There are few scenes more fitted to move the imagination than the wonderful loch, and the more wonderful hills that surround it, presented in this view. It is somewhat of an exaggeration for Sir Walter Scott to say that here
'Nor tree, nor shrub, nor plant, nor flower, Nor ought of vegetative power The weary eye may ken.'
But this is distinctly the impression of a first survey of the wild scene, though under glints of sunshine there will not fail to meet the eye little snatches of grassy bottom and stunted herbage, here and there in the midst of the rocks. Yet there is so little to relieve the singular darkness of the rock-pent water, and the dusky green of the Cuchullin hills that surround it, that one fully appreciates, even in the brightest weather, how true a picture Scott has drawn of the scene:--
'For rarely human eye has known A scene so stern as that dread lake With its dark ledge of barren stone.
Seems that primeval earthquake's sway Hath rent a strange and shattered way Through the rude bosom of the hill, And that each naked precipice Sable ravine and dark abyss Tells of the outrage still.'
To see Coruisk in fine weather is impressive, but it is when leaden clouds weigh down the atmosphere, and dank mists clothe the rugged peaks around, that the scene comes out in its full and weird impressiveness. Then 'naked precipice,' 'sable ravine,' and 'dark abyss,' are seen to be true words, and there comes on the spectator some feeling of scenes that have been read of in Dante or Milton:--
'He views The dismal situation, waste and wild.
A dungeon horrible on all sides round * *
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can never dwell.'
But we must not give too black a character to this loch and its surrounding hills. It is no Malebolge, filled by 'sounds and sights unholy,' and while it impresses by its solitude and grandeur, it also gratifies by its intense feeling of repose, and its remoteness from the ills of busier life. Those visiting Coruisk will view with wonder the extraordinary peaks of the Cuchullins, (pronounced Coolins,) each more fantastic and broken than his neighbour, and all consisting of the green-black hypersthene trap that gives its character to the scenery here. South-east of the loch is the mighty bulk of Blabheinn, (pronounced Blaven,) a huge mass with precipitous sides, down which, on the occurrence of one of the frequent showers of this watery isle, the rain is seen to descend in broken rills of dazzling whiteness, making an extraordinary effect upon the upright face of dark rock. To the north-east, the Cuchullin hills terminate in the ragged triple peak of Scuir-na-gillean, the rock or hill of the young men. This height was first scaled, in recorded history, in 1836, when Principal Forbes, of glacial fame, ascended it, and since then, with guides, it has been frequently climbed. But from the extraordinary formation of the hill, the ascent is a work of much danger, and lives have been lost in the attempt. The peak is a narrow ledge, precipitous on every side. The height is 3220 feet, and although Scuir-na-Banachtich, the westmost peak, is believed to be as high, it has not been climbed so far as is known, and thus Scuir-na-gillean holds first rank in this wonderful group of mountains.
The first sight of this glorious loch, as the stage coach from Auchnasheen station brings the traveller to the top of a steep descent, is calculated to excite the liveliest emotions of wonder and surprise. The road reminds one of some Alpine pass, while far below stretches the large sheet of water, with its western end eighteen miles away. If for a moment a feeling of the smallness of the loch should supervene, the huge hills dwindling it down by their enormous bulk, this soon passes away, and we feel to be in presence of one of Scotland's proudest lochs. The coach drive to Gairloch occupies six hours in all, including a short stoppage to bait the horses at Kinlochewe, and during the whole time the eye is filled with pictures of grandeur or of delight. After the tedious descent to the water's edge has convinced you that the feeling of smallness is a mistake, you have time to observe the effect which such a mountain as Ben Slioch has in dwarfing all around it. Loch Maree is but six miles from the sea, with no great descent, so that the hill raises its mighty shoulders almost sheer from the sea level. From the road you perceive, skirting the loch on the other side, what seems a fringe of very small bushes. But anon a two-storey house appears among the bushes, which now, with a known standard of comparison, are seen to be tall trees!
From the top of Ben Slioch, or any of the neighbouring mountains of first-class size, the view is grand, embracing at once the Atlantic and the German Oceans. On the opposite side from Ben Slioch is the Scottish _Pentelicus_, Ben Eay, whose brilliant white quartz pinnacle may sometimes be seen shining in the sun, like the famed marble mountains of Greece.
On the bosom of Loch Maree, near its widest end, are several islands, the largest of which, Eilan Mhaolrubh, contains the remains of an old chapel, and a holy well that is even yet in high repute amongst the ignorant. It is sometimes said that the chapel, island, and loch get their name from the Virgin Mary, but this is now universally acknowledged amongst scholars to be an error. It was the Irish preacher, Maelrubha, (Latinised to Malrubius, then softened down in local tongues to Mulray, Mourie, and Maree,) who came over to Scotland in the seventh century, who gave his name to the place. Dr. Arthur Mitchell, in his Rhind Lectures on Civilization, has told in full the story of the curious superstitions concerning this island, of which examples as recently as twenty years ago are quoted. It is to be noted that when, a year or two ago, the Queen visited the island, great indignation was expressed in some quarters, because it was on a Sunday evening she got rowed over from her retreat at Talladale to see this interesting place.
