Wednesday, September 7th.
Rose early, and went before breakfast to the Duke of Athol's gardens and pleasure-grounds, where we completely tired ourselves with a three-hours' walk. Having been directed to see all the waterfalls, we submitted ourselves to the gardener, who dragged us from place to place, calling our attention to, it might be, half-a-dozen - I cannot say how many - dripping streams, very pretty in themselves, if we had had the pleasure of discovering them; but they were generally robbed of their grace by the obtrusive ornaments which were first seen. The whole neighbourhood, a great country, seems to belong to the Duke of Athol. In his domain are hills and mountains, glens and spacious plains, rivers and innumerable torrents; but near Blair are no old woods, and the plantations, except those at a little distance from the house, appear inconsiderable, being lost to the eye in so extensive a circuit.
The castle stands on low ground, and far from the Garry, commanding a prospect all round of distant mountains, a bare and cold scene, and, from the irregularity and width of it, not so grand as one should expect, knowing the great height of some of the mountains. Within the Duke's park are three glens, the glen of the river Tilt and two others, which, if they had been planted more judiciously, would have been very sweet retirements; but they are choked up, the whole hollow of the glens - I do not speak of the Tilt, for that is rich in natural wood - being closely planted with trees, and those chiefly firs; but many of the old fir-trees are, as single trees, very fine. On each side of the glen is an ell-wide gravel walk, which the gardener told us was swept once a week. It is conducted at the top of the banks, on each side, at nearly equal height, and equal distance from the stream; they lead you up one of these paths, and down the other - very wearisome, as you will believe - mile after mile! We went into the garden, where there was plenty of fruit - gooseberries, hanging as thick as possible upon the trees, ready to drop off; I thought the gardener might have invited us to refresh ourselves with some of his fruit after our long fatigue.
One part of the garden was decorated with statues, 'images,' as poor Mr. Gill used to call those at Racedown, dressed in gay-painted clothes; and in a retired corner of the grounds, under some tall trees, appeared the figure of a favourite old gamekeeper of one of the former Dukes, in the attitude of pointing his gun at the game - 'reported to be a striking likeness,' said the gardener. Looking at some of the tall larches, with long hairy twigs, very beautiful trees, he told us that they were among the first which had ever been planted in Scotland, that a Duke of Athol had brought a single larch from London in a pot, in his coach, from which had sprung the whole family that had overspread Scotland. This, probably, might not be accurate, for others might afterwards have come, or seed from other trees. He told us many anecdotes of the present Duke, which I wish I could perfectly remember.
He is an indefatigable sportsman, hunts the wild deer on foot, attended by twelve Highlanders in the Highland dress, which he himself formerly used to wear; he will go out at four o'clock in the morning, and not return till night. His fine family, 'Athol's honest men, and Athol's bonny lasses,' to whom Burns, in his bumpers, drank health and long life, are dwindled away: of nine, I believe only four are left: the mother of them is dead in a consumption, and the Duke married again. We rested upon the heather seat which Burns was so loth to quit that moonlight evening when he first went to Blair Castle, and had a pleasure in thinking that he had been under the same shelter, and viewed the little waterfall opposite with some of the happy and pure feelings of his better mind. The castle has been modernized, which has spoiled its appearance. It is a large irregular pile, not handsome, but I think may have been picturesque, and even noble, before it was docked of its battlements and whitewashed.
The most interesting object we saw at Blair was the chapel, shaded by trees, in which the body of the impetuous Dundee lies buried. This quiet spot is seen from the windows of the inn, whence you look, at the same time, upon a high wall and a part of the town - a contrast which, I know not why, made the chapel and its grove appear more peaceful, as if kept so for some sacred purpose. We had a very nice breakfast, which we sauntered over after our weary walk.
Being come to the most northerly point of our destined course, we took out the map, loth to turn our backs upon the Highlands, and, looking about for something which we might yet see, we fixed our eyes upon two or three spots not far distant, and sent for the landlord to consult with him. One of them was Loch Rannoch, a fresh-water lake, which he told us was bordered by a natural pine forest, that its banks were populous, and that the place being very remote, we might there see much of the simplicity of the Highlander's life. The landlord said that we must take a guide for the first nine or ten miles; but afterwards the road was plain before us, and very good, so at about ten o'clock we departed, having engaged a man to go with us. The Falls of Bruar, which we wished to visit for the sake of Burns, are about three miles from Blair, and our road was in the same direction for two miles.
After having gone for some time under a bare hill, we were told to leave the car at some cottages, and pass through a little gate near a brook which crossed the road. We walked upwards at least three quarters of a mile in the hot sun, with the stream on our right, both sides of which to a considerable height were planted with firs and larches intermingled - children of poor Burns's song; for his sake we wished that they had been the natural trees of Scotland, birches, ashes, mountain-ashes, etc.; however, sixty or seventy years hence they will be no unworthy monument to his memory. At present, nothing can be uglier than the whole chasm of the hill-side with its formal walks.
I do not mean to condemn them, for, for aught I know, they are as well managed as they could be; but it is not easy to see the use of a pleasure-path leading to nothing, up a steep and naked hill in the midst of an unlovely tract of country, though by the side of a tumbling stream of clear water. It does not surely deserve the name of a pleasure-path. It is three miles from the Duke of Athol's house, and I do not believe that one person living within five miles of the place would wish to go twice to it. The falls are high, the rocks and stones fretted and gnawed by the water. I do not wonder at the pleasure which Burns received from this stream; I believe we should have been much pleased if we had come upon it as he did. At the bottom of the hill we took up our car, and, turning back, joined the man who was to be our guide.
Crossed the Garry, and went along a moor without any road but straggling cart-tracks. Soon began to ascend a high hill, and the ground grew so rough - road there was none - that we were obliged to walk most of the way. Ascended to a considerable height, and commanded an extensive prospect bounded by lofty mountains, and having crossed the top of the fell we parted with our guide, being in sight of the vale into which we were to descend, and to pursue upwards till we should come to Loch Rannoch, a lake, as described to us, bedded in a forest of Scotch pines.
When left to ourselves we sat down on the hillside, and looked with delight into the deep vale below, which was exceedingly green, not regularly fenced or cultivated, but the level area scattered over with bushes and trees, and through that level ground glided a glassy river, not in serpentine windings, but in direct turnings backwards and forwards, and then flowed into the head of the Lake of Tummel; but I will copy a rough sketch which I made while we sate upon the hill, which, imperfect as it is, will give a better idea of the course of the river - which I must add is more curious than beautiful - than my description. The ground must be often overflowed in winter, for the water seemed to touch the very edge of its banks. At this time the scene was soft and cheerful, such as invited us downwards, and made us proud of our adventure.
Coming near to a cluster of huts, we turned thither, a few steps out of our way, to inquire about the road; these huts were on the hill, placed side by side, in a figure between a square and a circle, as if for the sake of mutual shelter, like haystacks in a farmyard - no trees near them. We called at one of the doors, and three hale, stout men came out, who could speak very little English, and stared at us with an almost savage look of wonder. One of them took much pains to set us forward, and went a considerable way down the hill till we came in sight of the cart road, which we were to follow; but we had not gone far before we were disheartened.
It was with the greatest difficulty William could lead the horse and car over the rough stones, and to sit in it was impossible; the road grew worse and worse, therefore we resolved to turn back, having no reason to expect anything better, for we had been told that after we should leave the untracked ground all would be fair before us. We knew ourselves where we stood to be about eight miles distant from the point where the river Tummel, after having left the lake, joins the Garry at Fascally near the Pass of Killicrankie, therefore we resolved to make our way thither, and endeavour to procure a lodging at the same public-house where it had been refused to us the night before. The road was likely to be very bad; but, knowing the distance, we thought it more prudent than to venture farther with nothing before us but uncertainty. We were forced to unyoke the horse, and turn the car ourselves, owing to the steep banks on either side of the road, and after much trouble we got him in again, and set our faces down the vale towards Loch Tummel, William leading the car and I walking by his side.
For the first two or three miles we looked down upon the lake, our road being along the side of the hill directly above it. On the opposite side another range of hills rose up in the same manner, - farm-houses thinly scattered among the copses near the water, and cultivated ground in patches. The lake does not wind, nor are the shores much varied by bays, - the mountains not commanding; but the whole a pleasing scene. Our road took us out of sight of the water, and we were obliged to procure a guide across a high moor, where it was impossible that the horse should drag us at all, the ground being exceedingly rough and untracked: of course fatiguing for foot-travellers, and on foot we must travel. After some time, the river Tummel again served us for a guide, when it had left the lake. It was no longer a gentle stream, a mirror to the sky, but we could hear it roaring at a considerable distance between steep banks of rock and wood. We had to cross the Garry by a bridge, a little above the junction of the two rivers; and were now not far from the public-house, to our great joy, for we were very weary with our laborious walk.
I do not think that I had walked less than sixteen miles, and William much more, to which add the fatigue of leading the horse, and the rough roads, and you will not wonder that we longed for rest. We stopped at the door of the house, and William entered as before, and again the woman refused to lodge us, in a most inhuman manner, giving no other reason than that she would not do it. We pleaded for the poor horse, entreated, soothed, and flattered, but all in vain, though the night was cloudy and dark. We begged to sit by the fire till morning, and to this she would not consent; indeed, if it had not been for the sake of the horse, I would rather have lain in a barn than on the best of feather-beds in the house of such a cruel woman.
We were now, after our long day's journey, five miles from the inn at Blair, whither we, at first, thought of returning; but finally resolved to go to a public-house which we had seen in a village we passed through, about a mile above the ferry over the Tummel, having come from that point to Blair, for the sake of the Pass of Killicrankie and Blair itself, and had now the same road to measure back again. We were obliged to leave the Pass of Killicrankie unseen; but this disturbed us little at a time when we had seven miles to travel in the dark, with a poor beast almost sinking with fatigue, for he had not rested once all day. We went on spiritless, and at a dreary pace. Passed by one house which we were half inclined to go up to and ask for a night's lodging; and soon after, being greeted by a gentle voice from a poor woman, whom, till she spoke, though we were close to her, we had not seen, we stopped, and asked if she could tell us where we might stay all night, and put up our horse.
She mentioned the public-house left behind, and we told our tale, and asked her if she had no house to which she could take us. 'Yes, to be sure she had a house, but it was only a small cottage;' and she had no place for the horse, and how we could lodge in her house she could not tell; but we should be welcome to whatever she had, so we turned the car, and she walked by the side of it, talking to us in a tone of human kindness which made us friends at once.
I remember thinking to myself, as I have often done in a stage-coach, though never with half the reason to prejudge favourably, What sort of countenance and figure shall we see in this woman when we come into the light? And indeed it was an interesting moment when, after we had entered her house, she blew the embers on the hearth, and lighted a candle to assist us in taking the luggage out of the car. Her husband presently arrived, and he and William took the horse to the public-house. The poor woman hung the kettle over the fire. We had tea and sugar of our own, and she set before us barley cakes, and milk which she had just brought in; I recollect she said she 'had been west to fetch it.' The Highlanders always direct you by east and west, north and south - very confusing to strangers. She told us that it was her business to 'keep the gate' for Mr. ---, who lived at --- just below, - that is, to receive messages, take in letters, etc.
Her cottage stood by the side of the road leading to his house, within the gate, having, as we saw in the morning, a dressed-up porter's lodge outside; but within was nothing but the naked walls, unplastered, and floors of mud, as in the common huts. She said that they lived rent-free in return for their services; but spoke of her place and Mr. --- with little respect, hinting that he was very proud; and indeed her appearance, and subdued manners, and that soft voice which had prepossessed us so much in her favour, seemed to belong to an injured and oppressed being. We talked a great deal with her, and gathered some interesting facts from her conversation, which I wish I had written down while they were fresh in my memory. They had only one child, yet seemed to be very poor, not discontented but languid, and willing to suffer rather than rouse to any effort. Though it was plain she despised and hated her master, and had no wish to conceal it, she hardly appeared to think it worth while to speak ill of him. We were obliged to sit up very late while our kind hostess was preparing our beds. William lay upon the floor on some hay, without sheets; my bed was of chaff; I had plenty of covering, and a pair of very nice strong clean sheets, - she said with some pride that she had good linen. I believe the sheets had been of her own spinning, perhaps when she was first married, or before, and she probably will keep them to the end of her life of poverty.
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