Index  Dorothy Wordsworth

Tour in Scotland

The horse lying on his back, struggling in the harness, a frightful sight!

Poor horse in shock and terror

The Wordsworths traveled the six hundred miles of their tour of Scotland with a jaunting car. This Irish invention was pulled by one horse, had a chest for a box, and a floating seat on both sides above the wheel. The passengers sat back to back. In the nineteenth century, this simple cart was popular in Dublin. In England and Scotland, there were few. Dorothy and William could therefore count on a lot of attention wherever they went. Dorothy: 'Reached Dumfries at about nine o'clock - market-day; met crowds of people on the road, and every one had a smile for us and our car'. At other times, in the rain that often came down in sheets, on windy roads full of puddles and mud, the soggy travellers must have made a poor impression on their open vehicle.

William had the task of driving the horse or - as was often the case - leading the bit while walking. His role as driver was not easy for him since as he was rather clumsy. Dorothy reports in her travelogue a number of incidents that endangered the trip. It threatened to go wrong shortly after leaving Keswick.

Passed the foot of Grisdale and Mosedale, both pastoral valleys, narrow, and soon terminating in the mountains - green, with scattered trees and houses, and each a beautiful stream. At Grisdale our horse backed upon a steep bank where the road was not fenced, just above a pretty mill at the foot of the valley; and we had a second threatening of a disaster in crossing a narrow bridgebridg between the two dales; but this was not the fault of either man or horse.  

Wild boys
'The road was full of people, who all noticed our car in one way or other; the children often sent a hooting after us.' Dorothy reports on the reaction of people on the street in the sprawling suburbs of Glasgow. Brother and sister were exhausted when they finally reached their accommodation for the night in the city center. After dinner in the pleasantly quiet inn, they made a walk through the inner city, which they liked. 'The Trongate, an old street, is very picturesque - high houses, with an intermixture of gable fronts towards the street.' The next day they left town after lunch, in heavy rain.

We were obliged to ride through the streets to keep our feet dry, and, in spite of the rain, every person as we went along stayed his steps to look at us; indeed, we had the pleasure of spreading smiles from one end of Glasgow to the other - for we travelled the whole length of the town. A set of schoolboys, perhaps there might he eight, with satchels over their shoulders, and, except one or two, without shoes and stockings, yet very well dressed in jackets and trousers, like gentlemen's children, followed us in great delight, admiring the car and longing to jump up. At last, though we were seated, they made several attempts to get on behind; and they looked so pretty and wild, and at the same time so modest, that we wished to give them a ride, and there being a little hill near the end of the town, we got off, and four of them who still remained, the rest having dropped into their homes by the way, took our places; and indeed I would have walked two miles willingly, to have had the pleasure of seeing them so happy. When they were to ride no longer, they scampered away, laughing and rejoicing. 

Brutal horse-breaker
Towards the end of the second week, the journey led around the edges of Loch Etive. On the way to Glen Coe, the heart of the Highlands, Dorothy and William had to cross this estuary on the north side with cart and horse by ferry. In the run-up to this crossing, a beautiful view opened up.

The morning had been gloomy, and at this time the sun shone out, scattering the clouds. We looked right down the lake, that was covered with streams of dazzling sunshine, which revealed the indentings of the dark shores.  On a bold promontory, on the same side of the loch where we were, stood an old castle, an irregular tall building, not without majesty; and beyond, with leagues of water between, our eyes settled upon the island of Mull, a high mountain, green in the sunshine, and overcast with clouds, - an object as inviting to the fancy as the evening sky in the west, and though of a terrestrial green, almost as visionary. We saw that it was an island of the seas but were unacquainted with its name; it was of a gem-like colour, and as soft as the sky. The shores of Loch Etive, in their moorish, rocky wildness, their earthly bareness, as they lay in length before us, produced a contrast which, with the pure sea, the brilliant sunshine, the long distance, contributed to the aërial and romantic power with which the mountain island was invested.

Soon after, we came to the ferry.  The boat being on the other shore, we had to wait a considerable time, though the water was not wide, and our call was heard immediately. The boatmen moved with surly tardiness, as if glad to make us know that they were our masters. At this point the lake was narrowed to the breadth of not a very wide river by a round ear or promontory on the side on which we were, and a low ridge of peat-mossy ground on the other. It was a dreary place, shut out from the beautiful prospect of the Isle of Mull, and Dunstaffnage Castle - so the fortress was called. Four or five men came over with the boat; the horse was unyoked, and being harshly driven over rough stones, which were as slippery as ice, with slimy seaweed, he was in terror before he reached the boat, and they completed the work by beating and pushing him by main force over the ridge of the boat, for there was no open end, or plank, or any other convenience for shipping either horse or carriage. I was very uneasy when we were launched on the water. A blackguard-looking fellow, blind of one eye, which I could not but think had been put out in some strife or other, held him by force like a horse-breaker, while the poor creature fretted, and stamped with his feet against the bare boards, frightening himself more and more with every stroke; and when we were in the middle of the water I would have given a thousand pounds to have been sure that we should reach the other side in safety. The tide was rushing violently in, making a strong eddy with the stream of the loch, so that the motion of the boat and the noise and foam of the waves terrified him still more, and we thought it would be impossible to keep him in the boat, and when we were just far enough from the shore to have been all drowned he became furious, and, plunging desperately, his hind-legs were in the water, then, recovering himself, he beat with such force against the boat-side that we were afraid he should send his feet through. All the while the men were swearing terrible oaths, and cursing the poor beast, redoubling their curses when we reached the landing-place, and whipping him ashore in brutal triumph.

