Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 3. Arden and Glen Fruin

 

Arden

Those visitors who have been to Rowardennan can retrace their steps to Balloch where the A82 may be rejoined. The alternative is to head for Aberfoyle, ten miles away, to explore the Trossachs. The road to the North first reaches Loch Lomond at Duck Bay, just beyond Cameron House. Here is Smollett’s opinion of the loch:

“I have seen the Lago di Garda, Albano, De Vico, Bolsena and Geneva, and, upon my honour, I prefer Loch Lomond to them all a preference which is certainly owing to the verdant islands that seem to float upon its surface, affording the most inchanting objects ‘of repose to the excursive view. Nor are the banks destitute of beauties which even partake of the sublime. On this side hey display a sweet variety of woodland cornfield and pasture, with several agreeable villas emerging, as it were, out of the lake, till, at some distance, the prospect terminates in huge mountains covered with heath which being in the bloom, affords a very rich covering of purple. Everything here is romantic beyond imagination. This country is justly stiled the Arcadia of Scotland, and I don’t doubt but it may vie with Arcadia in everything but climate. I am sure it exceeds it in verdure, wood and water.”   

 
 
 
 
 

 

Loch Lomond from near Cameron House. Drawn: P.Sandby Engraved: P.Medland 1780

This quotation is from Humphry Clinker which is, of course, a work of fiction. Albano, De Vico and Bolsena figure in Smollett’s Travels in France and Italy, but neither Garda nor Geneva do, which raises the interesting question of whether or not Smollett actually saw either of them.

Smollett lived from 1721 to 1771. When he was born the Act of Union between England and Scotland 1707, in which his grandfather played a prominent part, and the rebellions of 1715 and 1719 were recent events still fresh in everyone’s minds. There were some Bleach Fields in the Vale of Leven, but the main occupation was farming and the whole aspect of the countryside was rural. Communications were very difficult indeed, and it was not until after1745 that that roads began to be improved. The lochside road from Dumbarton to Inveraray was built then, but it was not until 1765 that Dumbarton Bridge was completed. It was, perhaps, not surprising that travellers did not begin to frequent Scotland until after these improvements had taken place.Smollett himself returned to Scotland in 1753, 1760 and 1766. Thomas Gray visited Loch Lomond in 1764; Thomas Pennant in 1769, Samuel Johnson in 1773 John Wilkes in the early 1760s and William Gilpin in 1776.The following extracts from the writers themselves give some idea of Loch Lomond during the eighteenth century:

“The mountains are ecstatic and ought to be visited in pilgrimage once a year. None but those monstrous creatures of God know how to join so much beauty with so much horror. Rowed to Inchmurrin an island with a park of the Duke of Montrose’s whose house at Buchanan stands on the edge of Loch Lomond. Exquisite landscape round the lake; view of Ben Lomond, the second mountain in Scotland for height, Ben Nevis in Inverness-shire being the first.”

Thomas Gray (1764)

“To the north we looked far up the narrow channel of the lake which we had just seen from the shore. We were now more in the centre of the view, but the scene was more shifted. It was more a vista. The mountains shelved beautifully into the water, on both sides; and the bottom of the lake was occupied by Ben Vorlich which filled its station with great distinction, on the right Ben Lomond, the second hill in Scotland, raised its respectable head, while the waters at their base were dark, like a black, transparent mirror, But in this point of view the form of Ben Lomond was rather injured by the regularity of its line, which consists of three stages of ascent. In general, however, this mountain appears finely sloped; and its surface beautifully broken.”

William Gilpin (1776)

“Had Loch Lomond been in a happier climate it would have been the boast of wealth and vanity to own one of the little spots which it encloses, and to have employed upon it all the arts of embellishment. But, as it is, the islets which court the gazer at a distance disgust him at his approach when he finds; instead of soft lawns and shady thickets, nothing more than uncultivated ruggedness.”

Samuel Johnson (1773)

 

 In Rob Roy, set in the Eighteenth Century, Scott describes the loch as follows:

But certainly this noble lake, boasting innumerable beautiful islands, of every varying form and outline which fancy can frame,its northern extremity narrowing until it is lost among dusky and retreating mountains, while, gradually widening as it extends to the southward, it spreads its base around the indentures and promontories of a fair and fertile land, -affords one of the most surprising, beautiful, and sublime spectacles in nature.

