Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
Preface to the First Edition

This little volume principally consists of accounts carefully extended from notes which I took while exploring the scenery described. I was indebted to Mr Aird, Editor of the "Dumfries and Galloway Herald,” well known as a poet and an ardent admirer of Nature, for their first introduction to public notice. They were perused with much interest by my friends and others, many of whom requested me to publish them in a collective form, for the instruction and encouragement of pedestrians, as well as the amusement of the public at large. With this view, I corrected them as accurately as I could; and, in certain cases, when not quite sure of my ground, I wrote to friends at a distance, that my doubts might be removed; so that it will considerably surprise me if any important inaccuracies be detected.

The "Three Days in Arran” letters were composed in the autumn of 1840. The "Morning Ramble in Glen Rosa” was written in July, 1844; "Merrick, Loch Enoch,” &c., in autumn, 1846. "A Few Days of Recreation” was the production of September, 1848; while "The Ochils, Alva,” &c., and "A Week in Skye,” were written in the summer and autumn of 1849. The following anecdote and subsequent remarks may amuse my readers, and prove my fitness for this undertaking:—

Many years ago, a celebrated and expert female phrenologist came to exercise her calling in Dumfries. Being somewhat sceptical as to the science, I rather furtively repaired to her dwelling, that I might test its pretensions in my own case. She soon commenced a careful manipulation of my cranium and certainly made some wonderful hits. At length, however, she pronounced me "very contetious” if You are out at last, Mrs H.,” said I, “for that is by no means the case. My station in life is not generally reckoned a high one, and I never had the least desire to rise above it. I would not change places with the Archbishop of Canterbury.” At first she seemed rather taken aback but, as phrenologists have many resources, she asked, among other things, which it is unnecessary here to particularise, if I was not fond of climbing hills, and never satisfied till I reached their tops? These remarks certainly confounded me not a little, and I asked if she did not know who I was? She assured me she had not the least suspicion, and I am certain she spoke the truth.

Mountain climbing, and wandering among their dark recesses, have unquestionably all along constituted a marked feature of my idiosyncrasy. While a young boy, roaming alone among the hills of Nithsdale was one of my chief gratifications, and this taste has continued to increase ever since. Even now, when many may allege that a Pisgah view of another and a better land should engross, my attention, there is to me nothing more envigorating than the mountain air, and the view of distant peaks on which I have already stood, or which I still hope to surmount; so that Mrs H., in this respect, was fully justified in the exultation she expressed; for she seemed quite as conscious of victory as was the phoca in the "Antiquary,” when it waddled off to its native element with the choleric captain’s cane, as the spolia opima resulting from their contest.

Of late years, it has been very customary for British subjects to resort to the Rhine, Switzerland, Italy, &c., in quest of similar gratification; and I must confess that, did circumstances permit, I would gladly be of their number. At the same time, I am quite of opinion, that there is very much that is interesting at home, with which many of these travellers are entirely unacquainted. Besides, few of them are sufficiently conversant with the Continental languages, to admit of their being duly edified; and the time they have at their disposal is in many instances so limited, that it is questionable if they are, in any respect, much improved by these hurried trips; whereas, the same time spent among our North or West Highlands might have sufficed for their complete investigation, and been, upon the whole, far more satisfactory.

Be this as it may, it has been my fate to roam, to a very great extent, among the mountains and lakes of my native land; insomuch, that I question if there are many who have seen more of that description of scenery; at all events, more thoroughly than I have done. Being always a pedestrian, it was in my power to investigate minutely the most sequestered and singular objects to be found among our mountain solitudes. For many years, while my corporeal energies were at their height, it was my privilege to have several weeks in autumn to devote entirely to my favourite pursuits; and I never enjoyed myself more than when, entirely alone, or sometimes with a favourite terrier, I have jogged on from dawn till dusk, occasionally spending an hour or two angling in burn, river, or loch; for a staff-rod, and fishing-basket, in which I carried my scanty wardrobe, constituted the whole of my travelling apparatus.

