Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton, [c. 30 September 1765]
I defer'd writing to you, till I had seen a little more of this countrey, than you yourself had seen, & now being just return'd from an excursion, wch I & the Major have been making, into the High-lands, I sit down to tell you all about it: but first I must return to my journey hither, on wch I shall be very short, partly because you know the way as far as Edinburgh, & partly, that there was not a great deal worth remarking. the first night we pass'd at Tweedmouth (77 miles) the next at Edinburgh (53 M:) where Ld S: left the Major and me, to go to Lenox-love (Ld Blantyre's) where his Aunt lives. so that afternoon & all next day I had leisure to visit the Castle, Holy-Rood-House, Heriot's Hospital, Arthur's-seat, &c: & am not sorry to have seen that most picturesque (at a distance) & nastiest (when near) of all capital Cities. I sup'd with Dr Robertson and other Literati, & the next morning Ld S: came for us. we cross'd at the Queen's Ferry in a four-oar'd yawl without a sail, & were toss'd about rather more than I should wish to hazard again. lay at Perth, a large Scotch Town with much wood about it on the banks of the Tay, a very noble river. next morning ferried over it, & came by dinner time to Glamis, being (from Edinburgh) 67 miles, wch makes in all from Hetton 197 M:. the Castle stands in Strathmore (i:e: the Great Vally) wch winds about from Stonehaven on the East-Coast of Kincairdinshire obliquely as far as Stirling near 100 miles in length, & from 7 to 10 miles in breadth, cultivated every where to the foot of the Hills on either hand with oats or bere-barley, except where the soil is mere peat-earth (black as a coal) or barren sand cover'd only with broom & heath, or a short grass fit for sheep. here & there appear just above ground the huts of the inhabitants, wch they call Towns, built of & cover'd with turf, & among them at great distances the Gentlemen's houses with inclosures & a few trees round them. amidst these our Castle distinguishes itself, the middle part of it rising proudly out of what seems a great & thick wood of tall trees with a cluster of hanging towers on the top. you descend to it gradually from the South thro' a double & triple avenue of Scotch Firs 60 or 70 feet high under three Gateways. this approach is a full mile long, & when you have pass'd the 2d Gate, the Firs change to Limes, & another oblique avenue goes off on either hand toward the Offices. these as well as all the enclosures, that surround the house, are border'd with 3 or 4 ranks of sycomores, ashes, & white poplars of the noblest height & from 70 to 100 years old. other allies there are that go off at right angles with the long one, small groves & wall'd gardens of Earl Patrick's planting, full of broad-leaved elms, oaks, birch, black-cherry-trees, Laburnums, &c: all of great stature & size, wch have not till this week begun to shew the least sense of morning frosts. the 3d Gate delivers you into a Court with a broad pavement, & grass-plats adorn'd with statues of the four Stuart Kings, border'd with old silver-firs & yew-trees alternately, & opening with an iron palissade on either side to two square old-fashion'd parterres surrounded by stone-fruit-walls. the house from the height of it, the greatness of its mass, the many towers atop, & the spread of its wings, has really a very singular & striking appearance, like nothing I ever saw. you will comprehend something of its shape from the plan of the 2d floor, wch I inclose. the wings are about 50 feet high, the body (wch is the old-castle with walls 10 feet thick) is near 100. from the leads I see to the South of me (just at the end of the avenue), the little Town of Glames, the houses built of stone & slated, with a neat Kirk & small square Tower (a rarity in this region) just beyond it rises a beautiful round hill, & another ridge of a longer form adjacent to it, both covered with woods of tall fir: beyond them peep over the black hills of Sid-law, over which winds the road to Dundee. to the North within about 7 miles of me begin to rise the Grampions, hill above hill, on whose tops 3 weeks ago I could plainly see some traces of the snow, that fell in May last. to the East winds away the Strath, such as I have before described it, among the hills, wch sink lower & lower, as they approach the sea. to the West the same valley (not plain, but broken unequal ground) runs on for above 20 miles in view: there I see the crags above Dunkeld, there Beni-Gloe, & Beni-More rise above the clouds, & there is that She-khallian, that spires into a cone above them all, & lies at least 45 miles (in a direct line) from this place. Ld S:, who is the greatest Farmer in this neighbourhood, is from break of day to dark night among his husbandmen & labourers; he has near 2000 acres of land in his own hands, & is at present employ'd in building a low wall of 4 miles long; & in widening the bed of the little river Deane, which runs to S: & S:E: of the house, from about 20 to 50 feet wide, both to prevent inundations, & to drain the Lake of Forfar. this work will be 2 years more in compleating; & must be 3 miles in length. all the Highlanders, that can be got, are