Tain To Inverness
( Originally Published 1912 )
"And then along the plane stanes
The Black Dog of Tain—A Jockey Club Wanderer on Morich Mhor—Ross-shire Tod-hunters—The Crofters—Flocks in Easter Ross—From Tain to Dingwall—Coul Cottage—The Black Isle—Belmaduthy—The Muir of Ord—The Caledonian Boots—Highland Society's Shows—Inverness Character Fair —Hugh Snowie's—Stags' Heads-Laggan Cottage—Nairnshire—Lord Cawdor's Old Scotch Flock—Kildrummie and Lochdhu—The late Hill Head Herd—The Witches' Heath.
UNSETTLED spirits have been said to roam the earth in the shape of a black dog. At all events, we were formally taken in charge by the latter when we reached Tain ; and it never left our side till it lured us, as it had done scores of visitors before, into its fancy baker's, and made us buy it a bun. It was the only blackmail levied on us throughout our wanderings, and as such it deserves recording. Before the railway days, it was easy enough to find your way into Tain from the ferry by moonlight, but even in daylight it is not so easy to work outwards. What seems the straight road to Inverness really leads on to the Morich Mhor, a large sandy flat, where the Duke of Gordon, Lord Lovat, Mr. Davidson of Tulloch, and others held races nearly fifty years ago.
This illusion, or some unconscious sympathy with the spot, must have led the late Mr. Charles Greville to stray three miles down it, on his return from Dunrobin, while the mail with his valet and portmanteau was stealing ahead through the pine woods of Calrossie. Luckily Mr. Kenneth Murray was driving home, and, seeing an old gentleman quite beat with fatigue, offered to take him back to Tain, little knowing till they exchanged cards what an eminent pilgrim he had succoured. The Mhor, as you see it from the high road, strongly resembles the ground of the Waterloo Cup Wednesday ; and it has been tenanted by many a dark-coloured, straight-backed hare, as Gordon Castle greyhounds have known to their cost. The Calrossie Woods produce rather more mixed sporting, and about one thousand squirrels and two hundred and fifty brace of woodcocks were killed out of them recently in one year alone.
The cultivated part of Ross-shire is a mere fringe of the Moors, and the other nine-tenths of the county up to the shores of the Atlantic are devoted to grouse, sheep, deer, and crofters. The last-named have few sources of existence save fishing. If they are seized with " the low ambition of rising in the world," and come East for the purpose, they make good workmen, and are content like the rest of the labourers with their cup of coffee; but their Gaelic tongue is sadly against them. The tod-hunters, with their terriers and their decoy-fox, have plenty to do in Ross-shire, and sometimes extend their labours to Lewis. These sheep farm police," as they are termed, would have to' become a great band, and watch men as well as foxes, to be thoroughly worthy of their title ; as a large ex-sheep farmer, who can now look back and smile at his losses, states deliberately that he never could account for some hundreds annually out of a flock of eight thousand-except in one way. The crofters on the east coast of Ross-shire, or "Easter Ross," are a superior race of people, who have picked up the Scottish tongue, and hobble as well as they can after the times. Like the farm servants, they generally keep a pig, which journeys with a rope round its waist to the local market at Kildary, when it is nearly a year old, and is bought by jobbers for the south. Here, as, in fact, throughout nearly the whole of Scotland, there is among the poorer classes, not exactly a Judaean detestation, but an aversion to ham and bacon. They will rear it, but only for sale ; and the home commissariat is more dependent on a bit of mutton, which is either a cade lamb purchased out of the cartloads of Cheviot or black-faced " shots " which the farmers send to the Muir, or a keery bred by themselves, with crosses innumerable. These pets seem to wander over their little unfenced crops just as they like, and to eat out of the pot as well. Their wool supplies the gude wife's spinning-wheel all winter ; and two or three of them, a pair of Highland ponies, a stirk or two, and a dozen hens verging on the Dorking, which is supreme in these parts made up the stock-in-trade of the conventional five-acre holding.
The cultivated parts of Wester Ross have much more pasture land, strong and light intermixed, than Easter Ross, which rejoices in far richer wheat and turnip soils. It is very handy for the glens, where the wedder hoggs return in April, and perhaps sup-plies more turnips for them than any other district in the North. Its beech hedges and pine woods give it a more cozy look, but still the heavy green and white crops and the engine-house chimney towering above the steadings very much recall the high farming and well-to-doism of East Lothian. Caithness beasts are the farmers' delight. They generally buy the Georgemas yearling stots and queys at The Muir, where their fine scale contrasts strangely with their future companions, the Ross-shire second-class West Highlanders, which are bred by small tenants on the mountains. The light-land farmer carries them on till" they are two-year-olds, and then they are finished off on the strong clays. There are no dairy farms in Ross-shire, as the farmers prefer suckling their calves on the Caithness -system, and consider early beef maturity a higher aim than butter, cream, and cheese. The Hill Head herd gave Shorthorns a great fillip, but the pure sires have to meet a very varied class of dams. Ayrshires are few ; Devons and Herefords have hardly been seen in the county ; polls are as rare as a black sheep in Sutherlandshire ; and all cattle stock, whether bought or bred, is generally fed off at its third Christmas. The horses are of every variety, but there is not a blood sire within many miles to our knowledge. An active cart-horse called Balmoral left a strong grey foal mark, but the Clydesdales are not great favourites, on account of their "perfectly boundless appetites." Even a Suffolk Punch took the lead for some seasons, and furnished no confirmation of the assertion that this breed is apt to go blind in a northern climate ; but he eventually went mad instead, and was shot through a hole in the shed roof. There are scarcely any black-faced sheep in the arable parts of the county, as they are trouble-some and get entangled by their horns in the turnip nets. Very few flockmasters keep them, and the general mode of sheep-farming on the hills is a Cheviot flock, from which the wedder hoggs are brought down the first winter for Aberdeen green tops. Many farmers also keep their own cast ewes on the low ground, and cross them with Border Leicesters, for which they give good prices through their agents at Kelso.
The harvest was glowing like a furnace in the rich plain skirted by the hill country, between Taira and Dingwall. Now, we would pass a little tavern where the; landlady was scolding a fou customer in Gaelic, and then relaxed for our benefit into the Scottish tongue. A four-penny photographer, with his blue sheet nailed against a cottage wall, the table, chair, and flower-vase all correct, and several women and children as audience, asked touchingly for our custom, and demonstrated how beautifully he could focus us at any distance, by backing recklessly with his camera into a field of oats. There was hardly a ripple in the harbour of refuge, and the hot haze which was driving both dogs and grouse to the water springs almost hid the Souters of Cromarty which guard the entrance of the Firth. Then leaving the fish triangles at the cottage-doors for a season, we strike rather more in-land, and the drowsy hum of the reaping machines mark the farm of Teaninich, on which Mr. Tew, the Shorthorn M'Combie of Ross-shire, breeds and feeds his heavy weight champions. Florist came here for a season from Major Wardlaw, but he left very few calves behind him, and was succeeded by Goldseeker (19866), bred by Mr. Wilson, of Brawith. The roan Negotiator, who strains back to Mr. Tanqueray's blood, was the sire of Mr. Tew's best bullocks, which are principally out of shorthorns purchased from Mr. Mitchell of Howgill Castle, in Westmoreland. To make L1 a month from the birth to the block is his aim ; and for his thirty months' pair of prize bullocks in '62 he achieved it exactly without any very extra keep. His two pairs of yearling bullocks, which beat Ross-shire the following year, were sent to Inverness, and stood first and second at the show in '64. The second pair were sold there for L32 each, and left a clear butchers' profit of L8 on the biggest; and the first pair returned to Ross-shire, and averaged the next Christmas about 46 more, and 156st. of 8lbs. Mr. Tew does not depend on very high feeding for his success, but he begins with them early, makes an especial point of keeping them well housed, and always takes them up in the autumn, before they have time to lose condition. So much for the roans of Coul Cottage!
