Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 11. Aberfoyle

 

From Lake of Menteith follow A81 to Aberfoyle. At the road junction the A81 turns south. By following it to Ward Toll a return journey can be made to Aberfoyle by Chapelarroch and Gartmore (Cunninghame Graham Memorial). Leave A81 and continue by the A821 which goes through Aberfoyle to the Bailie Nichol Jarvie Hotel, the Brig o’ Forth and Kirkton. Cars can be left in the Car Park, on the site of the former railway station.

Aberfoyle

Aberfoyle has two distinct, if interconnected, claims to literary fame. The most notable is that Sir Walter Scott set the most telling scenes of Rob Roy in Aberfoyle, but the literary provenance of the place goes back much further. The Minister of the Parish from 1685 to 1692 was Robert Kirk. Like many ministers he was a noted scholar who, among other achievements, was the first to translate the Metrical Psalms into Gaelic, and he was asked to superintend the publication of the most significant Gaelic Bible of the seventeenth century. However, it was his interest in fairies and his publication of The Secret Commonwealth, the book about Scottish fairies, which gave him a lasting reputation. It can be said with some certainty that, nowadays, there is less interest in fairies than there was in the seventeenth century. Kirk might be perceived, on this account, as a figure of fun, and receive less attention than he deserves. In considering his life and its influence it is essential to recollect that, until very recently, superstition played an important part in country life. Indeed it still does. Much that was then unexplained made sense if you involved fairies. Scott used Aberfoyle in Rob Roy, and makes much of Kirk and the Fairy Knowe at Aberfoyle as literary device in that book, to mark the transition from the Lowlands to the Highlands. Scott learned about Kirk when he visited the Manse as a young lawyer, although his reference to Kirk in a note to Rob Roy is misleading about his dates. However, a good precis of The Secret Commonwealth is provided by Scott in his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, dated 1830.

Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang (1844-1912), folklorist, poet, novelist and historian had a great interest in Kirk, and wrote the introduction to an edition of the Secret Commonwealth of 1893, as had Scott before him to an edition of 1815. Lang’s dedication in ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ provides a further powerful literary connection. It was addressed to Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Stevenson frequented Bridge of Allan when he was young, and there are two books about the time he spent there. There is less evidence of Stevenson’s knowledge of the Trossachs, but he undoubtedly drew inspiration from the Highlands. He was then in the Samoa, where he was known as ‘Tusitala’, said to mean ‘teller-of-tales’. Stevenson was, of course, much interested in the Scottish Kirk, in the Covenant, and in the weird and the supernatural. Lang’s dedication is an amusing and neglected dialect poem:

O Louis! you that like them maist
Ye’re far frae kelpie, wraith and ghaist,
And fairy dames, no unco chaste,-
And haunted cell,
Among a heathen clan ye’re placed,
That kens na hell!

Ye hae nae heather, peat, nor birks,
Nae troot in a’ your burnies lurks,
There are nae bonny U.P.Kirks,
An awfu’ place!
Nane kens the Covenant o’ Works
Frae that of Grace!

But whiles, maybe, to them ye’ll read
Blads o’ the Covenanting creed,
And whiles their pagan hames ye’ll feed
On hailsome parritch;
And syne ye’ll gar them learn a screed
O the Shorter Carritch’

Yet thae uncovenanted shavers
Hae rowth, ye say o’ clash and clavers
O gods and etins – auld wives’ havers
But their delight;
The voice o’ him that tells them quavers
Just wi’ fair fright.,

And ye might tell, ayont the faem,
Thae Hieland clashes o’ oor hame-
To speak the truth, I tak’ na shame
To half believe them;
And stamped wi’ TUSITALA’S name,
They’ll a’ receive them.*

And folk to come, ayont the sea,
May hear the yowl of the Banshie,
And frae the water-kelpie flee,
Ere all things cease,
And island bairns may stolen be
By the Folk o’ Peace.

Faith, they might steal me, wi’ ma will,
And, ken’d I ony Fairy Hill
I’d lay me down there, snod and still,
Their land to win,
For, man, I’ve maistly had my fill!
O’ this world’s din.

The habit of writing poems about fellow denizens of the literary jungle was quite prevalent in late Victorian times. Earlier Stevenson himself dedicated poems to Lang, to S.R.Crockett and to Henley among others. That Lang should think of Stevenson in connection with Kirk was entirely understandable. Whether Stevenson knew of his intention is not clear. However, if he did not, it is a remarkable coincidence that, in the same year, Stevenson was thinking of the Trossachs. On 6th June, 1893 he wrote in a letter to Sydney Colvin:

I was standing out on the little verandah in front of my room this morning, and there went through me or over me a wave of extraordinary and apparently baseless emotion. I literally staggered. And then the explanation came, and I knew I had found a frame of mind and body that belonged to Scotland, and particularly to the neighbourhood of Callander. Very odd these identities of sensation and the world of connotations implied; highland huts and peat smoke, and brown swirling rivers, and wet clothes, and whisky, and the romance of the past, and that indescribable bite of the whole thing at a man’s heart, which is – or rather lies at the bottom of – a story.

