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the matter in their own hands this spring there were two, and now, ought to prohibit rigorously two broods were safely hatched the destruction of the old birds out. The keenest angler would after, say, February 1. Sir Ralph willingly spare a few fish for the Payne Gallwey has described how pleasure of seeing the splendid they are taken in great numbers dash and skill of these fine fowl by spring and fall nets. "We in taking their prey. Last Novhave known the fowler," he says, ember a pair of them frequented "take in one fall of the net over the middle waters of the Tweed, a hundred plover, both green and where they were once regular golden, and as many as a thousand natives, but their visits to that during a week." 1 As for the river have become so infrequent ordinary sportsman, surely it does of late years that none of the not require much self-restraint to boatmen were able to say what enable him to spare the pretty they were. peewit, for it is the most confiding of all plovers, and offers such easy shots as to tempt, one would think, none but the veriest duffer. The peewit is almost unknown in Caithness during the winter months, though the golden plover abounds at that season, and is a harbinger of spring almost as unerring as the swallow.
It was quite an event when, owing to the exceeding mildness of last winter, flights of lapwing began to arrive in February.
When Charles St John published his charming Tour in Sutherland' in 1849, he was able to record the finding, and-what had better not have been-the robbing, of several eyries of osprey. Now the whole county might be searched in vain for one, though no doubt passing birds may be seen at times on the coast or fishing in one of the innumerable lochs. In the whole British Isles there are only two places known where the osprey rears its young. It is not likely that I am going to betray these; but I have this piece of good news for those who delight in our nobler fauna, that at one of these stations, where there has been a single eyrie each year for more than a generation,
It is a strange thing, and one for which it is difficult to suggest a reason, that the grouse of these counties, like those of the western islands, never become so wild as those farther south. It is not that they have less reason to fear the approach of man, for the wide moors are shot just as diligently and regularly as those elsewhere; nor is it owing to the character of the ground, which differs little apparently from southern moorland. The far-stretching wastes of undulating moor seem to provide a perfect theatre for the practice of driving, but it has never proved a success, because the birds refuse to be driven, they never become wild enough. This is all the more remarkable because the partridges on the arable lands of Caithness, though not so nervous as those of Norfolk and Lincoln, take quite as much care of themselves in winter as those of Galloway or the Lothians. If the progress of education ultimately teaches these northern grouse to take timely flight before the line of flags, the stock will probably show the same proportionate increase as has followed on the institution of driving elsewhere-at Moy, in Invernessshire, for instance, and on the
1The Fowler in Ireland.'
If that come to pass, the returns from Caithness ought to be prodigious, for there are few counties which possess such unbroken stretches of good heather.
These, and others of like nature, were the problems and objects which kept busy our wits, notebooks, and field-glasses during the water famine; but if watching beast and bird were not enough to relieve his tedium withal, the salmon-fisher might turn his attention to the trout, with which every loch and stream abounds. Of these he may catch as many as he cares for, but in one important respect they are disappointing so early in the season. Caithness trout are very backward in coming into condition-far behind those of the waters of Sutherland in this respect. Very few, indeed, are so well made up as to give the fastidious sportsman much gratification in contemplating them when landed. But their numbers seem inexhaustible; their size is far from despicable-fish of a pound weight being far from uncommon; and the only detriment to the sport they afford later on, in the summer months, consists in their exceeding boldness and the small exertion of skill necessary for their capture.
The idler in this country will do well to let his thoughts wander in the records of the past. Not the least interesting associations of Caithness are those of the ancient Norse dominion, of which many signs may still be traced in the ruins, whether of masonry or of language, with which the district abounds. It would be strange, indeed, had they all disappeared, for it is only seven centuries-next year will be precisely the sevenhundredth anniversary-since the earldom of Caithness was forcibly
annexed to the new-born kingdom of Scotia. Dazzled by the intrepidity of the outlaw Wallace and the masterly enterprise of the Norman knight Robert de Brus, people are apt to forget how slender and recent was the tie which held together the kingdom which, between them, they rendered independent. The realm which the award of Edward I. assigned to John de Balliol included Orkney and Caithness indeed, but they had been so included for less than a century previous. Therefore, while the people of these counties are among the most loyal subjects of Queen Victoria, and as proud as any of their standing as Scotsmen, they do well not to forget that their forefathers were lieges of Thorfinn the Skull-cleaver and Earl Harold.
Somehow the infusion of Scandinavian blood into the native population seems to have had less effect in dulling the mercurial temperament of the Gael than the heavy Anglo-Saxon has done in other parts of Scotland. One meets with flashes of occasional humour recalling the divine gift of repartie enjoyed by the Irish. "Oh, go to hell, will you!" exclaimed an angry sportsman to his gillie, who had made some provoking blunder. "Certainly, sir," was the reply, "and when would you be wishing me to start?"
It was in 1197 that Caithness was first reduced to full subjection to the Scottish Crown. In that year William the Lion invaded Moray, and after vanquishing Roderic and Thorfinn (not the Skull-cleaver this, but a son of Earl Harold), advanced to Thurso, where he destroyed the castle and sent Harold a prisoner to Roxburgh.
Such a checkered history-the contest of people of different races for a land always leaves an indel
ible record in the place-names. In Orkney, indeed, the ancient Pictish nomenclature was completely obliterated during the four or five centuries of Norse dominion; nor did the Gaelic language ever cross the sea again to these islands; so that it has come to pass that not a single Gaelic name appears in the topography of those islands, saving only the first syllable of Orkney itself, which is supposed to be the Gaelic orc, a whalethe whale islands. But in Sutherland and Caithness it has happened differently; Gaelic, Norse, and Anglian names are spread all over the map. Sometimes the Norse original has not even a veil of disguise, as in Loch Watten, the largest lake of Caithness; of which the meaning is the somewhat childish one of Lake Lake vatn being the common Norse equivalent to "lake" at this day. At other times the Scandinavian name has received a gloss suggested by local characteristics. Cape Wrath is a very appropriate designation on the lips of Englishmen for the northernmost point of Sutherland, for nowhere round the whole ragged coast of Scotland do the winds roar more constantly or the surges chafe with greater fury. But the Vikings laughed at the storm, if the sea ran too high, they could pull ashore their black kyuls in any sheltered creek and wait for fine weather; so they named the cape Hvarf, the turning-point, for it was there they pushed their helms a-starboard, to run down to their possessions in the Sudrey, the southern islandsHebrides, as we now call them.1
Not seldom it has happened that the people of Caithness, having forgotten their Norse speech, and not taken the trouble
to learn Gaelic, have substituted a name in the English language (which they speak with remarkable purity), and then invented a story to account for it. Thus at Dirlot, about fourteen miles above the sea, the Thurso runs through a series of deep gorges, cut in the table-land of Strathmore. It is a scene of ineffable melancholy: you cannot see the river till you are close upon it, only a wide brown moor, with a little graveyard perched on the windiest ridge, enclosed in a high wall. No church, nor the ruin of one,-just the dead-yard, with one tall, lean object showing above the enclosing wall. As you get nearer you find that this object is a human effigy, the figure of a young girl carved with considerable vigour and feeling in red sandstone. It is a monument to the daughter of one in the neighbourhood, and the handiwork of a local, self-taught artist, who, under more propitious auspices, would surely have made himself a name. This lone figure, standing thus high over everything near, midway between the stupendous cliffs of Hoy in Orkney to the north and the boding cone of Morven in the south, impresses the imagination as many more elaborate and costly memorials fail to do.
Having paused, as you are sure to do, before this tomb, and taken in the spirit of the place, you walk round the outside of the graveyard and find that it is perched on the precipitous verge of the gorge. Below you, if it is winter, Thurso thunders, lashed into tawny foam; if it is summer, as now, it steals with the voice of a harmless brook from one pool to another, deep, dark, impenetrable to the eye. An isolated cliff
1 The name Sudrey is still retained in an English bishopric-Sodor and Man.
rises athwart the stream and thrusts it at right angles to its former course. At the base of the cliff is a pool-deepest, darkest, least penetrable of all: on its summit stands the ruined tower of Dirlot, the stronghold once of some petty Norse tyrant, passing afterwards into possession of the Mackays.
It is a scene of intense savagery: you can imagine the traces of almost any imaginable crime having been committed to the profundity of that sombre pool, and you, being Saisneach, are not the least surprised to hear that it is called the Devil's Hole. Then you will be told an elaborate story to account for the name; and there is no harm in that, provided you don't believe it. I forget the details, but it is something about a wicked lord of Dirlot named Sutherland, who robbed a church (nothing more likely); on the neighbours assembling to besiege him in his tower, and seeming about to prevail (which, having regard to the situation, is not so likely, unless they starved him out), this evil man thrust his illgotten valuables into a kettle or cauldron, and flung it into the pool. Just as it touched the surface, a hand and arm emerged from the water and received it, said hand and arm belongingas cannot be denied is what might be expected-to old Hokey. Yet, in spite of the inherent credibility of this tale, and the impossibility, in the absence of documentary evidence, of disproving it, did I not well, in view of the following fact, to warn you against believing it? The old Gaelic name for the pool, still preserved on the Ordnance Map, is pol a' choire— that is, the kettle or cauldron pool, named, as so many similar pools have been in the Highlands,
because of its boiling, swirling eddies. The presence, therefore, of the kettle in the story is easily accounted for, though the natives have preferred to explain it in a less matter-of-fact way, and the convenient but homely utensil has been suppressed in favour of the romantic but inconvenient personage above-named.