Loch Lomond was celebrated by Paul Johnson (b. 1928) in his Highland Jaunt [1973]:

It is still a pleasing scene, and there is no through road on the far side of the loch, which sparkled under a blazing sun. But the affluent society has already lapped its shores. Myriads of little, brightly coloured sailing boats bounced on the water; speed boats roared to and fro; and we called at Duck Bay Marina from which such activities radiate. There is a vast bar and restaurant, whose plate glass, glare-proof windows frame the water and the hills beyond. Teams of smart and pretty waitresses, in tartan mini-kilts, busied themselves serving scampi and chips and other traditional Scotch dishes. There were thousands of people about and hundreds of cars. A shop sold tartan everythings and seven year old whisky marmalade.

Duck Bay can also be deemed to be the spot where the luscious Win Jenkins went bathing in the nude in Humphry Clinker, shrewdly covering her face, rather than any other portion of her anatomy when a gentleman whom she knew went by.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1901-1935), whose atmospheric novels conveyed the character of the Mearns, praised Loch Lomond in The Scottish Scene [1934], probably referring to the view seen from Duck Bay:

“Loch Lomond lies quite near Glasgow. Nice Glaswegians motor out there and admire the scenery and calculate its horsepower and drink whisky and chaff one another in genteelly Anglicized Glaswegianisms. After a hasty look at Glasgow the investigator would do well to disguise himself as one of like kind, drive down to Loch Lomondside and stare across its waters at the sailing clouds that crown the Ben, at the flooding of colours changing and darkling and miraculously lighting up and down those misty slopes, where night comes over long mountain leagues that know only the paddings of the shy, stray hare, the whirr and cry of the startled pheasant, silences so deep you can hear the moon come up, mornings so greyly coloured they seem stolen from Norse myth.”

A little further on Arden is reached. It may have been the Lochlomondside mansion where Robert Burns dined ‘at a goodfellow’s house’:

“I have lately been rambling over by Dumbarton and Inveraray, and running a drunken race on the side of Loch Lomond with a wild Highlandman; his horse which had never known the ornaments of iron or leather, zigzagged across before my old spavin’d hunter, whose name is Jenny Geddes, and down came Jenny and my Bardship; so I have such a skinful of bruises and wounds, that I shall be at least four weeks before I dare venture on my journey to Edinburgh.” [Burns to Richmond, July, 1787]

Nearby, along the B831, is Bannachra Castle, a castle of the Colquhouns in Glen Fruin, notorious because it was sacked in 1592 by a MacFarlane who mutilated the vanquished laird, his wife’s lover, ‘in a revolting but appropriate fashion’. He served his unfaithful lady with her lover’s private parts as a mocking dish: a tale to fascinate, and, possibly, discomfort Robert Burns who stayed with MacLachlan of Bannachra during his West Highland tour of 1787. Nearby is Dunfion, Fingal’s Hill, another of his numerous seats throughout Scotland.

One of the earliest literary visitors to Loch Lomond was Ben Jonson (1571-1637), the Elizabethan playwright. He was of Scottish extraction, and in 1618-19 he travelled Scotland, spending over a year there. He was entertained at the end of 1618 by William Drummond of Hawthornden who recorded as much as he could of what Jonson had to say in his diary, which was eventually published as Conversations. Jonson planned to write a versified account of his travels entitled A Discovery, and ‘a fisher or Pastorall play’ set on Loch Lomond. Whether he ever wrote it is not known, since Jonson’s papers were later lost in a fire.

In perhaps the best short guide to the Highlands of the thirties James Baikie (1866-1931) prompted visitors:

“It is said that Dr Chalmers, of Disruption fame, once expressed a gentle hope that there might be a Loch Lomond in heaven. Scripture says nothing to the contrary, though it unaccountably excludes the sea, which the Hebrew always hated; and one hopes that, were it only for the sake of Glasgow, the good Doctor’s pious aspiration may be realised.”

