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

The Lake Poets in Scotland

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

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

Itinerary [1801]: Wordsworth

Visited Hamilton and Glasgow; probably visited Loch Lomond

Itinerary [1803]: Wordsworth with Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Itinerary [1822]: Dorothy Wordsworth and Joanna Hutchinson:

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

Itinerary [1831]: Wordsworth with Dora Wordsworth:

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

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

Charles Wordsworth Annals of My Early Life

They proceeded to Bonawe, Oban, and Mull

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

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

Loch Katrine

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                         

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                   

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

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

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                          

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

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

James Reed Sir Walter Scott: Landscape and Locality 1980

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

STEPPING WESTWARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilfred Taylor Scot Free 1953

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 18. Loch Achray

 

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

Dorothy Wordsworth described Loch Achray in her Journal as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire                   

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

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

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

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

Tarbet: 11th September, 1838

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

Henry Cockburn Circuit Journeys                                                                                                                              

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

Lochearnhead: 5th July, 1841

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

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

Charles Dickens Letter to John Forster                                                      

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

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

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

Comrie House: 9th September, 1846

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millais Sketchbook: Trossachs Church

Millais Sketchbook: Trossachs Church

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

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

 

Leave a comment »

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

 

Glen Finglas

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

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

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

  20th July, 1853

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

John Ruskin Letters

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

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

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

     J.E.Millais Letter to Holman Hunt    

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

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

William Millais  gives a vivid description of a Glenfinlas Sabbath:

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

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

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

J.G.Millais Life and Letters of Millais 1899

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

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

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

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coleman Parsons Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott’s Fiction 1964

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Walter Scott The Lady of the Lake

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

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

Lady Sarah Murray Beauties of Scotland                                              

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

James Hogg Highland Tours 1803

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W.Kersley Holmes Tramping Scottish Hills Eneas Mackay Stirling 1946

Another visitor to ascend Ben Ledi was John Everett Millais:

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

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

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

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

 

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

Millais: Illustration for Phineas Finn

Millais: Illustration for Trollope’s Phineas Finn

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

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

 

Leave a comment »

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

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

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

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

H.A.Piehler Scotland for Everyman 1934

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

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

Sir Robert Christison Autobiography 1816

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chauncey Hare Townshend Descriptive Tour in Scotland 1840

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

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

‘Three Nights in Perthshire’                                                                                                        

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

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

‘Three Nights in Perthshire                                                                                                     ‘

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

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

‘The Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland                                                               

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

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

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

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

Nathaniel Hawthorne English Notebooks Spring 1856

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B.H.Humble On Scottish Hills 1946

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment »

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 14. Inversnaid

Glen Arklet and the Approaches to Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jules Verne Les Indes Noire 1877

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIANN AN FHOGARAICH

(The Wanderer’s Wish)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love’s Last Request

by the Hon Bard of Clan MacGregor

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

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

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

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

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

Coaches between Inversnaid and Stronachlachar

Coaches between Inversnaid and Stronachlachar

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

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

    Hans Andersen The Fairy Tale of My Life                                                                    

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

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

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

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

 Thomas Carlyle Reminiscences  1887

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

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

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

Alexander Smith A Summer in Skye 1864

Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alasdair Alpin MacGregor Somewhere in Scotland 1935

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

The Falls of Inversnaid

The Falls of Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                           

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

Scott at Inversnaid

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

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

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

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

MACGREGOR’S GATHERING
Air: Thain’ a Grigalach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Hogg Highland Tours

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

John Muir

John Muir

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

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

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

Charles Knight Shairp and his Friends                                         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Leave a comment »

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

 

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

Craigforth

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

Lady Caroline Norton

Lady Caroline Norton

 

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

Blair Drummond

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

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

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

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

Doune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Cambusmore it is but a short jouney to Callander .

 

 

Leave a comment »

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 9. Callander

Callander

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

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

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

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland 1819

Lady Sarah Murray described Callander’s situation as follows:

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

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

Dugald Buchanan

Gaelic Poet Teacher Evangelist

1716 – 1768

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

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

Pittendrigh Macgillivray ERECTED 1925

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

James Lees-Milne The Enigmatic Edwardian 1986

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

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

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

The other is Stevenson’s famous epitaph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Monk' Lewis.

‘Monk’ Lewis.

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

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

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

Andrew Cruickshank An Autobiography 1988

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

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

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

In a note Scott explains:

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

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

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

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

Lady Sarah Murray The Beauties of Scotland 1799

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

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

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

Alexander Smith Summer in Skye               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment »