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Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
A Fortnight on Deeside, Corry-Etichan, Ben Macdhui, &c

At the forester’s, I spent the night very comfortably, and, after an early breakfast, went up Glen Derry with my entertainer and his assistant, on their customary rounds. Glens Derry and Lui-Beg are unlike anything one meets with even in the Highlands. The forester’s house is the only one they contain. It is snugly situated among old fir-trees, which is the only kind of wood to be found in these desolate regions. The greater part of these trees are very old—the growth of centuries; and, unfortunately, when they die out, there is no chance of their being replaced, as the deer, which are much on the increase, uniformly eat up the seedlings. From the excessive violence of the storms, many of these venerable tenants of the desert have been broken through the middle, and every way mutilated, while others have been twisted like cork-screws. Another striking feature in this glen, is the effect permanently left in it by the memorable flood of August, 1829. The Deny, upon that awful occasion, was perhaps as much, if not more, flooded than any stream in the Highlands. The ground is tom up in all directions, and enormous stones have been thrown into positions which one can hardly conceive would have been reached even by the greatest floods; while hundreds of maiestic trees, denuded of their bark, bleached, and checked in their growth, stand, like sheeted spectres, testifying their wretched fate. Most appropriately has this scene been described as

“The land of the mountain and flood,
Where the pine of the forest for ages has stood,
Where the eagle darts forth on the wings of the storm,
And the eaglets are nursed on the lofty Cairngorm.”

As we proceeded up the glen, and beyond the firs, we saw several herds of deer in sheltered places along its sides, for the morning was stormy, with occasional heavy showers of rain and sleet. To an inexperienced eye, these interesting animals would easily escape detection. Many were pointed out to me by the keepers, which, even though on the outlook, I would not have seen. With the aid of their excellent glasses, however, I could distinctly discern their gestures, and even count their antlers. This forest is computed to contain about 4000, The eagle does not always build among rocks. On a solitary pine, I was shown a nest in which young ones have been reared for many years, for, unlike most sportsmen, the Duke protects these noble birds, being unwilling they should be extirpated, of which there seems much danger. They always lay two eggs, one containing the male, the other the female, and from the external appearance of the egg may be ascertained the gender of the occupant Eagles have not been detected destroying the young deer, though they often fly after and annoy them, apparently in sport.

After proceeding several miles up the Deny, we entered Corrie-Etichan, which joins it at right hand from the summit of Ben Maedhui, having Ben-a-main on our right hand, and Cairngorm, Derry, on our left. This is a remarkably wild and savage scene, on this occasion particularly so, as the wind had become tempestuous, accompanied with heavy showers of sleet, hail, and snow. On each side “ascended huge nameless rocks,” not bottomless, like the whirlpools of the Dee, but topless, as their summits were shrouded in snow and mist. In front, a torrent came raging down from Loch Etichan, which was lashed into fury by the violence of the wind, the spray reaching us at a considerable distance. During the whole of our ascent the wind was right a-head, and so very boisterous, that it was with the utmost exertion we could hear each other speak. I frequently begged my companion (his assistant having left us in Glen Derry) not to proceed farther, as I was pretty sure of finding the cairn, and it was needless for him to be so exposed. This, however, he peremptorily refused doing under such circumstances, and I confess his presence was of much advantage to me, as, though 1 was determined at all hazards to persist till I found the cairn, yet I might have been considerably longer in the discovery had I been alone.

