Posts tagged Dorothy Wordsworth

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

 

Leave a comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loch Lubnaig [Artist: John Fleming Engraver Joseph Swan]

Loch Lubnaig [Artist: John Fleming Engraver Joseph Swan]

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

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

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

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

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

The other is RLS’s famous epitaph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strathyre and Balquhidder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Redgauntlet Scott has it as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loch Earn

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

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

Kate Douglas Wiggin

Kate Douglas Wiggin

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

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

May it please your LORDSHIP,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of St Fillan Scott says:

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

Breadalbane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Comments (3) »

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

 

Upper Loch Lomond

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

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

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

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

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

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

The poem is elaborately titled:

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

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

All, all were dispossessed, save him whose smile

Shot lightning through this lonely Isle!

No right had he but what he made

To this small spot, his leafy shade;

But the ground lay within that ring

To which he only dared to cling;

Renouncing here, as worse than dead,

The craven few who bowed the head

Beneath the change; who heard a claim

How loud! yet lived in peace with shame.

 

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


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

How disappeared he? Ask the newt and toad;

Ask of his fellow men and they will tell

How he was found, cold as an icicle,

Under an arch of that forlorn abode

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

This white explosion of water plunges down

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

A fine cold smoke drifts across dripping stone

And wet black walls of rock shut in the scene.

 

Now thought hangs sheer on a precipice of beauty

Lifting with leaping water out from the rock.

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

Bursts like a bud above the deep pool’s black

Parted and curled back under by the shock

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

 

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

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

Force without spending, form without fetter of shape.

And at the pool’s edge wavelets scarcely lap

Where drifted spume clings with a soft adhesion.

 

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

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

 

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

Leave a comment »

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

 

Camstradden and Luss

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

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

On one of the islands was ripe corn; last week in the shire of Ayr we saw oats that had not yet arrived in the ear. Passed a female who was reaping alone: she sung in Erse as she bended over her sickle; the sweetest human voice I ever heard: her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious, long after they were heard no more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Luss Straits Painted: E.W.Haslehurst

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

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

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

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

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

Such walls, like honey, and the old are happy

in morphean air like goldfish in a bowl.

Ripe roes trail their margins down a sleepy

mediaeval treatise on the slumbering soul.

And even the water, fabulously silent,

has no salt tales to tell us, nor makes jokes

about the yokel mountains, huge and patient,

that will not court her but read shadowy books.

A world so long departed! In the churchyard

the tilted tombs still gossip, and the leaves

of stony testaments are read by Richard,

Jean and Carol, pert among the sheaves

of unscythed shadows, while the noon day hums

with bees and water and the ghosts of psalms.

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

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

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

In Observations Garnett describes it thus:

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

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

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

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

Inverbeg and Tarbet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… the mountain behind him

was drilled with caves

each one crammed with nuclear hardware

and the sea loch over the mountain

lay easy with obsolescent new submarines.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Barbour’s account:

The king efter that he wes gane

To Louch Lomond the way has tane

And come on the thrid day,

Bot tharabout na bait fand thai

That mycht thaim our the water ber.

Than war thai wa on gret maner

For it wes fer about to ga,

And thai war into dout alsua

To meyt thar fayis that spred war wyd.

Tharfor endlang the louchhis syd

Sa besyly thai socht and fast

Tyll James of Douglas at the last

Fand a litill sonkyn bate

And to the land it drew fut-hate,

Bot it sa litill wes that it

Mycht our the watter but a thresum flyt.

Thai send tharoff word to the king

That wes joyfull off that fynding

And fyrst into the bate is gane,

With him Douglas, the thrid wes ane

That rowyt thaim our deliverly

And set thaim on the land all dry,

And rowyt sa oftsys to and fra

Fechand ay our twa and twa

That in a nycht and in a day

Cummyn out-our the louch ar thai,

For sum off thaim couth swome full weill

And on his bak ber a fardele.

Swa with swymmyng and with rowyng

Thai brocht thaim our and all thar thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . to Tarbet , a most hospitable clean and welcome little country inn (now a huge “Hotel” I hear — worse luck to it, with its nasty “Hotel Company Limited”!)

Leave a comment »

Literary Loch Lomond: 2. Drymen and Ben Lomond

 

Gartocharn and Kilmaronock

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

 

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

 And sa this Squire amorous

Seizit and wan the lady’s house

And left therein a Capitane

Syne to Strathern returnit again

 
 
 

 

Ben Lomond 1830 Drawn: John Fleming Engraved: Joseph Swan

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Roderick should command

My blood, my life,— but not my hand

Rather will Ellen Douglas dwell

A votaress in Maronnan’s cell;

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

 Drymen and Rowardennan

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

It dauners doon to auld Balfron,

But though it gangs at sober pace

It ettles yet anither race,

An’ rests a wee to gether strength

Until Gartness is reached at length;

There, whaur the mill mak’s merry clatter,

Doon to the Pot comes Endrick Watter.

(To see the saulmon loup there whiles

Folk come frae a’ the airts for miles.)

Then does the roarin’ river hasten

To tume its watters in the basin,

The deep dark pool that kens nae day,

Whaur kelpies lurked lang syne, they say;

Then oot it comes through yetts o’ stane,

An’ hastens on to greet the Blane,

Which, fed by mony a Campsie burnie,

Comes to jine Endrick on its journey.

An’ noo it glides by auld Drumquhastle,

An’ by Dalnair (as braw’s a castle),

An’ by Drumbeg, an’ by the Catter,

Whaur Drymen brig spans Endrick Watter.

The mansion o’ the gallant Grahams

It passes, an’ the humble hames

O’ cottar folk by brae an’ haugh.

It widens as it nears the loch,

An’ slower rins, as though ’twere fain

To tak’ the backward gait again.

But time and streams gang backwards never,

There’s nae respite for man or river.

We maun get forrit, aye maun trevel

Until we reach the appointed level.

There, we shall broaden oot at last,

To merge in the unfathom’d vast.

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

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

Far as the eye could reach, no tree was

  seen,

Earth, clad in russet, scorn’d the lively

  green.

No living thing, whate’er its food, feasts

  there,

But the Cameleon, who can feast on air.

No birds, except as birds of passage, flew

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

Rebellion’s spring, which thro’ the country

  ran,

Furnished, with bitter draughts the steady

  clan.

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

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

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

“All the collided anger of wide rains

twisted from ragged slopes in channelled rills,

white with vexation, tumbles towards the plains.”

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

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

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

 

 A slender crosslet formed with care

A cubit’s length in measure due

The shafts and limbs were rods of yew

Whose parents in Inch Cailliach wave

Their shadows o’er Clan Alpine’s grave,

And, answering Lomond’s breezes deep,

Soothe many a chieftain’s endless sleep.

 

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

Stranger! if o’er this pane of glass perchance

Thy roving eye should cast a casual glance,

If taste for grandeur and the dread sublime

Prompt thee Ben Lomond’s fearful height to climb,

Here gaze attentive, nor with scorn refuse

The friendly rhymings of a tavern muse. . . .

Trust not at first a quick advent’rous pace,

Six miles its top points gradual from the base;

Up the high rise with panting haste I passed,

And gained the long laborious steep at last.

More prudent you, when once you pass the deep,

With measured pace ascend the lengthened steep;

Oft stay thy steps, oft taste the cordial drop,

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

There hail the breezes; nor with toilsome haste

Down the rough slope thy precious vigour waste:

So shall thy wandering sight at once survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thy steadfast summit, heaven-allied

(Unlike life’s little span),

Looks down, a Mentor, on the pride

Of perishable man.

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

Bright from a spring half down the precipice

Issued the silver Forth, whose silver line

Followed a winding course…..

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

From Rowardennan we make a start

And scale the height with cunning art

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

Blue was the loch, the clouds were gone,

Ben Lomond in his glory shone.

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

His lofty summit in a veil of clouds

High o’er the rest displays superior state,

In proud pre-eminence sublimely great

Leave a comment »