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Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Branch F. From Invermoriston to Kyle Rhea and Kyle Akin


Glen Moriston, 1.—Loch Cluany; Cluany Inn; Glen Shiel, 2.—Battle of Glen ShieI, 3.—Subterranean Structure; Glen Shicl, 4.—Loch Duich; Shielhonse to Kyle Akin, 5.—Village of nornie; Mandonan Castle, 6.—Lochalsh, 7.—Falls of Glomak, 8.—To Loch Aflrick and Strathglass, foot-note.—Glenelg, 9.—Dunes or Burghs in Glenelg, 10.

THE road from Invermoriston to Shielhouse, which forms the great line of communication between the north-western and the eastern coasts of Inverness-shire, is 36 miles in length: at Shielhouse it separates into two branches, leading respectively to Kyle Akin and Kyle Rhea, the two ferries communicating with the island of Skye.

1. The lower portion of Glen Moriston is exceedingly beautiful. On every side the eye ranges over an uninterrupted forest, mantling alike the bottom of the valley and the expanded mountain sides; the smiling livery of the birch—frequently diversified and contrasted with the dark and sombre hues of aged and majestic pines. There are but two or three habitations to break upon the woodland solitude, thus pleasingly contrasting with GIen Urquhart. Invermoriston House, (J. M. Grant,) a rather old mansion, near Loch Ness side, is hemmed in by an amphitheatre of hills, the terminal ones crowned by precipitous frontlets of rock. Behind it there is a comfortable small inn. Between them the river forms a waterfall, worthy of a visit. The course of the lower section of the river Moriston is frequently impetuous and headlong; at times dashing with violence from side to side of the deep, narrow, and rocky channel, which in the course of ages it has worn for itself; at others escaping, tormented and foaming, from such confined passage, it encloses in its arms some wooded islet or isolated rock, where the aged pine holds undisputed sway, and, luxuriating in its undisturbed freedom, shoots its weather-beaten stem into a thousand fantastic shapes ; or it ripples quietly alongst low birchen-clad banks; and thus many of the reaches of river scenery, amidst close embowering, but far extending trees, are of surpassing beauty.

At Torgoil, where there is a respectable public-house, the road crosses the river Moriston by a handsome granite bridge. Between the fifth and sixth mile. above Torgoil Bridge, and about two miles from the end of Loch Cluany, we recross the river at Doe Bridge, where we meet with uncommonly fine specimens of the fir and aspen.

In the recesses of Corriegoe, the high group of hills to the north, intermediate between this glen and Strathglass, is the cave where Prince Charles was secreted for several weeks by its bandit occupants, proof against the tempting reward offered for his head: and three miles above Torgoil, close by the road-side, is the spot where Mackenzie, with considerable anxiety, even in the agonies of death, for his unfortunate master, diverted for a while pursuit from the royal fugitive, by feigning to be the Prince.

2. Loch Cluany presents no interesting features. The mountain, on the south side, rises rather abruptly from the water, and a few trees are scattered along its face: occasional mossy promontories, projecting into the loch, complete the character of this sheet of water. Cluany, distant about twenty-five miles from Invermoriston, is as good a house as could be expected, where the chief customers are drovers: to them travelIers are in a great measure indebted for the goodness of the stabling on these roads, although, in some places, by way of making the most of a thing, the stable is not divided into stalls, drovers' ponies being accommodating animals, who, like their masters, can sleep three in a bed. From the east end of Loch Cluany to about four miles beyond the inn, the glen is pretty level, and barren without grandeur: here it becomes extremely narrow; and, passing a low, rocky barrier, we suddenly find the waters and the road descending into Glen Shiel, through a narrow pass, between mountain walls of rock. The traveller will be struck by the rugged and conical character of the mountains in this quarter, and his attention will be particularly attracted by two singularly sharp-peaked hills, at that part of the descent where the glen bends towards Loch Duich. The upper portions of Glen Moriston and Glen Shiel are destitute of trees and houses of any kind: the lower part of the Water of Shiel is skirted with alders, and a few smoky dingy hovels.

