Flowers of Scotland Chapter XIV. On the Mountains
"THIS way to Braemar.
And a finger on the
post points away to the right.
This way to Braemar.
And a second finger,
on another post, points to the left.
There is nothing
strange in two ways leading to the same place; indeed it is one of
the commonest of experiences, the main problem being to find out the
shorter one. .
One of these ways, so
kindly indicated in the freshest of paint and the clearest of
letters, has a decided hint of a curve in it.
More suspicious even
than that is the quite paternal interest taken in the well - being
of pedestrians. There is a difference of opinion here, and two
unknown benefactors vie with each other in their zeal to prevent
needless wandering. This is unusual in the Highlands, where one is
left to grope along as best he can, and is taken roughly to task if,
in his ignorance, and to his own great loss of time and strength, he
chance to wander.
Now the spirit of
these finger-posts is far other than friendly. As soon as one learns
why they were put there, the very aspect alters, and they are seen
to glare and storm at each other. They represent the very old
dispute between private rights and public wrongs. The property has
passed out of the hands of one of the old families, and it is the
purchaser who kindly recommends the circular route. His finger-post
really means, I wish to shut up the other way.
And the jealous
guardians of the sacredness of paths which human feet have trod,
time out of mind, without so much as saying, By your leave, put up
their finger-post, which flatly contradicts the other, and says,
You shall not do anything of the kind, if we can help it.
In my experience, the
practical victory in all such breezy disputes lies with the
proprietor, provided he makes the friction as severe and constant as
possible. The timid fear to venture; and even the bold, when they
have gone once or twice slowly over the ground, just to show their
independence, turn aside from the annoyances, and take the other
In this case, the old
path happened to be of quite exceptional interest to a small but
mildly stubborn order of visitors. Their grievance was not in the
closing of the nearest way to Braemarmany of them would have
trudged the extra mile or two without a word. The attraction lay
along the route, and not in the goal. Lost through all the long
hours of a summer day in Glen Doile, they never so much as emerged
from the other end. Stained and footsore, but not weary, and with a
light shining in their faces, they might have been seen towards
night coming out just about where they had gone in. To them the
finger-post meant the shutting up of their hilly paradise.
I have no intention
of going to Braemar to-day. My further route is in a pleasing state
of uncertainty, as it always is when I am abroad. The forbidden
ground is just what I have come to see.
There, the gathering
majesty of the way passes into still loftier reaches of grandeur and
sublimity. Though it gets the name of Doile, it is only the fitting
climax where Clova abuts, and abruptly closes, on the tremendous
cross - ridge of the Grampians, forming the backbone of the
Nor is it mainly for
the scene I have come, though never for so much as a moment is it
possible to lose consciousness of it,but because these
torrent-ploughed slopes form one of the few wild-gardenscertainly
one of the first threeof our rarest Scottish alpines.
Like Nelson, I am
blind to the signal I do not wish to see, and obey the finger-post
which points the, nearest way to Braemar as up the glen.
The road passes near
the dwellingI believe it now makes a detour. As I thread my way
among the outhouses, I am aware of being the object of a little
hostile attention. Loiterers cast a side glance, and disappear into
some doorway as if to make my unwelcome presence known. A few
moments bring me beyond the shot of eyes into a scene of picturesque
wildnessthat is, wildness which is not at the same time desolation.
One autumn dayit may
be such another as thisa sportsman was shooting over the
surrounding heights. His title came from a barren spot in one of the
shorter glens opening on Strathmore, watered by the Quharity, dear
to all readers of Barrie. His income he owed to a richer property on
the banks of the Tay, and a spirit, which was singularly childlike,
to nature alone. He paused as his eye fell upon a patch of rose
It is an excellent
thing, when one is alone shooting in these out-of-the-way places, to
have a pair of eyes in ones head, and a soul of some kind behind
them. The blue sky, and the cloud shadows, and the life and colour
of the hills, weave tender threads into the coarser texture of days
Easily carried about,
and a benefit to the possessor, these simple gifts, as in the case
of this blushing alpine, sometimes notice what others would like to
see and are glad to hear about.
Few have better
opportunities than sportsmen, if they cared to use them. Compared
with their systematic work, the zig-zagging of an occasional
naturalist is trifling and ineffective, leaving vast tracks on
either hand unexplored. They quarter every interesting hill in
Scotland, cross every yard of every slope and summit, and that at
the bright season of the year, when all the later and rarer alpines
are in flower. Granting a little natural curiosity, they might have
many a pleasant revelation to make. Others must have passed that
patch, but no one had thought it worth his while to pause, or tell
over again that such a thing was there.
But this was a
sportsman of the proper sort, to whom the birds would have been
nothing without the background and the thousand little touches that
made their upland home charming. In after years he did not think it
worth his while to rehearse how many brace had fallen to his gun.
True, it was before the days of sensational bags, when, as yet,
grouse-shooting was a gentlemanly sport.
But I have heard him
tell, with great animation, of the delight with which he looked on
that vision of beauty. And I know that it remained a lovely spot on
his memory to the latest years of his life. The flower had been lost
sight of, and the privilege of having found it again made him glad.
