"Resign the rhapsody, the dream
To men of larger reach ;
Be ours the quest of a plain theme,
The piety of speech."
Cabrach, or "The" Cabrach, for in common with some other districts, as The Tyrol, The Engadine, this enjoys the distinction of the definite article, though known and loved of many, yet is to others less fortunate totally unknown or much misunderstood. It is believed to lie in that far region, vaguely called "The Back of Beyond", to be difficult to approach, and to be, even in summer, a place of residence for only the most hardy of men, "a place abounding in nothing but precipitous hills, yawning passes, and endless marshy mosses, through which stranger and foreigner may never hope to pass. A spot isolated from all known regions of civilisation, and destitute even of the ordinary privilege of accommodation roads, by which its wilds may be explored and its desolation seen. A land on which barrenness is so terribly written that corn grows but to frost and die ere its ear be full, leaving the inhabitants entirely dependent upon the fertility of other districts for their means of support. A place where the summer sun scorns to exert his influence, and where the rains of spring and the frosts and snows of winter linger with tenacious hold among its barren heights, like the robber caterans of old, long after they have been driven from the homes of civilisation, and scared from the genial face of the plains. A place so wildly desolate and inhospitably barren, that nothing but the firmest nerve, urged on by dire necessity, could ever induce a human being to traverse it."
Such is the account given by a writer of the middle of last century of the popular idea of The Cabrach in those days, and even now some people seem to have much the same notions concerning it. Here is another interesting glimpse of the ideas formerly held about this elusive region, entitled "Dr Michie's first impressions of Cabrach", which we found among some old papers.
"The doctor by nature was a very stout built man, and a great pedestrian. On his first approach to Cabrach he preferred walking across the hills from Rhynie. On reaching the summit of the hill and looking down on the valley below he observed a river winding its serpentine course along its midst ; this river had the appearance to emerge out from below a mountain to the west, and to disappear below a mountain in the east, there was no appearance of an ingress or egress, its banks were decked in green sward where black cattle grazed in abundance, and its heath-clad braes covered with fleecy flocks ; after surveying the scenery below he cast his eyes westwards and he could behold mountain after mountain. He said to himself "I have travelled mony a weary foot through this warl' but noo I have reached the back side of it. I wager this colony has escaped the researches of Dr Johnson, when he reached the Hebrides he said they were the outside or the riddlings of creation. I began to contemplate in my mind what sort of a race its inhabitants might be, it brought to my recollection the incidents related by a pedestrian something like myself, who had travelled largely through the world; on his return home he related that he found a colony whose inhabitants had but one leg, they had a very large round foot like a girdle, they hopped while they walked, and were called 'Girdle Hoppers'. Well, I presume this to be that colony. I have made a wonderful discovery and perhaps a profitable one too, I may catch a pair of these creatures and have them exhibited, or at least I may do the public service and send one of them to the Zoological Gardens at London".
The aim of the present volume is to dispel all these illusions, to introduce this charming countryside to new friends, and to make its history better known to old ones.