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Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
Moffat and its Mountains, &c., in 1850


The most celebrated of our Scottish watering places are Airthrie, Pitcaithly, Pananich, Strathpeffer, Innerleithen, and Moffat—in the counties of Stirling, Perth, Aberdeen, Bose, Peebles, and Dumfries. There are many other mineral springs of less note, though probably equally salubrious; the only cause of preference being the interesting scenery in which the above favoured spots are located. It is not my intention to make any invidious comparison betwixt the several pretensions of these rival districts, all well known to me, farther than asserting , that Moffat would not rank inferior to any of tnem in the estimation of any true lover of nature.

As regards their medicinal pretensions, I profess myself much of a sceptic, being firmly convinced that good, common, mountain water is, in every respect, preferable to them all. Change of scene and climate, temperate living, relaxation from sedentary pursuits, company, driving, pedestrianising, &c., seem to me quite sufficient to account for any improvement in the health of those who are so eloquent in their praise. My conviction is that the quantity of water imbibed by visitors would, in many instances, be most injurious, were it not for the exercise' and variety in which they are accustomed to indulge when removed from their usual places of residence. It is well for such as Dr Gully at Malvern, and Dr Jephson at Leamington, that the public generally entertain different sentiments from me on this subject, as, were it not for the fond delusion of invalids, the annual incomes of these far-famed doctors would be cut off by several thousands.

Towards the close of last month, I met, by appointment, a much valued friend at Moffat, for the purpose of a long-projected mountain excursion in that vicinity. The weather proved favourable, and our gratification even surpassed our anticipations. There is no town in Scotland better aired, or more clean and tidy, than Moffat. The principal street is unusually broad, and contains many excellent lodging-houses, with neat shops in the under storey; and the neighbourhood, especially towards the Well, is ornamented with tasteful villas and cottages, the very beau 'ideal of snugness and comfort. Moffat House, in the centre of the town, though externally somewhat sombre, is magnificent within. The staircase and drawing-room flat are truly splendid, and the pleasure-grounds behind are laid out with much taste and elegance, over which are seen the beautiful pastoral hills between the Annan and the Evan.

The general style of building in Moffat is peculiar, and has a very substantial and pleasing appearance. The hard compact stone natural to the district, being coarsely polished, squared, and oiled, has a dark grey aspect, and contrasts agreeably with the white sandstone ribbets at the comers and around the windows. But if the exterior is becoming, in almost all instances the interior is equally so, as the inhabitants vie with each other in making their lodgings as handsome and commodious as their respective means will admit—even the ldtarest-priced among them being vastly superior to cottages of similar dimensions in other places, while the inmates are particularly civil and obliging.

The Caledonian Railway has been of immense advantage to Moffat, and, in all probability, will greatly add to its celebrity. The station at Beat-tock is within two miles^ and there are frequent omnibuses to and from it every day, which are constantly importing and exporting well-dressed, happy-looking parties, and thus adding greatly to the interest and liveliness of the place. But, of all the advantages accruing from the railway, the reduction in the price of fuel is perhaps the greatest Till it was opened, the price of coals was such as to be a serious grievance to the inhabitants. It is now reduced to one-third of what it formerly was, by a competition in both directions, so that domestic comfort, in a corresponding ratio, is secured to all ranks of the people. As regards agriculture, the advantages have also been most striking. The whole vale of the Annan bears testimony to this. The carriage of lime, guano, &c., has fertilised the fields throughout the whole district, and the produce is now exported at a rate, ana with an expedition, formerly utterly unknown.

It is greatly to be lamented, however, that the cause of all this prosperity should also be the cause of incalculable loss to those who promoted it, for it cannot be concealed that the Caledonian is very far from being a paying concern. Had the inhabitants of the south of Scotland been content with one line, whether that by Dumfries, or that by Moffat, there is little doubt that it would have been a prosperous one; but to expect both of these to succeed, is out of the question. The Caledonian was the first sanctified by Parliament, and, it must be confessed, there was something very like a breach of faith in afterwards sanctioning the Nithsdale, as it was publicly declared in Parliament, by the respected chairman of the former line, that u they never would have harboured an idea of proceeding with it, had it been conceived possible that both lines would have been carried.” The proprietors of both are now pretty well aware that they are awkwardly situated: and we greatly err, if the intelligent people of Nithsdale, especially in Dumfries, are not now convinced that a feeder to the Caledonian from Kirkcudbright, through Castles Douglas and Dumfries, to the vicinity of Lockerbie, would have been unspeakably preferable to two starving lines, which, in all probability, will be the result of both having been conceded.