Lang’s edition of The Secret Commonwealth is regarded by folklorists as being rather slapdash. However, his introduction is an extended essay in faery beliefs which is both erudite and enthusiatic. The book was reprinted in 1933 with a further introduction another locally connected author, R.B.Cunninghame Graham. A fine etching of ‘The Hill of the Fairies’ by D.Y. Cameron, who lived at Kippen, illustrated the book, which was published by Eneas MacKay of Stirling.

Lang also wrote another, more often quoted, poem about Kirk. The Fairy Minister, apart from being an interesting poem in itself, provides a suitable reminder of Kirk, full of allusions to the fairy stories of the district:

THE FAIRY MINISTER

The Rev Mr Kirk of Aberfoyle was carried away by the
Fairies in 1692

People of Peace! a peaceful man,
Well worthy of your love was he,
Who, while roaring Garry ran
Red with the lifeblood of Dundee.
When coats were turning, crowns were falling,”
Wandered along his valley still,
And heard their mystic voices calling
From fairy knowe and haunted hill.
He heard, he saw, he knew too well!
The secrets of your fairy clan;
You stole him from the haunted dell,
Who never more was seen of man.)
Now far from heaven, and safe from hell,
Unknown of earth he wanders free.
Would that he might return and tell
Of his mysterious company
For we have tired the Folk of Peace;

No more they tax our corn and oil;
Their dances on the moorland cease,
The Brownie stints his wonted toil.
No more shall any shepherd meet¬
The ladies of the fairy clan,
Nor are their deathly kisses sweet
On lips of any earthly man.
And half I envy him who now,
Clothed in her Court’s enchanted green,
By moonlit loch or mountain brow,
Is Chaplain to the Faery Queen.

Ban and Arriere Ban 1894

Kirk, a seventh son, was probably born in 1644 in the Manse at Aberfoyle, and in 1685 he became Minister of Aberfoyle. Before dealing with his book about fairies, it is appropriate to refer to his other work which was begun in Balquhidder, where he started his ministry twenty years before that. It might seem surprising, since the most famous version of the Bible in English bears the name of a Scottish King and dates from 1611, that, for most of the seventeenth century, there was no printed version in the Scottish vernacular; that is, there was no attempt to produce a printed version in the Scots Tongue, and no printed version accessible to Gaelic speakers. This latter was partly a product of the intolerant view that Gaelic speakers were difficult enough without being given access to the Bible.
It was while he was in Balquhidder that Kirk worked on a Gaelic version of fifty metrical psalms, 221 copies of which were published in 1684, the year before he moved to Aberfoyle. This work was printed in Irish characters, and episcopalian in origin; it did not therefore please everyone, although it was, for about ten years, the only version of the psalms in Gaelic available, after which another, more complete version began to supersede it. However, it was as a result of this work that Kirk became involved with the revision of a printed version in Gaelic of the Catechism, the production and distribution of which was financed by Robert Boyle (1627-91). Boyle was the Irish philosopher and scientist who enunciated several principles on which modern science is based, of which his “law” that, at a constant temperature the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to the pressure, is the best known. He was a director of the East India Company, and used his wealth to further the distribution of the Bible getting it translated, for example into Turkish. Unsurprisingly he was concerned to obtain an Irish version, and in 1685 a translation of both the Old Testament [by Bedell], and the New Testament [by O’Donnell], but not the Apocrypha because Boyle objected, was printed in a new Irish type which Boyle paid for. Rev. James Kirkwood (1650[?]-1708), a Scot ministering to a flock in Bedfordshire, who had been deprived of his living in Scotland because, unlike Kirk, he had refused to take the ‘Test’, urged Boyle to distribute this Bible [The Bedell Bible] in the Highlands, and obtained 200 copies, supposedly sufficient to provide one Bible for each Parish. Kirk took resposibility for the distribution of them, and produced a small vocabulary dealing with the most difficult words. They were inscribed by Kirk with a certificate paying tribute to Boyle.

Robert Kirk's Grave, Aberfoyle

Robert Kirk’s Grave, Aberfoyle

Kirk regarded the number of Bibles available as ridiculous, partly because many of them were ‘alienated to private use’. The Irish characters were unfamiliar to the Highlanders, and Kirk proposed that more copies should be made available transliterated into Roman characters. Boyle agreed to contribute to the cost. Kirk undertook this enormous task himself in 1688-89. This was a greatly troubled time, following the accession of William and Mary of Orange. Nevertheless the intrepid Minister of Aberfoyle went to London for eight months to supervise the printing of what came to be known as Kirk’s Bible, which was completed by April, 1690. The instigator of the original scheme, Kirkwood, who can be regarded as one of the founders of Scottish libraries because he suggested the establishment of a ‘bibliotheck’ in every Parish, continued the task of distributing them after Kirk’s death.
On the one hand it seems decidedly odd that a Minister should have any truck with fairies at that time; on the other hand one can imagine that a Minister genuinely interested in the spiritual welfare of his flock might wish to develop an understanding of the primitive beliefs which were as firmly held by country folk in the seventeenth century as Christian beliefs. As Kirk himself puts it:

How much is written of pigmies, fairies, nymphs, syrens and apparitions which, though not the tenth part true, could not spring of nothing.
Robert Kirk The Secret Commonwealth 1691

The title of Kirk’s book is comprehensive, its shortened version being as follows:

Secret Commonwealth: or an Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and for the most part) Invisible People heretofor going under the names of Fauns and Fairies, or the like, among the Low Country Scots as described by those who have second sight. 1691

He gives a comprehensive account of the lives of various kinds of fairies including their habits, their dwelling places, what they ate, their crafts, their faults – ‘envy, spite, hypocrisy, lying and dissimulation’, and, even, their sex lives:

In our Highlands there be many fair Ladies of this aereal order which do often tryst with lascivious young men in the quality of succubi, or lightsome paramours and strumpets

The whole book is very matter of fact, a scientific work of much merit. It was published in manuscript form in the year before his remarkable death. Kirk, of course, deals with fairy knolls, and it was his habit to go every day to Doon Hill, the fairy knoll behind the old parish church. It is probabable that, in reality, he had a heart attack as a result of exertions during one of these trips, but it was said locally that the fairies had spirited him away because he had published the book, and substituted a stock, a changeling. This explains how Kirk is buried in the old graveyard, but is, actually, in fairyland. Indeed, it has been for long said that the Minister of Parish continues to be Kirk; his successors are merely standing in for him. Patrick Graham, one of Kirk’s successors as minister of the parish, outlines the curious occurrence after his death:

Mr Kirk was the near relation of Graham of Duchray, the ancestor of the present General Graham. Shortly after his funeral he appeared in the dress in which he had sunk down, to a medical relation of his own, and of Duchray. ‘Go,’ said he to him, ‘to my cousin Duchray and tell him I am not dead. I fell down in a swoon, and was carried away into fairyland, where I now am. Tell him, that when he and my friends are assembled at the baptism of my child (for he had left his wife pregnant), I will appear in the room, and that if he throws the knife which he holds in his hand over my head, I will be released, and restored to human society.’ The man, it seems, neglected for some time, to deliver the message. Mr Kirk appeared to him a second time, threatening to haunt him night and day until he executed his commission, which at length he did. The time of the baptism arrived. They were seated at the table; the figure of Mr Kirk entered, but the laird of Duchray, by some unaccountable fatality, neglected to perform the prescribed ceremony. Mr Kirk retired by another door, and was seen no more. it is firmly believed that he is, at this day, in fairyland.
Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire 1806

This tradition was still very much alive more than a hundred years after Patrick Graham’s death. Evans Wentz, the American folklorist, found it to be current when he investigated The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries in Aberfoyle in 1908. Katharine Briggs (1898-1980), the twentieth century folklorist, relates a story that she was told to the effect that a baby was to be born in the manse at Aberfoyle during the 1939-45 war, and it was said that if the birth took place in Kirk’s chair, and a dagger was stuck into it, Kirk would be released from fairyland. The dislike of fairies for iron is said, according to one theory, to arise from the fact that fairies were the pre-iron age inhabitants of the country. Lewis Spence (1874-1955), the Scottish Nationalist and authority on the primitive and the occult, points out that the story about Kirk is a variation of a wide-spread folk myth, in which a woman who has given birth to a child is spirited away by the fairies in order to nurture a fairy infant. In many of these stories the woman is permitted from time to time to return to her child, and reveals to her husband the way in which she can be released, generally a method involving the use of iron. Spence says that Kirk’s legend is the only example he knows of a man rather than the woman being taken away at about the time of childbirth, but he suggests that another primitive belief, recorded, for example, in Scotland by Pennant in 1769, could explain this. This is the belief that if the fairies find a man in bed with an infant, or even that if the baby is wrapped in a man’s shirt, for example, it will ward off evil spirits.

Patrick Graham (1750-1835) was Minister of the Parish from 1787 to 1835. He was a scholar who was well known beyond the district, and took a prominent part in the controversy about the authenticity of MacPherson’s Ossian. There might be some dispute about who ‘discovered’ the Trossachs, but Graham must take some credit. His description of the Trossachs in Sketches of Perthshire influenced both the Wordsworths and Scott. Graham included a substantial section in his guidebook about the superstitions of the district thus perpetuating, a hundred years after Kirk’s death, interest in the subject. Scott who visited Graham frequently, clearly relied on him to provide local colour for both The Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy. Scott ‘killed’ Graham in a footnote acknowledging his debt to him in the latter work. His witty letter to Scott, written when he was nearly eighty years old, illustrates Graham’s urbanity:

Manse of Aberfoyle 31 December, 1829

Dear Sir Walter,

The second volume of the new edition of Rob Roy reached this remote spot two days ago; and afforded a renewal of the pleasure which its first perusal excited, enhanced as it was by intimate aquaintance with the localities and individual characters so strikingly portrayed in it, till in a note on p 203 I lighted on the startling information that I have been dead some years. Though till now unconscious of this very material change in the scene and mode of my existence, I am far from questioning a fact stated on such high authority. As is often the case my consciousness and my deference to testimony stand strangely opposed to each other. I scarcely know whether I am alive or dead, but the weight of evidence in favour of my death seems on the whole to preponderate, and to that I am bound as a sound reasoner to submit implicitly. Perhaps, indeed, like a well-known predecessor of my own, I have been only carried off by the Daoine Shie, in which case the unearthly being who now addresses you may be no more than a Fairy Changeling, left for a time to occupy the place of the departed Minister of Aberfoyle. At any rate the time and the manner in which the intelligence reached me have given me the singular gratification of enjoying my own posthumous fame. To be praised by the author of Rob Roy might well make any man proud, but to receive and read that praise so long after my death is what I believe no Mortal but myself would ever boast of. Still the pleasure this affords is attended with some inconvenience. My daughter, stunned by the discovery, has hurried home from Glasgow to ascertain the circumstances of her father’s decease. My noble Patron is overwhelmed with letters from Celtic divines of every patronymic detailing their claims and offering their services to supply the vacancy. The Presbytery of the bounds, considering the time which has elapsed, have held a meeting pro re nata, with a view to the exercise of their jus devolutum. And, worst of all, my old servant Duncan, who has been in his day a jack-of-all-trades , and does not scruple to borrow an hour now and then from his sleep or his work – as it may happen – to spell the pages of a diverting story, insists on receiving a complete suit of decent mourning for his dear and good master, for which demand he finds in the tale both reason and precedent. After all I believe I must lay my death at your door; but as a dying man, and much more a dead man, is bound to forgive even the author of his death, I beg leave to assure you of the unabated respect and regard with which I am, or should rather say I was, dear Sir Walter, your sincere friend and warm admirer,
Pat Graham

Scott apologised to Graham, who wrote to him again urging the novelist to leave the passage as it was “I am truly sorry that you have felt uneasiness about the mistake made in your beautiful novel Rob Roy in the mention of my name, to which, on many occasions, you have done so much honour…….. I must be soon be entitled to the epithet which you have employed.” Scott then made his apology public in a note in an edition of The Legend of Montrose, which begins in the Trossachs. It is with mingled pleasure and shame that I record the important error of having announced as deceased my learned acquaintance, the Rev. Dr Graham, Minister of Aberfoyle. I cannot now recollect the precise ground ogf my depriving my learned and excellent friend of his existence, unless like Mr Kirk, his predecessor in the parish, the excellent Doctor has made a short trip to Fairyland, with whose wonders he is so well acquainted. But however I may have been misled, my regret is most sincere for having spread such a rumour; and no one can be more gratified than I that the report, however I may have been induced to give it credit and currency, is a false one, and that Dr Graham is still the living pastor of Aberfoyle, for the delight and instruction of his brother antiquaries. Charles Nodier (1780-1844) visited Scotland in June 1821 in company with Eugene Isabey, Alphonse de Cailleux and Baron Taylor, and wrote Promenade de Dieppe aux montagnes d’Ecosse. In 1822 the Promenade was translated into English by Clifford and published by Blackwood, Edinburgh. Like many other writers he admired Scott, and like Scott was interested in the supernatural. In his novel Trilby, set more in the vicinity of Loch Long and Inverary than the Trossacchs, Nodier refers to a song, ‘The Ghost of Aberfoyle‘, stated in a note to have been lost, and it is said that he based one of the characters on a boatman on Loch Katrine. In the Promenade there is a notable description of the ascent of Ben Lomond.

William Richardson

William Richardson

A contemporary of Graham’s was, William Richardson (1743-1814), son of James Richardson, another Minister of the Parish, born in 1743. His Poems, Chiefly Rural were published in 1774. Richardson was Professor of Humanities at Glasgow University, and contributed to Graham’s Essay on the Authenticity of Ossian’s Poems. For three years (1768-71) he served as secretary to Lord Cathcart, ambassador extraordinary at the court of Russia, and ‘tradition has enlisted him in the band of young men who enjoyed the favours of Catherine the Great’ (J.D.Mackie History of the University of Glasgow). In A Farewell to Aberfoyle Richardson refers to the Waterfall of the Little Fawn above Aberfoyle:

FAREWELL TO ABERFOYLE

To thee my filial bosom beats,
On thee may heaven indulgent smile
And glad thy innocent retreats
And bless thee, lovely Aberfoyle
How pleasing to my pensive mind
The memory of thy bold cascade
Thy green woods waving in the wind,
And streams in every vocal glade

The simple church, the schoolhouse green,
The gambols of the schoolboy crew
Meadows and pools, that gleam between
Rush on my retrospective view;
Shades too, and lanes by old age sought
To wander in at close of day
To ruminate the pious thought
And pray for children far away

Timely descend, ye fostering showers!
With plenty bless that humble vale;
And fair arise, ye fragrant flowers,
And beautiful blow, thou western gale.
And there, meandering Avondow,
By no invidious fen defiled;
Clear may thy youthful current flow!
And love to linger in the wild!

However, Aberfoyle is principally associated with Scott’s Rob Roy. This complex novel is about inheritance, family quarrels over a business enterprise involving embezzlement, and, of course, unrequited love. It is set at first in England, and involves a journey to Scotland which enables Scott to describe the Roman Wall near Carlisle, Glasgow, and the vicinity of Aberfoyle in his inimitable way. Frank Osbaldistone, an Englishman, is he narrator. He describes the party’s first encounter with the Forth.

We found ourselves at length on the bank of a stream,which rather resembled one of my native English rivers than those I had hitherto seen in Scotland. It was narrow, deep, still, and silent, although the imperfect light as it gleamed on its placid waters, showed also that we were now among the lofty mountains which formed its cradle. “That’s the Forth,” said the Bailie with an air of reverence, which I have observed the Scots usually pay to their distinguished rivers. The Clyde, the Tweed, the Forth, the Spey, are usually named by those who dwell on their banks with a sort of respect and pride, and I have known duels occasioned by any word of disparagement. I cannot say I have the least quarrel with this sort of enthusiasm.

The next passage illustrates admirably the way in which Scott uses folk lore as a literary device to create atmosphere. His description of the fairies is derived from Kirk:

The Forth, however, as far as the imperfect light permitted me to judge, seemed to merit the admiration of those who claimed an interest in the stream. A beautiful eminence of the most regular round shape, amnd clothed with copsewood of hazels, mountain-ash, and dwarf oak, intermixed with a few magnificent old trees, which rising above the underwood, exposed their forked and bared branches to the silver moonshine, seemed to protect the sources from which the river sprung. If I could trust the tale of my companion, which, while professing to disbelieve every word of it, he told under his breath, and with an air of something like intimidation, this hill, so regularly formed, so richly verdant, and garlanded with such a beautiful variety of ancient trees and thriving copsewood, was held by the neighbourhood to contain, within its unseen caverns, the palaces of fairies; a race of airy beings, who formed an intermediate class between men and demons, and who, if not positively malignant to humanity were yet to be avoided and feared, on account of their capricious, vindictive, and irritable dispositions.
“They ca’ them,” said Mr Jarvie, in a whisper, “Daoine Schie, whilk signifies, as I understand, men of peace; meaning thereby to make their gude-will. And we may as e’en as weel ca’ them that too, Mr Osbaldistone, for there’s nae gude in speaking ill o’ the laird within his ain bounds.”

The narrative then goes on to describe the bridge. It is a notable literary anachronism, later acknowledged by Scott. The description is of the present bridge, but the old wooden bridge was destroyed in 1715, and was not rebuilt until after the period – the mid eighteenth century – when the novel was set. Indeed the bridge was probably relatively recently erected when Scott first visited the district as a young lawyer in 1790:

We crossed the infant Forth by an old-fashioned stone bridge, very high and very narrow. My conductor, however, informed me that to get through this deep and important stream, and to clear all its tributary dependencies, the general pass from the Highlands to the southward lay by what was called the Fords of Frew, at all times deep and difficult of passage, and often altogether unfordable. Beneath these fords there was no pass of general resort until so far east as the bridge of Stirling; so that the river of Forth forms a defensible line betwixt the the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, from its source nearly to the Frith, or inlet of the ocean, in which it terminates. The subsequent events, which we witnessed, led me to recall with attention what the shrewdness of Bailie Jarvie suggested, in his proverbial expression, that “Forth bridles the wild Highlandman”.

In the seventeenth century the old bridge was the scene of a notable episode in local history, involving Graham of Duchray again, and another baby:

Among the neighbours with whom William Graham, the eighth Earl of Menteith (1667-1694), had debts and disagreements, was John Graham, laird of Duchary and his son Thomas Graham, but for some time he found it impossible to put these into execution. No sherrif officer was willing to enter Duchary Castle with his writs. At length, what seemed to be a favourable opportunity presented itself. The younger Graham was to have a child baptised at the Kirk of Aberfoyle on 13th February 1671, and it occurred to the Earl that, not only the father of the child, but old Duchary and the whole family would be present at the interesting ceremony. He resolved therefore to seize the opportunity to serve his letters of caption. Having collected a number of his friends and servants and taking with them a Messenger-at-Arms, Alexander Muschet, he intercepted the christening party at the Bridge of Aberfoyle.
Duchray seems to have had warning of the Earl’s intentions, for, in addition to the ministers and elders of Aberfoyle and the indispensible baby, he had with him a strong party of his froiends and tenants, all well armed. Muschet and his attendants advanced to execute the writ, the Earl with his armed followers remaining some little distance behind. But when the mesenger informed Duchray that he mustconsider himself his prisoner, the latter defied him to lay hold upon him, and taking from his pocket a paper which he alleged was a protection from the king, he shouted:
“What wad ye dare? This is all your master!”
The baby was set down upon the ground, and the Duchary men, with swords guns and pistols, fell fiercely on Muschet and his satellites, and, threatening loudly that they would slay half of them and drown the rest in the Forth, drove them back on the Earl and his friends. The latter at first gave way, but quickly rallied, and a stubborn fight ensued. The Earl himself narrowly escaped the bullets of his assailants, and several of his servants were wounded, one of them – by name Robert MacFarlane – having two of his fingers shot away. At last his party was fairly driven rom the field, and turned in full flight to Inchtalla.

