Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 14. Inversnaid

Glen Arklet and the Approaches to Inversnaid

From Loch Chon follow the by-road to Inversnaid. The road joins the road between Stronachlachar and Inversnaid which was for long closed to any traffic except coaches between Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine which were used by countless tourists. The road passes Loch Arklet, from the head of which there is a memorable view of the Arrochar Alps across the trough occupied by Loch Lomond, and, at the foot of the loch, the site of the old fort at Inversnaid. There is a picnic site just beyond the picturesque church and ample car parking at the foot of the hill by the hotel. Hans Christian Andersen, Thomas Carlyle and Alexander Smith, and others, have left accounts of their journeys along the road.

The road from Aberfoyle to Inversnaid has always been of some importance. It must have been improved originally to join the road serving the fort at Inversnaid, built in 1718, and, at Loch Chon and beyond, there are traces of a statute labour road in the woods with the remains of one or two rude bridges over tributary burns. However, the road must also have been of importance in the construction of the Loch Katrine Aqueduct in the 1850s. It is therefore somewhat surprising that, as a tourist route, it has never been of much consequence, a regular coach service never having been maintained. Even today, it retains a pleasing sense of remoteness, inspite of the fact that it is traversed by motor coaches making for the Inversnaid Hotel. A Tourist Guide, published in the Vale of Leven in the 1860s, gives the following information:

The road to Inversnaid leads along the banks of Loch Chon. Although it is in its natural state, the tourist will find that under the care of one of Mr Blair’s experienced men he can be driven to Inversnaid with ease and safety, while the ever changing scenes of beauty and magnificence rising around him on every side will more than reward him for all the little difficulties he may have to encounter. It is expected that, in a short time, the Duke of Montrose will have the road in such a state of repair that Mr Blair [Proprietor of the Bailie Nichol Jarvie, and other hotels] will be enabled to run a coach from Aberfoyle to Inversnaid.

It is difficult not to suppose that Jules Verne (1828-1905), visiting Loch Katrine in 1859, was not told about the Loch Katrine aqueduct, the construction of which reached its culmination that year. Like every other visitor to the Trossachs, he also heard about the subterraneans, and about the fairy spirits which haunt the Trossachs. Verne mixed all this up and created a world in which Loch Katrine emptied itself into a huge underground cavern in his adventure story Les Indes Noires, the Black Diamonds. The novel was recently republished as The Underground City.

Verne was an enthusiatic admirer of Scott, and he lifts some passages from ‘Rob Roy’ to lend verisimilitude to this adventure novel which was published in Britain as The Child of the Cavern. It describes an underground city hewn out of coal, and lit by electricity situated beneath the Trossachs. In the novel Verne points out ‘Many superstitious beliefs exist both in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland…..the Urisk who more especially frequents the wild gorges of Loch Katrine.’

Verne, who saw coalmines in Clackmannanshire, was mistaken in believing that the coal measures extended north of the Highland Line. However, the novel is very convincing of its kind, and it has to be admired as a feat of the imagination. Verne’s technique includes using a monster, the Sylfax, and using his knowledge of the mining industry to make the story a painless account of technicalities, but it is the underground city inhabited by ‘subterraneans’ which captures the imagination.

He situates the ‘Aberfoyle Mine’, the entrance to this underground world seven miles south-west of Callander. This, of course, is where Aberfoyle is, but Verne’s topography is weak. The gothic entrance to the mine, however, owes much to the Glasgow Corporation:

Seven miles to the south west of Callander opened a slanting tunnel, adorned with a castellated entrance, turrets and battlements.

Jules Verne Les Indes Noire 1877

Verne and his travelling companion, Hignard, visited Edinburgh, crossed the Forth to Fife, and then set out for Stirling, Bannockburn, Castlecary, and Glasgow. Thence they went by train to Balloch and sailed up Loch Lomond to Inversnaid in the Prince Albert. They crossed to Loch Katrine and took the Rob Roy to the Trossachs. In the novel Verne has his hero and heroine make the same journey. He called the Prince Albert the Sinclair:

While breakfast was being prepared, Nell and her friends went to look at the waterfall which, from a considerable height, is precipitated into the loch, appearing just as if it had been put there as an ornament on purpose for the pleasure of the tourists. A suspension bridge spanned the tumultuous waters amidst clouds of spray. From this spot the eye surveyed the greater part of Loch Lomond, and the ‘Sinclar’ seemed quite small beneath.

Breakfast over, they made ready for the drive to Loch Katrine. At the Breadalbane Arms (it was the family of Breadalbane which promised to ‘afford wood and water’ to the fugitive Rob Roy) several comfortable carriages awaited the orders of travellers, affording all the convenience which distinguishes the coaching service of Great Britain.

A splendid coachman in scarlet livery gathered up the reins of his four horses in his left hand, and the equipage began the ascent of the steep mountainside, the road following the windings of the bed of the torrent. As they ascended, the form of the mountain peaks seemed continually changing. On the opposite shores of the lake they rose with ever increasing grandeur, the heights of Arrochar overlooking the Inveruglas glen and Ben Lomond now exhibited the abrupt face of its northern side.

Verne stuffs the book with this kind of descriptive writing, and the action is brisk enough, but the novel, which is not even one of his best efforts, is forgotten. The fantastic elements in the story, imaginative as they were, were not as spectacular as those in some of his other works, but it is a testimony to the fame of the Trossachs that they were the setting for this French romance.

Verne also wrote a poem about the Highlands with references to Scott and the Trossachs.

The country between Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond was regarded with particular affection by the war poet and travel writer Alasdair Alpin MacGregor (1899-1970). MacGregor was the author of the following notable poem about the Scottish countryside which has the feel of the nineteen- twenties:

MIANN AN FHOGARAICH

(The Wanderer’s Wish)

Oak leaves for my pillow.
Larch boughs overhead;
A peace and contentment –
And moss for my bed.

Birds’ songs when I waken,
Soft dews for mine eyes;
Sweet grass for my footsteps –
And bright, azure skies.

A blithe lark at noontide
To carol on high
And bees in the sunlight
That go humming by

And glow worms with lanterns,
Blue flowers for my breast;
And faeries to kiss me,
And lull me to rest.

The scent of the soft breeze
Where night’s shadows creep;
And doves in the pine trees
To coo me to sleep.

In Somewhere in Scotland Alasdair Alpin MacGregor relates with considerable pride how he encountered a roadman at Inversnaid who, on learning who he was, recited by heart a poem by his Father, John MacGregor who was granted a lair in the old churchyard at Balquhidder where Roy Roy is buried because he was the first Bard of Clan Alpin since their proscription ended in 1774. The author’s mother was a MacDonald which explains the reference to heather in the last stanza; pine is the emblem of Clan Gregor. This was another poem widely quoted in anthologies:

Love’s Last Request

by the Hon Bard of Clan MacGregor

On the braes of fair Balquhidder,
Braes of ever famed renown
When my mortal race has ended,
Delve my grave and lay me down,
That my dust at last may mingle
With the sod that I have loved
Through the changing moods of fortune,
Or wher’er my footsteps roved.

Other loves have flourished, vanished,
Leaving scarce a trace behind;
Having lived their day they faded
Like a shadow from my mind:
Far from so the love of country,
Of lakes and mountains blue,
Which, the more the world I wandered
Only strong and stronger grew.

On it spread no flimsy roses,
Fresh and fragrant though they bloom,
Since they’re not the tribal emblems
That should grace my highland tomb:
Place instead some purple heather,
Plant a sprig of stately pine,
For they’re both supremely loyal!
And, by birthright, both are mine!

John MacGregor in Holyrood: A Garland
of Modern Scots Poems edited by W.H.Hamilton 1929

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), the world famous writer of fairy tales, much admired the works of Scott. This led him to visit Scotland in 1847. He travelled from London to Edinburgh where he was shown the city and met, among others, Christopher North. He then went to Fife, sailed up the Forth to Stirling and travelled thence to Callander whence he embarked upon the, by then, conventional ‘Trossachs Tour’. He had been invited to visit Queen Victoria at Loch Laggan, but, in fact cut his journey short after sailing down Loch Lomond to Dumbarton. ‘We went by steamer up the Firth of Forth; a modern minstrel sang Scottish ballads, and accompanied his song by playing upon his violin, which was in very poor tune; thus we approached the Highlands, where the rocks stood like outposts, the fog hovered over them and lifted again; it was like an unexpected arrangement to show us the land of Ossian in its true light.’

Coaches between Inversnaid and Stronachlachar

Coaches between Inversnaid and Stronachlachar

His description of the journey between Stronachlacher and Inversnaid was as follows:

The coachman walked along side the horse; one moment we reeled and jolted downhill at a wild speed, the next we were slowly being tugged up hill; it was a journey the likes of which I have never seen elsewhere. There was not a house to be seen, and we did not meet a soul; all around us there were the silent gloomy mountains shrouded in mist; monotonous and always the same. The one and only creature we saw for miles was a lonely shepherd, who was bitterly cold, and wrapped himself in his grey plaid. Silence reigned over all the landscape. Ben Lomond, the highest mountain peak, finally broke through the mist, and soon we could see Loch Lomond below us. Although there was a sort of road leading down, the descent was so steep that it was extremely dangerous to go with a carriage; it had to be left behind, and on foot we approached the well-equipped inn where a crowd of people were waiting for the steamer to arrive.

    Hans Andersen The Fairy Tale of My Life                                                                    

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) gives the following account of a similar journey to Andersen’s with Edward Irving, John Pears (a schoolmaster in Kirkcaldy), and James Brown in 1817:

Sailing up Loch Katrine, in the top or unpicturesque part, Irving and Pears settled with us that only we two should go across Loch Lomond, round by Tarbet, Roseneath, Greenock; they meanwhile making for Paisley; and so on stepping out, and paying our boatman, they said adieu, and at once struck leftwards, we going straight ahead; the rendezvous to be in Glasgow again, on such and such a day.

