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Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
Three Days in Arran in 1840

First Day

A remarkable change has taken place within the last twenty years, as to a taste for pedestrian excursions among young men of rank and education. Some time ago, it was quite customary for gentlemen to set out on foot to visit the romantic districts of our Highlands and islands, with no other accommodations in the way of dress than were contained in a knapsack or fishing-basket. The writings of Scott, Wilson, &c., aided by their example, no doubt tended greatly to create and keep alive this spirit; and it can as little be doubted, that the facilities in travelling afforded by steam-boats and coaches have crushed it, and rendered the Scottish youth of the present day disinclined to, and unfit for, such continued feats of activity and hardihood.

I am one of those who have enjoyed the pleasures of pedestrianism in a very high degree; and cannot help deploring the habits of indolence and effeminacy observable among young gentlemen in these modem times. So alive are they in general to the discomforts of blistered feet, a soiled dress, and a hard couch, that they can scarcely be prevailed upon to extend their rambles beyond the regions of silk stockings and feather beds, thereby depriving themselves of much that would at once tend to invigorate their bodies, and add to their knowledge of nature and of mankind.

I have been induced to make these remarks in prefacing a notice of a three days’ excursion to the Island of Arran—decidedly one of the most magnificent, and now one of the most accessible on the coast of Scotland. I left Ardrossan in the steam-packet, the Isle of Arran, on Monday. This vessel leaves the said harbour daily at half-past ten A.M., and reaches Brodick generally in less than two hours. She is a stout-built, slow, but safe boat, and her captain is as civil and smart a young man as any who navigates the Clyde. The view of Arran from every quarter is strikingly grand; and upon approaching it no one, capable of appreciating the sublime, can remain unmoved. The precipitous cliffs and savage glens become gradually more stupendous and interesting, till you reach the pretty little bay of Brodick, close under the castle of that name. Here everything looks snug and comfortable. The extensive woods surrounding the castle screen the lofty peaks from the view; and in a few minutes the passengers may be in the very commodious inn, which has been long remarkably well kept by its present kind and attentive hostess, Mrs Jamieson.

Upon reaching the inn, I proceeded to prepare myself for the ascent of Goatfell, by substituting a travelling cap for a hat, and a pair of strong doublesoled shoes tor boots, &c., &c. A friend provided me with a small flask of the best Islay whisky; and precisely at half-past one, I left the bay alone.. At tnree I reached the summit, having passed a party of three gentlemen in the way, and met with three more and two ladies on the top. The day proved one of the most favourable we have had this season. The islands of the Clyde, Bute, the Cumbraes, &c., lay like a map at our feet; while those more remote, Jura, Isla, Mull, &c., with great part of the Irish coast, and many of our most celebrated Highland mountains, were distinctly in view. But by far the most attractive object seen from Goatfell is the mountain itself, with those by which it is immediately Surrounded. In this respect, Goatfell surpasses anything of the kind I ever saw, and I have climbed many of the most elevated peaks in Scotland, England, and Wales. The upper part of the mountain, as well as those adjoining, consists of naked rocks, huge masses of granite, piled up in the most grotesque and fantastic forms by nature’s mighty architect. In some instances, there is an appearance of irregularity, Cyclopian walls, like mason work upon a gigantic scale. In other parts, the most frightful chasms appear, into which the eye cannot penetrate without a thrill of horror, while around you are seen serrated ridges, like huge devouring fangs. '

I had ascended this mountain many years ago, but could then merely discern, through a thick fog, that it was well worthy of a second visit under more favourable circumstances. As this, in all probability, was the last time I should ever be there, I was resolved to make the most of it. Accordingly, I scrambled to the tops of several points on the Groatfell ridge, till I came within view of Kioch-na-hain (a most interesting peak, with, by interpretation, a still more interesting name), all on the same side of Glen Sannox. Returning by a somewhat different route, I descended, at great hazard into the upper part of Glen Sannox, passed over into Glen Rosa, close by Kier-Vohr ana Castleaval, descending the said glen with unbounded admiration, but not without dread of being benighted, if not cut off, in such circumstances as might exclude the probability of my ever receiving Christian burial. The upper part of this glen is of the rudest and most romantic character. Its waters fall into the bay of Brodick. On one side rises Goatfell in all its wild magnificence; on the other, Kier-Vohr and Ben-Oosh are the most striking objects. Let the pedestrian particularly remark a ledge of lofty, perpendicular rocks, forming a screen or amphitheatre, about half-way up Ben-Oosh, of singular structure and grandeur. This glen proved much longer than I anticipated, so that my fears were in part realised, as I was fairly benighted when half-way down. The most formidable part of it, however, I had left behind me; and though I got at least a score of awkward enough tumbles, I found myself "at mine ease in mine inn” at half-past eight. Being totally ignorant of the nature of the ground, and to prevent broken bones, I kept the bed of the stream for the last mile or more, wading promiscuously through pools and shallows till I reached the bridge. Not aving tasted a morsel of food since I left Irvine at eight A.M., it may readily be conceived that Mrs Jamieson’s dainties disappeared with no ordinary rapidity. I was greatly surprised to learn, that in Brodick it had rained very heavily for two hours during my absence, though I had not felt a drop all day. I observed shadows of several brilliant rainbows in the sea, proceeding from clouds that were beneath me, from which the rain must have been discharged.

Second Day

After a sound sleep, I arose betimes, in order to explore the vicinity of Brodick Castle before the noble owner and his numerous party of sportsmen were astir. The morning was beautiful, and the bay enchanting. No place can be imagined better adapted for bathing; and were the duke disposed to improve his exchequer at the expense of his aristocratic feelings, he might have an excellent opportunity by feuing in this island. The contrary, however, is the case; and the few bathers that resort to Arran must content themselves with very indifferent accommodation. Though it be questionable how far importations of drapers and cotton-spinners from Glasgow, Paisley, &c., would add to the interest of these scenes, it cannot be doubted that their neat villas would adorn the island, and their wealth enrich the poor natives.

At the castle, I found all quiet, with the exception of the bustle occasioned by carpenters busied in constructing a temporary pavilion for the reception of the savans of the British Association. The castle itself is well worth visiting, both on account of its splendid situation, and its being a fair specimen oi a baronial residence of several centuries standing. The apartments are said to be by no means splendid, but admirably adapted for a shooting residence. The surrounding woods are well stocked with beautiful American deer, two of which I happened to surprise; and the upper grounds, as far as heath extends, afford abundance of black game and grouse.

On descending to the beach, I walked several miles along the shore towards Lamlash; and then, retracing my steps, breakfasted with a venerable professor of Glasgow College, who. having long faithfully discharged his academical labours, has been for several years enjoying otium cum dignitall in this delightful retreat. I was lucky enough here to partake of haddock and whiting, which I had seen alive in the hands of the fisherman. They were indeed excellent, and bespoke the services of an accomplished cook.

The arrival of the packet, particularly at this season, creates considerable excitement, as it is generally full of visitors. After waiting its arrival, I set off along the shore for Loch Ranza, of which very singular place I had once got a glimpse at sea, in passing to the Giant’s Causeway, which determined me to form a nearer acquaintance, should it ever be in my power. About five miles from Brodick, there is a neat little inn at a place called Corrie. Passing this, I proceeded to the foot of Glen Sannox, where the road to Loch Ranza leaves the shore. In this glen, the Duke of Hamilton has lately erected a work for converting barytes, or heavy spar, into a substitute for white lead, in the composition of paint—an expedient which many think will be successful, but which is a very questionable one.

