Archive for Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 12. Loch Ard

Strathard

From Aberfoyle Leave by B829 to Inversnaid by Milton-of-Aberfoyle. There is a good general description of the Trossachs in E.A.Baker‘s Scottish Highlands. Interestingly, he regards Aberfoyle as their focal point:

What was called Rob Roy’s or the MacGregor’s Country is the hilly region, difficult at that time with streams, marshes, lochans, and the absence of roads, the no-man’s land on the far side of Ben Lomond, the one habitable place in which was the hamlet of Aberfoyle. What romantic reader has not dreamed himself into the skin of Frank Osbaldistone, and gone with Bailie Nichol Jarvie on that journey from Glasgow into the fastnesses where Rob Roy bade his enemies defiance? Aberfoyle is now a most respectable place; a good hotel represents the tavern where Mr Jarvie fought the Highlandman with the red-hot coulter of a plough, and there are villas and boarding-houses where visitors from Glasgow and Edinburgh come and rusticate.

Queen Victoria‘s description of her journey up Strathard, which is here fringed with meadowlands and called, on that account, the Laggan, is as follows:

Here the splendid scenery begins – high rugged and green hills(reminding me again of Pilatus), very fine large trees and beautiful pink heather, interspersed with bracken, rocks and underwood in the most lovely profusion and Ben Lomond towering up before us with its noble range. We went on perhaps a quarter of a mile, and it being then two o’ clock, we got out and lunched on the grass under an oak tree at the foot of Craigmore. It was very hot, the sun stinging, but there were many lightwhite clouds in the blue sky, which gave the most beautiful effects of light and shade on this most marvellous colouring.

In Rob Roy Scott describes the inn at the Milton-of-Aberfoyle as follows:

About half a mile’s riding, after we crossed the bridge, placed us at the door of the public house where we were to pass the evening. It was a hovel rather worse than better than that in which we had dined; but its little windows were lighted up, voices were heard from within, and all intimated the prospect of food and shelter, to which we were by no means indifferent.

The inn, ‘Jean MacAlpine’s Inn’, is the scene of perhaps the most famous incident in Rob Roy, the ‘Fray at the Clachan’. Frank Osbaldistone, who relates the occurrence, and his companions, including Bailie Nichol Jarvie, are engaged in a brawl with a gang of Highlanders:

The Fray at the Clachan in Rob Roy

The Fray at the Clachan in Rob Roy

I put myself in a posture of defence, and, aware of the superiority of my weapon, a rapier or small sword, was little afraid of the outcome of the contest. The Bailie behaved with unexpected   mettle: as he saw the gigantic Highlander about to confront him with his weapon drawn, he tugged for a second or two at the hilt of his shabble as he called it; but finding it loth to quit the  sheath, to which it had long been secured by rust and disuse, he siezed, as a substitute, on the red hot coulter of a plough, which had been employed arranging the fire by way of a poker, and brandished it with such effect, that at the first pass he set the Highlander’s plaid on fire, and compelled him to keep a respectful distance, till he could get it extinguished. Andrew Fairservice, who ought to have faced the Lowland champion, vanished at the very commencement of the fray; but his antagonist, crying “fair play!” seemed courteously disposed to take no share in the scuffle. Osbaldistone’s aim was to possess himself of his antagonist’s weapon, but he declined from closing with him through fear of a dirk which he held in his left hand. The Bailie, notwithstanding the success of his first onset, was sorely bested. The weight of his weapon, the corpulence of his person, the very effervescence of his own passion, were rapidly exhausting his strength and his breath, and he was almost at the mercy of his antagonist when up started the sleeping Highlander, with his naked sword and target in his hand, and threw himself between the discomfited magistrate and his assailant, exclaiming, “her nainsell has eaten the town bread at the cross o’ Glasgow, and by her troth sh’ll fight for Bailie Sharvie at the clachan of Aberfoil.

Walter Scott Rob Roy

The incident was depicted on the inn sign at the Bailie Nichol Jarvie Hotel in the village and, opposite the hotel, attached to the stout oak tree, the supposed ‘coulter’, often renewed, can be seen. This has led thousands of visitors to suppose that the affray took place there, but Scott undoubtedly set it at the Milton where a few stones behind the cottage at the foot of the Pass of Aberfoyle were, at one time, all that was left of the highland residence which was for long known as ‘Jean MacAlpine’s Inn’. The cottage has now been lovingly restored and thatched.

At the Milton there is another bridge over the infant Forth which tumbles in great style from Loch Ard to the Laggan. Just below the Milton this river, which is called the Avon Dow, joins the Duchary to form the Forth proper:

The Duchary, which is one of the parent streams of the Forth, takes its rise on the north-east shoulder of Ben Lomond, not much more than half a mile south of Loch Arklet, and for five or six miles flows in a south easterly direction through a wild and dreary and solitary valley. About half way from its source to its junction with the stream from Loch Ard it forms one of the wildest cataracts, with the exception of Foyers, I think I have ever seen. The stream here bounds over an overhanging precipice of great height into an extraordinary basin formed in the solid rock, well known in the district as ‘The Big Linn’.

Malcolm Ferguson Tour Through the Highlands of Perthshire 1870

This waterfall is the Black Linn of Blairvaich. It is a fine fall, and it was used, very effectively, in a scene in the Richard Todd film of Rob Roy. It can be reached from the Milton, or from Kinlochard. Rather closer at hand is Craigmuick Cottage associated with William Glen (1789-1826) Scottish poet, and singularly unsuccessful businessman in the West Indian trade. He was author of Wae’s Me For Prince Charlie, and other lyrics, and was born and died in Glasgow. He married Mary MacFarlane of Aberfoyle, and spent the summers of the last eight years of his life at Craigie Cottage[Craigmuick Cottage] which is situated in the Loch Ard Forest. There is a relief of a small bird in the wall of the cottage commemorating Glen’s most famous poem. He also wrote the poem Mary, of Sweet Aberfoyle, about his wife when he was in the West Indies:

The sun hadna peeped frae behind the dark billow,:
The slow-sinking moon half illumined the scene,
As I lifted my head frae my care-hunted pillow,
An’ wandered to muse on the days that were gane.
Sweet hope seemed to smile o’er ideas romantic,
An’ gay were the dreams that my soul would beguile,
But my eyes filled wi’ tears as I viewed the Atlantic,
An’ thought on my Mary of sweet Aberfoyle

Though far frae my hame in a tropical wild wood,
Yet the fields o’ my forefathers rose on my view;
An’ I wept when I thought on the days of my childhood,
An’ the vision was painful the brighter it grew.
Sweet days! when my bosom with rapture was swelling,
Though I knew it not then, it was love made me smile,
Oh! the snow wreath is pure when the moonbeams are
dwelling,
Yet as pure is my Mary of sweet Aberfoyle.

Glen’s most famous poem is about the Young Pretender. Birds were used in songs like this to mean Jacobites. The poem was a favourite with Queen Victoria. It begins as follows:

A wee bird cam to oor ha’ door,
He warbled sweet and clearly,
And aye the owre-come o’ his sang
Was ‘Wae’s me for Prince Charlie!’
Oh! when I heard the bonnie, bonnie bird
The tears cam drappin rarely,
I took my bonnet aff my head,
For weel I lo’ed Prince Charlie.

 

These sights can be reached by walks from the Car Park in the Lochard Forest  at the Milton.

Loch Ard

Loch Ard

Loch Ard

From the Milton the road climbs a short hill which forms the beginning of the Pass of Aberfoyle. Queen’s View, Loch Ard is the viewpoint where the Loch comes into sight. The road [B829] mainly by the lochside to Ledard. In discussing Scott’s literary techniques Coleman Parsons (1905-1991) , for long a significant authority on Scottish Literture, points out the way in which the author uses changes in the landscape to quicken the interest in the story. One such boundary is about to be crossed at the Pass of Aberfoyle, the narrow road which leads from the Milton to Loch Ard:

Scott is at his best in conveying awe, suspense, mystery, and personal feeling through nature. When Edward Waverley or Frank Osbaldistone penetrate the Highlands interest quickens. Entering Highland passes, caves, glens, and recesses is like slipping from the conscious into the unconscious, womblike, enfolding, dream freighted, or from the illusion of free will into the substance of fate. A border is also being crossed between what is and what might be, reality and romance, between selfish causes and lost causes, the calculating present and the impulsive past. This excitement and tension may be due to a symbolic re-enactment by Scott of his own crossing of the border between youth and manhood, fancy and sober control. Because renewed choice is renewal of possibility, to go back is a way of briefly recapturing what is lost.

Coleman Parsons Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott’s Fiction 1964

On the morning following the affray described above, Osbaldistone and his companions enter the Highlands by this route and very soon have a dramatic, if unreal, encounter with Helen MacGregor. Scott describes the scene, ‘such a scene of natural romance and beauty as had never before greeted my eyes’:

To the left lay the valley, down which the Forth wandered on its easterly course surrounding the beautiful detached hill, with all its garland of woods. On the right, amid a profusion of thickets, knolls and crags, lay the bend of a broad mountain lake, lightly curled into tiny waves by the breath of the morning breeze, each glittering in its courseunder the morning sunbeams. High hills, rocks, and banks, waving with natural forests of birch and oak, formed the borders of this enchanting sheet of water; and as their leaves rustled to the wind and twinkled in the sun, gave to the depth of solitude a sort of life and vivacity. Man alone seemed to be placed in a state of inferiority, in a scene where all the ordinary features of nature were raised and exalted.”

Sir Walter Scott Rob Roy                              

Queen Victoria is equally enthusiastic:

After luncheon and walking about a little, not finding any good views to sketch, we got into the carriage (our horses had been changed), but had not gone above a few yards when we came upon Loch Ard, and a lovelier picture could not be seen. Ben Lomond, blue and yellow, rose above the lower hills, which were pink and purple with heather, and an isthmus of green trees in front dividing it from the rest of the loch. We got out and sketched.

Queen Victoria Journal 1869

Loch Ard is generally regarded as one of the most attractive of Scotland’s smaller lochs.

For picturesque effect it has justly been said to exceed almost all the Scottish Lakes.

Charles Roger A Week at the Bridge of Allan 1851

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The best view of Loch Ard is that first encountered from Aberfoyle, the Queen’s View, so-called because Queen Victoria executed some sketches there when she visited Aberfoyle while she was staying at Invertrossachs in 1869. After making the sketches at the Queen’s View her account continues:

We then drove on, and certainly one of the most lovely drives I can remember, along Loch Ard, a fine long loch, with trees of all kinds overhanging the road, heather making all pink; bracken, rocks, high hills of such fine shape and trees growing up them as in Switzerland; the road rough and bad, with very steep bits of hill (but the post-horses went remarkably well) overhanging the loch, which reminded me very much of the drive along Loch Zug in Switzerland.

A short distance beyond the Queen’s View the road climbs away from the loch to traverse a wood, situated above ‘The Narrows’, a strait which joins the two parts of the loch. It descends to the loch shore beside a steep cliff. Scott’s description of the road is faithful to the topography:

Our route, though leading towards the lake, had hitherto been so much shaded by wood, that we only from time to time obtained a glimpse of that beautiful sheet of water. But the road now suddenly emerged from the forest ground, and winding close by the margin of the loch, afforded us a full view of its spacious mirror, which now, the breeze havingtotally subsided, reflected in still magnificence the high dark heathy mountains, huge grey rocks, and shaggy banks by which it is encircled. The hills now sunk on its margin so closely, and were so broken and precipitous, as to afford no passage except just upon the narrow line of the track which we occupied, and which was overhung with rocks, from which we might have been destroyed merely by rolling down stones, without much possibility of offering resistance. Add to this, that, as the road winded round every promontory and bay which indented the lake, there was rare;ly a possibility of seeing a hundred yards before us.

It was the stretch of country where Scott set the first memorable encounter in Rob Roy with Helen MacGregor. In the resulting skirmish Bailie Nichol Jarvie is suspended from a tree on one cliff, and Helen orders their guide to be thrown into the loch from another. The Bailie’s Rock is the one beside the road:

The Bailie, to whom fear had given a temporary share of agility, had ascended about twenty feet from the path, when his foot slipping, as he straddled from one huge rock to another, he would have slumbered with his father the deacon, whose acts and words he was so fond of quoting, but for a projecting branch of ragged thorn, which, catching hold of the skirts of his riding coat, supported him in mid air, where he dangled not unlike to the sign of the Golden Fleece over the door of a mercer in the Trongate of his native city.

Rob Roy so captured the imagination that it was successfully adapted for the stage as early as 1818, and used as the basis of the libretto for at least two operas. There can be no better illustration of the quality of some of these adaptations, and of the grasp that the average foreigner had and still has of Scottish history than the following plot summary of Act II of De Koven’s light opera, an ancestor of Brigadoon, first performed in New York in 1894:

The Highlanders led by Rob Roy are posted to guard a mountain pass. The Battle of Culloden is in progress and the Scotch expect a great victory. After a song by Janet, bag-pipes are heard in the distance. The Highlanders at first think it is a signal of victory, but presently they recognise the song of defeat, the coronach. The Scotch, led by the Prince and Locheil return wounded and defeated. a chorus declaring allegiance follows. A reward is offered for the Prince who, disguised as a peasant is sheltered by the MacGregors in their mountain retreat. The Provost and his henchmen appear as wandering ballad-mongers, having fled before the battle. They are still in highland dress, not having heard of the rout of the Scotch. Sandy MacSherry arrives and informs the Provost of the English victory, and the Provost, changing Highland kilt for English uniform, becomes an Englishman. He determines to obtain the reward offered for the Prince, and the at is mainly devoted to his his efforts toward this end and his sudden change of nationality according to the fortunes of war. At length the English capture the prince in the dress of a miller’s boy and are about to lead him away when Flora is led away by the English soldiers in spite of efforts made to rescue her by the Prince, Rob Roy and their followers.

Patrick Graham, Minister of Aberfoyle, already referred to published his early account of the District in 1806 in his Sketches of Perthshire. It is the source of many subsequent accounts. For example, it was Graham who first described, long before the publication of Rob Roy, the echo at what subsequently became known as the ‘The Bailie’s Rock’:

Immediately under this rock, near its western extremity, is a remarkable echo. In a calm day, a line of ten syllables, uttered with a firm voice, is distinctly repeated across the lake, and again repeated by the woods on the east.

In a preface Graham relates how he first put the description together in 1792 for a visit by Joseph Farington (1747-1821), one of the most influential artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, who was engaged in making some sketches of the Forth for what proved to be an abortive publication. Farington commented:

A stranger must feel himself uncommonly struck on meeting, at the very back of Ben Lomond, in a spot so sequestered as to be almost unknown to the world, a scene like the present; an extensive sheet of water, skirted with woods and cultivated fields, and accompanied with every object essential to picturesque beauty; the whole grouped and diversified in a style of harmony which may be thought by some to rival the scenes presented by the Cumberland lakes.

It was Farington who advised Turner about his early visits to Scotland in 1797 and 1801, but the great man did not visit Loch Ard until 1831. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1857) is generally regarded as Britain’s greatest landscape painter. Unlike Loch Katrine, Loch Ard did not produce any famous finished works, but his ‘Loch Ard Sketch Book’ contains notable drawings of Aberfoyle, Craigmore, the Queen’s View and Loch Ard. In their way they are quite as impressive as his drawings of other parts of the Trossachs. Turner was visiting the district with a view to illustrating Scott’s Poetical Works and outlined his plans to Scott, who offered him a pony for the duration of his visit, as follows:

Therefore, do pray say how long do you think it will take me to collect the materials in your neighbourhood. Many are near but my bad horsemanship puts your kind offer of a pony, I fear, out of the account in shortening the time, and when I get as far as Loch Katrine shall not like to turn back without Staffa, Mull and all. A steamboat is now established to the Western Isles, so I have heard lately, and therefore much of the difficulty becomes removed, but being wholly unacquainted with the distance I will thank you to say what time will be absolutely wanting.

J.M.W.Turner April 1931

Turner, not wanting to opt for pony trekking, opted for ‘public transport’ and was almost certainly following one of the formal ‘Trossachs Tours’. Farington’s comparison with the English Lake District is frequently echoed by later writers. Such parallels owe their origin to Thomas Gray and William Gilpin who, along with Boswell and Johnson, were amongst the first travellers to visit Scotland in the eighteenth century which, at the time, was far less well known than places on the
Continent visited during the course of the ‘Grand Tour’. The Lake District had already been ‘discovered’, and the comparison was natural enough, although it tends to aggravate many Scots. The Wordsworths were by far the most prone to draw these parallels, and they were almost always to the disadvantage of the Scottish countryside. William Wordsworth visited Loch Ard and Loch Chon in 1814 in company with Mary Wordsworth and Sarah Hutchinson. The latter’s journal describes the
district:

From Luss on Sunday morning we went to breakfast at Drymen and attended the kirk where there was an excellent preacher – this was a sweet drive by the side of Loch Lomond and then across an excessive, rich, and well cultivated strata just like English Parks, well wooded, and surrounded by all the magnificent hills of Scotland – the Duke of Montrose’s property – from Drymen to Aberfoyle where we spent the night and the next forenoon viewing Loch Ard and Loch Chon above Aberfoyle,
and then we met with a friendly Highlander who went with us; he lived in an abject house but was a Gentleman and his wife a Lady – we passed also another highland farm where the genteel appearance of the inhabitants surprised us; for you can have no idea of the deep solitude of these places – but they go many miles to kirk – and during the interval of morning and afternoon service those who have not friends near, almost all the congregation indeed, sit in the churchyard. From Aberfoyle we passed a sweet lake in a vale – which hilly scene is called Menteith – with two islands, upon which are five ruins – and here we saw Stirling Castle at a great distance – the walls brightened by the setting sun – slept at Callander and went to the Trossachs where we were drenched.

Sarah Hutchinson Letter 3rd Aug 1814

James Sheridan Knowles (1784-1862), the nineteenth century actor-manager and playwright, frequently stayed at the residence of Robert Dick, Lochard Lodge, which is now Altskeith. In the summer vacation reading parties from the universities came to Loch Ard as well as to other Highland resorts. Charles Lloyd (1824-1862) from Christ Church, Oxford spent several summers at Loch Ard with reading parties, and was visited there by other literary lights, including John Campbell Shairp (1819-85) and Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-61):

On Thursday we passed through Glen Croe – descended on the fine salt Loch Long, crossed the four miles intervening miles and found ourselves on Loch Lomond – six or seven miles from its head. We went up it about three miles on a steamer ‘to the rough falls of Inversnaid’ crossed a high moor of five miles and found ourselves at the head of Loch Katrine – rowed twelve miles down and were landed in the Trossachs.

On Friday, Edward and Oliver went off to Perth, Tom and I crossed the hills to Loch Ard where a Christ Church man named Lloyd is staying with a pupil, and I went up the lake and there took a pony and joined them by a roundabout way, passing a very beautiful water called Loch Chon. I came back and slept at Inversnaid; they remained behind and attended a Highland reel party in a shoemaker’s hut at Loch Ard and after staying up dancing and drinking milk and whisky till half-past-two, rose at half-past-four, walked 11 miles to a hasty breakfast with, or rather after me and then took steam down to the foot of Loch Lomond, and so by Dumbarton we came home, dirty and dusty and bankrupt.

Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond are both like Ullswater, the former less beautiful, the latter, I think more so. Both are less cultivated; Loch Katrine quite cold, and the little land-locked lakelet at its foot cut off by Lady’s Island and one or two promontories is exceedingly beautiful – the heather is also a great accession throughout the Highlands.

Arthur Hugh Clough Letters August 1845

Clough, who wrote poems set in the Highlands and in the Lake District, was with Lloyd and others at Drumnadrochit in 1845, and he returned to Loch Ard in 1846. Prodigious walks often before breakfast, like that described in the above letter, were characteristic of Clough. In 1846 on a day trip, we learn from his diary, he crossed from the Trossachs by Loch Drunkie to Aberfoyle, went to Loch Ard and then climbed Ben Venue descending to Loch Achray.
A good descriptive piece about Loch Ard occurs in Cunninghame Graham‘s introduction to Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth (1933):

Standing up sentinel above Loch Chon, Ben Lomond with the shadows of evening creeping up its flanks, to join the fleecy clouds that mantle round its top looms as gigantic as Aconcagua or Purac. It seems to watch over the whole district and to dominate it. No sound is heard, except the babbling of the mountain streams as they slip down over the smooth stones, or the sharp belling of a roe in the thick alder copsewood that surrounds Loch Ard. The little wavelets break upon the pebbly beaches, or plash gently on the rocks of the steep islet on which Duke Murdoch’s ruined Castle stands. In Couligarten Bay, the bullrushes bend gently, as the homing wild duck squatter down noiselessly amongst their stems, vanishing as silently as a seal slips into the sea. The lime trees on the point below the mansion of Alt Skeigh look dark and menacing, as the light fades gradually, blotting out the little pier, the beach, the high road, and the ground they stand upon, leaving their tops suspended in the air.

The lochside road clings to the very edge of the water in places until, at the head of it, there is a stretch of rather more open country where former country houses are occupied by the Youth Hostel, and the Forest Hills complex. At the end of this stretch is the seventeenth century farmhouse of Ledard. In 1821 Percy York, a student, published an account of a memorable visit to Ledard in Three Nights in Perthshire. Ledard is associated with Scott who used the waterfall behind the house in both Waverley and Rob Roy.

I am sure you will be gratified by the scenery which time cannot make any impression upon. Pray do not omit to visit the head of Loch Awe, which I look upon as equal to anything in the Highlands. There is some curious scenery near Aberfoyle, in Perthshire, particularly a waterfall at Ledard, at the top of Loch Ard, within an hour’s walk of the inn, which from its size and accompaniments, I should think particularly qualified to fill up a Highland landscape. I never saw any thing which I admired so much: the height is not remarkable, but the accompaniments are exquisitely beautiful. In a different style, and at no great distance is an island called Inchmahome which has some ruins of a monastery surrounded by huge chestnut trees, very striking, though looking of no importance from the shore.

Sir Walter Scott Letter to David Wilkie 1817

Immediately above the farmhouse of Ledard, and near the west end of the lake, is to be seen a cascade, which the traveller will do well to visit. The stream, which is considerable, falls in one sheet, over a height of ten or twelve feet, into a beautiful basin, formed of the solid rock, and so transparent, that, at the depth of ten feet the smallest pebble may be seen. From this basin, dashing over a ledge of rock, it precipitates itself again over an irregular shape of more than fifty feet, finely skirted with wood

Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire 1806

The rocks now receded, but still showed their grey and shaggy crests rising among the copsewood. Still higher rose eminences and peaks, some bare, some clothed with wood, some round and purple with heath, and others splintered into rocks and crags. At a short turning, the path, which had for some furlongs lost sight of the brook, suddenly placed Waverley in front of a romantic waterfall. It was not so remarkable for either its great height or quantity of water, as for the beautiful accompaniments which made the spot interesting. After a broken cataract of about twenty feet, the stream was received in a large natural basin filled to the brim with water, which, where the bubbles of the fall subsided, was so exquisitely clear, that although it was of great depth, the eye could discern each pebble at the bottom. Eddying round this reservoir, the brook found its way as if over a broken part of the ledge, and formed a second fall, which seemed to seek the very abyss; then wheeling out beneath from among the smooth dark rocks, which it had polished for ages, it wandered down the glen forming the stream up which Waverley had just ascended.

Sir Walter Scott Waverley 1814

At this point in the narrative Scott appends a note: ‘The description of the waterfall mentioned in this chapter is taken from that of Ledard, at the farm so called on the northern side of Loch Ard, and near the head of the lake, four or five miles from Aberfoyle. It is upon a small scale, but otherwise one of the most exquisite cascades it is possible to behold.’ There can be little doubt that Scott’s description was influenced by Graham’s; indeed one can suppose that Graham introduced him to the place. It is at the waterfall that Waverley encounters Flora MacIvor, who says, “I have given you the trouble of walking to this spot, Captain Waverley, both because I thought the scenery would interest you, and because a Highland song would suffer still more from my imperfect translation, were I to introduce it without its own wild and appropriate accompaniments.” The song is another of Scott’s splendid incantatory romps through Scottish land names, reminiscent of The MacGregors Gathering :

There is mist on the mountain, and night on the vale
But more dark is the sleep of the sons of the Gael.
A stranger commanded – it sunk on the land,
It has frozen each heart, and benumb’d every hand!

The dirk and the target lie sordid with dust,
The bloodless claymore is but redden’d with rust;
On the hill or the glen if a gun should appear,
It is only to war with the heath-cock or deer.

The deeds of our sires if our bards should rehearse,
Let a blush or a blow be the meed of their verse!
Be mute every string, and be hushed every tone,
That shall bid us remember the fame that is flown.

But the dark hours of night and of slumber are past,
The morn on our mountains is dawning at last;
Glenaladale’s peaks are illumined with the rays,
And the streams of Glenfinnan leap bright in the blaze.

O high-minded Moray! – the exiled – the dear !
In the blush of the dawning the standard uprear!
Wide, wide on the winds of the north let it fly,
Like the sun’s latest flash when the tempest is nigh!

Ye sons of the strong, when that dawning shall break,
Need the harp of the aged remind you to wake?
That dawn never beam’d on your forefathers’ eye,
But it roused each high chieftain to vanquish or die.

O, sprung from the Kings who in Islay kept state,
Proud chiefs of Clan Ranald, Glengarry and Sleat!
Combine like three streams from one mountain of snow,
And resistless in union rush down on the foe!

True son of Sir Evan, undaunted Locheil,
Place thy targe on thy shoulder and burnish thy steel!
Rough Keppoch, give breath to thy bugle’s bold swell,
Till far Coryarrick resound to the knell!

Stern son of Lord Kenneth, high chief of Kintail,
Let the stag in thy standard bound wild in the gale!
May the race of Clan Gilean, the fearless and free,
Remember Glenlivet, Harlaw and Dundee!

Let the clan of grey Fingon, whose offspring has given;
Such heroes to earth, and such martyrs to heaven,
Unite with the race of renown’d Rory More,
To launch the long galley, and stretch to the oar.

How Mac-Shimei will joy when their chief shall display
The yew-crested bonnet o’er tresses of grey!
How the race of wrong’d Alpine and murder’d Glencoe;
Shall shout for revenge when they pour on the foe

Ye sons of brown Dermid, who slew the wild boar,
Resume the pure faith of the great Callum-More!
MacNeil of the Islands, and Moy of the Lake,
For honour, for freedom, for vengeance awake!

Awake on your hills, on your islands awake,
Brave sons of the mountain, the frith and the lake!
‘Tis the bugle – but not for the chase is the call;
‘Tis the pibroch’s shrill summons – but not to the hall.

‘Tis the summons of heroes for conquest or death,
When the banners are blazing on mountain and heath;
They call to the dirk, the claymore, and the targe,
To the march and the muster, the line and the charge.

Be the brand of each Chieftain like Fin’s in his ire!
May the blood through his veins flow like currents of fire!
Burst the base foreign yoke as your sires did of yore,
Or die like your sires, and endure it no more!

Walter Scott Waverley 1814

Scott also uses the same waterfall in ‘Rob Roy’, and describes it in similar terms:

The brook, hurling its waters downwards from the mountain, had in this spot encountered a barrier rock, over which it had made its way by two distinct leaps. The first fall, across which a magnificent old oak, slanting out from the farther bank, partly extended itself as if to shroud the dusky stream of the cascade, might be about twelve feet high; the broken waters were received in a beautiful stone basin, almost as regular as if hewn by a sculptor; and after wheeling around its flinty margin, they made a second precipitous dash, through a dark narrow chasm, at least fifty feet in depth, and from thence, in a hurried, but comparatively more gentle course, escaped to join the lake.

Walter Scott Rob Roy 1818

Robertson points out in the Statistical Account that Ben Venue, the mountain on which the burn at Ledard rises is an English rendering of the gaelic for ‘less important mountain’ (i.e. less important than Ben Ledi). The following tribute may encourage the visitor to ascend Ben Venue:

Ben Venue is in every way a most beautiful mountain; in a sense, it seems to me to be a kind of epitome of the Scottish Highlands. The tourist from England or abroad is too often shewn the Trossachs and Loch Lomond as sample showpieces; having seen them from car, ‘bus, or steamer, he is allowed to have the impression that he knows what the Scottish Highlands are like. If, into the bargain, he were coaxed or encouraged to climb Ben Venue, he would realise some of the characteristics of Caledonia which, without that experience, remain unknown to him.

W.Kersley Holmes Tramping Scottish Hills 1946

Kinlochard was the residence for some years of the modern poet Tom Buchan (1933-1991), who wrote a memorable poem – The Low Road – about Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine which mused about the threat posed by the storage of nuclear weapons in Glen Douglas during the Cold War. It is a different kind of catechism from Flora MacIvor’s song, but equally heartfelt … :

But no doubt they’ll have arranged
for an airburst over Glen Douglas
the fireball of which will deforest Inchlonaig,.
vaporise Cailness and Rowcoish, fry
the Glasgow Councillors fishing for free
on Loch Katrine and kill all the spiders
and earwigs between here and Crianlarich
and me (he thought) as through the soft air
trucks cars buses and articulated lorries;
accelerated their loads of Omo, people and bricks
towards Oban and Inveraray.

Tom Buchan The Low Road

 

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 13. Loch Chon

 

 

Ben Lomond

Kinlochard is the best place to begin to tackle Ben Lomond from Strathard. The way is by Gleann Dubh, whence a track to Rowardennan crosses the Duchary and climbs the  shoulder of the Ben.  Ben Lomond towers above Loch Ard and has dominated the view thus far. It is a remarkable mountain in that it presents two further, quite different but equally attractive, faces to Loch Lomond. Very few Scottish hills have this quality. The witty Scottish poet, Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), came from Glasgow, and his ballad, Lord Ullin’s Daughter is printed in many anthologies. He was remembered for a long time for several patriotic verses, now forgotten. This poem to Ben Lomond is almost a hymn:

BEN LOMOND

Hadst thou a genius on thy peak,
What tales white-headed Ben
Coulds’t thou of ancient ages speak,
That mock th’ historian’s pen.

Thy long duration makes our lives
Seem but so many hours;
And likens to the bee’s frail hives
Our most stupendous towers.

Temples and towers thou’st seen begun,
New creeds, new conquerors sway;
And like their shadows in the sun,
Hast seen them swept away.

Thy steadfast summit, heaven-allied
(Unlike life’s little span),
Looks down, a Mentor, on the pride
Of perishable man.

The Scenic Annual 1837

Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), was encouraged as writer by the ‘Lake Poet’, Robert Southey. He was a traveller, minister, mesmerist, writer and dilettante who visited Ben Lomond, and left the following account of it in his Descriptive Tour in Scotland published in Brussels in 1840. Townshend set off from Loch Lomond to Aberfoyle following the track over the shoulder of Ben Lomond from Rowardennan:

Ben Lomond from Glen Dubh

Ben Lomond from Glen Dubh

I have generally remarked that the country people here have a great deal of quaint simplicity about them. They seem quite innocent if I may use the expression, and have melancholy voices with a sort of sing-song utterance. They are an ugly race, but the expression of their countenances is usually good. I have not found them grasping, but, on the contrary, contented with whatever one chooses to give them. But, to continue, never was I more glad to get out of a place than out of this wearisome morass. Had theground been all of one kind of badness, one might have endured it; but it was never the same for two minutes together: and, had we been but gifted with wings, we should doubtless have varied our mode of progress as frequently as Milton’s Satan when he scrambled through chaos. You remember the passage?

“The Fiend
O’er bog, or steep, through straight, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet, pursues his way,
And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies.

At length, after a weary journey, we came in sight of Loch Ard, and here we parted with our guide, of whose services we no longer had any need, as the road was now plain before us to Aberfoyle. It leads along the banks of the two Loch Ards, Upper and Lower, two as lovely lakes as ever I beheld. They have the noble form of Ben Lomond, which here assumes its happiest character, for a background, rising with a double-pointed summit above the meaner mountains. There is something of Italian softness and richness about these lakes; Lower Loch Ard especially, the heights about which are beautifully wooded. It is divided in two by a singular isthmus of land, which gives it a pleasing peculiarity. In the shallow waters of the clear basin nearest to us, a group of variously coloured cattle were cooling themselves. Claude would have rejoiced in such a landscape.

Chauncey Hare Townshend Descriptive Tour in Scotland 1840

Thomas Frognall Dibdin

Thomas Frognall Dibdin

One literary visitor who did give an effective account of Ben Lomond, doing justice, for once, to its neglected precipices, was the prodigious bibliographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847) in his Bibliographical, Antiquarian and Picturesque Tour in the Northern Counties of England and Scotland of 1838. Dibdin’s book, as his title suggests, is really one of the first literary topographies. He is interested in places, not particularly for themselves, but for the books and writers associated with them. His first excursion into this genre was to France and Germany. His Scottish tour was, for its date, conventional, but bold, a crossing of Ben Lomond exemplifying his willingness to explore byways. At the summit Dibdin gazed over this precipice, remarking on the way in which even sheep which had been frightened seemed to halt on the edge of it:

We spent the greater part of an hour in the indulgence of an unbounded gaze; and having looked until our eyes began to ache, and our appetites to be strirred by the keenness of the mountain air, we thought we might as well betake ourselves to something like a sheltered recess, and “hold familiar discourse” with our basket of goodly viands. The guide-boatman said “it would do us a world of good – and might help us to lay the cloth upon a little jutting piece of rock or spar?” He had told us not to provide ourselves with water, as whiskey never mixed so well as with the water found upon the mountain. Accordingly he soon returned from filling a small jug to the brim; and I must say, made himself as agreeable and efficient a waiter as could be found at the Clarendon or the Albion. All things being prepared, we fell to our substantials: the guide seeming to enjoy the alacrity with which we “maintained the combat”. Cold chicken and Fyne herring are only to be eaten to advantage on the summit of Ben Lomond.

Thomas Dibdin 1838

Dibdin goes on to describe a series of toasts in which they then indulged, including, unsurprisingly in view of Dibdin’s dedication to books, the rather unlikely name of William Caxton.

Another nineteenth century literary visitor who actually succeeded in climbing to the top of Ben Lomond was Charles Nodier (seeAberfoyle). William Hazlitt (1778-1830), the journalist and critic, has left a somewhat unsatisfactory account, suggesting that he climbed Ben Lomond, in Liber Amoris. In it he related, to James Sheridan Knowles, his passion for Sarah Walker, his landlord’s daughter. This passion tortured him on a visit to Scotland in 1822, after visiting Loch Katrine from Loch Lomond he must have crossed to Strathard and then gone to Inversnaid. His graphic description of the route suggests the terrors of the Alps, rather than the ordinary road which he is actually describing:

The road preceded by the side of some inferior lochs and terraced woods, very stony and rough until you arrive at the mountain 3262 feet in height; and in crossing the most dreary, pathless part of it, a heavy storm came on. There was not the least shelter, and the heat of climbing such an ascent, together with the fear of losing myself in such a lonely place, almost overcame me; but I guided myself by the direction of the loch as well as I could, and at last, to my great joy, regained the track; but the road was stony and difficult, over a wide and dreary moor, full of bogs, till you arrive at Inversnaid Garrison, as it is still called, but it is in fact merely some ruins of what once was such, in the midst of the moor, the habitable part of which is occupied by a few poor people; and it was by the mere chance of going to beg a drink of water, that I found that this bore the name of Garrison, upon enquiring how far it was to it.

 William Hazlitt Liber Amoris 1822

Sir Archibald Geikie (1835-1924), the Director of the Geological Survey and Professor of Geology at the University of Edinburgh, who travelled all over Scotland uses a story about Ben Lomond related by R. Jamieson in his edition of Burt’s Letters to discuss the impact of Sir Walter Scott on the Highlands:

Scott and the Highlands

No more remarkable contrast between the present tourist traffic in this lake region and that of the early part of last century could be supplied than that which is revealed by an incident recorded as having occurred about the year 1814, four years after the publication of Scott’s Lady of the Lake. An old highlander, who was met on the top of Ben Lomond, said he had been a guide from the north side of the mountain for upwards of forty years; ‘but that damned Walter Scott, that everyone makes such a work about!’ exclaimed he with vehemence – ‘I wish I had him to ferry over Loch Lomond: I should be after sinking the boat, if I drowned myself into the bargain; for ever since he wrote his Lady of the Lake, as they call it, everybody goes to see that filthy hole Loch Katrine, then comes round by Luss, and I have only had two gentlemen to guide all this blessed season, which is now at an end. I shall never see the top of Ben Lomond again! The devil confound his ladies and his lakes, say I!’

If this indignant mountaineer could revisit his early haunts, his grandchildren would have a very different story to tell him of the poet’s influence. For one visitor to his beloved mountain in his day there must now be at least a hundred, almost all of whom have had their first longing to see that region kindled by the poems and tales of Scott. No man ever did so much to make his country known and attractive as the author of Waverley has done for Scotland. His fictitious characters have become historical personages in the eyes of thousands of pilgrims who every year visit the scenes he has described. In threading the pass of the Trossachs, they try to see where Fitz James must have lost his ‘gallant grey.’ In passing Ellen’s Isle, they scrutinise it, if haply any relics of her home have survived. At Coilantogle Ford they want to know the exact spot where the duel was fought between the King and Roderick Dhu. At Aberfoyle they look out for the Clachan, or some building that must stand on its site, and their hearts are comforted by finding suspended to a tree on the village green the veritable coulter with which Bailie Nichol Jarvie burnt the big Highlander’s plaid. So delighted indeed have the tourists been with this relic of the past that they have sureptitiously carried it off more than once, and have thus compelled the village smith each time to manufacture a new antique.

Sir Archibald Geikie Scottish Reminiscences 1904

Loch Chon
From Kinlochard the B829 climbs briskly, dropping down at The Teapot, and then climbing again beside pleasing water breaks to reach Loch Dubh, the black loch. It then passes Rob Roy’s Well and arrives at Loch Chon where there are a variety of picnic places. Loch Chon is sometimes perceived as a dark, unfriendly place because the Forestry Commission have clothed the steep hillsides on its western shore with conifers. However, on a fine day there are few more attractive lochs in the southern highlands; the natural woodland which occur on its eastern bank provide a wonderful setting for a picnic and the Commission have made ample provision for car parking. In spite of this the sense of remoteness which can be obtained there is considerable because there are few houses.

A notable modern collector of Folk Tales was R. MacDonald Robertson, the author of a number of distinguished books about fishing in the Highlands between and just after the wars. In Selected Highland Folk Tales he relates the following story about Loch Chon, which he calls Loch-a-Choin:

There is a chain of three beautiful lochans in West Perthshire – Loch Ard, Loch-a-Choin and Loch Arklet – situated by the main road between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid It is with Loch-a-Choin (The Dog Loch) that this story deals. Tradition attributes to this loch a water-monster in the shape of a huge dog.

Not so very long ago, one oppressively hot summer’s day, a weary tourist sat down by the banks of Loch-a-Choin to have lunch. Soon he heard the sound of the rattle of pots and pans mingled with footfalls on the road behind him; and on looking round observed on the highway a tinker laden with various metal cooking utensils, trudging along the road in company with a young lad. To his astonishment, he saw the tinker suddenly seize the boy, and walking down to the edge of a ledge of rock, fling him into the water. Immediately after the splash of the body, there was a great swirl, and the savage head of a huge and grotesque dog-like monster broke the surface and swallowed the body of the child whole. The tinker thereafter mysteriously vanished from sight. Terrified beyond all measure the traveller fled to Aberfoyle as fast as possible. On entering the inn he met some local people and told them of his weird experience by the shores pof Loch-a-Choin.

He was told that what he had just seen was the recurrence of a tragically true event which had taken place on the banks of the loch many years ago, at the same place where he had rested for lunch, and that the tinker had been found out and hanged for his evil deed. The hiker had seen the murder re-enacted on the exact date and at the exact hour when the crime was originally perpetrated. To this day, many of the older inhabitants of the district believe that the dog-monster still lurks within Loch-a-Choin, waiting for victims.

Patrick Graham drew attention to the mountain hollow beyond the head of Loch Chon:

About a mile beyond the source of the Forth, above Loch Chon, there is a place called Coir-shi’an, or the Cove of the Men of Peace, which is still supposed to be a place of their residence. In the neighbourhood are to be seen many round conical eminences; particularly one, near the head of the lake; by the skirts of which many are still afraid to pass after sunset. It is believed that if on Hallow Eve any person alone goes round one of thse hills nine times, towards the left hand (sinistrorsum), a door shall open by which he shall be admitted into their subterraneous abodes.

Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire 1806

Enchantment in the Trossachs

 Fairies from Aberfoyle and Elsewhere

You will not understand the literary history of the Trossachs half so well if you chose not to consider the enormous influence which the supernatural exercises on the place. If Loch Ness has something of a monopoly of water monsters, and the Cairngorms have something of a corner in mountain apparitions, the Trossachs in general, and Aberfoyle in particular, enjoy – in Scotland at least – an unrivalled reputation for fairies. Superstition is unfashionable. The language has abused words which, once upon a time, were to be taken seriously, or at least conjured up widely respected images. Folklore. primitive beliefs, pagan rituals, religion, the dead, changelings, household spirits and fairies used to be intermingled in people’s minds. Nowadays legends are respectable providing they are not too fantastic, religion is generally well-thought-of, but the occult, by and large, is not; fairies are no longer taken seriously. At the edge of the Highlands such distinctions were very much more blurred until not more than a hundred years ago’

The maestro, Sir Walter Scott, used folk history and the history of the district in The Lady of the Lake. His admirers  included Charles Nodier, the French romantic, writer of short stories a fairy tales. Hans Christian Anderson (1805-75), one of the World’s greatest storytellers, and Jules Verne (1828-1905), founder of Science Fiction and exponent of the fantastic, all visited, and were enchanted by the Trossachs.

Robert Kirk, the Minister of Aberfoyle, was as we have seen a serious student of folk beliefs and author of the first notable work on the subject. Patrick Graham, his successor, explainer of Kirk and inspirer of Scott, was, in his own right, a distinguished writer about both the topography and the fairy lore of the district. In addition to Grham’s mentions of it Scott edited n edition of The Secret Commonwealth in 1815, Andrew Lang (see Aberfoyle) edited the next edition in 1893, and R.B.Cunninghame Graham edited a third in 1933.

The following alphabetical guide has been compiled with reference to E. C. Brewer Dictionary of  Phrase and Fable 1978 and Katharine Briggs A Dictionary of Fairies 1976:

Apparition  A ghost; anything shocking or startling which appears

Banshee irish (or Highland Scottish) domestic spirit; in Gaelic Bean-sith, a woman fairie; connected with the death of women in childbirth.

Bocan Hobgoblin or spirit. In Menteith uruisks at one time resided at Goblin Knowe; Creag a’Bochain is an outlier of Ben Lomond.

Boggart Local hobgoblin (Scottish); a particularly bad-tempered, or ill-natured Brownie.

Bogle A bugbear (Scottish); a bogie.

Brownie An English and Scottish fairy, its habits vary from place to place; in Scotland it is most notably associated with the Borders.

 Defined by Scott as a familiar spirit ‘belived in ancient times to supply the deficiencies of  an ordinary labourer.’ A moron in comparison with spightlier beings like the fairies; the brownieis good natured in nocturnal chores; ill-natured in the occasional treatment of women

Drow or Trow
A small troll-like fairie, notably associated with the Orkneys and Shetlands

Drows or Trows  are according to Scott ‘somewhat allied to the faires, residing like them in the interior of green hills and caverns’.  More frequently hostile than friendly to man, these subterranean people as they are called in the Faeroes, are particularly dangerous at midnight. They are also skilled metal workers.

Coleman Parsons Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott’s Fiction 1964

Duergar Gotho-German dwarfs, dwelling in rocks and hills

The English fairy (or Gothic elf) whose prototype is to be sought chiefly in the bergelfen or duergar of the Scandinavians may in turn go back to the diminutive Lapps, Finns, and Letts. ‘Being excellent metallurgists and
meteorologists, these dwarfish refugees worked underground hideouts and,gaining a supernatural reputation, were associated, or confounded, with, German kobolds, English goblins, and Scottish bogles, as also with the
vivacious fairy kind.

Coleman Parsons Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott’s Fiction 1964

Dwarf A diminutive being, natural or supernatural

Elf In Scandinavia fairies of diminutive size; fond of practical jokes. Anglo- saxon word for spirits of any sort. Scott had the following comment:

Sprites of the coarser sort, more laborious vocation and more malignant temper
and, in all respects, less propitious to humanity than the Fairies

Sir Walter Scott Letters on Witchcraft and Demonology 1828

Fairy, or Faërie A supernatural being, fond of pranks, but generally friendly; in Gaelic Duine-sith (also Daoine Sidhe); a fairy person, or fairy folk, people of peace.

Scott supplied the following note to Lady of the Lake:

Fairies, if not positively malevolent, are capricious, and easily offended. They
are, like other proprietors of the forest, peculiarly jealous of their rights of
vert and venison. This jealousy was also an attribute of the northern Duergar, or
dwarfs; to many of whose distinctions the fairies seem to have succeeded, if,
indeed, they are not the same class of beings.

Fay Same as fairy; Fée in French and German

Faun Rural god with the horns and legs of a goat (Classical); thus comparable with uruisks.

Fuath Collective term for independent spirits, or solitary fairies (as opposed to Trooping Fairies), generally malignant, properly associated with water; includes uruisks; spectre.

Glaistig A woman fairy; half-woman, half-goat; combines most fairy characteristics being rather like a Brownie, fond of children, old people and the feeble-minded, but also misleads travellers.

Gnome The guardian of mines and quarries (Germanic)

Goblin, or Hobgoblin A phantom spirit (Gobelin in French; Kobold in German)

The deep-voiced, square-built, long armed Rob Roy seems to Frank Osbaldistone
ferocious, cunning and unearthly like ‘the old Picts who ravaged Northumberland,
a sort of half-goblin, half-human beings’ in Scott’s novel.

Good Folk,the Brownies, or house spirits

Gruagach A damsel; a bridesmaid; a supposed household godess; a brownie.

Habitrot The spinning-wheel fairy

Hag A female fury

Hobgoblin see Goblin; ‘Hob’ is ‘Robin’, thought to soften the word ‘goblin’.

Household Spirits

England: Robin Goodfellow
France: Esprit Follet
Germany: Kobold
Scotland: Brownie or Uruisg
Wales: The Bwbachod or Bwca or Bwbach is a Welsh household spirit.

Ignis Fatuus A will-o’-the-wisp

Imp Puny demon, or spirit of mischief

Jack-a-Lantern A bog, or marsh spirit which delights to mislead.

Kelpie Imaginary spirit of the waters generally in the form of a horse; malignant towards human beings, luring them into the water where they drowned. Loch Chon and Loch Venachar, in the Trossachs, have kelpies; the kelpie, associated with running water, are sometimes distinguished from the Each Uisge, the water-horse, associated with lochs and sea-lochs.

Kobold A German household goblin; also frequents mines.

Luspardan Kind of fairy, referred to by Kirk; dwarf or sprite.

Naiad (Naiades) Water-nymphs(Classical); Akenside and Turner saw Scottish watefalls as
likely haunts for them.

Pegths, or Pechs Traditional lowland name for fairies; identified as a folk-memory of the Picts

Satyr Rural god, half-goat and half-man (Classical)

Sith, Sithean Fairy, fairies; Sidheag Biorach, the pointed fairy knoll, is situated above Loch Chon, Ben an-t-sithein, the fairy ben, is above Loch Lubnaig

Stic Gaelic equivalent of Puck

Stock Changeling substituted by the fairies when they stole a baby; a substitute; explains how Kirk, who was supposed to be imprisoned by the fairies, could be buried in the churchyard.

Subterraneans Kirk’s word for the fairies who lived underground, possibly the spirits of the departed.

Succubus A demon in female form, supposed to have carnal intercourse with men in their sleep[OED]. In ‘Glenfinglas’ Scott describes how the dale got its reputation as the ‘Glen of the Green Women’. Kirk describes the sex-life of fairies suggesting that succubi were common.

Tacharan Sprite; ghost

Troll A hill-spirit (Norwegian); dislikes noise (see Drows or Trows)

Trooping Fairies Fairies who moved from place to place, and lived together, distinguishes them from Solitary Fairies like uruisks, etc.

Uruisk, or Uruisg Highland (domestic) spirit; see Brownie; very lucky to have about the house; sometimes thought to be half-human half-goat; solitary in nature, frequently haunting waterfalls, but uruisks were supposed to meet together at times; easily insulted and quick to take offence.

Coire nan Uruisgean

Ben Venue is rendered venerable in the superstition of the natives, by the
celebrated Coire nan Uruisgean, the cove or recess of goblins,
situated on the northerm side of the mountain, overhanging the lake in gloomy
grandeur. The Uruisks were a sort of lubberly supernaturals, who, like the
Brownies of England, could be gained over by kind attentions, to perform the
drudgery of the farm; and it was believed that many families in the Highlands had
one of their order attached to it. They were supposed to be dispersed over the
Highlands, each own his own wild recess; but the solemn stated meetings of the
order were regularly held in this cave of Ben Venue. The current superstition, no
doubt, alludes to some circumstance in the ancient history of this country:
perhaps it may have taken its rise, like the superstition of the Daone Shie, or
Men of Peace, from the abolition and proscription of the Druidical order, under
the Fingallian dynasty.

Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire 1806

Will o’ th’ Wisp Spirit of the bogs; misleads benighted travellers

Wraith Ghost of a person about to die or just dead; it was Kirk’s wraith which was said to have appeared at the christening of his son.

 

The ridge between Loch Katrine and Loch Chon was chosen by J.F.Bateman for the line of the Loch Katrine aqueduct:

The Loch is surrounded by precipitous hills of considerable elevation, and the first piece of work on the line of the aqueduct was to pierce by a tunnel the ridge separating it from the Loch Chon valley. The tunnel is 2325 yards long, and upwardss of 500 feet under the top of the ridge. To facilitate the driving of the tunnel twelve vertical shafts were sunk of an aggregate length of 1173 yards, or about one half the length of the tunnel. Five of the shafts are each about 450 feet deep.

These notable works are further discussed at Loch Katrine, and remain well worth inspection. Another passage in the the same address gives some idea of the working conditions:

The rock, especially the mica slate, proved extremely hard and difficult to work. At several points along the side of Loch Chon the progress did not exceed three lineal yards in a month at each face, although work was carried on day and night. The average progress through the mica slate was about five yards in a month, In drilling holes for blasting, a fresh drill was required for every inch in depth on the average; and about sixty drills were constantly in use at each face. the contractors for the first seven and a half miles were, at an early date obliged to relinquish their contract, and it was carried on and completed by the Commissioners. The cost of gunpowder alone consumed in the contract was £10,540, and there was about 175 miles of fuse burned in firing it.

 

Beyond Loch Chon the road climbs unrelentingly to Loch Arklet. By turning right at the road junction Stronachlachar is reached.

 

 

 

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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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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 17. The Trossachs

In a word, the Trossachs beggar all description.

Dorothy Wordsworth quoting Rev James Robertson DD  The Parish of Callander

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

  Nathaniel Hawthorne English Notebooks Spring 1856

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

John Campbell Shairp Introduction to Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal 1874

 

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

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

Robert Cadell (Scott’s Publisher)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sarah Murray Beauties of Scotland                                                                                                                                         

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

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

John Leyden Tour in the Highlands and Western Islands 1800

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                            

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                         

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

THE TROSSACHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Lady of the Lake Canto I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVE MARIA!

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

Ave Maria!

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

Ave Maria!

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

Ave Maria


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

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

Franz Schubert Letters July 1825

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

CORONACH

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

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

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

Scott Lady of the Lake Canto III

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

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

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

BOAT SONG

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

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

Proudly our pibroch has thrill’d in Glen Fruin,
And Bannochar’s groans to our slogan replied;
Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking in ruin,

And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on her side.
Widow and Saxon maid
Long shall lament our raid,
Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with woe;
Lennox and Leven glen
Shake when they hear again,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

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

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

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

Scott Appendix to Lady of the Lake          

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

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

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

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland                                                              

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

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

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland                                                          

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

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

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

He landed us just at the spot where the Lady

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

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

with footing nice’
A far-projecting precipice

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

Clan Alpine’s outmost guard

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

Maria Edgeworth Letters 1894

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seton Gordon Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands 1948

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

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

 

 

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

 

Inversnaid to the Trossachs

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

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

 

Stronachlachar

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

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

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

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

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

W.H.Murray Rob Roy MacGregor 1982

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal  

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

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

S.T.Coleridge Notebooks

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

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

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

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

James Hogg Highland Tours      

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

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

James Hogg The Fate of MacGregor

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal

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

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

John Barrington Red Sky at Night            

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

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

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

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

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

Tranter goes on to describe Glen Gyle House:

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

Nigel Tranter MacGregor’s Gathering 1957

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

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

ROB ROY’S GRAVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quoted in Dorothy Wordsworth Journal 1803

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

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

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

LAMENT FOR ROB ROY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.S.MacBride (1843-1923)

 

Sites Connected With Rob Roy in the National Park and Elsewhere

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

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

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

*Auchinchisallen see Coirechaorach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Rob Roy’s Bath Tub see Falls of Falloch

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

*Rob Roy’s Castle see Coirechaorach

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

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

Rob Roy’s Grave see Balquhidder Kirk

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

Rob Roy’s House(1) see Portnellan

Rob Roy’s House(2) see Coirechaorach

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

Rob Roy’s House(4) see Inverlochlarig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Roy’s Soapdish see Falls of Falloch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal Cottage, Loch Katrine

Royal Cottage, Loch Katrine

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Lake Poets in Scotland

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

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

Itinerary [1801]: Wordsworth

Visited Hamilton and Glasgow; probably visited Loch Lomond

Itinerary [1803]: Wordsworth with Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Itinerary [1822]: Dorothy Wordsworth and Joanna Hutchinson:

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

Itinerary [1831]: Wordsworth with Dora Wordsworth:

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

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

Charles Wordsworth Annals of My Early Life

They proceeded to Bonawe, Oban, and Mull

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

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

Loch Katrine

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                         

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                   

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

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

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                          

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

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

James Reed Sir Walter Scott: Landscape and Locality 1980

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

STEPPING WESTWARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilfred Taylor Scot Free 1953

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 18. Loch Achray

 

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

Dorothy Wordsworth described Loch Achray in her Journal as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire                   

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

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

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

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

Tarbet: 11th September, 1838

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

Henry Cockburn Circuit Journeys                                                                                                                              

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

Lochearnhead: 5th July, 1841

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

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

Charles Dickens Letter to John Forster                                                      

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

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

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

Comrie House: 9th September, 1846

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millais Sketchbook: Trossachs Church

Millais Sketchbook: Trossachs Church

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

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

 

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