The heath was bare, trackless , sun going almost down; Brown and I had an interesting march of it, good part of it dark, and flavoured to just the right pitch with something of anxiety and sense of danger. The sinking sun threw its reflexes on a tame-looking House with many windows, some way to our right – the ‘Kharrison of Infersnaidt’, an ancient Anti-Rob Roy establishment, as two rough Highland wayfarers had lately informed us; other house or person we did not see; but made for the shoulder of Ben Lomond and the Boatman’s Hut, partly, I think, by the stars. Boatman and Huthold were in bed; but he with ragged little sister or wife cheerfully roused themselves; cheerfully, and for the most part in silence, rowed us across(under the spangled vault of midnight, which with the lake waters silents as if in a deep dream, and several miles broad here, had their impression on us) to Tarbet, a most hospitable, clean and welcome little country inn(now a huge ‘Hotel’ I hear, – worse luck to it, with its nasty ‘Hotel Company Limited’!). On awakening next morning I heard from below the sound of a churn; prophecy of new genuine butter, or even of ditto rustic buttermilk.

Brown and I did very well on our separate branch of pilgrimage; pleasant walk and talk down the west margin of the Loch(incomparable among lochs or lakes yet known to me) past Smollett’s Pillar; emerge pleasantly on Helensburgh, on the view of Greenock, and across to Roseneath Manse where we were warmly welcomed and well entertained for a couple of days.

 Thomas Carlyle Reminiscences  1887

Alexander Smith (1829-1867) was a poet, hailed as a genius at one time, but then dismissed as a plagiarist. He is best remembered, however, for A Summer in Skye, one of the best prose accounts of Scotland published in the nineteenth century. His book contains the following description of Stronachlacher and Inversnaid which he reached on the way to Skye (1864):

You soon reach the wharf and after your natural rage at the toll of twopence exacted from you on landing has subsided and you have had a snack of something at the inn, you start on the wild mountain road towards Inversnaid. The aspect of the country has now changed. The hills around are bare and sterile, brown streams gurgle down their fissures, the long yellow ribbon of road runs away before you, dipping out of sight sometimes and reappearing afar. You pass a turf hut and your nostrils are invaded by a waft of peat reek which sets you coughing and brings the tears into your eyes; and the juvenile natives eye you askance and wear the airiest form of the natrional attire. In truth, there is not a finer bit of highland road to be found anywhere than that which runs between the inn – which, like the Russian heroes in Don Juan, might be immortal if the name could be pronounced by human organs, and the hotel at Inversnaid.

When you have travelled some three miles the scenery improves, the hills rise into nobler forms with misty wreaths about them and as you pursue your journey a torrent becomes your companion. Presently, a ruin rises on the hillside, the nettles growing on its melancholy walls. It is the old fort of Inversnaid, built in King William’s time to awe the turbulent clans. Nothing can be more desolate than its aspect. Sunshine seems to mock it; it is native and endued into its element when wrapped in mist or pelted by wintry rain. Passing the old stone and lime mendicant on the hillside – by the way tradition mumbles something about General Wolfe having been stationed there at the beginning of his military career – you descend rapidly on Loch Lomond and Inversnaid. The road by this time has become another Pass of Leny: on either side the hills approach, the torrent roars down in a chain of cataracts, and ,in the spirit of bravado, takes its proudest leap at the last. Quite close to the fall is the hotel; and on the frail timber bridge that overhangs the cataract, you can see the groups of picturesque-hunters, the ladies gracefully timid, the gentlemen gallant and reassuring. Inversnaid is beautiful, and it possesses added charm in being the scene of one of Wordsworth’s poems; and he who has stood on the crazy bridge, and watched the flash and thunder of the stream beneath him, and gazed on the lake surrounded by mountains, will ever after retain the picture in remembrance, although to him there should not have been vouchsafed the vision of the “Highland Girl”. A steamer picks you up at Inversnaid and slides down Loch Lomond with you to Tarbet, a village sleeping in the very presence of the mighty Ben, whose forehead is almost always bound with a cloudy handkerchief. Although the loch is finer higher up, where it narrows towarsd Glen Falloch – more magnificent lower down, where it widens, many-isled towards Balloch – it is by no means to be despised at Tarbet. Each bay and promontory wears its peculiar charm; and if the scenery does not astonish, it satisfies.

Alexander Smith A Summer in Skye 1864

Inversnaid

Smith wrote the following sonnet in the hotel at Inversnaid. It illustrates why he has been forgotten as a poet:

Like clouds or streams we wandered on at will,
Three glorious days, till, near our journey’s end,
As down the moorland road we straight did wend,
To ‘Wordsworth’s Inversnaid’, talking to kill
The cold and cheerless drizzle in the air.
‘Bove me I saw, at pointing of my friend,
An old fort like a ghost upon a hill,
Stare in blank misery through the blinding rain,
So human-like it seemed in its despair –
So stunned with grief – long gazed at it we twain.
Weary and damp we reached our [poor abode,
I, warmly seated in the chimney-nook,
Still saw that old fort o’er the moorland road
Stare through the rain with strange woe-wildered look.