The farm-house and offices at Glen Sannox are by far the best on the island; indeed, they would grace the Lothians, and the tenant seems every way worthy of them. Having an introduction, I called, and was very hospitably received. After having been instructed as to the road to Loch Ranza, and kindly convoyed for a mile or so, I proceeded on my solitary ramble through a long and very deary moor. The track I followed is in many places so obscure, that it is not easy, even in broad daylight, to keep it; I would therefore earnestly advise no one to risk being benighted in this district, there being no house of any description for eight or ten miles—especially as there is a carriage road by n6 means very circuitous.

Loch Ranza is a place to dream of, but such as you will rarely see in real life. It is a narrow inlet of the sea, among the lofty and steep mountains, apparently land-locked by a bold rocky precipice. On the foreground, in looking towards the sea, beyond a straggling village and small missionary church, there is a level on which stands an old castle, pretty entire, and of great strength. Eight or nine miles of sea intervene betwixt this and the coast of Kintyre, and beyond all appear the bold and lofty mountains of Jura. The sea here, as all around Arran, is of great depth, and so clear, that you may see shells or any white object forty or fifty feet from the surface. In the bay of Brodick, you have soundings from 12 to 20 fathoms; but a little farther out, from 80 to 100.

At Loch Ranza, there is a comfortable little inn, kept by Mr and Mrs M‘Larty, no way connected with the Glenbumie family of that name. Upon entering, I was glad to see a roast of mutton at the fire; but, to my mortification, was informed that it was preparing for two gentlemen who had ordered it some days before. Trusting to some favourable arrangement, I loitered about the shore for an hour or so, till the expected arrival, when I was politely invited by the gentlemen to partake. Our dinner consisted also of excellent fresh haddock; so that we had no reason to complain of bad cheer. My companions were very genteel^ agreeable young men—one had been ten years in India; and the other, the son of a gentleman connected with the island, had just returned from prosecuting his studies in England. We spent a very happy evening together, over some excellent whisky-toddy, and tea, which the Eastern soldier had been so provident as to send along with their luggage, not trusting to the resources of this sequestered spot for that delicate commodity. In these gentlemen, I was happy to find an exception to the generality of their class in these degenerate days. They had left Lamlash early in the morning, driven to Brodick, walked up . Glen Rosa, ascended the ragged crests of Kier-Vohr, and marched direct upon Loch Ranza, through many a trackless moor and raging torrent, arriving at their destination about four o’clock.

Here I may just suggest a day’s work, quite practicable by young men of spirit who have the use of their limbs, and one which would be attended with no little gratification to any man who has a taste for the grand and sublime. Leave Glasgow early, either by sea or land; breakfast at Ardrossan; climb Goatfell; descend by the head of Glen Rosa and Glen Sannox, and proceed direct to Loch Ranza, as was done by the gentlemen above-mentioned. I know not a more varied, comprehensive, and delightful excursion than this; and, if the weather were dear and fine, any active healthy young man might accomplish it with ease. Not to speak of steam conveyances, it might even be extended to Kilmarnock, by taking the Independent coach at five a.m. Coaches are ready upon its arrival to convey passengers to Ardrossan in time for the Arran packet. I trust these hints will not be thrown away, but fall into the hands of some of your Glasgow readers, and induce them to devote their next few days of respite from the wareroom or desk to exploring some of nature’s sublimest retreats.

As I meditated a very early departure next morning, I made all requisite inquiries of mine host as to the route by the west side of the island, and withdrew betimes to my humble but cleanly and comfortable couch. It is but justice to say, that Mr and Mrs M‘Lanty seem a most respectable couple; she proved a Gallowegian, which soon matured our acquaintance. Their charges are very moderate; and, as they are making some addition to their establishment, half-a-dozen visitors may soon be accommodated as well as could reasonably be expected in such a lonely situation. A more .splendid retreat for sea-bathers cannot be conceived; and the arrival of a Clyde steamer twice or thrice a-week would produce a wonderful metamorphosis.

