"A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland...."

                           by The Hon. Mrs Murray, published in 1799.

Sarah Murray (1744 - 1811) was another English visitor to the north of Scotland. She picked up the 'Hon.' when she married the Hon. William Murray, brother of the Earl of Dunmore, but he died in 1786. She remarried George Aust, a retired foreign affairs Under-Secretary, in 1802. In 1799, she published A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland, to the Lakes of Westmoreland, Cimberland and Lancashire, and to the Curiosities in the District of Craven, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and a very useful guide it is too, not least for anyone today interested in life in the Highlands of old. Her account abounds with detail, and it was followed by another in 1803 in which she took in the islands of the west coast. This page will deal with the 1799 account.

The Hon. Mrs Murray was certainly unusual in being a lone female traveller in those wild parts. Well, not exactly alone: "With my maid by my side, and my man on the seat behind the carriage, I set off May 28th, 1796." (page 42). Intrepid she certainly was: "I took great pains to see every thing worth seeing...every famous glen, mountain pass, and cataract." Before leaving, she recommended "a strong roomy carriage and have the springs well corded...Take with you linch-pins, and four shackles....a turn screw, fit for fastening the nuts belonging to the shackles; a hammer, and some straps.." She had devised a box, hinged to the side of the carriage so that it "should fall down by the hinges, at the height of their [the passengers'] knees, to form a table on their laps; and part of the box below the hinges be divided into holes for wine bottles, to stand upright in. The part above the bottles, to hold tea, sugar, bread and meat; a tumbler glass, knife and fork, and salt-cellar, with two or three napkins; the box to have a very good lock." She certainly travelled in style, and used this facility frequently whenever the Highland inns were not to her liking. "I would also advise to be taken, bed-linen, and half a dozen towels at least, a blanket, thin quilt, and two pillows." She also devised a seat behind for the servant to sit on, even describing how to fit it. It would save money, and mean he is always at hand, otherwise "he is hardly ever with you, when you want him most" and is available "for opening gates, or in case of accidents." Her servant spotted the one disaster she had when one of the shackles broke. He, on his seat behind, "instantly called to the postillion. Had the carriage not stopped immediately, I do not know what might have happened." (pages 41 - 41). At Langholme (page 101), a lady told her "she did not like the fashion of a servant's going behind the carriage - would I not have a saddle-horse for him? No, for I had determined a negative to that point on every occasion."

Her driver was James Allen, courtesy of Mr Millar of the Salutation Inn, Perth. "No other man can drive, without accident, unless he be as careful, and as skillful, as James was when he drove me." (page 52).

The Hon. Mrs Murray's book must have been one of the most thorough travel guides to date, forming the model for the many guides that followed throughout the 19th century.

Specific Travel Advice:

Murray's account offers specific advice in certain places, adding colour to the picture we have of travelling around the Highlands. So, at Loch Achray "take care of the ford of the river that runs out of Glen Finglass. I advise you to walk over the foot-bridge of wood and turf, and let the carriage go empty through the river." (page 52). Also, "When at Loch Catherine, at the foot of which you must quit the carriage, take care your horses do not get bogged, as mine did, whilst the driver was staring at the wonders of the Trossachs." (page 52).

As they leave Perth for Inverness, she advises "provide bread to last you until you get to Inverness; and wine, and cold meat for your dinner; for you will find it much more comfortable to dine in your chaise while your horses are baiting, than take what you may find at the inns." (page 60).

"Your postillion must be careful of what water he gives his horses at Inverness, or they will get ill." (page 69)

At the "Fall of Fyres" [Foyers] she advises taking spare clothes: "The spray of the fall itself, if full, will, when you are at Green Bank, make you wet through in five minutes." (page 70).

The ferry at Tarbet "is obliged to fetch travellers across for a stated sum; a trifle, twopence I believe; but if you order the boatman to deviate in the least, in order to see more of the lake, they will impose upon you dreadfully." (page 90).

She warns of the difficulty of crossing the river at Calder (Cawdor), surprised there is no bridge there. The horses were "scrambling amongst the stones, of which many, I am sure, were three feet above the bottom of the burn; where the poor animals found room to place their feet between them, I cannot imagine." (page 218).

She seems to travel somewhere in the region of 20 miles per day: "I was grieved to quit such a charming spot as Dulsie Bridge; but I had sixteen miles to travel to Fort George, and the horses had already brought me twenty miles, which, on the whole, would be a great day's work." (page 215).

She notes that the ferries between Fort George and Fortrose are "prodigiously buffeted by the waves. The Beauly ferry is by far the shortest and safest between Inverness and Ross-shire." (page 220-221)


The road from the Crook of Devon to Dollar was "as bad a road as ever carriage passed; but if in the day, it is safe enough." (page 51). 

Like Carr, at "Corryarraick", Murray advises walking down the "zig-zag road before you; it may indeed be safe, though rough, to be in the carriage, if the drag-chain be on the wheel, and the driver leading the horses." (page 75). 

When heading for Rannoch, she follows, by mistake, "a most villainous road...If you have not a strong carriage, you must neither go over Corryarraick, nor into Rannoch, though both are well worth seeing." (page 77).

When the road joins one from Loch Earn Head, it "becomes estremely good. Many hands were at work upon that road in 1796; and when completed it will be as fine a drive of twenty-one miles as can be taken." (page 81).

From Drumen to Callander, there is "19 miles, of as bad road as carriage ever went...a very steep bad road, leading to the wildest of all wild moors." (page 91).

Kinnaird is "Built at the base of tremendous shivering crags, under which the road to Aberfeldie runs, to the great dismay of timorous travellers, who are exposed to their threatening frown." (page 200).

Wade's road through the Pass of Killycrankie "was tremendous; but now that it is taken higher up the mountain, it has lost all its horrors, and retains its beauties...." (page 202).

"I was told that there would, some time or other, be a very good road from Blair, by Lude, across the hills to Glen Shee and Glen Beg which lead to the castle town of Bramar(sic)." (page 205). 

Wade's roads go "up and down mountains, never dreaming that he could wind round the bases of them." (page 270).

Crossing the Corrieyairack Pass: the 'Oxonian' she meets at Fort William (see below, Inns) tells her of the difficulties in crossing over this pass, but she assures him she will make the zig-zag descent in her carriage. She describes the ordeal on pages 275 - 283. She remarks on the poles "in order to mark the track, in the season of snow. Just at the winding to attain the summit, there is a degree of precipice, but neither perpendicular nor very dangerous, unless for a phaeton in a high wind,; as one was actually blown from thence, and turned over and over, down the mountain, the year before..." She admires the view from the top: "No lakes, no glens, no plains; all is a boundless space...of a rough ocean of mountains; whose tops seem to wave one beyond the other , to the distant sea in the west; and on every side, as far as the eye can reach....[the view is] uncommon...astonishing, but not at all terrific." Contrary to what she had told her 'Oxonian', "at the commencement of the zig-zag, I got out of the carriage, and walked down at my leisure." She remarks on the road "so cut up by...violent torrents...which is indeed sufficient to pull a slight carriage to pieces - Allen led the horses, and the wheels being dragged, he came quietly and safely to the bottom of this extraordinary pass."

At Aberfeldy, "Tay Bridge, or Wade's Bridge, the most extraordinary structure, presents itself with its spires, in the middle of the vale." (page 307).

In 1796, the road from Killin to Tyndrum was "getting a very thorough repair." (page 331).

The road through Glencoe "is very rough and bad, till after crossing of a bridge over the river Orchy." She notices the new road being built to the King's House: "The new road winds up their sides [ mountains of the Black Mount], far easier than General Wade's over the tops of them, and will be a very fine piece of alpine road, when it is completed as far as King's House." (page 340-342).

The military road through Glen Fallach, joining the Tyndrum road is "so out of repair; that it is dangerous, and impassable for a carriage." (page 376).


Aviemore: "You must pass on your right the single house [hotel] of Aviemore; sleep you cannot expect, it being the worst inn (except King's House) that I met with in Scotland." (page 67)

At Fort George, there is a "tolerably good inn" but "no carriage is permitted to go up to the door of the inn, nor is ther any covering for it [the carrage]; it must stand out in one of the streets of the fort." (page 69).

