Page:Footsteps of Dr. Johnson.djvu/261

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On the afternoon of the following clay " an interval of calm sunshine," writes Johnson, "courted us out to see a cave on the shore famous for its echo. When we went into the boat one of our companions was asked in Erse by the boatmen who they were that came with him. He gave us characters, I suppose, to our advantage, and was asked in the spirit of the Highlands whether I could recite a long series of ancestors. The boatmen said, as I perceived afterwards, that they heard the cry of an English ghost. This, Boswell says, disturbed him. We came to the cave, and clambering up the rocks came to an arch open at one end, one hundred and eighty feet long, thirty broad in the broadest part, and about thirty feet high. There was no echo; such is the fidelity of reports ; but I saw what I had never seen before, mussels and whelks in their natural state. There was another arch in the rock open at both ends." This cave was not on the shore of Skye, as Johnson's account seems to imply, but in the little island of Wia. From Boswell we learn that it was to an island they were taken. We were fortunate enough on our visit to this wild part of the coast to have as our guide one of Macleod's gamekeepers. " A man," to borrow from Johnson the praise which he bestowed on one of his guides, ' of great liveliness and activity, civil and ready- handed." 1 We had passed the night in the lonely little inn at Struan on the shore of an arm of Loch Bracadale, where we had found decent, if homely, lodging. In a fisherman's boat we rowed down the loch, sometimes in mid-channel and sometimes skirting the cliffs, which rose like a wall of rock to a great height above us. We passed little islets, and the mouths of caverns which filled with clouds of spray as the long rolling waves swept in from the Atlantic. On the ledges of the rocks, hovering over our heads, swimming and diving in the sea, were cormorants, puffins, oyster catchers, gulls, curlews and guillemots. We had none of us looked upon a wilder scene. When we reached our island we were pleased to find that the narrow beach at which we were to land was guarded by a huge headland from the swell of the sea. Whether we visited the cave which our travellers saw I do not feel at all sure, for it does not correspond with their description. My friend, the gamekeeper, was sure that it was the place, and I was willing to advance my faith more than half-way to meet his assertion. We scrambled up

1 For his services and for many other acts of kindness, I am indebted to the Rev. Roderick Macleod of Macleod.

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