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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter XII. The Caledonian Canal


The route of the steamer from the foot of Ben Nevis to Inverness, lies along a remarkable chain of lakes, that occupy a long and narrow valley extending through the very heart of Scotland, in a direction from southwest to northeast, and reaching from the base of Ben Nevis to Inverness. The line of these lakes is easily to be seen upon the map. In a state of nature the lakes were connected by rapid streams flowing from the center lake, which is the highest, down through the others each way to the sea. But though the lakes themselves were navigable, the streams were not. Many years ago, however, as has already been intimated, deep channels were cut along these streams, and locks made where-ever there was an ascent or descent, so as to form a navigable communication through the whole distance, which received the name of the Caledonian canal.

Mrs. Morelle and her party, remained a day or two at the foot of Ben Nevis, taking little excursions in the environs, and exploring for a few miles, in various directions, the glens which open around the mountain. On the morning of the third day, they took the steamer, again, at a place called Banavie, where there was a large and beautiful hotel, standing almost by itself in a wild and beautiful place, and surrounded by gardens and ornamental grounds A great many of the best inns and hotels in Scotland, stand thus in secluded places, entirely apart from the towns, being intended altogether for the accommodation of tourists journeying for pleasure, and being placed accordingly in the localities where it is supposed to be most convenient or most agreeable for such travellers to stop.

By having rested from the steamer two days, the children were well prepared to return to it again, and they had a delightful passage along the canal. Sometimes they found themselves sailing in a very narrow channel which had been excavated artificially, to connect one lake with another. Next they would come to a chain of locks, by means of which the steamer was to be raised up, or let down, from one level to another; and while the lockmen were engaged in this operation, which always required some time, the passengers would step out upon the embankment, and ramble about the neighborhood, or walk on to the next lock, with a view of getting on board again when the steamer came to it. Then at length, suddenly the steamer would emerge from the narrow and artificial channel into one of the lakes, and would glide swiftly on from one end of it to the other, between the lofty ranges of mountains which bordered it on either hand.

In all cases, the course of the steamer was so near to the shore, that all the features of the scenery could be very distinctly seen, and it was an endless source of amusement to the children to watch the changes which were continually taking place, and to explore every hidden recess of the landscape, and examine every detail with the glass. They saw the sheep feeding on the mountain sides, watched by the shepherd and his dog, and the cottages, with Highland children, dressed in the kilt, playing at the doors, and now and then an elegant travelling carriage moving along the road at the margin of the water.

There were a great many mists and clouds floating over the mountain tops, and these increased toward the middle of the day. For a time the effect of these clouds was only to add an additional feature of grandeur to the scenery, by the magnificent forms which the stupendous masses of vapor assumed on the summits of the mountain chains, and the mysterious and solemn gloom which they seemed to impart to the deep valleys, by hanging over them in heavy folds, like those of a curtain, and diffusing through the recesses which they half concealed, a dark and impenetrable gloom. Florence said that she could not decide whether she liked the mountains best when full in view, or when half covered with clouds. .

“Nor I,” said Grimkie. “ nly it is raining from some of those clouds. All I am afraid of is, that one of them may come and rain upon us.”

Grimkie’s fears were destined to be realized. In a short time it began to rain upon the deck of the steamer. Some of the passengers, especially the ladies, hastily gathering up their maps, and guide books, and travelling bags, went below. Others drew themselves into as compact a mass as possible, and spreading an umbrella over their heads, kept their seats. Some gentlemen put on India rubber coats, which they seemed to have ready at hand, and went on walking up and down the deck just as before. One of the men belonging on board the steamer came up from below, and took up all the cushions which were not in use, and carried them down. He also gathered together all books, bags, shawls and other such things as any of the passengers had left exposed, and putting them upon the end of a seat he covered them with a tarpaulin. He also gathered together all the camp-stools which were not in use, and put them under cover.

Mrs. Morelle went below as soon as the first drops of the shower began to fall, leaving the children to remain if they chose. Grimkie found a place which was in a good degree sheltered from the wind and rain, and there, placing Florence upon one camp-stool in the middle, and John upon another at the side of her, while he took his place upon the other side, and then after spreading a large travelling shawl, or rug as the English call it, over their knees, and tucking it in well all around, he opened his umbrella, which was very large, and looking out from under it at the shower, he said,

“Now let it rain.”

For some time the children seemed to enjoy the scene and the novelty of their situation, but before long they began to get tired, and at length they determined to avail themselves of the first opportunity, when the rain should slacken a little, to go below.

“I have got something for us to do there,” said Grimkie. “We shall get the benefit of Mr. Twig's advice."

“Who is Mr. Twig?” asked Florence.

“He is the gentleman on board the steamer,” replied Grimkie, “that told me about travelling in Scotland. He said that one of the most important things, was to provide plenty of employment for rainy days. It rained, he said, in Scotland about half the time.”

“Oh, Grimkie!” exclaimed John.

“Among the Highlands, he meant,” said Grimkie. “He said that the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Highlands and islands of Scotland formed one great distilling appartus. The Gulf of Mexico was the boiler, and the mountains in Scotland the condenser.

“But come,” added Grimkie, interrupting himself, “it does not rain much just this moment. Let us go below.”

So they rose from their seats, and taking every thing with them they hurried along the deck to the companion-way and went below.

They found a very pretty cabin, handsomely carpeted, with four long tables in it, two on each side, and cushioned seats behind them. There was also a row of small windows, with sliding sashes, above, from which they could look out over the water. Groups of passengers were sitting here and there at the tables. Some were looking over their maps and guide books, and others were lounging on the seats with a listless air, as if they had had no one to forewarn them, as Mr. Twig had done for Grimkie, of the necessity of providing work for rainy days.

Grimkie found seats for his party at one of the tables. He placed his aunt and Florence at the back side of it, upon one of the cushioned seats, and set camp-stools for himself and John in front. He then went for his knapsack.

This knapsack Grimkie always kept with him in travelling. He bought it in Liverpool. It was made of morocco, of a bronze-green color, and was provided with a strap which was arranged in such a way that the knapsack could be suspended from the shoulder, or carried in the hand like a bag. In it Grimkie carried his portfolio, his writing apparatus, Mrs. Morelle’s opera-glass, the map, the guide book, and other such things as it was necessary to have always at hand.

When he had brought the knapsack he laid it down upon the table, and as soon as he had taken It's seat, he opened it and took out his portfolio, containing Florence's flowers.

“'Ah!” said Florence, “here are my flowers.”

Grinklie had collected a large number of delicate Alpine flowers, for Florence, during their ascent of Ben Nevis, and had put them all carefully between the leaves of the blotting paper book, which he had made for her. On the evening of the same day, on his return from the mountain, he had looked over all these flowers and rearranged them. In doing this, he cut off with the point of a pair of scissors, all the superfluous parts, smoothed out the little leaves, bent the stems into graceful forms, and put them into fresh places between the leaves. When he had done all this, he placed the book under a small piece of board which he found in the yard of the hotel, and put the whole beneath one of the legs of the bedstead in his room, which of course subjected the book, and the plants between the leaves of it, to a heavy pressure.

The next morning, when the party were about to leave the hotel, Grimkie took out the book, and after winding a long tape round it a great many times, and tying the ends, he crowded some wedges in on both sides, between the tape and book covers. This produced a pressure upon the plants which, though not so great as before, was sufficient at this stage of the process.

It was this book, thus tied up and wedged, that Grimkie now took out from his knapsack.

“That's a nice way to press the flowers" said Florence. .

“Yes" replied Grimkie, “only the sides of the book are not stiff enough to wedge against. I ought to have two thin pieces of board, just the size of the book covers, to put upon them, one on each side."

Grimkie opened the book and looked at the flowers. They were pressed very nicely, and the colors of the flowers were well preserved. He also took out from his knapsack some sheets of white note paper, which he proceeded to fold into quarters and then to cut them open at the foldings with a knife, so as to make a number of little sheets of paper of about the size and shape of visiting cards, each one, however, having, like the original sheet of note paper, two leaves. He gave these to Florence as fast as he made them, that she might trim the edges with her scissors. These sheets were to gum the little flowers upon.

He also took from his knapsack, a small bottle of gum arabic. This bottle was very small, being not much bigger than a large thimble, and it was very strong, so as not to be in any danger of breaking, by being carried in a knapsack.

Grimkie took out the cork from this bottle, and then proceeded to select from his stock of flowers, two or three of different kinds, such as could he arranged together prettily in the form of a bouquet. These he proceeded to gum upon one of his little sheets of paper. He would take out a very small quantity of the dissolved gum arabic,—which was very thick,—being of about the consistence of honey, and then touch a very little of it, delicately at different points on the under side of the flower. Then he would lay down the flower upon the inside page of one of his little sheets of note paper, taking care to place it in exactly the position in which he meant it to lie.

