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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 28


THE COUNTRY OF THE LOCHS

Galloway Names.

  THE Scot has the primitive instinct of nomenclature. When his name does not begin with" Mac," or end in "son," he is generally a Wright, a Herd, a Shepherd, a Crock Gallowav Herd, a Smith, a Black, a Brown, a Grey, or a Reid. His houses, when not name Imaginatively but obscurely in the aboriginal Gaelic, are Blinkbonnies, Huss-o'-Bields, Hermitages, Glowerower-'ems, and Cuddlecozies. Beyond the Dungeon o' Buchan, the Black Craig o' Dec looks to the three Cairnsmores, and the most northerly of these passes on the regard to the Hill o' the Windy Standard. These are picturesque compounds, mostly of Saxon speech; the others, that is, nine out of ten place-names in Galloway, arc still more sonorous and imaginative in Erse.

  “Listen I Ben Cairn and Ben Yelleray, Craigronald, Neldricken, Mulwharchar, and the Rig 0' the Star, Loch Macaterick and Loch Enoch, Loch Valley and lonely Loch Moan–it is as if the grim primeval spirits had sat up there, each on his own particular mountain-top, and bandied polysyllables instead of bombarding each other with granite boulders.” 1

  And in this encounter the country of the lochs does more than its share. All these last-quoted names are to be found between Loch Macaterick and the Glen of Trool. And a dozen more, fully as strange, though not quite so sonorous. occur to me as I write–such as the Jarkness, Loch Aron, the Breesha, the Snibe, the Spear o' the Merrick, and the Dungeon o' Buchan.

  Lawless-looking names they are, and two hundred years and more ago they marked the abiding-place of a most lawless folk. So at least tradition, uniform and authentic, avers. Nor does the account given in "The Raiders” seem much exaggerated.

  “The greater part of these tribes herded together in the upper hill-country–the No Man's Sheriffdom, on the borders of the three counties of Kirkcudbright, Wigtoun, and Ayr–were broken men from the Border clans and septs–wild Eliots, bystart Beatties from the debateable land, or even outlaw Scots fleeing from the wrath of their own chief, the Warden of the Marches. With them there were the Macatericks, a sept of cairds (sturdy rascals) from the wilder parts of North Carrick and the Upper Ward.

  “All these outlaw folk used to plunder the men of the middle hills till the Lesmahago Whigs rose into power, in the high days of Presbytery before the return of Charles Stewart, the second of the name, weary fa' him! Then these, being decent God-fearing men, of a dour and lofty spirit, and all joined very close by the tie of a common religion, and by the Covenants (National and Solemn League), rose and made an end of the Macatericks, driving them forth of their country with fire and sword.

  “Those who escaped betook themselves to the wilds of the moorlands, where no writ ran, no law was obc)'ed, and no

1 “Cinderella” p. 329 (James Clarke & Co.)

warrant was good unless countersigned with a musket. In the dark days of the Killing, this country (which seems fitted to be the great sanctuary of the persecuted), was more unsafe for them than any part in the wilds. For this reason that there were always informers there who, for hire, would bring the troopers on the poor hunted wretches, cowering with their ragged clothes and tender consciences in moss-hags and among the great rocks of granite.

  "Then in the times which followed, all the land was swiftly pacified, save only the 'cairds' country–the cairds being the association of the outlaw clans that had gathered there. It seems strange that, so long as their depredations were within bounds, no man interfered with their marauding, so that they took many cattle, and as many sheep as they had need of. As to their country itself, no man had the lairdship of it, though my Lords Stewart of Garlies have long claimed some rights over it. For centuries the whole of it belonged to the country of the Kennedies, and all the world knows that they were no better than they should be. As for lifting a drove of cattle from the lowlands, it had been done by every Macaterick for generations, though generally from Carrick or the Machars, where the people are less warlike than in Galloway itself." 1

  In making the journey to Enoch, fatiguing enough in any case, the beauty of hill and water is so amazing that the traveller (if he takes my advice) will see as much as he can, draw, photograph, observe, and–read all about it in the next copy of “The Raiders" which comes under his hand.

  But, since such is my duty, I will say a word about each of the lochs in order. First, there are the twin lochs of Glenhead, picturesque" gowpenfuls" of water hidden among the heather–no more than a foretaste of what is to come.

