Cailleach nan Cruachan

The Witch of Ben Cruachan.

On the top of Ben Cruachan is the spring from which Loch Awe was filled, and this is how they say the event happened:–Aged Bera lived in the cave of the Great Rock. She was a daughter of Grenan the Wise. For many ages her ancestors inhabited that country–a princely family, hospitable and powerful. Bera was the last of that renowned family. She owned as her inheritance each fair grassy glen all around Ben Cruachan, and the many flocks that fed in every dell and strath around. To Bera was entrusted that secret spring of many virtues, hid from the knowledge, and beyond the ken of the world. That became the spring of woe to Bera, and to her father’s race! There was a great flagstone on the mouth of the spring, and it was Bera’s duty to place the flagstone over the spring about sundown and to lift the same stone away as soon as the beams of the morning light began to gild the horizon. There were words graven on this flagstone, like ancient writing, but no eye ever beheld the stone that could read the secret letters. One of those days, Bera happened to be out hunting the deer among the rugged steeps of Ben Cruachan, and, being faint with the weariness of the chase, she no sooner returned home at night, and set herself on her bed of rashes under the leafy shade, then she fell asleep and neglected to place the flagstone over the mouth of the spring! The water quickly poured forth like a great river which could not be stayed! Swiftly streamed the flood, like a torrent or great waterfall, down the side of the mountain, from rock to rock, till the waters filled the glen, which from that time is called Loch Awe. On the third day poor Bera awoke. She looked down the glen, but instead of that green and most beautiful and lovely glen, nothing could be seen but water. Bera gave forth a dreadful scream which was echoed by every crag and grove and dell, and Ben Cruachan quivered to its centre! Bera left this poor world! She ascended to the lofty halls of the great princes from whom she sprung–far far up beyond the vision of created eyes, among the thin white clouds of heaven. Up there her scream may still be heard, and is the dread of the shepherds and hunters of Ben Cruachan. On dark clouds she is seen hovering around the top of the Ben; there oft-times may be heard her song of sorrow, and often she is abroad amid the roar of the tempest. On the dark skirts of the black clouds of the sky she is often seen sporting in wild fury. Like a tall pillar of the whitest mist she is seen hunting the deer on the hill, with her bow and her quiver of arrows! In white foam she is seen on the flood ; from cascade to cascade, from pool to pool, till at length she reaches Loch Awe, on which she may be seen swimming like a calm, white swan from island to island. From the broken ruins of Kilchurn, from the old abbey of Innisfail and of Inniswraith, are often heard her dismal wail. And on the peaks of Ben Cruachan she is often seen on a summer’s morning rising in her airy robes of mist to welcome the sun, till she is quickly lost from view amid bright and joyful birds of the air.

Continue reading “Cailleach nan Cruachan”

“We shall meet again at Ticonderoga.”

Historic marker near the grave of Major Duncan Campbell, 9th Laird of Inverawe; Union Cemetery, Fort Edward, New York.
Historic marker near the grave of Major Duncan Campbell, 9th Laird of Inverawe; Union Cemetery, Fort Edward, New York.

Inverawe Bonawe, as it is now called, but a very few years ago styled simply Inverawe, is a house the beauty of whose situation will vie with almost any in the Highlands. It is built on a short terrace on the banks of the river Awe, surrounded with trees whose age and beauty are second to none, save those of Inverary.

Inverawe, which is now in the possession of Mrs. Cameron Campbell, Monzie, was then held by a different family of the name Campbell, whose race, alas! has no representative amongst the proprietary of Argyleshire, their estates having passed away into the hands of the stranger; and yet this family held sway equal to that of Breadalbane not much more than two centuries ago, whilst acknowledging the suzerainty of the house of Argyll, from which they sprang. They themselves enjoyed a separate chieftainship of their own, under the name MacDhonnchaidh, a title which, amongst other septs, gave them lordship over part of the Clan Robertson, who held lands in Perth and a small portion of Stirlingshire.

Such were the style, titles, and estate, of the family into which the maid of Callard had entered, of whose grandson the following inexplicable events are recorded. The manners and customs of the Western Highlanders accord with those of their Eastern brothers in Asia, and will account for the code of honour so manfully sustained throughout the following narrative.

