The Highlands - Perth, Dunkeld, Blair Atholl, Tummel Bridge

1 to 3 August 1829

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Edinburgh to Perth via Stirling

The day after Abbotsford, their fortunes improved and they began their journey into the Highlands. There was a flurry of sketches over the coming few days, starting with the following made from the boat that they took up the Firth of Forth.

Edinburgh from the Firth of Forth

A double-page spread containing an extensive river-view across to the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. Saturday 1 August 1829.  Edinburgh with Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags and the Castle all clearly visible.  Bodleian notebook. 24v-25r

They disembarked at Stirling and took a coach to Perth where they stayed the night.  

On Sunday 2 August, according to Mendelssohn’s letter written the following day, they drove by open carriage to Dunkeld.  

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Perth to Blair Atholl

Just short of Dunkeld, Mendelssohn stopped to sketch Birnam Wood which, from his knowledge of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, he knew as “the wood that wanders”.

Birnam Wood 2 August 1829. Bodleian sketchbook.

Birnam Wood 2 August 1829. Bodleian sketchbook. 13r

Near Dunkeld they visited the Hermitage, a folly built by the Dukes of Atholl in the early 18th century. The Hermitage overlooks the falls of Braan and it is evidence of the bravery, or you might say foolhardiness, of Felix (he was, at 20, barely out of his teens), that he climbed down the slippery rocks to sit directly opposite the falls to complete his sketch. The Hermitage was visited by many travellers before Mendelssohn and Klingemann, including Dorothy and William Wordsworth who went there in 1803, Dorothy recording in her “Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland”: “The waterfall warned us by a loud roaring that we must expect it; we were first, however, conducted into a small apartment, where the gardener desired us to look at a painting of the figure of Ossian, which, while he was telling us the story of the young artist who performed the work, disappeared, parting in the middle, flying asunder as if by the touch of magic, and lo! we were at the entrance of a splendid room, which was almost dizzy and alive with waterfalls, that tumbled in all directions – the great cascade, which was opposite to the window that faced us, being reflected in innumerable mirrors upon the ceiling and against the walls. We both laughed heartily…”.

The folly still stands, and if you walk slowly through the oval-shaped rooms towards the viewing platform, you hear the sound of the falls greatly amplified before coming across the spectacular view of the falls themselves.

Mendelssohn sketch of the Falls of Braan, Dunkeld, Perthshire

Mendelssohn sketch of the Falls of Braan, Dunkeld, Perthshire, Sunday 2 August 1829.  Bodleian sketchbook. 15r

Falls of Braan, near Dunkeld

Falls of Braan, near Dunkeld

The Hermitage, near Dunkeld

The Hermitage, near Dunkeld

A little further up the valley is the Rumbling Bridge which was also sketched by Felix.

The Rumbling Bridge, River Braan, Near Dunkeld

The Rumbling Bridge, Sunday 2 August 1829, a one-arched bridge over the chasm of the River Braan, near Dunkeld.
Bodleian sketchbook. 17r

From the Hermitage and the Rumbling Bridge they walked a further 21 miles north to Blair Atholl, staying at the Bridge of Tilt Inn where Mendelssohn made a humorous sketch of Klingemann reclining on a bed on the hotel under the caption “The Fair Maid of Perth” – a reference to the novel by Sir Walter Scott.

Bridge of Tilt hotel, Blair Atholl, 1829

Bridge of Tilt Hotel, Blair Atholl 2 August 1829.  Bodleian notebook. 27r

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Blair Atholl to Tummell Bridge

The following day, Monday 3 August, the weather began to turn and ominous clouds appeared in the sky.  Mendelssohn began a letter in the morning at Blair Atholl, saying:

Felix Mendelssohn – letter, started at Blair Atholl, Monday 3 August 1829:

This is a most dismal, melancholy, rainy day. But we make shift as best we can, which indeed is not saying much. Earth and sky are wet through, and whole regiments of clouds are still marching up. Yesterday was a lovely day, we passed from rock to rock, many waterfalls, beautiful valleys with rivers, dark woods and heath with the red heather in blossom. In the morning we drove in an open carriage, and then walked twenty-one (English) miles. I sketched a great deal, and Klingemann hit upon the divine idea, which I am sure will give you great pleasure, of writing some rhymes at every spot of which I make a sketch. Yesterday and today we have been carrying out the plan, which answers charmingly: he has already composed very pretty things.

They visited Bruar Falls which Mendelssohn sketched. This is one of the sketches which is exclusive to the Beinecke Sketchbook as it doesn’t appear in either of the Bodleian sources.

Sketch by Mendelssohn of Bruar Falls, 3 August 1829

Bruar Falls, 3 August 1829. Beinecke sketchbook.

Felix sketched this vista of the Pass of Killiecrankie over which, on tracing paper, Klingemann wrote the following poem which demonstrates the strong grasp of Scottish history that the two young men possessed:

Poem by Karl Klingemann, written at the Pass of Killiecrankie, 3 August 1829

1689

In the Pass of Killiecrankie
Chanced a bloody bladed fight
’Twixt the Scots and raiding English
Who were beat and put to flight.
For all a day of torment.

1745

In the Pass of Killiecrankie
Scores of Highland braves did rest.
Dreams to crown the Young Pretender
Which did prove too great a test.
For all a day of torment.

1829

At the Pass of Killiecrankie
Clouds do swirl and tell of thunder.
Travellers-two are staring upward
T’ward the heavens and filled with wonder.
For both a day of torment.

Killiecrankie, 3 August 1829

Killiecrankie, 3 August 1829.  Bodleian sketchbook. 19r

This is another example of the firm grasp of Scottish history that the two travellers possessed. Either from their schooling back in Berlin or from their guidebook (the “Map of Scotland”) they knew the dates of the Battle of Killiecrankie and the fact the Bonnie Prince Charlie rested there with his army on his journey south in 1745 en route to his unsuccessful attempt to seize the British crown that was to end at the Battle of Colloden in 1746.

After Killiecrankie they turned west into the Highlands past Loch Tummel where, because of the weather, they probably did not have the time or inclination to stop and see the beautiful “Queen’s View” of the Loch...

...and they spent the night at Tummel Bridge where Mendelssohn continued the letter he had begun that morning; this is one of his few letters home from the Highlands:

Felix Mendelssohn – letter, Bridge of Tummel, 3 August 1829, evening:

A wild affair! The storm howls, rushes, and whistles, doors are banging and window-shutters are bursting open.  Whether the watery noise is from the driving rain or foaming stream there’s no telling, as both rage together; we are sitting here quietly by the fire, which I poke from time to time to make it flare up. The room is large and empty, from one of the walls the wet trickles down, the floor is so thin that the conversation from the servants’ room below penetrates up to us: they are singing drunken songs and laughing; dogs are barking. We have two beds with crimson curtains; on our feet, instead of English slippers, are Scottish wooden shoes; tea, with honey and potato-cakes; there is a wooden winding staircase, on which the servant-girl came to meet us with whisky, a desperate cloud-procession in the sky, and in spite of the servants’ noise and a door-banging there is repose. It is quiet and very lonely here! I might say that the stillness rings through the noise. Just now the door opens of itself. This is a Highland inn. The little boys with their kilts and bare knees and gay-coloured bonnets, the waiter in his tartan, old people with pigtails, talk helter-skelter in their unintelligible Gaelic. The country is far and wide thickly overgrown with foliage, from all sides ample water is rushing from under the bridges, there is little corn, much heather brown and red, precipices, passes, crossways, beautiful green everywhere, deep-blue water – but all stern, dark, very lonely. But why describe it? Ask Droysen, he knows it better, and can paint it: we have been constantly repeating lines from his “Hochland” to each other. Dear Droysen, how is that you know Scotland? It is just as you describe it.

This evening I am reading the "Flegeljahre", and my sisters are looking at me wistfully. Hensel understands his business: he knows how to see faces and how to fix them. But the weather is discouraging.

I have invented a new manner of drawing on purpose for it, and have rubbed in clouds today and painted grey mountains with my pencil. Klingemann is rhyming briskly, and I finish my sketches during the rain.

There is a “Beinecke” sketch of Tummel Bridge which shows the distinctive single-arch bridge with a building on the left which is presumably their “Highland Inn”, and we see an empty cart with piles of luggage beside it which probably belonged to Mendelssohn and Klingemann. The presence of the cart is significant. Previous writers about this Scottish journey have suggested that they only hired a horse and cart the following day in either Aberfeldy or Kenmore to speed them on their way to Fort William, but from this sketch it appears that they had availed themselves of this mode of transport on the day of their journey from Blair Atholl to Tummel Bridge – and they would have needed it, as it is a journey of over 25 miles which would have been a challenge to complete only on foot. 

Tummel Bridge, 4 August 1829

Tummel Bridge, 4 August 1829. Beinecke sketchbook

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