employ'd in it; many of them know no English, & I hear them singing Erse-songs all day long. the price of labour is 8 pence a-day; but to such, as will join together & engage to perform a certain portion in a limited time, 2 shillings. I must say, that all our labours seem to prosper, & my Ld has casually found in digging such quantities of shell-marle, as not only fertilize his own grounds, but are disposed of at a good price to all his neighbours. in his nurseries are thousands of oaks, beech, larches, horse-chesnuts, spruce-fir, &c: thick as they can stand, & whose only fault is, that they are grown tall & vigorous, before he has determined, where to plant them out. the most advantageous spot we have for beauty lies West of the House, where (when the stone-walls of the meadows are taken away) the grounds (naturally unequal) will have a very park-like appearance. they are already full of trees, wch need only thinning here & there to break the regularity of their lines, & thro' them winds the Burn of Glames, a clear & rapid trout-stream, wch joins the R: Deane hard by. pursuing the course of this brook upwards, you come to a narrow sequester'd valley shelter'd from all winds, through wch it runs murmuring among great stones; on one hand the ground gently rises into a hill, on the other are the rocky banks of the rivulet almost perpendicular, yet cover'd with sycamore, ash, & fir, that (tho' it seems to have no place or soil to grow in) yet has risen to a good height, & forms a thick shade. you may continue along this gill & passing by one end of the village & its church for half a mile it leads to an opening between the two hills cover'd with fir-woods, that I mention'd above, thro' wch the stream makes its way, & forms a cascade of 10 or 12 feet over broken rocks. a very little art is necessary to make all this a beautiful scene. the weather till the last week has been in general very fine & warm: we have had no fires till now, & often have sate with the windows open an hour after sunset. now & then a shower has come, & sometimes sudden gusts of wind descend from the mountains that finish as suddenly as they arose: but today it blows a hurricane. upon the whole I have been exceeding lucky in my weather, & particularly in my highland expedition of five days.
We set out then the 11th of Sept: & continuing along the Strath to the West pass'd through Megill, where is the tomb of Queen Wanders, that was riven to dethe by staned-horses for nae gude, that she did. so the Women there told me, I'm sure. thro' Cowper of Angus; over the River Ila, then over a wide & dismal heath fit for an assembly of Witches, till we came to a string of four small lakes in a valley, whose deep-blew waters & green margin, with a Gentleman's house or two seated on them in little groves, contrasted with the black desert, in wch they were inchased. the ground now grew unequal, the hills more rocky seem'd to close in upon us, till the road came to the brow of a steep descent, & (the sun then setting) between two woods of oak we saw far below us the River Tay come sweeping along at the bottom of a precipice at least 150 feet deep, clear as glass, full to the brim, & very rapid in its course. it seem'd to issue out of woods thick & tall, that rose on either hand, & were overhung by broken rocky crags of vast height: above them to the West the tops of higher mountains appear'd, on wch the evening clouds reposed. down by the side of the river under the thickest shades is seated the Town of Dunkeld: in the midst of it stands a ruin'd Cathedral, the towers & shell of the building still entire. a little beyond it a large house of the Duke of Athol with its offices & gardens extends a mile beyond the town, & as his grounds were interrupted by the streets & roads he has flung arches of communication across them, that add to the scenery of the place, wch of itself is built of good white stone, & handsomely slated, so that no one would take it for a Scotch Town till they come into it. here we pass'd the night: if I told you how, you would bless yourself. next day we set forward to Taymouth 27 miles farther West, the road winding thro' beautiful woods with the Tay almost always in full view to the right, being here from 3 to 400 feet over. The Strath-Tay from a mile to 3 miles or more wide, cover'd with corn & spotted with groups of people then in the midst of their harvest. on either hand a vast chain of rocky mountains, that changed their face & open'd something new every hundred yards, as the way turn'd, or the clouds pass'd: in short altogether it was one of the most pleasing days I have pass'd these many years, & at every step I wish'd for you. at the close of day we came to Balloch. so the place was call'd: but now for decency Taymouth, improperly enough, for here it is, that the river issues out of Loch-Tay (a glorious lake (15 miles long & 11/2 broad) surrounded with prodigious mountains. there on its N: Eastern brink impending o'er it is the vast hill of Lawers: to the East is that monstrous creature of God, Shekhallian (i:e: the Maiden's Pap) spiring above the clouds. directly West (beyond the end of the Lake) Beni-More (the Great Mountain) rises to a most aweful height, & looks down on the tomb of