The Highlands: Tummel Bridge to Fort William

Tuesday 4 to Thursday 6 August 1829

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Tummell Bridge to Kenmore via Aberfeldy

On the morning of Tuesday 4 August, their journey took them from Tummel Bridge, initially south and then east to Aberfeldy where Felix was able to give his obsession with waterfalls further expression by sketching the Falls of Moness on the outskirts of the town. The Falls of Moness were made famous by Robert Burns (1759-1796) in his poem written 40 years earlier, The Birks of Aberfeldy. The Falls are spectacular and, given time (which Mendelssohn and Klingemann did not have) they are best appreciated by walking up the steep path through the woods to the top of the Falls, passing many smaller tributary falls on the way. Mendelssohn's sketch is of the lower falls. The birch trees that he drew have long since have died and rotted away, but the video below shows the 21st-century descendants of the trees in his sketch, and the beauty of the waterfalls that so captivated him.

Falls of Moness 4 August 1829

Falls of Moness 4 August 1829.  Bodleian sketchbook. 22r

Photo of Falls of Moness

Falls of Moness, near Aberfeldy

Going by the dates of the sketches, we can deduce that Mendelssohn and Klingemann spent the night of 4 August either in Aberfeldy or 6 miles further west in Kenmore.  

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Kenmore to Crianlarich, Scotland

Travelling by horse and cart (either the same one that we saw in the sketch of Tummel Bridge, or one freshly hired or bought in either Aberfeldy or Kenmore) they continued on their journey to Fort William where they had a deadline to meet: to catch the weekly steam ferry down Loch Linnhe which would depart on Friday 7 August. On Wednesday 5 August, we see that they passed along the road that follows the southern shore of Loch Tay and reached Crianlarich by the early evening – there are two excellent sketches of Loch Tay and of Ben More which towers above the village of Crianlarich, both showing that the weather was slightly kinder to them than the previous day:

Loch Tay 5 August 1829

Loch Tay 5 August 1829.  Bodleian sketchbook. 24r

Ben More, 5 August 1829

Ben More  5 August 1829.  Bodleian sketchbook. 26r

On Thursday 6 August they covered over 50 miles traveling from Crianlarich over Rannoch Moor, through Glencoe, across Loch Leven on the ferry at Ballachulish, reaching Fort William in the evening.

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Crianlarich to Fort William via Inveran

There is one sketch from 6 August which does not appear in either of the Bodleian books, but only in the Beinecke sketchbook. It is entitled “Inveruran” which must be “Inveroran”, a hotel which has existed for 300 years and is still active today. It lies on the route of the old Military Road built in the first half of the 18th century by General Wade as part of an attempt by the British Government to bring order to Scotland after the Jacobite uprising of 1715. Mendelssohn and Klingemann would have made good use of this Military Road which was the best means of getting across Rannoch Moor at that time and it is likely that, having set out from Crianlarich that morning, they stopped for a break and something to eat around midday at the Inveroran Hotel, just as other travellers, including the Wordsworths and Coleridge, had done before them, and Dickens and Darwin would do in the years that followed. 

“Inveruran” 6 August 1829

“Inveruran” 6 August 1829. Beinecke sketchbook

In Ballachulish, despite the foul weather, they were in good enough spirits to make up a few bars of music which Mendelssohn jotted down in a letter to Klingemann exactly a year later when he was in Munich:

The ditty is not of great significance, but one can’t help noticing that it is in the key of B minor which is the same key as the Hebrides Overture, the opening theme of which Felix was to jot down in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull a day later. Is it too fanciful to suppose that the Highlands of Scotland put Mendelssohn in a “B minor mood”?

Klingemann also describes this part of their journey in a letter written the following day:

Karl Klingemann – letter, The Hebrides, Friday 7 August 1829:

Yesterday we moved up-hill and down-hill, our cart generally rolling on by the side, and we ourselves stalking onwards through heather and moors of all kinds of passes (nature here is so amply provided with them that Government does not ask for any*), under clouds, and in a thick drizzling rain, through the Highlands. Smoky huts were stuck on cliffs, ugly women looked through the window-holes, cattle-herds with Rob Roys now and then blocked up the way, mighty mountains were sticking up to their knees (the latter in Highland costume) in the clouds, and looked out again from the top, but we saw little.

*Klingemann makes a pun on Scottish passes and German passes (ie passports).

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