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Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
A Fortnight on Deeside, Loch Muick, Lochnagar, &c.


Owing to our anxiety to see the Clova games closed, we left ourselves too little time to reach the Spittal of Muick, where we had resolved to find quarters that evening. The distance may be about twelve miles, but, owing to there not being even a track for by far the greater part of the way, and the rugged nature of the ground, consisting of nearly equal portions of mountain and moss, no one should attempt it who has not at least five hours of daylight at his disposal; and in snowy or misty weather, it should not be attempted at all We had a tolerable road till we left the side of the Esk, about three miles from Clova. Here we ascended one of its principal feeders, setting our faces due north. The mountains surrounding this stream are very lofty and steep. After proceeding a mile or two, a young man came up to us, being earnestly that we should stop till two of his mends, who were very much fatigued, could reach us. They had heard where we were going, and had been told that, unless they joined us, they were sure to stray, and not to reach any house that night. We told him to hurry them as much as he could, while we proceeded slowly. After a considerable time, they all came up, one of them, in particular, so completely fatigued, that it was with the utmost difficulty the other two could coax him along. They had come from Alyth, and had started at a very early hour. Their clothing, poor fellows, was so scanty that, had they spent the night on the mountains, it would very probably have been their last.

We toiled up a very high and rugged hill, halfway up the glen, till we came in sight of Lochnagar, Morven, Montkeen, and a splendid display of other lofty mountains. Here we consulted our maps and compass, and took what we considered the most direct course for our resting-place. We soon got entangled in an extensive morass, full of quagmires, a species of travelling alike 'fatiguing and tedious. While crossing this, it occurred to me that, by keeping to the left, I might get a glimpse of Loch Dhu, or Black Loch, described in some of the guide books as being of a surpassingly wild and terrific character. Accordingly, I left my party, and by ascending a considerable Eminence, I was gratified by a distant view of a scene, which must be as well worthy of being visited as anything of the kind in Scotland. Loch Dhu is surrounded by black, almost perpendicular precipices, of great height, having Lochnagar on the north, and discharges its waters by a succession of many cataracts into the upper extremity of Loch Muick.

To this latter loch I descended by a very precipitous route, expecting to find some kind of track along its margin which might conduct me to the place of rendezvous at the lower end. In this, however, I was mistaken, as on the upper and south side of Loch Muick there is not the slightest vestige of its ever having been trod by a human foot. This would have been of little consequence, had the edge of the loch been such as to admit of anything like safe progress, however slow. This was by no means the case. The mountain which skirts it all along is of nearly uniform height, and so abrupt to the very brink of the lake, that the lar^e loose stones axe often dislodged, thus endangering the limbs and life of the pedestrian. As darkness increased, the risk became the more imminent, which determined me to squat for the night, as the least of two evils. Accordingly, after collecting some heath, and spreading it on the sheltered side of a rock, I composed myself for rest, having put on dry shoes and stockings, and made myself as comfortable as circumstances would admit.

I confess I felt not a little dreary at fast, especially as I had neither meat nor drink of any description in my fishing basket. Having borrowed my whisky-flask from a tea totaller he had rusted on so fast that I could not get it filled I Most fortunately' I had a thick short greatcoat, which I had worn all day, much to my annoyance, but which was now my chief comfort. Fagging on under this had caused a profuse perspiration, so that, as soon as I relaxed my labours, I became as cold as if I had been cased in ice. Gradually however, I grew tolerably warm, and passed seven hours and a-half far more agreeably than I had reason to expect. Though without food, I could yet ruminate} and I even enjoyed some refreshing sleep. The noise of numerous cascades from the sides of Lochnagar, directly opposite, served as an agreeable lullaby, forcibly reminding me of the graphic, admirable description of our great national

"Foamin’ strong, wi’ hasty stens,
Frae lin to lin.”

This occurs in his elegy on Captain Matthew Henderson, a poem whose merits are too much overlooked, but which contains beauties, I hesitate not to say, superior to anything of the kind by any poet, ancient or modem. There is in it a raciness and vigour baffling the efforts of our most renowned Lakers. Poetry of the most exalted and refined description was no effort to Bums. It flowed from him spontaneously when in the pensive mood, and often under the most unpropitious external circumstances. Whereas, most of our modem poets, even though surrounded by books in every language, ana all the comforts and elegancies of life, frequently woo in vain that inspiration which almost invariably guided his masterly pen. Well was he entitled in his "Vision” to describe the Scottish Muse in the following exquisitely beautiful strains, gracefully applied to himself:—

*‘Then, wear thou this/ she solemn said,
And bound the holly round my head;
The polished leaves and berries red
Did rustling play;
As like a passing thought she fled
In light away.”

Let any competent judge (I would name John Wilson, Laker though he be) declare whether, as regards the above two poems, as well as very many others, I have over-rated their most extraordinary author.