3. Glen Shiel was the scene of a skirmish in 1719, which put a speedy termination to an insurrection then attempted in favour of the exiled Stuarts. It was very trifling, and got up by the 'Marquis of Tullibardine and the Earls of Seaforth and Marischal, in consequence of an invasion of England projected by the court of Spain, with the view of restoring the Stuart family, and resolved on by the advice of Cardinal Alberoni. At Cadiz, an armament was prepared, consisting of a number of transports, on board of which 6000 troops and 12,000 stand of arms were embarked, and provided with a convoy of ten ships of the line and several frigates, the command of which force was entrusted to the Duke of Ormond. The above-mentioned nobleman having landed in the Western Islands of Scotland, with several gentlemen who had been attainted in 1716, and 300 Spaniards, endeavoured to excite the Clans to arms, but with little effect. They were encountered in Glen Shiel by General Wightman, commander of the forces in the north, who had hastened from Inverness, on the first news of the rising, with his troops, which had then been recently reinforced by a body of 2000 Dutch soldiers. The insurgent Highlanders, after a short resistance, fled to the hills; the Spaniards were made prisoners; and the Spanish squadron having been driven back by a storm, the whole plan was completely frustrated. A small cascade will be observed on the left hand, in descending the glen, which indicates the scene of the skirmish ; and a patch of nettles is pointed out by the country people as the spot where, according to their accounts, a colonel in the Dutch service fell.

4. About a mile and a half from the inn of Shielhouse, there is a remarkable subterranean cavern close by the road-side. In entering it is necessary to crawl on all-fours, but it quickly rises to the height of eight feet, and becomes broad enough to admit of the advance of two people abreast. The bottom is paved, and the sides lined with large flag-stones, and it is also roofed with long slabs resting upon strong cross stone rafters. This structure somewhat resembles what are called, in the Orkneys, subterranean Picts' Houses, and may perhaps have been connected with some ancient Dune or burgh. The inn of Shielhouse does not realize the expectations formed from its exterior, the accommodation being inconveniently confined. From the head of Loch Duich, where the inn is situated, the appearance of Glen Shiel is strange indeed. The mountains rise almost perpendicularly, but with a steep unvarying concave acclivity, like the side of a tent, and terminating in detached pinnacles. The opposing ranges rise so near each other, that but a very narrow verdant stripe of meadow grass separates their respective bases. This rich connecting band forms a strong contrast with the bright purple of the hills, the prevailing colour as high as the hardy heath can vegetate, which, gradually thinning, gives place to grey, rocky, and barren summits. The best point of view will be found on the east side of the glen, on the face of the hill, immediately above the bridge which the Kyle Akin road crosses.

5. Loch Duich is a beautiful arm of the sea, of great depth, running up along the west side of Kintail. Its banks on the east side are formed by mountains rising from the water, frequently in rocky and often precipitous acclivities, but more gently sloping, and full of gentle undulations on the other, singularly smooth, and carpeted with a soft velvet-like emerald verdure, variegated with trees below, and rocks above. From the summits of Scuir Ouran and Scuir-na-Carnich, the two very high hills of the range extending from Kintail along the north side of Glen Shiel, conspicuous from Shielhouse, on a clear day, the Trafalgar monument at Forres may be distinguished.

Of the two roads leading to Skye, that by Kyle Rhea is about five miles the shorter, to the point of junction near Broadford; but the Kyle Akin road is much more agreeable, being more level, and the scenery more interesting; it has the disadvantage, however, of crossing an additional ferry.

The Kyle Akin road, on leaving Shielhouse, makes a considerable circuit round an inlet of Loch Duich; and, crossing the water of Crowe, at the mouth of Glen Liechk, shortly afterwards passes the church and manse of Kintail. The length of the road from Shielhouse to Kyle Akin is about twenty miles, and it is divided into two nearly equal portions, by the ferry of Dornie. Leaving the manse, the road leads above the house of Inverinat, beautifully embosomed in ascending ash woods and arable fields; and, owing to the precipitous nature of the ground, it continues to ascend pretty high, along the face of the hill ; but the views it commands are very fine, especially when, as we approach Dornie, the hills of Skye come in sight. The ravines and crevices of the rocks are partially filled with ash and other trees, and on the slopes are numerous drystone huts, mean enough, no doubt, but their accompanying patches of cultivated ground are welcome and agreeable to the eye.

6. Dornie is a small fishing village of about two score of houses and huts, built where a smaller loch (Long) branches off from Loch Duich, and on the south side of the connecting strait. Close by the village are the ruins of Ellandonan Castle, the ancient scat of the Mackenzies of Seaforth. They stand on a rocky islet, and are surrounded by the sea at flood-tide ; the castle consisted of a massive square keep about 60 feet high, only one side of which remains entire. On two sides of this keep are the ruins of other buildings, the landward part of the islet forming a small natural glacis, in which rises up a spring of fresh water, surrounded by strong walls, which, extending to the castle, afforded the inmates safe access, at all times, to the well. The best view of Loch Duich with Ellandonan and Dornie is obtained from the north side of the ferry—the village and ruin forming the fore, and the precipitous clustered peaks of Glen Shiel the back ground. There are none but small public-houses in Dornie.

Ellandonan Castle was built on the site of an old vitrified fort by Alexander II. of Scotland, as an "overband" against the Danes and Norwegians. After the battle of the Largs, Alexander III. appointed Coline Fitzgerald, an Irish gentleman who fought under his banners at that engagement, to be constable of the castle. Coline married the only daughter of Kenneth Matheson, former constable, after whom his son was named Kenneth, and his descendants were called Mackennich, anglice Mackenzie. Such, at least, is the tradition among the clan.

7. From Dornie the road runs along a stripe of meadow land bordering the shore of Lochalsb, and a range of verdant hills. About one and a half mile onwards, at the Kirkton of Lochalsh (formed by the church, school-house, a farm-house, and some huts), the road to Strome Ferry on Loch Carron ascends to the right. At the bend of the coast, between Kyle Rhea and Kyle Akin, rounding a series of high precipitous cliffs faced with clambering ash, a fine semicircular bay opens to view, in the centre of which, close by the water's edge, stands the house of Balmacara (Lillingstone), a bow-windowed structure, with long irregular wings. Behind it rises a spacious elevated recess, laid out in well-cultivated fields, chequered with hardwood, and girt with beautiful, high, broadly conical, and slightly spiral hills of smooth verdant surface. Here there is a post-office and small inn. Towards the top of the ascent, a road branches off on the right, over sandstone ridges rather pleasingly wooded and cultivated, to the fishing village of Plockton, about five miles from Balmacara: a collection of about a hundred stone-walled, and heather-thatched, and a few slated houses, with government manse and church, and free church, at the head of a deeply indented little bay at the opening of Loch Carron, and opposite Kishorn.