As Carlyle and Smith point out the site of the old Garrison of Inversnaid, the ruins of which can still be seen, should be visited on this journey. Nearby is a burial ground where the soldiers who died serving at the fort are laid to rest. The Duke of Montrose placed an inscription there:

And though no stone may tell
Their name, their work, their glory
They rest in hearts that lov’d them well
They grace their country’s story.

Dorothy Wordsworth describes the Garrison of Inversnaid in her Journal on encountering it at first with her brother William, and Coleridge:

We saw before us at a distance of about half a mile, a very large stone building, a singular structure, with a high wall around it, naked hill above, and neither field nor tree near; but the moor was not overgrown with heath merely, but grey grass such as cattle might pasture upon. We could not conjecture what this building was; it appeared as if it had been built strong as if to defend it from storms; but for what purpose? William called out to us that we should observe that place well, for it was exactly like one of the spittals of the Alps, built for the reception of travellers, and indeed I had thought it must be so before he spoke. This building, from its singular structure and appearance, made the place, which is itself in a country like Scotland nowise remarkable, take a character of unusual wildness and desolation – this when we first came in view of it; and, afterwards, when we had passed it and looked back, three pyramidal mountains on the other side of Loch Lomond terminated the view, which under certain accidents of weather must be very grand.

The church at Inversnaid has fine stained glass, a curious bell-tower and is charmingly situated beside the burn which shortly pitches towards Loch Lomond in the Falls of Inversnaid. Beyond the church the road descends rapidly towards the Inversnaid Hotel. Alasdair Alpin MacGregor gives an evocative picture of the scene between the wars:

One wet afternoon in late autumn, I reached Inversnaid Hotel from Stronachlachar as the four-in-hand coaches arrived in conjunction with the steamer about to sail down Loch Lomond to Balloch with some hundreds of passengers who had just come through Glen Arklet from Loch Katrine. In and out of these coaches scrambled these passengers by wooden ladders duly adjusted for the purpose, and so mindful of an age that knew nothing of the internal combustion, and very little about the driving power of steam. The horses looked so bored. They drooped their heads in the rain. so well did they appear to know the Glen Arklet road that they gave one the impression that they regarded the drivers as needless supernumeries. the scene belonged to the days of the stage coach, though the noted hotel itself certainly diffused an air of spaciousness and comfort undreamed of by early travellers to these parts.

Alasdair Alpin MacGregor Somewhere in Scotland 1935

 There will almost certainly be a charabanc at the Inversnaid Hotel where Loch Lomond’s most famous falls are situated. The Wordsworths, Scott, James Hogg, Nathaniel Hawthorne (the American Novelist who described his trip in his ‘English’ Notebooks), and Gerard Manley Hopkins have all contributed to the fame of this spot. The roaring falls that these literary giants encountered are sometimes attenuated nowadays because the burn is below Loch Arklet, a part of the City of Glasgow’s waterworks. However, on the right day the ‘darksome burn, horseback brown’ still falls prettily on the very verge of the Loch. The Falls of Inversnaid inspired one of Wordsworth’s finest Scottish poems, The Highland Girl:

The Falls of Inversnaid

The Falls of Inversnaid

And these grey rocks; that household lawn
Those trees, a veil just half withdrawn
This fall of water that doth make
A murmur near the silent lake;
This little bay; a quiet road
That holds in shelter thy abode
In truth together do ye seem
Like something fashioned in a dream.

No visitor to Inversnaid should omit the short walk to the waterfall. Crossing the bridge two paths will be found, an upper and a lower, which lead through delectable woods above the loch and can be used in either direction to make a pleasing circular walk. Alternatively the West Highland Way can be followed to, say, Cailness at the heart of ‘Craig Royston’.
The Wordsworths at Inversnaid

As Alexander Smith reminds us, it was Wordsworth who brought the world to Inversnaid.
The Trossachs, in particular Inversnaid, formed something of a focal point for the Wordsworths’ in Scotland, and the district undoubtedly formed a topic of conversation between Wordsworth and Scott. There are graphic descriptions in Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal of their visits in 1803. It was this first visit that made such an impression on the poet, although the sonnet, ‘The Trossachs’, was the product of a later visit.

In 1803 the party (the Wordsworths and Coleridge) left their vehicle at Tarbet, and were taken across Loch Lomond by a boatman. The boat in which they were taken along the shore of the loch to the ferry was almost waterlogged. There was another passenger, a woman bound for Corriearklet, and an assistant to the boatman, and Wordsworth lost their provisions overboard transferring from one boat to the other. This incident is interesting for the insight it gives into the provisions that they took with them

The fowls were no worse, but some sugar, ground coffee, and pepper cake seemed to be entirely spoiled. We gathered up as much of the coffee and sugar as we could and tied it up, and again trusted ourselves to the lake.

They crossed the loch to Rob Roy’s Cave, which Dorothy revisited in 1822 with Joanna Hutchinson:

We went a considerable way further, and landed at Rob Roy’s Cave, which is in fact no cave, but some fine rocks on the brink of the lake, in the crevices of which a man might hide himself cunningly enough; the water is very deep below them, and the hills above very steep and covered with wood. The little highland woman, who was in size about a match for our guide at Lanark, accompanied us thither. There was something very gracious in the manners of this woman; she could scarcely speak five English words, yet she gave me, whenever I spoke to her, as many intelligible smiles as I had needed English words to answer me, and helped me over the rocks in a most obliging manner. She had left the boat out of goodwill to us, or for her own amusement. she had never seen these caves before; but no doubt had heard of them, the tales of Rob Roy’s exploits being told familiarly round the ‘ingles’ hereabouts, for this neighbourhood was his home. We landed at Inversnaid, the ferry-house beside the waterfall, and were not sorry to part with our boatman, who was a coarse hard-featured man, and, speaking of the French, uttered the basest and most cowardly sentiments.

This extract illustrates perfectly the delights of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal. She not only describes the journey, but characterises the inhabitants of the country, and their way of life, with short descriptive pieces which give it lasting interest, and give the characters immortality. The Highland woman who showed them a kindness is remembered in the pages of Dorothy’s Journal forever. Many would rate her achievements to be superior to those of her brother. In combination they are unsurpassed, and, while it is parts of the English Lake District which have benefited most from their writing, the Trossachs, and only one or two other places in Scotland, rate alongside ‘The Lakes’ as scenes celebrated by these two in their most enthusiastic and evocative vein.

Inversnaid did not impress them very much when they first encountered it, and there is only a brief reference to it in the Journal at this point.

The ferry-house stood on the bank a few yards above the landing place where the boat lies. It is a small hut under a steep wood, and a few yards to the right, looking towards the hut, is the waterfall. The fall is not very high, but the stream is considerable, as we could see by the large black stones which were lying bare, but the rains, if they had reached this place, had had little effect upon the waterfall; its noise was not so great as to form a contrast with bay into which it falls, where the boat, and house, and waterfall seem all protected.

A feature of the Journal is the way that Dorothy sets the scene for William’s poems and seems, sometimes, as here, to use the same words in prose as he uses in verse. What we cannot always know is which of the two of them put it that way first, although, in the revealing passage about the Garrison of Inversnaid, quoted above, Dorothy comments that she ‘thought so before he said it’.

The two returned to Inversnaid later in their tour when they set off for the west coast, and again on their memorable walk from the ferryman’s cottage on Loch Katrine by Glen Falloch to Glen Glyle, involving two ferries and the ascent of a hill pass, 424 metres in height. This walk, one of the finest ‘low-level’ walks in the Southern Highlands, is best attempted these days from Inversnaid.

This remarkable pair did not seem to distinguish between Sunday and any other day in the week which, in the Highlands at the opening of the nineteenth century, was remarkable. Thus they set off the first time, with Coleridge, on a wet Sunday morning. Not surprisingly they had to wait all day in the ferryman’s cottage for the boat to return from taking the inhabitants of the Garrison of Inversnaid to church on the other side of Loch Lomond. Wordsworth’s famous poem ‘To a Highland Girl’ is a celebration of one of two sisters who looked after them in the hut on that wet day when they had got themselves soaked travelling from Stronachlacher.

When beginning to descend the hill towards Loch Lomond we overtook two girls, who told us we could not cross the ferry till evening, for the boat was gone with a number of people to Church. One of the girls was exceedingly beautiful; and the figures of both of them, grey plaids falling to their feet, their faces only being uncovered, excited our attention before we spoke to them; but they answered us so sweetly that we were quite delighted, at the same time that they stared at us with an innocent look of wonder. I think I never heard the English language sound more sweetly than from the mouth of the elder of these girls, while she stood at the gate answering our inquiries, her face flushed with rain; her pronunciation was clear and distinct; without difficulty, yet slow like foreign speech.

We were glad to be housed, with our feet on a warm hearth stone; and our attendants were so active and good-humoured, that it was pleasant to desire them to do anything. The younger was a delicate unhealthy -looking girl; but there was an uncommon meekness in her countenance, with an air of premature intelligence, which is often seen in sickly young persons. The other moved with unusual activity, which was hastened very delicately by a certain hesitation in her looks when she spoke, being able to understand us but imperfectly. They were both exceedingly desirous to get me what I wanted to make me comfortable. I was to have a gown and petticoat of the mistress’s; so they turned out her whole wardrobe upon the parlour floor talking Erse to one another and laughing all the time. It was long before they could decide which of the gowns I was to have: they chose at last, no doubt thinking it was the best, a light-coloured sprigged cotton, with long sleeves, and they both laughed when I was putting it on with the blue linsey petticoat; and one or the other, or both together, helped me to dress, repeating at least half a dozen times, ‘You never had on the like of that before.’ they held a consultation of several minutes over a pair of coarse woollen stockings, gabbling Erse as fast as their tongues could move, and looking as if uncertain what to do: at last, with great diffidence they offered them to me adding, as before, that I have never worn ‘the like of them.’

