The north of Scotland is rapidly becoming little more than a pleasure-ground for the people of the Kingdom, and its attractions are yearly drawing a larger number of Americans. There are practically no European visitors, but that is largely true of the entire Kingdom. The people of the Continent consider Britain a chilly, unattractive land. Its historic and literary traditions, so dear to the average American, who holds a common language, do not appeal to those who think their own countries superior to any other in these particulars.
It is only a natural consequence that Scotland, outside of the three or four largest cities, is becoming, like Switzerland, a nation of hotelkeepers - and very excellent ones they are. The Scotch hotels average as good as any in the world. One finds them everywhere in the Highlands. Every lake, every ruin frequented by tourists has its hotel, many of them fine structures of native granite, substantially built and splendidly furnished.
We left Oban over the route by which we came, since no other was recommended to motorists. Our original plan to follow the Caledonian Canal to Inverness was abandoned on account of difficult roads and numerous ferries with poor and infrequent service. After waiting three hours to get an "accumulator" which had been turned over to a local repair man thirty-six hours before with instructions to have it charged and returned promptly, we finally succeeded in getting off. This delay is an example of those which we encountered again and again from failure to get prompt service, especially when we were making an effort to get away before ten or eleven in the morning.
It was no hardship to follow more leisurely than before the road past Loch Awe, whose sheet of limpid water lay like a mirror around Kilchurn Castle under the cloudless, noonday sky. A little farther on, at Dalmally, we paused at a pleasant old country hotel, where the delicious Scotch strawberries were served fresh from the garden. It was a quaint, clean, quiet place, and the landlord told us that aside from the old castles and fine scenery in the vicinity, its chief attraction to guests was trout-fishing in neighboring streams. We were two days in passing through the heart of the Highlands from Oban to Inverness over about two hundred miles of excellent road running through wild and often beautiful scenery, but there were few historic spots as compared with the coast country. The road usually followed the edge of the hills, often with a lake or mountain stream on one hand. From Crianlarich we followed the sparkling Dochart until we reached the shore of Loch Tay, about twenty miles distant. From the mountainside we had an unobstructed view of this narrow but lovely lake, lying for a distance of twenty miles between ridges of sharply rising hills. White, low-hung clouds half hid the mountains on the opposite side of the loch, giving the delightful effect of light and shadow for which the Scotch Highlands are famous and which the pictures of Watson, Graham and Farquharson have made familiar to nearly everyone.
At the northern end of the lake we caught distant glimpses of the battlemented towers of Taymouth Castle, home of the Marquis of Breadalbane, which, though modern, is one of the most imposing of the Scotch country seats. If the castle itself is imposing, what shall we say of the estate, extending as it does westward to the Sound of Mull, a distance of one hundred miles - a striking example of the inequalities of the feudal system. Just before we crossed the bridge over the Tay River near the outlet of the lake, we noticed a gray old mansion with many Gothic towers and gables, Grandtully Castle, made famous by Scott as the Tully-Veolan of Waverly. Near by is Kinniard House, where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote "Treasure Island."
A few miles farther on we came to Pitlochry, a surprisingly well built resort with excellent hotels and a mammoth "Hydropathic" that dominates the place from a high hill. The town is situated in the very center of the Highlands, surrounded by hills that supply the gray granite used in its construction; and here we broke our journey for the night.
Our way to Inverness was through a sparsely inhabited, wildly broken country, with half a dozen mean-looking villages at considerable distances from each other and an occasional hut or wayside inn between. Although it was July and quite warm for the north of Scotland, the snow still lingered on many of the low mountains, and in some places it seemed that we might reach it by a few minutes' walk. There was little along the road to remind one of the stirring times or the plaided and kilted Highlander that Scott has led us to associate with this country. We saw one old man, the keeper of a little solitary inn in the very heart of the hills, arrayed in the full glory of the old-time garb - plaid, tartan, sporran and skene-dhu, all set off by the plumed Glengarry cap - a picturesque old fellow indeed. And we met farther on the way a dirty-looking youth with his bagpipes slung over his shoulder - in dilapidated modern garb he was anything but a fit descendant of the minstrels whose fame has come down to us in song and story. Still, he was glad to play for us, and despite his general resemblance to an every-day American tramp, it was something to have heard the skirl of the bag-pipe in the Pass of Killiekrankie. And after all, the hills, the vales and the lochs were there, and everywhere on the low green mountains grazed endless flocks of sheep. They lay leisurely in the roadway or often trotted unconcernedly in front of the car, occasioning at times a speed limit even more unsatisfactory than that imposed in the more populous centers by the police traps. Incidentally we learned that the finest sheep in the world - and vast numbers of them - are produced in Great Britain. When we compare them with the class of animals raised in America it is easy to see why our wool and mutton average so greatly inferior.
