The singer/songwriter Dougie Maclean wrote a marvelous song about forced exile and emigration, although it could also be interpreted as a longing for home. The words of it came to mind during a period of working in Glasgow when, in the city’s midwinter gloom, some of the lines had a particular resonance;
“in the darkness struggle cold, I think about a garden valley,
Gentle as the leaves unfold, singing out along the Tay,
Distant and so far away, there is no peace for me…”
I couldn’t resist the thought of “singing out along the Tay” so, on my way home to Badenoch I swung off the A9 just beyond Dunkeld and took a stroll by the river, little realising the full relevance of the musical connection.
As I wandered along the riverside path below some magnificent mixed woodland little did I realize that the old oak tree I was approaching is known as Neil Gow’s Tree. Apparently the greatest of the Perthshire fiddlers used to sit below the spreading branches of the tree and play his fiddle tunes, many of which have become the mainstay of Scotland’s country dance repertoire.
In her book, Memoirs of a Highland Lady, Mrs Grant of Rothiemurchus tells of hearing Gow play in the Inn at Inver where she was spending the night. The music thrilled her so much she apparently had to take a walk along the riverbank to calm her down before going to bed!
And a fine walk along the Tay it is. The river is broad and stately as it winds round the grounds of the Dunkeld House Hotel with trees lining the riverbanks. I followed the path as far as the River Braan, crossed it by a footbridge and took the quiet, minor road to Inver where Niel Gow lived for most of his life.
Gow was born in nearby Strathbraan in 1727 where there was strong musical tradition and the young Niel soon showed his aptitude for the fiddle. He eventually came under the patronage of the Duke of Atholl and became one of Scotland’s finest ever fiddlers.
There’s not a lot to the village of Inver but the Inn is still there, and a large caravan site. At the far end of the village a path runs up to and alongside the busy A9 for a couple of hundred metres before entering the car park of The Hermitage.
The extensive woodlands surrounding The Hermitage were gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1944 by Katharine Duchess of Atholl and an attractive woodland walk runs below spectacularly large Douglas firs to the amazing folly, Ossian’s Hall, overlooking the Black Linn waterfall of the River Braan.
Ossian’s Hall was built for the 2nd Duke of Atholl in 1758, and originally featured mirrors on its interior walls and ceilings to reflect the cascade of waters outside and must have been pretty impressive. It certainly moved Dorothy Wordsworth to exclaim; “we were at the entrance of a splendid room which was almost dizzy and alive with waterfalls that tumbled in all directions…”
The musical connection continued here – Ossian was the bardic warrior son of Fionn MacChumhail, or Fingal, leader of the fabled Fianna warriors, although I suspect his name was adopted for the Duke’s impressive Hall out of sheer romanticism. Sit above the falls though, close your eyes, and it’s easy enough to imagine the young Ossian sitting above the turbulent waters strumming his Celtic harp!
From Ossian’s hall good tracks runs through the Craigvinean Forest all the way back to the car park and by the time I reached it my midwinter blues had well and truly evaporated.
Photo: Ossian’s Hall