Posts tagged Sir Walter Scott

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: 20. Glenfinglas and Loch Venachar

 

Glen Finglas

In 1853 John Ruskin (1819-1900), his wife Effie, and John Everett Millais (1829-96), stayed in the village of Brig o’ Turk, which gets its name from an eighteenth century bridge, carefully widened and restored in the 1930s, over the burn which flows through Glenfinglas. It was here that Millais fell in love with Effie whose marriage with Ruskin had not been consummated. When Effie later left Ruskin and married Millais, the biggest scandal since Byron’s day broke.

The little river Turk still rushes down a fine gorge where there are four waterfalls. In spate the nineteenth century atmosphere of the clachan can be recaptured, but the gorge is dominated nowadays by a spectacular dam, 40 metres high. In wet conditions the spillway is a magnificent sight, blocking the glen with a wall of white water.

It was probably the associations of the place with Scott that drew Ruskin to Brig o’ Turk in 1853 accompanied by his wife, whom he had married five years previously, and his protégé, Millais. Ruskin had been to the Trossachs in 1838 with his parents. In 1879 Ruskin exhibited a picture of the view from the Silver Strand entitled Loch Katrine, looking to Coir nan Uriskin, July 28 1838. In 1853 Ruskin made some famous drawings of the rocks he found in the bed of the Turk:

  20th July, 1853

Yesterday drawing on the rocks by the stream. Everett still ill with headache. The skies all turquoise and violet, melted in dew; and heavenly bars of delicate cloud behind Ben venue in the evening. This morning grey with heavy clouds low on the hills……

John Ruskin Letters

Millais also began one his most famous pictures, in which one of the waterfalls on the Turk was to form the background to a portrait of Ruskin, but he did not complete it until the following year. He also painted a picture of Effie beside a waterfall in the glen, and his sketch book is a delightful record of what was, in spite of wet weather, a varied holiday. The portrait of Ruskin, the difficulty of its execution and, above all, the blossoming romance between Effie and Millais dominate the letters which the three wrote to their family and friends. Mary Lutyens (1908-1999) used these letters as the basis for her delightful biography Millais and the Ruskins (1967). At the beginning of the holiday Millais was an admirer of Effie, and worshipped Ruskin; by the end of it he was complaining of Ruskin and hopelessly in love with Effie. The following letter from Millais to Holman Hunt, which refers to Millais’ brother, William, captures the atmosphere:

The last four days we have had incessant rain, swelling the streams to torrents. This afternoon we all walked to see some of the principal waterfalls which in colour resemble XXX stout. The roads are deeper in water than the Wandle so we were walking ankle deep. the dreariness of mountainous country in wet weather is beyond everything. I have employed myself making little studies of Mrs Ruskin whilst William has given way to whisky and execration.

Having the acquaintance of Mrs Ruskin is a blessing. Her husband is a good fellow but not of our kind, his soul is always with the clouds and out of reach of ordinary mortals – I mean that he theorises about the vastness of space and looks at a lovely little stream in practical contempt. I have had a canvas and box made in Edinburgh to paint his portrait overlooking a waterfall. I think it will be fine as it quite suits his character and the background of the foaming water, rocks and clasping roots look splendid behind his placid figure.

     J.E.Millais Letter to Holman Hunt    

In another letter Millais refers to midges, the only reference to them that I have come across in the voluminous outpourings of eighteenth and nineteenth century visitors:

When the weather permits, we all dine out upon the rocks, Mrs Ruskin working, her husband drawing, and myself painting. there is only one drawback to this almost perfect happiness – the midges. They bite so dreadfully that it is beyond human endurance to sit quiet, therefore many a splendid day passes without being able to work.

William Millais  gives a vivid description of a Glenfinlas Sabbath:

How well I remember our going to the little free kirk, arrayed as well-turned out Highland men. The service was to us somewhat comical and we could hardly stay it out. The precentor was a little very bow-legged old man, with the wheeziest of voices, and sang the first line of the paraphrase alone, whilst his little shaggy terrier, the image of his master, joined in in a piteous howl. The other lines were sung by the congregation, assisted by a few collies. I afterwards tackled the little precentor, and asked him why he didn’t have an organ. ‘Ah man, would you have us take to the devil’s band?’ was his answer.

When the sermon came, it was most amusing to us to watch the old men passing their ram’s horn snuff-mills to one another, and putting little bone spades full of the pungent material up their noses to keep them awake.

In front of us were two well-dressed young girls, in all the newest fashion, and when the offertory-box was poked towards them, they put in a farthing. We afterwards saw them take off their shoes and stockings and walk home barefooted.

J.G.Millais Life and Letters of Millais 1899

Everett Millais and his brother William often wore the kilt, to the amusement of the local inhabitants. This had a highly amusing artistic consequence. The famous French animal painter Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) came to the Highlands inspired by Landseer’s Highland stags. After visiting the cattle fair at Stenhousemuir, where she obtained much subject matter, she came to the Trossachs anxious to espy a native in a kilt. The first such person she saw was Millais! Rosa Bonheur and her companion were accompanied by the picture dealer and publisher Gambart who introduced them. “Ah, my dear Millais,” said Gambart, “Mademoiselle Rosa Bonheur has been eagerly on the look-out for the Highland garb ever since we left Edinburgh, and yours is the first kilt she has seen. You are immortalised.”

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

John Everett Millais. Effie in Glenfinlas

Millais filled two sketch books containing highly finished drawings and sketches when he was in Glenfinglas with Ruskin including ‘A Fishing Party on Loch Achray’ and ‘The Kirk in Glenfinlas’. After his marriage to Effie Gray in June, 1855 Millais took the manse of Brig o’ Turk in Glenfinglas in August, 1856. Here, after an interval of shooting and fishing, ‘… he painted a small portrait of the minister – a hard-featured and by no means prepossessing Celt.’ (J.G.Millais)

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

John Everett Millais [Sketchbook]: Loch Achray

Perhaps the connection with Ruskin led ‘the Glasgow Boys’ [James Guthrie (1859-1930), Edward Arthur Walton (1860-1922), and George Henry (1858- 1943)] to Brig o’Turk in 1879-81, but it was probably its character as the nearest ‘Highland clachan’ (in contrast to the estate villages of Luss and Gartmore) to Glasgow that attracted them. In any case it is agreed that the summers they spent there were critical to their development as artists, not so much for what they produced (see Appendix 00) as for the conversations about painting they had. Later Guthrie drew Crawhall, himself and Walton sharing a bottle of wine which captured their fellowship. Arthur Melville (1855-1904), the leading ‘Scottish Impressionist’, followed Guthrie, Henry and Walton in going to Brig o’ Turk, and he exhibited pictures entitled ‘Loch Vennacher’ and ‘The Shieling, Brig o’ Turk’ in 1884.

In August 1863 George Gilfillan (1813-1878), the nineteenth century literateur who was a friend and admirer of Alexander Smith, undertook an extensive Highland Tour including visits to Loch Maree and Glencoe, as well as the Trossachs. He was full of praise for Brig o’ Turk:

No hour in all my recent journey did I enjoy more than a quiet walk to the Brig o’ Turk. It is to me a most interesting spot. THe river comes down from thr green and purple Glenfinlas, and below the bridge flows in a deep yet bright current, with the noble Ben Venue looking down at it from the west. The sun was bight, the hills serene, the stream pure and lustrous. All was calm. I was alone and my musings were pensively delightful.

Glenfinlas is also associated with Scott, and James Hogg, Lady Sarah Murray and other early visitors to the Trossachs refer to it. Scott makes it the setting of a wierd ballad, Glenfinlas, or Lord Ronald’s Coronach, and he refers to it in The Lady of the Lake making it the setting of even wierder goings on in that poem. Elsewhere Hogg refers to the power of place-names, and there as little doubt that Glenfinlas (or, Glenfinglas, the accepted spelling) caught Scott’s imagination of itself because it had, at the time he first visited it, both a magical name and a different appearance from the rest of the district. Whether this was on account of the fact that it had been preserved as a royal deer forest or not, is not clear, but both Patrick Graham and Alexander Campbell, refer to the appearance of its greensward. In an introduction to Glenfinlas, the place which brought forth from Scott his first substantive poem, he gives the following perfect general description of the Trossachs:

Glenfinlas is a tract of forest-ground lying in the Highlands of Perthshire, not far from Callander in Menteith. It was formerly a royal forest, and now belongs to tyhe Earl of Moray. This country, as well as the adjacent district of Balquhidder was, of yore, chiefly inhabited by the MacGregors. To the west of the Forest of Glenfinlas lies Loch Katrine, and its romantic avenue called the Trossachs. Ben Ledi, Ben More, and Ben Voirlich are mountains in the same district, and at no great distance from Glenfinlas. The river Teith passes Callander and the Castlew of Doune, and joins the Forth near Stirling. The Pass of Leny is immediately above Callander, and is the principal access to the Highlands from that town. Glenartney is a forest near Ben Voirlich. The whole forms a sublime tract of alpine scenery.

Coleman Parsons (1905-1991) summarises the plot of Glenfinlas as follows, alluding to its richness in superstition:

The action belongs to a time when red deer were hunted with bows and arrows, and the scene is near the poet’s favourite Loch Katrine and Ben Ledi. Sheltered in a hut on a moonlit night, Lord Ronald longs for the presence of Glengyle’s daughter, Mary. In spite of second sighted Moy’s reporting death-damps on his friend’s brow, corpse lights, and the cry of Ronald’s warning spirit, the amorous chief descends a dell for a tryst with Mary. Later Moy refuses to let a green-clad huntress wile him out in search of the lovers. The spirit then expands horribly, a storm rips the hut apart, and fragments of Lord Ronald rain from the sky on his virtuous friend. The youth has ben torn to bits by a succubus disguised as a wayward Lady of the Glen.

Coleman Parsons Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott’s Fiction 1964

Scott says that since then Glenfinlas has been called ‘the Glen of the Green Women’. In a note in The Lady of the Lake he elaborates on the significance of the colour green:

As the Daoine Shi’, or Men of Peace, wore green habits, they were supposed to take offence when any mortals ventured to assume their favourite colour. Indeed, from some reason, perhaps originally a general superstition, green is held in Scotland to be particularly unlucky to particular tribes and counties. The Caithness men, who hold this belief, allege as a reason, that their bands wore that colour when they were cut off at the battle of Flodden; and for the same reason they avoid crossing the Ord on Monday, being the day of the week on which their ill-omened array set forth. Green is also disliked by those of the name of Ogilvy; but more especially it is held fatal to the whole clan of Graham. It is remembered of an aged gentleman of that name, that when his horse fell in a fox-chase, he accounted for it at once by observing, that the whipcord attached to his lash was of this unlucky colour.

Scott makes Glenfinlas the site of a ritual to divine the future in Canto IV of the poem

The Taghairm call’d; by which, afar,
Our sires foresaw the events of war

The Highlanders, like all rude people, had various superstitious modes of inquiring into futurity. One of the most noted was the Taghairn, mentioned in the text. A person was wrapped up in the skin of a newly slain bullock, and deposited beside a waterfall or at the bottom of a precipice, or in some other strange, wild, and unusual situation, where the scenery around him suggested nothing but subjects of horror. In this situation, he revolved in his mind the question proposed; and whatever was impressed upon him by his exalted imagination, passed for the inspiration of the disembodied spirits who haunt the desolate recesses.

The precipice Scott chose is called Sgiath Mhic Griogar, situated above the river a little distance from Brig o’ Turk. In climbing circles ‘sgiath’ would be ‘slab’; Scott translates it literally as ‘targe’, the name given to those compact shields which seemed always to be used in medieval battles, which this massive rock does not resemble at all. At the foot of ‘MacGregor’s Targe’, the River Turk tumbles in the series of waterfalls drawn by Ruskin and painted by Millais. The poet describes the place as follows:

That huge cliff, whose ample verge
Tradition calls the Hero’s Targe.

There is a rock so-named in the Forest of Glenfinlas, by which a tumultuary cataract takes its course. This wild place is said in former times to have afforded refuge to an outlaw, who was supplied with provisions by a woman, who lowered them down from the brink of the precipice above. his water he procured for himself, by letting down a flagon tied to a string, into the black pool beneath the fall.

Sir Walter Scott The Lady of the Lake

Both Lady Sarah Murray and James Hogg went to Glenfinlas when the weather was inclement. Although it has been transformed by the Glasgow Corporation’s dam the lower part of the glen is still recognisably as it must have been, although Lady Sarah’s description of the old bridge and the ford have to be imagined:

Though it ceased to rain, all nature was weeping when I came to the foot of Glen Finlas, and to the river issuing thence; over which is a frail foot bridge of considerable breadth, made of birch wood intertwined, and covered with sod. As I entered the ford the scene was gloomy and awful. I was alone in the chaise: but I had confidence in my driver; therefore my mind was free from all sensations, but those produced by the extraordinary scenery around me. On the right a few scattered huts, and the river roaring from the deep glen, at that part darkened almost to night, by the high towering crags of the forest of Glenfinlas covered with wood. The river, though loudly heard, was scarcely seen from the abundance of large trees; some tall and straight as the pine, others spreading wide and embracing each other from bank to bank, bending over the broken flood, which was furiously advancing to the green bridge.

Lady Sarah Murray Beauties of Scotland                                              

I went quite out of my road to see Glenfinlas, merely because it was the scene of a poem in which I delighted, but could see nothing more than in other places. The hills were covered with mist down to the middle.

James Hogg Highland Tours 1803

 Those visiting the district can take the glen road to the entrance to the waterworks. Just beyond the entrance there is a footpath leading down to the river at a weir. It is immediately underneath Sgiath Mhic Griogar mentioned above. From the fork at the entrance to the waterworks the other track leads to the glen above the dam.

 

Loch Venachar
From Brig o’ Turk follow the A821 by Loch Venachar to Callander. At the foot of the loch on the left is Ben Ledi with its foothills, Dunmore and Bochastle Hill. At the road junction turn right, and cross the Eas Gobhainn by an eighteenth century bridge to join the Invertrossachs Road. This road extends from Callander along the south bank of the loch; turn left to reach Callander. By turning right and following the road, which is a cul-de-sac for motor cars , the visitor reaches Invertrossachs whence motorists must return the way they came.

Loch Venachar [Loch Vennachar, Loch Vennacher] gets its name from the gaelic. There is some doubt about its derivation, but several early writers call it the ‘loch of the fair valley’, others ‘the horned loch’: neither seem particularly apt. Situated at the open end of Strath Gartney, and turned into a reservoir in 1859, it has not the same degree of attractiveness as either Loch Achray or Loch Katrine. However, both banks have interesting enough stopping places, and the south bank commands fine views of the Trossachs Hills. Beyond Callander Uam Var is well seen on a fine day. This unprepossessing hill, little frequented, was made the starting point of the chase in ‘The Lady of the Lake’. Its name is thus better known than that of many other Scottish hills. Black’s Guide (1920) is interesting on the subject of this road beyond the Brig o’ Turk:

The road rapidly worsens, and for the rest of the way to Callander is a disgrace to the neighbourhood. Motor cars are forbidden: perhaps because of its narrowness, perhaps because those who are responsible fear that an outcry would be raised against them for allowing this much frequented road to welter in mud and dust. Loch Vennachar, in spite of its high-sounding name, and Sir Walter’s

Here Vennachar in silver flows,
There ridge on ridge Ben Ledi rose,

is distinctly disappointing. In fact, having reached Brig o’ Turk, the traveller has seen by far the best part of the trip.

G.E.Mitton Black’s Guide to Scotland      1900                                    

This passage undoubtedly alluded to the situation immediately before the war. There is little doubt that the road was kept as it was partly to preserve the road as it was for the four-in-hand coaches which plied daily between the Dreadnought in Callander and the Trossachs Hotel. The coaches were auctioned in 1920 and rapidly replaced by motor char-a-bancs.

Milton-of-Callander, half-way along the northern bank of the loch, is associated with Annie S. Swan (1859-1943), a prolific popular sentimental novelist of the nineteen-thirties, who occupied then the place in popular literature which Barbara Cartland now occupies. However, Virginia Woolf’s opinion about her [Diary 14th April, 1935] is worth reflecting on – “I read Annie S. Swan on her life with considerable respect…..no doubt her books, which she can’t count and has no illusions about…..are wash – pigs, hogs – any wash you choose. But she is a shrewd capable old woman.” Her novel ‘The Bridge Builders’, published in 1913 is partly set in West Perthshire, with scenes in Callander and Lochearnhead.

At the foot of the loch is Coilantogle Ford where the Glasgow Corporation sluices are situated. Above it is Dunmore, a distinctive iron age fort, and next to it Bochastle Hill, on the side of which is an erratic boulder, Sampson’s Putting Stone. Either Portnellan or Coilantogle make the best starting point for the easy way up Ben Ledi. However, it is much more usually ascended from the Pass of Leny.

Queen Victoria, it is recorded, reached the top of Ben Ledi on pony back, which indicates that it is not a hill that need test the powers of any two legged walker. the route her mount followed was from the vicinity of Coilantogle on Loch Vennachar. After about three miles easy ascent, interrupted by only one short steepish stretch, where Her Majesty may have dismounted and walked, it brings you to the handsome cairn.

W.Kersley Holmes Tramping Scottish Hills Eneas Mackay Stirling 1946

Another visitor to ascend Ben Ledi was John Everett Millais:

We have, in fine weather, immense enjoyment, painting out on the rocks, and having our dinner brought to us there, and in the evening climbing up the steep mountains for exercise, Mrs Ruskin accompanying us. Last Sunday we all walked up Ben Ledi, which was quite an achievement. I am only just getting the mountaineer’s certainty of step, after experiencing some rather severe falls, having nearly broken my nose, and bruised my thumb-nail so severely that I shall lose it. My shins are prismatic with blows against the rocks.
John Everett Millais August, 1853

Below Coilantogle at Gartchonzie there is a eighteenth century bridge across the Eas Gobhain, the outlet of the Loch, and a by road leads to Invertrossachs House. This bogus name was given to the place when Queen Victoria visited it in 1869 – Drunkie Lodge, it was thought, had difficult connotations.

It was owned then – the place has had numerous owners – by a Stueart MacNaughten, whose wife had connections with the Royal Household at Balmoral. The papers which exist about the visit include some letters about the domestic arrangements which were considered in an article in The Lady by Angus MacNaughten, his grandson. It was a private visit, but the house was vetted by officials, and one of the early letters speaks of Queen Victoria’s hope that ‘you would not go to any unnecessary expense in regard to new carpets or new furniture.’ The Queen was accompanied by Princesses Louis and Beatrice, and attended by Colonel Ponsonby, her private secretary, Lady Churchill and John Brown, her personal servant, all of whom stayed at the house together with other members of the household. Ponsonby took charge of the tour in the absence, owing to illness, of J.J.Kanne, the Director of Continental Journeys to the Royal Household. It was from Invertrossachs that the Queen made her several expeditions to the Trossachs which are quoted from elsewhere. Her account of their arrival from Callander is as follows:

We at once got into our celebrated sociable which has been to the top of the Furca in Switzerland, and had been sent on before, Colonel Ponsonby and Brown going on the box. We drove off at once with post horses through the small town of Callander, which consists of one long street with very few shops, and few good houses, but many poor ones. Poor Kanne (who was to have managed everything but had fallen ill) was still laid up there. We drove on., and, after about three-quarters of a mile’s drive, came to Loch Vennachar, a fine lake about four miles long, with Ben Venue and other high and beautiful mountains rising behind and around it. The road is thickly wooded with oak, birch, beech, mountain-ash, etc. The house stands extremely well on a high eminence, overlooking the loch and surrounded by trees, you drive up through evergreens and trees of all kinds. Half an hour brought us to the door of the house, Invertrossachs, which is small and comfortable. At the entrance is a nice little hall in which there is a small billiard table; to the left, beyond that, a very nice well-sized dining room with one large window. To the right of the hall is the drawing room, very much like the one at Invermark (Lord Dalhousie’s); altogether the house is in that style, but larger. The staircase is almost opposite the hall-door, and there is a narrow passage which goes on to the left and right, along which are Louise’s, Beatrice’s, my sitting room (a snug little room) and my bedroom (very good size); and, out of that, two little rooms which I use as dressing and bath rooms, and Emily Dittweiler’s. Further on, round a corner, as it were, beyond Louise’s, are Lady Churchill’s, her maid’s. and Colonel Ponsonby’s rooms, all very fair sized and comfortable. Close to my dressing room is a staircase which goes upstairs to where Brown and our other people live. The rooms are very comfortably and simply furnished, and they have put down new carpets everywhere.

 

William Mathie Parker, the Edinburgh literary topographer, suggested that Invertrossachs was used by Anthony Trollope in Phineas Finn, It is typical of Trollope to unwittingly infuriate his Scottish readers by transferring an Irish soubriquet to a Scottish loch, but Parker locates Lough Linter in the Trossachs, suggesting that the house may be Invertrossachs.

Millais: Illustration for Phineas Finn

Millais: Illustration for Trollope’s Phineas Finn

His case is convincingly argued, and when Kennedy, the laird of Lough Linter, says he will send to Callender [a Trollopian rendering, perhaps of Callander] for a doctor, the case seems proven. Millais’s famous illustration of Laura’s reception of Fineas Finn’s proposal has a hint of Loch Venacher about it, too.

Those going directly to Callander will cross the delightful ‘Roman’ bridge across the Leny at Kilmahog which Hogg called “a paltry village”. In fact it is an eighteenth century bridge built out of the funds derived from the Forfeited Estates. It was designed by the same architect as designed the beautiful bridge at the foot of Loch Tay, John Baxter.

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 10. Menteith

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

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

Sir Walter Scott Lady of the Lake

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

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

Queen Victoria Highland Journal

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

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

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

Susanna Blamire

Susanna Blamire

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of a Grandfather 1828-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edith Holden (self portrait)

Edith Holden (self portrait)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.B.Cunninghame Graham Doughty Deeds 1925

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

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

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

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

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

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 4. Luss and Tarbet

 

Camstradden and Luss

Beyond Ross Dhu, at Camstradden, is the most intimate part of Loch Lomond. There are several large islands in the loch which partly close the view and give Loch Lomond the feel of a much smaller lake. It is no wonder that Dorothy Wordsworth found the place highly appealing.

It seems likely that it was as a result of visiting Inchfad in 1796 that Thomas Wilkinson (1751-1836) later recollected a singularly influential event:

On one of the islands was ripe corn; last week in the shire of Ayr we saw oats that had not yet arrived in the ear. Passed 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.

Wilkinson’s book Tours to the British Mountains was not published until 1824, but Wilkinson, a landscape gardener employed by the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle, showed Wordsworth the manuscript before the Wordsworths travelled to Scotland in 1803. It was said to have partly inspired The Solitary Reaper. In a note of 1807 Wordsworth wrote:

“This Poem was suggested by a beautiful sentence in a MS Tour in Scotland written by a Friend, the last line being taken from it verbatim.”

Of the other islands Inchloanaig, ‘Yew Tree Island’, was used as a deer park by the Colquhouns, and visited by Dr Johnson and Boswell. In his amusing guide book, A Tour in Tartan Land [1863], Edward Bradley [pseud. Cuthbert Bede] (1827–1889), reported that foresters living on Inchloanaig told of fairy superstitions to protect their illicit stills:

“It is to be hoped, however, that all these spirits, not only of fancy, but of reality, had been banished the island by the commencement of the present century, for within its boundaries was founded an establishment for the reception and cure of persons who had been the victims to delirium tremens, and those other maladies which arise from excessive drinking…”

 The Tour of Dr Prosody, the satirical poem by William Combe (1742–1823), takes his characters to the same place, an episode illustrated by a well known ‘Rowlandson’ drawing.

In his Table Talk Coleridge asserted that the view of Loch Lomond from Inch Tavannach, Monks’ Island, was one of the five finest things in Scotland. Dorothy Wordsworth enthused, too:

We had not climbed far before we were stopped by a sudden burst of prospect, so singular and beautiful that it was like a flash of images from another world. We stood with our backs to the hill of the island, which we were ascending, and which shut out Ben Lomond entirely, and all the upper part of the lake, and we looked towards the foot of the lake, scattered over with islands without beginning and without end. The sun shone, and the distant hills were visible, some through sunny mists, others in gloom with patches of sunshine; the lake was lost under the low and distant hills, and the islands lost in the lake, which was all in motion with travelling fields of light, or dark shadows under rainy clouds. There are many hills, but no commanding eminence at a distance to confine the prospect, so that the land seemed endless as the water. . . . Wherever we looked, it was a delightful feeling that there was something beyond. Meanwhile, the sense of quiet was never lost sight of; the little peaceful lakes among the islands might make you forget that the great water, Loch Lomond, was so near; and yet are more beautiful, because you know that it is so. . . .

In contrast, William Gilpin (1724-1804), the high priest of the Picturesque, and chooser of stations from which places might be most rewardingly viewed, had a low opinion of the view:

“The countryside immediately beyond the islands appeared flat, and the mountains were too far removed to be of any picturesque use…”

Further north, just off Luss, is Froach Island, a prison where as Wilkinson puts it, ‘delinquents in remote times were conveyed and left, it is said, to shift for themselves as best they could’

 

 

Luss Straits Painted: E.W.Haslehurst

Wordsworth probably visited more of Loch Lomond’s islands than most. In 1803 Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge were rowed to Inchtavannach. In 1814 we learn from Sarah Hutchinson, Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, that they visited Inchtavannach,  again, and then went to Inchgalbraith, and sailed round Inchcruin. They landed on Inchlonaig, deer island, where they met the forester. They then became the only recorded literary visitors to Eilean Fraoch where they gathered bilberries

Luss is an enigma. Its estate cottages, built to house workers from the slate quarries, are attractive, but its present day ‘attractions’ all but destroy their effect. However, the village is much admired by visitors. Intriguingly Lord Cockburn(1779-1854), writing in 1838, condemned the place as a “hog-stye”. He found the best of Luss to be the churchyard where Mrs Cockburn searched for a verse inscription which she had found years ago The Church is to the south of the centre of the village. It was built built by the Colquhouns in 1875 and dedicated to St Kessog. ‘The church at Luss is as beautiful as ever’ said Cockburn. The minister at Luss in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was JohnStuart,(1743–1821), the notable Gaelic scholar and botanist, who was born in Killin. Immediately before he was translated to Luss he accompanied Pennant on his second Highland tour. During his own tour in 1798 Thomas Garnett reported:

After breakfast we repaired to the manse to visit Dr Stuart the minister a man of great taste and learning he received us very politely and shewed us his garden which contains a variety of scarce plants particularly British alpines brought by himself from their native mountains I found here most of the scarce plants which grow upon Benlomond and Benevis as well as in the wilds of the Hebrides but being removed into a milder clime they flourish more luxuriantly

Thomas Garnett (1766–1802), was born in Westmorland and practised as a doctor in Harrogate where his interest in Chemistry led him to became an expert on mineral waters. He was eventually appointed to a professorship of natural philosophy at Anderson’s Institution, Glasgow, a predecessor of the University of Strathclyde. He published Observations on a Tour through the Highlands and Part of the Western Isles of Scotland. [1800] which is one of the more entertaining and informative of several books of the same sort published at about that time. There is some evidence that Dorothy Wordsworth read it.

Three poems by Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998), the poet who made memorable phrases about people and places all over Scotland, are about Luss.  Translating his own Gaelic in one he calls Luss ‘a picture of a village rather than a true village.’ In Luss Village, like Cockburn, he ends up in the in the churchyard:

Such walls, like honey, and the old are happy

in morphean air like goldfish in a bowl.

Ripe roes trail their margins down a sleepy

mediaeval treatise on the slumbering soul.

And even the water, fabulously silent,

has no salt tales to tell us, nor makes jokes

about the yokel mountains, huge and patient,

that will not court her but read shadowy books.

A world so long departed! In the churchyard

the tilted tombs still gossip, and the leaves

of stony testaments are read by Richard,

Jean and Carol, pert among the sheaves

of unscythed shadows, while the noon day hums

with bees and water and the ghosts of psalms.

The village of Luss and the islands nearby were used as the setting of Goblin Island [1907]. This was the first novel by Elsie Jeanette Dunkerley, [pseud. Elsie Oxenham] (1880–1960), in what became a so-called Scottish sequence of children’s stories Loch Lomond itself appears as Loch Avie. Luss also appears as ‘Markinch’ in the short story The Provost’s Tale [1931] , byA. J. Cronin(1896-1981) and elsewhere in his work. Cronin was a world famous novelist, born in Cardross, whose best known work was Hatter’s Castle [1931].A collection of short stories, Adventures of a Black Bag (1969), was made into the immensely popular radio and television series Dr Finlay’s Casebook.

Above Luss is one of finest viewpoints in Scotland. Wilkinson mentions it as follows:

At Luss took a young Highlander with me on an eminence and there I saw one of the most interesting scenes I ever remember to have beheld. Twenty-one islands rising from the lake in a variety of forms, and beautifully shaded with trees. The points of the islands run past one another in a most picturesque manner

In Observations Garnett describes it thus:

On our return to Luss we dined with our amiable and learned friend Dr Stuart who accompanied us after dinner to Strone Hill, just above the village whence we had a delightful view of the lake and its islands. The evening was fine, the lake still and a pleasing serenity pervaded the whole scene. Below us was the villageof Luss, almost hid in trees with its verdant points projecting into the lake. Inch Tavannach and most of the other islands are seen to great advantage and in the distance are part of the Grampian Mountains, which form a very fine background. The obelisk erected to the memory of Buchanan may likewise be seen distinctly.

Strone Hill, or Stronbrae, is above the glen road (which is now reached by car from the by-pass, or by a footbridge from the village) just outside Luss.

North of Luss the loch is at its most dramatic, its character caught by Hazlitt:

The road to Tarbet is superb. It is on the very verge of the lake – hard, level, rocky, with low stone bridges constantly flung across it, and fringed with birch trees, just then budding into spring, behind which, as through a slight veil you saw the huge shadowy form of Ben Lomond. It lifts its enormous, but graceful bulk direct from the edge of the water without any projecting lowlands….. Loch Lomond comes on you by degrees as you advance, unfolding then withdrawing its conscious beauties like an accomplished coquet.

Inverbeg and Tarbet

Qne of the ‘low stone bridges’ between Luss and Inverbeg, built by Caulfield after 1745 has been handsomely restored, and can still be seen beside the A82. Thomas Pennant offers this description of the military road and the loch:

“The road runs sometimes through woods, at others is exposed and naked; in some so steep as to require the support of a wall; the whole the work of the soldiery: blessed exchange of instruments of destruction for those that give safety to the traveller, and a polish to the once inaccessible native.

Two great headlands covered with trees separate the first scene from one totally different; the last is called the point of Firkin. On passing this cape an expanse of water bursts at once on your eye varied with all the softer beauties of nature. Immediately beneath is a flat covered with wood and corn: beyond the headlands stretch far into the water and consist of gentle risings; many have their surfaces covered with wood, others adorned with trees loosely scattered either over a fine verdure, or the purple bloom of heath. Numbers of islands are dispersed over the lake of the same elevated manner; others just peep above the surface, and are tufted with trees; and numbers are so disposed as to form magnificent vistas between.”

Perhaps one of the best travel books ever written about Scotland is The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland [1968] by W.H.Murray (see Lochgoilhead). Early on he touches on Loch Lomond:

The banks of Loch Lomond are clothed by deciduous woods. Oak, beech, chestnut, larch, and birch predominate. Caledonian pine and most other coniferous evergreens are present but not much in evidence. Loch Lomond thus appears most colowful in spring and autumn when leaf is either bursting or dying. One of the more enthralling sights of June is the bluebell wood north of Luss, or in May the azaleas and rhododendrons brightening cottage gardens, and in autumn dead bracken, sun-stricken on the hillsides and blazing like a Viking’s pyre. These woods of Loch Lomondside are becoming more highly prized as the work of the Forestry Commission, whose appetite for ground is insatiable, spreads a coniferous monotony across the face of Scotland, for broad-leaved trees and hardwoods are not a rewarding crop. That the banks of Loch Lomond have remained so long free from the forester’s axe and from impairment by tourist development appears well-nigh mira­culous. Their preservation has been due to the rule of enlightened landowners, principally the Colquhouns of Luss, who have sacrificed personal profit.

The librarian and mountaineer Ernest A. Baker(1869-1941), writing in the thirties recommended Glen Douglas, between Loch Lomond and Loch Long as a fine walk. George Eyre Todd explained in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs [n.d.] the connection which is sometimes made between Glen Douglas and King Arthur:

Geoffrey of Monmouth, the monkish chronicler who died in 1154, in his fantastic account of King Arthur, describes how that king pursued his enemies up Loch Lomond, besieged, and all but exterminated them on the islands, and overthrew an Irish army which came to their relief. The earlier historian, Nennius, from whom Geoffrey seems to have got his facts, merely states that Arthur fought certain of his battles in Glen Douglas, and this Glen Douglas is identified by Skene in his Celtic Scotland with the high pass which comes over from Loch Long, and descends at the little inn of Inverbeg between Luss and Tarbet.

In the sixtiesTom Buchan(1931-1995) drew attention to the Glen’s more terrible associations with nuclear warfare :

… the mountain behind him

was drilled with caves

each one crammed with nuclear hardware

and the sea loch over the mountain

lay easy with obsolescent new submarines.

Buchan was a poet who was also the part author of the revolutionary Great Northern Welly Boot Show [1972]. Glen Douglas climbs relatively gently from Loch Lomond before the road descends very precipitously indeed to Loch Long. There it joins the road from Helensburgh and makes an interesting route to Arrochar.

Between Luss and Tarbet on the banks of Loch Lomond is Firkin Point a low hill which best commands its upper and lower reaches. Boswell took General Paoli as far as this when he showed him Loch Lomond.”In point of picturesque beauty, Loch Lomond is probably surpassed by few lakes in Europe,” wrote ‘Christopher North’ in The Land of Burns:

“The highway suddenly ascends to the top of a lofty promontory denominated the Point of Firkin. Although the ascent is difficult, abrupt and tedious, the view from the summit amply repays the labour attending it. From this eminence the whole surface of the lake, diversified with its numerous islands is displayed to the eye.”

An ancient yew-tree beside the old military road which is situated above the A82 along Loch Lomond was for long pointed out as Robert the Bruce’s Tree. It served to mark a somewhat undignified episode in the great warrior’s career. After his defeat by the English at Methven in Perthshire he became a fugitive accompanied by a body of about 200 men. On reaching Craig Royston the King and his men were unable to find a boat but then found one, but one which would take only three at a time. The tree was their rallying point on the other side of the loch. It took a day and a night to ferry all the men. The poet John Barbour (c.1320-95) related all of this in the epic poem The Bruce. The medieval saga has been both transcribed and translated. One prose version was by George Eyre Todd, the local littérateur:

Tradition says he sheltered in the fastness there known as Rob Roy’s Cave. The enemy was behind, and the loch lay deep in front- No means of escape appeared till James of Douglas discovered “ane litil boat that wad but thresome flit”. In that little boat the king was ferried across, and all his host after him. While the passage was being made, Bruce entertained and heartened his men by reciting to them one of the romances which were the chief literature of that time.

Here is Barbour’s account:

The king efter that he wes gane

To Louch Lomond the way has tane

And come on the thrid day,

Bot tharabout na bait fand thai

That mycht thaim our the water ber.

Than war thai wa on gret maner

For it wes fer about to ga,

And thai war into dout alsua

To meyt thar fayis that spred war wyd.

Tharfor endlang the louchhis syd

Sa besyly thai socht and fast

Tyll James of Douglas at the last

Fand a litill sonkyn bate

And to the land it drew fut-hate,

Bot it sa litill wes that it

Mycht our the watter but a thresum flyt.

Thai send tharoff word to the king

That wes joyfull off that fynding

And fyrst into the bate is gane,

With him Douglas, the thrid wes ane

That rowyt thaim our deliverly

And set thaim on the land all dry,

And rowyt sa oftsys to and fra

Fechand ay our twa and twa

That in a nycht and in a day

Cummyn out-our the louch ar thai,

For sum off thaim couth swome full weill

And on his bak ber a fardele.

Swa with swymmyng and with rowyng

Thai brocht thaim our and all thar thing.

Not far south of Tarbet a splendid regency cottage, Stuckgowan, is exquisitely situated above the A82. In its architecture it is one of the finest houses in the National Park. In 1835 Nathaniel Parker Willis, the American poet, visited Scotland. He is a good, but sometimes acerbic guide:

“In the course of our ramble we walked through an open gate, and, ascending a gravel walk, found a beautiful cottage, built between two mountain streams, and ornamented with every device of taste and contrivance. The mild pure torrents were led over falls and brought to the thresholds of bowers; and seats and bridges and winding paths were distributed up the steep channels, in a way that might make it a haunt for Titania. It is the property, I found afterward, of a Scotch gentleman, and a great summer retreat of the celebrated Jeffrey, his friend. It was one more place to which my heart clung in parting.”

At the lochside close to Stuckgowan is Edendarroch, the subject of an extended paean of praise from Professor J.M.Blackie.

The name ‘Tarbet’ is found throughout the Highlands. It occurs where a low divide, forming a portage, separates two bodies of water, in this instance Loch Lomond and Loch Long. Viking raiders took advantage of this portage in 1263 to stage a raid on Loch Lomond from the sea. N. P. Willis, the American poet, St Fond, the French geologist, and others have waxed lyrical about Tarbet. Faujas dreams of returning there:

The superb Loch Lomond, the fine sunlight that gilded its waters, the silvery rocks that skirted its shores, the flowery and verdant mosses, the black oxen, the white sheep, the shepherds beneath the pines, the perfume of the tea poured into cups that had been given by kindness, and received with gratitude, will never be effaced from my memory, and make me cherish the desire not to die before again seeing Tarbet. I shall often dream of Tarbet . . .

Jeffrey, as already mentioned had a summer retreat at Stuckgowan. The old inn at Tarbet, at which various literary travellers sneered, was replaced in the C19 with a very grand hotel which now dominates the place. However, in his Reminiscences [1887], Thomas Carlyle, traversing the district in 1817 with friends, thought otherwise:

. . . to Tarbet , a most hospitable clean and welcome little country inn (now a huge “Hotel” I hear — worse luck to it, with its nasty “Hotel Company Limited”!)

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Literary Loch Lomond: 2. Drymen and Ben Lomond

 

Gartocharn and Kilmaronock

Cameron House is situated close to the village of Balloch and it is from there that travellers wishing to visit the eastern side of the loch leave the A82 and follow the A811 Gartocharn is a village on the way to Drymen, on the line of the old military road from Dumbarton to Stirling. Maurice Lindsay (1918-2009) once lived there. In By Yon Bonnie Banks [1961] he described the village just as electric light and piped water arrived there in the 1950s. First and foremost he was a poet, but he had a very varied range of interests, managing Border Television, and becoming the Director of the Scottish Civic Trust. His Burns Encylopedia [1959] is one of the most thorough; his Castles of Scotland was knowledgeable and affectionate, and he was always a secure guide to Scottish Literature. The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry [2005], for example, is one of the best collections of Scottish verse. He publicised his clansman, the dramatist and poet Sir David Lyndsay (c1490-1555) from Fife, when he was little known; in The Lowlands of Scotland [1953] Lindsay connects Lyndsay’s poem The History of Ane Noble and Valiant SquireMeldrum, umquhyle Laird of Cleish and Binns [1547] with his own parish. The poem describes the raising of a siege of Boturich Castle on behalf of the lady owner of it. Here Lindsay sets the scene:

 

The parish of Kilmaronock lies to the east of Balloch. On the shore of the loch, looking out over Inch Murrin, two famous houses stand [Boturich Castle and Ross Prioy]. Boturich Castle, once the seat of the Haldanes who fell heir to part of the Lennox lands, was reputedly the scene of one of Squire Meldrum’s adventures. Squire Meldrum was a gallant sixteenth-century warrior around whose undoubtedly real exploits and feats of arms were embroidered by Sr David Lyndsay of the Mount:

 And sa this Squire amorous

Seizit and wan the lady’s house

And left therein a Capitane

Syne to Strathern returnit again

 
 
 

 

Ben Lomond 1830 Drawn: John Fleming Engraved: Joseph Swan

Tom Weir (1914–2006), the mountaineer, naturalist and broadcaster, married the headmistress of the local school and from 1959 until his death lived in Gartocharn. He was best known as the author of a regular monthly column about his activities in the Scots Magazine: he traversed the length and breadth of country finding curiosities, and explaining traditions, always possessed with a keen eye for the natural landscape. The idea was later transformed into a series of television programmes. As prolific writer about the Scottish countryside he tried to climb the hill just south of the village of Gartocharn whenever he could. This prominent volcanic plug which commands a very fine view of the loch is called Duncryne; affectionately it is called locally, from its appearance, ‘the Dumpling’.

“Duncryne is to my mind the finest viewpoint of any small hill in Scotland and it is from here that I would like you to look at Loch Lomond.”

Further along this road is Auchenlarich, the house in Kilmaronock Parish where the Scottish litterateur and publicist for Scotland’s scenic assets, George Eyre-Todd (1862-1937) lived for much of his life.

Going in the opposite direction from Gartocharn one reaches Ross Priory, an ostentatious eighteenth century mansion on the edge of Loch Lomond; here Scott completed Rob Roy. He made his early acquaintance with the district as a young lawyer when he was engaged in an eviction, but he revisited the area frequently to see friends, including his fellow advocate Hector MacDonald Buchanan at Ross. He records that in August or September 1809 he visited Cambusmore and Ross Priory and, with Mr MacDonald Buchanan, explored the Isles of Loch Lomond, Arrochar and so on. It was as a result of this excursion that the Lady of the Lake came to fruition, and the trip no doubt contributed to Rob Roy. In 1817 he wrote to his patron ‘from Ross where the clouds on Ben Lomond are sleeping…’ The house is superbly situated in elegant policies at the lochside, sometimes open to the public.

A little further along the A811 is Kilmaronock Parish Church, where Tom Weir is buried. The parish at the foot of Loch Lomond derives its name from an ancient well about a quarter-mile west of the parish church, known as St Marnock’s Well. The guardian saint of the locality is St. Ronan, but he is sometimes confused with St Marnock. His name has also been altered to St. Maronock or Maronnon. He was put into Lady of the Lakeby Scott when Ellen Douglas rejects Roderick Dhu:

Sir Roderick should command

My blood, my life,— but not my hand

Rather will Ellen Douglas dwell

A votaress in Maronnan’s cell;

Wordsworth, his wife Mary and his sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson (1775-1835) traversed the parish at the end of July 1814. At the foot of Loch Lomond they ascended Mount Misery which, like the Dumpling, is a notable viewpoint. They visited the church, the manse and the ruins of Mains Castle, a tower house once owned by the Earl of Glencairn. They then went to Drymen where they went to church. It is from Sara Hutchinson’s Journal and Letters that so much is known about the trip.

 Drymen and Rowardennan

Beyond Kilmaronock is the rather charming Georgian Catter House, then Drymen Bridge. To the left a by road to a golf-course leads to Buchanan Castle. It was at the old house, burned down in 1852 that Scott showed Lady Louisa Stewart a part of Lady of the Lake in 1809. Drymen is a village above the Endrick at the foot of Loch Lomond where William Dixon Cocker, (1882-1970), described by Trevor Royle as an ‘unjustly forgotten figure of the Scottish Renaissance’, was partly brought up. He was Glasgow born, but his relations on his mother’s side were farmers who owned the adjacent farms of Drumbeg and Wester Drumquhastle just outside Drymen. Cocker much preferred them to Glasgow. Several of his poems were set locally. Here he praises the Endrick:

It dauners doon to auld Balfron,

But though it gangs at sober pace

It ettles yet anither race,

An’ rests a wee to gether strength

Until Gartness is reached at length;

There, whaur the mill mak’s merry clatter,

Doon to the Pot comes Endrick Watter.

(To see the saulmon loup there whiles

Folk come frae a’ the airts for miles.)

Then does the roarin’ river hasten

To tume its watters in the basin,

The deep dark pool that kens nae day,

Whaur kelpies lurked lang syne, they say;

Then oot it comes through yetts o’ stane,

An’ hastens on to greet the Blane,

Which, fed by mony a Campsie burnie,

Comes to jine Endrick on its journey.

An’ noo it glides by auld Drumquhastle,

An’ by Dalnair (as braw’s a castle),

An’ by Drumbeg, an’ by the Catter,

Whaur Drymen brig spans Endrick Watter.

The mansion o’ the gallant Grahams

It passes, an’ the humble hames

O’ cottar folk by brae an’ haugh.

It widens as it nears the loch,

An’ slower rins, as though ’twere fain

To tak’ the backward gait again.

But time and streams gang backwards never,

There’s nae respite for man or river.

We maun get forrit, aye maun trevel

Until we reach the appointed level.

There, we shall broaden oot at last,

To merge in the unfathom’d vast.

The dramatist James Bridie (188-1951) lived at the neighbouring Finnich Malise for some years. The Hired Lad [1993] by Ian Campbell Thompson describes rural life in Strathendrick in the years after the war.

Earlier, the minor poet, Hector MacNeill (1746-1818), the friend of Robert Graham of Gartmore, was, it is said, brought up on ‘Lochlomondside’ [DNB], probably somewhere in the vicinity of Drymen. However, Drymen Moor, has the greatest claim to C18 literary fame. Two highly distinguished English visitors, John Wilkes (1727-1797), the journalist and politician, and Charles Churchill(1732–1764), the poet, attempted to cross it on their ‘Highland Tour’, but the weather defeated them, and they retired to Buchanan House. Wilkes was Smollett’s neighbour in Chelsea, but the two fell out over the merits of Bute’s administration. Whether Wilkes and Churchill would now enjoy the sort of notoriety which Johnson and Boswell enjoy, for the anti-Scottishness of some of the Doctor’s remarks, we shall never know, because Wilkes’ papers were burnt However, their trip did give rise to Churchill’s Prophesy of Famine [1763], probably the most splenetic poem ever written about Scotland. It was a polemic against things Scottish in general and the Bute administration, for which Smollett was an advocate, in particular. The countryside described was inspired by Drymen Moor:

Far as the eye could reach, no tree was

  seen,

Earth, clad in russet, scorn’d the lively

  green.

No living thing, whate’er its food, feasts

  there,

But the Cameleon, who can feast on air.

No birds, except as birds of passage, flew

No bee was known to hum, no dove to coo.

Rebellion’s spring, which thro’ the country

  ran,

Furnished, with bitter draughts the steady

  clan.

Patrick Graham, the Minister of Aberfoyle, pointed out in his early guide that Churchill not only denigrated the district, but failed to acknowledge the considerable hospitality they received at Buchanan.

At the very northern edge of the parish of Drymen is Duchray Castle (near Aberfoyle)where Alexander Graham who wrote the account of it in MacFarlane’s Geographical Collections lived. His grandfather’s account of Glencairn’s Rising was edited by Scott.

Nearby, on the road to Killearn, is Gartness, a hamlet beside the Endrick where the famous mathematician Napier worked on logarithms. His kinswoman Priscilla Napier (1908-1998) wrote a realistic trilogy of semi-documentary novels about the district of which the second, A Difficult Country: The Napiers in Scotland [1972] describes Gartness during Napier’s time. At Gartness the river forms the renowned salmon-leap, the Pot of Gartness, the subject of a reflective poem by Maurice Lindsay.

“All the collided anger of wide rains

twisted from ragged slopes in channelled rills,

white with vexation, tumbles towards the plains.”

In the other direction the B837 leads from Drymen to the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. The loch is reached at Balmaha dominated by Conic Hill. Off Balmaha is Inchcailloch, one of the larger islands of Loch Lomond [Ferry from Balmaha]. It is the site of a nunnery and a graveyard of the Clan MacGregor; Rob Roy’s ancestors are buried there. It is said by some to resemble a reclining woman with folded arms, and it was the subject of one of Cunninghame Graham’s memorable Scottish Sketches. He chose a sharper image:

The Island of Nuns lies like a stranded whale on the waters, with its head pointing towards the red rocks of Balmaha.

Scott, in Lady of the Lake, makes the island the source of a Fiery Cross, although the yew is not characteristic of the island:

 

 A slender crosslet formed with care

A cubit’s length in measure due

The shafts and limbs were rods of yew

Whose parents in Inch Cailliach wave

Their shadows o’er Clan Alpine’s grave,

And, answering Lomond’s breezes deep,

Soothe many a chieftain’s endless sleep.

 

The by-road continues as far as Rowardennan, at the foot of Ben Lomond. Cars can go no further, but pedestrians may follow the West Highland Way (in either direction). It is from Rowardennan that most walkers ascend Ben Lomond. The following verse was supposedly inscribed on a window at the inn at Rowardennan, but, Thomas Garnett quotes a longer version of the same poem, dated Oct 3 1771, which he attributes to Thomas Russell, and states that it was scratched on a window pane at the inn at Tarbet:

Stranger! if o’er this pane of glass perchance

Thy roving eye should cast a casual glance,

If taste for grandeur and the dread sublime

Prompt thee Ben Lomond’s fearful height to climb,

Here gaze attentive, nor with scorn refuse

The friendly rhymings of a tavern muse. . . .

Trust not at first a quick advent’rous pace,

Six miles its top points gradual from the base;

Up the high rise with panting haste I passed,

And gained the long laborious steep at last.

More prudent you, when once you pass the deep,

With measured pace ascend the lengthened steep;

Oft stay thy steps, oft taste the cordial drop,

And rest, oh rest! long, long upon the top.

There hail the breezes; nor with toilsome haste

Down the rough slope thy precious vigour waste:

So shall thy wandering sight at once survey

Vales, lakes, woods, mountains, islands, rocks and sea. . . .

Ben Lomond dominates views of Loch Lomond, and commands stunning views of it. Early visitors, including literary visitors, regarded the ascent of the peak as a considerable achievement, and its terrors pre-occupied them.AsGeorge Abraham (1871-1965) observed in British Mountain Climbs [1909]:

It is decreed impossible to reach the top without the aid of a bottle of whisky, and the mountain had lost none of its prestige in this respect.

An early account of the hill occurs in Sir John Stoddart (1773-1856)Remarks on the Local Scenery and Manners of Scotland [1801]:

“The north side of Ben Lomond itself excites a degree of surprise arising almost to terror. This mighty mass, which hitherto had appeared to be an irregular cone, placed on a spreading base, suddenly presents itself as an imperfect crater, with one side forcibly torn off – leaving a stupendous precipice…”

One nineteenth century French literary visitor who succeeded in climbing to the top of Ben Lomond wasCharles Nodier (1780-1844) who set two novels in the district. His friend Amadée Pichot(1795-1877) followed him in pursuit of Scott, and wrote captions for a travel book, brilliantly illustrated by Francois Alexandre Pernot, Voyage historique et littéraire en Angleterre et en Écosse [1825].It includes a fine illustration of Ben Lomond.

Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) and Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847), who toasted his publisher on Ben Lomond, also climbed the hill, while William Hazlitt (1778-1830), the C19 critic, thought he did, but probably did not. The ascent had been popular since C18, Sarah Murray reporting that she met a traveller awaiting favourable conditions in Tarbet. The famous Glasgow poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) celebrated the hill in 1837:

Thy steadfast summit, heaven-allied

(Unlike life’s little span),

Looks down, a Mentor, on the pride

Of perishable man.

Other poets who have written about the hill includeP. G. Hamerton (1834-1894), the painter, who waxed topographical:

Bright from a spring half down the precipice

Issued the silver Forth, whose silver line

Followed a winding course…..

Walter Wingate(1865-1918) imitated one of Horace’s odes in a poem about the Ben in winter. Professor Blackie was explicit about going up Ben Lomond:

From Rowardennan we make a start

And scale the height with cunning art

and Samuel Rogers (see Ardentinny) celebrated the mountain as follows:

Blue was the loch, the clouds were gone,

Ben Lomond in his glory shone.

Thomas Garnett (see above) prints these lines scratched on a window- pane at Tarbet in his Observations:

His lofty summit in a veil of clouds

High o’er the rest displays superior state,

In proud pre-eminence sublimely great

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

Tobias Smollett

Renton, Alexandria and Balloch

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

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

While the warm blood bedews my veins,

And unimpair’d remembrance reigns,

Resentment of my country’s fate,

Within my filial breast shall beat.

And, spite of her insulting foe

My sympathising verse shall flow:

‘Mourn hapless Caledonia, mourn,

Thy banished peace, thy laurels torn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Halt Traveller!

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

Deserve like him and be alike rewarded.

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

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

No torrents stain thy limpid source;

No rocks impede thy dimpling course,

That sweetly warbles o’er its bed,

With white, round, polish’d pebbles spread

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

Fair Leven, in soft-flowing verse

Exults in Smollett’s name;

Nor fails triumphant to rehearse

The islands whence she came;

The woody islands, resounding cave

And rocks that Lomond’s hoary

billow laves

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

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

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

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

“Where cloth is printed, dyed and steamed

Bleached, tentered, in water streamed

Starched, mangled, calender’d and beamed

And folded very carefully…”

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

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

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

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

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

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