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EVAN MACCOLL-THE "BARD OF LOCHFYNE."
EXTRACTS FROM NOTES OF A TOUR IN THE NORTH OF SCOTLAND IN
1838-39. Oct. 23.—At Inverness.—Spent the evening with Mr Macinnes, a selftaught painter of great merit. His only daughter is a pretty little girl. Addressed a complimentary verse to her picture—one painted by her father, and in which she is represented as in the act of caressing a favourite dog. Macinnes is an enthusiast in his art, and one of the most intelligent men I ever met with.
Oct. 24.—Visited the Moor of Culloden, on my way to Nairn. Grieved to find the graves of the "mighty dead" shamefully desecrated by burrowing tourists. It seemed as if a herd of swine had been lately digging there. The unhallowed spirit of a despicable industry is soon likely to bring under the dominion of the plough the whole field—graves and all I Already has the villainous share found its way to within a few yards of that part of the field where the bonneted heroes made their last dread onset. Blush, my countrymen! Eternal shame be to the landlords whose rack-rents you have no other way of paying than by digging and delving the very soil enriched by the blood of your fathers! Oh, ye departed brave! sweet on the dark heath be your slumbers—let no dreams of your degenerate sons ruffle the calm of your repose.
Oct 25.—Manse of Croy. My reverend host, a warm-hearted, hospitable, half-saint, half-sinner kind of soul. His wife a very superior woman, and an enthusiast in Celtic literature.
Oct 26.—Visited Kilravock Castle, and also that of Calder, in company with Miss Campbell, their daughter. Calder Burn, exquisitely romantic According to one tradition Calder Castle is the scene of King Duncan's death. The room where he slept, and where Macbeth slew him, is yet shown to visitors. So is also a curious concealed hole or room where the unfortunate Lord Lovat secreted himself for six weeks, during the reign of terror succeeding the battle of Culloden. Some of the rooms are hung with tapestry, in which several scriptural characters are curiously and strikingly grouped.
Oct 23.—At Nairn. Had an interview with Mrs Grant of Dutbil, a most intelligent, -venerable lady—the author of a work on education, and also several poetical " flights" in the Ossianic style.
Oct 30.—Met the celebrated Nairnshire poet, William Gordon, the most laughable, self-important, egotistical specimen of the doggerel tribe that ever lived.
Nov. 5.—Visited last night the Misses Carmichael—three delightful maiden ladies from Strathspey, and inhabiting a large old house, in which, from its being the best in Nairn at the time, Prince Charles slept on the second, and Cumberland on the very night preceding the battle of Culloden. In a fit of Jacobite enthusiasm I proposed, and was cordially welcomed, to sleep in the identical room where Charlie stretched his own royal limbs. True it is that its having also become the lair of the bloodhound that pursued him, deprives it of much of it sacredness, yet what Highlander but would feel a melancholy pride in sleeping where I slept! —he is not worthy of the name who would not always prefer it to a night on the softest pillow in Windsor Palace!
Nov. 6.—Saw Mr Priest, gardener at Kinsterrie, the author of several clever poems and songs in the Scottish dialect
Nov. 8.—Left Nairn for Forres. Village of Auldearn on the way, in the vicinity of which the celebrated Blar Avlt-Eirinn of our Celtic bards was fought—Montrose and Allister M'Colla, with 1500 men gaining a complete victory over the Covenanting Clans, 3000 strong. Of the latter about one-half the number was slaughtered, while Montrose is said to have lost only 20 men! In the village churchyard are the tombs of many of the principal men who fell on that day. Over one pious tenant of the tomb is erected a dial with a suitable inscription—perhaps the very one that suggested Hugh Miller's beautiful address "to a Dial in a Church. yard." There it indeed stands, "in mockery o'er the dead! the stone that measures time." Three miles further east is the "Har-Moor," where the "Kind Sisters" met Macbeth. Here stands, preserved by the good taste of Lord Murray as a mark and memorial of the scene, a clump of fir trees, the sole remnant left now of a once extensive fir wood lately given to the axe. The road to Forres passes within a gunshot distance of the very spot where that celebrated meeting is said to have taken place. In selling the wood in question, Lord Murray forgot to make an exception as to these trees, and I have been told that it was not till he had paid him three times their value that the scoundrel of a purchaser would consent to spare them. Visited, a little further on, Brodie's House, a very interesting mansion. Beautiful suspension bridge over the Findhorn which I crossed on my way to Forres, where I take up my quarters for the night
Nov. 9.—Visited Clunie Hills in the vicinity of Forres. On one of these stands Nelson's Tower, built by the spirited people of Forres in commemoration of that naval hero's victories over the French, &c. Most extensive view from it of the surrounding country—the Moray Firth distant three miles, with the "Sutors" of Cromarty on the opposite shore, and Ben "Wyvis beyond all rising in clumsy grandeur to terminate the westward prospect, whilst many other hills of lesser note, from Benvaichard in Strathglass, to Morvern in Caithness, conspire to make the view altogether a magnificent one.
