Posts tagged R.L.Stevenson

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.

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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)

 

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