By seven o'clock a.m. we were again on the road bound for Inverary, which place we were anxious to visit, as it had recently been the scene of a royal wedding, that of the Princess Louise with the Marquis of Lorne. The morning was beautifully fine, but there had been a frost during the night and the grass on the sides of the road was quite white. The sky was clear, not a cloud being visible as we resumed our walk down the glen, and in about three miles we reached the village of Glencoe. Here we heard blasting operations being carried on quite near our road, and presently we reached the edge of the loch, where there was a pier and a ferry. We now found that in directing us to Inverary our friends at the inn had taken it for granted that we wished to go the nearest way, which was across this ferry, and we were told there were others to cross before reaching Inverary. We therefore replenished our stock of provisions at the village shop and turned back up the glen, so that after seeing it in the light of the full moon the night before we had now the privilege of seeing it in the glorious sunshine. We walked on until we got to the shepherd's house where we had been treated to such a heavy repast of meal porridge the previous evening, and there we had a substantial meal to fortify us for our farther journey.
On our way up the glen we had passed a small lake at the side of our road, and as there was not sufficient wind to raise the least ripple on its surface it formed a magnificent mirror to the mountains on both sides. Several carts laden with wool had halted by the side of the lake and these also were reflected on its surface. We considered the view pictured in this lake to be one of the prettiest sights we had ever seen in the sunshine, and the small streams flowing down the mountain sides looked very beautiful, resembling streaks of silver. We compared the scene in imagination with the changes two months hence, when the streams would be lines of ice and the mountain roads covered with a surface of frozen snow, making them difficult to find and to walk upon, and rendering travelling far less pleasant than on this beautiful morning. We often thought that we should not have completed our walk if we had undertaken it at the same period of the year but in the reverse direction, since we were walking far too late in the season for a journey of this description. We considered ourselves very fortunate in walking from John o' Groat's to Land's End, instead of from Land's End to John o' Groat's, for by the time we finished deep snow might have covered these Northern altitudes. How those poor women and children must have suffered at the time of the massacre of Glencoe, when, as Sir Walter Scott writes -
flying from their burning huts, and from their murderous visitors, the half-naked fugitives committed themselves to a winter morning of darkness, snow, and storm, amidst a wilderness the most savage in the Western Highlands, having a bloody death behind them, and before them tempest, famine, and desolation when some of them, bewildered by the snow-wreaths, sank in them to rise no more!
They were doubtless ignorant of the danger they were in, even as they escaped up the glen, practically the only way of escape from Glencoe, for Duncanson had arranged for four hundred soldiers to be at the top end of the pass at four o'clock that morning, the hour at which the massacre was to begin at the other end. Owing to the heavy fall of snow, however, the soldiers did not arrive until eleven o'clock in the forenoon - long after the fugitives had reached places of safety.
Like many other travellers before us, we could not resist passing a bitter malediction on the perpetrators of this cruel wrong, although they had long since gone to their reward. And yet we are told that it hastened that amalgamation of the two kingdoms which has been productive of so much good.
We had our breakfast or lunch served on one of the tables ranged outside the front of the shepherd's house, and in quite a romantic spot, whence we walked on to a place which had figured on mileposts for a long distance named "Kingshouse." Here we expected to find a village, but as far as we could see there was only one fairly large house there, and that an inn. What king it was named after did not appear, but there was no other house in sight. Soon after passing it we again came in contact with the master cattle-drover we had interviewed the day before, who told us that he had brought his bullocks from the Isle of Skye, from which place they had to travel seventy-one miles.
We also passed several other droves, some of which we might have seen previously, and by nightfall came to Inveroran. Here we saw a comfortable inn which would have just suited us, but as there was no church there and the next day was Sunday, we decided to walk to the next village, about three miles farther on, where we were informed there was a church, and a drover's house quite near it where we could get lodgings. By this time it was quite dark, and we passed Loch Tulla without either seeing it or knowing it was there, and arriving at the Bridge of Orchy we found the drover's house near the church. To our great disappointment the accommodation had all been taken up, and the only place that the lady of the house knew of in the direction we were going was a farmhouse about four miles away, where she said, with a tone of doubt in her voice, "we might get in!" We crossed the bridge and passed over the River Orchy, which connected Loch Tulla with Loch Awe, some sixteen miles distant.
Fortunately for us the moon now rose, though obscured by great black clouds, which we could see meant mischief, probably to make us pay dearly for the lovely weather during the day. But luckily there was sufficient light to enable us to see the many burns that crossed the surface of the road, otherwise it would have been impossible for us to have found our way. The streams were very numerous, and ran into the river which flowed alongside our road, from among some great hills the outlines of which we could see dimly to the left. We were tired, and the miles seemed very long, but the excitement of crossing the rushing waters of the burns and the noise of the river close by kept us awake. We began to think we should never reach that farmhouse, and that we had either missed our way or had been misinformed, when at length we reached the desired haven at a point where a gate guarded the entrance to the moor. All was in darkness, but we went to the house and knocked at the front door. There was no response, so we tried the shutters that barricaded the lower windows, our knocks disturbing the dogs at the back of the house, which began to bark and assisted us to waken the occupants.
Presently we heard a sleepy voice behind the shutters, and my brother explained the object of our visit in a fine flow of language (for he was quite an orator), including references, as usual, to our "walking expedition," a favourite phrase of his. As the vehement words from within sounded more like Gaelic than English, I gathered that his application for lodgings had not been successful. Tired as I was, I could not help laughing at the storm we had created, in which the "walking expedition" man heartily joined. But what were we to do? Here we were on a stormy night, ten miles from the inn at Dalmally, which for aught we knew might be the next house, hungry and tired, cold and wet; and having covered thirty miles that day and thirty miles the day before, how could we walk a further ten miles? Our track was unfenced and bounded by the river on one side and the moors on the other, but presently we came to a place where the surface of the moor rose sharply and for some distance overhung the road, forming a kind of a cove. Here we gathered, some of the dry heather that extended under that which ornamented the sides of the cove, made quite a respectable fire, and ate our last morsel of food, with which unluckily we were poorly provided. To add to our misfortune, the wind grew into a hurricane and whirled the smoke in every direction, forcing us at last to beat a hasty retreat.
We now faced the prospect of a night on the moors, and resolved to crawl along at a sufficient speed to keep up our circulation, stopping at the first house we came to. Here again the subdued light from the moon proved useful, for we had not gone very far before we saw what appeared to be a small house on the moor about a hundred yards away. We approached it very cautiously, and found it was a small hut. How glad we were to see that hut! We struck a light, and at once began an exploration of the interior, which we found contained a form, a rustic table reared against the wall, and, better than all, a fireplace with a chimney above it about a yard high; the door was lying loose outside the hovel. It may have been a retreat for keepers, though more likely a shelter for men who had once been employed on the land, for attached to it was a small patch of land fenced in which looked as though it had been cultivated. With a few sticks which we found in one corner and a handful of hay gathered from the floor we lighted a fire, for we were now becoming experts in such matters; but the smoke seemed undecided which way it should go, for at one minute it went up the chimney, at another it came down.
We went outside and altered the chimney a little, for it was only formed of loose stones, and thus effected an improvement for a time. The door gave us the most trouble, since being loose we had the greatest difficulty in keeping it in its proper position, for the wind was now blowing hard - so much so that we thought at times that the hut itself would be blown over. At last a tremendous gust came, and down went the chimney altogether. The fire and smoke now made towards the doorway, so that we had frequently to step outside in order to get a breath of fresh air. We tried to build the chimney up again, but this was impossible owing to the velocity of the wind and rain and the exposed situation. Our slender supply of fuel was nearly exhausted, which was the worst feature, as it was imperative that we should keep ourselves warm; so we decided to go back towards the river, where we had seen a few small trees or bushes lining the bank between our track and the water. Luckily, however, we discovered a dead tree inside the enclosed land, and as I was somewhat of an expert at climbing, I "swarmed" up it and broke off all the dead branches I could reach with safety, it being as much as I could do to retain my hold on the slippery trunk of the tree.
With the dead wood and some heather and pieces of turf we returned laden and wet through to our dug-out, where we managed to get our fire burning again and to clear away some of the stones that had fallen upon it. Still there was no sleep for us that night, which was the most miserable one almost that we ever experienced.
But just fancy the contrast! In the dead of night, in a desolate Highland glen, scaling a stone fence in a pitiless storm of wind and rain, and climbing up a dead tree to break off a few branches to serve as fuel for a most obstinate fire - such was the reality; and then picture, instead of this, sitting before a good fire in a comfortable inn, with a good supper, and snug apartments with every accommodation - these had been our fond anticipations for the week-end! We certainly had a good supply of wet fuel, and perhaps burned something else we ought not to have done: but we were really prisoners for the night. The merciless wind and rain raged throughout, and we had to stick to our novel apartment and breathe until daylight the awful smoke from the fire we were compelled to keep alight. Yet our spirits were not entirely damped, for we found ourselves in the morning, and often during the night, singing the refrain of an old song:
We'll stand the storm, it won't be
We'll anchor by and by.
Just occasionally the gloom thickened when we ventured to think of details, among which came uppermost the great question, "Where and when shall we get our breakfast?"
(Distance walked, including that to Dalmally, forty miles.)
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