We left our comfortable quarters at Dalmally at seven o'clock in the morning, and presently reached Loch Awe, with the poet's monument still in sight and some islands quite near to us in the loch. We soon left Loch Awe, turning off when we reached Cladich and striking over the hills to the left. After walking about two miles all uphill, we reached the summit, whence we had a fine backward view of Loch Awe, which from this point appeared in a deep valley with its sides nicely wooded. Here we were in the neighbourhood of the Cruachan mountains, to which, with Loch Awe, a curious tradition was attached that a supernatural being named "Calliach Bhere," or "The Old Woman," a kind of female genie, lived on these high mountains. It was said that she could step in a moment with ease from one mountain to another, and, when offended, she could cause the floods to descend from the mountains and lay the whole of the low ground perpetually under water. Her ancestors were said to have lived from time immemorial near the summit of the vast mountain of Cruachan, and to have possessed a great number of herds in the vale below. She was the last of her line, and, like that of her ancestors, her existence was bound up with a fatal fountain which lay in the side of her native hill and was committed to the charge of her family since it first came into existence.
It was their duty at evening to cover the well with a large flat stone, and in the morning to remove it again. This ceremony was to be performed before the setting and the rising of the sun, that its last beam might not die upon nor its first ray shine upon the water in the well. If this care were neglected, a fearful and mysterious doom would be the punishment. When the father of the Calliach Bhere died, he committed the charge to her, warning her of its importance and solemnity and the fatality attending its neglect. For many years this mysterious woman attended carefully to her duties, but one unlucky evening, tired with her exertions in hunting and ascending the hills, she sat down by the fountain to await the setting of the sun, and falling asleep, did not awake until morning. When she arose she looked around, but the vale had vanished and a great sheet of water taken its place. The neglected well had overflowed while she slept, the glen was changed into a lake, the hills into islets, and her people and cattle had perished in the deluge. The Calliach took but one look over the ruin she had caused, and all that remained of her large possessions in the glen was Loch Awe and its islands! Then she herself vanished into oblivion.
It is strange how these old stories are told with but little variation in so many places. This very story appears in Wales and Ireland and other regions where Celts predominate, and except in one instance, that of the destruction of the Lowland Hundreds, now under the water of Cardigan Bay, always in connection with a woman. We first heard it in Shropshire, but there it was an old woman who lived in a small cottage and possessed the only well in the place, charging the townspeople one farthing per bucket for the water. In those remote times this formed a great tax on the poor people, and many were the prayers offered up that the imposition might be removed. These prayers were answered, for one night a great storm arose, the well continued to overflow, and in the morning the old woman and her cottage had disappeared, and in place of the well appeared the beautiful Lake of Ellesmere.
We had a fine walk down Glen Aray, with the River Aray on the left for some distance to keep us company, and after about four miles' walking we came to a ladder inserted in a high stone wall to the left of our road, which was here covered with trees. My brother climbed up to see what was on the other side, and reported that there was a similar ladder in the wall for descent, that he could see the river rushing down the rocks, and that a pretty little pathway ran under the trees alongside the stream. We had not met a single person since leaving the neighbourhood of Cladich, and as there was no one about from whom to make inquiries, we took "French leave" and climbed over the fence, to see at once a pretty waterfall and to follow a lovely path for a mile or two until it landed us in one of the main drives from Inverary Castle. Here we stopped to consider whether we should proceed or retreat, for we were sure we had been trespassing.
My brother reminded me of an experience that occurred to us in the previous year in London. Before we began our walk home from that great city we visited as many of the sights of London as we could, and amongst these was the famous Tower. We had passed through the Gateway, but were then uncertain how to proceed, when, peeping round a corner, we saw a man dressed in a very strange-looking uniform, whom we afterwards learned was called a "Beef-eater." We approached him rather timidly to make inquiries, to which he kindly replied, but told us afterwards that he knew we were Englishmen the minute he saw us coming round the corner. Foreigners in coming through the gateway always walked firmly and quickly, while the English came creeping along and looking round the corners as if they were afraid. "My advice to you, young men," he said, "when visiting strange places, is to go on until you are stopped!" So on this occasion we decided to follow that advice and to go on towards the castle we could see in the distance. We had not proceeded very far, however, before we met a couple of two-horse open carriages followed by quite a number of persons on horseback. Feeling rather guilty, we stepped upon the grass by the roadside, and tried to look as if we were not there, but we could see that we had been observed by the occupants of the carriages and by their retinue.
We knew from their appearance that they belonged to the aristocracy, and were not surprised to learn that the second carriage contained the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, while the people on horseback were the younger members of their family. We had almost reached the castle when we were stopped by a servant in livery, to whom we explained the cause of our presence, asking him the nearest way to Inverary, which he pointed out. He told us, among other things, that the Duke could drive many miles in his own domain, and that his family consisted of thirteen children, all of whom were living. We thanked him, and as we retired along the road he had directed us, we considered we had added one more adventure to enliven us on our journey. We had only walked a little way from the castle when a lady came across the park to speak to us, and told us that the cannon and the large wooden structure we could see in the park had been used for the "spree" at the royal wedding, when the Marquis of Lome, the eldest son of the Duke, had been married to the Princess Louise of England. She also told us that the Princess and the Marquis had been staying at the castle a short time before, but were not there then. Who the lady was we did not know, but she was of fine appearance and well educated, and from her conversation had evidently travelled extensively both at home and abroad. We thanked her for her courage and courtesy in coming to speak to us, at which she smiled and, bowing gracefully, retired towards the castle. How her conduct compared with that of some people in England may be judged from the following extract which we clipped from a Scottish newspaper shortly afterwards:
A War Office clerk was riding outside the Oban coach from Inverary. A fellow-passenger at his side remarked, "What a glorious view! what a lovely scene!" to which the young gentleman of the War Office, with a strong glance at the speaker, replied, "Sir, I don't know you; we have not been introduced."
It was a fine afternoon, and Inverary town looked at its best and quite pleasant in the sunshine, for most of the houses were coloured white. We halted awhile at the picturesque sculptured cross, where many a weary pilgrim had rested before us, with a glorious view over Loch Fyne and the mountains beyond. The church stood at the end of the street, and the "Argyll Arms Hotel" would have been a fine place to stay at for the night. There was also quite a large temperance hotel where carriages could be hired; but we had only walked about sixteen miles, so we had to resist these attractions and walk on to Cairndow, a further distance of ten miles.
Loch Fyne, along the edge of which our road ran all the way to Cairndow, is tidal and about two miles wide at Inverary. We were now on the opposite side of the castle grounds, and could see another entrance gate, which had been decorated for the royal wedding. Fine woods bounded our road on the left until we reached the round hill of Duniquaich, where it turned rather abruptly until at Strone Point it was nearly opposite Inverary. From this place we had a magnificent view of the district we had just passed through; the splendid castle with its grey walls and the lofty tower on the wooded hill adjoining it contrasted finely with the whitened houses of the town of Inverary, as it stood in the light of the setting sun. We journeyed on alongside the loch, when as the shades of evening were coming on we met a young man and a young woman apparently in great distress. They told us they had crossed the loch in a small boat to look for ferns, and as the tide was going out had thought they might safely leave their boat on the side of the loch, but when they returned they could not find it anywhere.
They seemed to have been equally unsuccessful with regard to the ferns, as we could not see any in their possession, but we guessed they had other interests, so we went to their assistance and soon found the boat, which doubtless was in the place where they had left it. The tide must have receded farther than they had anticipated, and they had looked for it too near the water. We assisted them to launch the boat, and when they were safely seated the young woman, who had looked far more alarmed than her companion, smiled upon us sweetly. In response to their looks and words of thanks we wished them a pleasant and safe journey; but we never saw any ferns! Our conversation as we resumed our walk was largely upon this adventure, and we wondered if the ferns could not have been found as easily on the other side of the loch as on this - but then we knew that Love is proverbially blind, and we consigned this fern story to the region of our mythological remembrances, and were still in good humour and not too tired when we reached the Cairndow inn, where we were hospitably, sumptuously, and we could safely add, when we paid the bill next morning, expensively entertained. But was this partly accounted for by the finely flavoured herrings known as Loch Fyne kippers we had for breakfast, which were said to fetch a higher price than any others in Scotland?
(Distance walked twenty-five miles.)
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