quoted in William T. Palmer The Verge of the Scottish Highlands 1947

In the twentieth century there have been at least two occasions when literary men have gathered in Menteith. There was a notable turn out for the burial of Cunninghame Graham in April,1936, including many of his political and literary associates: James Bridie (O.H.Mavor), Wendy Wood, Compton MacKenzie, Alisdair Alpin MacGregor, Helen B. Cruickshank, and others. His funeral oration was delivered by the distinguished literary critic, William Power. The political activities in which Graham was involved included Scottish Nationalism. The district came to prominence again in this respect after the second world war – not for the first time, nor for the last – when John MacCormick, the Glasgow lawyer and prominent Nationalist chaired a conference in April 1949 at which The Scottish National Covenant was devised in what became The Covenanters Inn, now Inchrie. It read:

We, the people of Scotland who subscribe to this engagement, declare our belief that reform in the constitution of our country is necessary to secure good government in accordance with our Scottish traditions and to promote the spiritual and economic welfare of our nation.
We affirm that the desire for such reform is both deep and widespread through the whole community, transcending all political differences and sectional interests, and we undertake to continue in purpose for its achievement.
With that end in view we solemnly enter into the Covenant whereby we pledge ourselves, in all loyalty to the the Crown, and within the framework of the United Kingdom, to do everything in our power to secure for Scotland a Parliament with adequate legislative authority in Scottish affairs.

50,000 signatures, the first of which was that of Cunninghame Graham’s noble kinsman, the sixth Duke of Montrose (1878-1954), were secured within a week, and a movement, impressive at the time, rapidly became established. It is said that, in all, 2,000,000 people signed the Covenant. Wilfred Taylor (1909-1987) on The Scotsman for very many years provides an interesting portrait of the atmosphere of the time:

Although the Aberfoyle region is uncomfortably close to the Trossachs for my liking it is beautiful country. It was in a hotel in Aberfoyle that the sinister document the Scottish Covenant was hatched. I know because I was there. The hotel was subsequently renamed “The Covenanters Inn”. It was in “The Covenanters Inn” that I once had a mild passage of arms with the late Dr. C.E.M.Joad. Dr Joad had been addressing a conference and during his speech he said some uncomplimentary and unkind things about the Americans. I happened to have my wife’s father, a clergyman from Chicago with me and I did not propose to let unfriendly remarks about the Americans go unchallenged. I interrupted the philosopher and told him I deeply resented the tone of his remarks, which were based on a grotesque exaggeration. Dr Joad deflected my protest with some clever, smart and irrelevant retort. But afterwards he came and thanked me for my interpolation and admitted that he had not dealt fairly with it. I happened to have an admiration for Dr Joad, who, I considered, was all too often dismissed as a shallow thinker and glib talker by his professional colleagues. He certainly was an interesting talker, and I later saw him dancing eightsome reels with great zest.

Wilfred Taylor Scot Free 1953

The other, even more notable, hotel in Aberfoyle stands on the other side of the Brig o’Forth. The Baillie Nichol Jarvie Hotel was for long the focal point for the tourist trade in Aberfoyle. A guide-book of 1862 describes it, just after it was put up, thus:

The Duke of Montrose has here erected the new and elegant Bailie Nichol Jarvie Hotel [Mr A. Blair]. This commodious hotel is raised on the ruins of Jane McAlpine’s public house where the worthy Bailie met Major Galbraith on the memorable night when he brandished the red hot poker. This rude instrument of death has been handed down from Jane McAlpine’ssuccessors to Mr Blair and may be seen in front of the hotel chained to a tree.

The hotel is, of course, not on the supposed site of the fictional encounter, and the authenticity of the ploughshare (described above as a poker), as to period at least, must also be doubted, but it is on such stimuli to the imagination that the tourist trade has always been built. It is said that a supply of ‘coulters’ was kept rusting in the bed of the Forth so that one could be rapidly substituted, after the existing coulter was sold to a gullible tourist. The Hotel features in most accounts of the place. Surprisingly often visitors to Aberfoyle found it the scene of revelry of some sort. Cunninghame Graham notes that the Bailie Nichol Jarvie, in addition to The Covenanters, as it were, was a place where the old priorities were observed:

I remember when in the Inn (it was not in those days called an Hotel) there hung an almanac in the entrance hall, containing the announcement, “12th of August. Grouse shooting opens. Episcopacy abolished”.