The hospitality we had met on us this our first entrance into the Highlands and on this day, the innocent merriment of the girls with their kindness to us, and the beautiful figure and face of the elder, comes to my mind whenever I think of the ferry house and waterfall of Loch Lomond, and I never think of the two girls but the whole image of that romantic spot is before me, as it will be to my dying day.

 Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                           

The description of the day spent at Inversnaid is amongst the most memorable passages in all of Dorothy’s works.

Scott at Inversnaid

Scott tells how he visited Inversnaid in 1792, and found the fort deserted; the key was under the door. He set the scene in Rob Roy, where the sassenachs take their leave of Rob Roy, near Inversnaid. The motto at the head of the chapter is as follows:

Farewell to the land where the clouds love to rest,
Like the shroud of the dead on the mountain’s cold breast;
To the cataract’s roar where the eagle’s reply,
And the lake her lone bosom expands to the sky.

Inversnaid is the ‘capital’ of Rob Roy MacGregor country. His estate was Cailness, where he kept Montrose’s Factor prisoner in sheltering beds by the loch before taking him to Loch Katrine. To the north is Rob Roy’s Cave where Rob himself hid. Scott stated that he learned about Rob Roy’s Cave from Abercromby of Tullibody who was taken to meet Rob Roy himself. In Waverley the hero is rowed across a loch to meet Donald Bean Lean just as Abercromby was. Of course, the Garrison was built to contain Rob Roy. In 1816 Scott set down the most famous of a number of similar lyrics for Albyn’s Anthology:

These verses are adapted to a very wild yet lively gathering-tune, used by the MacGregors. The severe treatment of this clan, their outlawry, and the proscription of their very name, are alluded to in the Ballad.

MACGREGOR’S GATHERING
Air: Thain’ a Grigalach

The moon’s on the lake, and the mist’s on the brae
And the clan has a name that is nameless by day;
Then gather, gather, gather Grigalach;
Gather, gather, gather, Etc.

Our signal for fight, that from monarchs we drew,
Must be heard, but by night in our vengeful haloo!
Then haloo, Grigalach! haloo, Grigalach!
Haloo, haloo, haloo, Grigalach, Etc.

Glen Orchy’s proud mountains, Coalchuirn and her towers,
Glenstrae and Glenlyon no longer are ours;
We’re landless, landless Gregalach,
Landless, landless, landless, Etc.

But doom’d and devoted by vassal and lord,
MacGregor has still both his heart and his sword!
Then courage, courage, courage, Gregalach!
Courage, courage, courage, Etc.

If they rob us of name, and pursue us with beagles
Give their roofs to the flame, and their flesh to the eagles
Then vengeance, vengeance, vengeance, Grigalach!
Vengeance, vengeance, vengeance, Etc.

While there’s leaves in the forest, and foam on the river,
MacGregor, despite them, shall flourish for ever!
Come then Grigalach, come then Grigalach,
Come then, come then, come then, etc.

Through the depths of Loch Katrine the steed shall career,
O’er the peak of Ben Lomond the galley shall steer,
And the rocks of Craigroyston like icicles melt,
Ere our wrongs be forgot or our vengeance unfelt!
Then gather, gather, gather Grigalach;
Gather, gather, gather, Etc.

 

Scott’s description of this country in Rob Roy leaves one in some doubt about the exact route which the travellers took, but the reference to Ben Lomond being on the right suggests that they crossed the shoulder of that hill, and may have reached the loch nearer Rowardennan than Inversnaid. However, there is a substantive reference to Inversnaid:

Our route lay through a dreary yet romantic country, which distress of my own mind prevented me from remarking particularly, and which, therefore I will not attempt to describe. The lofty peak of Ben Lomond, here the predominant monarch of the mountains, lay on our right hand, and served as a striking landmark. I was not awakened from my apathy, until, after a long and toilsome walk, we emerged through a pass in the hills and Loch Lomond opened up before us. I will spare you the attempt to describe what you would hardly comprehend without going to see it. But certainly this noble lake, boasting innumerable beautiful islands, of every varying form and outline which fancy can frame, – its northern extremity narrowing until it is lost among dusky and retreating mountains, – while, gradually widening as it extends to the southward, it spreads its base around the indentures and promontories of a fair and fertile land, affords one of the most surprising, beautiful and sublime spectacles in nature. The eastern side, peculiarly rough and rugged, was at this time the chief seat of MacGregor and his clan, to curb whom a small garrison had been stationed in a central position betwixt Loch Lomond and another lake. The extreme strength of the country, however, with the numerous passes, marshes, caverns, and other places of concealment or defence, made the establishment of this little fort seem rather an acknowledgement of the danger, than an effectual means of securing against it.

On more than one occasion, as well as on that on which I witnessed, the garrison suffered from the adventurous spirit of the outlaw and his followers. These advantages were never sullied by ferocity when he himself was in command; for, equally good-tempered and sagacious, he understood well the danger of incurring unnecessary odium. I learnt with pleasure that he had caused the captives of the preceding day to be liberated in safety; and many traits of mercy, and even generosity, are recorded of this remarkable man on similar occasions.

A boat waited for us in a creek beneath a huge rock, manned by four lusty highland rowers; and our host took leave of us with great cordiality, and even affection.

 

In his introduction to Rob Roy Scott deals factually with the way in which MacGregor acquired land in the vicinity of Inversnaid, and got into the difficulties, which led to him being outlawed. It is a kinder account than the more contemporary account by Nichol Graham (quoted in Upper Loch Lomond). Scott explains how in the period following the English Revolution of 1688 MacGregor succeeded to the management of Glen Gyle during the minority of his nephew, Gregor MacGregor, ‘Black-Knee’ MacGregor, so-called from a birthmark :

It was at this time that Rob Roy acquired an interest by purchase, wadset, or otherwise, to the property of Craig Royston already mentioned. He was in particular favour, during this prosperous period of his life with his nearest and most powerful neighbour, James, first Duke of Montrose, from whom he received many marks of regard. His Grace consented to give his nephew and himself a right of property on the estates of Glengyle and Inversnaid, which till then they had held only as kindly tenants. The Duke, also with a view to the interest of the country and his own estate, supported our adventurer by loans of money to a considerable amount, to enable him to carry on his speculations in the cattle trade.

Unfortunately this species of commerce was and is liable to sudden fluctuations; and Rob Roy was – by a sudden depression of markets, and, as friendly tradition adds, by the bad faith of a partner named MacDonald, whom he had imprudently received into his confidence, and intrusted with a considerable sum of money – rendered totally insolvent. He absconded – of course – not empty-handed if it be true, as stated in an advertisement for his apprehension, that he had in his possession sums to the amount of £100 sterling obtained from several noblemen and gentlemen under pretence of purchasing cows for them in the Highlands.

James Hogg (1770-1835), the Border poet and novelist, followed in Scott’s footsteps. He crossed from Glen Gyle to Loch Lomond, north of Inversnaid twice. On the second occasion, in May 1803, he wrote an account of both journeys in letters to Scott which were later published as his ‘Highland Tours’. His account of the first trip is eloquent about the quality of the scenery about Inversnaid:

I had in the summer of 1791 passed through that country with sheep. On a Saturday night we lay with our sheep in the opening of a wood by the side of Loch Ard, and during the whole of the Sabbath following there was so dark a fog, that we could scarcely see over our drove. Although we got permission we did not go by Glen Gyle, but by the garrison of Inversnaid, and the night again overtook us on the top of this hill. The mist still continued dark, and though my neighbour who was a highland man, knew the road, I was quite unconscious what sort of country we were in. When I waked next morning the sun was up and all was clear, the mist being wholly gone. You can better judge of my astonishment than I can express it, as you are well aware what impression such a scene hath on my mind. Indeed it is scarcely possible to have placed me in another situation in Scotland where I could have had a view of so many striking and sublime objects by looking about me. Loch Katrine with its surrounding scenery stretching from one hand; Loch Lomond on the other. The outline of Ben Lomond appeared to particular advantage, as did the cluster of monstrous pyramids on the other side. One hill, in the heights of Strathfillan, called Ben Lui, was belted with snow, and from that direction had a particularly sharp, peaked appearance, being of prodigious height.

Besides all this I had drunk some whisky the preceding evening, and had a very distinct recollection of our approach to that place, and it was actually a good while ere I was persuaded that everything I saw was real. I sat about an hour contemplating the different scenes with the greatest pleasure before I awakened my comrade.

It is not certain where this idyllic spot was, but must be recalled that the old road passed the Garrison and, above it, were several possible stances from which Hogg might have seen both lochs. It so impressed Hogg that he goes on to relate his determination to reach it again in 1803 assisted, as before, by the amber nectar:

I was very anxious to be on the same spot again, and went out of my way to reach it, expecting to experience the same feelings that I had done formerly. In this, however, I was disappointed, but was not a little surprised on recollecting the extraordinary recurrence of circumstances as to time and place. It was not only in the same day of the week, but the same day of the same month when I was on the same spot before. The two sabbaths preceding these two days had been as remarkable for mist and darkness, in short my whimsical fortune seemed to be endeavouring to make me forget the twelve years which had elapsed. But it would not do.

Musing on these objects I fell into a sound sleep, out of which I was at length awakened by a hideous, yelling noise. I listened for some time before I ventured to look up, and on throwing the plaid off my face, what was it but four huge eagles hovering over me in a circle at a short distance; and at times joining all their voices in one unconceivable bleat. I desired them to keep at a due distance, for I was not yet dead.

James Hogg Highland Tours

John Muir (1838-1914), the famous founder of America’s National Parks, returned to Scotland from the States and was at Inversnaid (situated, of course, in Scotland’s first National Park) on July 22, 1893. There is a copy of a letter about his visit addressed to Mrs Muir from Station Hotel, Oban which can be seen on the internet.

John Muir

John Muir

John Campbell Shairp (1819-85), Principal of St Andrews University and Professor of Poetry at Oxford, who edited the first edition of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals to be published, gives a further account of the district:

From Kirkintilloch we were to drive to the Broomielaw and catch the Loch Lomond steamer. Alas! we arrived late. The other members of the party – Mr Theodore Walron, then a master at Rugby; Mr Thomas Arnold, then in the foreign office, and on the eve of his journey to the antipodes; and Mr Charles Lloyd, who had been a master at Westminster, and was then a student of Christ Church, and an enthusiastic lover of Scotland, where he spent much of his vacations at Loch Ard – had started from Mr Walron’s house at Calder Park. They had been more punctual than we, and had gone on. What was to be done? It was resolved to take the train to Greenock, and catch the steamer to Arrochar. Possibly we might overtake our companions at Inversnaid or the Trossachs. But fate was against us. At the entrance to Loch Long some of the machinery gave way, and we returned hastily to Greenock, thinking ourselves lucky to escape with no worse mishap.

The only plan then remaining was to cross to Dumbarton and follow in the steps of our more punctual friends. Accordingly we walked to Balloch, and took the steamer for Inversnaid. Shairp was full of the Highland Girl and the poem Stepping Westward. I believe we slept at Inversnaid, if not at the Trossachs. The idea was to cross to the braes of Balquhidder, and so strike in on the probable route of our companions a Lochearnhead. But fate again was unpropitious. we missed our way, and after crossing the shoulder of Ben Ledi, came down on the Callander road below Strathyre, and had a memorable meeting with our three friends, who were on the road northwards.

Charles Knight Shairp and his Friends                                         

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), the American novelist and short story writer, was also enthusiastic about Inversnaid which he visited twice:

Close behind the hotel of Inversnaid is the waterfall; all night, my room being on that side of the house, I had heard its voice, and I now ascended beside it to a point where it is crossed by a wooden bridge. there is thence a view, upward and downward, of the most striking descents of the river, as I believe they call it, although it is but a mountain stream, which tumbles down an irregular and broken staircase in its headlong haste to reach the lake. It is very picturesque, however, with its ribbons of white foam over the precipitous steps, and its deep black pools, overhung by black rocks, which reverberate with the rumble of falling water.

I rather think this particular stretch of Loch Lomond, in front of Inversnaid, is the most beautiful lake and mountain view that I have ever seen. It is so shut in that you can see nothing beyond, nor would suspect anything more to exist than this watery vale among the hills; except that, directly opposite, there is the beautiful glen of Inveruglas, which winds its way among the feet of Ben Crook (A’Chrois), Ben Ein (Ben Ime), Ben Vain (Ben Vane) and Ben Voirlich (Ben Vorlich), standing mist-enwreathed together. The mists, this morning, had a very soft and beautiful effect and made the mountains tenderer than I have hitherto felt them to be; and they lingered about their heads like morning dreams, flitting and retiring, and letting the sunshine in, and snatching it away again.

We now engaged a boat and were rowed to Rob Roy’s cave, which is perhaps half a mile distant up the lake. The shores look much more striking from a rowing boat creeping along near the margin, than from a steamer in the middle of the loch; and the ridge, beneath which Rob Roy’s Cave lies, is precipitous with gray rocks, and clothed, too, with thick foliage. Over the cave itself there is a huge ledge of rock, from which immense fragments have tumbled down, ages and ages ago, and fallen together in such a way as to leave a large irregular crevice in Rob Roy’s cave. We scrambled up to its mouth bysome natural stairs, and scrambled down into its depths by the aid of a ladder.
4th July, 1857

Rob Roy’s Cave, a short walk along the West Highland Way from Inversnaid, is celebrated in Lays of the Highlands and Islands [1872] by John Stuart Blackie (1809-95). Blackie was a noted scholar, a poet and an advocate of Celtic culture, referred to by Stevenson in his letters as ‘Professor Blackie, no less!’

Here lodged Rob Roy; proud kings have palaces
And foxes holes, and sheep the sheltering fold;
Fish own the pools, and birds the plumy trees;
And stout Rob Roy possessed this granite hold.
Call him not a thief and robber; he was born
A hero more than most that wear a star,
And brooked his manly strength with manly scorn
On fraud and force and falsehood to make war.
In these well-trimmed and well-oiled times a man
Moves part of a machine: but then strong will
Shaped each hard-sinewed life to kingly plan.
And ruled by right of might and law of skill,
When kings were weak, lords false and lawyers knaves,
Rob Roy saved honest men from being slaves.

Scott uses Rob Roy’s Cave in Waverley. Scott stated that he learned about Rob Roy’s Cave from Abercromby of Tullibody who was taken to meet Rob Roy himself. In Waverley the hero is rowed across a loch to meet Donald Bean Lean just as Abercromby was.  

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), the English poet, put Inversnaid in one of his most famous poems:

INVERSNAID
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A wind-puff bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning

Dagged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook
treads through
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

The astonishing thing about this poem, the most memorable of all waterfall poems, is that it is the product of a day-trip made by Hopkins in September 1881:

“I could wish I were in the Highlands. I never had more than a glimpse of their skirts. I hurried one day to Loch Lomond. The day was dark and partly hid the lake, but it did not altogether disfigure it, but gave it a pensive or solemn beauty which left a deep impression on me.”

 

 

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