As Dingsby-Head is the most northerly land of Great Britain, 'tis worth observing to you that here, in the month of June, we had so clear an uninterrupted day, that, though indeed the sun does set, that is to say, the horizon covers its whole body for some hours, yet you might see to read the smallest print, and to write distinctly, without the help of a candle, or any other light, and that all night long.
No wonder the ancient mariners, be they Phonecian or Carthaginian, or what else you please, who in those days knew nothing of the motion of the heavenly bodies, when they were driven thus far, were surprised at finding they had lost the steady rotation of day and night, which they thought had spread over the whole globe.
No wonder they talked much of their Ultima Thule, and that the Elysian fields must lye this way; when they found that they were already come to everlasting day, they could no longer doubt but heaven lay that way, or at least that this was the high way to it; and accordingly, when they came home, and were to give an account of these things among their neighbours, they filled them with astonishment; and 'twas wonderful they did not really fit out ships for the disco very; for who would ever have gone so near heaven, and not ventured a little farther to see whether they could find it or no?
From hence west we go along the shore of the firth or passage, which they call Pentland; and here is the house so famous, called John a Grot's house, where we set our horses' feet into the sea, on the most northerly land, as the people say, of Britain, though, I think, Dungsby-Head is as far north. Tis certain, however, the difference is but very small, being either of them in the latitude of 591/6 north, and Shetland reaching above two degrees farther. The dominions of Great Britain are extended from the Isle of Wight, in the latitude of 50 degrees, to the Isles of Unsta in Shetland, in the latitude of 61 degrees, 30 minutes, being ten degrees, or full 600 miles in length; which island of Unsta being the most remote of the Isles of Shetland to the north east, lyes 167 leagues from Winterton Ness in Norfolk.
Here we found, however mountainous and wild the country appeared, the people were extremely well furnished with provisions; and especially they had four sorts of provisions in great plenty; and with a supply of which 'tis reasonable to say they could suffer no dangerous want.
- Very good bread, as well oat bread as wheat, though the last not so cheap as the first.
- Venison exceeding plentiful, and at all seasons, young or old, which they kill with their guns wherever they find it; for there is no restraint, but 'tis every man's own that can kill it. By which means the Highlanders not only have all of them fire-arms, but they are all excellent marksmen.
- Salmon in such plenty as is scarce credible, and so cheap, that to those who have any substance to buy with, it is not worth their while to catch it themselves. This they eat fresh in the season, and for other times they cure it by drying it in the sun, by which they preserve it all the year.
They have no want of cows and sheep, but the latter are so wild, that sometimes were they not, by their own disposition, used to flock together, they would be much harder to kill than the deer.
From hence to the west point of the passage to Orkney is near twenty miles, being what may be called the end of the island of Britain; and this part faces directly to the North Pole; the land, as it were, looking forward just against the Pole Star, and the Pole so elevated, that the tail of the Ursa Major, or the Great Bear, is seen just in the zenith, or over your head; and the day is said to be eighteen hours long, that is to say, the sun is so long above the horizon: But the rest of the light is so far beyond a twilight, by reason of the smallness of the arch of that circle, which the sun makes beneath the horizon, that it is clear and perfect day almost all the time; not forgetting withal, that the dark nights take their turn with them in their season, and it is just as long night in the winter.
Yet it is observable here, that they have more temperate winters here generally speaking, than we have to the most southerly part of the island, and particularly the water in some of the rivers as in the Ness, for example, never freezes, nor are their frosts ordinarily so lasting as they are in the most southerly climates, which is accounted for from the nearness of the sea, which filling the air with moist vapours, thickens the fluids and causes that they are not so easily penetrated by the severity of the cold.
On this account the snows also are not so deep, neither do they lie so long upon the ground, as in other places, except it be on some of the high hills, in the upper and innermost part of the country, where the tops, or summits of the hills are continually covered with snow, and perhaps have been so for many ages, so that here if in any place of the world they may justly add to the description of their country,
Vast wat'ry lakes, which spread
And mountains covered with eternal snow.
On the most inland parts of this country, especially in the shire of Ross, they have vast woods of firr trees, not planted and set by men's hands, as I have described in the southern part of Scotland, but growing wild and undirected, otherwise than as nature planted and nourished them up, by the additional help of time, nay of ages. Here are woods reaching from ten, to fifteen, and twenty miles in length, and proportioned in breadth, in which there are firrs, if we may believe the inhabitants, large enough to make masts for the biggest ships in the Navy Royal, and which are rendered of no use, meerly for want of convenience of water carriage to bring them away; also they assure us there are a sufficient quantity of other timber for a supply to all Britain.
How far this may be true, that is to say, as to the quantity, that I do not undertake to determine: But I must add a needful memorandum to the Scots noblemen, etc. in whose estates these woods grow, that if they can not be made useful one way, they may be made so another, and if they cannot fell the timber, and cut it into masts and deals, and other useful things for bringing away, having no navigation; they may yet burn it, and draw from it vast quantities of pitch, tar, rosin, turpentine, &. which is of easier carriage, and may be carried on horses to the water's edge, and then shiped for the use of the merchant, and this way their woods may be made profitable, whatever they might be before.
We find no manufactures among the people here, except it be that the women call their thrift, namely, spinning of woollen, or linnen for their own uses, and indeed not much of that; perhaps, the time may come, when they may be better and more profitably employed that way; for if as I have observed, they should once come to work the mines, which there is reason to believe are to be found there, and to search the bowels of the earth, for iron and copper, the people would soon learn to stay at home, and the women would find work as well as the men; but this must be left to time and posterity.
We were now in the particular county called Strathnaver, or the Vale on the Naver, the remotest part of all the island, though not the most barren or unfruitful; for here as well as on the eastern shore is good corn produced, and sufficient of it at least for the inhabitants; perhaps they do not send much abroad, though sometimes also they send it over to the Orkneys and also to Shetland. This county belongs to the Earl of Sutherland whose eldest son bears the title of Lord Strathnaver.
And now leaving the northern prospect we pass the opposite point west from Dingsby-Head, and which the people call Farro-head, tho' Mr. Camden (by what authority, or from what originals I know not) gives it a long account of, and calls these two points by two opposite names:
The east point, or Dingsby-Head, he calls Virvedrum Promontorium.
The west point, or Farro-head, he calls Saruedrum Promontorium.
From hence the vast western ocean appears, what name to give it the geographers themselves do not seem to agree, but it certainly makes a part of the great Atlantic Sea, and is to be called by no other name, for it has no land or country to derive from.
And now we were to turn our faces S. for the islands of this sea, which make the fourth division of Scotland as mentioned before. I may if I have room give as just a description of them as I can from authentic relations; for being on horse-back and no convenience of shipping presenting itself here, I am to own that we did not go over to those islands personally, neither was it likely any person whose business was meer curiosity and diversion, should either be at the expence, or run the risque of such a hazardous passage where there was so little worth observation to be found.
We therefore turned our faces to the south, and with great satisfaction after so long and fatiguing a journey; and unless we had been assisted by the gentlemen of the country, and with very good guides, it had been next to an impossibility to have passed over this part of the country. I do confess if I was to recommend to any men whose curiosity tempted them to travel over this country, the best method for their journeying, it should be neither to seek towns, for it would be impossible to find such in proper stages for their journey; nor to make themselves always burthensome to the Highland chiefs, tho' there I can assure them they would always meet with good treatment, and great hospitality.
But I would propose travelling with some company, and carrying tents with them, and so encamping every night as if they were an army.
It is true they would do well to have the countenance of the gentlemen, and chiefs as above, and to be recommended to them from their friends from one to another, as well for guides as for safety, otherwise I would not answer for what might happen: But if they are first well recommended as strangers, and have letters from one gentleman to another, they would want neither guides nor guards, nor indeed would any man touch them; but rather protect them if there was occasion in all places; and by this method they might in the summer time lodge, when, and wherever they pleased, with safety and pleasure; travelling no farther at a time, than they thought fit; and as for their provisions, they might supply themselves by their guns, with very great plenty of wild fowl, and their attendants and guides would find convenient places to furnish other things sufficient to carry with them.
It would be no unpleasant account to relate a journey which five, two Scots and three English gentlemen, took in this manner for their diversion, in order to visit the late Duke of Gordon, but it would be too long for this place: It would be very diverting to shew how they lodged every night. How two Highlanders who attended them, and who had been in the army, went before every evening and pitched their little camp. How they furnished themselves with provisions, carryed some with them, and dressed and prepared what they killed with their guns; and how very easily they travelled over all the mountains and wasts, without troubling themselves with houses or lodgings; but as I say the particulars are too long for this place.
Indeed in our attempt to come down to the southward by the coast of Tain, and the shire of Ross, we should have been extreamly disappointed, and perhaps have been obliged to get a ship or bark, to have carryed us round the Isle of Skye into Loquhaber, had it not been for the extraordinary courtesie of some of the gentlemen of the country.
On the other hand we unexpectedly met here some English men, who were employed by merchants in the S. (whether at London or Edinburgh I do not now remember) to take and cure a large quantity of white fish, and afterwards herrings, on account of trade. Here we had not only the civility of their assistance and accommodation in our journey, but we had the pleasure of seeing what progress they made in their undertaking. As for herrings indeed the quantity was prodigious, and we had the pleasure of seeing something of the prodigy, for I can call it no other; the shoal was as I might say beginning to come, or had sent their vant-couriers before them, when we first came to the head of Pentland Firth, and in a fortnight's time more, the body of their numberless armies began to appear; but before we left the coast you would have ventured to say of the sea, as they do of the River Tibiscus, or Theisse in Hungary, that it was one third water, and two thirds fish; the operation of taking them, could hardly be called fishing, for they did little more than dip for them into the water and take them up.
As to the quantity, I make no scruple to say, that if there had been ten thousand ships there to have loaded with them, they might all have been filled and none of them mist; nor did the fish seem to stay, but passed on to the south, that they might supply other parts, and make way also for those innumerable shoals which were to come after.
Had the quantity of white fish been any way proportioned to the undertaking as the herring was, there would no doubt have been such encouragement to the merchant, that they would never have given it over, but they found it would not fully answer: Not but there were great quantities of cod, and the fish very sizeable and good, but not so great a quantity as to make that dispatch in taking them (as they are taken with hook and line) sufficient for loading of ships, or laying up a large quantity in the season; and this I doubt discouraged the undertaking, the merchants finding the expence to exceed the return.
Here we found the town of Tain, and some other villages tollerably well inhabited, and some trade also, occasioned principally by the communication with the western islands, and also by the herring fishing, the fishing boats from other parts often putting into these ports; for all their coast is full of loughs and rivers, and other openings which make very good harbours of shipping; and that which is remarkable, some of those loughs, are infinitely full of herrings, even where, as they tell us, they have no communication with the sea, so that they must have in all probability been put into them alive by some particular hands, and have multiplied there as we find at this time.
We could understand nothing on this side of what the people said, any more than if we had been in Morocco; and all the remedy we had was, that we found most of the gentlemen spoke Frenen, and some few spoke broad Scots; we found it also much for our convenience to make the common people believe we were French.
Should we go about here to give you an account of the religion of the people in this country, it would be an unpleasant work, and perhaps scarce seem to deserve credit; you would hardly believe that in a Christian island, as this is said to be, there should be people found who know so little of religion, or of the custom of Christians, as not to know a Sunday, or Sabbath, from a working day, or the worship of God from an ordinary meeting, for conversation: I do not affirm that it is so, and I shall say no more of it here, because I would not publish what it is to be hoped may in time find redress; but I cannot but say that his Majesty's gift of £1000 annually to the Assembly of Scotland, for sending ministers and missionaries for the propagating Christian knowledge in the Highlands, is certainly one of the most needful charities that could have been thought of, worthy of a king, and well suited to that occasion; and if prudently applyed, as there is reason to believe it will be, may in time break in upon this horrible ignorance, that has so far spread over this unhappy part of the country.
On the other hand, what shall we say to the neglect, which for so many years past has been the occasion of this surprising darkness among the people, when the poor abandoned creatures have not so much as had the common instruction of Christianity, so much as to know whether there was any such thing as a God or no, much less how to worship him; and if at any time any glympse of light had been infused into them, and they had been taught any knowledge of superior things, it has been by the diligence of the Popish clergy, who to do them justice, have shewn more charity, and taken more pains that way, than some whose work it had been, and who it might much more have been expected from?
But the state of religion is not my present subject; 'tis certain the people have the Bible in their own language, the Irs, and the missionaries now are obliged to preach to them, and examine or catechise their children in the Irs language, so that we are not to despair of having this county as well instructed in time, as other parts of Britain; the rest must be left to his hand, that over rules the minds of men, and causes them to know, even in spite of the defects of common teaching.
On this coast is the Isle of Skye, lying from the west north west, to the east south east, and bearing upon the main island, only separated by a narrow strait of water; something like as the Isle of Weight is separated from the county of Southampton. We left this on our right, and crossing the mountains, came with as little stay as we could to the lough of Abre, that is, the water which as I said above, assists with Lough Ness, or Loch Ness, to separate the north land of Scotland from the middle part.
This is a long and narrow inlet of the sea, which opening from the Irish Sea S. west, meets the River Abre, or as the Scots much more properly express it, the Water of Abre, for it is rather a large lake or loch, than a river, and receives innumerable small rivers into it; it begins or rises in the mountains of Ross, or of Glengary, within five or six miles from the shore of the Loch Ness, or the Water of Ness, which is a long and narrow lake like itself, and as the Ness runs away east to Innerness, and so into the great gulph called Murray Firth, so the Abre becoming presently a loch or lake, also goes away more to the southward, and sloping south west, runs into the Irish Sea as above.
From this river or water of Abre, all that mountainous barren and frightful country, which lies south of the water of Abre is called Loquabre, or the country bordering on Loch Abre. It is indeed a frightful country full of hidious desart mountains and unpassable, except to the Highlanders who possess the precipices. Here in spight of the most vigorous pursuit, the Highland robbers, such as the famous Rob Roy in the late disturbances, find such retreats as none can pretend to follow them into, nor could he be ever taken.
On this water of Abre, just at the entrance of the loch, was anciently a fort built, to curb the Highlanders, on either side; it was so situated, that tho' it might indeed be blocked up by land and be distressed by a siege, the troops besieging being masters of the field, yet as it was open to the sea, it might always receive supplies by shipping, the government being supposed to be always master of the sea, or at least 'tis very probable they will be so.
this fort the late King William caused to be rebuilt, or rather a new fort to be erected; where there was always a good garrison kept for curbing the Highlanders, which fort was for several years commanded by Lieutenant General Maitland, an old experienced general, who had signalized himself upon many occasions abroad, particularly at the great battle of Treves, where he served under the French, and where he lost one of his hands.
I name this gentleman, not to pay any compliment to him, for he is long ago in his grave, but to intimate that this wise commander did more to gain the Highlanders and keep them in peace, and in a due subjection to the British Government, by his winning and obliging behaviour, and yet by strict observance of his orders, and the duty of a governour, than any other before him had been able to do by force, and the sword; and this particularly appeared in the time of the Union, when endeavours were every where made use of, to bring those hot people to break out into rebellion, if possible to prevent the carrying on the treaty.
At this place we take our leave of the third division, which I call the north land of Scotland, for this fort being on the south side of the Loch Abre is therefore called inner Lochy, as the other for the like reason was called inner Ness.
We have nothing now remaining for a full survey of Scotland, but the western part, of the middle part, or division of Scotland, and this though a large country, yet affords not an equal variety with the eastern part of the same division.
To traverse the remaining part of this country, I must begin upon the upper Tay, as we may justly call it, where I left off when I turned away east; and here we have in especial manner the country of Brechin, the Blair as 'tis called of Athol, and the country of Bradalbin: This is a hilly country indeed, but as it is watered by the Tay, and many other pleasant rivers which fall into it, there are also several fruitful valleys, intersperst among the hills; nor are even the Highlands themselves, or the Highlanders the inhabitants any thing so wild, untaught, or untractable, as those whom I have been a describing in the north-land division, that is to say, in Strath-Naver, Ross, Tain etc.
The Duke of Athol is lord, I was almost going to say king of this country, and has the greatest interest, or if you please, the greatest share of vassalage of any nobleman in this part of Scotland; if I had said in all Scotland, I believe I should have been supported by others that know both his person and his interest as well as most people do.
His Grace was always an opposer of the Union in the Parliament holden at Edinburgh, for passing it into an Act; but he did not carry his opposition to the height of tumult and rebellion; if he had, as some were forward to have had done, he would have possibly bid fair, to have prevented the conclusion of it, at least at that time: But the hour was come, when the calamities of war, which had for so many hundred years vext the two nations, were to have an end; and tho' the government was never weaker in power than at that time, I mean in Scotland, yet the affair was carryed thro' with a high hand, all the little tumults and disorders of the rabble as well at Edinburgh as at Glasgow, and other places, being timely supprest, and others by prudent management prevented.
The duke has several fine seats in this country; as first at Dunkeld, upon the Tay which I mentioned before, and where there was a fight, between the regular troops and the Highlanders, in the reign of King William, another at Huntingtour, in the Strathearn, or Valley of Earn, where the duke has a fine park, and great store of deer; and it may indeed be called his hunting seat, whither he sometimes retires meerly for sport. But his ordinary residence, and where I say he keeps his court like a prince, is at the castle of Blair, farther N. and beyond the Tay, on the edge of Bradalbin upon the banks of a clear and fine river which falls into the Tay, a few miles lower.
As I have said something of this country of Bradalbin, it will be needfull to say something more, seeing some other authors have said so much: It is seated as near the center of Scotland, as any part of it can be well fixt, and that which is particular, is, that it is alledged, it is the highest ground of all Scotland, for that the rivers which rise here, are said to run every way from this part, some into the eastern, and some into the western seas.
The Grampian mountains, which are here said to cut through Scotland, as the Muscovites say of their hills, that they are the girdle of the world. As is the country, so are the inhabitants, a fierce fighting and furious kind of men; but I must add that they are much changed, and civilized from what they were formerly, if Mr. Cambden's account of them is just. I mean of the Highlanders of Bradalbin only; tho' I include the country of Loquhabre, and Athol, as adjoyning to it.
It is indeed a very bitter character, and possibly they might deserve it in those days; but I must insist that they are quite another people now: And tho' the country is the same, and the mountains as wild and desolate as ever, yet the people, by the good conduct of their chiefs and heads of clans, are much more civilized than they were in former times.
As the men have the same vigour and spirit; but are under a better regulation of their manners, and more under government; so they make excellent soldiers, when they come abroad, or are listed in regular and disciplined troops.
The Duke of Athol, though he has not an estate equal to some of the nobility, yet he is master of more of these superiorities, as they are called there, than many of those who have twice his estate; and I have been told, that he can bring a body of above 6,000 men together in arms at very little warning.
The pomp and state in which this noble person lives, is not to be imitated in Great Britain; for he is served like a prince, and maintains a greater equipage and retinue than five times his estate would support in another country.
The duke has also another seat in Strathearn, which is called Tullibardin, and which gives title at this time to the eldest son of the House of Athol, for the time being. At the lower part of this country, the River Earn falls into Tay, and greatly increases its waters. This river rises far west, on the frontiers of the western Highlands near Glengyl, and running through that pleasant country called Strathearn, falls into Tay, below St. Johnstons.
Soon after its first coming out from the mountains, the Earn spreads itselfe into a loch, as most of those rivers do; this is called Loch Earn, soon after which it runs by Duplin Castle, the seat of the Earl of Kinnowl, whose eldest son is known in England, by the title of Lord Duplin, taking it from the name of this castle. The late Earl of Kinnowl's son, the Lord Duplin, was marryed to the daughter of the late Earl of Oxford, then Lord High Treasurer of England, and who was on that occasion made a peer of Great Britain.
This castle of Duplin, is a very beautiful seat, and the heads of the families having been pretty much used to live at home, the house has been adorned at several times, according to the genius, and particular inclination of the persons, who then lived there; the present earl is not much in Scotland; being created a peer of Great Britain, in the reign of the late Queen Anne, and marryed, as above, into the family of Oxford.
This ancient seat is situated in a good soil, and a pleasant country, near the banks of the River Earn, and the earl has a very good estate; but not loaded with vassals, and highland superiorities, as the Duke of Athol is said to be.
The house is now under a new decoration, two new wings being lately added for offices as well as ornament.
The old building is spacious, the rooms are large, and the ceilings lofty, and which is more than all the appearance of the buildings, 'tis all magnificently finished, and furnished within; there are also abundance of very fine paintings, and some of great value, especially court pieces, and family pieces, of which it would take up a book to write the particulars; but I must not omit the fine picture of King Charles the First, with a letter in his hand, which he holds out to his son the Duke of York, afterwards King James the Second, which they say he was to carry to France; also a statue in brass of the same King Charles the First on horse-back; there are also two pictures of a contrary sort, namely, one of Oliver Cromwell, and one of the then General Monk, both from the life.
Also there is a whole length of that Earl of Kinnoul, who was Lord Chancellor of Scotland, in the reign of King James the Sixth, with several other peices of Italian masters of great value.
From this place we went to Brechin, an ancient town with a castle finely situate; but the ancient grandour of it not supported; the family of Penmure, to whom it belonged, having been in no extraordinary circumstances for some time past, and now their misfortunes being finished, it is under forfeiture, and sold among the spoils of the late rebellion.
We were now as it were landed again, being after a long mountain-ramble, come down to the low lands, and into a pleasant and agreeable country; but as we had yet another journey to take west, we had a like prospect of a rude and wild part of Scotland to go through.
The Highlands of Scotland are divided into two parts, and known so as two separate countries: the West Highlands, and the North Highlands; the last, of which I have spoken at large, contain the countries or provinces of: Bradalbin, Athol, Lochaber, Buchan, Mar, Sutherland, Ross, Strathnaver, Caithness, together with the ../../skye/skye/index.htmlIsle of Skye.
The West Highlands contain the shires or counties of: Dunbritton or Dunbarton, Lenox, Argyle, Bute, Lorn and Cantyre.
On the bank of this River Earn lies a very pleasant vale, which continues from the Tay, where it receives the river quite up to the Highlands; this is called according to the usage of Scotland Strath Earn, or the Strath or Vale of Earn, 'tis an agreeable country, and has many gentlemen's seats on both sides the river; but it is near the Highlands, and has often suffered by the depredations of those wild folk in former times.
The family of Montrose, whose chief was sacrificed for the interest of King Charles the First, had a strong castle here called Kincardin; but it was ruined and demolished in those wars, and is not rebuilt. The castle of Drummond is almost in the same condition, or at least is like soon to be so, the Earl of Perth, to whom it belongs, being in exile, as his father was before him, by their adhering to the late King James the Seventh, and to the present Pretender. King James the Seventh made the father a duke, and Knight of the Garter, and governor to his son the Pretender. His eldest son who should have succeeded to the honours and titles dyed in France, and three other sons still remaining are all abroad, either following the ruined fortunes of the Pretender, or in other service in foreign courts; where, we know not, nor is it material to our present purpose.
The Western Highlands are the only remaining part of Scotland, which as yet I have not toucht upon. This is that particular country, which a late great man in King James the Second's time, called the kingdom of Argyle; and upon which occasion it was a compliment upon King James, that he had conquered two kings, when he suppressed the rebellion of the Whigs; namely, the Duke of Monmouth, whom in derision they called the little king of Lime, and the Earl of Argyle whom they called with much more propriety, the great king of the Highlands.
It is true that the greatest part of these Western Highlands, may be said to be subject, or in some respect to belong to the House of Argyle, or to speak more properly, to the family or clan of the Campbells, of whom the Duke of Argyle is the chief; but then it should be noted too, that those western gentlemen are not so blindly to be led, or guided by their chiefs as those in the north; nor when led on, are they so apt for mischief and violence. But as many of them are toucht with the Cameronian Whig, or at least the English Whig principles, they would venture to enquire what they were to do, and whom to fight against, at least before they dipt far in any hazardous undertaking.
Though the people of these countries are something more civilized than those of their bretheren mountaineers in the north, yet the countries seem to be so near a kin that no strangers could know them asunder, nor is there any breach in the similitude that I could observe, except it be that in the north Highlands, there are such great woods of fir-trees, which I have taken notice of there, and which we do not see the like of here: Nor did we see so many or so large eagles in these western mountains as in the north, tho' the people assure us there are such too.
The quantity of deer are much the same, and the kinds too, and the black cattle are of the same kind, and rather more numerous; the people also dress after the same manner, in the Plaid and the Trouse, go naked from below the knee to the mid thighs, wear the durk and the pistol at their girdle, and the targ or target at their shoulder.
Some reckon the shire of Braidalbin to belong to these Western Highlands, not that it is west in its situation, for it is rather north, and as I have mentioned, is said to be the center of Scotland; and the highest land, being in the very body of those they call the Grampian mountains; all the reason that I could find they give for reckoning this country among the Western Highlands, is because they say one part of it is inhabited by the Campbells, whose clan, as I have observed, generally possesses all the West Highlands.
But if they will claim the country, they must claim the people too, who are, if I may give my opinion, some of the worst, most barbarous, and ill governed of all the Highlands of Scotland; they are desperate in fight, cruel in victory, fierce even in conversation, apt to quarrel, mischievous, and even murderers in their passion.
At the fight which happened at Gillekranky, in this part of Scotland, they tell us a story of a combate between an English soldier pressed hard by a Highlander, the regiment being in disorder, for the English had the worst of it; the English soldier was singled out in the pursuit by one particular Highlander, and found himself in great danger, he defended himself with the club of his musquet as long as he was able, his shot being spent before, after which they came to their swords, the English man understood the backsword very well, but the Scots man received all the blows upon his targe; so that the English man could not come in with him, and at the same time he layed hard at the English man with his broadsword, and had cut him in two or three places, at which the English man enraged, rather than discouraged, cryed out to him, you dog says he; come out from behind the door and fight like a man, meaning from behind his great target; but the Scots man tho' as brave as the other, knew better things than that, and laying hard at him had cut him down, and was just going to kill him, when some of the regiment that saw him distrest, came up to him and rescued him, and took the Highlander prisoner.
It is hard to distinguish too among those Highland men, who are the best soldiers. Foreigners give it to the northern men as the more hardy and the larger bodies; but I will not undertake to decide this controversy, either of them make very good soldiers, and all the world are fond of them; nor are they equalled in any part of the world that I have met with, if they are regimented by themselves, unmixt with other nations.
And here I must take an opportunity to rectify a mistake which has grown up to a vulgar error, and is an injury to the Scots, in some respect, at least it is robbing them of part of that honour, which is their due. The case is this;
We have frequent occasions to hear of the fame of the Irish batallions abroad, how well they behave, and what good troops they are, how they acted in such a battle, and such; how in particular they beat the Germans out of Cremona, after they had got possession of the town, and had taken the French general, the Mareshall Villeroy prisoner: How the Irish batallions in the Scots service behaved in Sicily, and so on many extraordinary occasions. Now though it is true that these are called Irish, because they were originally such; yet 'tis as true the men are all or most of them Scots Highlanders, who upon all occasions getting over into France, always list in the Irish troops; nay in the late wars it was frequent to raise whole regiments of Highlanders for the service, but when they came over, they would take the first occasion to desert, and go over to the French, so to list in the Irish batallions, for they all speak Irish, and some have affirmed, that they have first listed with that resolution, being generally adicted to the interest of King James the Seventh; but be that so or not, this I am well assured of: that most of those they call Irish in the armies of France and Spain, and to whom so many glorious actions have been justly ascribed, are to this day Scots Highlanders, or at least most of them are so, but this by the way.
I am now to return to our progress. Leaving the country of Brechin, and the low lands of Strathearn, we went away west; but were presently interrupted by a vast inland sea, rather than a lake called Loch Lomond. It is indeed a sea, and looked like it from the hills from whence we first descryed it; and its being a tempestuous day, I assure you it appeared all in a breach, rough and raging, like the sea in a storm. There are several islands in it, which from the hills we could plainly perceive were islands, but that they are a-drift, and float about the lake.
This lake or loch is, without comparison, the greatest in Scotland, no other can be called half so big; for it is more than twenty miles long, and generally eight miles in breadth, though at the north end of it, 'tis not so broad by far. It receives many rivers into it, but empties itself into the Firth of Clyde. At one mouth near the entrance of it into Clyde, stands the famous Dunbarton Castle, the most ancient, as well as the most important castle in Scotland; and the gate, as 'tis called, of the Highlands. It is now not much regarded, the whole country being, as it were, buried in peace, yet there is a garrison maintained in it; and the pass would be still of great import, were there any occasion of arms in time to come; 'tis exceeding strong by situation, being secured by the river on one side, the Firth of Clyde on the other, by an unpassable morass on the third side, and the fourth is a precipice.
Passing from Dunbarton Castle, we enter the territory of Argyle. As to the county of Lenox, the paternal estate and property of the Stuarts, it lyes extended from both sides the Levin, that is, the river, which (as I said before) empties the Loch-Lomon into the Clyde. On this side, or eastward, Lenox joins the Monteith, and runs up for some length on the east side of the loch, and on the west side it extends to the edge of the Loch-Loing, and a great way north, almost to the mountains of Loquhabre.
All our writers of the description of Lenox enlarge upon the family of Stuarts, who proceeded, as by the mother, from the Royal line of Scotland: So by the father, from Henry Lord Darnley, marryed to Mary Queen of Scots, and afterwards basely murthered by her, or by her order and direction.
By this Lord Darnley, who was son and heir apparent to Matthew, Earl of Lenox, this whole estate, with the title, devolved at last upon King Charles II, who gave the title to one of his natural sons, with the addition of duke.
Beyond this Loch-Loing begins the large extended country of Argyle, or the Western Highlands, whose extent takes in the shire or county of Lorn to the north, and Cantyre to the south, all possessed by the Campbells, and vulgarly understood by the country of Argyle; for as for Cantyre, which is a chersonese, or peninsula, it belongs mostly, if not wholly to the Campbells; and as to Lorn, 'tis the title of the eldest son of the House of Argyle to this day.
The west side of this country lyes extended along the Irish Sea for a very great length, at least eighty miles: from the Mull of Cantyre to Dunstaffnage, and the Isle of Stackar and Listnoc, in the water of Loquhaber. On all this shore there is no town eminent for trade, no port or harbour, at least none made use of for shipping; nor are there any ships to require them, except fishing-barks and boats, which are in the season employed for catching herrings, of which the shoals that are found upon this coast in the season are incredible, especially in the Clyde, in Loch-Finn, and about the Isle of Arran, which lyes in the mouth of Clyde.
From the Mull of Cantyre they see Ireland very plain, it being not above fifteen or sixteen miles from the point of land, which they call the Mull to the Fair Foreland, on the coast of Colrain, on the north of Ireland. In the mouth of this sea of Clyde lyes a rock, somewhat like the Bass in the Firth of Forth, or of Edinburgh, not for shape, but for this particular, that here, as at the Bass, the Soland geese are pleased to come in the season of the fishery, and to breed and inhabit as they do at the Bass, and to go away and come again just at the same seasons, as at the Bass; this island is called the Ailze. Here are also the islands of Arran and of Bute; the first giving title of earl to the family of Hamilton, and the other the title of Duke of Rothsay to the eldest son of the Crown of Scotland, who is called Duke of Rothsay, from the castle of Rothsay in this island; nor is there any thing else considerable to be said of either of the islands; for as for their present condition, which is what is my particular business in this book, they have nothing considerable in or about them, except it be a tumultuous and dangerous sea for sailors, especially when a south-west wind blows hard, which brings the sea rowling in upon them in a frightful manner. However, there is one good harbour on the north side of the island, called Lamlach, which is their safety in such cases.
Off of the western shore of Argyle and Lorn there are abundance of islands, which all belong to the family of Argyle, or at least to its jurisdiction; as Isla, Jura, Tyrry, Mull, Lysmore, Coll, and several others of less note.