Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 9. Callander

Callander

Callander owes its reputation to its situation on the Highland Boundary Fault, at one of the principal gateways to the Highlands, the Pass of Leny. Like Crieff and Dunkeld it would have been a popular place of resort without Scott; because of Scott, very many literary personages have visited Callander.

It was laid out as a planned village in 1739, and developed with the impetus of commissioners for the forfeited estates after 1745. The principal hotel in the place, the Dreadnought, gets its name from the motto of Francis McNab of McNab who built it in 1801-2. Robert Southey (1774-1843), the Lake Poet, Poet Laureate, and friend of Thomas Telford makes the following comment about the old hotel:

Over the entrance to the Inn yard at Callander are two most unlionlike Lions in stone, McNab’s crest, the Lord of this country, by whom the house was built. McNab was asked one day by his friend Lord Breadalbane for what those ugly figures were placed there; and he replied in an allusion to the fueds which had existed in old times between the two families, “Just to frighten the Campbells, I believe.”

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland 1819

Lady Sarah Murray described Callander’s situation as follows:

Callander, and the town of Kilmahog adjoining to it, lie close to the River Teith, which is thee very rapid. The situation of these two towns is extremely romantic; Ben Ledi being to the north of them, and prodigiously high crags rising directly behind them; these crags are entirely composed of small stones cemented in a socket of clay. It is called plum pudding stone; the towns are entirely built of it. There is a very good bridge over the Teith at Callander, and one at Kilmahog, over the branch of that stream that comes from Loch Lubnaig.

Just outside Callander, superbly situated between the Leny and the Eas Gobhainn, is a walled graveyard on a little hill which can be seen from the Invertrossachs road, and can be reached from the riverside in the town itself. It is the graveyard of the clan most associated with the district, the Buchanans, and there is a monument there to a poet who was a native of Ardoch, Strathyre, one Dugald Buchanan (1716-1768). Buchanan ‘got’ religion under the influence of George Whitfield. He was essentially a simple man who thus resembles the hero of Smollett’s Humphry Clinker who was similarly afflicted. Campbell Nairne in his book, The Trossachs refers to Buchanan’s ‘gloomy theological poems’ and notes the boldness of the claim on a fountain in Strathyre that “There is not in any language truer poetry than that to be found in the sacred songs of Buchanan…” The memorial plaque in Callander reads as follows:

Dugald Buchanan

Gaelic Poet Teacher Evangelist

1716 – 1768

This monument marks his resting place,
and commemorates his gifts of inspired
language and sacred song by which
the literature of his native Highlands has
been enriched.

An Fhuil a dhiol do cheartas teann
S’a dhoirteadh air a chrann gu lar
S ann aisd tha mearbsa O m Righ
Nach dit thum anam air sgath.

Pittendrigh Macgillivray ERECTED 1925

A version of the Gaelic is as follows: The blood that repayed Your firm justice was shed on the ground from the Cross. It is from it, O King, that I trust that you will not condemn my soul.

James Pittendrigh Macgillivray (1856-1938) was a Poet, King’s Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland, and Principal of the Edinburgh School of Art. Thus the almost certainly both wrote the inscription and carved the plaque. One of his poems, from the same period is ‘On Sleepy Hillock’. It seems appropriate to the Buchanan graveyard:

On Sleepy Hillock
By the auld yew tree,
Wi’ monie anither, he lies
That was kind to me.

There’s lilac sweet,
And a white rose bush,
By the water worn stane whar he sleeps
To the burn’s laigh hush

What needs there be mair
For them lie here
Till Sleepy Hillock wake
in the day o’ fear?

But – O Sleepy Hillock!
Wi’ your whisperin’ burn;
Hae ye nae word for me,
Frae him I mourn?

 

A person who enhanced the literary and artistic associations of Callander during Edwardian times, and between the wars was Reginald Brett, Lord Esher (1852- 1930) who acquired The Roman Camp in 1897. Lord Esher held several high offices, and was an important confidante of Queen Victoria and of Edward V11. He retired to Callander. An admirable biography by James Lees Milne, the author and architectural historian, describes his acquisition.