John Young, who published Lochlomondside and other Poems in 1872, expressed the same sentiment in verse:

A Poet-Preacher once, ’tis said,

When Lomond and her isles lay spread

Before his genius-flashing eye,

Loaded the pinions of a sigh,

Soul-born, with this impassioned cry—

O Joy! Should it to man be given

That a Loch Lomond be in Heaven”

John Keats (1795-1821), the Romantic poet, was at Loch Lomond in July, 1818. He is one of the few visitors to comment favourably on the weater:

“The banks of the Clyde are extremely beautiful – the north end of Loch Lomond grand in excess – the entrance at the lower end to the narrow part from a distance is precious good – the evening was beautiful and nothing could surpass our fortune in the weather.”

The loch is also the subject of one of Scotland’s most famous lyrics, the Jacobite lament Loch Lomond:

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes

Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond

Where me and my true love will ne-er meet again

On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomon’.

 

Chorus:

O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road

And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

For me and my true love will ne-er meet again

On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomon’.

 

Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen

On the steep, steep sides o’ Ben Lomon’

Where in purple hue, the hielan hills we view

And the moon comin’ out in the gloamin’.

 

The wee birdies sing and the wild flowers spring

And in sunshine the waters are sleeping

But the broken heart, it kens nae second spring again

Tho’ the waeful may cease frae their greetin’

The song has been rendered in countless ways. Famously, Runrig, the rock band, performed it to an audience of 40,000 in Balloch Park in June 1991. Paul Robeson recorded the song and Vaughan Williams made a madrigal of it. Rather carelessly, Martha Tilton, accompanied by the Benny Goodman Orchestra, referred to “the sun coming up through the gloaming”. Even Noel Coward considered his audiences would be sufficiently familiar with the lyrics to write a pastiche:

The high road is my road,

The low road’s a slow road

And I’ll guarantee ya

I’ll be there to see ya

On the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond

John Purser (b.1942) in Scotland’s Music [1992] lambasts these travesties:

The return of the Jacobite army from Derby via Carlisle is commemorated in the internationally famous song Loch Lomond. The tune is a variant of The Bonnie Hoose 0′ Airlie, the words relatively modern. It certainly has no place in the mid-eighteenth century, and in any case scarcely anybody knows how to sing it. It has had heaped upon its head more appalling and ignorant performances than any song has a right to bear. Its subject matter is one of bitter and ironic tragedy. The Jacobite soldier awaiting execution claims he will reach Scotland before his companion as his spirit will get there first by the low road. This is usually rendered by singers and arrangers with an inane chirpiness more suited to selling washing-up liquid. One day perhaps it will be restored to its proper dignity.

Andrew Lang risked rendering the poem in his own way:

There’s an ending o’ the dance, and fair Morag’s

  safe in France,

And the Clans they hae paid the lawing,

And the wuddy has her ain, a we twa are left

  alane,

Free o’ Carlisle gaol in the dawning.

It is sometimes averred that Loch Lomond isbased on a slightly different folk tune, Robin Cushie, to be found in McGibbon’s Scots Tunes Book [1742] (i.e. before the Rising of 1745) At one time the words were attributed to Lady John Scott (1810-1900) who is said to have adapted a broadside ballad by Sanderson of Edinburgh [1838]. This tale (which is probably wrong) may have arisen because of confusion between Loch Lomond and Annie Laurie, of which Lady Scott made a ‘refined’ version. The version of Loch Lomond with which we are familiar seems to have first appeared in print in Poets and Poetry of Scotland [1876], but there are many variants. Tradition has it that the original words were written by a Jacobite incarcerated in Carlisle Castle in 1745.

In By Yon Bonnie Banks Maurice Lindsay (1918-2009) comments that this beautiful loch has inspired little good poetry. With Burns he surveys the mountain of bad verse, which it has attracted. Both Lindsay and Burns particularly dislike Address to Loch Lomond [1788] by James Cririe (1752-1835. Here is part of the long letter which Burns wrote to his friend, Peter Hill, criticising the poem in October 1788:

The following perspective of mountains blue—the imprisoned billows beating in vain—the wooded isles—the digression on the yew-tree—“Benlomond’s lofty, cloud-envelop’d head,” &c. are beautiful. A thunder-storm is a subject which has been often tried, yet our poet in his grand picture has interjected a circumstance, so far as I know, entirely original:—

“the gloom

 Deep seam’d with frequent streaks of moving fire.”