In character, Inverawe was what men term highly practical. He held agriculture and horticulture in high esteem, and there yet remains about the grounds many proofs of his taste and judgment in shrubs, trees, and flowers. The oldest larches in Scotland — not I think planted by him, or they could scarcely be so — are in the avenue leading to the house. He was not, therefore, prone to entertain superstitious fears.

There are two versions of the commencement of this tale, though both agree as to middle and end. I shall give both. The second most will agree to be the more reliable and likely. The first, if adopted, would raise a doubt in the mind as to the verity of the vision at all — as fear and sorrow, acting on an already over-excited brain, might easily produce a dream-fever or fever-dream.

In common with all of his order, degree, and country, Mr. Campbell exercised an unbounded hospitality, the fame of which went far, and those near availed themselves of it as often as the laws of courtesy allowed. On one, then, of these festive occasions in the years, or about the year, 1755-56, and some time in the full blaze of an exceptionally fine summer, were assembled in the hall of Inverawe a number of guests, of all degrees, seated at supper, which was eaten about six o’clock. The cloth had been removed, and the wine and spirits, with tankards and a punch bowl, had been laid upon it. Tumblers and glasses were little known, and a tankard served as a drinking-cup for more than one, sometimes circulating round the whole table. Toasts were indispensable to all feasts, even the most ordinary. Some toasts had already been given and responded to, when the host rose to give it fuller honour — to drink to the health, wealth, and prosperity of his cousin and foster-brother, at the mention of whose name a noise like thunder shook the house to the foundation, striking terror to the hearts of the boldest. There was a simultaneous rush to the door to find out the cause,– all was serene and beautiful, not a cloud flecked the horizon, not a breath stirred the leaves. The blistering sun was descending in full radiance with no foreboding look of storm, only speaking of a peaceful resting and assurance of a glorious to-morrow. All returned to the festive chamber in awes-struck silence, the awkwardness of which was broken by numerous guests giving “Deoch-an-Doruis”; all drank and then retired. Our host at once betook himself to his own apartment to rest, meditate, and read. The occurrence above related gave him much to think about. Again and again he revolved the incident in his mind, endeavouring to find a solution of the mystery. Despite his better reason, old tales of forewarnings and mysterious visitations occurred to his mind, and he endeavoured in vain to banish them. His son’s absence with his regiment, to which he himself was also attached, in Holland, a natural cause of anxiety to a parent at any time, became now agonising, and he groaned aloud in his distress. Suddenly a noise of rushing footsteps is heard. Campbell sprang to his feet, thinking the worst forebodings of his heart were about to be realised, and that the messenger of evil had already come. His door was roughly thrown open. A man, dirty, dishevelled, panting, and terror-stricken, entered the apartment, throwing himself down on his knees and imploring protection, saying, “The avengers of blood are on my track.” The rebound from the anxious terror from which Inverawe had suffered, filled his heart with such gratitude that, with even more of the generous alacrity to succour the needy than was usual to him, he bade the suppliant rise, saying, “By the word of an Inverawe, which never failed friend or foe yet, I will, should you have slain my brother.” He then led the man across the room, opened a concealed door, and thrust the fugitive in. Scarcely had he done so, when his presence was again invaded by an eager, panting throng of people, who called out, “Should M’Niven come praying for shelter, do not give it to him, for he has slain your foster-brother.” On saying which, they rushed out as suddenly as they had entered, to resume their fruitless pursuit, leaving Inverawe in a state of perturbation more easily imagined than described. With unequal tread he paced the floor, his head bent within his hands to stay the throbbing of his burning temples. When he had attained sufiicient calmness, he pushed aside the panel, and saw crouching in the furthest corner the being he had promised to protect, whom he now loathed with the deepest hatred of his soul, and whose attitude of cringing cowardice quickened the feeling to almost the outward manifestation of violence. In cold, measured tones he bade him rise and follow him, at the same time taking with him some of the coverings of his bed.