"I would advise you to set out very early indeed, from Inverness, for you cannot sleep at the General's Hut; the only house between Inverness and Fort Augustus. While your horses are baiting at General's Hut, eat your meal as fast as you can, and take a guide to the Fall of Fyres...." (page 70). Later (page 237-240) she gives more details as to how, along Loch Ness, she had her chaise "drawn to the best point of view I came to, and there sat, whilst the horses rested, eating my own dinner...both the good folks at the General's Hut, and at Letter Findlay inn were displeased at my mode; attributing it, I suppose, to disdain or nicety, which was not entirely the case." 

Bad inns at Maryborough: "the inn kept by a Scotch woman has, if there be any, the preference in cleanliness, over that kept by an Englishman; but in either you will stand in need of your own blankets, etc. and eatables too, if you should have any with you." (page 72). [Compare to Carr's account.]

The inn at Letter Findlay: "You cannot possibly sleep at it; and if you have your dinner with you, and eat it in the carriage, all the better." (page 73). [Compare to Carr].

There is an inn at Garvimore "with which you can have nothing to do...it being a miserable place." (page 75). [Compare to Carr].

"At Killin is a very bad inn, very dear, and very dirty, bad wine, bad bread; in short, if you have nothing of your own with you to eat and drink, you will be very ill off: besides, the landlord, in 1796, was a drunken, saucy creature; and charged much higher and provided far worse entertainment, both for man and beast, than any other innkeeper I met with." (page 80). 

Proceeding on from Killin, she advises against the two inns passed before arriving at Tyndrum: "At neither of these houses can you, or your servants, eat anything they can give you with comfort; and it is impossible to sleep there, both houses being mere dirty huts." (page 81). 

"King's House [at Glencoe] is a miserable place, fit only for drovers." (page 83).

"Dalmally inn is a tolerable one." (page 85). 

At Tarbet, there is a "sad, small inn." (page 90).

The inn at Drumen she thinks "intollerably bad; you cannot sleep there, nor even eat without extreme disgust." (page 90).

At Ecclefechan,"there is a bad inn, and it is a poor town too." (page 93).

At Aviemore inn: "no sooner had I put my foot within the walls of that horrible house, than my heart sunk; and I was glad to escape from its filth and smoke very early next morning." (page 212).

At Inverness, "The Inn I stopped at was very neat, and tolerably large; and I was told the other inn was equally good, if not superior." (page 224). 

At Fort William "the fare for man, at either of the inns there, is not much better than for horses." However, as usual,"I had my own bedding, and some food and wine with me..." (page 271). 

At Fort William, she meets an 'Oxonian' who described his journey up to that point (pages 271 - 273). Their new coach had broken down several times before they had reached Glasgow. They "sold it for a song" and bought two chaises which also broke down! They had recently stayed at Dalwhinnie, which was so full that they had to sleep on "shake-downs...a bed put upon the floor or carpet, and there prepared to sleep on." He has advice on crossing 'Corryarraick' (see above, Roads).

"The Inn at Tyndrum is a tolerable one for so desolate a place." The inn fills up with drovers from the Falkirk Fair: her servants have to sleep in the carriage. (page 334)

The King's House inn "is very dirty...[dirt] half an inch thick on the floor." (page 343).


"Observe the peculiar stone with which the town of Callender(sic) is built; the crag above the town is of the same sort of stone, called the Plum-pudding stone." A conglomerate. (page 53). 

On leaving Garvimore, Murray recommends looking at the stones in the walls: "you will see a very great mixture of ore in them." (page 77).

In the third edition of Murray's Companion Guide, published in 1810, she describes how, at Loch Katrine, she saw "three active pedestrians, skipping amongst the rocks, with hammers in their hands, striking here and there for curiosities." It was John Leyden, accompanied by "two young foreigners who had studied at Edinburgh the previous winter...the youngest had thus early in his journey gotten his foot sadly cut by scrambling amongst the rocks, but his ardent spirit made him think lightly of his wound." It turns out he is the brother of a German Murray had met in Glen Croe in 1796. A remarkable coincidence! (account taken from Sinton's Tour in the Highlands & Western Islands of Scotland in 1800, Journal of John Leyden, ed. Sinton, 1903).

At Muirtown she notices "a great crag composed of a substance very similar to lava; but no sign of a volcano near it." (page 226). 

She wonders what the rock is on which stands Dumbarton Castle ( it is a volcanic plug). She is asked to leave her sketch book and pencil behind: "I laughed in my sleeve at the prohibition of my innocent pertfolio lest I should run away with the plans of this important post of defence." (page 378). 

Other Observations:

Murray observes that smaller farms are being merged into larger ones, "to the great detriment of both countries [England and Scotland]" (page 180). 

"In the Highlands, everything is a town, if it consists only of a cluster of huts." (page 207).

At the Falls of Tumel, at Fascalie, fishermen catch salmon as they leap, using nets on long poles "like the pockets at the corners of billiard tables." The fishermen are securely fastened to the shore "otherwise they might fall off the rocks on which they sit...for, it is said, noise of it has the effect of making them fall asleep." (page 208).

"The red deer so abound, that they are often seen in Atholl forest in herds of two thousand."

She finds the accent at Inverness "so soft, it charms the ear...I could almost say bewitching..." (page 224) [see Carr's similar comment].

"In the Highlands, all is safety and security; - no fear of thieves by night or day." (page 228).

"In most of the sequestered parts of the Highlands, the substitute for tallow candles are the stumps of birch and fir trees, which the Highlanders dig out of the peat mosses when they cut their fuel. These stumps appear to have lain buried in the bogs for a vast time; and when prepared for candles, they really give a charming light, but of short duration. After drying these stumps thoroughly, they cut them in slips like long matches, which are burned singly, or in a bundle, according to the light required. It falls to the lot of whatever useless being there is in a hut (old folks or children), to hold this torch, and renew it; for it burned out very fast." (page 265).

When Maskelyne was measuring Schiehallion, the locals thought "he came hither to look for a lost star" (page 304-305).

"Knowing distances in Scotland [is] often misrepresented...The Scotch wee bit is nearly equal to their mile, and a mile with them is often the distance of an English measured mile." In trying to find the waterfall at Lochy, she is told "'it might be a mile and a wee bit.'" Another Highlander suggests "' I canae say, but it maun be twa miles or mair'" while, later, a lady says "'Many miles; it maun be pick mirk ere ye'se gate at the fa'". In the end, she gives up!  (pages 326-317).

She observes that, unlike in England, windows have no casements, but rather sahses by which "you may get your hand mashed, or a finger taken off, by the sudden fall of the sash, to which there are no pullies or lines." (page 349).


"In Glen Fillan is a holy well, famous for curing diseases." (page 82). Later, pages 333-334 she goes into more detail: "The poor creature thus affilcted is dipped in the well, and afterwards tied (I believe naked) in the kirk hard by and there left alone all night. If the saint comes and unties the poor object, and in the morning he or she is found loose, they are pronounced cured."

Rest and Be Thankful: "an awful spot....there never was such a place seen as Glen Croe, for wildness, and roaring torrents: besides, it almost always rains at Glen Croe." (page 89).

Ecclefechan is "a poor town." (page 93).

As they approach Loch Katrine, through Glen Finglas, and Loch-a Chravy, her driver, Allan, becomes anxious: " 'Madam, I believe the devil is in this place! Do you hear the noise?' All was echo..." She leaves the carriage, and walks. The 'devils', it turns out were men throwing logs onto the shore from a boat. They row her around the loch. "When I caught the first glance of Loch Catherine, I was astonished, I was delighted...." (page 149). 

Comrie: "For some years it has been visited with very frequent shocks of earthquakes, which at first greatly frightened the people of Comrie; but when I was there, they were so accustoemd to the shocks and had so far lost all dread of them, that they were actually going to build a town on the convulsed spot..."  The houses are "remarkably neat...[there were] potato stems in blossom on every bit of waste bank." (page 163).

She is impressed with Fort George: "Fort George is in complete repair and fit for defense." She finds herself "in the midst of red coats, canons, musquets, and bayonets. I felt a little unusual on the occasion, something like being shut up in a prison, whence I might never escape."  As for Fort Augustus and Fort William, they are now only make-believe forts." (page 219).

"I was pleasaed with the appearance of Inverness....there was not a trace of its ancient castle; some person having lately removed the small remains of its ruins to build offices, or some such thing, for his own convenience; - what an Hottentot!" (page 223). 

"A gentleman of some eccentricity whom I met with said, he believed God Almighty had made Stra' [Strath] Errick on the Saturday night, and had not had time to finish it." (page 248).

"Fort Augustus is in a state of great neglect, and appears to be going very fast to decay." (page 251).

