Posts tagged Scottish Literary Topography

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: 3. Arden and Glen Fruin

 

Arden

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

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

 
 
 
 
 

 

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

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

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

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

Thomas Gray (1764)

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

William Gilpin (1776)

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

Samuel Johnson (1773)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Poet-Preacher once, ’tis said,

When Lomond and her isles lay spread

Before his genius-flashing eye,

Loaded the pinions of a sigh,

Soul-born, with this impassioned cry—

O Joy! Should it to man be given

That a Loch Lomond be in Heaven”

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

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

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

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes

Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond

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

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

 

Chorus:

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

And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

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

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

 

Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen

On the steep, steep sides o’ Ben Lomon’

Where in purple hue, the hielan hills we view

And the moon comin’ out in the gloamin’.

 

The wee birdies sing and the wild flowers spring

And in sunshine the waters are sleeping

But the broken heart, it kens nae second spring again

Tho’ the waeful may cease frae their greetin’

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

The high road is my road,

The low road’s a slow road

And I’ll guarantee ya

I’ll be there to see ya

On the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond

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

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

Andrew Lang risked rendering the poem in his own way:

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

  safe in France,

And the Clans they hae paid the lawing,

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

  alane,

Free o’ Carlisle gaol in the dawning.

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

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

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

“the gloom

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

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

Tis evening upon Lomond’s lake,

On her green isles the morn is gleaming;

In Heaven there’s not a cloud to break

The lustre o’er the waters streaming

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

 

With all its fairy crowds

Of islands, that together lie

As quietly as spots of sky

Among the evening clouds.

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

….picture postcards

that claim to lay the constant on the table,

(the camera cannot lie) are popular;

what trotting tourists hoped to purchase for the

shelf;

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

But landscape’s an evasion of itself.”

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

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

Proudly our pibroch has thrill’d in Glen

Fruin,

And Bannochar’s groans to our slogan

replied;

Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking

in ruin,

And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on

her side.

 Widow and Saxon maid

Long shall lament our raid,

Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with woe;

Lennox and Leven glen

Shake when they hear again,

“Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!”

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

And dearly has M’Gregor paid

By name proscribed and haunted band

For dark Glen Fruin’s lawless raid –

No more he rules Loch Katrine’s strand.

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

No strange sound laid my echo on the road

And when where two little lanes branched

off I stood,

On either side the moorland grew away,

Luminous all Glen Fruin lay

And the sky was silent as an unstruck bell.

Loch Lomond was below, I saw

Boats on a bay like toys on floor;

Scotland in every quarter touched me still.

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

John Colquhoun

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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