High Road to Fort Augustus

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HIGH ROAD TO FORT AUGUSTUS, THE (Coir'-a-Ghearraig). Scottish, Reel. B Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Fraser, Neil): AAB (Athole). Captain Simon Fraser, compiler of the famous collection of Highland melodies, writes in his note to this tune: "The words associated with this air give anecdotes regarding that stupendous work, the road cut in traverses, by General Wade, down the face of a mountain, in forming a communication betwixt Fort Augustus and Garvamore. By this road old Lord Lovat was carried, when on his last journey to London, on a litter,--and here he was met by the late Governor Trapaud, of Fort Augustus, then in the Duke's army, who requested to have Lovat's face uncovered, that he might have a look of 'the old fox.' Lovat heard all this, but pretended to be sound asleep. Whenever he found Trapaud examining his phiz, he started up, and with the vigour of youth, made a snappish bark at him, like that of a terrier, which so thunderstruck the governor, that he fell backwards with terror, to the no small amusement of the party. Another anecdote, not less worthy of notice, occurs regarding this place. Hugh Fraser, Esq. of Dell, a most extensive drover and grazier, in returning from the southern markets, was benighted here, as he came on a fine frosty November evening to the foot of the traverses, when all of a sudden, as he ascended, a most furious driving of snow come on; he kept forward as long as he could, thinking it might cease,--but in vain,--he lost his way. He had an appointment for next day to pay large sums of money, in his custody,--which, if he was lost, would bring ruin on many persons. If he sat down, he knew he must have inevitably perished with cold. In this state, a thought occurred to him worthy of being universally known,-- and the cause of the present mention of it,--that he should make for the highest pinnacle of the hill and there form a circular path and ride and walk by turns round it till morning came. This he according did, and hailed the morning cry of the grouse as the sweetest music ever he heard. When day-light came, he could not distinguish one object known to him, nor find the road; and, even at sunset, in place of being near Fort Augustus, he reached a hut, entirely in a different direction, within three miles of his own house, unable to go further, and found he had rode over morasses and lakes that would have swallowed him up, but for the intenseness of the frost. He, however, perfectly recovered in a day or two. The presence of mind displayed by him, in preserving life during the night, as a lesson to others, will apologize for the length of this note."

The ancient name of Fort Augustus, Kilchuimen (sometimes Kilcumein), or 'Church of Saint Cumine.' It was named after Saint Cumine (sometimes Cumein), a monk of Iona who became 7th Abbot of the island and who gained fame for his life of Saint Columba. The Fort that gives Fort Augustus its name was one of a series of forts built by the Hanoverians to secure the Great Glen of Scotland. There was Fort George near Inverness, Fort Augustus in the heart of the Glen at Loch Ness, and Fort William at the southern end. All were named after members of the Hanover royal family; Augustus was the name of George II's son, William Augustus, the Duke of Cumerland. Cumberland is infamous for his part in the battle of Culloden and its aftermath, so much so he was known as 'Butcher Cumberland'. Following the defeat of the Highland forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie he took up residence in Fort Augustus, and remained oblivious to the depredations of his troops upon the local population and the suffering of the Highland people during the harsh winter of 1746. General Wade, referred to by Fraser in the passage above, built the fort in 1730 along with a network of roads and bridges, and he is recognized today as a great engineer. In later years Fort Augustus passed into the hands of Lord Lovat, who bought it in 1867 as a shooting lodge, and whose son donated it to monks in the mid-1870's. The old fort was transformed into a Benedictine Abbey which survived until the present day, although it recently has been closed.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Fraser (The Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles), 1816/1874; No. 169, p. 69. Laybourn (Köhler’s Violin Repository, Book Second), 1881-1883; p. 173. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; No. 133, p. 172. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 131.

Recorded sources:

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