Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

Scottish Idyll

Scotland mountain landscapeIn 1890 , the Sutherland family took a holiday in a Scottish farmhouse. Halliday Sutherland was eight. His later description of the landscape revealed his love of and deep affinity to Scotland.

The house stood on a small plateau on the south bank of the swift-running river that flowed down the glen, and from the other bank there rose a barrier of rugged hills and volcanic rocks.  On the hills were large purple patches of heather and smaller green patches of bracken and grasses, and here and there little woods of birch and of fir scrambled up the slopes.  High and solitary above the crags was a silver birch – the tree that grows at greater heights than all other trees – and on sunny days pieces of quartz sparkled in the rocks.  On the other side of the hills was an inland loch, very long, very narrow and very deep, and from its farther shore rose the side of a great mountain crowned by a precipice.  In clear weather the top of this crag could be seen from the house.

The great inland loch was almost out of sight and also the little steamers that passed through it on their way from one shore of Scotland to the other along the Caledonian Canal.  Behind the house were rising moors, glens, and mountains where the mists of morning linger.  Over these mountains and under the clouds was a wild country, where in late autumn the glens echoed to the roaring of stags,  There I once found a great stone, and on the top, as on a savage altar, the skin and bones of a sheep picked clean by eagles.

Down the glen westwards ran the river in a series of broad shallows, narrow rapids, and deep pools.  Just below the house was a salmon pool through which the water ran black and swirling.  On our side of the pool was a sandy beach and at the top end a little sandy bay of still shallow water.  Between the bay and the entrance of the rapids into the pool was a small plantation of bushes and trees.  In dry weather this was a peninsula jutting into the pool, but when the river was in spate it was an island, and the water poured around it into the sandy bay.  At the end of the peninsula was a withered ash with smooth trunk and branches which it was easy to climb naked.  I would walk along a branch over-hanging the place where the rapids poured into the pool, and from there dive into the stream.  It was a very deep pool, and not always did I manage to reach the smooth rocks at the bottom.  When I did, it seemed a long time before I got back to the surface and found that the moving wall of water had carried me to the tail end of the pool.  What did I hope to find at the bottom?  A salmon lying quiet, to be seized by the gills and dragged to the surface after a desperate struggle.  The other thing I dreamt to find was the under-water entrance to a secret cave into which I could swim and find myself in a cavern under the rocks on the farther bank.  These were animal instincts, in childhood not altogether lost.

In the depths of the pool I found neither the salmon nor hidden caverns.  The light was so dim that all I could see was the blurred outline of rocks past which the current carried me.

The water of the river and of the burns which feed it was peaty, but in the woods on either side were many springs clear as crystal on a floor of glistening pebbles.

Up and down the glen were farms and crofts, a mile or more apart, and beside each was a field or two of corn and a small walled-in garden, flanked at each corner by rowan trees, which kept away certain evil things that dwelt in the mountains.  On calm days blue smoke from peat fires in the houses rose in the still air, and the silence of the hills was broken by the sound of running water, and now and then by the bleating of sheep, the crowing of the cock on a distant farm, the sharp, startled cry of the grouse – “Go-o back, go-o back” – or by the wail of a curlew.

From The Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland, published in 1933.

One comment on “Scottish Idyll

  1. Fran
    12 June 2014

    This place is so serene and tranquil and this description transports me immediately to it.

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This entry was posted on 16 May 2014 by in Family life.

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