For several years now the Bretts had gone to Callander in Perthshire, the little town known as the Gateway to the Highlands. Regy had fallen for the place and managed to buy the old hunting lodge of the Dukes of Perth, which derived its name from the Roman earthen ramparts which enclosed a field bounded by the River Teith. The house approached direct from the main street, lay between the town and the wide river which flowed in full spate within a few yards of it. When the Bretts acquired it the house was a simple farmstead, roughcast (or harled as it is called in Scotland) and washed pink – hence the family nickname for it, Pinkie. The central porch, bearing an inset plaque inscribed ‘Gang Warily’ and the date 1625 was probably built of old materials before 1914, because during the seventeen years before the First World War Regy made several additions, improvements and alterations. These were carried out in stages, mostly by a young architect, Gerald Dunnage. All the changes evinced remarkably conservative taste, with careful regard for the unpretentious style of the original block. The downstairs rooms of the house were low and mostly wainscotted, with the exception of the drawing room facing the Teith upstream and the library., both additions designed on a more generous scale.

Regy and Nellie together planned the sweeping green lawns and herbaceous borders. Facing the front door a seat on a mound of beech trees overlooked the river. At the rear, a small enclosed garden of yews had a sundial on a stone pillar in the centre. A large walled garden to the east still contains a noble Roman marble well-head acquired by Regy. On a greenhouse a frieze, carved by Howard Sturgis’ companion, the Babe, bore the Horatian tag, ‘Ille Terrarum mihi praeter Omnes Angulus ridet’ – That corner of the world smiles for me more than anywhere else. Westwards beyond the Teith, the solemn summit of Ben Ledi, where John Millais and Effie Riskin fell in love, brrods over the scene. In 1903 Regy bought the adjoining Ben Ledi Estate because Maurice wanted it. Regy grew to love the Roman Camp as he had never loved Orchard Lea, and it eventually became his only home. By some happy chance Pinkie, fifty years after the family disposed of it, still preserves that air of love and care bestowed upon it by the Bretts.

Brett rented some 20,000 acres of contiguous forest from his neighbour Lord Moray. He built a little chapel in a ravine overlooking Loch Lubnaig where he intended his ashes to be buried, though, as it happened they were deposited in 1940, to be joined by Nellie’s and Maurice’s, under the canopied Gothic monument to the first Viscount Esher outside the entrance to Esher parish church. Regy loved the house and garden, the river, the hills with the rough shooting they afforded, the tranquility, and the local people of this part of Scotland. ‘The calmness of the north and its justesse d’esprit are so health-giving,’ he told his younger son, adding characteristically, ‘yet there is no lack of romantic passion in the hills, you know.’

James Lees-Milne The Enigmatic Edwardian 1986

The chapel referred to was erected by a local builder in 1925 and is now roofless. It can be reached by the beautiful Forest Trail which leads to Stank Falls above the old railway track beside Loch Lubnaig. It is still possible to appreciate what a superb site it was, and his affection for the place. He wrote to his son in 1902: ‘Such a day. An absolutely cloudless day. Not a speck in the azure. Lubnaig was like Como. No movement of the deep blue water, except an occasional ripple, when the lightest of breezes touched the loch.’ Esher was clearly a keen Stevensonian because two plaques were carved in the doorway of the little chapel quoting RLS, the first from his poem ‘To S.R.Crockett’, the Galloway author:

Blows the wind today, and the sun and rain are flying,
Blows the wind on the moors to-day and now,
Where about the graves of the martyrs the waups are crying,
My heart remembers how!

Grey recumbant tombs of the dead in desert places,
Standing-stones on the vacant wine-red moor,
Hills of shep, and the homes of the silent vanquished races,
And winds, austere and pure:

The other is Stevenson’s famous epitaph:

Under a wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I lay me down with a will

A further interesting coincidence is that one of Stevenson’s earliest poems, about the Pentlands, but almost certainly composed on the Darn Road beside the Allan Water, used a part of the Horatian tag quoted above for its title, ‘Ille Terrarum’. It can also be noted that Stevenson holidayed in Callander as a boy.

Among significant visitors to The Roman Camp were David Young Cameron, the distinguished painter and etcher, and, briefly in 1919, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), perhaps the best known of modern French women writers of the first half of the twentieth century. James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937) was another friend of the Brett family who visited them there. One of Lord Esher’s daughters was Dorothy Brett, a painter and member of the Bloomsbury set, who went to New Mexico with Freida and D.H. Lawrence.

Lees-Milne throws some interesting light on life at the Roman Camp in 1914:

A tipsy butler and a handsome footman, Alfie, waited at table. Alfie, the old coachman’s son, also acted as chauffeur of a motor car called a Metallurgique, with a long brass serpent horn.

Lord Esher’s English residence – near Windsor – was called Orchard Lea. The guest house of that name in the High Street, at one time called Rosebank, was acquired by him for his grown-up children, and was briefly occupied by his widow after his death in 1930. Lees-Milne calls it ‘an ugly villa’. Beside it a public footpath leads to the ‘Roman Camp’. Esher’s son sold The Roman Camp which is now a hotel.

Callander’s other literary associations include two minor poets, Christina MacDonald (b.1868), who wrote sentimental poems, and J.A.Ferguson (b.1873), a native of the place, in whose Vimy Ridge and Other Poems there is a witty poem about small burgh life, frequently anthologised. Ferguson was an oft-performed dramatist, the author of Campbell of Kilmhor, a play about Jacobites set in North Perthshire, and a popular novelist who wrote thrillers and historical novels set in the Highlands.

The original cover of one of John Ferguson's novels.

The original cover of one of John Ferguson’s novels.

Malcolm Ferguson who wrote two books about West Perthshire lived at Morenish House, Callander.   In 1962, BBC Television made it the setting for adaptations from A.J.Cronin (1896-1981) in ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’, very loosely based on that author’s autobiography. However, Dumbarton has much more genuine and interesting associations with him. Scott frequently stayed at Cambusmore, just outside the town beside the Teith (see above). On one of his early visits to Callander Scott was in the company of, ‘Monk’ Lewis. It was ‘Monk’ Lewis (1775-1818) who first encouraged Scott to write poetry. Lewis himself wrote Poor Anne at Callander. He eventually published Tales of Wonder on 27 November 1800. It contained three original poems by Scott, including Glenfinlas.

'Monk' Lewis.

‘Monk’ Lewis.

Cronin and Scott can be combined by taking a walk to the Falls of Bracklinn [Brackland]. Arden House, where many episodes of the television programme were ‘set’, is in Bracklinn Road. Andrew Cruickshank (1907-87), who played the Dr Cameron in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, describes the series in his autobiography:

Fortunately our first Casebook script editor, Harry Green, combined grace and integrity so that the series had something of an exquisite period short story without sacrificing the underlying poverty and pain of the situation, in which the doctors were ignorant of modern discoveries.

That the series was scrambled together in haste was evident in that, for all the years (1962-69) we played in Arden House, Dr Cameron’s sitting room never had a window. A conservatory, however, where he could lambast his violin with a Paganini-like ferocity, was provided. But no-one seemed to notice. After the first three stories, it was very evident that the moral tone of the series had captured the early Sunday evening audience which usually goes to church. Slowly the process unfolded as the Casebook took its place in the production schedule of the BBC. At this time, episodes were produced in batches of thirteen, making twenty-six in a year, with a lengthy vacation during the summer. The exterior filming of the stories eventually settled in the area of Callander; otherwise production was in the London studios.

Andrew Cruickshank An Autobiography 1988

The falls are outside the town, rather further than Scott says they are. Scott had just to mention a site, it seems, for it to achieve lasting fame: in practice he mentions these falls twice in The Lady of the Lake, using them as an image in his description of the Battle of Bealach an Duine (Loch Katrine):

As Bracklinn’s chasm, so black and steep
Receives her roaring linn,

and as a description of a ‘ marauding chief’, earlier in the poem: “wild as Bracklinn’s thundering wave”

In a note Scott explains:

This is a beautiful cascade made by a mountain stream called the Keltie, at a place called the Bridge of Bracklinn, about a mile from the village of Callander in Menteith.

Earlier Lady Sarah Murray gave one of her most detailed accounts of any waterfall in Scotland, in her description of Bracklinn:

The next day I took a little boy for my guide, and proceeded (by the road that leads from Callander, over the hills, to Comrie) to Brackland Brig, and the cascades there of the Water of Keltie (or violent). I was told that it was not a mile to, walk thither, but I found it at least two. The glen about the bridge is extremely narrow and deep; and, until I came within the noise of the cascades, I perceived nothing that indicated the romantic horror which had been described to me. But on descending a steep field, close to the top of the falls, I found them grand and beautiful; dashing in different directions, height and breadths, till the water roars and foams through the deep chasm under the bridge, to thre pool just below it, which is, at least sixty feet beneath the bridge. The path to get at the bridge is about one foot and a half wide, upon the jutting sides of high towering rocks, from which sprout wood, from the the depth below to the jagged tops above, in every direction, feathering down to, and hanging over, the rushing water. the only safeguard for the hardy being advanced to this awful Brig, are upright, broken irregular pieces of rock which form a winding narrow parapet; and having the spray constantly falling upon them, arecovered with moss; and fern, and all sorts of aquatic weeds cling to them. It requires some strength of head to creep round this path; the huge mass of rocks to the right is woody to the top; to the left is a precipice of perpendicular jagged rocks, at the bottom of which the rushing cascades contend woith each other which shall first dash through thechasm, sixty feet beneath the spectator. After passing this winding path, a foot and a half wide, I came to the bridge which struck me with astonishment and admiration. The rocky bank on the other side of the bridge, is on a level with the flat projecting part of the rock, on which the path to the bridge is worn. The chasm between the two rocks, over which the bridge is laid, cannot be wider than four or five yards. Before I ventured upon the bridge, I stood trembling to gaze and admire; for I could not help shuddering, though I was highly gratified with the whole scene. Before me lay a bridge made of birch poles, extending from rock to rock, over the deep chasm, and these poles have branches of birch laid across them, and turf covers the whole. On the opposite bank is a beautiful rocky bank, covered with wood, intermixed with some verdure, coarse grass, rushes fern etc., with broken pieces of rock peeping through the stems of trees, weeds and moss. The bridge appeared so light, and the depth below so terrific, that I was in some doubt whether I should venture to cross it. My little guide, however, stood upon it, whistling with the utmost unconcern. I followed him; but in truth I looked not on either side, for the bridge vibrated, and the waters roared beneath, so that I wasglad to skip over as fast as I could. The bridge, to look at it, is a narrow, tottering green path, from rock to rock, not a bit of a fence on either side, about a yard wide.

In order to see this extraordinary bridge and the cascades, in every possible point of view, I crept through the wood and broken rocks, until I got upon a huge projecting tower, in front of the chasm, where the pent up water rushes through the narrowest passage. in getting, however, to that point, i was obliged to step over several rents in the rocks, of at least a foot wide, the depth of them not to be seen; but the grand beauties of the cascades, and the deep glen below, seen from that station, made me full amends for my temerity in getting to it. The bridge, on my return, seemed not less tremendous than when I first crossed it; and I was glad to reach my first situation on the side of the rock, with a solid parapet before me.

Lady Sarah Murray The Beauties of Scotland 1799

Few writers do much more than mention Callander, but Alexander Smith does it justice in ‘A Summer in Skye’:

A few miles on the road skirts the Teith, the sweetest voiced of all the Scottish streams. The Roman centurian heard its pebbly murmur on his march even as you now hear it. The river, like all beautiful things, is coquettish, and just when you come to love her music, she sweeps away into the darkness of the woods and leaves you companionless on he dusty road. Never mind you will meet her again in Callander, and there for a whole summer day, you can lean on the bridge and listen to her singing. It was sunset as I approached it first years ago. Beautiful the long crooked street of white houses dressed in rosy colours. Prettily dressed children were walking or running about. The empty coach was standing at the door of the hotel, and smoking horses were being led up and down. and right in front stood King Ben Ledi, clothed in imperial purple, the spokes of splendour from from the sinking sun raying far away into heaven from behind his mighty shoulders.

Callander sits like a watcher at the opening of the glens, and is a rendezvous of tourists. To the right the Pass of Leny – well worthy of a visit. You ascend a steep path, birch trees on the right and left; the stream comes brawling down, sleeping for a moment in black pools beloved by anglers then hastening on in foam and fury to meet her sister in the Vale of Menteith below.

Alexander Smith Summer in Skye               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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