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The Isle of Skye
An account from the publication "Good Words" 1875 Edition

IT is difficult for a man to speak about his mother or the lady of his love, without either saying less than he feels, or saying more than other people can sympathize with. If, therefore, I should seem to speak with over-fondness of the Isle of Skye, let the excuse be that I was born there. The great blue mass of the Coolin, [It has become the fashion to call these the Cuchullin Hills, and it is hardly worth while to insist that it is a mistake, the name being a good and sonorous one if rightly pronounced. But the native name is The Coolin, without any addition, like The Caucasus, The Balkan, The Himalaya. The Gaelic name is Cuilfhionn, pronounced Coolyun, which has the advantage of being easier to say than Cuchuilin, there being some people that cannot sound the ch, who therefore inevitably call these mountains either Cuckoolin or Cutchullin.] with profile as clean cut and memorable as a historical face, was photographed in my mind before the days of Daguerre and Talbot, and the picture grows not dimmer but more distinct every year. Still more difficult is it to forget the kindly human souls, whose memories are associated with every green spot on which those great hills look down.

Some people are naturally not fond of islands, regarding them more or less as prisons, places not easy to get at, and sometimes still more difficult to get out of. Thus a certain metaphysical friend of mine maintained, when we were in Skye, the strange proposition that the sea is not so fine a horizon, nor so illimitable in suggestion, as dry land! Even from a metaphysical point of view, that seems to me absurd. But it so happens that my friend was born and bred far out of sight of the boundless sea, while to me it happened to be born so near it that I feel a natural brotherhood with sea-gulls and Solan geese, and a liking for everything belonging to the sea, with the exception of devil-fish, sharks, &c. For an island, simply as such, I confess to as great a partiality as Sancho had. I never saw one yet, however small, that was quite destitute of merit. There is always something of originality about an island, were it the most barren rock man ever set his foot on. It stands by itself, is self-contained, has its own distinct character and boundaries, not made by man, or changeable by him. What would Great Britain be if it were tacked on to the rest of Europe? It would be Great Britain no longer. Is not Iceland, in spite of its horrible wildness and cold, one of the most interesting bits of land in the world? And Ithaca? And Patmos? And Iona? And Juan Fernandez? And St. Helena? Did not Shakespeare, when he wished to invent a region for pure Imagination to work in, put Prospero on an island ? Nothing but an island would suit for that atmosphere of the supernatural which is the setting of the Tempest, and makes it, of all his creations, the most perfectly ideal. The scenery of the Midsummer Night's Dream is not so harmonious: you realise, in the midst of all the fairies, that it is but a dream. But Caliban and Ariel are beings of daylight, the natural inhabitants of that remote and isolated place.

Commend me, therefore, to an island; and of all islands, with the single exception of the "adjacent island" of Great Britain, commend me to the Isle of Skye! It's all very well for Professor Blackie to sing of Mull as

"The fairest isle that spreads
Its green folds to the sun in Celtic seas;"

and let Mull be thankful that she has got so eloquent a lover to sing her praises. It was well to do so, considering that such a poet as the Ettrick Shepherd was so far left to himself as to speak somewhere of

"The rude and shapless hills of Mull."

Set him up, indeed! Not to mention the majestic Ben More, there is no hill to be seen from Mount Benger equal in beauty of form or colour to Ben Talla; and, profane as it may seem, I would say that, but for association, St. Mary's Loch itself is nothing to Loch Baa! If any doubt that, let them go and see it.

But though there is much to be said for Mull, much beauty and grandeur within its "green folds," which few strangers ever come to look at, beyond the passing view they get between Oban and Ardnamurchan, it won't do to put the crown on her head among all the Western Isles. That were privy conspiracy and schism, not to say flat treason and burglary, against the true Queen of the Isles! I have seen them nearly all, and would give them all their due. Arran I would call, on the whole, the most delightful, more enjoyable even than Skye, partly because smaller, though scarcely less wild, but chiefly because of the better condition of its inhabitants. Islay is, in a sense, the fairest of them all, the most rich and fertile, but for that very reason a little prosaic. Mull is more green and woody than the Isle of Mist, but her form and features, though good, are less noble and expressive. Jura is queenly in her stately and symmetrical grace, but she lacks variety. Tiree, though flat as a table, has many charms. Still more has Barray, though for the most part rough and rocky. So have North and South Uist, with their unnumbered lakes; and Harris, likest to Skye in mountain grandeur; and the great and boggy Lewis, with its glorious salmon streams, and its wild rocks, beaten by the wave that comes unbroken from Labrador. Colonsay and Oronsay are as two bright emeralds, set side by side in the blue sea. Very beautiful are Eigg and Cannay, and grand is Rum. The very names of Ulva and Go-metra are suggestive of wild green solitary beauty. Staffa and Iona, smallest of all, appeal most to the universal sense of wonder and reverence; the one as a prodigy of nature, the other as hallowed ground, ennobled by the dust of saints and mighty men of yore.

But nowhere among these western isles,

"That like to rich and various gems inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep,"

is there to be found such a combination of grandeur and picturesque originality, if one may use the phrase, as in the Isle of Skye. Whichever of them be entitled to be called the fairest, it is past doubt that this island has long since been enthroned as the grandest of them all, the visible Queen, whose place and title it would be mere wantonness of disaffection or caprice in any one to dispute. There is no need for a plebiscite to settle that point. But if authority be required, there is one whose voice is worth a hundred thousand common ones, of whose voice, in fact, the common ones are but echoes:—

"Stranger! if e'er thine ardent step hath traced
The northern realms of ancient Caledon,
"Where the proud Queen of Wilderness hath placed,
By lake and cataract, her lonely throne,
Sublime but sad delight thy soul hath known,
Gazing on pathless glen and mountain high,
Listing where from the cliffs the torrents thrown
Mingle their echoes with the eagle's cry,
And with the sounding lake, and with the moaning sky.

"Yes! 'twas sublime but sad. The loneliness
Loaded thy heart, the desert tired thine eye!
And strange and awful fears began to press
Thy bosom with a stern solemnity.
Then hast thou wished some woodman's cottage nigh,
Something that showed of life, though low and mean;
Glad sight, its curling wreath of smoke to spy,
Glad sound, its cocks' blithe carol would have been,
Or children whooping wild beneath the willows green.

"Such are the scenes where savage grandeur wakes
An awful thrill that softens into sighs.
Such feelings rouse them by dim Rannoch's lakes,
In dark Glencoe such gloomy raptures rise;
Or farther, where beneath the northern skies,
Chides wild Loch Eribol his caverns hoar—
But, be the minstrel judge, they yield the prize
Of desert dignity to that dread shore,
That sees grim Coolin rise, and hears Coriskin roar."

I like to quote these verses (notwithstanding their being in all the guide-books), though I can't quite sympathize with their ruling sentiment. That sense of loneliness and sadness which oppressed the genial soul of the minstrel, accustomed to Lowland greenery, and delighting in the haunts and the converse of men, is not natural to the born mountaineer, to whom the silence of the corrie is not the less delightful that it is unbroken by any sound of human voice. But these verses would prove, if he had written nothing else, how great a poet Sir Walter was, which some shallow people still are found to call in question, because, forsooth, he had none of the fiery passion of Byron, or the philosophical depth of Wordsworth, or the perfect music of Campbell, &c. I believe that Sir Walter will live, as a poet, as long as any of them; and the older the world gets the more perhaps will he be relished, for his manly and careless simplicity, his unaffected warmth, his unerring eye for the picturesque, his unerring touch of the chords that find response in the patriotic heart.

When I knew Skye first, the tourist was among its rarer Fauna. It was known to exist, and the fact that Dr. Johnson and Sir Walter had taken the trouble of visiting it was in its favour. But few strangers, except yachtsmen, bagmen, and a stray geologist now and then, ever invaded it. The facilities for getting to it were limited, and such a phenomenon as a male waiter in a white neckcloth was as unknown to the humble inns of the period (they were not called hotels then) as an electric telegraph or a needle-gun. Things are different now. There can be no doubt, whether one likes the fact or not, that Skye actually has become fashionable. The visit of a live Empress, though a discrowned one, would be sufficient for that, apart from anything that is to be seen there, apart from all reminiscences of King Hakon, Prince Charlie, Dr. Johnson, and Sir Walter Scott. It may be called, in fact, a distingue place to go to, which to the true British tourist is a great matter. Prince Arthur has been there, too, and left his clear pretty autograph in the visitors' book at Sligachan. If our dear Queen would only visit the island—the rumoured possibility of which the autumn before last set the hearts of the inhabitants in a loyal flutter, then the fortune of Skye, or at least of the hotel-keepers of Skye, might be said to be made.

Personally, I have no wish to increase the number of visitors, and though the Spectator says, "Skye ought to be the Oberland of Scotland," I am thankful to think that there is not the remotest chance of a railway ever being constructed to the top of Scur-nan-Gillean, or even through Glen Sligachan. But if people will come, by all means let them do so, and let us, who can, give them all the advice and assistance in our power On that broad Christian principle, I think it but fair to let the public know that they had better not come all together in the month of August. Those of them who have any partiality for sleeping in beds, rather than on tables and sofas, and who like the amenity of a basin-stand to themselves in the morning, cannot be certain in that month of these modest luxuries, and would do well, if they can, to come in June or July—June, by all means, if possible. Nor let them imagine that they are ill-used martyrs, and that the climate of Skye is the most detestable in creation, [A correspondent of the Glasgow Mail, whose sensational outcry found an echo in the London papers, last year described Skye thus:—"This island is gradually becoming an intolerable place for human beings to live in. Owing to the frightfully gloomy and stormy weather that prevails continually during summer and winter, spring and autumn, the very wealthiest can have no earthly pleasure in living in Skye." There is nothing like drawing the bow well and strongly, when one's hand is in ! Not long after that was written, it was reported from Skye, that the island was suffering from prolonged drought. 1 hope the unfortunate writer of the above—presumably "a forlorn and shipwrecked brother" of the Sassenach race—has made himself the pioneer of that great army of emigrants from Skye of which he gave announcement, but which nobody else there seems to have heard of.] if they come there for three days, and the heavens refuse, even for such interesting creatures as them, to show one morsel of blue, or anything but an "even down-pour" of rain. Let them understand, nevertheless, that it does not always rain in Skye, and that if they can't afford to wait for a fair blink, the rnore's the pity for themselves. If they are in a hurry, Skye and its clouds (and its inhabitants) are in none, and the Coolin Hills will unveil their majestic heads in due time, and no sooner. To see them do so is worth a week's waiting—to see the black peaks start out like living creatures, high above the clouds, which wildly career up the cleft ridges, now hiding and now revealing their awful faces, or calmly rising, like the spires and towers of a celestial city, out of a snowy sea of mist, which anon breaks into soft downy wreaths, white and graceful as the sea-bird's wing, that go gliding with a ghostlike ease down the walls of precipice into the dark corries below, and then as softly float up again to the battlements above, leaving bare the mountain side, where from a hundred chasms and ravines the torrents come roaring down the glens, streaking their slopes as with threads of silver. All this is not to be seen every day or everywhere, and whoever does not think it worth enduring a few days' rain to see it had certainly better go elsewhere than to Skye for enjoyment. But when the sun shines in Skye, and I can testify, on the word of a true man, that it does shine there sometimes, even for weeks, no words can describe the heavenly sweetness of its smile. The reader perhaps smiles at this, naturally. But let any one consider the difference between the shining of the sun in the Sahara, and the shining of the same sun in Glen Sligachan, and the thing will not seem absurd. The place he shines on, and the atmosphere through which he shines, make all the difference ; with some allowance also, of course, for the difference in the eyes of those that look. Now the scenery of Skye is generally very grand, and the air is very pure and mild. I have seen on a miserable sloppy morning in November, after a night of unmitigated wind and rain, the sun break forth there with the softest of smiles, the light as it were sleeping on the green silent braes, and out on the glassy surface of the sea, leagues and leagues away, to the far horizon, bordered with the dim blue outlines of distant mountains and isles. In such a scene there is a strange charm, and the rudest bothie that sends up its wreathing smoke in the still morning air appeals to the heart and imagination with an unspeakable pathos, deepened by the contrast between the serene magnificence of nature, and the hard and joyless life of her human offspring. Talking of scenery, it is now a trite observation, that the taste for romantic scenery is quite modern. Scott and Wordsworth have had much to do with its development. Nor can it be doubted that it is now rather overdone, and is getting, like all good things, mixed with cant. It is quite amusing to find in the old books of travel, not only a total absence of enthusiasm about the scenery which we now go into raptures about, but even occasional expressions of horror at the wildness and bareness of the hills. Captain Birt (1746) expresses this feeling more than once very decidedly. Pennant (1774), who was an observant man, accustomed to fine scenery, and not without taste, does not bestow a single word of admiration on the scenery of Skye, except in describing the view from the top of Beinn-na-Caillich, where he says, "the serrated tops of Blaven affect with astonishment, and beyond them the clustered tops of Quillin" &c. He goes on to say, "The view to the north-east and south-west is not less amusing," a very amusing phrase, characteristic of the period.

Neither Johnson nor Boswell has anything to say on the same subject, except in the way of contrasting the outer roughness and desolation with the comfort and elegance which they found within doors. In the very heart of the north-western Highlands, which, at the time of their visit in August, must have been in the full glory of heather, Johnson observes of the mountains, "They exhibit very little variety, being almost wholly covered with dark heath, and even that seems to be checked in its growth. What is not heath is nakedness, a little diversified by now and then a stream rushing down the steep. An eye accustomed to flowery pastures and waving harvests is astonished and repelled by this wide extent of hopeless sterility." This feeling is to some extent shown even by Sir Walter Scott, as already noticed. "Sublime but sad," is his phrase, and to him there would undoubtedly be no sense of exhilaration in the solitude of Coiruisg or Glen Sligachan. In like manner Alexander Smith, with all his love of Skye, very plainly had no intense enjoyment in that wild scenery. The grandeur of Glen Sligachan impressed him with more awe than delight, and the places in Skye which he liked best were, I rather think, the most green, cultivated, and Lowland in character. Custom and association have a great influence in determining one's taste in these things; and it is unreasonable to expect that all men, even men of highly poetic nature, should take pleasure in scenery devoid of those softer charms to which they have been accustomed.

But it is a mistake to suppose, as is sometimes done, that the beauties of the Highlands are not appreciated by the natives, and that with them, too, the taste for scenery is an affair of cultivation. The finest poems of Duncan MacIntyre, in his way as true a genius as Burns, and purer, are descriptive. A long and beautiful poem of his is devoted to a single mountain (Ben Dorain), another to one corrie (Coire-Cheathaich), and he paints every feature of them with the hand of a master. And yet this man was but a gamekeeper, destitute of learning, ignorant, I believe, of all the three R's, and with less knowledge of English probably than the majority of Highland street-porters. For him the love of nature and of scenery was as little the product of fashion and teaching, as was his delight in the warbling of birds and the belling of red deer.

It is not desirable to encourage any one to visit Skye, who has not a natural and true relish for wild scenery. But it is well in this educational age to contribute what we can to the diffusion of knowledge and the extinction of ignorance. People from the south are apt to have exaggerated ideas of the difficulty of getting to Skye. In England especially, a plentiful lack of knowledge on the subject of geography is sometimes found even among persons supposed to be educated, just as in France we find brilliant men of letters disdainfully careless about such trifles as the proper names and titles of British dignitaries —Sir Peel, Sir Palmerston, &c. Such persons will be found to have but a hazy conception of the difference between the Hebrides and the Orkney and Shetland Isles; and as they may be supposed never to look at a map except when they become tourists, it is most natural that they should imagine Skye to be the veritable Ultima Thule, a desolate and inaccessible region,

"Placed far amid the melancholy main,"

where all the people wear tartan and kilts, and see second sights, and never see the Daily Telegraph. Let such persons know, then, that there is no more difficulty in getting to Skye from London than in going to Gravesend. The distance is rather greater, that is all; the danger is perhaps less. Let them also be aware that if they dislike the sea, they can still get to Skye with the merest minimum of nautical effort—the ferry between the island and the mainland being passable in about ten minutes. It may also be a comfort to them to know, that the island is quite free from banditti (armed ones, at least); that there are only two policemen to about 20,000 of a population; that the inhabitants are, with the exception of a dozen or two, all Protestants; that there is, or used to be, an abundance of churches and schools (the latter, strange and sad to say, suffering in the meantime from the Education Act, or its administrators); that the telegraph wires go as far as Dunvegan; that there used to be in summer a daily post, which our poor nation, it seems, cannot now afford; that several copies of the Times come regularly; that there are shops where paper and ink can be got for writing letters to that great organ; that beef can be got, perhaps not daily; also cigars, creditable to the British manufacturer; that there is abundance of bitter beer, and a limited supply of Bristol bird's-eye ; and that, in some places, the weary and luxurious traveller can even refresh exhausted nature with draughts of Moet and Chandon. Let no one therefore imagine that going to Skye is in the least a formidable undertaking, as it was in Dr. Johnson's time. But let them not imagine that they will find everything exactly to their mind on getting there, and let them not abuse the place or the people because of such short-coming. Rome was not made in a day; still less was Skye. Above all, if they have not philosophy enough to stand a few days' rain, let them, I repeat, go elsewhere for enjoyment—Aden, for instance, or Timbuctoo.

I have spoken of June as a desirable time to visit Skye. One great reason for this is the length of the days : there is scarcely any darkness at that time. I have read a newspaper there in June as late as midnight, with no light but that of the sky. Apart from the pleasure of witnessing the prolonged effects of sunset and twilight in that season, and doing so with comfort in the open air, the length of the day is an immense advantage for the purpose of taking long excursions; and all the best things in Skye require a long day to get at them and enjoy them. Another eminent recommendation of this month, even to the most hardy and romantic traveller, is that you have a much better chance than later in the season of getting a bed. There are few things more disheartening, not to say exasperating, than to arrive at a comfortable hostelry late in the evening, after a heavy day's work, and be told that you cannot possibly be accommodated, but that you can have a "machine" to take you on to another place ten miles off, where you may, perhaps, get a bed ! And you, the hungry and weary soul, who receive this insufferable information, see, with feelings not to be described, a lot of careless comfortable fellows lounging about in slippers, their beds secure, enjoying the balmy evening air, smoking their delicious weeds, and making their plans for the morrow, while perhaps, to add to the attraction of the scene and your exasperation, you get a glimpse, on a neighbouring knoll, of the fair creature with whom you had such a pleasant conversation the other day on the deck of the Clansman. In such circumstances the best reply to a discouraging intimation from the host is simply to say that you don't mean to budge; and if you combine firmness with good humour, and are not too proud, there is no fear but something can be done for you.

After these remarks, it is perhaps unnecessary to say that the hotel accommodation in Skye, though good so far as it goes, is not yet adequate to supply with comfort the wants of the tourists who crowd there in autumn. It may even be said that no one who has not the good fortune to be independent of inns can at present with full enjoyment, or without great fatigue, see all that is worth seeing in the island. For that purpose, you must either have command of a yacht, or have friends in the island. If you have both, and go in the height of summer, you can see Skye to perfection, and only then. The reason is that the distances between the hotels and the chief places to be seen are considerable, and that as regards the great point of attraction, Coiruisg, there is no getting at it, for anybody without fatigue, unless from the sea. The nearest inn is at Sligachan, and the next to that is at Broadford; from the one you can't get to Coiruisg under three hours, and from the other in from three to four at the shortest.

I consider Sligachan the right central point in Skye for the " bona fide traveller," i.e. the person who desires to get as near the mountains as possible, and to make their acquaintance. That there is no larger hotel there would be a wonder anywhere else than in Skye. Whether or not "a million might be spent in Skye, and spent to pay," as the Spectator says, there can be no doubt that at any similar point of vantage in Switzerland there would probably be from three to six large hotels. The modest hostelry at Sligachan has, in ordinary circumstances, about a dozen beds available; but, I believe, that from thirty to forty people were sometimes put up there during my last visit. Of course, the remark is obvious, that during winter and spring a larger house would be useless. But the same remark applies to the hotels on the Righi, and other extraordinary places in Switzerland. I have no doubt whatever that a house of one hundred beds at Sligachan would be full every night in the season, if it were as well conducted as the present house is. I say this much for Sligachan, both because I regard it as the proper centre for the lover of mountains, and also because it seems at present not to be getting quite fair play. The tourists generally rush to Portree, drive from thence to Sligachan for Coiruisg, and drive back again as fast as they can. Few remain a night, or more than a night, from choice. They have generally an immense desire to be at the nearest convenient point for escaping out of the island, for getting their letters and papers, for buying stamps and envelopes. Even the small pavements of Portree, and the fact that it has pretensions to be called a town, a place with churches, banks, hotels, a court-house, a jail, and at least three streets, limited possibilities for the display of costume, are clear points of superiority over the desolate though glorious solitude of Sligachan.

People going to Skye are generally in a great hurry: otherwise, if they cared to see all that is worth seeing, they would begin at Kyleakin, where there is a capital hotel, which had the honour, two or three years ago, of harbouring, for a few nights, no less remarkable a visitor than Thomas Carlyle. The view here of an evening, when the sun sets over the distant Minch, lighting the hills of Applecross, and the archipelago between it and Skye, with infinite varieties of colour, is what "Mr. Thomas" would call "a sight like few." The Kyle (strait) itself, with its speckled rocky shores and wooded banks, is strangely attractive, and seldom wants the animation and picturesqueness imparted by passing craft of every size and description. Through that narrow strait the long ships of the Norsemen were wont to sweep in days of old, on their way to and from their Sudreyar or South Isle Kingdom. From the gallant Hakon it undoubtedly derives its name, and very interesting it is to find the "Cailleach-Stone" mentioned, by the same Gaelic name which it still bears, in the Norse chronicle of his fatal expedition in 1263. Near that stone, which is marked by a beacon, is the anchorage of the Kyle, one of the best of many good harbours on the coasts of Skye. From Kyle delightful excursions may be made by sea to Balmacara, Loch Duich, and Glenelg; and by land to several places of great beauty in the parish of Sleat, including the drive to Lochindaal, from which the view of the opposite coast is superb, and by Isle Ornsay to Armadale, the beautiful seat of Lord Macdonald. A few miles from Isle Ornsay are Gillen and Ord, sunny spots, facing the south, from which Horatio McCulloch and Alexander Smith took their wives; between them is the picturesque ruin of Dun Sgathaich, perched on a lonely rock above the waves, full of traditions of the great Cuchullin, who was nursed in the Isle of Mist; and near Ord is one of the loveliest little birchen glens in all Scotland, to see the sun from which, sinking over the long ridge of Blaveinn, bathed in splendour, is

"A sight to dream of, not to tell."

But this is getting into the guide-book vein, so it is time to shut up for the present.

II. Coiruisg.

THERE are many fine corries in the Coolin, but there is none anywhere like Coiruisg. The place most comparable to it in Scotland for wildness and solitude is Loch Aan, at the back of Cairngorm, which has this advantage to the lovers of the inaccessible, that it is even more difficult to get at than Coiruisg, and is likely to remain so.

The word "coire" is the Gaelic for a caldron or kettle. It is properly applied to those hollows among mountains which are often, but not always, the receptacles of tarns or lochs, and "the coiruisg" means ' the water - caldron. This very elementary information seems not superfluous, when we find a man so accomplished in hill-knowledge as the Ettrick Shepherd speaking, in. his "Lament of Flora Macdonald," of

"The corrie that sings to the sea,"

as if a corrie were synonymous with a burn. Even allowing the metaphorical fitness of describing a corrie as vocal, it would hardly be correct to say of any corrie, even in Skye, that it sings to the sea. Query, was the word "sings" a misprint for "sinks?"

The first time I saw Coiruisg was in circumstances unusually fortunate. I walked with two companions, who now sleep afar, from the hospitable house of Dr. McAllister, Strathaird, also gone. We had scarcely passed what is called the "bad step," the dangers of which we found to be nothing at all, when, in the words of "Sir Patrick Spens,"—

"The lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud,
And gurly grew the sea."

Better still, forth from the dark canopy that overhung Coiruisg came crashing, peal upon peal, such a discharge of heaven's artillery as I never heard before, and have never heard since that day but once. Those who have not been equally favoured, but who have heard a gun fired at Coiruisg, producing the most unearthly uproar and reverberation, can imagine what thunder there must be. We took such refuge as we could find under a rock, and looked and listened to what sounded to us, being young, and undisturbed by any scientific views, like the voice of God. Byron's picture of a thunder-storm in the Alps is grand, but not equal in simple majesty to that of David, which, I remember well, came there and then to mind:—

"The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
The glory of God thundereth:—the Lord is upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful: the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon,
The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness."

Yes, it did shake the wilderness that day, and "the perpetual hills did bow" before it.

We waited in our bield till the worst of the storm was over, and then, oh, what a sight was that seething caldron and its black environment, with the mists rolling down, and flying up, and winding about, and struggling like persecuted ghosts! And ever and anon there leaped out of the grey turmoil the black head of some formidable peak, wildly defiant, and in a moment again it was hidden by the driving mist. I have seen Coiruisg often since that day, in good weather and bad, but never again had the luck of being there
"In thunder, lightning, and in rain."

That, of course, is its grandest aspect, but it is one that strangers, going for the first time, would hardly pray for. Let them be thankful, rather, if they see it under a smiling sun; even then they will find it quite sufficiently awful. I shall describe an excursion there in such circumstances.

It was a perfectly fine day in August, bright, but not too warm, the air fresh and pellucid, with just enough of occasional cloud to give life and variety to the sky and mountain-tops, when (to use the style of G. P. R. James) a gay cavalcade might have been seen, accompanied by several sturdy pedestrians, starting in a southerly direction from the remote but well-frequented hostelry of Sligachan. The party consisted of five ladies and four gentlemen, the former and one of the latter being mounted on ponies. Shawls did duty for riding-skirts, and one lady's equipment would have gladdened the heart of Sir Walter Scott, her skirt being a plaid of her own clan tartan, as well became the daughter of a chief. This is one of the many uses to which a plaid can be turned, of which no other garment is susceptible. With the help of a belt, it can, in a few minutes, be made into a full dress for a man; it is the best and lightest of wraps by day, and serves for bed-clothes at night; it can be used as a bag; it will serve as a sail for a boat; it is valuable as a rope in rock-scrambling; it can be turned into a curtain, an awning, a carpet, a cushion, a hammock. Its uses, in fact, are endless, and as a garment it has this superiority over every other, that "there's room in't for twa!"

The path up Glen Sligachan is one of the worst in existence, and I think if I were lord of that side of the glen I should order it to be mended for the benefit of poor travellers. It would cost something, but not very much, and it might be done by degrees—say, even half a mile per annum. There are plenty hands at Sconser, for which such occupation would be a blessing. After heavy rain this track is little more than a combination of bog and burn channel, and if you have to tramp it during a flood you must wade in some places up to the knees. This bright August day it was almost tolerable, and the pleasant company reconciled one to the occasional splash that came from the heels of the cautious, slow-going ponies. As we got up the glen the fine pyramidal mass of Marscowe towered in front, half-way between us and the dark battlements of Blaveinn, of which part appears beyond. The sun is in our face, high in heaven, and fills the glen with glory, making the rock crystals up the sides of Scur-nan-Gillean glisten like water, and the pools in the marshes like sheets of silver. Marscowe is half in shadow, and its green sides contrast delightfully with the dry and scarred slopes of the Red Hills on the left. As we go on, the outlines of Scur-nan-Gillean and his attendant peaks change strangely, and presently his three graduated spires, seen from Sligachan as one, come into view, with their deep clefts between. As we clear Marscowe, there opens to us on the right the half-hidden grandeur of Harta-Corrie, with its girdling wall of rock, its towers and embrasures, clearly marked against the sky-line. A little further on we come on Loch-nan-Aan ("Loch of the Fords"), a shallow and uninteresting sheet of water, but now, in its best aspect, laughing brightly to the sun, and forming quite a beautiful foreground to the view, as we look back towards Scur-nan-Gillean. In front Blaveinn upheaves his huge mass of precipice, crowned with his double head and long black ridge. His aspect from here is not unlike the Eiger, as one looks up from Grindelwald. The scale is much reduced, but one doesn't think of that here, nor miss even the pine-trees and the snow. At his base glitters the blue and beautiful Loch-na-Creathaich (pronounced konix), the opposite side of which is overhung by a steep ridge with shelving rocks. At one time this place must have been wooded, as the name of the loch ("Loch of the Brushwood") indicates. Nothing is wanted but a few birches and firs to make the scene one of the finest of pictures. It is surprising that no artist has attempted it.

The path goes by the margin of this bonnie loch, in which is good store of trouts not less bonnie; and presently we come, in comparatively level ground, to "The Prince's Well," one of the numerous vestiges of poor Prince Charlie's wanderings. That he came through Glen Sligachan on his way from Raasay to Strathaird is pretty certain. It was the nearest way, and there was probably at that time some friendly Mackinnon population inhabiting this part of the glen. Whether the prince drank of it or not, the well is of the highest quality, and quite worthy to be patronised by the Royal Family.

A mile or two more brought us to Camu-sunary (or Casimunary, as I heard a tourist call it) farm-house, the only dwelling [There is one other, which I had nearly forgot, a shepherd's bothie, half way up the side of Marscowe. A friend and I encountered one evening the mistress of that house returning home with a great bundle of blankets on her back. We never suspected her of being a matron, as she had the look of a girl of eighteen. But on inquiry she told us that she had a companion who inhabited with her that bothie up the brae, "another shepherd," as she quaintly termed him, and this was her husband.] between Sligachan and Strathaird, a distance of some twelve miles. Here, undoubtedly, is the place where, were it Switzerland, would be a "Grand Hotel de Blaveinn," a "Grand Hotel des Cuchullins," and probably, also, a "Grand Hotel et Pension de Camusunary." "Why should there not be one there?" it may well be asked, and echo from Blaveinn answers, "Why?" That it is much needed is as plain as the cleft on the head of Blaveinn; that it would ultimately pay, if well managed, cannot be doubted. It is not well to disturb much the sacred solitude of Nature's great scenes. But we should be reasonable, and if people will go, and ought to go, to see such places as Coiruisg, it were better that they should be enabled to do so with some degree of comfort. The true votaries of nature will never grudge fatigue and privation for her sake; but they should not be made martyrs of more than is inevitable. As for scaring away the crowd of tourists, that is hopeless, even were it laudable. Hateful as is the idea of vulgarising the picturesque, the idea of grudging its enjoyment to those who are worthy is still more so; and therefore, were I lord of Camusunary, I should either build a good house there for the entertainment of weary travellers, or give every encouragement to some one else to do it. It were truly a Christian deed. The place is one where many would wish to tarry for days, and get good to body and soul alike. The situation is grand; the view outward to sea not less so than the landward. Right in front Rum raises its beautiful blue peaks above the ocean plain, and Eigg its high level ridge, while away to the left, on the mainland, are the mountains of Moidart and Arisaig, and nearer, on the opposite side of the bay, rises the bold height of green Strathaird.

Two boats are kept at the shore for the use of tourists, and a crew of three was improvised from among the haymakers in the adjoining meadow, one of them a young woman, who handled the oar at least as well as the men. We had no small trouble in shoving the boat down the long, flat beach, and still more in getting it into deep water, and to a place where the ladies could embark. It was one o'clock before we started, and in about twenty minutes we rounded the point below Scur-na-Stri ("Peak of Strife)," and came in full view of that grand and startling amphitheatre of peaks that looks down on the bay of Scavaig. This transcendent view is obtained only from the sea, and it is as impossible to convey any adequate idea of it in words as it is to do it justice on canvas. Thomson's fine picture, engraved for the "Lord of the Isles," must have been painted from a very hasty sketch, for the outlines of the mountains are to a large extent imaginary, as are the wooded rocks in the foreground. The sweep of the mountain, Garsveinn, that terminates the amphitheatre on the left, from its sharp horn down to the water's edge, is peculiarly majestic, and the picture gives no idea of it. On a fine day this bay of Scavaig is full of peace and beauty, in wild weather it is one of the last places a sailor would venture into. Even when the weather is not bad, every precaution must be used against squalls, which come down from the heights above like discharges from a battery. A short time before our visit, a small yacht was, from want of due care in taking in the sails, swamped in a moment. Her owner and his crew made a narrow escape, and got off in the yawl, leaving their pretty craft with nothing of her visible above water but a bit of the topmast. On the right of the bay as you go in, the water is pretty deep. But in some places the sandy bottom is visible, and there the colour of the water is the most perfect emerald. On the other side is the anchorage, where rings have been fastened in the rocks by the Northern Yacht Club for the purpose of mooring vessels.

Though our voyage was short, some of the party were very glad when it was over, and made up their minds that they would rather go over the hill to Glen Sligachan than return in the boat. A short scramble through a small rocky defile brought us suddenly down upon—

"The shining levels of the lake,"

and on its clean sandy beach we encamped for awhile, and unpacked the prosaic but pleasant lunch-basket. That disposed of, and a hymn on Skye having been sung, we dispersed to do as each liked until the hour for returning. Close by us was the easel of a young Glasgow artist, who, with a brother painter, a native of the Misty Isle, had for about two months lived in this solitary place. That is the right way to make good pictures; and I was glad to see in the following spring that Mr. Murray's and Mr. Macdonald's labours at Coiruisg were duly appreciated in the Glasgow and Edinburgh exhibitions. I afterwards visited these young hermits in their curious little dwelling, a wooden box with felt roof, of narrow dimensions, but sufficient for the wants of two hardy lovers of Nature.

To enjoy Coiruisg one must not have much society. Picnicing there in fine weather, with good company, is of course delightful, but it is something like having a jollification in a cathedral, and the least misanthropic of men would wish to be for a time alone in such a place. It does not do, however, to be always in a solemn mood, even at Coiruisg. The sun himself, smiling radiantly on the bare rocks, and shooting shafts of splendour down the dark corries, invites us to be joyous on a day like this. The waters of the lake, at times black as ink, a mirror of all gloom, are to-day sparkling gloriously, and instead of the stern silence which is usual here, the air is resonant with the wild cries of the seagulls that hover and swarm over the little islands halfway up the loch. Instead, too, of the total dearth of vegetation, on which some writers (even in guide-books) wax eloquent, you can find for yourself here a luxurious couch of heather on which to lie and meditate; and if you take the trouble of going halfway round the loch on the right bank, you will find at one place quite a little thicket of hazel, osier, and alder bushes. Sir Walter, with the licence proper to a poet and a Wizard, gives, in his description, the impression which the place in its most characteristic aspect produces, of utter desolation and sterility, and he thus exaggerates the idea:—

"The wildest glen but this can show
Some touch of Nature's genial glow.
* * * * * *
But here, above, around, below,
On mountain or in glen,
No tree, nor shrub, nor plant, nor flower,
Nor aught of vegetative power,
The weary eye may ken."

Now this is not untrue as a poetical account of what strikes the eye on the first view of Coiruisg. But when converted into a prosaic statement of what actually is at Coiruisg, it becomes untrue and absurd. Thus one guide-book writer has said, "A few blades of yellow, sickly grass cling here and there to the surface, but even the hardy heather declines to blossom in such an ungenial soil, There is not a leaf to rustle in the breeze," &c. Perfect stuff! It may well be doubted if the man who wrote that nonsense ever set eyes on Coiruisg; if he did, there must have been something very "yellow and sickly" about his retina. There is not only plenty of heather and bog myrtle all round the loch, as well as a fair sprinkling of the ordinary mountain plants and flowers, but the little flat glen between the head of the loch and the mountains is quite an oasis of verdure, watered by a very pretty stream. True enough, the steep, rocky shelves and peaks appear as bare and hard as if they were made of iron. But even among them, if you climb, you will find plants and flowers in the most unlikely places, adding pathos to the solitude by their gentle presence. On the very top of Scur-Dubh, the most black and inaccessible of these peaks, there is a soft and verdant cushion of moss. Let Coiruisg, therefore, have fair play: it is sterile enough in all conscience, and there is no need to exaggerate its sterility, nor any advantage in doing so.

It is rather a tiresome and difficult walk round the loch, as there is no track worth mentioning. But those who wish to have a nearer view, and a clearer conception of the wildness of the rocky circle that surrounds the glen at the head of the loch, should by all means go up so far. They will so understand better the character and structure of the mountains, and closer acquaintance increases rather than diminishes the sense of their wildness and solitude. Their contours change so much with the position from which they are viewed, that the variety of aspect, considering the limitation of the range, is most remarkable. Nowhere in Scotland, except in Arran, at the head of Glen Saunox, does one see, in the midst of solitude the most profound, such a startling appearance of life among the strangely-shaped knobs and peaks, and the detached blocks (blocs perches) on the ledges and crests, particularly on the left, as you go up. It is impossible for a person with any tincture of imagination not to feel a slightly eerie feeling in looking at these grotesque, but grim, sometimes awful-looking creatures, like "monsters of the prime" turned into stone, yet with a stony life and consciousness in their fixed look and stern sphinx-like repose.

The silence of the place, and of all the corries in the Coolin is intense, and to many minds the effect is depressing, what Sir Walter calls "sublime, but sad." I confess it has not that effect on me, which indicates, perhaps, a savage element in one's nature. For undoubtedly the chief cause of the silence is the absence of animal life, and contentment in its absence may be considered an unsocial feeling. Neither sheep nor deer are to be seen, though the haunts of both are not far off—the sheep pastures in Glen Breatal, the deer forest in Glen Sligachan. No grouse or blackcock ever whirrs through this stony wilderness, much less does lark or mavis ever lift its cheerful voice. An eagle may sometimes be seen soaring aloft, though I am afraid the chances of a sight so appropriate to the scene are becoming small by degrees, if the Glen Breatal gamekeeper wages war on the kingly bird as successfully as he did a few years ago, when he could boast of having killed sixty of the royal creatures in thirty-six months. Seagulls seem pretty regularly to visit the islands in the loch, but of other birds, except an occasional solitary stonechat, one sees none. The ticking of a grasshopper is sometimes heard in the heather, and a nomadic frog now and then jumps across the path. I met a tiny one high up among the rocks of Sgur Dubh. With these exceptions, it must be said that there are few places showing less of animal life than Coiruisg. And yet, though not lively, compared with the Strand, or St. Kathe-rine's Docks, or the Falkirk Market, it cannot be admitted to be in the least degree dull or lifeless. There is life and movement perpetual in the glorious inspiring air, whether it sigh in zephyrs, or roar in the gale; there is life and music, wild but sweet, in the voice of the streams that rush down the corries; there is ever-changing life in the play of the clouds, that float serenely through the blue sky, or hurry frantically across the riven peaks, or descend, softly like dreams, into the bosom of the hills. Even Professor Tyndall, who seems to consider himself and us as a kind of superior chemical retorts, evolving such still-to-be-analyzed gases as wit, conscience, love, and faith, is not ashamed to admit certain irresistible promptings of religious feeling amid the sublimities of Nature. Small blame to him ! He may fairly set against anything that can be urged against so childish a feeling, various not despicable utterances of such men as Solomon, Socrates, Cicero, Paul, Newton. The chief suggestion of that kind in such circumstances seems to be that of a great surrounding and living power. It is difficult to look at those silent majestic creatures, without imagining how they came into existence, and even more difficult to avoid the conclusion that there must have been the exercise of Will somewhere before that took place. Even the bubbling of the smallest pot requires that a hand, directed by a head, should have put water in, and kindled the fire—much more, one would say, did the flaming up of Chim-borazo! But these are the thoughts of a poor unscientific blockhead and child of the mist, who has no right or proper conception of the power that is in "molecules."


The two finest corries in the Coolin, after Coiruisg, are Harta Corrie and Corrie-na-Crich, which are on opposite sides of the central ridge, the one opening into the middle of Glen Sligachan, the other into the head of Glen Breatal. Both are associated with stern reminiscences of old fights between the Macdonalds and Macleods, whose respective territories were bounded in part by the Sligachan river. Near the foot of Harta Corrie is a huge block of hypersthene, called the Gory Stone, where much slaughter is said to have been committed, "on a day of the days" long ago. The name Coire-na-Crich, or "corrie of the spoil," is said to refer to the result of a fierce fight in the year 1601, when the Macdonalds, under their chief, the great Donald Gorm, attacked and defeated the Macleods, commanded by Alexander, brother of the great Sir Rory, who had taken up their position in this magnificent battle-field.

Except to very indefatigable walkers, and first-rate climbers, a visit to one of these corries is quite enough for a day's work. Taking Harta Corrie first, the most interesting route is to follow as far as possible the course of the Sligachan river, in the lower reaches of which are many fine deep pools, with rocky sides, and bright-green pebbly bottoms, where, if you watch long enough, you may see a salmon showing his silver sides. A shorter way, perhaps, is to follow the path up the glen, till you face the opening of the corrie, but if you have been up and down that path before, you will probably be thankful to avoid it. The subordinate spurs of Scur-nan-Gillean extend to the opening of the corrie, terminating in a very sharp horn, with shelving, rocky sides. Skirting the base of this peak, Scur-na-h-uaimh ("peak of the cave "), you presently see, on the opposite side of the Harta Corrie burn, the Gory Stone, which is about the size of a good corn-stack, and is partially clothed with moss and shrubs. Here you have a full view of the grand rocky wall that encircles the head of the corrie. Facing you is the central ridge of the Coolin range, connecting the mass of which Scur-nan-Gillean and Bruthach-na-Frith (Bruach-na-free, "brae of the forest") are the highest points, with the southern and more extensive mass, of which the highest points, in their order from N. to S., are Scur-Ghrita ("Greeta's Peak"), S. na-Banachdich ("Small -pox Peak"), S. Dearg ("Red Peak"), S. Laghain ("Stack Peak"), S. Dubh ("Black Peak"), and Garsveinn. The south side of the corrie is formed by the transverse ridge going off from the main chain below S. Greeta, on the opposite side of which lies Coiruisg. This ridge is called Druim-na-Ramh (raav), or " the ridge of oars," for what reason it would be hard to tell. It is just possible that oars may have been carried across it some time or other for a strategic purpose. If so, the oarsmen must have felt themselves rather like fish out of water in going up and down these rocks. Hardy climbers sometimes combine Harta Corrie and Coiruisg in one excursion, going over this ridge down on the lake, whereby they obtain a magnificent view, or else going up Glen Sligachan to Coiruisg, and returning over Druim-na-Ramh down to Harta Corrie, and back to Sligachan. It is hardly necessary to say, that for the accomplishment of this excursion with any satisfaction, a long day is necessary.

Continuing our walk meantime up Harta Corrie, we find it increasing in grandeur as we ascend, until at last we reach the point where the circle of peaks is completed by the reappearance of Scur-nan-Gillean. The southern face of that peak rises straight up from Lobhta Coire ("Loft Corrie"), an upper storey of Harta Corrie, and presents a tremendous precipice of black rock, flanked by the jagged ridges that extend on the left to Bruthach-na-Frith, and on the right to Scur-na-h-uaimh. The singular jagged rocks that rise in the centre of the ridge between Scur-nan-Gillean and Bruthach-na-Frith are now seen right above us (one of them ludicrously like an old man's head, with a glengarry bonnet), as we reach the head of Harta Corrie, and mounting up-stairs—-a climb of some twenty minutes—find ourselves on the stony and heathery floor of Lota Corrie. Here we light our cutties, reposing luxuriously against a big stone, and thank the Lord for the good health that makes this rough place delicious. There is not in the whole range of the Coolin, and therefore not in all Caledonia stern and wild, a wilder spot than this. A sufficiently large stone hurled from the top of Scur-nan-Gillean would speedily find its way to the bottom of this attic, a depth of some two thousand feet, unless it were knocked to fragments, as is likely, on the way. But dreadful as is the look of the precipices, they are not so inaccessible as an inexperienced eye would judge them to be. Down one of these ghastly ravines above us, Professor J. D. Forbes and Duncan McIntyre descended, and up that grisly face on the other side they climbed, to the top of Scur-nan-Gillean, in 1839, when the first known ascent of the peak was accomplished. To good climbers, desirous to combine Harta Corrie and the ascent of Scur-nan-Gillean in one day, this is the way to do it, and on the whole it is probably better to do so than to climb the mountain from the Sligachan side, and then descend on Harta Corrie. But this is only for good and greedy climbers. For myself, I think one should exercise moderation in climbing as well as in eating and drinking, and it is rather a violent appetite for which Harta Corrie is not enough in one day. All depends, however, on one's capacity, and on the time available. Those who have not much time to spare, and are fit for the work, will certainly do well to go over as much ground as they can, when they get a good day in Skye, as they know not what the morrow may bring forth.


To go to Coire-na-Crich from Sligachan you follow the track that leads to Glen Breatal and Carabost, up to the top of the hill behind the hotel. This is a very pleasant path, leading along the bank of the stream that comes rushing down from the slopes of Bruthach-na-Frith, and, joining the stream from Glen Sligachan, forms what is properly called the Sligachan River. One passes some half-dozen very pretty little cascades on the way up, generally falling into deep translucent pools with fine pebbly beaches, most tempting for bathing, some of them nicely fringed with rowans and other bushes. Such a pool has Clough described in his incomparable "Bothie of Tober-na-Fuosich:"—

"In the interval here the boiling: pent-up water
Frees itself by a final descent, attaining a basin,
Ten feet wide and eighteen long, with whiteness and fury
Occupied partly, but mostly pellucid, pure, a mirror;
Beautiful there for the odour derived from green rocks under,
Beautiful most of all, where beads of foam uprising
Mingle their clouds of white with the delicate hue of the stillness,
Cliff over cliff for its sides, with rowan and pendant-birch boughs."

For a quiet Sunday "daunder" this burn-side is delightful, and it is pleasant to recall the bright hours so spent on a Sunday in August, 1873. Among various figures seated or recumbent among the heather that day, the most to be remembered is that of Sheriff Glassford Bell, then taking his last holiday. "Extended long and large" on a heathery bank, how he did gloat on the bright sky and the fleecy clouds!

Near the summit level of this track, a little to the left of the path, you will find a spring, fringed with bright green moss, one of those fountains of pure icy water in which the braes of Skye abound. If you once taste of that water, I defy you ever to pass near it again without turning aside for a draught. It is as worthy of a song as the Bandusian well. Sitting here with your face to the Coolin, you see opposite to you the beautiful Fionna-Choire (" Fair Corrie"), surmounted by the rugged peaks of Bruthach-na-Frith. The western or right-hand slopes of that corrie are fairer and greener than is usual among these dark hills, and one cause is the abundance of springs that rise there. Coming down there from the top of Bru-fhach-na-Frith, on a glorious evening in June, I made their acquaintance with much satisfaction. I counted more than a dozen within a compass of a hundred square yards, gushing up like cold geysers among the verdant sward. Their united waters very quickly form a respectable stream, the same that we have followed up from Sligachan. Leaving the path at the water-shed, we now strike away down the brae to the left, sloping round the flank of Bruthach-na-Frith. We see stretching to our right the long green valley of Glen Breatal, the most beautiful glen in Skye, flanked on the one side by the Coolin, on the other by a detached range of high grassy hills. Farther to the right is a wide dreary moor, extending across the whole breadth of Skye. Where it dips down to Carabost we have a glimpse of fair Loch Bracadale, with its green banks and many islands—a sight sweet but sad to look on, for one who has heard the reapers' song in fields where rushes grow, and seen the cheery smoke of many a cottage where sheep now graze among silent ruins. Presently we come full in view of Coire-na-Crich; and my companions, to whom Skye is new, halt simultaneously. "Well, that is grand!" exclaims my metaphysical friend. "It is," emphatically responds my geological friend. What more could anybody say, even were he the author of the "Book of Orm?" To give any description that would adequately express the grandeur of Coire-na-Crich is more than I can attempt. It is a very large corrie, with a considerable extent of comparatively level and verdant ground below. Its upper part is divided into two smaller corries—the Tairneilear ("Thunderer") and Coire Mhadaidh ("Fox Corrie")—by a great vertebral ridge of rock projecting from the central saddle of the Coolin, and cleft nearly from top to bottom by a tremendous chasm.

This stern precipice, thrown into prominence when the basins on each side are in shade, forms a striking object from a distance of many miles. From the point where we now stood, the descent into the bottom of the corrie did not seem long, but it proved longer than it seemed; and when that was accomplished we saw that, grand as is the sweep of the corrie below, its grandest part is above. Choosing the right-hand side, we set stout hearts to a stey brae, and in spite of a very hot sun we found ourselves, in about half an hour, on the second floor, i.e. in the Tairneilear. It is an amazing place. The peaks above are not so high as in Lota Corrie, but the rock walls are more sheer and unbroken : no man could scale them. One feels shut in here, somewhat as in Cuiraing, utterly sequestered from the world, from all noise, vanity, and trouble. The stillness is solemn, but soothing: it is a perfect bath of silence. And yet it is cheerful withal, and the air is as exhilarating as champagne. One of the charms of this corrie is, that while you are completely girt round with the " munitions of rocks" and the perfection of solitude, you have a grand expansive view, in the distance, of the sea and islands, and far-stretching headlands— Macleod's Maidens, Macleod's Tables, and Dunvegan Head—and beyond them the Atlantic, with the blue peaks of Harris dimly on the horizon, fifty miles away.

But though it is good to be here, we must do something more. The black walls above us are unassailable, but yonder, overlooking the winding of Glen Breatal, is the fine and tempting peak of Scur Thuilm (Hulim), the peak of Tulm—the same personage, doubtless, who gave name to Duntulm, and Eilean Thuilm in Trotternish. It is marked by an Ordnance-survey cross, the only one at that date visible on the Coolin range. So leaving our geological friend to investigate the beautiful trap dykes which here intersect the hard mass of hypersthene, V. and I set off, first among huge blocks of stone, then up a rocky face, then up a steep brae covered with big stones, then up a long stretch of pounded debris, till at last we are astride on the saddle that joins Scur Thuilm to the main Coolin chain, and drink in the sweet cool breeze. Delicious is it to lie down on the short mossy grass, and look down alternately from the one side to the other—on the one side Coire-na-Crich, on the other Coire-Ghrita. The peak looks pretty high still, and the ridge leading up to it is like a broken knife-edge. But one acquainted with hills knows that places are like people, not always so bad as they seem, and the difficulty of the ascent disappears as we face it. What looked like a knife-blade from below was found to yield quite sufficient and good footing; and in about a quarter of an hour we were on the top of the peak, beside the wooden cross of the Ordnance men. The view is fine, but comparatively limited, and we did not stay long, as the evening was advancing. We descended nearly straight down the face looking towards Carabost, and came on one or two "kittle" but not dangerous places—narrow gullies, where one had to let himself down with some care between rocks—then came the usual stretches of broken stones and gravel, and at last we got once . more on green grass. An hour's walk brought us to the top of the brae above Sligachan, and just as darkness had closed in we reached the cheery hostelry, where we found that our geological brother, with unexampled loyalty, had deferred dining till our arrival; and right soon we were made as comfortable as Sligachan Inn knows how to make its guests.


Climbing in the Coolin  -  Scur-nan-Gillean

ALL fine mountains, like truly great persons, can afford to be closely looked at, and familiarity with them breeds not contempt, but the opposite. Some mountains are so attractive, that no one fond of climbing can look at them without desiring to get to the top. Those who don't like climbing, can't understand this, and consider it folly. Such people are fond of saying, that the best mountain views are got from below, or half way up—a safe and easy doctrine. There is no need to quarrel about it. Let us admit that the best subjects for pictures are got below, and that the bird's-eye view from a mountain top is not the most suitable for a landscape. But let it not be said, that the desire to reach the highest attainable eminences is foolish, and let not him who has not tasted the glory of reaching the highest point within view, take upon him to undervalue that sensation. It is not, of course, to be compared to the feeling of a Cortez on a peak in Darien, or even of a successful Premier, taking his place on the front right bench, with a triumphant majority behind him. But these are feelings not for common men, and they are more spiritual than physical—of those which are more physical than spiritual, there is none more inspiring than the sensation of standing on a great height, attained with difficulty, and with nothing higher around.

Most, if not all, of the Coolin peaks have this quality of attraction to the climber.

Scur-nan-Gillean, the highest of them, has in an eminent degree, and the comparative difficulty of the ascent makes the attraction all the greater. It is really a stiff bit of climbing, and by no means free from danger to inexperienced or foolhardy persons. Barring the special dangers of ice and snow, there is, perhaps, as much need of skill in climbing the Coolin hills as anywhere in the Alps. So, at least, I have been told, by men who had done both. Certainly,- you can't get hauled up Scur-nan-Gillean with ropes, as some people manage to get up Mont Blanc, and Monte Rosa; you must do the work with your own hands and feet. None but experienced climbers should go without a guide. To a skilful mountaineer the way up is not hard to discover; but a stranger caught in mist there might very easily come to grief. That happened a few years ago to a fine young man from Liverpool, who knew the Alps, and scouted the idea of a guide for Scur-nan-Gillean. He got to the top without difficulty, but was there overtaken by mist, and went over a precipice near the summit, at the foot of which his body was found next day. The view from the top is very grand, though towards the south and south-west, it is much interrupted by other high peaks. The crown of the hill is not many yards in breadth, and on three sides there is a pretty sheer descent of about a thousand feet. The view right down to Lota-Corrie and Harta-Corrie is particularly impressive, especially in the evening, and the distant panorama of sea and mountains to the east and north, from Ardnamurchan to Sutherland, is, as may be imagined, one of the finest sights to be seen in Scotland.

I am sorry to say that the recent Ordnance Survey has taken away somewhat from the moderate height of Scur-nan-Gillean. Professor Forbes estimated it at 3,220 feet, but the Survey has reduced it to 3,167. The neighbouring peak of Bruach-na-Free, which is only a few feet lower, 3,143, may be combined in the same excursion with Scur-nan-Gillean. To reach it, however, you must descend a very steep and rocky place, into the corrie called by the awful name of the Basadair (executioner), which is surmounted by the curious broken crags between Scur-nan-Gillean and Bruach-na-Free. This is well worth doing, for those who can. Once you get to the top of the latter hill, the descent down to Sligachan is delightful, much more so than from Scur-nan-Gillean.

The heights of the other principal peaks of the Coolin have not yet been determined, with the exception of Scur Thuilm (2,884); but there can be no doubt, I think, that Scur-nan-Gillean is the highest. Scur Dearg I calculated with an aneroid at 3,135 feet, Scur-a-Sgumain at 3,127, Scur Dubh at 3,077, and Scur-na-Banachdich at 3,030; but I think Scur Ghrita, which I have not ascended, is probably next in height to Scur-nan-Gillean. There is only one peak of all these which is really inaccessible, and that is the summit of Scur Dearg. It consists of a pillar of rock, about fifty feet above the rest of the ridge, and nearly perpendicular. It might be possible, with ropes and grappling irons, to overcome it; but the achievement seems hardly worth the trouble. That pillar, as seen from a distance, has a very peculiar and puzzling appearance ; from some points it looks like a chimney can, from others like a wild beast's horn.


I had been told at Glen Breatal that another peak, a very beautiful one, which forms a prominent object from the house there, had never been ascended, and had foiled the Ordnance men. This naturally stirred my desire to attempt it, which I did, accompanied by a shepherd, A. Macrae, well acquainted with all the hills and passes, and a first-rate climber. He had a peculiar style of walk, a sort of amble, and seemed to glide up the hillside like a cloud. He, too, had never been up, and had never heard of any body having done it. We first went up Scur-na-Banachdich, a charming climb, and there I discovered the meaning of that singular name, the Smallpox Peak, which I never could understand. The surface of the rocks is marked by little red spots, caused by oxidation, whence no doubt the name. As showing how formidable in appearance these heights are, Professor Forbes says of this peak, that "it may perhaps be accessible" on the Breatal side. We found no difficulty in any part of the ascent.

From this peak we went on, down and up to Scur Dearg, and made the acquaintance of that formidable horn above mentioned. It stands out a little from the main ridge, and is the termination of a precipice of some 1,200 feet that goes right down into the basin above Coiruisg. At this point our progress along the ridge was barred, and to get at the desired peak further on we had to descend a chasm into a deep stony corrie, with a small dark loch at its lower end, from which on the previous day I had obtained, out of the midst of driving mist, a single glimpse of this same peak, one of the wildest objects I ever saw. This corrie is called Coire Laghain, and the tarn Loch-a-Laghain, and the peak, for which my companion knew no name, I proposed to call Scur-a-Laghain. I should have been inclined to think that the very appropriate name Scur-a-Sgumain (Stack Peak) belonged to it, but he assured me that the neighbouring but lower peak to the west was Scur-a-Sgumain. I confess I doubt this; insomuch that I renounce the honour of bestowing a name on this lovely peak. The climb up on the other side of the corrie was stiff and warm, and some judgment was required to find a way, and still more when it came to circumventing the peak. We did it, however, without much difficulty : one or two places were somewhat trying, requiring good grip of hands and feet; but on the whole I have seen worse places. Whether this peak was really ascended for the first time that day, I cannot say, but it seemed very like it. There was, at any rate, no sign on the top of any one having ever been on it before, and, of course, we thought it our duty to make up for that by erecting a cairn, and adding a few feet to the height of the peak. A few days later, I had the satisfaction of admiring this cairn with a friend, from the top of Scur Dubh, and we agreed that we had never seen a more perfectly symmetrical and beautiful peak than Scur-a-Sgumain. From an opposite point of view, the Col above Coire-na-Crich, it has a most awful and inaccessible appearance.

The view from this peak is exceedingly fine and varied. The sea prospect towards the south and west is extensive, and, but for a slight haze, we should have seen the whole Long Island chain, from Lewis to Barray, without interruption. Rum towered in front in great beauty, flanked right and left by the long ridge of Cannay, and the high terrace of Eigg; Mull appeared in the distance beyond them, faintly blue, and still more faintly on the left the mountains of Appin, seen beyond Ardnamurchan and Morven, mingled with the light clouds. In the opposite direction, the view of the whole amphitheatre surrounding Coiruisg is about the best to be got, unless that from Scur-na-Banachdich, which is more central, and from which the bird's-eye view of the loch itself is better. The views down into the corries on three sides are very impressive, and the precipices of Scur Dearg, and Scur Dubh, to left and right, are seen to great advantage.


Scur Dubh is one of the most formidable of the Coolin peaks, and was reputed "inaccessible." The ascent of it, or rather the descent, was, on the whole, the hardest adventure I have had among these hills. I came over with a friend from Sligachan to Coiruisg, and, after visiting the young artists already mentioned in their curious habitation, we commenced the ascent about four in the afternoon from the rocks above Loch Scavaig. Considering that the sun was to set that evening (6th September) about seven o'clock, it would have been extreme folly to have attempted such an excursion so late in the day, had not the barometer been at "set fair," and the night been that of the full moon, of which we wished to take advantage for a moonlight view of Coiruisg. The ascent is a very rough one, up the corrie between Scur Dubh and Garsveinn, and partly along the banks of the "Mad Stream." This corrie, well named the Rough Corrie ("Garbh Choire"), is full of enormous blocks of stone, of a very volcanic appearance, many of them of a reddish colour and cindery surface. About halfway up we were overtaken by a shower of rain, and took shelter for a while under a ledge of rock. When it cleared a little, we saw that the ridge above was covered with mist, but, trusting in the barometer, we held on, expecting that by the time we got to the top the mist would have passed away, as it did. The last quarter of the ascent was very hard work, and not quite free from danger. It was about seven when we found ourselves on the summit, a very narrow, rocky ridge, but covered at the highest point with a thick bed of green, spongy moss. The rock is very dark in hue, blacker than usual, whence the name of the peak. It is the same hypersthene rock as in all the Coolin, but here, as on most of the other heights, are small dykes of clay-stone, reaching to the very summit, and occasionally producing ugly chasms, where it has worn away.

We had not much time to admire the view, as the sun had just set behind the black battlements, though we hoped to have twilight to last us to the bottom of the corrie on the other side. It did suffice to light us to the first floor, but no more, and even that we found no joke. The descent was tremendously blocked with huge stones, and the tarn at the bottom of the corrie is surrounded with them. About halfway down we came to a place where the invaluable plaid came into use. My companion, being the lighter man, stood above, with his heels well set in the rock, holding the plaid, by which I let myself down the chasm. Having got footing, I rested my back against the rock, down which my lighter friend let himself slide till he rested on my shoulders. This little piece of gymnastics we had to practise several times before we got to the bottom of the glen above Coiruisg. But there were, I think, two or three distinct floors between the first and the last. From eight to half-past ten we descended, in almost total darkness, for though the moon rose about nine, and we could see her mild glory in the depths below, we were all the way down in the deep shadow of the peak behind us. Most of the way was among shelving ledges of rock, and in one place it seemed to me that there was no going further, for there was no apparent outlet from the environment of rocks except down a dark gulley, over which a stream descended in a small cascade. The thought of passing the night there was not pleasant, and we tried in all directions before we ventured on the experiment of wriggling down the wet rock, in a perfectly vermicular manner, and scrambled round the edge of the waterfall on to something that could be called terra firma. I certainly never in the same space of time went through so much severe bodily exercise as in that descent from Scur Dubh to Coiruisg. My very finger-tops were skinned. from contact with the rough-grained rock. But the difficulties of the descent were compensated for when we got, with thankful hearts, into the full flood of the moonlight on the last floor, the valley above Coiruisg.

How the loch and the surrounding mountains looked at that hour I will not attempt to describe. If the silence is solemn and subduing at mid-day, it may be imagined what it is at night. It is even deepened by the distant voice of the streams, coming down these corries so full of darkness and awe, the great peaks bending round as if to listen, and the moon, high in heaven, looking serenely down on the glittering loch, and the still glen, and the calm, ghostly rocks, "steeped in silentness." But though the scene was solemn, nothing could be more delightfully peaceful, and the air was so mild, that I could have sat or lain there, on the nice gravelly beach of one of the little creeks, with pleasure till morning. A few minutes' rest, however, was all we took, and, after wasting half-an-hour in climbing up Druim-na-Ramh (called, strangely enough, in some guide books, Drumhairi), with the idea of going over into Harta Corrie for a change, which we abandoned on finding ourselves at the foot of a precipice, we descended again to the loch, and plodded our way all along its western margin, then up the dark rough brae, then down again into Glen Sligachan, and so on all the way by that weary path. By this time the morning air was coming slightly chilly up the glen, and the precious plaid, which was a burden up the hill, was now a real comfort. Blaveinn looked very grand, and so did Marscowe and Scur-nan-Gillean, but the thought of some food and sleep was of more overpowering interest. Oh, the length of those last three miles ! It seemed as if a malicious enchanter had shoved away Sligachan in our absence a long way to the west, and were still moving it from us every half-mile as we got on. And when at last, after a fifteen hours' airing, we stood in front of the inn, at three a.m., behold, it was all dark and silent, and, worse still, the door was locked! How we rang long in vain, not wishing to disturb the household by making much noise (especially on Sunday morning); how we got in at last; how the cheerful host and the angelic Phillis waited on us with perfect readiness and good-humour; how we refreshed exhausted nature with meat and drink; how we learned that our incomparable geological brother had waited un-dined for us till midnight, excelling himself; how we laid us gingerly down on our abraded joints; how we slept till noon, the sleep of the weary; and how we spent that day of blessed rest along the banks of the lovely burn, lifting our eyes to the hills—all these things it is pleasant now to recall to mind.


I have always considered Blaveinn the finest hill in Skye, and a remarkable example of the value of form, and variety of outline, in comparison with mere bulk, in the production of mountain grandeur. Blaveinn is only 3,042 feet high, a pigmy compared with the giants of the Alps. It has neither glacier, nor "bergschrund," nor "neve," to boast of, nor is there need of axe, or rope, or ladder to conquer it. But yet is it a most stately mountain, with a noble contour, and a majestic head. Look up to it from Kilbride, or the Torrin shore, and even if you have seen the Jungfrau, and the Matterhorn, you will feel that this, too, is a grand, a stupendous object. Unlike Scur-nan-Gillean, and its other neighbours of the Coolin, it stands alone, with no brother near its throne; but it has an attendant retinue of wild crags and pinnacles, and is flanked on the east and north by walls of stem black precipice. Perhaps its most peculiar feature is its very long dorsal ridge, which, with its graduated succession of notches, greatly contributes to the impression it conveys of a height beyond its actual dimensions. Thus from the opposite coast, at Loch Hourn, and Glenelg, it seems quite to tower above the Coolin. though it is really lower than the highest peaks of that range. This long back, terminating in the bold cleft head, with the sudden descent towards a continuous ridge of jagged spires and battlements, forms quite a unique profile, and the effect at evening, when the outline is visible, especially if there be a mixture of cloud and sunset colour, is indescribably fine. The colour of the mountain is also remarkable, being, even at a comparatively short distance, in general a deep blue-black, which under the light of the evening sun becomes purple or violet. This is probably the origin of its name, Blath-bheinn, in Gaelic, meaning "the mountain of bloom." Blath also means,"warm," but there is nothing entitling Blaveinn to that epithet above any of its neighbours. After this explanation, it is hardly necessary to say, that "Ben Blaven," as it is sometimes called, is as tautological as it would be to say, "Mount Goatfell."

There is no hill in Skye better worth climbing, not merely for the view from the top, but for what is seen on the way up, and all round it. The nearest terminus is Broad-ford, which is also the proper starting-point for those who desire to see Coiruisg without going through Glen Sligachan, or to combine a visit to the Spar Cave, with the excursion by boat to Scavaig. The most convenient way of ascending is to go up from Kirkibost. You go through a longish glen, then up a steepish ridge, on the other side of which you find a beautiful tarn, sleeping quietly under the brow of the mountain, something like Loch Etichan on Ben-Mac-Duibh, but prettier. The. ascent from this to the top is rough and rocky, but free from danger. The crest, though narrow, is partially clothed with rough herbage and moss. The view down into Glen Sligachan is grand, there being nothing in the way between you and the bottom. Not less so is the view across the glen, of the whole Coolin range, including, if I mistake not, a peep of Coiruisg. I can't say whether it is possible to get along the jagged ridge to the north-east; if so, it would be a nice variety to go that way, and along the Red Hills to Sligachan, or down the other side to the head of Loch Eynort, which is one of the most picturesque spots on that wonderful road between Broadford and Sligachan. But whether that rocky ridge be possible or not, it is worth inspecting, for the sake of the view one gets there of the precipices on the east side, and into the lonely corrie below. There is a wall of rock there, many hundred feet in height, the most perpendicular I have seen. I let down some stones over its edge, which seemed to touch nothing before they reached the bottom. This is the face of the mountain one sees coming along from Broadford, a view never to be forgotten.

It is a remarkable circumstance that the mountains on the opposite sides of Glen Sligachan are, with one exception, entirely different in their geological composition. The whole visible mass of the Coolin is generally believed to be composed of what Dr. McCulloch named hypersthene Rock, a compound of hypersthene with labradorite or Labrador felspar. It is one of the hardest and most enduring of rocks, of a
peculiar colour, varying between green and blue, and looking, when weather-worn, almost black. This it is that invests these hills with so very deep and beautiful a hue, even at a few miles' distance. The range on the opposite, or east, side of the glen, beginning with Glamaig, and including the Red Hills and Marscowe, is composed of syenite, generally of a reddish colour, sometimes of a greyish green. The structure of the hills on each side is not less distinct, the Coolin being broken and serrated to a degree quite peculiar, while Glamaig and the Red Hills are conical, and comparatively tame in character. But Blaveinn, though on the same side of the glen with the latter hills, is in geological character, and equally in aspect, of the same composition as the Coolin range. Its base, however, appears to correspond in structure with a curious contact of the two rocks visible on the west side of the glen, between Harta-Corrie and Loch-nan-Aan, where the yellowish felspar rock is seen distinctly underlying the dark-coloured hypersthene rock above it. If, as seems beyond doubt, the Coolin is of volcanic origin, it would seem that Blaveinn was the centre of an independent forge of its own.

"O Blaven! rocky Blaven!
How I long to be with you again,
To see lashed gulf and gully
Smoke white in the windy rain—
To see in the scarlet sunrise
The mist-wreaths perish with heat,
The wet rock slide with a trickling gleam
Right down to the cataract's feet:
While toward the crimson islands,
Where the sea-birds flutter and skirl,
A cormorant flaps o'er a sleek ocean floor
Of tremulous mother of pearl."


I have called this the most beautiful glen in Skye. There are, in truth, very few glens in Skye: there is hardly room for them. But if I had called it one of the finest glens in Scotland, I should not have gone far wrong. There are certainly none that I can remember with such a view of mountains, except three—Glen Sligachan, Glencoe, and Glen Sannox. The beauty of this glen is, that being itself delightfully green and pastoral, and watered by a charming stream full of good fish (not free), you look up from it to a high and long range of tremendous rocky walls and peaks. There is something exquisitely piquant in the contrast between the cheerful verdure and comfort below (especially if one is in Captain Cameron's house) and the utter sterility and wildness of the grim scarred rocks above. I know nothing approaching to it in this respect, except some spots, such as the Grindelwald, in Switzerland. No enthusiastic lover of mountains, above all, no artist, ought to leave Skye without getting this view of the Coolin Hills. I saw it but once as a child, and did not see it again for many years; but I found, on going back, that the deep childish impression was true. There is not, in my humble opinion, a more perfectly unique, a more wonderful, or more beautiful view in all Scotland, than that from the brae above Glen Breatal, on the Minginish side, looking towards the Coolin Hills, where you see in succession Scur Thuilm, Scur Ghrita, Scur-na-Banachdich, Scur Dearg, Scur-a-Scumain, and the corries between them, all marked, when the violet hues of an August sunset descend on them, with lines and colours so distinct and splendid, that you wish there were a Turner on the spot to record them for the pleasure of all mankind.


The Sea Coast

THE chief thing that gives character to the scenery of our north-west Highlands and Islands is the combination of mountain and sea. Apart from the sea, all that we can show of the grand and picturesque is small compared with Switzerland. But that majestic element gives compensation, in its infinite variety, for the want of enormous heights, everlasting snow, green valleys, and towering pines. No lake or river, however grand, can equal the immense, ever-changing, many-voiced sea. It gives dignity and individuality to bare rocks and treeless islands, even in the absence of hills. But where it washes the base of bold cliffs and mountains, and sends its waters far in to the bosom of the hills, and the openings of "long withdrawing glens," then it produces a kind of scenery which nothing inland can equal in interest, to those at least who admire the sea. When with this is combined an expansive view towards the ocean and the setting sun, a horizon enlivened with the outlines of distant isles, and everywhere good harbours within reach, you have that which makes the western coast of Scotland the paradise of yachters. What can be more glorious than the glistening expanse one sees on a summer morning between Ardnamur-chan and Skye—a vast plain of shining silver, inlaid, as far as the eye can reach, with blue island gems, and carrying the imagination away a thousand leagues beyond them, where that same ocean breaks on the shores of the western world.

Even without its mountains, the sea-coast of Skye, and the views all round it, would be worth going to see. But the sea and the cliffs, and the mountains together, make it what it is—unique. I heard a great English artist, who had been sadly used by the weather during a short visit to Skye, in which he got not even a glimpse of the Coolin, say that the drive from Sligachan to Broadford the morning he came away, when the sun shone clear after two days of rain, showing the mountains on every side draped lightly with snow, was worth all the journey from London. He had seen nothing finer in "the Isles of Greece," with which he was better acquainted than most people.

Some ingenious person once calculated that the coast-line of Skye, following all the windings of its lochs, extends to the respectable circumference of nine hundred miles. Be that as it may, one gets an imposing idea of the magnitude of the island by sailing round it, as it was once my luck to do, in good weather and in good company, in the good ship Ringdove. Our luck was, indeed, singular, for during a fortnight's cruise in the Hebrides we had but one bad day, and during our circumnavigation of Skye we had a favouring wind all the way round. The first day we sailed with a fine south-west breeze from Rum, where we had encountered our only bad weather, which, however, the hospitality of Captain Macleod made more than tolerable. The huge blue mass of the Coolin, rising clear out of the sea, duly impressed us all. But my friends were even more surprised by the rich culture and civilised elegance that appeared in the green woods and slopes, and architectural grace of Armadale Castle. Grandeur they had expected, but beauty they were scarcely prepared for. In combination of gentle beauty with wild magnificence, there is nothing on the Scottish coasts equal to this view, unless it be the view from Raasay House looking towards Sligachan.

The breeze slackened as we entered Fylerhea, where our cautious skipper waited for the turn of the tide, having a lively horror of the swirling eddies that make that narrow strait at times boil like a little Maelstrom. We had a delightful passage through the Kyles, and saw their prettily wooded braes to the best advantage. After passing Kyleakin the breeze fell away, and by the time we got to the Sound of Raasay it was dark, if that could be called darkness which was in fact only a long twilight. Here my friends first saw what Skye can show in the way of sunsets, and it was unanimously admitted that the exhibition was not only up to the mark, but much beyond the average. To use the truly Highland image of the Bard Macdonald,

"Every colour of the tartan
Streaked the heavens."

Golden islets floated in the glowing sky, their edges burning as the sun moved down, while up to the zenith the amber expanse was flecked with innumerable violet clouds. As the sun descended, the gold became pink, and then purple, and the floating islets stretched in slender bars to the north. When the sun disappeared the sky changed from flame to straw colour, and then to a delicate green, out of which presently shone the faint twinkle of a star. Then the shadows of the great hills, Glamaig and Beinn Fhionavaig, fell solemnly on the glassy sea, and our track was through a blaze of phosphorescence, every ripple as we moved along showing a crest of sparkling diamonds.

There were lively doings that night at Raasay, fireworks, and music, and beating of drums, for the young laird, Mr. Rainy, was coming home in his yacht. Before another year had passed that promising young man was dead, and in the short time since then the island has twice changed hands. Here Johnson and Boswell were entertained in 1773, along with a large company, in the house of the chief, Macleod of Raasay. The doctor was charmed with his reception. "Without," he said, "is the rough ocean and the rocky land, the beating billows and the howling storm ; within is plenty and elegance, beauty and gaiety, the song and the dance. In Raasay, if I could have found an Ulysses, I had fancied a Phasacia." The land rental of that hospitable chieftain has been calculated at about £250 a year. Last year the island (without Ronay, &c.) was sold for £62,000, and the rental of the estate was given in the previous year as £2,770.

Next morning we found ourselves at anchor in Portree Bay, that snuggest and prettiest of all Hebridean harbours, excepting Tobermory. I shall not offer any statistical information about Portree, but shall tell instead a little story, redounding to the honour of one of its natives, and telling, not like the old tales, of blood and revenge, but of the perfect love that casteth out fear. Some years ago there was at Portree a young man, whom we may call Malcolm Macdonald, and a young woman, who may be named Mary Macleod, and they loved each other—at least Mary loved truly and well— and Malcolm appeared to return that love. But Malcolm's love was not of the kind that the Gaelic poet calls "an gaol nach failnich," the love that fails not; and he went away to sea, and forgot Mary, and she heard from him no more. After some years a vessel came into Portree Bay, and the fearful news soon reached the shore that there was cholera on board, and that one of the men who had been seized, a native of the place, was to be landed if a house could be found to lay him in. After much difficulty a place was found in an unoccupied building, and there a bed was made for the dying man. The next thing was to find a nurse to attend him, and here the difficulty was greater, for the Highland dread of infectious diseases, among which the "cholera morbus" was reckoned one of the deadliest, is intense, and sometimes cruel. At last, after many vain inquiries by the doctor and the sheriff, a woman came and offered her services. Her offer was gladly accepted, and she watched the sick man tenderly till he died. The man was Malcolm Macdonald, and the woman was Mary Macleod.

From Portree Bay to the north point of Skye, Rhu Hunish, a distance of fifteen to twenty miles, the coast scenery is without exception magnificent, while the view outward towards the coast of Ross-shire is not less so. First comes a long range of terraced cliffs, mixed with grassy slopes, above which, about a mile from the sea, tower the black precipices of Storr, with its wonderful outworks of crag, and spire, and turret, the outlines of which vary incessantly as we move along. About five miles on, at Rhu-nam-braithrean (or Brother's Point) begins a range of basaltic, or at least columnar cliffs, extending, with slight interruption, about ten miles, and presenting in some places aspects of remarkable beauty. Lest I should be thought to exaggerate their merits, I shall quote Dr. John McCulloch. "Although the columns are not so accurately formed, nor so distinctly marked, as in Staffa, their effect at the proper point of sight is equally regular, while from the frequent occurrence of groups, recesses, and projecting masses, and from the absence of any superincumbent load, they are far superior in lightness of appearance, as well as in elegance and variety of outline. In many cases, where the columnar trap lies above the horizontal strata, the appearance of architectural imitation is much more perfect than in any part of Staffa." At one place the combination of the perpendicular plaits of trap and transverse bars of limestone is so strikingly suggestive of tartan that it goes by the name of the " Kilt Rock." Not far from it a picturesque cascade falls over the cliff to the shore. The general structure and aspect of the rocks are extremely like those of the Giant's Causeway, though they are not so high in any part as those of Pleaskin Point.

As we sailed along past Loch Staffin, we got a full outside view of Cuiraing, and of the whole range of' remarkable hills and hollows extending from that to Storr. They are as unlike the Coolin as trap is to hypersthene, but in their own way not less curious and interesting. Such a combination of rugged rocks, grassy slopes, and pyramidal green hills, with here and there a tarn nestling between them, I know nowhere else.

A few miles beyond Loch Staffin are some remarkable caves, which can be visited only in calm weather, at low water, and with a south-west wind—three conditions that one does not often find concurring there. Even in the calmest day there is a heavy swell on that shore, and when a north-easter blows into Loch Staffin, rolling the big pebbles on the beach, the roar is heard like thunder many miles away. My geological friend and I were so fortunate as to get a sight of these caves on a lovely September day in 1873. One of them was very lofty and narrow, and as we glided in the water was so calm that we could see through its green depths the great tangles waving below, studded with sea-urchins. But before we were half-way in, the tide wave came swelling up, sucking us in with such strength that it needed great care to keep the boat from being dashed against the perpendicular walls —and what a place for a capsize! One would have as little chance of escape as in the middle of the Minch. To the height of ten or fifteen feet the cave walls were of a delicate pink colour, contrasting beautifully with the emerald water below, and caused, I suppose, by some marine growth. Another cave had a great opening in the roof, and there are other two with smaller apertures, through which the water is discharged in a storm with a noise like a cannon-shot. These are called "The Gunners." The columnar structure is not so remarkably displayed in this part of the coast, except in some places where the columns have been worn away by the waves, leaving a slope as clean and smooth as if it had been sliced with a chisel, and the heads of the columns as distinctly marked as at Staffa or the Giant's Causeway.

The currents are very strong off Rhu Hunish, and for awhile we were so tossed about, and made so little way, that our anxious skipper betrayed unmistakable symptoms of panic. For about an hour we bobbed back and forward, during which we got a good view of the islet of Trodda, from which the district of Trotternish has its name; of the flat-topped rock called Macdonald's Table; of the Iasgair, or Fisherman; of Fladda Chuain, where libations for a wind used to be poured out on a sacred blue stone in St. Columba's Chapel, and where rest the bones of a mysterious monk, O'Gorgon; and of the Shiant Isles, whose grand basaltic face shone bright in the sun. Then we slipped along past old Duntulm, once the chief seat in Skye of the Macdonalds, past Bornaskittaig bay and point, where Prince Charlie landed with Flora Macdonald, past the point and caves of Dunan, about which McCulloch is eloquent, and into the well-sheltered bay of Uig. This is one of the prettiest places in Skye, described by Pennant as "a fertile bottom laughing with corn," of perfect horseshoe shape, and surrounded by high green slopes. It generally produces the earliest crops in the island. In this pleasant nook we anchored for two nights, spending the day at Cuiraing, and the evening in the hospitable house of Captain Fraser.

We next sailed over to the point of Vaternish, across the mouth of Loch Snizort, the shores of which are the least picturesque part of the coast of Skye, though there are some pretty spots here and there, such as Lyndale and Grishernish. Beyond Grishernish the coast again becomes interesting and cliffy. At Diubeg a fine cascade comes down the rocks to the sea, and beyond it are the green slopes and rugged heights of Scor Horen. On the right a few miles to sea, are the Ascrib Islands, a great resort of seals and sea-fowl, and a favourite haunt of the Nimrod of Skye, Captain Macdonald. Beyond these, and all through the day, the magnificent outline of Harris rose above the horizon. Passing the point of Vaternish, we had on our left Loch Bay, a beautiful little harbour, protected from the west by the green island of Isay, of which Macleod offered to make Johnson laird, if he would live there for a month every year. We then sailed across the mouth of Loch Dunvegan, where, if my will had been law, we should have gone in for at least a night. Dunvegan Castle is perhaps the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, the part of it at least that is old, which unfortunately (so far as venerable picturesqueness is concerned) is now small, compared with the modern additions and improvements. Here Johnson spent a week with delight, and, to use his own polite words, "had tasted lotus, and was in danger of forgetting that I was ever to depart." He came on a Monday, and on Saturday Boswell proposed that they should go next Monday. "No, sir," said the doctor, "I will not go before Wednesday; I will have some more of this good." One has pleasure in remembering that he was made so comfortable there, and in picturing him with his old head encased in a flannel night-cap, which Mrs. Macleod made for him, going out on a stormy evening into the courtyard of the castle to fetch an armful of peats for his own fire, from the stack which stood there. His graceful letter to Macleod, written from the manse of Sleat on the eve of his departure, is preserved among the treasures of the castle, and is worth reproduction, though already in print:—

"Dear Sir,—We are now on the margin of the sea, wishing for a boat and a wind. Boswell grows impatient, but the kind treatment which I find wherever I go makes me leave with some heaviness of heart an island which I am not very likely to see again. Having now gone as far as horses can carry us, we thankfully return them. My steed will, I hope, be received with kindness; he has borne me, heavy as I am, over ground both rough and steep with great fidelity, and for the use of him, as for your other favours, I hope you will believe me thankful, and willing, at whatever distance we may be placed, to show my sense of your kindness by any offices of friendship that may fall within my power. Lady Macleod and the young ladies have, by their hospitality and politeness, made an impression on my mind which will not easily be effaced. Be pleased to tell them that I remember them with great tenderness and great respect. I am, Sir,

"Your most obliged and most humble servant, "Sam. Johnson."

As a companion to that letter may be given one, hitherto imprinted, of Sir Walter Scott, who spent one pleasant night at Dunvegan. Here probably he composed, to the air of the most pathetic of all pipe tunes, the verses called "McCrimmon's Lament," in which he has so expressed the spirit of the strain, that his verses are generally supposed to be a paraphrase of a Gaelic original, which they are not. With the exception of one verse, the only Gaelic original known to me was composed by the father of the editor of Good Words. Sir Walter's letter was addressed to Mrs. Macleod of Macleod, and is as follows :—

"Dear Madam,—I have been postponing from day to day requesting your kind acceptance of my best thanks for the beautiful purse of your workmanship, with which I was some time since honoured. The hospitality of Dunvegan will long live in my recollection, and I am not a little flattered by a token which infers that my visit was not forgotten by the Lady of the Castle. I venture to send (what has long delayed this letter) a copy of a poem which owes its best passages to Macleod's kindness and taste, in directing me to visit the extraordinary scenery between his country and Strathaird, which rivals in grandeur and desolate sublimity anything that the Highlands can produce. The volume should have reached you in a quarto shape, but while I sought an opportunity of sending it, behold, the quartos disappeared, and I was obliged to wait for the second impression, of which I now send a copy. I shall be proud and happy if it serves to amuse a leisure hour at Dunvegan. It has had one good consequence to the author, that it has served to replenish the purse with which the Lady Macleod presented him. Yet he has so much of the spirit of the old bard, that he values the purse more than the contents. Should Macleod and you ever come to Edinburgh, I will scarce forgive you unless you let such a hermit as I am know of your being in the neighbourhood of his recess, and I would have particular pleasure in endeavouring to show you anything that might interest you. I do not despair of (what would give the most sincere pleasure) again being a guest at Dunvegan. My eldest girl sings 'Cathail gu la'— excuse Saxon spelling—and I hope to send you, in a few weeks, a very curious treatise on the Second Sight, published (not for sale) from a manuscript in 1691, which fell into my hands. Hector MacDonald has promised me the means to send it.

"I beg my respectful compliments to Miss Macleod, my kindest remembrances to the Chieftain, and my best wishes to the little tartan chief and nursery.

"Believe me, with much respect, dear madam (for I will not say Mrs. Macleod, and Lady M. is out of fashion),

"Your honoured and obliged, and truly grateful,

"Walter Scott.
"Edinburgh, March 3rd, 1815"

Near Dunvegan Head, at a placed called Galtrigill, is a stone hitherto unknown to fame, supposed to possess qualities analogous to those of the Blarney Stone. The virtue it communicates, however, is not eloquence or blarney, but politeness, and the process is not by kissing, but by sitting on it. The name of this virtuous stone is Clach a Mhodha, or, the "Stone of Manners." It is a plain-looking slab of whinstone, about eight feet by five in dimensions. Local antiquaries suppose that it was at one time used as a judgment-seat, and the chief magistrate of Skye, when he makes a progress through his jurisdiction, usually honours this ancient relic with a visit, though he prefers a modern arm-chair for judicial purposes.

Dunvegan Head is a bold, rocky promontory, facing North Uist, which is twelve miles away. A little beyond the point is a curious, grassy retreat, between an upper and under cliff, to which there is access only by a cleft from above. The summit is 1,025 feet above the sea, an imposing height. Beyond this is the little bay of Polteel, with a fine sandy beach, on which I have seen a glittering haul of salmon, sea-trout, and flounders, trawled in on a summer night long ago. Into this bay runs the Hammer River, rising at the foot of one of Macleod's Tables, and watering the pretty valley of Glen dale. The point of Fest, to the south of Polteel, is one of the wildest on all these coasts. Long ridges of black rock jut out from green braes, over which the Atlantic wave breaks tremendously, with a west or south-west wind. Here begins a range of fine cliffs, extending, with little interruption, to the entrance of Loch Bracadale, and reaching, in the great "Bida," or Peak of Vaterstein, a height of 966 feet. Here the rock is nearly perpendicular, and from its summit there is a beautiful grassy slope inland, where some of the best black cattle in Skye are pastured. A story is told of a good-natured gentleman who was once farmer here, to whom the intelligence was brought, one fine summer afternoon, that about twenty of his calves had, in a wild freak, jumped down this precipice into the sea. The good man, instead of swearing, or tearing his hair, simply remarked, like a true philosopher, "What a splash they must have made!"

Loch Bracadale begins at the point of Idrigill, off which, a few hundred yards from the cliff, the three remarkable rocks called "Macleod's Maidens," stand out of the water. The tallest of the three, which is about two hundred feet high, is a stately object, bearing, at a little distance, a resemblance, by no means fanciful, to a long-robed female figure. There is even an indication of "flounces" produced by the stratification of the rock. The other two are much smaller, and appear as if sitting or kneeling before their big sister, Nic-Cleosgair Mhor, as she is called by the natives. A little beyond this is a very grand arched cave, one of many on this coast. In another of them poor Lady Grange was confined for some time, and, I believe, died. Here begins the bay of Orbost, or Varkasaig, one of the most picturesque in its shores of the bays of Skye, and the northernmost of several that indent the coast of Loch Bracadale. Pennant described Loch Bracadale as "the Milford Haven of these parts," and the best site in Skye for a town. There is as yet neither town nor village there, nor is there likely to be. On the contrary, the population is becoming small by degrees and unbeautifully less, the claims of the "woolly people" being paramount, and themselves so much more easily disposed of than creatures with only two legs, without wool, and unfit for eating. The bipeds, also, are supposed to have souls, which makes them all the more troublesome. This state of matters makes the shores of Loch Bracadale less interesting than they used to be, though in natural features it is the finest loch in Skye. Its entrance is diversified and guarded by islands, the land along its shores is for the most part green, and the north side of the bay commands one of the grandest views of the Coolin. The anchorage is perfect in all winds at Loch Harport, the eastern arm of the bay. At the head of the loch, at Carabost, is a distillery, where is still manufactured, as well as ever, the "fine spirit" known to fame as the "Tallisker." This, and a woollen factory at Portree, where tweeds of the best description are made, are the only manufactories in Skye. In this loch, at Port-na-Culaidh, below Ulinish, we anchored for the third time. As we sailed in, we passed the island of Wiay, the best place for crowberries I ever saw. Near its east end is a cave in a tall cliff, round the mouth of which hovered a snowy cloud of sea-gulls. Further in, and connected with the main shore at low-water, is the boldly picturesque Orosay, called also the Green Island, the slope from its beetling top being carpeted with exquisite verdure. Fronting the cliff is a cathedral-like rock, in which was a fine arch, now broken, and not far from it is the Uamh Bhinn, or melodious cave, which has a fine, ringing echo. Boswell says he couldn't hear it, and thought it a myth. I have a tolerable ear, and have heard it a good many times.

Next day we sailed from Bracadale to Soay. It was the lightest breeze, but the loveliest day of all our voyage. The sea was all smiles—

"Glittering like a field of diamonds,
With the multitudinous sparkle,
And the countless laughing ripple
Sung of old by Bard of Hellas."

As we passed the point of Tallisker we were aware of a peculiar odour coming across the sea, to me at least not unpleasant. Looking westward, where the outlines of North and South Uist rose above the hazy horizon, we could see a streak of bluish-white smoke all along the shore. It was the smoke of burning kelp, and the scent of it came over the Minch to us, a distance of some thirty miles. Though not exactly equal to

"Sabaean odours from the spicy shore
Of Arabie the blest,"

it recalled vague pleasant associations of sunny days, when kelp used to be made on the shores of Loch Dunvegan.

Like Uig and a few other places in Skye, Tallisker is unique—the very picture of a Happy Valley, sequestered from all the world, the home of innocence and peace. It is a flat green vale, facing a small horseshoe bay girt with high rocks, mixed with grassy spots, where sheep feed eagerly in places that seem inaccessible. Behind the house towers the remarkable basaltic hill of Brismheall, and on the east of the bay is the striking-looking rock called the Fuller's Stack, a mass of disintegrated trap filled with lumps of pretty zoolite, which abounds in the neighbouring rocks and shore. Past this attractive spot we softly glided; and as our motion was slow enough to admit of our using the yawl, two of us got out in it to make some exploration of the shores, which are pierced with numberless caves. It is no exaggeration to say that for several miles there appears to be one on an average at every five hundred yards. We went into a few. One we found filled with cormorants, looking like gargoyles, or unblest spirits, as they clung to the high sides and arches of the cave, and swayed about their snaky necks. At the sound of a gun, what a flapping of wings and a plopping into the deep-green water was there ! And then how strongly they swam out to sea, turning their vigilant eyes in all directions as they rose on the crest of the tide. Of other birds there was no lack. The rock-pigeons had caves of their own, and the red-legged oyster-catchers went piping from rock to rock. Gulls, white and grey, floated lightly on the wave, or screamed aloft; and terns flirted up and down, creaking incessantly. To these, life seems rather a gay affair; and the gulls in particular have all the graceful repose of the best society, sitting on the waves like ladies at an evening party. Very different is the bustling and energetic gannet, which hurries aloft on impatient wing as if bent on business, then descends like a shot to accomplish a rapid transaction in shares, having acquired which he flaps himself up, and is off in search of a new speculation in fish. Ever and anon there comes across the water, like a voice of warning, the plaintive tremulous note of the diver, calling to its little one not to venture too far, as they go paddling together on the great deep.

From Tallisker to Loch Eynort the coast is of the same bold and cliffy character as before. Loch Eynort is a pretty "back-of-beyond" place. It was once a centre of some population, and the site of a church, but is now inhabited by only two or three families. In the Scottish Antiquarian Museum is a beautiful old font, made of some of the hard black crystalliferous rock of the Coolin, which was carried off from the ruins of an old chapel here. A boat's crew from South Uist, who were detained in the loch, had made a note of it, and thought it would be a precious gift to bring to their chapel at Iochdar. They accordingly walked off with it under cloud of right, and, as if to mark heavenly approval of their pious zeal, the wind, which had been right against them for a week, veered round to the east as soon as the sacred stone touched the keel, and carried them rapidly and safely to Benbecula! So the worthy old priest at Iochdar told me, not without a touch of quiet humour, whom I found in his primitive dwelling, dressed in a suit of green tartan, communicating instruction in Virgil to a tow-headed eager-looking Presbyterian youth. In the Roman Catholic chapel there the font did duty for some years, till the serviceable intervention of Mr. W. F. Skene got it transported to Edinburgh. There is an inscription on it in large characters, which has not yet been deciphered, being greatly worn.

From Eynort to Loch Breatal is again a line of cliffs, and from Rhundunan to Scavaig the shore is still rocky, but without high cliffs. Off this coast lies the populous little island of Soay, where we anchored in our fifth night round Skye. Next day was devoted to Coiruisg, on the next we visited the Spar Cave, and in the afternoon we ran with a spanking breeze, in one hour, across to Cannay. From Cannay we sailed to Ulva, thence to Staffa, and thence to Bunessan in Mull. Next morning, our last day, we warmed our piety among the ruins of Iona, sailed round the south of Mull, admiring its fine scenery, and in the afternoon scudded, with two reefs in the mainsail, into the shelter of the bay of Oban.

After so much about the rocks and hills of Skye, it may be asked whether one has nothing to say about the people? Dr. Johnson, when asked at Auchinleck how he liked the Highlands, said testily, "Who can like the Highlands? I love the people better than the country." For my part, I like both so well that I can say nothing ill about either. Of the character of the people I can hardly be expected to speak, impartially, being one of them myself. Of the condition of some of them, I may have a few words to say, though not now. From some things I have said, it may seem that I take the sentimental view of the subject, and object, among other things, to the introduction of sheep-farming. By no means. I think there has been and is much exaggeration of the state of matters, and that a great part of Skye is chiefly fitted for sheep. But for all that, it must still be admitted that a man is better than a sheep, and that where men are produced they ought to have at least as much consideration as the four-footed creatures, and their young ones at any rate ought to have plenty of milk. A lamb is an interesting creature, but a pretty child is more so (and there are no ugly children in Skye), and its parents should have the chance of feeding it well. This, I am sorry to say, some of them have not the opportunity of doing at present, on one or two of the big sheep-farms of Skye.


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