  High up on the side of Craiglee, too, lies the Dhu Loch, a kind of weird, oblong, giant's bath, quite near the summit of the ridge–sullen and black, overhung by grey crags, and deep to the very edge–altogether one of the most impressive sights

1 “The Raiders," p. 127. (T. Fisher Unwin.)

on all the face of the moorland. It seems a place where a murder might have been done, and the body disposed of (with a stone or so in the neuk of a plaid), without the least trouble.

  We look down upon Loch Valley from mounds of glacial moraine huge and thick. The remains of the broken dam can still be made out at the beginning of the burn–broken through by that outburst which my friend Mr. MacMillan was witness of–not by that which is described by Mr. Patrick Heron.

Loch Valley.

  "When we came to the southern side of Loch Valley, whence the Gairland Bum issues, we saw a strange and surprising sight: There was a deep trench, the upper part of which had been recently cut through by alley. The hands of man, for the rubbish lay all about where the spades had been at work. The ends of a weir across the outlet of the loch were yet to be seen jutting into the rushing waters. This had evidently been constructed with considerable care, and certainly with immense labour. But now it was cut clean through, and we could see where their sappers had first set their picks; the power of the flood had done the rest. So great had been the force of the water that the passage was clean cut as with a knife down to the bed rock. The deep knoll of sand and jingling stones, which lies like a barrier across the mouth of the loch, had been severed as one cuts sweet-milk cheese, and the black waters were yet pouring out from under the arch of ice that spanned the loch as out of a cave in some frozen Tartarus."

The Murder Hole.

  To this follows a space of crag and rock, and then, tortuously disposed in a rocky basin, with frowning heights rising about it on all sides, is Loch Neldricken. We have crossed the Mid-burn near the old sheep rees, and it is lucky for us if we have managed the transit without wetting our feet. For the Mid-burn is an unruly stream and often comes raging down, uncontrollable as the Gairland itself. The sheep-rees, where for defence the assailants of the raider Faas are said to have sheltered, are indeed “solidly built of great granite stones like n fortress, based upon the unshaken ribs of the hills.”

  But, strangest of all the strange things about Loch Neldricken, is that circle of dull, oily-looking water surrounded with tall reeds towards its north-western shore, which has been named "The Murder Hole,"

  Patrick Heron had experience of it one winter's night, when, as he says, "I sallied forth, binding my ice-runners of curved iron to my feet at' the little inlet where the Mid-bum issues-too strong and fierce ever to freeze, save only at the edges where the frost and spray hung in fringes, reaching down cold fingers to clasp the rapid waters.

  "Away to the left stretched Loch Neldricken, the midmost of the three lochs of that wild high region–Valley, Neldricken, and topmost Enoch. I set foot gingerly on the smooth, black ice, with hardly even a sprinkling of snow upon it. For the winds had swept away the little feathery fall, and the surface was smooth as glass beneath my feet.

  "I was carried swiftly along, and there, not twenty yards before me, like a hideous black demon's eye looking up at me, lay the unplumbed depths of the Murder Hole, in which, for the second time, I came nigh to being my own victim. I remembered the tales told of it. It never froze; it was never whitened with snow. With open mouth it lay ever waiting, like an insatiable beast, for its tribute of human life; it never gave up a body committed to its depths, or broke a murderer's trust.

  "The thin ice swayed beneath me, but did not crack–which was the worse sign, for it was brittle and weakened by the reeds. The lip of the horrid place seemed to shoot out at me, and the reeds opened to show me the way. I had let myself down on all fours as I came among the rushes; now I laid hold of them as I swept along, and so came to a standstill out a little way from that black verge."1

 Somebody (I do not remember who) once remarked to me that there was more bad weather in "The Raiders" than in any half-dozen books he had ever read. And going over its pages for the purposes of this writing, I have been struck

1 “The Raiders," p. 348. (T. Fisher Unwin.)

with the justness of the remark. It is certain that we do get a good many assorted kinds of evil weather in Galloway, and at such times it is better to be at home than on the slippery screes between Neldricken and Craignairny.

  Still there is “something naturally prood in the heart of man," as the wisest and best of herds once remarked to me, “and puir craiturs that we are, we actually talc' a pleasure in outfacing the Almichty's ain elements!”

  From Neldricken, the Rig of Enoch is seen to hang above us like a mural fortification. Little Loch Arron we leave away to the left. It is little more than a mountain tarn. For now all our thoughts are intent on Enoch–it is at once the most remote of Galloway lochs and the strangest

Loch Enoch.

  Yet it is pleasant to be on Enoch-side when the sun shines–not so marvellous, indeed, as to see its whitening surges through the driving snow-swirls as the Loch En short fierce days of winter close in. Still, even so, and in the summer weather, there is ever a sense up there that somehow heaven is near, and the evil things of the earth remote. "Not with change of sky changes the mind of man," saith the proverb. But where Enoch is held up to the firmament as upon a dandling palm of granite rock by Nature, the Great Mother, the souls of men seem indeed to grow larger and simpler as they only stand and look.

  A few steps to the right along the ridge, and we can gaze down into the great basin of the Dungeon of Buchan. Here was built the Sheil of Hector Faa, and it was from this eyrie that his daughter Joyce looked out for his coming.

  “Behind her, almost from her heels, fell away the great cauldron of the Dungeon of Buchan, wherein the white ground-mists crawled and swelled–now hiding from sight, and now revealing the three famous lakelets–the Round Loch, the Long Loch, and the Dry. There were also in the Dungeon gulf cloud-swirls, that seemed to bubble and circle upwards like the boiling of a pot. Yet all was still and silent up at the Sheil so that the faint streak of wood smoke from the fire on the hearth rose straight up the cliff front, and was lost among the heather and rugged brushwood above. Down in the cauldron itself, however, there was a veering unequal wind, or, rather, strife of winds, teasing the mist into wisps white as lambs' wool and light as blown gossamer."

  Indeed, often as I have stood on this spot, I never remember to have looked into Buchan's Dungeon without seeing something brewing there. As soon as the sun begins to wester on the finest day of summer, with the first shadows, the cloud drifts and mist spume begin to weave a veil over the huge cauldron. The herds are used to call this phenomenon "the boiling of the pot."

  This was what Patrick Heron saw when first he came to Enoch upon his fateful quest:–

  “Presently I found myself on the topmost ledge of all, and crawling a few paces I looked down upon the desolate waste of Loch Enoch under the pale light of the stars. It is not possible that I should be able to tell what I saw, yet I shall try.

The Dungeon of Buchan.

  “I saw a weird wide world, new and strange, not fairly out of chaos–nor yet approven of God; but rather such a scene as there may be on the farther side of the moon, which no man hath seen nor can' see. I thought with some woe and pity on the poor souls condemned, though It were by their own crimes, to sojourn there. I thought also that, had I been a dweller so far from ordinances and the cheerful faces of men, it might be that I had been no better than the outlaw men. And I blamed myself that I had been so slack and careless in my attendance on religion, promising (for the comfort of my soul as I lay thus breathing and looking) that when I should be back in Rathan, May and I should ride each day to church upon a good horse, she behind me upon a pillion–and the thought put marrow into me. But whether grace or propinquity was in my mind, who shall say? At any rate I bethought me that God could not destroy a youth of such excellent intentions.

  “But this is what I saw, as clearly as the light pennitted:1 huge conical hill in front, the Hill of the Star, glimmering

snow-sprinkled, as it rose above the desolations of Loch Enoch and the depths of Buchan's Dungeon. To the right were the great steeps of the Merrick, bounding upward to heaven like the lowest steps of Jacob's ladder. Then Loch Enoch beneath, very black, set in a grey whiteness of sparse snow and sheeted granite. Last of all I saw in the midst the Island of Outlaws, and on it, me thought, a glimmering light." 1

  It is a far cry to Loch Enoch, but how much farther to Loch Macaterick and Macaterick's Cove. Sound in wind and limb are those who can make the journey there and back in a single day. Indeed the cave itself is not worth going so far to see. One hole in the ground is much like another, and Macaterick's (at least in its present state), is the meanest of holes and the humblest of caverns. But it is quite likely that in two hundred years there may have been some subsidence, and that when Macaterick was a householder there, the cave of the bold cateran was somewhat more worthy of his reputation.

  As in the days of the Covenant, however, the way to it is still by the side of a burn which they call the Eglin Lane, a long bare water, slow and peaty, but with some trout of size in it. Also forth from the broads of Loch Macaterick there comes another bum with clearer sparkling water and much sand in the pools. There were trout in both, as one might see by stealing up to the edge of the brow and looking over quickly. But owing to the drought there was water only in the pools of Eglin, and often but the smallest trickle beneath the stones.