It is recorded by Sarah Hutchinson that Wordsworth went to Church in Aberfoyle, and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, rather grumpily, in his Notebooks in 1856: “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.” William McGonagall (1830-1902) seems to have written poems to order about most Scottish places of public resort, including Aberfoyle, although it is not recorded when he was there. However, it is recorded by Sarah Hutchinson that Wordsworth went to Church in Aberfoyle, and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, rather grumpily, in his Notebooks in 1856: “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.”

George Douglas Brown (1869-1902), a generation younger than Lang, wrote the novel The House With The Green Shutters which was promoted as a masterpiece by the older man. The summer after the novel was published, and was beginning to meet with success, Brown spent three weeks in Aberfoyle. While he was there he a had a premonition that he might never marry his fiancée; and he died of pneumonia early that autumn. Carol Shields (1935 – 2003), the American novelist was in Britain in 1955 on an exchange programme to study literature at Exeter University. On a trip to Aberfoyle she met Donald Shields, a Canadian engineer, who became her husband.

Doon Hill D.Y. Cameron [illustrating Kirk's Secret Commonwealth]

Doon Hill [illustrating Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth] D.Y.Cameron

A literary walk begins by crossing the Forth Bridge in Aberfoyle, as Bailie Nichol Jarvie and his party were supposed to have done. The old Parish church of 1774 with Kirk’s grave is on the left, and the former Covenanters Inn on the right. The Fairy Knowe is prominent in front and a forest road leads to it. By continuing along this road the Old Bridge across the Forth at Gartmore is reached. Beyond the bridge are the policies of Gartmore House, one time residence of Cunninghame Graham. In the village, on the edge of the playing fields, is the Cunninghame Grahame Memorial. From the bridge it is possible to return to Aberfoyle along the line of the old railway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gartmore

The Old Brig o’ Forth at Gartmore (Cobleland) replaced the Gartartan Ferry. The Professor of Humanities from Glasgow, the poet William Richardson of Aberfoyle, lived in later life close to his friend Robert Graham at Bridgend of Gartmore, now a barn.
Above the ferry are the remains of Gartartan Castle seen from the A81. Next to this is Gartmore House which R.B.Cunninghame Graham inherited, but the estate was already in debt. It is an early eighteenth century laird’s house greatly enlarged in 1780, the residence of Robert Graham (1735-97), already referred to. He was the author of one distinguished poem which begins as follows:

If doughty deeds my lady please,
Right soon I’ll mount my steed;
And strong his arm, and fast his seat
That bears frae me the meed.
I’ll wear thy colours in my cap
Thy picture in my heart;
And he that bends not to thine eye
Shall rue it to his smart
Then tell me how to woo thee love;
O tell me how to woo thee!
For thy dear sake nae care I’ll take
Though ne’er another trow me

 

It was written down from a recitation by Sir Walter Scott who considered it to be a C17 lyric, and included it in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, although Scott was later told that Graham was the author and acknowledged the fact. Robert Graham made several significant literary friendships. One of Graham’s sons was married to the sister of the Cumbrian poet Susanna Blamire (1747-94) who visited Gartmore (see Menteith), and contributed to Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (1790). Hector MacNeil (1746-1818), the minor poet, with whom Graham later quarrelled, was a frequent visitor to Gartmore, 1786-90, when he lived near Stirling. Graham almost certainly met him in the West Indies, where he also formed a lifelong connection with Tobias Smollett (1721-71). Robert Burns (1759-96) thought Graham “the noblest instance of great talents, great fortune, and great worth that ever I saw.” John Leyden (1775-1811) dedicated a book of poems to a Miss Graham of Gartmore.
Graham’s grandson was Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, the celebrated writer and politician. red to.  It is not surprising that Cunninghame Graham found its upkeep beyond him, and he sold it in 1901 to a shipping magnate, and went to live in the family’s other house, finely situated beside the Clyde at Ardoch, near Dumbarton. Gartmore House became successively an Approved School and the headquarters of a religious organisation. Access can be obtained to the policies with permission. Maurice Lindsay described the place in 1953:

When I visited Gartmore House, the wind that so often ripples the heathery sea of Flanders Moss, stirred through the overgrown shoots which now choke the once-orderly terraces. The place was taken over by the army during the Second World War, when the estate was much mutilated. Concrete hut bottomings still littered the grounds and rusted barbed-wire snaked through the tangled briars. The house itself, an enormous rambling place, with coarse nineteenth century additions, has now become a Roman Catholic school.

Maurice Lindsay The Lowlands of Scotland

(Sir) John Lavery (1856-1941) was a leading figure among the ‘Glasgow Boys’ and a famous portrait painter, although he was also skilled in other branches of his art. He could and did paint landscapes, including a picture of Loch Katrine. Both he and JosephCrawhall, another of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ were friendly with Cunninghame Graham and, in 1895, he went to Gartmore to paint two portraits of him. Lavery was a man of elegance and wit who has left a delightful account of his experiences in A Painter’s Life 1940:

John Burns had joined us on this occasion at Gartmore, for it was just at this time that they had both come out of Pentonville, where they had served six weeks’ hard labour for their share in the Trafalgar Square riots over the queston of free speech – the two of them taking on, so they claimed, single-handed, the constabulary numbering five thousand. I asked them about their experiences in prison. Hard labour they considered less irksome than ordinary imprisonment, for with the former you were given plenty of coarse food, and time passed; while with they latter you were starved and left to pass the time in contemplation. There was a parson in the next cell to him, said Graham, who was in for “an old ecclesiastical. Burns was very proud of his biceps which he exposed, and Graham equally so of his agility with the foils, which he demonstrated from time to time with the aid of his walking-stick as we strolled in the cool of the evening.
Graham purchased from the tramway company a wild Argentine pony that refused to go into harness. He named him Pampa, and insisted on my painting a picture of himself in complete cowboy outfit on the pacing steed. Then I painted him frankly in the manner, full-length and life-size, a harmony in brown, which he christened “Don Roberto, Commander for the King of Aragon in the Two Sicilies” (The equestrian group he presented to Buenos Ayres, and the Commander was purchased by the Corporation of Glasgow) It was concerning the latter that Bernard Shaw said, “He is, I understand, a Spanish hildago, hence the superbity of his portrait by Lavery (Velasquez being no longer available). He is, I know, a Scottish laird. How he continues to be authentically the two things at the same time is no more intelligible to me than the fact that everything that has ever happened to him seems to have happened in Paraguay or Texas instead of Spain or Scotland.” When I knew him at this time his finances were in a shocking state, and things were getting unbearable down at Gartmore. Suddenly he wrote to say that he could stand it no longer. Would I come down at once and see him end it all with Pampa, in a spot where I had painted a view of the Rob Roy Country that he loved?
I wired back, “Ill in bed, wait till next week.” Thus I postponed his death for forty years.

The portrait to which Shaw, who used Cunninghame Graham as a prototype for Captain Brassbound and for Bruntschli in Arms and the Man, refers is in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow. They also have a small bronze head of Cunninghame Graham by Jacob Epstein.

On the edge of the Policies at the Playing Field in the village is the Cunninghame Graham Memorial which was erected in 1937 at Castlehill, Dumbarton, and was later in the ownership of the National Trust. It was removed to Gartmore in 1981. Stones marked “Uruguay”and”Argentina” are set into it, as is a memorial plaque to Cunninghame Graham’s horse ‘Pampa’. The inscription reads:

ROBERT BONTINE CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM
Famous author, traveller, horseman, patriotic Scot and
citizen of the World as betokened by the stones above.
Died in Argentina Interred in Inchmahome

Rob Roy MacGregor frequented the inn formerly situated at Chapelarroch, Gartmore on the then borders of Perthshire and Stirlingshire which was the scene of his kidnap of Graham of Killearn. One of the best descriptions of this occurs in a celebrated description of the Highlands, which Cunningham Graham avers was written by his ancestor, Nichol Graham (1695-1775) of Gartmore in 1747. This document is quoted in extenso in an appendix (inserted by Robert Jamieson) to Edmund Burt’s  Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland, and was used by Scott as a source for both Waverley and Rob Roy. Intriguingly a recent blog (tobiassmollett.blogspot.com) attributes Burt’s letters to Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), well-known to Nicol Graham’s son, Robert. The passage in Rob Roy is as follows:

There was in that time one Robert MacGregor, who assumed the name of Campbell, but was commonly known by that of Rob Roy, who was descended of a little family of that clan, which held a small farm of and in Balquhidder in fue of the family of Atholl, and who commonly resided in the parish of Buchanan, Balquhidder, or on the confines of Argyllshire. This man, who was a person of sagacity, and neither wanted stratagem nor address, having abandoned himself to all licentiousness, set himself at the head of all the loose vagrant and desperate people of that clan in the west end of Perth and Stirling shires, and infested those whole countries with thefts, robberies and depredations. Very few who lived within his reach (that is within the distance of a nocturnal expedition) could promise themselves security, either to their persons or effects, without subjecting themselves to paying him a heavy and painful tax of blackmail. He at last proceeded to such a degree of audaciousness, that he committed robberies, raised depredations, and resented quarrels at the head of a very considerable body of armed men, in open day, and in the face of the government.
Mr Graham of Killearn was then the factor of the Duke of Montrose, and was in use to collect his rents at a place on the borders of those Highlands at Buchanan, not above four miles from the house of that name, and no more from the town of Drymen. Being there upon that occasion, Rob Roy with about twenty of his corps, came full-armed from the hills of Buchanan, apprehended his person in that place, robbed him of £300 sterling of that Duke’s rents, amidst his whole farmers, and carried that gentleman prisoner up amongst the hills, where he detained him a considerable time.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

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  2. 2

    Website said,

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