The reading-room, billiard-table, and bowling-green, are the three principal attractions of that description to Moffat loungers; but let men do what they will at such places, time, I suspect, still hangs heavy on their hands during certain portions of the day, owing to the want of their customary regular employment. Beading is seldom resorted to to much purpose by water drinkers, any more than by Oxonians and Cantabs, who, under the imposing term reading, think ot little else than amusement, when they retire from their colleges to Wales or the Lakes. The bowling-green seems in very good order; but it has often surprised me that it should be so little used. Its close resemblance to curling ought to make it a favourite game with Scotchmen, and yet in few parts of Scotland is it much practised; whereas, in England, where curling is all but unknown, bowling is held in high estimation.

Of late years, the Well has been much improved by a handsome pavilion, open at one side, in which dancing might be practised under very interesting circumstances; the music being accompanied by the bleating of lambs, the crowing of grouse* and the "wild bravura" of the curlew. Here I cannot omit drawing particular attention to the extremely neat apartments—a sitting-room and two bedrooms—belonging to the tenants of the Well. The rooms are small, but very comfortable, and the young couple who possess them seem amiable and obliging. The scene there is altogether rural, mountainous, and fascinating. The bum which rushes past abounds in cascades and deep pools, seemingly well stored with trout, so that it astonished me some disciple of the renowned Walton has not secured this snuggery, especially as the rent is moderate. I am much mistaken if a skilful angler, after a heavy shower, could not* in the course of an hour or two, bring home a respectably filled basket. All thebe suburban places, however, the Bell Craig, enchanting Dumcreiff, coy, concealed, classic Craigiebum, &c., I must leave to be more fully discussed by M'Diarmid’s quick and clever pen, it being now high time I were lifting my eyes to the mils which induced me to lift my quill upon the present occasion.

The river Annan, towards its source, is mainly composed of three feeders, which unite about a mile below Moffat. The Evan is that best known to railway travellers, as they traverse its whole course from the source, near which it is conveyed over their heads in an iron channel, to where it loses its name in that which gives its title to the district. In this glen, it may safely be affirmed, more gunpowder has been exploded, betwixt sportsmen and navies, than in an y other of similar dimensions in her Majesty’s dominions. The lower part of it is ornamented by beautiful woods of natural birch, especially at Middlegill; and there has recently been built a very handsome modem-antique residence on the lands of Mr Butler Johnstone. near the foot of the glen. Annan, properly so called, is that which passes close to Moffat. It is the smallest of the three streams, and must be held to retain the name solely out of courtesy, its course being in the direct line of the main river. There is also much less variety in it than in the other two. Granton, however, is a very genteel-looking mansion; and this glen long maintained its title to celebrity from its containing the mail-road from Dumfries to Edinburgh, over the noted pass of Erricstane, near the foot of Hartfell.

Moffat Water is decidedly the most varied and interesting of all the rival glens, besides being the largest, land the best adapted for angling. Sequestered Cragieburn is the first object of much interest after entering the glen. The only objection to this sweet retreat is, that it is lost to the public, unless they leave the road, which is close at haild, and poke about among grottoes and shrubberies, almost at the very door of the mansion-house. Farther on, after passing through beautiful groves of oak, larch, and fragrant birch, the charming farm-house of Caplegill arrests the attention. Here Blackhope Bum joins the Moffat, rushing from one of the moat rugged, mountainous, and romantic glens in the south of Scotland. The lofty hills overhanging it are diversified in their outline, and have all that dry, clean appearance that is most inviting to an active peaestrian, whose taste prompts him to investigate nature in her high places.

