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Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
A Fortnight on Deeside, Ballater, Crathie, &c.

Strath Dee, according to Dr M'Culloch, is superior to any other in Scotland in the displays of its wild Alpine boundary, and yields to none in magnificence and splendour. In this instance I quite agree with the Doctor. There are portions of other .straths that may successfully vie with Strath Dee, but, taken as a whole, I would very decidedly give it the preference. From Aberdeen to the Wefls of Dee, it may fairly be reckoned eighty miles; and, if the course of the river be followed, it cannot be computed under one hundred. Now, from head to foot, it is either beautiful or grand, and in many parts is well entitled to both epithets. For sixty-five miles from its mouth, till you reach the Linn of Dee, the banks are remarkably well wooded; all above this is bare, stem, and rugged. Owing to the group of very high and steep mountains at its source, this river, almost in its infancy, becomes rapid and un-fordable, excepting in unusually dry weather; and its rapidity is continued throughout itswhole course, insomuch that I consider the proverbially “rapid Spey” does not pass nearly so quick over its channel. The wood on its banks consists principally of natural fir, birch, and oak; though in the lower district there is much that is artificial, and, of course, a greater variety. This encomium may readily be conceded, seeing that all the natural beauty of Aberdeenshire may be regarded as concentrated in the valley of the Dee.

If the Dee is spoken of in an agricultural point of view, its pretensions are far from being great. Towards its mouth, by dint of good farming and help from Aberdeen, the soil and crops may be considered tolerable; but, when you ascend beyond the reach of city manure, there is a sad falling off, the soil being naturally shallow and gravelly, indicating a very decided propensity to crops of whins, broom, and heath. In one respect, however, this shallowness, combined with the dry subsoil, is of great advantage, for we remarked that harvest was just about as far advanced at Braemar, on fields from 1200 to 1400 feet above the sea, as anywhere else betwixt that and the Forth. At Tomintoul, a farm within a mile of Castleton, the upper part of which, under cultivation, cannot be leas than 1400 feet, they were actually leading home their ripe dry grain in the end of August. So far as I know, this is the highest spot in Scotland where com is advantageously grown to any extent.

There is only one inn at Ballater, but that is a very large and good one. A melancholy occurrence took place while we were there. On the night of our arrival, the hostess, Mrs Boss, who was very favourably known throughout the district, was suddenly struck with paralysis, and died at two o’clock on the following day: As the house was full of visitors, this event created great confusion; but, in the circumstances, none were disposed to complain, as all deeply sympathised with the family in their most unlooked for bereavement.

There is, perhaps, no part of the Dee more frequented than Ballater, not only on account of its being very pleasantly situated near the verge of the Aberdeenshire Highlands, but also owing to its vicinity to the medicinal springs at Pananich, which have been long celebrated, and, I daresay, with as much justice as most others of similar pretensions. The air and walks among the mountains are fine, so that, in defiance of the prodigious draughts of cold water imbibed^ the visitors generally contrive to leave the district in better bodily condition than when they left their homes. Pananich is two miles from Ballater. The accommodation at the Wells is very limited, and of a humble description, compared with the hotel and lodging-houses at Ballater, so that few reside at the former place, excepting such as cannot ride or walk so far twice or thrice m the day. There are hot and cold baths at the Wells, and the place seems carefully, aad rather tastefully kept There are various springs, each having small drinking cups attached; and, unlike other places of the kind, you may swallow as much of the chilly beverage as you please, without being charged for the risk you run.

While my companion indulged in the luxuries of the hot bath, and in his favourite pursuit of sketching, I climbed some of the adjoining heights, so here we separated for the remainder of the day. There is one hill about two miles from Panamch, in the direction of Montkeen, very well deserving of a visit. Owing to its position, rather than its great height, the view is comprehensive and interesting. The graceful outline of Lochnagar, and lofty summits of the Cairngorm Mountains, are seen from this to great advantage, as well as many miles both up and down the vale of the Dee. From Craigendarroch, though only about half the height, there is a similar view, and as the latter hill is quite elope to Ballater, and easily climbed, it is perhaps the most popular resort of the kind in the whole course of the Dee.

Though the church is placed in the centre of Ballater, the name of the parish is Glenmuick. It consists of three parishes combined, Glenmuick, Glenghaim, and Tulloch, thus constituting, decidedly, the second largest parish in the county. The adjoining parish, Crathie and Braemar, is, however, more than twice as large as this, and these two may be regarded as the Highlands of Aberdeenshire; for, though there are here and there detached mountains of considerable altitude, there are nowhere such groups of them as occur in these two.

Towards the evening, I left Ballater for the Manse of Crathie, to which I had received a kind invitation from the worthy minister. I had not proceeded far, when a respectable-looking gentleman came up in his gig, and kindly invited me to share it with him, to which I readily consented. In the course of conversation, he mentioned that he fanned Ballatrich, about four miles below Ballater, and that the house once occupied by Byron was now his barn, the bed in which his Lordship slept being still in his possession, and in tolerable preservation. We soon parted company, as he had to go up Glenghairn, the entrance to which is extremely fine. This rapid, powerful stream, the Ghairn, is one of the principal feeders of the Dee, and a favourite haunt of the anglers; it takes its rise on Benaven.

