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make sudden and dangerous attacks from the mountains in the interior. Aware of this, the Norwegians seem to have limited themselves, on the western shores of the Highlands, chiefly to the levying of provisions along the coast, and to the plundering of cattle and other property. Round about the mouths of the Highland firths are still to be seen the remains of old castles, which the Scotch kings, and particularly Alexander the Second, are said to have built, in order to prevent “ the Danes ” from making these devastating descents.
The memory of the conquests and predatory incursions of the Norwegians, or “ Danes,” is still preserved in a remarkable degree among the poorer classes in Sutherland, as well as in the rest of the Scottish Highlands. Numberless traditions are in circulation respecting the levying of provisions by “the Danes ;” and barrows, or cairns, are not unfrequently pointed out, in which a Scandinavian prince, or king's son, killed by the natives whilst on some Viking expedition, is said to be buried. Besides the usual cruelties ascribed to the Danes in the traditions of the Lowlands, and of England, they are here accused, into the bargain, of having burnt the forests, and thus caused that want of wood which acts so injuriously on the climate of the Highlands. In proof of this it is adduced that roots and trunks of trees, sometimes perceptibly scorched, are discovered in the turf-bogs of the Highlands. It is not considered that similar discoveries are very common in other countries, as, for instance, in Denmark itself; where trunks of trees, especially firs, have been dug up, precisely as in the Scotch Highlands. They are the produce of vegetative processes in the pre-historical times; and the apparent scorching has been produced either by accidental fires, or more, probably, by the simple mode of felling trees in use among the aboriginal inhabitants of Europe; who, like certain savage tribes at the present day, for want of metal tools, were obliged to burn the trunks of trees which they wished to fell.
By way of amends, the Danes have now and then the honour of being regarded in the Highlands as having been the teachers of the natives. One of the first jarls of the Orkneys was, according to the legends, called by the name of Torf Einar, because he was the first who caused turf to be dug on a point of land (Torfnæs) in Scotland. This promontory, probably the present Tarbet Ness, was at all events either in Caithness or Sutherland; and it is certainly a remarkable coincidence, that the common people of that district still relate that “the Danes ” taught them to burn turf. We likewise hear at times that “the Danes ” taught the use of hand querns, or hand-mills; nay, even that the favourite national instrument of the Highlanders, the bagpipes, was originally introduced by the Danes. In short, if anything, whether good or bad, be of doubtful origin, it is frequently attributed to “ the Danes.”
But it is peculiar to the north-western and most remote districts of the Highlands, that the common people still harbour no small degree of dread lest “ the Danes " should return, and repeat their cruel devastations. About thirty years ago (according to J. Loch, “An Account of the Improvements on the Estate of the Marquis of Stafford," London, 1820, 8vo), English engineers were employed in measuring all the heights in Sutherland. This caused much sensation among the natives, who thought that these engineers were sent by the Danes to make maps and plans of the country, previously to the arrival of the Danish army. They imagined that the king of Denmark had an old feud with the Mackays, and that he was now coming to take a sanguinary revenge on the whole clan.
During my stay in Sutherland I had repeated occasion to convince myself not only that the fear of the Danes has not yet died away there, but also that tradition has connected with them things with which they had nothing whatever to do.
Close outside the town of Dornoch, on the east coast of Sutherland, there stands a stone pillar in an open field, which is simply the remains of one of those crosses so frequently erected, in Roman Catholic times, in market-places. As a matter of course, the arms of the jarls of Sutherland are carved on one side of the stone, and on the other are the arms of the town—a horse-shoe. Tradition, however, will have it that the pillar was erected in remembrance of a battle fought on this spot, in which the Jarl of Sutherland commanded against “the Danes.” In the heat of the battle, while the Jarl was engaged in personal combat with the Danish chief, his sword broke; but in this desperate situation he was lucky enough to lay hold of a horse-shoe that accidentally lay near him, with which he succeeded in killing his adversary. The horse-shoe is said to have been adopted in the arms of the town in remembrance of this feat. In the cathedral church of Dornoch is a carved stone monument of the middle ages, representing one of the ancient bishops who once resided in Dornoch. He also is said to have fallen in the same battle, but my authority, the person who showed me over the church, added :-“I am proud to tell that the Danes were defeated.”
