Letters From The North Highlands



Glenmoriston, August.

Proceeding through the woods of Port Clare, near which the bay of Inchnacardoch retires back from the lake, are seen the remains of the Cherry Isle, now nearly swallowed by the surrounding waters, from which it appears like a small woody tuft; so diminutive is it become, that it could not arrest attention in any place, but it is remarkable, as this is the only Caledonian lake I know, that is without its islands. These same islands were so necessary during the petty was between the neighbouring clans, that when one was not found, it was made. Lovat, to whom the district of Abertarfe be­longed, was often engaged in wars with the neighbouring Macdonalds, headed by
Glengary. This isle was formed with no small labour, of piles of wood, driven into the ground, and great stones, afterwards covered with earth, and a castle of no common strength built upon it, where the ladies, and whatever was most valuable belonging to families, were lodged, during the absence of the chieftain, when engaged in his wars. These islands have gained in picturesque interest what they have lost in importance, since they have ceased to be the sites of castles, or the sanctuary of the fair, in the temporary absence of the brave. There is no lake but this without its island, and no island without its castle, its place of worship, convent, or burial-place. Those islands, indeed, are the only places where people of old used to plant trees, which they probably did to shelter the buildings erected on them, from the cold blasts of the lake. The ruins and trees, connected in fancy with the legends that belong to them, give an air of
solemnity, and in some instances, of sanctity, to those retreats.
There is a curious manuscript, either in the Norse tongue, or a literal translation from it, in the University of Glasgow, written, it is supposed, by the chieftain of Haco, King of Norway. This invader, after an incursion, during which he ravaged and plundered the west Highlands, was defeated at the battle of Larges, in Ayrshire, and died of a broken heart at Kirkwall, in the Orkneys. His chaplain's chronicle states, that he destroyed three hundred churches, convents, and villages in the island of Loch Lomond. After making allowance for the exaggerations of a boasting and irritated foe, there is reason to believe, that these islands were thickly inhabited, and not only larger, but were more numerous than they are at present, being yearly raised in height, by the quantity of earth and stones carried down by the mountain torrents. In clear weather, some of the buildings and remains of pave-
ments are seen in the bottom of the lake; indications of the mighty change which time and torrents have produced.
In Argyllshire, opposite to Appin, is a fertile and beautiful island, called, Lismere, or the Great Garden. It is not a mile broad, nor above three in length, yet in it, are nine considerable ruins of castles and convents.
Along a new road, that leads through hitherto unexplored woods and glens, on the north side of the lake, I passed through a most romantic group of broken rocks, by Inchnacardoch, where on the side, on an eminence, and sheltered by a grove of birch, is a small house, finely situated, and occasionally inhabited by Lovat, the chief of the Frasers, when he visits his estate of Abertarfe. Under this appellation, is comprehended the stretch or country round Fort Augustus, till it joins the Glengary estate, a few miles to the west. Passing under Inchnacardoch, the view becomes very singular and interesting. The bay previously mentioned, forms a ba-
sin, in which the little Cherry Isle seems to float. On the land side, as you approach, the house of Inchnacardoch is seen above, with gently rising hills, plains, and cultivated to the top, but having broken and rocky side: from these three sister-brooks, or burns, to use the country language, descend. They are nearly parallel with each other, and, like other mountain streams, are very picturesque, with little cascades and shrubby borders.
In the middle one is concealed a recess, with which scarce any of the people in the neighbourhood are acquainted. The stream in its descent seems to be lost between two rocky projections, near the steep height above; and after being for a space invisible, it appears a considerable way below.
If any curious traveler has the hardiness to clamber up to the place where the stream quits its concealment, and then to dive down through the clefts, from which it issues, he will be rewarded by the sight of a grotto, which, if he be at all classical, or even fanciful, will remind him strongly
of the cave in Ithaca, which Homer describes as the secret haunt of the nymphs, and where Ulysses hid his treasure. In passing even very near it, the wanderer is not aware of this concealed beauty, until descending into the recess, you meet with a prodigious square stone, in the shape of a table, which seems to have been detached from above, and almost blocks up the entrance. Passing the stone, a round basin of exquisite beauty, bordered with apparent seats, over which spring the most luxuriant flowers and herbage, receive the falling waters, after they have, in the secrecy of the impending rocks, formed themselves into three small cascades above. In this recess the wind never blows, nor does any thing noxious enter. There is space enough, admitted from above, to give abundance of light, and to cheer the wild hyacinths and primroses, which grow in rich profusion around, where sheltering warmth, and the perpetual freshness of the waterfalls, cherish unfading verdure and undecaying beauty in this romantic recess,
which nature seems to have hid from vulgar eyes, and kept sacred for her contemplative votaries, who worship her in secret haunts. Long streamers of ivy and honey-suckle, fragrant with the moisture of the spray, hang pendant from the lofty openings, over this grotto, which cannot be properly called a cave, having a partial aperture above, and abounding in vegetation.
Two young ladies, who were, or thought themselves discoverers of this beautiful retreat, about thirty years since, took great pleasure in frequenting it, giving it the name of the Penseroso Grotto. Since then, I believe few intruders have disturbed the water-nymph in her sheltered retreat.
Proceeding through the wood of Portclare, I reached the narrow glen of Ducatay, which, unimportant as it may seem, possesses, like more places here, its history. It belongs to the Laird of Glenmoriston, and gives him, what be does not derive from his own exclusive estate, a vote in the county. It is natural to enquire whence he derives this privilege, and why does he
prefer this narrow glen, in the midst of Lovat's lands? The answer is, that long since, in the early feudal times, the young chief of Lovat and Glenmoriston were hunting together, and trode this narrow glen in pursuit of deer. Every reader of the ancient poetry of this country is aware of the very great importance which is attached to the Conial, in which the hunter led the large deer-greyhound, till he saw fit to let him loose on his prey. In latter times, there was an ornament useful in fastening the belted plaid over the shoulder, which attained still greater consequence in a Highland gentleman's equipment. This was a silver pit., or fibula, which was unusually large, and adorned with carvings; and if the names of the fabulous kings, (who were supposed to have done homage to the infant Saviour,) viz. Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, were carved on the fibula, it was invaluable. Those revered names were charms, defending the wearer from every danger, and even from sickness. Glenmoriston happened to have on one
of these revered ornaments, while accompanying his friend in the chase. Lovat's dog bursting forward, broke the leash, in which he was held by his master. Upon the interruptions in the eagerness of pursuit, he implored Glenmoriston to lend him the silver pin to fasten his dog's leash. The young laird peevishly answered, ' That he would do no such thing, nor risk a valuable inherited relique on such a trifling occasion, for that it would certainly be lost." Lovat thought otherwise, and was so sure, that he would fasten the pin in such a manner, that it could not be lost. He offered him, in case it was lost, to give him the Glen Decatay, in which they were then hunting, without homage or acknowledgment. The pin was lost, and Glenmoriston claimed and obtained the Glen, which gave him a vote in the shire.


Glenmoriston, August.

After travelling the pleasant road, which afforded the interesting scenes above described, on crossing the river Moriston over a newly-erected stone bridge, of two arches, I reached the mansion-house of Glenmoriston*, most beautifully situated above the place where the full clear stream of the Moriston mingles with the lake. Invermoriston, means the confluence or

* "Glenmoriston itself, signifying the great valley of the deep cascade, opens upon the lake between fronts of two lofty clefts, running up in gloomy grandeur. The one is called, Craig Kinnan, the Giant's Rock. The other, a sable peak, projecting over the lake, is denominated, Struan Muich, the Promontory of the Bear." ~ Shaw.

discharge of the river. Inver, on all occasions, conveys this meaning, when added to the name of a river. This opening between the two sheltering mountains, is warm, sunny, and flowery, and, in many places, shady; defended from both east and west, the only winds met with here, excepting mountain gusts, which rarely occur. The Loch lies in fair prospect before. Hills partially wooded, rise on each side. The glen opens behind, so as to permit the eye to follow far into its deep recesses. The whole air of the place, calm and sequestered, is yet open and cheerful. Every surrounding object seems adapted to heighten the placid beauty of the pure scenes. On entering the abode of the proprietor, every thing is consistent with the expectation created from the sweet scenery without.
And now, my dear friend, if it were not inconsistent, with the delicacy that modest worth demands, from lively gratitude, I would fain indulge myself, by expressing to you, all the feelings excited by the
hospitality of an amiable young couple, so suited to this lovely spot, and to each other, that no good mind can contemplate such simple elegance, and enjoyment of life and happiness diffused around, without a pure delight.
A little above the house is an enclosure, surrounded with lofty ancient trees, which give appropriate solemnity to the spot, where the remains of a long race of the Grants of Glenmoriston repose, in social and unbroken rest, till the last call shall awaken them.
In the bosom of this fine glen, are the Falls of the Moriston, lying open to the view, with abundant sylvan accompaniments. They have not height to give them magnificence, but they are so broken, varied, and picturesque, that they are contemplated longer, and with more pleasure, than even grander objects. I have seen many places which might be as much admired amongst these romantic wilds, than Invermoriston, and some that might excite greater wonder; but none, in my
opinion, a person would more readily chuse for a permanent habitation. Invermoriston has sublimity in all objects within view, without the gloom often attendant on those magnificent scenes, and is really a smiling landscape, and peculiarly congenial to that home enjoyment, which its inhabitants seem pre-eminently to possess.
The dwellers in these glens, when possessed of the means of abundance, have, I doubt not, a higher relish for the pleasures within their reach, than those in luxurious cities, where habit has converted so many superfluities into necessaries, that the mind becomes contracted and enslaved, by having the attention continually called off, to petty conveniences, and imaginary wants: then not one, but a thousand cruel somethings, corrode and destroy all the rest. Here, the greatness of the objects by which they are surrounded, make all the prior littleness of false refinement, and fastidious art, seem still less. Nature is either so wild and solemn in the solitude of the dark mountain, or so soft and varied in the
green sheltered glen, with its blue streams and dashing water-falls, that art shrinks and diminishes before her; and those laboured decorations which give variety to flat grounds, and are accounted embellishments, by those who always lived in artificial life, would here be forced, and out of place. Nothing, for instance, would so completely destroy the wild graces of Invermoriston, than to lay it out in the manner that grounds are adorned in the vicinity of great towns, where such are not only suitable, but necessary, to relieve the monotony of enclosures and corn-fields, which I am afraid will appear very tame and uninteresting, after the wild exuberance of these glens.
The family property of this glen, I am told, runs back to the north for four-and-twenty miles, and is all inhabited; many parts of it are beautiful. I regret my stay will not permit me to look at the new road forming, which is to conduct the traveller hence, by a direct line, into the West

ern Isles; a most important and beneficial
Near the head of this glen is a native pine-forest, one of the few that still remains, where very lately the cock-of-the-wood, a bird now almost extinct in this country, was seen. Nothing can be more dismal and wretched than the woods of planted firs, continually seen through Scotland. But, on the contrary, in the native woods of this description, the trees spread an ample shade, and rise to a considerable height. The ground below is covered with the beautiful foliage of the dwarf arbutus, which constantly springs in the shelter of the native pine; and the woodpecker, and squirrel, seldom found in any woods, here animate the scene by their chattering and lively motions.
There is a place about eight miles above Invermoriston, which I am sorry I had not time to visit. It is a large cave, with a shaded entrance, and a living stream trickling through it, very fine in itself, but
rendered more interesting by being the retreat of those three thieves, who, without even the motive of personal knowledge or attachment, generously afforded an asylum to the Pretender (here called Prince Charles) in the year 1746. It is not probable they would have shewn such exalted disregard for that wealth, which was to be the price of blood, had they been degraded in mind by the habits of petty depredations, which in guilty cities make the term thief expressive of every thing that is odious and contemptible. They plundered with some degree of sentiment and discrimination, never taking a cow from a widow, or poor person, or from any popular character, beloved for charity or hospitality. They plundered such as they considered intruders in the country, or belonging to clans to which their own had long been adverse. If caught, they were imprisoned for a time, or banished. Till after the year 1745, highlanders would have revolted at the idea that a man's life was to be the forfeit for the value of an animal. Retributions, or
exile, were the only punishments awarded for such offences.
Of this description were those hospitable and magnanimous persons, who, for above twenty days, cherished and concealed the princely fugitive, though daily hearing at Fort Augustus the reward almost beyond their calculation, offered for the person, or even the severed head of their unhappy guest.
Not satisfied with procuring him every thing the woods and hether afforded, they went by turns every morning to the Fort, and had the ingenuity, unsuspected, to procure for him, at their own imminent risk, wheaten bread, and the newspapers; and while in the act of performing these generous deeds of kindness, the proclamation above-mentioned, daily sounded in their ears. This delicacy of hospitality and attention cannot be sufficiently admired, considering that it was entirely by their native sagacity that these demi-savages discovered that such things were desirable to their guests, He could give them no orders, and they
could ask him no questions, as they were totally ignorant of each other's language. It is gratifying to reflect, that even the addition to such faults as the customs of their society does not stamp with the deepest turpitude, has not the power of entirely eclipsing good feelings. While these survive, even amidst the aberrations of the unregulated wind, something great and amiable appears to compensate for the degradation of our nature.
Near the garden-door at Invermoriston, are the slight remains of an ancient tower, the demolition of which was, in consequence of the mistaken loyalty of those disastrous times, but I imagine it an earlier period than the year 1745, possibly in the year 1716, but it would appear no forfeiture ensued.