‘The family, servants and all, sat round it, and eat, the mistress looking on and waiting. She brought us a piggin of cream, and drank to me, and we drank it round. The dairy is in a building apart. This was contrived that I might see the Highland manners.’ So wrote Richard Pococke while travelling in the north of Scotland exactly 250 years ago today. Although a man of the church by profession he was far more interested in travel, being an early and scholarly explorer of the Middle East, and of the remoter parts of his own country.
Pococke was born in Southampton in 1704 and studied law at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, before entering into the priesthood. However, his main claim to fame is that he travelled extensively, particularly in Egypt, where he was one of the first Englishmen to voyage up the Nile, and to visit the Valley of the Kings. He published a two-volume account of the journey which was celebrated at the time, and translated into other languages. He also toured widely in England, Scotland and Ireland, carefully noting what he saw.
Later in life, Pococke was appointed Bishop of Ossory and Meath in Ireland. He is said to have founded a weaving school, which became known as The Pococke College. He died in 1765. A little more biographical information online is available from Wikipedia and from EIRData.
The diaries of Pococke’s tours of England and Scotland were not published until more than a century after his death, in the late 19th century. First the Scottish History Society published his Tours in Scotland 1747, 1750, 1760, and then the Camden Society published The travels through England of Dr Richard Pococke in several editions. Although Hodges & Figgis published Pococke’s Tour in Ireland in 1752 around the same time, it was not until 1995 that a full edition of his Irish travels was published - by Irish Academic Press. Many of these works are freely available online at Internet Archive.
Elizabeth Baigent, in her biography of Pococke for the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography, says: ‘The publication and scholarly editing of all of these tours reveal that Pococke was not only a pioneer mountaineer and one of the earliest scholarly explorers in Egypt, but was also among the very earliest systematic explorers of the remoter parts of Britain and Ireland.’
Here are two extracts from the The Tour of Dr Richard Pococke through Sutherland and Caithness in 1760 published by The Sutherland Association, Edinburgh 1888.
21 June 1760
‘. . . We went three miles to Milcraig (mr Cuthbert’s), a fine situation at the foot of the hill, commanding a view of the river and the country below. Near it is a deep glyn in which there runs a mountain torrent. The banks of it are green and most beautifully adorned with woods. We saw three or four kerns as belonging anciently to the heads of several villages, for their burial places, but on seeing the Picts’ houses since, I doubt whether they might not be the habitations of those people. In three miles from Milcraig, going very disagreeable heathy mountains, we came to a rivulet, and continued on about two miles, passed another mountain torrent, and came into the fine country which is on the Frith of Dornock. I saw a small Druid temple with two or three stones in the middle near the rivulet, and a little further some remains of another. Here I observed grey granite in large spots of white and darker colour.
We came to Ardmore, Mr Bailey’s, near the river, where we stayed two hours, the family being at Rosehall. In these parts they find beds of shells at a little distance from the sea, but not petrified, and they are used for manure. We went westward and soon came to a large kern, the entrance to which about half-way up is visible with a large stone over it. If the entrances are not on a level with the ground I look on it as a mark that they were burial-places; if they are great ruins, that they were castles; and if covered over with green sod, that they were Picts’ houses. . .
They have no miles here different from the English in measure, but the acre is five perches more than than the English. (I think the Highland miles are not above the proportion of 2 to 3 as in England.)’
22 June 1760
‘. . . We went into a Highland cabbin, in which there were five apartments, one at the entrance seemed to be for the cows, another beyond it for the sheep, and a third, to which there was only at the end of the house, for other cattle; to the left was the principal room, with a fire in the middle, and beyond that the bed-chamber, and a closet built to it for a pantry; and at the end of the bed-chamber, and of the house, a round window to let out the smoak, there being no chimney. The partitions all of hurdle-work, so one sees through the whole. A great pot of whey was over the fire, of which they were making Frau. They have a machine like that which they put into a churn, with stiff hairs round it, this they work round and up and down to raise a froth, which they eat of the pot with spoons, and it had the taste of new milk; then the family, servants and all, sat round it, and eat, the mistress looking on and waiting. She brought us a piggin of cream, and drank to me, and we drank it round. The dairy is in a building apart. This was contrived that I might see the Highland manners. They have here a great number of foxes and hares, the skins of which are very fine; the hares are of a light colour on the backs, and the bellies are quite white. I was told there are some all over white in the winter. A few swans come here every year in the hard weather; and a great number came in the year 1738, when the winter was very cold, but it is difficult to shoot them. They have plenty of red deer, and of the roe deer. Mr Monroe shot in the upper part of the Kyle of Dornock an extraordinary sea-bird, which dived very readily. It is as big as a goose, and much like it, except that the bill, about four inches long, is pointed . . .’