Loch Etichan is unquestionably the highest loch in her Majesty’s Britannic dominions. Owing to the state of the weather, I could not ascertain its dimensions; but I suppose it may be a mile or two in circumference. It contains abundance of trout, as I heard that the Duke, with a friend, had killed five or six dozens with the rod and otter not long before I was there. Just above the loch we got one indistinct peep into Loch Aven; but after this the snow fell so thick, that seeing beyond 50 yards was out of the question. My attendant took me a little way to the left, that I might get a glimpse of the upper part of Glen Lui-Beg, through tremendous precipices, with which a sudden gust of wind had nearly made me more familiar than would have been altogether pleasant. We then steered nearly due north till we reached the remains of the Sapper’s House, which had evidently been one of the most substantial of the kind, as its terribly exposed situation required. A very short way north of this stands the cairn, which was invisible till we came within 15 or 20 yards of it. For the last two hours, there had been almost a constant fall of heavy snow, which in many places was more than knee-deep, and near the summit the drift was quite blinding. When we reached the cairn, ten miles from our starting-place, we were quite benumbed and covered with icicles, so that a tasting from the whisky-flask was right acceptable to us both.

This cairn is by far the highest of the kind I have seen. It is built in the Tower of Babel style, in four distinct storeys, the pinnacle being, I would suppose, from 20 to 25 feet in height. I was too much chilled to go to the top, and only ascended the second storey, on which I placed a large stone, handed to me by my companion, whose attentions I shall not readily forget. Some say that Lord Fife caused this cairn to be more elevated than common, that it might overtop Ben Nevis, the competition being considered a neck-and-neck affair; while others jocularly allege that, as he had intimated his intention of being buried there, it might be as well he should have a fair start upwards. It is pleasing to reflect that for many years his Lordship has led such a quiet and orderly life as to require no such vantage-ground. His birthday has just been celebrated throughout Aberdeenshire with a spirit of kindness and cordiality that must have been highly gratifying to his feelings.

As to the comparative height of these two mountains, I believe it has recently been finally decided in favour of Ben Nevis, by 40 or 50 feet. The intelligent people of Castleton allow this, having been so informed by the late Government Surveyors. Even although her Majesty is said to have expressed anxiety that the decision should have been in favour of Ben Macdhui, I cannot but say that I rather rejoice the Old Champion has carried the day, as it would have been hard to have been denuded of the belt after it had been so long and unostentatiously worn. Ben Nevis, certainly, is a far more imposing mountain than the other. The former starts almost from the sea, whereas the latter rises the whole way from Aberdeen, so that nearly one-half of the height is attained before there is anything like a steep ascent.

Of course, I cannot describe, from actual observation, the view from Ben Macdhui, mine being confined to a circle, whose diameter might be about thirty yards. Of this, however, I am certain, that it must be very much obstructed, as to near objects, by the immediately adjoining mountains, they surround it on all sides, and, being nearly as high as itself, must be an insurmountable obstacle. On the south and west, Ben-arvrochan,. Caimtoul, and Brae-riach, obstruct the view. On the north, Cairngorm and Ben-a-main. On the east, Ben-aven, Ben-abourd, Cairngorm Derry, and Caim-a-veim. These mountains must have a magnificent appearance from Ben Macdhui. As to the. shape of the latter mountain, it is uninteresting in the extreme. All the above named, with the exception of Ben-a-bourd, have much finer outlines.

Ben Macdhui, as the name imports, is a huge sow-backed monster rising gradually on all sides to an undefined top, so that, unless the cairn informed you, there might be some difficulty in deciding when the top has been reached. Like most of our high mountains, it is covered, near the summit, with many hundreds of acres of large loose granite stones, of a reddish hue, which may, perhaps, more properly be styled porphyry.

The state of the weather upset all my plans. I had intended, after reaching Loch Etichan, to visit Loch Aven, and the Shelter Stone near its head, ascending Ben Macdhui from that side, and descending by the Wells of Dee to find quarters for the night in the Larig, where stones of all dimensions, shapes, and sizes, are to be found in myriads, for the protection of the tourist. Being thoroughly drenched, and without a change of raiment, it would have been an obvious tempting of Providence to have stuck to this plan, so I retraced my steps as far as the head of Glen Lui-Beg, into which my friend descended, while I scrambled down to the Dee, in quite an opposite direction. A bivouac at such a height, in any circumstances, is not to be courted, as, unless the constitution be of the soundest, it may be attended by fatal consequences. Most certainly, I never would have harboured the idea, if I could otherwise have accomplished the object I had in view.

