24-5 VIII 1773
25 XI 2013


From perhaps a weakness, or, as I rather hope, more fancy and warmth of feeling than is quite reasonable, my mind is ever impressed with admiration for persons of high birth”, writes Boswell (24 August); so he can’t decline “a polite invitation” from Lord Erroll, though it takes them out of their way to the coast north of Aberdeen.

Despite their lack of interest in ‘romantic’ scenery, the clifftop situation of Slains Castle does impress them. Johnson is moved to recite Horace’s ode of storms, “Iam satis terris”, while Boswell, gazing at the long unbroken horizon, thinks, as ever, less of scenery and more of society, waving towards the neighbours – but just the regal ones, mind – over the horizon in Denmark.

In 1895 Bram Stoker wrote parts of Dracula nearby, and is said to have visited. Fisherman William Tait told Betty Stucley in the ‘50s, “there’s been many famous people living there. Mr Asquith, he took it for two years, and the singer Melba, she had it too; but the Errolls lost their money, and had to go away.” They sold it to shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman, who, in 1925 had the roof removed to avoid taxes – “his bolts, at his own temple cast”, in the words of  Conington’s Horace. The building has been deteriorating picturesquely ever since, though it continues to be well visited, going by the number of people who’ve gone to the trouble of recording their presence.

While staying at Slains, Boswell and Johnson visit the Bullers of Buchan, a sea cave whose roof has collapsed, which Johnson likens to “a vast well bordered with a wall”, and Boswell to a “monstrous cauldron”. In a flight of Gothic fancy which anticipates Stoker, Johnson writes, “if I had any malice against a walking spirit, instead of laying him in the Red-sea, I would condemn him to reside in the Buller of Buchan.

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Conington, John, The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace (1882)
Stoker, Bram, Dracula (1897)
Stucley, Elizabeth, A Hebridean Journey with Johnson and Boswell (1956)