Archive for Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 7. Literary Glendochart

 

 

Crianlarich is an interesting hamlet consisting of a railway station, a grand inn, a shop and one or two houses. From it take the A82 to Tyndrum, five miles away.

Strathfillan

The Fillan is the remotest head-stream of the river Tay. It winds east-south-eastward from Tyndrum past Dalrigh and Crianlarich, until it expands to form Loch Dochart. Near the river’s left bank stand the ruins of an Austin priory church, St Fillan’s Priory where there are some remains of what appears to have been a once extensive building. The Priory is situated on the West Highland Way at Kirkton [which takes its name from the Priory], between Crianlarich and Tyndrum. It was dedicated, as a thank-offering for the victory of Bannockburn in 1314, to St Fillan by Robert Bruce. Nearby is a Holy Pool, as it is called, where the insane were dipped with certain ceremonies, and then left bound all night in the open air. If they were found loose the next morning, they were supposed to have been cured. Pennant added that the patients were generally found in the morning relieved of their troubles — by death. Scott alludes to this pool in Marmion:

“Thence to Saint Fillan’s blessed well,
Whose springs can frenzied dreams dispel,
And the crazed brain restore.”

St Fillan’s bell and crozier are now housed in the National Museum in Edinburgh. St Fillan is also associated with Killin where there was an old meal mill and St Fillans (qv) where there is another old Kirk.

Dalrigh is SE of Tyndrum. It was the scene on 11 August 1306 of a skirmish between Robert Bruce and Macdougal of Lorn, when the famous Brooch of Lorn, described in Scott’s Lord of the Isles, was torn from Bruce. In a note Scott describes the conflict

Robert Bruce, after his defeat at Methven, being hard pressed by the English, endeavoured, with the dispirited remnant of his followers, to escape from Breadalbane and the mountains of Perthshire into the Argyle¬shire Highlands. But he was encountered and repulsed, after a very severe engage¬ment, by the Lord of Lorn. Bruce’s per¬sonal strength and courage were never displayed to greater advantage than in this conflict. There is a tradition in the family of the MacDougals of Lorn, that their chieftain engaged in personal battle with Bruce himself, while the latter was employed in protecting the retreat of his men; that MacDougal was struck down by the king, whose strength of body was equal to his vigor of mind, and would have been slain on the spot, had not two of Lorn’s vassals, a father and son, whom tradition terms Mac-Keoch, rescued him by seizing the mantle of the monarch, and dragging him from his adversary. Bruce rid himself of these two foes by two blows with his redoubted battleaxe, but was so closely pressed by the other followers of Lorn that he was forced to abandon the mantle, and broach which fastened it clasped in the dying grasp of the MacKeochs. A studded broach said to have been that which King Robert lost upon this occasion was long preserved in the family of Macdougal and was lost in a fire consumed their temporary residence.
Great art and expense were bestowed upon the broach which secured the plaid, some [broaches] were as broad as a platter and engraved with curious designs and decorated with crystals or more valuable stones

In Scott’s Lord of the Isles there is a description of the Brooch:

“Whence the brooch of burning gold
That clasps the chieftain’s mantle fold,
Wrought and chased with rare device,
Studded fair with gems of price.”

Tyndrum

Standing 700 feet above sea-level, Tyndrum is described by Queen Victoria, on 22 Sept. 1873, as ‘a wild, picturesque, and desolate place in a sort of wild glen with green hills rising around. . . . There are a few straggling houses and a nice hotel at the station.’ Tyndrum is slightly more sophisticated these days.
It was there that the famous engineer John Rennie essayed his only recorded attempt at verse in his Journal for 1797:

Barren are Caledonia’s Hills,
Unfertile are her Plains,
Barelegged are her Brawney Nymphs,
Bare-arsed are her Swains

Samuel Rogers, found Tyndrum particularly civilised: “At Tyndrum heard a Highlander whistle ‘The Ploughboy’ produced but lately in the comic opera The Farmer. Have been waited on everywhere but here by waiters in philibegs and maids without stockings.” In 1803 the Wordsworths reached the inn shortly after Coleridge had left, sulkily tramping northwards. In 1814 Wordsworth was inspired to write a sonnet there. He contrasts the peaks of Tyndrum with the pastoral surroundings of classical Greece. The storm is an awesome reminder of Nature’s powers:

Suggested at Tyndrum in a Storm

ENOUGH of garlands, of the Arcadian crook,
And all that Greece and Italy have sung
Of Swains reposing myrtle groves among!
‘Ours’ couch on naked rocks, – will cross a brook
Swoln with chill rains, nor ever cast a look
This way or that, or give it even a thought
More than by smoothest pathway may be brought
Into a vacant mind. Can written book
Teach what ‘they’ learn? Up, hardy Mountaineer!
And guide the Bard, ambitious to be One
Of Nature’s privy council, as thou art,
On cloud-sequestered heights, that see and hear
To what dread Powers He delegates his part
On earth, who works in the heaven of heavens, alone.

 

Glendochart

From Tyndrum return to Crianlarich and follow the A85 to Killin. Glen Dochart can disappoint. Travelling westwards it may be found to be a progressive ‘falling off’ in the quality of scenery to be had at Crianlarich, until Killin itself is reached. In the other direction, it may be perceived to be relatively subdued after the tumultuous waterfalls of Killin. Dorothy Wordsworth considered ‘the face of the country not very interesting, although not unpleasing’ However, Glen Dochart has its charms. Fine roads traverse both Strathfillan and Glendochart. Indeed, Glen Dochart has always been a significant line of communication, at one time carrying an important military road, then a turnpike and the much-loved Callander and Oban railway.

The Wordsworths travelled this way in 1803:

William Miller Frazer RSA (1864-1961) "On the Dochart" [image: Anthony Woodd]

William Miller Frazer RSA (1864-1961) “On the Dochart” [image: Anthony Woodd]

We had about eleven miles to travel before we came to our lodging, and had gone five or six, almost always descending, and still in the same vale (Strath Fillan), when we saw a small lake before us, after the vale had made a bending to the left. It was about sunset when we came up to the lake; the afternoon breezes had died away, and the water was in perfect stillness. One grove-like island, with a ruin that stood upon it overshadowed by the trees, was reflected on the water. This building, which, on that beautiful evening, seemed to be wrapped up in religions quiet, we were informed had been raised for defence by some Highland chieftain. All traces of strength, or war, or danger are passed away, and in the mood in which we were we could only look upon it as a place of retirement and peace. The lake is called Loch Dochart.

The picturesque qualities of Loch Dochart also impressed William Gilpin:

About the middle of this ascent, the country becoming flat, we found the torrent arrested by a valley; and formed into a small lake, called Loch Dochart; the shores of which afforded us some fine scenery, both when we saw it in extent (for tho it was small, it had dimensions sufficient for any landscape) and when we saw only a portion of it. In the former situation, the distant hills made an agreeable boundary to the water. In the latter we had a huge promontory hanging over a castle, which stood upon an island at its foot.

The castle was for long held by the Campbells of Loch Awe, and was one of the homes of Duncan Campbell of the Cowl (Black Duncan of the Seven Castles). One winter, the Macgregors took it, by storming the castle across the ice. Seton Gordon points out that there is a poem which makes mention of the island castle and is dedicated to the Macgregor, chief of the Clan, in the Book of the Dean of Lismore. This was a miscellany of Scottish and Irish poetry, the oldest collection of such poetry still extant, compiled between 1512 and 1526. In addition Gordon relates a gory legend about the death of Fingal, which is connected with the next loch, Loch Iubhair

After leaving Crianlarich the foothills of Ben More begin to dominate the glen. Both Murray’s Handbook and the 1927 Blue Guide state that Glen Dochart is the setting for James Hogg’s Spectre of the Glen. This appears to be a reference to The Spectre’s Cradle Song one of the poems in The Queen’s Wake (1813). In a note Hogg explains:

I mentioned formerly that the tale of McGregor is founded on a popular Highland tradition – so also is this Song of the Spectre in the introduction to it, which to me, at least, gives it a peculiar interest. As I was once traveling up Glen Dochart, attended by Donald Fisher, a shep¬herd of that country, he pointed out to me some curious green dens, by the side of the large rivulet which descends from the back of Ben More, the name of which, in the Gaelic language, signifies the abode of the fairies. A native of that country, who is still living, happening to be benighted there one summer evening, without knowing that the place was haunted, wrapped himself in his plaid, and lay down to sleep till the morning. About midnight be was awaked by the most enchanting music; and on listening, he heard it to be the voice of a woman singing to her child. She sung the verses twice over, so that next morning he had several of them by heart. Fisher had heard them often recited in Gaelic, and he said they were wild beyond human conception. He remembered only a few lines, which were to the same purport with the Spirit’s Song here inserted, namely, that she (the singer) had brought her babe from the regions below to be cooled by the breeze of the world, and that they would soon be obliged to part, for the child was going to heaven, and she was to remain for a season in purgatory. I had not before heard any thing so truly romantic.

Hush, my bonny babe! hush, and be still!
Thy mother’s arms shall shield thee from ill.
Far have I borne thee, in sorrow and pain,
To drink the breeze of the world again.
The dew shall moisten thy brow so meek,
And the breeze of midnight fan thy cheek,
And soon shall we rest in the bow of the hill;
Hush, my bonny babe! hush, and be still!

Just beyond Loch Iubhair, where the long straight road turns a corner, is Coirechorach, the gable of a house on the site of an older house where Rob Roy lived under the protection of the Earl of Breadalbane. Rob Roy also stayed at Portnellan.

Returning home in 1804 Hogg came down Glen Dochart to Suie and, in his capacity as shepherd, rather than that of poet, expounds on the Earl of Breadalbane’s mastery of the art of keeping sheep, or, perhaps, his lack of it:

The whole of Breadalbane, with its adjacent glens is an excellent sheep country, and it being the first on which the improved breed of short sheep was tried, it has long produced large droves of the best wedders, most of which are bred at home; yet the draft ewes which that country sends to the south, are commonly of an inferior quality. This must either be owing to their age or bad treatment, as it is evident from the samples of their wedders what the country can do.

Hogg also comments favourably on the fine view to be had from the ancient pass, which connects Glen Dochart at Suie and Balquhidder.

Lady Sarah Murray paused at Suie, at a little distance from Luib, where she was shown a relic of St. Fillan, the ‘coigreach’ — the curved head of a pastoral staff. She gives way to her customary raptures, although the manner in which the sentence below is constructed doesn’t really make this very clear:

Glen Dochart is a region of mountains, moor, and water, till near, at the head of it, though all the way the banks of the Tay, at the bases of the mountains, are mostly ornamented with wood, and now and then gentlemen’s houses; but the forms of the lower hills, hanging over Loch Dochart, the verdure, and in short, the whole is enchanting. On the south bank of the lake, the huge sides of Ben More give great majesty and solemnity to the scene. The islands in the lake are extremely picturesque; particularly the one that is formed by a large rock, covered with wood, through which a ruin is seen. All the surrounding objects conspire to make Loch Dochart a view of the sublime and the beautiful united.

At Luib, sometimes Tynluib, is an old inn, which Wordsworth visited twice: in 1803 with his sister, Dorothy — a famous occasion when they complained about not getting any wine — and in 1814 when he returned with his wife and sister-in-law. The Wordsworths approached Killin on 5 Sept. 1803 from Luib and breakfasted there:

On Monday we set off again [from Luib] a little after six o’clock-a fine morning – eight miles to Killin – the river Dochart always on our left. The face of the country not very interesting, though not unpleasing, reminding us of some of the vales of the north of England, though meagre, nipped-up, or shrivelled compared with them. Within a mile or two of Killin the land was better cultivated, and, looking down the vale, we had a view of Loch Tay. . . .

Killin
Killin (or Kill Fin) is said to signify the “burial-place of Fingal,” whose purported grave is marked by a stone in the village. However the most noted authority on Breadalbane Rev Wm A. Gillies points out that many of the stories about him can be shown to be made up. A wooded island in the Dochart is the burying-place of the Macnabs, a clan which once dominated the surrounding country.

One of the most celebrated visitors to Killin was Charles Dickens in July 1841 who wrote enthusiastically to John Forster about the Falls of Lochay. Dickens must be thought of by most people as essentially urban, but he was an appreciative traveller who enjoyed both Scotland and the Lake District:

We left Lochearnhead last night and went to a place called Killin, eight miles from it, where we slept. I walked six miles with Fletcher after we got there to see a waterfall; and it was a magnificent sight, foaming and crashing down three great steeps of riven rock, leaping over the first as far as you could carry your eye, and rumbling and foaming down into a dizzy pool below you, with a deafening roar.

Lady Sarah Murray was, for once, defeated by these falls; she underestimated—as many another visitor must have done—the distance from Killin. By way of contrast Maria Edgeworth, visiting Killin in 1823, stated:

At Killin took a very pretty walk before tea, of about two miles and a half, and back again, to see a waterfall, which fully answered our expectations: you see I am very strong.

Joseph Farington who refers to the Falls of Lochay as the Falls of Coilig (probably “the wooded falls”) is lyrical about them in his Journal for October 1801:

The ride to it is beautiful. A little before I got to the fall I stopped at a cottage and took with me as a guide an elderly man who had all the civility, which is so common in the highlands. He told me he had been a soldier and had served abroad. Lord Breadalbane, to whom the estate of Coilig belongs, had made good pathways to three points from which the fall may be viewed. The first point is the finest and I was equally surprised and gratified on seeing so noble a fall accompanied as it is by rocks simple in their forms, in their height and breadth proportioned to the vast body of water which fell between them. Before I saw the fall I expected to find it a pleasing garden stream not having heard it spoken of by persons who have visited this country, and was the more surprised to find it of a size and character resembling the falls of Clyde, though not equal to the two principal of those falls (Cora Linn and Stonebyres), the accompaniments above the rocks being inferior in grandeur, but superior to Bonnington Linn the third and uppermost of those falls. It is only a few years since this fall was noticed sufficiently to make those who travelled through this Country acquainted with it, but it is now recommended to all who go to Killin in search of picturesque scenery.

The Falls of Lochay are nowadays part of a hydro electric power scheme. This is served by a power station pleasingly designed by the nationally known architects Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners. The other notable sight in Glen Lochay is the Moirlanich Longhouse, a late eighteenth century cottage of the kind which the Wordsworths and other early visitors must have found everywhere they went in Scotland. The house is looked after by the National Trust for Scotland; it is an instructive place to visit.

Strath Tay

Strath Tay

 

 

So much for Glen Lochay, but Killin is more frequently approached from Lix and entered by crossing the Dochart. Dr. John M’Culloch, the geologist describes the place:

Killin is the most extraordinary collection of extraordinary scenery in Scotland-unlike everything else in the country, and perhaps on earth, and a perfect picture gallery in itself, since you cannot move three yards without meeting a new landscape.. Fir trees, rocks, torrents, mills, bridges, houses-these produce the great bulk of the middle landscape, under endless combinations; while the distances more constantly are found in the surrounding hills, in their varied woods, in the bright expanse of the lake, and the minute ornaments of the distant valley, in the rocks and bold summit of Craigchailliach, and in the lofty vision of Ben Lawers, which towers like a huge giant in the clouds, the monarch of the scene.’

 

Farington was fascinated by the Falls of Dochart above the bridge at the entrance to the village:

We could not have seen them to more advantage, for the flood of waters, rushing in every direction not only filled the spaces formed by frequent inundations, but presented all the varieties which different interruptions could give it. The whole scene appeared from different situations singularly curious and interesting. On moving to different points on the rocks which divided the waters I was still more delighted while contemplating particular points of these extensive falls where I found the stream associated with mills and other objects on its margin, and a noble background of hills rising above them producing together most beautiful compositions.

Lady Sarah Murray is also highly enthusiastic:

The linn at Killin is very striking, and uncommon. The Tay advances to it from Glen Dochart, and widens to a very considerable breadth as it approaches Killin; which is a row of small houses facing the linn; the road only between it and the houses. The broad bed of the river is there choked up by large masses of rock lying on one another, in every kind of form and direction. These fragments of rock have been, most of them at least, washed thither by floods, and in the course of years have collected sufficient soil to unite many of them together, so as to form rough islands, covered with beautiful bushes, and trees of no great size; but sprouting from every crevice, branching and weeping over the rocks, in a style that delights the eye. Two small bridges, from rock to rock (but not in a line), lead from the south to the north side of the river. Just at the bridges the head of a small rocky high-banked island divides the river. This nook is the terra firma between the bridges; against which, and the rocks before it, the water dashes, foams, and roars to such a degree, at the time of flood, that it is scarcely possible to hear the sound of a human voice, even close to the ear. I wonder that the inhabitants of Killin are not all deaf (like those who are employed in iron or copper works), from the thundering noise of the rushing waters. Standing on either of the romantic bridges, the scene around is prodigiously grand, awful and striking.

Today the entrance to the village is much as these two travellers described it. At the far end of the bridge is St Fillan’s Mill, which posseses a water wheel. It is occupied by the Breadalbane Folklore Centre where further information about such local luminaries as Robert Kirk may be had. It was when he was in Balquhidder that Kirk started to collect fairy stories and at least one such tale in The Secret Commonwealth is set in Killin It suggests that visitors to Killin ought to exercise caution before going into an ale-house:

IT is notoriously known what in Killin, within Perthshire, fell tragically out with a Yeoman that liv’d hard by, who coming into a Companie within ane Ale-house, where a Seer sat at Table, that at the Sight of the Intrant Neighbour, the Seer starting, rose to go out of the House; and being asked the Reason of his haist, told that the intrant Man should die within two Days; at which News the named Intrant stabb’d the Seer, and was him self executed two Days after for the Fact.

Before leaving the bridge — notable in itself — a visit ought to be paid to Innis Bhuidhe. The key can be had from the Folklore Centre. Seton Gordon (1948) describes it:

Through the heart of Killin the Dochart thunders, and in heavy water its spray bathes the MacNabs’ ancestral burial ground of Inchbuie. Inch Buie, the Yellow Island, which may have been an ancient stronghold, is densely shaded by veteran beeches and pines and golden moss covers the ground.

You enter the island burial site and discover a magical place, cut off from the rest of the world. Dorothy Wordsworth found it ‘altogether uncommon and romantic — a remnant of ancient grandeur: extreme natural wildness — the sound of roaring water and withal, the ordinary half-village, half town bustle of an everyday place.’

The Wordsworths had approached Killin on 5 Sept. 1803 from Luib:

We crossed the Dochart by means of three bridges, which make one continued bridge of great length. On an island below the bridge is a gateway with tall pillars, leading to an old burying-ground belonging to some noble family’

At about the same time as the Wordsworths Samuel Rodgers was in the village. He ‘came to Killin, through which runs a rocky torrent to the lake. On the banks of this were several women and girls dipping their clothes in the river, and spreading them out on the green margin, like king’s daughters of old’

The bridge is used in both the original Casino Royale and the first re-make of The Thirty-nine Steps. At the Folklore Centre a Heritage Trail begins. It draws attention to various interesting places in the village; literary visitors will find it convenient to follow the trail to see Fingal’s Grave, Sròn a’ Chlachain, the Parish Church and Finlarig Castle. From the Main Street turn left (opposite the bakery) into Manse Road and then turn right and right again to join Fingal Street. Fingal’s Stone is on the left through a gate. It is said to mark Fingal’s grave, if he ever had a grave.

Fingal, Fionn mac Cumhaill, is a mythical hero of old Gaelic stories which were given a new life in the last quarter of the C18 by James Macpherson who published what he called translations of them. In practice, he was helped by Gaelic speakers to collect the stories, mainly in the Hebrides, and then ‘enhanced’ them in various ways. One of the greatest critics of their authenticity at the time was Dr Samuel Johnson, but it is now accepted that they were, at least, based on Celtic originals.

There are a number of sites in Highland Perthshire associated with Fingal. It is said that ‘Fingal had twelve castles in the crooked glen of large stones.’ This is taken to be Glen Lyon, north of Loch Tay, and well outside the National Park. Near Fortingall, at the mouth of Glen Lyon is ‘an Dun Geal’ (the white fort) where Fingal was supposed to live. These forts or castles occur throughout the district between the Forth and the Tay (the Pictish province of Fortrenn). The first person to draw wider attention them was Thomas Pennant (1726–1798). He secured information about them from the Rev. James Stuart, minister of Killin. In Glenlyon these defences are called “Caistealan nam Fiann” to this day. William A. Gillies points out:

Legend and heroic Gaelic poetry have associated these round forts with the Fiann, who are believed to have been bands of warriors acting under the rule of a leader, or chief. The most famous of these leaders was Fionn, the renowned Fingal of Celtic tales.

In Killin Pennant described the well-preserved stone circle consisting of six stones found in the field called Kinnell Park in the grounds of Kinnell House (on the other side of the Dochart from the village).

A sub-Wordsworthian American poet, Robert Edward Lee Gibson (b.1864) celebrated Fingal’s Grave in 1901

OFT have I seen the spot of his repose
Whose might all men acknowledged – Morven chief.
Fingal, once glorious, but departed now,
The most deplored of our lamented kings.

Fingal’s Stone is a good starting point for the ascent of Sròn a’ Chlachain which involves a climb of 400 m. It was probably in the year 1646 that Iain Lom, the distinguished Gaelic poet composed a lament for the young Keppoch chief who was killed in a skirmish at Sròn a’ Chlachain the prominent hill above Killin. The poet’s father was also killed in this skirmish, but protocol required the main emphasis to be on the chief’s death. The hill affords magnificent views of Loch Tay.

At the north-eastern end of the village is the distinctive white-harled octagonal church built in 1744 by the mason Thomas Clark to a design by John Douglas of Edinburgh. Inside it has been altered from a ‘wide’ church to a ‘long’ church. In front of the church is a monument to Rev James Stewart (1701-89), the highly respected minister of Killin, who first translated the New Testament into Scots Gaelic (published 1767). Prior to this Gaelic was, in effect, suppressed although Robert Kirk had done much valuable work in making Irish Bibles understandable. Indeed, Dr Samuel Johnson was one Stewart’s admirers and offered to help him in any way he could. His son John Stuart (1743–1821), Gaelic scholar and botanist, was born at the manse on 31 July 1743. Apart from his interest in the Gaelic language, in which capacity he accompanied Thomas Pennant throughout the Highlands and Islands in 1771 and saw Duncan Ban MacIntyre’s poems through the press, Stuart was also a devoted student of botany and lichenology, and identified many of Perthshire’s rare alpine plants. Pennant’s first tour of Scotland was unfairly criticised for superficiality, so he made sure, by engaging Stuart that he was able to interpret place names and describe antiquities.

Stuart’s sister married James McLagan (1728–1805), folklorist, who was one of the first collectors of the poems of Ossian. Their eldest son, James, became professor of divinity at King’s College, Aberdeen. This makes the manse at Killin a particularly literary household.

From the Church turn right into Pier Road and cross the River Lochay to reach Finlarig Castle. The former pier is a reminder of the days when a steamer plied on Loch Tay, and the Killin Branch line came meet it. Finlarig is a picturesque ruined castle at the head of Loch Tay, An ancient seat of the Earl of Breadalbane’s ancestors, it figures in Scott’s Fair Maid of Perth as the death-place of the chief of the clan Quhele:

A distant sound was heard from far up the lake, even as it seemed from the remote and distant glens out of which the Dochart and the Lochy pour their streams into Loch Tay. It was in a wild, inaccessible spot, where the Campbells at a subsequent period founded their strong fortress of Finlarig, that the redoubted commander of the Clan Quhele drew his last breath; and, to give due pomp to his funeral, his corpse was now to be brought down the loch to the island assigned for his temporary place of rest.

The castle is a narrow three-story ivy-clad pile, with a square tower at one corner. Adjoining it is the buryingvault of the Breadalbane family; surrounding it is an undulating park with grand old trees. This inspired Wordsworth’s sonnet of 1814, The Earl of Breadalbane’s Ruined Mansion and Family Burial Place, near Killin. Sara Hutchinson’s letter from Killin refers to the place:

There is an ancient residence in ruin of the earls of Breadalbane & a burial place with finer and older wood than any I have seen in Scotland and not often surpassed in England

The sonnet runs as follows:

WELL sang the Bard who called the grave, in strains
Thoughtful and sad, the “narrow house”. No style
Of fond sepulchral flattery can beguile
Grief of her sting; nor cheat, where he detains
The sleeping dust, stern Death. How reconcile
With truth, or with each other, decked remains
Of a once warm Abode, and that ‘new’ Pile,
For the departed, built with curious pains
And mausoleum pomp? Yet here they stand
Together —’mid trim walks and artful bowers,
To be looked down upon by ancient hills,
That, for the living and the dead, demand
And prompt a harmony of genuine powers;
Concord that elevates the mind, and stills.

A different path opposite the castle leads back to the village. This concludes the visit to a village with considerable literary associations.

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 6. Upper Loch Lomond and Glen Falloch.

 

Upper Loch Lomond

At first the A82 from Tarbet to Crianlarich clings very closely to the shore of the upper loch; then it climbs Genfalloch. At one point the road is so narrow that only one-way traffic is permitted. There are several sights: Inveruglas is the site of one of the first major hydro electric power stations in Scotland; just to the north of it is a fine viewpoint, and further on one of the first concrete railway viaducts. Opposite are The Falls of Inversnaid and Rob Roy’s cave (dealt with in more detail elsewhere). The hotel at Inversnaid runs a ferry from Inveruglas for hotel guests . Nichol Graham writing in 1747 described the country seen on the other side of the loch:

“The lands in the head of the parish of Buchanan lying between Loch Lomond and Loch Katerin are, of all these in that country, the best adapted for concealments and the most conveniently situate for bad purposes. Theft and depredations were pushed successfully in these places with an intention, either to turn these lands waste, or oblige that lord; the proprietor of them then, by a purchase from the family of Buchanan, to grant leases to those ancient possessors. The scheme purported answered the sons of Rob Roy got one half of those lands in lease, and Glengyle the nephew, the other half. When these people got possession of these places so well fitted for their designs, they found they were able to carry matters one point further; in order to which, it was necessary that thefts and depredations should be carried on incessantly through their whole neighbourhood. As they had now got possession of these high grounds in a legal way, from whence they could vex the whole neighbourhood, the thing was agreed, and a formal blackmail contract entered into betwixt MacGregor and a great many heritors, whose lands lay chiefly exposed to these depredations, and which enabled him, when the troubles of 174 5 began to raise about forty men for that service, and opened the first scene in that fatal tragedy, by surprising the barracks of Inversnaid, and that part of General Campbell’s regiment which was working at the Inveraray roads.”

Edwin Way Teale(1899-1980), the distinguished American naturalist, wrote a classic travel book Springtime in Britain [1970] in which he described an extended tour of Britain. He catches the atmosphere of the upper loch as follows:

Wherever we stopped, somewhere within sight a foaming cataract traced its descending thread or narrow ribbon, chalk-white or shining silver according to the shade or sun, down the steep plunge to the opposite shore. By the time we turned away towards Inveraray – not far from the place where Wordsworth stood while ‘The Solitary Reaper’ sang her plaintive song perhaps .. . for old, unhappy, far-off things, and battles long ago we had counted 25 waterfalls.

The first site with significant literary connections is Clach nan Tairbh, literally the Bull Stone, but long known as Pulpit Rock. It is an erratic boulder of considerable size between Tarbet and Ardlui. Legend has it that two bulls fought a battle on the slopes of Ben Vorlich and disturbed the rock which came thundering down the hillside. A hollow in the rock, which used to be fronted by a wooden platform, was used by local ministers in place of a church. The site impressed the Wordsworths, and was apostrophised by Blackie. It was after visiting Pulpit Rock that Wordsworth was inspired to write two poems about the hermit who inhabited Eilean a Vow — Eilean Bho, the isle of cows, close to Pulpit Rock. Introducing the first poem of 1814 he has a swipe at Burns:

IN this tour, my wife and her sister Sara were my companions. The account of the “Brownie’s Cell” and the Brownies was given me by a man we met with on the banks of Loch Lomond, a little above Tarbert, and in front of a huge mass of rock, by the side of which, we were told, preachings were often held in the open air. The place is quite a solitude, and the surrounding scenery very striking. How much is it to be regretted that, instead of writing such Poems as the “Holy Fair” and others, in which the religious observances of his country are treated with so much levity, and too often with indecency, Burns had not employed his genius in describing religion under the serious and affecting aspects it must so frequently take.

The poem is elaborately titled:

Suggested by a beautiful ruin upon one of the Islands of Loch Lomond . A place chosen for the retreat of a solitary individual from whom this habitation acquired the name of The Brownie’s Cell

It was probably composed in 1814, but it was not published until 1820. It describes both the island and the hermit:

All, all were dispossessed, save him whose smile

Shot lightning through this lonely Isle!

No right had he but what he made

To this small spot, his leafy shade;

But the ground lay within that ring

To which he only dared to cling;

Renouncing here, as worse than dead,

The craven few who bowed the head

Beneath the change; who heard a claim

How loud! yet lived in peace with shame.

 

In 1831 Wordsworth returned to the district and heard that the hermit had died. He penned a lament, The Brownie, introducing it as follows:


Upon a small island, not far from the head of Loch Lomond, are some remains of an ancient building, which was for several years the abode of a solitary Individual, one of the last survivors of the clan of Macfarlane, once powerful in that neighbourhood. Passing along the shore opposite this island in the year 1814, the Author learned these particulars, and that this person then living there had acquired the appellation of “The Brownie.” See “The Brownie’s Cell,” to which the following is a sequel.

How disappeared he? Ask the newt and toad;

Ask of his fellow men and they will tell

How he was found, cold as an icicle,

Under an arch of that forlorn abode

The river Falloch tumbles down an attractive defile at the head of Loch Lomond, which is traversed by both the West Highland Way and the road [A82] to Crianlaraich. Mountain, Moor and Loch [1895] describes the entrance:

Inverarnan, which lies on the bank of the Falloch, consists of only a few houses and the old hotel, which, during the construction of the [railway] line, was turned into houses, the principal [house] being a residence for the engineers engaged  The steamers on Loch Lomond used to come up to Inverarnan, before the pier at Ardlui was built, and the hotel was the old posting establishment. Beside it can be seen the little artificial basin where the vessels lay. From Inverarnan coaches used to run all the way to Fort William, Oban, and Ballachulish.

 

The inn at Inverarnan was for long the focal point for the winter meet of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. One of its members was the distinguished writer about the Scottish countryside Campbell Steven (1911-2002). In 1971 in Enjoying Scotland he recalled:

… those halcyon days of the past when Inverarnan Hotel was  open all year round, with that reputation for hospitality which was to become almost legendary in the world of climbers and skiers

 

The Glenfalloch estate became the property of Colin Campbell of Glen Orchy in the reign of James IV and the lower part of the glen is densely wooded. The trees were probably planted by Colin’s son, Black Duncan of the Cowl, who was one of the first highland lairds to pay attention to the improvement of his estates. For a time Lucy Walford, the novelist, lived in Glenfalloch House, and John Stuart Blackie, among others, called on her there. Walford’s account of Inverarnan and Glen Falloch in her Recollections is instructive:

At the upper end of Loch Lomond steamers are able to penetrate a short way inland, as the river Falloch broadens into a sort of canal before losing itself in the waters of the lake; and the little saloon steamers thread their way up this as far as Inverarnan, where they come to an anchorage at a rustic pier beneath a huge, wide-spreading elm. When we saw the steam arising from this secluded spot (which we could do from the windows of Glenfalloch House), we knew the boat was there, and ten minutes’ walk would take us to it.

Half-way was the boundary between Dumbartonshire and Argyllshire, with a turnpike-gate on the edge of either county. Thus there were two turnpikes within a hundred yards of each other – a queer state of things, which has since passed away.

There being no West Highland Railway at the period, coaches from the north were the only means of conveying tourists and other passengers from Dalmally and Tyndrum to Loch Lomond, Loch Katrine, and the far-famed Pass of the Trossachs; so that every afternoon coaches came in rapid succession, galloping, rocking, and swaying, down the glen.

 

There were dangerous corners to be turned; but of course the bulk of the coach-load did not know this, and were innocently happy as they spun past, though we, who soon grew familiar with every inch of the road, were well pleased when they disappeared among the trees on the plain below.

 

Many other writers, of whom Dorothy Wordsworth is perhaps the most famous, have celebrated Glen Falloch. She gives a memorable account of her walk from the head of Loch Lomond to Glen Gyle at the head of Loch Katrine, with her brother, William:

The most easy rising, for a short way at first, was near a naked rivulet which made a fine cascade in one place. Afterwards the ascent was very laborious being frequently almost perpendicular. Higher up we sat down and heard, as if from the heart of the earth, the sound of torrents ascending out of the long hollow glen. To the eye all was motionless, a perfect stillness. The noise of waters did not appear to come from any particular quarter; it was everywhere, almost, one might say, as if ‘exhaled’ through the whole surface of the green earth. Glen Falloch, Coleridge has since told me, signifies the hidden vale; but William says that if we were to name it from our recollections of that time we should call it the Vale of Awful Sound.

 

Dorothy Wordsworth calls Glen Falloch ‘the Vale of Awful Sound’, because of its waterfalls. At the Falls of Falloch the plunge pool is named ‘Rob Roy’s Bathtub’, and a small cleft above it is called ‘Rob Roy’s Soapdish’. The falls impressed Coleridge as he walked north towards Glen Coe and Fort William after parting with the Wordsworths. . They can be reached from a car park on the right of the road going north.

It was at the Falls of Falloch that W.H. Murray nearly lost his life. He tells the story in Mountaineering in Scotland (1962):

On our way home we visited the Falls of Falloch, which were in full spate and a sight worth seeing. Above the topmost fall was a long narrow gorge through which the congested waters dashed foaming to leap with a thunderous roar into a rock cauldron. At one point the gorge was narrow enough to challenge one’s sporting instinct. Was a leap possible? We measured it up. It would have to be a standing jump from spray-drenched rock….

One by one we jumped safely. The gut was narrower than it looked. We had been too impressed with the fury of the water. Thus I was just a trifle less careful in making the return jump; my foot slipped off the wet rock and down I went into the gorge.

 

He was swept over the falls and found it impossible to escape from the whirlpool at their foot. Nearing exhaustion he was finally carried out of the cauldron by an undercurrent. Murray is also one of the best biographers of Rob Roy, and writes well about district as a whole.

Sidney Tremayne (1890-1963), the Ayrshire poet who was a feature writer for the Sun and the Daily Mirror, echoes Wordsworth in his poem The Falls of Falloch‘:

This white explosion of water plunges down

With the deep-voiced rush of sound that shakes a city.

A fine cold smoke drifts across dripping stone

And wet black walls of rock shut in the scene.

 

Now thought hangs sheer on a precipice of beauty

Lifting with leaping water out from the rock.

A gasp of time, flung clear in a weight of falling,

Bursts like a bud above the deep pool’s black

Parted and curled back under by the shock

Where light’s bright spark dives to the dark’s controlling.

 

But the brilliance is not extinguished. The heart leaps up,

The heart of the fall leaps up, an eternal explosion,

Force without spending, form without fetter of shape.

And at the pool’s edge wavelets scarcely lap

Where drifted spume clings with a soft adhesion.

 

Beyond the waterfall, above the road on the left is Clach na Briton, so called because it marks the northernmost boundary of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde. Mountain, Moor and Loch [1895] relates a tale associated with it:

. . . an interesting object presents itself — a boulder of peculiar formation, standing on a gentle eminence on the west side ot the stream. This is the Clach-na-Brton, or, as it is generally called, the ” Mortar Stone,” its shape being exactly like that piece of artillery standing in position. It was here that Robert the Bruce paused to reconnoitre, in his flight after his defeat by the M’Dougals of Lorn, in Strathfillan, otherwise known as the Battle of Dairy — or, to write more correctly, Dail Righ, “the King’s Field.”

 

After climbing through Glen Falloch the road levels off, reaching a plateau which, was, in the words of John Thomas (1914-1982), the distinguished railway historian, and author of The West Highland Railway [1965]‘to become known to generations of West Highland footplatemen as ‘the fireman’s rest’.  After a gentle descent, the village of Crianlarich is reached.

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 5. Into Argyll

 

Arrochar and Glencroe

At Tarbet the A83 leaves Loch Lomond and heads into Argyll proper. Until recently places like Helensburgh, Luss and Arrochar were in Dumbartonshire rather than Argyll, but there is no disputing that, beyond the head of Loch Long, you are in Argyll. The road between Tarbet and Arrochar is not much more than two miles long. Viking raiders took advantage of this portage in 1263 to stage a raid on Loch Lomond from the sea. The crossing, in either direction, is a pleasing one. Visitors evince surprise at the similarities and contrasts which there are between the two lochs. In Written in the Highlands of Scotland Sep 1, 1812 Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), travelling from fresh water to salt expressed his feelings as follows:

Tarbet! thy shore I climbed at last,

And through thy shady region passed,

Upon another shore I stood

And looked upon another flood:

Old Ocean’s self! (’tis he who fills

That vast and awful depth of hills).

 Rogers was, in his day, a highly regarded poet, who visited Scotland on several occasions. In 1803 his visit coincided with that of the Wordsworths. Jeffrey praised his work. Rogers, like other authors relied  on publishers. However, when his  poems did not sell well he produced a lavish edition of them himself, and persuaded Turner to illustrate it.
Loch Lomond 1832 Watercolour for Roger's Poems

Loch Lomond 1832 Illustration for Rogers’ Poems. Drawn: J.M.W.Turner Engraved William Miller

The praise which Robert Southey offers for the inn at Arrochar is praise indeed, since his opinions about other Highland inns was generally unfavourable:

“The country here is well cultivated, well wooded and very beautiful. A line of mountains is on the opposite shore, and behind them Ben Lomond rises in great majesty, Loch Lomond lying, unseen by us, between two ridges. The road turns leftward up the shore of the saltwater loch, and rounds the head: not far from the head stands the Arrochar Inn, more beautifully placed than any inn I have seen in Scotland or elsewhere – a large good house with fine trees about it, not a stone’s throw from the shore, and with the high summit of the grotesque mountain abominably called the Cobbler, opposite and in full view.”

‘The Cobbler’ is a rich joke. Travellers, bred on hills like Grasmere’s Helm Crag with its ‘lion and lamb’, have long supposed they can see a cobbler, his last, and even his wife. It is probably a corruption of the Gaelic for a sensible name for it, ‘forked peak’. However, John Stoddart pointed out:

“This terrific rock forms the bare summit of a huge mountain, and its nodding top so far overhangs its base as to assume the appearance of a cobbler sitting at his work, from when country people call it an greasaiche cróm, the crooked shoemaker.”

The famous ben at the head of Loch Long is, alternatively, and evocatively, called Ben Arthur. One of the sons of Aeden Mac Gabhran, a king of the Scots of Dalriada was called ‘Artur’, and it is sometimes argued that he formed a basis for the legendary monarch.

Coleridge, writing to his wife in September 1803, related how he went ‘ to Arrochar, on purpose to see the Cobbler, which had impressed me so much in Mr Wilkinson’s drawings…’ It was Wilkinson’s Tour which in part persuaded him and the Wordsworths to visit Scotland.

Writing from Arrochar, Burns probably had the Cobbler in mind when he referred to his sojourn in ‘a land of savage hills, swept by savage rains, peopled by savage sheep, tended by savage people.’ However, Turner, and others, thought it sublime.

Neil Munro made Arrochar one of two possible birthplaces of the skipper of the Vital Spark, and the setting for the famous story Mudges, giving the place a reputation of another sort.

Beyond Arrochar the character of the country changes. This is partly due to the fact that Loch Long is a sea loch, but it is also a result of the absence of deciduous trees. The Forestry Commission have excelled themselves in Cowal, where they have planted innumerable conifers. Elsewhere, in contrast to Loch Lomond, are apparently bare hillsides. The road turns into Glen Croe, and, nowadays, climbs steadily across the breast of a hill; the old military road sticks to the valley floor before scrambling in a series of dizzy hairpin bends to the summit. The hills to the south of the road have a splendid name: Argyll’s Bowling Green. In Scotland [1982] Tom Weir offers an explanation:

Argyll’s Bowling Green! How did such a piece of knobbly country, rugged even by Wester Ross standards, get such an undescriptive name?

It was nothing to do with some early duke’s sense of humour, merely the corruption of a Gaelic name Buaile na Greine, which means the sunny cattle fold, a place where the dukes and duchesses used to rest their horses on Loch Longside after crossing from Lochgoilhead.

It was their route to their castle of Rosneath. In 1735 the map maker Carington Bowles applied the name to the whole peninsula, except that he showed it as Argyll’s “Bowling Green.”

And rough as that peninsula is, it was much traversed by cattle drovers coming from Loch Fyne by Hell’s Glen to skirt Loch Goil, cross the ridge to Loch Long, and ferry their cattle across to Portincaple.

In The New RoadNeil Munro states ‘There is not a finer glen in Albyn than Glen Croe.’ Nowadays the traffic still appears to be reduced to insignificance by the mountains, but the spirit of the place has changed. It is not so wild and desolate as when Munro was thinking of it, or when Wordsworth climbed to the Rest and Be Thankful in late August 1803. The weather had brightened as they ascended the Rest, and Dorothy Wordsworth reported that ‘afternoon and evening the sky was in an extraordinary degree vivid and beautiful’ They got to the head of the pass:

At the top of the hill we came to a seat with the well-known inscription “Rest and be thankful” On the same stone it was recorded that the road had been made by Col. Wade’s regiment. The seat is placed so as to command a full view of the valley, and the long, long, road, which, with the fact recorded, and the exhortation, makes it an affecting resting-place.

It is unlikely that the seat, now gone, referred to Wade, since it was built by his successor, Caulfeild. William reflected on the pass in a sonnet Rest and Be Thankful of which the first four lines are:

Doubling and doubling with laborious walk,

Who, that has gained at length the wished-for Height,

This brief this simple wayside Call can slight,

And rests not thankful?

   The answer to this memorable poetic question might have turned out to be John Keats, who thought he was coming to an inn, and was very disappointed when he traversed this famous pass in 1818 :

We were up at 4 this morning and have walked to breakfast 15 Miles through two tremendous Glens – at the end of the first there is a place called rest and be thankful which we took for an Inn – it was nothing but a stone and so we were cheated into 5 more Miles to Breakfast

Southey compared Glencroe with Glencoe:

“The road too is in itself much finer, descending from the immediate summit down a much  steeper inclination; and with such volutions that a line drawn from the top would intersect several times in a short distance. In mountainous countries a fine road is a grand and beautiful work, and never so striking as when it winds thus steeply and skilfully. There has been some improvement of the old military line at this place.” [1819]

The naturalist and traveller, Thomas Pennant, crossing the Rest southbound in 1769 had nothing more to say of it than: “Ascend a very high pass with a little lough on the top of it” but Samuel Johnson called it:

a bleak and dreary region, now made easily passable by a military road, which rises from either end of the glen by an acclivity not dangerously steep, but sufficiently laborious. In the middle, at the top of the hill, is a seat with the inscription “Rest, and be thankful.” Stones were placed to mark the distance, which the inhabitants have taken away, resolved, they said, to have no new miles.

In 1784 a French scientist,Barthélemy Faujas de St Fond, travelled to Scotland, attracted by its remarkable geology. His route took him up Lochlomondside, which delighted him, and then into Glencroe:

I soon found a contrast to the delightful scenes we left. They were succeeded by deserts and dismal heaths. We entered a narrow pass between two chains of high mountains, which appear to have, at a very remote period, formed only one ridge, but which some terrible revolution has torn asunder throughout its length.

This defile is so narrow, and the mountains are so high and steep, that the rays of the sun can scarcely reach the place and be seen for the space of an hour in the twenty-four.  For more than ten miles, which is the length of this pass, there is neither house nor cottage, nor living creature except a few fishes in a small lake, about half way.

In 1796 Sarah Murray, the widow of Captain William Murray, RN, made an extensive tour in Scotland and wrote A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland:

 

The carriage road…turns to the right, up one of the most formidable as well as most gloomy passes in the Highlands, amongst such black, bare, craggy, tremendous mountains, as must shake the nerves of every timorous person, particularly if it be a rainy day. And when is there a day in the year free from rain in Glen Croe? and on the hill called “Rest-and-be-Thankful?” no day; no not one!

Lord Cockburn, returning from administering justice in Inveraray, wrote:

The day was perfect for that glorious stage from Cairndow to Tarbet. Few things are more magnificent than the rise from Cairndow to Rest-and-be-Thankful. The top of it, where the rocky mountain rises above the little solitary Loch Restil, and all the adjoining peaks are brought into view, is singularly fine. As I stood at the height of the road and gazed down on its strange course both ways, I could not help rejoicing that there was at least one place where railways, and canals, and steamers, and all these devices for sinking hills and, raising valleys, and introducing man and levels, and destroying solitude and nature, would for ever be set at defiance.

From the Rest and Be Thankful a lesser road descends to Lochgoilhead.Sara Jane Lippincott[pseud: Grace Greenwood](1823-1904), an American poet, biographer, and author of children’s books, was best known by her pseudonym. InHaps and Mishaps of a Tour in Europe(1854) she describes Loch Goil:

It was not until we had passed from Loch Long into Loch Goil that the true Highland scenery began to open upon us in its surpassing loveliness and naked grandeur. The shores of Loch Goil are rough, barren, and precipitous, but now and then we passed green-sheltered nooks and dark glens of indescribable beauty. I grew more and more silent and unconscious of my immediate surroundings, for my very soul seemed to have gone from me, to revel abroad in the wide, varied, enchanting scene.

The coachman who took visitors through Hell’s Glen gave Sara Jane the impression that Lochgoilhead was the scene of Thomas Campbell’s poem Lord Ullin’s Daughter. The poem is properly associated with Mull, but it is easy enough to see how confusion may have arisen. Campbell’s second verse is as follows:

Now, who be ye, would cross Lochgyle,

This dark and stormy weather?”

“O, I’m the chief of Ulva’s isle,

And this, Lord Ullin’s daughter.—“

In Gaelic Lochgyle is Loch Goill, the forked loch. Mountain Moor and Loch [1895], the handsome guide produced to mark the opening of the West Highland Railway, offers an explanation for the mistake:

Whether this is the scene described in the ballad of “Lord Ullin’s Daughter” is open to question, as that “dark and stormy water” lies a long way off, west of Mull, with “Ulva’s Isle” adjoining, though, strictly speaking, the name is Loch-na-Keal and not Loch Goil; and our Loch Goil may well be the point intended by the poet, because three days from the mainland opposite Mull, would bring “her father’s men” to it.

Another Campbell poem sometimes attributed in guide books to Carrick Castle on Loch Goil is Lines on Visiting a Scene in Argyllshire , but it is almost certainly about Kirnan, near Kilmichael Glassary, where Campbell’s family came from.

Bill [W. H.] Murray (1913–1996) lived near Carrick Castle for many years . One of the best, and one of the most affectionate, books about the West Highlands is his Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland [1968]. His mountaineering books, about both the Himalayas and the Highlands are entertaining and authoritative. He was also a novelist, and his biography of Rob Roy is important. In his Companion Guide he maintained that Loch Goil, ‘the only truly mountainous fiord of Argyll’ is the most beautiful sea loch of Cowal or the Clyde Coast.

 

Strachur and Ardentinny

From Lochgoilhead it is worthwhile travelling through Hell’s Glen [B839] to join the A815. Strachur is a small resort where there is a Smiddy Museum. Strachur House was in recent years the residence of the writer of one of the most distinctive books about the Second World War, Eastern Approaches [1949] by Sir Fitzroy Maclean (1911-1996), partly about his work with the Partisans in Yugoslavia. A diplomat, then an MP and a Minister, he is also the author of various serious, and other popular historical works.

From Strachur the A815 crosses to Loch Eck. From Whistlefield a lesser road [signposted Ardentinny] leads to Glen Finart.

Glen Finart was the country residence of George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore (1762-1836). It is situated near Ardentinny in Cowal, and was visited by Samuel Rogers in both 1803 and 1812 (when he encountered a grampus in the loch). Rogers wrote a poem [1812],  reminiscent of Wordsworth. He refers to Fingal’s Falls, near the head of the glen:

Oft shall my weary mind recall

Amid the hum and stir of men,

Thy beechen grove and waterfall,

Thy ferry with its gliding sail,

And Her – the Lady of the Glen.

In his Journal there is a letter to his sister describing the house affectionately, and shedding light on life in Cowal in the C19:

The house is very small and neat, in a narrow rocky glen running up among steep mountains, with its small river, and a beautiful beech grove between it and the lake. A ferry is within sight of the windows; and while we sit at dinner, we see the little boat passing and repassing continually. At the ferry house is kept also a packet-boat, which twice a week sails to Greenock with passengers, and takes and brings back our letters, and brings back grapes and peaches from the gardens at Dunmore….

This is a reference, of course, to the products of the most spectacular conservatory in Scotland, the ‘Pineapple’, erected by the Dunmores in 1761 at Airth near Stirling. Rogers asks ‘What would Fingal and his family have thought of this?’, and tells how an old laird living on Loch Eck who dined once a year with the Dunmores loved their ‘apples with stones’. He goes on to describe the walks he took to the point [Shepherd’s Point] above the ferry from which there was (and is) a stunning view up Loch Long:

. . . sublime, mountain behind mountain receding one behind another, on each side of the lake, till the vista terminates in a point, and these clad in the softest and richest colours that mist and sunshine can give them. Indeed, I think in its way it surpasses everything of the kind we ever saw together.

Turner’s illustrations for Roger’s Poems included one of Loch Long.

Ardentinny is a small holiday resort in Cowal held in high esteem by generations of Glasgow holidaymakers. No small part of its reputation is due to one of Robert Tannahill’s best-known lyrics:

Far lone amang the Highland hills,

‘Mid Nature’s wildest grandeur,­

By rocky dens and woody glens,

With weary steps I wander.

The langsome way, the darksome day 

The mountain mist sae rainy,

Are nought to me when gaun to thee

Sweet lass o’ Aranteenie.

As with some of Tannahill’s other topographical lyrics the evidence that there ever was such a lass in his life is uncertain.

Blairmore was the residence, after his retirement, of John Joy Bell (1871-1934), the journalist and author of the Glasgow equivalent of ‘Just William’, Wee Macgreegor. One of Bell’s between-the-wars travel books about the west coast, Scotland’s Rainbow West was very popular indeed between the wars. 

From Blairmore visitors returning to Loch Lomond will probably find it most convenient to continue via Kilmun to the Dunoon road [A815], and thence by the Younger Botanic Garden to Loch Eck and Strachur.

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 4. Luss and Tarbet

 

Camstradden and Luss

Beyond Ross Dhu, at Camstradden, is the most intimate part of Loch Lomond. There are several large islands in the loch which partly close the view and give Loch Lomond the feel of a much smaller lake. It is no wonder that Dorothy Wordsworth found the place highly appealing.

It seems likely that it was as a result of visiting Inchfad in 1796 that Thomas Wilkinson (1751-1836) later recollected a singularly influential event:

On one of the islands was ripe corn; last week in the shire of Ayr we saw oats that had not yet arrived in the ear. Passed 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.

Wilkinson’s book Tours to the British Mountains was not published until 1824, but Wilkinson, a landscape gardener employed by the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle, showed Wordsworth the manuscript before the Wordsworths travelled to Scotland in 1803. It was said to have partly inspired The Solitary Reaper. In a note of 1807 Wordsworth wrote:

“This Poem was suggested by a beautiful sentence in a MS Tour in Scotland written by a Friend, the last line being taken from it verbatim.”

Of the other islands Inchloanaig, ‘Yew Tree Island’, was used as a deer park by the Colquhouns, and visited by Dr Johnson and Boswell. In his amusing guide book, A Tour in Tartan Land [1863], Edward Bradley [pseud. Cuthbert Bede] (1827–1889), reported that foresters living on Inchloanaig told of fairy superstitions to protect their illicit stills:

“It is to be hoped, however, that all these spirits, not only of fancy, but of reality, had been banished the island by the commencement of the present century, for within its boundaries was founded an establishment for the reception and cure of persons who had been the victims to delirium tremens, and those other maladies which arise from excessive drinking…”

 The Tour of Dr Prosody, the satirical poem by William Combe (1742–1823), takes his characters to the same place, an episode illustrated by a well known ‘Rowlandson’ drawing.

In his Table Talk Coleridge asserted that the view of Loch Lomond from Inch Tavannach, Monks’ Island, was one of the five finest things in Scotland. Dorothy Wordsworth enthused, too:

We had not climbed far before we were stopped by a sudden burst of prospect, so singular and beautiful that it was like a flash of images from another world. We stood with our backs to the hill of the island, which we were ascending, and which shut out Ben Lomond entirely, and all the upper part of the lake, and we looked towards the foot of the lake, scattered over with islands without beginning and without end. The sun shone, and the distant hills were visible, some through sunny mists, others in gloom with patches of sunshine; the lake was lost under the low and distant hills, and the islands lost in the lake, which was all in motion with travelling fields of light, or dark shadows under rainy clouds. There are many hills, but no commanding eminence at a distance to confine the prospect, so that the land seemed endless as the water. . . . Wherever we looked, it was a delightful feeling that there was something beyond. Meanwhile, the sense of quiet was never lost sight of; the little peaceful lakes among the islands might make you forget that the great water, Loch Lomond, was so near; and yet are more beautiful, because you know that it is so. . . .

In contrast, William Gilpin (1724-1804), the high priest of the Picturesque, and chooser of stations from which places might be most rewardingly viewed, had a low opinion of the view:

“The countryside immediately beyond the islands appeared flat, and the mountains were too far removed to be of any picturesque use…”

Further north, just off Luss, is Froach Island, a prison where as Wilkinson puts it, ‘delinquents in remote times were conveyed and left, it is said, to shift for themselves as best they could’

 

 

Luss Straits Painted: E.W.Haslehurst

Wordsworth probably visited more of Loch Lomond’s islands than most. In 1803 Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge were rowed to Inchtavannach. In 1814 we learn from Sarah Hutchinson, Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, that they visited Inchtavannach,  again, and then went to Inchgalbraith, and sailed round Inchcruin. They landed on Inchlonaig, deer island, where they met the forester. They then became the only recorded literary visitors to Eilean Fraoch where they gathered bilberries

Luss is an enigma. Its estate cottages, built to house workers from the slate quarries, are attractive, but its present day ‘attractions’ all but destroy their effect. However, the village is much admired by visitors. Intriguingly Lord Cockburn(1779-1854), writing in 1838, condemned the place as a “hog-stye”. He found the best of Luss to be the churchyard where Mrs Cockburn searched for a verse inscription which she had found years ago The Church is to the south of the centre of the village. It was built built by the Colquhouns in 1875 and dedicated to St Kessog. ‘The church at Luss is as beautiful as ever’ said Cockburn. The minister at Luss in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was JohnStuart,(1743–1821), the notable Gaelic scholar and botanist, who was born in Killin. Immediately before he was translated to Luss he accompanied Pennant on his second Highland tour. During his own tour in 1798 Thomas Garnett reported:

After breakfast we repaired to the manse to visit Dr Stuart the minister a man of great taste and learning he received us very politely and shewed us his garden which contains a variety of scarce plants particularly British alpines brought by himself from their native mountains I found here most of the scarce plants which grow upon Benlomond and Benevis as well as in the wilds of the Hebrides but being removed into a milder clime they flourish more luxuriantly

Thomas Garnett (1766–1802), was born in Westmorland and practised as a doctor in Harrogate where his interest in Chemistry led him to became an expert on mineral waters. He was eventually appointed to a professorship of natural philosophy at Anderson’s Institution, Glasgow, a predecessor of the University of Strathclyde. He published Observations on a Tour through the Highlands and Part of the Western Isles of Scotland. [1800] which is one of the more entertaining and informative of several books of the same sort published at about that time. There is some evidence that Dorothy Wordsworth read it.

Three poems by Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998), the poet who made memorable phrases about people and places all over Scotland, are about Luss.  Translating his own Gaelic in one he calls Luss ‘a picture of a village rather than a true village.’ In Luss Village, like Cockburn, he ends up in the in the churchyard:

Such walls, like honey, and the old are happy

in morphean air like goldfish in a bowl.

Ripe roes trail their margins down a sleepy

mediaeval treatise on the slumbering soul.

And even the water, fabulously silent,

has no salt tales to tell us, nor makes jokes

about the yokel mountains, huge and patient,

that will not court her but read shadowy books.

A world so long departed! In the churchyard

the tilted tombs still gossip, and the leaves

of stony testaments are read by Richard,

Jean and Carol, pert among the sheaves

of unscythed shadows, while the noon day hums

with bees and water and the ghosts of psalms.

The village of Luss and the islands nearby were used as the setting of Goblin Island [1907]. This was the first novel by Elsie Jeanette Dunkerley, [pseud. Elsie Oxenham] (1880–1960), in what became a so-called Scottish sequence of children’s stories Loch Lomond itself appears as Loch Avie. Luss also appears as ‘Markinch’ in the short story The Provost’s Tale [1931] , byA. J. Cronin(1896-1981) and elsewhere in his work. Cronin was a world famous novelist, born in Cardross, whose best known work was Hatter’s Castle [1931].A collection of short stories, Adventures of a Black Bag (1969), was made into the immensely popular radio and television series Dr Finlay’s Casebook.

Above Luss is one of finest viewpoints in Scotland. Wilkinson mentions it as follows:

At Luss took a young Highlander with me on an eminence and there I saw one of the most interesting scenes I ever remember to have beheld. Twenty-one islands rising from the lake in a variety of forms, and beautifully shaded with trees. The points of the islands run past one another in a most picturesque manner

In Observations Garnett describes it thus:

On our return to Luss we dined with our amiable and learned friend Dr Stuart who accompanied us after dinner to Strone Hill, just above the village whence we had a delightful view of the lake and its islands. The evening was fine, the lake still and a pleasing serenity pervaded the whole scene. Below us was the villageof Luss, almost hid in trees with its verdant points projecting into the lake. Inch Tavannach and most of the other islands are seen to great advantage and in the distance are part of the Grampian Mountains, which form a very fine background. The obelisk erected to the memory of Buchanan may likewise be seen distinctly.

Strone Hill, or Stronbrae, is above the glen road (which is now reached by car from the by-pass, or by a footbridge from the village) just outside Luss.

North of Luss the loch is at its most dramatic, its character caught by Hazlitt:

The road to Tarbet is superb. It is on the very verge of the lake – hard, level, rocky, with low stone bridges constantly flung across it, and fringed with birch trees, just then budding into spring, behind which, as through a slight veil you saw the huge shadowy form of Ben Lomond. It lifts its enormous, but graceful bulk direct from the edge of the water without any projecting lowlands….. Loch Lomond comes on you by degrees as you advance, unfolding then withdrawing its conscious beauties like an accomplished coquet.

Inverbeg and Tarbet

Qne of the ‘low stone bridges’ between Luss and Inverbeg, built by Caulfield after 1745 has been handsomely restored, and can still be seen beside the A82. Thomas Pennant offers this description of the military road and the loch:

“The road runs sometimes through woods, at others is exposed and naked; in some so steep as to require the support of a wall; the whole the work of the soldiery: blessed exchange of instruments of destruction for those that give safety to the traveller, and a polish to the once inaccessible native.

Two great headlands covered with trees separate the first scene from one totally different; the last is called the point of Firkin. On passing this cape an expanse of water bursts at once on your eye varied with all the softer beauties of nature. Immediately beneath is a flat covered with wood and corn: beyond the headlands stretch far into the water and consist of gentle risings; many have their surfaces covered with wood, others adorned with trees loosely scattered either over a fine verdure, or the purple bloom of heath. Numbers of islands are dispersed over the lake of the same elevated manner; others just peep above the surface, and are tufted with trees; and numbers are so disposed as to form magnificent vistas between.”

Perhaps one of the best travel books ever written about Scotland is The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland [1968] by W.H.Murray (see Lochgoilhead). Early on he touches on Loch Lomond:

The banks of Loch Lomond are clothed by deciduous woods. Oak, beech, chestnut, larch, and birch predominate. Caledonian pine and most other coniferous evergreens are present but not much in evidence. Loch Lomond thus appears most colowful in spring and autumn when leaf is either bursting or dying. One of the more enthralling sights of June is the bluebell wood north of Luss, or in May the azaleas and rhododendrons brightening cottage gardens, and in autumn dead bracken, sun-stricken on the hillsides and blazing like a Viking’s pyre. These woods of Loch Lomondside are becoming more highly prized as the work of the Forestry Commission, whose appetite for ground is insatiable, spreads a coniferous monotony across the face of Scotland, for broad-leaved trees and hardwoods are not a rewarding crop. That the banks of Loch Lomond have remained so long free from the forester’s axe and from impairment by tourist development appears well-nigh mira­culous. Their preservation has been due to the rule of enlightened landowners, principally the Colquhouns of Luss, who have sacrificed personal profit.

The librarian and mountaineer Ernest A. Baker(1869-1941), writing in the thirties recommended Glen Douglas, between Loch Lomond and Loch Long as a fine walk. George Eyre Todd explained in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs [n.d.] the connection which is sometimes made between Glen Douglas and King Arthur:

Geoffrey of Monmouth, the monkish chronicler who died in 1154, in his fantastic account of King Arthur, describes how that king pursued his enemies up Loch Lomond, besieged, and all but exterminated them on the islands, and overthrew an Irish army which came to their relief. The earlier historian, Nennius, from whom Geoffrey seems to have got his facts, merely states that Arthur fought certain of his battles in Glen Douglas, and this Glen Douglas is identified by Skene in his Celtic Scotland with the high pass which comes over from Loch Long, and descends at the little inn of Inverbeg between Luss and Tarbet.

In the sixtiesTom Buchan(1931-1995) drew attention to the Glen’s more terrible associations with nuclear warfare :

… the mountain behind him

was drilled with caves

each one crammed with nuclear hardware

and the sea loch over the mountain

lay easy with obsolescent new submarines.

Buchan was a poet who was also the part author of the revolutionary Great Northern Welly Boot Show [1972]. Glen Douglas climbs relatively gently from Loch Lomond before the road descends very precipitously indeed to Loch Long. There it joins the road from Helensburgh and makes an interesting route to Arrochar.

Between Luss and Tarbet on the banks of Loch Lomond is Firkin Point a low hill which best commands its upper and lower reaches. Boswell took General Paoli as far as this when he showed him Loch Lomond.”In point of picturesque beauty, Loch Lomond is probably surpassed by few lakes in Europe,” wrote ‘Christopher North’ in The Land of Burns:

“The highway suddenly ascends to the top of a lofty promontory denominated the Point of Firkin. Although the ascent is difficult, abrupt and tedious, the view from the summit amply repays the labour attending it. From this eminence the whole surface of the lake, diversified with its numerous islands is displayed to the eye.”

An ancient yew-tree beside the old military road which is situated above the A82 along Loch Lomond was for long pointed out as Robert the Bruce’s Tree. It served to mark a somewhat undignified episode in the great warrior’s career. After his defeat by the English at Methven in Perthshire he became a fugitive accompanied by a body of about 200 men. On reaching Craig Royston the King and his men were unable to find a boat but then found one, but one which would take only three at a time. The tree was their rallying point on the other side of the loch. It took a day and a night to ferry all the men. The poet John Barbour (c.1320-95) related all of this in the epic poem The Bruce. The medieval saga has been both transcribed and translated. One prose version was by George Eyre Todd, the local littérateur:

Tradition says he sheltered in the fastness there known as Rob Roy’s Cave. The enemy was behind, and the loch lay deep in front- No means of escape appeared till James of Douglas discovered “ane litil boat that wad but thresome flit”. In that little boat the king was ferried across, and all his host after him. While the passage was being made, Bruce entertained and heartened his men by reciting to them one of the romances which were the chief literature of that time.

Here is Barbour’s account:

The king efter that he wes gane

To Louch Lomond the way has tane

And come on the thrid day,

Bot tharabout na bait fand thai

That mycht thaim our the water ber.

Than war thai wa on gret maner

For it wes fer about to ga,

And thai war into dout alsua

To meyt thar fayis that spred war wyd.

Tharfor endlang the louchhis syd

Sa besyly thai socht and fast

Tyll James of Douglas at the last

Fand a litill sonkyn bate

And to the land it drew fut-hate,

Bot it sa litill wes that it

Mycht our the watter but a thresum flyt.

Thai send tharoff word to the king

That wes joyfull off that fynding

And fyrst into the bate is gane,

With him Douglas, the thrid wes ane

That rowyt thaim our deliverly

And set thaim on the land all dry,

And rowyt sa oftsys to and fra

Fechand ay our twa and twa

That in a nycht and in a day

Cummyn out-our the louch ar thai,

For sum off thaim couth swome full weill

And on his bak ber a fardele.

Swa with swymmyng and with rowyng

Thai brocht thaim our and all thar thing.

Not far south of Tarbet a splendid regency cottage, Stuckgowan, is exquisitely situated above the A82. In its architecture it is one of the finest houses in the National Park. In 1835 Nathaniel Parker Willis, the American poet, visited Scotland. He is a good, but sometimes acerbic guide:

“In the course of our ramble we walked through an open gate, and, ascending a gravel walk, found a beautiful cottage, built between two mountain streams, and ornamented with every device of taste and contrivance. The mild pure torrents were led over falls and brought to the thresholds of bowers; and seats and bridges and winding paths were distributed up the steep channels, in a way that might make it a haunt for Titania. It is the property, I found afterward, of a Scotch gentleman, and a great summer retreat of the celebrated Jeffrey, his friend. It was one more place to which my heart clung in parting.”

At the lochside close to Stuckgowan is Edendarroch, the subject of an extended paean of praise from Professor J.M.Blackie.

The name ‘Tarbet’ is found throughout the Highlands. It occurs where a low divide, forming a portage, separates two bodies of water, in this instance Loch Lomond and Loch Long. Viking raiders took advantage of this portage in 1263 to stage a raid on Loch Lomond from the sea. N. P. Willis, the American poet, St Fond, the French geologist, and others have waxed lyrical about Tarbet. Faujas dreams of returning there:

The superb Loch Lomond, the fine sunlight that gilded its waters, the silvery rocks that skirted its shores, the flowery and verdant mosses, the black oxen, the white sheep, the shepherds beneath the pines, the perfume of the tea poured into cups that had been given by kindness, and received with gratitude, will never be effaced from my memory, and make me cherish the desire not to die before again seeing Tarbet. I shall often dream of Tarbet . . .

Jeffrey, as already mentioned had a summer retreat at Stuckgowan. The old inn at Tarbet, at which various literary travellers sneered, was replaced in the C19 with a very grand hotel which now dominates the place. However, in his Reminiscences [1887], Thomas Carlyle, traversing the district in 1817 with friends, thought otherwise:

. . . 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”!)

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 3. Arden and Glen Fruin

 

Arden

Those visitors who have been to Rowardennan can retrace their steps to Balloch where the A82 may be rejoined. The alternative is to head for Aberfoyle, ten miles away, to explore the Trossachs. The road to the North first reaches Loch Lomond at Duck Bay, just beyond Cameron House. Here is Smollett’s opinion of the loch:

“I have seen the Lago di Garda, Albano, De Vico, Bolsena and Geneva, and, upon my honour, I prefer Loch Lomond to them all a preference which is certainly owing to the verdant islands that seem to float upon its surface, affording the most inchanting objects ‘of repose to the excursive view. Nor are the banks destitute of beauties which even partake of the sublime. On this side hey display a sweet variety of woodland cornfield and pasture, with several agreeable villas emerging, as it were, out of the lake, till, at some distance, the prospect terminates in huge mountains covered with heath which being in the bloom, affords a very rich covering of purple. Everything here is romantic beyond imagination. This country is justly stiled the Arcadia of Scotland, and I don’t doubt but it may vie with Arcadia in everything but climate. I am sure it exceeds it in verdure, wood and water.”   

 
 
 
 
 

 

Loch Lomond from near Cameron House. Drawn: P.Sandby Engraved: P.Medland 1780

This quotation is from Humphry Clinker which is, of course, a work of fiction. Albano, De Vico and Bolsena figure in Smollett’s Travels in France and Italy, but neither Garda nor Geneva do, which raises the interesting question of whether or not Smollett actually saw either of them.

Smollett lived from 1721 to 1771. When he was born the Act of Union between England and Scotland 1707, in which his grandfather played a prominent part, and the rebellions of 1715 and 1719 were recent events still fresh in everyone’s minds. There were some Bleach Fields in the Vale of Leven, but the main occupation was farming and the whole aspect of the countryside was rural. Communications were very difficult indeed, and it was not until after1745 that that roads began to be improved. The lochside road from Dumbarton to Inveraray was built then, but it was not until 1765 that Dumbarton Bridge was completed. It was, perhaps, not surprising that travellers did not begin to frequent Scotland until after these improvements had taken place.Smollett himself returned to Scotland in 1753, 1760 and 1766. Thomas Gray visited Loch Lomond in 1764; Thomas Pennant in 1769, Samuel Johnson in 1773 John Wilkes in the early 1760s and William Gilpin in 1776.The following extracts from the writers themselves give some idea of Loch Lomond during the eighteenth century:

“The mountains are ecstatic and ought to be visited in pilgrimage once a year. None but those monstrous creatures of God know how to join so much beauty with so much horror. Rowed to Inchmurrin an island with a park of the Duke of Montrose’s whose house at Buchanan stands on the edge of Loch Lomond. Exquisite landscape round the lake; view of Ben Lomond, the second mountain in Scotland for height, Ben Nevis in Inverness-shire being the first.”

Thomas Gray (1764)

“To the north we looked far up the narrow channel of the lake which we had just seen from the shore. We were now more in the centre of the view, but the scene was more shifted. It was more a vista. The mountains shelved beautifully into the water, on both sides; and the bottom of the lake was occupied by Ben Vorlich which filled its station with great distinction, on the right Ben Lomond, the second hill in Scotland, raised its respectable head, while the waters at their base were dark, like a black, transparent mirror, But in this point of view the form of Ben Lomond was rather injured by the regularity of its line, which consists of three stages of ascent. In general, however, this mountain appears finely sloped; and its surface beautifully broken.”

William Gilpin (1776)

“Had Loch Lomond been in a happier climate it would have been the boast of wealth and vanity to own one of the little spots which it encloses, and to have employed upon it all the arts of embellishment. But, as it is, the islets which court the gazer at a distance disgust him at his approach when he finds; instead of soft lawns and shady thickets, nothing more than uncultivated ruggedness.”

Samuel Johnson (1773)

 

 In Rob Roy, set in the Eighteenth Century, Scott describes the loch as follows:

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.

Loch Lomond was celebrated by Paul Johnson (b. 1928) in his Highland Jaunt [1973]:

It is still a pleasing scene, and there is no through road on the far side of the loch, which sparkled under a blazing sun. But the affluent society has already lapped its shores. Myriads of little, brightly coloured sailing boats bounced on the water; speed boats roared to and fro; and we called at Duck Bay Marina from which such activities radiate. There is a vast bar and restaurant, whose plate glass, glare-proof windows frame the water and the hills beyond. Teams of smart and pretty waitresses, in tartan mini-kilts, busied themselves serving scampi and chips and other traditional Scotch dishes. There were thousands of people about and hundreds of cars. A shop sold tartan everythings and seven year old whisky marmalade.

Duck Bay can also be deemed to be the spot where the luscious Win Jenkins went bathing in the nude in Humphry Clinker, shrewdly covering her face, rather than any other portion of her anatomy when a gentleman whom she knew went by.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1901-1935), whose atmospheric novels conveyed the character of the Mearns, praised Loch Lomond in The Scottish Scene [1934], probably referring to the view seen from Duck Bay:

“Loch Lomond lies quite near Glasgow. Nice Glaswegians motor out there and admire the scenery and calculate its horsepower and drink whisky and chaff one another in genteelly Anglicized Glaswegianisms. After a hasty look at Glasgow the investigator would do well to disguise himself as one of like kind, drive down to Loch Lomondside and stare across its waters at the sailing clouds that crown the Ben, at the flooding of colours changing and darkling and miraculously lighting up and down those misty slopes, where night comes over long mountain leagues that know only the paddings of the shy, stray hare, the whirr and cry of the startled pheasant, silences so deep you can hear the moon come up, mornings so greyly coloured they seem stolen from Norse myth.”

A little further on Arden is reached. It may have been the Lochlomondside mansion where Robert Burns dined ‘at a goodfellow’s house’:

“I have lately been rambling over by Dumbarton and Inveraray, and running a drunken race on the side of Loch Lomond with a wild Highlandman; his horse which had never known the ornaments of iron or leather, zigzagged across before my old spavin’d hunter, whose name is Jenny Geddes, and down came Jenny and my Bardship; so I have such a skinful of bruises and wounds, that I shall be at least four weeks before I dare venture on my journey to Edinburgh.” [Burns to Richmond, July, 1787]

Nearby, along the B831, is Bannachra Castle, a castle of the Colquhouns in Glen Fruin, notorious because it was sacked in 1592 by a MacFarlane who mutilated the vanquished laird, his wife’s lover, ‘in a revolting but appropriate fashion’. He served his unfaithful lady with her lover’s private parts as a mocking dish: a tale to fascinate, and, possibly, discomfort Robert Burns who stayed with MacLachlan of Bannachra during his West Highland tour of 1787. Nearby is Dunfion, Fingal’s Hill, another of his numerous seats throughout Scotland.

One of the earliest literary visitors to Loch Lomond was Ben Jonson (1571-1637), the Elizabethan playwright. He was of Scottish extraction, and in 1618-19 he travelled Scotland, spending over a year there. He was entertained at the end of 1618 by William Drummond of Hawthornden who recorded as much as he could of what Jonson had to say in his diary, which was eventually published as Conversations. Jonson planned to write a versified account of his travels entitled A Discovery, and ‘a fisher or Pastorall play’ set on Loch Lomond. Whether he ever wrote it is not known, since Jonson’s papers were later lost in a fire.

In perhaps the best short guide to the Highlands of the thirties James Baikie (1866-1931) prompted visitors:

“It is said that Dr Chalmers, of Disruption fame, once expressed a gentle hope that there might be a Loch Lomond in heaven. Scripture says nothing to the contrary, though it unaccountably excludes the sea, which the Hebrew always hated; and one hopes that, were it only for the sake of Glasgow, the good Doctor’s pious aspiration may be realised.”

John Young, who published Lochlomondside and other Poems in 1872, expressed the same sentiment in verse:

A Poet-Preacher once, ’tis said,

When Lomond and her isles lay spread

Before his genius-flashing eye,

Loaded the pinions of a sigh,

Soul-born, with this impassioned cry—

O Joy! Should it to man be given

That a Loch Lomond be in Heaven”

John Keats (1795-1821), the Romantic poet, was at Loch Lomond in July, 1818. He is one of the few visitors to comment favourably on the weater:

“The banks of the Clyde are extremely beautiful – the north end of Loch Lomond grand in excess – the entrance at the lower end to the narrow part from a distance is precious good – the evening was beautiful and nothing could surpass our fortune in the weather.”

The loch is also the subject of one of Scotland’s most famous lyrics, the Jacobite lament Loch Lomond:

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes

Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond

Where me and my true love will ne-er meet again

On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomon’.

 

Chorus:

O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road

And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

For me and my true love will ne-er meet again

On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomon’.

 

Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen

On the steep, steep sides o’ Ben Lomon’

Where in purple hue, the hielan hills we view

And the moon comin’ out in the gloamin’.

 

The wee birdies sing and the wild flowers spring

And in sunshine the waters are sleeping

But the broken heart, it kens nae second spring again

Tho’ the waeful may cease frae their greetin’

The song has been rendered in countless ways. Famously, Runrig, the rock band, performed it to an audience of 40,000 in Balloch Park in June 1991. Paul Robeson recorded the song and Vaughan Williams made a madrigal of it. Rather carelessly, Martha Tilton, accompanied by the Benny Goodman Orchestra, referred to “the sun coming up through the gloaming”. Even Noel Coward considered his audiences would be sufficiently familiar with the lyrics to write a pastiche:

The high road is my road,

The low road’s a slow road

And I’ll guarantee ya

I’ll be there to see ya

On the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond

John Purser (b.1942) in Scotland’s Music [1992] lambasts these travesties:

The return of the Jacobite army from Derby via Carlisle is commemorated in the internationally famous song Loch Lomond. The tune is a variant of The Bonnie Hoose 0′ Airlie, the words relatively modern. It certainly has no place in the mid-eighteenth century, and in any case scarcely anybody knows how to sing it. It has had heaped upon its head more appalling and ignorant performances than any song has a right to bear. Its subject matter is one of bitter and ironic tragedy. The Jacobite soldier awaiting execution claims he will reach Scotland before his companion as his spirit will get there first by the low road. This is usually rendered by singers and arrangers with an inane chirpiness more suited to selling washing-up liquid. One day perhaps it will be restored to its proper dignity.

Andrew Lang risked rendering the poem in his own way:

There’s an ending o’ the dance, and fair Morag’s

  safe in France,

And the Clans they hae paid the lawing,

And the wuddy has her ain, a we twa are left

  alane,

Free o’ Carlisle gaol in the dawning.

It is sometimes averred that Loch Lomond isbased on a slightly different folk tune, Robin Cushie, to be found in McGibbon’s Scots Tunes Book [1742] (i.e. before the Rising of 1745) At one time the words were attributed to Lady John Scott (1810-1900) who is said to have adapted a broadside ballad by Sanderson of Edinburgh [1838]. This tale (which is probably wrong) may have arisen because of confusion between Loch Lomond and Annie Laurie, of which Lady Scott made a ‘refined’ version. The version of Loch Lomond with which we are familiar seems to have first appeared in print in Poets and Poetry of Scotland [1876], but there are many variants. Tradition has it that the original words were written by a Jacobite incarcerated in Carlisle Castle in 1745.

In By Yon Bonnie Banks Maurice Lindsay (1918-2009) comments that this beautiful loch has inspired little good poetry. With Burns he surveys the mountain of bad verse, which it has attracted. Both Lindsay and Burns particularly dislike Address to Loch Lomond [1788] by James Cririe (1752-1835. Here is part of the long letter which Burns wrote to his friend, Peter Hill, criticising the poem in October 1788:

The following perspective of mountains blue—the imprisoned billows beating in vain—the wooded isles—the digression on the yew-tree—“Benlomond’s lofty, cloud-envelop’d head,” &c. are beautiful. A thunder-storm is a subject which has been often tried, yet our poet in his grand picture has interjected a circumstance, so far as I know, entirely original:—

“the gloom

 Deep seam’d with frequent streaks of moving fire.”

Late in the nineteenth century Donald Macleod (1831-1916), the littérateur from Dumbarton, published Lays of Loch Lomond which included much such verse, but also took in both John Barbour and Thomas Campbell. A specimen of the bad verse. in this case by Willam Shand Daniel (1813-1858), runs as follows:

Tis evening upon Lomond’s lake,

On her green isles the morn is gleaming;

In Heaven there’s not a cloud to break

The lustre o’er the waters streaming

Maurice Lindsay also mentions Barbour, but he does not refer to two immensely successful poems by Englishmen: Wordsworth’s Highland Girl is set on Loch Lomond, as is Manley Hopkins’ Inversnaid, both of which are dealt with elsewhere. Wordsworth went on to write three other somewhat less successful Loch Lomond poems; The Brownie’s Cell, The Brownie and To the Planet Venus, an Evening Star. Composed at Loch Lomond . Adam and Charles Black’s Picturesque Tourist [1851] quotes a further Wordsworth poem, Ruth, in describing the islands of Loch Lomond, although it is Windermere that Wordsworth probably had in mind:

 

With all its fairy crowds

Of islands, that together lie

As quietly as spots of sky

Among the evening clouds.

Undeterred by his predecessors, in A View of Loch Lomond, Lindsay has a rather successful go himself:

….picture postcards

that claim to lay the constant on the table,

(the camera cannot lie) are popular;

what trotting tourists hoped to purchase for the

shelf;

the image they’d retain, if they were able.

But landscape’s an evasion of itself.”

Burns tells us he muttered some verses when he celebrated sunrise Loch Lomond, but what they were has been lost. He used a cold wind from Ben Lomond in his Epistle to Davie, addressed to a fellow poet, to provide a contrast to a warm fireside, but otherwise he appears to have remained silent.

Glen Fruin, lying between the foot of Loch Lomond and the Gareloch, can be reached by a road built for the convenience of the Ministry of Defence, or by the B831 (see above). It was the site of a clan battle between the MacGregors and the Colquhouns in 1603, and a memorial stone at the head of the glen marks the supposed site of it. Scott put it in Lady of the Lake:

Proudly our pibroch has thrill’d in Glen

Fruin,

And Bannochar’s groans to our slogan

replied;

Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking

in ruin,

And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on

her side.

 Widow and Saxon maid

Long shall lament our raid,

Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with woe;

Lennox and Leven glen

Shake when they hear again,

“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

The massacre of the Colquhouns has been the subject of several ballads. The last verse of The Raid of Glen Fruin is as follows:

And dearly has M’Gregor paid

By name proscribed and haunted band

For dark Glen Fruin’s lawless raid –

No more he rules Loch Katrine’s strand.

Hugh MacDonald (1817-1860), the Paisley poet and travel writer, asserted “All that is beautiful, indeed, of earth, sea or sky may be said to be congregated round this favoured spot…” W.H.Auden (1907-1973),teaching in Helensburgh, celebrated the quality of the view in Dec. 1931:

No strange sound laid my echo on the road

And when where two little lanes branched

off I stood,

On either side the moorland grew away,

Luminous all Glen Fruin lay

And the sky was silent as an unstruck bell.

Loch Lomond was below, I saw

Boats on a bay like toys on floor;

Scotland in every quarter touched me still.

 

North of Arden and Glen Fruin hills begin to encroach more closely on the road, and the monumental arch at the southern entrance to Ross Dhu is sometimes said to mark the beginning of the Highlands. In practice the Highland Boundary Fault is further south, most evident in the string of islands which culminate in Inchmurrin. [Ferry signposted at the Arden roundabout]. Inchmurrin was visited by Thomas Gray(1716-1771), the distinguished classical scholar and poet, in 1764. Gray was a very important literary ‘discoverer’ of the English Lake District to which he wrote a guide. He only made a modest impact on Scotland, but he was a man who was listened to in London and an arbiter of taste. His enthusiasm for Scottish mountains undoubtedly contributed to their discovery.
 
  For long the home of the Colquhouns, Ross Dhu is now a developer’s golf course, a somewhat wretched fate for a Scottish national treasure, but one which has preserved its character. In the grounds is a ruined keep which the family occupied before their petite classical mansion was built. The estate fringes the most exquisite part of Loch Lomond. Literary visitors have included Scott, who was insulted, and Boswell and Johnson.

It is often said that Boswell’s father, Lord Auchinleck (1706–82), gave the name “Ursa Major” to Dr Johnson. However, Lucy Walford tells a plausible tale in her Recollections. She states that Lady Helen Colquhoun, who was a fastidious woman, took a dislike to Johnson, in particular, it is reported to the fact that he entered her drawing room dripping wet. In an aside she muttered, ‘What a bear’, whereupon one of the company responded ‘if it is so, it is Ursa Major’. This event is not recorded in either Johnson’s or Boswell’s accounts of their visit. Of course, it may be due to a conflation, on Mrs. Walford’s part, of two half-remembered stories.

Johnson’s robustness is illustrated by the fact that when they were furnished with a boat to take them to Inch Galbraith and Inchlonaig one of the younger Colquhouns was made ill by the rough weather and had to be taken home, but Johnson proceeded. Here he reflects favourably on Scots servants:

“When I was upon the Deer Island, I gave the keeper who attended me a shilling, and he said it was too much. Boswell afterwards offered him another, and he excused himself from taking it, because he had been rewarded already.”

 

 

 

John Colquhoun

John Colquhoun,(1805–1885), sportsman and naturalist, was the second son of Sir James Colquhoun. He was brought up partly at Ross Dhu, but later took both Arrochar House and Glenfalloch. He wrote the archetypal nineteenth century huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ treatise, The Moor and the Loch [1840]. There were several editions of the book, which was substantially revised in 1878.He is rather regrettably associated with Inch Galbraith, a Loch Lomond island close to Ross Dhu with a ruined keep on it, where Pennant noted that an osprey nested. The island was also visited by Johnson and Boswell. John Colquhoun says, rather ruefully, that, as a young man, he shot the female osprey and trapped the male:

 

They were a beautiful pair, the female, as in most birds of prey, being considerably the larger. The eggs of these ospreys had regularly been every year, and yet they never forsook their eyrie. It was a beautiful sight to see them sail into our bay on a calm summer night, and, after flying round it several times, strike down on a good-sized pike and bear it away as if it were a minnow.

 

As a sporting writer John Colquhoun was a successor to Colonel Thomas Thornton (1747-1893) whose tour of the Highlands probably took place in 1784. His account of it, A Sporting Tour through . . . . . . Great Part of the Highlands of Scotland, was published in 1804. He too encountered an osprey on Loch Lomond:

We had in the course of the day seen an osprey or water eagle make some noble dashes into the lake after her prey and understanding from one of the boatmen that there was an eyrie on a small island in our voyage home I ordered them to attempt to get as near the nest as possible and loaded my gun well wishing to kill her as a specimen Notwithstanding all our precaution however she rose long before we got near the island at least we perceived a bird of some kind for it was too dark to distinguish of what sort at the distance we lay These birds are very rare in all my different excursions I never heard of any except at Loch Lomond and Loch Morlaix in Glennaore.

 

This last reference is probably to Loch Morlich in Glenmore. Thornton was a gifted exponent of the topographical malapropism. His best was probably ‘Cree in Laroche’ [Crianlaraich]

John Colquhoun’s seventh child was Lucy Bethia Walford [née Colquhoun], (1845–1915), who became the author of some 45 books. It was considered at the time that her novels might be mentioned in the same breath as those of Thomas Hardy.In Recollections of a Scottish Novelist [1910] she explains that Scott presented himself at Sir James Colquhoun’s door, confident of welcome and assistance. However, the author had not taken account of her ancestor’s sense of his own importance. Sir James regarded a mere Edinburgh lawyer as of little consequence, and ordered the butler to show him round Ross Dhu. Lucy Walford continues:

Such an affront was never forgotten nor forgiven; in Rob Roy the Colquhoun’s were absolutely ignored, and the scene of the Lady of the Lake, originally intended to be laid on the banks of Loch Lomond was removed to Loch Katrine.

The consequences of this episode are touched on in a footnote to Burt’s Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland by the editor, Robert Jamieson, who reports that an old Highlander (encountered on the summit of Ben Lomond in 1814) complained vehemently about the Lady of the Lake:

 That d—–d Walter Scott…ever since he wrote his Lady of the Lake, as they call it, everybody goes to see that filthy hole Loch Katrine then comes round by Luss, and I have had only two gentlemen to guide all this blessed season, which is now at an end. I shall never see the top of Ben Lomond again! — The devil confound his ladies and his lakes, say I!

 

 

 

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Literary Loch Lomond: 2. Drymen and Ben Lomond

 

Gartocharn and Kilmaronock

Cameron House is situated close to the village of Balloch and it is from there that travellers wishing to visit the eastern side of the loch leave the A82 and follow the A811 Gartocharn is a village on the way to Drymen, on the line of the old military road from Dumbarton to Stirling. Maurice Lindsay (1918-2009) once lived there. In By Yon Bonnie Banks [1961] he described the village just as electric light and piped water arrived there in the 1950s. First and foremost he was a poet, but he had a very varied range of interests, managing Border Television, and becoming the Director of the Scottish Civic Trust. His Burns Encylopedia [1959] is one of the most thorough; his Castles of Scotland was knowledgeable and affectionate, and he was always a secure guide to Scottish Literature. The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry [2005], for example, is one of the best collections of Scottish verse. He publicised his clansman, the dramatist and poet Sir David Lyndsay (c1490-1555) from Fife, when he was little known; in The Lowlands of Scotland [1953] Lindsay connects Lyndsay’s poem The History of Ane Noble and Valiant SquireMeldrum, umquhyle Laird of Cleish and Binns [1547] with his own parish. The poem describes the raising of a siege of Boturich Castle on behalf of the lady owner of it. Here Lindsay sets the scene:

 

The parish of Kilmaronock lies to the east of Balloch. On the shore of the loch, looking out over Inch Murrin, two famous houses stand [Boturich Castle and Ross Prioy]. Boturich Castle, once the seat of the Haldanes who fell heir to part of the Lennox lands, was reputedly the scene of one of Squire Meldrum’s adventures. Squire Meldrum was a gallant sixteenth-century warrior around whose undoubtedly real exploits and feats of arms were embroidered by Sr David Lyndsay of the Mount:

 And sa this Squire amorous

Seizit and wan the lady’s house

And left therein a Capitane

Syne to Strathern returnit again

 
 
 

 

Ben Lomond 1830 Drawn: John Fleming Engraved: Joseph Swan

Tom Weir (1914–2006), the mountaineer, naturalist and broadcaster, married the headmistress of the local school and from 1959 until his death lived in Gartocharn. He was best known as the author of a regular monthly column about his activities in the Scots Magazine: he traversed the length and breadth of country finding curiosities, and explaining traditions, always possessed with a keen eye for the natural landscape. The idea was later transformed into a series of television programmes. As prolific writer about the Scottish countryside he tried to climb the hill just south of the village of Gartocharn whenever he could. This prominent volcanic plug which commands a very fine view of the loch is called Duncryne; affectionately it is called locally, from its appearance, ‘the Dumpling’.

“Duncryne is to my mind the finest viewpoint of any small hill in Scotland and it is from here that I would like you to look at Loch Lomond.”

Further along this road is Auchenlarich, the house in Kilmaronock Parish where the Scottish litterateur and publicist for Scotland’s scenic assets, George Eyre-Todd (1862-1937) lived for much of his life.

Going in the opposite direction from Gartocharn one reaches Ross Priory, an ostentatious eighteenth century mansion on the edge of Loch Lomond; here Scott completed Rob Roy. He made his early acquaintance with the district as a young lawyer when he was engaged in an eviction, but he revisited the area frequently to see friends, including his fellow advocate Hector MacDonald Buchanan at Ross. He records that in August or September 1809 he visited Cambusmore and Ross Priory and, with Mr MacDonald Buchanan, explored the Isles of Loch Lomond, Arrochar and so on. It was as a result of this excursion that the Lady of the Lake came to fruition, and the trip no doubt contributed to Rob Roy. In 1817 he wrote to his patron ‘from Ross where the clouds on Ben Lomond are sleeping…’ The house is superbly situated in elegant policies at the lochside, sometimes open to the public.

A little further along the A811 is Kilmaronock Parish Church, where Tom Weir is buried. The parish at the foot of Loch Lomond derives its name from an ancient well about a quarter-mile west of the parish church, known as St Marnock’s Well. The guardian saint of the locality is St. Ronan, but he is sometimes confused with St Marnock. His name has also been altered to St. Maronock or Maronnon. He was put into Lady of the Lakeby Scott when Ellen Douglas rejects Roderick Dhu:

Sir Roderick should command

My blood, my life,— but not my hand

Rather will Ellen Douglas dwell

A votaress in Maronnan’s cell;

Wordsworth, his wife Mary and his sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson (1775-1835) traversed the parish at the end of July 1814. At the foot of Loch Lomond they ascended Mount Misery which, like the Dumpling, is a notable viewpoint. They visited the church, the manse and the ruins of Mains Castle, a tower house once owned by the Earl of Glencairn. They then went to Drymen where they went to church. It is from Sara Hutchinson’s Journal and Letters that so much is known about the trip.

 Drymen and Rowardennan

Beyond Kilmaronock is the rather charming Georgian Catter House, then Drymen Bridge. To the left a by road to a golf-course leads to Buchanan Castle. It was at the old house, burned down in 1852 that Scott showed Lady Louisa Stewart a part of Lady of the Lake in 1809. Drymen is a village above the Endrick at the foot of Loch Lomond where William Dixon Cocker, (1882-1970), described by Trevor Royle as an ‘unjustly forgotten figure of the Scottish Renaissance’, was partly brought up. He was Glasgow born, but his relations on his mother’s side were farmers who owned the adjacent farms of Drumbeg and Wester Drumquhastle just outside Drymen. Cocker much preferred them to Glasgow. Several of his poems were set locally. Here he praises the Endrick:

It dauners doon to auld Balfron,

But though it gangs at sober pace

It ettles yet anither race,

An’ rests a wee to gether strength

Until Gartness is reached at length;

There, whaur the mill mak’s merry clatter,

Doon to the Pot comes Endrick Watter.

(To see the saulmon loup there whiles

Folk come frae a’ the airts for miles.)

Then does the roarin’ river hasten

To tume its watters in the basin,

The deep dark pool that kens nae day,

Whaur kelpies lurked lang syne, they say;

Then oot it comes through yetts o’ stane,

An’ hastens on to greet the Blane,

Which, fed by mony a Campsie burnie,

Comes to jine Endrick on its journey.

An’ noo it glides by auld Drumquhastle,

An’ by Dalnair (as braw’s a castle),

An’ by Drumbeg, an’ by the Catter,

Whaur Drymen brig spans Endrick Watter.

The mansion o’ the gallant Grahams

It passes, an’ the humble hames

O’ cottar folk by brae an’ haugh.

It widens as it nears the loch,

An’ slower rins, as though ’twere fain

To tak’ the backward gait again.

But time and streams gang backwards never,

There’s nae respite for man or river.

We maun get forrit, aye maun trevel

Until we reach the appointed level.

There, we shall broaden oot at last,

To merge in the unfathom’d vast.

The dramatist James Bridie (188-1951) lived at the neighbouring Finnich Malise for some years. The Hired Lad [1993] by Ian Campbell Thompson describes rural life in Strathendrick in the years after the war.

Earlier, the minor poet, Hector MacNeill (1746-1818), the friend of Robert Graham of Gartmore, was, it is said, brought up on ‘Lochlomondside’ [DNB], probably somewhere in the vicinity of Drymen. However, Drymen Moor, has the greatest claim to C18 literary fame. Two highly distinguished English visitors, John Wilkes (1727-1797), the journalist and politician, and Charles Churchill(1732–1764), the poet, attempted to cross it on their ‘Highland Tour’, but the weather defeated them, and they retired to Buchanan House. Wilkes was Smollett’s neighbour in Chelsea, but the two fell out over the merits of Bute’s administration. Whether Wilkes and Churchill would now enjoy the sort of notoriety which Johnson and Boswell enjoy, for the anti-Scottishness of some of the Doctor’s remarks, we shall never know, because Wilkes’ papers were burnt However, their trip did give rise to Churchill’s Prophesy of Famine [1763], probably the most splenetic poem ever written about Scotland. It was a polemic against things Scottish in general and the Bute administration, for which Smollett was an advocate, in particular. The countryside described was inspired by Drymen Moor:

Far as the eye could reach, no tree was

  seen,

Earth, clad in russet, scorn’d the lively

  green.

No living thing, whate’er its food, feasts

  there,

But the Cameleon, who can feast on air.

No birds, except as birds of passage, flew

No bee was known to hum, no dove to coo.

Rebellion’s spring, which thro’ the country

  ran,

Furnished, with bitter draughts the steady

  clan.

Patrick Graham, the Minister of Aberfoyle, pointed out in his early guide that Churchill not only denigrated the district, but failed to acknowledge the considerable hospitality they received at Buchanan.

At the very northern edge of the parish of Drymen is Duchray Castle (near Aberfoyle)where Alexander Graham who wrote the account of it in MacFarlane’s Geographical Collections lived. His grandfather’s account of Glencairn’s Rising was edited by Scott.

Nearby, on the road to Killearn, is Gartness, a hamlet beside the Endrick where the famous mathematician Napier worked on logarithms. His kinswoman Priscilla Napier (1908-1998) wrote a realistic trilogy of semi-documentary novels about the district of which the second, A Difficult Country: The Napiers in Scotland [1972] describes Gartness during Napier’s time. At Gartness the river forms the renowned salmon-leap, the Pot of Gartness, the subject of a reflective poem by Maurice Lindsay.

“All the collided anger of wide rains

twisted from ragged slopes in channelled rills,

white with vexation, tumbles towards the plains.”

In the other direction the B837 leads from Drymen to the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. The loch is reached at Balmaha dominated by Conic Hill. Off Balmaha is Inchcailloch, one of the larger islands of Loch Lomond [Ferry from Balmaha]. It is the site of a nunnery and a graveyard of the Clan MacGregor; Rob Roy’s ancestors are buried there. It is said by some to resemble a reclining woman with folded arms, and it was the subject of one of Cunninghame Graham’s memorable Scottish Sketches. He chose a sharper image:

The Island of Nuns lies like a stranded whale on the waters, with its head pointing towards the red rocks of Balmaha.

Scott, in Lady of the Lake, makes the island the source of a Fiery Cross, although the yew is not characteristic of the island:

 

 A slender crosslet formed with care

A cubit’s length in measure due

The shafts and limbs were rods of yew

Whose parents in Inch Cailliach wave

Their shadows o’er Clan Alpine’s grave,

And, answering Lomond’s breezes deep,

Soothe many a chieftain’s endless sleep.

 

The by-road continues as far as Rowardennan, at the foot of Ben Lomond. Cars can go no further, but pedestrians may follow the West Highland Way (in either direction). It is from Rowardennan that most walkers ascend Ben Lomond. The following verse was supposedly inscribed on a window at the inn at Rowardennan, but, Thomas Garnett quotes a longer version of the same poem, dated Oct 3 1771, which he attributes to Thomas Russell, and states that it was scratched on a window pane at the inn at Tarbet:

Stranger! if o’er this pane of glass perchance

Thy roving eye should cast a casual glance,

If taste for grandeur and the dread sublime

Prompt thee Ben Lomond’s fearful height to climb,

Here gaze attentive, nor with scorn refuse

The friendly rhymings of a tavern muse. . . .

Trust not at first a quick advent’rous pace,

Six miles its top points gradual from the base;

Up the high rise with panting haste I passed,

And gained the long laborious steep at last.

More prudent you, when once you pass the deep,

With measured pace ascend the lengthened steep;

Oft stay thy steps, oft taste the cordial drop,

And rest, oh rest! long, long upon the top.

There hail the breezes; nor with toilsome haste

Down the rough slope thy precious vigour waste:

So shall thy wandering sight at once survey

Vales, lakes, woods, mountains, islands, rocks and sea. . . .

Ben Lomond dominates views of Loch Lomond, and commands stunning views of it. Early visitors, including literary visitors, regarded the ascent of the peak as a considerable achievement, and its terrors pre-occupied them.AsGeorge Abraham (1871-1965) observed in British Mountain Climbs [1909]:

It is decreed impossible to reach the top without the aid of a bottle of whisky, and the mountain had lost none of its prestige in this respect.

An early account of the hill occurs in Sir John Stoddart (1773-1856)Remarks on the Local Scenery and Manners of Scotland [1801]:

“The north side of Ben Lomond itself excites a degree of surprise arising almost to terror. This mighty mass, which hitherto had appeared to be an irregular cone, placed on a spreading base, suddenly presents itself as an imperfect crater, with one side forcibly torn off – leaving a stupendous precipice…”

One nineteenth century French literary visitor who succeeded in climbing to the top of Ben Lomond wasCharles Nodier (1780-1844) who set two novels in the district. His friend Amadée Pichot(1795-1877) followed him in pursuit of Scott, and wrote captions for a travel book, brilliantly illustrated by Francois Alexandre Pernot, Voyage historique et littéraire en Angleterre et en Écosse [1825].It includes a fine illustration of Ben Lomond.

Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) and Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847), who toasted his publisher on Ben Lomond, also climbed the hill, while William Hazlitt (1778-1830), the C19 critic, thought he did, but probably did not. The ascent had been popular since C18, Sarah Murray reporting that she met a traveller awaiting favourable conditions in Tarbet. The famous Glasgow poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) celebrated the hill in 1837:

Thy steadfast summit, heaven-allied

(Unlike life’s little span),

Looks down, a Mentor, on the pride

Of perishable man.

Other poets who have written about the hill includeP. G. Hamerton (1834-1894), the painter, who waxed topographical:

Bright from a spring half down the precipice

Issued the silver Forth, whose silver line

Followed a winding course…..

Walter Wingate(1865-1918) imitated one of Horace’s odes in a poem about the Ben in winter. Professor Blackie was explicit about going up Ben Lomond:

From Rowardennan we make a start

And scale the height with cunning art

and Samuel Rogers (see Ardentinny) celebrated the mountain as follows:

Blue was the loch, the clouds were gone,

Ben Lomond in his glory shone.

Thomas Garnett (see above) prints these lines scratched on a window- pane at Tarbet in his Observations:

His lofty summit in a veil of clouds

High o’er the rest displays superior state,

In proud pre-eminence sublimely great

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 1. The Vale of Leven

Tobias Smollett

Renton, Alexandria and Balloch

Leaving Dumbarton for Loch Lomond the first village encountered is Renton, however, the A82 by-passes the place; to reach Renton leave Dumbarton by the A813. The literary associations of Renton ought not to be overlooked, but often are.  It is an industrial village on the Leven that gets its name from one of Tobias Smollett’s relations by marriage. Indeed, Smollett put the delectable Cecilia Renton into his last novel, Humphry Clinker [1771]. The true Cecilia Renton was a neice of the Earl of Eglinton who married Smollett’s nephew, Alexander Telfer. Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), was born at Dalquhurn, a house long gone, which was situated beside the river in Renton. He is best known as a novelist, the author of Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker, and, at one time, his reputation was the highest of the four or five great authors  — Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne were the others — who can be said to have founded the English novel. Smollett’s comic inventiveness influenced Sheridan, Dickens and Thackeray, and Scott paid tribute to his impact on him, pointing out Smollett’s ability to make readers laugh out loud. As well as being a novelist Smollett was an historian, a travel-writer, a journalist, and a pamphleteer.

In his day Smollett’s reputation as an historian vied with that of Hume.  Dr Johnson admired him and, like Johnson, he was one of the first writers to earn his living from his pen. Arguably Burns is more important than Smollett, and, perhaps, his reputation stands somewhat lower than it did, but Smollett deserves notice as one of the first half-dozen among Scotlands literary geniuses, yet, but for his impressive monument in the village, he is not adequately celebrated locally, nor, for that matter, is he properly remembered nationally. The explanation probably lies in the erroneous perception of Smollett as an ‘English’, not even a ‘British’ author. There is an irony here because although Smollett did espouse the Union, and perceive Scotland as ‘North Britain’, his novel Humphry Clinker [1771] contains a distinctive and loving portrait of Scotland, and there is no more heartfelt cry for Scotland’s independence than Smollett’s Tears of Scotland, written after Culloden in a London tavern in the presence of several London Scots. At first the poem consisted of six stanzas. According to Robert Graham of Gartmore, his friends considered that the ending of the poem was so strongly expressed that it might give offence, whereupon Smollett retired in some indignation, and wrote a seventh stanza:

While the warm blood bedews my veins,

And unimpair’d remembrance reigns,

Resentment of my country’s fate,

Within my filial breast shall beat.

And, spite of her insulting foe

My sympathising verse shall flow:

‘Mourn hapless Caledonia, mourn,

Thy banished peace, thy laurels torn.

Smollett is an amiable and perceptive guide to Scotland in the eighteenth century. Readers of Humphry Clinker are given an affectionate description of Edinburgh, including Dr. Smollett’s imprecations on the rudimentary sanitary arrangements there, to a briefer, but even fonder, description of Glasgow, and to a lyrical account of Loch Lomond and the West Coast. Industry, agriculture and the social life of the countryside are conjured up in illuminating asides.

Smollett draws attention to the significance of the Carron Iron Works and to the importance of the plan to build a canal from the Forth to the Clyde (at that time considered likely to traverse the Vale of Leven, but not completed until nearly a quarter of a century later). However, he is at his best in giving some account of things peculiarly Scottish — haggis, whisky and the bagpipes, for example. Above all, although he can be both savage and crude, Smollett is funny.

The Smollett Monument, allowed to decline in the C19, has been restored and is set in a school playground on the A813.

The Smollett Monument. Dalquhurn is the house in the middle distance.

In 2003, the area around the column was redesigned to accommodate the war memorial, too. A wall separates the column from the school playground, and there is a mosaic depicting Smollett’s various achievements in life and literature. The elegant Tuscan column (appropriate, perhaps, because Smollett died in Tuscany), erected by his cousin, James Smollett in 1774 is the district’s most important literary monument. It reminds travellers of his literary greatness.

In a small enclosure by the wayside is a pillar erected to the memory of Dr Smollett, who was born in a village at a little distance, which we could see at the same time, and where I believe some of the family still reside. There is a long latin inscription, which Coleridge translated for my benefit. The latin is miserably bad – as Coleridge said, such as poor Dr Smollett, who was an excellent scholar, would have been ashamed of.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal of a Tour to Scotland (1803).

In spite of its shortcomings in Latin the sentiments expressed are appropriate enough:

 Halt Traveller!

If elegance of taste and wit, if fertility of genius, and an unrivalled talent in delineating the characters of mankind, have ever attracted your admiration, pause a while on the memory of Tobias Smollett, MD, one more than commonly endowed with those virtues which, in a man or a citizen, you would praise, or imitate; Who, having secured the applause of posterity by a variety of literary abilities and a peculiar felicity of composition was, by a rapid and cruel distemper snatched from this world in the fifty-first year of his age. Far, alas, from his country, he lies interred near Leghorn in Italy. In testimony of his many and great virtues this empty monument, the only pledge, alas, of his affection, is erected on the banks of the Leven, the scene of his birth and of his latest poetry, by James Smollett of Bonhill, his cousin, who would rather have expected this last tribute from him. Try and remember this honour was not given alone to the memory of the deceased, but for the encouragement of others.

Deserve like him and be alike rewarded.

Above Renton is Carman hill, a low hill, with a hill-fort, situated between the Leven and the Clyde, commanding very fine views. Formerly the site of an important cattle and horse fair, it was said by Win Jenkins in Humphry Clinker to be the abode of fairies.

Dalquhurn House was situated beside the Leven, which Smollett celebrated, and which, in his youth probably resembled the idyllic stream he described in a fine lyric poem:

No torrents stain thy limpid source;

No rocks impede thy dimpling course,

That sweetly warbles o’er its bed,

With white, round, polish’d pebbles spread

Professor William Richardson (1743-1814), of Glasgow University, one of Smollett’s friends, echoes this sentiment in Idyllion :

Fair Leven, in soft-flowing verse

Exults in Smollett’s name;

Nor fails triumphant to rehearse

The islands whence she came;

The woody islands, resounding cave

And rocks that Lomond’s hoary

billow laves

In Humphry Clinker Smollett, the seasoned traveller familiar with both the New World and with Europe, is drawing the attention of his readers to a country which, as Dr Johnson later pointed out, was as little known in the eighteenth century as either Borneo or Sumatra. In this respect Smollett, whose journey, and his account of it, pre-date Pennant, Gilpin and Johnson, was the forerunner of all the tourists who ultimately came to his beloved Loch Lomond.

There are two lesser literary lights from Renton. Katherine Drain (1868-1904) was born at 13 Burns Street. In 1902 she published Loch Lomond Rhymes, which are not so much about Loch Lomond as about people and places in the Vale of Leven. 

Much more significant is Elizabeth Jane Cameron [pseuds: Jane Duncan and Janet Sandison] (1910-1970) Her parents were Duncan Cameron from the Black Isle and Jessie Sandison, who gave Elizabeth her pen-names. Her highly successful first novel My Friends the Miss Boyds [1959] was set on the Black Isle, and it was there that “Reachfar” (an idyllically situated croft) was to be found. She drew deeply upon her own life experiences in her novels, sometimes appearing as a character in them herself. The four Janet Sandison novels (1969-75) are abouta housemaid from Lochfoot’, an overgrown village, based on Balloch at the foot of Loch Lomond.

The idyllic name, the Vale of Leven, conjures up a variety of images. To locals nowadays it describes an agglomeration of overgrown villages, not quite towns – Balloch, Alexandria, Jamestown, Bonhill and Renton – between Loch Lomond and Dumbarton. For long it was highly industrialised, chiefly concerned with printing and dyeing textiles:

“Where cloth is printed, dyed and steamed

Bleached, tentered, in water streamed

Starched, mangled, calender’d and beamed

And folded very carefully…”

In 1843 in a famous passage Lord Cockburn (1779-1854) commented :

“…how abominable is the whole course of the Leven. Pure enough, I suppose in Smollett’s time, but now a nearly unbroken track of manufactories, which seem to unite the whole pollutions of smoke, chemistry, hot water, and squalid population, and blight a valley which nature meant to be extremely beautiful.”

Alexandria is the main industrial village in the Vale of Leven. It derives its name from Alexander Smollett, and is not to be confused, as it sometimes is, with the city in Egypt. It was the birthplace of the Edwardian littérateur, (Sir) John Alexander Hammerton(1871-1949), of English extraction, some of whose books celebrated Stevenson and Barrie. Tom Gallacher (b. 1934), the playwright, was also born there.

The Place of Bonhill was situated beside the present Vale of Leven Academy. It was one of the early family homes of the Smolletts, and is referred to in both Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker. Poachy Glen is a tiny den above Place of Bonhill, which Smollett relates impressed a seafaring neighbour of his in Chelsea as superior to the Pacific island of Juan Fernandez.

Cameron House, at the very foot of Loch Lomond, is the superbly situated later residence of the Smolletts, mentioned in Humphry Clinker. The house was visited by James Boswell and Samuel Johnson in 1773, by which time, of course, Tobias Smollett was dead. His cousin, James Smollett, was on the point of erecting his monument, and Johnson was asked to revise the Latin – not very well in Coleridge’s opinion. The inscription was the subject of a discussion, reported by Boswell: Lord Kames [Henry Home] averring that it should be in English; Johnson holding that if it were not in Latin, it would be a disgrace to Smollett. Boswell chipped in, not very much to his credit, that those for whom it was intended would understand it if was in Latin, and that ‘surely it was not meant for the Highland Drovers, and other such people…’ Johnson praised the ‘solid talk’ he enjoyed at Cameron. Among the topics which might have been rehearsed was the one solid connection which there was between the two authors. Smollett intervened on Johnson’s behalf with Wilkes to secure the release of Johnson’s black servant, Francis Barber, from deportation.

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