Posts tagged James Boswell and Dr. Johnson

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: 3. Arden and Glen Fruin

 

Arden

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

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

 
 
 
 
 

 

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

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

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

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

Thomas Gray (1764)

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

William Gilpin (1776)

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

Samuel Johnson (1773)

 

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

But certainly this noble lake, boasting innumerable beautiful islands, of every varying form and outline which fancy can frame,its northern extremity narrowing until it is lost among dusky and retreating mountains, while, gradually widening as it extends to the southward, it spreads its base around the indentures and promontories of a fair and fertile land, -affords one of the most surprising, beautiful, and sublime spectacles in nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Poet-Preacher once, ’tis said,

When Lomond and her isles lay spread

Before his genius-flashing eye,

Loaded the pinions of a sigh,

Soul-born, with this impassioned cry—

O Joy! Should it to man be given

That a Loch Lomond be in Heaven”

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

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

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

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes

Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond

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

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

 

Chorus:

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

And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

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

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

 

Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen

On the steep, steep sides o’ Ben Lomon’

Where in purple hue, the hielan hills we view

And the moon comin’ out in the gloamin’.

 

The wee birdies sing and the wild flowers spring

And in sunshine the waters are sleeping

But the broken heart, it kens nae second spring again

Tho’ the waeful may cease frae their greetin’

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

The high road is my road,

The low road’s a slow road

And I’ll guarantee ya

I’ll be there to see ya

On the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond

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

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

Andrew Lang risked rendering the poem in his own way:

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

  safe in France,

And the Clans they hae paid the lawing,

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

  alane,

Free o’ Carlisle gaol in the dawning.

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

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

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

“the gloom

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

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

Tis evening upon Lomond’s lake,

On her green isles the morn is gleaming;

In Heaven there’s not a cloud to break

The lustre o’er the waters streaming

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

 

With all its fairy crowds

Of islands, that together lie

As quietly as spots of sky

Among the evening clouds.

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

….picture postcards

that claim to lay the constant on the table,

(the camera cannot lie) are popular;

what trotting tourists hoped to purchase for the

shelf;

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

But landscape’s an evasion of itself.”

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

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

Proudly our pibroch has thrill’d in Glen

Fruin,

And Bannochar’s groans to our slogan

replied;

Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking

in ruin,

And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on

her side.

 Widow and Saxon maid

Long shall lament our raid,

Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with woe;

Lennox and Leven glen

Shake when they hear again,

“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

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

And dearly has M’Gregor paid

By name proscribed and haunted band

For dark Glen Fruin’s lawless raid –

No more he rules Loch Katrine’s strand.

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

No strange sound laid my echo on the road

And when where two little lanes branched

off I stood,

On either side the moorland grew away,

Luminous all Glen Fruin lay

And the sky was silent as an unstruck bell.

Loch Lomond was below, I saw

Boats on a bay like toys on floor;

Scotland in every quarter touched me still.

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

John Colquhoun

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Leave a comment »

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

Tobias Smollett

Renton, Alexandria and Balloch

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

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

While the warm blood bedews my veins,

And unimpair’d remembrance reigns,

Resentment of my country’s fate,

Within my filial breast shall beat.

And, spite of her insulting foe

My sympathising verse shall flow:

‘Mourn hapless Caledonia, mourn,

Thy banished peace, thy laurels torn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Halt Traveller!

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

Deserve like him and be alike rewarded.

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

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

No torrents stain thy limpid source;

No rocks impede thy dimpling course,

That sweetly warbles o’er its bed,

With white, round, polish’d pebbles spread

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

Fair Leven, in soft-flowing verse

Exults in Smollett’s name;

Nor fails triumphant to rehearse

The islands whence she came;

The woody islands, resounding cave

And rocks that Lomond’s hoary

billow laves

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

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

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

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

“Where cloth is printed, dyed and steamed

Bleached, tentered, in water streamed

Starched, mangled, calender’d and beamed

And folded very carefully…”

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

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

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

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

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

Comments (2) »