Late in the nineteenth century Donald Macleod (1831-1916), the littérateur from Dumbarton, published Lays of Loch Lomond which included much such verse, but also took in both John Barbour and Thomas Campbell. A specimen of the bad verse. in this case by Willam Shand Daniel (1813-1858), runs as follows:

Tis evening upon Lomond’s lake,

On her green isles the morn is gleaming;

In Heaven there’s not a cloud to break

The lustre o’er the waters streaming

Maurice Lindsay also mentions Barbour, but he does not refer to two immensely successful poems by Englishmen: Wordsworth’s Highland Girl is set on Loch Lomond, as is Manley Hopkins’ Inversnaid, both of which are dealt with elsewhere. Wordsworth went on to write three other somewhat less successful Loch Lomond poems; The Brownie’s Cell, The Brownie and To the Planet Venus, an Evening Star. Composed at Loch Lomond . Adam and Charles Black’s Picturesque Tourist [1851] quotes a further Wordsworth poem, Ruth, in describing the islands of Loch Lomond, although it is Windermere that Wordsworth probably had in mind:

 

With all its fairy crowds

Of islands, that together lie

As quietly as spots of sky

Among the evening clouds.

Undeterred by his predecessors, in A View of Loch Lomond, Lindsay has a rather successful go himself:

….picture postcards

that claim to lay the constant on the table,

(the camera cannot lie) are popular;

what trotting tourists hoped to purchase for the

shelf;

the image they’d retain, if they were able.

But landscape’s an evasion of itself.”

Burns tells us he muttered some verses when he celebrated sunrise Loch Lomond, but what they were has been lost. He used a cold wind from Ben Lomond in his Epistle to Davie, addressed to a fellow poet, to provide a contrast to a warm fireside, but otherwise he appears to have remained silent.

Glen Fruin, lying between the foot of Loch Lomond and the Gareloch, can be reached by a road built for the convenience of the Ministry of Defence, or by the B831 (see above). It was the site of a clan battle between the MacGregors and the Colquhouns in 1603, and a memorial stone at the head of the glen marks the supposed site of it. Scott put it in Lady of the Lake:

Proudly our pibroch has thrill’d in Glen

Fruin,

And Bannochar’s groans to our slogan

replied;

Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking

in ruin,

And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on

her side.

 Widow and Saxon maid

Long shall lament our raid,

Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with woe;

Lennox and Leven glen

Shake when they hear again,

“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

The massacre of the Colquhouns has been the subject of several ballads. The last verse of The Raid of Glen Fruin is as follows:

And dearly has M’Gregor paid

By name proscribed and haunted band

For dark Glen Fruin’s lawless raid –

No more he rules Loch Katrine’s strand.

Hugh MacDonald (1817-1860), the Paisley poet and travel writer, asserted “All that is beautiful, indeed, of earth, sea or sky may be said to be congregated round this favoured spot…” W.H.Auden (1907-1973),teaching in Helensburgh, celebrated the quality of the view in Dec. 1931:

No strange sound laid my echo on the road

And when where two little lanes branched

off I stood,

On either side the moorland grew away,

Luminous all Glen Fruin lay

And the sky was silent as an unstruck bell.

Loch Lomond was below, I saw

Boats on a bay like toys on floor;

Scotland in every quarter touched me still.

 

North of Arden and Glen Fruin hills begin to encroach more closely on the road, and the monumental arch at the southern entrance to Ross Dhu is sometimes said to mark the beginning of the Highlands. In practice the Highland Boundary Fault is further south, most evident in the string of islands which culminate in Inchmurrin. [Ferry signposted at the Arden roundabout]. Inchmurrin was visited by Thomas Gray(1716-1771), the distinguished classical scholar and poet, in 1764. Gray was a very important literary ‘discoverer’ of the English Lake District to which he wrote a guide. He only made a modest impact on Scotland, but he was a man who was listened to in London and an arbiter of taste. His enthusiasm for Scottish mountains undoubtedly contributed to their discovery.
 
  For long the home of the Colquhouns, Ross Dhu is now a developer’s golf course, a somewhat wretched fate for a Scottish national treasure, but one which has preserved its character. In the grounds is a ruined keep which the family occupied before their petite classical mansion was built. The estate fringes the most exquisite part of Loch Lomond. Literary visitors have included Scott, who was insulted, and Boswell and Johnson.

It is often said that Boswell’s father, Lord Auchinleck (1706–82), gave the name “Ursa Major” to Dr Johnson. However, Lucy Walford tells a plausible tale in her Recollections. She states that Lady Helen Colquhoun, who was a fastidious woman, took a dislike to Johnson, in particular, it is reported to the fact that he entered her drawing room dripping wet. In an aside she muttered, ‘What a bear’, whereupon one of the company responded ‘if it is so, it is Ursa Major’. This event is not recorded in either Johnson’s or Boswell’s accounts of their visit. Of course, it may be due to a conflation, on Mrs. Walford’s part, of two half-remembered stories.

Johnson’s robustness is illustrated by the fact that when they were furnished with a boat to take them to Inch Galbraith and Inchlonaig one of the younger Colquhouns was made ill by the rough weather and had to be taken home, but Johnson proceeded. Here he reflects favourably on Scots servants:

“When I was upon the Deer Island, I gave the keeper who attended me a shilling, and he said it was too much. Boswell afterwards offered him another, and he excused himself from taking it, because he had been rewarded already.”

 

 

 

John Colquhoun

John Colquhoun,(1805–1885), sportsman and naturalist, was the second son of Sir James Colquhoun. He was brought up partly at Ross Dhu, but later took both Arrochar House and Glenfalloch. He wrote the archetypal nineteenth century huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ treatise, The Moor and the Loch [1840]. There were several editions of the book, which was substantially revised in 1878.He is rather regrettably associated with Inch Galbraith, a Loch Lomond island close to Ross Dhu with a ruined keep on it, where Pennant noted that an osprey nested. The island was also visited by Johnson and Boswell. John Colquhoun says, rather ruefully, that, as a young man, he shot the female osprey and trapped the male:

 

They were a beautiful pair, the female, as in most birds of prey, being considerably the larger. The eggs of these ospreys had regularly been every year, and yet they never forsook their eyrie. It was a beautiful sight to see them sail into our bay on a calm summer night, and, after flying round it several times, strike down on a good-sized pike and bear it away as if it were a minnow.

 

As a sporting writer John Colquhoun was a successor to Colonel Thomas Thornton (1747-1893) whose tour of the Highlands probably took place in 1784. His account of it, A Sporting Tour through . . . . . . Great Part of the Highlands of Scotland, was published in 1804. He too encountered an osprey on Loch Lomond:

We had in the course of the day seen an osprey or water eagle make some noble dashes into the lake after her prey and understanding from one of the boatmen that there was an eyrie on a small island in our voyage home I ordered them to attempt to get as near the nest as possible and loaded my gun well wishing to kill her as a specimen Notwithstanding all our precaution however she rose long before we got near the island at least we perceived a bird of some kind for it was too dark to distinguish of what sort at the distance we lay These birds are very rare in all my different excursions I never heard of any except at Loch Lomond and Loch Morlaix in Glennaore.

 

This last reference is probably to Loch Morlich in Glenmore. Thornton was a gifted exponent of the topographical malapropism. His best was probably ‘Cree in Laroche’ [Crianlaraich]

John Colquhoun’s seventh child was Lucy Bethia Walford [née Colquhoun], (1845–1915), who became the author of some 45 books. It was considered at the time that her novels might be mentioned in the same breath as those of Thomas Hardy.In Recollections of a Scottish Novelist [1910] she explains that Scott presented himself at Sir James Colquhoun’s door, confident of welcome and assistance. However, the author had not taken account of her ancestor’s sense of his own importance. Sir James regarded a mere Edinburgh lawyer as of little consequence, and ordered the butler to show him round Ross Dhu. Lucy Walford continues:

Such an affront was never forgotten nor forgiven; in Rob Roy the Colquhoun’s were absolutely ignored, and the scene of the Lady of the Lake, originally intended to be laid on the banks of Loch Lomond was removed to Loch Katrine.

The consequences of this episode are touched on in a footnote to Burt’s Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland by the editor, Robert Jamieson, who reports that an old Highlander (encountered on the summit of Ben Lomond in 1814) complained vehemently about the Lady of the Lake:

 That d—–d Walter Scott…ever since he wrote his Lady of the Lake, as they call it, everybody goes to see that filthy hole Loch Katrine then comes round by Luss, and I have had only two gentlemen to guide all this blessed season, which is now at an end. I shall never see the top of Ben Lomond again! — The devil confound his ladies and his lakes, say I!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: