Sunday, September 4th.
We had desired to be called at six o'clock, and rose at the first summons. Our beds had proved better than we expected, and we had not slept ill; but poor Coleridge had passed a wretched night here four days before. This we did not know; but since, when he told us of it, the notion of what he must have suffered, with the noise of drunken people about his ears all night, himself sick and tired, has made our discomfort cling to my memory, and given these recollections a twofold interest. I asked if it was possible to have a couple of eggs boiled before our departure: the woman hesitated; she thought I might, and sent a boy into the out-houses to look about, who brought in one egg after long searching.
Early as we had risen it was not very early when we set off; for everything at King's House was in unison - equally uncomfortable. As the woman had told us the night before, 'They had no hay, and that was a loss.' There were neither stalls nor bedding in the stable, so that William was obliged to watch the horse while it was feeding, for there were several others in the stable, all standing like wild beasts, ready to devour each other's portion of corn: this, with the slowness of the servant and other hindrances, took up much time, and we were completely starved, for the morning was very cold, as I believe all the mornings in that desolate place are.
When we had gone about a quarter of a mile I recollected that I had left the little cup given me by the kind landlady at Taynuilt, which I had intended that John should hereafter drink out of, in memory of our wanderings. I would have turned back for it, but William pushed me on, unwilling that we should lose so much time, though indeed he was as sorry to part with it as myself.
Our road was over a hill called the Black Mount. For the first mile, or perhaps more, after we left King's House, we ascended on foot; then came upon a new road, one of the finest that was ever trod; and, as we went downwards almost all the way afterwards, we travelled very quickly. The motion was pleasant, the different reaches and windings of the road were amusing; the sun shone, the mountain-tops were clear and cheerful, and we in good spirits, in a bustle of enjoyment, though there never was a more desolate region: mountains behind, before, and on every side; I do not remember to have seen either patch of grass, flower, or flowering heather within three or four miles of King's House.
The low ground was not rocky, but black, and full of white frost-bleached stones, the prospect only varied by pools, seen everywhere both near and at a distance, as far as the ground stretched out below us: these were interesting spots, round which the mind assembled living objects, and they shone as bright as mirrors in the forlorn waste. We passed neither tree nor shrub for miles - I include the whole space from Glen Coe - yet we saw perpetually traces of a long decayed forest, pieces of black mouldering wood.
Through such a country as this we had travelled perhaps seven and a half miles this morning, when, after descending a hill, we turned to the right, and saw an unexpected sight in the moorland hollow into which we were entering, a small lake bounded on the opposite side by a grove of Scotch firs, two or three cottages at the head of it, and a lot of cultivated ground with scattered hay-cocks. The road along which we were going, after having made a curve considerably above the tarn, was seen winding through the trees on the other side, a beautiful object, and, luckily for us, a drove of cattle happened to be passing there at the very time, a stream coursing the road, with off-stragglers to the borders of the lake, and under the trees on the sloping ground.
In conning over our many wanderings I shall never forget the gentle pleasure with which we greeted the lake of Inveroran and its few grey cottages: we suffered our horse to slacken his pace, having now no need of the comfort of quick motion, though we were glad to think that one of those cottages might be the public-house where we were to breakfast. A forest - now, as it appeared, dwindled into the small grove bordering the lake - had, not many years ago, spread to that side of the vale where we were: large stumps of trees which had been cut down were yet remaining undecayed, and there were some single trees left alive, as if by their battered black boughs to tell us of the storms that visit the valley which looked now so sober and peaceful.
When we arrived at the huts, one of them proved to be the inn, a thatched house without a sign-board. We were kindly received, had a fire lighted in the parlour, and were in such good humour that we seemed to have a thousand comforts about us; but we had need of a little patience in addition to this good humour before breakfast was brought, and at last it proved a disappointment: the butter not eatable, the barley-cakes fusty, the oat-bread so hard I could not chew it, and there were only four eggs in the house, which they had boiled as hard as stones.
Before we had finished breakfast two foot-travellers came in, and seated themselves at our table; one of them was returning, after a long absence, to Fort-William, his native home; he had come from Egypt, and, many years ago, had been on a recruiting party at Penrith, and knew many people there. He seemed to think his own country but a dismal land.
There being no bell in the parlour, I had occasion to go several times and ask for what we wanted in the kitchen, and I would willingly have given twenty pounds to have been able to take a lively picture of it. About seven or eight travellers, probably drovers, with as many dogs, were sitting in a complete circle round a large peat-fire in the middle of the floor, each with a mess of porridge, in a wooden vessel, upon his knee; a pot, suspended from one of the black beams, was boiling on the fire; two or three women pursuing their household business on the outside of the circle, children playing on the floor. There was nothing uncomfortable in this confusion: happy, busy, or vacant faces, all looked pleasant; and even the smoky air, being a sort of natural indoor atmosphere of Scotland, served only to give a softening, I may say harmony, to the whole.
We departed immediately after breakfast; our road leading us, as I have said, near the lake-side and through the grove of firs, which extended backward much further than we had imagined. After we had left it we came again among bare moorish wastes, as before, under the mountains, so that Inveroran still lives in our recollection as a favoured place, a flower in the desert.
Descended upon the whole, I believe very considerably, in our way to Tyndrum; but it was a road of long ups and downs, over hills and through hollows of uncultivated ground; a chance farm perhaps once in three miles, a glittering rivulet bordered with greener grass than grew on the broad waste, or a broken fringe of alders or birches, partly concealing and partly pointing out its course.
Arrived at Tyndrum at about two o'clock. It is a cold spot. Though, as I should suppose, situated lower than Inveroran, and though we saw it in the hottest time of the afternoon sun, it had a far colder aspect from the want of trees. We were here informed that Coleridge, who, we supposed, was gone to Edinburgh, had dined at this very house a few days before, in his road to Fort-William. By the help of the cook, who was called in, the landlady made out the very day: it was the day after we parted from him; as she expressed it, the day after the 'great speet,' namely, the great rain. We had a moorfowl and mutton-chops for dinner, well cooked, and a reasonable charge.
The house was clean for a Scotch inn, and the people about the doors were well dressed. In one of the parlours we saw a company of nine or ten, with the landlady, seated round a plentiful table, - a sight which made us think of the fatted calf in the alehouse pictures of the Prodigal Son. There seemed to be a whole harvest of meats and drinks, and there was something of festivity and picture-like gaiety even in the fresh-coloured dresses of the people and their Sunday faces. The white table-cloth, glasses, English dishes, etc., were all in contrast with what we had seen at Inveroran: the places were but about nine miles asunder, both among hills; the rank of the people little different, and each house appeared to be a house of plenty.
We were I think better pleased with our treatment at this inn than any of the lonely houses on the road, except Taynuilt; but Coleridge had not fared so well, and was dissatisfied, as he has since told us, and the two travellers who breakfasted with us at Inveroran had given a bad account of the house.
Left Tyndrum at about five o'clock; a gladsome afternoon; the road excellent, and we bowled downwards through a pleasant vale, though not populous, or well cultivated, or woody, but enlivened by a river that glittered as it flowed. On the side of a sunny hill a knot of men and women were gathered together at a preaching. We passed by many droves of cattle and Shetland ponies, which accident stamped a character upon places, else unrememberable - not an individual character, but the soul, the spirit, and solitary simplicity of many a Highland region.
We had about eleven miles to travel before we came to our lodging, and had gone five or six, almost always descending, and still in the same vale, when we saw a small lake before us after the vale had made a bending to the left; it was about sunset when we came up to the lake; the afternoon breezes had died away, and the water was in perfect stillness. One grove-like island, with a ruin that stood upon it overshadowed by the trees, was reflected on the water. This building, which, on that beautiful evening, seemed to be wrapped up in religious quiet, we were informed had been raised for defence by some Highland chieftain. All traces of strength, or war, or danger are passed away, and in the mood in which we were we could only look upon it as a place of retirement and peace. The lake is called Loch Dochart. We passed by two others of inferior beauty, and continued to travel along the side of the same river, the Dochart, through an irregular, undetermined vale, - poor soil and much waste land.
At that time of the evening when, by looking steadily, we could discover a few pale stars in the sky, we saw upon an eminence, the bound of our horizon, though very near to us, and facing the bright yellow clouds of the west, a group of figures that made us feel how much we wanted in not being painters. Two herdsmen, with a dog beside them, were sitting on the hill, overlooking a herd of cattle scattered over a large meadow by the river-side. Their forms, looked at through a fading light, and backed by the bright west, were exceedingly distinct, a beautiful picture in the quiet of a Sabbath evening, exciting thoughts and images of almost patriarchal simplicity and grace. We were much pleased with the situation of our inn, where we arrived between eight and nine o'clock. The river was at the distance of a broad field from the door; we could see it from the upper windows and hear its murmuring; the moon shone, enlivening the large corn fields with cheerful light. We had a bad supper, and the next morning they made us an unreasonable charge; and the servant was uncivil, because, forsooth! we had no wine.
N.B. - The travellers in the morning had spoken highly of this inn.
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