52 weeks of Historical How-to’s, week 36: A honeymoon trip through Perthshire
Corbet Stacey Catty and Caroline Gray were married at Carry’s home, 2 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh, on 4th June 1856. Later that day they said farewell to their family and friends after the wedding breakfast at Corbet’s lodgings at 42 Albany Street, and set out on their marriage trip:
the bride has left her mother’s home and the husband has entered on his new duties.
Corbet kept a diary of their daily activities as they travelled by train, horse-drawn carriage, steamer and rowing boat from Edinburgh to Bridge of Allan, Perth, Dunkeld, Blair Atholl, Kenmore, Callander, Loch Katrine, Loch Lomond, Inverary and Oban.
This diary is now in Special Collections, as msDA865.C2, having been purchased in 1954 for £2.10s. It’s not clear whether the small volume was written as they travelled or is a fair copy of a draft diary taken at the time, as it starts without fanfare after the wedding: ‘Five o’clock had now arrived and the post-chaise was ready at the door’. It also ends mid-sentence while the happy couple were halfway down the Crinin Canal, while the route traced on the map has them returning to Edinburgh via Dumbarton and Glasgow. Some of the engravings have been inserted over the text; others, including the dried flowers, have obviously been stuck onto the page and written around. Perhaps it was a post-trip project which got abandoned or lost.
Catty (1832-1923) was the son of Sophie Stacey (1791-1874), one time friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley, before she married Lt James Patrick Catty of the Royal Engineers in 1823. Corbet played the cornet and flageolet, and published several works for the cornet. Caroline Gray (1833-1909) was born in Edinburgh, hence the wedding conducted at her home by the Church of Scotland minister of St Stephens. I would love to know how and where they met. After the wedding they lived in London and Hampshire and had three children including their son Charles William Stratford Catty, born in 1860.
We decided to follow part of their trip through Perthshire to compare what we could see and where we could stay today with 1856. Some of our conveyances could have been the same, train and steamer, but the car of course has now replaced the carriage.
Mr and Mrs Catty set out from Dunkeld on Saturday 7th June 1856. Mr and Mrs Sheridan/MacEwan set out from Dunkeld on Saturday 7th June 2014. It was indeed
a most glittering day and blue sky, lit up the beautiful wooded view before us, p11.
We followed their journey to Blair Atholl, Kenmore, Killin, Callander and Loch Katrine, a journey of around 100 miles. It took them a week, but just 2 days for us in our Honda Jazz, no oats required.
They may well have taken a travel guide with them such as the popular Black’s Economical Tourist of Scotland, published in 1852, or their guide to the Trossachs, published the following year, with useful advice on costs and places to see, and ready-made itineraries and pleasure trip routes to follow. In fact several of the diary entries bear a striking resemblance to phrases from the Economical Tourist! We also brought a guide book with us, Black’s Picturesque Guide to Scotland, 1869, my own copy.
The newlyweds had taken the train from Perth to Dunkeld station, and would recognise the handsome Victorian station building and ironwork on the platform. They went a short distance to the Birnam Hotel – which is still there as a hotel. One exciting event was an encounter with a runaway carriage and the saving of the poor female occupant. We did pass a car in a ditch, the modern equivalent of a carriage crash.
They visited the Cathedral, at that time in the grounds of the Duke of Atholl. Trees have now grown up to obscure the view in the engraving, but the fine larches mentioned by Catty are still there. They also walked along the east bank of the Tay, with a fine view of the bridge. They then
came to a ferry…and were speedily put across by an amazonian woman who handled the oars with evident imperium.
Sadly this woman is no longer plying her trade across the Tay. We drove while the Cattys walked to the Hermitage, still today a very popular focus of visits to Scotland; while we were there 2 van loads of Rabbies Backpackers arrived complete with kilted guides.
The greatest curiosity in Dunkeld, the Hermitage….so constructed as to be quite concealed from the view until the guide draws open a painted door. This panel then reveals the cascade foaming over the rocks with a deafening roar, p14
The trees are now much more overgrown than in the engraving (or artistic licence was used to get rid of them). It is looked after by the National Trust for Scotland now and we took the shorter walk from the car park.
Then onto Blair Atholl, not on the dramatically stilted A9, but on the old road, which winds along through the pass of Killiecrankie, where we went in search of the romantic old stone bridge over the Garry River shown in Mr Catty’s sketch. It turned out that this had been replaced with a metal and concrete bridge in 1968, but you can just see the stone foundations at one end in the photo. It had been replaced by a much grander and higher road bridge. This was the first structure mentioned in the diary to have disappeared. It’s hard to imagine all the traffic on the road travelling over that low and narrow little bridge.
After ‘Pitlochrie, a very healthy village with good shooting’, p16, they reached Blair Atholl where they stayed at the Tilt Hotel, ‘a very primitive Inn, standing alone and gloaming by itself with a dark fir grove behind’. It is also still there, and not improved by the modern accretions and motel style section. As they were trying to sleep, the Cattys noted ‘the running accompaniment of rats and mice with the occasional little squeak, probably caused by some little creature jamming himself into too small a hole, p26’. They did not visit Blair Castle, then known as Atholl House, as the hotel waiter ‘told me it was not worth while and seemed to think it a joke my asking at all, p25’. Which would not please the Duke of Atholl today as Blair Castle is a now major tourist attraction.
They didn’t have time for the Falls of Bruar, and neither did we, though I have been up there before. It’s now conveniently located behind the House of Bruar shopping and café outlet, which I’m sure Carry would have appreciated had it been there in her day.
Then back in a one horse trap to Kenmore, via Killiecrankie again, although they did not visit the famous view point called the Queen’s View – supposedly named after Queen Victoria who visited in 1866, after the Cattys, but it may well have had that name already. They changed horses at the Tummel Inn, now the Loch Tummel Inn and it can be seen quite clearly where the old stables and coach houses were, now used as a restaurant. They saw Scheihaillon on the route but it was too misty for us. Appropriately it rained hard on them and on us.
The old road still continues alongside Loch Tummel to the ‘very steep arch leading us over the stream’ p27 at Tummel Bridge. This beautiful high arched bridge is still there but traffic now uses with the unromantic flat metal bridge.
We fortunately didn’t have to ford the river Lyon any longer to get to Kenmore, which in the Catty’s time consisted of 2 churches, the hotel and a few neat cottages, the street ending in one of the gates into Taymouth Castle. It really hasn’t changed much. One of the churches is now a gift shop, otherwise it would be very recognisable to the Cattys.
Just like the Cattys, we took a walk through the grounds of Taymouth Castle, then the home of the Marquis of Breadalbane. We walked under the same ‘sweet scented lime trees of which there appeared to be a great number’ p29. We found and gathered ferns and dog violets, though not in flower yet, unlike when Carry and Corbet gather them. The pleasure gardens are still as beautiful as in the Cattys’ day but now an 18 hole golf course has replaced the deer park. I had to go a long way into the rough to get the right angle for the picture, but the house has not changed at all externally. Queen Victoria famously visited in 1842 and declared it the highlight of her visit to Scotland.
We sadly didn’t have a servant of the Marquis to show us the magnificent apartments but we did peer through the ground floor windows at the recent make over. It seems almost but not quite ready to re-open as a luxury corporate venue. The owner’s photo gallery shows the apartments visited by the Cattys – the dining room, drawing room and wonderful Baron’s Hall where ‘the effect is truly magical, so splendid in the tout ensemble, further heightened by the rays of light being tempered and coloured through beautiful stained glass windows’. Donald hopes to play golf there one day; I hope to tour the house.
At Kenmore the Cattys encountered a Highland wedding complete with bagpipes and kilts, fiddlers and dancing, which Corbet describes in detail: ‘the music of the pipes marching along majestically, followed by a motley assembly’, although they were confused as to which was the bride. She turned out to be twice the age of the bridegroom, with ‘a smart cap on her head and no bonnet’, p33, and Carry and Corbet discuss the reasons why this might be, it obviously being no more common back then to marry a much younger man that it is today.
Query and Silence. Had the dame a penchant for a youthful lad -no – we could not presume him such a fool. Was it out of revenge…’p35
The bridegroom was a good dancer. The bride (in consideration of her years I suppose) abstained, p35
After this excitement, the Cattys took a drosky to Killin, a beautiful journey alongside Loch Tay, and as we followed in their footsteps, we saw this rainbow, appropriately at a tiny hamlet called Cairie or Carry. A good omen for the journey, and for an improvement in the weather. At Killin, just like the Cattys, we admired the Dochart Falls, in good voice after all the rain, and ‘one of the most beautiful views of Ben Lawers’, coming in and out of the cloud; we looked at the 2 islands, one with pines and one the burial place of the McNab clan, now as then. The lovely inn was very probably there in 1856, as would have been the mill on the other side of the bridge, now the folklore museum.
On by car and carriage to Callander, ‘a very uninteresting place’ thought the Cattys. I couldn’t possibly comment. I had been unable to find out where MacGregor’s hotel had been but it had been under the same ownership as the Dreadnought which is still in business near the old train station. But then I found it on the 1854 OS town plan, which kindly names all the hotels. And it is still a hotel. The Cattys only stayed one night before travelling the 9 miles (in 1½ hours) by cart past picturesque Loch Lubnaig and Loch Vennachar to the Trossachs Hotel – now timeshare apartments called Tigh Mor but still in the holiday business. The very popular Trossachs Trail was inspired originally by Walter Scott’s remarkably popular poem, The Lady of the Lake, published in 1810, which soon brought more people to the area than could be accommodated. The Trossachs Hotel was the first superior accommodation to be built.
Corbet quotes extensively from the poem throughout his pages on the Trossachs:
High on the South steep Ben-Venue
Down on the lake in masses threw
Crags, knolls and mounds confus’dly hurl’d
The fragments of an early world
While on the north thro’ middle air
Ben-An reared high his forehead bare. p51
From the hotel there was a narrow path through the Pass of the Trossachs or Beal-an-duine to the shores of Loch Katrine. This is now an open road all the way to the loch but the steep rocky sides can still be glimpsed and there are paths for those wanting to recreate Mr Catty’s first exploration of this beautiful area. It was evidently the high point of their tour: ‘It is a perfect picture of a lake and realises all our dreams of what we have fancied Loch Katrine to be’, p48.
They spent their days exploring the loch, with trips by rowing boat to Ellen’s Isle, scene of much of the action in The Lady of the Lake, and Goblins Cave. It rained the whole time they were on the water, so we felt very much in tune with them. In torrential rain, we boarded the steamer Sir Walter Scott, built in 1899, for a trip on the loch including Ellen’s Isle, with several coachloads of other tourists. Steamers have been plying the loch since 1843, and the Cattys watched steamers go by and heard bagpipes playing on board:
A little screw steamer cane whistling round a wooded promontory, it’s puffs of white smoke curling through the trees, p48
At Loch Katrine Donald nearly missed the boat as he had met Alastair Gray, author of Lanark and another giant of the Scottish literary world, perhaps drawn there by Scott’s masterpiece. Another encounter was the sight of a bride and groom boarding the boat! So we had our Highland wedding after all, with kilts and bagpipes, though no dancing.
Carry and Corbet travelled on the Rob Roy, built in 1845, on 14th June, to continue their marriage trip to Stronachlachar, and thence the short land journey to Loch Lomond. Their steamer voyage would have been very similar trip to ours, except our steamer was now using smokless fuel and so not steaming very much at all. But there we had to leave them, as we returned home to the east while they went west.
We had originally planned to stay overnight on the trip but in the end headed home to St Andrews at the end of the first day and set out again on Sunday, the miracle of the internal combustion engine making this possible.
It was tremendous fun to mirror the Cattys on their honeymoon tour, using the diary and the guidebook for reference, looking for all the places they had visited and trying to see our 2014 world through their 1856 eyes. And it was notable how easy this was to do, reflecting a remarkable conservatism in Scottish infrastructure, and a wonderful preservation of the natural beauty of the Scottish landscape. The roads, bridges, hotels, landscapes and tourist attractions were all still extant more than 150 years later. Almost nothing had really vanished, only the old stone bridge over the Garry. Corbet and Carry would have recognised most of their surroundings if they had been travelling with us. We collected the same kind of flowers to press and stick into our scrapbook. We even shared very similar weather – sunshine and showers.
However there are now many activities on offer which were not available to the Cattys back then, such as bungee jumping off the Loch Tummel road bridge (we saw someone jump – terrifying!), quad biking, reiki, yoga and shamanism at a retreat by Loch Katrine. The brown signs of the Trossachs Trail and all the tourist advertisings might have amused or overwhelmed them too. I wonder what adventure activities or new age therapies they might have tried? Would they have taken a selfie to post on Facebook? Corbet would certainly have blogged about it.
If you want to follow the rest of the trip in Catty’s diary, look at our Digital Humanities Portal.