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ART. I.-1. Natural History and Sport in Moray. Collected
from the Journals and Letters of the late Charles St. John, Esq.
Edinburgh, 1863. 2. Forest Sketches : Deerstalking and other Sports in the Highlands
Fifty Years ago. Edinburgh, 1865. 3. Encyclopedia of Rural Sports. By Delabere P. Blaine, Esq.
London, 1858. 4. Manual of British Rural Sports. Stonehenge. London, 1863. 5. The Shooter's Handbook. Edinburgh, 1842. 6. The Moor and the Loch. By John Colquhoun, Esq. Edin
burgh, 1851. 7. Wild Sports and Natural History of the Highlands. From the
Journals of Charles St. John, Esq. London, 1846. M HAT a large surface of heathclad mountain and moorland,
1 intersected by brawling streams and unnavigable rivers, chequered here and there with broad lochs and solitary tarns, and under the influence of a climate such as to preclude the possibility of the land being brought into cultivation by any outlay of capital, should contribute in a great degree to the wealth and wellbeing of the country on which it is found mapped, may be considered a somewhat startling proposition.
If, indeed, those mountain-ranges were rich in mineral product --in coal, in iron-if those angry torrents, boring and grinding their passage through the auriferous rock, carried down with them the precious grain to gild the sandbank of the rivers to which they are tributary—the value of such possessions would be apparent, and the inhabitants of such a region would have other ties beside that dear one of home and fatherland to bind them to the soil. But no such sources of wealth are known to exist there, or they remain yet to be explored. At the present day,
the busy hum of men' disturbs not the stillness of those broad straths; the sound of the forge-hammer is unheard in those remote corries; no tall chimneys are there to poison the air and mar the wild beauty of the romantic scenery; nor is it on record that any observant angler has laid aside his fishing-gear to sift gold-dust in the river's deposit.
But this extensive tract of waste upland—which up to a recent
period yielded little or no return to its possessors, and is left even now in all its primitive wildness--has been discovered to bear a bounteous, rent-paying product-an unthought-of harvest —to be gathered in the purple heather of its picturesque hillsides : not, indeed, without "sweat of brow,' but self-imposed and pleasant withal is the toil to the labourer as the result is remunerative and without outgoings of any kind to the proprietor of the land.
Some future Macaulay, perhaps, when tracing, literally "ab ovo,' the growth of modern civilisation in the Highlands of Scotland, will take occasion, in a long exordium, to moralise on the great results produced by small causes, by way of preparing his readers and excusing himself for the introduction of so insignificant a subject as a wild game-bird in the serious page of history. He may suggest that he is not altogether without precedent, and will advert briefly to the services rendered by another bird (too often thoughtlessly made game of) in saving a certain capitol, before he records the indirect influence exercised by the grouse on its native land. He may deem such honourable mention of the bird derogatory to the dignity of the historian; but it is not the less a fact that the parcelling off the moor and mountain into grouse-shootings has been productive of a most beneficial effect in many different ways on the country. Besides increasing largely the incomes of the proprietors, the sojourn of the wealthy tenant from the South, and the consequent spreading of much money over wide and poor districts, has added to the material comfort and happiness of the people; while the introduction at the same time of new habits, new manners, new ideas, has promoted their advancement and improvement.
It is true that increased facilities of locomotion have of late years turned a part of the stream of travel northward which used to flow in other channels. A summer excursion to the Highlands is now become what a trip to Paris or a tour in Switzerland was formerly. The pleasure-seeker, the holiday tourist, is no longer obliged to cross the Channel in search of the picturesque and the grand in scenery: it is equally easy to transport himself to Scotland, and he finds there every beautiful combination of mountain and valley, of wood and lake and river.
To this influx of strangers, then, it may be objected, is due the advantage asserted to have accrued from the grouse—it is the traveller who has been the pioneer. Not so. The tourist hosts move nearly in the same groove; there is a certain beaten track, from which they rarely deviate, and this leads them through a comparatively narrow section of the Highlands. It is obvious that in their course much money is distributed ; capacious hotels have risen in their wake, shops to provide for their probable wants have started up, and means of conveyance by land and water have been established on their routine line of travel; but, beyond the pecuniary advantage thus conferred on certain localities, it is very questionable whether the affluence of tourists has been altogether a gain to the country; whether it has produced a very healthy effect on the character and the morale of the people. It is a generally acknowledged fact that it has had a contrary tendency in those parts of the continent of Europe to which the tide of travel has set strongest, and in which the requirements and comforts of the stranger have been most studied.
While, however, the tourist has been hurrying along the route laid down for him in his Guide-book, leaving, we fear, upon his track more of evil than of good, another more influential class of aliens has taken temporary possession of a vast extent of the Highlands, and, making it a residence for some months in the year, has not only contributed essentially to the material wealth of the country, but has worked a permanent good to the inhabitants of remote and wild districts by revolutionising their habits and prejudices, by bringing them, as it were, into communication with a world to which they were strangers.
We allude to the lessees of grouse-shootings; we do not care to include those of deer-forests, because these latter are comparatively few in number, and the ranges from which the sheep have been removed are, from their more remote localities and more rugged character, for the most part but thinly populated.
Probably the first of those who visited the Highlands of Scotland with a view of testing the capabilities of the country as a sporting field were carried thither by the love of adventure and the novelty of exploring fresh ground. They had for a time but few followers, and these not mere shooters but sportsmen—there is a wide difference between the two terms—men who, tired of the hedgebound stubble-field, found on the wide moor more room for their energies, more scope for the indulgence of tastes which carried them beyond the mere killing and slaying. In later years the overflow of shooters from the crowded South naturally sought the outlet most convenient for its current.
Many circumstances have combined to multiply the number of men who take up shooting as their field-sport of predilection. The restrictions imposed by the old Game Law rendered shooting the exclusive privilege of the comparatively few—the “fruges consumere nati :' the field was open only to those who were possessed of a certain amount of landed property. The abrogation of this statute in 1831, and the new Act, which gave the necessary qualification to any one furnished with a game certifi
cate, let in the many.' The increase in wealth within the last few years has enlarged the class of shooters. Again, the rapidity of travelling has enabled very many to indulge in fieldsports who could ill afford the loss of time and the heavy expenses incurred in the oldfashioned journey by the turnpike-road. And it is not only that the number of shooters is increased, they have become also more destructive. The notable improvements in firearms, dating from the invention of the percussion lock to supersede the old flint, down to the more recent substitution of the breech-loader for the muzzle-loader, have enabled men to shoot quicker and better.
The taste for shooting becoming thus more widely diffused, there was no longer room for the increased number of its followers, who naturally looked about them for a new and more open range of practice. Hence the irruption—it may so be called—of the Southerner into the Highlands of Scotland. A tract, which seemed to him illimitable in length and breadth, accustomed as he was to the confined bounds of an enclosed country, was there found to be attainable on lease. The monarch-of-all-I-survey' sort of feeling, the absolute freedom that could be there exercised from all the tedious conventionalities of ordinary life, the voluntary abandonment of all his usual luxuries, and the very roughing it in homely quarters had its charm ; but, more than all, the bracing, life-giving air he breathed on the hills was delightful to the new-comer. A moor in Scotland became an institution : fashion sanctioned it, but the intrinsic merits of the thing established it.
The Red Grouse (Lagopus Scoticus) is so well known in appearance that we spare the reader the technical enumeration of the marks which distinguish it from many other birds of the same family, the genus Tetrao. Two other species are found with us: the Capercailzie, or Cock of the Wood (Urogallus), and the Blackcock (Tetrao tetrix). The former of these was indigenous, and, after becoming extinct, has been within the last few years successfully reintroduced into Scotland. It is the Red Grouse, however, that has unwittingly conferred so great a boon on the Highlands of Scotland.
Sir William Jardine says of it:
The Muir-fowl, the delight of the sportsman, may be placed at the head of the sports of the fowler; it is to him what the fox is to the hunter, the salmon to the fisher. The light air of the early morning of a fine twelfth, and the free and open, almost unbounded prospect, exhilarate the spirits; while the boldness of the game upon discovery, erectly uttering his cry of warning to his brood,-his vigorous, lengthened flight, so long as to create doubts of his being again seen
carry with them a continuation of excitement, long after it is satiated with following the skulking black game, or the more rural amusement of walking up partridges. But independent of this claim upon the sportsman, it has another: the red grouse is exclusively confined to the British Islands, and has never been found on any part of the continent; and it would be much to be regretted if unlimited persecution or want of preservation should in after years exterminate this bird, so exclusively national.'*
Sir William might have added that the grouse possesses yet another recommendation, which with many persons will outweigh those he has awarded to it, and will be considered far more praiseworthy than the beauty of its plumage and the thoroughly game look of the bird. It is no mean addition to the menu of the dinner-table. This quality has established for it a reputation in parts of the country remote from the spot where it is so valuable as an object of sport and a source of revenue; and this, it may be assumed, fairly entitles it to a larger share of general interest in its family history and its peculiar habits than if it were a bird of meaner pretensions.f
The birds differ greatly in plumage, the colour varying from all the shades of brown to almost black; nor are they nearly uniform in size and weight; the grouse of the Western Highlands being much larger than those of Perthshire and the East generally, where, however, they are much more abundant. Mr. Colquhoun remarks : Grouse are never so plentiful on the West coast, from the wet springs 'addling so many of the eggs. This. deficiency in quantity is the reason of the superior quality of the
* Naturalist's Library,' iv. 145.
† The French reproach us with having but one sauce; it may with more truth be asserted that in the south, where grouse is an important luxury, we know but one mode of dressing it. The cook looks upon it as a bird to be inevitably roasted; and far be it from us to insinuate that so treated, and served up with its garniture of artistically browned bread-crumbs, it does not gracefully and fitly bear the honours of precedence at the second course; but we would submit that its merits are still but imperfectly developed. In fact, the real value of the grouse as food can only be fairly appreciated where the supply is unlimited. Thus, for instance, in the kitchen of every well-organised shooting-lodge is established a pot au feu, which, like the famous Heidelberg tun in days of yore, is never exhausted, but as its savoury contents are drawn off, it is replenished continually with new matériel.
To this slowly simmering caldron are consigned those birds whose mature age unfits them for a more summary process of preparation for table, and those whose inexperience or misplaced confidence has allowed them to rise too near the gun. May be an aged blackcock or an occasional hare may help to make the haggis good.' The result is a soup of such surpassing excellence, that once tasted it is never to be forgotten. But to savourer thoroughly the young and tender bird, let it be split open, broiled, and served up at breakfast, spread-eagle fashion. Those who have never eaten spatchcocked grouse can hardly be said 10 koow the real flavour of the bird.