Them we tie our mare to the gate of Alness Church, while we search for the grave of the renowned Sir Hector Monro and on once more through the snugly-belted garths, past the hill of Novar, whose crests looks like nature's gun-battery, with all the varied fretwork of light and shade, from pine and blooming heather playing rapidly over it. Across the Cromarty Firth is the crofter's side of the Black Isle, and quite a curious mosaic of rotations ; and we are at the iron-braced monument of Dingwall at last. We do not envy Mr. Arthur Kinnaird his ride, as at 10 p.m. he takes his seat beside the driver of the Skye "mail ' for the night. Our own evening would have been dull enough but for a book-auction, where two rival orators were pitched against each other, turn about, for a quarter of an hour each. Still, we did not carry away a single cattle note, except that the Prelacy of the town, just two hundred and nine years ago, reported the people of Apple Cross for sacrificing a bull .to . St. Maurie and we thought that it would be a great ultimate saving of beef if some professed bull breeders of the present day would fall back on the Apple Cross habit.
A ride of three or four miles from. Dingwall brought us into the very heart of the crofters of the Black Isle. " Hae ye ony Gaelic ? " was the eternal response when we asked them anything touching their cattle and crops ; but in some instances it was only their way of "moving the previous question." A girl went so far Was to inform us that the sticks she had in charge were "just Geordie and Cornoch;" and one old man seemed grateful enough in Scotch, when we got off and helped to stir a very large boulder which was bothering him. He sealed his thanks by the tender of his snuff-mull, which we declined, as we had done the Sunday before, when it was handed as usual round the church gallery. To it and toddy we have been alike callous. Ben Wyvis bodes no good "in the distance ; and the caw of the rooks, which we seemed to have wholly lost since they came sailing home from every corner of Caithness to Barrrock, is heard on our right above the ruined tower of Kilcoy. Mr. Murray farms there, and. the sight of some capital young bullocks for their months con-firmed what we had heard-that he always stands high in the local-cattle classes, along with Major Wardlaw and. Mr. Cameron, of Balnakyle. A few miles further, and we pass a sort of old white chateau, with its gate-posts shrunk from the wall ; and then from the trim beechen avenues of .Selmaduthy, which seems the very garden of the isle, we once more catch a view of the Moray Firth. Pure-bred boars, Leicesters, and Shorthorns have all been great points with Major Wardlaw; and the poultry made a far braver show than any we had seen in Scotland so far. Florist by Hiawatha was the Major's bull in '62 ; and since he was sold to Mr. Tew, the roan Royal -Towneley has reigned in his stead. The former, who is the sire of Forth, took the first prize both at Inverness and Dingwall and the latter has never been beaten in the district, and has won the Highland Society's local medal.
Few sheep, so to speak, are bred in the Black Isle, which boasts of such equality of temperature from its position that, according to the old native belief (which is overthrown annually), no snow will lie on it. The Middletons of Davidstown are the largest sheep-feeders in the Isle. They do not lamb any ewes, but buy half-bred hoggs at home or in Caithness or the south, and either sell them off turnips that year or as dinmonts. 'Others breed from cast Cheviots, and half bred ewes' as well ; but their general practice is to buy and graze half-bred lambs, and despatch them by the Edinburgh steamer from Cromarty when the turnips are ended, or at least by July. The Isle has pretty good grass, and better turnips ; and although oats form at least three-fourths of its white crop, the home supply has to be helped out by importation. Beasts are not- bred to any great extent, and these are nearly all Shorthorn crosses. The Muir of Ord is the great fat and store exchange. Its principal spring markets of April and May are for selling fat cattle, twos and threes which have been wintered and fed in Ross-shire ; and in September and October the winterers muster strong. The markets are held on Lord Lovat's ground, and his lordship draws the market customs. Striking the average for 1863-64, there were 1,843 cattle and 4,547 sheep at each of these great spring markets, and 2,265 cattle and 7,429 sheep at each of the autumn ones.
We hardly got a good general view of the more cultivated part of the Isle till we had left Munlochy, and scaled the hill beyond. Then looking forward instead of backward, we soon espied the long-desired and thickly-wooded Tom-na-Hurich (or the Hill of the, Fairies) and Inverness, that -town of pure Saxon English and that cheerful portal of the North High-lands. The mare jumped out of the ferry-boat into the new county, striking sparks of fire from every hoof in her hot haste to be done with oars and sails, and we place her only too gladly in the hands of a professor of shoeing, and rely for things in general upon the boots at the Caledonian. We should think he hardly ever took part in those running fights for passengers, which raged with especial fury over the bodies of foreigners throughout the season in the old coaching-days ; whereas the waiters seemed less dignifled, and much more of the figure for a skirmish. It was a wonderful thing to watch that man taking his station at the hotel door before service on Sunday morning, and acting as consulting counsel to the visitors on the different styles of preachers in the town. When he had run his eye once over them, he seemed to fathom their taste. " You would like a very rousing gentleman . I've just one to suit you : go to ; " or, "I think I'll send you to the Esteblishment ; " and off they went on their various ways, this side the water or over the water, meekly and nothing doubting.
Inverness has already twice taken its turn in the Highland Society's circuit. The thick, short-legged, and "handsome Belville" was here in 1846 on his "grand tour ; " and although that caustic moralist, Anthony Maynard, of Marton-le-Moor, would persist to the day of his death in saying that " he was good enough if you backed his hind quarters into a hedge," the judges at the three national shows of that year saw nothing to compare with him; The curiosities of the show were Lord Cawdor's Old Scotch ewes, a West Highland heifer (in which Tom Thumb and Commodore Nutt might have rejoiced), and a trigenarian Highland mare, suckling her twentieth foal. On the second occasion in '56 the brothers Cruickshank all but swept the board with Short-horns. M`Combie sustained his Paris prestige to the full with Hanton, Charlotte, her twelve-year-old dam, The Queen who was second to her, the Fair Maid of Perth who was third in the cow class, and his other black Venuses. Lord Southesk's Druid was in his lusty youth; Simson of Blainslie and Collie of Ardgay shared the Leicester prizes ; and Brydon, besides winning the first prize for Cheviot and black-faced gimmers, only suffered one defeat in the Cheviot tup classes-at the hands of Donald Horne of Langwell. Inverness's attempts in a Turf point of view have been much less striking. In 1823 its race-sheet consisted of two matches, two races of two, a couple of walks over, and hack and pony races to follow next day. In 1827, when it was the scene of The Northern Meeting, it soared into three days, and eleven events, and among them a Caithness Plate, a Macaroni Stakes in two classes, a Cromarty Gold Cup, and an Isle of Skye Plate (given by Lord Macdonald and McLeod of McLeod) ; but only one horse arrived in 1830, and the Racing Calendar knew it no more.
Its character market is the great bucolic glory of Inverness. The Fort William market existed before ; but the Sutherland and Caithness men, who sold about 14,000 sheep and 15,000 stones of wool annually as far back as 1816, did not care to go there. They dealt with regular customers year after year, and roving wool staplers with no regular connexion went about and notified their arrival on the church door. Patrick Sellar, " the agent for the -Sutherland Association," saw exactly that some great caucus of buyers and sellers was needed at a more central spot, and on February 27th, 1817, that meeting of the clans was held at Inverness, which brought the fair into being. Huddersfield, Wakefield, Halifax, Burnley, Aberdeen, and Elgin signified that their leading merchants were favourable and ready to at-tend. Sutherland, Caithness, Wester Ross, Skye, the Orkneys, Harris, and Lewis were represented at the meeting ; Baillie Anderson also " would state with confidence that the market was approved of by William Chisholm, Esq., of Chisholm, and James Laidlaw, tacksman, of Knockfin," and so the matter was settled for ever and aye, and The Courier and The Morning Chronicle were the London advertising media. This Highland wool parliament was originally held on the third Thursday of June, but now it begins on the second Thursday of July, and lasts till the Saturday ; and Argyleshire, Nairnshire, Morayshire, and High Aberdeenshire have gradually joined in. The plane stanes in front of the Caledonian (then Bennett's Hotel) have always been the scene of the bargains, which are most truly based on the broad-stone of honour. Not a sheep or fleece is to be seen, and the buyer of the year before gets the first offer of the cast or clip. The previous proving and public character of the different flocks are the purchaser's guide far more than the sellers' description. There is a good deal of caution and sparring on the Thursday, but after dinner on Friday prices begin to settle.
The lots are not at the buyers' risk till they are lifted, drawn, and taken to the road. It is generally bargained to shoot two to the clad score, but drawing properly so as to make the lots really level implies liberty to shoot three or four. The largest lot of ewes or wedders consist of from 1,200 to 1,800 each, and those not disposed of are generally consigned to sales-men for Falkirk, where some of the ewe lots arrive not as cast, but as "double-milled," after having been kept a year, and bringing up a half-bred lamb in Caithness or Morayshire. Some salesmen will "gie the grip " for as many as 15,000; and Gibbons and Lamb of Liverpool, Wallbank of Keighley, Ruddick of Berwick, Nelson, Pattison and Bowstead of Cumberland, Murray and Swan of Edinburgh, Martindale of Manchester, Young of Penrith, and others from Dumfriesshire and Wigtownshire do a very large business. Many farmers also go with commissions from neighbours, and buy and divide a large lot. At one time there were more black-faces in the market, and the brothers Scott have taken as many as four thousand of them, pretty nearly from one farm. Twenty thousand cast ewes and wedders with the Scott brand on them would be travelling south in September and October, by Kingussie and Dalwhinnie, to the Lothians, Cumberland, Dumfriesshire, and the two Falkirks. The brothers would have nearly as many wedders and wedder hoggs on turnips, many of them bred on their own Ross-shire farms, at Fisherfield and Strathnalig, and in the spring of each, year the wedders would be told off to the different markets, and the hoggs go back to the farms. Getting turnips for them was sometimes no easy task, and once they were obliged to purchase more than ten score beasts to go as straw-treaders into the East Lothian, as the condition precedent to receiving the wedders.
The new street from the station has given great life to Inverness as far as appearance goes. We like best to be there a day or two before " the twelfth," when the shooters are arriving, and holding mysterious confabs with stalwart keepers; and when some of the youthful hands are on parade in bran-new knickerbockers, and intensely pleased with their legs. It is always High 'Change at Hugh Snowie's on these days, and in fact throughout the season. There sits the veteran behind his shop-desk, with a large file of letters about moors and deer forests to let, at his side both learning and detailing the latest on dits of the trigger. The crack deer heads of the previous season keep, in conformity with custom, their silent vigil of knights on his walls for twelve months and a day. His henchman, Colin Read, has turned out three-andtwenty annual sets of about six dozen each, and he is still working in his little laboratory behind. The tameless eye and the defiant snort of the forest-kings fade into very sober prose while they are put through his crucible. Some were waiting their turn most ignominiously, in boxes full of alum and shavings ; the skins of others had reached the higher stage of soaking in a preparation of arsenic, while the jaw-bones were seething in a cauldron ; and tow, tin, and putty as props for the mouth completed the post-mortem picture. A vigorous spring followed by a summer drought, as in'64, is of course sadly against the grass, and therefore fatal to the growth of the heads ; but still Mr. Snowie had plenty of bright antler memories to fall back upon. The Reay Forest in Sutherland has furnished his finest specimen of Caber Slatches, or antlers without tines. A head, which he once prepared for Mr. Campbell of Menzies, had, it is true, only fourteen tines, but the length, span, and thickness of the antlers (which were all covered with indentations, as if the stags had gnawed their comrade while he lay dead for a day or two in the forest) earned a special mention from him. Perhaps the most remarkable of Colin's handiwork is in the Marquis of Londonderry's collection ; it has eighteen tines, and each of the brow antlers is not only double the usual length, but, after shooting in front of the head, bends backwards towards the neck.
