SCENES IN MORTLACH.

In our former papers on Mortlach, we have endea­voured to give some account of the old and new Castles of Balvenie, the city of Dufftown, the Parish Church, &c.; and as we are ambitious enough to hope that our rambles may have done something towards drawing the attention of tourists to the claims of Mortlach to their notice, we would wish, before proceeding to the other places of antiquity, to point out another day’s ramble where the visitor, if he has a taste for scenery, may find materials for the purest enjoyment.


Perhaps there is nothing in the scenery in Mortlach that, strictly speaking, can be termed grand. The hills are neither bold nor rugged, the glens have no dark or frowning passes to adorn them, nor are the streams, though rapid and impetuous, ennobled by a single fall or cataract. Yet there are some very fine landscapes and some romantic spots; nor have we ever seen any one visit them without being captivated with their beauty. Amongst the finest of these are Priest’s Well, Glen Ness, and the Giant’s Chair.

PRIEST’S WELL.

What is termed the Priest’s Well is situated a short distance from the church, to the west of the houses of the Kirkton (no doubt the “town of Mar” mentioned by Hollingshead), in a narrow and romantic creek scooped out in the course of time by the action of the small stream “Burn Gala,” in its headlong inarch to join the Dullan. As we approach it, we pass the antiquated but floral-decked houses of the Kirkton; and having reached the end of Mrs Stewart’s house, we descend by a series of primitive steps intended for short stairs, amid a pro­ fusion of gooseberry bushes that hedge us in on either side to a narrow path. As we advance, the hedge termi­nates on one side at the banks of the small stream, and then the novelty and seclusion of the place is seen. The precipitous acclivity to the left, rising to a consider­able distance, bends like a half-moon before us, and the tall trees that adorn it rise one above another, and join their green branches like an arbour above us. To the right, the almost perpendicular bank is clad from top to bottom with a perfect thicket of gooseberry bushes, laden with their fruitful burden, which is reached by rustic gangways that run along at different elevations among them; while the centre is dammed up by a half­ circular mound, on which the grass and the fern struggle for the supremacy in covering up and concealing the bald and rugged peaks of limestone rock that every here and there are protruding from it. On the side of this mound is the small creek and water-worn precipice where “burn Gala” had used to pour; and rising from the right of the pool into which it fell is the large rock from the face of which the Priest’s Well issues. Much of the romantic character of this glen is gone since Messrs Gordon & Co. diverted the bum from its course to a higher level, for supplying their dam at the distillery; and who, not content with destroying the beautiful waterfall, at a more recent period placed a box and an ugly wooden tube for collecting the water issu­ing from the well, and from the fissures of the rocks on the opposite side. But regrets are useless, and if we cannot now have a sight of the glen as it once was, we may still drink of the excellent water that wells out from the rock, and delights and refreshes by its coolness in summer and its mildness in winter. Why it was called Priest’s Well, we have never been able to learn. Some are of opinion that it was a favourite drinking place of the priests who inhabited the monastery, and that it re­ceived its name from their frequent visits to it; but this is mere conjecture, and the legend which supposes that a band of caterans had encamped under the rock with the intention of stealing a lady that had fled to the monastery for shelter from them, and which concludes as follows, is equally indebted to the imagination: –

“Slowly the night came o’er them stealing.
Slowly the chief was his ends revealing,
As gathered around that flickering fire,
Stood his ruffian band, to reck his ire

On that holy man and that holy place.
That had given this maid a resting place;
And gloomy and dark their faces grew
As his gleaming dirk each ruffian drew.

Each right hand now is extended on high,
Across each breast does the bright dirk lie,
And that swarthy chief has just uttered ‘swear!’
When a deep, hoarse voice calls out ‘forbear!’

And instantly then, at if kind heaven,
Its sanction had to the speaker given,
The thunders pealed and the lightnings flashed,
The winds they howled and the trees they crashed,

And still as these frightful flashes gleamed
On the top of the rock a figure seemed,
Who with outstretched hand and streaming hair
Did St Moloch’s priest a likeness bear,


And tho’ fierce were the men and desperate the deed

That had gathered them there in unholy league,
Yet each felt his heart within him quail.
As that solemn voice on their meeting fell,

And faint and sick at heart were they,
As the wounded stag that has turned at bay.
And sees gathered around in such numbers the foe,

That despair itself can scarce urge a blow.

When that thrilling voice was once more reared,
And high o’er the war of the elements heard
Saying Peace to those plottings, return to your home.
Ere the light of the morning show when ye have come,

And woe to the man who shall dare to stay
Ere the dawning rays of the coming day,
For he or all shall as surely expire
As this rock shall extinguish that flickering fire.’

A word then he muttered, and quick as he spoke.
With a rumbling sound the limestone broke.
And a liquid stream on the embers fell.
Which continues to run, and ‘tis called Priest’s Well.”

GLEN NESS.

On the top of the eminence to the left is the fine house Pityvaigh—embowered among the trees—long the resi­dence of the late Mrs Major Stewart, and beyond it the farm-house and steading of Pityvaigh; but leaving these for the present, and retracing our steps, hold our course for the wooden bridge which crosses the Dullan at Hardhaugh. Having crossed it, and noted that the white house before us was long the only inn between Keith and Tomintoul, we turn to the right, and pursuing a footpath along the bank of the river, until we reach an open glade a few hundred yards beyond the mill of Pityvaigh, where the first glimpse of glen scenery is obtained. The hills at the Kirkton that are more separated, here nearly ap­proach each other; the slopes on both sides are covered with fine birch trees, and the mill that is just seen through the waving branches, and the smoke from the houses of the Kirkton, are the last signs that are seen of human habitation, and we just begin to feel our separa­tion from the busy world, and experience the influence of silent but eloquent Nature, passing onward along the footpath (which seems to have been admirably chosen) we soon come upon another open space where the seclusion and isolation is yet more complete, and the

scene correspondingly more impressive. After we reach Simpson’s pot (so called from a person of that name having been drowned in it) the path ascends over a rocky and giddy height for a short distance, and again descending, conducts into another glen yet more isolated and secluded than the others. Towards the end of this glen, as we approach what is termed the “Lady’s Apron,” a brawling brook has torn out a deep ravine from the hill which cannot but astonish the visitor, when he looks at the tiny nature of the stream, and tremendous depth of the fissures and cuttings it has made. Crossing here and ascending for a short distance, another splendid view opens up before us just immediately above the turn of the river, and in the midst of the trees that adorn this elevation. On the left side a bare and rutted hill rises abruptly from the water’s edge; on the right one equally abrupt, but covered with trees in beautiful foliage—the centre dammed up with rocks and trees, from under which the Dullan seems to flow, while over the top the distant green fields appear as a haven of rest to the agri­cultural eye, and a pleasing contrast to the surrounding wildness. The water returns the golden tints of the sun, with every riplet, and above, beneath, and around is a forest of trees sighing to every breeze, and mingling their music with the murmurings of the water that rushes onward perpendicularly beneath us.

THE LADY’S APRON.

Gradually descending from this point, we approach the Lady’s Apron. This is a narrow creek, the sides of which are feathered witch birch saplings and aged trunks of trees, and its farthest end terminating in a perpen­dicular rock of thirty or forty feet in height, over which a pretty copious supply of water had used to fall before the building of the cottars’ houses on the face of the hill required it to be conducted past. It is the march be­ tween the properties of the Earl of Fife and the Duke of Richmond at this place; but why it has received the singular name of the Lady’s Apron we cannot even hazard a conjecture.

THE GIANT’S CHAIR.

From the lady’s Apron we proceed along a rather wider glade than we have yet traversed to the famous Giant’s Chair. The Chair itself is a hollow cavity scooped out by water from the top of a bold projecting rock that rises by the margin of the stream, and which, in the days of superstition, must have had some legend connected with it to account for its origin in a manner that accorded with the prevailing custom of the times. Nothing, however, but the name has remained of it. The term Giant’s Chair, though applying more particularly to the above-mentioned cavity, is also used to de-note the narrow and deep chasm through which the Dullan runs between two perpendicular ridges of rock, and which is rendered more interesting as being the place where the river is said to have been dammed up with bull’s hides till it had accumulated in sufficient quantity to be let loose with irresistible force upon the enemy, who was encamped upon the haugh below the Parish Church. We have already said in our former papers that it is unlikely that it was at the battle of Mortlach that this was done; but there were so many encounters fought among these glens, that it is not at all unlikely that such a stratagem might have been resorted to. The ground, too, is very favourable for such an exploit. This narrow gorge or chasm, which, we have said, the river runs through, is some hundred feet in length, and rises to a height, on the lowest side, of about twenty feet, while the opening at the top rises out into a wide basin-shaped opening that must have at one time been a small lake, until the river had furrowed out this narrow course. By closing up the narrow opening, then, at the entrance to the gorge, the water would have ac­cumulated in this basin to the depth of from twenty to thirty feet over an extent of several acres, and conse­quently would have been amply sufficient to separate an army lying upon the banks below when it was let loose.

BLAIR’S WELL, AND DANISH CAMP.

Having enjoyed for a time the exquisite beauty of these scenes, we again emerge from the defile, and still taking the banks of the river, soon have our curiosity excited with an upright stone standing in the centre of a field on the farm of Nether-Cluny; but no enquiry can elicit more about it than that it is supposed to belong to a group of stones which at one time stood there, and which in all probability belonged to the Druids. From this we proceed to the base of the Conval, a little above the house of John Ross, where Blair’s Well is to be found. This place is only worthy of notice as being the place where a General Blair was slain in an engagement, though what General Blair or what engagement it was in, tradition saith not. The story is, that after a des­perate encounter on the base of the hill, a lull in the battle took place, during which the General bent down to quench his thirst in the well, when an arrow entering the opened chinks of his armour, he fell forward into it and expired. On the top of this hill is the Danish Camp, referred to in a former paper, the watch cairns of which may be seen at intervals running round the brow of the hill; but having already spoken of it, we shall pro­secute our journey through the fine farms of Nether-Cluny and Lettoch, and into the fertile strath of Glenrinnes, until we reach the well-known house of John Brown, alias Coats, the post-office of the glen, where, striking off from the road, we shall ascend the lofty Benrinnes, that raises Its high heath-covered shoulder be­fore us.

BENRINNES.

The hill from this point is said to have an elevation of 1800 feet, and rises 2747 feet above the level of the sea. For a few hundred feet the ascent is easy, as the enor­mous base, which covers nearly twenty miles, here shoots out in a gentle slope, but gradually it becomes more rugged and precipitous. Onward and upward, then, we toil, cheered by the hope that the top of the knoll before us will take us to our goal; but oh! how deceptive! One, two, three, aye a dozen such are trodden beneath us, and still we seem as distant as ever from the summit, which now stands out before us with its bald and rugged brow illuminated by a dazzling sun. Having at last reached the top, the scene that presents itself far more than repays us for the toil spent in the ascent. To the south the valley of Glenrinnes is spread out beneath us, and can be seen from top to bottom, studded over with the comfortable and even handsome dwellings of its hos­pitable and generous people, and its “waving fields and pastures green” everywhere speaking a fertility as the reward of an industry that successfully combats the climatic influences of such elevated ground; while be­yond it a succession of hill tops rise one above another till they terminate in the far-off peaks of Mount Skene, and the more celebrated ones of Morven and Colbean. Turning eastward, the Buck and other Cabrach hills stand prominently out before us, and yet farther east­ward Dufftown, the fertile valley of Auchindown, with the hazy tops of Tap o’ North, Clochnabain, Benachie, and the Foudlin or Garioch hills as a background to the scene. Farther round are seen the splendid Castle of Drummuir, with the country around Keith, the Bin Hill of Cullen, and the nearer and less lofty hills of Grange; and on turning northward, the whole of Strathspey lies in one panoramic view before us. The sight of this beautiful and celebrated strath is itself worth all the climbing we have had. Far away to the west we can see the Spey, appearing little bigger than a rivulet, winding its way in graceful curves like some sea-serpent which, by the sun’s illumination, looks as if its back were chased with silver and gold; and following it downward, we can trace it to where it empties itself into the sea, save where here and there hidden from our view by some rising ground or wooded knoll. The principal objects on its banks are also discernible— Charlestown, Craigellachie, Rothes, Fochabers, and Speymouth, with numberless seats and villas which our inacquaintance with the districts pre­vents us from naming. Beyond this, Elgin, Lossie­mouth, Burghead. and Nairn can be seen; while the Soutars of Cromarty, Tarbetness, and the far-off hills of Caithness are stretched out like some dark cloud upon the unruffled waters of the sea. Turning to the west, the hills around Inverness appear, and, if we are not mistaken, the towers of the castle of that town also. Then running the eye to the south­ west, beyond Strathspey, nothing but an endless suc­cession of hills meet the eye, none of which unfortunately we can name, save the rounded top of Craigel­lachie, and the ridge-like back of the Cromdale hills. The glens Livet and Avon come next under our observa­tion, the view terminating in the snow-clad summits of Cairngorum and Benmacdhui. The view, indeed, from the top of Benrinnes is such as can but rarely be equalled in this country, and together with the other places men­tioned in this ramble, is well worthy the attention of the tourist who has a day or two to spare in the classic ground of Mortlach.