Archive for April, 2014

Scottish Literary Calendar: 11. November

Epigraph:

Cauld winter was howlin’ o’er muir and oe’r mountains

And wild was the surge on the dark rolling sea

When I met about daybreak a bonnie young lassie

Who asked me the road and the miles to Dundee

Traditional

1|11|1778 | Mary Brunton (Balfour), novelist, born, Orkney. Her novels will include Self Control (1810) and Discipline (1814). |2.1101.01<b>

1|11|1897 Naomi Mitchison, author, born, Edinburgh. ||2.1101.02<b>

1|11|1922 | The Porpoise Press established. It will play an important part in the modern Scottish Lierary Renaissance |2.1101.03<b>

1|11|1950 | Raymond Vetesse, poet, born, Arbroath. |2.1101.04<b>

2|11|1706 | Daniel Defoe, Government spy and author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote to Robert Harley informing him that he had commenced his panegyric Caledonia, in order to convince the Scots that he was one of them |2.1102.01<b>

2|11|1773 |James Boswell and Samuel Johnson arrived at Auchinleck, Boswell’s father’s house.|2.1102.02<b>

3|11|1850 | John Watson [Ian Maclaren], author of very popular sentimental novels of the ‘Kailyard’ school., born |2.1103.01<b>

3|11|1895 |A.G.MacDonell, author of the memorably funny  England, their England, born, Aberdeen |2.1103.02<b>

3|11|1919 | Ludovic Kennedy, broadcaster and author, born, Edinburgh |2.1103.03<b>

**4|11|1771 |Scottish poet and newspaper owner/editor James Montgomery is born Irvine, Ayrshire.|2.1104.01<b>**

4|11|1866 | Helen Jane Findlater, novelist, born, Lochearnhead. She will collaborate with her sister, Mary, in well-regarded novels of manners of which Crossriggs is still in print.|2.1104.02<b>

5|11|1811 | (Hon. Mrs) Sarah Murray [Aust], (1744-1811), travel writer, dies.|2.1105.01<b>

5|11|1819 | James Nicol (1769-1819), Innerleithen-born poet, dies |2.1105.01<b>

5|11|1854 | Susan Ferrier, novelist, dies, aged 72, in Edinburgh.|2.1105.01<b>

5|11|1936 | Stewart Conn, broadcaster and poet, born.|2.1105.01<b>

6|11|1764 | Robert Heron (1764-1807),  the first, if a somewhat inaccurate, biographer of Burns, born New Galloway |2.1106.01<b>

6|11|1894 | Philip Gilbert Hamerton, poet, painter and critic, at one time a denizen at Loch Awe, dies at Boulogne-sur-Seine in France. |2.1106.02<b>

7|11|1838 | Ann(e) Grant (MacVicar), of Laggan, diarist, dies aged 82. |2.1107.01<b>

7|11|1974 | Eric Linklater, novelist (Poet’s Pub and Juan in America), dies at Aberdeen. He is buried in Orkney with which he felt the strongest affinities.|2.1107.02<b>

8|11|1849 | William Robertson Smith born Aberdeenshire. He was prosecuted for heresy for his article about the Bible in the Encylopaedia Britannica, but acquitted. He later became its editor.|2.1108.01<b>

8|11|1891 | Neil Miller Gunn, novelist of the modern Scottish literary renaissance, born at Dunbeath, Caithness. Highland River (1937) will brilliantly evoke his boyhood.|2.1108.01<b>

8|11|1941 | David Black, poet, born South Africa.|2.1108.01<b>

9|11|1941 | William Black, lurid novelist of the ‘Celtic Twilight’, born Glasgow |2.1109.01<b>

9|11|1858 | George Borrow (1803-81), traveller and novelist, at Inverness visiting the Highlands and Northern Isles in search of the Picts |2.1109.02<b>

10|11|1711 | Robert Hay Drummond, the benefactor who helped to establish the Innerpefferay Library, born |2.1110.01<b>

*10|11|1728 | Oliver Goldsmith, playwright (She Stoops to Conquer) and poet,  born in Ireland. He will study medicine in Edinburgh, take a short Highland Tour, and attend formal dances at the Old Town Halls off the High Street. In London he will make the acquaintance of Tobias Smollett.|2.1110.02<b>*

 

11|11|1703 |Martinmas. A paper  proposing the erection of  Lending Libraries throughout the Highlands by Rev. James Kirkwood (1650-1708) was read at the SPCK.|2.1111.01<b>

11|11|1919 |Hamish Henderson, war poet and distinguished twentieth century folklorist, born |2.1111.01<b>

11|11|1935 | Annie S. Swan writes to Dot Allan to congratulate her on her book about William Wallace |2.1111.01<b>

12|11|1772 |Robert Fergusson‘s ‘Hallow Fair’ published in Ruddimans Weekly Magazine .|2.1112.01<b>

***13|11|1850 | Robert Louis Stevenson born, Edinburgh |2.1113.01<b>**

14|11|1789 | William Glen, poet, born, Paisley |2.1114.01<b>

14|11|1910 |Norman MacCaig, poet, born, Edinburgh. His accomplished poetry will be strongly associated with Assynt in Sutherland.|2.1114.02<b>

14|11|1933 | T.S.Eliot, poet, visits Neil Gunn in Inverness |2.1114.03<b>

14|11|1933 | John Joy Bell, journalist, dies.|2.1114.04<b>

15|11|1922 | The Turn of the Day by Marion Angus first published |2.1115.01<b>

16|11|1774 |Robert Fergusson, poet, dies aged 24. |2.1116.01<b>

16|11|1775 |Nichol Graham of Gartmore, miscellaneous writer, dies |2.1116.01<b>

16|11|1797 | Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus born, Edinburgh. Her Memoirs of A Highland Lady will be published posthumously and become a classic.|2.1116.01<b>

 

17|11|1764 | The Speculative Society, whose members have included Francis Jeffrey, Henry Cockburn, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Hugh MacDiarmid, is founded |2.1117.01<b>

17|11|1949 |Ron Butlin, poet, born Edinburgh |2.1117.01<b>

18|11|1794 | Charles Cordiner, author of Remarkable Ruins and Romantic Prospects of North Britain dies |2.1118.01<b>

**18|11|1826 | Sir Walter Scott meets novelist Fanny Burney, whom he describes in his Journal as “an elderly lady with… a gentle manner and  a pleasing expression of countenance”.|2.1118.02<b>**

18|11|1922 | Allan Campbell Maclean, author of Hill of the Red Fox born.|2.1118.03<b>

19|11|1780 | William Laidlaw, poet and friend of Scott, born |2.1119.01<b>

19|11|1838 |Elgin-born Robert Watson (1746-1838), adventurer and editor of Chevalier de Johnstone’s Memoirs of the Rebellion, 1746, strangled himself in a public house.|2.1119.02<b>

20|11|1776 | William Blackwood, publisher, born Peebles |2.1120.01<b>

21|11|1747 | Joseph Farington, diarist, born. In 1792 he will visit Scotland to make illustrations for John Knox’s Scenery of Scotland, but the project will be abandoned on Knox’s death.|2.1121.01<b>

21|11|1835 | James Hogg, poet and novelist,  dies| 2.1121.02<b>

**21|11|1855 | Jane Welsh Carlyle goes to the Income Tax Commissioners in order to seek a reduction in the tax on her husband’s earnings, fearing that Carlyle will do his own cause little good. She is partially successful, and relieved that Carlyle did not go himself.|2.1121.03<b>**

21|11|1880 | Thomas Tod Stoddart, the angler-poet, dies |2.1121.04<b>

21|11|1936 | James A. Mackay, biographer, born, Inverness. He will edit Robert Burns’ works, and write a biography of him.|2.1121.05<b>

22|11|1794 |Alison Cockburn, poet, dies.| 2.1122.01<b>

22|11|1890 | William Bell Scott, painter and poet, dies |2.1122.02<b>

22|11|1926 | MacDiarmid’s masterpiece, A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle, published |2.1122.03<b>

22|11|1935 | Hugh Crauford Rae, Glasgow novelist, born |2.1122.04<b>

22|11|1963 |Mary Findlater dies, Comrie.|2.1122.05<b>

23|11|1824 | James Thomson, poet, author of City of Dreadful Night born, Port Glasgow |2.1123.01<b>

23|11|1909 | Nigel Tranter, novelist and historian, born, Edinburgh |2.1123.02<b>

23|11|1924 |Stewart Sanderson, folklorist, born|2.1123.01<b>

23|11|1944 | Christopher Rush author of Venus Peter born,  St. Monans, Fife.|2.1123.02<b>

**24|11|1759 | Tobias Smollett is tried and convicted for libelling Admiral Knowles in the Critical Review. He is imprisoned in the King’s Bench Prison which he describes in his novel Sir Lancelot Greaves.|2.1124.01<b>**

24|11|1790 | Robert Henry, the Stirling-born historian, dies, Edinburgh.|2.1124.02<b>

24|11|1996 | Sorley Maclean [MacGill-Eain, Somhairle], Gaelic poet, dies.|2.1124.03<b>

25|11|1854 | John Gibson Lockhart, biographer of Scott, dies. He will be buried at Scott’s feet. |2.1125.01<b>

25|11|1862 | Norman Macleod ‘Caraid nan Gaidheal’ dies.  |2.1125.02<b>

25|11|1936 | William McIlvanney,  novelist, born, Kilmarnock |2.1125.02<b>

26|11|1747 | The ‘Black Dinner’, subject of an old ballad, took place|2.1126.01<b>

26|11|1775 | Mrs Anne Grant, author of Letters From The Highlands,  describes her daily life in Fort Augustus where her father is quartermaster in a letter to a friend in Glasgow.|2.1126.02<b>

27|11|1778 | John Murray, the Scottish publisher who treated  his authors, including Byron and Campbell, with great generosity, born |2.1127.01<b>

 

28|11|1855 | James Thomson (1768-1855), Crieff-born editor of the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, dies |2.1128.01<b>

28|11|1858 | Robert Pearce Gillies from Arbroath, the self-styled Edinburgh ‘literary veteran’ and subject of a Wordsworth sonnet, dies.|2.1128.01<b>

28|11|1920 | Alexander Scott, poet, born |2.1128.01<b>

28|11|1980 | Brig. Bernard Fergusson (1911-80), soldier, poet and diarist, dies.|2.1128.01<b>

29|11|1818 | George Brown, journalist and distinguished Canadian politician born, Edinburgh |2.1129.01<b>

29|11|1931 | William Reid (1764-1831), Glasgow bookseller, dies.|2.1129.02<b>

29|11|1872 | Mary Somerville (1780-1872), Jedburgh-born mathematician and writer on scientific subjects, dies |2.1129.03<b>

30|11|1862 | St. Andrew’s Day. Sheridan Knowles, dramatist, and Glasgow theatre impresario, dies |2.1130.01<b>

30|11|1934 | Aileen Paterson, author of the Maisie books for children, born |2.1130.02<b>

30|11|1972 | Compton MacKenzie, novelist, dies, aged 89, in Edinburgh. His monumental autobiography My Life and Times (1963-1971) will record his prolific achievements.|2.1130.03<b>

Louis Stott Database: 80 entries                                      Updated: 120898

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 17. The Trossachs

In a word, the Trossachs beggar all description.

Dorothy Wordsworth quoting Rev James Robertson DD  The Parish of Callander

I saw a wild confused assemblage of heights, crags, precipices which they call the Trossachs

  Nathaniel Hawthorne English Notebooks Spring 1856

The world believes, and will continue to believe, that Scott was the first sassenach who discovered the Trossachs, as it was his poem which gave them their world-wide celebrity. It would probably be as impossible to alter this impression as it would be to substitute for Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth the very different versions of the facts and characters which historical research has brought to light. And yet it would be interesting to inquire what first brought the Trossachs into notice, and who first did so?

John Campbell Shairp Introduction to Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal 1874

 

The Trossachs Pier is at the heart of the Trossachs. When he visited the Trossachs in 1800 John Leyden (1775-1811), a friend and disciple of Sir Walter Scott, met the redoubtable Lady Sarah Murray (1744-1811), who conducted him to Murray Point, named after herself, from which the Loch could be viewed. Sarah Murray was the author of A Companion and Useful Guide to The Beauties of Scotland, and she asserted that she ‘discovered’ the Trossachs, and that Scott ought to have dedicated The Lady of the Lake to her. In fact, both Dorothy Wordsworth and she quote freely from James Robertson, minister of the Parish of Callander writng in The First Statistical Account whose description was undoubtedly one of the earliest.
In his admirable little book William Wilson points out that Dorothy Wordsworth misquotes Robertson. What he says is, “When you enter the Trossachs, there is such an assemblage of wildness and rude grandness, as beggars all description, and fills the mind with the most sublime conceptions.” The Wordsworths, Patrick Graham and Thomas Wilkinson also deserve some credit for discovering the Trossachs, but it was undoubtedly the publication of the Lady of the Lake in 1810, of Waverley in 1814 and Rob Roy in 1818 which led to a boom in the Tourist Trade:

The whole country rang with the praises of the poet – crowds set off to the scenery of Loch Katrine, till then comparatively unknown; and as the book came out just before the season for excursions, every house and inn in that neighbourhood was crammed with a constant succession of visitors. It is a well ascertained fact that, from the date of the publication of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ the post-horse duty in Scotland rose to an extraordinary degree, and indeed continued to do so regularly for a number of years, the author’s succeeding works keeping up the enthusiasm for our scenery which he thus originally created.

Robert Cadell (Scott’s Publisher)

John MacCulloch took a more realistic view, in a letter addressed to the author, of the effects of Scott’s works which included, as a by-product, an adaptation of ‘Rob Roy’ for the stage (18xx):

But the mystic portal has been thrown open and the mob has rushed in, dispersing all these fairy visions, and polluting everything with its unhallowed touch. Barouches and gigs, cocknies, and fishermen and poets, Glasgow weavers and travelling haberdashers now swarm in every resting place and meet us at every avenue. As Rob Roy now blusters at Covent Garden and the Lyceum, and Aberfoyle is gone to Wapping, so Wapping and the Strand must also come to Aberfoyle. The green-coated fairies have packed up their alls and quitted the premises, and the Uriskins only caper now in your verses.

In A Summer in Skye Alexander Smith‘ (1865) alludes to Scott’s influence in an impressive passage:

 Scott has done more for Edinburgh than all her great men put together. Burns has hardly left a trace of himself in the northern capital. During his residence there his spirit was soured, and he was taught to drink whisky-punch – obligations which he repaid by addressing “Edina, Scotia’s darling seat,” in a copy of his tamest verses. Scott discovered that the city was beautiful – he sang its praises all over the World – and he has put more coin into the pockets of its inhabitants than if he had established a branch of manufacture of which they had the monopoly. Scott’s novels were to Edinburgh what the tobacco trade was to Glasgow about the close of the last century. Although several labourers were before him in the field of Border Ballads, he made fashionable those wonderful stories of humour and pathos. As soon as “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” appeared, everybody was raving about Melrose and moonlight. He wrote “The Lady of the Lake” and next year a thousand tourists descended on the Trossachs, watched the sun setting on Loch Katrine, and began to take lessons on the bagpipe. He improved the Highlands as much as General Wade did when he struck through them with his military roads. Where his muse was one year, a mail-coach and a hotel were the next. His poems are grated down into guide books. Never was an author so popular as Scott and never was popularity worn so lightly and gracefully. In his own heart he did not value it highly; and he cared more for his plantations at Abbotsford than for his poems and novels. He would rather have been praised by Tom Purdie [Scott’s gardener] than any critic.

Confirmation that Scott’s influence was at work before the Lady of the Lake is to be had in Scotia Depicta, a collection of fine etchings of the scenery of the Highlands of Scotland published in 1804, which gives the following description of the Trossachs. Although it dates from the early nineteenth century the approach is that of the eighteenth, giving some idea of people’s perception of the countryside at that time:

Perthshire not only contains some of the most beautiful scenery in North Britain, but also some of the most sublime. The Trossachs are often visited by those persons who are fond of seeing Nature in her wildest and most unpolished garb. They consist of large broken masses of rock and mountain thrown into every fantastic shape as well as some others of the most stupendous height.
By passing along the southern side of Ben Ledi, a traveller may wind along the sides of two beautiful lakes which present him with a variety of the finest scenery. The foregrounds are enriched with wood which sometimes admits and at others secludes the exposure of the lake and the distant mountains. In walking along the north side the road is in some parts cut out of the solid rock, two hundred feet above the perpendicular of the lake, and in others passes along the bottom of some rugged and stupendous masses of rock. In order to examine the spot in all its parts, it is necessary to sail along the lake to what is called the ‘Rock or Den of the Ghost’, in the dark recesses of which a fanciful and rude imagination might conceive of some supernatural beings to have fixed their residence. In this neighbourhood is also the celebrated Glen Finglas now more generally known from the beautiful poem of Mr Walter Scott which bears the same name and is published in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. When a person first enters the Trossachs there appears such an assemblage of wildness and grandeur as renders every description inadequate to convey a satisfactory idea: it seems as if a whole mountain had been torn in pieces by a convulsion of nature and the huge fragments of rock and woods scattered in confusion along the side of Loch Katrine. The access to this lake is through a narrow pass. The rocks are of a great height and seem of their very projection ready to fall on the head of the traveller and crush him in their ruins.

In addition to Scotia Depicta, another similar book appeared at about the same time by a local man, Alexander Campbell who was born at Tombea, at the foot of Loch Lubnaig. A poet, whose poems in the Gaelic he translated into English. His Journey Through Parts of North Britain, a beautifully illustrated book, was published in 1802. There is no better description of the Trossachs than this, even if Campbell perhaps combines Rob Roy with the Uruisks to put the wind up the traveller:

Pathless and perplexed with all the wild luxuriance of briar, bramble, thorn, and a multiplicity of matted vegetation (till lately, when a road, rude, it is confessed, but on foot and on horseback, passable, was, with much difficulty constructed), the entrance to Loch Katrine was known to the natives only; and, indeed, to but very few of them. On turning a creek to the right, we enter the celebrated pass called the Trossachs. These rugged masses leave their hoary cliffs, and bend all their fantastic wildness over us, as we proceed on to the end of the pass; where some, more conical than the rest, seem to a lively imagination as if placed by nature as mute spectators of that thrilling amazement which the stranger feels at his entrance on the confines of the lake; the east end of which is the deep dark pool on whose margin we now halt.
Here let us pause. Look up to the left; behold that gigantic precipice, wooded to the top, bending over the pool in sullen grandeur. Among these rocks, whose gloom rests eternal on the bosom of the lake, in former times a savage band, ruthless, intractable, and cruel, had fixed their lurking place, and issued forth, naked as they were born, committing depradations on the peaceable inhabitants of these glens, ravishing the women, murdering those that resisted, setting fire to habitations all round, ,and butchering without distinction the old and the young. Hence this precipice retains the name of Coire nan Uruisken, the den of the wild-men or savages.

However, there is no doubt that the most influential book to appear at this time was A Companion and Useful Guide to The Beauties of Scotland by Sarah Murray. Lady Sarah Murray [Aust] (1744-1811), undertook her tours on her own at the end of the eighteenth century, and merits the epithet ‘indefatigable’ which is frequently applied to her. She visited many sites which were at that time very inaccessible, and wrote about them with an infectious enthusiasm. Visiting Loch Awe, she mentions her meeting with Leyden, referring to his poem about breaking a bottle of cider – just as he was about to drink it – on Cruachan. Her visit to the Trossachs is full of her customary superlatives and conceits. However, there is no doubt that she was a remarkable traveller, and her work has a tremendous vitality. The passage quoted is preceded by a somewhat exaggerated description of the Pass of the Trossachs in which she states that her coachman was so frightened that he was afraid that he might encounter the devil. As a consequence she had to lead the way:

 

When I first caught sight of Loch Katrine, I was astonished, I was delighted -.a faint ray of sun was just then penetrating through the mist, still resting on the tops of the surrounding mountains and crags, tinging the the woods on their sides, and gleaming on the beautiful islands in the lake. The ‘devils’ [boatmen] too greatly added to the beauty of the foreground. They were in a large boat, throwing from it upon the shore, logs of wood which they had brought from the head of the lake. This was a fortunate circumstance, as it enabled me to be rowed about the lake as much as I chose. It was a mere chance, but a lucky one for me, that a boat should be at the end of the lake. whilst the innocent devils were finishing their work, I walked up the road, cut out in steps on the crags, hanging over the lake to the north, to a high point, since called Mrs Murray’s Hill, whence I saw the chief part of the the loch; which lies nearly from west to east. The view from that point to the foot of the lake, which is the east end, over the islands, and to the mountains on the south side of the lake, belonging to the Duke of Montrose, is beautiful; but part of it may truly be called sublime, where the lake runs off by a river that conveys the water of it through the awful Pass of Achray. i was very sorry I could not see the shape of the Stuc a Chroin [Ben Venue], but it had on it an impenetrable cap of mist. At the south side of the peak is Loch Chroin and Coire a Chroin [Coire Uruiskin]. From the high point I was upon, I perceived my boatmen had finished their task, and were rowing to take me up. I therefore descended to the edge of the lake, and with some little scrambling embarked. They rowed me to the Den of the Ghost, and under the solid rock which rises two hundred feet perpendicular above the level of the lake; and also round the beautiful wooded island, and to the foot of the loch.

Sarah Murray Beauties of Scotland                                                                                                                                         

John Leyden’s account follows; he makes the same error as Sarah Murray in calling Ben Venue ‘Stuc a Chroin’ – what the explanation of this is, it is difficult to decide, but it suggests that Leyden probably got his information from Lady Sarah. The mistake is unusual for both of them, and it is possible that this was an alternative name:

At the upper end of the of the lake the Trossachs present themselves, a cluster of wonderful rocks which shut up the defile of Loch Katrine. They display a most astonishing and savage mixture of gray precipices huddled together in awful confusion, projecting with bare and woody points, intermingling with and surmounting each other, wedging into each other’s sides, and patched in the most fantastic manner by brown heath finely contrasted with the verdure of the trees. The precipices are dreadfully rent and torn. The gloom and the silence of the place cause every footfall to,be echoed far and wide. as we wound silently through this confusion of beauty and horror, we soon heard the sounds of the waves dying away among the rocks. the spout end of the lake is finely diversified by islands and woody promontories, but in some places, from the quantity of wood that has been cut down, the sides of the rock have been left bare and naked, by which the solemn effect is much diminished, as we were informed by Mrs Murray of Kensington, whom we were fortunate enough to meet just as we came in sight of the lake. She conducted us to Murray Point, named from herself, the discoverer; whence we had an enchanting view of part of the Trossachs and of the greater part of the lake, the precipice of Den of the Ghost, and the peak of Rutting, or Stuc a Chroin.

John Leyden Tour in the Highlands and Western Islands 1800

James Hogg in his Highland Tours was one of the next to describe the scene. He came up, as was the fashion, with a rather far-fetched and tedious explanation of the geology of the place, and went on to say, ‘I will not attempt a particular description of them, but they are indeed the most confused piece of nature’s workmanship that I ever saw, consisting of a thousand little ragged eminences all overhung with bushes, intersected with interstices, the most intricate and winding imaginable.’

Some account has already been given of the Wordsworths’ first visits to the Trossachs. Their reactions when they first saw the heart of the place are contained in the Journal as follows:

The second bay we came to differed from the rest; the hills retired a short space from the lake, leaving a few yellow fields between, on which was a cottage embosomed in trees; the bay was defended by rocks at each end, and the hills behind made a shelter for the cottage, the only dealing except one on this side of Loch Katrine. We now came to the steeps that rose directly from the lake, and passed by a place called in Gaelic the ‘Den of the Ghosts’ [Coire nan Uruiskin], which reminded us of Lodore; it is a rock, or mass of rock, with a stream of large black stones like the naked or dried up bed of a torrent down the side of it; birch trees start out of the rock in every direction, and cover the hill above further than we could see.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                            

After we had landed we walked along the road to the uppermost of the huts where Coleridge was standing. From the door of this hut we saw Ben Venue opposite to us – a high mountain, but clouds concealed its top; its side rising directly from the lake, is covered with birch trees to a great height, and seamed with innumerable channels of torrents; but now there was no water in them, nothing to break the stillness and repose of the scene; nor do I recollect hearing the sound of water from any side, the wind being fallen, and the lake perfectly still; the place was all eye, and completely satisfied the sense and the heart. Above and below us to the right and the left, were rocks, knolls, and hills, which wherever anything could grow – and that was everywhere between the rocks – were covered with trees and heather; the trees did not in any place grow so thick as an ordinary wood; yet I think there was never a bare space of twenty yards; it was more like a natural forest, where the trees grow in groups or singly. not hiding the surface of the ground which instead of being green and mossy was of the richest purple. The heather was indeed the most luxuriant I ever saw; it was so tall that a child of ten years old struggling through it would often have been buried head and shoulders, and the exquisite beauty of the colour, near or at a distance, seen under the trees, is not to be conceived. But if I were to go on describing for evermore, I should give but a faint and very often false idea of the different objects and the various combinations of them in this most intricate and delicious place.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                         

On their return, without Coleridge, from the direction of Callander, they had better weather. They revisited the places they had been to and were ‘ delighted to behold the forms of objects fully revealed, and even surpassing in loveliness and variety what we had conceived.’ Wordsworth climbed from the Pass of Achray towards Ben Venue leaving Dorothy behind before they went back to Coilachra. It was this place that inspired, years later, Wordsworth’s famous sonnet, The Trossachs. It was composed by the poet after his last visit to Sir Walter Scott. ‘As recorded in my sister’s journal, I had first seen the Trossachs in her and Coleridge’s company. The sentiment which runs through this sonnet was natural to the season in which I again saw this beautiful spot, but this and some other sonnets that follow were coloured with the remembrance of my recent visit to Sir Walter Scott, and the melancholy errand on which he was going.’

THE TROSSACHS

There’s not a nook within this solemn Pass
But were an apt confessional for One
Taught by his summer spent, his autumn gone
That Life is but a tale of morning grass:
Withered at eve. From scenes of art which chase
That thought away, turn, and with watchful eyes
Feed it midst Nature’s old felicities
Rocks, rivers, and smooth lakes more clear than glass:
Untouched, unbreathed upon. thrice happy quest,
If from a golden birch of aspen spray
(October’s workmanship to rival May
The pensive warbler of the ruddy breast
That moral sweeten by a heaven-taught lay
Lulling the year, with all its cares, to rest.
William Wordsworth

:
Dora Wordsworth remarks, of the the same journey, ‘At Loch Katrine and also among the rocks of the cataract of the Dochart near Killin, we were particularly struck with the rich and wild beauty of the aspens, the depending sprays of which looked exactly like the tassels of the laburnam in full blossom.’

These accounts go some way towards distinguishing what it was about the Trossachs that people came to see before Scott.  The appeal of the place is something to do with its scale. Ben Venue, for example, is an unimposing presence amongst the mountains of the southern highlands as they are seen from the South; yet, at Loch Katrine, it completely dominates the scene, looming above the loch as if it were Ben Nevis itself. Ben A’an, equally dominant from some spots, is a subsidiary summit of an otherwise uninteresting moor. However, it is the fact neither of these two mountains can be adequately seen from more than one or two points of view and that the intervening hills and promontories mean that there are continuously changing backdrops to the scene which give the Trossachs ‘proper’ their charm. In addition, of course, the associations of the place, add to the effect: the ‘Den of the Ghosts’, the Silver Strand, Bealach an Duine, Ellen’s Isle, and Bealach nam Bo are geographical locations about which, even before Scott wove them into an epic poem, tales could be told.
Even today the slopes of Ben Venue are relatively inaccessible between the isolated farmstead, Glasahoile, mentioned by Dorothy Wordsworth and the exit from the loch at the Pass of Achray. High above the loch is Bealach nam Bo, the pass of the cattle, across which Rob Roy is said to have driven stolen cattle, beneath this, yet still dramatically above the lake is Coire nan Uruisken, the corrie of the satyrs, or, more poetically, the den of the ghosts, or the goblin’s cave about which Patrick Graham told authoritative tales of its fairy inhabitants. Scott offers the following description in a note:

This is the very steep and most romantic hollow in the mountain of Ben Venue, overhanging the southwestern extremity of Loch Katrine. It is surrounded with stupendous rocks, and overshadowed with birch trees, mingled with oaks, the spontaneous production of the mountain, even where its cliffs appear denuded of soil.

In The Lady of the Lake it appears more poetically as follows:

It was a wild and strange retreat,
As e’er was trod by outlaw’s feet.
The dell, upon the mountain’s crest
Yawned like a gash on warrior’s breast;
Its trench had staid full many a rock
Hurled by primeaval, earthquake shock,
From Ben Venue’s gray summit wild,
And here, in random ruin piled,
They frowned incumbent o’er the spot,
And formed the rugged sylvan grot.
The oak and birch, with mingled shade,
At noontide there a twilight made,
Unless when short and sudden shone
Some straggling beam on cliff or stone,
Gains on thy depth, Futurity.
No murmur waked the solemn still,
Save the tinkling of a fountain rill;
But when the wind chafed with the lake,
A sullen sound would upward break,
With dashing hollow voice, that spoke,
The incessant war of wave and rock.
Suspended cliffs with hideous sway
Seem’d nodding o’er the cavern gray.
from such a dell the wolf had sprung,
In such the wild-cat leaves her young;
Yet Douglas and his daughter fair
Sought for a space their safety there.
Gray Superstition’s whisper dread,
Debarr’d the spot to vulgar tread:
For there, she said, did fays resort,
And satyrs hold their sylvan court,
By moonlight tread their mystic maze,
And blast the rash beholder’s gaze.

On the other side of the loch is Bealach an Duine, the pass of the man, the site of a battle in Cromwell’s time when an incident woven into the poem, as the battle is, took place. One of Cromwell’s soldiers was indeed stabbed to prevent him setting foot there, by one Helen Stuart who, with other women and children, was taking refuge on Eilean Molach, the shaggy island. The pass is above the Silver Strand, the white-pebbled beach opposite what Scott, and everyone ever since, called Ellen’s Isle.

Sir Walter Scott is not generally considered to be a poet of the first rank, and he did not have any great opinion of his own abilities as a poet. There is no doubt, however, that he was a compelling phrase-maker of very considerable abilities, and the impact which passages from two or three of his poems have had is out of all proportion to their particular merits as poems. His first successes were connected with his native Borderland, and The Lady of the Lake was his first substantial venture north of the Highland Line. Its effects have already been alluded to, and they continued throughout the nineteenth century and it must be supposed, if he was not of the first rank as a poet, that they were connected with the intrinsic merits of the Trossachs, and that Scott was simply an enabler. His most famous lines celebrating the scene occur in four stanzas in the first canto of the poem, which is in six cantos consisting of two hundred and two stanzas!

The western waves of ebbing day
Rolled o’er the glen their level way;
Each purpled peak, each flinty spire,
Was bathed in floods of living fire.
But not a setting beam could glow’
Within the dark ravines below.
Where twined the path in shadow hid,
Round many a rocky pyramid,
Shooting abruptly from the dell
Its thunder-splinter’d pinnacle;
Round many an insulated mass,
The native bulwarks of the pass,
Huge as the tower which builders vain
Presumptuous piled on Shinar’s plain.
The rocky summits, split and rent,
Form’d turret, dome and battlement,
Or seem’d fantastically set!
With cupola or minaret,
Wild crests as pagod ever deck’d,
Or mosque of Eastern architect.1
Nor were these earth-born castles bare,
Nor lack’d they many a banner fair;
For, from their shiver’d brows display’d,
Far o’er the unfathomable glade,
All twinkling with the dew-drops sheen,
The brier rose fell in streamers green,
And creeping shrubs, of thousand dyes,
Waved in the west-wind’s summer sighs.

***

Boon nature scatter’d, free and wild,
Each plant or flower, the mountain’s child
Here eglantine embalml’d the air,
Hawthorn and hazel mingled there;
The primrose pale and violet flower,
Found in each cleft a narrow bower;
Fox-glove and nightshade, side by side,
Emblems of punishment and pride,

Group’d their dark hues with every stain
The weather-beaten crags retain.
With boughs that quaked with every breath,
Gray birch and aspen wept beneath;
Aloft, the ash and warrior oak
Cast anchor in the rifted rock;
And, higher yet, the pine tree hung
His shattered trunk, and frequent flung,
Where seemed the cliffs to meet on high,
His boughs athwart the narrow’d sky.
Highest of all, where white peaks glanced,
Where glist’ning streamers waved and danced,
The wanderer’s eye could barely view
The summer heaven’s delicious blue;
So wondrous wild the whole might seem
The scenery of a fairy dream.

                                  ***
Onward, amid the copse ‘gan peep
A narrow inlet, still and deep,
Affording scarce such breadth of brim,
As served the wild duck’s brood to swim,
Lost for a space, through thickets veering,
But broader when again appearing,
Tall rocks and tufted knolls their face
Could on the the dark-blue mirror trace;
And farther as the hunter stray’d,

Still broader sweeps its channel made.
The shaggy mounds no longer stood,
emerging from entangled wood,
But, wave encircled, seemed to float,
Like castle girdled with its moat;
Yet broader floods extending still,
Divide them from their parent hill
Till each, retiring, claims to be
An inlet in an inland sea

                                     ***
And now, to issue from the glen,
No pathway meets the wanderer’s ken,
Unless he climb, with footing nice,
A far projecting precipice.
The broom’s tough roots his ladder made,
The hazel saplings lent their aid;
And thus an airy point he won,
Where, gleaming with the setting sun,
One burnish’d sheet of living gold,
Loch Katrine lay beneath him roll’d,
In all her length far-winding lay,
With promontory, creek, and bay,
And islands that, empurpled bright,
Floated amid the livelier light,
And mountains, that like giants stand,
To sentinel enchanted land.
High on the south, huge Benvenue
Down on the lake in masses threw
Crags, knolls, and mounds, confusedly hurl’d,
The fragments of an earlier world;
A wildering forest feather’d o’er
His ruin’d sides and summit hoar,
While on the north, through middle air,
Benan heaved high his forehead bare.

Scott Lady of the Lake Canto I

The complex poem is about the mythical adventures of a medieval Scottish king and his court, James Fitzjames, in reality James V, the father of Mary Queen of Scots. As a boy he was held captive by Archibald Douglas who after the young king’s escape flies to the Highlands where he lives under the protection of a Highland Chieftain, Roderick Dhu to whom Douglas has promised the hand of his daughter, Ellen. However, Ellen falls in love with Malcolm Graeme. Thus the stage is set. Apart from the four stanzas quoted, the poem has other equally well-known descriptive passages, but it was undoubtedly these four which Smith had in mind when he spoke of Scott’s work being cut up for guide books. They are descriptive of the Trossachs ‘proper’, and constitute a pause in what is otherwise very much a narrative poem; the four stanzas are an appropriate dish for the literary gourmet

However, most people would now quarrel with the approach to the poem adopted by very many guide books, in particular that in what is still probably the best guide book to the district yet produced. In Black’s Trossachs, the then Astronomer-Royal, Sir George Bidell Airy (1801-92) who, among his other accomplishments accurately weighed the Earth using a pendulum, analysed the ‘topography’ of The Lady of the Lake in great detail. Sir George, possibly at times with his tongue in his cheek, undoubtedly did this approach to death, pausing, for example, in an aside, to comment that four of Scott’s lines about the position of the moon were astronomically correct, to chide the poet, here and there, for his choice of location, and, elsewhere, to praise the aptness of his choice. Scott mentions the name of a place, and Sir George, with what must be regarded as tremendous application tells us exactly where it can be found on the six inch map; Scott describes how a character gets from place to place, and Sir George struggles after him, ‘forcing’ his way where necessary. The product of all this was that no guide book for the next fifty years, it seemed, mentioned Brig o’ Turk without quoting the lines:

And when the Brig of Turk was won
The headmost horseman rode alone

The lines tell us nothing about the Brig o’ Turk, and may not necessarily have been inspired by that particular spot. It is merely a euphoneous location on an exciting journey. In contrast the evocative lines, descriptive of a location,

Where the Trossachs’ dread defile
Opens on Katrine’s lake and isle,

are more worth quoting, but are only picked up by the few, for example, in H.A. Piehler‘s admirable guidebook Scotland for Everyman. Not even the master wordsmith Scott could make anything of the ‘Allt Ardcheanacrochan’, and others have pointed out that had ‘Callander’ had a more poetic name it might well have been featured in the poem which has brought millions of people to the place.

Of course, Scott loved to explain his own allusions and his introductions and notes are quite as interesting as his poems and novels. Thus these criticisms may seem more than a little unjust, particularly in a book like this, but what gives Sir George away is that he disects the work to a much greater extent than is really justifiable, and he hardly quotes at all from the four stanzas given above. He is much more interested in geography, than in poetry. He ought to be more balanced. That is not say that his analysis is not enjoyable, or that it is not a very good read.

Another device, in addition to the descriptive passages, which Scott uses to break up the action is the introduction of ‘Songs’ of which the best known are the ‘Hymn to the Virgin’ (Ave Maria), the ‘Boat Song’ (Hail to the Chief), and the ‘Coronach’. Franz Schubert (1797-1826) set seven of these songs to music in 1825, and separated at least one of them from the poem to such an extent that it is often not realised that what is one of the most famous songs in the world, Ave Maria, has this quintessentially Scottish connection. It is this development that illustrates the success which Scott really enjoyed, and the grip he took on European culture at the time. In this respect The Lady of the Lake is in direct line of succession to ‘Ossian’ which enjoyed similar international recognition; the fascination which the Highlands have exercised on foreigners transcends landscape, it is about European culture. In a letter to Schober from Steyr in 1823 Schubert says he is at work on an opera, goes for walks, and reads Scott. Ellen’s Third Song [Ellen’s Gesang III] has the following words:

AVE MARIA!

Ave Maria! Maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer
Thou canst hear though from the wild,
Thou canst save amid despair
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care
Though banish’d, outcast, and reviled,
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!

Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem with down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern’s heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, maiden hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, list a suppliant child!

Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! stainless styled!
Foul demons of the earth and air
From this their wanton haunt exiled,
Shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care,
Beneath thy guidance reconciled;
Hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer,
And for a father hear a child!

Ave Maria


In a moving passage in a letter to his parents Schubert, then aged twenty-eight and not noted for his sobriety, commented on the immediate success which ‘Ave Maria’ enjoyed:

My new songs from Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake especially had much success. People were greatly surprised at the piety, which I expressed in a hymn to the Holy Virgin by which, it seems, all are struck and turned to devotion. I think this is due to the fact that I have never forced devotion in myself and never compose hymns or prayers of that kind unless it overcomes me unawares; but then it is usually genuine religious feeling.

Franz Schubert Letters July 1825

The seven songs from The Lady of the Lake which Schubert set were: Ellen’s First Song [Soldier rest! thy warfare o’er (‘Raste, Krieger’)] is basically a lullaby, Ellen’s Second Song [Huntsman rest! Thy chase is done (‘Jage, ruhe’)], Ellen’s Third Song [Ave Maria], ‘Norman’s Song'[The heath this night (‘Die Nacht bricht bald herein’)], the ‘Lay of the Imprisoned Huntsman'[My hawk is tired of perch’ (‘Mein Ross so mude’), a polonaise; and the two choruses the ‘Boatsong’, for four male voices, and the ‘Coronach’, for three female voices. It is suggested by Schubert’s biographer, Otto Deutsch, that, in his imagination, Schubert used Lake Traun in the Salzkammergut instead of Loch Katrine. The lake has another vague, sad Hanoverian connection with Scotland; beside it is Cumberland Castle where the last Duke of Cumberland died. Schubert used a translation by P. A. Storck, which in the case of all of the songs except Norman’s Song, sticks closely enough to Scott, although freely adapting him in places, for the original English words to be used in singing. The Coronach remains the song still most closely associated with and most widely quoted from The Lady of the Lake:

CORONACH

He’s gone to the mountain,
He is lost to the forest,
Like a summer-dried fountain,
When our need was the sorest.
The font, reappearing,
From the rain-drops shall borrow,
But to us comes no cheering,
To Duncan no morrow!

The hand of the reaper,
Takes the ears that are hoary
But the voice of the weeper
Wails manhood in glory.
The autumn winds rushing
Waft the leaves that are searest
But our flower was in flushing,
When blighting was nearest.

Fleet foot on the corrie,
Sage counsel in cumber,
Red hand in the foray
How sound is thy slumber!
Like the dew on the mountain,
Like the foam on the river,.
Like the bubble on the fountain,
Thou art gone and forever.

Scott Lady of the Lake Canto III

Scott offers the following description, in a note, of a ‘coronach’:

The coronach of the Highlanders, like the ululatus, and the ululoo of the Irish, was a wild expression of lamentation, poured forth by the mourners over the body of a departed friend. when the words of it were articulate, they expressed the praises of the deceased, and the loss the clan would sustain by his death.

Schubert’s songs remain the best known adaptations of Scott. However, the Lady of the Lake provided the basis for the first opera based on Scott, who apart from Shakespeare, is the British writer who was the progenitor of most operas. Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868) wrote La Donna del Lago in 1847. It is, unlike many other adaptations, a “good” opera which has remained in the repertoire, although it is not so often performed these days. However, by far the quirkiest, the least expected, and, in a curious way, the most significant, derivation from the Lady of the Lake is “Hail to the Chief”. It was first played at the inauguration of President Polk in 1845 and, since then, it has had the curious status of not quite being the National Anthem, but of being the anthem played to announce the arrival, or to recognise the President of the United States: Coolidge and Carter, Eisenhower and Bush, Roosevelt and Nixon, Trueman and Kennedy, Clinton and Obama have all arrived, here, there and everywhere in the World, to the echoes of a song first devised by Scott to celebrate the arrival of a Highland Chief, rowed by his clansmen down Loch Katrine:

BOAT SONG

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honor’d and bless’d be the evergreen pine!
Long may the tree, in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line.
Heaven send it happy dew,
Earth lend it sap anew,
Gayly to burgeon, and broadly to glow,
While every Highland glen
Sends our shout back again,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

Ours is no sapling chance-sown by the fountain
Blooming at beltane, in winter to fade;
When the whirlwind has stripped every leaf on the mountain,
The more shall Clan alpine exult in her shade.
Moor’d in the rifted rock,
Proof to the tempest’s shock,
Firmer he roots him the ruder it blow;
Menteith and Breadalbane, then,
Echo his praise again,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

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!”

Row vassals row for the pride of the Highlands
Stretch your oars for the evergreen pine
O! that the rosebud that graces yon islands,
Were wreathed in a garland around him to twine!
O that some seedling gem,
Worthy such noble stem,
Honour’d and bless’d in their shadow might grow!
Loud should Clan Alpine then
Ring from the deepmost glen,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

Scott gives a note in explanation of the cry “Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”:

Roderick the Black, the descendant of Alpine. besides his ordinary name and surname, which were chiefly used in the intercourse with the Lowlands, every Highland chief had an epithet expressive of his patriarchal dignity as head of the clan, and which was common to all his predecessors, as Pharoah to the kings of Egypt, or Arsaces to those of Parthia, this name was usually a patronymic, expressive of his descent from the founder of the family. Thus the Duke of Argyle is called MacCallum More, or the Son of Colin the Great.

Scott Appendix to Lady of the Lake          

It is supposed that the song was set by James Sanderson (1769-1841), a prolific songwriter from Washington in County Durham, England, although there are odd circumstances surrounding its publication in England. The original has not been traced. The song is also known in America as ‘Roderic Dhu’s March’, ‘Wreathes for the Chieftain’, and ‘Erie and Champlain’.

Robert Southey (1774-1843) was another early visitor, post The Lady of the Lake, to the Trossachs. Like the Wordsworths he was a ‘Lake Poet’ and, of course he compares the Trossachs with his beloved Lake District. Interestingly, he chooses Leathes Water which was transformed for its waterworks by Manchester in exactly the same way and at about the same time as Loch Katrine was transformed for the same purpose by Glasgow. Leathes Water became Thirlmere. His comparison with Helvellyn is less certain; he may have meant Place Fell. Southey approached, as did almost everyone else, from Loch Achray:

The day cleared before we began to return, and nothing could then be more favourable than the lights. the side on which we landed was of a sylvan character, like the end of Leathes water, but upon a much larger scale. Ben Venue, if I remember rightly, more resembles Helvellyn as seen from Ullswater than any other mountain with which I can compare it. It appears well for its height: indeed I should have guessed its elevation above its real measurement. But perhaps the finest points of view are in the Trossachs, before you arrive at the water; and when its summit appears over the hills in the gorge; and the entrance of the gorge from the Lake, where the base of the mountain is seen.

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland                                                              

Southey had a distinguished Scottish friend, Thomas Telford, and his tour in 1819 of the Highlands was rather different from that made by other literary visitors to Scotland because it was a trip to see Telford’s civil engineering works. His account is, perhaps, very much more alert to the contemporary social and economic life of the country than others. It was not published until 1929, when it was put before the public by the Institution of Civil Engineers. At the Trossachs he deplores the Duke of Montrose’s recent sale of the trees on Ben Venue for timber. Scott tried to avert this by raising a subscription but it was too late:

The scenery must have suffered much, but not so much as might be supposed; trees enough of smaller growth were left, because they were not worth cutting, to prevent any appearance of nakedness; and rocks and crags have been laid bare, which before must have been concealed. But this did not enter into his Grace’s calculations; he is fairly entitled to all the vituperation which is bestowed upon him by visitors to Loch Katrine.

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland                                                          

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), the historical novelist and the poineer of women’s education who was much admired by Scott, and an admirer of his, visited the Trossachs in 1823. Her letters echo Southey in several respects although she turns, naturally enough, to Killarney to make comparisons. She wrote, of the place:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Callander, 20 June, 1823
Here we are! I can hardly believe we are really at the place we have so long wished to see: we have really been on Loch Katrine. We were fortunate in the day; it was neither too hot, nor too cold, nor too windy, nor too anything.The lake was quite as beautiful as I expected, but that is telling you nothing, as you cannot know how much I expected. Sophy has made some memorandum sketched for home, though we are all well aware that neither pen nor pencil can bring before you reality. William says he does not, however, fear for Killarney, even after our having seen this. Here are no arbatus, but plenty of soft birch, and twinkling aspen and dark oak. On one side of the lake the wood has been within these few years cut down. Walter Scott sent to offer the proprietor ú500 for the trees on one spot, if he would spare them; but the offer came two days too late; the trees were stripped of their bark before his messenger arrived. To us, who never saw this rock covered with trees, it appeared grand in its bare boldness and in striking contrast to the wooded island opposite.

Tell Fanny that, I think Farnham Lakes as beautiful as Loch Katrine; as to mere beauty, perhaps superior; but where is the lake of our own, or any other times, that has such delightful power over the imagination by the recollections it raises? As we were rowed along, our boatman, happily our only guide, named to us the points we most wished to see; quietly named them, without being asked, and seemingly with a full belief that he was telling us plain facts, without any flowers of speech. “There’s the place on that rock yonder, where the king blew his horn.” And there’s the place where the lady of the Lake landed.” “And there is the Silver Strand, where you see the white pebbles in the little bay yonder.”

He landed us just at the spot where the Lady

From underneath an aged oak-
That slanted from the isle rock,

shot her little skiff to the silver strand on the opposite side. When William asked him if the king’s dead horse had been found, he smiled and said he only knew that bones had been found near where the king’s horse died, but he could not be sure that they were the bones of King James’s good steed. However, he seemed quite as clear of the existence of the Lady of the Lake, and of all her adventures, as of the existence of Ben Ledi and Ben Venue, and the Trossachs. He showed us the place on the mountain of Ben Venue, where formerly there was no means of ascent but by ladders of broom and hazel twigs, where the king climbed,

with footing nice’
A far-projecting precipice

At the inn the mistress of the house lent me a copy of the Lady of the Lake, which I took out with me and read while we were going to the lake, and while Sophy was drawing. We saw an eagle hovering, and, moreover, Sophy was drawing some tiny sea-larks flitting close to the shore, and making their little, faint cry. Returning, we marked the place where the armed Highlanders started from the furze brake before King James, when Roderic Dhu sounded his horn, and we settled which was the spot at

Clan Alpine’s outmost guard

where Roderic Dhu’s safe conduct ceased, and where the king and he had their combat.

Maria Edgeworth Letters 1894

Horatio McCulloch (1805-1867) is probably the most famous of a number of Scottish painters who have been inspired by Scott. His most notable work is ‘Loch Katrine'(1866) which is in the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Alexander Smith, who was a friend of McCulloch’s wrote in The Scotsman ‘As a view of Highland scenery we have never seen its equal; and no man but McCulloch could have produced it’. In his literary guide William Wilson mentions this picture:

Concerning the picture by Horatio McCulloch, the late Captain Munro told me that while McCulloch was making this picture, they walked home together in the evenings. One evening, when the Captain joined the artist, McCulloch said, “I have just finished my picture. Leave me alone for a few minutes. Whenever I finish a big picture, I offer a word of thanks to the Most High.”

Wilson, who served as the Minister of the Trossachs Church for 41 years does not mention that McCulloch probably stayed at the Trossachs Manse in 1863 when he completed his sketches for two big pictures of ‘Loch Achray’ in which the Manse is visible. His sketches for the ‘Loch Katrine’ were probably made in 1861 when he also stayed in the district, but it is not clear where. This subject was painted by McCulloch as early as 1842 which is the date of his ‘Loch Katrine from the Boathouse’. McCulloch also made an oil painting of another local subject in his ‘View near Aberfoyle’ of 1836.

Of course it is not in the least surprising that the district should attract notable artists. Indeed, the greatest of them all, J.M.W.Turner (1775-1851), who was inspired in the first instance to visit Scotland by Joseph Farington, illustrated Scott, and his choice of viewpoint for his illustration of Loch Katrine for the Lady of the Lake probably influenced McCulloch. Turner was at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in 1831, following ‘The Trossachs Tour’, one of his principal objectives being to secure illustrations for Scott’s Poetical Works. The two finally chosen, and engraved by William Miller (1796-1882), were ‘Loch Katrine’, and ‘Loch Achray’, a vignette.

An earlier painting by Turner entitled ‘The Trossachs’ is sometimes dated 1799- 1800, although Turner’s first substantive visit to Scotland was not until 1801. The picture was first entitled Mountain Landscape with a Lake and it is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It is a striking picture, but Ruskin lambasted it:

The worst picture I ever saw of this period, ‘The Trossachs’, has been for some time exhibited at Mr Grundy’s in Regent Street; and it has been much praised in the public press on the ground, I suppose, that it exhibits so little of Turner’s power or manner as to be hardly recognisable as one of his works.

Wilson also mentions ‘Loch Katrine’ by James Docharty (1829-1878) of Bonhill, the painter of realistic, true to life pictures of the Highlands, ‘Loch Achray’ by Sam Bough and ‘The Heat of the Day’ by John Smart (1838-1899), which Wilson regarded as his best picture. He also records pictures by John McWhirter (1839- 1911), and Colin Hunter (1841-1904), the pupil of James Milne Donald noted for his watercolours. John Knox (1778-1845), the artist who taught McCulloch, painted a picture called ‘Highland Loch Scene’ which is generally considered to be of Loch Katrine. Two Scottish Academicians Joseph Adam (1842-1896) and Archibald Kay (1860-1940) lived in Callander.

Many pictures of Loch Katrine are from the Silver Strand of Ben Venue or of Ellen’s Isle. Seton Gordon describes the most famous incident – which Scott wove into his poem – connected with this island in his Central Highlands. This notable author did not write as much about this district as about the Cairngorms and Skye, but the piece captures his distinctive tone of voice, and his economy with words, admirably:

 It is said that one of Cromwell’s soldiers lost his life on this island. The story is that a part of soldiers saw the women on the isle. Since the boat in which they had crossed to that retreat was drawn up on the island shore, the soldiers who were planning to outrage and slay the wives and daughters of their foes, saw no way of reaching the isle. At last one of their number, who was a strong swimmer, entered the water and swam over to the island, in order to bring the boat to the mainland. He reached the island shore, but his feet had barely touched bottom when one of the women, rushing into the water with a claymore in her hands with a wild sweep of the weapon severed the soldier’s head from his body. His comrades, seeing this horrid sight, then wisely made all haste to leave the place.

Seton Gordon Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands 1948

Opposite the island is the site of the Silver Strand, a beach of white pebbles. it is now submerged, but its impressive view of Ben Venue is undiminished.

No one visiting the Trossachs ought to omit a sail on the ‘Sir Walter Scott’ (see Loch Katrine) which departs from the Trossachs Pier twice a day. In the mornings it sails to Stronachlachar in the afternoons it makes a shorter circular tour. There is a fine walk from the Achray Car Park to The Pass of Achray and Bealach nam Bo. This is the route followed by William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and countless visitors since. By following the forest road behind the Achray Hotel the Sluices are reached and then an obvious track, separated from the loch by a series of rocky knolls, each one of which might have been the spot that Wordsworth reached, leads to a prominent col at the skyline. Once there Coire nan Uruisken is at your feet and Scott and Graham come to mind. There is a short walk to The Silver Strand´ from the car park at the Trossachs Pier. It heads along the tarmac on the eastern shore of the Loch as far as Eilean Moloch where one is at the Silver Strand. A longer walk follows the long pass between Loch Katrine and Loch Voil followed by the Wordsworths when they encountered ‘The Solitary Reaper’. From Strone, near Edra, which can be reached either from Stronachlachar or the Trossachs Pier, a long moor leads beside the burn to a col beyond is the Invernenty Burn, scene of the murder by one of Rob Roy’s sons of a MacLaren. This walk is a mountain excursion and should only be undertaken by those properly equipped.

 

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 15. Loch Katrine I

 

Inversnaid to the Trossachs

From Inversnaid retrace your steps to Stronachlachar. Pedestrians can follow the old military road. The next part of the journey can be made either by the ‘Sir Walter Scott’, or by cycle by the head of Loch Katrine to Trossachs Pier. Cars must return to Aberfoyle, and cross the Duke’s Pass to reach The Trossachs. Scottish Water  maintains the ‘Sir Walter Scott’ on Loch Katrine. In the mornings nowadays it plies between the Trossachs Pier and Stronachlachar, where it may be boarded for the return journey. Round trips from Stronachlachar involve an overnight stay! In the afternoons the vessel makes a round trip without calling at Stonachlachar. This remarkable steamship was built in 1900. It is coal fired; oil being regarded as pernicious by the Water Board. It is the oldest vessel of its kind afloat. The excursion is the best way for the motorist or the pedestrian to see the loch.

From Stronachlachar it is a short walk to Wordsworth’s Point. It follows the private road to Glen Gyle. Beyond the houses it circumvents a charming bay and reaches a promontary from which most of the upper part of the Loch can be seen. Across the loch there is a view of ‘Rob Roy’s Grave’ where Wordsworth, mistakenly, thought the outlaw was buried, and Glen Gyle, his birthplace. A longer walk leads by the head of the loch past the house to the graveyard and back. There are fine views of Glen Gyle dominated by Ben Ducteath; attractive waterfalls, if it has been wet; and of the upper part of Loch Katrine which is much more attractive than generally allowed. There is also fine circular walk from Stronachlachar following the old  road by the head of Loch Arklet with its dramatic views of the Arrochar Alps, to the head of Loch Chon. Thence a track, climbing into the corrie which Patrick Graham suggested was haunted by fairies, follows the aqueduct to Royal Cottage on Loch Katrine. A Water Board road leads back to Stronachlachar.

 

Stronachlachar

There has been a well-established landing point at Stronachlachar, stonemason’s point, on Loch Katrine, or thereabouts, for more than two hundred and fifty years. Many distinguished visitors have passed that way, and, as already referred to, cursed it for one reason and another. Like all places which enjoy something of a monopoly the incomer’s sense of exploitation is strong. The Hotel is now closed, used by the Regional Council and the Glasgow Corporation before them. A reading of the bye-laws is not recommended: it appears that one is allowed to be there, but one is prohibited from doing anything. Dumps of human excrement, for example, are expressly forbidden. The raising of the level of the loch means that the water is very deep, and the little island offshore, Rob Roy’s Prison (or the Factor’s Island or Eilean Dearg [Red Island]) which is seen close at hand, has a fortified look to prevent it from being washed away.

At Stronachlachar the hills on the opposite side of the loch are unimpressive, although a fine peak, Stob a Choin, the dog’s fang, is hidden behind them. The head of the loch is hidden too, but it is not a long walk to a headland from which Glen Gyle can be seen. Across the loch are Glengyle House, Rob Roy’s birthplace, and Portnellan, the first house which he occupied when he was married, and just below which is the graveyard which (erroneously) inspired Wordsworth’s poem,’Rob Roy’s Grave’. The site of the Ferryman’s Hut where the Wordsworth’s stayed is Coilachra, opposite Stronachlachar.

The head of Loch Katrine is Rob Roy MacGregor’s native place, and many writers give some account of him. The best biography is by W.H.Murray (1913-96) , the Scottish writer and mountaineer, who describes his life with historical authenticity, whereas most descriptions including, of course, Sir Walter Scott’s novel, owe much to the imagination. Murray’s description of the ‘Rob Roy Country’ is as follows:

The Trossachs for all its nearness to Glasgow remained for Lowlanders a mountainous backdrop, a foreign land where no English was spoken, to be approached by the venturesome only for business reasons – men like the factors from the fringing estates of Menteith, Atholl or Breadalbane, itinerant pedlars, tailors and cobblers, stocking makers, gypsies, iron smelters and their foresters officers on reconnaissance or soldiers on duty. And these knew only the main glens.

Glen Gyle, where Rob was born and bred was one of the least accessible valleys in all that country. The flanking hills rose to 2500 feet, but the Parlan Pass, just a thousand feet above his house gave a route of only five miles to Glen Falloch, where at Inverarnan was the night stance, or resting place, for cattle herds driven from Argull to the autumn tryst at Crieff. Smaller herds bound for the markets at Doune, Stirling, or Edinburgh and so by Loch Katrine’s head to Aberfoyle. Seasonal traffic thus passed through the glens which, although now deserted, were intensively cultivated.

W.H.Murray Rob Roy MacGregor 1982

Murray goes on to describe how the houses belonging to the two MacGregor families in the glen got their names – the black house (Tigh Dubh [The Dow or Dhu]), on the dark southern side of the loch with unmortared walls, and the white house (Tigh Geal [or Gyle]), where Rob Roy was born.

A notable description of the country, and of the activities of the MacGregors, in particular of Rob Roy’s nephew ‘Black Knee’ Macgregor of Glengyle who was the chief of the Sept, is given in the document already quoted from by Nichol Graham of Gartmore, An Inquiry into the Causes which facilitate the Rise and Progress of Rebellions and Insurrections in the Highlands of Scotland 1747:

The lands at the head of the Parish of Buchanan lying betwixt Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine, are, of all these in that country, the best adapted for concealments, and the most conveniently situated for bad purposes, and they had formerly been possessed by those of that clan. Thefts and depradations were pushed successfully in these places, with an intention, either to turn these lands waste, or oblige that lord the proprietor of them then, by a purchase from the family of Buchanan, to grant leases to those ancient possessors. The scheme purported answered: the sons of Rob Roy got one half of those lands in lease, and Glengyle, the nephew, the other. When these people got possession of these places so well fitted for their designs, they found they were able to carry matters still one point further; in order to which it was necessary that the thefts and depredations should be carried on incessantly through their whole neighbourhood. Things being thus prepared that this MacGregor of Glengyle should keep a Highland watch for protecting that country from these mischiefs, for supporting which he demanded £4 Scots out of each £100 Scots of valued rent. As they had now got possession of these high grounds in a legal way, from whence they could vex the whole neighbourhood, the thing was agreed and a formal blackmail contract entered into between MacGregor and a great many heritors, whose lands lay chiefly exposed to these depredations, and which enabled him, when the troubles of 1745 began, to raise about forty men for that service, with which this same man put the country upon the Water of Endrick, Dundas, Strathblane, and other places, undercontributions, and opened the first scene in that fatal tragedy, by surprising the Barracks of Inversaid, and part of General Campbell’s regiment, which was working at the Inverary roads.

Graham explains blackmail in the following amusing way, although, of course, it was not amusing at the time:

A person who had the greatest correspondence with the thieves was agreed upon to preserve the lands contracted for from thefts, for certain sums to be paid yearly out of these lands. Upon this fund he employed one half of the thieves to recover stolen cattle, and the other half of them to steal, in order to make this agreement and blackmail contract necessary.

Blackmail, a term which originated in this way, was so-called because of the black sheep involved. The ‘Black Watch’ gave the name to the famous regiment. When the Wordsworths stayed at Glen Gyle they were regaled with tales of the famous freebooter:

We mentioned Rob Roy, and the eyes of all glistened; even the lady of the house, who was very diffident, and no great talker, exclaimed, “He was a good man Rob Roy!” He had been dead only about eighty years, had lived in the next farm, which belonged to him, and there his bones were laid. He was a famous swordsman. Having an arm much longer than other men, he had a greater command with his sword. As proof of his length of arm they told us that he could garter his tartan stockings below his knee without stooping, and added about a dozen diffferent stories of single combats, which he had fought, all in perfect good humour, merely to prove his prowess. I daresay they had stories of this kind which would hardly have been exhausted in the long evenings of a whole December week, Rob Roy being as famous here as ever Robin Hood was in the Forest of Sherwood; he also robbed from the rich, giving to the poor and defending them from oppression. They tell of his confining the factor of the Duke of Montrose in one of the islands of Loch Kathrine, after having taken his money from him – the Duke’s rents – in open day while they were sitting at table. He was a formidable enemy of the Duke, but being a small laird against the greater, was overcome at last, and forced to resign all his lands on the braes of Loch Lomond, including the caves which we visited, on account of the money he had taken from the Duke and could not repay.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal  

Murray points out that the Wordsworths, and countless others since, were, in the tale about the way Rob tied his garters, victims of the Highland habit of gentle exaggeration of this kind as a figure of speech. It is amusing to contrast Coleridge’s account of their trip with Dorothy Wordsworth’s. He was out of sorts, and complains a good deal, but he was quite impressed with the head of Loch Katrine whereas Dorothy Wordsworth most decidedly was not:

A fine body of water in an elbow bend, but the mountains were all too dreary and not very impressive in their forms and combinations. There was wood on them but a total want of cultivated land and happy cottages. This first reach of the lake, perhaps two miles in length has four islands, sweet bays and island-like promontories, one shaped like a dolphin and another like a sea-lion.

S.T.Coleridge Notebooks

James Hogg had passed that way earlier in the same year (May 1803). He recalled another journey that he had made in 1791:

I had twelve years ago been sent on an errand to the house of Glengyle, to ask permission of MacGregor, the laird, to go through his land with a drove of sheep. he was then an old man, and seemed to me to be a very queer man; but his lady granted nmy request without hesitation, and seemed to me an active social woman. theefore I expected from the idea that I had formed of her character, to be very welcome there, and never knew, until I went to the house, that the laird was dead, and the lady and her family removed to the neighbourhood of Callander; while the farm and mansion-house were posessed by two farmers. When I called one of them came to the door. I asked the favour of a night’s lodging: but the important McFarlane made use of that decicive moment to ask me half a score of questions before he desired me to walk in. McAlpin, the other farmer, I found to be a very considerable man, both in abilities and influence, but the most warm and violent man in dispute.

Hogg goes on to relate how McAlpin had once refused to accommodate five Glasgow gentlemen.

There is nothing about Glengyle that admits of particular description. it is situated at the head of Loch Katrine and surrounded by black rocks. It was one of Rob Roy’s principal haunts, to whom Glengyle was related. McAlpin showed me the island in Loch Katrine where he confined the Duke of Montrose’s steward, ofter robbing him of his master’s rents and where he nearly famished him. The MacGregors have a burial place at Glengyle, surrounded by a high wall. On one of their monuments their coat of arms and motto are engraved.

James Hogg Highland Tours      

The Ettrick Shepherd set a ballad about the Macgregors in Glen Gyle. It begins as follows:

MacGregor, MacGregor, remember our foemen:
The moon rises high on the brow of Ben Lomond:
The clans are impatient, and chide thy delay:
Arise! let us bound to Glen Lyon away

James Hogg The Fate of MacGregor

The Wordsworths and Coleridge encountered the same cautious civility at Glengyle as had Hogg. What is surprising here is the way that both the Border Poet and the three ‘Lake Poets’, all four of them sassenachs, seemed to expect the Highlanders to throw open their houses to them without question. Wordsworth went up to the door:

He addressed himself to one who appeared like the master, and all drew near him, staring at William as nobody could have but out of sheer rudeness, except in such a lonely place. He told his tale, and inquired about boats; there were no boats and no lodging nearer than Callander, ten miles beyond the foot of the lake. A laugh was on every face when William said we were come to see the Trossachs; no doubt they thought we had better stayed in our own homes. William endeavoured to make it appear not so foolish, by informing them that it was a place much celebrated in England, though perhaps little thought of by them, and that we only differed from many of our countrymen in having come the wrong way in consequence of an erroneous direction.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal

In fact they were hospitably received by the McAlpins and the MacFarlanes and the Journal gives a substantial account of the condition of a house occupied by gentlemen-farmers in those days. They were misinformed about Rob Roy’s Grave here, as well as by the ferryman at Coilachra, Gregor MacGregor, to whom they were directed the following morning.
There is a substantial account of Glengyle in Alasdair Alpin MacGregor Wild Drumalbain, or the Road to Meggernie and Glencoe (1927). His kinsfolk lived there. The contemporary author John Barrington lived in Glen Gyle. He ws a mountain shepherd, and gives this account of Coilachra:

My duties begin at the east end of the Barn Park, just above the so-called Hanging Tree, a tall solitary Scots Pine which stands tall amongst the birch, hazel and alder. A prince among beggars. Next to the tree are the ruins of a small house where Dorothy and William Wordsworth, in company with their friend Sam Coleridge, embarked to cross Katrine’s clear water. The party spent the previous evening, in that summer of 1803, at Glengyle House and had been, of course, hospitably entertained. The three travellers were deeply impressed by their experiences and it was here that William found both his ‘Sweet Highland Girl’ and ‘Solitary Reaper’

John Barrington Red Sky at Night            

These two poems, which are often confused with one another, by others, because their subject matter seems as if it might be the same, are connected, respectively, with Inversnaid and Loch Voil.

Another, rather remote, literary connection with Rob Roy is provided by John Buchan (1875-1940) who makes Dickson McCunn, the hero of Huntingtower a descendant of a daughter of Bailie Nichol Jarvie and ‘like the Bailie he can count kin, should he wish with Rob Roy himself.’ In Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) takes Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour to Balquhidder where they encounter Robin Oig, ‘one of the sons of the notorious Rob Roy’

He was sought upon all sides on a charge of carrying a young woman from Balfron and marrying her (as was alleged) by force; yet he stepped about Balquidder like a gentleman in his own walled policy. It was he who had shot James Maclaren at the plough stilts, a quarrel never satisfied; yet he walked into the house of his blood enemies as a rider (commercial traveller) might into a public inn.

A highly passable latterday imitation of Stevenson is provided by Nigel Tranter (1909-2000) whose contemporary historical novels, set in Scotland, have a considerable following. Tranter’s major achievement is his updating of The Queen’s Scotland in which, single-handed, he gave us a thumb-nail sketch of our heritage, derivative of course, but deserving to rank alongside the Statistical Accounts as documents of their time. His MacGregor Trilogy (1957) is partly set in the Trossachs and features Rob Roy, his nephew Ghlun Dhu Macgregor and other local characters. There is much evocative scene-setting in the novels, as might be expected from an author whose familiarity with ground is matched by his ability to describe it. He describes a crossing on foot by Ghlun Dhu from Inversnaid to Glen Gyle:

Here was a very different valley from that of Inversnaid, a true glen, deep and narrow, between soaring rugged peaks, through which raced a sizeable river in rushes and falls and linked gleaming pools. It was a place of scattered open birch-woods and hazel- fringed water-meadows, of great outcropping rocks as big as house, and long sweeping grassy aprons scored by burnlets innumerable. Five miles it stretched, all seen clearly from up here, from the head of fair Loch Katrine at its foot, to where the thrusting shoulder of a mountain divided it neatly into two,upper corries that rose fully five hundred feet above its floor, where the twin headwaters were born. and the whole was dotted with croft-houses with their patches of tilth and their peat-stacks, and cattles grazed high on the hills. Down near the loch shore Gregor’s own house of Glengyle stood amidst amidst its sheltering trees, surrounded by its orchard, its herb garden, its steading and offices, its smiddy and its tannery and its duck-pond, like a hen amongst her brood.

Tranter goes on to describe Glen Gyle House:

Glen Gyle House was a much superior place to Rob Roy’s fairly recently built establishment at Inversnaid, three stories high, narrow, whitewashed, with a steep crow-step gabled roof, stone-slated not reed thatched, however much moss-grown. Moreover it has stair-tower attached, wherein was the handsome moulded doorway surmounted by a weather-worn heraldic stone panel, showing, even though dimly, the crossed tree and sword of his race – bearing suitably the crown on top of the sword – and the motto S’rioghal mo Dhream, ‘My Race is Royal.’

Nigel Tranter MacGregor’s Gathering 1957

Glen Gyle inspired a poem, Rob Roy’s Grave, which is well enough known, and has some memorable lines, but which illustrates what a hit and miss affair poetry is. On the first occasion that they visit Glengyle the Wordsworths and Coleridge are tired, and doubtful about whether they are going to get a night’s lodging. It was on a later occasion, that of their memorable walk from Glen Falloch to Glen Gyle, that Dorothy quotes Rob Roy’s Grave, although Wordsworth composed all his Scottish poems at a later date:

We passed the same farm-house we had such good reason to remember, and went up to the burying ground that stood so sweetly at the waterside. The ferryman had told us that Rob Roy’s grave was there, so we could not pass on without going to the spot. there were several tombstones, but the inscriptions were either worn out or unintelligible to us, and the place was choked up with nettles and brambles. You will remember the description I have given of the spot. I have nothing here to add, except the following poem which it suggested to William:

ROB ROY’S GRAVE

A famous man is Robin Hood,
The English ballad-singer’s joy,
And Scotland boasts of one as good,
She has her own Rob Roy!

Then clear the weeds from off his grave,
And let us chaunt a passing stave
In honour of that outlaw brave.

Heaven gave Rob Roy a daring heart
And wondrous length and strength of arm,
Nor craved he more to quell his foes,
Or keep his friends from harm.

Yet Robin was as wise as brave,
As wise in thought as bold in deed,
For in the principles of things
He sought his moral creed.

Said generous Rob, “What need of books?
Burn all the statues and their shelves:
they stir us up against our kind,
And worse against ourselves.

“We have a passion; make a law,
Too false to guide us or control:
And for the law itself we fight
In bitterness of soul.

“And puzzled, blinded thus, we lose
Distinctions that are plain and few:
These find I graven on my heart
That tells me what to do.

“The creatures see of flood and field,
And those that travel on the wind!
With them no strife can last; they live
In peace, and peace of mind.

“For why? Because the good old rule
Suffices them, the simple plan
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.”

Then clear the weeds from off his grave,
And let us chaunt a passing stave
In honour of that outlaw brave.

quoted in Dorothy Wordsworth Journal 1803

The Journal quotes the whole poem which goes on in the same vein for a further twenty stanzas. It reminds one, especially here in Glen Gyle, of J.K.Stephen’s somewhat pointed apostrophe to Wordsworth:

Two voices are there; one is of the deep
The other is of an old half-witted sheep

The space which it might have taken up by the whole of Wordsworth’s poem can be devoted to a finer poem by a lesser poet which appeared in a Book of Highland Verse in 1912:

LAMENT FOR ROB ROY

The setting sun will rise tomorrow
The earth will spring from Winter’s sorrow
The waining moon renewed is ever
But man from death returneth never

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

The breeze on the Ben is mourning and moaning,
The trees in the glen are grieving and groaning:
Oh sad runs the stream and rueful the river –
MacGregor is gone; for ever, for ever

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

Never more, by the shore, on the strath, or the mountain,
Will his call sweetly fall on the ears of Clan Alpine
Nor again in the glen will his eagle-plumes quiver –
The MacGregor is gone – to return, ah! never

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

Thro’ the heart of Ben Lomond the cumha is winging,
Thro’ Glen Gyle the weird wail of the banshee is ringing;
In the clouds with his fathers he’s dwelling forever –
The MacGregor is gone – to return never, never.

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

A.S.MacBride (1843-1923)

 

Sites Connected With Rob Roy in the National Park and Elsewhere

Inversnaid is the heart of the Rob Roy Country. Many writers allude to him, but it is often not clear whether it is the fictional character created by
Sir Walter Scott or the real person, or, sometimes, a legendary figure . Sites associated with Rob Roy in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are asterisked .

Aberuchill Castle – was never a McGregor-owned building, but for many years there was an oak tree by the main entrance known locally as “Rob Roy’s tree.” The story went that Rob Roy was on one occasion “detained” by Campbell of Aberuchill in a main room on the first floor. Rob noticed, however, that a sufficiently thick branch of the tree came close enough to the window for him to jump across and make good his escape. Legendary

Arnprior – Village; site of incident involving RR and Cunningham of Boquhan towhom RR yielded as the better swordsman. Historical [NS 6194]

*Auchinchisallen see Coirechaorach

*Bailie’s Rock – Cliff above the Loch Ard road (B829), also known as Echo Rock, where Scott set the incident in which Bailie Nichol Jarvie was suspended by his
braces during the skirmish between Helen MacGregor’s band, and Captain Thornton’s troops in ‘Rob Roy’ Fictional [NN 481 016]

*Bailie Nichol Jarvie Hotel – Hotel, built about 1850, in Aberfoyle near the Brig o’ Forth (i.e. some distance from the place where Scott placed Jean MacAlpine’s Inn) Fictional [NN 520 010]

*Bailie Nichol Jarvie’s Poker – Iron bar, supposed to be a coulter, attached to the old tree opposite the Hotel. Fictional

*Pass of Balmaha – Loch Lomond; one of several low passes leading into the Highlands, in this instance to Craig Royston Historical  [NS 418 910]

*Balquidder Kirk – The old kirk, in the grounds of the modern church, is the site of Rob Roy’s Grave Historical [NN 536 208]

*Bealach nam Bo – Pass, on Ben Venue above Loch Katrine; route by which RR might have taken stolen cattle Historical  [NN 480 075]

*Cambusmore – Country house, near Callander; Scott stayed there with J.M.Buchanan,while he was writing about the Trossachs; Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there. Literary [NN 642 062]

Carbeth Inn – Inn; a ‘halfway house’ between Glasgow and Aberfoyle on the Stockiemuir Road; part of present building dates from 1816, but Scott describes it in ‘Rob Roy’ as a ‘most miserable alehouse’; however, he praised the bar lunch which they had, ‘some broiled moor-game, a dish which gallantly eked out the ewe’s milk cheese, dried salmon, and oaten bread…’ Fictional [NS 525 780]

Chapelarroch – Site of ale house, on Kelty Burn, Gartmore; scene of kidnap of Graham of Killearn, the Duke of Montrose’s factor. [NS 517 958]

*Coirechaorach – Site of house (Auchinchisallen) in Glen Dochart occupied by RR after his eviction from Craig Royston by Montrose; he was under the protection of the Earl of Breadalbane there; referred to as ‘Rob Roy’s Castle’ on old
maps. Historical   [NN 4527]

*Corriearklet – Township, between Glen Gyle and Inversnaid, ancestral home of Helen MacGregor’s family; a gun belonging to RR used to be displayed there. Historical [NN 376 096]

*Comer – Farm, under Ben Lomond; birthplace of RR’s wife, Mary (called Helen by Scott) Historical [NN 387 040]

*Craig Royston – Estate, centred on Cailness, Loch Lomond; officially owned by RR Historical [NN 3406]

Doune – Village; scene of incident in which James Edmonstone threatened to break RR’s neck, and RR withdrew Historical [NN 7201]

*Echo Rock – an alternative name for the Bailie’s Rock (qv) Fictional

*Factor’s Island – Eilean Dearg [Red Island] in Loch Katrine, off Stronachlachar, where RR held Graham of Killearn, the Duke of Montrose’s factor (steward) captive in 1697 [?] Historical [NN 4010]

*Falls of Falloch – Waterfalls in Glen Falloch; the plunge pool is called ‘Rob Roy’s Bathtub’ and a small cleft above it ‘Rob Roy’s Soapdish’ Legendary [NN 338 207]

Fords of Frew – Fords, at Brig o’Frew; crossed the Forth near Kippen, forming the only realistic alternative to Stirling Bridge; used by drovers; used by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745; scene of escape by RR fictionalised by Scott. Historical [NS 667 961]

Garden – House at Arnprior; sometimes called Garden Castle; site of incident in 1710 when RR took possession while Stirling of Garden was away; he held their baby out of the window before they complied with his request for blackmail Historical
[NS 597 945]

*Glen Gyle – Farm, at Loch Katrine; RR’s birthplace. Historical [NN 386 135]

*Helen’s Rock – Cliff, above Loch Ard where Helen MacGregor forced the spy, Dougal, into the loch to drown. Fictional [NN 484 014]

*Inchcailleach – Island in Loch Lomond; graveyard of the Clan MacGregor; RR’sancestors are buried there. Historical [NS 4090]

*Inallian Ford – Ford, hard under Doon Hill, Aberfoyle; where Scott set RR’s escape, based on a historical incident which took place at the Fords of Frew. Fictional [NN 537 004]

This scene is situated but a short distance from Aberfoyle, and is admirably suited for such an adventurous escape as Rob Roy is described to have achieved in the passage of the river. Both above and below the shallower passage which is used as a ford, the river winds in deep eddies under steep banks of clay, which the water has scooped into many obscure hollows, oveshaded by a thick tangling of uderwood, so as to be quite safe from the approach of cavalry.
James Skene (1775-1864)

*Inverlochlarig – Farm; site of RR’s last house where he died in 1734. Historical [NN 438 181]

*Inversnaid – Township, above Falls at Loch Lomond; part of Craig Royston Estate(qv); owned by RR, then the site of the Garrison built to contain the Macgregors after the 1715; stormed by RR’s clansmen in 1745 Historical [NN 348 096]

*Jean MacApine’s Inn – Former ale-house, now in ruins, at Milton-of-Aberfoyle, where Scott set the “Fray at the Clachan” a skirmish between a party of sassenachs and some highlanders in ‘Rob Roy’. Fictional [NN 502 014]

Kippen – Village; scene of ‘The Hership (Raid) of Kippen in 1691. Historical [NS 6594]

*Falls of Ledard – Waterfalls at Lochard; where Helen MacGregor made her alfresco farewell to Bailie Nichol Jarvie and Frank Osbaldistone in ‘Rob Roy’. Fictional [NN 460 026]

*MacGregor’s Leap – Name, used between the wars, for a waterfall at Aberfoyle; now called the Waterfall of the Little Fawn Legendary [NN 521 020]

*Monachyle Tuarach – Farm; occupied by RR as a young man, later possessed by RR’s nephew; where he took refuge after escaping from Duke of Atholl Historical [NN 476 190]

*Portnellan – Farm, at head of Loch Katrine, near Glen Gyle; the farm RR occupied after he was married. Historical [NN 402 123]

Queens View, Auchineden – Viewpoint; so-named from Queen Alexandra; almost certainly the viewpoint Scott had in mind for Frank Osbaldistone’s first view of the Highlands in ‘Rob Roy’ Fictional [NS 510 808]

The only exercise which my imagination received was, when some particular turn of the road gave us a partial view, to the left, of a large assemblage of dark-blue mountains stretching to the north and north west, which promised to include within their recesses, a country as wild perhaps, but certainly differing greatly in point of interest, from that which we now travelled.

*”Rob Roy” – Former steamer on Loch Katrine; the MacGregor’s motto ‘S’rioghail mo dhream’ [royal is my clan] was carved round the wheel. Succeeded in 1900 by the “Sir Walter Scott”, the present vessel.

*Rob Roy’s Bath Tub see Falls of Falloch

*’Rob Roy’s Burying Place’ – Graveyard on the shores of Loch Katrine mistakenly supposed by Wordsworth to be RR’s grave. Legendary [NN 4012]

*Rob Roy’s Castle see Coirechaorach

*Rob Roy’s Cave (1) – Rocks (sheltering beds) on Loch Lomond above Inversnaid on the West Highland Way; supposed hiding place of RR. Legendary [NN 332 100]

*Rob Roy’s Cave (2) – Rocks (sheltering beds) on Loch Ard, opposite Echo rock(qv); supposed hiding place of RR. Legendary [NN 480 014]
*Rob Roy’s Cave (3) – Cave on the Tulloch Burn behind a waterfall which commands a fine view of Loch Voil supposedly used as a hiding place by RR. Legendary [NN 516 213]

Rob Roy’s Grave see Balquhidder Kirk

Rob Roy’s Hole – Deep pothole on the Machar Burn in Campsie Hills Legendary [NS 5484]

Rob Roy’s House(1) see Portnellan

Rob Roy’s House(2) see Coirechaorach

Rob Roy’s House(3) – Site in Glen Shira where RR built a house under the protection of the Duke of Argyle Historical [NN 150 169]

Rob Roy’s House(4) see Inverlochlarig

*Rob Roy’s House (5) – house in Glendhu associated with Rob Roy (exact location uncertain) [NN 403 035]

*Rob Roy’s Leap – Spot on the Kelty, near Keltie Bridge [NS 534 963], where RR is said to have leapt 22′ (6.7 metres) Legendary

*Rob Roy Motel – Aberfoyle; first such in Scotland; a kitch monument to the folk hero [NN 531 002]

*Rob Roy’s Prison (1) see Factor’s Island

*Rob Roy’s Prison (2) – Cliff near Rowcoish, Loch Lomond where RR held the Sheriff Substitute of Dumbarton, Graham of Killearn, and other prisoners for
ransom; seen from A82 Historical [NS 3402]

Rob Roy’s Putting Stone (1) – Erratic boulder between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy Legendary [NN 3332]

*Rob Roy’s Putting Stone (2) – Erratic boulder at the head of the Kirkton Glen,
Balquhidder. Legendary [NN 5124]

Rob Roy’s Soapdish see Falls of Falloch

*Rob Roy’s Spring – Spring in the Duke’s Pass, under Craig Vadh; Cunningham Graham asserted that the true spring was nearer the Quarries. Legendary [NN 516 034]

Rob Roy’s Statue – Statue by Benno Schotz, Queen’s Sculptor in Ordinary; erected in 1975 in Stirling under the Castle crag. [NS 794 933]

*Rob Roy’s Stepping Stones – Crossing place on the Duchary at Duchary Castle, accessible from Loch Ard Forest Legendary [NS 478 999]

Rob Roy’s Tree – Tree, situated at Strathblane, otherwise called the Muckle Oak, or the ‘Meikle Tree’ was at the side of the
road at Blairquhosh near the distillery. It is now a stump.  Sometimes known as Rob Roy’s tree Legendary [NS 5282]

*Rob Roy Tryst – Exhibition centre and shop at Kingshouse, Balquhidder [NN 565 203]

*Rob Roy Visitor Centre – Tourist Board interpretive centre, in Callander, opened in 1990. [NN 628 079]

*Rob Roy’s Well – Spring, near Loch Chon Legendary [NN 431 043]

*Ross Priory – Country House at the foot of Loch Lomond; here Scott completed ‘Rob Roy’ in 1817 Literary [NS 412 876]

Sheriffmuir – Battlefield; site, above Dunblane, of an indecisive battle in the
1715 Jacobite Rising, in which RR took part. Historical [NN 8303]

Before leaving Stronachlachar a visit should be paid to Royal Cottage, Culligart which was deemed to be the most suitable place for drawing the water from Loch Katrine into the aqueduct which takes it to Glasgow. The construction involved in the Glasgow Corporation Waterworks Scheme was the occasion for a good deal of ceremony. The scheme was begun with a ceremony on the ridge between Loch Katrine and Loch Chon in May, 1856, and, remarkably enough, finished in 1859.

Royal Cottage, Loch Katrine

Royal Cottage, Loch Katrine

 

The scheme was declared open by the Queen and the Prince Consort, who arrived via Callander, in October of that year. Details were given in the local papers of the various routes by which dignatories would arrive at the remote spot chosen for the opening. One of these routes was, of course, from Stirling via Aberfoyle and Loch Ard. ‘Royal Cottage’ was refurbished for the occasion, and to look at it, one might suppose that the party were to stay for at least a week. In fact they had lunch there. The weather was appalling with thick mist and heavy rain. There was a predictably pompous address from the bailies of Glasgow, and the Queen responded in a simpler fashion, saying, in effect, that she was pleased to be associated with any scheme to reduce the number of her subjects who were unwashed. The proceedings concluded with, as the Stirling Journal put it, ‘a long prayer’ from the local minister. It was not until 1869 that Queen Victoria saw Loch Katrine under favourable conditions.

The engineer, J.F.Bateman (1810-1889), gave, at a banquet given in his honour, an eloquent account of the works which, at the time, were the most considerable of their kind in the world. It is still well worth walking the first part of the ‘Pipe Track Road’ in order to see the achievements of these Victorian engineers who built fine stone aqueducts in the heart of an inhospitable countryside:

It is impossible to convey to those who have not personnally inspected it, an impression of the intricacy of the wild and beautiful district through which the aqueduct passes for the first ten or eleven miles after leaving Loch Katrine. After finding the narrowest point at which the ridge between Loch Katrine and Loch Chon could be pierced, the country consists of successive ridges of the most obdurate rock, separated by deep wild valleys, in which it was very difficult, in the first instsance to find a way. There were no roads, no houses, no building materials – nothing which would ordinarily be considered essential to the successful completion of sa great engineering work for the conveyance of water; but it was consideration of the geological character of the material which gave all the romantic wildness to the district at once determined me to adopt that mode of construction which has been so successfully carried out. For the first ten miles the rock consists of mica schist and clay slate – close, retentive material into which no water percolates, and in which, in consequence, few springs are to be found. This rock when quarried was unfit for building purposes: there was no stone of a suitable description to be had at any reasonable cost or distance, no lime for mortar, no clay for puddle, and no roads to convey the material. Ordinary surface water construction was therefore out of the question; but I saw that if tunnelling were boldly resorted to, there would be no difficulty, beyond the cost and time required in blasting the rocks, in making a perfectly watertight and all-enduring aqueduct; there would be no water to hamper and delay us in the shafts and tunnels, and little would require transporting to the country but gunpowder and drill iron. This course was therefore determined upon, and my expectations have been realised to the very letter. The aqueduct may be considered as one continuous tunnel. as long as the work continued in the primary geological measures, we had no water; and even after it entered old red sandstone, and where it subsequently passed through trap rock, there was much less than I expected; so that our progress at no part of the work was very materially interfered with by those incidents which usually render mining operations costly and uncertain.

The scheme was expanded by raising the level of Loch Katrine, by providing a second pipeline, and by including Loch Arklet in the scheme between 1885 and 1914, and after the Second World War, by including Glen Finglas. What is remarkable is that, in spite of the changes, which involved the submerging of ‘the Silver Strand’, for example, the landscape which attracted the Wordsworths and Scott has been preserved rather than spoiled, and continues to attract people from all over the world. The ‘all-enduring’ nature of the project can be confirmed; the impressive aqueducts in the Loch Ard forest appear to be as sound today as they must have seemed to the self-confident Victorian engineers.

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 16. Loch Katrine II

The Lake Poets in Scotland

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), and Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855) visited Scotland together, and separately, on several occasions. Coleridge and Robert Southey each visited Scotland once

Their itineraries, on visits to Scotland, were as follows:

Itinerary [1801]: Wordsworth

Visited Hamilton and Glasgow; probably visited Loch Lomond

Itinerary [1803]: Wordsworth with Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge

Entered Scotland from Longtown, then by Annan to Nithsdale,
Thornhill, Wanlockhead, the Falls of Clyde, Hamilton, and Glasgow

Wednesday 24th August: Dumbarton to Luss
Thursday 25th August: Luss to Tarbet
Friday 26th August: Tarbet by Inversnaid to Glengyle
Saturday 27th August: Glengyle to Loch Achray; return to Coilachra
Sunday 28th August: Coilachra (The Ferryman’s Hut) by Inversnaid to Tarbet
Monday 29th August: Tarbet to Cairndow; Coleridge leaves Party

Went by Inverary, Loch Awe, Oban, Loch Creran, Ballachulish, Glencoe,
Kingshouse, Inveroran, Tyndrum, Killin, Kenmore, Blair Atholl, Dunkeld,
Rumbling Bridge, Sma’ Glen, Crieff, Lochearnhead, Strathyre, Pass of
Leny, to Callander and the Trossachs

Monday 12th Sept: Inversnaid by Glenfalloch to Glengyle
Tuesday 13th Sept: Coilachra by Loch Voil to Strathyre
Wednesday 14th Sept: Strathyre by Callander to Falkirk

Travelled home by Edinburgh, Roslin, Peebles, Melrose, Dryburgh,
Jedburgh, Mosspaul, Hawick, Carlisle

Itinerary [29th Aug– 15th Sep 1803]: Coleridge

Coleridge left the Wordsworths at Arrochar and went via Glen Falloch, Tyndrum, Glencoe, and Fort William into the Great Glen. He went via Foyers to Inverness and Fort George before turning south via Culloden, Moy, Dalnacardoch and Tummel Bridge to reach Kenmore. He then crossed to Amulree, Methven, Perth and Edinburgh before travelling south by coach.

Itinerary [19th Jul – 9th Sep 1814]: Wm. & Mary Wordsworth and Sarah Hutchinson:

Travelled to Carlisle, Brampton, Eskdalemuir, Moffat, Lanark Falls of Clyde, Glasgow, Dumbarton, Ardencaple, Rosneath Castle, Arrochar to Luss,

31st Jul Kilmaronock, Aberfoyle
1st Aug Loch Ard, Loch Chon, Lake of Menteith, Callander
2nd Aug Trossachs
3rd Aug Lochearnhead, Killin

From Killin they went to Glencoe, Inverness and Beauly. They returned by Inverness and Perth to Edinburgh, then to Traquair and Yarrow

Itinerary [17th Aug – 1st Oct 1819]: Robert Southey with Thomas Telford, John and Susannah Rickman

From Edinburgh they travelled to Linlithgow, Bannockburn, Stirling, Callander, the Trossachs, and round by the head of Loch Earn to Killin, Kenmore, and by Aberfeldy to Dunkeld. From Dunkeld they went to Dundee, Bervie, and Stonehaven, and thence to Aberdeen. The next point reached was Banff, then Cullen, whence they proceeded in gigs to Fochabers, thence by Craigellachie Bridge, which Southey greatly admired, to Ballindalloch, Forres, Nairn and Inverness whence then proceeded to view the works constructed at the crossing of the River Beauly and to visit Strathglass.
They arrived at Dingwall via Conan Bridge and proceeded to Invergordon, Tain, and Bonar Bridge, thence to the Mound and Dunrobin whence they retraced their steps. From Dingwall they went by Strathpeffer, Strome Ferry and Lochalsh to Skye before resuming their journey southwards via the Caledonian Canal, which is described in detail. The party then went to Ballachulish, Inveraray, Loch Lomond and Glasgow. Southey returned home by New Lanark and Moffat.

Southey’s Journal of a Tour in Scotland was published by the Institution of Civil Engineers, but not until 1927.

Itinerary [1822]: Dorothy Wordsworth and Joanna Hutchinson:

“We planned a little tour up the Forth to Stirling, thence by track-boat to Glasgow; from Dumbarton to Rob Roy’s Cave by steamer; stopping at Tarbet; thence in a cart to Inveraray; back again to Glasgow, down Loch Fyne, and up the Clyde, thence by coach to Lanark; and from Lanark to Moffat in a cart.”

Itinerary [1831]: Wordsworth with Dora Wordsworth:

In mid-September, at Scott’s invitation, with Dora, his daughter, as his companion, Wordsworth made his way in an open carriage by way of Carlisle and Hawick to Abbotsford where Scott was already seriously ill. They visited Newark Castle, and proceeded to Callander (via Roslyn Chapel, and Edinburgh) where Charles Wordsworth joined them.

“I rejoined my uncle and cousin at Callander: the former had just composed his beautiful sonnet on Sir Walter Scott’s Departure, and he recited it to me…on the banks of Loch Achray”

Charles Wordsworth Annals of My Early Life

They proceeded to Bonawe, Oban, and Mull

Itinerary [1833]: Wordsworth, his son Rev. John Wordsworth, and Henry Crabb Robinson

In July, departed from Whitehaven and visited the Isle of Man, then, Oban and Staffa. Returned by Loch Awe, Inveraray, Lochgoilhead, Greenock and through Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and Dumfries-shire to Carlisle

Loch Katrine

The focal point for the Wordsworths’ sojourns at Loch Katrine was the ‘Ferryman’s Hut’ at Coilachra. Dorothy Wordsworth’s affectionate account of this place, of the ferryman and his wife, and their neighbours is the most notable account we have of Highland domestic life at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is beautifully written. Ferries are a leitmotiv of the Journal. Reading it one gradually becomes aware of their enormous significance everywhere in the Southern Highlands, not just on the seaboard. The Wordsworths embarked on ferries as a natural part of their journeyings, not just across lochs, but up and down them as well. Just how uncomfortable and dangerous they were is frequently made plain. One might suppose that the office of ‘ferryman’ in such a remote spot as the upper end of Loch Katrine, especially as the head of the loch was closer then than it now is, was scarcely required.

Coilachra was situated opposite Stronachlachar opposite the military road from Inversnaid constructed in 1718 leading, surprisingly to us nowadays, to Balquhidder,  Loch Earn, the foot of Loch Tay, Blair Atholl, and the Minigaig to Ruthven Barracks.. The party first engaged the ferryman after staying the night with the MacFarlanes at Glengyle. Their purpose was to travel to the Trossachs, at the foot of Loch Katrine. An amusing note is struck because Coleridge decides to walk, considering it would be too cold in the boat, and gets there first. One must suppose that the Wordsworths considered it appropriate to travel in the comparative style afforded by a vessel, however humble and however inconvenient.

We found the ferryman at work in the field above his hut, and he was at liberty to go with us, but being wet and hungry, we begged that he would let us sit by his fire till we had refreshed ourselves. This was the first genuine Highland hut we had been in. we entered by the cow-house, the house-door being within, at right angles to the outer door. The woman was distressed that she had a bad fire, but she heaped up some dry peats and heather, and, blowing it with her breath, in a short time raised a blaze that in a short time scorched us into comfortable feelings. A small part of the smoke found its way out of the hole of the chimney, the rest through the open window-places, one of which was in the recess of the fireplace, and made a frame to a little picture of the restless lake and the opposite shore, seen when the outer door was open. The woman of the house was very kind: whenever we asked her for anything it seemed a fresh pleasure to her that she had it for us; she always answered with a sort of softening down of the Scotch exclamation, ‘Hoot’. ‘Ho! yes, ye’ll get that,’ and hied to her cupboard in the spence. We got oatmeal, butter, bread and milk, made some porridge and then departed. It was rainy and cold, with a strong wind.

Coleridge was afraid of the cold in the boat, so he determined to walk down the lake, pursuing the same road we had come along. There was nothing very interesting for the first three or four miles on either side of the water: to the right, uncultivated heath or poor coppice wood, and to the left, a scattering of meadow ground, patches of corn, coppice woods, and here and there a cottage. The wind fell, and it began to rain heavily. On this William wrapped himself up in the boatman’s plaid, and lay in the bottom of the boat till we came to a place where I could not help rousing him.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                         

When the Wordsworths first arrived at Stronachlacher they were very dismissive about Loch Katrine, likening it to Ullswater, which from them is praise indeed, but going on to say ‘Ullswater dismantled of its grandeur, and cropped of its lesser beauties’. However, the following passage, describing the Trossachs displays their enthusiasm for Scottish scenery which permeates the Journal:

We now came to the steeps that rose directly from the lake, and passed by a place called the Rock or the Den of the Ghosts, which reminded us of Lodore; it is a rock, or mass of rock, with a stream of large black stones like the dried up bed of a torrent down the side of it; birch trees start out of the water in every direction, and cover the hill above, further than we could see. The water of the lake below us was very deep, black, and calm. Our delight increased as we advanced, till we came in view of the termination of the loch, seeing where the river issues out of it throughj a narrow chasm in the hills.

Here I ought to rest, as we rested, and attempt to give utterance to our pleasure: but indeed I can impart little of what we felt. we were still on the same side of the water, and, being immediately under the hill, within a considerable bending of the shore, we were enclosed by hills all round, as if we had been on a smaller lake of which the whole was visible. It was an entire solitude; and all that we beheld was the perfection of loveliness and beauty.

We had been through many solitary places since we came to Scotland, but this place differed as much from anything we had seen before, as there had been nothing in common between them; no thought of dreariness or desolation found entrance here; yet nothing was to be seen but water, wood, rocks, and heather, and bare mountains above. We saw the mountains by glimpses as the clouds passed by them, and were not disposed to regret, with our boatman, that it was not a fine day, for the nearobjects were not concealed from us, but softened by being seen through mists. The lake is not very wide here, but appeared to be much narrower than it really is, owing to so many promontories, which are pushed so far into the lake that they are much more like islands than promontories.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                   

The simple intricacy of the scenery of the Trossachs is the secret of its charm remarked on by many nineteenth century visitors. Coleridge’s account of Loch Kathrine differs markedly from Dorothy Wordsworth’s, what she calls a ‘Highland Hut’, he calls a ‘Hovel’! Here is his account, which agrees with the Wordsworths’, of the time he spent with them at Loch Katrine and Inversnaid. It is taken from a letter to his wife written after he had left them, by their account because of his own lack of fitness and bad temper, by his because Wordsworth was getting on his nerves:

It rained all the way – all the long long day – we slept in a hay-loft, that is Wordsworth, I, and a young man who came in at the Trossachs and joined us: Dorothy had a bed in the hovel which was varnished so rich in peat-smoke, an apartment of highly polished oak would have been poor to it: it would have wanted the metallic lustre of the smoke-varnished rafters. This was the pleasantest evening evening I had spent since (the beginning of) my tour: for Wordsworth’s hyperchondriacal feelings kept him silent, and self-centred.

The next day it was still rain and rain. The ferry boat was out for the preaching, and we stayed all day in the ferry-house to dry, wet to the skin. Oh, such a wretched hovel! But two highland lasses who kept house in the absence of the ferryman and his wife were very kind, and one of them was as beautiful as a vision, and put both me and Dorothy in mind of the Highland Girl in William’s ‘Peter Bell’.

We returned to Tarbet, I with rheumatism in my head, and now William proposed to me that I leave them and make my way on foot to Loch Kathrine and the Trossachs whence it is only twenty miles to Stirling, where the coach runs through for Edinburgh. He and Dorothy resolved to fight it out. I eagerly caught at the proposal: for sitting in an open carriage in the rain is death to me, and somehow or other I had not been quite comfortable. So on Monday I accompanied them to Arrochar, on purpose to see the Cobbler, which had impresssed me so much in Mr Wilkinson’s drawings, and there parted with them, having previously sent on all my things to Edinburgh by a Glasgow Carrier who happened to be at Tarbet. The worst thing was the money – they took twenty-nine guineas, and I six, all our remaining cash.

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

In one important respect Coleridge agrees with the Wordsworths. Both have high praise for the Trossachs when they finally get there, indeed Coleridge pays the place the highest compliment he can think of by likening it to Borrowdale, one of the most sublime parts of the English Lake District, and allowing that it is ‘the only thing which really beats us’, that is, that in this one respect Scotland is superior to the Lake District. Coleridge went on to visit other parts of the Highlands, and asserted that the five finest things in Scotland were ‘(1) Edinburgh; (2) The antechamber of the Fall of Foyers; (3) The view of Loch Lomond from Inchtavannach; (4) The Trossachs, and (5) The view of the Hebrides from a point, the name of which I forget.” Few would quarrel with this list of itself, although one might wish to add to it. It stands up surprisingly well today and, pleasingly, the Trossachs are included. His description is given here:

You must conceive of the Lake of Keswick pushing itself up, a mile or two, into the Jaws of Borrowdale, winding round Castle Crag, and in and out among all the nooks and promontories – and you must imagine all the mountains more detachedly built up, a general dislocation – every rock its own precipice, with trees young and old – and this will give you some faint idea of the place – of which the character is extreme intricacy of effect produced by very simple means – one rocky high island, four or five promontories, and a ‘Castle Crag’, just like that in the Gorge of Borrowdale, but not so large.

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

Those who know both the Trossachs and the jaws of Borrowdale will be struck by the aptness of Coleridge’s image.

The party were united at the foot of the loch, and explored the place. At that time, even, Lady Perth had erected huts to shelter visitors, long before the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. The Wordsworths went on to visit Scott on this trip and one cannot doubt that they conveyed their enthusiasm for the place to him, and he his to them, although their account does not make reference to this. In the Journal Dorothy Wordsworth makes a revealing comment about her disposition towards Nature which is dismissive of ‘The Picturesque’. With the Wordsworths a particular attitude to scenery emerged. The ferryman clearly had a primitive understanding of what ‘tourists’ wanted:

The ferryman was a good-natured fellow, and rowed very industriously, following the ins and outs of the shore; he was delighted with the pleasure we expressed, continually repeating how pleasant it would have been on a fine day. I believe he was attached to the lake by some sentiment of pride, as his own domain – his being almost the only boat upon it – which made him, seeing we were willing gazers, take far more pains than an ordinary boatman; he would often say “This is a bonny part,” and he always chose the bonniest, with greater skill than our prospect- hunters and “picturesque travellers”; places screened from the winds – that was the first point; the rest followed of course, richer growing trees, rocks and banks, and curves which the eye delights in.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                          

In his thought-provoking book ‘Sir Walter Scott: Landscape and Locality’, James Reed argues that the Wordsworths’ attitude to Nature was less all-embracing, more old-fashioned, even, than that of Scott, but that it prevailed during the nineteenth century:

For the Wordsworths, nature and man are different, but related components of one larger whole; components which interact physically, morally and spiritually. In the long run, Wordsworth’s view superseded that of his eighteenth century forbears, but it might have been different if Scott’s commitment to poetry had been stronger than his devotion to history and Scotland. what he does is see man, and the works of man, in a total landscape: land, buildings, people, manners, history fused by time. Like the ballad-makers, he uses his own idiom from the region he knows best, but the approach is transferable. Scott’s man leaves in his wake ruined towers, decaying abbeys, flints, spearheads, broken helmets, bones; legacies of a fuedal faith and a romantic chivalry. Every walk or ride with Scott was a History Trail imbued, like his writing, with the anecdotal, reminiscent richness of the experienced and informed observer. Only now is the Wordsworthian outlook losing some of its tyranny; only now are we beginning to return more frequently to see man in his landscape, rather than the landscape alone; now we may be inclined to renounce our next Highland, Alpine, or Lakeland Holiday for an exploration of our nineteenth century industrial heritage in the wilder regions, say, of West Yorkshire, where woolen mills quietly decay in the valley bottoms, and where violent tales of coining and machine-breaking whisper to us from the old stone of Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall. The idioms of Scott, and those of, say, Norman Nicholson, Ted Hughes, Edwin Morgan and R.S.Thomas are very different but they see and use the landscape in a way that he would appreciate and Wordsworth would not.

James Reed Sir Walter Scott: Landscape and Locality 1980

The Wordsworth’s further reactions to the Trossachs that day are considered later. In the evening, when it was getting dark and cold and coming on to rain, the party returned the way they had come, accompanied by an Edinburgh artist, probably called Wilson. Coleridge again chose to walk. They were warmly received once more by the farmer’s wife and Dorothy Wordsworth gives a further description the house and of their domestic life:

When I went to bed the mistress, desiring me to go ‘ben’, attended me with a candle, and assured me that the bed was dry, though ‘not sic’ as I had been used to’. It was of chaff; there were two others in the room, a cupboard and two chests, on one of which stood the milk in wooden vessels covered over; I should have thought that the milk could not have been sweet, but the cheese and the butter were good. The walls of the whole house were of stone unplastered. It consisted of three apartments – the cow house at one end, the kitchen or house in the middlre, and the space at the other end. the rooms were divided, not up to the rigging, but only to the beginning of the roof, so that there was a free passage for light and smoke from one end of the house to the other.

I went to bed some time before the family. the door was shut between us, and they had a bright fire, which I could not see; but the light it sent up among the varnished rafters and beams, which crossed each other in almost as intricate a manner as I have seen the under-boughs of a large beech tree withered by the depth of the shade above, produced the most beautiful effect that can be conceived.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

The following morning the party left Coilachra and returned to it in September after completing their Short Highland Tour, approaching the place this time from Callander. It was a fine day, and Wordsworth probably ascended Bealach nam Bo, if not Ben Venue itself. Dorothy went so far, and then waited for him. The description of the road they then took along the north bank of Loch Katrine is memorable. The road has been widened and surfaced in the interests of the Glasgow Corporation, but it remains a narrow country lane which, because the Water Board prohibit traffic, is highly attractive to the cyclist and the walker. Indeed, the reputation which the upper part of Loch Katrine has as a dreary place is, to my mind, quite unjustified. It is very easy, even today, to recollect Dorothy Wordsworth’s description of it:

I can add nothing to my description of the Trossachs, except that we departed with our old delightful remembrances endeared, and many new ones. The path or road – for it was neither the one nor the other, but something between both – is the pleasantest I have ever travelled in my life for the same length of way – now with the marks of sledges or wheels, or none at all, bare or green, as it might happen; now a little descent, now a level; sometimes a shady lane, at others an open track through green pastures; then again it would lead us into thick coppice woods, which often entirely shut out the lake, and again admitted it by glimpses. We have never had a more delightful walk than this evening. Ben Lomond and the three pointed-topped mountains we had seen from the Garrison, were very majestic under the clear sky, the lake perfectly calm, the air sweet and mild. I felt it was much more interesting to visit a place where we have been before than it can possibly be the first time, except under peculiar circumstances.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

It was on this evening that they met two neatly dressed women, one of whom said to them in a friendly tone of voice , “What! you are stepping westward?” Dorothy goes on to point out “I cannot describe how affecting that simple expression was, with the western sky in front, yet glowing with the departed sun.” It inspired Wordsworth’s poem ‘Stepping Westward’, and put that memorable phrase into the language:

STEPPING WESTWARD

“What! You are stepping westward?” Yea,
‘Twould be a wildish destiny
If we, who thus together roam
In a strange land and far from home,
Were in this place the guests of chance:
Yet who would stop, or fear to advance,
Though home or shelter he had none,
With such a sky to lead him on?

The dewy ground was hard and cold,
Behind all gloomy to behold,
And stepping westwards seem’d to be
A kind of heavenly destiny;
i liked the greeting, ’twas a sound
Of something without place or bound;
And seemed to give me spiritual right
To travel through that region bright.

The voice was soft; and she who spake
Was walking by her native lake;
The salutation was to me
The very sound of courtesy;
Its power was felt, and while my eye
Was fixed upon the glowing sky,
The echo of the voice enwrought
A human sweetness with the thought
Of travelling through the world that lay
Before me in my endless way.

‘The Solitary Reaper’, perhaps Wordsworth’s most distinguished Scottish poem, was inspired by a phrase in Thomas Wilkinson’s ‘Tours of the British Mountains’, published in 1824, but written following a visit in 1797. Wilkinson copied down an extract from his description in Wordsworth’s common-place book:

Passed by a female who was reaping alone, she sung in Erse as she bended over her sickle, the sweetest human voice I ever heard. Her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious long after they were heard no more.

The manuscript encouraged the Wordsworths to visit Scotland although the book was not published at the time. Wilkinson, a Quaker yeoman farmer from Yanwath near Penrith in Cumberland, where the Wordsworth family to which William and Dorothy belonged originated,, was a friend of the Wordsworths whom they visited often. It was after they had crossed the hill pass and were descending the Invernenty Burn towards Loch Voil that they saw the reapers. The poem begins as follows:

Behold her single in the field
Yon solitary Highland Lass,
Reaping and singing by herself –
Stop here or gently pass.

The poem is quoted in full in the section dealing with Balquhidder (#21). It is a fitting end to the Wordsworths’ first tour of the Trossachs. That day they left distict for Stirling, Edinburgh and the Borders. It contains some fine imagery and reworks the theme Wordsworth returned to again and again: the way nature stays in the mind’s eye. Like much of his poetry it can be mocked, as Wilfred Taylor (1910-1987), the highly regarded Scotsman Columnist, does here, in his gentlest vein. He and Wordsworth both had a good deal of time for Highland lasses:

 I do not happen to believe, as the poet Wordsworth did, in solitary Highland lasses. The Highland lass is a very gregarious and sociable institution and not at all prone to mope by herself in the hope that an English bard may come along and apostrophise her. There is no doubt at all, however, that the Highland lass is a delight to hear. She speaks with a soft. clear, highpitched, melodious intonation with undertones of grave dignity and great courtesy

Wilfred Taylor Scot Free 1953

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 18. Loch Achray

 

From Trossachs Pier Leave by A821 by Trossachs Hotel, Loch Achray and Brig o’ Turk.

Dorothy Wordsworth described Loch Achray in her Journal as follows:

At the opening of the pass we climbed up a low eminence, and had an unexpected prospect suddenly before us – another lake, small compared with Loch Katrine, though perhaps four miles long, but the misty air concealed the end of it. The transition from the solitary wilderness of Loch Katrine and the narrow valley or pass to this scene is very delightful: it was a gentle place, with lovely open bays, one small island, cornfields, woods and a group of cottages. This vale seemed to have been made to be tributary to the comforts of man, Loch Katrine for the lonely delight of Nature, and kind spirits in delighting in beauty. This small lake is called Loch Achray.

This description does justice to Loch Achray although she got the dimensions wrong. It could quite easily stand by itself, even if it were not ‘tributary’ to Loch Katrine; the view of Ben Venue coming from Callander (another ‘Queen’s View’), and any view of the splendidly set church are first class.

The Trossachs Hotel was erected in 1852. Its towers are so etiolated that they are called ‘candlesnuffers’. The old inn was always overcrowded, and there are accounts of it from Carlyle, in Henry Cockburn’s Circuit Journeys, and in the letters of Charles Dickens. An early visitor to the new hotel was Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American Gothic Novelist:

Our voyage being over, we landed, and found two omnibuses, one of which took us through the famous Pass of the Trossachs, a distance of a mile and a quarter to a hotel erected in castellated guise by Lord Willoughby d’Eresby. We were put into a parlour within one of the round towers, panelled all round, and with four narrow windows, opemning through deep embrasures. No play-castle was ever more like the reality, and it is a very good hotel, like all that we have experience of in the Highlands. After tea we walked out, and visited the little kirk that stands near the shore of Loch Achray, a good point of view for seeing the hills round about.

Thomas Carlyle‘s account is of the previous establishment, notorious in its day, and it precedes the account of his visit to Inversnaid already alluded to. He wrote it at Cheyne Row, in the Autumn of 1866, and it appears in his reminiscences. His companions were Edward Irving, John Pears (a schoolmaster in Kirkcaldy), and James Brown:

 

We marched for Doune in the evening to breakfast at Callander next morning, and get to Loch Katrine in an hour or two more. I have not been in that region again until the August last year (four days of magnificent perfect hospitality with Stirling of Keir); – almost surprising to me how mournful it was to look on ‘this picture and on that’ at an interval of fifty years!

Irving was in a sort the captain of our expedition; he had been there before; could remember everything, – was made by us(unjustly by us) quasi- responsible for everything. The Trossachs I found really grand and impressive, Loch Katrine exquisitely so (my first taste of beautiful scenery); not so any of us the dirty smoky farm-hut at the entrance, with no provision in it, but bad oatcakes and unacceptable whisky, or the ‘Mr Stewart’ who somewhat royally presided over it, and dispensed these dainties, expecting to be flattered like an independency, as well as paid like an innkeeper. Poor Irving could not help it: – but in fine the rain, the hardships, the ill-diet were beginning to act on us all; ………..

Stewart’s Inn was widely referred to in similar terms. It was known as ‘Stewart’s Inn’ on account of the force of the personality of its landlord. The place where it was situated was the rather difficult to pronounce Ardceanachrochan, an old name for Loch Achray.

Here the stranger, who requires a guide, will meet with a very intelligent and obliging person, James Stewart, whose principal occupation, during the summer, is to act as cicerone of the Trosachs. he keeps boats upon Loch Katrine, and servants in readiness to attend.

Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire                   

Sir Robert Christison‘s Autobiography, confirms Carlyle’s view:

A few years earlier in the century, before the Lady of the Lake made the district famous, the only refuge for travellers here was the simple dwelling of Mr Stewart of Ardcheanacrochan. When my father visited the place, Stewart received him and his party as would a small highland chieftain, entertaining them with his company as well as with his good fare. But it was a well understood rule for the visitors at parting to leave on the table what they judged to be compensation.

The accommodation consisted at that time of a rude thatched ground floor house, with very limited, but comfortable quarters. When my party was there [1816], a larger, yet still small, blue slated house accommodated the few additional guests attracted by the scenery of Scott’s poem; and the visit concluded with the appearance of an innkeepers modest bill in due form. We were so unlucky, however, as to find the new house occupied by a fashionable London sister-in-law of Stewart, so that we were relegated to a long low thatched cottage consisting of a butt and a ben, each containing two roomy press beds. Ten years later, when I revisited the Trossachs, Stewart’s humble quarters were replaced by a large hotel, which bedded 37 customers, and now [1885] there is a huge castellated edifice capable of housing a hundred.

Henry Cockburn (1779-1854) the circuit judge left, in his Journals, an invaluable and affectionate account of Scotland and of the Scottish landscape in the first half of the nineteenth century. He railed twice about ‘Stewart’s Inn’ in Circuit Journeys and, if Cockburn complained about something, it was generally completely justified:

Tarbet: 11th September, 1838

The inn near the Trossachs could, perhaps, put up a dozen, or at the very most two dozen of people; but last autumn I saw about one hundred people apply for admittance, and after horrid altercations, entreaties and efforts, about fifty or sixty were compelled to huddle together all night. They were all of the upper rank, travelling mostly in private carriages, and by far the greater number strangers. But the pigs were as comfortably accommodated. I saw three or four English gentlemen spreading their own straw on the earthen floor of an outhouse, with a sparred door, and no fire-place or furniture. And such things occur every day there, though the ground belongs partly to a Duke and partly to an Earl – Montrose and Willoughby. These are the countrymen of Sir Walter Scott. His genius immortalises the region. This attracts strangers and this is their encouragement. Is there any part of the Continent where this could happen?

Henry Cockburn Circuit Journeys                                                                                                                              

A notable victim of these conditions was Charles Dickens who left an amusing account of his experiences in a letter to John Forster, his biographer. It is sometimes forgotten that Dickens travelled all over the country giving readings from his works, that he was an enthusiastic appreciator of the countryside and a hill walker who left a description of his ascent of Carrock Fell in the Lake District. After describing the Trossachs, he goes on to make some observations about Scottish Hotels in general:

Lochearnhead: 5th July, 1841

Having had a great deal to do in a crowded house on Saturday night at the theatre we left Edinburgh yesterday morning at half past seven, and travelled, with Fletcher for our guide, to a place called Stewart’s hotel, nine miles further than Callander. We had neglected to order rooms, and were obliged to make a sitting room our own bedchamber; in which my genius for stowing furniture away was of the very greatest service. Fletcher slept in a kennel with three panes of glass on it, which formed part and parcel of a window; the other three panes whereof belonged to a man who slept on the other side of the partition. He told me this morning that he had a nightmare all night, and screamed horribly, he knew. The stranger, as you may suppose, hired a gig and went off at full gallop with the first glimpse of daylight. Being very tired (for we had not had more than three hours sleep on the previous night) we lay till ten this morning; and at half past eleven went through the Trossachs to Loch Katrine, where I walked from the hotel after tea last night. It is impossible to say what a glorious scene it was. It rained as it never does rain anywhere but here. wqe conveyed Kate up a rocky pass to go and see the island of the Lady of the Lake, but she gave in after the first five minutes, and we left her, very picturesque and uncomfortable, with Tom [their servant] holding an umbrella over her head while we climbed on. When we came back, she had gone into the carriage. We were wet through to the skin, and came on in that state four and twenty miles. Fletcher is very good natured and of extraordinary use in these outlandish parts. His habit of going into kitchens and bars, disconcerting at Broadstairs, is here of great service. Not expecting us till six, they hadn’t lighted our fireswhen we arrived here; and if you had seen him (with whom the responsibility of the omission rested) running in and out of the sitting room and the two bedrooms with a great pair of bellows, with which he distractedly blew each of the fires out in turn, you would have died of laughing. He had on his head a great Highland cap, on his back a white coat, and cut such a figure as even the inimitable can’t depicter…….

The inns, inside and out, are the queerest places imaginable. From the road this one looks like a white wall, with windows in it by mistake. We have a good sitting room though, on the first floor: as large (but not as lofty) as my study. The bedrooms are of that size which renders it impossible for you to move, after you have taken your boots off, without chipping pieces out of your legs. There isn’t a basin in the highlands which will hold my face; not a drawer which will open after you have put your clothes in it; not a water bottle capacious enough to wet your toothbrush. The huts are wretched beyond all description. The food (for those who can pay for it) “not bad”, as M [Mitton] would say: oatcake, mutton, hotch potch, trout from the loch, small beer bottled, marmalade, and whisky. Of the last named article I have taken about a pint today. The weather is what they call “soft” – which means that the sky is a vast water-spout that never leaves off emptying itself; and the liquor has no more effect than water.

Charles Dickens Letter to John Forster                                                      

Cockburn’s second passage makes virtually the same complaint as his first. It is of interest, however, because of the description it gives of the rapid changes which were occurring in transportation, and an idea of the pace of travel in the Highlands in those days. There is a reference at the end to the scheme, later abandoned, to obtain water for Glasgow from Loch Lubnaig:

Stewart’s Inn, Trossachs: 8th September, 1846

Mrs Cockburn, my daughter Elizabeth, and Elizabeth Richardson, embarked with me on a northern voyage, in a carriage on the Falkirk railway, at eight this morning. The carriage had been sent forward last night, and met us at Falkirk a little after nine. We breakfasted at Stirling, after which Lizzie Richardson and I explored the castle and the city under a torrent of rain. We set off about one: and after leaving our cards for David Dundas, the new Solicitor General for England, at Ochtertyre, his seat, we got here about half past six. The two Lizzies and I walked, and just saw the end of loch Katrine under a still, grave peaceful evening. The day brightened before we got to Ochtertyre, and has continued steadily fine ever since.

Comrie House: 9th September, 1846

We passed a couple of hours yesterday on Loch Katrine; then went to Callander; renewed my acquaintance with the Falls of Brackland which I last saw in March 1811; left Callander about two; and gliding along Loch Lubnaig and Loch Earn, got here at about seven, amidst the blaze of a glorious sunset. All excellent; but too common, even to myself, for reflections worth recording.

The world is still paying homage to the genius of Scott at the Lake of his Lady. I find that Stewart’s Inn can accommodate about a dozen of people comfortably, and about twice that number with some decency. But there is now a small steamer on the loch, which goes three times down and three times up daily, and generally loaded. There are omnibuses to carry them on to Callander, besides gigs, cars, and private carriages. But they all arrive from Loch Lomond, Callander and other quarters, expecting accommodation at the wonderful and expansive place called Stewart’s inn, and, except the twelve or the twenty four, are all daily, or rather hourly, destined to be disappointed. On our way from Callander to that place we counted fifty people returning from Stewart’s inn in vehicles. There had beem above one hundred people at that inn that day. Yet the two peers, Willoughby and Montrose, have not the sense to either shut up the loch altogether, or spirit to build a proper house.

Montrose’s side of the loch is still bare. It was cut, or rather grubbed out, I don’t rember how long ago, but certainly after the publication of the poem; for I remember Scott, in his indignation, threatening to save the trees, and disgrace their owner, by getting up a penny subscription, and paying the £200 (this, I believe, was the sum) for which they were to be sold. but we observed one of the very finest weeping birches, on the right hand side of the road going towards Loch Katrine, which we were told that Lady Willoughby had given five guineas to save. I trust, and have no reason to doubt, that she has in store the treasure of many as good deeds.

Loch Lubnaig, it is supposed, is going into Glasgow – to cleanse faces and to be made into punch. I believe that an Act has been obtained for the supply of what the inhabitants delight to call the Metropolis of the West, with water from this lake.

Margaret Drabble in Writer’s Britain points out that George Eliot’s Mary Garth (Middlemarch) and Maggie Tulliver (Mill on the Floss) are both Scott addicts. George Eliot [Mary Ann Evans] (1819-80) visited Scotland in October 1845 in the company of one of her close friends Sara Hennell and another couple, the Brays. She wrote to Sara Hennell before the trip:

“There is a very misty vision of a trip to the Highlands haunting us this quarter. The vision would be much pleasanter if Sara were one of the images in it.”

Their itinerary, which is also interesting, made the Trossachs and Abbotsford high points of the visit. From Coventry they went to Liverpool and by packet steamer to Greenock to visit Glasgow, the cathedral in particular, the next day. A further day was devoted to Dumbarton and Balloch, and the Saturday to travelling up Loch Lomond to Tarbet Inn. On the Sunday they went to church there. The next day was devoted to walking by the shore of Loch Lomond, and the following one to crossing it and reaching the Trossachs Inn. They then rambled about Loch Katrine for a day; and the next went to Callander and the Bracklinn Falls. They reached Edinburgh by Stirling and Falkirk and spent a further day there. Their last day included Galashiels, Abbotsford and Melrose where they stayed, travelling to Birmingham the next morning.

Millais Sketchbook: Trossachs Church

Millais Sketchbook: Trossachs Church

Beyond the Hotel is the Trossachs Church, arguably the best situated in Scotland, and, at a corner, “The Queen’s View”, Loch Achray. One of the best accounts of the road from Callander to the Trossachs is in Alexander Smith Summer in Skye (1864):

The loveliest sight on the route to the Trossachs is about to present itself. At a turn of the road Loch Achray is before you. Beyond expression beautiful is that smiling lake, mirroring the hills, whether bare and green or plumaged with woods from base to crest. Fair azure gem in a setting of mountains! The traveller – even if a bagman – cannot but pause to drink in its fair beauty; cannot but remember it when far away amid other scenes and associations.

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 20. Glenfinglas and Loch Venachar

 

Glen Finglas

In 1853 John Ruskin (1819-1900), his wife Effie, and John Everett Millais (1829-96), stayed in the village of Brig o’ Turk, which gets its name from an eighteenth century bridge, carefully widened and restored in the 1930s, over the burn which flows through Glenfinglas. It was here that Millais fell in love with Effie whose marriage with Ruskin had not been consummated. When Effie later left Ruskin and married Millais, the biggest scandal since Byron’s day broke.

The little river Turk still rushes down a fine gorge where there are four waterfalls. In spate the nineteenth century atmosphere of the clachan can be recaptured, but the gorge is dominated nowadays by a spectacular dam, 40 metres high. In wet conditions the spillway is a magnificent sight, blocking the glen with a wall of white water.

It was probably the associations of the place with Scott that drew Ruskin to Brig o’ Turk in 1853 accompanied by his wife, whom he had married five years previously, and his protégé, Millais. Ruskin had been to the Trossachs in 1838 with his parents. In 1879 Ruskin exhibited a picture of the view from the Silver Strand entitled Loch Katrine, looking to Coir nan Uriskin, July 28 1838. In 1853 Ruskin made some famous drawings of the rocks he found in the bed of the Turk:

  20th July, 1853

Yesterday drawing on the rocks by the stream. Everett still ill with headache. The skies all turquoise and violet, melted in dew; and heavenly bars of delicate cloud behind Ben venue in the evening. This morning grey with heavy clouds low on the hills……

John Ruskin Letters

Millais also began one his most famous pictures, in which one of the waterfalls on the Turk was to form the background to a portrait of Ruskin, but he did not complete it until the following year. He also painted a picture of Effie beside a waterfall in the glen, and his sketch book is a delightful record of what was, in spite of wet weather, a varied holiday. The portrait of Ruskin, the difficulty of its execution and, above all, the blossoming romance between Effie and Millais dominate the letters which the three wrote to their family and friends. Mary Lutyens (1908-1999) used these letters as the basis for her delightful biography Millais and the Ruskins (1967). At the beginning of the holiday Millais was an admirer of Effie, and worshipped Ruskin; by the end of it he was complaining of Ruskin and hopelessly in love with Effie. The following letter from Millais to Holman Hunt, which refers to Millais’ brother, William, captures the atmosphere:

The last four days we have had incessant rain, swelling the streams to torrents. This afternoon we all walked to see some of the principal waterfalls which in colour resemble XXX stout. The roads are deeper in water than the Wandle so we were walking ankle deep. the dreariness of mountainous country in wet weather is beyond everything. I have employed myself making little studies of Mrs Ruskin whilst William has given way to whisky and execration.

Having the acquaintance of Mrs Ruskin is a blessing. Her husband is a good fellow but not of our kind, his soul is always with the clouds and out of reach of ordinary mortals – I mean that he theorises about the vastness of space and looks at a lovely little stream in practical contempt. I have had a canvas and box made in Edinburgh to paint his portrait overlooking a waterfall. I think it will be fine as it quite suits his character and the background of the foaming water, rocks and clasping roots look splendid behind his placid figure.

     J.E.Millais Letter to Holman Hunt    

In another letter Millais refers to midges, the only reference to them that I have come across in the voluminous outpourings of eighteenth and nineteenth century visitors:

When the weather permits, we all dine out upon the rocks, Mrs Ruskin working, her husband drawing, and myself painting. there is only one drawback to this almost perfect happiness – the midges. They bite so dreadfully that it is beyond human endurance to sit quiet, therefore many a splendid day passes without being able to work.

William Millais  gives a vivid description of a Glenfinlas Sabbath:

How well I remember our going to the little free kirk, arrayed as well-turned out Highland men. The service was to us somewhat comical and we could hardly stay it out. The precentor was a little very bow-legged old man, with the wheeziest of voices, and sang the first line of the paraphrase alone, whilst his little shaggy terrier, the image of his master, joined in in a piteous howl. The other lines were sung by the congregation, assisted by a few collies. I afterwards tackled the little precentor, and asked him why he didn’t have an organ. ‘Ah man, would you have us take to the devil’s band?’ was his answer.

When the sermon came, it was most amusing to us to watch the old men passing their ram’s horn snuff-mills to one another, and putting little bone spades full of the pungent material up their noses to keep them awake.

In front of us were two well-dressed young girls, in all the newest fashion, and when the offertory-box was poked towards them, they put in a farthing. We afterwards saw them take off their shoes and stockings and walk home barefooted.

J.G.Millais Life and Letters of Millais 1899

Everett Millais and his brother William often wore the kilt, to the amusement of the local inhabitants. This had a highly amusing artistic consequence. The famous French animal painter Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) came to the Highlands inspired by Landseer’s Highland stags. After visiting the cattle fair at Stenhousemuir, where she obtained much subject matter, she came to the Trossachs anxious to espy a native in a kilt. The first such person she saw was Millais! Rosa Bonheur and her companion were accompanied by the picture dealer and publisher Gambart who introduced them. “Ah, my dear Millais,” said Gambart, “Mademoiselle Rosa Bonheur has been eagerly on the look-out for the Highland garb ever since we left Edinburgh, and yours is the first kilt she has seen. You are immortalised.”

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

Millais filled two sketch books containing highly finished drawings and sketches when he was in Glenfinglas with Ruskin including ‘A Fishing Party on Loch Achray’ and ‘The Kirk in Glenfinlas’. After his marriage to Effie Gray in June, 1855 Millais took the manse of Brig o’ Turk in Glenfinglas in August, 1856. Here, after an interval of shooting and fishing, ‘… he painted a small portrait of the minister – a hard-featured and by no means prepossessing Celt.’ (J.G.Millais)

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

Perhaps the connection with Ruskin led ‘the Glasgow Boys’ [James Guthrie (1859-1930), Edward Arthur Walton (1860-1922), and George Henry (1858- 1943)] to Brig o’Turk in 1879-81, but it was probably its character as the nearest ‘Highland clachan’ (in contrast to the estate villages of Luss and Gartmore) to Glasgow that attracted them. In any case it is agreed that the summers they spent there were critical to their development as artists, not so much for what they produced (see Appendix 00) as for the conversations about painting they had. Later Guthrie drew Crawhall, himself and Walton sharing a bottle of wine which captured their fellowship. Arthur Melville (1855-1904), the leading ‘Scottish Impressionist’, followed Guthrie, Henry and Walton in going to Brig o’ Turk, and he exhibited pictures entitled ‘Loch Vennacher’ and ‘The Shieling, Brig o’ Turk’ in 1884.

In August 1863 George Gilfillan (1813-1878), the nineteenth century literateur who was a friend and admirer of Alexander Smith, undertook an extensive Highland Tour including visits to Loch Maree and Glencoe, as well as the Trossachs. He was full of praise for Brig o’ Turk:

No hour in all my recent journey did I enjoy more than a quiet walk to the Brig o’ Turk. It is to me a most interesting spot. THe river comes down from thr green and purple Glenfinlas, and below the bridge flows in a deep yet bright current, with the noble Ben Venue looking down at it from the west. The sun was bight, the hills serene, the stream pure and lustrous. All was calm. I was alone and my musings were pensively delightful.

Glenfinlas is also associated with Scott, and James Hogg, Lady Sarah Murray and other early visitors to the Trossachs refer to it. Scott makes it the setting of a wierd ballad, Glenfinlas, or Lord Ronald’s Coronach, and he refers to it in The Lady of the Lake making it the setting of even wierder goings on in that poem. Elsewhere Hogg refers to the power of place-names, and there as little doubt that Glenfinlas (or, Glenfinglas, the accepted spelling) caught Scott’s imagination of itself because it had, at the time he first visited it, both a magical name and a different appearance from the rest of the district. Whether this was on account of the fact that it had been preserved as a royal deer forest or not, is not clear, but both Patrick Graham and Alexander Campbell, refer to the appearance of its greensward. In an introduction to Glenfinlas, the place which brought forth from Scott his first substantive poem, he gives the following perfect general description of the Trossachs:

Glenfinlas is a tract of forest-ground lying in the Highlands of Perthshire, not far from Callander in Menteith. It was formerly a royal forest, and now belongs to tyhe Earl of Moray. This country, as well as the adjacent district of Balquhidder was, of yore, chiefly inhabited by the MacGregors. To the west of the Forest of Glenfinlas lies Loch Katrine, and its romantic avenue called the Trossachs. Ben Ledi, Ben More, and Ben Voirlich are mountains in the same district, and at no great distance from Glenfinlas. The river Teith passes Callander and the Castlew of Doune, and joins the Forth near Stirling. The Pass of Leny is immediately above Callander, and is the principal access to the Highlands from that town. Glenartney is a forest near Ben Voirlich. The whole forms a sublime tract of alpine scenery.

Coleman Parsons (1905-1991) summarises the plot of Glenfinlas as follows, alluding to its richness in superstition:

The action belongs to a time when red deer were hunted with bows and arrows, and the scene is near the poet’s favourite Loch Katrine and Ben Ledi. Sheltered in a hut on a moonlit night, Lord Ronald longs for the presence of Glengyle’s daughter, Mary. In spite of second sighted Moy’s reporting death-damps on his friend’s brow, corpse lights, and the cry of Ronald’s warning spirit, the amorous chief descends a dell for a tryst with Mary. Later Moy refuses to let a green-clad huntress wile him out in search of the lovers. The spirit then expands horribly, a storm rips the hut apart, and fragments of Lord Ronald rain from the sky on his virtuous friend. The youth has ben torn to bits by a succubus disguised as a wayward Lady of the Glen.

Coleman Parsons Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott’s Fiction 1964

Scott says that since then Glenfinlas has been called ‘the Glen of the Green Women’. In a note in The Lady of the Lake he elaborates on the significance of the colour green:

As the Daoine Shi’, or Men of Peace, wore green habits, they were supposed to take offence when any mortals ventured to assume their favourite colour. Indeed, from some reason, perhaps originally a general superstition, green is held in Scotland to be particularly unlucky to particular tribes and counties. The Caithness men, who hold this belief, allege as a reason, that their bands wore that colour when they were cut off at the battle of Flodden; and for the same reason they avoid crossing the Ord on Monday, being the day of the week on which their ill-omened array set forth. Green is also disliked by those of the name of Ogilvy; but more especially it is held fatal to the whole clan of Graham. It is remembered of an aged gentleman of that name, that when his horse fell in a fox-chase, he accounted for it at once by observing, that the whipcord attached to his lash was of this unlucky colour.

Scott makes Glenfinlas the site of a ritual to divine the future in Canto IV of the poem

The Taghairm call’d; by which, afar,
Our sires foresaw the events of war

The Highlanders, like all rude people, had various superstitious modes of inquiring into futurity. One of the most noted was the Taghairn, mentioned in the text. A person was wrapped up in the skin of a newly slain bullock, and deposited beside a waterfall or at the bottom of a precipice, or in some other strange, wild, and unusual situation, where the scenery around him suggested nothing but subjects of horror. In this situation, he revolved in his mind the question proposed; and whatever was impressed upon him by his exalted imagination, passed for the inspiration of the disembodied spirits who haunt the desolate recesses.

The precipice Scott chose is called Sgiath Mhic Griogar, situated above the river a little distance from Brig o’ Turk. In climbing circles ‘sgiath’ would be ‘slab’; Scott translates it literally as ‘targe’, the name given to those compact shields which seemed always to be used in medieval battles, which this massive rock does not resemble at all. At the foot of ‘MacGregor’s Targe’, the River Turk tumbles in the series of waterfalls drawn by Ruskin and painted by Millais. The poet describes the place as follows:

That huge cliff, whose ample verge
Tradition calls the Hero’s Targe.

There is a rock so-named in the Forest of Glenfinlas, by which a tumultuary cataract takes its course. This wild place is said in former times to have afforded refuge to an outlaw, who was supplied with provisions by a woman, who lowered them down from the brink of the precipice above. his water he procured for himself, by letting down a flagon tied to a string, into the black pool beneath the fall.

Sir Walter Scott The Lady of the Lake

Both Lady Sarah Murray and James Hogg went to Glenfinlas when the weather was inclement. Although it has been transformed by the Glasgow Corporation’s dam the lower part of the glen is still recognisably as it must have been, although Lady Sarah’s description of the old bridge and the ford have to be imagined:

Though it ceased to rain, all nature was weeping when I came to the foot of Glen Finlas, and to the river issuing thence; over which is a frail foot bridge of considerable breadth, made of birch wood intertwined, and covered with sod. As I entered the ford the scene was gloomy and awful. I was alone in the chaise: but I had confidence in my driver; therefore my mind was free from all sensations, but those produced by the extraordinary scenery around me. On the right a few scattered huts, and the river roaring from the deep glen, at that part darkened almost to night, by the high towering crags of the forest of Glenfinlas covered with wood. The river, though loudly heard, was scarcely seen from the abundance of large trees; some tall and straight as the pine, others spreading wide and embracing each other from bank to bank, bending over the broken flood, which was furiously advancing to the green bridge.

Lady Sarah Murray Beauties of Scotland                                              

I went quite out of my road to see Glenfinlas, merely because it was the scene of a poem in which I delighted, but could see nothing more than in other places. The hills were covered with mist down to the middle.

James Hogg Highland Tours 1803

 Those visiting the district can take the glen road to the entrance to the waterworks. Just beyond the entrance there is a footpath leading down to the river at a weir. It is immediately underneath Sgiath Mhic Griogar mentioned above. From the fork at the entrance to the waterworks the other track leads to the glen above the dam.

 

Loch Venachar
From Brig o’ Turk follow the A821 by Loch Venachar to Callander. At the foot of the loch on the left is Ben Ledi with its foothills, Dunmore and Bochastle Hill. At the road junction turn right, and cross the Eas Gobhainn by an eighteenth century bridge to join the Invertrossachs Road. This road extends from Callander along the south bank of the loch; turn left to reach Callander. By turning right and following the road, which is a cul-de-sac for motor cars , the visitor reaches Invertrossachs whence motorists must return the way they came.

Loch Venachar [Loch Vennachar, Loch Vennacher] gets its name from the gaelic. There is some doubt about its derivation, but several early writers call it the ‘loch of the fair valley’, others ‘the horned loch’: neither seem particularly apt. Situated at the open end of Strath Gartney, and turned into a reservoir in 1859, it has not the same degree of attractiveness as either Loch Achray or Loch Katrine. However, both banks have interesting enough stopping places, and the south bank commands fine views of the Trossachs Hills. Beyond Callander Uam Var is well seen on a fine day. This unprepossessing hill, little frequented, was made the starting point of the chase in ‘The Lady of the Lake’. Its name is thus better known than that of many other Scottish hills. Black’s Guide (1920) is interesting on the subject of this road beyond the Brig o’ Turk:

The road rapidly worsens, and for the rest of the way to Callander is a disgrace to the neighbourhood. Motor cars are forbidden: perhaps because of its narrowness, perhaps because those who are responsible fear that an outcry would be raised against them for allowing this much frequented road to welter in mud and dust. Loch Vennachar, in spite of its high-sounding name, and Sir Walter’s

Here Vennachar in silver flows,
There ridge on ridge Ben Ledi rose,

is distinctly disappointing. In fact, having reached Brig o’ Turk, the traveller has seen by far the best part of the trip.

G.E.Mitton Black’s Guide to Scotland      1900                                    

This passage undoubtedly alluded to the situation immediately before the war. There is little doubt that the road was kept as it was partly to preserve the road as it was for the four-in-hand coaches which plied daily between the Dreadnought in Callander and the Trossachs Hotel. The coaches were auctioned in 1920 and rapidly replaced by motor char-a-bancs.

Milton-of-Callander, half-way along the northern bank of the loch, is associated with Annie S. Swan (1859-1943), a prolific popular sentimental novelist of the nineteen-thirties, who occupied then the place in popular literature which Barbara Cartland now occupies. However, Virginia Woolf’s opinion about her [Diary 14th April, 1935] is worth reflecting on – “I read Annie S. Swan on her life with considerable respect…..no doubt her books, which she can’t count and has no illusions about…..are wash – pigs, hogs – any wash you choose. But she is a shrewd capable old woman.” Her novel ‘The Bridge Builders’, published in 1913 is partly set in West Perthshire, with scenes in Callander and Lochearnhead.

At the foot of the loch is Coilantogle Ford where the Glasgow Corporation sluices are situated. Above it is Dunmore, a distinctive iron age fort, and next to it Bochastle Hill, on the side of which is an erratic boulder, Sampson’s Putting Stone. Either Portnellan or Coilantogle make the best starting point for the easy way up Ben Ledi. However, it is much more usually ascended from the Pass of Leny.

Queen Victoria, it is recorded, reached the top of Ben Ledi on pony back, which indicates that it is not a hill that need test the powers of any two legged walker. the route her mount followed was from the vicinity of Coilantogle on Loch Vennachar. After about three miles easy ascent, interrupted by only one short steepish stretch, where Her Majesty may have dismounted and walked, it brings you to the handsome cairn.

W.Kersley Holmes Tramping Scottish Hills Eneas Mackay Stirling 1946

Another visitor to ascend Ben Ledi was John Everett Millais:

We have, in fine weather, immense enjoyment, painting out on the rocks, and having our dinner brought to us there, and in the evening climbing up the steep mountains for exercise, Mrs Ruskin accompanying us. Last Sunday we all walked up Ben Ledi, which was quite an achievement. I am only just getting the mountaineer’s certainty of step, after experiencing some rather severe falls, having nearly broken my nose, and bruised my thumb-nail so severely that I shall lose it. My shins are prismatic with blows against the rocks.
John Everett Millais August, 1853

Below Coilantogle at Gartchonzie there is a eighteenth century bridge across the Eas Gobhain, the outlet of the Loch, and a by road leads to Invertrossachs House. This bogus name was given to the place when Queen Victoria visited it in 1869 – Drunkie Lodge, it was thought, had difficult connotations.

It was owned then – the place has had numerous owners – by a Stueart MacNaughten, whose wife had connections with the Royal Household at Balmoral. The papers which exist about the visit include some letters about the domestic arrangements which were considered in an article in The Lady by Angus MacNaughten, his grandson. It was a private visit, but the house was vetted by officials, and one of the early letters speaks of Queen Victoria’s hope that ‘you would not go to any unnecessary expense in regard to new carpets or new furniture.’ The Queen was accompanied by Princesses Louis and Beatrice, and attended by Colonel Ponsonby, her private secretary, Lady Churchill and John Brown, her personal servant, all of whom stayed at the house together with other members of the household. Ponsonby took charge of the tour in the absence, owing to illness, of J.J.Kanne, the Director of Continental Journeys to the Royal Household. It was from Invertrossachs that the Queen made her several expeditions to the Trossachs which are quoted from elsewhere. Her account of their arrival from Callander is as follows:

We at once got into our celebrated sociable which has been to the top of the Furca in Switzerland, and had been sent on before, Colonel Ponsonby and Brown going on the box. We drove off at once with post horses through the small town of Callander, which consists of one long street with very few shops, and few good houses, but many poor ones. Poor Kanne (who was to have managed everything but had fallen ill) was still laid up there. We drove on., and, after about three-quarters of a mile’s drive, came to Loch Vennachar, a fine lake about four miles long, with Ben Venue and other high and beautiful mountains rising behind and around it. The road is thickly wooded with oak, birch, beech, mountain-ash, etc. The house stands extremely well on a high eminence, overlooking the loch and surrounded by trees, you drive up through evergreens and trees of all kinds. Half an hour brought us to the door of the house, Invertrossachs, which is small and comfortable. At the entrance is a nice little hall in which there is a small billiard table; to the left, beyond that, a very nice well-sized dining room with one large window. To the right of the hall is the drawing room, very much like the one at Invermark (Lord Dalhousie’s); altogether the house is in that style, but larger. The staircase is almost opposite the hall-door, and there is a narrow passage which goes on to the left and right, along which are Louise’s, Beatrice’s, my sitting room (a snug little room) and my bedroom (very good size); and, out of that, two little rooms which I use as dressing and bath rooms, and Emily Dittweiler’s. Further on, round a corner, as it were, beyond Louise’s, are Lady Churchill’s, her maid’s. and Colonel Ponsonby’s rooms, all very fair sized and comfortable. Close to my dressing room is a staircase which goes upstairs to where Brown and our other people live. The rooms are very comfortably and simply furnished, and they have put down new carpets everywhere.

 

William Mathie Parker, the Edinburgh literary topographer, suggested that Invertrossachs was used by Anthony Trollope in Phineas Finn, It is typical of Trollope to unwittingly infuriate his Scottish readers by transferring an Irish soubriquet to a Scottish loch, but Parker locates Lough Linter in the Trossachs, suggesting that the house may be Invertrossachs.

Millais: Illustration for Phineas Finn

Millais: Illustration for Trollope’s Phineas Finn

His case is convincingly argued, and when Kennedy, the laird of Lough Linter, says he will send to Callender [a Trollopian rendering, perhaps of Callander] for a doctor, the case seems proven. Millais’s famous illustration of Laura’s reception of Fineas Finn’s proposal has a hint of Loch Venacher about it, too.

Those going directly to Callander will cross the delightful ‘Roman’ bridge across the Leny at Kilmahog which Hogg called “a paltry village”. In fact it is an eighteenth century bridge built out of the funds derived from the Forfeited Estates. It was designed by the same architect as designed the beautiful bridge at the foot of Loch Tay, John Baxter.

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 19. The Duke’s Pass

The road from The Trossachs Pier to Aberfoyle is called the Duke’s Pass.  Leave Aberfoyle by A821(Trossachs Road) which climbs steeply past the disused toll house to the Pass. There are extensive views over the Vale of Mentieth, and towards Ben Lomond. The road reaches a summit under Craig Vad, with views of Ben Ledi, and then descends to the Easan Grumach from which there is a glimpse of Loch Drunkie. Ben Venue then comes into sight with Ben A’an, above Loch Katrine. The road descends past another toll house to Loch Achray whence there is a road junction for the Trossachs Pier. The road can obviously be traversed in either direction. There has always been a track (see MacCulloch’s remarks below), but it was after the arrival of the railway in 1882 that the Duke of Montrose leased the land for a proper road to be built. This road was used for coaches between Aberfoyle and the Trossachs.

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

Nature made it an exquisite spot, particularly beautiful in spring and autumn, with its foliage of birch, hazel, and dwarf oak in a setting of purple crags. In the height of the season, however, it is congested – in spite of road widening – with cars and tourists, itinerant pipers, beggar children, and the like.

H.A.Piehler Scotland for Everyman 1934

In his book The Trossachs in Literature and Tradition the only time the Rev William Wilson crosses the Dukes Pass is to quote, memorably, from the autobiography of Sir Robert Christison, the archaeologist about his sojourn at the ‘Bailie Nichol Jarvie’ Hotel:

On reaching the Aberfoyle inn we found it ‘Sacrement Monday’, when all the surrounding Highlands were eating and drinking, and bargaining, and love-making, and quarrelling, as if on a fair day, in the house and outside the house, after the religious service of the ‘occasion’ was over. we had to lie more than an hour on a grassy bank of the Forth, till the lass of the inn contrived to clear a room of therevellers for our accommodation, and gave us possession, cautioning us at the same time to keep out door locked against all comers, except herself with our dinner. After dinner, however, a hill-farmer came rattling at the door, and enquiring for our new acquaitances. He was scarcely admitted when fresh knocking announced others to enquire after him: then came fresh enquires for them, till at length, as the lass had foretold, we had twenty Highlanders and more, all seated around us against the wall, and quaffing pure whisky circulated rom man to man with an oft-replenished bottle and one wine-glass. Next morning we crossed the high, broad, rough wild hilly land which divides the upper valleys of the Forth and Teith, and arrived at the Trossachs.

Sir Robert Christison Autobiography 1816

The Government sanctioned the improvement of the Duke’s Road in order to provide work for unemployed miners from Stirlingshire, Dunbartonshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire in 1931-32. Perthshire landowners opposed the scheme at first on the grounds that it was a waste of public money and would lead to a loss of amenity. After some delay they were compelled to acquiesce. An intriguing feature of the scheme was that, in order to make it labour-intensive, as few mechanical aids as possible were to be used. The structures which were afterwards used as the Youth Hostels at the Trossachs, and at Ledard were part of a camp built at the head of Loch Achray to house the workers.

There were strikes in protest at low wages in the summer of 1931, but the work which had been started in May 1931 was completed by October 1932. Great attention was paid to amenity: heather borders were laid out, and there was a ‘hiker’s path’. Rob Roy’s ‘Well’ near the summit was left in its original state.

The road, formerly restricted to horse-drawn vehicles and cyclists, soon became a favourite, as a testing route which ordinary drivers could tackle, with the rapidly increasing number of private motorists of the nineteen-thirties. It was one of the few roads in Britain where hairpin bends suggestive of the Alps could be found. The four-in-hand coaches were soon succeeded by motor coaches engaged in the Trossachs Tour.

The old toll houses in Aberfoyle and at Loch Achray are still to be seen.

Further improvements were made when the Forestry Commission selected a site above Aberfoyle for its visitor centre for the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. David Marshall Lodge was built in 1958 and it provides access to the delightful glen of the Allt a’ Mhangan (Allt Vingen), the tributary of the Forth which tumbles down from Craig Vadh in two dramatic waterfalls. The hazards of orthography are admirably illustrated here: James B. Johnston asserts that the burn is ‘The burn with overhanging boughs’; the Forestry Commission that it is ‘The burn of the Little Fawn.’ The main waterfall was for long known as MacGregor’s Leap, but Cunninghame Graham calls it ‘The Grey Mare’s Tail’ and, being one of those falls notably wide at the top and narrow at the bottom in most conditions, it does resemble a mare’s tail. Whatever the name means the place should not be missed.

As a route to the Trossachs the Duke’s Pass is superior in several respects to the more conventional route, from Callander, which seems to have been taken by most literary visitors . However, it does not have supposed scenes from the Lady of the Lake every step of the way. It is the route from Glasgow rather than that from Edinburgh, too. Thus few authors have noticed it. One unconventional visitor in this respect is Townshend whose account of the Highlands frequently deviates from the norm in this respect, and is all the more pleasurable a read for that. as we have already learned when he crossed from Ben Lomond to Aberfoyle. The next day he crossed the Pass to the Trossachs:

Half the horizon was filled with mountains, tossed and tumbled about like an ocean arrested in its wildest rage, and the greater part of those were flooded with a golden mist, blending them, like an unsubstantial pageant, with the glories of the western sky. Earth and heaven seemed interfused and molten together; while, in front of the radiance, Ben Venue and Ben An stood dark and frowning over the lustrous waters of Loch Katrine and Loch Achray. “Oh, ’twas an unimaginable sight!”

Chauncey Hare Townshend Descriptive Tour in Scotland 1840

No one who crosses the Duke’s Pass should omit the short walk to Tom an-t-Seallaidh (Watch Hill) near the summit. It is from this point that the force of Chauncey Townshend’s remarks can be appreciated. Percy Wentworth describes the road in 1821.

The descent to the valley of the Avondhu, as the Forth is called at Aberfoyle, is as frightfully rugged as the ascent on the other side of the hills. The track of wheels is in many places visible; but how any animal can drag a carriage, of any description, through these wild passes is more than I can readily conceive

‘Three Nights in Perthshire’                                                                                                        

He found that the view was not so impressive as some made out, but then went on to praise it to the heavens:

The view from Creag Vadh, though certainly very fine, is hardly so much so as the guide books of the District would have one believe. however, I have seen few landscapes that surpass it in sublimity and grandeur; so much are these its characteristics, that many patches of quiet and beauty that are interspersed, are lost in the features which surround them.

‘Three Nights in Perthshire                                                                                                     ‘

Writing in 1824 John MacCulloch (1773 –1835) found little to commend the Duke’s Pass:

“It offers few temptations; except to those who may wish to visit this wild country on account of its historical recollections. There is a road, across the hills to this latter place [Aberfoyle]: practicable, I must not say more, even for gigs, but in no respect interesting.

‘The Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland                                                               

The American Gothic novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne came over the pass in 1856. His account of a visit in the Spring of 1856 is realistic about the disadvantages of that season of the year:

We started in a drosky (I do not know whether this is the right name of the vehicle, or whether it has a right name, but it is a carriage in which four persons sit back to back, two before and two behind), for Aberfoyle. The mountainside ascends very steeply from the inn door, and, not to damp the horse’s courage at the outset we went up on foot. the guide book says the prospect from the summit of the ascent is very fine; but I really believe we forgot to turn round and look at it. all through our drive, however, wev had mountain views in plenty, especially of the great Ben Lomond, with his snow covered head, round which, since entering the Highlands we had been making a circuit. Nothing can possibly be drearier than the mountains at this season; bare, barren and bleak, with black patches of withered heath variegating the dead brown of the herbiage on their sides; and as regards trees the hills are perfectly naked, There were no frightful precipices, no boldly picturesque features on our road; but high weary slopes, showing miles and miles of heavy solitude, with here and there a highland hut, built of stone and thatched; and, in one place, an old gray ruinous fortress, a station of the English troops after the rebellion of 1745: and once or twice a village of huts, the inhabitants of which, old and young, ran to their doors to stare at us.

Hawthorne was clearly not so enthusiastic about the district on his first visit as he later became, and he goes on in the same grumpy vein:

I do not remember what o’clock it was, but not far into the afternoon, when we reached the Bailie Nichol Jarvie Inn at Aberfoyle; a scene which is much more interesting in the pages of Rob Roy than we found it in reality. Here we got into a sort of cart, and set out over another hill-path, as dreary as or drearier than the last, for the Trossachs. on our way we saw Ben Venue, and a good many other famous bens, and two or three lochs; and when we reached the Trossachs, we should probably have been very much enraptured if our eyes had not already been weary with other mountain shapes. but, in truth, I doubt if anyone ever does really see a mountain, who goes for the set and sole purpose of seeing it. nature will not let herself be seen in such cases. You must patiently bide her time; and, by and by, at some unforseen moment, she will quietly and sudenly unveil herself, and for a brief space allow you to look right into the heart of her mystery.

Nathaniel Hawthorne English Notebooks Spring 1856

The affection which Hawthorne has for Nature is, of course, shared by many Scots. Ben Humble (1903 – 1977) was one of that generation of Scottish climbers who escaped from the depression of the nineteen thirties by going to the hills. At least Humble, a Dumbarton man, had work, as his account of a working-weekday ascent of Ben Venue from Glasgow tells us. The piece captures the atmosphere of the Trossachs between the wars perfectly:

We found that a bus left Glasgow for Aberfoyle at 5.15 pm, and that a bus left Aberfoyle for Glasgow at 6.55 am. the times could not have suited better. after a rush from business we eventually got to Aberfoyle. there we dallied a while before starting north by the magnificent Duke’s Road; soon we were following the path by the burn instead, which cuts out all the zig-zags.

It was fine to get away from the city like that, up among the scents of the hills, bracken, bog-myrtle and heather, with glorious evening clouds in the sky. We wandered on past the quarries and then downhill, to where the ever welcome SYHA sign indicated the path to Brig o’ Turk hostel. it was about ten o’clock when we reached that hostel situated on the south side of the river near Loch Achray and overlooked by Ben Venue. Right there in the very heart of the Trossachs, it has been one of the most popular hostels in Scotland since its opening in 1932.

It was August and the hostel was busy. Most of the visitors were from England though there was a party of Americans and a lad from Holland. Some were playing cards. Others were writing up diaries. There was a babel of voices. With ten different parties preparing supper it was quite a delicate operation to edge our pan of soup on to the already crowded stove. We were travelling light and that, with fruit and biscuits, made up our evening meal. Then we discovered that neither of us had brought a watch with us so we induced another visitor to hang up his watch between our bunks when we turned in at 11 pm.

My next recollection was of a torch shining on my c face and a hand from the upper bunk pointing to the time on the watch – 1.55 am. we rose quickly, folded blankets and packed ruc-sacs. By 2.10 am we were pulling on our boots in the porch and five minutes later were trudging along the road with sleep not yet out of our eyes.

From knowledge of our own pace on the hills, the distance to be covered and the height to be climbed, we calculated that just under five hours would take us over Ben venue, along the ridge of hills, and down to Aberfoyle.

Stars were reflected in the dark waters of Loch Achray. There was absolute stillness with the black outline of great firs silhouetted against the sky. No other humans were afoot in the Trossachs region that morning. The only sound was of hobnailed boots striking metalled road: now and then sparks flew up. Few have walked through the world famous Trossachs at such an hour.

Beyond the hotel we took the road to the Sluices and then the path to Bealach nam Bo (The Pass of the Cattle). This was the route of Rob Roy and his bold raiders of old; often stolen cattle were hidden in the caves around.

We left the path for the steep northern slopes of Venue. Lack of sleep and our early breakfastless start soon took its toll and our progress was slow. It became lighter as we climbed higher and we could see the whole chain of lochs, Venachar, Achray and Katrine spread out below us. The final peak loomed ahead. it seemed quite near but distances were deceptive in that early morning light.

At last we reached the cairn and saw the mountains and lochs beyond. Ben Lomond seemed quite near but did not look impressive when shorn of its broad shoulders so familiar to us in the south. It was about 4 am. To the east were the Ochil Hills, the Fintry Hills, the sharp outline of Meikle Bin and Dumgoyne as sentinel of the Campsies. away to the south a glimpse of the Firth of Clyde; to the west the Arrochar hills with morning clouds in the valleys and the peaks clear above them; to the north Ben Ledi and the hills beyond Loch Katrine.

A cold wind sprang up and we had to seek a sheltered spot to munch chocalates and biscuits. after that and from the sheer exhilaration of being on the tops so early in the day, we felt fine and travelled fast down to the bealach and up to Cgeag Tharsuinn. The route from there was right aloong the ridge of hills above Loch Ard. It was easy moor walking, always towards the east and the sunrise.

B.H.Humble On Scottish Hills 1946

 

 

 

 

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