THE SPAR CAVE,
IN THE ISLE OF SKYE,
GEOLOGICAL REMARKS RELATIVE TO THAT ISLAND.
K. MACLEAY, M. D.
TO WHICH IS SUBJOINED,
“Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
“The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear.”
Printed by James Clarke, Corogate,
FOR THOMAS BRYCE & CO. NO. 13, INFIRMARY-STREET;
LONGMAN, HURST, REES, ORME, & BROWN, LONDON;
AND SOLD BY ALL THE BOOKSELLERS.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
IS MOST RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED,
HIS VERY OBEDIENT HUMBLE SERVANT,
DESCRIPTION OF THE SPARRY CAVE IN SKYE.
The Highland districts of Scotland have in all ages been considered interesting from the peculiar manners of the inhabitants, and remarkable for the characteristic wildness of the scenery.
The sterile aspect of those mountainous regions, rendered more formidable by a dense atmosphere which almost perpetually hovers around them, seems uniformly to have been regarded with astonishment and dread, and prevented even the intrepid Romans, during their long possession of the southern provinces, from penetrating into a country which appeared so cold and forbidding.
With the dissemination of science, and the progressive advancement of the arts in modern times, however, the means of traversing these lowering tracts have become familiar, and strangers from all nations can readily gratify their curiosity in exploring a part of the kingdom, which, even at a late era in its history, was deemed inaccessible, because it was comparatively unknown to the rest of the world.
This propitious change, affecting in no less a degree the political sentiments, than the civilization of the natives, has gradually raised them to importance as faithful subjects of the State, worthy the fostering care of a wise and generous legislature, while it has brought their long neglected land into some notice, as an extensive field for improvement, deserving that attention which it has received from a patriotic and munificent society of its countrymen.
While this cause has ameliorated the condition of the Highlands in various respects, it has at the same time opened to philosophical investigation, a series of phenomena in natural history, which have been regarded as singular, as they display the wonderful operations of nature under new and somewhat uncommon arrangements.
The state of barbarism and obscurity in which the people of the Highlands were immured in former ages, was a powerful barrier against the admission of useful knowledge. Though constantly exposed to the contemplation of the sublime and beautiful works of creation which surrounded them, they beheld those objects with indifference, as their lives were more seriously devoted to other pursuits, less refined, but more congenial with the rude and unsettled habits of the times; and it was only when more polished maxims began to break through the gloom, though by faint and languid rays, and when strangers from other places were cordially received among them, that the grand features of their own country, from the surprise which they raised in those visitors, also began to excite their own admiration.
A taste for science in general, having, by this intercourse, and different other means, been diffused throughout the .Highlands, the natives, like those of other countries, have acquired a relish for philosophical subjects, and in particular for those of Geological inquiry, of which their country affords an ample and interesting supply.
Among the various natural curiosities of the Highlands, which of late years have attracted the notice of travellers, perhaps none has been examined of more remarkable formation than the lately discovered Lime Spar Cave, near the point of Strathaird, in the island of Skye, the most extensive of the Hebrides.
The magnificent appearance of this island in general, cannot fail to attract the attention of strangers. The bold outline of its bleak and stupendous mountains, when viewed from a distance at sea, in any direction, is exceedingly impressive, and offers many subjects for the pencil, as well as numerous sources of mineralogical research.
The grandeur of the prospect in approaching Skye from the south by sea, can hardly be surpassed in any country. The great chain of mountains which stretch from east to west, occupying a space exceeding fifteen leagues, presents to the eye a tract which seems dark and gloomy, as the flat portions of the land are lost in the deep shade of the hills. The granite, of which these immense masses chiefly consist, being decomposed by long exposure to the air, has given a light brown colour to their summits, which are totally denuded of any vegetable covering.
This incessant decay of substance is constantly washed down the declivities by the rains, which being collected into impetuous cascades, carry with them in their fall innumerable fragments of rocks and loose stones, every where to be seen at the foot of the mountains, and which have rendered many of them bare, almost to the base. The courses of these rapid streams are marked by many channels, which give a striated, or streaked appearance to the sides of the mountains, adding greatly to the picturesque effect of the scenery, and forming a pleasing contrast with the green valleys, which, in getting nearer to the shore, are seen to separate them from each other.
The regular horizontal line of the Island, which at a distance seemed entire and undisturbed, is gradually broken into a multiplicity of promontories jutting far into the ocean, and evince the propriety of its having been named the Winged Island, as the word Skianach in the Gælic language implies, and which has been softened into the English—Skye.
But, in contemplating the general outline of this Island, the mind is instinctively led to the consideration of those latent powers of nature which have given shape to such a mighty structure, and formed that astonishing collection of materials which compose the interior of those mountains.
In the formation of the various mineral substances which this southern part of Skye exhibits, water seems to have been the principal agent; but in attempting to explain the different irregular appearances of the surface, which has evidently undergone considerable revolutions subsequent to its primary arrangement, the influence of fire must likewise be allowed to have had a powerful effect, if not in the consolidation of the strata here exposed, at least in the order which these now assume, not only throughout this island, but also on every part of the west coast of Scotland, and the interior of the Highlands.
The aqueous origin, however, of this particular Island, is rendered probable from the stratified position of the rocks, and the numerous intermediate beds of earth, sand, and fossils, of which it is every where composed.
This modification is perceptible even in some of the hills which are of great height, though it almost invariably appears that these several strata have been thrown out of their supposed primeval disposition, having taken various incurvations, and being irregularly fractured, and found in different degrees of inclination with the horizon.
Whatever angle these strata present, as to their horizontal disposition, their parallelism is for the most part accurately preserved during their visible extent and the diversity of their curvations, and that, without regard to the difference of their depth or breadth. From the vertical arrangement which some of the strata on this coast exhibit, imbedded in rocks of a separate species and character, their secondary nature is readily accounted for, and among these, the trap, or whin, forms the principal examples in the island.
Besides the regular stratification of this coast in those places where our observations were chiefly made, many of the eminencies are composed of primitive matter, and unstratified rocks.
The vast collection of materials of which our globe is formed, is supposed originally to have been in a state of fluidity. From this solution the various substances are believed to have been deposited, and gradually hardened into their present degree of solidity. Having given up these immense masses which constitute our primary mountains, and the basis of the world, by some sudden inscrutable process of crystalization, the water is conjectured to have retired into the hollow parts, and excavations of the earth thus formed. As the water continued to recede, it gave up what is called the secondary strata, until, by successive precipitation, it finally retreated to its later boundaries, and left the soil uncovered, and fit for the reception of man.
This hypothesis is rendered still more conclusive, by the exposure of myriads of shells, once the covering of marine animals, which are intermixed with, and enveloped in different kinds of stone, common on these shores. The beautiful figures and contexture of these fossils is still preserved in an unchanged state, though they are intermingled in every imaginable variety. These animal remains, formerly in the condition of organization, are also met with at a distance from the shore, and many hundred feet above the level of the sea, included in the solid rock, and retaining their original structure, but in a state of complete petrifaction, totally deprived of their calcareous matter,and having become equally compact and hard with the substance of the rocks of which they now constitute a part.
Vegetable impressions are likewise to be seen in the composition of these stones, and some of the most delicate fibres and foliage have even preserved their configuration, though their nature has suffered such a transition.
In further confirmation of this theory, it may be noticed, that, at a short distance from this part of Skye immediately under consideration, several pieces of the bones of land animals have lately been found in the most entire state of preservation, deeply imbosomed in a stratum of compact limestone.
To exemplify this geological principle in the construction of this island, many other more minute proofs might be brought forward; but, in a cursory view like the present, these to which we have adverted are deemed sufficient.
Were the stratified arrangement of this coast to be ascribed to the effects of fire, that element must not only have acted in a violent degree, but must also, from the appearances here exhibited, have been applied at different times: and though this supposition should be admitted, yet it is not probable that the same regularity of stratification now exposed could have taken place, nor that, during the state of fusion, and the intensity of heat which was necessary to be applied, these bones of land animals, these marine fossils, and delicate vegetable substances, could have resisted the consuming power of fire, and have retained the perfect, unchanged original shape in which we here discover them.
But to return from what may be deemed a digression:—The lofty mountains of this island are for the most part, formed of granite, of a grey, or brownish-grey colour, confused and shattered, and composed of crystals rudely comparted. These granitic masses are commonly invested with micacious rock, variously intersected with veins of basalt, trap, and limestone, frequently running in one direction, but sometimes decussated, and irregularly inflected.
Some of the Skye mountains are composed of porphyry, the fracture of which is smooth, and of various intensity and colours. This stone is here intermixed with felspar, having its usual rhomboidal shape, and is also much intersected with veins of trap.
Immense beds of sandstone rock, varying in hardness and colour, abound throughout the whole of this island, particularly on the south east. These veins are often surmounted with vast strata of basalt, in many places assuming the columnar form, and rising to a very considerable height above the surface of the sea. Some of these basaltic rocks appear with huge distortions, detached from each other in confused blocks, and elevated pyramids. The disintegrations of these craggy precipices, have, in many instances, overspread the plains, which are covered with fragments that have rolled down the declivities, in the manner of the Alpine Avalanches.
This island has also been lately noted for extensive bodies of lime spar, or marble, which were discovered in different places. Some of this marble is of great beauty, and of various shades, not inferior in whiteness to Parian, but neither so pure, nor of a texture so compact as that of Carrara.
At one place, near the harbour of Broadford, we remarked an unusual stratification of granite, and of micacious rock. These, though of declared primitive, and secondary formation, are closely approximated, and have a course parallel to each other. They seem to come directly from the lofty Ben-caillich, and are suddenly lost in the sea, which washes the northern base of that mountain.
But the principal object of curiosity which this island possesses, .and which we purpose to make the chief subject of our remarks, is the Lime Spar Cave, lately discovered on the south-eastern shore. This phenomenon will neither be deemed unworthy of notice, nor uninteresting to the traveller, who pursues his course to contemplate nature in her grand and complicated operations.
The Cave, as has already been observed, is situated in that division of Skye, called Strathaird, on the farm of Glashnakill, and near the cape or promontory of Rhu-na-heskan—(the point of eels,} in approaching to Loch Slappen, which runs up among the mountains in a northerly direction. It is in latitude 57° 6' north; about 6° 20' longitude west of London, and 3° 2' west of the meridian of Edinburgh. From the point of Ardnamurchan, the most westerly part of the main-land of Scotland, it lies north and by east, distant about twelve leagues.
This portion of Strathaird is more limited in its extent than the other divisions of the island, and not of extraordinary elevation near the shore, which is steep and rocky. From the coast, the land converges by a gentle acclivity, which, at some distance, is suddenly broken off by a ridge of basalt, forming a hill of considerable eminence, but which soon falls off by a gradual descent towards the high land. Behind this hill, to the north and northwest, rise the sable mountains of Cuthulin and Blavin, rearing their ragged pinnacles to the clouds, and frowning in awful majesty over the herds, who, heedless of their dignity, brouse the scanty herbage from their sides.
The whole coast of Strathaird is bold and precipitous. Rising directly from the sea, it presents, along its entire course, an almost unbroken line of perpendicular rock, but of unequal altitude. The arrangement is the most romantic that can be supposed, the whole shore being indented with caves and grottos of many forms, and rocks piled into various grotesque and elegant structures: And if this country afforded no other source of amusement, the prospect of this shore alone, will amply repay the traveller's toil.
This shore is principally composed of argillaceous sandstone of regular stratification, nearly horizontal; but it has been so completely fractured, and divided by innumerable perpendicular fissures, that it appears as if vertically stratified, each stratum reclining somewhat towards the west, and following a line from north-west to southeast. These seemingly fortuitous strata are separated by numerous beds of trap, or what are commonly known by the name of whin dykes, of various sizes, running in a parallel direction, but with different degrees of alternation; keeping their invariable course, which is also from north-west to south-east, a tract which the whin strata always maintain over the west coast of Scotland, from the Firth of Clyde to Cape Wrath.
This sandstone is of a greyish, or brownish-grey colour, of a multiplicity of layers closely arranged, and sometimes of different shades, which dip towards the north with a small inclination; and where this stone is subjected to the simultaneous action of the air and the salt water, it exposes an irregular striated surface, which renders it unsuitable to architectural purposes.
The mouth of the cave has been known to the people in its vicinity, time out of memory: But it was not till June 1808 that it was explored, by the persevering zeal of Mrs. Gillespie at Kilmoree. This Lady is not a native of Skye; but from the marvellous stories she had heard of this Cave, she was desirous of examining it. She accordingly took with her a boat and hands, and succeeded to her utmost wish. The account which she gave of it, afterwards induced the proprietor, accompanied by this Lady and her husband, to visit it, and the farther they advanced, the more were they gratified and astonished with what they saw. To Mrs. Gillespie, then, is the public indebted for the discovery of this justly celebrated Cave, which, but for her laudable curiosity, might still have remained unknown. If the traveller has the good fortune of getting acquainted with the kind family of Mr. Gillespie at Kilmoree, his journey will be greatly and most agreeably facilitated.
The Cave has received the name of Slochd Altrimen, which, in the language of the country, signifies, the Nursling Cave, or the cavity where the child was preserved.—An ancient tradition furnishes the tale from which we may suppose the Cave has derived its name.
At a distant period of Scottish History, Skye, and the whole Hebride Isles, were under the dominion of Norwegian princes. Whether these people were the original possessors, or whether they overcame and drove away the former inhabitants, it is unnecessary to inquire; but these islands long remained under their jurisdiction, and their conquests were extended to many provinces of the main land.
They bestowed upon the different islands, and other parts which they occupied, Scandinavian names, many of which are still retained. As their population increased, they became a warlike race, and occasionally scattered their adventures over the neighbouring coasts; but their efforts were chiefly directed against Ireland, whose inhabitants were always their declared enemies.
At this time, though the Western Islands were nominally under the controul of one sovereign, they were possessed, by numerous independent lords, each of whom supported his own tribe, and waged war against his neighbours as best suited his views and his strength.
Our tradition will have it, that, about the beginning of the ninth century, MacCairbre, king of Ulster, having assembled a great fleet, set sail for the Hebride Isles. Arriving unexpectedly, he committed barbarous and wanton cruelties, ravaging the Islands for many days. Having loaded his ships with plunder, he departed without opposition, the native princes being absent with their king Aulaive of Norway, engaged in a contest with the Picts. On their return to Ulster, a storm arose, which forced the fleet of MacCairbre to seek shelter in the island of Colonsay. The chief of this Island, though compelled to subjection by the Norwegian kings, was attached to this prince of Ireland from ties of consanguinity. He received the strangers with kindness, and entertained them until the storm abated. Before they departed, the chief of Colonsay declared fealty to the king of Ulster, and to prove his attachment, sent his only son to Ireland, accompanied by a chosen band, along with MacCairbre, to learn the art of war.
The deadly feuds which long prevailed betwixt the chiefs of the Isles and those of Ireland, became even more inveterate by this invasion from Ulster. Determined on revenge, the Lords of Skye, with other powerful allies, assembled their tribes, and embarked in an hundred vessels for an attack upon Ulster. With a favouring gale they arrived on the coast of Ireland, and having disembarked in the night, immediately beset the fortress of MacCairbre. A bloody conflict ensued. The king of Ulster and many of his people were slain. Nor were the men of the Isles more fortunate. Several of their chiefs were laid low; but the troops of Ulster were vanquished, and their severities retaliated.
Having completed their revenge, they returned to their barks, carrying with them the king of Ulster's daughter, many of his warriors, and among them the young chief of Colonsay, as proofs of their victory. Propitious winds seemed to favour their course. They soon beheld the towering cliffs of their native mountains, which they were rapidly approaching, and gladness, mingled indeed with sorrow for their friends who had fallen, filled their hearts.
On the evening of the fourth day, a calm prevailed over the face of the ocean. The white sails of the fleet were reflected from its unruffled bosom, as the sun's last beam sunk beneath the western wave. The mournful song of the rowers, as they plied the steady oar, resounded far over the expanse. The returning fleet was descried from the shores of Skye, and their anxious relatives anticipated a safe arrival. Disappointment, however, awaited their hopes. In the night, a dreadful storm succeeded the calm, and with the morning dawn, one only sail was to be seen. This bark rode triumphantly over the waves, and seemed to baffle the efforts of the gale. She steered her course for Slappen's hilly shore, but there arose over a reef of rocks which stretch far off the land, a tremendous sea. Thither the current swept the vessel, and she was quickly overwhelmed in the foaming surge. Hope now fled the breast of the fair Dounhuila, who, from the turrets of her father's castle, beheld the horrors of the storm. Her brother had gone with the warriors of Skye, and despair laid hold of her heart. Her parents too gazed over the scene, and their anguish was severe. Their sorrowful eyes still fixed upon the deep, they saw some object floating towards the shore. Dounhuila fled to the beach. She beheld a young man almost lifeless, brought to land by a dog; but, alas! it was not her brother. It was the young chief of Colonsay, but she knew him not. Pity assumed unwonted softness in her countenance, and the mild lustre of her dark brown eyes declared the tenor of her mind. Collecting her father's vassals, the young chief of Colonsay was conveyed to Dunglas, a fortress whose remains are still visible near the Sparry Cave. Dounhuila's brother returned in safety, as did many of his shipwrecked warriors, and joy filled the halls of Dunglas; but the fair daughter of Ulster was seen no more.
The lovely Dounhuila with pleasure beheld the returning strength of the youthful stranger. She was his guardian spirit, and mutual attachment grew in their hearts. But, when the young warrior made himself known to Dounhuila, an unsurmountable barrier seemed to forbid their love. Their parents were determined foes, and the young chieftain, though kindly treated, was in the Lord of Dunglas' power, and was strictly guarded. Confined within the Castle walls for many months, he remained unknown to all except Dounhuila. With a form of exquisite symmetry, yet with simple manners and an unsuspicious heart, and more the victim of love than the child of prudence. she became pregnant. The horror of her situation daily increased. Concealment appeared impossible. The disgrace which seemed inevitable, preyed upon her spirits, and melancholy deeply marked her features. She knew her father's proud heart and implacable disposition, and that certain death awaited the unhappy pair the moment her situation was known.
It happened fortunately at this time, that the Lords of the Hebrides were summoned to Norway, to assist their king in repelling an invasion from Saxony. The chief of Dunglas, with his son, assembled their warriors, and departed for that country, leaving the charge of the Castle and their prisoners to a few vassals of tried fidelity. In their absence Dounhuila prevailed with the soldiers, her lover was permitted to depart, and he set sail for Colonsay.
Dounhuila was delivered of a son, and, being aided by a trusty domestic, the child was conveyed to the Cave on the sea-shore to prevent discovery. The difficulty of access to this retirement rendered it secure from intrusion; the entrance was guarded by the young chief of Colonsay's faithful dog he had left behind, and here Dounhuila regularly retired to nurse her son. The family feuds of Dunglas and Colonsay in time had ceased. A happy union of the lovers took place, and this child of the cave was permitted to emerge from his dreary nursery (see the annexed Poem); and hence the origin of its name.
THOUGH the entrance to Slochd Altrimen has long been familiar to the natives of this country, none of them, as has been stated, had the curiosity, or, perhaps from superstitious notions, no one had the courage to explore its recesses, until the period to which we formerly adverted. Common report indeed, says that, several years since, five men had gone into it, but never returned, and the belief of this story increased the unwillingness of the country people to come near the place, far less to examine it.
The superstition, which, in the early ages of the Highlands, prevailed so generally, descended in regular succession, from one generation to another, and, to a very late period of their history, continued to influence the mind and conduct in so powerful a manner, that the ordinary incidents of life were, by some means or other, construed to depend upon sorcery, witchcraft, or the second sight.
The shores of the Highlands abound in cavernous recesses, and the perpetual darkness which dwells in those gelid and dreary mansions, added strength to the superstitious fears of the natives, and marked these caves as the certain abodes of malignant spirits, and supernatural beings, which consequently precluded their being thoroughly examined.
These fears were equally groundless and absurd; but surely in the formation of a cave so magnificent as that of Slochd Altrimen, the reflecting mind must naturally look up to the agency of a power beyond the comprehension of the human faculties, while it must at the same time be lost in admiration of the magnitude of a system, by which that multifarious combination of materials of which this globe is formed, have been so regularly and perfectly arranged.
But to proceed with our description:
The opening into the Cave fronts the south-east, and is in a line about north-west from the point of Sleat, the most southerly part of Skye. The land immediately above it is not high, being the scite of the farmstead of Glashnakill, and constantly under tillage.
The shore being entirely formed of perpendicular rocks, it is at low water only, and that with great difficulty, that the entrance can be reached on foot. It is, however, easily approached by sea, unless there be a strong breeze of southerly, or easterly wind, when the swell is so high as to render it hazardous for a boat to venture near the shore, which is full of sunk rocks, and large blocks of stones broken from the cliffs.
The dislocation of the sand-stone into apparently vertical strata, and the intervening trap which are both abruptly broken off to form the coast, have their fractured edges constantly exposed to the action of the waves. From the lamellated texture of the sand-stone, it is very frangible, while the whin dykes are disjointed into numerous separable portions, so that by the incessant impulsion of the sea, together with the attrition of loose stones and sand, these rocks are undermined, and frequently giving way in large fragments.
The portions of this freestone rock which constitute the grand approach to the Cave, jut somewhat forward into the sea by two immense prominences, separated from each other about thirty feet, and into this separation the tide flows at high water. The passage to the Cave is betwixt these cliffs, which rise perpendicularly above an hundred feet, and appear as two stupendous walls of solid stone, extending from the shore in a straight line about five hundred feet. The upper parts of these walls are capped and decorated with a border of green shrubs, and purple heath growing over them in all the richness of rural attire. The tide at high-water mark enters about four hundred feet. At low water, the opening to this cleft is rather of inconvenient access, being full of stones and pieces of the rock which have tumbled into it, and which are covered with sea weeds, rendering the footing insecure. But this obstruction is soon got over; the fatigue of the traveller, however arduous his journey hither, will speedily be forgotten and amply compensated, and without any further interruption, a gradual ascent leads to the mouth of the Cave.
A front more beautifully romantic and wild cannot be conceived. A superb rugged arch opens upon the sight, and presents a dark and lonely chasm, which might well have been considered the meet receptacle of deadly fiends. This gloomy portal approaches to the gothic form, but is somewhat irregular, the point of the arch being a more acute angle, with the top reclining to the left.
On the right side of this opening is an inferior Cave, running in a different direction, with many other crevices which give the face of the rock an imbricated look.
The whole of this noble structure, but particularly the great aperture, is embellished with innumerable dark green stalactites of various sizes, some of which descend to the ground and form pillars, grown over with moss, and which, with the softening intermixture of long grass and green foliage, brown heath and beautiful wild flowers, adds to the impressive effect of this secluded scene.