Nov. 15.—Dine with the Macleans of North Cottage—a fine family from my own native county. Gaelic, music—very happy.
Nov. 17.—An excursion up the banks of the Findhorn to Relugais— late the romantically beautiful property and favourite residence of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, who here wrote his " Wolf of Badenoch," and who, by a happy blending of art with nature, left Belugais a scene altogether worthy of fairyland. Immediately below the house the Dovine joins the Findhorn, where they embrace, like lovers in the greenwood, when, lost in each other's bosom, their sighs of bliss are heard! Bemains of a vitrified fort Two miles further up the Devine is seen Dunphail, the seat of Major Cumming-Bruce. Beautiful spot An old romantic ruin—once a keep of great strength, and connected with much that is wild in the traditions of the country—overlooks the river at a few hundred yards distance from the far less picturesque modern mansion. Mrs CammingBrace a great-granddaughter of Bruce the celebrated traveller. Dine with my kind and hospitable friend, Mr Simpson, at Outlaw-well.
Nov. 18.—At Forres again. Seen Darnaway Castle on the way. Waited on Lady and Sir William Gordon-Cumming of Altyre—an invitation to dine at Altyre House next Monday—the consequence of the interview.
Sunday 19.—Heard the Eev. Mr Grant of Forres preaching, and dined with him in the evening. Mr Grant's style is good, fervent, and yet flowery. He is the author of several pretty hymns and other pieces of poetry.
Nov. 20.—Dined and passed the night at Altyre House. Sir William a most humorous man—a strange compound of great good sense and drollery. Lady Cumming magnificent in appearance—supremely accomplished, and even talented. Paints beautifully, sings and plays at the piano in the most charming manner. Miss Cumming and her younger sisters all very graceful. Sir William's son, too, dressed in the Highland garb, looks every inch a chief.
Nov. 21.—Accompanied Captain Maclean (North Cottage) to Burgie House, the seat of General Macpherson, the Captain's brother-in-law, and a very worthy man. Partridge shooting—good sport. Dine, and pass the night at the General's,
Nov. 22.—Visited a remarkable plane-tree in the General's garden— ascended the old tower in the vicinity—splendid view of land and sea— and, after diverging two miles off the road to have a peep at the ruins of Kinloss Abbey, return in the evening to Forres.
Nov. 23.—Saw the "Sands of Culbin "—a bank of that material extending to a considerable distance from the mouth of the Findhorn, and covering (as tradition has it) several hundred acres of what was 100 years ago the best arable land in Morayshire. It was the property of some "wicked Laird of Culbin," who in one tempestuous night lost both his life and estate in these sands, driven by wind and wave over his head I Dined in the evening at Altyre House, where I had the honour of being introduced to the Hon. Colonel Grant, MP. for Morayshire, and also his accomplished daughter; Major Cumming-Brace of Dunphail, his wife and daughter: Mr Macleod of Dalvey, and other notables. Colonel Grant a quiet, good-natured sort of man—animal contentment the leading idea embodied in his rather handsome features. Major C. Brace is open and cheerful, most plebian-looking; and yet there is something in his face which you can easily trace to his ancient progenitor, the treacherous "Red Cumming." His wife is a granddaughter of Bruce, the celebrated traveller. Miss Cumming-Bruce is a comely and seemingly very sweet-tempered girl —an exquisite singer, and having the good sense to prefer Scotch and Highland airs to any foreign music.
Nov. 24.—Dined again at Altyre House. Colonel Grant's wife and daughters still there.
Nov. 25.—Heard Mr Stark of the Secession Church, Forres, preaching—a most distinguished pulpit orator he is.
Nov. 27.—Dined at Dalvey House. Bonfires all over the country in course of the evening, on account of Brodie of Brodie's marriage. Wrote a song for the occasion, at Mr Macleod's request.
Nov. 30.—Proceeded to Elgin. Magnificent Cathedral in ruins; robbed 200 years ago of tbe lead on its roof, and otherwise desecrated by the "Wolf of Badenoch." The Lossie, a rather sluggish stream, flows by its walls. Its precincts were for a long time a favourite place of sepulture with the Chiefs of the Clan Gordon and many other once distinguished northern chiefs "of high and warlike name." Elgin's other principal buildings are a huge barn-like church, surmounted by a rather elegant dome; an infirmary or hospital, and an educational institution, these two being both handsome structures.
Dec. 2.—Visited, in company with Mr Brown, editor of the Elgin Courant, the Lady's Hill, a steep ascent, rising immediately behind the town to the west. It was at one time surmounted by a castle, part of the walls of which are still seen. A nunnery once stood close by it A monumental column in honour of the late Duke of Gordon is intended soon to ornament this little Calton Hill of the north. Dined at Mr Forsyth's the bookseller, a brother to Forsyth whose "Travels in Italy " has gone through seven or eight editions, and whose remarks upon the Fine Arts in that country have drawn a high encomium from Lord Byron himself.
Dec. 5.—Dined with Mr (Shearer, late Postmaster-General for the North of Scotland—a worthy hospitable old man. His wife is a very intellectual woman, and must have once been very pretty. She is a daughter of the "Black Captain" of Badenoch, whose deatli in a snowstorm, when on a hunting excursion, is connected by his countrymen with Bo much of the marvellous and mysterious, and by Hogg made the subject of a tale.
Dec. 6.—Bead Mr Brown's "Poetical Ephemeras." Love and friendship almost entirely his theme. Melancholy the prevailing tone of his lyre—a consumptive habit the probable cause of this. His verse is always harmonious, but the total absence of any attempt at wit or satire, descriptions of character or scenery, leaves his poetry a rather wearisome monotony of sweet sounds.
Dec. 16.—Went to hear Mr Maclaren of the Episcopalian ChapeL He is a good preacher, but a better poet, as several poems which appeared in Blackwood, &c, can testify. A great Jacobite, and sings well.
Dec. 17.—Breakfasted with Mr Maclaren, and went with him afterwards to see one of the only two existing original portraits of Claverhouse. It is along with another of the great Montrose, in the possession of a maiden lady living in the vicinity of the town.
Dec. 24.—Went six miles to see the Priory of Pluscardine. The devastation made on it by the hand of Time is scarcely more to be regretted than a wretched attempt on the part of its proprietor, Colonel Grant, at something like a renovation, with a view to its becoming a church or a mansion (I forget which). The effect is to greatly mar the veneration and interest with which we always gaze on real ruins. It was once tenanted by a colony of White Friars, who after a time were expelled for their amorous indulgences. It is now the favourite haunt of a colony of crows. Had an interview with the venerable father of the Church of
Scotland, Mr Leslie, minister of . He is 92 years old, and yet
hearty and hale, able and willing to join Father Murphy himself iu a tumbler done up after that reverend gentleman's improved principle of toddy-making, recommended by the Pope himself. He walks to Elgin, a distance of three miles, every other day, and preaches long and loud twice every Sabbath in the year!
Dec. 26.—Left with a sigh the brightly-beautiful, fine-complexioned girls of Elgin; and after passing by the castle and lake (or rather marsh) of Swiney, reached Lossiemouth at night. Fine new harbour—much needed. Speymouth and the woods around Castle Gordon seen in the distance.
Dec. 27.— Set out for Burghead, the most northerly Roman station in Britain. Called at the manse of Drynie, about a mile off. Shown where, amidst the foundations of what some conjecture to have once been a Bishop's palace, and others a fortification. The Eev. Dr Eose lately discovered a stone coffin and some urns, fragments of both of which were shown me. Three miles further west, on a mound forming at one time an islet, on the new drained Lake of Spynie, stands the ruins of the Castle of Duffus. Eeached Burghead in the evening. Find it a most shabby-looking village, and determine upon leaving it; not, however, until I had a look at the Eoman well discovered there, deep hid in earth (or rather sand), about twenty years ago. Till then the inhabitants of this sterile little promontory must have been very ill off for water. The well is well worthy of the antiquarian's notice.
Dec 27, eight o'clock evening.—At Forres again. 28.—Left for Grantown, Strathspey, which I reach about 10 P.m. Late and weary.
Dec. 29.—Visited the celebrated "Haughs of Cromdale," four miles down upon the east bank of the river Spey. Kindly invited to pass the Sabbath at the manse with Mr Grant, which I declined doing.
Dec. 30.—Heard Peter Grant, author of the "Dain Spioradail," preaching. His discourse most edifying, and wonderously well arranged, though delivered ex tempore. His diction and delivery are alike poor, but he is rich in matter, and argues his point with great clearness. Without much mental power, but with a deep religious feeling and persevering industry to make the most of the little talent given him, he has been enabled to take a deep hold of the minds of his religious countrymen, both as a poet and a preacher. He is 50 years old, has a numerous family, and lives on the very farm on which his father and grandfather lived before him.
Jan. 1, 1839.—Had an interview with Mrs Mackay, a grand-daughter of the celebrated Flora Macdonald, lately come from Nairn to Grantown. Made ma a present of a breast-pin worn by her mother (Flora's daughter). Mrs Mackay is a widow, with three daughters, and enjoys a pension from Government of £50 a-year. It was secured through the interest of Sir W. Scott when George IV. was at Edinburgh, in 1822. There never was a farthing of public money more judiciously bestowed Mrs Mackay had been a widow for many years previously j her husband, a respectable shopkeeper in Nairn, having been drowned while bathing, and that in her own sight. It was a brother of hers—a particularly fine young fellow, holding a lieutenant's commission in the army—that Glengarry slew many years ago in a duel, arising out of a very trifling matter at one of the Northern Meeting balls. Elizabeth, her youngest daughter, has set up a sewing and reading school, which is attended by several pretty little girls. She is a very pious girl herself, and is the author of several sweet pieces of poetry.