A clean, quiet, charming city is Inverness, "the capital of the Highlands," as the guide-books have it. It is situated on both shores of its broad, sparkling river - so shallow that the small boys with turned-up pantaloons wade across it in summer time - while an arm of the sea defines the boundary on the northeast. Though tradition has it that Macbeth built a castle on the site of the present structure, it disappeared centuries ago, and there is now little evidence of antiquity to be found in the town. The modern castle is a massive, rambling, brown-stone building less than a hundred years old, now serving as a county court. The cathedral is recent, having been completed in the last quarter of a century. It is an imposing church of red stone, the great entrance being flanked by low, square-topped towers. As a center for tourists, Inverness is increasingly popular and motor cars are very common. The roads of the surrounding country are generally excellent, and a trip of two hundred miles will take one to John O'Groats, the extreme northern point of Scotland. The country around has many spots of interest. Cawdor Castle, where tradition says Macbeth murdered Duncan, is on the Nairn road, and on the way to this one may also visit Culloden Moor, a grim, shelterless waste, where the adherents of Prince Charlie were defeated April 16th, 1746. This was the last battle fought on British soil, and the site is marked by a rude round tower built from stones gathered from the battlefield.
From Inverness, an unsurpassed highway leads to Aberdeen, a distance of a little over one hundred miles. It passes through a beautiful country, the northeastern Scottish Lowlands, which looked as prosperous and productive as any section we saw. The smaller towns appeared much better than the average we had so far seen in Scotland; Nairn, Huntly, Forres, Keith and Elgin more resembling the better English towns of similar size than Scotch towns which we had previously passed through. At Elgin are the ruins of its once splendid cathedral, which in its best days easily ranked as the largest and most imposing church in Scotland. Time has dealt hardly with it, and the shattered fragments which remain are only enough to confirm the story of its magnificence. Fire, and vandals who tore the lead from the roof for loot having done their worst, the cathedral served the unsentimental Scots of the vicinity as a stone-quarry until recent years, but it is now owned by the crown and every precaution taken to arrest further decay.
The skies were lowering when we left Inverness and the latter half of the journey was made in the hardest rainstorm we encountered on our tour. We could not see ten yards ahead of us and the water poured down the hills in torrents, yet our car ran smoothly on, the fine macadam road being little affected by the deluge. The heavy rain ceased by the time we reached Inverurie, a gray, bleak-looking little town, closely following a winding street, but the view from the high bridge which we crossed just on leaving the place made full amends for the general ugliness of the village.
It would be hard to find anywhere a more beautiful city than Aberdeen, with her clean, massively built structures of native gray granite, thickly sprinkled with mica facets that make it fairly glitter in the sunlight. Everything seems to have been planned by the architect to produce the most pleasing effect, and careful note must have been taken of surroundings and location in fitting many of the public buildings into their niches. We saw few more imposing structures in Britain than the new postoffice at Aberdeen, and it was typical of the solidity and architectural magnificence of the Queen City of the North. But Aberdeen will be on the route of any tourist who goes to Northern Scotland, so I will not write of it here. It is a great motoring center, with finely built and well equipped garages.
As originally planned we were to go southward from Aberdeen by the way of Braemar and Balmoral in the very heart of the Highland country - the route usually followed by British motorists. It passes through wild scenery, but the country has few historic attractions. The Motor Union representative had remarked that we should probably want to spend several days at Braemar, famous for its scenic surroundings - the wild and picturesque dales, lakes and hills near at hand; but to Americans, from the country of the Yellowstone and Yosemite, the scenery of Scotland can be only an incident in a tour. From this consideration, we preferred to take the coast road southward, which, though it passes through a comparatively tame-looking country, is thickly strewn with places replete with stirring and romantic incidents of Scottish history. Nor had we any cause to regret our choice.
Fifteen miles south of Aberdeen we came in sight of Dunnottar Castle, lying about two miles from the highway. We left the car by the roadside and followed the footpath through the fields. The ruin stands on a high, precipitous headland projecting far out into the ocean and cut off from the land side by a deep, irregular ravine, and the descent and ascent of the almost perpendicular sides was anything but an easy task. A single winding footpath leads to the grim old gateway, and we rang the bell many times before the custodian admitted us. Inside the gate the steep ascent continues through a rude, tunnellike passageway, its sides for a distance of one hundred feet or more pierced with many an embrasure for archers or musketeers. Emerging from this we came into the castle court, the center of the small plateau on the summit of the rock. Around us rose the broken, straggling walls, bare and bleak, without a shred of ivy or wall-flower to hide their grim nakedness.
The place was typical of a rude, semi-barbarous age, an age of rapine, murder and ferocious cruelty, and its story is as terrific as one would anticipate from its forbidding aspect. Here it was the wont of robber barons to retire with their prisoners and loot; and later, on account of the inaccessibility, state and political prisoners were confined here from time to time. In the frightful "Whig's Vault," a semi-subterranean dungeon, one hundred and sixty covenanters - men and women - were for several months confined by orders of the infamous Claverhouse. A single tiny window looking out on the desolate ocean furnished the sole light and air for the great cavern, and the story of the suffering of the captives is too dreadful to tell here. The vault was ankle deep in mire and so crowded were the prisoners that no one could sit without leaning upon another. In desperation and at great risk, a few attempted to escape from the window, whence they clambered down the precipitous rock; but most of them were re-taken, and after frightful tortures were thrown into a second dungeon underneath the first, where light and air were almost wholly excluded. Such was Scotland in the reign of Charles Stuart II, and such a story seemed in keeping with the vast, dismal old fortress.
But Dunnottar, secluded and lonely as it was, did not escape the far-reaching arm of the Lord Protector, and in 1562 his cannon, planted on the height opposite the headland, soon brought the garrison to terms. It was known that the Scottish regalia - the crown believed to be the identical one worn by Bruce at his coronation, the jewelled scepter and the sword of state presented to James IV by the pope - had been taken for safety to Dunnottar, held in repute as the most impregnable stronghold in the North. The English maintained a close blockade by sea and land and were in strong hopes of securing the coveted relics. The story is that Mrs. Granger, the wife of a minister of a nearby village, who had been allowed by the English to visit the castle, on her departure carried the relics with her, concealed about her clothing. She passed through the English lines without interference, and the precious articles were safely disposed of by her husband, who buried them under the flagstones in his church at Kinneff, where they remained until the restoration of 1660. The English were intensely disappointed at the loss. The minister and his wife did not escape suspicion and were even subjected to torture, but they bravely refused to give information as to the whereabouts of the regalia.
We wandered about, following our rheumatic old guide, who pointed out the different apartments to us and, in Scotch so broad that we had to follow him very closely, told us the story of the fortress. From the windows everywhere was the placid, shimmering summer sea, its surface broken into silvery ripples by the fresh morning wind, but it was left to the imagination to conceive the awful desolation of Dunnottar Castle on a gray and stormy day. The old man conducted us to the keep, and I looked over a year's record in the visitors' book without finding a single American registered, and was more than ever impressed as to the manner in which the motor car will often bring the tourist from the States into a comparatively undiscovered country. The high tower of the keep, several hundred feet above the sea, afforded scope for a most magnificent outlook. One could get a full sweep of the bleak and sterile country through which we had passed, lying between Aberdeen and Stonehaven, and which Scott celebrated as the Muir of Drumthwacket. It was with a feeling of relief that we passed out of the forbidding portals into the fresh air of the pleasant July day, leaving the old custodian richer by a few shillings, to wonder that the "American Invasion" had reached this secluded old fortress on the wild headland washed by the German Ocean.
From Stonehaven we passed without special incident to Montrose, following an excellent but rather uninteresting road, though an occasional fishing-village and frequent view of the ocean broke the monotony of the flying miles. Montrose is an ancient town delightfully situated between the ocean and a great basin connected with the sea by a broad strait, over which a suspension bridge five hundred feet long carried us southward. I recall that it was at Montrose where an obliging garage man loaned me an "accumulator" - my batteries had been giving trouble - scouting the idea of a deposit, and I gave him no more than my agreement to return his property when I reached Edinburgh.
At Arbroath are the ruins of the most extensive of the Scotch abbeys, scanty indeed, but still enough to show its state and importance in the "days of faith." Here once reigned the good abbott celebrated by Southey in his ballad of Ralph the Rover, familiar to every schoolboy. Ten miles off the coast is the reef where
"The abbott of
Had placed a bell on the Inchcape rock.
Like a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung."
And where the pirate, out of pure malice, "To vex the abbott of Aberbrothok,," cut the bell from its buoy only to be lost himself on the reef a year later. The abbey was founded by William the Lion in 1178, but war, fire and fanaticism have left it sadly fragmentary. Now it is the charge of the town, but the elements continue to war upon it and the brittle red sandstone of which it is built shows deeply the wear of the sea wind.
Dundee, no longer the "Bonnie Dundee" of the old ballad, is a great straggling manufacturing city, whose ancient landmarks have been almost swept away. Its churches are modern, its one remaining gateway of doubtful antiquity, and there is little in the city itself to detain the tourist. If its points of interest are too few to warrant a stay, its hotels - should the one given in the guide-book and also locally reputed to be the best, really merit this distinction - will hardly prove an attraction. It is a large, six-story building, fairly good-looking from the outside, but inside dirty and dilapidated, with ill-furnished and uncomfortable rooms. When we inquired of the manageress as to what might be of especial interest in Dundee, she considered awhile and finally suggested - the cemetery. From our hotel window we had a fine view of the broad estuary of the Tay with its great bridge, said to be the longest in the world. It recalled the previous Tay bridge, which fell in a storm in 1879, carrying down a train, from which not a single one of the seventy or more passengers escaped. Around Dundee is crowded much of historic Scotland, and many excursions worth the while may be made from the city by those whose time permits.
From Dundee an excellent road leads to Stirling by the way of Perth. There is no more beautiful section in Scotland than this, though its beauty is not the rugged scenery of the Highlands. Low hills, rising above the wooded valleys, with clear streams winding through them; unusually prosperous-looking farm-houses; and frequent historic ruins and places - all combine to make the forty or fifty miles a delightful drive. We did not pause at Perth, a city with a long line of traditions, nor at Dunblane, with its severely plain cathedral founded in 1100 but recently restored.
Stirling, the ancient capital, with its famous castle, its memories of early kings, of Wallace, Bruce and of Mary Stuart, and with its wonderfully beautiful and historic surroundings, is perhaps the most interesting town of Scotland. No one who pretends to see Scotland will miss it, and no motor tour worthy of the name could be planned that would not lead through the quaint old streets. From afar one catches a glimpse of the castle, perched, like that of Edinburgh, on a mighty rock, rising almost sheer from a delightfully diversified plain. It is a many-towered structure, piercing the blue sky and surrounded by an air of sullen inaccessibility, while the red-cross flag flying above it proclaims it a station of the king's army. It is not by any means the castle of the days of Bruce and Wallace, having been rebuilt and adapted to the purpose of military barracks. True, many of the ancient portions remain, but the long, laborious climb to the summit of the rock and the battlements of the castle will, if the day be fine, be better repaid by the magnificent prospect than by anything else.
If the barrack castle is a little disappointing, the wide sweep of country fading away into the blue mountains on the west - Ben Venue, Ben Ledi and Ben Lomond of "The Lady of the Lake" - eastward the rich lowlands, running for miles and miles down the fertile valley of the Forth, dotted with many towns and villages; the wooded hills to the north with the massive tower of the Wallace monument and the dim outlines of the ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey; or, near at hand, the old town under your very eye and the historic field of Bannockburn just adjoining, will make ample amends. The story of "The Lady of the Lake" pictures Stirling in its palmiest days, and no one who visits the castle will forget the brilliant closing scene of the poem. Here too,
"The rose of Stuart's line
Has left the fragrance of her name,"
for Mary was hurried for safety to the castle a few days after her birth at Linlithgow Palace, and as a mere baby was crowned Queen of Scotland in the chapel. The parish church was also the scene of many coronations, and in the case of James VI, later James I of England, John Knox preached the sermon.
One cannot go far in Scotland without crossing the path of Prince Charlie or standing in the shadow of some ancient building associated with the melancholy memory of Queen Mary, and, despite the unquestioned loyalty of the Scottish people to the present government, there seems to linger everywhere a spirit of regret over the failure of the chevalier to regain the throne of his fathers. Perhaps it is scarcely expressed - only some word dropped in casual conversation, some flash of pride as you are pointed to the spots where Prince Charlie's triumphs were won, or some thinly veiled sentiment in local guide-books will make it clear to you that Scotland still cherishes the memory of the prince for whom her fathers suffered so much.
Passing Falkirk, now a large manufacturing town, dingy with the smoke from its great furnaces, we were reminded that near here in 1746 the prince gained one of his most decisive victories, the precursor of the capture of Edinburgh by his army. A few miles farther on is Linlithgow with its famous palace, the birthplace of the Queen of Scots. This more accords with our idea of a royal residence than the fortified castles, for it evidently was never intended as a defensive fortress. It stands on the margin of a lovely lake, and considering its delightful situation and its comparative comfort, it is not strange that it was a favorite residence of the Scottish kings. It owes its dismantled condition to the wanton spite of the English dragoons, who, when they retreated from Linlithgow in face of the Highland army in 1746, left the palace in flames.
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