The Highlands: Fort William to Oban and over to Mull

Friday 7 August 1829

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Fort William to Oban

Klingemann continues in the same letter, telling us that, on Friday 7 August, they caught the steamer from Fort William down Loch Linnhe to Oban:

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

Late last night, we unexpectedly stumbled upon a bit of culture again, viz. the one street of which Fort William consists, and this morning we embraced the very newest piece of culture, steam, and were again among many people, greedily enjoying sunshine and sea-green, the wide outlines of the sea, the rocks at modest distance, good cheer, and society of all kind. A new friend told us at once that yonder young couple were on their honeymoon excursion, and that he had seen them on Ben Lomond shortly after the wedding dance a Scotch reel, the bride with parting tears in her eyes. By the harbour of Oban Bruce’s Rock rises up, where he is said to have done some great deed or other; the Laird MacDonald goes home with his ladies to a new house, which stands behind the ruins of the old castle, and where a silver brooch of Bruce’s is still kept; our Edinburgh friend, Captain Nelson of the Navy, with whom we met on the ship and shook hands with, tells us wonderful stories of how this relic had once been lost and bought again at a high price, and that once it was stolen along with other things, and at last found in possession of a lady-descendant of Rob Roy.

They reached Oban in the late afternoon and Felix, sketch-book in hand, climbed up the little hill at the north end of the town and sketched Dunollie Castle and the Island of Mull and the peninsula of Morven in the background.

Dunollie Castle near Oban 7 August 1829

Dunollie Castle near Oban 7 August 1829.  Bodleian sketchbook. 28r

After this slightly hurried sketch, the two travellers caught the ferry from Oban to Tobermory. 

Map of Mendelssohn's Journey from Oban to Tobermory (on the Isle of Mull)

Klingemann, writing on 7 August 1829:

The youngsters of Tobermory, the capital of the Isle of Mull, are merrily bustling by the harbour; the Atlantic Ocean, which appears to contain abundance of water, is quietly riding at anchor, the same as our steamer; we have found quarters in a respectable private house, and would willingly leave a memorial of our day’s work in always issuing, like Napoleon, our army-bulletins from place of note. Perfectly charming it is here! From my earliest days I have confounded the Hebrides with the Hesperides; and if we did not find the oranges on the trees, they lay at least in the whisky-toddy.

It was also in Tobermory on Friday 7 August that Felix wrote a brief note, saying:

In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, the following came into my mind there:

The Hebrides

The Hebrides

Thus, the music that is sometimes linked to Fingal’s Cave, and which Mendelssohn jotted down complete with indications on orchestration, occurred to him before he ever set eyes on Fingal’s Cave on the Island of Staffa – the sights that so “extraordinarily affected” him, could have been those that he saw on the journey by steamer from Fort William to Oban earlier in the day, or on the crossing from Oban to Mull.

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