Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter IV - Loch Etive

"Few here the smooth and rounded rocks,
These made by nature in her dreams,
Still bear the marks of sudden shocks,
And deeply cutting ice-bound streams."

Margaet—Now we are at Connel, but there are no falls.

Cameron.—No; the tide is high and the water is smooth. Connel falls are strange: sometimes the water falls this way, and sometimes that; sometimes the water here is smooth as at present, sometimes it is a roaring fall of several feet, with a swirling rapid of several hundred yards, and people half a mile off are wakened in the night by the noise. At the south side there is a deep place where vessels can pass at high water.

Margaet.—I see the reason; there is a bank of rocks nearly across the narrow part of the loch, and the tide makes the fall as it flows out and in.

Cameron.—We often pass smoothly. Many a time have I crossed the loch both above and below with anxiety. The rocks at this gorge narrow the loch so much that here it is only about 150 yards broad, although it is too, or nearly a mile, up at Kilmaronaig, and as it is 22 miles long, there is a great deal of water to pass so frequently. The passage bet«een these rounded rocks has probably been made when the sea-beach was lower. The heights correspond.

Cameron.—Many a fine rock cod have I caught beside these shores, and they made many a good breakfast in Lochanabeich. Let us go up the bank. This old sea-beach has been made into rabbit warrens where it is steep, and into cornfields where the slope is gradual. The whole of the plain here is composed of debris, chiefly rolled boulders, not very large, and it seems to have been flattened like a sea-bottom. It is now nearly all covered with moss, and it lies almost a waste, with a few cottages at its skirts. These cottages have only lately been built along the road; they were put up by General Campbell of Lochnell some forty years ago or so, that he might always have people to help him with his carriage across the ferry at Connel below the falls. Now so many people come with cattle and carts that men are always kept ready; but the cottages are pleasant companions of the district, and contain cheerful faces to meet us on the road. This heath is wild. Professor Daniel Wilson in his Prehistoric Annals of Scotland calls it "The Black Moss." It is no blacker than others, but uncomely places have often more abundant honour, and some have called this the heath of Lora, and Connel the falls of Lora. I who agree to this may explain to you that Lora means a noisy stream, and I may remind you of that beautiful beginning of Cath Lodin (or Loda), generally put the first of Ossian's poems-

"Oh! thou traveller unseen, thou bender of the thistle of Lora."

That is the travelling breeze, the light wind that shows itself to exist only by the result of its efforts. The very breeze is made into a mysterious agent, and takes its place among the spirits of the hill. And there before you is the thistle of Lora, gracefully bending before the unseen power.

Loudoun.—After all, the moving air, or wind, gave the original idea of spirit, gas, and even ghost.

Margaet.—Don't be sure, it is only one of the unseen things, and the grossest are most frequently alluded to, and are assumed to be the fundamental.

Loudoun.—however that may be, there has been an unseen agency here at work, putting that strange little lake in this beach of boulders. By what power was it made so steep? I have tried to find a cause, but have heard of only one efficient. Some suppose it to have been the lower part of a whirlpool, where a great motion whirled out the boulders, but the water would require to be deeper than it seems to have been here at the time when the former beach was used. Others have supposed a glacier to have lain here, and prevented the water from filling the space with boulders or gravel as you see it.

Cameron.—There is a hollow at Achnaba quite round, and one of the shape of a cow, i.e. such as it makes in lying down. I can give you the notion among the people, i.e. the fairy tale. It is that the cow belonged to Cailleach Bheir, and the round form was the cheese mould which she used. A great cow that was, certainly, more than an acre in size, and the cheese mould is very deep, with trees at the bottom scarcely reaching the top.

Willie.—If the cow were so large, how large was the person who kept it?

Cameron.—Cailleach Bheir means simply, old woman called Bera, or Here. The Gaelic aspirates its words, as Heir into Bheir, and has an inconvenient way of making cases.

Cailleach may mean also witch. You must learn a few Gaelic words. They say that Bera could walk over the loch in two or three steps; it is a very narrow part which is only a quarter of a mile wide, and you know it is very deep.

You need not dispute about the size, you may go and measure her head, which is turned into stone on the top of the rugged rocks that form the south-westerly side of the Awe. There she is, looking quite like an old woman, some think. Great ideas come down for children to play with. Beither or Heir is put down as lightning or as thunder with which great rains come, a spirit of lightning or storms residing on the hills. The old lady had charge of a fountain on Ben Cruachan, on which at the going down of the sun she was obliged to put the lid; but she was tired one day feeding the flocks and fell asleep, so that when she wakened, the fountain had overflowed and covered the plain, drowning man and beast. The place is now covered by Loch Awe, and the old woman was turned to stone. The name haunts the tops of hills, the region of storms. The ancient works of nature have been made into toys: in this case we have the personification Bera, the daughter of Griannan, which may be a sunny hill from which streams come and on which lightning often plays. I do not know that she was always old, but Cailleach means also a woman of olden times; she must have been active, feeding her sheep on such a mighty scale. When that great flood came it broke through the rocks and made the pass of Awe, and it is believed that at one time the Awe emptied itself to the south, so that it would escape at Crinan. It is something of a geological myth, a broken-down theory, perhaps, of ancient geographers.

Loudoun.—The name is found also on the hills between Strathlachlan and Glendaruel, [Colonel Forbes Leslie's Early Races of Scotland, p. 142.] and Bera is said also to have made Loch Eck in Cowal above Holy Loch. Colonel Leslie draws attention to the connection of the word Bera (or, as aspirated, Vera) with the Hindu Vrita. "Indra strikes the earth, shaking Vrita with his rain-causing hundred-spiked Vagra thunderbolt." Certainly both Vrita and Vagra could run into a Gaelic Beir or Veir easily, and the resemblance of the qualities of the Hindu and the old Celtic goddess is interesting. Beir also appears in Ireland.

You can scarcely wonder at the people here attending to mountains, and I wonder rather that we have not more stories. Look now at Cruachan Ben; five minutes ago its summit was clear, now there is a streamer from it and it is actually stretching out before our eyes. It moves onwards; I should think, judging from the land over which it lies, that it must at least be a mile long: it has been formed in ten minutes, and is growing.

It has ceased. This is interesting ; I have never seen one form so rapidly. Now it is actually diminishing, and now after ten minutes more the hill is clear again. No wonder with these sudden changes, Bheir, Vear or Bera, was taken unawares, and the terrible rush of waters followed, and prevented her ever after using her shepherd's crook on the sides of the Cruachan. However, the petrifying is only one part of the tale. She lived as a power long after, and of course such a power never dies.

Willie.—But why did that cloud form?

Loudoun.—That is explainable by a little change of wind bringing a current of very moist air from the sea and cooling it on the peak. We also bring in invisible agents for our theories, but ours are impersonal. I have seen a streamer from a rock floating for ten miles, so far as I could judge, and growing into a mighty cloud, looking at a distance like a great roof supported by pillars of the height of 1,200 feet.

But cold is not the only cause of rain ; the vapour comes from the sea chiefly to this place, and the reason of its deposit is not always clear. However, it deposits most where there are mountains. You see that strikingly if you look at a rain-map. Forests also do their part.

O'Keefe.—But we must really move. I should like to have a boat, and fish on this little loch—Lochanabeick, the loch of birches.

Cameron.—You would not like it long; the fish are coarse. O'Keefe.—But I would fish it out, and finer would perhaps grow; they live too long here undisturbed.

Cameron.—We shall walk onwards, and I will introduce you to your first specimen here of prehistoric antiquity. I do not use the word exactly, because, after all, Dunstaffnage may be older than that which we are going to ; but Dunstaffnage belongs to a historic age, and this cairn belongs to a class that is chiefly prehistoric, although I dare say it may have been formed in later times.

Margaet.—It is very difficult to walk over the heather.

Cameron.—Yes; but we don't go far. You see that gray pile of stones standing solitary in the moss: it is the carzz a' Blearan (the cairn of the Baron). It is a melancholy object and takes away from the bright natural scenery, but it is a powerful proof to us that men who revered others have lived here. You will observe that it is built on the solid ground, and the peat has grown above the foundation and nearly to the summit of the cairn.

Londoun.—Do you not think that the stones have caused good drainage here, and destroyed the life of the mosses, so that they decayed and have been washed away?

Cameron.—There is a certain distance, however, between the cairn and the peat all around, and it looks much as if a place had been dug out of the peat in order to make the cairn. They would never put such a heavy mass on a soft peat.

Loudoun.—But if they had dug, they must have heaped the matter up somewhere, and I do not see it.
Cameron.—This loose matter might have been levelled down in time by the abundance of rain, as the quantity is not very great, and the peat is not above three feet deep here.

But in any case I will show you a new proof that peat was here during the baron's lifetime, if there was a baron, which we may first consider. I cannot tell whether he is a true tradition or a fancy. The name is not common, and I am disposed to look upon it as correct. I see no use in decrying what is probable enough, so I will suppose that the baron died about here—perhaps was killed and buried in an unusual place, or we may suppose that this is a simple cenotaph—a small memorial of a respected man or memorable event. Barons are not ancient Celtic chiefs, and I suppose him to have been the bailie of some baron of northern origin; and here he lived or held his court, or tried to do so. Let us look at the court. We need not go far. It is a circular enclosure made by a peat mound or wall, and a ditch outside. It was the custom to dispense law if not justice in circular places among the Norsemen, and Tynwalds are in abundance in that people's land. We have no proof that there was a dwelling here, but there may have been. In Dr. Wilson's Prehistoric Scotland we are told of an ancient hearth where food was cooked on the ground, and over which six feet of peat have now grown on this very heath. Such may have been old Celtic or pre-Celtic for all I know, but could have no reference to our baron, who lived, judging from the size of the mound and the ditch, at the time when the peat existed, if not so deep as at present. I do not know of many such rings as these in the country, but there is another, a little one, over at the farm of Ledaig, and not far to the north of the house ; we shall see it when going to Keills from Connel ferry, about half-way onwards.

O'Keefe. The circle here is large, and it reminds me of a "rath," of which there are thousands in Ireland. They call them the residences of chiefs, but I think they often corresponded to good farm-houses, having room enough for a garden and yard for cattle. This spot is said never to have changed in the memory of man, but we see that the road from the loch, or at least the ground to the loch, is rather bare of peat, and may have in part been good pasture land not many generations ago. Indeed I am told of a family having lived on it not forty years ago in a small cottage, and I see clearly that the moss differs very much in thickness. I am used to bogs, and think this not an important or great one, and it need not be very old.

Cameron.—It may be so, but I am glad you have seen this circle, as I have not seen this or any of the kind mentioned in the Statistical Account or elsewhere; and as to the Norse having been here, they were not in great force. Somerled was more Norse than Celtic in birth, but scarcely in acts.

Now let us lunch. Sit on the grass in the court of the baron, and refresh yourselves. The men have brought good food from Oban; and see there is milk from Lochanabeich. Milk! I ought to say cream. In your great towns you have water in the milk; here we have the other extreme—it is cream to begin with.

Willie.—But what is a cairn?

Cameron.—A cairn, or Gaelic carat, is a heap of stones; it is applied even to a stony hill, but it is chiefly used for a burial-place, upon which stones were thrown in great numbers. The honour intended to the deceased did not show itself by fine art but by magnitude.

Loudoun.—Still it is interesting to see how art grew. We find some cairns with a row of standing stones about them, others with two rows, some with a deep trench besides. Then we find some with the bones unprotected, others with a stone box made of small boulders; a better art rises to use long stones forming the sides, bottom, and top. Gradually we rise until these become of gigantic dimensions, and the internal space is not merely the size of a body but a chamber; then two or more chambers are united. All these conditions you will see more or less developed on this heath, and I hope you will enjoy this introduction to the times of old.

Margaet.—You have given a very short history of cairns. You might have told us more, and spoken of such chambers being luxuriously decorated, of the dead laid on splendid sofas, with costly clothing and golden decorations, and of their attendants around them scarcely less magnificently attired. But for these you must go to Tuscany and Magna Graecia.

Cameron—Even here, and especially in Ireland, gold in abundance is found, or has been found, in the ancient Celtic tombs.

Londoun.—Yes; and we read of Charlemagne's tomb being opened at Aachen, and the old king found sitting on his throne as if preserving all his glory. That was a true burial of prehistoric ages, urging itself into Christian times. It is not easy to decide on dates from style alone, but it is a powerful aid, because in old times people knew less of foreign habits, and styles were not so mixed as now.

Willie.—If this is really a land of myths and cairns and spirits, and this wild heath produces only the results of their movements, there must be many ghost stories here. Tell us some.

Loudoun.—I think we have had very little else, or at least stories with little reality in them.

Cameron.—Well, I can tell you one. You have often heard of people who have lived with the fairies. Look over at that white house under the hill ; in that house lives a woman whose uncle or grand-uncle, I cannot say which, was for a time among the green people. You see the rocks so precipitous on the side towards Ledaig and behind the house. It was a pleasant day when the man .vent out to his work, which was near the rock, and he perhaps went beyond it farther than needful, looking for nuts, when he saw an opening in the rock quite near to him. Ike went in and was welcomed by the little folks, who amused him exceedingly. He had a few dances, stayed a few hours, but when he came out the people were all twenty years older and scarcely knew him ; he was very much inclined to go back, and did try, but neither he nor any one else has found the door again. I daresay you never before saw the spot where such a thin- happened, although you may have heard such a story. Walk over the moor to the rocks straight opposite Lochanabeich, and you will come to the place of the occurrence, as the tale was told.

Margaet.-Then that is a kind of enchanted hill. The heath is enchanted, and the only visible remains of the greatness that went before us are wild and mysterious. But who knew the man? Did you?

Cameron—No, I did not know him; but I knew some one who knew the one who knew him; at least she said so.

Willie—How long ago?

Cameron.—About thirty years.

Willie.—But tell us something quite new, and something seen by people whom you know well.

Cameron.—Of course I can tell you about the Brunie of Dunstaffnage, or of a farm near it which struck a man in the face in the dark, one evening, for speaking evil of it. And, indeed, I think it did right, because Brunies hurt no one, but do all the work of the house in the night, and happy is the house that has one. They require, too, but small wages, little food, and no accommodation. What do you think of the origin of such a tale?

Loudoun.-I think it is clear. It is in the soul of man, who seeks to be relieved of his great troubles, and paints to himself days without sorrow and creatures that can labour without pain. There are many who require Brunies to work for them, and who would then be comparatively happy, although unfortunately there are others who earn wages too readily, and are degraded by want of absorbing labour.

Willie.—But you have not told us enough. Do you know any one here who ever saw any of these sights?

Cameron.—Oh yes; I know a farmer, whose house I can show you some day; it is not far off. He was coming home very late; it was dark, and he had far to go; and some one came by his side and walked all the way with him from Connel ferry. It was not a human being, and would not speak, but whatever it was it left him at his own gate very sore afraid. Now, you want to know what this was; I cannot tell you, but I may tell you that the man had been at the market.

Willie.—But this is not ghostly enough; you do not tell us what the follower was.

Loudoun.—Well, I can tell you another. It was told me by a very great man, and the house was over the loch there. A man had gone into a barn, and in it he saw an immense number of deadly serpents. He was quite persuaded that if he let any out, the whole population would be destroyed, and he made a great noise. His friends outside wanted him to open the door, but he would not, because he said they would all be killed; better for him alone to be killed. He, you see, was a brave and unselfish man; and he was saved, but I could not tell how.

Willie.—This is also an unsatisfactory story, and I do not like it.

Loudoun.—Most of the stories are, but I cannot explain them so easily as that. I believe that last man had also been at the fair.

Willie.—Are the people very drunken then?

Cameron.—No, I do not think so. Most of the people keep no spirits in their house, and taste none except when they go to the market, and then sometimes they rejoice too much with their friends. They do not drink above a very small portion of the amount drunk by many sober men in our towns, i.e., men who never were drunk, and would be horrified at the imputation. They do not even drink so much alcohol as some ladies do who will tell you that they only take a little at dinner, but do so daily. Would you like to see some of the people?

Loudoun.—Yes; we may walk to the cottages.

Cameron.—This is often called Connel moss; it is also called Ledaig moss, because that farm is Ledaig; but many names for one spot are confusing. The people here are uncertain on that point, but not so uncertain as in a town, where I have known people call the stream passing through the centre, the river and the old river, and knew no other name, as if one should call his father the man.

And now, here is the first cottage quite near ; it is higher than the others. The builder has evidently made an advance, and he has put slates on it, leaving the old ways. I can tell you something interesting about that.

The owner of that house built it himself, not only with his own money, but his own hands. I saw him one summer after his usual daily work bringing these big stones, and putting them on in the way you see them. He was no mason, but he had sense. I saw him next summer, and lie was doing the same. I think on the third summer he had got beams from the landlord for a roof, and now he has a pleasant house and a garden, and a field of oats with one of potatoes; and I daresay he looks on it with pride, and looks out on the loch with pleasure, and over the loch to the moorland, where he sees Dee Choimhead, which will always remind hire to ask a blessing on his labours while it stands there, as it is continually saying "God bless according to one explanation.

Margaet.—Innovations are appearing, and here is the telegraphic cable emerging from the loch. We may ask one of the owners of the croft a few questions.

Cameron.—Well, I will introduce you. But this house is too dirty for any one to enter; let us call the owner out. How are you, Mr. B.?

Mr. B.—And how are you, yourself? It is long since I did not see you. I am afraid you would scarcely like my house, so I need not ask you to come in.

Cameron.—I believe you are getting a new one.

Mr. B.—Yes, this is old, but I do not object to our style of house—the old Highland one; it is very suitable to us, and we are only glad when we are allowed to stay.

Cameron.—Surely no one wishes to turn you out.

Mr. B.—No; but many a good man has been turned from home to my knowing, and now good men are wanted back. Who cares for the land like him who has grown out of it?

Loudoun.—But you old Highlanders never made much of it.

Mr. B.—We kept more people on it than your system does, and the men loved their country more, and had more character in old times. But I am not complaining. I have been favoured, and my house is perhaps better than my father's was. I think after all we were too idle in old times, but now we have too little vitality—at least, there is no excess, we spend it all in work, and I doubt if in old times we did not live better when we spent more in pure rejoicing as the fools do.

Cameron.—These are hard questions.

Mr. B.—I know they are hard, but if you had seen the glen I came from in early days, with a score or more houses and good strong men and fine hearty honest women in them, you would be sad enough if you went up that glen now, and, excepting the big farmhouse and one or two shepherds' houses belonging to it, saw only one cottage and an old woman in it nearly ninety years old—the only one of all that grand company. The houses are small and there is not much in them; but, do you think that the men in great houses are really better? I think they see more and know more, but they don't enjoy what they have. My son's children came to see me from Glasgow, and they are very sharp lads, but they think a great deal of themselves, and they are always wanting something. Still, they know more and can do more—that is true—than we who have always stayed in our glens, and if the world needs such people it must educate them so. It may be good for the country, but these poor lads are not happier than I was, although as poor as a bee among the heather.

Cameron.—It is not easy to contradict you, and you have given us all something to consider. Good bye!

Now you have seen a cottar. He is not learned, he is not read, but he is a gentleman in the sense of refinement of feeling and manner, and if he behaved thus in any society in the kingdom he would be accepted, supposing he had wealth or anything external to give him a position. There you have the true Gael.

Margaet.—Is it true that you have here the character of the Gael? Have we not accounts of the Highlander as very savage in old times, and even from late times as told of by Sir Walter Scott, do we not see traits of their ferocity?

Cameron.—Everything about the character of the Gael found in history can be contradicted by history. The "wild Irish" is a common expression, the ferocity of Highlanders is not unknown, and it has been an opinion that the courtliness which we now see must have come from the Norse—but this is not clear. We have the same courtliness brought out with richer surroundings, and with careful development, in France, it is true, where there is (in the North especially), both Celt and Norman; but we have it not in Germany, scarcely in Scandinavia, so far as I know. Old poems certainly give it to the Gael of Ireland and Scotland in great fullness. Nothing can prove this more than the account of Finn, in the book of the Dean of Lismore, but you may say that the MS. is only three hundred and fifty years old, when the songs were caught dying out. Still we must consider that the poem was old then.

"Poet and chief,
Braver than kings,—
Generous, just,
Despised a lie,
Of vigorous deeds,
First in song,
A righteous judge,
Polished his mien,
Who knew but victory,
All men's trust,
Of noble mind,
Of ready deeds,
To women mild,—
Good man was Finn,
Good man was he;
No gifts ever given
Like his so free."

There is more worth reading. I do not know that any man so refined lived in the days of Finn, but this is at least a very early Celtic idea agreeing with others still earlier.

Loudoun.—On the other hand, are not the Celtic annals dreadful records of blood. I do not say that the two cannot be reconciled. War and killing were the enjoyment of the most refined knights of romance, and I suppose this was the idea of those who lived in reality.

Cameron.—Now we shall walk to the boat, and row up the loch. There we come to another smaller set of rapids and rocks. Some people call that little Connel.

Loudoun.—I have tried hard to make the glaciers move which made both this and the chief Connel, but cannot without gigantic sizes ; down there we may see the rooks smoothed as the ice crushed its way through, and the whole plain is probably covered by the remnants of a moraine smoothed down by the sea. I think we must alter the levels, this we may manage.

Cameron.—The present is better than that age of ice. Here the water swells into an inland sea, and the trees cover the banks and crown that hill above AchnacIoich, on the south side opposite to us.

Margaet.—I heard some one call that Stonefield.

Cameron.—I am in favour of Achnacloich. It is unsafe to translate proper names. I remember a German asking me about Neuschloss. I had no idea where such a place in England was, but he said we called it Newcastle. Suppose we were to call Greenock the Sunny place, who would know it? And who would be at the trouble of thinking where Little Bay or White Bay was, if we used these terms instead of Oban? Achnacloich means the field of stones.

Margaet.—I see a little church, but it is very ugly for such a beautiful place.

Cameron.—It is as ugly as they could make it; but at a little distance you see a house among the trees farther up the loch; there the minister lives at a beautiful spot, and near it are the ruins of the old priory; the visible outside parts are very small, and ruthless hands have made a private residence on the site, with a few old walls and the buttery built into it.

Sheena.—Is it a ruthless hand that has made a peaceful home out of such a spot, and converted to abundant use and happiness those blessings prepared by the ancient saints of the place? Holy walls, fine trees, lovely views, a fine old garden—nothing but fine taste can have admired and loved such things. Still, could they not have built their house except out of the walls of the old priory?

Loudoun.—Don't be too severe on the moderns; have they not built that simple church which you notice there at Achnaba, much nearer to the centre of the population than the old priory was? Besides, they have built others at Nuckairn and Taynuilt opposite, and modern people like to save time.

Cameron.--It is very well to say so, but there is no church now at Keills or Ledaig, and there was one formerly, so that both ends of the plain were suited.

Margaet.—Still there is one now at Barcaldine over the hill, and there used not to be one ; and, besides this, there is one quite recently built at the priory.

Cameron.—Both these are of the Free Kirk. It shows that some kirk was needed, and the reason for removing the Ardchattan one is shown to be a desire to be more central. It was not seen that the day for such long walks was disappearing, and that one church would not be found sufficient.

Let us row on; we cannot land, because if we go up the little Sruth Mona or mountain stream at Achnaba we shall see cromlechs that will take too much time, and if we go into the woods we shall see stone circles that may enchant you too long; and if we go up the hill at Ardchattan we may be too long detained by the old church of St. Modan, where once perhaps there was a town, and so we shall move on and try no more than to have a blink up the inner part of Loch Etive. People think they have seen the loch when they have come here. I never yet nit one who had seen the cromlechs and circles, and I have only met two tourists who had seen the loch. Loch Etive is not seen from the top of a coach, or the deck of a boat, or even from the top of a hill.

Margaet.—Where can you see it then?

Cameron.—Where can you see Scotland? It is a study, and not a photographic flash, that can show it. One vision cannot fill the soul. We seek sight after sight, and prefer to know that there is still more than we can see. That view always seems small in which the known is not bounded by the unknown. We might give one hard pull to Ardchattan and see the priory, and the rowers can have a rest for a little.

There is not much remaining, as you see, but it is picturesque, and the monumental effigies give it a dignified character. One has an inscription showing that the figure represents the abbot Somerled Macdougal, year 1500 (Funallus Somherle MacDougallus prior de Ardchattan, MCCCCC), to quote the Statistical Account. Another inscription shows that it was the family burying place, and that two sons were successively priors:


Another inscription, probably the one called Runic, has not been decisively read. It seems to be imperfect Roman writing, the letters badly formed originally, but rendered still more difficult to read by the effect of weather.

Cameron.—Of course you know that the Macdougalls descend from Somerled, and that this priory was built in the twelfth century.

Margaet.—Is that the reason that this family always opposed Bruce, and never could be reconciled to the idea of the western sovereignty being lost ? Well, people suffer much when they cannot see the signs of the times.

Cameron.—And yet it is said that Bruce held a parliament here, and that Gaelic was spoken in it.

Loudoun.—As to a parliament the idea is too large. He met here and had some of his friends with him, and I do not doubt that there was a careful consultation. Most people in his day spoke Gaelic in Scotland, and I dare say Bruce could speak it. It was spoken in Galloway, which is near to Bruce's place, Carrick, and it was spoken in the west and isles, where he wandered, and certainly it was spoken at Roseneath, and I suppose also at Cardross, opposite Greenock, where he kept his yachts! and where he died. I do not know in how many places he lived, but he was for a time in all these. I think he may have taken the shelter of Ardmore for sailing experiments. The ground would not do for our modern yachts, but I dare say his boats would more resemble our fishing craft, and would be Norwegian in shape. The old Norway shape is still in use, and can be seen preserved in the Orkneys, and even in the Hebrides, till this day. The water at Cardross would probably be a little deeper then, but not much.

Cameron.—You must keep to Loch Etive. In mustering the chiefs, Sir Walter Scott gives many names of men who cannot be supposed to have spoken English. One is Barcaldine, who lived just over the hill. Of course, Barcaldine means the chief who lived at Barcaldine Castle. Farther up there are other reminders of Bruce; but, first, we must look at the manse, a good house. The garden would rejoice you. These monks could choose fine spots, but choice was not all, they made them fine as the moderns made this. Consider BarcaIdine, just spoken of, not built by monks. The garden is a wonder where you expect only a wilderness, and all has been done but lately. That looks to the north too, and this to the south. Both point to good hard work. These monks seem to have left the flavour of their wisdom and learning, as we hear of the Rev. Colin Campbell thinking in a most original and powerful manner, whilst minister in Ardchattan from 1667 to 1726, [See Good Words, May, 1877; an article by Professor Fraser.] and only the other day the same manse gave a professor to the Edinburgh University.

Loudoun.—We may now have a good pull up to Bunawe. It is a very wide part of the loch which we now cross, and we can look at the pleasant sides, well wooded, till we come to a romantic, broken-up little island, called Durinnish. One can scarcely tell where it begins and ends, since it has been united to the land. The rock above is also called Durinnish, although, as the word means hard island, and refers originally to the low small spot, it is scarcely correct to apply it to such a connected mass of the mainland.

Margaet.—The road seems quite stopt up by that great block, on which there is scarcely a blade of grass. It is frightful, and surely it is ugly.

Cameron—Although it be ugly, you in Glasgow are so fond of it as to cut it down, and break it into small squares, laying all the streets with it. If it stops our way it makes your way clearer, and don't call it ugly. I remember a lady from the south-east of England coming up here one day, and wishing she were away from these "dreadful hills." She was an artist too, but she had lived too long in plains to learn the glories of a mountain scene. It produced awe and fear, showing at any rate power over her mind. Another artist told me that although he dc-lighted in these mountains he could scarcely help crying at the sight. Another name given to this is Macniven's island. They say that after one of the struggles of Robert Bruce, when he was wandering rather helplessly about the west, he ran down to the Bunawe shore and called for a boat. A Macniven came and rowed him over. A Macniven is there still, and will row you if you like, as he has rowed me. We shall go to the south shore at Bunawe; the landing is not very fine, and the walk is long, but we shall see the country, which, after coming down from these wild hills, looks quite plain. I dare say you will call it hilly; it is at least lumpy; but a farmer's wife up the loch was asked if she ever lived in a fiat country, and replied, "Oh yes, I lived a while at Bunawe." We do not find it very flat for walking, and this wooden bridge is almost like that in the Vision of Mirza.

Margaet.—I fear people do not read that nowadays, and may not know the allusion. I know it by chance.

O'Keefe.—here certainly is something ancient; it is surely a Druidical stone set on a rising ground, probably a cairn broken down. The pillar must be i6 feet high.

Cameron.—As to Druidical that is a point to which Mr. Loudoun may object, but it is really an ancient standing stone set up to mark some great event. I believe it stood on an old cairn near and now almost forgotten, but it was knocked down many years ago, no one knows when, and it has now the honour of being the first monument raised in remembrance of the battle of Trafalgar. The people had expected a great battle, and no doubt some of the Campbells here were personally interested, so they got a stone ready and raised it as soon as they heard the news, which was above two days after it reached London. The stone was set up in the evening, in the old way; no writing, no sign, but that inanimate and illegible one. Curious that the people did not consider that no man knew for what purpose it was first set up, and so infer that their purpose would soon also be forgotten; but the stone is of great value as showing the old spirit and habit remaining to this century.

Loudoun.—It is now five o'clock; we have loitered about, and we may as well loiter a little more; we cannot pass Connel till about nine; as the days are long it will not matter, meantime we shall eat a little at the Taynuilt Inn.

Margaet.—This inn seems a busy one. This spot naturally must have long been a convenient stopping place. It seems trifling to remain here after looking at nature and the past, and I am glad to leave.

Cameron.—Let us walk back to the shore, and for a while wonder why there should be iron works in this secluded place. They actually make iron here, and have done so for 140 years nearly, some people from Lancashire having found this a good place for charcoal, to which they brought Ulverstone ore. That great wood through which the road passes to Oban, great in extent but of small birches chiefly, is cut every twenty-four years, and is soon burnt down by that greedy furnace. But the district cannot supply all that is wanted, although the amount of iron made is very small. Still, it pays, and the reason for this is that it brings fourteen pounds per ton when the coal iron near Glasgow is worth about three or four. That is the wood of Naisi, the Coille Ndois, and it ought not to be passed over as merely a coal cellar of some English Company, but I will tell you more of it some day. Naisi was the eldest of the sons of Uisnach.

Loudoun.—And now let us row home; we are tired with all we have seen and heard; it has been a long day. Yes, let us be rowed, and rest from observing.

O'Keefe.—What ! are we to sit stock still for hours till we get home? If nobody listens I will speak to myself, not being tired. Look at that large stone down at the shore.

Loudoun.—\VelI, and what of that? it is a boulder, and there are many boulders.

O'Keefe.—That stone has a remarkable name, it is Clach Alanessa. I am not sure of the meaning; but it is very remarkable that Nessa as a name should be found here. Concobhar or Conor MacNessa was the King of Ulster, who caused the death of the sons of Uisnach who lived here, and of whom we are to hear more; it is cne of the traditions of the place probably.

Margaet.—Why did they call it after him?

Loudoun.—I suppose we may as well ask, why did they call that large stone in the public road going out of Taynuilt to Loch Ave after Rob Roy? We like to connect remarkable facts in nature with that which is clear to us. It is sometimes a play of the fancy, sometimes a joke, but often an affectionate reminiscence or a mental connecting link, with that in which we have been interested. And thus the outside nature and man are mixed up inextricably; people call these myths, and imagine something mysterious in a myth. This want of clear observation mixing up ideas of eternal nature with those about poor short-lived man, who is so beloved that we are unwilling to let him pass away unremembered, assists in the rise of a silly story, and such the original of the myth often is; but history has given it dignity, because the confused state in which it is produced is one to which the human mind is subject, and all that is human is interesting. Besides, it often happens that the thoughts of man rise high above the original fact, which then becomes a mere kernel for fine fruit, and sometimes a mere symbol of great achievements. If we call the stone higher up Rob Roy's putting stone, we begin a myth at once, and we make Rob Roy a giant, and he must do gigantic actions such as nature only outside of man can perform. In an uneducated people, after some years, this story grows longer and wilder; among the older Celtic heroes we hear of Finn and his friends going through the seas as monsters a mile long would be supposed to go; this is an inferior class of the Finn stories. I am for a real human origin to myths connected with man, remembering the pleasure we take in giving glory to our saints and heroes, until they cease to be recognised as mortals by the stories, even when we know their distinct origin.

Margaet.—But was Nessa a myth?

Loudoun.—I think not ; my remarks came in connection with the names given to stories, &c.

O'Keefe.—She seems to have been a very clever scheming woman as well as a beauty. She was asked to marry Fergus, King of Ulster, and she did so on condition that her son, who was fifteen years old, should be king for a year so as to give him rank, and so that his children should be able to call themselves king's sons. Fergus agreed, but meantime she obtained very wily counsellors for her son, and he acted with great wisdom, and with bribery also, so at the end of the year it was decided by the people that Conor should continue. There seem different accounts of the willingness of Fergus to resign. Dr. Ferguson of Dublin, in his poem, the "Abdication of Fergus Mac Roy," [Song. of the Wester Gael.] makes Fergus admire an easy and partly poetical life. lie admired the wisdom of the boy-king and judge, when deciding a very tangled case, and the poem makes him speak thus, in the court of justice, after the young king had delivered his sentence:—

"And I rose, and on my feet,
Standing by the judgment seat,
Took the circlet from my head,
Laid it on the bench, and said,
Men of Uladh, I resign
That which is not rightly mine
That a worthier than I
May your judge's place supply.
Conor is of royal blood;
Fair he is; I trust him good.
Wise he is we all may say,
Who have heard his words to-day.
Take him therefore in my room,
Letting me the place assume—
Office but with life to end—
Of his counsellor and friend.
So young Conor gained the crown;
So I laid the kingship down
Laying with it as I went
All I knew of discontent."

Loudoun.—Is not Moen a stone in Welsh, and would not Moen Nessa be a stone set up in honour of Nessa? Such a word was used in this sense in Gaelic.

O'Keefe.—It is a fair imagining. Clack and man would then show duplicates, such as Glenburn Water. I suppose Conor lived, but there are such wonders told of him that I can imagine people denying him life: they are still more startled when told that he was king at the time of the crucifixion. At any rate here you have a stone that connects us with ancient Irish legend if not history, and it must be more than a legend to leave so many traces as I, with Mr. Cameron's help, will show you even on Loch Etive. With Conor begins the story of the chief heroes, known in this district in the earliest days. I mean the sons of Uisnach. Ile was their enemy, and Fergus was their friend. I am not sorry, therefore, that you have come on some of the traces to-day. Fergus Mac Roy is little known in this country; I may say the same of Conor. We hear a little of Fergus, the son of Erc, but few know of him, although he brought over the Scots; and we hear of a Fergus in Galloway, the hero too of a mediaeval old French romance; but our king in Ulster, and the poet of one of our greatest battles, is not known much.

Loudoun.—We have only skimmed the ground to-day as a swallow does; we have seen nothing well; we must do it all again. Still, we must wait a minute at this boulder since it has such a remarkable name, and as it is near Aird's house, where Dr. Norman Macleod lived—a name that we all take pleasure in.

Margaet.—And now that we have had a walk, we sit more patiently and enjoy that wonderful sunset behind the hills of Morven. Did Ossian or Macpherson fancy his heroes in that bright land? It was some one's idea; and as the same land becomes at times densely black with storms, so we must suppose did the mood and condition of the heroes.

Cameron.-I am loath to leave Abbot's Isle and the Eilean Ban, and all my pretty corners; but the tide is up, and we can pass the falls in peace, and now the run is with us, and we have a fair pull to Oban. It is not easy to do it in an hour and a half, but the night is fine, and even at half-past ten it will be light in Oban.

Margaet.—I am too tired to have a belief; the glory of the day sinks, if not into gloom, at least into silence: I do the the same, and will half doze on the way home.

Loudoun.—Some people, when they return home, like to go to bed at once; I am more friendly. I say, let us have a social cup of tea, and communicate our rejoicings to each other over it again. It is a prolonged good-night, and a pleasant way of ending the day; we need not get up so soon to-morrow, but may sleep long, and take only an easy excursion when the day is pretty far on, and when we are tired of resting.

If you prefer supper and wine, have it; I prefer not to have such a meal. It is true that much tea prevents sleep, but a little tea gives a certain activity to the system; and I am inclined to think that, in moderation, it hastens the process of repair as much as that of waste.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus