Posts tagged Robert Southey

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 17. The Trossachs

In a word, the Trossachs beggar all description.

Dorothy Wordsworth quoting Rev James Robertson DD  The Parish of Callander

I saw a wild confused assemblage of heights, crags, precipices which they call the Trossachs

  Nathaniel Hawthorne English Notebooks Spring 1856

The world believes, and will continue to believe, that Scott was the first sassenach who discovered the Trossachs, as it was his poem which gave them their world-wide celebrity. It would probably be as impossible to alter this impression as it would be to substitute for Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth the very different versions of the facts and characters which historical research has brought to light. And yet it would be interesting to inquire what first brought the Trossachs into notice, and who first did so?

John Campbell Shairp Introduction to Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal 1874

 

The Trossachs Pier is at the heart of the Trossachs. When he visited the Trossachs in 1800 John Leyden (1775-1811), a friend and disciple of Sir Walter Scott, met the redoubtable Lady Sarah Murray (1744-1811), who conducted him to Murray Point, named after herself, from which the Loch could be viewed. Sarah Murray was the author of A Companion and Useful Guide to The Beauties of Scotland, and she asserted that she ‘discovered’ the Trossachs, and that Scott ought to have dedicated The Lady of the Lake to her. In fact, both Dorothy Wordsworth and she quote freely from James Robertson, minister of the Parish of Callander writng in The First Statistical Account whose description was undoubtedly one of the earliest.
In his admirable little book William Wilson points out that Dorothy Wordsworth misquotes Robertson. What he says is, “When you enter the Trossachs, there is such an assemblage of wildness and rude grandness, as beggars all description, and fills the mind with the most sublime conceptions.” The Wordsworths, Patrick Graham and Thomas Wilkinson also deserve some credit for discovering the Trossachs, but it was undoubtedly the publication of the Lady of the Lake in 1810, of Waverley in 1814 and Rob Roy in 1818 which led to a boom in the Tourist Trade:

The whole country rang with the praises of the poet – crowds set off to the scenery of Loch Katrine, till then comparatively unknown; and as the book came out just before the season for excursions, every house and inn in that neighbourhood was crammed with a constant succession of visitors. It is a well ascertained fact that, from the date of the publication of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ the post-horse duty in Scotland rose to an extraordinary degree, and indeed continued to do so regularly for a number of years, the author’s succeeding works keeping up the enthusiasm for our scenery which he thus originally created.

Robert Cadell (Scott’s Publisher)

John MacCulloch took a more realistic view, in a letter addressed to the author, of the effects of Scott’s works which included, as a by-product, an adaptation of ‘Rob Roy’ for the stage (18xx):

But the mystic portal has been thrown open and the mob has rushed in, dispersing all these fairy visions, and polluting everything with its unhallowed touch. Barouches and gigs, cocknies, and fishermen and poets, Glasgow weavers and travelling haberdashers now swarm in every resting place and meet us at every avenue. As Rob Roy now blusters at Covent Garden and the Lyceum, and Aberfoyle is gone to Wapping, so Wapping and the Strand must also come to Aberfoyle. The green-coated fairies have packed up their alls and quitted the premises, and the Uriskins only caper now in your verses.

In A Summer in Skye Alexander Smith‘ (1865) alludes to Scott’s influence in an impressive passage:

 Scott has done more for Edinburgh than all her great men put together. Burns has hardly left a trace of himself in the northern capital. During his residence there his spirit was soured, and he was taught to drink whisky-punch – obligations which he repaid by addressing “Edina, Scotia’s darling seat,” in a copy of his tamest verses. Scott discovered that the city was beautiful – he sang its praises all over the World – and he has put more coin into the pockets of its inhabitants than if he had established a branch of manufacture of which they had the monopoly. Scott’s novels were to Edinburgh what the tobacco trade was to Glasgow about the close of the last century. Although several labourers were before him in the field of Border Ballads, he made fashionable those wonderful stories of humour and pathos. As soon as “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” appeared, everybody was raving about Melrose and moonlight. He wrote “The Lady of the Lake” and next year a thousand tourists descended on the Trossachs, watched the sun setting on Loch Katrine, and began to take lessons on the bagpipe. He improved the Highlands as much as General Wade did when he struck through them with his military roads. Where his muse was one year, a mail-coach and a hotel were the next. His poems are grated down into guide books. Never was an author so popular as Scott and never was popularity worn so lightly and gracefully. In his own heart he did not value it highly; and he cared more for his plantations at Abbotsford than for his poems and novels. He would rather have been praised by Tom Purdie [Scott’s gardener] than any critic.

Confirmation that Scott’s influence was at work before the Lady of the Lake is to be had in Scotia Depicta, a collection of fine etchings of the scenery of the Highlands of Scotland published in 1804, which gives the following description of the Trossachs. Although it dates from the early nineteenth century the approach is that of the eighteenth, giving some idea of people’s perception of the countryside at that time:

Perthshire not only contains some of the most beautiful scenery in North Britain, but also some of the most sublime. The Trossachs are often visited by those persons who are fond of seeing Nature in her wildest and most unpolished garb. They consist of large broken masses of rock and mountain thrown into every fantastic shape as well as some others of the most stupendous height.
By passing along the southern side of Ben Ledi, a traveller may wind along the sides of two beautiful lakes which present him with a variety of the finest scenery. The foregrounds are enriched with wood which sometimes admits and at others secludes the exposure of the lake and the distant mountains. In walking along the north side the road is in some parts cut out of the solid rock, two hundred feet above the perpendicular of the lake, and in others passes along the bottom of some rugged and stupendous masses of rock. In order to examine the spot in all its parts, it is necessary to sail along the lake to what is called the ‘Rock or Den of the Ghost’, in the dark recesses of which a fanciful and rude imagination might conceive of some supernatural beings to have fixed their residence. In this neighbourhood is also the celebrated Glen Finglas now more generally known from the beautiful poem of Mr Walter Scott which bears the same name and is published in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. When a person first enters the Trossachs there appears such an assemblage of wildness and grandeur as renders every description inadequate to convey a satisfactory idea: it seems as if a whole mountain had been torn in pieces by a convulsion of nature and the huge fragments of rock and woods scattered in confusion along the side of Loch Katrine. The access to this lake is through a narrow pass. The rocks are of a great height and seem of their very projection ready to fall on the head of the traveller and crush him in their ruins.

In addition to Scotia Depicta, another similar book appeared at about the same time by a local man, Alexander Campbell who was born at Tombea, at the foot of Loch Lubnaig. A poet, whose poems in the Gaelic he translated into English. His Journey Through Parts of North Britain, a beautifully illustrated book, was published in 1802. There is no better description of the Trossachs than this, even if Campbell perhaps combines Rob Roy with the Uruisks to put the wind up the traveller:

Pathless and perplexed with all the wild luxuriance of briar, bramble, thorn, and a multiplicity of matted vegetation (till lately, when a road, rude, it is confessed, but on foot and on horseback, passable, was, with much difficulty constructed), the entrance to Loch Katrine was known to the natives only; and, indeed, to but very few of them. On turning a creek to the right, we enter the celebrated pass called the Trossachs. These rugged masses leave their hoary cliffs, and bend all their fantastic wildness over us, as we proceed on to the end of the pass; where some, more conical than the rest, seem to a lively imagination as if placed by nature as mute spectators of that thrilling amazement which the stranger feels at his entrance on the confines of the lake; the east end of which is the deep dark pool on whose margin we now halt.
Here let us pause. Look up to the left; behold that gigantic precipice, wooded to the top, bending over the pool in sullen grandeur. Among these rocks, whose gloom rests eternal on the bosom of the lake, in former times a savage band, ruthless, intractable, and cruel, had fixed their lurking place, and issued forth, naked as they were born, committing depradations on the peaceable inhabitants of these glens, ravishing the women, murdering those that resisted, setting fire to habitations all round, ,and butchering without distinction the old and the young. Hence this precipice retains the name of Coire nan Uruisken, the den of the wild-men or savages.

However, there is no doubt that the most influential book to appear at this time was A Companion and Useful Guide to The Beauties of Scotland by Sarah Murray. Lady Sarah Murray [Aust] (1744-1811), undertook her tours on her own at the end of the eighteenth century, and merits the epithet ‘indefatigable’ which is frequently applied to her. She visited many sites which were at that time very inaccessible, and wrote about them with an infectious enthusiasm. Visiting Loch Awe, she mentions her meeting with Leyden, referring to his poem about breaking a bottle of cider – just as he was about to drink it – on Cruachan. Her visit to the Trossachs is full of her customary superlatives and conceits. However, there is no doubt that she was a remarkable traveller, and her work has a tremendous vitality. The passage quoted is preceded by a somewhat exaggerated description of the Pass of the Trossachs in which she states that her coachman was so frightened that he was afraid that he might encounter the devil. As a consequence she had to lead the way:

 

When I first caught sight of Loch Katrine, I was astonished, I was delighted -.a faint ray of sun was just then penetrating through the mist, still resting on the tops of the surrounding mountains and crags, tinging the the woods on their sides, and gleaming on the beautiful islands in the lake. The ‘devils’ [boatmen] too greatly added to the beauty of the foreground. They were in a large boat, throwing from it upon the shore, logs of wood which they had brought from the head of the lake. This was a fortunate circumstance, as it enabled me to be rowed about the lake as much as I chose. It was a mere chance, but a lucky one for me, that a boat should be at the end of the lake. whilst the innocent devils were finishing their work, I walked up the road, cut out in steps on the crags, hanging over the lake to the north, to a high point, since called Mrs Murray’s Hill, whence I saw the chief part of the the loch; which lies nearly from west to east. The view from that point to the foot of the lake, which is the east end, over the islands, and to the mountains on the south side of the lake, belonging to the Duke of Montrose, is beautiful; but part of it may truly be called sublime, where the lake runs off by a river that conveys the water of it through the awful Pass of Achray. i was very sorry I could not see the shape of the Stuc a Chroin [Ben Venue], but it had on it an impenetrable cap of mist. At the south side of the peak is Loch Chroin and Coire a Chroin [Coire Uruiskin]. From the high point I was upon, I perceived my boatmen had finished their task, and were rowing to take me up. I therefore descended to the edge of the lake, and with some little scrambling embarked. They rowed me to the Den of the Ghost, and under the solid rock which rises two hundred feet perpendicular above the level of the lake; and also round the beautiful wooded island, and to the foot of the loch.

Sarah Murray Beauties of Scotland                                                                                                                                         

John Leyden’s account follows; he makes the same error as Sarah Murray in calling Ben Venue ‘Stuc a Chroin’ – what the explanation of this is, it is difficult to decide, but it suggests that Leyden probably got his information from Lady Sarah. The mistake is unusual for both of them, and it is possible that this was an alternative name:

At the upper end of the of the lake the Trossachs present themselves, a cluster of wonderful rocks which shut up the defile of Loch Katrine. They display a most astonishing and savage mixture of gray precipices huddled together in awful confusion, projecting with bare and woody points, intermingling with and surmounting each other, wedging into each other’s sides, and patched in the most fantastic manner by brown heath finely contrasted with the verdure of the trees. The precipices are dreadfully rent and torn. The gloom and the silence of the place cause every footfall to,be echoed far and wide. as we wound silently through this confusion of beauty and horror, we soon heard the sounds of the waves dying away among the rocks. the spout end of the lake is finely diversified by islands and woody promontories, but in some places, from the quantity of wood that has been cut down, the sides of the rock have been left bare and naked, by which the solemn effect is much diminished, as we were informed by Mrs Murray of Kensington, whom we were fortunate enough to meet just as we came in sight of the lake. She conducted us to Murray Point, named from herself, the discoverer; whence we had an enchanting view of part of the Trossachs and of the greater part of the lake, the precipice of Den of the Ghost, and the peak of Rutting, or Stuc a Chroin.

