Joseph Swan, William Beattie and the Far North of Scotland

The Title Page to the northern section of

The Title Page to the northern section of "Swan's Views of the Lakes of Scotland", from the 2nd edition, 1836. "Ardvraick Castle, Sutherlandshire." The castle ruins stand on Loch Assynt, with Quinag towering behind.

As the numbers of tourists visiting Scotland increased in the early years of the 19th century, so did the demand for guide books and images. Two of the best-known compilations of engravings were issued in the 1830s: Swan's Views of the Lakes of Scotland, the first part of which was published in 1830, and William Beattie's Scotland Illustrated, published in 1838. I thought it would be interesting to see how far north their views went, and what they made of the region.

"Cape Wrath", from Beattie's "Scotland Illustrated."

Encouragingly, Beattie goes all the way north-west, with this view of Cape Wrath drawn by W.H. Bartlett, an exercise in the imagination rather than topographical accuracy. The text marvels at the promontary's "stupendous granite front" which, it claims, is "much visited by strangers." However, these strangers, including Beattie's artists, clearly didn't venture much into the interior of Sutherland or Ross-shire, for there are no more engravings of the region north of Inverness other than those of the east coast.

"Dunrobin Castle" by W.H. Bartlett.

Beattie's text excuses the lack of further images of the western area of Ross-shire and Sutherland on the grounds that "its lakes, rivers, caves, spacious bays, headlands and numerous curiosities, natural and artificial, would alone supply a volume of description", but I rather suspect that his artists simply weren't prepared to struggle through the countryside given the state of the facilities available at that time.

"Strathpeffer Mineral Wells" by T. Allom. A delightful rural harvest scene, the sight of which would have been much rarer further to the west.

However, T. Allom does come up with this rather splendid view of Cromarty Bay from the East:

....and there are two good views of Inverness, one by W. Purser, and the other by T. Allom:

"Inverness" by W. Purser.

"Inverness, from the West" by T. Allom.

Joseph Swan, in his slightly earlier publication, is bolder, venturing up the west coast of Ross-shire. Indeed, he encourages tourists to explore these northern areas, hoping that "this part of Ross-shire will become better known than it has hitherto been, and that the efforts of the pencil will yet be used to effect this." 

The title page to the northern section of Swan's Lakes shows Castle Ardvreck which stands on the shores of Loch Assynt. The  first full-page engraving of the wilds of Ross-shire is of Loch Cullin, which is "set in a much more unknown part of the country". He recommends "a very comfortable little inn  at Auch-nan-ault [Achanalt], and assures visitors that the road which leads to Loch Carron is good. The engraving actually shows two lochs: Loch Cullin in the foreground, and Loch Auch-nan-ault in the distance. The mountain he calls Fiune-na-bhein [Fionn Bheinn], or the Hill of Fingal, whilst Auch-na-sheen is the Field of Venison. He also highlights "a number of natural embrasures, similar in appearance, though of course on a smaller scale, to the Parallel Roads in Glen Roy," here, at Loch Rusque [Rosque].

Swan then moves on to Loch Maree, providing two fine engravings. All the artwork for the book was done by the artist John Fleming.

"Loch Maree (Ross-shire), From Glen Dochart, Looking North-West."

Loch Maree & Sleuch Mountain (Ross-shire), From Near the Resting Tree looking North.

Loch Maree & Sleuch Mountain (Ross-shire), From Near the Resting Tree looking North."

Swan, or rather John M. Leighton, who wrote the text, gives a powerful description of Glen Docherty and the approach to Loch Maree: "The whole scenery of Glen-Dochart is stern, rude and wild. It is an utter solitude..." The approach had caused the party some difficulty: "the road was quite impassable for wheel carriages of any description", but the road along Loch Maree itself, from Kinlochewe to Poolewe was even worse:"the highlander can ride along it...yet the lowlander will find it difficult in some places even to walk on it."