But to return from this digression. When day dawned, 1 was not a little astonished to see the upper half of Lochnagar white with snow, which had descended on me in slight showers of rain. My toilet being soon finished, I resumed my route to the lower end of the lake. In a small farmhouse, I found my friend snug in bed, and sundry members of the family in another in the same apartment, so that I would have been one too many had I reached this on the previous night, especially as several other lodgers of a different grade occupied the other end of the tenement, several of them having lain on the floor. Our greeting was most cordial, as our fears for each other’s safety were mutual. The three young men proved tailors in search of occupation and pleasure. I found them all, cross-legged, plying their needles, in order to defray their board and lodging; and delighted they were to be so comfortably housed after the labours of the previous day. Tne porridge-pot was soon suspended over a splended peat-fire, both of which I was right glad to superintend after my recent fast and bivouac. It may be right here to state that there is no public house here, which the term Spittal would lead one to expect. We had the most conflicting accounts as to this, some telling us there was one good inn, others saying there were two, and one man even assured us there were three!The fact is, that it depends entirely on the good nature of the farmer whether strangers are admitted at all. This is another district where the plan recommended at page 92 would be of immense advantage. A chain across these mountains might not only save the time but the lives of the lieges. A cairn should be erected where the track leaves the Esk, from which the chain should extend to near Spittal of Muick. With such a guide, even in falling and lying snow, the traveller would be enabled without perplexity to steer a direct course.

After partaking of a hearty, multifarious breakfast, and examining the hills and sky, we resolved on ascending Lochnagar. It had been cloudy all the morning, but the clouds were dispersing, and we thought by delaying we might get a worse day. The smallest of her Majesty’s palaces was about a mile off, across the Muick river, and close to the base of the mountain. It is called "The Hut,” and consists of three rooms, and a kitchen detached. We entered the latter, and found in it two discreet-looking female servants. They said the Queen sometimes visited the hut on her way to Lochnagar and Loch Muick, and had even spent two nights in it with Prince Albert the last time they were at Balmoral.1 The direct road to the mountain passes the door, and is extended up the hill three or four miles. About half-a-dozen men were engaged taking out large granite stones, with a view of completing a bridle-road to the top, as her. Majesty has the good taste to delight in mountain-climbing, an exercise in which she is said to excel.

As we advanced, the day became splendid. Indeed, we could not possibly have been more fortunate. Soon after passing the road-makers, we got upon the ridge which had obstructed our view to the north, and began to get a commanding prospect of the lofty mountains at the source of the Dee, as well as in various other directions. The next object that riveted our attention was the “steep frowning glories” reflected in the inky-looking loch at our feet. This is a scene well deserving of the celebrity bestowed on it in one of the noblest songs that ever was penned, and, in some respects, not unworthy of being compared to Loch Corruisk in Skye, though unquestionably much inferior as a whole. Towards the summit, we found the morning’s snow, in some places, unmelted, so that we could pelt each other with its balls. The highest ridge rises more gradually for about a mile, and during the whole of this part of the ascent, we were in ecstasies with the view which was now opening up in every direction. We kept as close to the brink of the awful precipice as we safely could, and, in one place, admired the structure of the rocks, which strikingly resembles castellated mason-work on an enormous scale. When we reached the cairn, there was not a cloud to be seen in any direction. The sun had drunk up all the vapours of the morning, and thus produced such an intense clearness of atmosphere as in all my rambles I had never previously witnessed.

The cairn is not built on the highest part of the mountain, but about 150 yards south from it. The cause of this, probably, was, that here stones are to be got for the lifting, whereas, on the sharp peak which forms the graceful summit, the rock is solid, and would require to be quarried. Upon the pinnacle, we spread our maps, and, with the aid of a compass, ascertained the bearings of all the remarkable mountains by which we were surrounded. Some idea of the extent of this prospect may be formed, when I mention that due west we distinctly saw Ben Nevis and Ben Cruachan; southwards, Schiehallion, Ben Lawers, Ben More, the Ochils, the Lomonds, and even the dim shade of the Pent-lands, over Ben Arti^close to West Lomond. We saw also the Sidlaw Hills, the sea at St Andrews, Montrose, Aberdeen, and the mouth of Moyay Frith—Benachie, Belrinnes—while all the innumerable nearer mountains were, of course, just the more distinctly visible. On Deeside, we saw almost all the places of note from Aberdeen to Benmuig-dhui; such as Banchory-Teman, Kincardine O’Neil, Aboyne, Ballater town and bridge, Church of Cratnie, Invercauld, Mar Lodge, &c. &c. We spent about an hour at and near the top, and left it most reluctantly. The ascent and descent, including half-an-hour at the summit, cannot be comfortably accomplished under five or six hours by ordinary pedestrians, starting from or near the hut; and when the royal roaa is finished, there will be little need of a guide. We raised a couple of blue hares, and two coveys of ptarmigan, near the top, and plenty of grouse towards the base; and fell in with some beautiful bunches of white heath, which is seldom met with, even in the Highlands. These elegant sprigs were much thought of by some ladies whom we met on our return, connected with a hunting-party.

After partaking of some refreshment at our starting-place, we fished for an hour or two in the loch and river of Muick with tolerable success, and proceeded, separately, in the evening to Ballater, ten miles from Loch Muick. The road down the Glen is of an interesting character, especially about half-way down, where there is a very fine waterfall into a broad dark pool, seemingly of great depth. Near the junction of the Muick and Dee, we passed some places of considerable beauty and interest— particularly Birkhall, now the property of Prince Albert, Knock Castle, and the old Church of Muick. The country here is remarkably well wooded, and many consider Ballater the most favourable specimen of Deeside, though there is a formality in the streets and squares of the little town, that by no means harmonises with the magnificent scenery around it.


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