Tuesday, 21st September
The uncertainty of our present situation having prevented me from receiving any letters from home for some time, I could not help being uneasy. Dr Johnson had an advantage over me, in this respect, he having no wife or child to occasion anxious apprehensions in his mind. It was a good morning; so we resolved to set out. But, before quitting this castle, where we have been so well entertained, let me give a short description of it.
Along the edge of the rock, there are the remains of a wall, which is now covered with ivy. A square court is formed by buildings of different ages, particularly some towers, said to be of great antiquity; and at one place there is a row of false cannon of stone. There is a very large unfinished pile, four stories high, which we were told was here when Leod, the first of this family, came from the Isle of Man, married the heiress of the M'Crails, the ancient possessors of Dunvegan, and afterwards acquired by conquest as much land as he had got by marriage. He surpassed the house of Austria; for he was felix both bella genere et nubere. John Breck M'Leod, the grandfather of the late laird, began to repair the castle, or rather to complete it: but he did not live to finish his undertaking. Not doubting, however, that he should do it, he, like those who have had their epitaphs written before they died, ordered the following inscription, composed by the minister of the parish, to be cut upon a broad stone above one of the lower windows, where it still remains to celebrate what was not done, and to serve as a memento of the uncertainty of life, and the presumption of man:
Joannes Macleod Beganoduni Dominus gentis suae Philarchus, Durinesiae Haraiae Vaternesiae, &c: Baro D. Florae Macdonald matrimoniali vinculo conjugatus turrem hanc Beganodunensem proavorum habitaculum longe vetustissimum diu penitus labefectatam Anno aerae vulgaris MDCLXXXVI instauravit.
Quern stabilire juvat proavorum tecta vetusta, Omne scelus fugiat, justitiamque colat. Vertit in aerias turres magalia virtus, Inque casas humiles tecta superba nefas.
M'Leod and Talisker accompanied us. We passed by the parish church of Durinish. The church-yard is not enclosed, but a pretty murmuring brook runs along one side of it. In it is a pyramid erected to the memory of Thomas Lord Lovat, by his son Lord Simon, who suffered on Towerhill. It is of free-stone, and, I suppose, about thirty feet high. There is an inscription on a piece of white marble inserted in it, which I suspect to have been the composition of Lord Lovat himself, being much in his pompous style:
This pyramid was erected by SIMON LORD FRASER of LOVAT, in honour of Lord THOMAS his Father, a Peer of Scotland, and Chief of the great and ancient clan of the FRASERS. Being attacked for his birthright by the family of ATHOLL, then in power and favour with KING WILLIAM, yet, by the valour and fidelity of his clan, and the assistance of the CAMPBELLS, the old friends and allies of his family, he defended his birthright with such greatness and fermety of soul, and such valour and activity, that he was an honour to his name, and a good pattern to all brave Chiefs of clans. He died in the month of May, 1699, in the 63d year of his age, in Dunvegan, the house of the LAIRD of MAC LEOD, whose sister he had married: by whom he had the above SIMON LORD FRASER, and several other children. And, for the great love he bore to the family of MAC LEOD, he desired to be buried near his wife's relations, in the place where two of her uncles lay. And his son LORD SIMON, to shew to posterity his great affection for his mother's kindred, the brave MAC LEODS, chooses rather to leave his father's bones with them, than carry them to his own burial-place, near Lovat.
I have preserved this inscription, though of no great value, thinking it characteristical of a man who has made some noise in the world. Dr Johnson said, it was poor stuff, such as Lord Lovat's butler might have written.
I observed, in this church-yard, a parcel of people assembled at a funeral, before the grave was dug. The coffin, with the corpse in it, was placed on the ground, while the people alternately assisted in making a grave. One man, at a little distance, was busy cutting a long turf for it, with the crooked spade which is used in Sky; a very aukward instrument. The iron part of it is like a plough-coulter. It has a rude tree for a handle, in which a wooden pin is placed for the foot to press upon. A traveller might, without further inquiry, have set this down as the mode of burying in Sky. I was told, however, that the usual way is to have a grave previously dug.
I observed to-day, that the common way of carrying home their grain here is in loads on horse-back. They have also a few sleds, or cars, as we call them in Ayrshire, clumsily made, and rarely used.
We got to Ulinish about six o'clock, and found a very good farm-house, of two stories. Mr M'Leod of Ulinish, the sheriff-substitute of the island, was a plain honest gentleman, a good deal like an English justice of peace; not much given to talk, but sufficiently sagacious, and somewhat droll. His daughter, though she was never out of Sky, was a very well-bred woman. Our reverend friend, Mr Donald M'Queen, kept his appointment, and met us here.
Talking of Phipps's voyage to the North Pole, Dr Johnson observed, that it 'was conjectured that our former navigators have kept too near land, and so have found the sea frozen far north, because the land hinders the free motion of the tide; but, in the wide ocean, where the waves tumble at their full convenience, it is imagined that the frost does not take effect'.