Swimming to the other side
The Wordsworths had set off at seven in the morning, and had wanted to eat breakfast in the ferry house. But after this nasty experience, they decided to pay the men and leave the place of disaster immediately. There was not much time for relief, though, because they had to cross the water again about ten kilometers further on. Fearing the worst, they left and finally reached the ferry house at Loch Creran, where they only found a woman.

After a long time the ferryman came home; but we had to wait yet another hour for the tide. In the meanwhile our horse took fright in consequence of his terror at the last ferry, ran away with the car, and dashed out umbrellas, greatcoats, etc.; but luckily he was stopped before any serious mischief was done. We had determined, whatever it cost, not to trust ourselves with him again in the boat; but sending him round the lake seemed almost out of the question, there being no road, and probably much difficulty in going round with a horse; so after some deliberation with the ferryman it was agreed that he should swim over. The usual place of ferrying was very broad, but he was led to the point of a peninsula at a little distance. It being an unusual affair, - indeed, the people of the house said that he was the first horse that had ever swum over, - we had several men on board, and the mistress of the house offered herself as an assistant: we supposed for the sake of a share in eighteen-pennyworth of whisky which her husband called for without ceremony, and of which she and the young lasses, who had helped to push the boat into the water, partook as freely as the men. At first I feared for the horse: he was frightened, and strove to push himself under the boat; but I was soon tolerably easy, for he went on regularly and well, and after from six to ten minutes swimming landed in safety on the other side. Poor creature! he stretched out his nostrils and stared wildly while the man was trotting him about to warm him, and when he put him into the car he was afraid of the sound of the wheels.

Flooded bridge
That Friday, September 2nd, the Wordsworths had little luck. After the two previous incidents earlier in the day, they encountered another barrier late in the evening.

The moon was now shining, and though it reminded us how far the evening was advanced, we stopped for many minutes before we could resolve to go on; we saw nothing stirring, neither men, women, nor cattle; but the linen was still bleaching by the stony rivulet, which ran near the houses in water-breaks and tiny cataracts.  For the first half mile after we had left this scene there was nothing remarkable; and afterwards we could only see the hills, the sky, the moon, and moonlight water. When we came within, it might be, half a mile of Ballachulish, the place where we were to lodge, the loch narrowed very much, the hills still continuing high.  I speak inaccurately, for it split into two divisions, the one along which we went being called Loch Leven.

The road grew very bad, and we had an anxious journey till we saw a light before us, which with great joy we assured ourselves was from the inn; but what was our distress when, on going a few steps further, we came to a bridge half broken down, with bushes laid across to prevent travellers from going over.  After some perplexity we determined that I should walk on to the house before us - for we could see that the bridge was safe for foot-passengers - and ask for assistance.  By great good luck, at this very moment four or five men came along the road towards us and offered to help William in driving the car through the water, which was not very deep at that time, though, only a few days before, the damage had been done to the bridge by a flood.

Dorothy, meanwhile, walked to the inn and ordered some food by a comfortable fire, awaiting William's arrival.

I was not, however, quite at ease, for William stayed long, and I was going to leave my fire to seek after him, when I heard him at the door with the horse and car. The horse had taken fright with the roughness of the river-bed and the rattling of the wheels - the second fright in consequence of the ferry - and the men had been obliged to unyoke him and drag the car through, a troublesome affair for William; but he talked less of the trouble and alarm than of the pleasure he had felt in having met with such true good-will and ready kindness in the Highlanders. They drank their glass of whisky at the door, wishing William twenty good wishes, and asking him twice as many questions, - if he was married, if he had an estate, where he lived, etc. etc. 

Horse in shock 

Maltreatment in a ferry, a swim behind another ferry, terrifying chatter of rocks in the bed of a river. And all that on the same day. Which horse would not be in shock? No wonder it went wrong again the next day.

We rose at six o'clock, and took a basin of milk before we set forward on our journey to Glen Coe. It was a delightful morning, the road excellent, and we were in good spirits, happy that we had no more ferries to cross, and pleased with the thought that we were going among the grand mountains which we saw before us at the head of the loch. We travelled close to the water’s edge, and were rolling along a smooth road, when the horse suddenly backed, frightened by the upright shafts of a roller rising from behind the wall of a field adjoining the road. William pulled, whipped, and struggled in vain; we both leapt upon the ground, and the horse dragged the car after him, he going backwards down the bank of the loch, and it was turned over, half in the water, the horse lying on his back, struggling in the harness, a frightful sight! I gave up everything; thought that the horse would be lamed, and the car broken to pieces. Luckily a man came up in the same moment, and assisted William in extricating the horse, and, after an hour’s delay, with the help of strings and pocket-handkerchiefs, we mended the harness and set forward again, William leading the poor animal all the way, for the regular beating of the waves frightened him, and any little gushing stream that crossed the road would have sent him off.

In the next village – 'a few huts under the mountains, and, as it seemed, at the head of the loch' - Dorothy and William found a blacksmith who could repair the car and 'made us a most reasonable charge'.  

Straight back
During the second half of their journey, away from the turbulent lochs, William managed to control the skittish horse. Blood-curdling incidents no longer occurred. Only one more time did Dorothy report a problem with the jaunting car. That was when they were forced to turn around at Rannoch Moor because of the impassibility of the path. Between two steep shoulders they had to unharness the horse, turn the cart and re-harness the animal. After that, they still had more than sixteen miles to go, walking next to the cart.

In the very last week of their tour, on the way back, south of Edinburgh, the Wordsworths met a young man who had also crossed the Highlands. He was so enthusiastic about Loch Rannoch that the Wordsworths regretted they had not persevered in their journey, 'especially as he told us that the bad road ended at a very little distance from the place where we had turned back, and that we should have come into another good road, continued all along the shore of the lake'.  

Nowhere in her Recollections does Dorothy explicitly report that the jaunting car was a liability, but unquestionably horse and car often gave brother and sister more trouble than ease.