Posts tagged William Wordsworth

Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 15. Loch Katrine I

 

Inversnaid to the Trossachs

From Inversnaid retrace your steps to Stronachlachar. Pedestrians can follow the old military road. The next part of the journey can be made either by the ‘Sir Walter Scott’, or by cycle by the head of Loch Katrine to Trossachs Pier. Cars must return to Aberfoyle, and cross the Duke’s Pass to reach The Trossachs. Scottish Water  maintains the ‘Sir Walter Scott’ on Loch Katrine. In the mornings nowadays it plies between the Trossachs Pier and Stronachlachar, where it may be boarded for the return journey. Round trips from Stronachlachar involve an overnight stay! In the afternoons the vessel makes a round trip without calling at Stonachlachar. This remarkable steamship was built in 1900. It is coal fired; oil being regarded as pernicious by the Water Board. It is the oldest vessel of its kind afloat. The excursion is the best way for the motorist or the pedestrian to see the loch.

From Stronachlachar it is a short walk to Wordsworth’s Point. It follows the private road to Glen Gyle. Beyond the houses it circumvents a charming bay and reaches a promontary from which most of the upper part of the Loch can be seen. Across the loch there is a view of ‘Rob Roy’s Grave’ where Wordsworth, mistakenly, thought the outlaw was buried, and Glen Gyle, his birthplace. A longer walk leads by the head of the loch past the house to the graveyard and back. There are fine views of Glen Gyle dominated by Ben Ducteath; attractive waterfalls, if it has been wet; and of the upper part of Loch Katrine which is much more attractive than generally allowed. There is also fine circular walk from Stronachlachar following the old  road by the head of Loch Arklet with its dramatic views of the Arrochar Alps, to the head of Loch Chon. Thence a track, climbing into the corrie which Patrick Graham suggested was haunted by fairies, follows the aqueduct to Royal Cottage on Loch Katrine. A Water Board road leads back to Stronachlachar.

 

Stronachlachar

There has been a well-established landing point at Stronachlachar, stonemason’s point, on Loch Katrine, or thereabouts, for more than two hundred and fifty years. Many distinguished visitors have passed that way, and, as already referred to, cursed it for one reason and another. Like all places which enjoy something of a monopoly the incomer’s sense of exploitation is strong. The Hotel is now closed, used by the Regional Council and the Glasgow Corporation before them. A reading of the bye-laws is not recommended: it appears that one is allowed to be there, but one is prohibited from doing anything. Dumps of human excrement, for example, are expressly forbidden. The raising of the level of the loch means that the water is very deep, and the little island offshore, Rob Roy’s Prison (or the Factor’s Island or Eilean Dearg [Red Island]) which is seen close at hand, has a fortified look to prevent it from being washed away.

At Stronachlachar the hills on the opposite side of the loch are unimpressive, although a fine peak, Stob a Choin, the dog’s fang, is hidden behind them. The head of the loch is hidden too, but it is not a long walk to a headland from which Glen Gyle can be seen. Across the loch are Glengyle House, Rob Roy’s birthplace, and Portnellan, the first house which he occupied when he was married, and just below which is the graveyard which (erroneously) inspired Wordsworth’s poem,’Rob Roy’s Grave’. The site of the Ferryman’s Hut where the Wordsworth’s stayed is Coilachra, opposite Stronachlachar.

The head of Loch Katrine is Rob Roy MacGregor’s native place, and many writers give some account of him. The best biography is by W.H.Murray (1913-96) , the Scottish writer and mountaineer, who describes his life with historical authenticity, whereas most descriptions including, of course, Sir Walter Scott’s novel, owe much to the imagination. Murray’s description of the ‘Rob Roy Country’ is as follows:

The Trossachs for all its nearness to Glasgow remained for Lowlanders a mountainous backdrop, a foreign land where no English was spoken, to be approached by the venturesome only for business reasons – men like the factors from the fringing estates of Menteith, Atholl or Breadalbane, itinerant pedlars, tailors and cobblers, stocking makers, gypsies, iron smelters and their foresters officers on reconnaissance or soldiers on duty. And these knew only the main glens.

