As you step down the road by the gorge of Spean to the meeting of the waters you are walking right into the land of lost romance. Yonder across the hills lies Glenfinnan, where in 1745 Tearlach Og raised the standard; and Achnacarry, Lochiel's castle, is but a mile or two up Loch Lochyside.
To the end of time the history of men will haggle over the sins and faults of Prince Charlie, and all who with him made the Great Adventure against tremendous odds. But to those of us who know the worst that can be said about the Jacobites, from the first mad handful who landed in Moidart to the last sad chapter which Clemintina Walkinshaw and a few other women knew, these moors and mountains will always mean a pain at the heart. It is so easy to drag the dark deeds of history into light now, either in fiction or fact, by ransacking old manuscripts, after the manner of some. But to those who keep alive the spirit of adventure in the heart, to them alone will come some inward understanding of this gambler's throw.
Although it has been all by with so long ago, yet here in the Land of Lochiel there will always be a sound of piping in the wind and a glimpse of blue bonnets, white cockades, and swinging tartans on the hill - for the piobaireachd which the phantom ghillie plays on the wild nights in yon little God's acre by the waterside, above the graves of the Camerons, is all the more despairing, because no man living will ever be able to finger the notes of that lost tune on Time's own chanter.
The moors were shimmering in the April sunlight as we looked over the heather to the mighty Hill of Heaven, and when we got to the bend of the wooded way on Lochyside the whole world away to the north was one picture of beauty. Young larches blushing green against the azure waters; every shade of grey and purple and brown on the cloud-flecked hills; a blue-white sky above; and the song of the birds in the woods. A heavenly poem of spring without one note of sadness in it.
And here is Achnacarry Bay, with Lochiel's great house in the trees, and only a fragment of the old castle left as a reminder of the Duke of Cumberland's burnings in 1746. Lochiel was busy planting a beech avenue, when the sudden call of the 'Forty-Five came. So he sheuched in the small plants hurriedly, being minded to finish this new approach when he came back from the war. But for him there was to be no returning, and the great trees to-day are soughing sad memories. A white swan is floating in the tranquil bay. Bunarkaig is sleeping peacefully in the sun. But all over this beauty spot there is a sense of old things ended. The woods are being cut down. Even the Mile Dorcha - the dark mile of trees leading to Loch Arkaig - is no longer dark. For the woodman's axe has been busy letting in the sunlight and clearing the thickly-wooded hills. By Loch Arkaig side you can hear a note of the lost tune in every wind that blows.
It is an ill thing to think of money in a place like this, but I can never look on the waters of this Highland loch without recalling the story of the Prince's Treasure. A sum of 40,000 louis d'or was buried here by the Jacobites after Culloden, somewhere about these shores between Achnacarry and Glen Desseray. The "Gask Papers" tell us that a sum of £5000 was sent by Cluny to Major Kennedy, who himself buried the treasure. Prince Charlie wrote about it from Avignon. Aeneas Macdonald accused Kennedy of losing £800 of it at Newmarket Races. Young Glengarry and others helped themselves to some of it. The Prince's treasure produced charges of disloyalty, theft, and forgery among the exiled Jacobites. In a letter written from Lille to the Prince's secretary at Rome on May 2nd, 1753, young Edgar says: - "I wish with all my heart the Government had got it at the beginning, for it has given the greatest stroke to the cause that can be imagines; it has divided the different clans more than ever; and even those of the same clan and family." Here surely is a sordid side to the great romance! The money proved a curse to all concerned, until Cluny bore all that he could find of the 40,000 louis d'or back to France.
It was doubtless this Loch Arkaig treasure, with all the glamour of its secret hiding place, that gave rise to legends of a Prince's hoard in many a Highland desolation, from Lochaber to the Outer Isles.
Not so very many years ago, a Highland minister was trolling with a long line in Loch Arkaig, when he hooked something unusually heavy.
"It is one of the Prince's money bags!" exclaimed the ghillie.
But it was only a salmo ferox of fifteen pounds. So the tradition of the secret hoard of money which proved such a curse to Charlie and his broken friends still survives in the district.
It was Macaulay who called Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel (1629-1718) the Ulysses of the Highlands. This chief gave the soldiers of Cromwell much trouble while they occupied a fort at Inverlochy. Eoghain Dubh, or Black Ewen, he was called in Lochaber, but the Ironsides called him MacIlduy.
He was the beau ideal of a chivalrous soldier - generous, wise, fearless in fight, and well-beloved. But wild days call forth wild methods.
There is a spot near Achdaliew on Lochielside which is still associated with a fight between Ewen Cameron and an English soldier. A party of Cromwell's men, under an officer, had been sent to Lochielside to cut wood. Lochiel and his Highlanders surprised them and cut them off. Black Ewen came to grips with the officer, and wrestled with him until they both fell into the dry bed of a stream. Each was utterly spent with the struggle. The Englishman, however, managed to seize a dagger at his belt, and was about to stab Lochiel when Black Ewen noticed that he had exposed his neck. So he bit it right through, and held on until the mouthful came away.
"That was the sweetest bite I ever had," said he afterwards.
Then, in 1660, when Monk made his famous march to London before the Restoration of Charles II, Lochiel rode at his side. His exploits as a soldier were the talk of the Court. But one day the Highland chief went into a barber's shop to have a shave. When the razor was passing over his throat the barber remarked -
"You are from the North, sir?"
After that Lochiel never entered a barber's shop again.
His grandson, Donald Cameron of Lochiel, who came out in the '45, will for ever be known as the Gentle Lochiel. Here surely was the finest character which the '45 produced. His brother, John Cameron of Fassifern, tried to persuade him to stay at home. "If this Prince once sets his eyes upon you," said Fassifern, "he will make you do whatever he pleases."
But Lochiel loyally went to meet the Prince at Borodale to warn him that he would be better to return to France and await reinforcements. The inevitable happened. Charles would take no advice. It was always the same.
"In a few days, with the few friends that I have, I will erect the royal standard… Lochiel, who, my father has often told me, was our warmest friend, may stay at home and learn from the newspapers the fate of his Prince."
"No," replied Lochiel, "I shall share the fate of my Prince, and so shall every man over whom nature or fortune has given me any power."
So he gave all and lost all for the cause. He came through all the turmoils, privations, disputes, and bitter disappointments of the campaign without a stain on his fair name. He was wounded in both ankles at Culloden, was a loyal companion of the Prince in his wanderings, and lived with him in Cluny's Cage on Ben Alder. Although Achnacarry had been burned to the ground, Charles was sheltered on several occasions in these very woodlands which are now being cut down. He hid in "a fast place" or cave about two miles east of Achnasaul. Here the wanderers were so hard put to it for food that, taking all the risks, they had to shoot a stag. A second shelter was found the next day, when Cameron of Clunes took them to another hiding place in the wood near Clunes House. A third shelter was found in a hut within the wood of Torvoult, opposite Achnacarry. Here they stayed for two days, when Dr. Cameron, Lochiel's brother, arrived with an apology from the chief for not coming to welcome the Prince to the shelter of his woods - Lochiel, courteous and loyal to a punctilio.
Then came the flight to Cluny's Cage, and finally the last journey back to Achnacarry on their way to join the ship - a privateer called the Heureux, which was waiting in Loch-na-nuagh to carry the broken Prince to France. The whole adventure was over for Tearlach Og, but he was yet to dree his miserable weird abroad for other forty-two years. Lochiel went with him, and died in France as Colonel of the Scoto-French regiment of Albany in the year 1748.
But the Jacobite martyr was Dr. Archibald Cameron, the chief's youngest brother. He was a cultured gentleman, who had studied medicine in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and France, and practised in his own district of Lochaber. Indeed, this good physician, along with his brother the chief, had set themselves to improve the conditions of life for their clansmen when the Rising took place. Thereafter Dr Archie, as he was called, prove himself to be a good soldier and a consummate physician among the wounded. He himself was wounded at Falkirk, and served at Culloden. Escaping to France, he became a regimental surgeon there. Then he made several journeys to Scotland on secret missions, until in 1752 he was caught near the barracks of Inversnaid. By this time, alas, there were several spies among the demoralised Jacobites in France, and it is to be feared that the good doctor fell victim to treachery.
It happened that while he was being hunted round Inversnaid the children of the neighbourhood were his best sentries. The soldiers were puzzled by the strange conduct of the children, who always uttered loud cries whenever they saw a redcoat. At last the soldiers caught a boy who had hurt his foot and could not run away. By bullying him they found out that Dr Archie was hiding in a certain bothy in a wood. He escaped in time from the house, but was caught among some bushes. It was Edinburgh Castle for him then, and the Tower of London afterwards. He was tried at the Cockpit in Whitehall and condemned. His wife, who was imprisoned along with him, made a pathetic appeal to George II., and there was a public protest against the Government for executing another Jacobite at that late date, especially a man of Dr Cameron's character. But all in vain. So the good physician of Lochiel was hanged, and afterwards disembowelled, on the 8th day of June 1752 - the last martyr to a lost cause.
Walking by Loch Arkaig side to-day, 180 years after, among the fallen timber of the great estate, with a wrecked boat lying on the shore, a whaup wailing on the hill, and the haunts of the hunted Prince all about us, is it wonderful if these memories should move us still? For, despite the sad minor notes in the lost tune, its music charms us yet. Had Charlie won it would have been an ill day for these islands. But so human are we, and so merciful a thing is memory, that just because he adventured so bravely and lost, calling forth the love of thousands of Highland hearts, among whom there was not found one who would betray him for £30,000, we shall sing for ever the last sad years of his disappointed life. But, O Tearlach Og, would that you had died at Culloden with your face to the foe and your honour undimmed