TOURISTS from Glasgow for Fort William or Inverness generally proceed in the first place to Oban, by Lochgilphead and the Crinan canal, There are two routes from Oban to Fort William: the one, the coast-line, by Connel ferry and Appin, which is the shorter of the two;and the other by Taynuilt, Dalmally, and Glencoe.
Returning, by the road which skirts Loch Etive, to Connel ferry, we cross the loch, and pursue our route northwards, and pass the ruins of Barcaldine castle, within a short distance of which the road turns to the right and Loch Creran comes into view. The distance betwixt Connel ferry and Shean ferry across Loch Cretan is 5 miles, through a romantic district of country. The shores of Loch Creran are finely wooded and above the ferry it is encircled with mountains resembling in their contour those of Loch Etive. On crossing at Shean ferry, the road skirts the loch, passes the islet of Eriskeir, and Airds house, and the church of Appin, to Portnacross, where there is a ferry to the opposite side of the Linnhe loch. Leaving Kingarloch on the left, and Letter Shuna, and Appin house, we pursue a most romantic road along the margin of the Linnhe loch, to Ardshiel, at the entrance of Loch Leven; we then turn westwards along the shore of the last mentioned loch till we reach Balahulish ferry. Some striking landscapes occur here, particularly as we approach to the narrow strait which forms the ferry.
Loch Leven, says Dr. Macculloch, "from its mouth to its farthest extremity--a distance of twelve miles--is one continued succession of landscapes on both sides; the northern shore being accessible by the ancient road which crosses the Devil's Staircase; but the southern one turning away from the water near to the quarries. The chief beauties, however, lie at the lower half; the interest of the scenes diminishing after passing the contraction which takes place near the entrance of Glencoe, and the farthest extremity being rather wild than beautiful." About 8½ miles above Balahulish ferry, the loch is again contracted in another strait called the Dog's ferry. In the basin between these ferries are several islets one of which called St. Mungoe's isle is used as a burying place by the people of Glencoe and Lochaber. At the upper end of Loch Leven there is a wild mountain stream which holds a slightly tortuous course amid masses of rock which almost conceal it from view. The falls of Kynlochmore at the head of the loch are formed by a small stream which precipitates itself over a precipice nearly 100 feet in height. From the top of Bennavear, on the south side of the ferry a noble view is obtained of lochs Sunart, Etive, Creran, and Leven, and the long inlet of the Linnhe loch, with their enclosing mountains, and Ben Nevis.
Glencoe may be most advantageously visited from Balahulish. The entrance to it on this side is through a finely varied district of fruit-trees, corn-fields, meadows, and copsewood which contrasts strongly with the utter desolation of the region beyond it. The pass ascends between dark, lofty, and precipitous ridges. At the highest point of the ascent the dismal moor of Rannoch opens on the view, in which the solitary-inn of King's house1 appears in the distance like a caravansera in the desert. "There is nothing." says Dr. Macculloch, "to which the scenery of Giencoe can be compared: there are only two scenes with which it can be named : Coruisk in Sky, and Glen Sannox in Arran. But there is no resemblance, in either case. Coruisk is a giant, before which this valley, even such as it is, sinks into insignificance. Glen Sannox is single and simple in its sublimity; a terrible vacuum. In Glencoe every thing is wild and various and strange: a busy bustling scene of romance and wonder: terrific,--but terrific from its rudeness, and its barrenness, and its spiry rocks, and its black precipices, not from sublimity of forms or extent of space. In its own character, it excels all analogous scenes: and yet there is in it that which art and taste do not love;--a quaintness of outline; forms unusual in nature, and therefore extravagant,---when painted, appearing fanciful and fictitious rather than true. Such it is also when viewed in nature: we rather wonder than admire: and the gloom of its lofty and opposing precipices, the powerful effect of its deep shadows, the impression produced by its altitude and extent and bulk, are injured by a form of outline which attracts the eye as unnatural, and which forces it to analyze and reason instead of allowing it to feel."
We now return again to Balahulish and pursue our route towards Fort William. Crossing the ferry of Balahulish the tourist leaves Argyleshire and enters the district of Lochaber, passes the hamlet of Onich, and reaches Corran ferry, 9 miles from Fort William and 3 from Balahulish. This ferry divides Loch Linnhe, from Loch Eil. Fort William and the adjacent town of Maryburgh are situated on a bend of the latter loch, near the confluence of the river Lochy. The fort was erected in King William's reign. The town was founded by James VI. It was formerly named Gordonsburgh, being built on the duke of Gordon's property, but was subsequently named from King William's consort. It contains about 1500 inhabitants. The first military position here was established by Cromwell for a strong Highland garrison; it was then called Inverlochy. The tourist while at Fort William should, if time permit, ascend Ben Nevis, and visit Inverlochy castle, and the parallel roads of Glenroy.
Ben Nevis rises abruptly from the plain to the east of Fort William. Its altitude is 4368 feet, and its ascent usually occupies 4 hours. It is generally considered to be the highest in Britain. Ben Muicdhu, the highest summit of the Cairngorum mountains is next to it; but Ben Nevis has the advantage of isolation, and, on the west side at least, of rising almost immediately from the sea. Its northern part towards Inverlochy consists of two distinct ascents or terraces, creating the appearance of one mountain placed on another. On the level top of the lower of these is a small tarn at an elevation of 1700 feet above the sea.2 The upper portion of the mountain is a mass of porphyry, At the height of 1800 feet vegetation nearly ceases, and the road is continued over huge blocks of stone, or gravelly beds called scarnacks. The summit itself is utterly bare. "If any one is desirous," says Macculloch--in a paragraph which we perceive several of our brother-tourists have stolen from the learned doctor without the shadow of acknowledgment--" to see how the world looked on the first day of creation, let him come hither. Nor is this nakedness at all hyperbolical; since the surfaces of the stones are not even covered with the common crustaceous lichens; two or three only of the shrubby kinds being barely visible, It is an extensive and flat plain, strewed with loose rocks, tumbled together in fragments of all sizes, and generally covering the solid foundation to a considerable depth. While these blank and dreary ruins mark the power of the elements on this stormy and elevated spot, they excite our surprise at the agencies that would thus, unaided by the usual force of gravity, have ploughed up and broken into atoms so wide and so level a surface of the toughest and most tenacious of rocks. Certainly Nature did not intend mountains to last for ever; when she is so fertile in expedients as to lay plans for destroying a mountain so apparently unsusceptible of ruin as Ben Nevis." On gaining the summit, if the day is clear, the spectator will command a vast and imposing prospect,--his eye ranging across the whole breadth of Scotland from the German ocean to the Atlantic. On the east is the great glen of Scotland with its continuous chain of lochs. Towards the south and east are the Mountain-Titans, Ben Cruachan, Schihallien, Benmore, Benlawers, Bennevis, and Benlomond, with a host of less aspiring summits. In the far distance are the hills of Caithness, the far-receding capes of Ireland, and the scarcely discernible mountain-outlines of the Outer Hebrides. In the far south-west is the island of Colonsay at the opening of the sound of Mull; and apparently under the feet of the spectator, though actually at a distance of 30 miles, the verdant isles of Lismore and Shuna. On the north-eastern side is a terrific precipice which shoots up from a point 1500 feet below to the very summit of the mountain.
The parallel roads of Glenroy are about 12 miles to the north-east of Fort-William. The road to them is by Highbridge, and the Badenoch road as far as Keppoch, whence a point strikes off on the left down Glenroy. These roads are composed of sand and gravel, and occupy corresponding elevations on both sides of the glen, in a direction perfectly horizontal. Wherever they come to a vacuity in the hill, they bend inwards till they find the natural level; and where they come to a river, instead of sinking down to the level of its bottom, or running across on an artiticial viaduct, they turn up the banks of the river, keeping still their horizontal direction, till they reach the level of the bottom of the stream, when they cross, and pursue the course of the stream on the opposite bank till they reach the streak, where they proceed forward as before. There are three of these terraces rising one above the other, and having an average breadth of 60 feet. Such roads occur in some other glens of Scotland, and also in some parts of the Continent, Dr. MacCulloch's theory of their formation is :--"The parallel roads are the shores of ancient lakes, or of one ancient lake, occupying successively different levels, and long since drained. In an existing lake among hills, it is easy to see the very traces in question, produced by the wash of the waves against the alluvial matter of the hills. By this check, and by the loss of gravity which the stones undergo from immersion in water, they are distributed in a belt along the margin of the lake: a belt broadest and most level where there are most loose materials, and where the declivity of the hill is least,--narrowest and most imperfect where these circumstances are different,--and wherever rocks protrude, ceasing to be formed. In every one of these points, the shores of a living lake agree precisely with the lines of these valleys; and were such a lake suddenly drained now, it would be a Glen Roy. Thus also is explained the coincidence of the great terraces and deltas of Glen Roy, with the lines. In the living lake, the delta at the main entrance is necessarily prolonged into its shores, as are those of the lateral streams: and this is precisely what occurs in Glen Roy." Ancient Glen Roy was therefore a lake, which, subsiding first by a vertical depth of eighty-two feet, left its shore, to form the uppermost line; which, by a second subsidence of 212 feet, produced the second; and which, on its final drainage, left the third and lowest, and the present valley also, such as we now see it. At its lowest level at least, it formed a common lake with the valley of the Spean, of which lake Loch Laggun remains a memorial, as does Loch Treig of the portion which occupied that valley. Whether Glen Cloy was united with this great lake at its lowest extremity, is a difficult point to be examined immediately; but I have already shown that from the high level of its communication through Glen Turrit, there could have been no communication at that end. Thus far all is simple; but the difficulty that remains, is to account, not merely for the waste or destruction of the barriers which dammed these takes, but for the places which they must have occupied." The doctor goes on to say that of these barriers "there must have been one at Loch Spey, at least equal to the present difference of its elevation and of that of the uppermost line. But that is trifling; and it is not very difficult to suppose causes capable of wearing it down to the present level of this waterhead. There must have been another at Loch Laggan. If Glen Spean and Glen Roy formed a common lake at the level of the highest of the lines, of which there are no indications, that obstruction must have had an elevation of about 300 feet, as before shown: if this was not the case, except at the lowest level, one of ten feet would have been sufficient. In this case, Glen Roy, at its two higher levels, was a distinct lake, and must have had a dam towards Glen Spean, where the two valleys join, which must have given way at successive intervals, before these two valleys formed one common lake.3
Inverlochy castle, once according to tradition the seat of Pictish royalty, is situated between Fort William and Highbridge, about 2 miles from the former place. The buildings cover a space of about 1600 square yards. It is probable that this castle was rounded by the Cummin family. In its neighbourhood Donald Balloch, brother to Alexander, Lord of the Isles, defeated the earls of Caithness and Mar in 1427; and in 1645 the marquess of Montrose here defeated the Campbells under Argyle.4