8. The vicinity of Shielhouse is distinguished by the highest waterfall in the Highlands—that of Glomak, about eight miles distant from Shielhouse, on a stream which descends from the head of Strath Affrick to the Elchaig, running into Loch Long. It can be approached on Highland ponies, and has been so frequently by ladies, but walking is preferable, and it may be easily reached in three and a-half hours. The path leads from the Bridge of Linassie which crosses the Water of Crowe at the head of Little Loch Duich, as the deep bay on the east side of the head of the loch on which stands the church and manse of Kintail is called, and proceeds on the north side of the water, beyond two other glens which open on the right, and straight onwards alongst, and finally above the water-course along the face of a steep but beautifully green ravine, seamed with rivulets; proceeding throughout in almost a straight line from Linassie to a narrow pass at the head of the ravine, about four miles from that place. From the top of the pass continuing the same line of direction, nearly north-east across an elevated moorland, and to the south of a little eminence, the traveller will find himself above the water just at the top of the fall. The Water of Gloinak issues from a series of three small lochs imbedded amidst a grand group of abrupt serrated mountains, Ben Attow at the head, presenting a magnificent sheeted precipice, almost vertical, and seemingly not less than a couple of thousand feet in height. The hollow in which they lie communicates with, and lies at right angles with Strath Affrick, which stretches easterly to Strathglass; a noble opening through the loftiest mountain ranges in the country, and which, in its lower portion, embraces the pine-girt waters of Lochs Affrick and Benneveian. The mountains which form its northern boundary, terminate in Scuir-na-Cacran, a vast mountain with several compressed summits, and marked by a precipitous-sided corry at the top. At some miles distance to the north, the Elchaig conducts its waters to Loch Long, through a deeply troughed valley, lined on the north by high and very steep hills passing above into a great rocky expanse, and nearly parallel with Strath Africk. Between the lower hills skirting the Elchaig, and Scuir-na-Caeran, extends an ascending and elevated moorland plain, which the Glomak passes over, till it encounters the granite barrier of Glen Llchaig, through which it accomplishes its descent by a tremendous ravine, into which it plunges at once in the great waterfall of Glomak. Approaching from Shielhouse, a steep descent from the height above, of perhaps 400 feet, ushers us on the margin of the water, and on the moorland above the fall. The water slants a little along the rock from which it first starts, and then falls almost perpendicularly at one corner of the face of a square abyss flanked by black, smooth mural rocks richly tinted with bright verdure. About midway it lights on a ledge, and is parted, by a projection of rock, into two. The depth of the whole has been plumbed and found to be of the great extent of 350 feet. The ravine below is truly stupendous, and it cannot be under 700 or 800 feet deep. At the bottom, for perhaps a couple of hundred feet, walled with rock; the acclivities above very abrupt, all but vertical, and of a fine ferny green, but, like the mountain wastes around, entirely destitute of trees. The rapidly inclined lines of the inflections of the ravine interlace each other, quite concealing the water, but leading the eye down almost to the channel of Elchaig about two miles off,—the lofty, precipitous, and rocky further sides of which bound the view. Footmarks, admitting a cautious descent, will be found conducting from the head of the fall to the green summit of a small projecting rock on the west side, marked by a dwarf birch and rowan tree about opposite the middle of the fall, but so near, that the bottom can be seen only from the brink. From this point the water is seen to fall as from the lip of the rock, the rapid at the top, comprising about 50 perpendicular feet of the whole height, being concealed from view. The sky line of rock is seen from the grassy point as farther back than the rocky eminences on either hand, which may be about 200 yards apart, and the mountains beyond are not at all visible. The apparent height looks just about double that of Foyers; but estimating the length of the descent to the green point, the larger ascertained dimensions are obviously correct. The body of water is considerably less than that of Foyers,—and thus, unless in speat, the volume of water is disproportioned to the great scale of the precipitous rocks. The descent to the point is not unattended with a sense of danger, but ladies make it out. Objects so fraught with dizzying suggestions congregated so alarmingly close to the spectator, stun and overpower, and conspire to give a greater impression of insecurity than need be. To approach the fall from the Elchaig is no easy matter, and requires to wade at times in the channel of the stream.

[A few directions may here be acceptable, in case of the pedestrian wishing to continue Iris route to Loch Africk and Strathglass. 'lire way lies by the sources of the Glomak, which stream, after traversing a tract of broken spongy moss, he fords about _00 yards below the lowest little loch already alluded to, and follows a faint and rough tract on the face of the opposite hill. At the head of the uppermost loch, which is about a mile long, and called the Loch of the Bealacly the water shears to the east through a wide strath which opens on rounding the hill. A pass will be observed on the riUs which flank the glen he is about leaving on the opposite side: this leads by Glen Liechk on the farther side of the hills into Kintail, and is in the line which a road, if ever formed, as sauce intended, between Strathglass and Kintail, will follow. In the bend of the niorurtains a solitary shieling will be observed for tending yeld cattle and a flock of goats for a few mouths of the year, certainly as far removed from haunts of men as could well be. Hence the path, which is much inter• rupted, keeps down the centre of the fine wide and straight strath. About half-way to loch Affrick place is given to a spacious, smooth moorland, by the opening up on, the south of two wide glens leading through the massive mountains to Cluaun: in Glen Moriston, and by Glen Liechk into Kintail. Here will he found a solitary shepr herd's hothie, Aultbae, where a refreshing bowl of milk will prove acceptable. The ground hitherto traversed, since leaving the Glomak Water, is called Greenivie. Its ample sides descend in curved cued sweeps. At Aultbae,wbich is about midway, and perhaps six miles from Loch Affrick, Strath Affrick, a continuation of and in the same line with Greenivie, properly commences; and it does so in a splendid level ureadow, fully two miles in length, fronm which in part the mountains spring at once without broken ground. Nearing the lake, broken skirting eminences nearly fill up the bottom. The outlines of the mountains are elongated and smooth, and their surface affords the finest pasture for sheep. At Couline or Annamulloeh, two shepherd's houses, on opposite sides of the river, not far from where it joins the lake, and quite at the base of the high impending mountains, the traveller will be fain, after a tenor twelve hours' walk from Shielhouse, to take up his quarters for the night, an intrusion with which the inmates la- their account. In either, lie will find a very snugly boxed and floored apartment, fitted up for the occasional accommodation of sportsmen, good English blankets, and substantial accessories for the inner man, simple but good of their kind. The distance hence to Struy, in Strathglass, which is twenty miles from Inverness, is about twenty-six miles. There is a boat on each of the lochs, perhaps not at hand, but which,mav he ensured by liaisons intimation over night. Otherwise the wayfarer must plod his way along the rough track on the north side; but we can promise him that he will find much to beguile the time, in the grandeur and severe beauty of these lakes, and of the very imposing mountain masses in whose bosom they repose. Their features will be found fully detailed in our article on Strathglass (Route iv. Branch A). From the south side of Loch Affrick, a track slants across the hill to Geusachan, at the head of Stratbglass, about eight milce off.]