A 29 lb. trout, caught on the Ness, but, as Mr Snowie says, " not in a very out-and-out sort of way," takes our eye among the eagles and ospreys in, the front shop, and reminds us that we might as well take a stroll up to the Loch. It was, however, a bootless errand, as we saw nothing but some very beautiful rock tints. We had no earthly intention of wandering off to Lochiel and Lochaber, to see if the Cheviot is holding his ground after " the Siberian sixty," and we were quite ready to take it for granted that on the top of Ben Nevis there is not vegetation enough even for a black-face. So we halted a day or two at Laggan Cottage, and when we had noted the wooden model of " My First Fish," and all the other paraphernalia of "the merry fisher's" life, we were quite enabled to appreciate the devotion of another of Sir Joseph Hawley's guests (Lieut. Col. the Hon. Fane Keane), who lingered, heroically dead to all St. Leger joys, four days after that party broke up, simply because a large fish was known to be in the Laggan Pool, and landed it triumphantly after a grand struggle of an hour and five minutes. It proved to be of 33 lbs. weight, and the largest fish that had been killed in the Ness within living memory. It is no slight illustration of the beneficial effect of the new Salmon Act, in increasing the size of the fish, that, in the following year, Mr, Denison landed one of 29 lbs,, and Captain Vivian another of 271 lbs. in the same water.
But we had no hours of idleness on hand, and once more we are on the road in a pouring rain, and bid a respectful good-bye to "the lozenge-stone," as we ride through Inverness, away towards Culloden Moor-a table-land on the top of a hill, part of which is improved, while the rest will hardly give cattle a living. Nairnshire, which we entered a few miles further on, after leaving Hill Head to the left, is a lighter and earlier soil than Inverness-shire, and produces an average crop of grass, which is too often sadly cut up during a protracted drought. It has a dry bottom, capital for sheep on turnips and for barley crops, but not very generous for beasts. A large acreage of turnips is taken here for hogging by farmers from the North and West Highlands ; and for this reason Aberdeen yellows and globes are more cultivated than swedes, which flourish better in it than all the turnip tribes. The soil is so well suited for folding that turnips are generally at a premium. There is no home breeding to any great extent, and what there is resolves itself into putting Leicesters to half-bred and Cheviot ewes, and selling off the produce when weaned, or holding them on till they are two shears.
Earl Cawdor keeps about thirty ewes of that old small Scotch breed of sheep, with horns and brown-chestnut faces and legs, which have been gradually pushed aside or " improved away." They are quite the oldest variety in the North of Scotland, and are to be found along the west coast and the small islands from Islay northwards, where they are called " natives." There are some in the Carse of Fendon on the east coast near Tain, but only in a state ,of keery serfdom. A small flock holds its own near Dunean's Bay in Caithness, and Mr. M`Arthur of Broomtown near Auldearn has also a few, and interchanges with his lordship. The Cawdor flock was formed thirty years ago from a few specimens picked up among the crofters in the carses of Ardersier and Delnies, and others from the late Mr. Anderson of Drumbain, whose flock is now extinct. His lordship's factor, Mr. Stables, considers them " pretty nearly the same breed as the Welsh and allied to the Shetland. The most marked difference is in the length of the tail, which in the old Scotch is seven inches. Add three inches, and they would be Welsh ; deduct three, and they would be Shetland." They are handsome and small, much tamer than the black-face, and nearly as good mutton, with fine bone and good wool, which will average 31 lbs. on a four-year-old wedder. Until that age they are hardly ripe for the knife, and cut up to about 13 lbs. a quarter.
An Angus bull, with some bronze, dun, and black calves, suggests a study worthy of Gourlay Steell ; but the " heavy black " is only a foretaste of what we are to find at Lochdhu and Kildrummie, which are respectively owned and rented by Mr. Anderson. He farms 1,200 acres in the counties of Nairnshire and Morayshire, and lets half his turnips in the former for sheep. Mr. Anderson keeps three small stocks of pure-bred cattle, poll, Shorthorn, and West Highland, and his tariff for the bull-calves of each breed varies from £10 to £25, £20 to £30, and £12 to £20. He breeds very few West Highlands, and crosses some of the cows with his Shorthorn bull. This capital cross is very seldom taken the reverse way, and if a second cross of Shorthorn does more for the milk, it does not help the beef. " Hieland humlies," or the cross between the poll and the West Highland, are still found in the higher districts of Morayshire and Banffshire, and some few on the heights of Aberdeenshire. Their sires and dams have generally been inferior to begin with, and then stunted in their growth, and the off-spring are no friends to the grazier. If they come without horns they command better prices, just as a West Highland "down horn" is thought to feed kindlier; but, as M'Combie says of the Galloways, "they are sad sluggish dogs to feed," and very slow waxers. If they have a brown back, they are worse by three degrees, and buyers hate to look at them. Taking even the better sorts, the grazier would make only £1 out of them for every £10 out of a well-bred black or cross-bred, but still some of the lowlanders take them in preference to the West Highland. The pick of Mr. Anderson's stock are at Kildrummie, which has also earned a name for Clydesdales and pigs of the Prince Albert breed. Privy Seal, one of the five " Seal" bull-calves, all by Lord Privy Seal, and headed by Great Seal at the Hill Head sale in '60, is in residence as chief of the Shorthorn division. This good-looking roan is a winner both in Morayshire and Nairnshire, and was just fresh from a seven-guineas victory on Elgin Green.
To Mr. Smith's exertions at Hill Head Shorthorn breeding and crossing in these parts is very deeply indebted. That neck of land close by Fort St. George, half of it light loam on clay, and the other half sharp and sandy, was not a promising home for Shorthorns. Before Mr. Smith took to it in 184!, the Government had been in the habit of letting it yearly, and it had been pretty well scourged in consequence ; while heaps of stones and whin bushes did not add to its attractions. The new lessee began to drain on the Deanston principle ; but others were so set in their belief that water comes in at the top of a drain, that he faltered in his first idea, and only went two feet deep. He found out his error before the first field was finished, and eventually showed, in the very teeth of prophecy, that swedes and the softer turnips could all flourish there. The foundation of the herd was chiefly laid from Keir, Mr. Cator's, and Athelstaneford ; and Lord Privy Seal of the Prince Consort's and Goldsmith of Sittyton breeding left the best mark: Two-thirds of the lots went south of Nairnshire, and among them Lord Privy Seal (150 gs.), who was then a two-year-old, to Lord Kinnaird and his son Great Seal, and Northern Belle to the late Mr. Balfour of Whittingehame. The average of the forty-two lots, which ranged from eight years to as many days, was L35 14s. Neither Mr. Fraser of Brackla nor Mr. M'Lennan was in the list of buyers. The former is well known in the county as a great feeder of cross-bred cattle ; and Aberdeen, Elgin, and Inverness butchers all muster round the Meikle Urchany ring, when sixty or seventy cross-bred two-year-old stots and heifers, which have been reared there or bought in at the end of September and wintered very highly, are put up for roup in April.
It was long after dark when we started from Nairn to Forres ; and we felt no " pricking of the thumbs" as we passed the spot where Macbeth met the witches. We took the bearings of it, both by road and rail, from the first man we met in the outskirts of Forres. His Shakesperean annotations were on this wise : "It's just a sort of eminence : all firs and plough now you paid a toll near it;'' and again : " I'm thinking —it's just a mile Wast from Prodie Station."