Posts tagged R.B.Cunninghame Graham

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 11. Aberfoyle

 

From Lake of Menteith follow A81 to Aberfoyle. At the road junction the A81 turns south. By following it to Ward Toll a return journey can be made to Aberfoyle by Chapelarroch and Gartmore (Cunninghame Graham Memorial). Leave A81 and continue by the A821 which goes through Aberfoyle to the Bailie Nichol Jarvie Hotel, the Brig o’ Forth and Kirkton. Cars can be left in the Car Park, on the site of the former railway station.

Aberfoyle

Aberfoyle has two distinct, if interconnected, claims to literary fame. The most notable is that Sir Walter Scott set the most telling scenes of Rob Roy in Aberfoyle, but the literary provenance of the place goes back much further. The Minister of the Parish from 1685 to 1692 was Robert Kirk. Like many ministers he was a noted scholar who, among other achievements, was the first to translate the Metrical Psalms into Gaelic, and he was asked to superintend the publication of the most significant Gaelic Bible of the seventeenth century. However, it was his interest in fairies and his publication of The Secret Commonwealth, the book about Scottish fairies, which gave him a lasting reputation. It can be said with some certainty that, nowadays, there is less interest in fairies than there was in the seventeenth century. Kirk might be perceived, on this account, as a figure of fun, and receive less attention than he deserves. In considering his life and its influence it is essential to recollect that, until very recently, superstition played an important part in country life. Indeed it still does. Much that was then unexplained made sense if you involved fairies. Scott used Aberfoyle in Rob Roy, and makes much of Kirk and the Fairy Knowe at Aberfoyle as literary device in that book, to mark the transition from the Lowlands to the Highlands. Scott learned about Kirk when he visited the Manse as a young lawyer, although his reference to Kirk in a note to Rob Roy is misleading about his dates. However, a good precis of The Secret Commonwealth is provided by Scott in his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, dated 1830.

Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang (1844-1912), folklorist, poet, novelist and historian had a great interest in Kirk, and wrote the introduction to an edition of the Secret Commonwealth of 1893, as had Scott before him to an edition of 1815. Lang’s dedication in ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ provides a further powerful literary connection. It was addressed to Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Stevenson frequented Bridge of Allan when he was young, and there are two books about the time he spent there. There is less evidence of Stevenson’s knowledge of the Trossachs, but he undoubtedly drew inspiration from the Highlands. He was then in the Samoa, where he was known as ‘Tusitala’, said to mean ‘teller-of-tales’. Stevenson was, of course, much interested in the Scottish Kirk, in the Covenant, and in the weird and the supernatural. Lang’s dedication is an amusing and neglected dialect poem:

O Louis! you that like them maist
Ye’re far frae kelpie, wraith and ghaist,
And fairy dames, no unco chaste,-
And haunted cell,
Among a heathen clan ye’re placed,
That kens na hell!

Ye hae nae heather, peat, nor birks,
Nae troot in a’ your burnies lurks,
There are nae bonny U.P.Kirks,
An awfu’ place!
Nane kens the Covenant o’ Works
Frae that of Grace!

But whiles, maybe, to them ye’ll read
Blads o’ the Covenanting creed,
And whiles their pagan hames ye’ll feed
On hailsome parritch;
And syne ye’ll gar them learn a screed
O the Shorter Carritch’

Yet thae uncovenanted shavers
Hae rowth, ye say o’ clash and clavers
O gods and etins – auld wives’ havers
But their delight;
The voice o’ him that tells them quavers
Just wi’ fair fright.,

And ye might tell, ayont the faem,
Thae Hieland clashes o’ oor hame-
To speak the truth, I tak’ na shame
To half believe them;
And stamped wi’ TUSITALA’S name,
They’ll a’ receive them.*

And folk to come, ayont the sea,
May hear the yowl of the Banshie,
And frae the water-kelpie flee,
Ere all things cease,
And island bairns may stolen be
By the Folk o’ Peace.

Faith, they might steal me, wi’ ma will,
And, ken’d I ony Fairy Hill
I’d lay me down there, snod and still,
Their land to win,
For, man, I’ve maistly had my fill!
O’ this world’s din.

The habit of writing poems about fellow denizens of the literary jungle was quite prevalent in late Victorian times. Earlier Stevenson himself dedicated poems to Lang, to S.R.Crockett and to Henley among others. That Lang should think of Stevenson in connection with Kirk was entirely understandable. Whether Stevenson knew of his intention is not clear. However, if he did not, it is a remarkable coincidence that, in the same year, Stevenson was thinking of the Trossachs. On 6th June, 1893 he wrote in a letter to Sydney Colvin:

I was standing out on the little verandah in front of my room this morning, and there went through me or over me a wave of extraordinary and apparently baseless emotion. I literally staggered. And then the explanation came, and I knew I had found a frame of mind and body that belonged to Scotland, and particularly to the neighbourhood of Callander. Very odd these identities of sensation and the world of connotations implied; highland huts and peat smoke, and brown swirling rivers, and wet clothes, and whisky, and the romance of the past, and that indescribable bite of the whole thing at a man’s heart, which is – or rather lies at the bottom of – a story.

Lang’s edition of The Secret Commonwealth is regarded by folklorists as being rather slapdash. However, his introduction is an extended essay in faery beliefs which is both erudite and enthusiatic. The book was reprinted in 1933 with a further introduction another locally connected author, R.B.Cunninghame Graham. A fine etching of ‘The Hill of the Fairies’ by D.Y. Cameron, who lived at Kippen, illustrated the book, which was published by Eneas MacKay of Stirling.

Lang also wrote another, more often quoted, poem about Kirk. The Fairy Minister, apart from being an interesting poem in itself, provides a suitable reminder of Kirk, full of allusions to the fairy stories of the district:

THE FAIRY MINISTER

The Rev Mr Kirk of Aberfoyle was carried away by the
Fairies in 1692

People of Peace! a peaceful man,
Well worthy of your love was he,
Who, while roaring Garry ran
Red with the lifeblood of Dundee.
When coats were turning, crowns were falling,”
Wandered along his valley still,
And heard their mystic voices calling
From fairy knowe and haunted hill.
He heard, he saw, he knew too well!
The secrets of your fairy clan;
You stole him from the haunted dell,
Who never more was seen of man.)
Now far from heaven, and safe from hell,
Unknown of earth he wanders free.
Would that he might return and tell
Of his mysterious company
For we have tired the Folk of Peace;

No more they tax our corn and oil;
Their dances on the moorland cease,
The Brownie stints his wonted toil.
No more shall any shepherd meet¬
The ladies of the fairy clan,
Nor are their deathly kisses sweet
On lips of any earthly man.
And half I envy him who now,
Clothed in her Court’s enchanted green,
By moonlit loch or mountain brow,
Is Chaplain to the Faery Queen.

Ban and Arriere Ban 1894

Kirk, a seventh son, was probably born in 1644 in the Manse at Aberfoyle, and in 1685 he became Minister of Aberfoyle. Before dealing with his book about fairies, it is appropriate to refer to his other work which was begun in Balquhidder, where he started his ministry twenty years before that. It might seem surprising, since the most famous version of the Bible in English bears the name of a Scottish King and dates from 1611, that, for most of the seventeenth century, there was no printed version in the Scottish vernacular; that is, there was no attempt to produce a printed version in the Scots Tongue, and no printed version accessible to Gaelic speakers. This latter was partly a product of the intolerant view that Gaelic speakers were difficult enough without being given access to the Bible.
It was while he was in Balquhidder that Kirk worked on a Gaelic version of fifty metrical psalms, 221 copies of which were published in 1684, the year before he moved to Aberfoyle. This work was printed in Irish characters, and episcopalian in origin; it did not therefore please everyone, although it was, for about ten years, the only version of the psalms in Gaelic available, after which another, more complete version began to supersede it. However, it was as a result of this work that Kirk became involved with the revision of a printed version in Gaelic of the Catechism, the production and distribution of which was financed by Robert Boyle (1627-91). Boyle was the Irish philosopher and scientist who enunciated several principles on which modern science is based, of which his “law” that, at a constant temperature the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to the pressure, is the best known. He was a director of the East India Company, and used his wealth to further the distribution of the Bible getting it translated, for example into Turkish. Unsurprisingly he was concerned to obtain an Irish version, and in 1685 a translation of both the Old Testament [by Bedell], and the New Testament [by O’Donnell], but not the Apocrypha because Boyle objected, was printed in a new Irish type which Boyle paid for. Rev. James Kirkwood (1650[?]-1708), a Scot ministering to a flock in Bedfordshire, who had been deprived of his living in Scotland because, unlike Kirk, he had refused to take the ‘Test’, urged Boyle to distribute this Bible [The Bedell Bible] in the Highlands, and obtained 200 copies, supposedly sufficient to provide one Bible for each Parish. Kirk took resposibility for the distribution of them, and produced a small vocabulary dealing with the most difficult words. They were inscribed by Kirk with a certificate paying tribute to Boyle.

Robert Kirk's Grave, Aberfoyle

Robert Kirk’s Grave, Aberfoyle

Kirk regarded the number of Bibles available as ridiculous, partly because many of them were ‘alienated to private use’. The Irish characters were unfamiliar to the Highlanders, and Kirk proposed that more copies should be made available transliterated into Roman characters. Boyle agreed to contribute to the cost. Kirk undertook this enormous task himself in 1688-89. This was a greatly troubled time, following the accession of William and Mary of Orange. Nevertheless the intrepid Minister of Aberfoyle went to London for eight months to supervise the printing of what came to be known as Kirk’s Bible, which was completed by April, 1690. The instigator of the original scheme, Kirkwood, who can be regarded as one of the founders of Scottish libraries because he suggested the establishment of a ‘bibliotheck’ in every Parish, continued the task of distributing them after Kirk’s death.
On the one hand it seems decidedly odd that a Minister should have any truck with fairies at that time; on the other hand one can imagine that a Minister genuinely interested in the spiritual welfare of his flock might wish to develop an understanding of the primitive beliefs which were as firmly held by country folk in the seventeenth century as Christian beliefs. As Kirk himself puts it:

How much is written of pigmies, fairies, nymphs, syrens and apparitions which, though not the tenth part true, could not spring of nothing.
Robert Kirk The Secret Commonwealth 1691

The title of Kirk’s book is comprehensive, its shortened version being as follows:

Secret Commonwealth: or an Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and for the most part) Invisible People heretofor going under the names of Fauns and Fairies, or the like, among the Low Country Scots as described by those who have second sight. 1691

He gives a comprehensive account of the lives of various kinds of fairies including their habits, their dwelling places, what they ate, their crafts, their faults – ‘envy, spite, hypocrisy, lying and dissimulation’, and, even, their sex lives:

In our Highlands there be many fair Ladies of this aereal order which do often tryst with lascivious young men in the quality of succubi, or lightsome paramours and strumpets

The whole book is very matter of fact, a scientific work of much merit. It was published in manuscript form in the year before his remarkable death. Kirk, of course, deals with fairy knolls, and it was his habit to go every day to Doon Hill, the fairy knoll behind the old parish church. It is probabable that, in reality, he had a heart attack as a result of exertions during one of these trips, but it was said locally that the fairies had spirited him away because he had published the book, and substituted a stock, a changeling. This explains how Kirk is buried in the old graveyard, but is, actually, in fairyland. Indeed, it has been for long said that the Minister of Parish continues to be Kirk; his successors are merely standing in for him. Patrick Graham, one of Kirk’s successors as minister of the parish, outlines the curious occurrence after his death:

Mr Kirk was the near relation of Graham of Duchray, the ancestor of the present General Graham. Shortly after his funeral he appeared in the dress in which he had sunk down, to a medical relation of his own, and of Duchray. ‘Go,’ said he to him, ‘to my cousin Duchray and tell him I am not dead. I fell down in a swoon, and was carried away into fairyland, where I now am. Tell him, that when he and my friends are assembled at the baptism of my child (for he had left his wife pregnant), I will appear in the room, and that if he throws the knife which he holds in his hand over my head, I will be released, and restored to human society.’ The man, it seems, neglected for some time, to deliver the message. Mr Kirk appeared to him a second time, threatening to haunt him night and day until he executed his commission, which at length he did. The time of the baptism arrived. They were seated at the table; the figure of Mr Kirk entered, but the laird of Duchray, by some unaccountable fatality, neglected to perform the prescribed ceremony. Mr Kirk retired by another door, and was seen no more. it is firmly believed that he is, at this day, in fairyland.
Patrick Graham Sketches of Perthshire 1806

This tradition was still very much alive more than a hundred years after Patrick Graham’s death. Evans Wentz, the American folklorist, found it to be current when he investigated The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries in Aberfoyle in 1908. Katharine Briggs (1898-1980), the twentieth century folklorist, relates a story that she was told to the effect that a baby was to be born in the manse at Aberfoyle during the 1939-45 war, and it was said that if the birth took place in Kirk’s chair, and a dagger was stuck into it, Kirk would be released from fairyland. The dislike of fairies for iron is said, according to one theory, to arise from the fact that fairies were the pre-iron age inhabitants of the country. Lewis Spence (1874-1955), the Scottish Nationalist and authority on the primitive and the occult, points out that the story about Kirk is a variation of a wide-spread folk myth, in which a woman who has given birth to a child is spirited away by the fairies in order to nurture a fairy infant. In many of these stories the woman is permitted from time to time to return to her child, and reveals to her husband the way in which she can be released, generally a method involving the use of iron. Spence says that Kirk’s legend is the only example he knows of a man rather than the woman being taken away at about the time of childbirth, but he suggests that another primitive belief, recorded, for example, in Scotland by Pennant in 1769, could explain this. This is the belief that if the fairies find a man in bed with an infant, or even that if the baby is wrapped in a man’s shirt, for example, it will ward off evil spirits.

Patrick Graham (1750-1835) was Minister of the Parish from 1787 to 1835. He was a scholar who was well known beyond the district, and took a prominent part in the controversy about the authenticity of MacPherson’s Ossian. There might be some dispute about who ‘discovered’ the Trossachs, but Graham must take some credit. His description of the Trossachs in Sketches of Perthshire influenced both the Wordsworths and Scott. Graham included a substantial section in his guidebook about the superstitions of the district thus perpetuating, a hundred years after Kirk’s death, interest in the subject. Scott who visited Graham frequently, clearly relied on him to provide local colour for both The Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy. Scott ‘killed’ Graham in a footnote acknowledging his debt to him in the latter work. His witty letter to Scott, written when he was nearly eighty years old, illustrates Graham’s urbanity:

Manse of Aberfoyle 31 December, 1829

Dear Sir Walter,

The second volume of the new edition of Rob Roy reached this remote spot two days ago; and afforded a renewal of the pleasure which its first perusal excited, enhanced as it was by intimate aquaintance with the localities and individual characters so strikingly portrayed in it, till in a note on p 203 I lighted on the startling information that I have been dead some years. Though till now unconscious of this very material change in the scene and mode of my existence, I am far from questioning a fact stated on such high authority. As is often the case my consciousness and my deference to testimony stand strangely opposed to each other. I scarcely know whether I am alive or dead, but the weight of evidence in favour of my death seems on the whole to preponderate, and to that I am bound as a sound reasoner to submit implicitly. Perhaps, indeed, like a well-known predecessor of my own, I have been only carried off by the Daoine Shie, in which case the unearthly being who now addresses you may be no more than a Fairy Changeling, left for a time to occupy the place of the departed Minister of Aberfoyle. At any rate the time and the manner in which the intelligence reached me have given me the singular gratification of enjoying my own posthumous fame. To be praised by the author of Rob Roy might well make any man proud, but to receive and read that praise so long after my death is what I believe no Mortal but myself would ever boast of. Still the pleasure this affords is attended with some inconvenience. My daughter, stunned by the discovery, has hurried home from Glasgow to ascertain the circumstances of her father’s decease. My noble Patron is overwhelmed with letters from Celtic divines of every patronymic detailing their claims and offering their services to supply the vacancy. The Presbytery of the bounds, considering the time which has elapsed, have held a meeting pro re nata, with a view to the exercise of their jus devolutum. And, worst of all, my old servant Duncan, who has been in his day a jack-of-all-trades , and does not scruple to borrow an hour now and then from his sleep or his work – as it may happen – to spell the pages of a diverting story, insists on receiving a complete suit of decent mourning for his dear and good master, for which demand he finds in the tale both reason and precedent. After all I believe I must lay my death at your door; but as a dying man, and much more a dead man, is bound to forgive even the author of his death, I beg leave to assure you of the unabated respect and regard with which I am, or should rather say I was, dear Sir Walter, your sincere friend and warm admirer,
Pat Graham

Scott apologised to Graham, who wrote to him again urging the novelist to leave the passage as it was “I am truly sorry that you have felt uneasiness about the mistake made in your beautiful novel Rob Roy in the mention of my name, to which, on many occasions, you have done so much honour…….. I must be soon be entitled to the epithet which you have employed.” Scott then made his apology public in a note in an edition of The Legend of Montrose, which begins in the Trossachs. It is with mingled pleasure and shame that I record the important error of having announced as deceased my learned acquaintance, the Rev. Dr Graham, Minister of Aberfoyle. I cannot now recollect the precise ground ogf my depriving my learned and excellent friend of his existence, unless like Mr Kirk, his predecessor in the parish, the excellent Doctor has made a short trip to Fairyland, with whose wonders he is so well acquainted. But however I may have been misled, my regret is most sincere for having spread such a rumour; and no one can be more gratified than I that the report, however I may have been induced to give it credit and currency, is a false one, and that Dr Graham is still the living pastor of Aberfoyle, for the delight and instruction of his brother antiquaries. Charles Nodier (1780-1844) visited Scotland in June 1821 in company with Eugene Isabey, Alphonse de Cailleux and Baron Taylor, and wrote Promenade de Dieppe aux montagnes d’Ecosse. In 1822 the Promenade was translated into English by Clifford and published by Blackwood, Edinburgh. Like many other writers he admired Scott, and like Scott was interested in the supernatural. In his novel Trilby, set more in the vicinity of Loch Long and Inverary than the Trossacchs, Nodier refers to a song, ‘The Ghost of Aberfoyle‘, stated in a note to have been lost, and it is said that he based one of the characters on a boatman on Loch Katrine. In the Promenade there is a notable description of the ascent of Ben Lomond.

William Richardson

William Richardson

A contemporary of Graham’s was, William Richardson (1743-1814), son of James Richardson, another Minister of the Parish, born in 1743. His Poems, Chiefly Rural were published in 1774. Richardson was Professor of Humanities at Glasgow University, and contributed to Graham’s Essay on the Authenticity of Ossian’s Poems. For three years (1768-71) he served as secretary to Lord Cathcart, ambassador extraordinary at the court of Russia, and ‘tradition has enlisted him in the band of young men who enjoyed the favours of Catherine the Great’ (J.D.Mackie History of the University of Glasgow). In A Farewell to Aberfoyle Richardson refers to the Waterfall of the Little Fawn above Aberfoyle:

FAREWELL TO ABERFOYLE

To thee my filial bosom beats,
On thee may heaven indulgent smile
And glad thy innocent retreats
And bless thee, lovely Aberfoyle
How pleasing to my pensive mind
The memory of thy bold cascade
Thy green woods waving in the wind,
And streams in every vocal glade

The simple church, the schoolhouse green,
The gambols of the schoolboy crew
Meadows and pools, that gleam between
Rush on my retrospective view;
Shades too, and lanes by old age sought
To wander in at close of day
To ruminate the pious thought
And pray for children far away

Timely descend, ye fostering showers!
With plenty bless that humble vale;
And fair arise, ye fragrant flowers,
And beautiful blow, thou western gale.
And there, meandering Avondow,
By no invidious fen defiled;
Clear may thy youthful current flow!
And love to linger in the wild!

However, Aberfoyle is principally associated with Scott’s Rob Roy. This complex novel is about inheritance, family quarrels over a business enterprise involving embezzlement, and, of course, unrequited love. It is set at first in England, and involves a journey to Scotland which enables Scott to describe the Roman Wall near Carlisle, Glasgow, and the vicinity of Aberfoyle in his inimitable way. Frank Osbaldistone, an Englishman, is he narrator. He describes the party’s first encounter with the Forth.

We found ourselves at length on the bank of a stream,which rather resembled one of my native English rivers than those I had hitherto seen in Scotland. It was narrow, deep, still, and silent, although the imperfect light as it gleamed on its placid waters, showed also that we were now among the lofty mountains which formed its cradle. “That’s the Forth,” said the Bailie with an air of reverence, which I have observed the Scots usually pay to their distinguished rivers. The Clyde, the Tweed, the Forth, the Spey, are usually named by those who dwell on their banks with a sort of respect and pride, and I have known duels occasioned by any word of disparagement. I cannot say I have the least quarrel with this sort of enthusiasm.

The next passage illustrates admirably the way in which Scott uses folk lore as a literary device to create atmosphere. His description of the fairies is derived from Kirk:

The Forth, however, as far as the imperfect light permitted me to judge, seemed to merit the admiration of those who claimed an interest in the stream. A beautiful eminence of the most regular round shape, amnd clothed with copsewood of hazels, mountain-ash, and dwarf oak, intermixed with a few magnificent old trees, which rising above the underwood, exposed their forked and bared branches to the silver moonshine, seemed to protect the sources from which the river sprung. If I could trust the tale of my companion, which, while professing to disbelieve every word of it, he told under his breath, and with an air of something like intimidation, this hill, so regularly formed, so richly verdant, and garlanded with such a beautiful variety of ancient trees and thriving copsewood, was held by the neighbourhood to contain, within its unseen caverns, the palaces of fairies; a race of airy beings, who formed an intermediate class between men and demons, and who, if not positively malignant to humanity were yet to be avoided and feared, on account of their capricious, vindictive, and irritable dispositions.
“They ca’ them,” said Mr Jarvie, in a whisper, “Daoine Schie, whilk signifies, as I understand, men of peace; meaning thereby to make their gude-will. And we may as e’en as weel ca’ them that too, Mr Osbaldistone, for there’s nae gude in speaking ill o’ the laird within his ain bounds.”

The narrative then goes on to describe the bridge. It is a notable literary anachronism, later acknowledged by Scott. The description is of the present bridge, but the old wooden bridge was destroyed in 1715, and was not rebuilt until after the period – the mid eighteenth century – when the novel was set. Indeed the bridge was probably relatively recently erected when Scott first visited the district as a young lawyer in 1790:

We crossed the infant Forth by an old-fashioned stone bridge, very high and very narrow. My conductor, however, informed me that to get through this deep and important stream, and to clear all its tributary dependencies, the general pass from the Highlands to the southward lay by what was called the Fords of Frew, at all times deep and difficult of passage, and often altogether unfordable. Beneath these fords there was no pass of general resort until so far east as the bridge of Stirling; so that the river of Forth forms a defensible line betwixt the the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, from its source nearly to the Frith, or inlet of the ocean, in which it terminates. The subsequent events, which we witnessed, led me to recall with attention what the shrewdness of Bailie Jarvie suggested, in his proverbial expression, that “Forth bridles the wild Highlandman”.

In the seventeenth century the old bridge was the scene of a notable episode in local history, involving Graham of Duchray again, and another baby:

Among the neighbours with whom William Graham, the eighth Earl of Menteith (1667-1694), had debts and disagreements, was John Graham, laird of Duchary and his son Thomas Graham, but for some time he found it impossible to put these into execution. No sherrif officer was willing to enter Duchary Castle with his writs. At length, what seemed to be a favourable opportunity presented itself. The younger Graham was to have a child baptised at the Kirk of Aberfoyle on 13th February 1671, and it occurred to the Earl that, not only the father of the child, but old Duchary and the whole family would be present at the interesting ceremony. He resolved therefore to seize the opportunity to serve his letters of caption. Having collected a number of his friends and servants and taking with them a Messenger-at-Arms, Alexander Muschet, he intercepted the christening party at the Bridge of Aberfoyle.
Duchray seems to have had warning of the Earl’s intentions, for, in addition to the ministers and elders of Aberfoyle and the indispensible baby, he had with him a strong party of his froiends and tenants, all well armed. Muschet and his attendants advanced to execute the writ, the Earl with his armed followers remaining some little distance behind. But when the mesenger informed Duchray that he mustconsider himself his prisoner, the latter defied him to lay hold upon him, and taking from his pocket a paper which he alleged was a protection from the king, he shouted:
“What wad ye dare? This is all your master!”
The baby was set down upon the ground, and the Duchary men, with swords guns and pistols, fell fiercely on Muschet and his satellites, and, threatening loudly that they would slay half of them and drown the rest in the Forth, drove them back on the Earl and his friends. The latter at first gave way, but quickly rallied, and a stubborn fight ensued. The Earl himself narrowly escaped the bullets of his assailants, and several of his servants were wounded, one of them – by name Robert MacFarlane – having two of his fingers shot away. At last his party was fairly driven rom the field, and turned in full flight to Inchtalla.

quoted in William T. Palmer The Verge of the Scottish Highlands 1947

In the twentieth century there have been at least two occasions when literary men have gathered in Menteith. There was a notable turn out for the burial of Cunninghame Graham in April,1936, including many of his political and literary associates: James Bridie (O.H.Mavor), Wendy Wood, Compton MacKenzie, Alisdair Alpin MacGregor, Helen B. Cruickshank, and others. His funeral oration was delivered by the distinguished literary critic, William Power. The political activities in which Graham was involved included Scottish Nationalism. The district came to prominence again in this respect after the second world war – not for the first time, nor for the last – when John MacCormick, the Glasgow lawyer and prominent Nationalist chaired a conference in April 1949 at which The Scottish National Covenant was devised in what became The Covenanters Inn, now Inchrie. It read:

We, the people of Scotland who subscribe to this engagement, declare our belief that reform in the constitution of our country is necessary to secure good government in accordance with our Scottish traditions and to promote the spiritual and economic welfare of our nation.
We affirm that the desire for such reform is both deep and widespread through the whole community, transcending all political differences and sectional interests, and we undertake to continue in purpose for its achievement.
With that end in view we solemnly enter into the Covenant whereby we pledge ourselves, in all loyalty to the the Crown, and within the framework of the United Kingdom, to do everything in our power to secure for Scotland a Parliament with adequate legislative authority in Scottish affairs.

50,000 signatures, the first of which was that of Cunninghame Graham’s noble kinsman, the sixth Duke of Montrose (1878-1954), were secured within a week, and a movement, impressive at the time, rapidly became established. It is said that, in all, 2,000,000 people signed the Covenant. Wilfred Taylor (1909-1987) on The Scotsman for very many years provides an interesting portrait of the atmosphere of the time:

Although the Aberfoyle region is uncomfortably close to the Trossachs for my liking it is beautiful country. It was in a hotel in Aberfoyle that the sinister document the Scottish Covenant was hatched. I know because I was there. The hotel was subsequently renamed “The Covenanters Inn”. It was in “The Covenanters Inn” that I once had a mild passage of arms with the late Dr. C.E.M.Joad. Dr Joad had been addressing a conference and during his speech he said some uncomplimentary and unkind things about the Americans. I happened to have my wife’s father, a clergyman from Chicago with me and I did not propose to let unfriendly remarks about the Americans go unchallenged. I interrupted the philosopher and told him I deeply resented the tone of his remarks, which were based on a grotesque exaggeration. Dr Joad deflected my protest with some clever, smart and irrelevant retort. But afterwards he came and thanked me for my interpolation and admitted that he had not dealt fairly with it. I happened to have an admiration for Dr Joad, who, I considered, was all too often dismissed as a shallow thinker and glib talker by his professional colleagues. He certainly was an interesting talker, and I later saw him dancing eightsome reels with great zest.

Wilfred Taylor Scot Free 1953

The other, even more notable, hotel in Aberfoyle stands on the other side of the Brig o’Forth. The Baillie Nichol Jarvie Hotel was for long the focal point for the tourist trade in Aberfoyle. A guide-book of 1862 describes it, just after it was put up, thus:

The Duke of Montrose has here erected the new and elegant Bailie Nichol Jarvie Hotel [Mr A. Blair]. This commodious hotel is raised on the ruins of Jane McAlpine’s public house where the worthy Bailie met Major Galbraith on the memorable night when he brandished the red hot poker. This rude instrument of death has been handed down from Jane McAlpine’ssuccessors to Mr Blair and may be seen in front of the hotel chained to a tree.

The hotel is, of course, not on the supposed site of the fictional encounter, and the authenticity of the ploughshare (described above as a poker), as to period at least, must also be doubted, but it is on such stimuli to the imagination that the tourist trade has always been built. It is said that a supply of ‘coulters’ was kept rusting in the bed of the Forth so that one could be rapidly substituted, after the existing coulter was sold to a gullible tourist. The Hotel features in most accounts of the place. Surprisingly often visitors to Aberfoyle found it the scene of revelry of some sort. Cunninghame Graham notes that the Bailie Nichol Jarvie, in addition to The Covenanters, as it were, was a place where the old priorities were observed:

I remember when in the Inn (it was not in those days called an Hotel) there hung an almanac in the entrance hall, containing the announcement, “12th of August. Grouse shooting opens. Episcopacy abolished”.

It is recorded by Sarah Hutchinson that Wordsworth went to Church in Aberfoyle, and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, rather grumpily, in his Notebooks in 1856: “I do not remember what o’clock it was, but not far into the afternoon, when we reached the Bailie Nichol Jarvie Inn at Aberfoyle; a scene which is much more interesting in the pages of Rob Roy than we found it in reality.” William McGonagall (1830-1902) seems to have written poems to order about most Scottish places of public resort, including Aberfoyle, although it is not recorded when he was there. However, it is recorded by Sarah Hutchinson that Wordsworth went to Church in Aberfoyle, and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, rather grumpily, in his Notebooks in 1856: “I do not remember what o’clock it was, but not far into the afternoon, when we reached the Bailie Nichol Jarvie Inn at Aberfoyle; a scene which is much more interesting in the pages of Rob Roy than we found it in reality.”

George Douglas Brown (1869-1902), a generation younger than Lang, wrote the novel The House With The Green Shutters which was promoted as a masterpiece by the older man. The summer after the novel was published, and was beginning to meet with success, Brown spent three weeks in Aberfoyle. While he was there he a had a premonition that he might never marry his fiancée; and he died of pneumonia early that autumn. Carol Shields (1935 – 2003), the American novelist was in Britain in 1955 on an exchange programme to study literature at Exeter University. On a trip to Aberfoyle she met Donald Shields, a Canadian engineer, who became her husband.

Doon Hill D.Y. Cameron [illustrating Kirk's Secret Commonwealth]

Doon Hill [illustrating Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth] D.Y.Cameron

A literary walk begins by crossing the Forth Bridge in Aberfoyle, as Bailie Nichol Jarvie and his party were supposed to have done. The old Parish church of 1774 with Kirk’s grave is on the left, and the former Covenanters Inn on the right. The Fairy Knowe is prominent in front and a forest road leads to it. By continuing along this road the Old Bridge across the Forth at Gartmore is reached. Beyond the bridge are the policies of Gartmore House, one time residence of Cunninghame Graham. In the village, on the edge of the playing fields, is the Cunninghame Grahame Memorial. From the bridge it is possible to return to Aberfoyle along the line of the old railway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gartmore

The Old Brig o’ Forth at Gartmore (Cobleland) replaced the Gartartan Ferry. The Professor of Humanities from Glasgow, the poet William Richardson of Aberfoyle, lived in later life close to his friend Robert Graham at Bridgend of Gartmore, now a barn.
Above the ferry are the remains of Gartartan Castle seen from the A81. Next to this is Gartmore House which R.B.Cunninghame Graham inherited, but the estate was already in debt. It is an early eighteenth century laird’s house greatly enlarged in 1780, the residence of Robert Graham (1735-97), already referred to. He was the author of one distinguished poem which begins as follows:

If doughty deeds my lady please,
Right soon I’ll mount my steed;
And strong his arm, and fast his seat
That bears frae me the meed.
I’ll wear thy colours in my cap
Thy picture in my heart;
And he that bends not to thine eye
Shall rue it to his smart
Then tell me how to woo thee love;
O tell me how to woo thee!
For thy dear sake nae care I’ll take
Though ne’er another trow me

 

It was written down from a recitation by Sir Walter Scott who considered it to be a C17 lyric, and included it in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, although Scott was later told that Graham was the author and acknowledged the fact. Robert Graham made several significant literary friendships. One of Graham’s sons was married to the sister of the Cumbrian poet Susanna Blamire (1747-94) who visited Gartmore (see Menteith), and contributed to Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (1790). Hector MacNeil (1746-1818), the minor poet, with whom Graham later quarrelled, was a frequent visitor to Gartmore, 1786-90, when he lived near Stirling. Graham almost certainly met him in the West Indies, where he also formed a lifelong connection with Tobias Smollett (1721-71). Robert Burns (1759-96) thought Graham “the noblest instance of great talents, great fortune, and great worth that ever I saw.” John Leyden (1775-1811) dedicated a book of poems to a Miss Graham of Gartmore.
Graham’s grandson was Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, the celebrated writer and politician. red to.  It is not surprising that Cunninghame Graham found its upkeep beyond him, and he sold it in 1901 to a shipping magnate, and went to live in the family’s other house, finely situated beside the Clyde at Ardoch, near Dumbarton. Gartmore House became successively an Approved School and the headquarters of a religious organisation. Access can be obtained to the policies with permission. Maurice Lindsay described the place in 1953:

When I visited Gartmore House, the wind that so often ripples the heathery sea of Flanders Moss, stirred through the overgrown shoots which now choke the once-orderly terraces. The place was taken over by the army during the Second World War, when the estate was much mutilated. Concrete hut bottomings still littered the grounds and rusted barbed-wire snaked through the tangled briars. The house itself, an enormous rambling place, with coarse nineteenth century additions, has now become a Roman Catholic school.

Maurice Lindsay The Lowlands of Scotland

(Sir) John Lavery (1856-1941) was a leading figure among the ‘Glasgow Boys’ and a famous portrait painter, although he was also skilled in other branches of his art. He could and did paint landscapes, including a picture of Loch Katrine. Both he and JosephCrawhall, another of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ were friendly with Cunninghame Graham and, in 1895, he went to Gartmore to paint two portraits of him. Lavery was a man of elegance and wit who has left a delightful account of his experiences in A Painter’s Life 1940:

John Burns had joined us on this occasion at Gartmore, for it was just at this time that they had both come out of Pentonville, where they had served six weeks’ hard labour for their share in the Trafalgar Square riots over the queston of free speech – the two of them taking on, so they claimed, single-handed, the constabulary numbering five thousand. I asked them about their experiences in prison. Hard labour they considered less irksome than ordinary imprisonment, for with the former you were given plenty of coarse food, and time passed; while with they latter you were starved and left to pass the time in contemplation. There was a parson in the next cell to him, said Graham, who was in for “an old ecclesiastical. Burns was very proud of his biceps which he exposed, and Graham equally so of his agility with the foils, which he demonstrated from time to time with the aid of his walking-stick as we strolled in the cool of the evening.
Graham purchased from the tramway company a wild Argentine pony that refused to go into harness. He named him Pampa, and insisted on my painting a picture of himself in complete cowboy outfit on the pacing steed. Then I painted him frankly in the manner, full-length and life-size, a harmony in brown, which he christened “Don Roberto, Commander for the King of Aragon in the Two Sicilies” (The equestrian group he presented to Buenos Ayres, and the Commander was purchased by the Corporation of Glasgow) It was concerning the latter that Bernard Shaw said, “He is, I understand, a Spanish hildago, hence the superbity of his portrait by Lavery (Velasquez being no longer available). He is, I know, a Scottish laird. How he continues to be authentically the two things at the same time is no more intelligible to me than the fact that everything that has ever happened to him seems to have happened in Paraguay or Texas instead of Spain or Scotland.” When I knew him at this time his finances were in a shocking state, and things were getting unbearable down at Gartmore. Suddenly he wrote to say that he could stand it no longer. Would I come down at once and see him end it all with Pampa, in a spot where I had painted a view of the Rob Roy Country that he loved?
I wired back, “Ill in bed, wait till next week.” Thus I postponed his death for forty years.

The portrait to which Shaw, who used Cunninghame Graham as a prototype for Captain Brassbound and for Bruntschli in Arms and the Man, refers is in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow. They also have a small bronze head of Cunninghame Graham by Jacob Epstein.

On the edge of the Policies at the Playing Field in the village is the Cunninghame Graham Memorial which was erected in 1937 at Castlehill, Dumbarton, and was later in the ownership of the National Trust. It was removed to Gartmore in 1981. Stones marked “Uruguay”and”Argentina” are set into it, as is a memorial plaque to Cunninghame Graham’s horse ‘Pampa’. The inscription reads:

ROBERT BONTINE CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM
Famous author, traveller, horseman, patriotic Scot and
citizen of the World as betokened by the stones above.
Died in Argentina Interred in Inchmahome

Rob Roy MacGregor frequented the inn formerly situated at Chapelarroch, Gartmore on the then borders of Perthshire and Stirlingshire which was the scene of his kidnap of Graham of Killearn. One of the best descriptions of this occurs in a celebrated description of the Highlands, which Cunningham Graham avers was written by his ancestor, Nichol Graham (1695-1775) of Gartmore in 1747. This document is quoted in extenso in an appendix (inserted by Robert Jamieson) to Edmund Burt’s  Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland, and was used by Scott as a source for both Waverley and Rob Roy. Intriguingly a recent blog (tobiassmollett.blogspot.com) attributes Burt’s letters to Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), well-known to Nicol Graham’s son, Robert. The passage in Rob Roy is as follows:

There was in that time one Robert MacGregor, who assumed the name of Campbell, but was commonly known by that of Rob Roy, who was descended of a little family of that clan, which held a small farm of and in Balquhidder in fue of the family of Atholl, and who commonly resided in the parish of Buchanan, Balquhidder, or on the confines of Argyllshire. This man, who was a person of sagacity, and neither wanted stratagem nor address, having abandoned himself to all licentiousness, set himself at the head of all the loose vagrant and desperate people of that clan in the west end of Perth and Stirling shires, and infested those whole countries with thefts, robberies and depredations. Very few who lived within his reach (that is within the distance of a nocturnal expedition) could promise themselves security, either to their persons or effects, without subjecting themselves to paying him a heavy and painful tax of blackmail. He at last proceeded to such a degree of audaciousness, that he committed robberies, raised depredations, and resented quarrels at the head of a very considerable body of armed men, in open day, and in the face of the government.
Mr Graham of Killearn was then the factor of the Duke of Montrose, and was in use to collect his rents at a place on the borders of those Highlands at Buchanan, not above four miles from the house of that name, and no more from the town of Drymen. Being there upon that occasion, Rob Roy with about twenty of his corps, came full-armed from the hills of Buchanan, apprehended his person in that place, robbed him of £300 sterling of that Duke’s rents, amidst his whole farmers, and carried that gentleman prisoner up amongst the hills, where he detained him a considerable time.

Advertisements

Comments (3) »

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

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

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

The Coach from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs.

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

H.A.Piehler Scotland for Everyman 1934

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

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

Sir Robert Christison Autobiography 1816

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chauncey Hare Townshend Descriptive Tour in Scotland 1840

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

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

‘Three Nights in Perthshire’                                                                                                        

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

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

‘Three Nights in Perthshire                                                                                                     ‘

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

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

‘The Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland                                                               

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

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

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

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

Nathaniel Hawthorne English Notebooks Spring 1856

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B.H.Humble On Scottish Hills 1946

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment »

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 10. Menteith

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

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

Sir Walter Scott Lady of the Lake

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

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

Queen Victoria Highland Journal

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

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

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

Susanna Blamire

Susanna Blamire

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of a Grandfather 1828-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edith Holden (self portrait)

Edith Holden (self portrait)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.B.Cunninghame Graham Doughty Deeds 1925

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

Then tell me how to woo thee love;
O tell me how to woo thee!
For thy dear sake nae care I’ll take
Though ne’er another trow me

If doughty deeds my lady please,
Right soon I’ll mount my steed;
And strong his arm, and fast his seat’
That bears frae me the meed.

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

Robert Graham made several significant literary friendships. Hector MacNeil (1746-1818), the minor poet, was a frequent visitor to Gartmore 1786-90 when he lived near Stirling. Graham almost certainly met him in the West Indies, where he also formed a lifelong connection with Tobias Smollett (1721-71). Robert Burns (1759-96) thought Graham “the noblest instance of great talents, great fortune, and great worth that ever I saw.” John Leyden (1775-1811), the scholar who collaborated with Scott on The Minstrelsy dedicated a book of poems to a Miss Graham of Gartmore, presumably one of Graham’s three sisters.

Leave a comment »