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Mountain Moor and Loch
A Bird's Eye View


hill-shading wherever the streaks and patches of blue leave a tract of dry land big enough to build a mountain upon. Argyllshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Dumbartonshire, as presented by the maker of maps, may be compared to the colours of some fighting regiment, after half a century of arduous campaigning, blackened by powder and rent by bullet. This is putting it poetically, but a more prosaic comparison would be to say that these West Highlands on the map are like a cabbage-leaf devoured by caterpillars.

Such a wild and picturesque district is a very Paradise for the tourist, but hitherto this "Land of Mountain, Moor and Loch" has been remarkably difficult of access. It is traversed diagonally by the chain of lochs that form the. Caledonian Canal, cutting through Argyllshire and Inverness- shire from the Island of Mull to the Moray Firth, like the straight slash of a knife, and the traveller has been enabled to skirt these rugged shires by steamer, while he has also been able to penetrate tar into Argyll and Dumbarton by the great southern lochs; but where the paddle-wheel ceased to revolve there has been no locomotive to take up the running. From the stopping-points of the steamers, there have been a few coach routes, but these have covered only an infinitesimal part of this marvellously beautiful country, and hitherto the land west of the Grampians, from Lochaber, south to the sea, has been left almost alone to the pedestrian or cyclist of untiring muscle. Hitherto one railway alone has intruded amongst these glorious glens, these frowning peaks and gleaming lochs—the line that runs from Kuhn in Perthshire, almost due west, bisecting the Argyllshire Highlands. But nearly all the passengers by this route have been making straight for the terminus at Oban, and in the short run after the Grampians are crossed, have had nothing more than a glimpse of the scenery now completely opened up from South to North.

The West Highland Railway, now completed, breaks fresh ground from start to finish of its hundred-mile run; carrying the traveller through what is, perhaps, the most sublime and characteristic portion of Scotland. Taking up at Helensburgh, which lies at the mouth of the Gareloch, an uncompleted end of the North British Railway, it winds northwards along the base of the Grampians to Inverlair, whence it strikes westwards through Lochaber to Fort William on Loch Linnhe, which with a branch to Banavie, makes connection with the Caledonian Canal, and brings within the reach of the traveller the most tempting possibilities in the way of circular tours. Now in Dumbartonshire, now in Perthshire, now in Argyllshire, now in Perthshire again, now in Inverness-shire, it never for one moment meets the prosaic: the panorama of landscape that passes before the carriage windows changing almost every minute, into more and more bewitching visions of infinite variety. As the Irish navy engaged on the construction of the line observed, "Sure, it's the most amphibious country ever seen by the naked eye"—so many sheets of deep blue water break upon the sight as the train sweeps round each curve, that to the non-engineering traveller, it seems as if a new Caledonian Canal might have been constructed almost as easily as a railway; while the hills are piled on each other in such multitudinous profusion that the opening out of each new vista of towering peaks fairly intoxicates an artist with delight.

The scenery may be divided roughly into four sections. From Helensburgh to Ardlui the line hugs in succession the shores of three great lochs—Gareloch, Loch Long, and Loch Lomond—which cleave their way through grand mountain barriers ; from Ardlui to Gortan, it threads its course along a bewildering maze of stupendous crags from Gortan to Rannoch, it traverses the great Moor of Rannoch, which has no parallel in Britain ; and from Rannoch to Fort William it passes through a country that combines all the features of the previous stretches, loch, moor and glen, overhung- by vast eminences scattered over the land with lavish prodigality— Ben Lomond, Ben Irne, Ben Vane, Ben Voirlich, Ben More, Ben Doran, and a phalanx of other mountains, culminating in mighty Ben Nevis. Never was there a railway that less disfigured the country through which it passed. Like a mere scratch on the mountain slopes, it glides from valley to valley, unobtrusive as a sheep path, and not even John Ruskin would regard it as a desecration of the Highland solitudes. Along the course of this West Highland Railway little evidence of cultivation meets the eye of the superficial observer; and yet many of the best sheep farms of Scotland—in some instances feeding not less than 20,000 head of the finest black-faced sheep of the country—are found on the lands traversed by it. It is a land of sport, the home of the deer, the grouse and the white hare, while the streams abound with trout, and those who know it will cease to wonder why the old clansmen who inhabited those bare yet beautiful glens sought so often and so successfully to make the cattle of the Lowlands their own. Up to Ardlui, houses are far apart, but still one feels that the country is inhabited; north of that place houses are few, and when a dwelling-place appears it is generally a low thatched hut, and you have to look twice before asserting dogmatically which is the house and which is the haystack.

If ever there was a railway which was so evidently a railway for the tourist and holiday-seeker, it is the West Highland. Manufactures there are none, but the railway will give to agriculture and farming, facilities hitherto unknown, and there will, without doubt, be an increased traffic in sheep and cattle, which will find a new outlet to the South from the districts converging on Spean Bridge and at other points of the line. Industries will doubtless grow, now that the railway is opened, but goods traffic will require some years to develop, although the well-known "Long John" whiskies of Fort William will contribute something. It opens up a world hitherto known only to the sportsman and to the comparative few who, with abundant leisure and means, could penetrate the magnificent country through which it passes. Beyond this, the extensive country which is brought within

easy access of the commercial metropolis of Scotland will be developed by the industry and enterprise, characteristic of the industrious and intelligent community which has given Glasgow so prominent a place among the cities of the Empire. Not only does it throw open a new land of promise, as we have shown, but it will shorten by upwards of an hour the journey between Edinburgh or Glasgow and Oban —a watering-place that requires no introduction to popular favour. Along the line, coach roads strike off to right and left, taking the traveller through the many interesting districts into which the railway runs—the "Rob Roy" country, the "Lady of the Lake" country, and the ever famous Glencoe—making connection with steamboat services on the lochs, and transporting him whither he will, by land or by water, over this happy hunting ground of the tourist. Now that the bridle track and sheep path have been supplemented by the iron-way, in such an embarrassment of alluring alternatives, the difficulty is not to find a route, but to select one, for the West Highland Railway emphatically forms perhaps the greatest of the great "show-routes" of Britain.


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