John Leyden Tour in the Highlands and Western Islands 1800

James Hogg in his Highland Tours was one of the next to describe the scene. He came up, as was the fashion, with a rather far-fetched and tedious explanation of the geology of the place, and went on to say, ‘I will not attempt a particular description of them, but they are indeed the most confused piece of nature’s workmanship that I ever saw, consisting of a thousand little ragged eminences all overhung with bushes, intersected with interstices, the most intricate and winding imaginable.’

Some account has already been given of the Wordsworths’ first visits to the Trossachs. Their reactions when they first saw the heart of the place are contained in the Journal as follows:

The second bay we came to differed from the rest; the hills retired a short space from the lake, leaving a few yellow fields between, on which was a cottage embosomed in trees; the bay was defended by rocks at each end, and the hills behind made a shelter for the cottage, the only dealing except one on this side of Loch Katrine. We now came to the steeps that rose directly from the lake, and passed by a place called in Gaelic the ‘Den of the Ghosts’ [Coire nan Uruiskin], which reminded us of Lodore; it is a rock, or mass of rock, with a stream of large black stones like the naked or dried up bed of a torrent down the side of it; birch trees start out of the rock in every direction, and cover the hill above further than we could see.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                            

After we had landed we walked along the road to the uppermost of the huts where Coleridge was standing. From the door of this hut we saw Ben Venue opposite to us – a high mountain, but clouds concealed its top; its side rising directly from the lake, is covered with birch trees to a great height, and seamed with innumerable channels of torrents; but now there was no water in them, nothing to break the stillness and repose of the scene; nor do I recollect hearing the sound of water from any side, the wind being fallen, and the lake perfectly still; the place was all eye, and completely satisfied the sense and the heart. Above and below us to the right and the left, were rocks, knolls, and hills, which wherever anything could grow – and that was everywhere between the rocks – were covered with trees and heather; the trees did not in any place grow so thick as an ordinary wood; yet I think there was never a bare space of twenty yards; it was more like a natural forest, where the trees grow in groups or singly. not hiding the surface of the ground which instead of being green and mossy was of the richest purple. The heather was indeed the most luxuriant I ever saw; it was so tall that a child of ten years old struggling through it would often have been buried head and shoulders, and the exquisite beauty of the colour, near or at a distance, seen under the trees, is not to be conceived. But if I were to go on describing for evermore, I should give but a faint and very often false idea of the different objects and the various combinations of them in this most intricate and delicious place.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                         

On their return, without Coleridge, from the direction of Callander, they had better weather. They revisited the places they had been to and were ‘ delighted to behold the forms of objects fully revealed, and even surpassing in loveliness and variety what we had conceived.’ Wordsworth climbed from the Pass of Achray towards Ben Venue leaving Dorothy behind before they went back to Coilachra. It was this place that inspired, years later, Wordsworth’s famous sonnet, The Trossachs. It was composed by the poet after his last visit to Sir Walter Scott. ‘As recorded in my sister’s journal, I had first seen the Trossachs in her and Coleridge’s company. The sentiment which runs through this sonnet was natural to the season in which I again saw this beautiful spot, but this and some other sonnets that follow were coloured with the remembrance of my recent visit to Sir Walter Scott, and the melancholy errand on which he was going.’

THE TROSSACHS

There’s not a nook within this solemn Pass
But were an apt confessional for One
Taught by his summer spent, his autumn gone
That Life is but a tale of morning grass:
Withered at eve. From scenes of art which chase
That thought away, turn, and with watchful eyes
Feed it midst Nature’s old felicities
Rocks, rivers, and smooth lakes more clear than glass:
Untouched, unbreathed upon. thrice happy quest,
If from a golden birch of aspen spray
(October’s workmanship to rival May
The pensive warbler of the ruddy breast
That moral sweeten by a heaven-taught lay
Lulling the year, with all its cares, to rest.
William Wordsworth

:
Dora Wordsworth remarks, of the the same journey, ‘At Loch Katrine and also among the rocks of the cataract of the Dochart near Killin, we were particularly struck with the rich and wild beauty of the aspens, the depending sprays of which looked exactly like the tassels of the laburnam in full blossom.’

These accounts go some way towards distinguishing what it was about the Trossachs that people came to see before Scott.  The appeal of the place is something to do with its scale. Ben Venue, for example, is an unimposing presence amongst the mountains of the southern highlands as they are seen from the South; yet, at Loch Katrine, it completely dominates the scene, looming above the loch as if it were Ben Nevis itself. Ben A’an, equally dominant from some spots, is a subsidiary summit of an otherwise uninteresting moor. However, it is the fact neither of these two mountains can be adequately seen from more than one or two points of view and that the intervening hills and promontories mean that there are continuously changing backdrops to the scene which give the Trossachs ‘proper’ their charm. In addition, of course, the associations of the place, add to the effect: the ‘Den of the Ghosts’, the Silver Strand, Bealach an Duine, Ellen’s Isle, and Bealach nam Bo are geographical locations about which, even before Scott wove them into an epic poem, tales could be told.
Even today the slopes of Ben Venue are relatively inaccessible between the isolated farmstead, Glasahoile, mentioned by Dorothy Wordsworth and the exit from the loch at the Pass of Achray. High above the loch is Bealach nam Bo, the pass of the cattle, across which Rob Roy is said to have driven stolen cattle, beneath this, yet still dramatically above the lake is Coire nan Uruisken, the corrie of the satyrs, or, more poetically, the den of the ghosts, or the goblin’s cave about which Patrick Graham told authoritative tales of its fairy inhabitants. Scott offers the following description in a note:

This is the very steep and most romantic hollow in the mountain of Ben Venue, overhanging the southwestern extremity of Loch Katrine. It is surrounded with stupendous rocks, and overshadowed with birch trees, mingled with oaks, the spontaneous production of the mountain, even where its cliffs appear denuded of soil.

In The Lady of the Lake it appears more poetically as follows:

It was a wild and strange retreat,
As e’er was trod by outlaw’s feet.
The dell, upon the mountain’s crest
Yawned like a gash on warrior’s breast;
Its trench had staid full many a rock
Hurled by primeaval, earthquake shock,
From Ben Venue’s gray summit wild,
And here, in random ruin piled,
They frowned incumbent o’er the spot,
And formed the rugged sylvan grot.
The oak and birch, with mingled shade,
At noontide there a twilight made,
Unless when short and sudden shone
Some straggling beam on cliff or stone,
Gains on thy depth, Futurity.
No murmur waked the solemn still,
Save the tinkling of a fountain rill;
But when the wind chafed with the lake,
A sullen sound would upward break,
With dashing hollow voice, that spoke,
The incessant war of wave and rock.
Suspended cliffs with hideous sway
Seem’d nodding o’er the cavern gray.
from such a dell the wolf had sprung,
In such the wild-cat leaves her young;
Yet Douglas and his daughter fair
Sought for a space their safety there.
Gray Superstition’s whisper dread,
Debarr’d the spot to vulgar tread:
For there, she said, did fays resort,
And satyrs hold their sylvan court,
By moonlight tread their mystic maze,
And blast the rash beholder’s gaze.

On the other side of the loch is Bealach an Duine, the pass of the man, the site of a battle in Cromwell’s time when an incident woven into the poem, as the battle is, took place. One of Cromwell’s soldiers was indeed stabbed to prevent him setting foot there, by one Helen Stuart who, with other women and children, was taking refuge on Eilean Molach, the shaggy island. The pass is above the Silver Strand, the white-pebbled beach opposite what Scott, and everyone ever since, called Ellen’s Isle.

Sir Walter Scott is not generally considered to be a poet of the first rank, and he did not have any great opinion of his own abilities as a poet. There is no doubt, however, that he was a compelling phrase-maker of very considerable abilities, and the impact which passages from two or three of his poems have had is out of all proportion to their particular merits as poems. His first successes were connected with his native Borderland, and The Lady of the Lake was his first substantial venture north of the Highland Line. Its effects have already been alluded to, and they continued throughout the nineteenth century and it must be supposed, if he was not of the first rank as a poet, that they were connected with the intrinsic merits of the Trossachs, and that Scott was simply an enabler. His most famous lines celebrating the scene occur in four stanzas in the first canto of the poem, which is in six cantos consisting of two hundred and two stanzas!

The western waves of ebbing day
Rolled o’er the glen their level way;
Each purpled peak, each flinty spire,
Was bathed in floods of living fire.
But not a setting beam could glow’
Within the dark ravines below.
Where twined the path in shadow hid,
Round many a rocky pyramid,
Shooting abruptly from the dell
Its thunder-splinter’d pinnacle;
Round many an insulated mass,
The native bulwarks of the pass,
Huge as the tower which builders vain
Presumptuous piled on Shinar’s plain.
The rocky summits, split and rent,
Form’d turret, dome and battlement,
Or seem’d fantastically set!
With cupola or minaret,
Wild crests as pagod ever deck’d,
Or mosque of Eastern architect.1
Nor were these earth-born castles bare,
Nor lack’d they many a banner fair;
For, from their shiver’d brows display’d,
Far o’er the unfathomable glade,
All twinkling with the dew-drops sheen,
The brier rose fell in streamers green,
And creeping shrubs, of thousand dyes,
Waved in the west-wind’s summer sighs.

***

Boon nature scatter’d, free and wild,
Each plant or flower, the mountain’s child
Here eglantine embalml’d the air,
Hawthorn and hazel mingled there;
The primrose pale and violet flower,
Found in each cleft a narrow bower;
Fox-glove and nightshade, side by side,
Emblems of punishment and pride,

Group’d their dark hues with every stain
The weather-beaten crags retain.
With boughs that quaked with every breath,
Gray birch and aspen wept beneath;
Aloft, the ash and warrior oak
Cast anchor in the rifted rock;
And, higher yet, the pine tree hung
His shattered trunk, and frequent flung,
Where seemed the cliffs to meet on high,
His boughs athwart the narrow’d sky.
Highest of all, where white peaks glanced,
Where glist’ning streamers waved and danced,
The wanderer’s eye could barely view
The summer heaven’s delicious blue;
So wondrous wild the whole might seem
The scenery of a fairy dream.

