« AnteriorContinuar »
hospitable and good humoured, and spread her table with sufficient liberality. We found tea here, as in every other place, but our spoons were of horn. The house of Grissipol stands by a brook very clear and quick; which is, I suppose, one of the most copious streams in the island. This place was the scene of an action, much celebrated in the traditional history of Col, but which probably no two relaters will tell alike. Some time, in the obscure ages, Macneil of Barra married the lady Maclean, who had the isle of Col for her jointure. Whether Macneil detained Col, when the widow was dead, or whether she lived so long as to make her heirs impatient, is perhaps not now known. The younger son, called John Gerves, or John the giant, a man of great strength, who was then in Ireland, either for safety or for education, dreamed of recovering his inheritance; and getting some adventurers together, which in those unsettled times was not hard to do, invaded Col. He was driven away, but was not discouraged, and collecting new followers, in three years came again with fifty men. In his way he stopped at Artorinish in Morvern, where his uncle was prisoner to Macleod, and was then with his enemies in a tent. Maclean took with him only one servant, whom he ordered to stay at the outside; and where he should see the tent pressed outwards, to strike with his dirk; it being the intention of Maclean, as any man provoked him, to lay hands upon him, and push him back. He entered the tent alone, with his Lochaber axe in his hand, and struck such terror into the whole assembly, that they dismissed his uncle. When he landed at Col, he saw the sentinel, who kept watch towards the sea, running off'to Grissifiol, to give Macneil, who was there with a hundred and twenty men, an account of the invasion. He told MacgiU,
one of his followers, that if he intercepted that dangerous intelligence, by catching the courier, he would give him certain lands in Mull. Upon this promise Macgill pursued the messenger, and either killed or stopped him; and his posterity, till very lately, held the lands in Mull. The alarm being thus prevented, he came unexpectedly upon Macneil. Chiefs were in those days never wholly unprovided for an enemy. A fight ensued, in which one of their followers is said to have given an extraordinary proof of activity, by bounding backwards over the brook of Grissifiol. Macneil being killed, and many of his clan destroyed, Maclean took possession of the island, which the Macneils attempted to conquer by another invasion, but were defeated and repulsed. Maclean, in his turn, invaded the estate of the Macneils, took the castle of Brecacig, and conquered the isle of Barra, which he held for seven years, and then restored it to the heirs. CASTLE OF COL.
From Grisaiflol Mr. Maclean conducted us to his father's seat; a neat new house erected near the old castle, I think, by the last proprietor. Here we were allowed to take our station, and lived very commodiously, while we waited for moderate weather and a fair wind, which we did not so soon obtain, but we had time to get some information of the present state of Col, partly by inquiry, and partly by occasional excursions. Col is computed to be thirteen miles in length, and three in breadth. Both the ends are the property of the duke of Argyle, but the middle belongs to Maclean, who is called Col, as the only laird. Col is not properly rocky; it is rather one continued rock, of a surface much diversified with protuberances, and covered with a thin layer of earth, which is often broken, and discovers the stone. Such a soil is not for plants that strike deep roots; and perhaps in the whole island nothing has ever yet grown to the height of a table. The uncultivated parts are clothed with heath, among which industry has interspersed spots of grass and corn; but no attempt has been made to raise a tree. Young Col, who has a very laudable desire of improving his patrimony, purposes some time to plant an orchard ; which, if it be sheltered by a wall, may perhaps succeed. He has introduced the culture of turnips, of which he has a field, where the whole work was performed by his own hand. His intention is to provide food for his cattle in the winter. This innovation was considered by Mr. Macsiveyn as the idle project of a young head, heated with English fancies; but he has now found that turnips will really grow, and that hungry sheep and cows will really eat them. By such acquisitions as these, the Hebrides may in time rise above their annual distress. Wherever heath will grow, there is reason to think something better may draw nourishment; and by trying the production of other places, plants will be found suitable to every soil. Col has many lochs, some of which have trouts and eels, and others have never yet been stocked; another proof of the negligence of the islanders, who might take fish in the inland waters when they cannot go ta sea.
. . Their quadrupeds are horses, cows, sheep, and goats. They have neither deer, hares, nor rabbits. They have no vermin, except rats, which have been lately brought thither by sea, as to other places; and are free from
• serpents, frogs, and toads. The harvest in Col and in Lewis is ripe sooner than in Sky, and the winter in Col is never cold, but very, tempestuous. I know not that I ever heard the wind so loud in any other place; and Mr. Boawell observed that its noise was all its own, for there were no trees to increase it. Noise is not the worst effect of the tempests; for they have thrown the sand from the shore over a considerable part of the land, and is said still to encroach and destroy more and more pasture; but I am not of opinion, that by any surveys or landmarks, its limits have been ever fixed, or its progression ascertained. If one man has confidence enough to say, that it advances, nobody can bring any proof to support him in denying it. The reason why it is not spread to a greater extent, seems to be, that the wind and rain come almost together, and that it is made close and heavy by the wet before the storms can put it in motion. So thick is the bed, and so small the particles, that if a traveller should be caught by a sudden gust in dry weather, he would find it very difficult to escape with life. For natural curiosities I was shown only two great masses of stone, which lie loose upon the ground; one on the top of a hill, and the other at a small distance from the bottom. They certainly were never put into their present places by human strength or skill; and though an earthquake might have broken off the lower stone, and rolled it into the valley, no account can be given of the other, which lies on the hill, unless, which I forgot to examine, there be still near it some higher rock, from which it might be torn. All nations have a tradition, that their earliest ancestors were giants, and these stones are said to have been thrown up and down by a giant and his mistress. There are so many more important things of which human knowledge can give no account, that it may be forgiven us, if we speculate no longer on two stones in Col. This island is very populous. About nine-and-twenty years ago, the fencible men of Col were reckoned one hundred and forty ; which is the sixth of eight hundred and forty; and probably some contrived to be left out of the list. The minister told us, that a few years ago the inhabitants were eighthundred, between the ages of seven and of seventy. Round numbers are seldom exact. But in this case the authority is good, and the error likely to be little. If to the eight hundred be added what the laws of computation require, they will be increased to at least a thousand; and if the dimensions of the country have been accurately related, every mile maintains more than twenty-five. This proportion of habitation is greater than the appearance of the country seems to admit; for wherever the eye wanders, it seems much waste and little cultivation. I am more inclined to extend the land, of which no measure has ever been taken, than to diminish the people, who have been really numbered. Let it be supposed, that a computed mile contains a mile and a half, as was commonly found true in the mensuration of the English roads, and we shall then allot nearly twelve to a mile, which agrees much better with ocular observation. Here, as in Sky, and other islands, are the laird, the tacksmen, and the under-tenants. Mr. Maclean, the laird, has very extensive possessions, being proprietor, not only of far the greater part of Col, but of the extensive island of Rum, and a very considerable territory in Mull. Rum is one of the larger islands, almost square, and therefore of great capacity in proportion to its sides. By the usual method of estimating computed extent,