Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine
The following is from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine:
Ben Nevis and Ben Muich Dhui
It was on a bright, hot day of July, which threw the first gleam of sunshine across a long tract of soaking, foggy, dreary, hopeless weather, that we ascended Ben Nevis. The act was unpremeditated. The wet and fog of weeks had entered into our soul; and we had resolved, in the spirit of indignant resignation, that we would not attempt the hill. Accordingly we were stalking lazily along General Wade's road: we had left Fort William, and thought there might be a probability of reaching Fort Augustus to dinner,—when we were not ungratefully surprised to see the clouds tucking themselves up the side of the mountain in a peculiar manner, which gives the experienced wanderer of the hills the firm assurance of a glorious day. Soon afterwards, the great mountain became visible from summit to base, and its round head and broad shoulders stood dark against the bright blue sky. A sagacious-looking old Highlander, who was passing, protested that the hill had never looked so hopeful during the whole summer: the temptation was irresistible, so we turned our steps towards the right, and commenced the ascent.
It is one among the prevailing fallacies of the times, that to mount a Highland hill is a very difficult operation, and that one should hire a guide on the occasion. We lately witnessed a very distressing instance of the alarming prevalence of this notion, in a young Chancery barrister, fresh from Brick Court Temple, who asked us in a very solemn tone of voice, if we could recommend him to "a steady guide to the top of Arthur Seat." When matters have come to such a crisis, it is time to speak out; and we are able, on the ground of long experience, to say, that if the proper day be chosen, and the right method adopted, the ascent of our grandest mountains is one of the simplest operations in all pedestrianism. True, if people take it in the way in which pigs run up all manner of streets, and go straight forward, looking neither to the right nor to the left, they will run their heads against nature's stone walls, which are at least as formidable as man's. But let any one study the disposal of the ground, calculating the gradients and summit levels as if he were a railway-engineer for the time being—let him observe where the moss lies deep, and precipices rise too steep to be scrambled over; and he will be very obtuse indeed, if he is not able to chalk out for himself precisely the best way to the top. It is a good general rule to keep by the side of a stream. That if you do so when you are at the top of a hill, you will somehow or other find your way to the bottom, is, we are convinced, a proposition as sound as Newton's theory of gravitation. But in the ascent, the stream is often far better than a human guide. It has no interest to lead you to the top of some episodical hill and down again, and to make you scramble over an occasional dangerous pass, to show you how impossible it is that you could have found the way yourself, and how fortunate you are in having secured the services of an intelligent and intrepid guide. On the contrary, as long as you keep by the side of the stream you are always gaining ground and making your way towards the higher levels, while you avoid bogs: for the edge of a stream is generally the dryest part of a mountain.
Choosing the broadest and deepest scaur that is scratched down the abrupt side of the lower range of the mountain, we find it, as we anticipated, the channel of a clear dancing stream, which amuses us with its babble for several hundred feet of the ascent. Some time ere we had reached the base of the hill we had lost sight of the summit, and there was before us only the broad steep bank, with its surface of alternate stone and heather, and a few birch-trees peeping timidly forth from crevices in the rock. After a considerable period of good hard climbing, accompanied by nothing worthy of note either in the variations of the scenery or in the incidents encountered, we are at the top of this rampart; and behold! on the other side of a slight depression, in which sleeps a small inky lake, the bold summit of the mountain rises clear and abrupt and close, as one might see the dome of a cathedral from the parapet on the roof. Here we linger to take a last look of the objects at the foot of the hill, for ere we resume the ascent we shall lose sight of them. Already Fort William looks like a collection of rabbit-houses. The steam-boat on the lake is like a boy's Christmas toy. The waters have assumed that hard burnished metallic appearance which they convey to the eye raised far above them in a hot summer day. The far-stretching moss, with one or two ghastly white stones standing erect out of its blackness like druidical remains, carries the eye along its surface to the dusky and mysterious ruins of Inverlochy Castle, which has so sadly puzzled antiquaries to divine how its princely round towers and broad barbican could have been erected in that wild and remote region, where they stand patiently in their ruined grandeur, waiting till our friend Billings shall, with his incomparable pencil, make each tower and arch and moulding as familiar to the public eye as if the old ruin stood in Fleet Street.
Off we start with the lake to the left, taking care to keep the level we have gained. A short interval of walking in a horizontal direction, and again we must begin to climb. On this side the porphyry dome is round and comparatively smooth—scarcely so abrupt as the outer range of hill which we have just ascended. But wending north-eastwardly when near the summit, we came suddenly to a spot where a huge fragment of the dome had, as it were, been broken off, leaving a ghastly rent—how deep it were difficult for the eye to fix, but the usual authorities tell us that the precipices here are 1500 feet high. When we reached their edge, we found that the clouds, which had been completely lifted up from the smoother parts of the mountain, still lingered as if they had difficulty in getting clear of the ragged edges of the cavernous opening, and moving about restlessly like evil spirits, hither and thither, afforded but partial glimpses of the deep vale below. Though Ben Nevis was at this time rather deficient in his snowy honours, considerable patches lay in the unsunned crevices of the precipice. It was a fine thing to occupy one's-self in tilting over huge boulders, and to see them gradually approach the edge of the gulf, and then leap thundering into the mist.
Turning our eyes from the terrible fascinations of the precipice to the apex of the hill now in full view, a strange sight there met our eyes—a sight so strange that we venture to say the reader no more anticipates it than we did, at the moment when we looked from the yawning precipice to what we expected to be a solitary mountain-top. "Pooh!" the reader will say, "it was an eagle looking at the sun, or a red-deer snuffing with his expanded nostrils the tainted air." We shake our heads. "Well, then, it was a waterspout—or, perhaps, a beautiful rainbow—or something electric, or a phenomenon of some sort." Utterly wrong. It was neither more nor less, reader, than a crowd of soldiers, occupying nearly the whole table-land of the summit! Yes, there they were, British troops, with their red coats, dark gray trousers, and fatigue caps, as distinctly as we ever saw them in Marshall's panoramas! We were reminded of the fine description which Scott gives of the Highland girl who was gazing indolently along the solitary glen of Gortuleg on the day of the battle of Culloden, when it became suddenly peopled by the Jacobite fugitives. "Impressed with the belief that they were fairies—who, according to Highland tradition, are visible to men only from one twinkle of the eyelid to another—she strove to refrain from the vibration, which she believed would occasion the strange and magnificent apparition to become invisible." But whether the eye winked or not, there they were—substantial able-bodied fellows; what could it mean? Had Colonel Mitchell discovered a new system for protecting the country by fortifying the tops of mountains which an enemy never comes near? Could it be some awkward squad sent to be drilled on this remote spot that it might escape the observation of the sarcastic public? Such were the theories as suddenly rejected as they were suggested. It was vain to speculate. No solution we could devise made the slightest approach to probability; and our only prospect of speedy relief was in pushing rapidly forward. A very short sentence from the good-humoured looking young fellow who received our first breathless and perplexed inquiry, solved the mystery,—"did you never hear of the Ordnance Survey?" Yes, indeed, we had heard of it; but our impression of it was as of something like a mathematical line, with neither breadth nor thickness; but here it was in substantial operation. The party were occupied in erecting a sort of dwelling for themselves—half tent, half hut. Though in fatigue dresses, and far from being very trim, it was easy to see that they were not common soldiers. They belong, we believe, to the educated corps of sappers and miners; and a short conversation with them showed that the reputation of intelligence and civility long enjoyed by that distinguished body has not been unjustly earned. Though not blind to the magnificence of the panorama of mountain, lake, and distant far-stretching forest-land that lay beneath our feet as we conversed, they did not conceal their consciousness that the prospect of passing some months on such a spot was not particularly cheering to round-cheeked comfortable Englishmen, accustomed at Sandhurst and Addiscombe to comforts even superior to those of the Saut Market. The air was unexceptionably pure and abundant—yet the Bedford level might have been preferable as a permanent residence. Many were the reflections that occurred to us of the feelings of a set of men thus cut off from the earth, down on which they looked, like so many Jacks on a huge bean-stalk. What a place to encounter the first burst of the November storm in, beneath the frail covering of a tent! How did their friends address letters to them? Would a cover addressed "Mr Abel Thompson of the Royal engineers, Top of Ben Nevis," be a document to which the post-office would pay any more regard than to a letter addressed to one of the fixed stars? Could they ask a friend to step up to dinner, or exchange courtesies with the garrison of Fort William, into whose windows they might peep with their telescopes?
In the course of conversation with our new friends, we alighted on a subject in which we have long taken an interest. They had already conducted some operations on Ben Muich Dhui, and they were now commencing such surveys on Ben Nevis, as would enable them finally to decide which of these mountains has the honour of being the highest land in the United Kingdom. Competition has of late run very close between them; and the last accounts had shown Ben Muich Dhui only some twenty feet or so a-head. We freely confess that we back Ben Muich Dhui in this contest. It is true that Ben Nevis is in all respects a highly meritorious hill. We must do justice to his manly civility and good humour. We have found many a crabbed little crag more difficult of access; and, for his height, we scarcely know another mountain, of which it is so easy to reach the top. He stands majestic and alone, his own spurs more nearly rivalling him than any of the neighbouring hills. Rising straight from the sea, his whole height and magnificent proportions are before us at once, and the view from the summit has an unrivalled expanse. Still there are stronger charms about the great centre of the Cairngorm range. Surrounded by his peers, he stands apart from the every-day world in mysterious grandeur. The depth and remoteness of the solitude, the huge mural precipices, the deep chasms between the rocks, the waterfalls of unknown height, the hoary remains of the primeval forest, the fields of snow, and the deep black lakes at the foot of the precipices, are full of such associations of awe, and grandeur, and mystery, as no other scenery in Britain is capable of arousing. The recollections of these things inclined us still to favour Ben Muich Dhui; and before separating from these hermits of her Majesty's ordnance, we earnestly requested, if they had any influence in the matter, that they would "find" for our favourite, to which we shall now introduce our readers.
Our public are certainly not amenable to the charge of neglecting what is worth seeing, because it is distant and inaccessible. On the top of the Righi, where people go to behold the sun rise over the Alps, we have seen the English congregated in crowds on the wooden bench erected for that purpose, making it look like a race-course stand, and carrying on a bang-up sort of conversation—
as if it were a starting-post, and they were laying bets on the events of the day. The Schwartzwald, the Saxon Schweitz, nay, even the wild Norrska Fiellen, swarm with British tourists; and we are credibly informed that loud cries of "boots" and "waiter," with expostulations against the quality of the bottled porter and the airing of the beds, may be heard not far from Mount Sinai. Yet, in the centre of our own island there is a group of scenery, as unlike the rest of the country as if we had travelled to another hemisphere to see it—as grand and beautiful as the objects which our tourists cross half the globe to behold—which is scarcely known to those who profess to say that they have visited every thing that is worth seeing in their own country. The answer to this will probably be, that railway travelling has brought the extremities of Europe together—that Switzerland is but four days from London—that it is as easy to get to Chamouni as to Braemar—and that the scenery of the Alps must be finer than any thing to be seen in Scotland. Even this broad proposition may be questioned. It was with no small pride that one night, after a hard walk from Martigny to Chamouni, we heard a distinguished Englishman, who has been able to compare with each other the finest things both physical and mental which the world has produced, and whose friendly face greeted us as we emerged from the dark valley into a brilliantly lighted hotel—stand up for old Scotland, and question if there were any thing, even in the gorgeous vale of Chamouni itself, to excel our purple mountains and narrow glens. But if we should be disposed to give the preference to the Alps, on that principle of politeness, which actuated an Aberdeen fisherman, who had found his way under the dome of St Paul's, to exclaim—"Weel, that jist maks a perfect feel o' the Kirk o' Fitty"—we think there is something inexpressibly interesting in beholding, in the middle of this busy island of steam-engines and railways, of printing machines and spinning jennies, one wide district where nature is still as supremely lord of all—where man feels as much separated from all traces of the workmanship of his fellows, as in the forests of Missouri, or the upper gorges of the Himalayas. But it is not true that the Cairngorm range of mountains is a distant place to tourists. It is in the very centre of their haunts. They swarm in the valleys of the Spey and the Tay, at Laggan, Blair Athol, and Braemar, and want but enterprise or originality enough to direct their steps out of the beaten paths which have formed, since Scottish touring became fashionable forty years ago, the regular circles in which these creatures revolve. They care not in general to imbibe the glories and the delights of scenery, but confine themselves to the established Lions, which it is good for a man to be able in society to say that he has seen. "Well, I can say I have seen it," says your routine tourist—whereby, if he knew the meaning of his own words, he would be aware that he conveyed to mankind a testimony to his folly in having made any effort to look at that which has produced no impression whatever on his mind, and in looking at which he would not be aware that he saw any thing remarkable, unless the guide-book and the waiter at the inn had certified that it was an object of interest. It is true, that to see our friends the Cairngorm hills, one must walk, and that somewhat stiffly—but this is seldom an obstacle in any place where pedestrianism is not unfashionable. In the Oberland of Switzerland, we have seen green-spectacled, fat, plethoric, gentlemen, fresh from 'Change, wearing blouses and broad straw hats, carrying haversacks on their shoulders, and tall alpenstocks in their hands to facilitate the leaping of the chasms in the glaciers—looking all the time as if the whole were some disagreeable dream, from which they hoped to awaken in their easy-chair in the back office in Crane Alley. No! when personages of this kind adopt the pilgrim's staff, we may be sure that there is a good fund of pedestrianism still unexhausted, could the means of stimulating it be found. But it is high time that we should point out the way to our favourite land of precipices, cataracts, and snow.
We shall suppose the traveller to be at Braemar, which he may have reached by the Deeside road from Aberdeen, or in the direction of Spital of Glenshee through the pass of the Vhrich-vhruich, (have the goodness, reader, to pronounce that aloud,) or from the basin of the Tay by the ancient Highland road through Glen Tilt, and the Ault-Shiloch-Vran. Even the scenery round Braemar is in every way worthy of respect. The hills are fine, there are noble forests of pine and birch, and some good foaming waterfalls; while over all preside in majesty the precipices and snow of Lochin-ye-gair. Still it is farther into the wilderness, at the place where the three counties of Aberdeen, Inverness, and Banff meet, that the traveller must look for the higher class of scenery of which we are sending him in search. As Braemar, however, contains the latest inn that will greet him in his journey, he must remember here to victual himself for the voyage; and, partial as we are to pedestrianism, we think he may as well take a vehicle or a Highland poney as far on his route as either of them can go: it will not long encumber him. The linn of Dee, where the river rushes furiously between two narrow rocks, is generally the most remote object visited by the tourist on Dee-side. There is little apparent inducement to farther progress. He sees before him, about a mile farther on, the last human habitation—a shepherd's cabin, without an inch of cultivated land about it; and he is told that all beyond that is barrenness and desolation, until he reach the valley of the Spey. The pine-trees at the same time decrease in number, the hills become less craggy and abrupt, and the country in general assumes a bleak, bare, windy, bog-and-moor appearance, that is apt to make, one uncomfortable.
Of the various methods of approaching Ben Muich Dhui, the most striking, in our opinion, is one with which we never found any other person so well acquainted as to exchange opinions with us about it. We did once, it is true, coax a friend to attempt that route; he had come so far with us as the edge of the Dee, but disliked crossing it. In the superabundance of our zeal, we offered to carry him over on our shoulders; but when we came to the middle of the stream, it so happened that a foot tripped against a stone, and our friend was very neatly tilted over our head into the water, without our receiving any considerable damage, in our own proper person. He thereafter looked upon us, according to an old Scottish proverb, as "not to ride the water with;" and perhaps he was right. So we proceeded on our journey alone. Our method was to cross right over the line of hills which here bound the edge of the river. Though not precipitous, this bank is very high—certainly not less than a thousand feet. When you reach the top, if the day be clear, the whole Cairngorm range is before you on the other side of the valley, from summit to base, as you may see Mont Blanc from the Col de Balm, or the Jungfrau from the Wengern Alp. From this bird's-eye view, you at once understand that peculiar structure of the group, which makes the valleys so much deeper and narrower, and the precipices so much more frightful, than those of any other of the Scottish mountains. Here there are five summits springing from one root, and all more than four thousand feet above the level of the sea. The circumference of the whole group is as that of one mountain. We can imagine it to have been a huge, wide, rounded hill, Ben Muich Dhui being the highest part, and the whole as smooth and gentle as some of the Ural range, where you might have a fixed engine, and "an incline," without levelling or embanking. But at some time or other the whole mass had got a jerk; and so it is split from top to bottom, and shivered, and shaken, and disturbed into all shapes and positions, showing here and there such chasms as the splitting in two of mountains some three thousand feet or so in direct height must necessarily create. Having to his satisfaction contemplated the group from this elevation, the traveller may descend into Glen Lui Beg, as we shall presently describe it.
Returning to the Dee,—about a mile below the Linn, the stream of the Lui forces a passage through the steep banks and joins the river. We enter the glen from which this stream flows by a narrow rocky pass, through which the trees of the Mar forest struggle upwards. As we proceed, the trees gradually become more scarce, the rocky barrier is left behind us, and we are in a long grassy glen shut out from the world. This is Glen Lui. A better introduction to the savage scenery beyond, for the sake of contrast, there could not be. Every thing here is peace and softness. Banks lofty, but round and smooth, intervene to hide the summits of the mountains. The stream is not stagnant, but it flows on with a gentle current, sometimes through sedge or between grassy banks; elsewhere edged by a beach of the finest yellow sand. The water is beautifully transparent, and even where it is deepest you may count the shining pebbles below. A few weeping birches here and there hang their graceful disconsolate ringlets almost into the stream; the grass is as smooth as a shaven lawn, and much softer; and where a few stones protrude through it, they are covered with a cushion of many-coloured mosses. But with all its softness and beauty, the extreme loneliness of the scene fills the mind with a sense of awe. It surely must have been in such a spot that Wordsworth stood, or of such a scene that he dreamed, when he gave that picture of perfect rest which he professed to apply to a far different spot, Glen Almon—a rough, rocky glen, with a turbulent brook running through it, where there never was or can be silence:
Nor in Glen Lui can one feel inclined to join in the charge of mysticism which has been raised against this last simile. Its echoes in the heart at once associate themselves with a few strange, mysterious, round mounds, of the smoothest turf, and of the most regular, oval, or circular construction, which rise here and there from the flat floor of the valley. It needs no archćological inquiry to tell us what they are: we feel that they cover and have covered—who call tell how many hundred years?—the remains of some ancient people, with whom history cannot make us acquainted, and who have not even the benefit of tradition; for how can there be traditions in places where no human beings dwell?
"Stop!" says a voice, "the quotation is utterly inappropriate—how can there be flocks where not even a single sheep feeds—how can shepherds woo beneath the moon where there are no damsels to woo?" Granted; but the lines are pretty—they were the most appropriate that we could find, and they blend in with one's feelings on this spot; for, if it be a strange and melancholy sight in the Far West, beyond the Atlantic, to alight upon the graves of a tribe of Indians whose history has become extinct, is it not more strange still to look, in the centre of this busy island, which has lived in history eighteen hundred years, on these vestiges of an old extinct race, not turned up by the plough, or found in digging the foundation of a cotton mill, but remaining there beneath the open sky, as they were left of old, no successors of the aboriginal race coming to touch them? Standing in Glen Lui, and remembering how fast we are peopling Australia and the Oregon, one's mind becomes confused about the laws of emigration and colonisation. Yet how soon may all this be changed. Perhaps the glen may turn out to be a good trunk level—the granite of Ben Muich Dhui peculiarly well adapted for tunnelling, and the traffic something of an unknown and indescribable extent: and some day soon the silence may be awakened with the fierce whistle of the train, and the bell may ring, and passengers may be ordered to be ready to take their places, and first, second, and third class tickets may be stamped with the rapidity of button-making—who knows? Nobody should prophesy in this age what may not be done. We once met a woful instance of a character for great sagacity utterly lost at one blow, in consequence of such a prediction. The man had engaged to eat the first locomotive that ever came to Manchester by steam from Liverpool. On the day when this marvel was accomplished, he received a polite note enclosing a piece of leather cut from the machinery, with an intimation that when he had digested that, the rest of the engine would be at his service. But the reader is getting tired of Glen Lui, and insists on being led into more exciting scenery.
