« PreviousContinue »
life, we have but few and far between glimpses of him.
With great labour and difficulty Colby, accompanied by his assistants, Robe and Dawson, and a selected party of artillerymen, established themselves and instruments in camp on the top of Corrie Habbie, in Banffshire, a hill about 2200 feet high, and in the centre of a mountainous country-Benrinnes, the Monagh Lea, the Cairngorms, and Ben Macdui being all in view. Here for some time Colby devoted to the work of observation every favourable moment from sunrise to sunset. In the intervals he instructed his assistants in the use of the instruments. Though the month was June, it was far from being summer weather on the Corrie. On the 28th June they experienced a tremendous storm of hail, which covered the ground with a coating several inches deep in a few minutes. “After this fell snow for an hour or so, and then sleet and rain. We were forced to be out shovelling the hail and snow from the tents while the storm lasted, and when it was over the men set to snow-balling one another as a means of warming themselves—a rather unusual amusement in the latter end of June.” This was Dawson's first season on the mountain tops, and he made notes at the time of facts which must have afterwards become common-place to him.
Tuesday, 29th June.—Captain Colby took Robe (Lieutenant) and a small party of the men on a 'station-hunt,' or pedestrian excursion, to explore the country along the eastern coast of Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, and Caithness, and to erect objects upon some of the principal mountains, and select those which, from their position and circumstances, should be preferred for future encampments. That particular season of the year was usually taken for the purpose, because, owing to the tremulous state of the atmosphere, it is unfavourable for instrumental observations, except occasionally for an hour or so after sunrise, and for a like period before sunset; at which times, unless the summit of the mountain chances to be free from clouds and mist, nothing really valuable, in the way of observation, can be done. The opportunities afforded for the purpose are indeed extremely capricious and uncertain at other times also. It was no uncommon occurrence for the camp to be enveloped in clouds for several weeks together, without affording even a glimpse of the sun or of the clear sky during the whole period; and then in a moment the clouds would break away or subside into the valleys, leaving the tips of the mountains clear and bright above an ocean of mist, and the atmosphere calm and steady, so as to permit the observations, for which the party had waited days and weeks, to be taken in a few hours.
“ Wednesday, 21st July.—Captain Colby and Robe returned to camp, having explored all the country along the eastern side of the counties of Inverness, Ross, and Caithness, as well as the Mainland of Orkney, and having walked 513 miles in twenty-two days.
“ Friday, 232 July.-Captain Colby took me and a fresh party of the soldiers on a station-hunt, to explore the country to the westward and northward of west. Our first halting-place was to be Grantown, at a distance of twenty-four miles, and Captain Colby having, according to his usual practice, ascertained the general direction by means of a pocket-compass and map, the whole party set off as on a steeple-chase, running down the mountain-side at full speed, over Cromdale, a mountain about the same height as Corrie Habbie, crossing several beautiful glens, wading the streams which flowed through them, and regardless of all difficulties that were not absolutely insurmountable on foot. Sometimes a beaten road would fall in our course, offering the temptation of its superior facilities to the exhausted energies of the weary members of our party; and in such cases freedom of choice was always allowed them. Captain Colby would even encourage such a division of his
party, and the spirit of rivalry which it induced, and took pleasure in the result of the race which ensued. Arriving at Grantown in about five hours and a half, we dined there, and proceeded afterwards along the valley of the Spey by the high road to the Aviemore Inn to sleep. The distance travelled by us that day was calculated at thirty-nine miles.
Saturday, 24th July.—Started at nine o'clock. I was dreadfully stiff and tired from the previous day's scramble, and with difficulty reached Pitmain (thirteen miles) to dinner, Garvieniore Inn, distant eighteen miles, was to be our next stage, and I really thought it was more than I could accomplish that day; but Captain Colby said it was not. It was his intention, however, to leave the beaten road immediately, and crossing a rough, boggy tract of country to the northward, to gain the summit of Cairn Derig, a mountain about 3500 feet high, and about ten miles distant, and having built a large pile of stones upon it, to proceed again across the country to Garviemore. [Dawson thought this quite beyond his powers, but Colby insisted it was not, and he had to proceed.] I kept pace with him throughout the remainder of the day, and arrived at the inn at half-past eleven o'clock at night, much more fresh than at the end of our first stage the day before.
The distance travelled that day was forty miles. Sunday, 25th July.—There being no church, we strolled out soon after breakfast to see the country. From the opposite side of the road, to the southward, the ground rises suddenly to the height of about 1500 feet. This we ascended, and found, as is frequently the case, an eminence of greater elevation behind it. Having gained this second elevation, a third appeared, and so on to others in succession, though frequently in pursuing our straight course we had to descend rocky valleys, and thus to lose in a quarter of an hour the elevation which it had cost half an hour's severe climbing to attain. In this way, however, we at length reached the summit of Bui-Annoch, a mountain rising suddenly from the wooded shores of Loch Laggan to the height of about 4000 feet. From that point we gained a splendid view of the western hills for which we were bound-a white and serrated range extending from the west to
the northward as far as the eye could reach.
I have traversed Switzerland, and the view of the Alps is, in my opinion, scarcely more imposing than this.
After dwelling upon it for an hour or two, and refreshing ourselves with a copious draught from a pure spring, surrounded with icicles and snow, we returned to Garviemore, having walked about four-and-twenty miles, and attained so great an elevation on the day which should have been our day of rest.”
Monday, 26th July.—The party started soon after daybreak, crossed Corrie-arrack, 2000 feet high, descended on Fort Augustus, and proceeded in a north-westerly course to Cluny, where they got neither beds nor supper.
Tuesday, 27th July.—Breakfasted at Invershiel, at the head of Loch Duich ; ascended, and built a conical pile on the summit of Scour-Ouran, a high mountain to the north-east, and returned to the inn at Invershiel to sleep.
Wednesday, 28th July.-Crossed the Maum-Rattachan to Kyle-Rhea, thence to Broadford in Skye, and on to Sconser—a distance of thirty-two miles.
Thursday, 29th July.—Attempted to reach the summit of the Coolin Hills, but were completely foiled in the attempt. “Not being provided with ladders or ropes, the perpendicular rock at the summit baffled our efforts for several hours to find a crevice by which to ascend it. We gained, however, a ridge which reaches out from the perpendicular cliff, with a superb column at the extremity of it, and so narrow is the ridge that we were obliged to sit astride upon it, in which position little more than the strength of an infant was required to hurl a stone to the bottom of the corrie on the south side without impinging on the face of the cliff, a depth of about 2000 feet.
“ Friday, 30th July.-Went to Portree, ascended a range of hills above it, and erected a pile of stones upon one of them, and returned to Sconser.
Saturday, 31st July.- A bright morning at daybreak, and we were on foot again to make a fresh attempt on Scour-naMarich, another head of the Coolin range, which Captain Colby had singled out for the purpose on the former occasion ; and this time our efforts were crowned with success. Having built a large pile upon it, we returned to our inn to breakfast, which, by that time, we stood much in need of, and, hiring a boat, we proceeded direct to.Jeantown, at the head of Loch Carron."
From Jeantown the party made for Letterew on the northern shore of Loch Maree ; and having explored the country to the eastward, building piles upon the mountains which were best placed, they made for Loch Fannich, and thence to Beauly and Inverness. From Inverness they made for Corrie Habbie, where they arrived on the 14th of August, having walked 586 miles in twenty-two days, including Sundays, and some days on which they were unable to proceed from bad weather.
A few days favourable for observation now enabled them to complete their observations on Corrie Habbie. So clear was the sky at this time, that one evening after sunset they saw the pile on Ben Nevis distinctly through the telescope, the distance being seventy-five miles in a right line. By the 3d of September they had established themselves on the top of Ben Wyvis, at a height of 3400 feet. From this station they looked back on Cairngorm, southwards on Ben Nevis again, and westwards on the piles recently erected on the Skye mountains. By the 18th September they occupied a new station on Ben Cheilt, two miles west of Latheron, in Caithness. From this they looked back on Ben Wyvis, now covered with snow. From Ben Cheilt they shifted to Ben Loch-cas-na-Cairoch, a mountain near Golspie. The station here was a perfect bog. “ The season, too, had now changed ; we had frequent and violent storms of hail, rain, and wind, which occasionally threw down some of the tents; but in the intervals the atmosphere