Above CaplegilL the next object attracting attention on that side of the valley is the rough savage-looking glen and ragged heights of Correifron. Then comes the fax-famed gorge or chasm, containing indisputably the loftiest cascade in her Majesty’s Britannic dominions, the Grey Mare’s Tail. When seen in perfection, after “dark Lodi Skene” has been well replenished by its countless torrents, rushing from White Coomb and the adjacent mountains, it is, indeed, an astounding spectacle. On common occasions it descends in that hop-step-and-leap style which considerably mars the effect But view it when brim fu, spurning all intermediate obstacles, and “at one bound overleaping all bounds,” springing about 400 feet, and causing all the surrounding rocks to quiver—and if you do not quiver also, you have no need of repairing to Moffat, so far as your nervous system is concerned. Only once have I seen it in this phrenzied state, and it has left an indelible impression on my mind. I had on the pre* vious day ascended the Tweed from Rachan, the Talla, and Gameshope, and gone to the top of White Coomb, fished round Loch Skene, in which I killed about a score of trout, averaging herring size, and reposed at night in the hospitable farmhouse of Polmoodie, men tenanted by a worthy elder of the Kirk. During the night it rained with excessive violence, which caused me to return two miles next morning to witness the scene above described, and certainly I had no cause of regret Farther on, at the very head of Moffat Water, is the singular spot called Dobb’s Linn, celebrated by the Ettrick Shepherd, and the solitary cottage Birkhill, where travellers usually bait their horses. On the north side of the stream, the steep lofty fells of Polmoodie and Bodsbeck are the most prominent objects. The drive to the Grey Mare’s Tail is the favourite pastime of Moffat visitors, and so fashionable has it become, that the worthy hostess of the Annandale Arms has erected stabling for her horses near the foot of the faUL It is gratifying to think that this season, so far as it has gone, has, in posting, proved more than usually profitable to that enterprising lady.

One of the favourite drives in this vicinity is that to Lockwood. The oaks here, as well as the ruined castle in the centre of them, are of very remote antiquity, probably coeval with those at Cadzow, near Hamilton; though at Cadzow. owing to soil and climate, the trees have attained much greater dimensions. The distance from Moffat is about six miles, and the drive may be agreeably varied by taking the Dumfries road in going, and the Carlisle road in returning, orvice versa.

The more aspiring visitors, however, ascend Hartfell, the base of which is about four miles from Moffat. There is, perhaps, no mountain of its height so easy of ascent. The Spa is dose to the foot of the hill, and may, without inconvenience, be visited by all who mean to ascend the mountain. Around the Spa, the banks are remarkably precipitous not to be rocky, but may be easily slanten or avoided altogether, by going a little way from the direct line, so the lames may ride on horseback to the top without the least danger. The height above the sea is about 3000 feet, and that of White Coomb 20 or 30 more. These mountains have a very uniform outline when seen from a distance, Hartfell being at one extremity, and White Coomb at the other. The distance betwixt the tops may be five or six miles.

Several years ago, I climbed Hartfell, with a friend, by the Spa, and the steepest part of the ascent. We were lucky enough to reach the top, and to have nearly half-an-hour of fair weather while there, during which we had a very good view as far as the PenlLands, Cheviots, the Cumberland and Galloway mountains, &c. In fine weather, I make no doubt Arran, Ben Lomond, and other Highland mountains, may be within view, as well as, in very favourable circumstances, the Isle of Man. Before half-an-hour had elapsed, rain came on, accompanied with thick mist, and, having resolved to keep the ridge of the high ground the whole way to the Well, we had great difficulty in preserving anything like a direct course. Before reaching Moffat, we were nearly as wet as if we had spent the day the bottom of Loch Skene. Thus ended om pleasure trip.

This season I was more fortunate in ascending Ettrick Penn and Loch Fell. My friend and 1 left Moffat on horseback, after an early breakfast We stayed at Caplegill while our horses baited, the situation of which, as I formerly mentioned, is particularly interesting. Exactly m front of the dining-room windows, and close at hand, there is a narrow, lofty, and very steep chasm, down which, after heavy rain, a cataract is precipitated, which must have a splendid appearance to those who are dry and snug within. Here we crossed Moffat Water, passed the ancient farm-steading of Bodsbeck, and climbed its very steep and rocky hill, without almost the shadow of a road, or encountering any of the brownies, by whom, according to the Ettrick Shepherd, it was tenanted in former times. I have a lively reminiscence of having, some years ago, taken a gig across this pass, but I would not like to repeat the experiment, and would caution all against it, as without a very steady horse the danger is imminent. No sooner, however, is the summit of the hill reached, than the road becomes excellent for such a high country, owing to the persevering, indefatigable public spirit of the late Lord Napier. We descended into the Ettrick not far from its source, having the Penn exactly in front, with a cluster of other hills of nearly equal height. We reached this interesting little stream at the farm-house of Potbum, and rode upwards nearly a mile to Upper Fawp. Here we crossed the Ettrick, and then rode straight up various long and steep ascents till we reached the cairn at the top of the Penn.

To any one climbing the hill from this side, the view is particularly striking. Towards the south and east, it bursts upon you all at once, and is very commanding, there being no other hills in these directions. The Eildon Hills, Cheviots, all the English border counties, and the distant Kells and Minnigaff Mountains, are quite within view, while the whole of Liddesdale and Eskdale lie, mapped as it were, at your feet. From the sides of Ettrick Penn several silvery streams are seen hurrying on to embrace each other, and to form the beautiful and stately Esk. Of these, the White Esk, Devington, and Garwald, are the most conspicuous; while much of the Dryfe, and peeps of the more distant Black Esk, may also be seen. Towards the west and north, the view is more limited, owing to the higher range of mountains, already noticed, at the sources of the Moffat and Annan; but even in this direction there is much seen that is very far from being uninteresting. The beautiful green hills of the Tweed and Yarrow, the favoured haunts of Thomson, Scott, and many other celebrated bards, must ever be dear to Scotchmen.

On the top of the Penn, we parted from a young gentleman who had accompanied us from Gaplegill. Loch Fell is considered the highest point of this Oand may be about 2500 feet above the sea. s we now directed our course by Wind Fell and Craigmichan Scaurs. The latter have a very formidable appearance, and are much resorted to by foxes and birds of prey. The distance betwixt the Penn and Loch Fell we considered about four miles. The ground is in various places steep; but all about the top of the Fell it is so smooth and grassy, that we had an excellent gallop; and in dry weather a capitalrace-course maybe found on the very summit. There is a cairn here also, and the view is very much the same with that recently described. Here we were struck with an appearance which we were not naturalists enough to comprehend or account for. In many places there are rings of bright green grass, very different from the general weather-beaten colour of the sward. These, are about two feet thick, varying in diameter from twelve feet, to as many yards, and were in some instances as regular circles as if they had been mathematically described.

After taking a peep into the Craigmichan Scaurs and the source of the well-wooded and beautifully secluded Wamphray water, we returned to the top of Loch Fell, and then descended to the source of the Dryfe, which issues from the side of this hill as clear and cool as it is possible to conceive. This is the pure wine of Nature; and well had it been for our race had no other beverage been discovered, as I firmly believe one-half of our mortal woes may, directly or indirectly, be ascribed to intemperance. At this delicious fountain, we met, by appointment, other two friend$, also mounted, and here we tarried till they visited the cairn and returned; after which, we descended the beautiful pastoral glen, whose stream constantly received accessions, till it became such as might well gladden the heart of any genuine lover of the gentle art. We had occasionally very precipitous and boggy ground to encounter, there being no vestige of a road, so that, at times, we had enough to do to keep our saddles. After wet weather, many of the places over which we rode must have been impassable on horseback. On this occasion, however, the excursion was particularly pleasant; and, after passing Dryfehead, Finnigill, and Macmaw, we reached the delightful residence of Shaw, where a hospitable board and kindly welcome awaited our arrival.

Before returning home, I visited Bumswark in company with a young friend. This is one of the most interesting spots m Dumfries-shire. I believe there are few hms of its height, 750 feet, from which there is a more extensive view. It is singular in its outline, and is the first object that attracts the attention in crossing Shapfells from the south, and Erricstane from the north. Its formal appearance and commanding prospect are by no means its principal attractions, as it is well known to have been a Roman encampment in the times of Agricola. We were fortunate enough to have for our guide a gentleman who designates himself the “Hermit of Bumswark.” His hermitage is a lovely and comfortable retreat, about halfway up the hill, embosomed in wood of his own planting. By our kind and learned friend, we were not only accompanied over the whole of the hill, but thoroughly indoctrinated in all the mysteries, &c., 00 that, if hereafter we are not at home in all such matters, the fault rests entirely with ourselves. After drinking from the self-same fountain that quenched the thirst of Agricola, we remounted our steeds, and bade adieu to our worthy host, as I now do to my courteous reader.


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