Though in these times of rapid journeying, pedestrianism is much at discount, still there are some, chiefly young Englishmen, to be found among many Highland glens, not ashamed to pad the hoof in that humble guise which I have now been describing. It is truly refreshing for an old campaigner to meet with such enterprising youths, and pleasant to have it in one’s power to give them any useful hint as to the objects most deserving of their attention, and the best modes of reaching them. It is chiefly for behoof of such gentlemen that I have been induced to publish this little volume. Had. I kept notes of all my earlier rambles, it would have been of a much more enlarged and interesting character; but, as I never did so till of late, and cannot depend on my memory for strict accuracy, I have resolved to confine myself to a few recent excursions.

It may be amusing to some to know the principal mountains and hills on whose summits I have stood, and rouse young men to similar enterprise.

Owing to particular circumstances, my ambition was first principally fired among the mountains of Perthshire. Besides many others in and near Rannoch, I have been on the tops of Ben Aulder, Ben-a-Hallader, Ben Molloch, Ben Oudleman, Garraval, Carey, Craig Calliach, near Killin, and no less than five times on the top of Schihallion; twice on the top of Ben Lawers; on Ben More, Ben Voirlich at Loch Eame, Ben Ledi, Ben Venn, Ben Chochan, Ben-y-Vracky, Faragon twice; Ben-y-gloe, with many others of inferior note in all parts of that county. I have also been on the tops of Cairngorm, Belrinnes, Craig Phadrig, Ben Wyvis, Ben Nevis, Ben Cruachan, Duniquaigh, Ben Lomond twice; Ben Cleuch, Dummyat, the Lomonds in Fife repeatedly; Camethy, and many of the Pentlands; Walston Black Mount, North-Berwick Law, and Traprain Law, Goatfell in Arran twice; Barone Hill in Bute; the Storr and Quirang in Skye; Tinto, the Lowthers, and several of its neighbours, Queensberry, Caimkinnow, Hartfell, White Coomb, Tin-aiis,Mellenwood, the highest in Liddesdale, Rubers-law, Scrape, and many on the Tweed; the Eildons, Caimsmuir.of Carsphaim, Caimsmuir of Fleet, Merrick, Ben Ghaim, Screel, Lotus, and Criffell, oftener than for my credibility I dare mention. I have also climbed Skiddaw, Helvellyn, and Sea Fell in England, with several others among the lakes there, and Snowdon in Wales. These, so far as I recollect, are the principal mountains and hills whose summits 1 have visited, being thwarted as to many more by mist and rain; so that the gifted lady who charged me with a desire to rise in the world, has by no means forfeited her professional character, in so fat as I am concerned.

It may well be supposed that much fatigue, and even danger, was encountered in these chiefly solitary excursions. A broken, or even a sprained limb, would, in all probability, in many cases, have made me food for the ravens; but, through caution and a kind Providence, I never sustained any serious injury. While in Skye, a gentleman recounted an incident which came in his way, of which I should like much to hear the ultimate consequences. In going from Portree to Stenscholl, he heard cries at no great distance; and, on proceeding to the place from which they came, he found a solitary tourist who had sprained his ankle in descending the Storr, and could not walk any farther. They deliberated some time on what should be done for his relief; when it was agreed by both, that, as it was impossible the lame gentleman could be removed by his new friend, who had enough to do to get on himself, the latter should inform any shepherd he might see, or give notice of the disaster at the first cottage in his way. This was done, but the result had not transpired when we left the island. The weather being fortunately fine, it is probable that no serious consequence would ensue, even though he should have spent the night on a heather bed.

As the very best advice I can give pedestrians, I would recommend early rising, and always turning over a good long stage before breakfast. This, I never failed to do when a young man; and even now I like walking before breakfast best when on a journey. Fifteen or twenty miles before nine o’clock was my ordinary arrangement. This made the remainder of my journey comparatively easy; and, after being fairly on the road, I generally enjoyed this part of my work most. Breakfast in such circumstances is doubly welcome, and is seldom much of a remuneration to the provider. Upon the strength of it, I always finished my day’s work before partaking of a second meal, which was all I required or cared for in the twenty-four hours. These terms, combined with my long journeys, prevented others from being anxious to accompany me in my Highland expeditions.

On reading over what has been written, I find my preface has been not a little egotistical; but, from the nature of the case, this could not well have been otherwise. At the risk of incurring this charge, and also of being tedious, I shall narrate two or three of my numerous rambles when in the prime of life, to prove what may be done by patience and perseverance, for I never was a quick walker.

In the autumn of 1811, the year of the great comet, I left Glasgow early, breakfasted at Dumbarton, went up Loch Lomond side, crossed at Rowardennan, went over the shoulder of Ben Lomond to Blairhulichan, and stayed all night at Ledard, on the north side of Loch Ard. Next morning started at four, crossed the mountains to Loch Katrine, where I was boated over by a shepherd; over the mountains again, through the Forest of Glen Finglas and its deep bogs, to Balquhidder; over the mountains again to Glen Dochart and Killin; over the mountains again to Glen Lyon; and once more across the mountains to Loch Rannoch side, which I reached before twelve o’clock at night — as severe a mountain fag as perhaps ever was performed in one day.

Upon another occasion, I left Edinburgh for Meggemy Castle, near the head of Glen Lyon, which I reached on the evening of the second day; spent three days there in almost constant severe exercise, and returned to Edinburgh on the eighth day, after having spent the whole of the Sabbath in Perth on my return. This was performed in broiling hot weather, which made it doubly fatiguing.

The next expedition I shall mention, was crossing the Clyde at Greenock, starting early from Roseneath, proceeding by the Gareloch and Loch Long to Arroquhar, where I breakfasted; thence to Tarbert; up Glen Falloch to the top of Ben More, where I saw the sun set magnificently in the ocean; was benighted in descending the mountain, and slept that night in a barn among delicious new hay, after partaking of a plentiful repast of porridge and milk, handed to me through a window, as the good folk would not open their door to a stranger at such a late hour. Next morning, very early, I passed the inns of Crianlarich and Tyndrum, and breakfasted at Inveroran; on again by Kingshouse and Glencoe to Ballachulish, where I slept. Next morning crossed Loch Leven, breakfasted at Fort-William, climbed Ben Nevis, descended on the south-east side of its awful precipices, scrambling occasionally over snow as hard as ice; crossed a vast extent of horrid morass, and slept at a shepherd’s house on the Spean. Next morning visited the Parallel Roads, as they are called, of Glen Roy; then by Loch Treague and Loch Odsian, to another shepherd’s house at Carrowar, where I again found quarters; from which, next day, I easily reached Ratmoch — the end of that trip.

The last of these excursions I shall now notice, was crossing the Forth at Edinburgh, keeping the Fife coast to near the East Neuk; thence to St Andrews, Dundee, Arbroath, Montrose, Stonehaven, Aberdeen; up the Dee to Castleton of Braemar; from which, along with two gentlemen whom I casually met at the inn, I started very early, went to the top of Cairngorm, then down by Rothiemurchus to Avie More. On this occasion, it was my intention to have climbed Ben Macdhui on the same day with Cairngorm, as they are in juxtaposition; but one of my companions became so overpowered with fatigue, that his friend and I could, with the utmost difficulty, get him on to Avie More. Next morning, I passed through Cromdale to Inveraven, next to the top of Belrinnes, thence to Fochabers, Inverness, Cromarty, Beauly; back to Inverness, where I had the gratification of accompanying the present King of the Belgians and suite to the Caledonian CanaL This was soon after losing his first wife, the Princess Charlotte. From Inverness I went to Loch Ness, in which I caught some fine grilse and sea-trout; but here, as at Loch Katrine, rod-fishing has been much injured by steam-boats; then by Inverfaragag, and General’s Hut, to Fort-Augustus; thence by Corryarrack to Garviemore, Dalwhinnie, down the whole length of Loch Ericht, on whose sequestered banks I got excellent fishing, to Bannoch.

In all these expeditions I had fine weather, but very hot, which always greatly increases the fatigue. Often, however, have I been obliged to toil on from morning till night in heavy rain, when, on rising early, I could scarcely thrust my limbs into my clothes, contracted by the drenching of the previous day. This, of course, could not be endured by any one whose constitution is not vigorous, though I have reason to believe that it tended greatly to strengthen mine. In all these expeditions, I am not aware that I ever derived any assistance from conveyances of any description. There were few stage-coaches or steam-boats in the times to which I allude; the few that existed seldom lay in my route, nor would they have suited my finances, if they had. Though I have occasionally been glad of the shelter of a barn or hay-rick during night, I never was exposed to such hardship as a certain young friend of mine, who spent a wet and stormy one under a rock on the side of Loch Aven, nearly 2000 feet above the level of the sea!

In closing these prefatory remarks, which have swelled greatly beyond my original intention, I would warn pedestrian tourists against a free use of whisky, or any such deceitful means of excitement and support. No doubt a prudent and temperate use of spirits may fit a man for occasional extraordinary exertion; but, if that exertion is to be long sustained, he is much better without it. Such stimulants, frequently resorted to, always produce languor, enervate the frame, and thus do more harm than good. Often, indeed, the incautious pedestrian, without by any means having a liking for the liquor, has sacrificed his life to what he conceived was the best means of preserving it, and of invigorating his exertions.

Another caution worthy of attention is, not to indulge too much in drinking rich milk, a beverage most tempting to a hungering and thirsting pedestrian, and which is often pressed upon him by the kindly mountain dames. Oftener than once have I suffered in this way, more especially on my return from Beu-ar-Hallader, at the source of the Orchy, after crossing and re-crossing the horrible Moor of Rannoch. The day was one of the hottest, and, for want of better, I had partaken largely of moss water, having scarcely tasted food since an early breakfast. The consequence was, that I verily believe the dose I got from a good woman at a shieling, near the east end of Lodi Lydoch, would have finished me, had I not soon, after fallen into the hands of kind and judicious friends. This huge mountain, Ben-ar-Hallader, is rarely visited. The approach to it from Brae Lyon, or Loch Tulla, may be practicable enough; but let no man try it by the Moor of Rannoch, unless he be well prepared for a longer journey, especially if he falls in with a shieling on his return.

I have committed this little volume to the press with a view of reviving a taste which, I lament to find, is subsiding among the Scotch. They are now becoming too luxurious for fagging among their native mountains. Many of them can talk of their glorious glimpses of the Alps and Apennines, who know no more of our own glorious Grampians than what is to be seen from Arthur Seat or Stirling Castle! Let them take advice from one who has had much experience in pedestrian exercise, and who, in sporting phrase, may still be regarded as "a good ould un,” and they will find that, physically, intellectually, and morally, they will be more benefited by spending their spare time and cash among the rivers, lakes, and mountains of their native land.

There may be some inclined to find fault with me for publishing these pages. I have already, indeed, sustained some obloquy in this matter. But so long as this taste does not interfere with, but rather stimulates to, professional exertion, I care not for their vituperation, seeing that it can only proceed from the morose, cynical, and narrow-minded. Man is so constituted, that relaxation of one kind or another is indispensable for his well-being, as well as for the efficient discharge of his severer duties. Now, this being the case, I maintain, that we not only may, but ought to obtemperate this salutary craving of nature. The Deity has not only implanted the desire, but graciously provided the means for its gratification—"Dens nobis hcec otia fecit;” so, "What God has given, let not man despise.”

T. G.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus