The Grampian Mountains

(The Grampians)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Grampians, the broad fringe of mountain that extends along the eastern side of the Highlands of Scotland, overlooks the western portion of the Lowlands, and forms the natural barrier or boundary between the two main divisions of the kingdom. In early times this range was always called the Mounth or Mound, and Hector Boece (1520) was the first to apply to it the name of Grampians or Mons Grampius, which he found mentioned in Tacitus' Agricola (97 a.d.) as the scene of Agricola's crushing defeat of Calgacus or Galgacus in 86 a. d. This, the original Mons Grampius (or rather Granpius *), appears to have been situated beyond the Tay; but it is difficult, if not impossible, to fix its exact locality. Gordon placed it at Dalginross, Chalmers at Ardoch, others in Fife, others again at Urie in Kincardineshire; but Dr Skene inclines to the opinion that it was at the peninsula formed by the junction of the Isla with the Tay. Here are remains of a strong and massive vallum, called Cleaven Dyke, before which a plain extends to the foot of Blair Hill (' mount of battle '). Be this as it may, the name Grampians is so loosely applied in popular usage, and has been so obscured by injudicious and mistaken description, as utterly to want the definiteness of meaning essential to distinct topography. The most current account of the Grampians describes them as ' a chain ' of mountains extending from Dumbarton, or from the hills behind Gareloch opposite Greenock, or from the district of Cowal in Argyllshire, to the sea at Stonehaven, or to the interior of Aberdeenshire, or to the eastern exterior of the coasts of Elginshire and Banffshire; but that account, besides containing a three-fold or a six-fold alternative within itself, is utterly inaccurate in treating the mountains as ' a chain.' No definition will include all the mountains popularly called Grampians, and at the same time exclude others not so called, except one which regards them simply as the mountain front, some files deep, which the Highlands, from their southern continental extremity to a champaign country on their flank E of the Tay, present to the Lowlands. But thus defined, or even if defined in any other way which shall not limit them to at most a comparatively small part of their central portions, they are far from being, in the usual topographical sense of the word, ' a chain.' From Cowal, north -eastward to the extremity of Dumbartonshire, they rise in elevations so utterly independent of one another as to admit long separating bays between their parts, and are of such various forms and heights and modes of continuation as to be at best a series of ridges and of isolated masses, some of them contributing the length, and others contributing merely the breadth, to their prolongation. E and N of Loch Lomond in Stirlingshire their features are so distinctive and peculiar, and their amassment or congeries is so dominated by the monarch summit of Ben Lomond, as to have occasioned them to be known scarcely as part of the Grampians, but distinctively as the Lomond Hills. Along Breadalbane and throughout the greater part of the other upland districts of Perthshire, they consist chiefly of lateral ridges running from W to E or from NW to SE, entirely separated from one another by long intersecting valleys, and occasionally standing far apart on opposite sides of long and not very narrow sheets of water; and they even, as in the instances of Schiehallion and Benglo, include isolated, huge, conspicuous monarch mountains, which possess not one character of alliance to any of the groups or ridges except their occupying areas within the Highland frontier. In the NW and N of Forfarshire, in the adjacent parts of Aberdeenshire and Perthshire, and along part of the mutual border of Perthshire and Inverness-shire, they at last assume the character of a chain or broad mountain elongation, with aggregately such loftiness of summits and such comparative uniformity and distinctiveness of character as to be well entitled to some designation peculiarly their own, and there they are commonly denominated the Central Grampians. In Kincardineshire they fork into detached courses, and almost lose what is conventionally understood to be a Highland character; and, where they are popularly said to terminate on the coast, are of so comparatively soft an outline and of so inconsiderable an elevation, that a stranger who had heard of the mountain grandeur of the Grampians, but had not learned to trace them hither, might here pass over them without suspecting to be nearer them than scores of miles. Northward, or rather westward and north-westward, of the low Kincardineshire ranges, which loose popular statement very frequently represents as the terminating part of the chain, they consist partly of some anomalous eminences, but mainly of two ridges, one of which flanks the district of Mar on the SW, while the other extends along the mutual border of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire.

A mountain region so extensive and diversified cannot be described with even proximate accuracy, except in detailed views of its several parts. Yet if only the main portion of it be regarded, or that which extends from the SW of Perthshire to the mutual border of Forfarshire and Aberdeenshire, the following description will, as a general one, be found correct:-' The front of the Grampians toward the Lowlands has in many places a gradual and pleasant slope into a champaign country of great extent and fertility; and, notwithstanding the forbidding aspect at first sight of the mountains themselves, with their covering of heath and their rugged rocks, they are intersected in a thousand directions by winding valleys, watered by rivers and brooks of the most limpid water, clad with the richest pastures, sheltered by thriving woods on the sides of lakes and streams, and are accessible in most cases by excellent roads. The valleys, which exhibit such a variety of natural beauty, also form a contrast with the ruggedness of the surrounding mountains, and present to the eye the most romantic scenery. The rivers in the deep defiles struggle to find a passage; and often the opposite hills approach so near that the waters rush with incredible force and deafening noise in proportion to the height of the fall and the width of the opening. These defiles are commonly called passes; and they are strikingly exemplified in the Pass of Leny, the Pass of Aberfoyle, the Pass of Killiecrankie, and the Spittal of Glenshee. Beyond these plains of various extent appear filled with villages and cultivated fields. In the interstices are numerous expanses of water connected with rivulets stored with a variety of fish, and adorned on their banks and flanks with wood. The craggy tops of the heights are covered with flocks of sheep, and the pastures in the valleys maintain numerous herds of black cattle. The height of the mountains varies from 1400 to 3500 feet above the level of the sea, but rises, in several instances, still higher; and the N side, in general, is more rugged than the S, and exhibits huge masses piled on one another in most awful magnificence.' Long reaches of them can only be crossed on foot; but most are traversed through the passes by good carriage roads, and two sections of nearly the boldest character are now traversed by railways-the one through the Pass of Leny and Glenogle, the other the Pass of Killiecrankie and Glengarry. The range, whose highest summit-line forms the western and northern boundary of Forfarshire, bears the distinctive name of Benchinnin, and has been noticed in our article under that title; and a great culminating group around the meeting-points of Perth, Aberdeen, Banff, and Inverness shires, forms the eastern and grandest part of what are called the Central Grampians, and bears the distinctive name of the Cairngorm Mountains. See G. F. Robson's Scenery o-f the Grampian Mountains (1814).

* Wex, in his edition of the Agricola (1852). adopted the reading Mons Granpius. a reading accepted by Dr Hill Burton, but rejected by Dr Skene.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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