Third Day

The weather for the last two days had been delightful; now, however, a sad reverse occurred. No sooner had I retired to anticipated slumbers, than wind and rain came on to a degree little short of a tempest. Doors and windows rattled so, that sleep was out of the (question; and the very house shook to the foundation. In this state of things, I had no difficulty in discerning the boundaries of darkness and light, as I scarcely shut my eyes. Being obliged to sail by the packet of this day, and haying been informed that I had thirty miles to walk by my intended route, I started at five o’clock, witn grey daylight, leaving all quiet at Loch Ranza, except the elements.

There was something inexpressibly dreary and cheerless in holding on my solitary course along the wild north-west coast of Arran under these circumstances. Close on my left arose stupendous cliffs, and on the right an angry tempestuous sea dashed its troubled waters to my very feet, as there is little more than space for a narrow Highland road intervening. The rains had converted all the streams into torrents; several of which, there being no bridges, were next to impassable. Upon one occasion, where some huge granite blocks had been carried down, I found very great difficulty. Seeing two men not far off, I requested them to lay a plank over the chasm. To this they kindly consented, holding hard by one end while I crossed. An emphatic “Gudesake, sir, tak’ care o’ your-sel’!” was ejaculated; while the board vibrated, till it was partly immersed in the broken water. When fairly over, I bowed my gratitude, the noise of the foaming torrent being beyond the compass of the voice. This stream goes chiefly from the north side of Ben Vharren, or Barren Mountain, one of the loftiest on the island.

Here and there, one meets with miserable huts, and equally miserable crops of oats and barley along the coast; but, upon the whole, it has a desolate and savage aspect. The herring fishery is the principal employment of the natives. Close under the shelter of a headland, I observed no less than fifteen serviceable-looking boats, belonging probably to the islanders. One of them attempted to cross the channel while I was passing, but had not proceeded farther than a couple of hundred yards before she was obliged to put back, as the sea was dashing over her pretty freely. The opposite coast of Kintyre is extremely bleak and uninteresting. It cannot be called bold; and the uniform-looking hills nowhere, I should think, exceed a thousand feet in height.

I pushed on through wind and rain, without anything remarkable occurring, till I was suddenly brought up by a broad, deep, and raging torrent, which, for some time, I feared would render farther progress that day impracticable. It is called the Lorsay, and is decidedly the largest river in the island. Its waters flow from the rugged sides of Ben Vharren, Caimnacaillach, Ben-Oosh, &c., and on this occasion presented a truly formidable aspect. Not far from mfe, on a little knoll, was a flag-staff with a flag flying, indicating the residence of the Hon. Mr Westenra, one of the three proprietors of the island, and brother of Lord Rossmore, an Irish Peer. He resides here during part of the shooting season in a small white-washed cottage; but a more dreary abode can scarcely be imagined. It is sheltered from the sea by the eminence above-mentioned; and, in front, the impetuous Lorsay dashes on to the restless ocean, about a quarter of a mile distant.

Ascending till the channel narrowed was out of the question, as I might have trudged on till night without a chance of effecting a sate passage. At length I resolved to strike in where the stream was broadest, and to slant downwards about a hundred yards, as being the least dangerous course I could adopt. The depth was not so great as I anticipated, for I was never above the middle; but the strength of the current, among huge rolled and rolling stones, repeatedly almost threw me off my feet; in which case the chances were, that I should very unceremoniously have been hurried into the sea as a waif to the finny tribe. After much caution, and no little danger, I reached the dry land; but what was my mortification, when, upon looking back, I found that I had passed a clachan, concealed from the road by high ground, where I had been advised to breakfast! Returning waa not to be thought of; so I pressed on, drenched and hungry, to some caves on the shore, in one of which, called the King’s Cave, kept with considerable care, Robert Bruce is said to have sheltered himself from his enemies.

As nature now called aloud for sustenance, I entered the best-looking of several cottages not far off, and asked if I could have breakfast. I was answered in the affirmative, and soon partook plentifully of their best, which was most acceptable, though certainly, in other circumstances, not very inviting. I could not complain of want of company, as the whole of the neighbours flocked together to see the Sassenach at feed. The customary recompense was thankfully received; and a lad kindly conducted metoafoot-path through the muir, leading to the road lately made betwixt Brodick and Siskin. Several miles’ travelling brought me to this road, which is the best in the island; and here ended my difficulties, as there now remained little more than six miles to Brodick. From the highest part of this road, where it is called the String, there is a splendid view of the Alpine peaks, as also of the Bay of Brodick, where the steamer had just arrived on her way to Lamlash. Passing the exceedingly neat new church, with its trim-kept enclosure, I soon again arrived at head* quarters, having walked no less than thirty miles before two o’clock—not a bad day’s work for a man who was in his prime a quarter of a century ago, especially when the performances of the two preceding days are taken into consideration. The comforts of a change of raiment, and an excellent dinner, were unspeakably enhanced by the hardships of the morning. Before six, the "Isle of Arran” arrived at Ardrossan, after encountering what the captain called a “snappish sea,” which induced him prudently to lift his fares as soon as we got on board.

As the mountain scenery is by far the most attractive object in Arran, and as it can be visited comparatively by few, I may here mention, that, next to the view from their summits, the best views of the mountains are from the String, the road from Lamlash, and Glen Sannox farm-house, all of easy access by carriages. Whoever goes to Lamlash, which is well worth being visited on account of its admirable natural harbour, should ascend the Holy Isle, nearly a thousand feet high, from which also the mountain range is seen to great advantage. The Holy Isle, when viewed from Goatfell, bears a very striking resemblance to Arthur Seat.

Though Goatfell is universally allowed to be the highest point in Arran, yet its apparent superiority is owing more to its advantageous position, than to its actual greater elevation He is unquestionably the father of the flock; but he is surrounded by sundry stalwart soldier-featured sons, whose names have been repeatedly mentioned in these letters. Some of them, I should imagine, are not lower by more than 50 or 60 feet, not to speak of others, on the same ridge with Goatfell, whose stature approaches still nearer that of their sire. Viewing the whole as a stately family group, they cannot be matched; and though they are not very accessible in their demeanour, yet their acquaintance is well worth cultivating, and the impression of their lofty and dignified bearing must De indelible in the minds of all who are admirers of the great.

To return to sobriety.—The granite of which this mountain range is composed, though in general compact and durable, has been so acted upon by the elements, here and there, in great veins, as to form a fine granitic sand. But the fundamental rock is so hard and tough, that it would puzzle Dr Buckland and all his hammermen to procure from its "thunder-split peaks” a good solid fragment as a specimen. It was owing to the rotten crumbling nature of these veins, that much of my difficulty arose in descending into Glen Sannox. I was somewhat surprised to find juniper bushes, with fruit, as far up the mountain as vegetation extended—not less than 2000 feet above the sea-level. The entire elevation is about 3000 feet, rising immediately from the sea.

As serpents are common on the island, long worsted stockings should be worn; and no person should attempt roughing it, as I did, without a pair of Homell's best double-soled shoes, or something as good, if they can be got. A motley collection of the serpent tribe was shown me by a gentleman who had casually encountered them in his rambles.

There is good angling in the Arran streams after rain, when they are visited by sea-trout. A few days before I went there, the Marquis of Douglas, with a party of friends, and many of the natives, had a battue in Loch Lorsay with the net, and caught about a hundred salmon and sea-trout. One day I came to a gentleman fishing with fly in the salt green sea! He was not successful while I looked on, but told me he sometimes caught fine salmon and sea-trout in that way. I shall only farther state, that the inhabitants, the aborigines of this island, are very kind and civil to strangers, but have generally a starved, dejected look, though, no doubt, like most mountaineers, they prefer it to every other place -

"The tempest's fury, and the torrent’s roar,
But bind them to their native mountains more.”

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