After breakfast we commissioned Mrs. MacPherson to engage the services of the guide to conduct us to the top of Ben Nevis, which is 4,406 feet high, offering to pay him the sum of one sovereign for his services. We had passed the old castle of Inverlochy in the dark of the previous night, and, as we wished to visit it in the daylight that morning, we arranged that the guide should meet us on a bridge outside the town, which we must cross on our way to and from what we were told was once a royal castle, where King Achius signed a treaty with Charlemagne. The castle was some distance from the town, and quite near the famous distillery where the whisky known as "Long John" or the "Dew of Ben Nevis" was produced. We found ready access to the ruins, as the key had been left in the gate of the walled fence which surrounded them. "Prince Charlie," we learned, had "knocked" the castle to its present shape from an adjoining hill, and what he had left of it now looked very solitary. It was a square structure, with four towers one at each corner, that at the north-west angle being the most formidable. The space enclosed was covered with grass. What interested us most were four very old guns, or cannons, which stood in front of the castle, mounted on wheels supported on wood planks, and as they were of a very old pattern, these relics of the past added materially to the effect of the ancient and warlike surroundings.
We did not stay long in the ruins, as we were anxious to begin our big climb, so we returned to the bridge to await the arrival of the guide engaged for us by our hostess, and whom we had not yet seen. We waited there for more than half an hour, and were just on the point of returning to the town when we noticed the approach of a military-looking man carrying a long staff spiked at one end, who turned out to be the gentleman we were waiting for, and under whose guidance we soon began the ascent of the big mountain. After climbing for some time, we came to a huge stone on which the Government engineers had marked the altitude as 1,000 feet above sea-level, and as we climbed higher still we had a grand view of the hills and waters in the distance. We went bravely onward and upward until we arrived at a lake, where on a rock we saw the Government mark known as the "broad arrow," an emblem which we also saw in many other places as we walked through the country, often wondering what the sign could mean. We surmised that it stood for England, Scotland, and Ireland united in one kingdom, but we afterwards learned that it was introduced at the end of the seventeenth century to mark Government stores, and that at one time it had a religious significance connected with the Holy Trinity. The altitude was also marked on the rock as 2,200 feet, so that we had now ascended half-way to the top of Ben Nevis.
On our way up the mountain we had to stop several times, for our guide complained of diarrhoea, but here he came to a dead stop and said he could not proceed any farther. We were suspicious at first that he was only feigning illness to escape the bad weather which we could see approaching. We did our best to persuade him to proceed, but without effect, and then we threatened to reduce his fee by one-half if he did not conduct us to the summit of Ben Nevis as agreed. Finally we asked him to remain where he was until we returned after completing the ascent alone; but he pleaded so earnestly with us not to make the attempt to reach the summit, and described the difficulties and dangers so vividly, that we reluctantly decided to forgo our long-cherished ambition to ascend the highest mountain in Great Britain. We were very much disappointed, but there was no help for it, for the guide was now really ill, so we took his advice and gave up the attempt.
Ben Nevis, we knew, was already covered with snow at the top, and a further fall was expected, and without a guide we could not possibly find the right path. We had noticed the clouds collecting upon the upper peaks of the great mountain and the sleet was already beginning to fall, while the wind, apparently blowing from an easterly direction, was icy cold. My brother, who had had more experience in mountain-climbing than myself, remarked that if it was so bitterly cold at our present altitude of 2,200 feet, what might we expect it to be at 4,400, and reminded me of a mountain adventure he had some years before in North Wales.
On his first visit to the neighbourhood he had been to see a relative who was the manager of the slate quarries at Llanberis and resided near Port Dinorwic. The manager gave him an order to ride on the slate train to the quarries, a distance of seven miles, and to inspect them when he arrived there. Afterwards he went to the Padaro Villa Hotel for dinner, and then decided to go on to Portmadoc. There was no railway in those days, and as the coach had gone he decided to walk. The most direct way, he calculated, was to cross Snowdon mountain, and without asking any advice or mentioning the matter to any one he began his walk over a mountain which is nearly 3,600 feet high. It was two o'clock in the afternoon when he left the hotel at Llanberis, and from the time he passed a stone inscribed "3-3/4 miles to the top of Snowdon" he did not see a single human being. It was the 23rd of November, and the top of the mountain, which was clearly visible, was covered with snow.
All went well with him until he passed a black-looking lake and had reached the top of its rocky and precipitous boundary, when with scarcely any warning he suddenly became enveloped in the clouds and could only see a yard or two before him. He dared not turn back for fear he should fall down the precipice into the lake below, so he continued his walk and presently reached the snow. This, fortunately, was frozen, and he went on until he came to a small cabin probably used by the guide in summertime, but the door was locked, the padlock resting upon the snow; soon afterwards he arrived at the cairn which marked the summit of Snowdon. It was very cold, and he was soon covered with the frozen particles from the clouds as they drifted against him in the wind, which gave out a mournful sound like a funeral dirge as it drove against the rocks.
He walked round the tower several times before he could find a way down on the other side, but at length his attention was attracted by a black peak of rock rising above the snow, and to his astonishment, in a sheltered corner behind it, he could distinctly see the footprints of a man and a small animal, probably a dog, that had gone down behind the rock just before the snow had frozen. The prints were not visible anywhere else, but, fortunately, it happened to be the right way, and he crossed the dreaded "Saddleback" with a precipice on each side of him without knowing they were there. It was a providential escape, and when he got clear of the clouds and saw miles of desolate rocky country before him bounded by the dark sea in the background and strode down the remainder of the seven miles from the top of Snowdon, his feelings of thankfulness to the Almighty may be better imagined than described. He himself - a first-class walker - always considered they were the longest and quickest he ever accomplished. He occupied two hours in the ascent, but not much more than an hour in the descent, reaching, just at the edge of dark, the high-road where the words "Pitt's Head" were painted in large letters on some rocks, which he afterwards learned represented an almost exact profile of the head of William Pitt the famous Prime Minister. He stayed for tea at Beddgelert and then walked down the Pass of Aberglaslyn on a tree-covered road in almost total darkness, with the company of roaring waters, which terrified him even more than the dangers he had already encountered, as far as Tremadoc, where he stayed the night.
We had a dismal descent from Ben Nevis, and much more troublesome and laborious than the ascent, for our guide's illness had become more acute and he looked dreadfully ill. It was a pitiable sight to see him when, with scarcely strength enough to stand, he leaned heavily upon his staff on one side and on ourselves alternately on the other. We could not help feeling sorry for him for we had so recently suffered from the same complaint ourselves, though in a much milder form. We were compelled to walk very slowly and to rest at frequent intervals, and to add to our misery the rain was falling heavily. We were completely saturated long before reaching Fort William, and were profoundly thankful when we landed our afflicted friend at his own door. We handed him his full fee, and he thanked us and said that although he had ascended Ben Nevis on nearly 1,200 occasions, this was the only time he had failed.
We had not been quite satisfied that the cause assigned to our attack at Inverness was the real one, as we had drunk so little water there. We thought now that there might be some infectious epidemic passing through that part of Scotland, perhaps a modified form of the cholera that decimated our part of England thirty or forty years before, and that our guide as well as ourselves had contracted the sickness in that way.
We must not forget to record that on our way up the "Ben" we saw a most beautiful rainbow, which appeared to great advantage, as it spread itself between us and the opposite hills, exhibiting to perfection all its seven colours.
We were as hungry as hunters when we returned to our lodgings, and, after changing some of our clothes and drying the others, we sat down to the good things provided for our noon dinner, which we washed down with copious libations of tea.
As the rain continued, we decided to stop another night at Mrs. MacPherson's, so we went out to make some purchases at the chemist's shop, which also served as an emporium - in fact as a general stores. We had a chat with the proprietor, who explained that Fort William was a very healthy place, where his profession would not pay if carried on alone, so he had to add to it by selling other articles. The Fort, he told us, was originally built in the time of Cromwell by General Monk to overawe the Highlanders, but was afterwards re-erected on a smaller scale by William III; hence its name of Fort William.
We asked the chemist if he could recommend to us a good shoemaker, who could undertake to sole and heel two pairs of boots before morning, as ours were showing signs of wear-and-tear owing to the long distances we had walked both before and after reaching John o' Groat's. This he promised to do, and he sent one across to Mrs. MacPherson's immediately. After we had parted with our boots, we were prisoners for the remainder of the day, though we were partially reconciled to our novel position when we heard the wind driving the rain against the windows instead of against ourselves. But it seemed strange to us to be sitting down hour after hour reading the books our hostess kindly lent to us instead of walking on the roads.
The books were chiefly historical, and interested us, as they related to the country through which we were passing. Terrible histories they contained too! describing fierce battles and murders, and giving us the impression that the Scots of the olden times were like savages, fighting each other continually, and that for the mere pleasure of fighting. Especially interesting to us was the record of the cruel massacre of Glencoe, for we intended visiting there, if possible, on the morrow. It was not the extent of the carnage on that occasion, but the horrible way in which it was carried out, that excited the indignation of the whole country, and my brother spent some time in copying in his note-book the following history of -
THE MASSACRE OF GLENCOE
After King William had defeated the Highland Clans, he gave the Highland Chiefs a year and a half to make their submission to his officers, and all had done this except MacDonald of Glencoe, whose Chief - MacIan - had delayed his submission to the last possible day. He then went to Fort William to tender his Oath of Allegiance to the King's Officer there, who unfortunately had no power to receive it, but he gave him a letter to Sir Colin Campbell, who was at Inverary, asking him to administer the Oath to MacIan. The aged Chief hastened to Inverary, but the roads were bad and almost impassable owing to a heavy fall of snow, so that the first day of January, 1692, had passed before he could get there; Campbell administered the Oath and MacIan returned to Glencoe thinking that all was now right.