They consider themselves to be the only outsiders to have visited the region, apart from Thomas Pennant and Dr John MacCulloch, but they obviously knew nothing of, for example, the account of James Hogg. Still, it certainly was visited by few people, until the roads had been improved, and the train station at Achnasheen in operation (it was opened in 1870). Leighton suggests that the  Sleugach [Slioch] means highest mountain, or 'File' mountain. Leighton mentions the use of the Loch for providing cures, with a Holy Well found on Island Maree, and also the iron industry based around the southern end of the Loch, all of which is described in my book, The Immeasurable Wilds. He notes that locals with names like Kemp, Turner and Cross are all descendants of incoming workmen who fired the smelting ovens, etc. Another nice point he makes concerns the Reform Bill, which, at the time, was "exciting all those varied passions and feelings, which it did during its lengthened progress in the House of Commons." However, "the inhabitants of Cean-Loch-Ewe [Kinlochewe] had never heard a word about it, nor was it an easy matter to make them comprehend what it meant."

The 'resting tree' mentioned in the title of the second engraving is "an old fir tree...which grows apparently out of the bare and solid rock....[and] which is an object of tradition among the natives." 

"Loch Alsh (Ross-shire), from Croch-carnie looking North."

Moving on to Lochalsh, Leighton again emphasises the difficulties of travel in the area. Whilst the finest of the northern laochs are found on the west, "yet the traveller cannot keep that side throughout his journey, but must, at times, retrace his steps towards the eastern coast, and keep it till he finds a road which will lead him west to the next lake he may wish to visit. Loch-Alsh, Loch-Camel and Loch-Assynt are all directly north from Loch Maree, but whoever has visited the latter, and is desirous of visiting the three others we have mentioned, must return by the way he came, to Dingwall on the Firth of Cromarty, before he can do so."

Bonar Bridge, an aquatint by William Daniell.

Bonar Bridge, an aquatint by William Daniell.

The traveller is directed to Lairg by two routes, one of which passes across Telford's Bonar Bridge, "an object of art worthy of being seen, and the beauty of which is only exceeded by its utility."

They view Loch-Alsh from a mountain he calls Crock-curnie, and it is from this vantage point that they also view the string of distinctive mountains that lie to the north - Suilven, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, and Ben Mor Coigach. The next engraving is a notable depiction of Cul Mor, another mountain he calls Meal-Or, and beyond Cul Beag, and furthest away of all, Ben Mor Coigach. This must be one of the first images to capture all these hills.

"Loch Camel (Sutherlandshire), Looking South."

"A scene more utterly wild and desolate than this can scarcely be imagined....the step of man seldom, if ever, penetrates many portions of this lonely tract." As in other sections of the book, he quotes passages from John MacCulloch's works. Leighton's view of Loch Camel is taken from a mountain he calls Craeg-loai-dhui.

The point furthest to the north, described in Leighton's text is Loch Assynt, with an engraving that includes Ardvreck Castle. He mentions the marble quarry that once was worked by an Englishman, Mr Joplin, though by this time business had been abandoned. He also points out a number of antiquarian sites in the vicinity, including Ardvreck Castle where Montrose was confined, the remains of the 'popish chapel' that adjoins the present parish churchand "the remains of the ancient Druidical temple called consists of a prodigious pile of stones, having two circular door-ways." Leighton also notes that there is a "tolerable" road down to Lochinver. 

"Loch Assynt & Ardvraick Castle (Sutherlandshire), taken from Inch-an-damph looking West." 'Coniack' [Quinag] is the mountain behind.

From Loch Assynt, Leighton directs the traveller back to Lairg, whence north to the head of Loch Naver along the "new road" (Telford's, completed in the early 1820s). The engraving of Loch Naver includes a view of Bein-Clibrigg [Klibreck], as far as I know the first printed image of the mountain. 

"Loch Naver (Sutherland shire), from Craig-a-gharron looking South." What Leighton describes as a 'Pictish Tower' can be seen in the distance.

From this point, Leighton returns south. The book recommends the traveller to visit "Loch-Laoghal [Loyal], and Loch-Hope, in Lord Reay's country, with the picturesque mountains of Bein-Loaghal [Loyal] and Bein-Hope...and above all he ought to visit Cape Wrath..." but excuses their lack of inclusion on the grounds that "we were afraid to increase the size of the volume." A pity, as these places were completely unknown to the vast majority of the population of the British Isles (I wonder if it was just that Leighton's party had simply had enough of the difficulties of travel and hospitality), but it must be acknowledged that Swan's Lakes had introduced much that was new, in contrast to Beattie's visit to the far north. The fine engravings are accompanied by some useful descriptions, not only topographical, but also of the ease (or otherwise) of travel in the region, making it an important volume in its accounts of  the far north.