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Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Branch B. From Blair-Athole to Grantown, in Strathspey, by Glen Tilt and the Castletown of Braemar


Glen Tilt; Deer Forest, 1:—Pass between the Tilt and the Dee, 2.---Strath Dee; Linn of Dee; Mar Lodge; Falls of Corriemulrie and Quoich; Loch Avan and Sources of the Dee, footnote, 3.—Castletown of Braemar, 4.—The Earls of Mar; Farquharsons; The Children of the Trough, 6 —Braemar Castle; View from Invercauld Bridge, 6.—Forest Scenery; the Garrawault, 7.—Balmoral; Abergeldie; Ballater; Strath Dee to Aberdeen, footnote, 8.—Glencairn; Strath Don; Corgarff Castle, 9.Tomantoul; Glen Avon, 10.

THE route here to be described, though anciently a common one between the opposite districts of Athole, Dee, and Badcnoch, is now almost inaccessible, at least for the first day's journey, save to the pedestrian.

1. His course to the Dee and the Braes of Mar lies through Glen Tilt, as to which see page 233. The water of Tilt joins the Garry from the eastward, and issues from a deep confined glen which cuts through the mountains, where, at Athole House, they bend to the south and west. For a couple of miles above Athole House, and the inns of Blair and Bridge of Tilt, high and steep banks rise from the water's edge; and their sides and tops are covered with wood. Above this, a narrow stripe of flat ground occupies the bottom of the glen for seven or eight miles: the wood soon disappears, and the hills rise in steep acclivities, covered only with herbage and heath. They are unbroken, save where an occasional ravine sends down a tributary streamlet, and of almost uniform height, from 500 to 600 feet, except where Ben-y-Gloe on the south raises his more aspiring form.

The glen is nearly strait, and the inclination remarkably gentle. Two small hunting lodges of the Duke of Athole are passed, the one four, the other seven, miles from Blair; there is a good road as far as the second lodge; beyond it, a mere footpath conducts along the north side of the water.

As already observed, the right of way to Braemar is the subject of a depending process before the Supreme Court, the Duke of Athole obstructing the passage hitherto enjoyed by the public.

Glen Tilt, as these lodges indicate, is a great sporting rendezvous, and for the stalking of red deer, of which his Grace of Athole boasts, perhaps, the most extensive and best-stocked forest in the country. No less than a hundred thousand acres of the surrounding ground are appropriated for the use of these animals; and it is seldom the wayfarer `ends his way through this sequestered valley without discerning several of them; and they are most frequently to be seen leisurely and majestically pacing along the edge of the impending cliffs.

In following the sport, parties are stationed at different parts of the glen, who command excellent opportunities of trying their skill in the use of the rifle, as the deer, driven by dogs, sweep rapidly past; the narrowness and steepness of the glen generally ensuring their being within range.

Four miles above the second lodge, the rivulet of Loghaine enters Glen Tilt from a glen on the right.

2. Keeping onwards along the north side of the main stream of the Tilt, a mile beyond its junction by the Loghaine, the traveller comes to the Tarff Water, which issuing from a confined defile on the left, is precipitated over two falls, the lowest about ten, the upper about twenty-five feet in height. Crossing the Tarff, the path continues along the now much diminished stream, for the former supplies the main body of the Tilt Water, and the glen is soon found to split into two narrow ascending gullies. A track will be seen ascending the southerly one. This leads to Faillaird, another hunting lodge of the Duke of Athole's. The pathway to the Castletown of Braemar continues along the north side of the other, leading along the face of a steep acclivity. Less than two additional miles brings us to the top of the pass, where we find an open hollow in the hills, with a flat mossy bottom, whence another burn descends towards the Dee in a direction directly contrary to that of the Tilt. After a run of two or three miles, it falls into the Dee at the bend of the river, nine miles above the Castletown. A footpath will be found on the south side of the hollow and burn, and of the Dee, to the Linn of Dee, six miles above the Castle-town, whence a good road leads along the south side of the river. If mounted, the traveller should keep the opposite side of the burn; he will thus fall in with a cart road, and, fording the Dee, will have the benefit of a good road for three miles before coming to the Linn, where he will recross by a bridge. It may be mentioned, that, after leaving the Duke's lodge, a sheiling or shepherd's hut, will be met in Glen Tilt, at the mouth of the Loghaine; another, upon the south side of the burn, falling into the Dee, rather more than a mile from that river, and a farm-house on the north side, farther down the burn. [To the north, between Strath Dee and Strath Spey, are closely grouped several of the loftiest mountains in Britain : Ben Mac Dhui, Braeriach, Cairntoul, Cairngorm, Ben-na-main, Ben A'an, and others—ranging from 4000 to 4390 feet; and thus, in one instance, overtopping Ben Nevis' proud summit. In their recesses, the perfection of secluded alpine scenery is, as we have said, to be met with; but the wayfarer mast needs proceed to the Castletown, to refresh his weary limbs, ere presuming to explore these remote solitudes ; for they afford work enough for an entire day's toilsome walking. The hollows between the mountain masses are flanked by stupendous precipices, down which sheeted cataracts find their headlong way; but the opening dens possess much of sweet pastoral verdant beauty, chequered with the hoar fcatnres of abed and weather-beaten pines. Loch A'an or Avon, and the sources of the Dee, each may form a day's excursion. The best approach to the former, is along the course of Water of Lui, which joins the lice a little below the Linn of Dec. When the water, at about four miles from the Linn, forks into two, the right branch through Glen Dears is followed, and the sorry at its extremity which forms the water shear, must he surmounted when the precipitous channel of the Alt-dhu-lochan, and a deviation to the left, conduct, at a distance of about twenty miles from Castletown, to the waters of the lake, which is about two miles in length, encircled by the topmost precipices of Ben Mac Dhui, Cairngorm, and Ben-na-main. The Dee has its rise on the west side of Ben Mac Dirui, between it and Braeriach. But we reserve our description of the upper portion of the strath, and its very peculiar scenery, to the next branch of this route, in which the passes through the Grampians are treated of.]

3. Strathdee, when first met with, has a pretty wide central space. Below the Linn of Dee it increases to rather more than half a mile in breadth. This is meadow-land, with a few arable patches; and in the portion between the linn and the Castletown large quantities of birch are spread over this central flat. The hills are of moderate height, and of rounded or flattened outline.

The great pine forest of the Dee has been cleared off above the lien. It thence, though only an imperfect semblance of its former self, clothes the sides of the northern hills for five miles down the river, and stretching up Glen Lui, and Glen Quoich; and is succeeded by the forest of Balloch Bowie. The trees are still generally large and stately, but the greater part of them are considered young and dwarfish in comparison with some of the veteran stems in the forest, which frequently measure thirteen and fourteen feet in girth six feet from the ground, and about sixty feet in height. The axe has long been busily at work; but we trust a respectable remnant will yet be preserved of this fine forest. There are still many magnificent specimens extant in Strathdee and the small adjoining glens. The wood on the hills on the south side of the valley, in this section, is nearly all birch.

The Linn of Dee is a spot about six miles above the Castle-town, where the river has cut a long narrow passage, between thirty and forty feet deep, through opposing rocks, and forms four small falls, the central ones about ten and twelve feet, the others not above half that height. Below the falls, the water has scooped out a series of basins, where it sleeps, deep, dark, and, to appearance, motionless. When the water is low, some of the connecting, channels are not above a yard wide; but it is subject to floods, which sometimes fill the chasm to the brim, and then the fury of the pent up torrent is tremendous, and at all times the painfully labouring progress of the river, which is here of considerable volume, is a remarkable spectacle. The dangerous and foolhardy feat of leaping across the lion has been frequently performed, and even from one of the banks, which is lower than the opposite. The chance of any living thing emerging, save in death, from the grim viewless chambers, where the dark waters are being impeded and churned, is obviously small indeed. Lord Byron, when a boy, made a narrow escape of being subjected to this ordeal, haying tripped in the heather above, and been rescued only when all but over the ledge. There is a road on both sides, that on the north generally preferred.

Two miles below the linn, on the north side of the river, and in the bottom of the valley, is seen Mar Lodge, a commodious hunting-seat of the Earl of Fife's, the long low wings of which give it a length of front which makes it a very conspicuous object. It is rented, with the adjoining deer forests, by the Duke of Leeds. The strath is here straight for several miles, and preseats a peculiar appearance in its hanging pine forest on one side, and birch woods on the other, and in the wide level space between. Two fine waterfalls occur on the hills bounding the strath, Corriemulzie on the south, and the Linn of Quoich on the north. The former is seen as a long white and steep line on the face of the hill, about four miles from the Castletown, bordered by an emerald herbage, and half-hid by the foliage of the birch. Corriemulzie Cottage is a pretty sporting villa, occupied during the season by General Duff and his family. The Quoich, two miles below Mar Lodge, is a more turbulent stream, tumbling down a succession of rocky ledges, and exhibiting in its course various circular perforations which it has achieved in its schistose bed.

The distance from Blair Athole to Castletown of Braemar may he reckoned twenty-six miles, requiring (from the nature of the ground) eleven hours' moderate walking.

4. Castletown of Braemar consists of a group of neat cottages and slated houses, on the east side of the Cluny, a mountain stream, which is here crossed by the military road about half a mile from the junction of the streamlet with the Dee, and a collection of scattered huts upon the opposite or west side, which was at one time a great gathering-place for deer hunts. On either side there is a good inn. There are no less than three places of worship here, and the houses of the village are neat and respectable; and of the cottages generally on Deeside, it may be remarked, that they are distinguished by their snugness, and the tidy little plots of garden ground, and frequent garniture of roses, honeysuckle, and other ornamental creepers. On the east hank of the Cluny, the site is shewn of a castle which Malcolm Ceanmore is said to have had here, and Braemar was a favourite resort of many subsequent monarchs.

5. This great but secluded district was for centuries under the sway of the powerful Erskines, Earls of Mar, who forfeited their lands by the prominent part which John, the thirty-ninth Earl, took in the rebellion of 1715. It was an Earl of Mar who headed the forces who, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, successfully encountered Donald of the Isles in the very bloody battle of Harlaw, on Don side. Another old name in Strathdee is that of Farquharson, still a numerous clan there.

One of the most revolting incidents in clan history is connected with the Farquharsons, and so late as the reign of James VI. Farquharson of Inverey having slain a Gordon—Baron of Brackley—the Marquis of Iluntly and the Laird of Grant, a kinsman also of the deceased, concocted a joint invasion of the country of the Farquharsons, the forces of the one advancing up, while those of the other descended Strathdee. A terrible massacre of the Farquharsons ensued. About a couple of hundred of orphaned children were carried off by Huntly. Some time thereafter the Laird of Grant, being dining with the Marquis, was brought by him to a balcony which overlooked the kitchen court. The offals of the servants' dinner were thrown into a large trough, and on a signal, a hatch, as of a kennel, was raised, and a troop of half famished little ones, with yells and screams, rushed forward, and ravenously devoured the accustomed meal, snarlingly contesting the morsels like so many hungry curs. The Laird of Grant was excessively shocked by the spectacle, but prudently suppressing his feelings, he, on learning that these were the unfortunates whom his own sword had aided to reduce to such degradation, contrived, on the ground that he ought to bear a share of the expense of their maintenance, to have them removed to Strathspey, where he had them distributed among his clan, and brought up in a creditable manner. Their descendants were, however, long distinguished as "the children of the trough."

6. The Castle of Braemar stands at the point of the eastern side of the glen through which the Cluny flows, on a slight elevation in the plain. It is a tall structure of four storeys and attics, and of the shape of two buildings united at right angles, with a turnpike staircase in the interior angle. It is surrounded, at a distance of fifteen feet, by a wall, forming a square, with an angle protruding from the centre of each side. A party of military are stationed here to aid in the suppression of smuggling. In a field below the castle the Earl of Mar raised the standard for James VIII. in 1715. The road, passing under the over-hanging cliffs of Craig Clunie, crosses the Dee three miles below the Castletown, and the north road leaves Strathdee six miles farther down. The view from the bridge of Invercauld, both up and down the river, is peculiarly imposing. Forests of fir clothe both sides and the circling terminal boundaries of this section of the valley, and with the fir, birch is mingled in large quantities, both in distinct masses and more intimate union. This latter tree also again disposes itself amidst the corn fields and pasture in the centre of the valley. Above the woods which occupy the gentle slopes of the spacious hollows at either extremity, and the heathy acclivities which succeed them, rise, in frowning majesty, amphitheatres of bare and lofty alps, among which, to the east, are the cold blue tops of Lochnagar. A mile below the castle, on the opposite side of the river, is the house of Mr. Farquharson of Invercauld.

7. The great pine forest stretches for several miles down the river from the bridge, but more especially on the south side, and the Dee retains its supremacy over the Don, at least in the articles of "fish and tree." On the north there is a considerable population, and a stripe of arable land, which occasionally rises well up the hill face. The strath now presents a series of open basins of varying dimensions, at times of considerable expanse, and connected by narrow gorges. The northern is the principal road, but the forest road, on the south side, is the more interesting as far as Ballater. The continuous pine woods are somewhat monotonous, but there is an impressive solemnity about them, and it is relieved by the intermixture of birch about the river's course. About a couple of miles below the bridge on the south side, the Garrawault exhibits another of those impetuous streams, broken into frequent falls and cataracts, which are so characteristic of the district. A rustic bridge and hermitage, to which there is access by a steep road, have been constructed at the principal fall—a long shelving descent of foaming water. Altogether the burn course has a peculiar wild beauty, and a charm of its own, in the middle of the sequestered forest. The forest on the south side is first broken by the cultivated ground about the Gelder water. Nearly opposite is the small village of Monaltrie, not far from which, between the road and the river, is the "Cairn-a-quheen," the gathering place of the Farquharsons.

8. Before quitting Strathdee we must glance at her Majesty's Highland residence, and its vicinity. Balmoral, a name now familiar to the whole world, stands on the haugh ground on the south bank of the Dee, in a bend of the river, about a mile and a half from the point where the north road leaves the Strath for Strathdon. The castle, which faces the south, is an irregular pile, constructed at different periods. It is overlooked at present by the road, but young trees and shrubberies are springing up, and the gardens and pleasure-grounds around it are laid out with considerable taste. Cairn Gowan, a wooded hill, rises immediately in front. A remarkably striking mountain panorama is commanded from the grounds, comprising several of the loftiest mountain summits. About a mile below the castle there is a slight chain bridge, which conducts to the parish church of Crathie, where the Royal Family join the rustic audience in worship without the slightest ostentation, and without constraint on the part of their fellow-worshippers. The birchen birks of Abergeldy succeed down the river, and a beautiful walk, and a favourite one of her Majesty's, leads through them on the south side to Abergeldy, where there is an extensive reach of level ground laid out in fine farms, and ornamented by the policies and magnificent birch woods of Abergeldy Castle—an imposing building, also on the south bank of the river. Considerable tracts of arable land stretch up along the course of the Geldy—another stream which helps to drain Lochnagar. From Abergeldy the road on the south crosses Craignaban, the pine woods continuing densely to clothe the hill sides. Another wide stretch of valley succeeds. Craig, Youzie, an extensive fir-clad elevation, is crossed by the road, and the Dee at its base receives the waters of the Gairn from the north, and then plunges through a magnificent pass between Craig Youzie and the steep acclivities of Craigendarroch, covered over with birch and pine. We now reach Glenmuick, which brings down another considerable tributary; and crossing the Dee by a wooden bridge, we arrive at the considerable village of Ballater, fourteen miles from Castletown—a sweet spot, ensconced at the base of the high rocky frontlet of Craigendarroch. It is surrounded by numerous cheerful cottages, and is a favourite place of resort for the Aberdonians, for the benefits, in addition to the attractions of the scenery, of the celebrated Pananich Wells, two miles to the eastward. A coach runs between Ballater and Aberdeen. [The remainder of the course of the Dee to Aberdeen (43 miles) presents much pleasing scenery, and many objects of interest, which, however, we can barely enumerate, viz.—Within a forenoon's excursion of Ballater, Lochnagar, 3800 feet above the sea, known wherever the muse of Byron has cast its spell; the farm house of Ballatrieh, where he some time lived; the burn of the 'hat; nuns of Dee Castle, and Charleston of Abovne, with its suspension bridge; Aboyne Castle, an irregular structure, the seat of the Marquis of Iiuntly ; the village of Kincardine O' Nil, noted for its good inn; in its vicinity, to the north, Lumphanan, the place of Macbeth's death; the%rig of Potarch, where the channel of the Dee is much contracted, and where an old road crosses leading to Caine-o-mount and Brechin; Inchmarlo House (Davidson); the castellated mansion of Blackball (Campbell); some miles to the north the battlefield of Corrichie, fought under the eye of Queen Mary; the pleasing village of Bauchory Ternan, with its numerous villas; Tilliiwhill Castle; the curious-shaped hill of Clochmaben; Crathes Castle (Sir Robert Burnett), a fine old Flemish-looking building. Park House; the Kirk and House of Durris; the Castle of Drum, with its massive old tower; some miles to the north the curious fortified remains, called the Balmekyne of Echt, a series of gigantic concentric walls encircling the summit of a steep conical hill; the Roman camp of Norman dukes, Kingaussie, and Culter Houses; the churches of Mary Colter and Peter Colter fronting each other; the Roman Catholic College of Blairs ; the church and village of Banchory Devenick, and the series of suburban villas which herald the approach to the good city of Aberdeen. For a very detailed account of the Dec above Ballater, we would refer the reader to a most interesting series of articles by a practised hand in Tait's Magazine for November and December 1848, and January 1849.]

9. Ascending the side of Strath Dee, the north road crosses a broad bleak hill, and descends into Glengairn, which is a narrow stripe of arable and meadow ground, bordered by chains of heathy hills. At the bottom of the glen, we reach the first stage, Rienloan, thirteen miles from Castletown. Hence the road reascends, and six miles and a-half more, over barren hills, brings the traveller to the Don, along which we ascend for two miles to Corgarff. From about half-way between this latter place and Rienloan, the Grantown or north road becomes, for a space of eighteen or twenty miles, almost impassable for carriages. The river Don, where crossed by this line of road, is a small burn bordered by a narrow stripe of meadow and arable ground, and winding among sloping heath-clad hills.

On the face of the south side of the strath stands Corgarff Castle, a small oblong building of four storeys, with a wing at each end, and encircled by a wall similar to that round Braemar Castle. A small party of military is also stationed here. A more bleak and dreary place of banishment, we believe, is hardly to be met with in the Highlands. Opposite the castle, and beside a neat shooting-box, there is a tolerable thatched public-house.

10. Leaving Corgarff, the road for the first five miles ascends one heathy ravine, and then descends another, lined with snow-posts, when it reaches a small burn called the Conglass, upon the banks of which mines of manganese and iron are worked. Following the course of the burn for four miles, we reach Tomantoul, a small village, built on a spot of tabular ground overlooking the Avon. It consists of about 100 houses of, with three or four exceptions, one storey, partly slated, partly thatched with heather. They are arranged in a straight street, with a square in the centre, the common arrangement of villages in the surrounding districts. A government church and neat humble manse, with a handsome Roman Catholic chapel, and respectable court-house, adorn the place. Glen Avon is here a narrow winding glen, flanked by steep banks, partially covered with oak coppice, above which the undulating slopes exhibit at intervals cultivated spaces of considerable size. Crossing the glen, the road reascends, and then, descending into a small contiguous glen, proceeds up along the side of it, the view presenting, as it does from all the elevations after quitting Dee side, an expanse of heath-covered hills of easy inclination and smooth regular surface. Presently a long reach of Strathspey opens sidewise to the view at some distance, with its pine-filled flats and cultivated slopes. Turning, as we advance to the right, another section of it is presented, where the white houses of Grantown, and the high walls of Castle Grant, rise amid long tracts of ascending pine forest, birch woods, and corn fields.

It has long been in contemplation to put this road, from Braemar to Grantown, into a complete state of repair, and to extend it to Dunkeld, on one hand, and Elgin, on the other, (there being already a good road from Grantown to Forres,) so as to form a shorter communication between .Morayshire and the south country than at present exists.


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