9. We now return to Shielhouse, to describe the road thence to Kyle Rhea. On leaving the inn, it almost immediately begins the very laborious ascent of Mam Ratachan; in climbing and descending which nearly two-thirds of the whole way (eleven miles and a half) are employed. Having surmounted it, we find ourselves descending into Glenelg, a valley quite destitute of trees, except towards the sea; but in their stead its sides, even to the summit of the hills, are covered with rich green pasture; and the sudden view of the glen and of the sea, and the hills of Skye beyond, is impressively superb. In the glen are a colony of huts and a farm-house, and at the opening of it, the manse, and ruins of Bernera Barracks, one of the military stations established in the Highlands by the Hanoverian Government, after the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, with the Kirkton of Glenelg. Bernera Barracks consisted of two parallel houses, capable of accommodating about two companies of soldiers. They are rather more than a mile distant from the ferry. Kirkton of Glenelg is a respectable village, picturesquely situated on a small bay, and contains a principal street of slated houses, and is embellished with trees and planting. The district of Glenelg consists of two glens—Glen More, just described, and Glen Beg. The whole, with the estate of Glen Shiel, belongs to James Evan Baillie, Esq., proprietor of other large estates in Inverness-shire.

10. In Glen Beg of Glenelg are two ancient Burghs or Dunes, as these interesting circular buildings are generally called, distant about seven miles from Bernera. They measure, one about thirty (apparently six or eight feet less than the original height) and the other twenty-five feet high, and thirty-three and thirty feet inside, and fifty-seven and fifty-four feet outside diameter. The walls are double, and ten feet thick, curved on the outer side and bulging out at the top, and they contain tiers of galleries two-and-a-half feet wide and six feet high—in one of the dunes four in succession, in the other only two, the higher galleries contracting almost to a single wall. Communication between the galleries is by openings three feet wide and five high. The flooring of the galleries is of large flags stretching across both walls, and thus strengthening the building. The entrance is by a low doorway, which could be blocked up by a stone dropped from overhead, so as to be perfectly secured from attack; and to one of them there was a subterraneous passage which has been recently filled up. Though no cement is used, the building is so closely joined that it could not be scaled; and thus these structures formed places of very safe temporary retreat, in case of hostile invasion. Unfortunately these interesting edifices have been much dilapidated for the sake of the stones, and scarcely half is standing of the most entire. The foundations of a third remain, and there are traces of two more in the larger valley. Glen Beg, in which these structures are situated, is a very beautiful strath, confined at the entrance by abrupt and rocky hills, and afterwards widening out having a fine stream rolling through it and pleasingly diversified with wood. The dunes now referred to are unquestionably the most entire in the southern parts of the Highlands. We particularly recommend tourists not to omit the opportunity of seeing these singular buildings when in their neighbourhood, for they are abundantly deserving of inspection. An eminent Danish antiquary, who lately visited them, informs us, that he considers them as very ancient Celtic structures, and not the work of Sandinavians.


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