                                  ***
Onward, amid the copse ‘gan peep
A narrow inlet, still and deep,
Affording scarce such breadth of brim,
As served the wild duck’s brood to swim,
Lost for a space, through thickets veering,
But broader when again appearing,
Tall rocks and tufted knolls their face
Could on the the dark-blue mirror trace;
And farther as the hunter stray’d,

Still broader sweeps its channel made.
The shaggy mounds no longer stood,
emerging from entangled wood,
But, wave encircled, seemed to float,
Like castle girdled with its moat;
Yet broader floods extending still,
Divide them from their parent hill
Till each, retiring, claims to be
An inlet in an inland sea

                                     ***
And now, to issue from the glen,
No pathway meets the wanderer’s ken,
Unless he climb, with footing nice,
A far projecting precipice.
The broom’s tough roots his ladder made,
The hazel saplings lent their aid;
And thus an airy point he won,
Where, gleaming with the setting sun,
One burnish’d sheet of living gold,
Loch Katrine lay beneath him roll’d,
In all her length far-winding lay,
With promontory, creek, and bay,
And islands that, empurpled bright,
Floated amid the livelier light,
And mountains, that like giants stand,
To sentinel enchanted land.
High on the south, huge Benvenue
Down on the lake in masses threw
Crags, knolls, and mounds, confusedly hurl’d,
The fragments of an earlier world;
A wildering forest feather’d o’er
His ruin’d sides and summit hoar,
While on the north, through middle air,
Benan heaved high his forehead bare.

Scott Lady of the Lake Canto I

The complex poem is about the mythical adventures of a medieval Scottish king and his court, James Fitzjames, in reality James V, the father of Mary Queen of Scots. As a boy he was held captive by Archibald Douglas who after the young king’s escape flies to the Highlands where he lives under the protection of a Highland Chieftain, Roderick Dhu to whom Douglas has promised the hand of his daughter, Ellen. However, Ellen falls in love with Malcolm Graeme. Thus the stage is set. Apart from the four stanzas quoted, the poem has other equally well-known descriptive passages, but it was undoubtedly these four which Smith had in mind when he spoke of Scott’s work being cut up for guide books. They are descriptive of the Trossachs ‘proper’, and constitute a pause in what is otherwise very much a narrative poem; the four stanzas are an appropriate dish for the literary gourmet

However, most people would now quarrel with the approach to the poem adopted by very many guide books, in particular that in what is still probably the best guide book to the district yet produced. In Black’s Trossachs, the then Astronomer-Royal, Sir George Bidell Airy (1801-92) who, among his other accomplishments accurately weighed the Earth using a pendulum, analysed the ‘topography’ of The Lady of the Lake in great detail. Sir George, possibly at times with his tongue in his cheek, undoubtedly did this approach to death, pausing, for example, in an aside, to comment that four of Scott’s lines about the position of the moon were astronomically correct, to chide the poet, here and there, for his choice of location, and, elsewhere, to praise the aptness of his choice. Scott mentions the name of a place, and Sir George, with what must be regarded as tremendous application tells us exactly where it can be found on the six inch map; Scott describes how a character gets from place to place, and Sir George struggles after him, ‘forcing’ his way where necessary. The product of all this was that no guide book for the next fifty years, it seemed, mentioned Brig o’ Turk without quoting the lines:

And when the Brig of Turk was won
The headmost horseman rode alone

The lines tell us nothing about the Brig o’ Turk, and may not necessarily have been inspired by that particular spot. It is merely a euphoneous location on an exciting journey. In contrast the evocative lines, descriptive of a location,

Where the Trossachs’ dread defile
Opens on Katrine’s lake and isle,

are more worth quoting, but are only picked up by the few, for example, in H.A. Piehler‘s admirable guidebook Scotland for Everyman. Not even the master wordsmith Scott could make anything of the ‘Allt Ardcheanacrochan’, and others have pointed out that had ‘Callander’ had a more poetic name it might well have been featured in the poem which has brought millions of people to the place.

Of course, Scott loved to explain his own allusions and his introductions and notes are quite as interesting as his poems and novels. Thus these criticisms may seem more than a little unjust, particularly in a book like this, but what gives Sir George away is that he disects the work to a much greater extent than is really justifiable, and he hardly quotes at all from the four stanzas given above. He is much more interested in geography, than in poetry. He ought to be more balanced. That is not say that his analysis is not enjoyable, or that it is not a very good read.

Another device, in addition to the descriptive passages, which Scott uses to break up the action is the introduction of ‘Songs’ of which the best known are the ‘Hymn to the Virgin’ (Ave Maria), the ‘Boat Song’ (Hail to the Chief), and the ‘Coronach’. Franz Schubert (1797-1826) set seven of these songs to music in 1825, and separated at least one of them from the poem to such an extent that it is often not realised that what is one of the most famous songs in the world, Ave Maria, has this quintessentially Scottish connection. It is this development that illustrates the success which Scott really enjoyed, and the grip he took on European culture at the time. In this respect The Lady of the Lake is in direct line of succession to ‘Ossian’ which enjoyed similar international recognition; the fascination which the Highlands have exercised on foreigners transcends landscape, it is about European culture. In a letter to Schober from Steyr in 1823 Schubert says he is at work on an opera, goes for walks, and reads Scott. Ellen’s Third Song [Ellen’s Gesang III] has the following words:

AVE MARIA!

Ave Maria! Maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer
Thou canst hear though from the wild,
Thou canst save amid despair
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care
Though banish’d, outcast, and reviled,
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!

Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem with down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern’s heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, maiden hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, list a suppliant child!

Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! stainless styled!
Foul demons of the earth and air
From this their wanton haunt exiled,
Shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care,
Beneath thy guidance reconciled;
Hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer,
And for a father hear a child!

Ave Maria


In a moving passage in a letter to his parents Schubert, then aged twenty-eight and not noted for his sobriety, commented on the immediate success which ‘Ave Maria’ enjoyed:

My new songs from Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake especially had much success. People were greatly surprised at the piety, which I expressed in a hymn to the Holy Virgin by which, it seems, all are struck and turned to devotion. I think this is due to the fact that I have never forced devotion in myself and never compose hymns or prayers of that kind unless it overcomes me unawares; but then it is usually genuine religious feeling.

Franz Schubert Letters July 1825

The seven songs from The Lady of the Lake which Schubert set were: Ellen’s First Song [Soldier rest! thy warfare o’er (‘Raste, Krieger’)] is basically a lullaby, Ellen’s Second Song [Huntsman rest! Thy chase is done (‘Jage, ruhe’)], Ellen’s Third Song [Ave Maria], ‘Norman’s Song'[The heath this night (‘Die Nacht bricht bald herein’)], the ‘Lay of the Imprisoned Huntsman'[My hawk is tired of perch’ (‘Mein Ross so mude’), a polonaise; and the two choruses the ‘Boatsong’, for four male voices, and the ‘Coronach’, for three female voices. It is suggested by Schubert’s biographer, Otto Deutsch, that, in his imagination, Schubert used Lake Traun in the Salzkammergut instead of Loch Katrine. The lake has another vague, sad Hanoverian connection with Scotland; beside it is Cumberland Castle where the last Duke of Cumberland died. Schubert used a translation by P. A. Storck, which in the case of all of the songs except Norman’s Song, sticks closely enough to Scott, although freely adapting him in places, for the original English words to be used in singing. The Coronach remains the song still most closely associated with and most widely quoted from The Lady of the Lake:

CORONACH

He’s gone to the mountain,
He is lost to the forest,
Like a summer-dried fountain,
When our need was the sorest.
The font, reappearing,
From the rain-drops shall borrow,
But to us comes no cheering,
To Duncan no morrow!

The hand of the reaper,
Takes the ears that are hoary
But the voice of the weeper
Wails manhood in glory.
The autumn winds rushing
Waft the leaves that are searest
But our flower was in flushing,
When blighting was nearest.

Fleet foot on the corrie,
Sage counsel in cumber,
Red hand in the foray
How sound is thy slumber!
Like the dew on the mountain,
Like the foam on the river,.
Like the bubble on the fountain,
Thou art gone and forever.

Scott Lady of the Lake Canto III

Scott offers the following description, in a note, of a ‘coronach’:

The coronach of the Highlanders, like the ululatus, and the ululoo of the Irish, was a wild expression of lamentation, poured forth by the mourners over the body of a departed friend. when the words of it were articulate, they expressed the praises of the deceased, and the loss the clan would sustain by his death.

Schubert’s songs remain the best known adaptations of Scott. However, the Lady of the Lake provided the basis for the first opera based on Scott, who apart from Shakespeare, is the British writer who was the progenitor of most operas. Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868) wrote La Donna del Lago in 1847. It is, unlike many other adaptations, a “good” opera which has remained in the repertoire, although it is not so often performed these days. However, by far the quirkiest, the least expected, and, in a curious way, the most significant, derivation from the Lady of the Lake is “Hail to the Chief”. It was first played at the inauguration of President Polk in 1845 and, since then, it has had the curious status of not quite being the National Anthem, but of being the anthem played to announce the arrival, or to recognise the President of the United States: Coolidge and Carter, Eisenhower and Bush, Roosevelt and Nixon, Trueman and Kennedy, Clinton and Obama have all arrived, here, there and everywhere in the World, to the echoes of a song first devised by Scott to celebrate the arrival of a Highland Chief, rowed by his clansmen down Loch Katrine:

BOAT SONG

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honor’d and bless’d be the evergreen pine!
Long may the tree, in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line.
Heaven send it happy dew,
Earth lend it sap anew,
Gayly to burgeon, and broadly to glow,
While every Highland glen
Sends our shout back again,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

Ours is no sapling chance-sown by the fountain
Blooming at beltane, in winter to fade;
When the whirlwind has stripped every leaf on the mountain,
The more shall Clan alpine exult in her shade.
Moor’d in the rifted rock,
Proof to the tempest’s shock,
Firmer he roots him the ruder it blow;
Menteith and Breadalbane, then,
Echo his praise again,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

Proudly our pibroch has thrill’d in Glen Fruin,
And Bannochar’s groans to our slogan replied;
Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking in ruin,

And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on her side.
Widow and Saxon maid
Long shall lament our raid,
Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with woe;
Lennox and Leven glen
Shake when they hear again,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

Row vassals row for the pride of the Highlands
Stretch your oars for the evergreen pine
O! that the rosebud that graces yon islands,
Were wreathed in a garland around him to twine!
O that some seedling gem,
Worthy such noble stem,
Honour’d and bless’d in their shadow might grow!
Loud should Clan Alpine then
Ring from the deepmost glen,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

Scott gives a note in explanation of the cry “Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”:

Roderick the Black, the descendant of Alpine. besides his ordinary name and surname, which were chiefly used in the intercourse with the Lowlands, every Highland chief had an epithet expressive of his patriarchal dignity as head of the clan, and which was common to all his predecessors, as Pharoah to the kings of Egypt, or Arsaces to those of Parthia, this name was usually a patronymic, expressive of his descent from the founder of the family. Thus the Duke of Argyle is called MacCallum More, or the Son of Colin the Great.

Scott Appendix to Lady of the Lake          

It is supposed that the song was set by James Sanderson (1769-1841), a prolific songwriter from Washington in County Durham, England, although there are odd circumstances surrounding its publication in England. The original has not been traced. The song is also known in America as ‘Roderic Dhu’s March’, ‘Wreathes for the Chieftain’, and ‘Erie and Champlain’.

Robert Southey (1774-1843) was another early visitor, post The Lady of the Lake, to the Trossachs. Like the Wordsworths he was a ‘Lake Poet’ and, of course he compares the Trossachs with his beloved Lake District. Interestingly, he chooses Leathes Water which was transformed for its waterworks by Manchester in exactly the same way and at about the same time as Loch Katrine was transformed for the same purpose by Glasgow. Leathes Water became Thirlmere. His comparison with Helvellyn is less certain; he may have meant Place Fell. Southey approached, as did almost everyone else, from Loch Achray:

The day cleared before we began to return, and nothing could then be more favourable than the lights. the side on which we landed was of a sylvan character, like the end of Leathes water, but upon a much larger scale. Ben Venue, if I remember rightly, more resembles Helvellyn as seen from Ullswater than any other mountain with which I can compare it. It appears well for its height: indeed I should have guessed its elevation above its real measurement. But perhaps the finest points of view are in the Trossachs, before you arrive at the water; and when its summit appears over the hills in the gorge; and the entrance of the gorge from the Lake, where the base of the mountain is seen.

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland                                                              

Southey had a distinguished Scottish friend, Thomas Telford, and his tour in 1819 of the Highlands was rather different from that made by other literary visitors to Scotland because it was a trip to see Telford’s civil engineering works. His account is, perhaps, very much more alert to the contemporary social and economic life of the country than others. It was not published until 1929, when it was put before the public by the Institution of Civil Engineers. At the Trossachs he deplores the Duke of Montrose’s recent sale of the trees on Ben Venue for timber. Scott tried to avert this by raising a subscription but it was too late:

The scenery must have suffered much, but not so much as might be supposed; trees enough of smaller growth were left, because they were not worth cutting, to prevent any appearance of nakedness; and rocks and crags have been laid bare, which before must have been concealed. But this did not enter into his Grace’s calculations; he is fairly entitled to all the vituperation which is bestowed upon him by visitors to Loch Katrine.

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland                                                          

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), the historical novelist and the poineer of women’s education who was much admired by Scott, and an admirer of his, visited the Trossachs in 1823. Her letters echo Southey in several respects although she turns, naturally enough, to Killarney to make comparisons. She wrote, of the place:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Callander, 20 June, 1823
Here we are! I can hardly believe we are really at the place we have so long wished to see: we have really been on Loch Katrine. We were fortunate in the day; it was neither too hot, nor too cold, nor too windy, nor too anything.The lake was quite as beautiful as I expected, but that is telling you nothing, as you cannot know how much I expected. Sophy has made some memorandum sketched for home, though we are all well aware that neither pen nor pencil can bring before you reality. William says he does not, however, fear for Killarney, even after our having seen this. Here are no arbatus, but plenty of soft birch, and twinkling aspen and dark oak. On one side of the lake the wood has been within these few years cut down. Walter Scott sent to offer the proprietor ú500 for the trees on one spot, if he would spare them; but the offer came two days too late; the trees were stripped of their bark before his messenger arrived. To us, who never saw this rock covered with trees, it appeared grand in its bare boldness and in striking contrast to the wooded island opposite.

Tell Fanny that, I think Farnham Lakes as beautiful as Loch Katrine; as to mere beauty, perhaps superior; but where is the lake of our own, or any other times, that has such delightful power over the imagination by the recollections it raises? As we were rowed along, our boatman, happily our only guide, named to us the points we most wished to see; quietly named them, without being asked, and seemingly with a full belief that he was telling us plain facts, without any flowers of speech. “There’s the place on that rock yonder, where the king blew his horn.” And there’s the place where the lady of the Lake landed.” “And there is the Silver Strand, where you see the white pebbles in the little bay yonder.”

He landed us just at the spot where the Lady

From underneath an aged oak-
That slanted from the isle rock,

shot her little skiff to the silver strand on the opposite side. When William asked him if the king’s dead horse had been found, he smiled and said he only knew that bones had been found near where the king’s horse died, but he could not be sure that they were the bones of King James’s good steed. However, he seemed quite as clear of the existence of the Lady of the Lake, and of all her adventures, as of the existence of Ben Ledi and Ben Venue, and the Trossachs. He showed us the place on the mountain of Ben Venue, where formerly there was no means of ascent but by ladders of broom and hazel twigs, where the king climbed,

with footing nice’
A far-projecting precipice

At the inn the mistress of the house lent me a copy of the Lady of the Lake, which I took out with me and read while we were going to the lake, and while Sophy was drawing. We saw an eagle hovering, and, moreover, Sophy was drawing some tiny sea-larks flitting close to the shore, and making their little, faint cry. Returning, we marked the place where the armed Highlanders started from the furze brake before King James, when Roderic Dhu sounded his horn, and we settled which was the spot at

Clan Alpine’s outmost guard

where Roderic Dhu’s safe conduct ceased, and where the king and he had their combat.

Maria Edgeworth Letters 1894

Horatio McCulloch (1805-1867) is probably the most famous of a number of Scottish painters who have been inspired by Scott. His most notable work is ‘Loch Katrine'(1866) which is in the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Alexander Smith, who was a friend of McCulloch’s wrote in The Scotsman ‘As a view of Highland scenery we have never seen its equal; and no man but McCulloch could have produced it’. In his literary guide William Wilson mentions this picture:

Concerning the picture by Horatio McCulloch, the late Captain Munro told me that while McCulloch was making this picture, they walked home together in the evenings. One evening, when the Captain joined the artist, McCulloch said, “I have just finished my picture. Leave me alone for a few minutes. Whenever I finish a big picture, I offer a word of thanks to the Most High.”

Wilson, who served as the Minister of the Trossachs Church for 41 years does not mention that McCulloch probably stayed at the Trossachs Manse in 1863 when he completed his sketches for two big pictures of ‘Loch Achray’ in which the Manse is visible. His sketches for the ‘Loch Katrine’ were probably made in 1861 when he also stayed in the district, but it is not clear where. This subject was painted by McCulloch as early as 1842 which is the date of his ‘Loch Katrine from the Boathouse’. McCulloch also made an oil painting of another local subject in his ‘View near Aberfoyle’ of 1836.

Of course it is not in the least surprising that the district should attract notable artists. Indeed, the greatest of them all, J.M.W.Turner (1775-1851), who was inspired in the first instance to visit Scotland by Joseph Farington, illustrated Scott, and his choice of viewpoint for his illustration of Loch Katrine for the Lady of the Lake probably influenced McCulloch. Turner was at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in 1831, following ‘The Trossachs Tour’, one of his principal objectives being to secure illustrations for Scott’s Poetical Works. The two finally chosen, and engraved by William Miller (1796-1882), were ‘Loch Katrine’, and ‘Loch Achray’, a vignette.

An earlier painting by Turner entitled ‘The Trossachs’ is sometimes dated 1799- 1800, although Turner’s first substantive visit to Scotland was not until 1801. The picture was first entitled Mountain Landscape with a Lake and it is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It is a striking picture, but Ruskin lambasted it:

The worst picture I ever saw of this period, ‘The Trossachs’, has been for some time exhibited at Mr Grundy’s in Regent Street; and it has been much praised in the public press on the ground, I suppose, that it exhibits so little of Turner’s power or manner as to be hardly recognisable as one of his works.

Wilson also mentions ‘Loch Katrine’ by James Docharty (1829-1878) of Bonhill, the painter of realistic, true to life pictures of the Highlands, ‘Loch Achray’ by Sam Bough and ‘The Heat of the Day’ by John Smart (1838-1899), which Wilson regarded as his best picture. He also records pictures by John McWhirter (1839- 1911), and Colin Hunter (1841-1904), the pupil of James Milne Donald noted for his watercolours. John Knox (1778-1845), the artist who taught McCulloch, painted a picture called ‘Highland Loch Scene’ which is generally considered to be of Loch Katrine. Two Scottish Academicians Joseph Adam (1842-1896) and Archibald Kay (1860-1940) lived in Callander.

Many pictures of Loch Katrine are from the Silver Strand of Ben Venue or of Ellen’s Isle. Seton Gordon describes the most famous incident – which Scott wove into his poem – connected with this island in his Central Highlands. This notable author did not write as much about this district as about the Cairngorms and Skye, but the piece captures his distinctive tone of voice, and his economy with words, admirably:

 It is said that one of Cromwell’s soldiers lost his life on this island. The story is that a part of soldiers saw the women on the isle. Since the boat in which they had crossed to that retreat was drawn up on the island shore, the soldiers who were planning to outrage and slay the wives and daughters of their foes, saw no way of reaching the isle. At last one of their number, who was a strong swimmer, entered the water and swam over to the island, in order to bring the boat to the mainland. He reached the island shore, but his feet had barely touched bottom when one of the women, rushing into the water with a claymore in her hands with a wild sweep of the weapon severed the soldier’s head from his body. His comrades, seeing this horrid sight, then wisely made all haste to leave the place.

Seton Gordon Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands 1948

Opposite the island is the site of the Silver Strand, a beach of white pebbles. it is now submerged, but its impressive view of Ben Venue is undiminished.

No one visiting the Trossachs ought to omit a sail on the ‘Sir Walter Scott’ (see Loch Katrine) which departs from the Trossachs Pier twice a day. In the mornings it sails to Stronachlachar in the afternoons it makes a shorter circular tour. There is a fine walk from the Achray Car Park to The Pass of Achray and Bealach nam Bo. This is the route followed by William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and countless visitors since. By following the forest road behind the Achray Hotel the Sluices are reached and then an obvious track, separated from the loch by a series of rocky knolls, each one of which might have been the spot that Wordsworth reached, leads to a prominent col at the skyline. Once there Coire nan Uruisken is at your feet and Scott and Graham come to mind. There is a short walk to The Silver Strand´ from the car park at the Trossachs Pier. It heads along the tarmac on the eastern shore of the Loch as far as Eilean Moloch where one is at the Silver Strand. A longer walk follows the long pass between Loch Katrine and Loch Voil followed by the Wordsworths when they encountered ‘The Solitary Reaper’. From Strone, near Edra, which can be reached either from Stronachlachar or the Trossachs Pier, a long moor leads beside the burn to a col beyond is the Invernenty Burn, scene of the murder by one of Rob Roy’s sons of a MacLaren. This walk is a mountain excursion and should only be undertaken by those properly equipped.

 

 

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

The Lake Poets in Scotland

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

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

Itinerary [1801]: Wordsworth

Visited Hamilton and Glasgow; probably visited Loch Lomond

Itinerary [1803]: Wordsworth with Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Itinerary [1822]: Dorothy Wordsworth and Joanna Hutchinson:

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

Itinerary [1831]: Wordsworth with Dora Wordsworth:

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

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

Charles Wordsworth Annals of My Early Life

They proceeded to Bonawe, Oban, and Mull

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

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

Loch Katrine

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                         

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                   

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

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

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                          

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

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

James Reed Sir Walter Scott: Landscape and Locality 1980

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

STEPPING WESTWARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilfred Taylor Scot Free 1953

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 9. Callander

Callander

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

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

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

Robert Southey Journal of a Tour in Scotland 1819

Lady Sarah Murray described Callander’s situation as follows:

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

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

Dugald Buchanan

Gaelic Poet Teacher Evangelist

1716 – 1768

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

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

Pittendrigh Macgillivray ERECTED 1925

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

James Lees-Milne The Enigmatic Edwardian 1986

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

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

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

The other is Stevenson’s famous epitaph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Monk' Lewis.

‘Monk’ Lewis.

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

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

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

Andrew Cruickshank An Autobiography 1988

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

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

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

In a note Scott explains:

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

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

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

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

Lady Sarah Murray The Beauties of Scotland 1799

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

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

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

Alexander Smith Summer in Skye               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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