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Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
A Fortnight on Deeside, Castleton, Deer Forest, &c.


Few villages have undergone a more complete metamorphosis than Castleton during the last thirty years, and this change is still progressive. I was there thirty-two years ago, when it aptly represented one of the meanest description of Highland clachans. It then consisted of a great number of low smoky cottages, overgrown with grass and noisome weeds, scattered in all directions, without the slightest regard to order or convenience. There was one tolerable inn, according to the notions of the day, but such as was more suitable for drovers and excise-officers than any higher description of travellers. As regards regularity in the position ofvthe houses, little change has been effected, but, with few exceptions, they seem all comfortable; and there are two elegant hotels fitted for the reception of the best in the land. What chiefly characterises Castleton is its brawling, boisterous river, the Cluny, which divides it into two nearly equal parts. The bed of this river is exceedingly rocky, and, during a high flood, it- must present a magnificent appearance.

This village, being at least 1200 feet above the sea, is reckoned very salubrious, and is much resorted to, during summer and autumn, by the inhabitants of Aberdeen, Montrose, and other towns along the east coast. To accommodate such visitors, the old cottages have generally either been new roofed, or superseded by others of a more pretending description. The uneven, rocky nature of the ground, intersected by the Cluny and sundry mill leads, renders it dangerous to walk about at night; so that, if accidents have not frequently happened to strangers from this cause, they may regard themselves as having been in great luck. Though the inns are large and commodious, they ate often overflowing with company, who are quartered at night throughout the village. We took up our residence at the Invercauld Arms, and slept in a very neat, newly-built cottage, and in both respects found ourselves extremely comfortable. Mrs Clark and son are most attentive to their guests; and whoever has tarried there this season will not readily forget the alacrity and cheerfulness of Old Greorge, the waiter. He has seen much service in various parts of England and Scotland, and is so well up to nis business, that he should not be parted with on slight grounds. He was always very decently attired, and the number of breakfasts, dinners, teas, and suppers, he had to provide, was endless; yet he never lost patience, having a good-natured joke ever ready for those who seemed to like them, and overlooking nobody.

Castleton can boast of no fewer than three handsome places of worship. One belongs to the Establishment, another is Catholic, and the other Free Church. Almost the half of the population in this district is of the Catholic persuasion. Catholics here, however, are very different from what we find them in most other parts of England and Scotland. There are few, if any, Irish among them, and they may be regarded as the aborigines of this part of the Highlands. They are generally well educated, orderly, and civil, and have had the advantage, for many years past, of having a lady of high rank as a member of their communion. Their place of worship is new and elegant. Tradesmen being employed in adorning it, I entered repeatedly, and was as much pleased with its internal as its external appearance. The priest, I was told, is superior to the generality of his order. The Free Church is of a less pretending description, but extremely neat, and what is of more consequence, the minister, who seceded in 1843? is a man of a peaceabtapious, and literary disposition. The Established Cnurch vies with the Catholic one in external and internal elegance, and its minister is respected and esteemed by all who know him—so that I know few places so fortunate as Castleton, as regards the most important of all concerns, religious instruction, and from all I saw, it has not been thrown away upon the inhabitants. We attended the Established Church, and were highly pleased and edified with the services of the day. There was a remarkably good congregation, considering the vicinity of the other places of worship. Several families of distinction occupied the front of the galleries, and there were many respectable-looking strangers interspersed with the general flock. It is surely much to be desired that this parish, Braemar, should be disunited from Crathie, not only on account of the greatly increased and increasing importance of Castleton; but as all the free teind of the united parishes belongs to the Braemar district.

Our great object in coming here was to visit the lofty mountains at the source of the Dee, for on this side of them there is no inn nearer than Castleton, though the distance to the summit of the highest is twenty-one miles. The weather was of a most teazing description; very cold, but generally fair and clear, though the high mountains were almost always covered with clouds, and when these occasionally dispersed, we found they had constantly been discharging copious showers of snow, with which the highest range had been covered from the middle of August. We waited two days, in hopes of a favourable change, but, as the snow was evidently becoming daily deeper, and time more pre-dons, we resolved to make the ascent. These two days, I devoted to climbing some of the neighbouring heights, particularly Morron, or large nose, the view from which is very commanding. It rises close to the village, and ought to be visited t>y all strangers who have any taste at all for mountain scenery. Considering the height of its base, I should think the cairn cannot be under 2800 feet above the sea. The ascent is gradual and easy, and the view richly remunerates the fatigue. While on the summit, I was joined by two genteel young tourists, who politely offered me protection under their plaids from a heavy shower of hail and snow, an offer which I gladly accepted.

During this time, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the excellent minister of Brae-mar and his family circle. Owing to a mutual friend, I also became acquainted with one of the district surgeons. It is not a little remarkable, that this gentleman, though a native of one of the richest and most level counties in England, has become completely naturalised as a Highlander. He even wears the philabeg, and, both professionally and otherwise, is quite a favourite with the inhabitants. He has a brother in Ballater, who has been at least equally successful as a vender of almost all kinds of merchandise. It is a rare case, indeed, for Englishmen, not only to migrate to such a clime, but by patient continuance in well-doing, to ensure success in their professions. During these two days, my fellow-traveller was occupied with fishing in Lochs Callater and Tilt, sketching, and deer-stalking, having had the honour of joining, by invitation, a party from Mar Lodge in this latter very exciting pursuit.

Before leaving home, having heard and read much of the extreme strictness of the Duke of Leeds in preserving his forest, I thought it might be as well to write to his Grace on the subject, lest, after travelling some two hundred and fifty miles, I should be foiled in my object. Accordingly, I wrote respectfully, intimating my intention, expecting that one or other of his people would be directed to reply. The Duke himself did so. and in terms becoming his high rank. Repeated letters passed between us, and 1 must say in a spirit of condescension and reasonableness on his part that fully convinced me the public ought to be satisfied with his views on the subject. His Grace even invited me to call at Mar Lodge, and promised, if I did so, that he would send one of his foresters along with me to any of the mountains I might wish to visit Though altogether unauthorised, yet I trust no offence will be taken by my extracting from one of the above letters a passage which may remove much misapprehension on this subject:—

“In answer to your letter, I never make any objection, nor have I the right to do so, to persons nsiog any of the established roads through Mar Forest These roads are—1st, Up Glen Lui and the Derry, to Speyside and Abernethy; 2d, Branch from Glen Lui, up Glen Lui-Beg, and round the base of Caim-na-Veim into the Larig Rhui, to Aviemore ; 3d, Up Glen Dee, and over the Geldie, by Cairn-na-Geldy, to Glen Feshie ; 4th, A branoh from this near junction of Dee and Geldy water,up Glen Dee till it joins road No. 2, and so leadB through the pass of the Larig Rhui.

*There is, properly speaking, no road to the top of Ben Macdhui; but no objection is ever made to persons going up by the Sapper’s Track, up Corn Etichan and Derry, or to weir returning by the Ben Macdhui burn to the Glen Lui-Beg road, provided they will call and mention their wish to do so; and, of course, no objection to their descending the west free to the Lang Rimi, if they choose to risk their necks, as all the upper part of the Larig is beyond the deer ground.”

From the clear statement here given, it appears that there are no less than four different routes through the Mar Forest, in none of which will travellers meet with any interruption; and I can answer for it, that these are exactly the tracks that are most likely to gratify the tourist. That noblemen and gentlemen, who pay enormously for these forests, should be careful to preserve them from illegal intrusion, is most natural; and I cannot see how any person can reasonably object to their doing so.

With regard to Glen Tilt, the merits of that case are under litigation,- and therefore I shall say nothing about it But as to the Mar Forest, it seems to me so very dear, that I am convinced none who understand the case thoroughly will blame the Duke. How would any low country proprietor or farmer like to have his fields traversed in all directions by the public? Now, the Forest of Mar is the Duke’s farm, for which he pays a high rent, and the stock of which cannot be suitably preserved without much care and expensive outlay. If any man prefers rocks, heath, and deer, to cultivated fields, sheep, and oxen, we have no right to object. This is a matter of taste; and right glad ought Scotland to be that such a taste does prevail among many of our English neighbours, as much wealth is thus annually poured into our comparatively poor country.

It may be said that in traversing these forests no fences are thrown down and no crops injured. This is granted. But any man who knows anything of red deer, must be aware that their senses of seeing, hearing, and smelling, are most acute, and their habits shy in the extreme; so that a stranger, by incautiously passing through their haunts, may quite inadvertently drive them from the ground, and thus injure the sport for weeks, or even for the whole season. When accompanied by a forester, this may, in a great measure, be obviated, as these men are thoroughly acquainted with the ground and the nature of the animals; and, by examining the hills with their glasses, and studying the wind, they can generally conduct a stranger through the forests so as not to occasion material injury. These things considered, it astonishes me not a little that any intelligent person should blame the Duke in this matter; and still more that, when civilly warned of their trespass, and directed to the lawful tracks by which the most interesting parts of the forest may be seen, they should yet persist in violating the rights of property.

Some years ago, a learned Professor of Botany, in going to Ben Macdhui, with some dozen or two of his pupils, armed with hammers and cudgels, gallantly stormed the pass of Glen Lui-Beg, in defiance of one or two keepers, who civilly requested them to ascend by the ordinary and lawful route. Perhaps they considered they had performed a mighty exploit in so doing, though I trust there are very many who will be of a different opinion. Be this as it may, their successful foray aroused the genius of some unknown bard, who celebrated their courage and prowess in strains which require only to be known to be admired. I have vainly inquired _ as to his name and whereabouts, for true merit is always associated with shrinking modesty. After no little pains, however, I have succeeded in rescuing his sublime effusion from entire oblivion,though

I regret to say it must still be presented to the public in a very mutilated form:—

*They sun’ to pa'
Some girse that grew '
On Ben M(Du’,
Whar ne'er coo
Had set her mod.
If a' be true,
Tween me and you,
They Bair did rue
They ere did view
The big Mack toum 
Or Lang Ru;’
For not a few
Got roarin’ fou
On mountain daw,
Whilk gart them gnie,
And bock, and spue! ”

Whether the above is to be regarded as lyrical, or a portion of an epic poem, having the learned Doctor as the hero, I am not sufficiently versed in these matters to decide. I trust, however that my exertions in picking up such an interesting fragment, here a little and there a little, will not be unappreciated by a discerning public. The closing lines are particularly pathetic and moving; and I am sure, if warbled by some fair damsel in a strain equally touching, the effect would be overpowering. Scotch music is now, unfortunately, banished from all our fashionable circles and educational institutions; or, if tolerated at all, it is so tricked out with outlandish meretricious graces, called variation*, that our finest old tunes are only faintly recognisable at intervals, like angels in a mist. I would therefore humbly suggest that, seeing also the measure and rhyme are somewhat quaint, the lines should be married to some plaintive German or Italian air, in which case the fair cantatrice might in all probability touch the heart of one or other of the doughty champions, whose victory and woes fire here to pathetically recorded.

"Forsan et haec olim meminisee juvabit.”

"The time may come when even these,
Our sad mishaps, may soothe and please.**


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