The highest source of the Dee is within 150 feet of the top of Brae-riach. This must be a very copious spring, as it becomes a rapid and pretty large torrent as soon as it reaches the brink of the precipice, down which it rages and foams, without a moment’s repose, for 1300 feet, till it joins the Larig, which flows from several small tarns, called the Wells of Dee. This latter stream, seeing it runs more in the line of the river, is generally regarded as its source, although the other, called the Garchary, seems the larger. My friend, who, along with an English gentleman and a guide, reached the top of Ben Macdhui two hours later than I did, was more fortunate in weather, the storm being nearly over when they reached the summit. They descended by the Wells of Dee, the largest of which they computed, by pacing, to be about 200 yards in circumference, which accords very much with my recollection of it when I passed long ago from Castleton to Cairagoton ana Avie More.

Brae-riach and Caimtoul were right opposite me in descending the west face of Ben Macdhui, and before I reached the Dee, the clouds had so far dispersed as to expose their summits. They have a far more bold and broken outline than their loftier neighbour, but on none of them are there such perpendicular and overhanging cliffs as are to be seen on the north-east face of Ben Nevis. The upper part of Glen Dee has, I think, been overpraised in most of our guide books. It is certainly not a little rugged and abrupt, but it cannot boast the romantic and varied scenery of many of the wild passes to be seen in the counties of Argyle, Inverness, and Perth.

In descending the Dee, the day became beautiful, so that I was almost induced, drenched as I was, to spend the night there. The deceitful state of the weather, however, led me to doubt a renewal of the fierce blasts I had so lately encountered, and determined me to continue my route to Castleton. The Geusachen is a wild stream separating Caimtoul from Ben-a-vrochan, and flows from a tarn called Loch-na-Sirtae. There is a particularly fine view of Ben-y-gloe, in Glen Tilt, as you go down Glen Dee: and near the junction of the Dee and Geldie, Morron, with its lofty cairn, is seen to great advantage. For several miles l enjoyed the society of another of the Duke’s foresters, whom I accidentally met on his rounds. He was also particularly civil, offered to carry my luggage, and even pressed me to spend the night at his house, which I would gladly have done, had it not been a considerable way out of my course.

Delavorar, on the south side of the river, is the farthest up dwelling in Glen Dee. This is tenanted by one of General Duff’s foresters, and seems a very comfortable residence. It was here that my friend, with his English acquaintance, spent several nights, much to their satisfaction, previous to and after their ascent of Ben Macdhui. About a quarter of a mile above the Linn of Dee, I had the luck to see the Duke of Leeds killing a fine salmon with the rod. He was pretty deep in the river, with fishing-boots, and managed the matter remarkably well^/or a Duke; but what I most admired was the gaffing of the fish by one of his two attendants. I never saw that nice and ticklish operation so neatly executed. I was within 50 yards of his Grace, with several of his very polite and courteous letters in my pocket; so that, had it not been for what many may consider a morbid aversion to thrusting myself into society so decidedly above me, I would have been induced to accost him, and congratulate him on his success. My ambition, however, soars infinitely above the domes and pillars of the aristocracy, even to the pillars that support the clouds of heaven; so, after seeing the fish safely laid on the bank, I pursued my route to Castleton, which I reached about eight o’clock, after a very pleasant crack of half-an-hour with the old lady, formerly mentioned, in the picturesque cottage at the Victoria Bridge. I found her sitting under the porch, enjoying the fine evening, under a load of clothing that would have defied all the tempests that ever blew. She recognised me at once, and, on hearing of my disastrous mountain-trip, asked if I did not think she was right about my being “o’er het at hame?” I replied that, “if I had only had one-half of her thatching, I would have considered myself snug there for the night.” Thus terminated my day’s work, and with far less fatigue than might have been anticipated, considering the nature of the ground and the state of the weather. In former days, I am confident I could, with equal ease, have accomplished the whole distance from Castleton to Ben Macdhui and back again, and in nearly the same time.

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