But a plot was made against him by the Campbells, whose flocks and herds, it was said, the MacDonalds had often raided, and it was decided to punish MacIan and to exterminate his clan; and a company of the Earl of Argyle's regiment, commanded by Captain Campbell of Glenlyon, was sent to Glen Coe to await orders. MacIan's sons heard that the soldiers were coming, and thought that they were coming to disarm them, so they removed their arms to a place of safety, and, with a body of men, they went to meet the soldiers to ask if they were coming as friends or foes. They assured them that they were coming as friends and wished to stay with them for a short time, as there was no room for them, for the garrison buildings at Fort William were already full of soldiers. Alaster MacDonald, one of MacIan's sons, had married a niece of Glenlyon's, so that the soldiers were cordially received and treated with every possible hospitality by MacIan and his Clan, with whom they remained for about a fortnight.
Then Glenlyon received a letter from Duncanson, his commanding officer, informing him that all the MacDonalds under seventy years of age must be killed, and that the Government was not to be troubled with prisoners. Glenlyon lost no time in carrying out his orders. He took his morning's draught as usual at the house of MacIan's son, who had married his niece, and he and two of his officers accepted an invitation to dinner from MacIan, whom, as well as the whole clan, he was about to slaughter. At four o'clock the next morning, February 13, 1692, the massacre was begun by a party of soldiers, who knocked at MacIan's door and were at once admitted. Lindsay, who was one of the officers who had accepted his invitation to dinner, commanded the party, and shot MacIan dead at his own bedside while he was dressing himself and giving orders for refreshments to be provided for his visitors.
His aged wife was stripped by the savage soldiers, who pulled off the gold rings from her fingers with their teeth, and she died next day from grief and the brutal treatment she had received. The two sons had had their suspicions aroused, but these had been allayed by Glenlyon. However, an old servant woke them and told them to flee for their lives as their father had been murdered, and as they escaped they heard the shouts of the murderers, the firing of muskets, the screams of the wounded, and the groans of the dying rising from the village, and it was only their intimate knowledge of the almost inaccessible cliffs that enabled them to escape. At the house where Glenlyon lodged, he had nine men bound and shot like felons. A fine youth of twenty years of age was spared for a time, but one, Captain Drummond, ordered him to be put to death; and a boy of five or six, who had clung to Glenlyon's knees entreating for mercy and offering to become his servant for life if he would spare him, and who had moved Glenlyon to pity, was stabbed by Drummond with a dirk while he was in the agony of supplication. Barber, a sergeant, with some soldiers, fired on a group of nine MacDonalds who were round their morning fire, and killed four of them, and one of them, who escaped into a house, expressed a wish to die in the open air rather than inside the house, "For your bread, which I have eaten," said Barber, "I will grant the request." Macdonald was accordingly dragged to the door, but he was an active man and, when the soldiers presented their firelocks to shoot him, he cast his plaid over their eyes and, taking advantage of their confusion and the darkness, he escaped up the glen. Some old persons were also killed, one of them eighty years of age; and others, with women and children who had escaped from the carnage half clad, were starved and frozen to death on the snow-clad hills whither they had fled.
The winter wind that whistled
The snows that night that cloaked the hill,
Though wild and pitiless, had still
Far more than Southern clemency.
It was thrilling to read the account of the fight between the two Clans, Mackenzie and MacDonnell, which the Mackenzies won. When the MacDonnells were retreating they had to cross a river, and those who missed the ford were either drowned or killed. A young and powerful chief of the MacDonnells in his flight made towards a spot where the burn rushed through a yawning chasm, very wide and deep, and was closely followed by one of the victorious Mackenzies; but MacDonnell, forgetting the danger of the attempt in the hurry of his flight and the agitation of the moment, and being of an athletic frame and half naked, made a desperate leap, and succeeded in clearing the rushing waters below.
Mackenzie inconsiderately followed him, but, not having the impulse of the powerful feelings that had animated MacDonnell, he did not reach the top of the opposite bank, succeeding only in grasping the branch of a birch tree, where he hung suspended over the abyss. Macdonnell, finding he was not being followed, returned to the edge of the chasm, and, seeing Mackenzie's situation, took out his dirk, and as he cut off the branch from the tree he said, "I have left much behind me with you to-day; take that also," and so Mackenzie perished.
There was another incident of Highland ferocity that attracted us powerfully, and read as follows: "Sir Ewen encountered a very powerful English officer, an over-match for him in strength, who, losing his sword, grappled with the chief, and got him under; but Lochiel's presence of mind did not forsake him, for grasping the Englishman by the collar and darting at his extended throat with his teeth, he tore away the bloody morsel, which he used to say was the sweetest morsel he had ever tasted."
We felt that the people hereabouts were still of another nation. The descendants of Prince Charlie's faithful adherents still clung to their ancient religion, and they preserved many of their old customs and traditions in spite of the changes in outlook which trade and the great canal had brought about.
It was therefore not to be wondered at that, after impressing our memories with these and other fearful stories and eating the heavy supper provided for us by our landlady, our dreams that night rather disturbed our slumbers.
Personally I was in the middle of a long journey, engaged in disagreeable adventures in which I was placed at a considerable disadvantage, as I was walking without my boots, when I was relieved from an unpleasant position by the announcement that it was six o'clock and that our boots had arrived according to promise.
(Distance walked nine miles.)
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