Fingal. Ld Braidalbin's policy (so they call here all such ground as is laid out for pleasure) takes in about 2000 acres, of wch his house, offices, & a deer-park about 3 miles round occupy the plain or bottom, wch is little above a mile in breadth. thro' it winds the Tay, wch by means of a bridge I found here to be 156 feet over. his plantations & woods rise with the ground on either side the vale to the very summit of the enormous crags, that overhang it. along them on the mountain's side runs a terrass a mile & 1/2 long, that overlooks the course of the river. from several seats & temples perch'd on particular rocky eminences you command the Lake for many miles in length, wch turns like some huge river, & loses itself among the mountains, that surround it. at its eastern extremity, where the river issues out of it, on a peninsula my Ld has built a neat little town & church with a high square tower, & just before it lies a small round island in the lake cover'd with trees, amongst wch are the ruins of some little religious house. trees (by the way) grow here to great size & beauty. I saw four old chestnuts in the road, as you enter the park, of vast bulk & height. one beech-tree I measured, that was 16 feet, 7 inches in the girth, & (I guess) near 80 feet in height. The Gardiner presented us with peaches, nectarines, & plums from the stonewalls of the kitchen-garden (for there are no brick nor hot walls) the peaches were good, the rest well-tasted, but scarce ripe. we had also golden-pippens from an espalier (not ripe) & a melon very well flavour'd & fit to cut. of the house I have little to say: it is a very good Nobleman's house handsomely furnish'd & well-kept, very comfortable to inhabit, but not worth going far to see. of the Earl's taste I have not much more to say. it is one of those noble situations, that Man can not spoil: it is however certain, that he has built an inn & a town just where his principal walks should have been, & in the most wonderful spot of ground, that perhaps belongs to him. in this inn however we lay, & next day returning down the river 4 miles we pass'd it over a fine bridge built at the expence of the Government, & continued our way to Logie-Rait just below wch in a most charming scene the Tummel, wch is here the larger river of the two, falls into the Tay. we ferried over the Tummel in order to get into Marshal Wade's road (wch leads from Dunkeld to Inverness) & continued our way along it toward the North. the road is excellent, but dangerous enough in conscience. the river often running directly under us at the bottom of a precipice 200 feet deep, sometimes masqued indeed by wood, that finds means to grow where I could not stand: but very often quite naked & without any defence. in such places we walked for miles together partly for fear, & partly to admire the beauty of the country, wch the beauty of the weather set off to the greatest advantage. as evening came on, we approach'd the Pass of Gillikrankie, where in the year 45 the Hessians with their Prince at their head stop'd short, & refused to march a foot farther. Vestibulum ante ipsum, primisqbi in faucibus Orci stands the solitary mansion of Mr Robinson of Fascley. close by it rises a hill cover'd with oak, with grotesque masses of rock staring from among their trunks, like the sullen countenances of Fingal & all his family frowning on the little mortals of modern days. from between this hill and the adjacent mountains pent in a narrow channel comes roaring out the river Tummel, & falls headlong down involved in white foam wch rises into a mist all round it —— but my paper is deficient, & I must say nothing of the Pass itself, the black river Garry, the Blair of Athol, Mount Beni-Gloe, my return (by another road) to Dunkeld, the Hermitage, the Stra-Brann, & the Rumbling-Brigg. in short since I saw the Alps, I have seen nothing sublime till now. in about a week I shall set forward by the Stirling-road on my return all alone. pray for me, till I see you, for I dread Edinburgh & the itch, and expect to find very little in my way worth the perils I am to endure. my best compliments to Mrs Wharton & the young Ladies (including herself) & to Mr. & Mrs. Jonathan if they are with you.
Blair of Atholl
Killiecrankie, Pass of
Robertson, Dr. William
Egerton MS 2400, ff. 168-171, Manuscripts collection, British Library , London, UK <http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/bldept/manuscr/>
- The Poems of Mr. Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W[illiam]. Mason. York: printed by A. Ward; and sold by J. Dodsley, London; and J. Todd, York, 1775, letter l, section iv, 309-318
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter L, vol. i, 411-418
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter CXX, vol. ii, 448-456
- The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXXIV, vol. ii, 87-96
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CXXXI, vol. iv, 51-61
- The Letters of Thomas Gray, including the correspondence of Gray and Mason, 3 vols. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. London: George Bell and Sons, 1900-12, letter no. CCLXXVII, vol. iii, 82-93
- Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 412, vol. ii, 887-895