Tours in the North of England and Great Part of Scotland...

                                          by Henry Skrine

Henry Skrine (1755 - 1803) was an English lawyer. In addition to the book which is relevant to this page, Three Successive Tours in the North of England and Great Parts of Scotland (Bulmer, 1795), Skrine published a book of Two Tours in Wales in 1798. The first of the three tours consisted of one "made many years ago"describing only the North of England. The second was made in 1787, and took him into Scotland exploring a bit of the West coast. It is the third tour, made in 1793, that is of particular interest to me, as he proceeded up the East coast as far as Inverness, and returned via Loch Ness. Again, of course, he did not venture into Ross-shire and Sutherland, but he comments at length on what he saw of the Highland way of life.

Poverty, and Towns:

Skrine sums up his feelings at the end of his journey (pages 163/4) thus: "Some strong incitement is wanted to conquer the almost incurable idleness of this people, who, clustered in mud-built cottages, overwhelmed with filth, and void of either food or raiment, prefer such wretchedness to the benefits to be acquired by labour."

Such feelings were not confined to the far north. He thought Thirleston Castle "appeared wretchedly out of repair; the ground also all around within the policy, exhibited every symptom of neglect and misery." (page 95). While Falkland Palace was "now languishing in a miserable state of obscurity....I should judge its decline to have been very rapid, from the beggarly appearance it now exhibits, scarce a decent house remaining in the place, and the inn being too wretched to be described." (page 97).

At Dundee "all the ill smells in the universe seemed contending for a superiority" (page 108). Nor was he impressed by Scottish Universities:   "an air of desolation and neglect, almost approaching to a state of ruin, seemed to pervade the whole of the two colleges at Aberdeen, as well as those of St Andrews."

Elgin he thought "a paltry town", but he is impressed by Fort George.

Fort Augustus "shews every evident marks of decay....a collection of wretched huts." (page 137). 

At Garvamore "the huts of the natives, thinly sprinkled on the most sheltered spots, appeared like the tents of flying Arabs, or the wig-wams of Indians." (page 144).


The inn at Falkland "too wretched to be described." (page 97).

At Fort Augustus, "the inn is a truly miserable residence, void of all comforts and attended with every possible convenience." (page 137). That at Maryborough (Fort William) was "little superior to that of Fort Augustus." (page 141). 

At Letter-Findlay, the "considerable structure [of the Inn], when compared with the huts of the country, and its newly whitened front, made us expect better than we had hitherto found in the Highland inns; but words are not equal to describe the squalid appearance of filth, misery and poverty which prevailed within, and surrounded us while we hurried through our homely dinner with no small portion of disgust." (page 139).

The General's Hut: "the aspect of the place was wretched....we were obliged to eat the dinner we had brought with us from Inverness in a room without furniture or ceiling, and open at the roof to every attack of the weather." (page 135 - 136).

At Garvamore, he doubts that government money is used well. "The Inn, though decent in its exterior, was no better within than those already mentioned: all these houses, together with the military roads which lead to them, being suffered to fall into a shameful state of repair....[The government] still allows annually a considerable sum for their repair and maintenance; little, however, is done on the former, except where they lead to a great town, or the territory of some mighty Lord; and the latter are permitted to become almost ruins, to the great distress of travellers; while the money granted for the support of both, woefully misapplied, seldom finds its way into the public service." (page 144).

But all was not endless criticism: he thought the inn at " excellent Highland Inn" (page 145), and he found another one to admire at Dalnachardoch (page 146).


Like others before him, Skrine was impressed by Wade's road along Loch Ness. In his view, it conducts the traveller "free from terror or difficulty, except in some few places where the road impends too closely over the have been blasted, bridges constructed, and eminences surmounted with wonderful labour and ingenuity." (page 135).

He was impressed too by the High Bridge over the Spean, "a rude but majestic pile of two great arches...the bold and lofty pillar, which supports its centre, resting on a huge pile of rocks in the middle of the stream, forms one of the most stupendous specimens of the labours of the military in these desert regions." (page 140).

Skrine gives a dramatic account of his route across Corrieyarack (pages 141 - 143). First came the ascent of Coryuragan, the road of which "elevated us to a height truly terrific, springing sometimes from point to point over Alpine bridges, and at others pursuing narrow ridges of rock, frightfully impending over tremendous precipices." Then came "Coriaraich....the road grew more laborious, and the precipice more tremendous as we approached the summit." The weather deteriorated, and "we could not continue in our carriages". Walking, they "began to descend by a dangerous and rapid zig-zag, from terrace to terrace, with incessant turnings, so short and so narrow as to require the utmost circumspection in compassing them." What had taken 9 miles to ascend was covered in "two painful miles" of the descent. The 18 miles to Garvamore had taken 8 hours.


Skrine may not have visited the far north-west, but he sees in the distance, as they approach Inverness "the mighty mountains of Assynt, some of which shine like vast cones of polished marble....They extend in a long range from the western coast, and almost rival the display of the Alps, with their pointed rocks and glittering summits." (page 133).