There was a delightful uncertainty about our journey, for everything we saw was new to us, and we were able to enjoy to the fullest extent the magnificent mountain and loch scenery in the Highlands of Scotland, with which we were greatly impressed. It was seven o'clock in the morning, of what, fortunately for us, proved to be a fine day, as we left Fort William, and after coming to the end of the one street which formed the town we reached a junction of roads, where it was necessary to inquire the way to Glencoe. We asked a youth who was standing at the door of a house, but he did not know, so went into the house to inquire, and came out with the information that we could get there either way. We had already walked along the full length of Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch Lochy, so we decided to walk alongside Loch Linnhe, especially as that road had the best surface. So on we went at a quick pace, for the half-day's holiday yesterday had resulted in renewed energy. We could see the great mountains in front which we knew we must cross, and after walking three and a half miles we met a pedestrian, who informed us that we were on the right way, and must go on until we reached Ballachulish, where we could cross the ferry to Glencoe.
This information rather troubled us, as we had determined to walk all the way, so he advised us to go round the "Head of the Loch" - an expression we often heard used in Scotland - and to make our way there across the open country; in this case the loch was Loch Leven, so we left the highway and Loch Linnhe and walked to a small farm we could see in the distance. The mistress was the only person about, but she could only speak Gaelic, and we were all greatly amused at our efforts to make ourselves understood. Seeing some cows grazing quite near, my brother took hold of a quart jug standing on a bench and, pointing to the cows, made her understand that we wanted a quart of milk, which she handed to us with a smile. We could not ask her the price, so we handed her fourpence, the highest price we had known to have been paid for a quart of the best milk at home, and with which she seemed greatly pleased.
We were just leaving the premises when the farmer came up, and he fortunately could speak English. He told us he had seen us from a distance, and had returned home, mistaking us for two men who occasionally called upon him on business. He said we had gone "three miles wrong," and took great pains to show us the right way. Taking us through a fence, he pointed out in the distance a place where we should have to cross the mountains. He also took us to a track leading off in that direction, which we were to follow, and, leaving him, we went on our way rejoicing. But this mountain track was a very curious one, as it broke away in two or three directions and shortly disappeared. It was unfenced on the moorland, and there were not enough people travelling that way to make a well-defined path, each appearing to have travelled as he pleased. We tried the same method, but only to find we had gone out of the nearest way. We crossed several small burns filled with delightfully clear water, and presently saw another house in the distance, to which we now went, finding it to be the shepherd's house.
Here the loud and savage barking of a dog brought out the shepherd's wife, who called the dog away from us, and the shepherd, who was having his breakfast, also made his appearance. He directed us to a small river, which he named in Gaelic, and pointed to a place where it could easily be forded, warning us at the same time that the road over the hills was not only dangerous, but difficult to find and extremely lonely, and that the road to Glencoe was only a drovers' road, used for driving cattle across the hills. We made the best of our way to the place, but the stream had been swollen by the recent rains, and we experienced considerable difficulty in crossing it. At length, after sundry walkings backwards and forwards, stepping from one large stone to another in the burn, we reached the opposite bank safely. The only mishap, beyond getting over shoe-tops in the water, was the dropping of one of our bags in the burn; but this we were fortunate enough to recover before its contents were seriously damaged or the bag carried away by the current.
We soon reached the road named by the shepherd, which was made of large loose stones. But was it a road? Scotland can boast of many good roads, and has material always at hand both for construction and repair; but of all the roads we ever travelled on, this was the worst! Presently we came to a lonely cottage, the last we were to see that day, and we called to inquire the way, but no English was spoken there. This was unfortunate, as we were in doubt as to which was our road, so we had to find our way as best we could. Huge rocks and great mountains reared their heads on all sides of us, including Ben Nevis, which we could recognise owing to the snowy coverlet still covering his head. The country became very desolate, with nothing to be seen but huge rocks, inaccessible to all except the pedestrian. Hour after hour we toiled up mountains - sometimes we thought we reached an elevation of two thousand feet - and then we descended into a deep ravine near a small loch. Who could forget a day's march like this, now soaring to an immense height and presently appearing to descend into the very bowels of the earth! We must have diverged somewhat from the road known as the "Devil's Staircase," by repute the worst road in Britain, for the track we were on was in one section like the bed of a mountain torrent and could not have been used even by cattle. Late in the afternoon we reached the proper track, and came up with several herds of bullocks, about three hundred in number, all told, that were being driven over the mountains to find a better home in England, which we ourselves hoped to do later.
We were fortunate in meeting the owner, with whom we were delighted to enter into conversation. When we told him of our adventures, he said we must have missed our way, and congratulated us on having a fine day, as many persons had lost their lives on those hills owing to the sudden appearance of clouds. He said a heap of stones we passed marked the spot where two young men had been found dead. They were attempting to descend the "Devil's Stair," when the mist came on, and they wandered about in the frost until, overcome by sleep, they lay down never to rise again in this world.
He had never been in England, but had done business with many of the nobility and gentlemen there, of whom several he named belonged to our own county of Chester. He had heard that the bullocks he sold to them, after feeding on the rich, pastures of England for a short time, grew to a considerable size, which we thought was not to be wondered at, considering the hardships these shaggy-looking creatures had to battle with in the North. We got some information about our farther way, not the least important being the fact that there was a good inn in the Pass of Glencoe; and he advised us to push on, as the night would soon be coming down.
At the close of day we could just see the outline of a deep, dark valley which we knew was the Pass of Glencoe, with a good road, hundreds of feet below. Acting on the advice of the drover, we left the road and descended cautiously until we could go no farther in safety; then we collected an enormous number of old roots, the remains of a forest of birch trees which originally covered the mountain-side, and with some dry heather lighted an enormous tire, taking care to keep it within bounds. A small rill trickling down the mountain-side supplied us with water, and, getting our apparatus to work and some provisions from our bags, we sat down as happy as kings to partake of our frugal meal, to the accompaniment of the "cup that cheers but not inebriates," waiting for the rising of the full moon to light us on our farther way to the road below. We were reclining amongst the heather, feeling thankful to the Almighty that we had not shared the fate of the two young men whose cairn we had seen on the hills above - an end we might easily have met, given the weather of yesterday and similar conditions - when suddenly we heard voices below us. Our fire now cast a glare around it, and everything looked quite dark beyond its margin. Our feelings of surprise increased as from the gloom emerged the gigantic figures of two stalwart Highlanders. We thought of the massacre of Glencoe, for these men were nearly double our size; and, like the Macdonalds, we wondered whether they came as friends or foes, since we should have fared badly had it been the latter. But they had been attracted by the light of our fire, and only asked us if we had seen "the droves." We gave them all the information we could, and then bidding us "good night" they quietly departed.
The darkness of the night soon became modified by the reflected light from the rising moon behind the great hills on the opposite side of the glen. We extinguished the dying embers of our fire and watched the full moon gradually appearing above the rocks, flooding with her glorious light the surrounding scene, which was of the sublimest grandeur and solitude.
Many descriptions of this famous glen have been written, and no one who could see it under such favourable and extraordinary conditions as we enjoyed that night would be disposed to dispute the general opinion of its picturesque and majestic beauty. Surely Nature is here portrayed in her mightiest form! How grand, and yet how solemn! See the huge masses of rock rising precipitously on both sides of the glen and rearing their rugged heads towards the very heavens! Here was wild solitude in earnest, and not even the cry of the eagle which once, and even now, had its abode in these vast mountain recesses broke the awful silence which that night prevailed in the Pass, disturbed only by the slumberous rippling of water. The scene we looked upon was wild and rugged, as if convulsed by some frightful cataclysm, and we saw it under conditions in which Nature conspired to enhance its awfulness - a sight which few painters could imitate, few writers could graphically describe.
The infidel may deny the existence of the Creator of the universe, but there was here sufficient to fill the soul with awe and wonder, and to influence even the sceptic to render acknowledgment to the great God who framed these majestic hills. The reflection of the moon on the hills was marvellous, lighting up the white road at the upper end of the pass and the hills opposite, and casting great black shadows elsewhere which made the road appear as if to descend and vanish into Hades. We fancied as we entered the pass that we were descending into an abyss from which it would be impossible to extricate ourselves; but we were brought up sharp in our thoughts, for when we reached the road it suddenly occurred to us that we had forgotten to ask in which direction we had to turn for the "Clachaig Inn" named by the drover.
We sat down by the roadside in the hope that some one would come from whom we might obtain the information, and were just beginning to think it was a forlorn hope when we heard the sound of horse's feet approaching from the distance. Presently the rider appeared, who proved to be a cattle-dealer, he told us he had some cattle out at the foot of the glen, and said the inn was seven miles away in the direction in which he was going. We asked him if he would kindly call there and tell them that two travellers were coming who required lodgings for the night. This he promised to do, and added that we should find the inn on the left-hand side of the road. We then started on our seven-mile walk down the Pass of Glencoe in the light of the full moon shining from a clear sky, and in about an hour's time in the greatest solitude we were almost startled by the sudden appearance of a house set back from the left-hand side of the road with forms and tables spread out on the grass in front.
Could this be the inn? It was on the left-hand side, but we could not yet have walked the distance named by the cattle-dealer; so we knocked at the door, which was opened by a queer-looking old man, who told us it was not the inn, but the shepherd's house, and that the forms and tables in front were for the use of passengers by the coach, who called there for milk and light refreshments. Then the mistress, who was more weird-looking still, came forward, and down the passage we could see other strange-looking people. The old lady insisted upon our coming in, saying she would make us some porridge; but my brother, whose nerves seemed slightly unstrung, thought that we might never come out of the house again alive! We found, however, that the company improved on closer acquaintance.
The meal was served in two deep bowls, and was so thick that when our spoons were placed in it on end they stood upright without any further support, so it was, as the Lancashire people describe it, proper "thick porridge." We were unable to make much impression on it, as we had not yet digested the repast we had enjoyed on the hills above, and the good old lady added to our difficulties by bringing a plentiful supply of milk. It was the first time we had tasted meal porridge in Scotland. Needless to say, after paying our hostess for her hospitality, we were allowed to depart in peace, nor were we molested during the remainder of our romantic evening walk. After proceeding about two miles farther amidst some of the most lonely and impressive scenery in the Highlands, we arrived at the "Clachaig Inn." It was after closing-time, but as the gentleman on horseback had delivered our message according to promise, the people of the inn were awaiting our arrival. We received a friendly welcome, and proceeded to satisfy what remained of a formerly voracious appetite by a weak attack on the good things provided for supper, after which, retiring to rest in the two beds reserved for us, we slept so soundly that in the morning when roused by a six-o'clock call we could not recall that our dreams had been disturbed even by the awful massacre enacted at Glencoe, which place was now so near.
(Distance walked thirty miles.)
|To Next Part|