Presently Florence and John after seeing how Grimkie managed the work, undertook it themselves, each selecting flowers from among those which had been pressed, and gumming them upon the paper. In this manner, in the course of half an hour, quite a number of very pretty specimens were prepared.

The flowers were in all cases gummed upon what may be called the third page of the little sheet of note paper: that is, upon the right hand page of the second leaf, on the inside. The first leaf then, when laid down, covered and protected the flower.

“When we stop at the next hotel,” said Grimkie, “we will write upon these little sheets what the flowers are, and where they come from, and then put them all up for you Florence in a package, and so when you get back to America you can distribute them among your friends."

Just at this time the attention of the whole party was suddenly attracted to a gleam of sunshine, which came in through one of the windows and fell upon the floor. John immediately abandoned every thing and hurried away to go on deck. Grimkie after putting all his apparatus carefully away in his knapsack, followed him, saying to his aunt and Florence that he would come back in a moment and tell them whether it was dry enough for them to come up too.

In a few minutes Grimkie came down and said that the steamer was going to stop pretty soon in a certain place on the border of the lake, in order to allow the passengers to go on shore to see a waterfall.

“To see a waterfall!" exclaimed Mrs. Morelle. “I never heard of such a thing as a steamer's stopping for the passengers to see a waterfall. You don't mean that she is going to wait for us."

“Yes, Auntie," said Grimkie. “That is it. She is going to wait here while we go up and see it, and then come back. It is only a little way."

“Let us go, then, by all means" said Mrs. Morelle.

Mrs. Morelle decided to go at once, without stopping to make any inquiries. Cases of this kind often occur in which an experienced traveller is safe in taking things upon trust, without making inquiries. Mrs. Morelle saw at a glance that a steamer would not stop for such a purpose unless the fall was really remarkable, and well worthy the attention of the tourists on board, nor without having proper arrangements made, in respect to guides, paths, and all other necessary facilities for going to and from the place. So when, on ascending to the deck she found the ladies and gentlemen generally preparing to go on shore, she determined at once to join them, especially as it was plain that there was no time for obtaining any information, as the steamer was now close to the pier.

It was a small pier, projecting out a little way from the shore, in a very wild and solitary place.

The mountain-side rose quite abruptly from the surface of the water, half covered with forests, and there was no town, nor even any house in sight. There was nothing but a small building at the end of the pier near which a kind of cab, or short omnibus without any covering over it, was standing.

The steamer was soon made fast and the passengers went on shore. Most of them began at once to walk up a road which was seen ascending in a diagonal manner through the trees. Some of the ladies were getting into the cab.

“Auntie,” said Grimkie. “They are going to ride up. You had better ride too.”

“How far is it?” asked Mrs. Morelle.

“I don't know at all,” said Grimkie. “Only it must be far enough to ride, or else they would not have a carriage.”

This reasoning seemed very conclusive, but Mrs. Morelle turned to a gentleman who was walking near her with a lady upon his arm, and asked him if he knew how far it was to the fall.

“No madam,” said he with a smile, “we don’t know any thing about it. We are only following the multitude.”

Mrs. Morelle might perhaps have asked half or two thirds of the whole company without receiving any other answer than this.

“I think you had better ride, Auntie,” said Grimkie. “That will be the safest way.”

Mrs. Morelle acceded to this proposal and Grimkie helped her into the cab, and then he followed Florence and John up the road.

The road was a most excellent one. It was not very wide, but it was perfectly made, and the borders of it on each side were finished as nicely as if it had been a walk in a gentleman’s private grounds. The land was very steep, both above and below it, and the slopes were covered with forest trees. The road ascended in a zigzag direction, in long reaches, though the children soon came to places where there were short cuts by a foot-path from one angle of the road to another, which they found that most of the people who were walking took, and so they took them too.

They went on in this way for nearly half an hour, ascending all the time, and at length they seemed to have left the carriage road altogether. At last, however, they came out into it again at a place where they could hear the roar of the waterfall in a deep ravine below them. The tourists seemed to find out by some sort of instinct that this was the place where the carriage was to come, and so those who had ladies in the carriage stopped here, to wait for the carriage to come up, while the others began to go down a steep zigzag path which led into the ravine.

“We will wait here,” said Grimkie, “until Auntie comes.”

It was not long before the carriage came, and all the ladies who had rode up in it got out. They then all began to go down the zigzag path into the ravine. The scenery in the chasm was grand beyond description. The path, as it changed its direction at the different turns, brought continually new portions of the vast chasm into view, and revealed awful depths which it made one dizzy to look down into. At the same time the thundering of the cataract, reverberating from the rocky precipices which formed the sides of the chasm filled the air with a deafening sound.

At length the path came to an end on a pinnacle of rock, where there was room for only one or two to stand at a time, and where the fall itself was in full view. It was an immense torrent coming down through a vast fissure in the rocks above, and falling with the noise of thunder, eighty or ninety feet, into an awful abyss below.

It was fearful to stand upon the dizzy pinnacle where the path terminated, and attempt to look down into the gulf half hidden by mist and spray into which the cataract descended. Only one or two could stand there at a time, and the visitors were consequently obliged to take turns. Mrs. Morelle allowed the children to go, one at a time, while she held them nervously to prevent their falling, and right glad she was when they all had seen it and she could go away.

The company lingered a little while at the different turns of the path to look down into the chasm. It was of a very irregular form, and it presented new and striking aspects at every new point of view. It was very impressive to survey the precipitous rocks, the trees clinging to the crevices on the sides, and the foaming torrents forcing their way furiously through the devious and rocky channels at an immense depth below.

After a time all the passengers had ascended to the place where the carriage had been left. The ladies who had rode up took their places in it again, and began to descend the hill by the road, while the rest of the party went down more rapidly by the short cuts which the footpath followed.

Grimkie waited at the bottom until the carriage came down, and then, after helping his aunt to descend, and paying the driver of the carriage the shilling fare, they all went together again on board the steamer.

The name of this cataract is the Fall of Foyers. It is on the shore of Loch Ness, the last of the lakes which lie on the line of the Caledonian canal; and not many hours from the time of resuming the voyage, after visiting the fall, the steamer arrived at its destination at Inverness.

As the party went into the town from the place of debarkation, they all gazed about them with great curiosity and interest. They saw the river Ness flowing rapidly along between green and beautiful banks, and a long and massive stone bridge leading across it, and a grand looking castle on the brow of a hill bordering the town overlooking the river, and a compact mass of grey stone houses, ancient and venerable in appearance, but snug, tidy, and all in excellent order. Nothing was imperfect or unfinished. There was no building going on, nor any improvements of any kind in progress. Florence said it looked as if the town had been completed fifty years before, and that thenceforth nothing had been done, and nothing was ever to be done but to keep everything in it in the nicest order.

There were the neatest and prettiest little graveled roads extending along the banks of the river on either side, which promised to be charming walks, and ornamented grounds here and there which seemed to be open to the public, and high craggy summits of hills seen in the environs that Grimkie said he must ascend. On the whole the aspect of the town and of its environs was charming. But the party could only get, occasional glimpses of the view, for they were driven along rapidly in their carriage, and at length stopped in the middle of a street, at the door of a very snug, compact, and quiet-looking hotel, called the Union Hotel. Grimkie had chosen it from its name, partly on account of the American associations connected with that word, and partly for the sake of variety. The other principal hotel in the town was the Caledonian; and as it was the Caledonian canal on which they had been travelling all day, Grimkie said it would make an agreeable change, he thought, to take some other name for the hotel.

After the party became settled at the hotel, John, on reflecting upon the name, wondered at first that one of so peculiarly American a meaning should be given to an inn in so remote a part of Scotland. He concluded that it must have been given out of compliment to the Americans, in hopes of attracting their custom; just as he had seen “New York Hotel” at Glasgow. He at length ventured to ask a respectable looking gentleman who was standing at the door what the name denoted. The gentleman answered him as follows, in broad Scotch:

“It is joost to commemorate the union of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland," said he. “Ye ken that in former days they were separate altogether, but at length by marriages and intermarriages atween the twa royal hooses, they baith descended to the same heir, who was James Sixth of Scotland and First of England. But still the twa kingdoms were separate, each with its own parliament and its own laws, although they were ruled over by one and the same king. This was found in the end not to be convenient, and so finally an act of union was passed by which the twa realms themselves were moulded and merged into ane, with ane only parliament at London to make laws for the whole. This was the famous union, and ye will larn all aboot it, when ye get a little older and study Scottish history.”

On hearing this, John went in and told Grimkie that he had missed it in coming to that hotel, for the union of it was not the American Union at all.


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