She thinks Inveraray "the noblest place in Scotland; but the climate is dreadful. I asked a lady if the streets were ever perfectly dry? She answered me Never." (page 366).


At Comrie, "the young lasses were decked out for the show [a fair], but their head-dresses struck me as very unbecoming. Their hair was snooded up; that is, bound with a snood, or band of three-penny breadth ribbon, tied plain round the fore part of the head, leaving the hair long and loose and flowing behind; which in most parts of the Highlands, where it is simply snooded up, is very pretty for young girls; but at Comrie, they added a great bunch of a chusion [cushion??], in the shape of a potato, put low on the forehead, and the front hair turned plain over it, which gave the appearance of a smooth, solid lump of hair, stuck on close to the eyebrows." (page 162-3).


Near Perth, she comes across a "field-preaching day...It is impossible for all to hear the sermon; but, good souls, if they are only within the holy sough (or sound), that perfectly satisfies them." (page 179). 

Generosity in the Highlands:

The people of Inverness retain "the honest simplicity and hospitality of the patriachal age, which the rub of refinement has not impaired. Indeed, not only in Inverness, but in most parts of the Highlands, the manners of the people are pleasant to a great degree; and the poorest of the poor will vie with each other which can most assist, or gratify a stranger, provided it be not on a Sunday...." (page 228).

After High Bridge (on the way to Fort William) "I never drunk finer milk than I did here...and what is still more extraordinary, though I gave but a trifle more than the value of what was drunk, the honest creatures thought it too much, although they seemed the poorest of the poor in Scotland." (page 262)

Highland Homes:

"The huts on this moor [north of Fort William] are very small and low, are soon erected, and must very soon fall down. They consist of four stakes of birch, forked at the top, driven into the ground; on these they lay four other birch poles, and then form a gavel at each end by putting up more birch sticks, and crossing them sufficiently to support the clods with which they plaster this skeleton of a hut all over, except a small hole in the side for a window, a small door to creep in and out at, and a hole in the roof, stuck round with sticks, patched up with turf, for a vent, as they call a chimney. The covering of these huts is turf, cut about five or six inches thick, and put on as soon as taken from the moor; therefore it seldom looses its vegetation...In these huts they make a fire upon the ground, and the smoke issues in columns at every hole....notwithstanding which, the cursches (caps of Highland women) were as white as snow, and the faces of the children mostly fair and blooming. At night they rake out the fire, and put their beds of heath and blankets...on  the ground, where the fire has been, and thus keep themselves warm during the night. The chief of their furniture is an iron pot, a few bowls, and spoons of wood, and pails to put their milk in.

"A person accustomed to the cumforts and luxuries of life cannot conceive how it is possible for human beings to exist, in a state so near that of brute creation.

"...the interior of an habitation...consists of a butt, a benn and a byar: that is, a kitchen, an inner room and a place in which to put cattle. In the centre of the gavel end of the butt, is heaped up dirt and stones, in which is fixed small iron bars; leaving a hollow by way of grate, with a hob on each side: there is also a sort of crank that moves any way, to which is hooked the meikle pot. There is no semblance of a chimney, but the hole at the top, so that the whole side of the gavel is covered with soot from the fire to the vent. The dirt floor is full of holes, retaining whatever wet or dirt may be thrown upon it; consequently it is always a mire. In one corner is a box nailed to the partition, between the butt and the benn. This box opens with a door in front, in which is a heath, or other, bed, with a great number of blankets. Into this box creep as many as it can hold; and thus they sleep, boxed up on every side, except the small door in front. In the house I was in, close to the box bed, stood another box similar to the bed, containing provisions of milk, oat cakes, broth, &c., and eating utensils. If the family be large, the bed too has a similar bed or beds; between which and the byar, there is generally only a very partial partition. A small farmer will say, he delights to sleep thus close to the byar, that he may lie and see, and hear, his beasts eat. Another pretty fashion among them (and it is universal), their dunghill is close to the door of the house, or hut: let the spot about it be ever so lovely, to them their sweet mixen is their choicest, their chief object. Next to the dunghill stand their peat stacks; whilst, perhaps, on the back part of the house, where they seldom ever go, all is neatness. What a perverse inclination for nastiness!" (pages 262 - 264).