The coach leaves the edge of the loch at Talladale, after a lovely and varied drive along its banks, now in the bosom of a dense wood, now in the midst of a rocky chaos,
'The fragments of an earlier world.'
A few miles down the road are found the romantic falls of the Kerry.
The man on the box seat at the left of the coach looks sheer down the precipice over which the stream falls, as the coach with a swing turns the corner of the steep road, with little visible between the traveller and the dangers of that awful chasm!
FALLS OF THE GARRAVALT.
Although not reckoning amongst the grander waterfalls of Scotland, the cataract on the Garravalt, in the Queen's Forest of Ballochbuie, is behind few in the picturesque wildness of its surroundings. The name in Gaelic,--'Garbh-allt'--is characteristic and descriptive, signifying a rough brook, and our view of the roaring cataract shews how completely it deserves that name. The entire course of the stream, from its rise in Cairn Taggart, one of the Loch-na-gar group of hills, is about five miles, and the linn itself is little more than half a mile from where the Garravalt joins the Dee. To reach the place,--and few visitors to the famed district of Deeside will omit to visit it,--only a slight deviation from the road leading from Crathie and Balmoral to the Castleton of Braemar is called for, the place where the road leads off being close beside the Bridge of Invercauld, over the Dee.
This waterfall, the finest of several in Deeside, has been enthusiastically praised by every writer. The Queen, in the _Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands_, says, 'From the road in the wood we walked up to the _Falls of the Garbhalt_, which are beautiful. The rocks are very grand, and the view from the little bridge, and also from a seat a little lower down, is very pretty.' Her Majesty has here indicated the two points of view generally chosen, namely that from the bridge looking down, and that from below, looking up the stream, the latter being adopted for our representation. To say, as one writer has done, that 'the water comes foaming and raging and toiling down in a manner almost impossible to be described,' is to abdicate the chief functions of a word painter. The waters come roaring and rushing down the rocky cleft, hurrying over the blocks and stones that impede their passage, and creating a noise that is heard far off,
'Confounding, Astounding, Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound And so never ending, but always descending Sound and motion for ever and ever are blending.'
The eye never tires in looking at the lively scene, and the ear drinks in the murmuring and thundering sound, which has the usual faculty of swelling and falling, till the mind gets imbued with the idea that the waters are endowed with the faculty of speech, so that we involuntarily ask 'what are the wild waves saying?' and linger long at the spot in the vain hope that the varying syllables of the living water will yet form themselves into intelligible words. This is not to be however, and we may turn away to look for a moment at the picturesque country in which this attractive waterfall is situated.
The steep pine-covered hill is called the Forest of Ballochbuie. Here again we may turn to the Queen's book, where 'the aspect of the wood which is called Balloch Buie' is described as 'most lovely.' It is said that this ground was at one time given to the Farquharsons of Invercauld, by the Earl of Mar, for a tartan plaid. It is now royal property, and forms an extensive and valued addition to the forest of Balmoral, which lies between Ballochbuie and the castle. It was in the Mar territory, at the Castleton of Braemar, that in 1715 the then Earl of Mar raised his standard in support of the Chevalier St. George, whom he had previously, in Glenlivat, proclaimed as King James the Eighth of Scotland. Here, where 'the gathering pipe on Loch-na-gar'
was heard sounding 'long and sairly,' the inheritor of the crown of the Stewarts has frequently attended a very different gathering on the 'Braes o' Mar,' when the Duffs, the Farquharsons, and other clans meet, not for feuds and bloodshed, but for the athletic rivalries of 'tossing the caber' and other native games.
THE DHU LOCH--LOCH-NA-GAR.
It is perhaps puzzling to the stranger to learn that Loch-na-gar is a mountain, 3768 feet above the level of the sea, though there is on the summit, and hemmed in by steep precipices, a small sheet of water that gives its name to the hill. But in the Dhu Loch, a little further in the heart of this mountainous district, we find one of the most striking scenes in Scotland. It was of the hill and its surroundings that Lord Byron wrote his familiar lines,
'Away ye gay landscapes, ye gardens of roses, In you let the minions of luxury rove.
Restore me the rocks where the snowflake reposes, Tho' still they are sacred to freedom and love.
O Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains, Round their white summits though elements war, Though cataracts foam, 'stead of smooth-flowing fountains, I sigh for the valley of dark Loch-na-gar.'
The _Dhu Loch_, or black loch--a well-deserved name--has its bed, as shown in our view, in steep and desperate precipices of granite, and for sternness of outline is not excelled. The red-deer on its banks are undisturbed, for seldom does the foot of man intrude on their repose, and while the water is clear, it is strongly discoloured by the peat, and the absence of foliage, with the sterile loneliness of the scene, make men shun rather than court its remote solitudes. 'The scenery is beautiful here,' says the Queen, in her _Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands_, 'so wild and grand,--real severe Highland scenery,' and the description is surely a true one. No one can come about the Dhu Loch without being prepared for 'several scrambles,' like the royal party, and without being prepared also to endure the 'severity' as well as enjoy the beauty of the place. If he does not, like Lord Byron, admit Loch-na-gar to be 'the most sublime and picturesque of Caledonian Alps,'--for perhaps some hill already named in this volume, unknown to Byron, such as Blaven, or Ben Eay, might dispute the title--still he will acknowledge that it is a wonderful region. It is said that on a fair calculation of what elements go to make up a desirable climate, the kingdom has nothing better to offer than Braemar, and that Balmoral is the ideal site for a residence. The district is like all that belonged to the little bear in the child's story. The hills are neither too high nor too low, but just right. The climate is neither too mild nor too severe, but just right. The rainfall is neither too much nor too little, but just right. In short it is a perfect region,--perfect in its variety of scenery, from the rich woodlands of its lower ranges to the wild grandeur of its mountain recesses. Perfect is it also in its fine lochs, its picturesque waterfalls, its brattling burns, and its rolling rivers.
The waters from the Dhu Loch run into Loch Muick, above which lies the hut at Altnaghuissac, a favourite _shiel_, or mountain summer house of the royal family when living at Balmoral. This lies in the very innermost recesses of a grand region, and here the pure air, and the splendid views, combine to make a haven of retreat, whether, as in the case of royalty, from the cares of state and the turmoil of politics, or, in the case of the jaded man of business, from the burdens and anxieties of the daily grind of life. Those characteristics, more or less true of the whole inner region of Aberdeenshire, have made the district a favourite _sanitarium_, while for the mere pleasure-seeker it presents a succession of delights, full of unalloyed beauty, unless indeed the weather should break down, and the unwary traveller is caught in the rains and mists of winter, which may make the ascent of Loch-na-gar dangerous.
THE CAULDRON LINN.
It is not a little remarkable that the only conception of the Devon put on paper by Robert Burns was as a clear winding river, whose sweet stream 'meandering flows.' The fact was that Burns was led to know that something was expected of him, and his muse was not to respond, for she acted spontaneously or not at all. A woman did eventually inspire him to write--ah! those women, how much of Burns' best thoughts did they command!--and he referred to the romantic stream only in order to tell that the 'bonniest flower' there had once been a sweet bud on the banks of his own beloved Ayr. The river Devon has a short and chequered existence, and after a course of thirty-four miles, falls into the Forth within five miles of its source. At that little bit of its journey when, after rising in Stirlingshire, it flows through Perthshire into Kinrosshire, and then doubles back across a peninsular bit of Perthshire to reach the county of Clackmannan, the stream goes through a series of vicissitudes that completely destroy its 'clear-winding' character. First there is the deep chasm across which the Rumbling Bridge is thrown. There are here two bridges, one over the other. The earlier bridge, built in 1713, eighty feet above the stream, is narrow and without a parapet, and there is a local tradition of a man who fell asleep in his cart being taken home safely over this exalted and narrow pathway by the instinct of his horse. The present bridge, a plain but strong erection, was built in 1816, and is one hundred and twenty feet above the stream, the latter hidden far below amidst inaccessible precipices and darkening woods. Further up the stream is the 'Devil's Mill,' said to be a waterfall, but so completely inaccessible, that the character of the place is very much a matter of conjecture. However, there is heard far down in the depths below the clack and beat of a mill; and as this goes on Sabbath and Saturday alike, the name quoted above has been bestowed on the unhallowed mill. It is understood that the water falls into a basin or chasm without outlet, carrying air with it, then the air bursts out with the boom that resembles the regulated beat of a mill. Be the cause what it may, the delusion is perfect.
Pursuing its way for a mile through a deeply cleft and gnarled valley, the Devon flings itself in desperation over the Cauldron Linn. There are two points of view for this singular waterfall, one from above looking down, the other, shown in our view, from below, looking up.
From above, at the level where the trees are seen, the water leaps into the cauldrons that give the Linn its name. In the hard basaltic rock the swirling water has worn out three circular vats or cauldrons, in which the stream incessantly goes round. The surplus water plunges over the edge of one cauldron to that below, or, as in one instance, has worn a hole in the side of the pot, and rushes through that. It is said that when a sheep's carcase is brought down, and the river is not high, it will swirl round in the cauldrons till a spate comes strong enough to carry it over the edge. At the top the round lips of the upper cauldron nearly meet, so that a man of nerve could leap across.
The distance is probably not over a yard, but so dizzying is the incessant whirl of the water, that so far from leaping across, a timid visitor may not even look over the edge, unless prone on the earth he puts his face over, conscious that six-sevenths of his body are safe on _terra firma_!
From below none of this terrible stir of the Cauldron Linn is seen--we have merely a snowy sheet of water, beautiful certainly, and impressive in its height, and encircled with lofty precipices, so that, without reference to its characteristic features above, it takes rank as one of the most beautiful cataracts in Scotland. The view, which forms a vignette on our title-page, would in its natural place come before or after Loch Leven.
B. FAWCETT, ENGRAVER AND PRINTER, DRIFFIELD.