The other and simpler edition is, that whilst Inverawe was in the fields looking over some work which had been finished the day before, he was startled by the sight of a man, with clothes torn, dishevelled hair, bleeding feet, and gasping for breath, crouching at his feet, and craving in earnest tones of agonising entreaty for protection. Listening to the prompting of his generous nature, and obeying the laws of Highland honour, he at once assured the man by the word of an Inverawe that he would save him; and lest the pursuers should come up before he had time to keep his promise, he bade the suppliant follow him to a cave on the side of Ben Cruachan, the secret of the locality of which was handed down from father to son as an heirloom to be kept hidden even from his bosom friend. It could only be approached from one side. The entrance was small, looking much like a tod-hole; but it contained two or more good-sized rooms which were dry and airy, though in one there is, I believe, a well, remarkable alike for the purity, coolness, and sweetness of its water. It is more than probable that this is the cave which was used by The Bruce and Wallace when they found shelter and peace for a time in Argyleshire. To this cave, then, Inverawe led his guest. When about to leave him within its safe recesses, the wretched being, the gnawings of whose terror-stricken conscience were almost unendurable, implored him not to leave him alone. Inverawe’s honest, courageous soul recoiled at such a show of cowardice; he spurned the man from him with disgust, though he gave assurance of a speedy return with food and warm coverings.

Inverawe was wending his way homewards, when he espied a number of men and boys running about in search of something. The foremost, looking up and recognising Mr. Campbell, at once went up to him and said, “If M’Niven comes later to ask you for a safe-conduct, do not give it to him; he has slain your foster-brother.” Mr. Campbell was thunderstruck, and could give no reply. His informant, knowing well the tender attachment that had subsisted between the two brethren, with that intuitive tact which is one of the most distinctive attributes of a true-born Highlander, and which gives to even the untaught amongst them the grace and breeding of gentlemen, touched his hat in respectful silence and withdrew, to let him weep unseen. Weary, heavy, worn, and feeling suddenly aged and forlorn, he sought the quiet of his own home. Bitter thoughts of angry hate and contempt mingled strangely together with his plighted troth and compassion for the misguided wrong-doer. The code of honour prevailed over his natural desire for revenge, so he returned as soon as he safely could with wrappings and a little food, telling him he would come back with more shortly after dawn. On Inverawe’s return home he betook himself at once to bed. He generally read for some hours ere sleeping, and on this night he followed out his usual rule. He had not been reading long when his book became slightly overshadowed. On looking up to ascertain the cause, to his surprise and almost horror, he saw standing close by the bed the form of his foster-brother, who looked ghastly pale. His locks were matted together and his garments blood-stained. In pleading tones the vision uttered the words, “lnverawe, give up the murderer; blood must flow for blood. I have warned you once.” Inverawe replied, “You know I cannot. I have sworn by the honour of an Inverawe, which never failed friend nor foe yet, and I cannot dishonour it, nor will I.” With almost menacing gesture the vision withdrew, Inverawe could not see how or where. To affirm that Inverawe experienced no sensation of fear, would be to deprive him of an honour rather than confer one. But that he successfully combated it, and rose to see whether it were possible for any one to have entered the apartment or to be lingering within it still, is argument conclusive that his courage was that of a man, not that of a brute or bully. Finding nothing within the room, he went over the whole house, carefully scrutinising every corner, bolt and bar — still finding no possible mode of egress or ingress for any one in bodily form. That the word pledged to bring food was faithfully kept on the morrow, goes without saying. Next evening, after all others had retired to rest, he subjected the house to a keen and searching quest for any trace of others than those he knew having found an asylum within its walls, and it is said he locked every door — after which he went to his room, and as far as he knew, he secured every avenue to it; but in vain. The vision again appeared, and saying the same words, save that this time he said, “I have warned you twice,” to which Inverawe undauntedly replied, “I can and will not.” On repairing to the scene, however, next day, he thought he would guard himself as much as possible from such disagreeable visits. He told the murderer he feared he could not protect him much longer — that he must seek another hiding-place. During the whole day all within the house of Inverawe observed how moody and dejected he was, and that his usual composed bearing had given place to a startled feverishness, and all thought it the outcome of sorrow alone. On this evening he again shut up the house, carefully examining each lock — in vain, for neither bolt nor bar could keep out this visitor. True to the time and the hour, he again appeared, adjuring Inverawe more solemnly than ever to give up the murderer. Mr. Campbell again refused. On the instant the whole manner of the spectre changed, and in tones which made the proud heart of Inverawe quail, said, “You cannot now. You have suffered him to escape. We shall meet again at Ticonderoga” (a fortress of the French in America as yet unknown in Britain). As soon as daylight broke, Inverawe was far on his way to the cavern, which to his dismay he found tenantless. To describe even feebly his agitation would be impossible. He hastened home, and then detailed the events just recorded to his family. Much discussion and wonderment took place on the subject, especially with regard to the threatened rendezvous, until at last it passed, as things of the kind often do, into a joke.