After being for a few miles such as we have tried to describe it, the glen becomes narrower, and the scenery rougher. Granite masses crop out here and there. The pretty dejected weeping birches become mixed with stern, stiff, surly pines, which look as if they could "do any thing but weep," and not unnaturally suggest the notion that their harsh conduct may be the cause of the tears of their gentler companions. At last a mountain thrusts a spur into the glen, and divides it into two: we are here at the foot of Cairngorm of Derrie, or the lesser Cairngorm. The valley opening to the left is Glen Lui Beg, or Glen Luithe Little—containing the shortest and best path to the top of Ben Muich Dhui. The other to the right is Glen Derrie—one of the passes towards Loch A'an or Avon, and the basin of the Spey. Both these glens are alike in character. The precipitous sides of the great mountains between which they run, frown over them and fill them with gloom. The two streams of which the united waters lead so peaceful a wedded life in calm Glen Lui, are thundering torrents, chafing among rocks, and now and then starting unexpectedly at our feet down into deep black pools, making cataracts which, in the regular touring districts, would be visited by thousands. But the marked feature of these glens is the ancient forest. Somewhere we believe in Glen Derrie there are the remains of a saw-mill, showing that an attempt had been at one time made to apply the forest to civilised purposes; but it was a vain attempt, and neither the Baltic timber duties, nor the demand for railway sleepers, has brought the axe to the root of the tree beneath the shadow of Ben Muich Dhui. There are noble trees in the neighbouring forest of Braemar, but it is not in a state of nature. The flat stump occurs here and there, showing that commerce has made her selection, and destroyed the ancient unity of the forest. In Glen Derrie, the tree lives to its destined old age, and whether falling from decay, or swept to the ground by the tempest, lies and rots, stopping perhaps the course of some small stream, and by solution in the intercepted waters forming a petty peat-bog, which, after a succession of generations, becomes hardened and encrusted with lichens. Near such a mass of vegetable corruption and reorganisation, lies the new-fallen tree with its twigs still full of sap. Around them stand the hoary fathers of the forest, whose fate will come next. They bear the scars and contortions of many a hard-fought battle with the storms that often sweep the narrow glen. Some are bent double, with their heads nearly touching the earth; and among other fantastic forms it is not unusual to see the trunk of some aged warrior twisted round and round, its outer surface resembling the strands of a rope. A due proportion of the forest is still in its manly prime—tall, stout, straight trees, lifting their huge branches on high, and bearing aloft the solemn canopy of dark green that distinguishes "the scarcely waving pine." We are tempted to have recourse to poetry again—we promise it shall be the last time on this occasion: there are, however, some lines by Campbell "on leaving a scene in Bavaria," which describe such a region of grandeur, loneliness, and desolation, with a vigour and melody that have been seldom equalled. They were first published not many years before his death, and it seemed as if the ancient harp had been re-strung to more than its old compass and power—but, alas! when we spoke of these verses to himself, we found that, like all of his that were fitted for immortality, they had been the fruit of his younger and better days, and that a diffidence of their merit had retarded their publication. Let the reader commit these two stanzas to memory, and repeat them as he nears the base of Ben Muich Dhui.
It is after proceeding through Glen Lui Beg, perhaps about three or four miles from the opening of the glen, that we begin to mount Ben Muich Dhui. At first we clamber over the roots and fallen trunks of trees; but by degrees we leave the forest girdle behind, and precipices and snow, with a scant growth of heather, become our sole companions. Keeping the track where the slope of the hill is gentlest, we pass on the right Loch Etichan, lying like a drop of ink at the base of a huge dark mural precipice—yet it is not so small when seen near at hand. This little tarn, with its back-ground of dark rocks interspersed with patches of snow, might strongly remind the Alpine traveller of the lake near the Hospice of the Grimsel. The two scenes are alike hard and leafless and frozen-like—but the Alpine pass is one of the highways of Europe, and thus one seldom crosses it without encountering a pilgrim here and there. But few are the travellers that pass the edge of Loch Etichan, and if the adventurous tourist desires company, he had better try to find an eagle—not even the red-deer, we should suppose, when driven to his utmost need, seeks such a shelter, and as for foxes and wild-cats they know too well the value of comfortable quarters in snug glens, to expose themselves to catch cold in so Greenland-like a region.
The climber will know that he is at the top of Ben Muich Dhui, when he has to scramble no longer over scaurs or ledges of rock, but walking on a gentle ascent of turf, finds a cairn at its highest part. When he stands on this cairn, he is entitled to consider himself the most elevated personage in the United Kingdom. Around it is spread something like a table-land, and one can go round the edges of the table, and look down on the floor, where the Dee, the Avon, the Lui, and many other streams, are seen like silver threads, while their forest banks resemble beds of mignionette or young boxwood. There are at several points prodigious precipices, from which one may contemplate the scene below; but we recommend caution to the adventurer, as ugly blasts sometimes sweep along the top.
When a mountain is the chief of a district, we generally see from the top a wide expanse of country. Other mountains are seen, but wide valleys intervene, and thus they are carried to a graceful distance. Probably, more summits are seen from Ben Nevis, than from any other height in Scotland, but none of them press so closely on the monarch as even to tread upon his spurs. The whole view is distant and panoramic. It is quite otherwise with Ben Muich Dhui. Separated from it only by narrow valleys, which some might call mere clefts, are Cairn Toul, Brae Riach, Cairn Gorm, Ben Avon, and Ben-y-Bourd—all, we believe, ascending more than four thousand feet above the level of the sea—along with several other mountains which very closely approach that fine round number. The vicinity of some of these summits to Ben Muich Dhui has something frightful in it. Standing on the western shoulder of the hill, you imagine that you might throw a stone to the top of Brae Riach—we have been so much deceived by distance as to have seriously made the attempt, we shall not venture to say how many years ago. Yet, between these two summits rolls the river Dee; and Brae Riach presents right opposite to the hill on which we stand, a mural precipice, said to be two thousand feet high—an estimate which no one who looks on it will be inclined to doubt. Brae Riach, indeed, is unlike any thing else in Scotland. It is not properly a hill, but a long wall of precipice, extending several miles along the valley of the Dee. Even in the sunniest weather it is black as midnight, but in a few inequalities on its smooth surface, the snow lies perpetually. Seldom is the cleft between the two great summits free of clouds, which flit hither and thither, adding somewhat to the mysterious awfulness of the gulf, and seeming in their motions to cause certain deep but faint murmurs, which are in reality the mingled sounds of the many torrents which course through the glens, far, far below.
Having had a satisfactory gaze at Brae Riach,—looking across the street, as it were, to the interesting and mysterious house on the opposite side,—the traveller may probably be reflecting on the best method of descending. There is little hope, we may as well inform him, of his return to Braemar to-night, unless he be a person of more than ordinary pedestrian acquirements. For such a consummation, he may have prepared himself according to his own peculiar ideas. If he be a tea-totaller, he will have brought with him a large bottle of lemonade and some oranges—we wish him much satisfaction in the consumption of them, and hope they will keep his outer and inner man warm after the dews of eve have descended. Perhaps his most prudent course (we consider ourselves bound to give discreet advice, for perhaps we may have led some heedless person into a scrape) will be to get down to Loch Avon, and sleep under the Stone of Shelter. Proceeding along the table-land of the hill, in a direction opposite to that by which he has ascended, the traveller comes to a slight depression. If he descend, and then ascend the bank towards the north-east, he will find himself on the top of a precipice the foot of which is washed by the Loch. But this is a dangerous windy spot: the ledge projects far out, and there is so little shelter near it, that, from beneath, it has the appearance of overhanging the waters. It is not an essential part of the route we are about to suggest, and we would rather decline the responsibility of recommending it to the attention of any one who is not a practised cragsman. In the depression we have just mentioned will be found, unless the elements have lately changed their arrangements and operations, the largest of those fields of snow which, even in the heat of summer, dispute with the heath and turf the pre-eminence on the upper ranges of Ben Muich Dhui. If we were desirous of using high-sounding expressions, we would call this field a glacier, but it must be at once admitted that it does not possess the qualities that have lately made these frigid regions a matter of ardent scientific inquiry. There are no icebergs or fissures; and the mysterious principle of motion which keeps these congealed oceans in a state of perpetual restlessness is unknown in the smooth snow-fields of Ben Muich Dhui. But there are some features common to both. The snow-field, like the glacier, is hardened by pressure into a consistence resembling that of ice. A curious thing it is to topple a huge stone down from a neighbouring precipice on one of these snow-fields, and see how it hits the snow without sinking in it, and bounds along, leaving no scratch on the hardened surface. A stream issues from the field we are now alluding to, formed like the glacier streams from the ceaseless melting of the snow. It passes forth beneath a diminutive arch, such as the source of the Rhine might appear through a diminishing glass; and looking through this arch to the interior of the hardened snow, we see exemplified the sole pleasing peculiarity of the glacier—the deep blue tint that it assumes in the interior of the fissures, and on the tops of the arches whence the waters issue. This field of snow, which we believe has never been known to perspire so much in the hottest season as to evaporate altogether, constitutes the main source of the Avon. The little stream, cold and leafless though it be, is not without its beauties. Rarely have we seen such brilliant mosses as those which cluster round its source: their extreme freshness may probably be accounted for by remembering that every summer day deducts so much from the extent of the snow-field, and that the turf in its immediate neighbourhood has just been uncovered, and, relieved from prison, is enjoying the first fresh burst of spring in July or August. For our own part we think this region of fresh moss is quite worthy of comparison with the far-famed Jardin of the Talčfre, which we find described in Murray's hand-book as "an oasis in the desert, an island in the ice—a rock which is covered with a beautiful herbage, and enamelled in August with flowers. This is the Jardin of this palace of nature, and nothing can exceed the beauty of such a spot, amidst the overwhelming sublimity of the surrounding objects, the Aiguilles of Charmoz, Bletičre, and the Géant," &c. "Herbage," "flowers"!! Why, the jardin is merely a rock protruding out of the glacier, and covered with lichens; but, after all, was it reasonable to expect a better flower-show ten thousand feet above the level of the sea, and some nine thousand or so above all horticultural societies and prize exhibitions?
As we follow the course of the little stream, it becomes gradually enlarged by contributions from subsidiary snow streams; and winds along for some distance not inconsiderable in the volume of its waters, passing through a beautiful channel of fine sand, probably formed of the detritus of the granite rocks, swept along by the floods, caused by the melting of the snow in spring. The water is exquisitely clear—a feature which at once deprives it of all right to be considered glacier-born; for filth is the peculiarity of the streams claiming this high origin, and none can have seen without regretting it, the Rhone, after having washed itself clean in the Lake Leman, and come forth a sapphire blue, becoming afterwards as dirty as ever, because it happens to fall in company with an old companion, the Arve, which, having never seen good society, or had an opportunity of making itself respectable, by the mere force of its native character, brings its reformed brother back to his original mire, and accompanies him in that plight through the respectable city of Lyons, till both plunge together into the great ocean, where all the rivers of the earth, be they blue or yellow, clear or boggy, classical or obscure, become alike indistinguishable.
Perhaps our traveller is becoming tired of this small pleasant stream running along a mere declivity of the table-land of Ben Muich Dhui. But he will not be long distressed by its peaceful monotony. Presently, as he comes in sight of the valley below, and Loch Avon lying in a small pool at the base of the dizzy height, the stream leaps at once from the edge of the hill, and disappears for a time, reappearing again far down in a narrow thread, as white as the snow from which it has issued. Down the wide channel, which the stream occupies in its moments of fulness and pride—moments when it is all too terrible to be approached by mortal footsteps—the traveller must find his way; and, if he understand his business, he may, by judiciously adapting to his purpose the many ledges and fractures caused by the furious bursts of the flooded stream, and by a judicious system of zig-zagging, convert the channel, so far as he is himself concerned, into a sort of rough staircase, some two thousand feet or so in length. The torrent itself takes a more direct course; and he who has descended by the ravine may well look up with wonder at what has the appearance of a continuous cataract, which, falling a large mass of waters at his feet, seems as if it diminished and disappeared in the heavens. The Staubbach, or Fall of Dust, in Lauter Brunen, is beyond question a fine object. The water is thrown sheer off the edge of a perpendicular rock, and reaches the ground in a massive shower nine hundred feet high. But with all respect for this wonder of the world, we are scarcely disposed to admit that it is a grander fall than this rumbling, irregular, unmeasured cataract which tumbles through the cleft between Ben Muich Dhui and Ben Avon. We should not omit, by the way, for the benefit of those who are better acquainted with Scottish than with Con tinental scenery, to notice the resemblance of this torrent to the Gray Mare's Tail in Moffat-dale. In the character both of the stream itself and in the immediate scenery there are many points of resemblance, every thing connected with the Avon being of course on the larger scale.
Our wanderer has perhaps indulged himself in the belief that he has been traversing these solitudes quite alone—how will he feel if he shall discover that he has been accompanied in every step and motion by a shadowy figure of huge proportions and savage mien, flourishing in his band a great pine-tree, in ghastly parallel with all the motions of the traveller's staff? Such are the spirits of the air haunting this howling wilderness, where the pale sheeted phantom of the burial vault or the deserted cloister would lose all his terrors and feel himself utterly insignificant. Sometimes the phantom's head is large and his body small, then he receives the name of Fahin. James Hogg has asserted, not only poetically, but in sober prose, that, he was acquainted with a man who
For ourselves, are bound to confess that we never had the honour of meeting with this megacephalous gentleman, nor did we ever encounter any one who professed to have seen him, otherwise we would certainly have reported the case to the Phrenological Society. But we no more doubt his existence than that of the spectre of the Brocken. Sometimes the shadowy spectre of Ben Muich Dhui is a gigantic exaggeration of the ordinary human form seen stalking in a line with the traveller's route, striding from mountain-top to mountain-top as he steps from stone to stone, and imitating on an enlarged scale all his gestures. The spectre has an excellent excuse for all this unpolite mimicry—in fact, he cannot help it, as the reader may infer from the following account, of one of his appearances on a reduced scale. The description is given by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, who, along with Mr Grant of Ballindalloch, had ascended Ben Muich Dhui:—"On descending from the top, at about half-past three, P.M., an interesting optical appearance presented itself to our view. We had turned towards the east, and the sun shone on our backs, when we saw a very bright rainbow described on the mist before us. The bow, of beautifully distinct prismatic colours, formed about two-thirds of a circle, the extremities of which appeared to rest on the lower portion of the mountain. In the centre of this incomplete circle, there was described a luminous disc, surrounded by the prismatic colours displayed in concentric rings. On the disc itself, each of the party (three in number) as they stood at about fifty yards apart, saw his own figure most distinctly delineated, although those of the other two were invisible to him. The representation appeared of the natural size, and the outline of the whole person of the spectator was most correctly portrayed. To prove that the shadow seen by each individual was that of himself, we resorted to various gestures, such as waving our hats, flapping our plaids, &c., all which motions were exactly followed by the airy figure. We then collected together, and stood as close to one another as possible, when each could see three shadows in the disc; his own, as distinctly as before, while those of his two companions were but faintly discernible." [Edinburgh New Philosophic Journal, 1831, p. 165.]
We are now at the upper extremity of Loch Avon, or, as it is pronounced, Loch A'an, and beside the far-famed Stone of Shelter. We had a standing feud with James Hogg about the extent of Loch Avon, ever since the day of that celebrated encampment on Dee-side. Let us see. Thirty years have now rolled by since that unmatched gathering of choice spirits—nay, seventeen have passed and gone since we made regretful allusion, when commemorating the Moray floods, to the history and fortunes of those who were then assembled. Five years later, the Shepherd was himself gathered to the dust; but he stuck to his principles to the last, and in a discussion of the subject not many months before his death, after he had just remarked that he had "a blessed constitution," he reiterated his old statement, that Loch Avon exceeded twenty miles in length. His views on this subject were indeed a sort of gauge of the Shepherd's spirits. In his sombre moments he appeared to doubt if he were quite correct in insisting that the length was twenty miles; when he was in high spirits he would not abate one inch of the thirty. Now, when one man maintains that a lake is thirty miles long, and another that it is but a tenth part of that length, it is not always taken for granted that the moderate man is in the right; but on the contrary, paradoxical people are apt to abet his opponent, and it was provoking that we could never find any better authority against the Shepherd than his own very suspicious way of recording his experience at Loch Avon in a note to the Queen's Wake: "I spent a summer day in visiting it. The hills were clear of mist, yet the heavens were extremely dark—the effect upon the scene exceeded all description. My mind during the whole day experienced the same sort of sensation as if I had been in a dream." But if our departed friend has left any disciples, we are now able to adduce against them the highest parochial authority. We are told in the new Statistical Account that—"Loch Avon lies in the southern extremity of the parish, in the bosom of the Grampian mountain. It is estimated at three miles long and a mile broad. The scenery around it is particularly wild and magnificent. The towering sides of Ben-y-Bourd, Ben Muich Dhui, and Ben Bainac, rise all around it, and their rugged bases skirt its edges, except at the narrow outlet of the Avon at its eastern extremity. Its water is quite luminous, and of great depth, especially along its northern side. It abounds in trout of a black colour and slender shape, differing much in appearance from the trout found in the limpid stream of the Avon which issues from it. At the west end of the lake is the famous Clach Dhian or Shelter Stone. This stone is an immense block of granite, which seems to have fallen from a projecting rock above it, rising to the height of several hundred feet, and forming the broad shoulder of Ben Muich Dhui. The stone rests on two other blocks imbedded in a mass of rubbish, and thus forms a cave sufficient to contain twelve or fifteen men. Here the visitor to the scenery of Loch Avon takes up his abode for the night, and makes himself as comfortable as he can where 'the Queen of the Storm sits,' and at a distance of fifteen or twenty miles from all human abode." [New Statistical Account of Scotland—Banffshire, p. 298.]
At the eastern end of the lake, we stop to take a glance at the whole scene. Right before us stands the broad top and the mural precipices of Ben Avon, severing us from the north-western world. On the right, the scarcely less craggy sides of Ben-y-Bourd and Ben Bainac wall up the waters of the lake. The other side is conspicuous by a sharp peak of Ben Muich Dhui—the same which we already mentioned as seeming to hang (and it certainly does so seem from this point) over the edge of the water. We never saw the sun shining on Loch Avon; we suspect its waters, so beautifully transparent in themselves, are seldom visited by even a midsummer gleam. Hence arises a prevailing and striking feature of the scene—the abundant snows that fill the hollows in the banks, and sometimes, even in midsummer, cover the slopes of the mountains.
We incline to the belief that tourists in general would consider Loch Avon the finest feature of the whole group of scenery which we have undertaken to describe. For our own part we must admit that we prefer the source of the Dee, to which the reader shall be presently introduced, as more peculiar and original. Loch Avon is like a fragment of the Alps imported and set down in Scotland. Our recollections of it invariably become intertwined and confused with the features of the scenery of the upper passes. The resemblance was particularly marked on the first of August 1836: it was a late season, and every portion of the mountains that did not consist of perpendicular rock appeared to be covered with snow. The peak of Ben Muich Dhui shot forth from the snow as like the Aiguilles of Mont Blanc, as one needle is like another. That was on the whole an adventurous day with us. We had set off from Braemar very early in the morning, taking a vehicle as far as it would penetrate through Glen Lui. The day was scarcely promising, but we had so long been baffled by the weather that we felt inclined at last to put it at defiance, or at least treat it with no respect. In Glen Lui every thing was calm and solemn. As we passed through Glen Derrie, the rain began to fall, and the wind roared among the old trees. The higher we ascended, the more fierce and relentless became the blast; and when we came within sight of Loch Avon, the interstices in the tempest-driven clouds only showed us a dreary, winter, Greenland-like chaos of snow and rocks and torrents. It taxed our full philosophy, both of the existence of the ego and the non-ego, to preserve the belief that we were still in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and that it was the first of August. Our indefinite projects had gradually been contracting themselves within a narrow compass. To reach the Stone of Shelter was now our utmost object of ambition, but it was clear that that was impracticable—so we looked about for some place of refuge, and with little difficulty discovered a stone about the size of a parish church lying like a pebble at the foot of a mountain, with a projecting ledge on the lee side, sufficiently large to protect our party. Some dry furze happened, by a singular accident, to lie heaped in a corner of this natural shed. With a little judicious management it was ignited, and burned so well as to overcome the wetness of a mass of thick heather roots, which we added to it. We were in the possession of some raw venison;—do not open your eyes so, reader; it was most unromantically and honestly come by, being duly entered in the bill at worthy Mrs Clarke's inn, at Braemar. Having brought certain conjuring utensils with us, we proceeded to cook our food and make ourselves comfortable. Water was easily obtained in the neighbourhood, and being in possession of the other essential elements of conviviality, we resolved that, as the weather was determined to make it winter outside, we should have the joys of winter within; the shrieks of the blast were drowned in our convivial shouts—
Another adventure we remember in the same place, but that was long, long ago; in fact, it was when in boyhood we had first entered into that awful wilderness. We had reached the top of Ben Muich Dhui early in the day. Our little wallet of provisions we had left on a tuft of heather where we had lain down to rest, and we could not afterwards find the spot. Somewhat tired, and faint with hunger, we descended the rocks by the side of the cataract, believing that Loch Avon, seemingly so small from the summit of the mountain, was the little Tarn of Etichan, which had been passed in the ascent from Dee-side. It was alarming to find the lake extending its bulk as we approached, and to see the glens looking so different from any of those we were acquainted with on Dee-side; but to have returned up the mountain would have been insanity, and by pursuing the track of a stream, one is sure in the end—at least in this country—to reach inhabited land; so we followed the waters of the Avon, so deep and transparent, that many miles down, where they join the Spey, their deceptious character is embodied in the proverb—
A few miles below the exit of the stream from the loch, as the extreme dimness of the valley showed that sunset was approaching, we met a drover who had gone up into the wilderness in search of stray black cattle. He could speak little English, but was able to give us the startling intelligence that by what was merely a slight divergence at first, we had gone down towards the strath of the Spey instead of that of the Dee; and that we were some thirty miles from the home we had expected to reach that evening. Our new friend took us under his charge, and conducted us to a bothy, made of the bent roots of the pine-tree, found in the neighbouring mosses, and covered with turf. It was so low, that we could not stand upright in it, and a traveller might have walked over it without observing that it was an edifice made with human hands. The sole article of furniture, of which it could boast was a trough, in which our new friend hospitably presented us with a supper of oatmeal and water—our first nourishment for the day. The supply was liberal, whatever might be thought of the quality of the repast. The floor of the bothy was strewed with heather, somewhat coarse and stumpy, on which we lay down and slept. Conscious of a confused noise and a sort of jostling, it was with some surprise that we perceived that no less than ten men had crowded themselves into that little hut and had lighted a fire. It was like a realisation of some of Cooper's romantic incidents, where, after a silent desert has been described, it somehow or other becomes suddenly full of people and fertile in adventure. Our new companions were not of the most agreeable cast: they were rough and surly, hiding, we thought, a desire to avoid communication under the pretence of inability to speak any thing but Gaelic; while, in the midst of their Celtic communications with each other, they swore profusely in the Scottish vernacular. What their pursuits were, or what occasion they had to be in that wild region, was to us a complete mystery, opened up slightly by reflecting on the two great lawless pursuits, smuggling and poaching; of the fruit of neither of which, however, did we see any symptom. Our position was not for many reasons, great and small, to be envied: however, it was the best policy to make one of themselves for the time being, so far as their somewhat repulsive manners would permit. It was not, however, with much regret, that, after having been packed for some hours with them on the hard stumps of heather, we left them in full snore at sunrise on a clear morning, and ascended the hill dividing the waters that run into the Spey from those which feed the Dee. The dews lay heavy on the moss and heather, and, as we neared the top of the ridge, glittered brightly in the new-risen sun; while here and there the mists, forming themselves into round balls, gradually rolled up the sides of the hills, and, mounting like balloons, disappeared in the blue sky. As we passed down through the broken forest-land on the other side, we could see, on the top of the gentler elevations, the slender-branched horns of the red-deer between us and the sky. Even on our near approach the beautiful animals showed no signs of panic,—perhaps they knew our innocence; and they gazed idly as we passed, only tossing their heads in the air, and scampering off disdainfully when we approached offensively close. We reached the Dee by following the stream of the Quoich, which, like the Lui, passes through the remains of an ancient forest. It derives its convivial name from a peculiar cataract often visited by tourists from Braemar. Here the stone is hollowed by the action of the water into circular cavities like those of the Caldron Linn; and in one of these the guides will have the audacity to tell you that a bacchanalian party once made grog by tossing in a few ankers of brandy, and that they consumed the whole on the premises.
We must now tell our pilgrim how he is to find his way by the more direct route from Loch Avon to Braemar, and we may at the same time afford a hint to the reader who desires to proceed towards the lake without crossing Ben Muich Dhui. Near where the stream of the Avon issues, it is necessary to turn to the right, and to keep rather ascending than descending. In a few miles the brow of the hill shuts us out from the wintry wild, and in a hollow are seen two small lakes called the Dhu Lochan, with nothing about them to attract notice but their dreariness and their blackness. The course of a burn which feeds them marks the way to the water-shier between the Spey and the Dee, whence a slight descent leads down to Glen Derrie, the position of which has been already described.
We now propose another excursion—our last on the present occasion—to the sources of the Dee. We place our wanderer again at the Linn of Dee. As he proceeds up the stream, the banks become flatter, and the valleys wider and less interesting, until after some miles—we really cannot say how many—the river turns somewhat northwards, and the banks become more close and rocky. At this spot there is a fine waterfall, which, in the midst of a desert, has contrived to surround itself with a not unbecoming clump of trees. The waters are divided into two; the Geusachan burn joining the stream from the west. At last the conical peak of Cairn Toul appears over-topping all the surrounding heights; and then, a rent intervening, we approach and soon walk under the great mural precipice of Brae Riach, which we have already surveyed to so much advantage from the top of Ben Muich Dhui. We are here in the spot which to us, of all this group of scenery, appears to be the most remarkable, as being so unlike any other part of Scotland, or any place we have seen elsewhere. The narrowness of the glen and the height of its walled sides are felt in the constrained attitude in which we look up on either side to the top, as if we were surveying some object of interest in a tenth story window of our own High Street. This same narrowness imparts a sensation as if one could not breathe freely. If we compare this defile to another of the grandest mountain passes in Scotland—to Glencoe, we find a marked difference between them. The scene of the great tragedy, grand and impressive as it is, has no such narrow walled defiles. The mountains are high, but they are of the sugar-loaf shape—abrupt, but never one mass of precipice from top to bottom. Cairn Toul resembles these hills, though it is considerably more precipitous: but Brae Riach is as unlike them as a tower is distinct from a dome. In this narrow glen we could tell of sunsets and sunrises, not accompanied by such disagreeable associations as those we have recorded in Glen Avon. Picture the very hottest day of a hot year. The journey in the wide burning glen up from the Linn of Dee has been accomplished only with the aid of sundry plunges in the deep, cold pools, which the stream has filled with water fresh from the inner chambers of the mountains. The moment we enter the narrow part of the glen, though the sun is still pretty far up in the heavens, we are in twilight gloom. We have no notice of his leaving the earth, save the gradual darkening of all things around us. Then the moon is up, but we have no further consciousness of his presence, save that the sharp peak of Cairn Toul shows its outline more clearly even than by daylight; and a lovely roof of light-blue, faintly studded with stars, contrasts with the dark sides of our rocky chamber. In such a time, when one has mounted so far above the level of the waters that they only make a distant murmur—when there is not a breath of wind stirring any thing—it is strange with how many mysterious voices the mountain yet speaks. Sometimes there is a monotonous and continuous rumble as if some huge stone, many miles off, were loosened from its position, and tumbling from rock to rock. Then comes a loud distinct report as if a rock had been split; and faint echoes of strange wailings touch the ear, as if this solemn desert were frequented at night by animals as little known to the inhabitants of our island as the uncouth wilds in which they live. But let not the wanderer indulge in thoughts of this description beyond the bounds of a pleasant imaginativeness. Let him take it for granted, that neither cayman nor rattlesnake will disturb his rest; and having pitched on a dry spot, let him pluck a large quantity of heather, making up a portion of it in bundles, and setting them on end closely packed together with the flower uppermost, while he reserves the rest to heap over himself. It is such a bed as a prince has seldom the good fortune to take his rest on; and if the wanderer have a good conscience, and the night be fine, he will sleep far more soundly than if he were packed on the floor of a bothy, with ten Highlanders who every now and then are giving their shoulders nervous jerks against the heather stumps, or scratching the very skin off their wrists. When he awakens, he finds himself nearer to the top of Ben Muich Dhui than he had probably supposed, and the ascent is straight and simple. He may be there to see the sun rise, a sight which has its own peculiar glories, though most people prefer seeing the event from some solitary hill, which, like Ben Nevis, Shehallion, or the Righi, stands alone, and looks round on a distant panorama of mountains.
To return to the Dee.—The river divides again, one stream coming tumbling down through the cleft between Cairn Toul and Brae Riach, called the Garchary Burn. The other, less precipitously inclined, comes from between Brae Riach and Ben Mulch Dhul, and is called the Larig. Like the Nile and the Niger, the Dee is a river of a disputed source. As we shall presently find, the right of the Garchary to that distinction is strongly maintained by pretty high authority; but we are ourselves inclined to adopt the Larig, not only because it appeared to us to contain a greater volume of water, but because it is more in the line of the glen, and, though rough enough, is not so desperately flighty as the Garchary, and does not join it in those great leaps which, however surprising and worthy of admiration they may be in themselves, are not quite consistent with the calm dignity of a river destined to pass close to two universities. Following then the Larig over rocks and rough stones, among which it chafes and foams, we reach a sort of barrier of stones laid together by the hand of nature with the regularity of an artificial breakwater. As we pass over this barrier, a hollow rumbling is heard beneath; for the stream, at least at ordinary times, finds its way in many rills deep down among the stones. When we reach the top of the bank we are on the edge of a circular basin, abrupt and deep, but full of water so exquisitely clear that the pebbly bottom is every where visible. Here the various springs, passing by their own peculiar conduit-pipes from the centre of the mountain, meet together, and east up their waters into the round basin—one can see the surface disturbed by the force of their gushing. Soon after passing these "wells of Dee," we are at the head of the pass of Cairngorm, and join the waters which run to the Spey. A path leads through the woods of Rothiemurchus to Aviemore, on which the nearest house is, or used to be, that of a widow named Mackenzie, who in that wide solitude extends her hospitality to the wayfarer. Blessings on her! may her stoup never be dry, or her aumry empty. It is needless to tell the traveller, that by this route he may approach the scenery of the Cairngorm hills from Laggan, Rannoch, and other places near Spey side.
The claims of the Garchary to the leadership are supported by that respectable topographer Dr Skene Keith—probably on account of his own adventurous ascent of that turbulent stream, which we shall give in his own words, merely premising that we suspect he was mistaken in his discovery that the well he saw is called "Well Dee."
We must not bid farewell to this mountain desert without asking attention to a peculiar feature in the hills connected with a disastrous history. In many places the declivities are seamed with trenches some forty or fifty feet deep, appearing as if they were made by a gigantic plough-share which, instead of sand, casts up huge masses of rock on either side, in parallel mounds, like the morains of a glacier. There are many of these furrows on the side of Ben Muich Dhui, nearest to the Dee. Though we had long noticed them, it was not until we happened to be in that district, immediately after the great floods of 1829, that we were forcibly told of the peculiar cause of this appearance. The old furrows were as they had been before—the stones, gray, weather-beaten, and covered with lichen, while heather and wildflowers grew in the interstices. But among them were new scaurs, still like fresh wounds, with the stones showing the sharpness of late fracture, and no herbage covering the blood-red colour of the sand. It was clear from the venerable appearance of the older scaurs, that only at long intervals do the elements produce this formidable effect—at least many years had passed since the last instance before 1829 had occurred. The theory of the phenomenon appeared to be pretty simple. Each spring is a sort of stone cistern, which, through its peculiar duct, sends forth to one part of the surface of the earth the water it receives from another. If, through inordinately heavy falls of rain, there be a great volume of water pressing on the entrance tubes, the expansive force of the water in the cistern increases in that accumulating ratio which is practically exemplified in the hydraulic press, and the whole mass of water bursts forth from the side of the mountain, as if it were a staved barrel, rending rocks, and scattering their shattered fragments around like dust. Hence we may presume arose these fierce pulsations which made the rivers descend wave on wave. What a sight, to have been remembered and thought on ever after, would it have been, had one been present in this workshop of the storm while the work was going on!
Now, reader, before we have done, let us confess that there are many elements that we like to meet with in such things, wherein this little contribution to the knowledge of British local scenery is deficient. Fain would we have given it a more hospitable tone, telling of the excellent cookery at this inn, and the good wines at the next, and the general civility experienced at the third; but we cast ourselves, O generous reader! on your mercy. How could we describe the comforts and luxuries of inns, in a place where there is not a single house—a place which, like the Irish milestone, is "fifteen miles from inny where"?
As to the frequented methods of approach towards the border of the wilderness which we have taken under our especial patronage, we profess not to discuss them, leaving the public in the very competent hands of the Messrs Anderson, whose "Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland" is, in relation to the inhabited districts, and the usual tourists' routes, all-sufficient for its purpose.