« PreviousContinue »
disturbed possession of their throne. Seldom any collision took place, each having her favourite hunting-ground. There was the mountain for the nobler bird, and the morass for her more vulture-shaped neighbour. They sometimes, however, had a battle in the air, but the looser form, the heavier movement, and the less daring spirit of the erne, made her no match for the mountaineer, who soon drove her screaming to her island.
In the distance may be discerned the dark forms of mountains belonging to that range called CorrachBah, a very favourite resort of the golden eagle. The correis which intersect them afford the richest pasture for the deer; and the hill-fox, the wild-cat, and the marten are not yet banished from those desolate precipices. It is not to be inferred, however, that the deer-forest is also a preserve for vermin. There is many a splendid hunt after the marten or the fox, which taxes the mettle both of men and dogs. And although there often are only the hounds and their quarry upon the bare mountains, and the echoes of the rocks to cheer them on, yet, to a lover of the pure picturesque, it is worth a hundred Lowland fox-hunts, with their red coats, horns, huntsmen, whippers, and all! Nor are the eagles allowed to increase beyond a certain limit, as each pair consumes no inconsiderable number of red-deer calves as well as other game. But Lord Breadalbane has too much of the Highland heart to grudge this, or to wish, like some other proprietors, to extirpate our truly national bird.
It was towards the end of April, 1845, that, armed with my duck-gun to storm one of these eagle fortresses, I
sailed in the Loch Goil steamboat, on my way to these favourite haunts. I had also put up two trolling-rods in compliment to the salmo-feroxes of Loch Awe. We left the Bromie-law at seven o'clock on a fresh sunny morning, and paddled merrily down the Clyde. The fat rosy steward, with his quaint face of good-nature, was in high feather, and frequent in his assurances that we might expect 'a pleesant sail." Under his auspices we were soon seated at a good breakfast of whitings taken out of the firth the night before. By the time we had discussed them, we were coasting the shingly beach of Loch Long; and having touched at Arden Tinny, and viewed the fairy land of Glenfinert, its emerald lawn, and rampart of brown hill and tangled wood, we struck into the bleak Loch Goil. A short time brought us alongside of its primitive quay, where we deposited ourselves and luggage in the mongrel kind of a coach, half boat, half omnibus, which was to convey us across the isthmus, separating Loch Goil from Loch Fine. Creeping up one side of the hill at a tortoise pace, we rattled down the other at a gallop, by way of a change. A very small steamboat plies between St. Catrine's and Inverary, and I was in the act of superintending the embarkation of my chattels, when a bustling official assured me that he would see them all safe. I put faith in him, and immediately began a discussion with two fellow-travellers about the whale that had been harpooned shortly before in the loch-or the hill of Dunnequaigh-or the Duke's Castle-or I don't recollect what. Upon landing at Inverary my trolling-rods were missing, and no "satisfaction to be had, as my officious friend was safe on the opposite shore, and my poor rods lying within tide-water mark! The landlord of the Argyle Arms, however, obligingly offered to send the
ferry-boat and forward them next morning by the post* to Cladich, where I hoped to bivouac for a few days after my eagle campaign.
Having dined with my two agreeable companions, we hired an open carriage, and drove to Cladich, where we parted, they going on to Oban by Port Sonachan, and I to the Black Mount. After a long, rugged, but enjoyable drive, partly along the banks of Loch Awe, where the cuckoo was heard in every dell, or seen poising himself upon some still leafless patriarchal thorn, and partly through the environs of the forest, I arrived at the solitary little inn of Inveruran. The Forester's house was within a short distance, so I arranged with him that we should start by daylight next morning for the eagle's eyrie, partook of Highland cheer in a snug little Cyclops of a parlour ornamented with the horns of the red-deer, and then retired to my dormitory.
Day was just breaking when I crossed the river Tulla, on my way to Peter Robertson's cottage. He was standing before his door, consoling himself for his early start by a pipe of very strong tobacco. The morning was all we could wish,—calm, grey, and mild. As we passed the banks of the loch, roe-deer were quietly cropping the greensward which sloped to the water's edge, and now and then a fine
* Generally a stout hale carle, of middle age, who walks from ten to fifteen miles and back again in a day, with the mail-bag slung at his back. The first time one of these primitive posts was dignified with a little gig equipage, he came in late, and made excuse that "he was 'tagled wi' a gig!" Of course he was turned off. Poor Sandy Bell had walked twenty-seven miles a day for thirty years of his life, and at his dismissal was fresh as May. He bitterly complained that he lost, first his bread, "by they new-fangled nonsense," and then his health, for want of exercise. He is only an instance among many who have been ruined by cutting a dash.
buck would raise his head and look listlessly over his shoulder, as if wondering what business we had to be so soon astir. The black-cock, surrounded by his hens, was crooning his antics on the tops of the knolls, and was answered by the red-cock with many a cheery but eccentric call, from the more distant heights. A male henharrier was flitting stealthily above the heather, seeking his breakfast where it would be easily found, with small chance of human company at his morning meal. Now and then an Alpine hare would canter lazily away, or raise herself upon her hind legs to listen, moving about her inquisitive ears.
For some miles we walked along the road which intersects the lower end of the forest, when Peter suddenly turned into its gloomy depths. Small flocks of deer now crossed us frequently, and sometimes a large herd would saunter past at a slow walk. Occasionally we saw their profiles on the crests of the mountains, or at feed, dotted along some distant correi, in appearance no bigger than roes.
Peter had been entertaining me with many a hunting anecdote, or with the natural history of some of the wild denizens of the forest, when the first streak of the rising sun struck the gaunt head of a bald cliff in the centre of the mountains of Corrach-Bah. "Now, sir," suiting the action to the word, "in that craig is your eagle." A threatening crag it was; from the view I got, it seemed as steep as the side of a house from top to bottom. For the first time I felt a slight misgiving, lest the shot might be crank and difficult, when the bird flew out of such a rugged mass. What if I should miss! However, I banished these craven thoughts, and marched on merrily as before.
We were still a long mile from our rocks, when a dark bird rose in the midst of them, and winged his way to the opposite mountain. Was he a buzzard? No, small as he appears, that determined flight, and free flap of the wing, can belong to no bird but the eagle. Peter looked carelessly at him. "Yon's the cock, he'll be for the opposite hill, after bringing the hen her breakfast." He now whipped out his glass, and placing his back upon a hillock, and the glass upon his knee, looked long and anxiously through it. At last, jumping up, shutting the glass with a satisfied jerk, and looking to me with a smile, "She's on, sir." I now took his place, but it was some time, in spite of Peter's minute directions, before I could discern the eyrie. Look, sir, to the side o' yon bushes in the face o' the craig." "Twas easy enough to see them, they seemed "moored" not "in the rifted" but solid "rock." When I at length detected the eyrie, it appeared no bigger than a rook's nest, and how Robertson had discovered "she was on " I was a good deal puzzled to find out. But he told me to keep my eye upon the east side of the nest, and I should see a black ball which would seem higher at some times than others, and was caused by the eagle's raising her head. My qualms returned; I saw that the eyrie was about thirty yards down in the cliff, that my footing would not be firm, and that if the bird were so inclined, she might dash into the abyss with the speed of the wind. Peter, however, was talkative as ever, evidently in high glee that there was every chance of a shot.
We now struck off to the left, as if walking away from the eyrie. Having taken a long circuit, we edged in, till we got a slope of the mountain between us and our quarry.