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A VISIT TO AUCH MELVICII.
BY SIR THOMAS DICK LAUDER, BART.
THE site of the little township of Auch Melvich, | low rocky hillocks which shut it in from Loch in Sutherland, is, perhaps, one of the most sin- Roe, to the south, opened a passage for its evagular of the many spots which have been occupied cuation in that direction, and thus rendered its by thriving hamlets and villages around the ex- broad surface easily available for cultivation, by tensive coasts of that interesting country. It is the inhabitants of the cottages among whom it in the district of Assynt; and although we shall was lotted out, so that it now forms the most imattempt to describe it to the best of our power, portant and valuable part of their little agriculyet we have no great hope of doing so with such tural domain. success as to place it very vividly before the imagination of our readers. It consists of a considerable cluster of cottages, flanking either side of narrow, tortuous, irregular ways, which, as yet, cannot very well claim the title of streets, and which run hither and thither over a gently swelling, sandy piece of ground, chiefly covered with bent grass. This slopes easily towards the north into a flat, formed of the same white calcareous sand, all of which has been accumulated by the wind drifting it inwards from the shelly shore of a bay which bounds it in that direction. To the west the hamlet is sheltered from the sea by a range of high grounds, running from this bay on the north to the entrance of Loch Roe on the south. These present rugged, rocky points to the ocean; and their eastern side, towards the hamlet, affords a perfect sample of the general face of the Assynt country, being very irregular in its surface, and covered with rounded blisters of primitive rock, rising all over it in numerous knolls, and having the intervening hollows all eultivated, in patches of oats, bear, and potatoes, so that not even the smallest portion of soil, of a few feet square, is left without culture. These bright green spots, which are of the most whimsical shapes, some of them being like polypi, and others like stockings, or shirts, or other more unmentionable articles of apparel, give a most extraordinary appearance to the general face of the hill side, whilst they speak well for the industry of the people by whose hands they were erected. To the east of the hamlet the mountain rises in a bold craggy steep, where Nature bids defiance to the efforts of man to put any trace of his dominion upon it. To the south of the hamlet there lies a considerable mossy flat, of a circular form, surrounded by the features we have described. This is the dried alveus of a fresh-water lake, which occupied it until within these few years back, when the Duke of Sutherland, by cutting, at his own expense, through the
VOL. XIV,-NO. CLVII.
Nothing can be more wild, or romantic, than the approach to this retired but populous little place, from the open sea. We had the good fortune to go thither, in company with the noble proprietor himself, whose sole enjoyment, during his annual residence of some months in Sutherland, consists in devoting his time to visiting every village, hamlet, and, we may almost say, cottage, in his widely-extended territories. When we had the honour of meeting him, some little time ago, at Loch Inver, he had already been through all the townships on his northern coasts, doing good wherever he went, and he was now engaged in the same work of love and benevolence with regard to those of his western coasts. Although now somewhat advanced in life, and, we regret to say, with health and a frame by no means very robust, the anxiety and solicitude he displays in inquiring, personally, into the wants of his people, and the pleasure he takes in making provision for all their little requirements, leads him to undergo fatigue upon these occasions which might be supposed to be greatly beyond his strength. When bent on such errands, he not only appears indefatigable, both in boating and. in walking, but he seems to care little for stormy weather or weeping skies, and, defended by an oilskin coat, he sits in the stern of his boat, bounding over the billows, or he makes his way over the rugged hillocks and boggy ground, in defiance of all such impediments, and with an activity hardly to be expected from his years. We mean to give a short sketch of that visit to Auch Melvich, in which we accompanied him, for, simple as the narration may be, we are led to believe that it may be gratifying to the philanthropist; and it affords a fair specimen of his daily life during the whole of the time he spends in Sutherland.
Having sailed from Loch Inver in a little yacht, we got into the boat, and rowed into the small haven of Bad-na-brad, just within the southern
horn of the Loch, which we had taken upon us to suggest to his Grace as a fit and proper place for the establishment of a fishing station, and around which some comfortable detached cottages and patches of cultivation had already begun to show symptoms of its aptitude for the formation of a settlement. We mention this place, however, by the way, for no other reason than to enable us to notice a circumstance which occurred as we were rowing in towards its shore. Pointing to one of the cottages at some distance inland, the Duke asked his factor—“ Pray, Mr. MacIver, did you give the man who lives in that house," naming him, "the wood I promised him last year, for the roof of his byre?" The circumstance of wood having been promised to another man inhabiting a different cottage having occurred at the moment to the factor's mind, to the exclusion of the other, he pointed to it, and said “That was the house where your Grace promised the wood."—" True," replied the Duke, "I promised wood there too, but it was for a different purpose; and I remember you afterwards told me that the man had got it. But I likewise recollect promising the man who lives in that house wood for the roof of his byre, and, you know, I like to keep my word." The circumstances regarding this promise then recurred to the memory of the factor, and the Duke was satisfied by learning that it had been duly fulfilled. When we find that three straight lines drawn with a ruler outside of the headlands of the west, north, and south-east coasts of the map of Sutherland, would measure about 120 miles; and when we consider the many large lochs, bays, and inlets which cut everywhere into that wild and picturesque country, it will appear that a chain carried all round the high-water mark of its several coasts would produce a measurement probably four or five times that number of miles; and when we think of the numerous townships, thickly clustered with houses, with which these so extensive coasts are everywhere planted, the little anecdote we have just mentioned will not appear altogether insignificant, when taken in proof of the strong interest which the Duke feels in the welfare of his people, and the wonderful memory he displays in treasuring up every little circumstance that may contribute to their comfort.
we returned and proceeded to the place where the people were assembled, and there landed. The moment the Duke put his foot on shore, he was surrounded by men, women, and children, their countenances beaming with joy and delight to behold him, and blessings were poured out upon their benefactor's head from all mouths, both in Gaelic and in English, as they pressed eagerly towards him. His eyes glistened with benevolence as he kindly returned their salutations; and, as they lighted on old friends among those around him, he readily recognised them, and addressing them individually by their names, he shook hands cordially with them, and inquired after their own health, and that of the various members of their families. It has been our lot, in this life, more than once to witness well-performed scenes of interchange of feigned affection, but this was a sight, indeed, most pleasant to behold; for here there was no acting on either side. The outpouring of feeling was general from every breast. The effect was extremely touching, and, for our part, we are by no means ashamed to confess that we experienced a certain grappling at our throat, and a dimness in our eyes, as we stood aside in gratified observation of the pleasing scene.
As the good man-for high as is his rank, this is the well-merited title which does him most honour-as the good man, we say, proceeded over the rugged, rocky pathway, which wound among the hillocks, towards Auch Melvich, followed and pressed upon by the elders of its township, and stopping at every two or three yards of the way, as his unfortunate deafness compelled him to do, in order to listen to their petitions, or to whatsoever they might have to say to him, that he might the more certainly and correctly gather their words, he was besieged by a tall, wiry, scraggy-necked, sharp-visaged, and very impudent-looking woman, who, in defiance of the narrowness and unevenness of the way, forced herself close up to him, and strode, and hopped over the stones and bushes, so as to jostle out every one else, and to maintain her own unrivalled proximity to his side, and with her mouth thrust, every now and then, quite into his ear, she, with a voice that resembled the grinding of flints, shrieked into it, in one continued discharge As the Duke's visit to the township of Auch of impertinent questions, and fulsome compliMelvich had been, in some measure, expected by ments regarding him and his family, and espeits inhabitants, we had no sooner rounded the cially regarding his two elder sons, who were prehigh head called Ard Roc, and entered the nar- sent, which, without waiting for replies, flew faster row passage that leads into the romantic Loch from her mouth than the shots from the steamRoe, than we descried a crowd of the people stand-gun. So offensive an annoyance as this appeared ing on the rocks near a landing place on its to us to be much more than any mortal, however northern side, close to the spot where the cut was patient, could have well borne; but although he made for the discharge of the Auch Melvich lake. | who suffered under it seemed to feel it to its fullest They seemed to be in a state of eager expecta-extent, yet his good nature never gave way under tion. After rowing about for some time, to en- it, and, smiling as he went, he bore his persecujoy the beauties of Loch Roe, and to inspect its tion with a meekness and a mildness that was as interesting shores, during which we visited most wonderful as it was exemplary, till the hag was at of its retired bays, and threaded the narrow last indignantly elbowed out of her position by channel that runs up among the rocks at its some of the more resolute of the elder men, and upper end, till we got quite into a beautiful he was thus relieved from the infliction of her fresh-water lake, there communicating with it, more immediate and continuous assault.