Being expected at Crathie, I was very cordially welcomed, and, there being a numerous and cheerful family, all decidedly musical, we spent a very happy evening. On parting next morning, I was invited to return with my friend from Ballater, too good an offer to be rejected by either of us. On our way up, we were particularly favoured by the weather, which caused everything to appear in a most engaging aspect. There is a small but very tasteful Free Church about a mile from Ballater, placed in one of the finest situations imaginable. It is in the midst of a copse of oak and birch, overlooking the river, and from it Lochnagar is seen in a very interesting point of view. On the opposite side of the river, in Strath Gimock, a handsome school-house has been built by her Majesty, in which she takes great interest. Abergeldy Castle, the residence of the Duchess of Kent, is one of the prettiest spots on the Dee. It is close to the river on the south side. The cradle bridge is a very simple contrivance, but a great convenience to the inhabitants of the castle, the public road by which the mail-coach daily travels being on the opposite side. One or two persons enter the cradle, and, by means of a windlass, fixed high in the cleft of a large tree, can pull themselves across with very little trouble. As soon as the person crossing is seated, he launches the cradle, which, like a ship on the stocks, glides rapidly down the inclined plane, and, when the ascent commences, he pulls himself and vehicle up by the rope. The river here is broad, rapid, and deep. Not many years ago, in attempting this passage, a sad catastrophe took place. A newly-married couple, being seated, let themselves down in the usual way. Unfortunately, however, the rope had not been properly fastened to the windlass, so that it ran off, when the pair were thrown into the river and drowned.

Our reception at the manse was unaffectedly kind. In the course of the evening, we, accompanied by the minister and some of his family, ascended the heights overlooking Balmoral by beautifully kept walks, and had the finest view possible of the casue and its attractive pleasure-grounds. It has been, in every respect, greatly improved of late, and is now, every way a residence fitted for the reception of its august visitors. The lease of Balmoral is nearly expired; but it is expected soon to become the property of her Majesty, as well as Abergeldie, in which case, these, along with Birkhall, will make one of the most princely Highland possessions that can be imagined. This arrangement would be of incalculable importance to the inhabitants, as there is nothing conducive to their moral or temporal well-being neglected by the Queen and her Royal Consort.

On returning to the manse, we were delighted to observe the frank, kindly feeling pervading all the members of the family. The daughters, though young, touched the piano as if by intuition; and even the sons proved themselves no novices in fingering that now almost indispensable instrument. One of them, a kilted stripling, performed the sword-dance, to his brother’s “Gillie Callum,” in a style that would have done credit to any prize-dancer in the land. Upon the whole, I have seldom visited a family evidently so thoroughly united, and where sportive, innocent merriment so generally abounds. In reflecting on the two nights I had the pleasure of passing here, it somehow happens that I am visited by lively reminiscences of the Vicar of Wakefield.

Next morning, we started for Castleton. Nothing can surpass the beauty of the birches all along from Ballater. They abound on both sides of the road and river, and a great proportion of them are of that description called "Weeping.” Owing to this lachrymose tendency, their long tendrils hang in elegant festoons from a great height almost to the very ground. The birch is, perhaps, the most generally useful of all our trees. Even when quite green, it affords excellent fuel. Cloggers, I believe, also prize it highly; and it rivals satin-wood itself in the hands of the cabinet-maker. The smallest twigs are manufactured into fences and ropes; it furnishes first-rate stable besoms; and there is even a species of delicious wine distilled from its sap; while the air is redolent with its delightfully fragrant perfume. To all this, it may be added that, in the good old times of castigation, before Solomon’s injunctions were regarded as a dead letter, it had a most salutary effect in sharpening the wits and improving the morality of the rifling generation! Can as much be said of any other tree?

"Its glossy leaf and its silvery stem,
0 dost thou not love to look on them?”

About two miles from the Church of Crathie, stands the very comfortable Inn of Inver. This is Suite a model lodging for the pedestrian tourist, its occupiers are extremely civil, while all its appointments are snug and tidy. I spent two nights here; and, if fete should ever again direct my steps to this quarter, Inver would be my favourite resting-place. In this neighbourhood, my friend, after lashing the Dee with much barbarity and patience for a couple of hours, managed to capture a few trouts, upon which we partly dined at Castleton. The Dee is too rapid and clear to be a good fronting stream. It is spanned by a very old and steep bridge of four or five arches, at one of the entrances to Invercauld, where the scenery is of the most enchanting description. In this vicinity are the forest of Ballochbowie and the fall of the Garrawalt, both much admired by the tourist. A little beyond the bridge, the enormous rock, called Craig Cluny, overhangs the road. Invercauld House next bursts upon the sight, one of the most elegant and delightful mansions in Scotland. There is nothing on the Dee to be compared with it, not excepting Balmoral itself, which, however, may rank second. After this, Braemar Castle arrests the attention. The valley is here of considerable width, and the fields large and well cultivated. The castle is of great height, and quite entire, but uninhabited; for what reason I cannot tell. About a mile farther on, we entered the very peculiar and interesting village of Castleton, so metamorphosed from what I had seen it when last there, more than thirty years ago, that I could scarcely recognise it as an old acquaintance.

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