Saturday, August 27th.
- Before I rose, Mrs. Macfarlane came into my room to see if I wanted anything, and told me she should send the servant up with a basin of whey, saying, 'We make very good whey in this country;' indeed, I thought it the best I had ever tasted; but I cannot tell how this should be, for they only make skimmed-milk cheeses. I asked her for a little bread and milk for our breakfast, but she said it would be no trouble to make tea, as she must make it for the family; so we all breakfasted together. The cheese was set out, as before, with plenty of butter and barley-cakes, and fresh baked oaten cakes, which, no doubt, were made for us: they had been kneaded with cream, and were excellent. All the party pressed us to eat, and were very jocose about the necessity of helping out their coarse bread with butter, and they themselves ate almost as much butter as bread.
In talking of the French and the present times, their language was what most people would call Jacobinical. They spoke much of the oppressions endured by the Highlanders further up, of the absolute impossibility of their living in any comfort, and of the cruelty of laying so many restraints on emigration. Then they spoke with animation of the attachment of the clans to their lairds: 'The laird of this place, Glengyle, where we live, could have commanded so many men who would have followed him to the death; and now there are none left.' It appeared that Mr. Macfarlane, and his wife's brother, Mr. Macalpine, farmed the place, inclusive of the whole vale upwards to the mountains, and the mountains themselves, under the lady of Glengyle, the mother of the young laird, a minor. It was a sheep-farm.
Speaking of another neighbouring laird, they said he had gone, like the rest of them, to Edinburgh, left his lands and his own people, spending his money where it brought him not any esteem, so that he was of no value either at home or abroad. We mentioned Rob Roy, and the eyes of all glistened; even the lady of the house, who was very diffident, and no great talker, exclaimed, 'He was a good man, Rob Roy! he had been dead only about eighty years, had lived in the next farm, which belonged to him, and there his bones were laid.' He was a famous swordsman. Having an arm much longer than other men, he had a greater command with his sword. As a proof of the length of his arm, they told us that he could garter his tartan stockings below the knee without stooping, and added a dozen different stories of single combats, which he had fought, all in perfect good-humour, merely to prove his prowess.
I daresay they had stories of this kind which would hardly have been exhausted in the long evenings of a whole December week, Rob Roy being as famous here as ever Robin Hood was in the Forest of Sherwood; he also robbed from the rich, giving to the poor, and defending them from oppression. They tell of his confining the factor of the Duke of Montrose in one of the islands of Loch Ketterine, after having taken his money from him - the Duke's rents - in open day, while they were sitting at table. He was a formidable enemy of the Duke, but being a small laird against a greater, was overcome at last, and forced to resign all his lands on the Braes of Loch Lomond, including the caves which we visited, on account of the money he had taken from the Duke and could not repay.
When breakfast was ended the mistress desired the person whom we took to be her husband to 'return thanks.' He said a short grace, and in a few minutes they all went off to their work. We saw them about the door following one another like a flock of sheep, with the children after, whatever job they were engaged in. Mrs. Macfarlane told me she would show me the burying-place of the lairds of Glengyle, and took me to a square enclosure like a pinfold, with a stone ball at every corner; we had noticed it the evening before, and wondered what it could be. It was in the middle of a 'planting,' as they call plantations, which was enclosed for the preservation of the trees, therefore we had to climb over a high wall: it was a dismal spot, containing four or five graves overgrown with long grass, nettles, and brambles. Against the wall was a marble monument to the memory of one of the lairds, of whom they spoke with veneration: some English verses were inscribed upon the marble, purporting that he had been the father of his clan, a brave and good man.
When we returned to the house she said she would show me what curious feathers they had in their country, and brought out a bunch carefully wrapped up in paper. On my asking her what bird they came from, 'Oh!' she replied, 'it is a great beast.' We conjectured it was an eagle, and from her description of its ways, and the manner of destroying it, we knew it was so. She begged me to accept of some of the feathers, telling me that some ladies wore them in their heads. I was much pleased with the gift, which I shall preserve in memory of her kindness and simplicity of manners, and the Highland solitude where she lived.
We took leave of the family with regret: they were handsome, healthy, and happy-looking people. It was ten o'clock when we departed. We had learned that there was a ferry-boat kept at three miles' distance, and if the man was at home he would row us down the lake to the Trossachs. Our walk was mostly through coppice-woods, along a horse-road, upon which narrow carts might travel. Passed that white house which had looked at us with such a friendly face when we were on the other side; it stood on the slope of a hill, with green pastures below it, plots of corn and coppice-wood, and behind, a rocky steep covered with wood. It was a very pretty place, but the morning being cold and dull the opposite shore appeared dreary.
Near to the white house we passed by another of those little pinfold squares, which we knew to be a burying-place; it was in a sloping green field among woods, and within sound of the beating of the water against the shore, if there were but a gentle breeze to stir it: I thought if I lived in that house, and my ancestors and kindred were buried there, I should sit many an hour under the walls of this plot of earth, where all the household would be gathered together.
We found the ferryman at work in the field above his hut, and he was at liberty to go with us, but, being wet and hungry, we begged that he would let us sit by his fire till we had refreshed ourselves. This was the first genuine Highland hut we had been in. We entered by the cow-house, the house-door being within, at right angles to the outer door. The woman was distressed that she had a bad fire, but she heaped up some dry peats and heather, and, blowing it with her breath, in a short time raised a blaze that scorched us into comfortable feelings. A small part of the smoke found its way out of the hole of the chimney, the rest through the open window-places, one of which was within the recess of the fireplace, and made a frame to a little picture of the restless lake and the opposite shore, seen when the outer door was open.
The woman of the house was very kind: whenever we asked her for anything it seemed a fresh pleasure to her that she had it for us; she always answered with a sort of softening down of the Scotch exclamation, 'Hoot!' 'Ho! yes, ye'll get that,' and hied to her cupboard in the spence. We were amused with the phrase 'Ye'll get that' in the Highlands, which appeared to us as if it came from a perpetual feeling of the difficulty with which most things are procured. We got oatmeal, butter, bread and milk, made some porridge, and then departed. It was rainy and cold, with a strong wind.
Coleridge was afraid of the cold in the boat, so he determined to walk down the lake, pursuing the same road we had come along. There was nothing very interesting for the first three or four miles on either side of the water: to the right, uncultivated heath or poor coppice-wood, and to the left, a scattering of meadow ground, patches of corn, coppice-woods, and here and there a cottage. The wind fell, and it began to rain heavily. On this William wrapped himself in the boatman's plaid, and lay at the bottom of the boat till we came to a place where I could not help rousing him.
We were rowing down that side of the lake which had hitherto been little else than a moorish ridge. After turning a rocky point we came to a bay closed in by rocks and steep woods, chiefly of full-grown birch. The lake was elsewhere ruffled, but at the entrance of this bay the breezes sunk, and it was calm: a small island was near, and the opposite shore, covered with wood, looked soft through the misty rain. William, rubbing his eyes, for he had been asleep, called out that he hoped I had not let him pass by anything that was so beautiful as this; and I was glad to tell him that it was but the beginning of a new land. After we had left this bay we saw before us a long reach of woods and rocks and rocky points, that promised other bays more beautiful than what we had passed.
The ferryman was a good-natured fellow, and rowed very industriously, following the ins and outs of the shore; he was delighted with the pleasure we expressed, continually repeating how pleasant it would have been on a fine day. I believe he was attached to the lake by some sentiment of pride, as his own domain - his being almost the only boat upon it - which made him, seeing we were willing gazers, take far more pains than an ordinary boatman; he would often say, after he had compassed the turning of a point, 'This is a bonny part,' and he always chose the bonniest, with greater skill than our prospect-hunters and 'picturesque travellers;' places screened from the winds - that was the first point; the rest followed of course, - richer growing trees, rocks and banks, and curves which the eye delights in.
The second bay we came to differed from the rest; the hills retired a short space from the lake, leaving a few level fields between, on which was a cottage embosomed in trees: the bay was defended by rocks at each end, and the hills behind made a shelter for the cottage, the only dwelling, I believe, except one, on this side of Loch Ketterine. We now came to steeps that rose directly from the lake, and passed by a place called in the Gaelic the Den of the Ghosts, which reminded us of Lodore; it is a rock, or mass of rock, with a stream of large black stones like the naked or dried-up bed of a torrent down the side of it; birch-trees start out of the rock in every direction, and cover the hill above, further than we could see. The water of the lake below was very deep, black, and calm. Our delight increased as we advanced, till we came in view of the termination of the lake, seeing where the river issues out of it through a narrow chasm between the hills.
Here I ought to rest, as we rested, and attempt to give utterance to our pleasure: but indeed I can impart but little of what we felt. We were still on the same side of the water, and, being immediately under the hill, within a considerable bending of the shore, we were enclosed by hills all round, as if we had been upon a smaller lake of which the whole was visible. It was an entire solitude; and all that we beheld was the perfection of loveliness and beauty.
We had been through many solitary places since we came into Scotland, but this place differed as much from any we had seen before, as if there had been nothing in common between them; no thought of dreariness or desolation found entrance here; yet nothing was to be seen but water, wood, rocks, and heather, and bare mountains above. We saw the mountains by glimpses as the clouds passed by them, and were not disposed to regret, with our boatman, that it was not a fine day, for the near objects were not concealed from us, but softened by being seen through the mists. The lake is not very wide here, but appeared to be much narrower than it really is, owing to the many promontories, which are pushed so far into it that they are much more like islands than promontories.
We had a longing desire to row to the outlet and look up into the narrow passage through which the river went; but the point where we were to land was on the other side, so we bent our course right across, and just as we came in sight of two huts, which have been built by Lady Perth as a shelter for those who visit the Trossachs, Coleridge hailed us with a shout of triumph from the door of one of them, exulting in the glory of Scotland. The huts stand at a small distance from each other, on a high and perpendicular rock, that rises from the bed of the lake. A road, which has a very wild appearance, has been cut through the rock; yet even here, among these bold precipices, the feeling of excessive beautifulness overcomes every other. While we were upon the lake, on every side of us were bays within bays, often more like tiny lakes or pools than bays, and these not in long succession only, but all round, some almost on the broad breast of the water, the promontories shot out so far.
After we had landed we walked along the road to the uppermost of the huts, where Coleridge was standing. From the door of this hut we saw Benvenue opposite to us - a high mountain, but clouds concealed its top; its side, rising directly from the lake, is covered with birch-trees to a great height, and seamed with innumerable channels of torrents; but now there was no water in them, nothing to break in upon the stillness and repose of the scene; nor do I recollect hearing the sound of water from any side, the wind being fallen and the lake perfectly still; the place was all eye, and completely satisfied the sense and the heart. Above and below us, to the right and to the left, were rocks, knolls, and hills, which, wherever anything could grow - and that was everywhere between the rocks - were covered with trees and heather; the trees did not in any place grow so thick as an ordinary wood; yet I think there was never a bare space of twenty yards: it was more like a natural forest where the trees grow in groups or singly, not hiding the surface of the ground, which, instead of being green and mossy, was of the richest purple.
The heather was indeed the most luxuriant I ever saw; it was so tall that a child of ten years old struggling through it would often have been buried head and shoulders, and the exquisite beauty of the colour, near or at a distance, seen under the trees, is not to be conceived. But if I were to go on describing for evermore, I should give but a faint, and very often a false, idea of the different objects and the various combinations of them in this most intricate and delicious place; besides, I tired myself out with describing at Loch Lomond, so I will hasten to the end of my tale. This reminds me of a sentence in a little pamphlet written by the minister of Callander, descriptive of the environs of that place. After having taken up at least six closely-printed pages with the Trossachs, he concludes thus, 'In a word, the Trossachs beggar all description,' - a conclusion in which everybody who has been there will agree with him. I believe the word Trossachs signifies 'many hills:' it is a name given to all the eminences at the foot of Loch Ketterine, and about half a mile beyond.
We left the hut, retracing the few yards of road which we had climbed; our boat lay at anchor under the rock in the last of all the compartments of the lake, a small oblong pool, almost shut up within itself, as several others had appeared to be, by jutting points of rock; the termination of a long out-shooting of the water, pushed up between the steps of the main shore where the huts stand, and a broad promontory which, with its hillocks and points and lesser promontories, occupies the centre of the foot of the lake.
A person sailing through the lake up the middle of it, would just as naturally suppose that the outlet was here as on the other side; and so it might have been, with the most trifling change in the disposition of the ground, for at the end of this slip of water the lake is confined only by a gentle rising of a few yards towards an opening between the hills, a narrow pass or valley through which the river might have flowed. The road is carried through this valley, which only differs from the lower part of the vale of the lake in being excessively narrow, and without water; it is enclosed by mountains, rocky mounds, hills and hillocks scattered over with birch-trees, and covered with Dutch myrtle and heather, even surpassing what we had seen before. Our mother Eve had no fairer, though a more diversified garden, to tend, than we found within this little close valley. It rained all the time, but the mists and calm air made us ample amends for a wetting.
At the opening of the pass we climbed up a low eminence, and had an unexpected prospect suddenly before us - another lake, small compared with Loch Ketterine, though perhaps four miles long, but the misty air concealed the end of it. The transition from the solitary wildness of Loch Ketterine and the narrow valley or pass to this scene was very delightful: it was a gentle place, with lovely open bays, one small island, corn fields, woods, and a group of cottages. This vale seemed to have been made to be tributary to the comforts of man, Loch Ketterine for the lonely delight of Nature, and kind spirits delighting in beauty. The sky was grey and heavy, - floating mists on the hill-sides, which softened the objects, and where we lost sight of the lake it appeared so near to the sky that they almost touched one another, giving a visionary beauty to the prospect. While we overlooked this quiet scene we could hear the stream rumbling among the rocks between the lakes, but the mists concealed any glimpse of it which we might have had. This small lake is called Loch Achray.
We returned, of course, by the same road. Our guide repeated over and over again his lamentations that the day was so bad, though we had often told him - not indeed with much hope that he would believe us - that we were glad of it. As we walked along he pulled a leafy twig from a birch-tree, and, after smelling it, gave it to me, saying, how 'sweet and halesome' it was, and that it was pleasant and very halesome on a fine summer's morning to sail under the banks where the birks are growing.
This reminded me of the old Scotch songs, in which you continually hear of the 'pu'ing the birks.' Common as birches are in the north of England, I believe their sweet smell is a thing unnoticed among the peasants. We returned again to the huts to take a farewell look. We had shared our food with the ferryman and a traveller whom we had met here, who was going up the lake, and wished to lodge at the ferry-house, so we offered him a place in the boat. Coleridge chose to walk. We took the same side of the lake as before, and had much delight in visiting the bays over again; but the evening began to darken, and it rained so heavily before we had gone two miles that we were completely wet. It was dark when we landed, and on entering the house I was sick with cold.
The good woman had provided, according to her promise, a better fire than we had found in the morning; and indeed when I sate down in the chimney-corner of her smoky biggin' I thought I had never been more comfortable in my life. Coleridge had been there long enough to have a pan of coffee boiling for us, and having put our clothes in the way of drying, we all sate down, thankful for a shelter. We could not prevail upon the man of the house to draw near the fire, though he was cold and wet, or to suffer his wife to get him dry clothes till she had served us, which she did, though most willingly, not very expeditiously. A Cumberland man of the same rank would not have had such a notion of what was fit and right in his own house, or if he had, one would have accused him of servility; but in the Highlander it only seemed like politeness, however erroneous and painful to us, naturally growing out of the dependence of the inferiors of the clan upon their laird; he did not, however, refuse to let his wife bring out the whisky-bottle at our request: 'She keeps a dram,' as the phrase is; indeed, I believe there is scarcely a lonely house by the wayside in Scotland where travellers may not be accommodated with a dram. We asked for sugar, butter, barley-bread, and milk, and with a smile and a stare more of kindness than wonder, she replied, 'Ye'll get that,' bringing each article separately.
We caroused our cups of coffee, laughing like children at the strange atmosphere in which we were: the smoke came in gusts, and spread along the walls and above our heads in the chimney, where the hens were roosting like light clouds in the sky. We laughed and laughed again, in spite of the smarting of our eyes, yet had a quieter pleasure in observing the beauty of the beams and rafters gleaming between the clouds of smoke. They had been crusted over and varnished by many winters, till, where the firelight fell upon them, they were as glossy as black rocks on a sunny day cased in ice. When we had eaten our supper we sate about half an hour, and I think I had never felt so deeply the blessing of a hospitable welcome and a warm fire. The man of the house repeated from time to time that we should often tell of this night when we got to our homes, and interposed praises of this, his own lake, which he had more than once, when we were returning in the boat, ventured to say was 'bonnier than Loch Lomond.'
Our companion from the Trossachs, who it appeared was an Edinburgh drawing-master going during the vacation on a pedestrian tour to John o' Groat's House, was to sleep in the barn with William and Coleridge, where the man said he had plenty of dry hay. I do not believe that the hay of the Highlands is often very dry, but this year it had a better chance than usual: wet or dry, however, the next morning they said they had slept comfortably. When I went to bed, the mistress, desiring me to 'go ben,' attended me with a candle, and assured me that the bed was dry, though not 'sic as I had been used to.' It was of chaff; there were two others in the room, a cupboard and two chests, on one of which stood the milk in wooden vessels covered over; I should have thought that milk so kept could not have been sweet, but the cheese and butter were good.
The walls of the whole house were of stone unplastered. It consisted of three apartments, - the cow-house at one end, the kitchen or house in the middle, and the spence at the other end. The rooms were divided, not up to the rigging, but only to the beginning of the roof, so that there was a free passage for light and smoke from one end of the house to the other.
I went to bed some time before the family. The door was shut between us, and they had a bright fire, which I could not see; but the light it sent up among the varnished rafters and beams, which crossed each other in almost as intricate and fantastic a manner as I have seen the under-boughs of a large beech-tree withered by the depth of the shade above, produced the most beautiful effect that can be conceived. It was like what I should suppose an underground cave or temple to be, with a dripping or moist roof, and the moonlight entering in upon it by some means or other, and yet the colours were more like melted gems. I lay looking up till the light of the fire faded away, and the man and his wife and child had crept into their bed at the other end of the room.
I did not sleep much, but passed a comfortable night, for my bed, though hard, was warm and clean: the unusualness of my situation prevented me from sleeping. I could hear the waves beat against the shore of the lake; a little 'syke' close to the door made a much louder noise; and when I sate up in my bed I could see the lake through an open window-place at the bed's head. Add to this, it rained all night. I was less occupied by remembrance of the Trossachs, beautiful as they were, than the vision of the Highland hut, which I could not get out of my head. I thought of the Fairyland of Spenser, and what I had read in romance at other times, and then, what a feast would it be for a London pantomime-maker, could he but transplant it to Drury Lane, with all its beautiful colours!
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