  “We started just when the heated haze of the afternoon was clearing with the first early-falling chill of even. The hills were casting shadows upon each other towards the Dungeon and Loch Enoch, and as we went, we heard the grey crow crook and the muckle corbie cry ‘Glonk,' somewhere over by the Slock of the Hooden. They had got a lamb to themselves, or a dead sheep, belike.

  “Then after a long while we found ourselves under the

1 "The Raiders," p. 357. (T. Fisbrr Unwin..)

front of the Dungeon Hill, which is the wildest and most precipitous in all that country. They say that when it thunders there, all the lightnings of heaven join together to play upon the rocks of the Dungeon. And. indeed. it looks like it. For, most of the rocks there are rent and shattered, as though a giant had broken them and thrown them about in his play.

  “Beneath this wild and rocky place we kept our way, till, across the rounded head of the Hill of the Star, we caught a glimpse of the dim country of hag and heather that lay beyond.

  “Then we held up the brae that is called the Gadlach, where is the best road over the burn of Palscaig. and so up into the great wide valley through which runs the Eglin Lane. So guiding ourselves by our marks, we held a straight course for the corner of the Back Hill of the Star in which the hiding place was.

  “I give no nearer direction to the famous Cove Macaterick for the plainest reasons, though it is there to this day, and the herds ken it well. But who knows how soon the times may grow troublous again, and the Cove reassert its ancient safety. But all that I will say is, that if you want to find Cove Macaterick, WiIliam Howatson, the herd of the Merrick, or douce John Macmillan that dwells at Bongill in the Howe of Trool, can take you there–that is, if your legs be able to carry you, and you can prove yourself neither outlaw nor king's soldier. And this word also I say, that in the process of your long journeying you will find out, that though any bairn may write a story-book, it takes a man to herd the Merrick.

  “So in all good time we came to the place. It is half-way up a clint of high rocks overlooking Loch Macaterick, and the hillside is bosky all about with bushes, both birk and self-sown mountain-ash. The mouth of the cavern is quite hidden in the summer by the leaves, and in the winter by the mat of interlacing branches and ferns. Above, there is a diamond-shaped rock, which ever threatens to come down and block

the entrance to the cave. Which indeed it is bound to do some day.

  “Wat and I put aside the tangle and crawled within the black mouth of the cavern one at a time, till we came to a wider part, for the whole place is exceedingly narrow and constricted." 1

  " Now the cove upon the hillside is not wet and chill as almost all sea caves are, where the water stands on the floor and drips from every crevice. But it was at least fairly dry, if not warm, and had been roughly laid with bog-wood dug from the flowes, not squared at all, but only filled in with heather tops till the floor was elastic like the many-plied carpets of Whitehall.

  “There was, as I have said, an inner and an outer cave, one opening out of the other, each apartment being about sixteen feet every way, but much higher towards the roof. And so it remained till late years, when, as I hear from the herd of the Shalloch, the rocks of the gairy face have settled more down upon themselves, and so much contracted the space. But the cave remains to this day on the Back Hill of the Star over the waters of Loch Macaterick. And the place is still very lonely. Only the whaups, the emes, and the mountain sheep cry there, even as they did in our hiding times."

  The which is all very true, and a wonderful wild place is Loch Macaterick, but the ernes have fled, and the cave has grown yet smaller, so that I would not desire to mislead the unwary. Still because of the wildness of the scenery, the strange shores of the loch, and also for the joy of having been in one of the loneliest places in Scotland, there is always a peculiar pleasure in looking back on the days we spent in that wilderness. Given length of days and strength of limb, I mean to go that way again before I die.

  Moreover, one can come back singing to music or his own composition the Rhyme of the Star Wife, perhaps that very lady who murdered the herd laddie by putting arsenic

1 “The Men or the Moss-Hags," p. 273 (lsbister & Co.)

in his broth, as the shepherds are keen to relate. 'This is the stanza :–

“The Slock, Milquharker. and Craignine,
The Breeshie and Craignaw,
Are the five best hills for corklit,
That ever the Star wife saw."

And what corklit is, you find out when you get there!


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