Grave marker of Major Duncan Campbell, 9th Laird of Inverawe. Campbell, second-in-command of The Black Watch at Ticonderoga, died nine days after the battle and was buried in a relative's plot at Fort Edward. His remains were later removed to Union Cemetery, and are now located in the Jane McCrea plot.
Grave marker of Major Duncan Campbell, 9th Laird of Inverawe. Campbell, second-in-command of The Black Watch at Ticonderoga, died nine days after the battle and was buried in a relative’s plot at Fort Edward. His remains were later removed to Union Cemetery, and are now located in the Jane McCrea plot.

A year or two after this, when one of the Anglo-French wars was at its height, the contest having been carried by Britain to America, Inverawe and his son were instructed to join their regiment, the 42d, which was ordered to the scene of action. On their arrival in America and their first exploits there, I will not dwell as the story has nothing to do with these events; so I shall at once bring it to an end by taking the reader to an encampment amidst the clearings of a huge forest, within easy distance of a strongly fortified town. Officers and men are seated in gay converse round their various camp-fires. Round the fire specially dedicated to the Staff are some favourite officers of superior rank or station, and amongst them Campbell of Inverawe and his son. Story has succeeded story in rotation, and now it is Mr. Campbell’s turn. He, his mind revolving on many things at home, tells the tale of his visitations. After he had finished, and the remarks on the mysterious threat had become general, Campbell turned suddenly to the Colonel, and said, “By the way, Colonel, you have not told us what fort we are to storm to-morrow.” “No,” said the Colonel; “it is St Louis. But come, gentlemen, to bed — we have had enough of this.”

How gallantly our brave fellows endeavoured to gain the town is a matter of history, especially the conduct of the 42d, who in vain endeavoured to scale the mud rampart — that formidable barrier of defence which has become familiarly dreadful to our modern ears, but which was then slightly if at all known to our soldiery. Again and again they assailed the rampart, to be defeated, but not beaten — Inverawe and his son leading the force, with their example and voice encouraging the men, until first the son and then the father were cut down, with many a brave and loving heart beating its own funeral drum by their side. General Amherst, seeing the losses he had sustained, beat the recall. Having asked and obtained a truce, the English army proceeded to gather up their dead, dying, and wounded. The Colonel, who had known the name of the town was Ticonderoga, but who had withheld the knowledge from Campbell in case of the effect on his nerve, having been much impressed with the coincidence, had seen him and his son fall, and hastened to the spot. The son was already dead, the father’s life was ebbing fast. The Colonel urged him to speak, in case he should wish some message transmitted to Scotland. Slowly Inverawe opened his eyes, and recognising the Colonel, he said in accents of deep reproach — “You have deceived me, Gordon! I have seen it again, and this is Ticonderoga.” It is said that the Colonel kept a record of the story in his commonplace-book. The father and son were buried together, and the Colonel raised a monument to their memory on the spot some years after the second siege, when their death was so signally revenged.

And now I must again cross the Atlantic to record one of those curious sky-pictures which have baffled so successfully the skill of philosophers. Whilst the engagement at Ticonderoga was in progress, two ladies — the Misses Campbell of the old house of Ederlin — were walking from Kilmalieu, and had reached the top of the new bridge, Inverary, when they were attracted by some unusual appearance in the sky. They at once recognised it as a siege, and could distinctly trace the different regiments with their colours, and even recognised many of the men. They saw Inverawe and his son cut down, and others whom they mentioned as they fell one by one. They told the circumstance to all their friends, and noted down the names of each — the ‘Gazette’ weeks afterwards corroborating their whole statements by the details there given of the siege and the number of killed and wounded. A physician, who was a Danish knight and an Englishman, was with his body servant enjoying a walk round the castle when their eyes were also attracted by the phenomenon; and they established the testimony of the two ladies. The physician’s name was Sir William Hart.

— Lord Archibald Campbell’s Records of Argyll (1885).