that when many times in years to come I saw it in summer sunshine, something still of the old feeling remained. With the exception of Whitby and Scarborough I never could muster up admiration for any other part of the east coast of England. The West Highland coast had spoiled me, and until I saw the Devonshire and Cornwall hills rising over the British Channel I quite underestimated the many attractions which others find on the English sea coasts.

At York, where there was an hour's stoppage, I saw the Cathedral in pale moonlight flecked partly by gaslight, and the massiveness of the building left an image of such vastness in my mind, that after- wards when I saw the grand minister in broad daylight, and inspected it in and out, I was disappointed unreasonably with its exterior, while I thought I could not admire its interior too much. Such was the effect of a delusive yet tenacious first impression. I would have stopped that night at York had I known that I should have to freeze for long hours at Normanton, which had then but a miserable station. Between leaving Callander and next morning looking down from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway station on Bradford in its forked valley, twenty-four hours had gone by. It was weary travelling, especially south of the Tweed, be- cause of many stoppages, darkness, and inclement weather. I was glad enough to get a wash and breakfast at the first inn I came to in Bradford, which happened to be an unpretentious old and comfortable one, close to the station. Railway companies had not then taken to building and running station hotels.

Although for a quarter of a century railway making had made prodigious progress, in 1860 most of the criss-cross lines by which the manufacturing and mining districts were later on chequered like a Highland plaid or chessboard had yet to be made. So the jointing loops connecting trunk lines were few and far between, and with uncertain train connections, stoppages were inevitable. The trunk lines themselves were waiting for straightening, extensions, and completions. In country districts coaches and carriers continued still to ply their vocations as of old, and the canals of the eighteenth century continued to carry coal, wool, timber, building stones, and minerals much as before. Roadside inns with their bright fires, rounds of corned beef, and foaming tankards were scarcely yet conscious that they were doomed to be superseded except in some few obscure and thinly inhabited places. The canals of the eighteenth century had, by facilitating transport, given an enormous impetus to trade, the building of towns and mills, and helped also to make railway construction easier than it otherwise would have been. And at the back of the canalization facilities of transport came the revolution of industry caused by Arkright's spinning machine, Watt's steam engine, the use of the power loom, and all the long train of subsequent inventions. The old handicraft trades were swamped by the new inventions, and the new order much amounted to this, that men, women, and children should be adjuncts to machinery. Hence the Luddite riots, which preceded the Chartist movement, and the more orderly and better organised trade-unionism of the time when I first went to England.


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