With the economy of a
lover of nature, who never wastes, however great the wealth may seem
to be, he gathered, in remembrance of that Clova idyl. The late
Professor Balfour on one of his excursions came that way, and the
finder sent a little to where the botanist was staying. It is said
that certain playful youngsters of the student band caused the
treasure to be placed under cover, and served up for dinner; and we
can well believe that the old enthusiast forgot his hunger in his
This wild flower is
only reported from the one site, but may have been Overlooked on two
or three of the heights of the same north-west corner of Forfar.
Beyond this restricted area it has only as yet been found in the
north of England, where it grows, at a much lower elevation, to a
This would seem to
show it is no denizen of the hills by birth and long tradition, but
only one of the Shetland pony order of fairy plants, which, under
more favourable conditions, would probably lose its alpine
characteristics. I have seen it flowering freely enough in the
gardens of Highland gamekeepers, who had brought a bit away as they
were passing its haunts.
The alpine catchfly,
as it is named, presents a very miniature or fairy semblance of the
extremely pretty crimson day-catchfly, abounding in most of our
moist woods, and brightening so many of our stream banks; as if the
larger flower had climbed up the hillside, and dwarfed as it rose
This crimson patch is
the goal which, after visiting the rare corners of the glen, and
seeing all that grows there, I intend reaching.
The day is young,
and, for so young a day, is used up. It has already parted with its
morning freshnessif, in the early hours before I was abroad, it
ever had any. There is sultriness in the breathless air, and a
pitiless glare in the light. A lit haze fills the glen. Even Clova
was open and breezy in comparison. If it is thus at eleven, what
will it be at two? is a question I am in a position to answer from
my recent experience. And there is less promise of shelter on these
bare heights. Already it matters not on which side of a boulder one
Moreover, the ascent
has become sharper, and the road rougher. There is more of the climb
in ones walk. The rush and noise and broken water of the stream
alongside is a sufficient measure of the incline.
Eleven is a good time
for a rest. It is the hour chosen by outdoor workers, in the sunny
months, for placing their backs against the shady side of the stooks.
Eleven hours they call their forenoon break. The water is
inviting, and here is a bank which will afford the skirt of a
How brown my hands
are! I must be like a mulatto! My last nights lodging had nothing
so refined as a mirror, and the water is too broken to see! Stay,
there is a quiet place behind the boulder! How still the glen is!
The baa of the black-faced sheep seems to emphasise the solitude!
What is all the fuss about ? No one is here to disturb !
A faint sound,
resembling a footstep, reaches me, and, a few minutes afterwards, a
man, accompanied by two dogs, appears on the bank overhead. The turn
down to the water-side, though not a ruse, has served the same
purpose. To all appearance, the man intended following, keeping, as
far as possible, out of sight; but, missing me, he had ventured
forward to reconnoitre: there he stands, revealed in all his brief
Now the positions are
reversed. He has to go on, and I can watch him. It is rather an
uncomfortable position for a spy. I dry my feet in the sun - no very
long processwhy, they have a tint of brown on them already;
leisurely put on my boots, and climb up the bank.
My friend is equal to
the occasion. In calculating on any advantage, I have reckoned
without my host. Though he can scarce have got above two or three
hundred yards away, and the glen is shelterless, save for some
tumbled fragments of rock, he is nowhere in view. Instead of the
sullen up-and-down movements of two tails, and the flash from a gun
barrel, the sun.
shone. On bracken green, and cold grey stone.
He has vanished into
thin air, or dropped behind a boulder, or lain down all his length
under some imperceptible rising of the groundprotectively coloured
in his pepper-and-salt suit. And his dogs play up to him. Not a hair
of them is to be seen. Once again he regains the advantage; and so
this mountain comedy passes through its several acts.
An hour afterwards he
suddenly reappearsfrom nowhere in particular. I look, and he is
not; I look again, and, behold, he is within a few feet. I seize the
chance of asking the nearest way to the hill on which the catchfly
grows. This is adding insult to injury. He regards me more in sorrow
than in anger, and solemnly warns me that, so far from helping, he
will stand across my path.
When he sees that the
threat has not the desired effect, he melts into the Highland air,
fades into the grass; and, though I never lose the uneasy sense that
he is fixing me from behind every stone or tuft of mountain meadow
grass, he returns no more.
It is characteristic
of these glens in the northwest corner of Forfar, that their wild
flowers, with very few exceptions, are much alike. What you find in
one, you may look for in the other. And as I shall visit a second,
it is the less needful to tell all that grows here.
similarity, if not so close, holds of that concentration of the
Highlands, that eternal gathering of the clans, where the three
counties of Forfar, Perth, and Aberdeen meet. It may be worth
noticing, in the passing, that Perth and Forfar have an equal number
of alpines, but not quite the same. Seven are absent from each
county, which are present in the other.
The purple mountain
milk vetch, so common on seaside links, and again on the lower
slopes of hills, passes, at a certain height on Craigmad, into the
alpine form, which is mainly white, only tipped with purple.
Elsewhere this alpine is found on Craigandree, at Braemar. A similar
form, the yellow mountain oxytropis, grows among these hills, and
not anywhere else, so far as I know, in Britain.
The sun climbs slowly
down as I climb slowly up. On the top I look round for that
particular summit, whose shape I partly know. And then I go off in
search of the patch of rose, whose charm is certainly not any
greater than that of the spirit which once reflected it; which had
brought to a halt and gladdened one who was at once a sportsman and
Already are the
shadows creeping up the eastern slopes. It will be as easy to reach
the next glen as to trudge back to Clova. And the air of my lodging
for the night is likely to be fresher.
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