ON an August day, allied to the summer gone by in its cloudless sky and breathless warmth, rather than to the coming autumn with its crisper air and shaded sunlight, I found myself in Kirriemuir. J. M. Barrie was still unhatched - I mean in a literary sense - and Thrums had not yet wakened from its long sleep to find itself famous.
This was by no means the only visit. The place has a power to draw me for a distance of ten miles on all sides. Besides, it lies directly in the way of some of my favourite haunts; and I must needs pass through in order to reach them.
Kirriemuir is on the northern margin of Strath-more - the greatest, as its very name implies, and also the quietest of Scots valleys. It is a quaint other-worldly town - as becomes the site - of unspoiled folk with no more than their share of conceit in themselves. Not very long ago, outsiders of simple tastes sought it instead of some more stirring holiday resort, alike for its moorland air and soothing naturalness.
Sometimes I feel glad that I knew it in those days. The place must ever be most to those who loved it before others so much as heard of it. Whatever Kirrie may mean, muir or moor aptly enough describes the surroundings, and indeed the condition of that portion of the strath.
A short way to the north the Lowlands pass quite suddenly into the Highlands of Scotland - so suddenly indeed, that in some places it is easy to step from one to the other.
Once upon a time the strath was a glacier track, and frozen side-streams flowed out from among the hills, to join and swell the great river of ice. The path or channel of these tributaries is now marked out by just so many glens ; while all that remains to represent a volume once reaching to the mountain-tops is a streak of water running down the centre.
It was yet early morning. The cool shadows cast by the irregular buildings lay across the street, some of the taller climbing far up on the opposite side. I must have passed the little house upon the hill, then, as at other times, quite unconscious of the immortality in reserve for that unpretentious structure, and the thriving trade it was destined to do in refreshments, with those indefatigable pilgrims and hero worshippers who are determined to be disillusionised.
Which of these side glens, leading a varying number of miles into the very heart of the Highlands, was I to take? Three complete and several broken ones were available; to all of which Kirriemuir - with a possible rival in Alyth - was, so to speak, the lodge. This special morning I chose that of Clova.
The only way of getting there was on foot. On certain days a coach ran, but this did not happen to be one of them. Even had it been, it is questionable if I would have taken a seat. It was no privation. And I strongly advise those who love the Highlands, and wish their love to continue, never to get on a coach where the distance is walkable. One who has not a pair of legs, or the will to use them, should stay at home. The plague of cycles had not then broken out.
The delight of the start comes freshly up as I write - so vividly indeed, that I shall abandon myself to the thought that it is happening over again, and write in the present.
The hills at this point stand three miles back. As I pass over the open country the sun continues to climb higher, and the shadows shorten. At length I cross a considerable stream, issuing from Glen Prosen, and then I know that the very next valley I come to is Clova.
As one steps from the Lowland sandstones to the Highland schists, a change, like that of the strata, passes over the wild flowers. Familiar forms are missed, while others take their place and do their work. For each plant has its place to fill, and work to do; except perhaps a few gipsies, which settle on any waste piece of ground, where they are left in peace. For obvious reasons, such vagrants are not nearly so common in the Highlands.
It were long to tell everything which adds its little to the general change. Details are alike wearisome and uninstructive. Enough that I mention one of the larger, perhaps the very largest, contributors, leaving such of the rest as may strike me to be picked up as I go along.
The commonest flower of the plain is the daisy.
It is the white garment or tippet the earth puts on to show that spring has come. No meadow or pasture or green roadside, if the grass grow not too rank, is without it - except it may be some seaside moor - it loves not wild places. Nor can it be said to care for shadow. It haunts the margins, but barely enters the woods. And the daisy is one of the missing flowers.
Yet one scarcely misses it. There is the same sheen ahead ; and, as all is rude grassland together here, the effect is so much the more widely spread. The unobservant are not even aware that another agent is at work; but so it is.
That other is the eyebright, not altogether pure, touched with purple. But is not the daisy also - "the wee, modest, crimson - tipped flower"? At a distance both seem white.
The names of the two (that do the same office in different scenes - reigning, the one over Highland, the other over Lowland turf) are strangely alike - days-eye and eyebright. One lifts the crimson lids, which have been dropped during the dark, to greet the morning, and exposes the golden ball without blinking throughout the hot and bright hours; the other, from its specific name, officinalis, seems to have been credited with some medicinal virtue - probably that of adding lustre to the eye of beauty.
The eyebright is not unfrequent on the plain, but is generally found in such rude places as the daisy does not care to invade; so that their domains, though they often touch, sometimes even intersect, remain essentially distinct. Both appear on the links; but the one haunts the older and maturer, the other the younger and rougher portions. The eyebright has not the same objection to shade, and is common in the older Lowland woods.