Archive for Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

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

 

Glen Finglas

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

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

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

  20th July, 1853

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

John Ruskin Letters

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

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

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

     J.E.Millais Letter to Holman Hunt    

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

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

William Millais  gives a vivid description of a Glenfinlas Sabbath:

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

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

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

J.G.Millais Life and Letters of Millais 1899

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

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

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

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coleman Parsons Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott’s Fiction 1964

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Walter Scott The Lady of the Lake

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

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

Lady Sarah Murray Beauties of Scotland                                              

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

James Hogg Highland Tours 1803

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W.Kersley Holmes Tramping Scottish Hills Eneas Mackay Stirling 1946

Another visitor to ascend Ben Ledi was John Everett Millais:

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

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

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

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

 

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

Millais: Illustration for Phineas Finn

Millais: Illustration for Trollope’s Phineas Finn

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

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

 

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

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

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

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

H.A.Piehler Scotland for Everyman 1934

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

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

Sir Robert Christison Autobiography 1816

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chauncey Hare Townshend Descriptive Tour in Scotland 1840

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

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

‘Three Nights in Perthshire’                                                                                                        

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

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

‘Three Nights in Perthshire                                                                                                     ‘

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

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

‘The Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland                                                               

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

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

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

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

Nathaniel Hawthorne English Notebooks Spring 1856

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B.H.Humble On Scottish Hills 1946

 

 

 

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 14. Inversnaid

Glen Arklet and the Approaches to Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jules Verne Les Indes Noire 1877

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIANN AN FHOGARAICH

(The Wanderer’s Wish)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love’s Last Request

by the Hon Bard of Clan MacGregor

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

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

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

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

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

Coaches between Inversnaid and Stronachlachar

Coaches between Inversnaid and Stronachlachar

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

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

    Hans Andersen The Fairy Tale of My Life                                                                    

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

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

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

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

 Thomas Carlyle Reminiscences  1887

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

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

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

Alexander Smith A Summer in Skye 1864

Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alasdair Alpin MacGregor Somewhere in Scotland 1935

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

The Falls of Inversnaid

The Falls of Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                           

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

Scott at Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

MACGREGOR’S GATHERING
Air: Thain’ a Grigalach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Hogg Highland Tours

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

John Muir

John Muir

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

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

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

Charles Knight Shairp and his Friends                                         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 8. Stirling to Callander

 

Leave Stirling [or the M9] by A84 (signposted Crianlarich). After Craigforth the road immediately crosses the Forth at Drip Bridge and enters the former county of Perthshire. At Blair Drummond a road (A736) goes to Port of Menteith and Aberfoyle. The old road from Stirling to the west dawdled beside the Teith via Ochtertyre and Blair Drummond. Indeed, much traffic went on the other side by Bridge of Allan and Dunblane.

Craigforth

Craigforth (at the junction of M9 and A84) is C17 laird’s house on the outskirts of Stirling, which was altered about 1830. It is now overwhelmed by an insurance company; but it was the one-time residence of a startlingly literary family. John Callander (d. 1789), antiquary and farmer, published an edition of two famous poems, perhaps written by Kings of Scotland, The Gaberlunzie Man and Christ’s Kirk on the Green [1782], and many other works, but his scholarship is regarded as suspect. His son, the notorious James Callander (1745-1832) changed his name to Campbell on inheriting Ardkinglass in 1810. His second daughter by his third legal wife became Mrs Caroline Henrietta Sheridan (1779-1851), wife of Tom Sheridan (1775-1817), a noted versifier. She was thus a daughter-in-law of Richard Brindsley Sheridan. She had three novels [1830-33] published in London, but is also remembered as the talented mother of ‘the three Graces’, her beautiful and gifted daughters.

Lady Caroline Norton

Lady Caroline Norton

 

The second of these was the Hon. Caroline Norton (1808-77) , who made an unhappy marriage which ended in divorce, but not before the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, had been compromised, unjustly it was decided. Her poetry was praised by James Hogg. Of her novels, Stuart of Dunleath [1851] is autobiographical, but she also wrote passionately, as a result of her experiences, about the custody and property laws as they adversely affected women, and contributed to their being changed. At the close of her life she married Sir William Stirling-Maxwell of Keir. Alan Chedzoy’s A Scandalous Woman [1992] describes her.

Blair Drummond

The Blair Drummond estate, five miles from Stirling, used to belong to Henry Home, Lord Kames, a highly representative figure of the Scottish Enlightenment. He was a noted judge, and a great improver of his policies. The subjects of his books include Philosophy, Criticism, Education and Agricultural Improvement and, if they are not much read now, they are recognised as having been years ahead of their time. Amongst his civilised suggestions was that the inscription about Smollett in Renton, to which Home contributed, should have been in English. Quite what the great man would have thought of a ‘Safari Park’ must be guessed, but it can be surmised that he would have been interested in it, and approved of the way in which it may have saved his estate.

Nearby is Ochtertyre. The residence of John Ramsay (1736-1814), the Diarist. He was an eccentric, happiest at home in his garden, but known everywhere in the neighbourhood, and a man with an entree into literary society in Edinburgh. His voluminous diaries are still a significant source of information about C18 rural Scotland. Burns called on him with a letter of introduction from his friend the Annan poet, William Blacklock. Ramsay characterised Burns as follows:

I have been in the company of many men of genius, some of them poets, but never witnessed such flashes of intellectual brightness as from him . . .

A further visitor to the house was Waiter Scott. He used Ramsay as the basis for Jonathan Oldbuck, ‘the’ antiquary in The Antiquary. Ramsay is buried in the Old Kirk of Blair Drummond, and there is a memorial to him in the New Kirk (not open).

Doune

James Edmonstone of Newton, near Doune, carried the Royal Standard at Sheriffmuir, and he rebuffed Rob Roy after a dispute at Doune market. One of the most intimate friends of Sir Walter Scott in his younger days was John James Edmonstone of Newton. Scott visited him there and is said to have begun Waverley at Newton. Robina Edmonstone of Cambus Wallace was there when, on her invitation, expressed in broad Scots, Prince Charles pree’d the mu’ (kissed) the lady.

The fine castle was the scene of the escape of John Home, the author, and others during the’ 45. He was a volunteer and, being captured, did not see much action, but the episode gave him considerable cachet for an author. It provides an instance of a method of escape much favoured by Hollywood, the use of knotted sheets or blankets. Home, from Falkirk, was the author of Douglas, the play which famously provoked the cry “Whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo!” It is partly set in the Stirlingshire of old (outside the boundaries of the National Park) on the Carron.
The town has long been connected with the castle’s owners and appears in the old ballad The Bonnie Earl of Moray:

He was a braw gallant
And he played at the glove;
And the bonnie Earl 0′ Moray,
0, he was the Queen’s love.
O lang will his lady
Look o’er the Castle Doune,
Ere she see the Earl o’Moray
Come sounding through the toun.

Uam Vahr is prominent, isolated mountain which dominates Callander from the southeast. Scott used it in the Chase in The Lady of the Lake, the subject of the first canto, and the source of most of the famous passages in that work. The reason for this was the magnificent view of the district from the brow of the hill. Indeed, here the stag appears to be surveying the alternatives provided by the two main routes to the Trossachs:

The noble stag was pausing now
Upon the mountain’s southern brow
Where broad extended, lay beneath
The varied realms of fair Menteith
With anxious eye he wandered o’er
Mountain and meadow, moss and moor
And pondered refuge from his toil
By far Loch Ard or Aberfoyle;
But nearer was the copsewood gray
That waved and wept on Loch Achray,
And mingled with the pine-trees blue
On the bold cliffs of Ben Venue.

Properly Uaigh-mor, is a mountain to the north-east of the village of Callander, in Menteith, deriving its name, which signifies the great den, or cavern, from a sort of retreat among the rocks on the south side, said, by tradition, to have been the
abode of a giant. In latter times, it was the refuge of robbersand banditti, who have been only extirpated within these forty orfifty years. Strictly speaking, this stronghold is not a cave, as the name would imply, but a sort of small enclosure, or recess,
surrounded with large rocks and open above head. It may have been originally designed as a foil for deer, who might get in from the outside, but would find it difficult to return. This opinion prevails among the old sportsmen and deer-stalkers in the
neighborhood” (Scott).

Cambusmore
Cambusmore is ‘a plain three-storey, stone laird’s mansion’ (Charles McKean) dating from 1800, but incorporating parts of an older house, the house that Scott first knew. It is well situated beside the Keltie near the old bridge spans that tributary of the Teith. It belonged to John MacDonald Buchanan (d 1817) whose son was a close friend of Scott’s. The poet went there with his wife and eldest daughter for a week in 1809. He ‘ascertained in his own person, that a good horseman, well mounted might gallop from the shores of Loch Vennachar to the rock of Stirling within the space allotted for that purpose to Fitzjames.’ (J.G.Lockhart) Charles Rodgers in his Week at the Bridge of Allan (1851) relates that:

Cambusmore House has claim to the peculiar distinction, as being the residence of Sir Walter Scott, when he conceived and commenced his singularly happy and popular poem of the Lady of the Lake. Sir Walter first became acquainted with the district, by being sent, as a writer’s apprentice, along with a small escort of soldiers from Stirling Castle, to enforce the execution of a legal instrument against a refractory tenant of the proprietor of Appin; but it was while residing at Cambusmore, during a series of autumns with “the young laird”, afterwards Major Buchanan, that he was led to cast over it the bewitchery of his genius. Major Buchanan was in the habit of relating the incident, that he and Scott having just alighted, on their return from a ride to the banks of Loch Katrine, which the poet had not previously visited, and with the scenery of which he was delighted, he repeated to him, while standing in the porch of Cambusmore House, those lines which commence the first stanza of The Chase, exactly as they afterwards appeared:

The stag at eve had drunk his fill
Where danced the moon on Monan’s rill,
And deep his midnight lair had made
In lone Glenartney’s hazel shade.

The incident has escaped the notice of Mr Lockhart, the minstrel’s distinguished biographer.

In fact Lockhart states that it was at Buchanan House, near Drymen, where the Duke of Montrose lived, that Scott first read to his friends the ‘Stag Chase’, which ‘he had just completed under the full influence of the genius loci’. Both stories could be true.

From Cambusmore it is but a short jouney to Callander .

 

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 9. Callander

Callander

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

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

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

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland 1819

Lady Sarah Murray described Callander’s situation as follows:

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

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

Dugald Buchanan

Gaelic Poet Teacher Evangelist

1716 – 1768

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

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

Pittendrigh Macgillivray ERECTED 1925

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

James Lees-Milne The Enigmatic Edwardian 1986

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

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

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

The other is Stevenson’s famous epitaph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Monk' Lewis.

‘Monk’ Lewis.

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

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

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

Andrew Cruickshank An Autobiography 1988

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

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

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

In a note Scott explains:

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

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

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

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

Lady Sarah Murray The Beauties of Scotland 1799

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

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

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

Alexander Smith Summer in Skye               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 10. Menteith

Leave Callander by A81 (Glasgow Road) which climbs the Braes of Greenock to Loch Ruskie, where there were the remains of an island castle occupied by the Earl of Menteith. Shortly after Loch Ruskie the Carse of Forth comes into view and there is a good view of the Lake of Menteith in the middle distance. Turn right at the foot of the hill. The ruined castle on the right is Rednock Castle, former seat of the Grahams. The road then leads to Port of Menteith (road junction), and the Lake of Menteith:
Queen Victoria followed this route on her visit to Aberfoyle when she was staying at Invertrossachs. She mentions Uam Var the prominent, isolated mountain above the Teith which dominates Callander from the south east. Scott used it in The Lady of the Lake in the chase, which forms the subject of the first canto, and is the source of most of the famous passages in that work. The reason for this was the magnificent view of the district from the brow of Uam Var:

The noble stag was pausing now,
Upon the mountain’s southern brow,
Where broad extended, lay beneath-
The varied realms of fair Menteith,
With anxious eye he wandered o’er-
Mountain and meadow, moss and moor,
And pondered refuge from his toil(
By far Loch Ard or Aberfoyle;,
But nearer was the copsewood gray.
That waved and wept on Loch Achray,/
And mingled with the pine-trees blue+
On the bold cliffs of Ben Venue.

Sir Walter Scott Lady of the Lake

It was a fine day and Victoria describes the scenery crossing the Braes of Greenock road in greater detail than most guidebooks to the district. Further information about the Queen’s holiday at Invertrossachs is given under Loch Venachar:

A very fine bright warm morning. We decided to go on an expedition, but not to Loch Lomond, as we should have to start so early. Breakfasted in the drawing room with Louise and Beatrice. Then writing, etc. At twenty minutes to twelve I started in the sociable with Louise, Beatrice, Jane Churchill and Colonel Ponsonby and Brown on the box, and drove (excellent post horses, always only a pair), to Callander, but turned right short of it, and went on some little way. On coming to the top we saw Ben Ledi, a splendid hill; to the north Ben Vorlich, and to the east the heights of Uam Var, a pink heathery ridge of no great elevation; andi in the distance rising up from the horizon, Dumyat, and the Wallace Monument on the Abbey Craig, near Stirling. We went across a moor and soon passed Loch Ruskie, quite a small lake. The country here is rather lowland but as we proceeded it was extremely pretty, with very fine trees and cornfields, and harvesting going on; and soon after that, descending a hill we came on the “Loch” of Menteith (the only loch in Scotland which is ever called a lake). it reminds one very much of Loch Kinnord near Ballater, and very low blue and pink hills rise in the distance. There are two or three islands in it; in the large one, Inchmahome, you perceive among the thick woods the ruins of an ancient priory. Queen Mary lived there once and there are monuments to the Menteiths to be seen upon it. To the right we passed the ruin of Rednock Castle, and on the left the gates of the park of Rednock, with very fine large trees.

Queen Victoria Highland Journal

The castle was long ago levelled, and the building stones were used to build houses at Blairhoyle, and the farm-steading of Muirhouse. The island on which the castle was built was submerged when the level of the loch was raised. Margaret Holford (1778-1852), minor poet and unsuccessful imitator of Scott, mentions the castle in her first poem Wallace, or the Fight of Falkirk [1809]:

Where the majestic Grampians spread.
Their shadows o’er old Rusky’s head;
Where friendship warns the escutchion’d walls,
Of frowning Rusky’s antique halls.

The old castle of Rednock and its successor Rednock House at the foot of the pass have a highly significant literary connection. Susanna Blamire (1747-94) was a Cumbrian poet whose sister, Sarah, married Col Thomas Graham in 1767. Between 1767 and his death in 1773 Susanna spent much time in Scotland with her sister. One of her lost poems celebrated the ‘Lake of Menteith’ while several others became famous Scottish songs. The DNB puts it thus: “As a song-writer she deserves to rank very high. She preferred to write songs in the Scottish dialect, and three at least of her songs are exquisite, What ails this heart o’ mine?,  And ye shall walk in silk attire (The Siller Croun), and The Traveller’s Return. Another beautiful song, ‘The Waefu’ Heart’, is, with great probability, attributed to her. Of the four songs The Traveller’s Return may be the least well known, but it is the most interesting. Students of folk song suggest that the air to which Susanna Blamire set When silent time wi’ lightly foot is probably the original of Burns’ tune for “Auld Lang Syne”. In 1871, Sarah Tytler and J. L. Watson included her in The Songstresses of Scotland, asserting that she “adopted Scotland and the Scotch with enthusiasm, and thenceforth wrote Scotch songs like a Scotchwoman” Hugh MacDiarmid stated that she wrote some of the finest Scots verse ever written by any non-Scot, fully equal to all but the very greatest work of the same sort ever achieved by any Scots poet — praise indeed. Susanna was very friendly with the Grahams of Gartmore as well.

Susanna Blamire

Susanna Blamire

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is one of the giants of Scottish literature. He was a novelist and poet, and as young man he was actively employed as a lawyer in the district. His greatest creative impetus probably came from the Borders where he lived for much of his life, but he had an intimate knowledge of, and love of parts of the Highlands. He made an early acquaintance with Perthshire when engaged in an eviction, but revisited Loch Lomond and the Trossachs frequently to see two friends, his fellow advocate Hector MacDonald Buchanan at Ross Priory on Loch Lomond, and Major Buchanan at Cambusmore beside the Keltie near Callander. He was also well known to Patrick Graham, the then Minister of Aberfoyle.

His Lady of the Lake, published in 1810 and set in the Trossachs created a lasting interest in the place. His first novel, Waverley (1814) makes use of a scene in the locality, but it was Rob Roy (1818), the nexus of which is set in the district, which brought as much fame to Aberfoyle as The Lady of the Lake brought to Loch Katrine. Scott was a fine storyteller as this extract from Tales of a Grandfather set in Menteith illustrates:

The Earls of Menteith, you must know, had a castle, situated upon an island in a lake, or loch as it is called of the same name. But though this residence, which occupied almost the whole of the islet, upon which its ruins still exist, was a strong and safe place of abode, and adopted accordingly to such perilous times, it had this inconvenience, that the stables and other domestic offices were constructed on the banks of the lake, and were, therefore, in some sort defenceless.

It happened upon a time that there was to be a great entertainment in the castle, and a number of the Grahams were assembled. The occasion, it is said, was a marriage in the family. To prepare for this feast, much provision was got ready, and in particular, a great deal of poultry had been collected. While the feast was preparing, an unhappy chance brought Donald of the Hammer to the side of the lake, returning at the head of a band of hungry followers, whom he was conducting homewards to the West Highlands, after some of his usual excursions in Stirlingshire. Seeing so much good victuals ready, and being possessed of an excellent appetite, the Western Highlanders neither asked questions, nor waited for an invitation, but devoured all the provisions that had been prepared for the Grahams, and then went on their way rejoicing through the difficult and dangerous path which leads from the banks of the Loch of Menteith, through the mountains, to the side of Loch Katrine.

The Grahams were filled with the highest indignation. The company who were assembled at the castle of Menteith, headed by the Earl himself, hastily took to their boats, and disembarking on the northern side of the lake, pursued with all speed the marauders and their leader. They came up with Donald’s party in the gorge of a pass, near a rock, called Craig Vad, or the Wolf’s Cliff. The battle then began, and it was continued with much fury till night. The Earl of Menteith and many of his noble kinsmen fell, while Donald, favoured by darkness, escaped with a single attendant. The Grahams obtained, from the cause of the quarrel, the nickname of Gramoch an Garrigh, or Grahams of the Hens.

Tales of a Grandfather 1828-30

Scott sets this incident in the Duke’s Pass. Others state that it took place in the Pass of Glenny immediately above the Loch of Menteith where an old Roman road leads to Loch Vennacher.

There is at least one splendid fairy tale associated with the Loch of Menteith. Again, it is connected with the feasting, which appears to have gone on there:

One of the Earls of Menteith – which one, the tale does not condescend to say – was entertaining a company of friends in the halls of Inchtalla, when it was found that the supply of liquor was running out. Late though it was, he summoned his butler and ordered him to set off at once for Stirling, procure the necessary supply, and be back as early as possible the next day. The butler immediately took his cask, and unmooring the boat proceeded to row himself to the shore. As he neared the shore he observed two ‘honest women’ among the reeds at the margin. watching them, he saw each cut a bulrush for herself, then crying the one to the other ‘Hae wi’ ye!’, they mounted their bulrushes and immediately rose sailing into the air. The butler, seized with a sudden impulse, also cut a bulrush, and shouting ‘Hae wi’ ye!’ found himself flying at lightning speed through space. Together they descended in the palace of the King of France, where, being invisible, they enjoyed themselves in their several ways. The butler, in some mysterious manner, never let go his cask; and finding himself in the royal cellar he replenished it with the choicest wine. But that was not all. In case the truth of the marvellous story of adventure he had to tell might be doubted, he resolved to carry off a memento of his visit, and so laid hands on the King’s own drinking cup of silver. Then with the cup and barrel, getting astride of his bulrush again, another ‘Hae wi’ ye!’ brought him back to the servants’ hall at Inchtalla, where he was found by the Earl in the morning sound asleep beside his barrel. The Earl, thinking that he had drunk too much and neglected his message, awoke him and began to reproach him for his dereliction of duty, when the butler, begging his lordship’s pardon, informed him that he had got the wine, and much better wine than could be found in the burgh of Stirling. Then he told the whole story of his adventure, and in confirmation, not only pointed to the full cask, but handed over the valuable silver cup he had brought with him. The earl believed, or affected to believe the story, and that day entertained his guests with a wine the quality of which astonished them all. The silver cup, with the fleur de lys and the royal arms of France also graced the board.
A. F. Hutchinson Book Of Menteith

The largest of three irregular islands in the Lake of Menteith, on which is a ruined priory is Inchmahome where the five-year old Mary Queen of Scots found refuge after the Battle of Pinkie. A very good historical account of the incident is to be found in Antonia Frazer’s Mary Queen of Scots. The young Queen tended a garden there, the subject of an essay by the author Dr John Brown (1810-1882) in Horae Subsecivae [Leisure Hours]:

“Here you find on landing huge Spanish chestnuts, one lying dead, others standing stark and peeled, like gigantic antlers, and others flourishing in their viridis senectus, and in a thicket of wood you see the remains of a monastery of great beauty, the design and workmanship exquisite. You wander through the ruins, overgrown with ferns and Spanish filberts, and old fruit trees, and at the corner of the old monkish garden you come upon one of the strangest and most touching sights you ever saw – an oval space of about eighteen feet by twelve, with the remains of a double row of boxwood all round, the plants of box being about fourteen feet high, and eight or nine inches in diameter, healthy, but plainly of great age. What is this? it is called in the guide-books Queen Mary’s Bower; but besides its being plainly not in the least a bower, what could the little Queen, then five years old, and ‘fancy free’, do with a bower? It is plainly …. the Child-Queen’s Garden with her little walk, and its rows of boxwood, left to themselves for three hundred years.” [1863]

Alexander Scott (c1515-1583), the lyrical poet of the first Scottish Renaissance, was appointed organist at Inchmahome in 1548. This was a result of his connection with Robert Erskine through whom this Scott was also connected with the exiled court of Queen Mary.

The Lake of Menteith, on the edge of the Highlands ‘ is lovely rather than beautiful, and is a sort of gentle prelude, in the minor key, to the coming glories and intenser charms of Loch Ard and the true Highlands beyond’ [Dr John Brown].

Stewart Alan Robertson (1866-1933), who worked in Stirling, celebrated Menteith in verse. He was a poet whose settings included the Pentlands, Perthshire and Stirlingshire:

Moonrise with its dusky radiance veiled
the moorlands of Menteith,
Where the cliffs of Ben Dearg glimmered to
the gleaming lake beneath,
And, like emerald set in silver on a gentle
maiden’s breast,
Lies the sweetest named of islands,
Inchmahome, the Isle of Rest.

A further, at one time obscure, artistic visitor to the district was Edith Holden (1871-1920) who spent several happy summers in Perthshire, and was particularly appreciative of the Lake of Menteith. She records one visit in the best-selling Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady.

Edith Holden (self portrait)

Edith Holden (self portrait)

The ruined Priory of Inchmahome is one of the most delightfully situated of all the historic monuments in Scotland. In the aisle are the graves of the ‘Gaucho Marxist’, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936), Cunninghame Graham, whose body was brought back from Argentina, and of his wife, Gabriella. She was a poet admired by W.H.Hudson, and a religious historian. Her grave was dug by Cunningham Graham himself, whose own remains rest among those of his ancestors in this atmospheric place. There was a notable turn out for his burial 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. The distinguished literary critic, William Power, delivered his funeral oration.

He spent much time in Argentina, helped to set up both the Labour Party and the SNP, and, with others, came close to bringing about a Revolution in Britain on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1887. His first book was Notes on the District of Menteith for Tourists and Others, written “half in idleness and half out of that affection, which is common to a man, and trees for the soil in which they have been for ages rooted.” A notice on the first page illustrates Graham’s wit: ‘All rights reserved except in the Republic of Paraguay’. Here he describes the lochans of the District:

Wolves roamed the hills, as the name Craig Vad would seem to show. Around the desolate Loch Reoichte, perhaps, the Caledonian bull has fed, the wild boar harboured; and yet the ground was more secure than nowadays, for fewer perils from broken whisky bottles and sardine tins lurked in the heather. And how shall sardine tins offend? Are they not, after all, a sign natural and visible, of the spirit of the age, and did not Providence place them (most likely) in our path to show us something? What if we cannot see it, and only cut our feet upon the bottles and jagged tins? No doubt the cross, which, seen in the sky, converted Constantine, was there before; and many another Roman general was not so much deep-dyed pagan as merely unobservant.

Hard by Craig Vad is the desolate hill tarn known as Loch Reoichte. In the district there are many of these curious black hill-lochs, generally in peaty hollows, with the water black as jet, peopled with little muddy trout, and often overgrown with water-lilies.

Each has its legend, as in duty bound. Loch McAn Righ, close to the Lake of Menteith, is sacred to the memory of a king’s son, who, in the days when princes of the blood-royal perambulated the world at a loose end and unattended, almost lost his life whilst chasing wild deer, by his horse bogging down with him. Tradition hath it that one Betty or Betsy, for there is room for doubt on the forms of the name that the royal maiden bore, extracted him like a royal cork, from the mud and saved his life. The field is known as Achnaveity, said by Gaelic speaking men to mean the field of Betty. Tradition is in error in having woven no romance about the King of Scotland’s son and Betty, but then how seldom tradition, on the whole, misses its opportunities in matters of the sort. Anyhow, nearby the field is the ‘laroch’ of the chapel of Arnchly, one of four chapels connected with the monastery of Inchmahome, so possibly the nearness of the sacred edifice prevented scandal making free with the Prince’s or Betty’s name.

Other little lochs preserve their legend, as the Loch at Duchray Castle, said to be unfathomable, and the Tinker’s Loch (Lochan Cheird), above the hills of Aberfoyle, in which the mysterious water- bull of the Highland legends was said to dwell. Among them all for desolate beauty Loch Reoichte stands first.
   Notes on the District of Menteith

The writer is buried at the Priory on Inchmahome next to his wife, Gabriela Cunninghame Graham who was a religious historian and minor poet whose work was admired by one of Graham’s many literary friends, W.H.Hudson. Graham was the author of a number of Scottish pieces, which have been admirably collected by John Walker in The Scottish Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham [1982]. One of his most interesting longer works is the biography of his ancestor Robert Graham (1735-1797), the eighteenth century poet and politician, which begins with an evocative description of the country between Gartmore and Aberfoyle:

The old house of Gartmore, in the district of Menteith, was built, as tradition says, by the grandfather of the brothers Adam, somewhere about the year 1680. With it low flanking wings, its perron and heavy mouldings over the windows and the doors, it was a perfect specimen of a Georgian mansion of the time. In the days of the poet’s youth, before extensive planting was the fashion in the north, it must have looked a little bare, although the great beech avenue was possibly growing up. Rough woods of scrubby oak sheltered it from the north. The six great yews which I remember as a child were probably old trees when the poet was a boy. Great rushy parks led down to Flanders Moss, that had once been a shallow inland sea, as said tradition, and flowed up to the hill of Gartmore, where a huge stone, known as Clach nan Lung (the stone of the waves) was there to testify.

Looking out of the windows of his home, to the left of the tall cedars, then perhaps just planted – they are shown as little trees in the drawings of the time – he could see the Grampians.

The silvery waters of the Lake of Menteith, dotted with its two dark wooded islands, shrouding the Priory of Inchmaholme and the Castle of Inch Talla, the fortress of the Earls of Menteith, the poet’s ancestors, and with the fir-clad promontory of Arnmauk cutting the lake almost in two halves, lay just below the hills. The moss that flowed right from the Hill of Gartmore through the Carse of Stirling to the sea bounded the lake upon one side. Upon the other rose Ben Dearg and Ben Dhu. Between them ran the Pass of Glennie, an old Fingalian track, whose stones, polished of yore by generations of feet shod in deerskin brogues, even today show white amongst the heather in places now disused, that once it traversed like a dull silver streak.

Only two miles away to the north-west by the hill-road behind the Drum, crossing the burn where the stones form a rude bridge, lay Aberfoyle with the change-house immortalised by Walter Scott, and half a dozen black Highland cottages, all thatched with rushes or with ling.

A rough hill-track skirting the waterfall, known as the Grey Mare’s Tail, passing Craig Vadh and coming out upon the shore of Loch Achray, led to the Trossachs, in whose fastnesses lurked broken men from all the highland clans. Still farther westward rose Ben Lomond, looking exactly like Vesuvius, with its perfect cone and its top shaped crater-wise, when the white mists curled round its crest, steaming and billowing.

A dividing line, almost as abrupt as that between Portugal and Spain upon the Minho when Tuy and Valenca still glare at one another in mutual incomprehension, was drawn between the denizens of Gartmore House and the wild Highlanders, who lived only a mile or so away in the recesses of the hills.

R.B.Cunninghame Graham Doughty Deeds 1925

Cunningham Graham got his title from the nickname by which Robert Graham was known. He wrote the distinguished song, which begins:

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

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.

In his Minstrelsy Scott stated that the verses were taken down from recitation, averred to be of the age of Charles I. However, he went on to say that since their publication in the first edition, he had been assured that the late Mr.Graham of Gartmore composed them.

Robert Graham made several significant literary friendships. Hector MacNeil (1746-1818), the minor poet, 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), the scholar who collaborated with Scott on The Minstrelsy dedicated a book of poems to a Miss Graham of Gartmore, presumably one of Graham’s three sisters.

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 21. Callander to Killin

Map Callander DochartThe main road (A84) leaves Callander for the north by the Pass of Leny. It then follows the windings of Loch Lubnaig, before reaching Strathyre. Further on, at King’s House, a by-road (a dead end) leads to the village of Balquhidder and the Braes of Balquhidder. The A84 then climbs northwards across a low pass to reach a junction with the A85 at Lochearnhead. From there a circuit of Loch Earn may be undertaken. Beyond Lochearnhead the road ascends Glen Ogle, and then descends to Lix Toll, the junction for Killin. The road from Callander to the north follows the line of the old military road, which links Stirling with Fort William. It was begun in 1748 by Major William Caulfield, and completed in 1761. The former Callander and Oban railway line, which provides an alternative route for walkers and cyclists, follows the other side of Loch Lubnaig.
Loch Lubnaig

The Pass of Leny, is a memorable way to enter the Highlands. At one time road and railway were intertwined in the pass. The river roars over impressive waterfalls, which are best seen from the path that follows the old railway line north of Kilmahog. The path may be reached by crossing the bridge at the head of the Pass of Leny, signposted to the “Forestry Commission Log Cabins”. Alexander Smith (1830-67) described the scene in A Summer in Skye [1865]:

You ascend a steep path, birch trees on the right and left; the stream comes brawling down, sleeping for a moment in black pools beloved by anglers then hastening on in foam and fury to meet her sister in the Vale of Menteith below.

At the head of the Pass of Leny and at the foot of Loch Lubnaig is the thirteenth century St Bride’s Chapel, where the marriage ceremony in the Lady of the Lake [1810] takes place. In the poem, following the wedding of Norman of Armandave and Mary of Tombea, Angus of Duncraggan appears with the fiery cross conveying a summons to arms, which must be obeyed. Norman is thus obliged to leave his bride on his wedding night, and go and fight. Scott has him sing a haunting song, memorably set to music by Schubert:

Norman’s Song
The heath this night must be my bed,
The bracken curtain for my head.
My lullaby the warder’s tread,
Far, far from love and thee, Mary;
To-morrow eve, more stilly laid,
My couch may be my bloody plaid
My vesper song, thy wail, sweet maid
I dare not, dare not, fancy now
The grief that clouds thy lovely brow;’

I dare not think upon thy vow’
And all it promised me Mary!
No fond regret must Norman know
When bursts Clan-Alpine on the foe
His heart must be like bended bow,
His foot like arrow free Mary!

A time will come with feeling fraught,
For, if I fall in battle fought,
Thy hapless lover’s dying thought
Shall be a thought on thee Mary!
And if restored from conquering foes,
How blithely will the evening close
How sweet the linnet sings repose
To my young bride and me, Mary!

P.R. Drummond (1838–1884), farmer and litterateur, characterised it, in Perthshire in Bygone Days [1879], as the most beautiful Perthshire love-poem. He further stated that it was inspired by Scott’s affection for Mary Ann Erskine, the daughter of the Rev. Erskine of Muthill. Scott was attached to her, but she married another young lawyer, a Mr Colquhoun. The chapel is at an awkward corner on the A84, but can be reached with care from the lay-by just north of the Pass, or by a (rather trying) walk along the banks of the Leny. The site was restored in 1932 and there is a carved stone in the wall commemorating the centenary of Scott’s death. The plaque reads:

The foundations of this ancient Chapel of St Bride were identified and restored in his centenary year of 1932 in memory of Sir Walter Scott whose romantic genius still sheds ornament on this countryside.

Loch Lubnaig [Artist: John Fleming Engraver Joseph Swan]

Loch Lubnaig [Artist: John Fleming Engraver Joseph Swan]

 The township of Tombea, of which there is now little trace, was east of the Chapel on the old road. It was the birthplace of Alexander Campbell (1764-1824), perhaps the most considerable locally born artist, musician and poet, whose Journey from Edinburgh through parts of North Britain of 1802 and 1811 was highly influential in bringing early C19 visitors to the Trossachs before the publication of The Lady of the Lake. Campbell was a pupil of, the celebrated counter tenor Tenducci, and the tutor of the rather unmusical Walter Scott. He was also the editor of Albyn’s Anthology; or, A select collection of the melodies, songs, dancing measures, and military music peculiar to…Scotland and the Isles.. It was published in two folio volumes, by Oliver & Boyd in 1816 and 1818. The most enduring song in it is Macgregor’s Gathering, composed by Scott. A prospectus, written by Scott, one of Campbell’s supporters, appeared in 1816. However, the miscellaneous author was never quite talented enough to be successful, and was always an impoverished figure.

In 1925, opposite St Bride’s Chapel, Lord Esher built a little chapel in a ravine overlooking the loch. Reginald Brett (1852-1930), Lord Esher, the trusted advisor to both Queen Victoria and Edward VII, owned the Roman Camp in Callander, and liked the Teith, the hills, the tranquility, and the local people. He intended his ashes to be buried in the chapel, but it was not used. It is now roofless, but can be reached by an attractive forest trail, which leads to Stank Falls from the old railway track. Parking is to be had by crossing the bridge at the head of the Pass of Leny, signposted to the Forestry Commission Log Cabins. It is still possible to appreciate what a superb site it was. Esher wrote to his son in 1902:

‘Such a day. An absolutely cloudless day. Not a speck in the azure. Lubnaig was like Como. No movement of the deep blue water, except an occasional ripple, when the lightest of breezes touched the loch.’

Esher was clearly a keen Stevensonian because two inscriptions were carved in the doorway of the little chapel quoting RLS, the first from his poem ‘To S.R.Crockett’, the Galloway author:

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

The other is RLS’s famous epitaph:

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

Scott’s best description of the scenery of Loch Lubnaig is in The Legend of Montrose (1819):

Their course had lain for some time along the banks of a lake, whose deep waters reflected the crimson beams of the western sun. The broken path which they pursued with some difficulty, was in some places shaded by ancient birches and oak-trees, and in others overhung by fragments of huge rock Elsewhere, the hill, which formed the northern side of this beautiful sheet of water, arose in steep, but less precipitous acclivity, and was arrayed in heath of the darkest purple. In the present times, a scene so romantic would have been judged to possess the highest charms for the traveller; but those who journey in days of doubt and dread, pay little attention to picturesque scenery. The master kept, as often as the wood permitted, abreast of one or both of his domestics, and seemed earnestly to converse with them, probably because the distinctions of rank are readily set aside among those who are made to be sharers of common danger. The dispositions of the leading men who inhabit this wild country, and the probability of their taking part in the political convulsions that were soon expected, were the subjects of their conversation.

At Ardchullarie, beside Loch Lubnaig, is a mansion house whence a rough track, described in Scott’s Legend of Montrose [1819], leads across a mountain pass to Loch Earn, The house (not open), was the country residence towards the end of his life, of the discoverer of the source of the Blue Nile, James Bruce (1730-1794). He wrote part of his substantial account of his travels in Ethiopia or Abyssinia in 1768 at Ardchullarie: “few books of equal compass are equally entertaining” [DNB]. However, the gangly and self-opinionated Bruce was an awkward character. When he described his adventures, Dr Johnson, for one, dismissed them as fabrications, and Bruce retired to Ardchullarie to nurse his wounds. A lintel from Bruce’s house can be seen in the Stalker’s Cottage; Ardchullarie itself is a newer house

Johnson had translated an account of some early travels in Ethiopia and later written a novel, Rasselas, set in the same country. Bruce’s descriptions did not accord with Johnson’s imagination, so Johnson belittled Bruce, and Boswell followed suit. Poor Bruce was known at one time as the ‘travel-liar’. However, posterity has given him his due as one of the more significant African explorers.

He is buried at Larbert where the inscription on his grave reads:

His life was spent in performing useful and splendid actions;
He explored many distant regions,
He discovered the fountains of the Nile,
He traversed the deserts of Nubia.
He was an affectionate husband, An indulgent parent,
An ardent lover of his country.
By the unanimous voice of mankind,
His name is enrolled with those who were conspicuous
For genius, for valour and for virtue.

Strathyre and Balquhidder

At the head of Loch Lubnaig is an unusual regimental stone marking the site of some repairs undertaken on the former military road by soldiers under the command of General Pulteney. Strathyre is the site of a fountain commemorating the well-remembered Gaelic Poet, Dugald Buchanan (circa 1716-1776) born at Ardoch, near Strathyre. There is also an obelisk at Rannoch where he taught, and a plaque near Callander where he is buried. Ardoch can be reached along the back road to Balquhidder which is a recommended route, in any case. The fountain was erected as a result of the efforts of a fellow poet, Robert Fergusson (1819¬-95), born at Easter Stronvar, also situated on the back road, and buried at Balquhidder. He taught for many years at Raploch in Stirling. Buchanan is regarded as the most important composer of sacred lyrics in the Gaelic. Fergusson made a pleasing translation of one of his poems, The Dream, beginning:

As I reclined in sleep’s embrace,
And idly dreamed as others do,
I seemed to grasp sweet pleasure’s cup,
But, ah! it vanished from my view!
Methinks that one beside me stood,
Who to me said, “Oh fool thou art
To think that thou canst hold the wind,
Or that the world can fill thy heart.”

The back road past Ardoch approaches Balquhidder by Stronvar, the one time residence of David Carnegie (1813-1890), a lesser member of an enterprising family. The by road crosses the Calair Burn and the Balvag by two old bridges Parking in Balquhidder is to be had at the Church Hall. The old kirk at Balquhidder, in the grounds of the modern church, is the site of Rob Roy’s Grave. Near it is a memorial plaque to Alastair Alpin MacGregor (1889-1970) whose ashes were scattered in the Hebrides. MacGregor was a noted travel-writer and essayist. He was educated in Tain, and wrote many books about Scotland. He was particularly strong on the MacGregor country. He relates with pride that he met an elderly roadman near Inversnaid who was able to recite from memory his father’s poem, Love’s Last Request, which begins:

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

His father, Colonel John MacGregor (1847-1932), was a notable Gaelic poet, and became Bard of the MacGregors. He is actually buried in Balquhidder.

The fame of Balquhidder does not owe everything to the Macgregors since the renowned Reverend Robert Kirk (1644-1692) was the Minister there. On 8th November 1664 he became minister of Balquhidder and on 9th June, 1685 was appointed to his father’s old charge at Aberfoyle. Kirk was twice married. He married Isobel Campbell in 1678, and the couple had one son, Colin. However, Isobel died two years later, on Christmas Day, and her gravestone, with an epitaph cut by her husband is situated at the western end of the graveyard. Unfortunately the inscription can no longer be read.

Whilst at Balquhidder, Kirk began work on the transliteration of the Bible, the Psalms and the Catechism into Highland Gaelic, and wrote a helpful vocabulary (in effect the first Gaelic dictionary). He also created a metrical Psalter, published in 1684. This work was the first-ever complete translation of the psalms for Gaelic speakers. It was reckoned to be both important and elegant, displaying a great deal of literary talent as well as skill.

He also began gathering material in Balquhidder for his book about fairies, The Secret Commonwealth (see Aberfoyle).

In Victorian times the Free Church Minister of Balquhidder was Eric John Findlater (1813–1886), who married Sarah Laurie Borthwick (1823–1907). She had collaborated with her sister Jane in translating hymns from the German. In her husband’s parish Sarah inaugurated a library, ‘as a diversion from what she considered the excessive drinking habits of the residents.’ [ODNB]. Two of their three daughters, Mary and Jane, later wrote successful novels (see below).

The pleasing lyric The Braes 0′ Balquither to the air ‘The Three Carles o’ Buchanan’ by Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), can be said to have contributed almost as much as Rob Roy MacGregor to the fame of Balquhidder. The weaver-poet’s first editor declared that ‘from the description of the vegetation and animals of the mountain mentioned in this song, and the mention of Benvoirlich and Fillan Glen (in Brave Lewie Roy), it was clear that the poet had visited these places, but there is no other evidence of him.’ The song runs:

Let us go, lassie, go,
To the Braes of Balquither,
Where the blaeberries grow
‘Mang the Highland heather;
Where the deer and the rae,
Lightly bounding together,
Sport the lang Simmer day
On the braes o’ Balquither.

I will twine thee a bower
By the clear siller fountain,
An’ I’ll cover it o’er
Wi’ the flowers o’ the mountain;
I will range through the wilds,
An’ the deep glens sae dreary,
An’ return wi’ their spoils
To the bower o’ my dearie.

Now the simmer is in prime,
Wi’ the flowers richly bloomin’
An’ the wild mountain thyme
A’ the moorlands perfumin’,
To our dear native scenes
Let us journey together,
Where glad innocence reigns
Mang the braes o’ Balquhidder.

Opposite the church is Glenbuckie. There and elsewhere in the district there were prominent supporters of the Jacobite risings. It was at Glenbuckie that Murray of Broughton sheltered with the Stewarts during his flight from Culloden. James Stewart of Ardsheil, Stevenson’s ‘James Stewart of the Glen’, also stayed there in 1752, and was visited by ‘real’ Alan Breck. Famously, Stewart of Glenbuckie also sheltered Dr Archibald Cameron in the following year when the Elibank plot was afoot. Glengarry betrayed the plot, and let the Hanoverians know what Cameron was doing in the Highlands. However, Calum Maclean (1915-1960), the eminent folklorist, states that Cameron was discovered because his presence was suspected when a child, who was ill, made a surprising recovery and a jealous rival reported him. Other sources state that a kinsman betrayed him; yet others implicate James Mor MacGregor, Rob Roy’s son. There is an account of Cameron’s arrest by soldiers from Inversnaid in the National Archives, but whether it took place at Glenbuckie or at Brenachoil on Loch Katrineside is also in dispute.

In Redgauntlet Scott has it as follows:

Doctor Archibald Cameron, brother of the celebrated Donald Cameron of Lochiel, attainted for the rebellion of 1745, was found by a party of soldiers lurking with a comrade in the wilds of Loch Katrine five or six years after the battle of Culloden, and was there seized. There were circumstances in his case, so far as was made known to the public, which attracted much compassion, and gave to the judicial proceedings against him an appearance of cold-blooded revenge on the part of government; and the following argument of a zealous Jacobite in his favour, was received as conclusive by Dr. Johnson and other persons who might pretend to impartiality. Dr. Cameron had never borne arms, although engaged in the Rebellion, but used his medical skill for the service, indifferently, of the wounded of both parties. His return to Scotland was ascribed exclusively to family affairs. His behaviour at the bar was decent, firm, and respectful.

From the foot of Loch Voil there is a charming road beside Loch Voil and Loch Doine, leading to a car park at the head of the glen. The road follows the line of an early military road, which linked Inversnaid and Ruthven Barracks in Inverness-shire. Invernenty is the site of a farmstead, rebuilt in 1746, which is situated across the river from the car park. It belonged to the MacLarens, and is now ruined, but it has important literary associations. It is opposite Inverlochlarig, site of Rob Roy’s last home, where he died in 1734, and it is probably the place, which Robert Louis Stevenson had in mind where David Balfour rests up in Kidnapped, and Alan Breck and Robin Oig have their renowned ‘piping contest’.

It was certainly the place where Sir Walter Scott, as a young lawyer apprenticed to his father, first learned ‘even in his own time’ that the King’s writ did not pass quite current in the Braes of Balquhidder. Some rents were due from the Maclarens, and the young Scott was to try and enforce payment:

An escort of a sergeant and six men was obtained from a Highland regiment lying in Stirling; and the author then a writer’s apprentice, equivalent to the honourable situation of an attorney’s clerk, was invested with the superintendence of the expedition, with directions to see that the messenger discharged his duties fully, and that the gallant sergeant did not exceed his part by committing violence or plunder. And thus it happened, oddly enough, that the author first entered the romantic scenery of Loch Katrine, of which he may perhaps say he has somewhat extended the reputation, riding in all the dignity of danger, with a front and rear guard, and loaded arms. [Scott: Rob Roy]

It was a Maclaren of Invernenty who gave Scott the idea for the incident in Redgauntlet when a clansman wraps himself in his plaid and rolls down the hillside at the Devil’s Beef Tub.

Thomas Wilkinson’s Tours of the British Mousntains, was published in 1824, but written following a visit to Scotland in 1797. It was Wilkinson’s manuscript of the book that encouraged the Wordsworths to visit Scotland in 1803. He was a Quaker friend of theirs from Yanwath, near Penrith and he copied down an extract from his manuscript 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.

It was after the Wordsworths had crossed the hill pass and were descending towards Loch Voil that they saw reapers in the fields. Wordsworth recalled Wilkinson’s phrase when writing his finest Scottish poem, The Solitary Reaper (1805):

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

No nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands :
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings? –
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorry, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate’er the theme, the maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending; –
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

It should be noted that Wilkinson encountered his solitary female on one of the islands of Loch Lomond, but Dorothy Wordsworth makes it quite clear in her Journal that her brother was thinking of the Braes of Balquhidder. John Wyatt (1925-2006), the first Warden of the Lake District National Park, has pointed out that there may be a further source for the poem. It occurs in Robert Heron’s Scotland Described [1799], a book Wordsworth quotes from at length in a note to The Excnursion. The passage from Heron (1764-1807), which, unconsciously or otherwise, may have influenced The Solitary Reaper, is as follows:

I have long since learned to admire the simple, native music of my country with all the fond enthusiasm of ignorance: And as I have not the happiness to understand Gaelic, it was natural for me to be pleased with the words of a Gaelic song. . . It is a fact in the history of the manners of the Highlanders, that they are accustomed to sing at the performance of almost every piece of social labour: Rowers in a boat sing as they ply the oars; reapers sing as they cut down handful after handful of the corn; and here were washers singing as they rubbed and rinsed their clothes. This accompaniment of music certainly renders the labour more cheerful.

From the head of the glen it is necessary to retrace one’s steps to the A84. At the main road is another reminder of the military road, the King’s House. The hotel was built in 1779.

Loch Earn

The big hotel, successor to the inn, at Lochearnhead has gone, burnt down some years ago, creating an odd vacuum at a great Highland road junction. When Wordsworth, and his wife, Mary, visited Lochearnhead in 1814, they walked to see Edinample Castle and the waterfalls there. On 5th July 1841 Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and his wife arrived in Lochearnhead and remained for three nights ‘to rest and work’, Dickens continuing with Barnaby Rudge. In a letter to John Forster he described the inn and others he had stayed in, as ‘the queerest places imaginable’, but he appreciated the area: “The way the mists were stalking about today, and the clouds lying down upon the hills; the deep glens, the high rocks, the rushing waterfalls, and the roaring rivers down in deep gulfs below; were all stupendous.”

In 1882 Robert Louis Stevenson also stayed at the inn with his father. Here he began to collect material for Kidnapped in earnest. RLS was the basis for the successful character, Lorin Weir, in Penny Moneypenny [1911] by the sisters Jane Helen (1866–1946) and Mary Williamina (1865–1963) Findlater. Mary, possibly descended from a laird on the wrong side of the blanket, was born in the Manse (now the Mansewood Hotel) at Lochearnhead, and although, after their father’s death, they moved to Prestonpans, to England and eventually to Comrie, their early life was significant in their work.

Kate Douglas Wiggin

Kate Douglas Wiggin

They wrote highly successful romantic novels separately, in collaboration, and with other writers between 1896 and the twenties. Their successful book Crossriggs [1908] has been re-published as a Virago Classic. They wrote two books with Charlotte Stewart of Ardvorlich (see below) and Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923), the American author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. These two novels were The Affair at the Inn [1904] and Robinetta [1911]. Like their other books they were popular at the time in both Britain and the United States.

An estate worker in these parts, Angus McDiarmid, wrote The Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful and Interesting Scenery around Loch Earn [1815]. It is MacGonagal in prose, quite inimitable, and, for this reason, sometimes considered to be a skilful spoof. Here is his introduction:

May it please your LORDSHIP,

With overpowering sentiments of the most profound humility, I prostrate myself at your noble feet, while I offer, to your Lordship’s high consideration, these very feeble attempts to des¬cribe the indescribable and ineffable beauties of your Lordship’s delicious estate of Edinample. With tumid emotions of heart-distending pride, and with fervescent feelings of gratitude, I beg leave to acknowledge the honour I have to serve so noble a master, and the many advantages, which I, in common with your Lordship’s other menials, enjoy from the exuberance of your princely liberality. That your Lordship may long shine with refulgent brilliancy in the exalt¬ed station to which Providence has raised you, and that your noble family, like a bright constella¬tion, may diffuse a splendour glory through the high sphere of their attraction, is the fervent prayer of,
Your Lordship’s most humble,
And most devoted Servant,
ANGUS MCDIARMID                     Cartran, near Lochearnhead May 1815

For McDiarmid this passage is fairly coherent, but he exuberantly carries on until, beside the Falls of Beich Burn, he is virtually incomprehensible. Enthusiasts can find him on Google Books.

From Lochearnhead a circuit of Loch Earn is strongly recommended. The southern side of the loch has the lesser road but it passes two significant sites. The first is the Falls of Edinample at the foot of Ben Vorlich. Both the Wordsworths and Dickens visited them. A little further on Ardvorlich was turned into a fiction in The Legend of Montrose by Scott. It is one of his best novels. Sam Bough illustrated one edition, and depicted Menteith’s party approaching Darnlinvarach (Ardvorlich):

A hill was now before the travellers, covered with an ancient forest of Scottish firs, the topmost of which, flinging their scathed branches across the western horizon, gleamed ruddy in the setting sun. In the centre of this wood rose the towers, or rather the chimneys, of the house, or castle, as it was called, destined for the end of their journey.
As usual at that period, one or two high-ridged narrow buildings, intersecting and crossing each other, formed the CORPS DE LOGIS. A protecting bartizan or two, with the addition of small turrets at the angles, much resembling pepper-boxes, had procured for Darnlinvarach the dignified appellation of a castle. It was surrounded by a low court-yard wall, within which were the usual offices.

One of the principal characters in the novel is the rather elusive Allan McAulay. In the late nineteenth century the daughter of the house, Charlotte Stewart of Ardvorlich (1863-1918) chose his name as her nom de plume. Charlotte was a great childhood friend of the Findlater Sisters of Lochearnhead. She wrote half a dozen historical novels between 1900 and 1912, under the pseudonym Allan McAulay, of which Black Mary [1901], a sympathetic account of life in the Perthshire Highlands, is generally considered the best. There is an intiguing link between Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948) and Loch Earn. Bottomley was an early exponent of verse drama and set several of them in Scotland. Ardvorlich’s Wife [1928] is a retelling of The Legend of Montrose. He refers to the setting of the tale in the play:

By the crags of Dundurn,
In the heart of Glen Gonan ..

Quite what the connection beween Bottomley and Loch Earn was is not clear; he was born in Yorkshire and lived in north Lancashire. He and his  wife died in Wiltshire, but their ashes are scattered in the Chapel of Saint Fillan under Dundurn, where there is a memorial gravestone.

The Pictish fort of Dundurn (also known as Dunfillan or St. Fillan’s Hill), is revered as a sacred site. It is situated at the foot of Loch Earn. St Fillan is probably the same saint as the one associated with Killin established himself there early in the 6th century. Not far from the foot of the crag is a stream called Allt Ghoinean which is the Gonan or Monan of Scott’s Lady of the Lake:

The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan’s rill.

St Fillan appears at the very beginning of Lady of the Lake:

Harp of the North! that mouldering long hast hung
On the witch-elm that shades Saint Fillan’s spring

Scott, being Scott, provides a note about both ‘witch-elm’ and ‘St Fillan’:

The broad-leaved or wych elm (Ulmus montana), indigenous to Scotland. Forked branches of the tree were used in olden time as divining-rods, and riding switches from it were supposed to insure good luck on a journey. In the closing stanzas of the poem it is called the “wizard” elm.

Of St Fillan Scott says:

Saint Fillan was a Scotch abbot of the seventh century who became famous as a saint. He had two springs, which appear to be confounded by some editors of the poem. One was at the eastern end of Loch Earn, where the pretty modern village of St. Fillans now stands, under the shadow of Dun Fillan, or St. Fillan’s Hill, six hundred feet high, on the top of which the saint used to say his prayers, as the marks of his knees in the rock still
testify to the credulous.”

Breadalbane

From Lochearnhead the road to Killin climbs the A85 through Glen Ogle. The old military road lies in the valley and combined with the line of the old railway makes a splendid round from Lochearnhead. The road crosses the Lairig Cheile and descends to Lix Toll. The old military road is clearly seen from the pass. Breadalbane comprehends the whole of the upper Tay and more; the romantic-sounding name means ‘the upland of Scotland’
James Logie Robertson (1846-1922), the author of Homer in Homespun [1900], wrote a splendid rhyme for Punch in 1903:

In Braid Albyn
[To be read Scotto Voce]
From Kenmore
To Ben Mohr
The land is a’ the Markiss’s;
The mossy howes
The heathery knowes
An’ ilka bonny park’s his
The bearded goats,
The toozie stots,
An’ a’ the braxy carcasses;

Ilk crofter’s rent,
Ilk tinker’s tent,
An’ ilka collie’s bark is his.
The muircock’s craw,
The piper’s blaw,
The gillie’s day’s wark is his;
From Kenmore
To Ben Mohr
The Warld is a’ the Markiss’s.

Archie McKerracher, the local historian showed that this poem is a reworking of an older verse dating from the evictions.

Duncan Ban MacIntyre [Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t¬-Saoir] (1723? –1812), Scotland’s most renowned Gaelic poet, is particularly associated with Argyll, but he spent more than twenty years (1744-66) working as a forester on the Breadalbane estate in Glen Lochay, in Perthshire. The subject of one of his most famous poems, The Misty Corrie, is in upper Glen Lochay. We can also suppose that the mock sporting estate, ‘Crummie Toddie’, in Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) The Duke’s Children [1880] was located in Breadalbane. He associates it with ‘The Callander and Fort Augustus Railway’. If it isn’t, it ought to be.

One must also add that in all the vast literature of the Scottish Hills there is no more affectionate, well put-together and readable book than V. A. Firsoff (1912-82) In the Hills of Breadalbane [1954]. In it he makes the memorable remark, which visitors ought to reflect on: ‘It is difficult to get a balance between sight-seeing and real life.’

After Glen Ogle the road reaches Lix Toll, the turn-off for Killin (see Literary Glendochart)

 

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