Having employed myself in examining, among other things, the many so-called “Danish ” or Pictish towers on the west and north-west coast of Sutherland, the common people were led to believe that the Danes wished to regain possession of the country, and with that view intended to rebuild the ruined castles on the coasts. The report spread very rapidly, and was soon magnified into the news that the Danish fleet was lying outside the sunken rocks near the shore, and that I was merely sent beforehand to survey the country round about; nay, that I was actually the Danish King's son himself, and had secretly landed. This report, which preceded me very rapidly, had, among other effects, that of making the poorer classes avoid, with the greatest care, mentioning any traditions connected with defeats of the Danes, and especially with the killing of any Dane in the district, lest they should occasion & sanguinary vengeance when the Danish army landed. Their fears were carried so far that my guide was often stopped by the natives, who earnestly requested him in Gaelic not to lend a helping hand to the enemies of the country by showing them the way; nor would they let him go till he distinctly assured them that I was in possession of maps correctly indicating old castles in the district which he himself had not previously known. This, of course, did not contribute to allay their fears; and it is literally true, that in several of the Gaelic villages, particularly near the firths of Loch Inver and Kyle-Sku, we saw on our departure old folks wring their hands in despair at the thought of the terrible misfortunes which the Danes would now bring on their hitherto peaceful country.
The rocky western coast of the Highlands south of Sutherland was not, as I before mentioned, permanently inhabited by the Norwegians. They had, indeed, regular settlements on the west coast, but these were on the islands. They were here secure from the sudden attacks of the Gaels, or Highlanders, who, generally speaking, would scarcely have ventured out on a sea which then swarmed with Vikings. The farther, therefore, the islands were from the mainland, so much the more secure would the Norwegian settlers be, and so much the greater, in effect, did their colonies become. By degrees they settled themselves on all the islands along the west coast, from Lewis to Man, which they called under one name, “Suðreyjar," or the southern islands, from their situation with regard to the Orkneys and Shetland Isles. Sometimes, however, they did not reckon Man among them, and then divided
od the rested the name itself, and in all were coner,
the rest of the islands into two groups, in such a manner, that only the islands to the south of Mull were called “Suðreyar,” whilst Mull itself, and the islands to the north, obtained the name of “Nordreyar.” The Irish, and the rest of the Gaels, on the contrary, after the conquest of the islands by the Norwegians, called them “ Inis Gâl” (the foreigners' isles).
The most northern and largest of the northern isles was the extensive one which forms the present Lewis and Harris (the “ Ljóðhus" of the Sagas). It is separated from Scotland by the broad, stormy, and troubled channel called the Minch. The southern part of it only, or Harris, where the mountains reach the height of between two and three thousand feet, can be called mountainous, for the rest of the island is rather flat, devoid of wood, and covered with heaths and moors. Some good arable land is, however, to be met with here and there along the coasts. Even in very early times this island was very densely inhabited by the Gaels, of which, among other things, some immense rows of stones, near Callernish, bear witness. In like manner, the Norwegians must, at a later date, have had considerable colonies in it. On this head we must not, of course, implicitly rely on the numerous traditions related by the common people about the landing of “the Danes,” their rising power, and subsequent overthrow. But, what is more certain, the names of not fewer than about ten large lakes in the island still retain the Norwegian termination vat (“ vatn,” Vand, water); and three of the largest are called Loch Langavat (the long water). Several coves (Vige) in Harris are called vagh (“ vagr”); as Groesavagh, Flodavagh ; and in Lewis wick, as Sandwick (Sandvig; Eng., Sand-bay), and Norwick (Nordvig; Eng. North-bay). To these may be added a great number of Norwegian names of places ending in stra or sta (stačr, stead); as Little Scarristra, Meickle Scarristra (Harris); Erista, Mangersta (Lewis); in bost (bolstaðr), as, in Harris, Nisibost, Hagabost, Chillibost; and in Lewis, Callbost, Habost, Luirbost, Cross