Kettles, by the by, must have remained at a premium in this district as late as the seventeenth century,-not articles to be lightly flung into rivers, if we are to believe Richard Franck, who travelled through this country about the year 1650.
"From Dornoch," he writes in his 'Northern Memoirs," "we travel into Caithness, and the country of Stranavar; where a rude sort of inhabitants dwell (almost as barbarous as Canibals), who when they kill a beast, boil him in his hide, make a caldron of his skin, browis of his bowels, drink of his blood, and bread and meat of his carcase; since few or none amongst them hitherto have as yet understood any better rules or methods of eating."
Sir Walter Scott, who re-edited this entertaining work in 1821, remarked in a note on this passage, that apparently the people of Strathnaver retained to this late period the rude cookery once proper to all Scotland. When Randolph Moray and the gentle Douglas gave Edward III. the slip at Stanhope Park in Weardale in 1326, their troops left nothing behind them but three hundred cauldrons made of raw hides. On which Froissart comments as follows: "They have no occasion for pots or pans, for they dress the flesh of the cattle in the skins, after they have flayed them off." In which practice the curious reader may discern the true origin of the Scottish haggis.
When Richard Franck dabbles
in ornithology he puts a greater strain on our confidence in him.
"More north in an angle of Caithness lives John a Groat, upon an isthmus of land that faceth the pleasant Isles of Orkney; where the inhabitants are blessed with the plenty of grass and grain, besides fish, flesh, and fowl in abundance. Now that barnicles (which are a certain sort of wooden geese) breed hereabouts, it's past dispute; and that they fall off from the limbs and members of the fir-tree is questionless; and those so fortunate to espouse the ocean (or any other river or humitactive soil) by
virtue of solar heat are destinated to live; but to all others so unfortunate to fall upon dry land, are denied their nativity."
Theophilus, Franck's companion, usually eager to accept any statement that his Mentor may choose to impose upon him, boggles a little over this startling explanation. "Can you credit your own report?" he ventures to say, "or do you impose these hyperboles ironically upon the world, designedly to make Scotland appear a kingdom of prodigies?"
"No, certainly," replies the unblushing Franck; "and that there is such a fowl, I suppose none doubts it; but if any do, let him resort to Cambden, Speed, or Gerhard's herbal.
So that few ingenious and intelligible travellers doubt a truth in this matter; and the rather, because if sedulously examined, it discovers a want of faith to doubt what's confirmed by such credible authority. But if eyesight be evidence against contradiction, and the sense of feeling argument good enough to refute fiction, then let me bring these two convincing arguments to maintain my assertion; for I have held a barnicle in my own hand, when as yet unfledg'd, and hanging by the beak, which as I then supposed of the fir-tree: for it grew from thence, as an excrescence grows on the members of an animal;
and as all things have periods, and in time drop off, so does the barnicle by a natural progress separate it self from the member it's conjoined to. But further, to explicate the method and manner of this wooden goose more plainly: The first appearing parts are her rump and legs; next to them, her callous and unploom'd body; and last of all her beak."
And so on. Ah, well! we smile at old Franck, his turgid periods and deliciously inconsequent syllogisms; but some of us retain a privy hankering after the arbitrary and marvellous, such, for example, as that the phases of the moon affect the weather, or that communications from departed spirits are conveyed by rappings on modern upholstery.
But if the character of the nameless lord of Dirlot is unblemished by the legend of the Devil's Pool, there are ugly stains on the history of this land not so easily effaced. The Sinclairs, Earls of Caithness, were unruly subjects of the Stuarts; but they were SO powerful and so far distant that they generally got off cheap. Thus on December 23, 1556, George, Earl of Caithness, obtained a remission from Queen Mary for
"the cruel Slaughter and Murder of Henry Leslye and his son, a youth, and other six persons, who were in a certain boat loaded with victual, opposite the place of Girnego; also for the cruel Slaughter of Hugh Neilsoune in Strathvlze [Helmsdale] . . . by way of Hamesuckin, in his own house. Item, for treasonable usurpation of the Queen's authority, by taking David Sinclare his [the earl's] brother and incarcerating him for a long space. Item, for the cruel Slaughter of William Auld in Searmclet, committed on suddenty" —
besides a variety of other crimes of less magnitude, including vio
1 Pitcairn's Criminal Trials, vol. i. part i. p. 394.