This great septum of the rock appears to have been the bed of a double vein of whinstone, a portion of which being exposed, is readily traced in passing along it towards the Cave, which is itself also formed by an interstice in the whin. The bottom or floor and the roof are of this stone, while the sides are of free-stone, so that the vacuum is left by the separation of a part of these large whin dykes.
Close to the entrance of the Cave on the right side, cut, as it were out of the stone, is a small fountain of pure water, surrounded by rocky pillars. The water of this cistern is collected from droppings which exudate from the rock above.
This magnificent portal opens to a passage silent and dismal, into which the rays of the sun have never found access, and where darkness holds her solitary and cheerless reign.
But in order to explore this cavity in a satisfactory manner, the light of several candles will be necessary, and the better the light, the more completely will the beauties of the Cave be seen, while it will add to the security of the traveller. That the light may be more universally diffused over the various parts, the assistance of ten or twelve people will be required, each of whom ought to be furnished with a candle. Torches would no doubt answer better, as emitting a greater body of light, but the dense smoke produced by them is apt, not only to tarnish the lustre of the roof within, but to affect respiration, by giving out an offensive gas, and diminishing the quantity of pure air, which, owing to the distance of the interior from the external atmosphere, may not be very readily supplied.
From the mouth of the Cave, the passage goes off a little to the left, in a line nearly straight, varying from fifteen to twenty feet in height, the breadth for the most part being about nine feet.
The sides are almost vertical, inclining to the left, and partly following a shape similar to the front arch without. Along this part of the Cave, which, in a great measure, extends in a horizontal direction, or with a very gentle declivity for sixty feet, nothing remarkable appears but the extreme dreariness of the place, and a chilling sensation which must be felt on looking back to the light of day, which at a distance glimmers through the gloom.
The path is here dull and cheerless, and in rainy weather, owing to the constant dropping from the roof, is wet and disagreeable. Towards the extremity of this entry, it begins to assume a more regular shape, the sides are more erect, and the roof somewhat flattened, giving it a square and artificial appearance.
From this place, where the level passage terminates, the pathway ascends for fifty five feet, by an angle of forty five degrees, up a rough bank of earth, sand, and loose small stones of broken whin. This eminence is gained with some difficulty, not altogether from its being so steep, but principally because the sand and stones slip from under the feet. Here, however, there is a flat of some extent for a resting place, which gives the visitor time to breathe before he proceeds farther; and here, on looking around, imagination cannot figure a more singular place.
Surveying the cavity through which the traveller ascended, it now appears to him a dark and deep abyss from which he involuntarily shrinks, and even feels surprised that his curiosity should have prompted him on through such a frightful dungeon. But casting a look upwards, along the way by which he is still to proceed, the eye, reverting from this gloom, is unexpectedly charmed in beholding a track of snowy whiteness.
This beautiful pathway is an inclined plane, the surface of which is very irregular, and may not inappositely be likened to a solid cascade, or, as pretty nearly resembling a declivity of congealed snow, and giving a just, though miniature representation of the frozen sides of a Savoy mountain, and such as will be compared, by those who have viewed the scene, to the slippery precipices which are met with in ascending Mount Blanc from the valley of Chamouni: For this is climbed with almost equal difficulty, though not with the same danger, and has precisely the aspect of the hardened snow and ice of those chilly regions, with all their sparkling crystalizations and purity. It is not until the visitor has advanced thus far, that the peculiar splendor of the Cave begins to appear. Sending some of his attendants to precede him, not only for the purpose of lighting him on his way, but to assist in handing him up the steep, which, from the degree of its inclination and asperity, is surmounted with some hazard, he arrives at a more level part of the pass. The scrambling which is necessary for twenty eight feet, in getting to this place, and the risk of slipping backwards at every step, occupies the attention, which, in the first instance, is solely directed to personal safety; but, now and then the waved superfice will admit of a stop, and an examination of his progress, which at every pace becomes more interesting. Having attained the summit of this snow-white path, the footing is less dangerous; and it is here only, after having experienced the vicissitudes of hope and fear, that the traveller feels himself secure from falling back by the way he ascended.
This may be said to be the last grand entrance to the Cave; an entrance not so remarkable for its magnitude, as for the beauty which it displays. It is eight feet broad, with a vaulted roof of twelve feet high, the whole arch having a marmorean look of unsullied whiteness. On the right, this arch, or portal, is sustained, or at least seems to be so, by an admirable gothic column of the most regular form. It is an engaged shaft of solid spar, projecting from the side about three-fourths of its circumference, and three feet in' diameter, ornamented with an irregular guttated capital, resembling a collection of cauliflower tops.
The passage is here altogether white, variously decorated with beautiful incrustations, chiefly of the cornial and coraliform shape. From the roof is suspended thousands of icicles of pure white spar, like the fringes of a curtain, giving the whole opening a most finished and pleasing effect.
Proceeding along this area, which is thirty-five feet in length, it is gradually enlarged in breadth to ten feet, and in height to about forty, and nearly horizontal, though the white marble floor is rough and uneven: And now the grandeur of this sublime Cave suddenly opens upon the sight.
Surprise must here for a moment overpower the mind, and rivet the steps of the most indifferent observer. Ushered at once into a magnificent theatre wholly composed of sparkling gems, and white shining spar, the visitor is bewildered not only on perceiving the brilliancy, but the multiplicity of the objects which crowd upon his view on all sides. He feels as if transported to the abodes of Genii, or to the temple of Fairies, whose magic art has created such a collection of images at once to delight and to astonish, and it is sometime before the mind can recal its usual tranquillity so as to pay attention to any determinate part.
Looking forward from this enchanting gallery, the dimensions of the Cave are greatly increased. The space is suddenly expanded to above twenty feet in breadth, of a shape nearly circular, the sides of which are entirely made up of sparry congelations, but the roof is of such height as almost to be invisible. Below, this cavity is filled with water, as if intended for a bath, through the transparency of which the white marble bottom is seen, and to this pool there is a very steep descent by another icy bank similar to that which was encountered in gaining this elevation.
The sensations which the first entrance into this superb saloon produces, having in some degree subsided, the visitor is led to examine the beauty and singularity of the surrounding objects, and the first to attract his notice, is a spar statue of a monk, on the right side, as large as life. This figure is remarkably striking. It is more prominent than other immense collections of spar which rise upon the wall behind, and to which it is somewhat attached. It appears in a kneeling posture upon a cushion, as if in the act of devotion, with uplifted hands. The drapery of the gown, which envelopes the body, is beautiful and correct. The head is bare, and seems shaven after the monastic fashion, without any resemblance of hair. The face is distinctly seen, though the nose is rather small and flat. The shoulders are in just proportion, as are the other parts of this figure, so that it may almost pass for an Anthropolite.
Behind the monk, several admirable concretions appear like busts, the head and shoulders being, in general, quite natural, with a console of the most exquisite beauty. That part of the pedestal which is united to the shoulders is a solid mass, but the console, or lower part, is composed of distinct stalactites, having the semblance of complicated leaves inverted, whose apices, inclining inwards, give the bust a pretty regular, though somewhat a whimsical look.
Similar modifications of the spar, in this foliated state, are presented under different regulations, but always in the same dependent position. Being closely accumulated, these leaves are chiefly disposed into the urn shape, which, though not a complete and perfect vase, the likeness is accurate and truly preserved, even in every posture in which they are placed. The head of a nun covered with a hood may here be observed, the drapery of which on both sides, is chaste and elegant.
Higher upon the wall, an intermixture of finely embossed objects catch the eye. A confused assemblage of images are seen under every supposable contortion, and taking the most fantastic and capricious shapes. Here there is no faithful representation of the human frame, nor of the inferior creation, the figures principally being grotesque and fanciful, though in many of the incrustations, a lively imagination may trace a resemblance to portions of the human form, to parts of various animals, and to vegetables; but in one place, there is a complete model of the golden fleece, in bas relief, and of the due size.
The stirious crystalization is the most prevalent form which the spar of this Cave, like others of the same nature, has taken. These beautiful stalactites are exhibited of many sizes and shapes, but for the most part they are coraliform. They are frequently placed in colonades of elegant arrangement, receding from the eye as the Cave is here enlarged, and forming numerous niches and recesses. Some of the pillars are supported by the figures which are seen below, and which seemingly are distorted by the impending weight. Several of these columns are of considerable length, their interstices being irregularly filled up with innumerable coruscant gems; but many of them are mutilated with flat and broken surfaces, while the truncated fragments of others are corrugated. The scene here terminates above in a roof, or more properly, in a pure white cloud, which seems to hang over the whole. Those portions of the roof which are seen, are carelessly adorned with sparkling pendent stalactites of various forms and sizes.
Having contemplated these objects, from which the eye would hardly wish to wander, the mind is still urged forward to explore the utmost boundaries of this fascinating mansion, and quitting his station, the visitor goes down the sloping bank to the border of the lake, if so it maybe named.
This bank, or solid cataract, has a declination above thirty feet, getting broader as it descends; and though its surface is broken into many irregularities, yet owing to its declivity, it is passed down not without risk. From its ruggedness, however, and from the spar not being here so glassy, the feet are prevented from slipping, and by cautiously and leisurely selecting his steps, the traveller arrives at the edge of the lake. One cannot easily be divested of the dread of sliding into the pool, which, though it be only about five feet deep, a sudden immersion in it would be found rather inconvenient.
Having got down to the margin of the lake, some inequalities admit of a secure footing, and of standing erect; and here, if the Cave is properly illuminated, and the lights judiciously placed, the most splendid view of it will be seen.
The visitor here finds himself imbosomed in a magnificent amphitheatre, from which there appears no outlet. It is wholly formed of the most brilliant white spar, glittering on all sides, and emitting myriads of sparkling rays of light, which are reflected from the bosom of its pellucid lake.
The space all around is white and pure as driven snow, not even a dark point being visible, excepting the faint shade of those sparry forms which protrude on all sides. Numberless images are crowded on the surrounding walls, and nature seems as if she had exhausted her creative powers, in calling forth that infinite variety of sublime and beautiful objects which are here to be seen, and of which, in fact, a correct idea cannot be conveyed in words.
“This is the fairy land:
“We talk with goblins, owls, and elvish sprights.”
On the brink of this fountain, which is an irregular circle of sixty-seven feet in circumference, it appears like a fine bason of crystalline water, or a large marble bath, the sides and bottom of which are perfectly white. The elegant walls of this saloon rise almost perpendicularly from the bottom of the bason, so that one cannot walk round it, but on the opposite side an opening is seen which leads into a sable passage. The roof is so lofty, that a part of it is not very discernible, but what of it is visible is somewhat arched, and here the length of the icicles which decorate it are more plainly to be seen.
On the right of this spacious hall, about eight feet above the surface of the pool, the wall recedes a little, forming a narrow bench for the reception, as it seems, of an admirable group of figures in alto relievo, which are placed upon it. These are six in number, as large as life, and white as alabaster. They are Caryatides and Persians, in graceful attitudes, the drapery flowing in the most accurate stile. The prominent figure is Persian, who seems to hold in his hand a roll of parchment. This assemblage of figures is encompassed with a multitude of ornamental festoons of leaves, and garlands of corymbiated spar. They are whimsically diversified, and occupy an intercolumniation of pillars, which are chiefly engaged, though some are insulated, and embellished with shining crystalizations, and stalagmites of great beauty.
In many places, the spar has assumed a more flattened appearance, frequently resembling lingulated leaves, with a thickened margin; often projecting from the wall by a thin edge; and in other parts composing large curtains of natural and easy flowing drapery, the folds of which are disposed in harmonious order. Sometimes these foliated stalactites descend in regular series, and look as if strung, or united at the foot stalks, as in the heraldic chaplet.
Several portions of the wall, particularly on the left side, are entirely smooth, without any prominent stalactite, though where the incrustation is here spread out, and covers the whole wall, it is equally white and pure as in any part of this extraordinary subterranean Grotto. Besides these various arrangements of this sparry concretion, there are on the sides numerous other shapes, which baffle every attempt to give them a name, or to delineate the multiplicity of crystalizations of which they are composed.
The Pool is here to be crossed upon a plank which is laid over it, and some caution will be necessary lest the passenger lose his balance, and be plunged into it. A simple contrivance would at all times render the passage secure, as the visitor loses much of the grandeur of the Cave by not crossing the lake. (It is somewhat surprising that, though the Cave has been much frequented for two years, the means of crossing the pool should not have been furnished. The present mode was supplied by The Right Honourable Lord McDonald, though the Cave is not his property:—But indeed, his Lordship's beneficence is not confined to his own lands. His benevolence is more extensive and liberal, and has endeared his name to many districts of the Highlands, with which he has no immediate connection.)
The opposite passage, into which the farther end of the plank must be placed, is entered by a narrow opening not more than three feet wide, but of great height. The sides, of this door are formed by two immense engaged pillars of pure spar. That on the left is a rustio column six feet in circumference, and about sixteen feet high, but without any base. It is a plain shaft rising abruptly from the floor, and is without a capital, the upper part being lost in the general sparry protuberances which cover the inner sides and roof of the porch, and which fashion the rough entablature of this pillar.
That which supports the right side of this aperture is of the utmost regularity, and is incomparably more astonishing and elegant than any of the shapes which the spar has taken in the other parts of the Cave. This column is one of Nature's finest productions; and certainly there has no where been discovered such an admirable contexture of parts as it exhibits. Its regularity indeed, would almost declare it to be the work of art, but its intricacy and grandeur, mark it as far surpassing the powers of human ingenuity.
The shaft of this pillar is nearly cylindrical, and may be about twenty feet in length, and in its general breadth, not less than two feet and a half. It is placed upon a regular circular base, rising six inches from the floor, and projecting about twelve inches from the pillar. The base is composed of stalagmitical concretions, and is partly washed by the water of the pool. The pillar has the general look of a Saracenic, or a Norman column, formed by a series of sections having the same shape, and nearly the same size, which individually appear as if correctly adjusted one above the other. Each of these portions are again divisible into two distincts parts, the upper one being a crystalized mass of stalagmites, some-what like clustres of the fruit of the mountain ash, while the under part, at first sight, resembles the foliated carvings of the Corinthian, or Composite capital inverted. Upon a more minute examination, this division is found to display a structure of the most methodical and surprising arrangement. The circumference of the pillar, or at least all of it which juts forward, is at this part made up of shining stalactitial incrustations, constructed like the leaves of the foxglove, inverted and placed in a tasteful manner. Each leaf is suspended, or seems to issue from the mass above, and is inserted at its point into a similar concretion below. These leaves are inserted in regular order to form the circle of the pillar, and they are totally unconnected with each other, so that the hand can easily be introduced betwixt and behind each of them. They are somewhat conduplicated, of considerable thickness, having the hollowed side and edges turned outwards. The interstices of these leaves give a complete inspection of the internal part of this column, which is a combination of the same foliated incrustations with its exterior, every inner leaf being in the same way separate, and for the most part opposite to the space left by the outer range.
This column, then, is made up by an alternation of such sections, placed in the most perfect order, firmly cemented, and each being about twenty two inches high.—the foliated portion being the largest, and the corymbiated the smallest.
Within this door, formed by the pillars now attempted to be described, the cavity enlarges to about ten feet in width, the sides of which expose a continuation of the same snow-white spar, thrown into elegant crystalizations not to be numbered, which emit a dazzling lustre in every direction.
The floor is here also of white marble, but of a more singular conformation than that which is displayed any where else in the Cave. From the entry to this inner chamber the floor descends very gently, and is principally moulded into a curved line, bearing, from its peculiar contexture, a strong similitude to a piece of lace laid upon edge, but the sides are not alike. It is two inches broad, rising from the horizontal incrustation below, which is the proper floor, and seems as if cast into one uninterrupted cord, consisting of many convolutions. The lower part, where it begins to jut up from the level, is a quarter of an inch thick, but it gradually becomes thinner, and terminates in a sharp edge, the whole of which edge is of an equal height along all the turns. One side of this lace-looking cord is quite smooth, but the other is wholly covered with shining crystalizations, and upon this side, over the whole course of this convoluted chain, the waved interstices are filled with water, from which these crystalizations have no doubt been deposited.
About thirty feet from the pool the beauty of the Cave ends. The space becomes dark; the sparry incrustations are abruptly broken off; the bare black rock is exposed; and a narrow aperture in it here seems to terminate the Cave, as this passage is too much confined and steep for farther investigation.
From the grand external entrance of the Cave to this place, the distance may be about two hundred and fifty feet, and in a direction nearly rectilinear, though considerably elevated above the surface of the sea, the high water mark of which may be about fifty five feet lower than the level of the pool.
Returning to the verge of the pool, there are seen two marble steps, having, as it were, been intended for descending into it from this passage.
Some of the lights having remained at the eminence on the opposite side of the pool, the prospect from this place is undescribably fine. The visitor is here in the centre of the Amphitheatre, and can behold almost its whole grandeur at one glance; but unless the lights are abundant, and placed in proper situations, it will not be shewn with the same effect. From a natural propensity which every person who explores this Cave must feel, of getting to its ultimate extremity, even without looking behind, the sublimity of this view is not attended to in proceeding, and it will consequently only strike the traveller upon his return.
Having re-crossed the pool, and again arrived at the summit of the marmorean banks, the peculiar operation by which this wonderful collection of spar has been produced, will next claim the notice of the naturalist.
This process is neither new nor singular in Natural History, though no excavation of the same nature and magnitude as this, has yet been made known, unless we except the Cavern of Antiparos, one of the Archipelago Islands, and that of Maddison Cave in America.
The Skye Cave under consideration, is not more remarkable for its great extent, than for the amazing accumulation of spar which it contains. Sparry congelations of congenerous formation, are frequent in every cavity near or underneath limestone rocks; but these crusts are seldom of such purity, nor in such abundance, as the spar of Slochd Altrimen, which in point of brilliancy cannot be surpassed.
Though there is no considerable stratum of lime visible in the close vicinity of the Cave, the spar in it is entirely calcareous. The water from the surface of the earth in its percolation through the soil, and the calcareous matter which comes in its way, takes up, or dissolves a quantity of carbonate of lime which it holds in solution. From this solution the carbonate is deposited, and again consolidated into these crusts, which, by means of this process, are freed of every impurity, and are here seen in the highest state of perfection.
This lapidescent process is perpetually going forward, and no doubt commenced with the primary opening of the Cave itself, but it proceeds by such slow and imperceptible degrees, as to elude all human observation.
In consequence of the continual dropping of water from the roof, a gradual increase of the incrustations must take place. The singular objects which now render this Cave interesting, must, therefore, in progress of time, change their shapes, and others equally surprising may be formed to astonish the traveller of future times. But it is surely to be regretted that, short as the period is since this Cave was first examined, it has already suffered much spoliation. Time certainly would have effected many alterations, would have varied, and perhaps beautified some of its multiform parts, but visitors have defaced and mutilated several elegant portions, which for their conformation required the silent operation of ages, and which may never again be restored to that perfection in which the Cave was seen when it was first explored.
From almost every part of the roof the water is constantly exudated and dropping down. This element is also universally suffused over the incrustated surface of the spar, which every where feels humid to the touch, but the moisture increases the brilliancy of its coruscations, and is the source from which the water of the pool is collected. Though this reservoir has no visible outlet, the water must be effused through the porosity of the bottom, in the quantity proportionate to its supply, for it has not yet been observed to rise or fall.
The temperature of the water is some degrees lower than that which is exposed to the open air, but it has no particular quality, being tasteless, and containing only a small quantity of carbonate of lime. With the addition of an acid it scarcely becomes turbid, and does not afford any precipitate, having, during its descent, parted with its calcareous particles on the surrounding concretions.
This spar is altogether crystalized carbonate of lime, in its most perfect state of purity, its constituent parts being lime and carbonic acid, with a proportion of water.
It generally presents the stalactitial, and stalagmitical structure, which assume various forms, such as the cornial, tuberose, coraliform, botryoidal, and corymbiferous, and these again undergo numerous modifications and combinations, according to the supply of matter, or the progress of its crystalization, the variable instillation of the water, or other undiscovered causes.
The stalactites are often tubulated, having their interior studded with innumerable crystals, converging towards the centre.
In the construction of the floor, and those places where the spar has the resemblance of solid cataracts, it is incrusted in a different manner. It is there found laminated, one layer being run above the other, so that they may be separated in flakes of various thickness.
This spar effervessces strongly with acids, and is entirely soluble in diluted nitric or muriatic. It is semi-hard and brittle, and in this state is semi-diaphanous. The fracture is fibrous, generally divergent, sometimes foliated.
The spar also occurs of a regular crystaline structure, prismatic, and pyramidal, of three and six sides, but these crystals are commonly aggregated, and rarely to be met with under separate and distinct forms. These crystalizations are either transparent, or semi-transparent, shining and resplendent, with a foliated fracture.
The traveller having now seen and examined all the wonders of the place, descends from the eminence, but he ought to leave some of the lights behind, which will produce a fine effect after he has got down and looks back upon this admirable arched-way. The splendor of this sparry opening into the Cave, when thus beheld at a distance through the gloom of the lower passage, will present a scene altogether new and unexpected, and convey to the imagination an idea as if it were formed by enchantment, for the reception of aerial spirits.
Arriving at the external entrance of the Cave, he again leaves its solitary inhabitants to the darkness in which they were created, and having once more hailed the effulgence of day, he bids adieu to the Cave; but in departing from it, he cannot resist the frequent impulse of casting “a longing ling'ring look behind."
Having thus attempted to give an account of this remarkable production of nature, with all the accuracy of which a limited visit would admit, we are sensible that it must still fall short of that minuteness which men of science would desire, and which so rare a phenomenon deserves, and would require; but we feel our inability for the task, and must candidly acknowledge, even should our leisure permit, that our language is inadequate to the just performance of such an undertaking.
We hope, however, that, what has been stated, though executed in so desultory a manner, may in some measure have the effect of exciting the curiosity of strangers, and of giving those who have not an opportunity of a personal inspection, some idea, though an imperfect one, of the nature and magnificence of this Cave.
There are different ways by which the traveller can get access to the Cave.
If he proceeds by sea, he may explore it without any bodily fatigue. His vessel can lie off the shore, or anchor at the bay of Kilmoree, about four miles higher up Loch Slappen, or at another anchorage two miles farther on, nearer the head of the Loch; but in moderate weather, a vessel may safely anchor any where in the Loch, which is tolerably clean, and free of rocks, and, along the shores, has from ten to fourteen fathoms water.
Until a late period, it was a difficult undertaking to visit the Isle of Skye in any other manner than by sea, as the roads to it were so bad and inaccessible, that no wheeled carriage could pass along them. Even on horseback the journey was dangerous, as well as tedious, but of late, by the interference and assistance of Government, good carriage roads have been constructed, and are forming through many of the Highland districts, and the access to Skye, formerly so arduous, will soon, from all quarters, be equally ready and agreeable as to other parts of the Highlands. Nor is Skye itself, in this respect, behind the mainland. A line of road is now nearly finished from one end of the Island to the other, which must greatly facilitate other improvements rapidly advancing in that extensive and interesting country, and which must soon put it on a level with other parts of the Kingdom, as this Island wants neither gentlemen of information and enterprise, nor a soil capable of being brought to the perfection of distant counties, were the climate alike favourable for agricultural purposes.
As yet, the most direct road to Skye from the south, is by Fort William; but the other lines which are projected, and at present going forward, will render the communication from the Capital still more direct, though the execution of them must be attended with enormous expense and labour.
From Fort William this road, which has lately been opened, passes along the north margin of Loch Eil, and by the head of the great fresh water lake of Loch Sheil, celebrated as the place where the unfortunate Prince Charles Stewart first unfurled his standard in 1745, for the subversion of these realms; and where the proprietor (Alexander McDonald, Esq. of Glenalladale.) has lately, with much historical taste, laid the foundation of an obelisk to commemorate that important national event.
This line is of admirable execution for its whole length of forty miles to Arisaig, and traverses a country perhaps the most rugged and barren of any in Scotland; but even in the wildness of this tract there is a degree of grandeur, and picturesque beauty, which must strike the mind, and delight the eye of every traveller of taste.
At Arisaig there is a tolerable Inn, and good boats, though the fares are charged extravagantly high, and that without any legal authority from the Commissioners of Supply of the County, of which the traveller ought to be aware, as he will assuredly be imposed upon, if he complies with the exorbitant demands which are usually exacted at such ferrying places.—This subject seems to require the serious interposition of the landed interest of the Highlands, as the wretched state of the ferries have in a great measure been overlooked, or at least has not claimed that consideration which seems necessary for the comfort and safety of travellers.
From the peculiarity of the west, and north-west coast of the Highlands, in being so completely disunited by intersections of the sea, a great many ferries are necessary for the accommodation of passengers, not only for crossing those arms of the sea, but as essential for communication with the numerous Islands which lie off the coast. This indispensable intercourse requires that those several ferries should be well appointed, that proper regulations should be adopted, and strictly enforced: But, we lament to observe that they are much neglected, the boats are often in bad order, and in many places inadequate to the difficulty of the passage; the quays, where there are any, are not always attended to; and spirits are too often extorted from passengers as a part of the fare, so that where there are no fixed regulations, or where these regulations are disregarded, the ferry-man is in many places, the absolute, and not unfrequently the arrogant commander of the passage, to the great annoyance and risk of strangers.
The point of Sleat in Skye is nearly opposite to Arisaig, lying almost due west, so that the traveller can either freight a boat to convey him directly round this point to the Cave in Strathaird, or to ferry him across to the usual landing place at Ardavaser in Skye. If he prefers going to the Cave by water, the distance will be about twenty five miles; but if the wind is not favourable, or if the weather be calm, the passage may be tedious, in which event it will be better to land at Ardavaser, and go from thence by land.
To Ardavaser the distance by sea is twelve miles, and from this place the road is nearly completed to Broadford, which is sixteen miles more. At Broadford, the way to Strathaird strikes off by an un-made track from the new line of road; and here it will be proper for a stranger to procure a guide, as the path is not so well marked that it can be accurately pursued, particularly at the head of Loch Slappen, at the influx of the river, and where the tide overflows the flat, which is every where cut up into hollows, and full of swamps. The whole of the road from Broadford is very bad, but that through Strathaird is most wretched indeed. From Broadford to the bay of Kilmoree is ten English miles, but the Cave is still near four miles distant, which ought to be gone to by water, for reasons formerly mentioned. Boats and hands can be procured at a reasonable rate from a hamlet near the Laird of Strathaird's house. It will, however, be much less laborious, if the traveller, after getting in sight of Loch Slappen, at a small farm stead on the north-east side, can get a boat to go directly to the Cave, which will save much time, and the fatigue of a long and bad road.
The great breadth of the ferry from Arisaig to Skye, is a serious objection to the route which has just been pointed out; but there are several other roads, at present going forward, which will obviate that inconvenience, and will take the stranger across a very narrow ferry at Kyle Rhea, to this Island. These northern roads, though they will greatly lesson the passage by water, will be more circuitous; but to the traveller who has leisure, this will be regarded as a circumstance of comparatively little importance. These roads are intended to open a complete communication with the Isle of Skye by Bernera, from different quarters of the main-land. The present lines having been formed time immemorial, do not admit of carriages, but are passable on horseback from Inverness or Fort Augustus.
The ferry of Kyle Rhea at Bernera is so narrow, that it may be crossed with safety at all seasons, unless the weather is tempestuous. From this there is an excellent road to Broadford in Skye, which is twelve miles distant; and from Broadford Inn the traveller can proceed to the Cave, as formerly directed.
WRITTEN DURING A JOURNEY TO THE HEBRIDES,
By a gentleman well known in the Literary World.
On Jura's shore how sweetly swell
The murmurs of the mountain bee,
How softly mourns the wreathed shell,
Of Jura's shore, its parent sea.
But softer floating o'er the deep,
The Mermaid's sweetly-soothing lay,
That charm'd the dancing waves to sleep,
Before the Bark of Colonsay.
Aloft the purple pennons wave
As parting gay from Orna's shore,
Their gallant chief, the seamen brave
From Lorn's dread combat homeward bore.
In youth's gay bloom the brave—
Still blam'd the lingering Bark's delay.
For her he chid the flagging sail,—
The lovely Maid of Colonsay.
“And raise,” he cried, “the song of love,
“The maiden sung with tearful smile,
“When first o'er Jura's hills to rove,
“We left afar the lonely Isle.
“I saw the tear-drops on her cheek,
“Her eyes in dewy lustre shine,
“And as she spoke, with pressure weak,
“Her hand she fondly clasped in mine.
“When from this Ring of ruby red
“Fades the pellucid crimson hue,
“Thy fair is number'd with the dead,
“Or proves to thee, and love, untrue.”
Now lightly pois'd, the rising oar
Disperses wide the foamy spray,
And echoing far o'er Orna's shore,
Resounds the song of Colonsay.
“Softly blow thou western breeze,
“Softly rustle thro' the sail,
“While my love is on the seas,
“Softly blow thou western gale.
“Where the wave is ting'd with red,
“And the russet sea-leaves grow,
“Mariners, devoid of dread,
“Shun the shelving reefs below.
“As you pass thro' Jura's sound,
“Bend your course by Scarba's shore,
“Shun, O shun the gulph profound,
“Where Corryvhrekan's surges roar:
“Lest from that unbottom'd deep,
“With wrinkl'd form, and writhed train,
“O'er the verge of Scarba's steep,
“The sea-snake rear his snowy mane.
“Sea-green sisters of the main
“Unwarp, unwind his oozy coils,
“Th' unwieldy wallowing monster chain,
“Far in the deep where ocean boils.
“Ne'er, my Love, in combat fierce
“Yield to foes the forward lance,
“Doom'd opposing breasts to pierce,
“Rapid as the lover's glance.
“Ne'er, my Love, in fields of fight
“Yield thy temper'd keen claymore,
“Till the splinters sparkle bright,
“Round thee in the combat's roar.
“Ne'er, my Love, by foes oppressed,
“The dirk that pierces deep forego,
“Till plung'd within the warrior's breast,
“He stagg'ring sink beneath the blow.”
Thus all to sooth the Chieftain's woe,
Far from the maid he lov'd so dear,
The song arose so soft and slow
He seem'd her parting sigh to hear.
The lonely deck he paces o'er,
Impatient for the rising day,
And still from Orna's moon-light shore
He turns his eyes to Colonsay.
The moon-beams crisp the curling surge
That streaks with foam the ocean green,
While forward still the rowers urge
Their course,—a female form is seen.
That sea-maid's form of pearly light,
Was whiter than the downy spray,
And round her bosom heaving bright,
Her glassy yellow ringlets play.
Borne on a foamy-crested wave
She reach'd amain the bounding prow,
Then clasping fast the Chieftain brave,
She plunging sought the deep below.
Ah! long beside the feigned bier,
The Monks the prayers of death shall say,
And long for thee, the fruitless tear
Shall weep, the maid of Colonsay.
But downwards like a powerless corpse,
The edging waves the Chieftain bear,
He only hears the moaning hoarse
Of waters murm'ring in his ear.
The murmurs sink by slow degrees,
No more the surges round him rave,
Lull'd by the music of the seas,
He lies beneath a coral cave.
In dreaming mood reclines he long,
Nor dares his dazzl'd eyes unclose,
Till warbling wild the Sea-maid's song
Far in the crystal cavern rose.
Soft as that harp's unseen controul,
In morning dreams that lovers hear,
Whose strains steal sweetly o'er the soul,
But never reach the waking ear.
As sun-beams thro' the tepid air,
When clouds dissolve in dews unseen,
Shine on the flowers that bloom more fair,
And, fields that glow with liv'lier green:
So—melting soft the music fell,
It seem'd to sooth the fluttering spray,
Say—heard'st thou not these wild notes swell,
Ah! 'tis the song of Colonsay.
Like one that from a fearful dream
Awakes, the morning light to view,
And joys to see the purple beam,
Yet fears to find the vision true.
He heard that strain so wildly sweet,
Which bade his torpid langour fly,
He fear'd some spell had bound his feet,
And hardly dared his limbs to try.
“These yellow sands, this sparry cave,
“Shall bend thy soul to beauty's sway,
“Can'st thou the maiden of the wave
“Compare to her of Colonsay?”
Rous'd by that voice of silver sound,
From the pav'd floor he lightly sprung,
And glancing wild his eyes around,
Where the sea-nymph her tresses hung.
No form he saw of mortal mould,
It shone like ocean's snowy foam,
Her ringlets wav'd in living gold,
Her mirror crystal, pearl her comb.
Her pearly comb the syren took,
And careless bound her tresses wild,
Still on the mirror, stole her look,
And on the wond'ring yowth she smil'd.
Like music from the greenwood tree,
Again she rais'd the melting lay,
“Fair warrior, wilt thou dwell with me,
“And leave the maid of Colonsay.
“Fair is the crystal hall for me,
“With rubies, and with em'ralds set,
“And sweet the music of the sea
“Shall sing, when we for love are met.
“How sweet to dance with gliding feet
“Along the level tide so green,
“Responsive to the cadence sweet
“That breathes along the moon-light beam.
“And soft the music of the main
“Rings from motely tortoise shell,
“While moon-beams o'er the wat'ry plain,
“Seem trembling in its fitful swell.
“How sweet, when billows heave their head,
“And shake their foamy crests on high,
“Serene in ocean's sapphire bed,
“Beneath the trembling surge to ly.
“To trace with tranquil step the deep,
“Where pearly drops of frozen dew,
“In concave shells unconscious sleep,
“Or shine with lustre silvery blue.
“Then shall the summer-sun from far
“Pour thro' the wave a softer ray,
“While diamonds in our bower of spar,
“At eve shall shed a brighter day.
“Nor stormy wind, nor wint'ry gale
“That o'er the angry ocean sweep,
“Shall e'er our coral groves assail,
“Calm in the bosom of the deep.
“Through the green meads beneath the sea,
“Enamour'd we shall fondly stray,
“Then, gentle warrior, dwell with me,
“And leave the maid of Colonsay.”—
“Though bright thy locks of glistening gold,
“Fair syren of the foaming main,
“Thy life-blood is the water cold,
“While mine beats warm thro' every vein.
“If I within thy sparry cave
“Should in thy snowy arms recline,
“Inconstant as the restless wave,
“My heart would grow as cold as thine.”—
As cygnet down proud swell'd her breast,
Her eye confess'd the pearly tear,
His hand she to her bosom press'd,—
“Is there no heart for rapture here ?
“These limbs, sprung from the lucid sea,
“Does no warm blood their currents fill?
“No heart-pulse riot wild and free,
“To joy, to love's delicious thrill?”—
“Though all the splendor of the sea
“Around thy faultless beauty shine,
“The heart that riots wild and free,
“Can hold no sympathy with mine.
“These sparkling eyes so wild and gay,
“They swim not in the light of love;
“The gentle maid of Colonsay,
“Her eyes are milder than the dove.
“Even now within the lonely Isle,
“Her eyes are dim with tears for me,
“And can'st thou think that syren smile
“Can lure my soijl to dwell with thee?”
An oozy film her limbs o'erspread,
Unfolds her lengthening scaley train,'
She toss'd in proud disdain her head,
And lash'd with webbed fin the main.
“Dwell here alone,”—she furious cried,
“And view far off the sea-nymphs play,
“Thy prison wall, the azure tide,
“Shall bar thy steps from Colonsay.
“If e'er with fins like ocean's brood
“Thou see'st me cleave the glassy wave,
“Far from the daughter of the flood,
“Conceal thee in this inmost cave.
“I feel my former soul revive,
“My heart reflects thy cold disdain,
“Nor shall a mortal boast alive,
“To scorn a daughter of the main.”—
She fled,—around the crystal cave
The rolling waves resum'd their road,
Around the Chieftain idly rave,
But enter not the Nymph's abode.
And many a weary night went by,
As in the lonely cave he lay;
And many a sun roll'd thro' the sky,
And pour'd its beams on Colonsay.
And oft' beneath the silver moon,
He heard afar the Mermaid sing;
And oft to many a melting tune,
The shell-form'd lyres of ocean ring.
And when the moon went down the sky,
Still rose in dreams his native plain;
And oft' he thought his love was by,
And charm'd him with some tender strain.
And, heart-sick, oft' he waked to weep
When ceas'd the voice of silver sound,
And thought to plunge him in the deep
That wall'd his crystal cavern round.
But still the Ring of ruby red
Retain'd its vivid crimson hue,
And each despairing accent fled.
To find his gentle love so true.
When seven long lonely months were gone,
The Mermaid to his cavern came,
No more mishapen from the zone,
But like a maid of mortal frame.
“O give to me that ruby Ring
“Which on thy finger glances gay,
“And thou shalt hear the Mermaid sing
“The song thou lov'st of Colonsay.”—
“This ruby Ring of crimson grain
“Shall on thy finger glitter gay,
“If thou wilt bear me thro' the main
“Once more to visit Colonsay.”—
“Except thou quit thy former flame,
“Content to dwell for aye with me,
“Urg'd by disdain, my finny frame
“Will tear thy limbs amid the sea.”—
“Then bear me swift along the main,
“I long, the lonely Isle to see,
“And when thou bring'st me here again,
“I plight my faith to dwell with thee.”—
An oozy film her limbs o'erspread,
While slow unfolds her scaley train,
With gluey fangs her hands were clad.
She lash'd with webbed fin the main
Proud swells her heart, she deems at last
To charm him with her syren tongue,
And as the shelving rocks they pass'd
She rais'd her voice, and sweetly sung.
In softer, sweeter strains she sung,
Slow gliding by the moon-light bay,
When light to land the Chieftain sprung.
And hail'd. the maid of Colonsay.
Oh! sad the Mermaid's gay notes fell,
And sadly sunk remote at sea,
So sadly mourns the wreathed shell
Of Jura's shore, its parent sea.
And when the circling year returns,
The sailor knows that fated day,
For sadly still the Mermaid mourns
The warlike chief of Colonsay.
James Clarke, Printer.