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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter XIII. The Vitrified Fort


The party arrived at the hotel about the middle of the afternoon. After getting somewhat settled in their rooms, Grimkie ordered dinner at five o'clock, and then, while Mrs. Morelle and Florence were occupied in their chamber, he and John went out to take a walk.

They spent their time during their walk in rambling along the principal streets of the town, occupying themselves with looking at the curious dresses of the people, hearing the little children talk broad Scotch in their play, and examining the objects displayed in the shop windows. Many of these objects were very curious, especially the bracelets, and pins, and brooches, made of Scotch pebbles, many of which were of the most singular forms, being made after the fashion of the different clans of Highlanders, as they wore them in ancient times.

“You may depend upon it my mother will buy some of these pins" said John.

There were also a number of curious articles made of wood painted in tartan, according to the fashion of the different clans, such as boxes, card-cases, needle-books, pen-holders, paper-folders, and many other such things.

When the time drew near which had been appointed for dinner, the boys went home, and very soon after they arrived the dinner was brought in. While they were at table, Grimkie asked his aunt, whether she was not glad, so far, that she had come.

“Yes,” said she, “very glad indeed. We have had a delightful voyage among the mountains and lakes, but I feel tired and I have a great idea of going into lodgings here for a week to rest and recruit.”

“Oh, mother!” exclaimed Florence, “we have not had anything to tire us. We have had nothing to do but to sit quietly on the deck of the steamer, and look at the scenery.”

“It is not my body that is tired,” said Mrs. Morelle, “but my mind. I have been continually wondering and admiring for four or five days, and I am tired of wondering and admiring. I want to be quiet a little while, to rest my mind, and get ready to begin again. And the best way to do that is to go into lodgings. I see lodgings to let, on several of the houses along the street.”

The English system in respect to accommodations for strangers at private houses, as well as that of the hotels, is entirely different from the usage which prevails in America. Instead of boarding houses, they have what is called lodging houses. In one of these houses, the party travelling, if they wish to remain some days in any place, and to spend the time in a more quiet and domestic way than by remaining at a hotel, take apartments and keep house, precisely as if they were in their own home. After looking at the different rooms, and hearing the prices of each, they select as many as they require, and take possession of them, paying so much a day for them The price which they pay for the rooms, includes the necessary service, and the cooking of the food, but not the purchase of it. The lodger may either purchase the food for himself, going to the market for it every day, just as if he were keeping house at home, or he may request the landlady to purchase it for him. In case he adopts the latter plan, the landlady keeps an account of what she expends, and brings him in the bill every morning.

In a word, at an English lodging house a lady stopping to rest for a week, finds herself keeping house, just as if she were at home, with an experienced, capable, and motherly woman to act as her househeeper, and to do every thing that she requires. She can arrange the expenses too just as she pleases, for every thing except the price of the rooms, which is agreed upon beforehand, is under her immediate control.

English ladies when they take lodgings in this way, usually go out themselves to the grocers and to the markets, to purchase their provisions and supplies—but American ladies, not being so well acquainted with English marketing, usually give the landlady a memorandum in the morning of what they would like during the day, and the landlady then makes the purchases.

In addition to the domestic quiet and repose which the traveller obtains by taking lodgings, when he wishes to remain in any town for several days, there is a great advantage in the arrangement, in point of economy. The expense is only from one-third to one-half, for the same looms and style of living, at the lodging-houses of what it costs at the hotels.

Mrs. Morelle had often experienced the advantage of stopping occasionally for a week, and going into lodgings, when she had been travelling in Europe before. But the children knew nothing about the system. They were, however, always ready for any new plan which was proposed, and in coming into Inverness they had seen so much to attract their attention that they were perfectly willing to remain there a week. So it was determined that they should remain at the hotel that night, and the next morning go and look out for lodgings.

But the next morning Mrs. Morelle found herself so well rested by a good night’s sleep that she began to feel inclined to go on.

“The next portion of our journey is by the stage-coach, Grimkie, is it not?” said she.

Grimkie said that it was. They were to go by a circuitous route, following the indentations of the shore to Wick, and there to wait for the Edinburgh steamer.

“And I believe,” said Grimkie, “that the steamer only goes once a week, and it touches at Wick every Friday night, at midnight.”

“At midnight,” repeated Mrs. Morelle.

“Yes, Auntie,” said Grimkie, “but that will not make any difference. It will be as light as day.”

“That will be funny,” said John.

“Let us send for Boots,” said Mrs. Morelle, “and ascertain exactly how it is.”

So Grimkie rang the bell and asked the waiter to send up Boots, and when he came they obtained from him all the necessary information. He said that the coach left Inverness every evening at eight o’clock—that it travelled all night— that about two o’clock it crossed a wide ferry called the Mickle Ferry—a mile wide—that it arrived at Wick about ten o’clock on the following day, and that the steamer would arrive from Edinburgh in the course of Friday night, and they would have to go on board early on Saturday morning.

The children were all very much pleased to learn that they were to ride in the stage-coach all night, and even Mrs. Morelle did not object to it on the whole. She concluded, however, not to remain at Inverness, as she had at first intended, but to go directly on as far as Wick. It was on Wednesday, when the party arrived at Inverness, and in order to be in time for the steamer of that week, it would be necessary to leave that very evening, and this she determined to do.

“And then,” said she, “when we arrive at Wick, in case the weather is favorable we will go on board the steamer and accomplish our voyage. If it is not favorable then we can go into lodgings and spend our week there.”

“Yes, Auntie,” said Grimkie, “John and I will like that very much, for then we can see the fishing boats go out and come in. Wick is the greatest place in the world for the herring fishery. The guide book says there are fifteen hundred large fishing boats that belong there.”

The plan being thus arranged, Grimkie and John went to the coach to “book” as they called it, for Wick. They were very desirous, of taking outside seats for themselves, and inside seats, which are much dearer, for the two ladies; but Mrs. Morelle was afraid to have the boys sit outside all night, for fear that they might get asleep and fall off. So she requested them to take the four inside seats for the party, promising that if there was room outside, and the coachman had no objection, they should ride there a part of the time.

Accordingly, Grimkie went to the coach office, and took all the four inside seats and paid the fare. The clerk said that the travellers must be at the office, with their luggage at a quarter before eight.

When the two boys returned to the hotel, they found a large open carriage before the door, and Mrs. Morelle and Florence preparing to take a drive around the environs of Inverness to see the scenery. Mrs. Morelle invited the two boys to join the party, which invitation they were of course very ready to accept. Grimkie proposed, too that, in the course of the ride the carriage should stop at the foot of Craig Phadric, and that they should all go up and see the remains of a vitrified fort that he said existed there.

In furtherance of this suggestion, he opened one of his books and read an account of the vitrified forts.

These forts are objects of great curiosity to tourists and antiquarians. They exist in various parts of the country, and are so ancient that not only all records, but even all traditions of their origin is lost. They are referred to in the very earliest accounts of the country that exist, as ruins and remains exhibiting the same appearance then as they now present, and enveloped in the same mystery in respect to their origin.

There are a great many of these old forts in different parts of the country, and the thing which chiefly characterizes them, and the one from which they derive their name, is that the stones of which the walls are composed instead of being cemented together by mortar, are fused, or vitrified, as if by the action of great heat, into one continuous mass. It is not possible to ascertain the exact nature of this vitrification, for the walls of these forts have nearly disappeared, leaving only long ridges of ruins, covered in the main with earth, and turfed over ; and in many cases immense trees are growing upon them. Portions of the old walls, however, appear here and there above the ground, and by a little digging they may be uncovered at any point along the line, when the stones, melted together, are brought to view.

A great many different suppositions have been advanced by antiquarians to account for the origin of these works. Some suppose that they were erected in times before the use of cement was known, and that the people of those days resorted to this mode of consolidating their masonry, not knowing any other. They think that they laid up the wall first in the usual way, selecting such stones as would vitrify by heat, and then built immense fires against them, and kept up the heat by replenishing the fires continually until the effect was produced.

It has been supposed that in order to concentrate the heat, and economize fuel, the builders were accustomed to build a second wall outside the first, and very near it, leaving only interval enough for the fuel to be laid in.

It must be confessed, however, that some persons who have examined these remains, have suggested that perhaps the vitrification was not produced purposely at all, but was an accidental effect, resulting from the building of great beacon fires on the hills where the forts stand, perhaps long after the forts themselves fell to ruin.

It is a fact that the vitrified forts are generally situated on commanding elevations. It is also a well-known fact that in ancient times it was the universal custom, in all this region, to extend the alarm through the country in case of war, by immense beacon fires built upon the hills; and it has been suggested accordingly, that it might have been in some accidental way like this, and not by any special design and process of art, that the vitrification was produced.

Grimkie had read accounts of these forts in the different books that he had consulted, and was very desirous of visiting one of them. He was influenced in this desire, not only by a wish to see the fort, but he also wished to procure a specimen of the stones fused together to carry home, and add to the museum at the Chateau. And thus it was that he proposed to his aunt, when they were getting into the carriage to go and take their ride, that they should drive first to the foot of Craig Phadric, and so go up and see the fort.

“How high is Craig Phadric?” asked Mrs. Morelle. “Is it as high as Ben Nevis?”

“Oh no, Auntie,” replied Grimkie. “It is only two or three hundred feet high.”

“Because I don't feel quite able to undertake a second Ben Nevis just yet,” said Mrs. Morelle.

“It will be nothing like Ben Nevis, Auntie,” said Grimkie. “They never would make a fortification on such a mountain as that. Besides you will not be obliged to go any farther than you like. If we find it too steep, or too high, we can turn back again at any time.”

“Ah!” replied Mrs. Morelle, laughing, “that is the way you got me up to the top of Ben Nevis, by pretending that I could turn about whenever I pleased.”

“Oh no, Auntie! I did not pretend,” said Grimkie. “You really could turn about whenever you pleased. I think I was very honest about it. Though I confess I hoped all the time that you would get to the top.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Morelle, “you were honest, and I am very glad that you managed as you did, and that it ended in my going to the top of the mountain. And we will go to Craig Phadric now. I won't promise to go up, but on the way you shall tell us about the vitrified fort, as you call it, that we are to see there.”

So they all got into the carriage, and directed the coachman to drive to the foot of the Craig Phadric.

On the way Grimkie gave his aunt an account of the particulars in respect to vitrified forts, which have been stated above. His aunt was very much interested in what he said, having never heard of the vitrified forts before. She became still more interested in the idea of making the ascent, when she came to see the hill itself, which was in full view as the carriage crossed the bridge. It was a high hill, well wooded except upon one side, where the rocks were exposed to view, naked and precipitous.

After ascending by a winding road for some time, the coachman stopped the horses near a small farm house, close under the hill, and on getting down from the carriage the party saw a small path leading through the woods up the ascent. They took this path and after following it for about ten minutes through various meanderings and windings they found themselves upon the summit.

Here the remains of the fort lay before them, though they were all somewhat disappointed in the appearance of them. They had expected to see some solid walls with the outside surface of them fused into a black and glass-like slag. Instead of this, however, there were only long embankments of earth, forming an immense parallelogram which occupied the whole, top of the hill. These embankments as well as various detached mounds which were connected with them in various places in the form of outworks, were almost entirely grassed over, and from the firm and compact turf which enveloped them, immense trees were growing everywhere. Indeed, the whole of the ground occupied by the fort was covered with a forest of ancient and venerable-looking trees, the effect of which was to impart an air of strange solitude and solemnity to the scene, which made it extremely impressive. Mrs. Morelle said that though she was a little disappointed in what she saw, she was far more than repaid by what she felt, in walking over the ruins, or rather the remains, and that she would not on any account have failed of visiting the spot.

After rambling about for some time, Grimkie at length found several places where portions of the old wall were exposed to view, and though they were mere shapeless masses of stones that he thus found, they appeared to be fused together by heat. After pounding among them for a while he succeeded in obtaining several good specimens of the curious conglomerate, to carry with him to America. He selected also a very pretty specimen, the smallest that he could find, for Florence, and others similar to it for Mrs. Morelle and John.

After satisfying themselves with an examination of the fort, Grimkie led the way out of the wood toward the brow of the precipice, which formed the side of the hill next the town. Here they enjoyed a magnificent prospect of the whole valley, with the river Ness flowing through the center of it, the bridge over it, leading into the town, the town itself, and the castle by its side. Florence thought that this view was far more worth seeing than the fort.

“So do I," said John. “In fact I don't think much of the fort. I've seen just such banks as those on the Heights of Dorchester once, when I was in Boston.”

“True,” said his mother, “only those were not a hundred years old, and these are probably two thousand."

“That does not make any difference in the looks of them," replied John.

“No," said his mother, “but it makes some difference in the feelings with which we regard them."

“It does not make much difference in mine," said John.

Just then John saw something alive running off through the woods.

“It is a rabbit," said he, and he darted off at full speed, taking aim at the same time with his specimen of the vitrification. Grimkie called him to come back, but before he had time to obey the stone flew from-his hand through the air, and at last struck the trunk of a tree very near where the rabbit had disappeared, and rebounded from it with great force.

“Johnnie!” said Grimkie, speaking in a very stem voice. “It is very lucky for you that you did not hit that rabbit.”

“Why so?” asked John.

“If you had hit him and killed him, you would have been a poacher. Any body that kills any kind of game in this country, unless the owner of the land gives him leave, is a poacher. Did not you ever read the story of Black Giles the Poacher?”

“Yes,” said John; “but he did things a great deal worse than killing rabbits out in the woods. I tell you these rabbits don’t belong to any body. I don’t believe the land here belongs to any body. It is wild land.”

“We should find that it belonged to some body,” replied Grimkie, “if people should catch us killing rabbits here.”

John had a sort of instinctive feeling that Grimkie was right, but he consoled himself for his discomforture in the argument by saying that at any rate he came within one of hitting the rabbit.

The subject here dropped, as the reporters in Parliament say, and the whole party returned down the hill.

“Now, Auntie,” said Grimkie, as they rode back to the hotel, “the clerk said we must be at the stage office at a quarter before eight. Would you like to ride there?”

“If it is not far,” said his aunt, “we can walk just as well, and so we shall see more of the town.”

"Yes,” said Grimkie, “I should like that, and Mr. Boots will carry our luggage for us.”


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