Glen Gyle, where Rob was born and bred was one of the least accessible valleys in all that country. The flanking hills rose to 2500 feet, but the Parlan Pass, just a thousand feet above his house gave a route of only five miles to Glen Falloch, where at Inverarnan was the night stance, or resting place, for cattle herds driven from Argull to the autumn tryst at Crieff. Smaller herds bound for the markets at Doune, Stirling, or Edinburgh and so by Loch Katrine’s head to Aberfoyle. Seasonal traffic thus passed through the glens which, although now deserted, were intensively cultivated.

W.H.Murray Rob Roy MacGregor 1982

Murray goes on to describe how the houses belonging to the two MacGregor families in the glen got their names – the black house (Tigh Dubh [The Dow or Dhu]), on the dark southern side of the loch with unmortared walls, and the white house (Tigh Geal [or Gyle]), where Rob Roy was born.

A notable description of the country, and of the activities of the MacGregors, in particular of Rob Roy’s nephew ‘Black Knee’ Macgregor of Glengyle who was the chief of the Sept, is given in the document already quoted from by Nichol Graham of Gartmore, An Inquiry into the Causes which facilitate the Rise and Progress of Rebellions and Insurrections in the Highlands of Scotland 1747:

The lands at the head of the Parish of Buchanan lying betwixt Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine, are, of all these in that country, the best adapted for concealments, and the most conveniently situated for bad purposes, and they had formerly been possessed by those of that clan. Thefts and depradations were pushed successfully in these places, with an intention, either to turn these lands waste, or oblige that lord the proprietor of them then, by a purchase from the family of Buchanan, to grant leases to those ancient possessors. The scheme purported answered: the sons of Rob Roy got one half of those lands in lease, and Glengyle, the nephew, the other. When these people got possession of these places so well fitted for their designs, they found they were able to carry matters still one point further; in order to which it was necessary that the thefts and depredations should be carried on incessantly through their whole neighbourhood. Things being thus prepared that this MacGregor of Glengyle should keep a Highland watch for protecting that country from these mischiefs, for supporting which he demanded £4 Scots out of each £100 Scots of valued rent. As they had now got possession of these high grounds in a legal way, from whence they could vex the whole neighbourhood, the thing was agreed and a formal blackmail contract entered into between MacGregor and a great many heritors, whose lands lay chiefly exposed to these depredations, and which enabled him, when the troubles of 1745 began, to raise about forty men for that service, with which this same man put the country upon the Water of Endrick, Dundas, Strathblane, and other places, undercontributions, and opened the first scene in that fatal tragedy, by surprising the Barracks of Inversaid, and part of General Campbell’s regiment, which was working at the Inverary roads.

Graham explains blackmail in the following amusing way, although, of course, it was not amusing at the time:

A person who had the greatest correspondence with the thieves was agreed upon to preserve the lands contracted for from thefts, for certain sums to be paid yearly out of these lands. Upon this fund he employed one half of the thieves to recover stolen cattle, and the other half of them to steal, in order to make this agreement and blackmail contract necessary.

Blackmail, a term which originated in this way, was so-called because of the black sheep involved. The ‘Black Watch’ gave the name to the famous regiment. When the Wordsworths stayed at Glen Gyle they were regaled with tales of the famous freebooter:

We mentioned Rob Roy, and the eyes of all glistened; even the lady of the house, who was very diffident, and no great talker, exclaimed, “He was a good man Rob Roy!” He had been dead only about eighty years, had lived in the next farm, which belonged to him, and there his bones were laid. He was a famous swordsman. Having an arm much longer than other men, he had a greater command with his sword. As proof of his length of arm they told us that he could garter his tartan stockings below his knee without stooping, and added about a dozen diffferent stories of single combats, which he had fought, all in perfect good humour, merely to prove his prowess. I daresay they had stories of this kind which would hardly have been exhausted in the long evenings of a whole December week, Rob Roy being as famous here as ever Robin Hood was in the Forest of Sherwood; he also robbed from the rich, giving to the poor and defending them from oppression. They tell of his confining the factor of the Duke of Montrose in one of the islands of Loch Kathrine, after having taken his money from him – the Duke’s rents – in open day while they were sitting at table. He was a formidable enemy of the Duke, but being a small laird against the greater, was overcome at last, and forced to resign all his lands on the braes of Loch Lomond, including the caves which we visited, on account of the money he had taken from the Duke and could not repay.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal  

Murray points out that the Wordsworths, and countless others since, were, in the tale about the way Rob tied his garters, victims of the Highland habit of gentle exaggeration of this kind as a figure of speech. It is amusing to contrast Coleridge’s account of their trip with Dorothy Wordsworth’s. He was out of sorts, and complains a good deal, but he was quite impressed with the head of Loch Katrine whereas Dorothy Wordsworth most decidedly was not:

A fine body of water in an elbow bend, but the mountains were all too dreary and not very impressive in their forms and combinations. There was wood on them but a total want of cultivated land and happy cottages. This first reach of the lake, perhaps two miles in length has four islands, sweet bays and island-like promontories, one shaped like a dolphin and another like a sea-lion.

S.T.Coleridge Notebooks

James Hogg had passed that way earlier in the same year (May 1803). He recalled another journey that he had made in 1791:

I had twelve years ago been sent on an errand to the house of Glengyle, to ask permission of MacGregor, the laird, to go through his land with a drove of sheep. he was then an old man, and seemed to me to be a very queer man; but his lady granted nmy request without hesitation, and seemed to me an active social woman. theefore I expected from the idea that I had formed of her character, to be very welcome there, and never knew, until I went to the house, that the laird was dead, and the lady and her family removed to the neighbourhood of Callander; while the farm and mansion-house were posessed by two farmers. When I called one of them came to the door. I asked the favour of a night’s lodging: but the important McFarlane made use of that decicive moment to ask me half a score of questions before he desired me to walk in. McAlpin, the other farmer, I found to be a very considerable man, both in abilities and influence, but the most warm and violent man in dispute.

Hogg goes on to relate how McAlpin had once refused to accommodate five Glasgow gentlemen.

There is nothing about Glengyle that admits of particular description. it is situated at the head of Loch Katrine and surrounded by black rocks. It was one of Rob Roy’s principal haunts, to whom Glengyle was related. McAlpin showed me the island in Loch Katrine where he confined the Duke of Montrose’s steward, ofter robbing him of his master’s rents and where he nearly famished him. The MacGregors have a burial place at Glengyle, surrounded by a high wall. On one of their monuments their coat of arms and motto are engraved.

James Hogg Highland Tours      

The Ettrick Shepherd set a ballad about the Macgregors in Glen Gyle. It begins as follows:

MacGregor, MacGregor, remember our foemen:
The moon rises high on the brow of Ben Lomond:
The clans are impatient, and chide thy delay:
Arise! let us bound to Glen Lyon away

James Hogg The Fate of MacGregor

The Wordsworths and Coleridge encountered the same cautious civility at Glengyle as had Hogg. What is surprising here is the way that both the Border Poet and the three ‘Lake Poets’, all four of them sassenachs, seemed to expect the Highlanders to throw open their houses to them without question. Wordsworth went up to the door:

He addressed himself to one who appeared like the master, and all drew near him, staring at William as nobody could have but out of sheer rudeness, except in such a lonely place. He told his tale, and inquired about boats; there were no boats and no lodging nearer than Callander, ten miles beyond the foot of the lake. A laugh was on every face when William said we were come to see the Trossachs; no doubt they thought we had better stayed in our own homes. William endeavoured to make it appear not so foolish, by informing them that it was a place much celebrated in England, though perhaps little thought of by them, and that we only differed from many of our countrymen in having come the wrong way in consequence of an erroneous direction.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal

In fact they were hospitably received by the McAlpins and the MacFarlanes and the Journal gives a substantial account of the condition of a house occupied by gentlemen-farmers in those days. They were misinformed about Rob Roy’s Grave here, as well as by the ferryman at Coilachra, Gregor MacGregor, to whom they were directed the following morning.
There is a substantial account of Glengyle in Alasdair Alpin MacGregor Wild Drumalbain, or the Road to Meggernie and Glencoe (1927). His kinsfolk lived there. The contemporary author John Barrington lived in Glen Gyle. He ws a mountain shepherd, and gives this account of Coilachra:

My duties begin at the east end of the Barn Park, just above the so-called Hanging Tree, a tall solitary Scots Pine which stands tall amongst the birch, hazel and alder. A prince among beggars. Next to the tree are the ruins of a small house where Dorothy and William Wordsworth, in company with their friend Sam Coleridge, embarked to cross Katrine’s clear water. The party spent the previous evening, in that summer of 1803, at Glengyle House and had been, of course, hospitably entertained. The three travellers were deeply impressed by their experiences and it was here that William found both his ‘Sweet Highland Girl’ and ‘Solitary Reaper’

John Barrington Red Sky at Night            

These two poems, which are often confused with one another, by others, because their subject matter seems as if it might be the same, are connected, respectively, with Inversnaid and Loch Voil.

Another, rather remote, literary connection with Rob Roy is provided by John Buchan (1875-1940) who makes Dickson McCunn, the hero of Huntingtower a descendant of a daughter of Bailie Nichol Jarvie and ‘like the Bailie he can count kin, should he wish with Rob Roy himself.’ In Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) takes Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour to Balquhidder where they encounter Robin Oig, ‘one of the sons of the notorious Rob Roy’

He was sought upon all sides on a charge of carrying a young woman from Balfron and marrying her (as was alleged) by force; yet he stepped about Balquidder like a gentleman in his own walled policy. It was he who had shot James Maclaren at the plough stilts, a quarrel never satisfied; yet he walked into the house of his blood enemies as a rider (commercial traveller) might into a public inn.

A highly passable latterday imitation of Stevenson is provided by Nigel Tranter (1909-2000) whose contemporary historical novels, set in Scotland, have a considerable following. Tranter’s major achievement is his updating of The Queen’s Scotland in which, single-handed, he gave us a thumb-nail sketch of our heritage, derivative of course, but deserving to rank alongside the Statistical Accounts as documents of their time. His MacGregor Trilogy (1957) is partly set in the Trossachs and features Rob Roy, his nephew Ghlun Dhu Macgregor and other local characters. There is much evocative scene-setting in the novels, as might be expected from an author whose familiarity with ground is matched by his ability to describe it. He describes a crossing on foot by Ghlun Dhu from Inversnaid to Glen Gyle:

Here was a very different valley from that of Inversnaid, a true glen, deep and narrow, between soaring rugged peaks, through which raced a sizeable river in rushes and falls and linked gleaming pools. It was a place of scattered open birch-woods and hazel- fringed water-meadows, of great outcropping rocks as big as house, and long sweeping grassy aprons scored by burnlets innumerable. Five miles it stretched, all seen clearly from up here, from the head of fair Loch Katrine at its foot, to where the thrusting shoulder of a mountain divided it neatly into two,upper corries that rose fully five hundred feet above its floor, where the twin headwaters were born. and the whole was dotted with croft-houses with their patches of tilth and their peat-stacks, and cattles grazed high on the hills. Down near the loch shore Gregor’s own house of Glengyle stood amidst amidst its sheltering trees, surrounded by its orchard, its herb garden, its steading and offices, its smiddy and its tannery and its duck-pond, like a hen amongst her brood.

Tranter goes on to describe Glen Gyle House:

Glen Gyle House was a much superior place to Rob Roy’s fairly recently built establishment at Inversnaid, three stories high, narrow, whitewashed, with a steep crow-step gabled roof, stone-slated not reed thatched, however much moss-grown. Moreover it has stair-tower attached, wherein was the handsome moulded doorway surmounted by a weather-worn heraldic stone panel, showing, even though dimly, the crossed tree and sword of his race – bearing suitably the crown on top of the sword – and the motto S’rioghal mo Dhream, ‘My Race is Royal.’

Nigel Tranter MacGregor’s Gathering 1957

Glen Gyle inspired a poem, Rob Roy’s Grave, which is well enough known, and has some memorable lines, but which illustrates what a hit and miss affair poetry is. On the first occasion that they visit Glengyle the Wordsworths and Coleridge are tired, and doubtful about whether they are going to get a night’s lodging. It was on a later occasion, that of their memorable walk from Glen Falloch to Glen Gyle, that Dorothy quotes Rob Roy’s Grave, although Wordsworth composed all his Scottish poems at a later date:

We passed the same farm-house we had such good reason to remember, and went up to the burying ground that stood so sweetly at the waterside. The ferryman had told us that Rob Roy’s grave was there, so we could not pass on without going to the spot. there were several tombstones, but the inscriptions were either worn out or unintelligible to us, and the place was choked up with nettles and brambles. You will remember the description I have given of the spot. I have nothing here to add, except the following poem which it suggested to William:

ROB ROY’S GRAVE

A famous man is Robin Hood,
The English ballad-singer’s joy,
And Scotland boasts of one as good,
She has her own Rob Roy!

Then clear the weeds from off his grave,
And let us chaunt a passing stave
In honour of that outlaw brave.

Heaven gave Rob Roy a daring heart
And wondrous length and strength of arm,
Nor craved he more to quell his foes,
Or keep his friends from harm.

Yet Robin was as wise as brave,
As wise in thought as bold in deed,
For in the principles of things
He sought his moral creed.

Said generous Rob, “What need of books?
Burn all the statues and their shelves:
they stir us up against our kind,
And worse against ourselves.

“We have a passion; make a law,
Too false to guide us or control:
And for the law itself we fight
In bitterness of soul.

“And puzzled, blinded thus, we lose
Distinctions that are plain and few:
These find I graven on my heart
That tells me what to do.

“The creatures see of flood and field,
And those that travel on the wind!
With them no strife can last; they live
In peace, and peace of mind.

“For why? Because the good old rule
Suffices them, the simple plan
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.”

Then clear the weeds from off his grave,
And let us chaunt a passing stave
In honour of that outlaw brave.

quoted in Dorothy Wordsworth Journal 1803

The Journal quotes the whole poem which goes on in the same vein for a further twenty stanzas. It reminds one, especially here in Glen Gyle, of J.K.Stephen’s somewhat pointed apostrophe to Wordsworth:

Two voices are there; one is of the deep
The other is of an old half-witted sheep

The space which it might have taken up by the whole of Wordsworth’s poem can be devoted to a finer poem by a lesser poet which appeared in a Book of Highland Verse in 1912:

LAMENT FOR ROB ROY

The setting sun will rise tomorrow
The earth will spring from Winter’s sorrow
The waining moon renewed is ever
But man from death returneth never

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

The breeze on the Ben is mourning and moaning,
The trees in the glen are grieving and groaning:
Oh sad runs the stream and rueful the river –
MacGregor is gone; for ever, for ever

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

Never more, by the shore, on the strath, or the mountain,
Will his call sweetly fall on the ears of Clan Alpine
Nor again in the glen will his eagle-plumes quiver –
The MacGregor is gone – to return, ah! never

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

Thro’ the heart of Ben Lomond the cumha is winging,
Thro’ Glen Gyle the weird wail of the banshee is ringing;
In the clouds with his fathers he’s dwelling forever –
The MacGregor is gone – to return never, never.

No more, no more, no more, no never
Returns unto us the brave MacGregor
Nor sword, nor gold, death’s bed can sever
MacGregor is gone: he’s gone forever

A.S.MacBride (1843-1923)

 

Sites Connected With Rob Roy in the National Park and Elsewhere

Inversnaid is the heart of the Rob Roy Country. Many writers allude to him, but it is often not clear whether it is the fictional character created by
Sir Walter Scott or the real person, or, sometimes, a legendary figure . Sites associated with Rob Roy in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are asterisked .

Aberuchill Castle – was never a McGregor-owned building, but for many years there was an oak tree by the main entrance known locally as “Rob Roy’s tree.” The story went that Rob Roy was on one occasion “detained” by Campbell of Aberuchill in a main room on the first floor. Rob noticed, however, that a sufficiently thick branch of the tree came close enough to the window for him to jump across and make good his escape. Legendary

Arnprior – Village; site of incident involving RR and Cunningham of Boquhan towhom RR yielded as the better swordsman. Historical [NS 6194]

*Auchinchisallen see Coirechaorach

*Bailie’s Rock – Cliff above the Loch Ard road (B829), also known as Echo Rock, where Scott set the incident in which Bailie Nichol Jarvie was suspended by his
braces during the skirmish between Helen MacGregor’s band, and Captain Thornton’s troops in ‘Rob Roy’ Fictional [NN 481 016]

*Bailie Nichol Jarvie Hotel – Hotel, built about 1850, in Aberfoyle near the Brig o’ Forth (i.e. some distance from the place where Scott placed Jean MacAlpine’s Inn) Fictional [NN 520 010]

*Bailie Nichol Jarvie’s Poker – Iron bar, supposed to be a coulter, attached to the old tree opposite the Hotel. Fictional

*Pass of Balmaha – Loch Lomond; one of several low passes leading into the Highlands, in this instance to Craig Royston Historical  [NS 418 910]

*Balquidder Kirk – The old kirk, in the grounds of the modern church, is the site of Rob Roy’s Grave Historical [NN 536 208]

*Bealach nam Bo – Pass, on Ben Venue above Loch Katrine; route by which RR might have taken stolen cattle Historical  [NN 480 075]

*Cambusmore – Country house, near Callander; Scott stayed there with J.M.Buchanan,while he was writing about the Trossachs; Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there. Literary [NN 642 062]

Carbeth Inn – Inn; a ‘halfway house’ between Glasgow and Aberfoyle on the Stockiemuir Road; part of present building dates from 1816, but Scott describes it in ‘Rob Roy’ as a ‘most miserable alehouse’; however, he praised the bar lunch which they had, ‘some broiled moor-game, a dish which gallantly eked out the ewe’s milk cheese, dried salmon, and oaten bread…’ Fictional [NS 525 780]

Chapelarroch – Site of ale house, on Kelty Burn, Gartmore; scene of kidnap of Graham of Killearn, the Duke of Montrose’s factor. [NS 517 958]

*Coirechaorach – Site of house (Auchinchisallen) in Glen Dochart occupied by RR after his eviction from Craig Royston by Montrose; he was under the protection of the Earl of Breadalbane there; referred to as ‘Rob Roy’s Castle’ on old
maps. Historical   [NN 4527]

*Corriearklet – Township, between Glen Gyle and Inversnaid, ancestral home of Helen MacGregor’s family; a gun belonging to RR used to be displayed there. Historical [NN 376 096]

*Comer – Farm, under Ben Lomond; birthplace of RR’s wife, Mary (called Helen by Scott) Historical [NN 387 040]

*Craig Royston – Estate, centred on Cailness, Loch Lomond; officially owned by RR Historical [NN 3406]

Doune – Village; scene of incident in which James Edmonstone threatened to break RR’s neck, and RR withdrew Historical [NN 7201]

*Echo Rock – an alternative name for the Bailie’s Rock (qv) Fictional

*Factor’s Island – Eilean Dearg [Red Island] in Loch Katrine, off Stronachlachar, where RR held Graham of Killearn, the Duke of Montrose’s factor (steward) captive in 1697 [?] Historical [NN 4010]

*Falls of Falloch – Waterfalls in Glen Falloch; the plunge pool is called ‘Rob Roy’s Bathtub’ and a small cleft above it ‘Rob Roy’s Soapdish’ Legendary [NN 338 207]

Fords of Frew – Fords, at Brig o’Frew; crossed the Forth near Kippen, forming the only realistic alternative to Stirling Bridge; used by drovers; used by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745; scene of escape by RR fictionalised by Scott. Historical [NS 667 961]

Garden – House at Arnprior; sometimes called Garden Castle; site of incident in 1710 when RR took possession while Stirling of Garden was away; he held their baby out of the window before they complied with his request for blackmail Historical
[NS 597 945]

*Glen Gyle – Farm, at Loch Katrine; RR’s birthplace. Historical [NN 386 135]

*Helen’s Rock – Cliff, above Loch Ard where Helen MacGregor forced the spy, Dougal, into the loch to drown. Fictional [NN 484 014]

*Inchcailleach – Island in Loch Lomond; graveyard of the Clan MacGregor; RR’sancestors are buried there. Historical [NS 4090]

*Inallian Ford – Ford, hard under Doon Hill, Aberfoyle; where Scott set RR’s escape, based on a historical incident which took place at the Fords of Frew. Fictional [NN 537 004]

This scene is situated but a short distance from Aberfoyle, and is admirably suited for such an adventurous escape as Rob Roy is described to have achieved in the passage of the river. Both above and below the shallower passage which is used as a ford, the river winds in deep eddies under steep banks of clay, which the water has scooped into many obscure hollows, oveshaded by a thick tangling of uderwood, so as to be quite safe from the approach of cavalry.
James Skene (1775-1864)

*Inverlochlarig – Farm; site of RR’s last house where he died in 1734. Historical [NN 438 181]

*Inversnaid – Township, above Falls at Loch Lomond; part of Craig Royston Estate(qv); owned by RR, then the site of the Garrison built to contain the Macgregors after the 1715; stormed by RR’s clansmen in 1745 Historical [NN 348 096]

*Jean MacApine’s Inn – Former ale-house, now in ruins, at Milton-of-Aberfoyle, where Scott set the “Fray at the Clachan” a skirmish between a party of sassenachs and some highlanders in ‘Rob Roy’. Fictional [NN 502 014]

Kippen – Village; scene of ‘The Hership (Raid) of Kippen in 1691. Historical [NS 6594]

*Falls of Ledard – Waterfalls at Lochard; where Helen MacGregor made her alfresco farewell to Bailie Nichol Jarvie and Frank Osbaldistone in ‘Rob Roy’. Fictional [NN 460 026]

*MacGregor’s Leap – Name, used between the wars, for a waterfall at Aberfoyle; now called the Waterfall of the Little Fawn Legendary [NN 521 020]

*Monachyle Tuarach – Farm; occupied by RR as a young man, later possessed by RR’s nephew; where he took refuge after escaping from Duke of Atholl Historical [NN 476 190]

*Portnellan – Farm, at head of Loch Katrine, near Glen Gyle; the farm RR occupied after he was married. Historical [NN 402 123]

Queens View, Auchineden – Viewpoint; so-named from Queen Alexandra; almost certainly the viewpoint Scott had in mind for Frank Osbaldistone’s first view of the Highlands in ‘Rob Roy’ Fictional [NS 510 808]

The only exercise which my imagination received was, when some particular turn of the road gave us a partial view, to the left, of a large assemblage of dark-blue mountains stretching to the north and north west, which promised to include within their recesses, a country as wild perhaps, but certainly differing greatly in point of interest, from that which we now travelled.

*”Rob Roy” – Former steamer on Loch Katrine; the MacGregor’s motto ‘S’rioghail mo dhream’ [royal is my clan] was carved round the wheel. Succeeded in 1900 by the “Sir Walter Scott”, the present vessel.

*Rob Roy’s Bath Tub see Falls of Falloch

*’Rob Roy’s Burying Place’ – Graveyard on the shores of Loch Katrine mistakenly supposed by Wordsworth to be RR’s grave. Legendary [NN 4012]

*Rob Roy’s Castle see Coirechaorach

*Rob Roy’s Cave (1) – Rocks (sheltering beds) on Loch Lomond above Inversnaid on the West Highland Way; supposed hiding place of RR. Legendary [NN 332 100]

*Rob Roy’s Cave (2) – Rocks (sheltering beds) on Loch Ard, opposite Echo rock(qv); supposed hiding place of RR. Legendary [NN 480 014]
*Rob Roy’s Cave (3) – Cave on the Tulloch Burn behind a waterfall which commands a fine view of Loch Voil supposedly used as a hiding place by RR. Legendary [NN 516 213]

Rob Roy’s Grave see Balquhidder Kirk

Rob Roy’s Hole – Deep pothole on the Machar Burn in Campsie Hills Legendary [NS 5484]

Rob Roy’s House(1) see Portnellan

Rob Roy’s House(2) see Coirechaorach

Rob Roy’s House(3) – Site in Glen Shira where RR built a house under the protection of the Duke of Argyle Historical [NN 150 169]

Rob Roy’s House(4) see Inverlochlarig

*Rob Roy’s House (5) – house in Glendhu associated with Rob Roy (exact location uncertain) [NN 403 035]

*Rob Roy’s Leap – Spot on the Kelty, near Keltie Bridge [NS 534 963], where RR is said to have leapt 22′ (6.7 metres) Legendary

*Rob Roy Motel – Aberfoyle; first such in Scotland; a kitch monument to the folk hero [NN 531 002]

*Rob Roy’s Prison (1) see Factor’s Island

*Rob Roy’s Prison (2) – Cliff near Rowcoish, Loch Lomond where RR held the Sheriff Substitute of Dumbarton, Graham of Killearn, and other prisoners for
ransom; seen from A82 Historical [NS 3402]

Rob Roy’s Putting Stone (1) – Erratic boulder between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy Legendary [NN 3332]

*Rob Roy’s Putting Stone (2) – Erratic boulder at the head of the Kirkton Glen,
Balquhidder. Legendary [NN 5124]

Rob Roy’s Soapdish see Falls of Falloch

*Rob Roy’s Spring – Spring in the Duke’s Pass, under Craig Vadh; Cunningham Graham asserted that the true spring was nearer the Quarries. Legendary [NN 516 034]

Rob Roy’s Statue – Statue by Benno Schotz, Queen’s Sculptor in Ordinary; erected in 1975 in Stirling under the Castle crag. [NS 794 933]

*Rob Roy’s Stepping Stones – Crossing place on the Duchary at Duchary Castle, accessible from Loch Ard Forest Legendary [NS 478 999]

Rob Roy’s Tree – Tree, situated at Strathblane, otherwise called the Muckle Oak, or the ‘Meikle Tree’ was at the side of the
road at Blairquhosh near the distillery. It is now a stump.  Sometimes known as Rob Roy’s tree Legendary [NS 5282]

*Rob Roy Tryst – Exhibition centre and shop at Kingshouse, Balquhidder [NN 565 203]

*Rob Roy Visitor Centre – Tourist Board interpretive centre, in Callander, opened in 1990. [NN 628 079]

*Rob Roy’s Well – Spring, near Loch Chon Legendary [NN 431 043]

*Ross Priory – Country House at the foot of Loch Lomond; here Scott completed ‘Rob Roy’ in 1817 Literary [NS 412 876]

Sheriffmuir – Battlefield; site, above Dunblane, of an indecisive battle in the
1715 Jacobite Rising, in which RR took part. Historical [NN 8303]

Before leaving Stronachlachar a visit should be paid to Royal Cottage, Culligart which was deemed to be the most suitable place for drawing the water from Loch Katrine into the aqueduct which takes it to Glasgow. The construction involved in the Glasgow Corporation Waterworks Scheme was the occasion for a good deal of ceremony. The scheme was begun with a ceremony on the ridge between Loch Katrine and Loch Chon in May, 1856, and, remarkably enough, finished in 1859.

Royal Cottage, Loch Katrine

Royal Cottage, Loch Katrine

 

The scheme was declared open by the Queen and the Prince Consort, who arrived via Callander, in October of that year. Details were given in the local papers of the various routes by which dignatories would arrive at the remote spot chosen for the opening. One of these routes was, of course, from Stirling via Aberfoyle and Loch Ard. ‘Royal Cottage’ was refurbished for the occasion, and to look at it, one might suppose that the party were to stay for at least a week. In fact they had lunch there. The weather was appalling with thick mist and heavy rain. There was a predictably pompous address from the bailies of Glasgow, and the Queen responded in a simpler fashion, saying, in effect, that she was pleased to be associated with any scheme to reduce the number of her subjects who were unwashed. The proceedings concluded with, as the Stirling Journal put it, ‘a long prayer’ from the local minister. It was not until 1869 that Queen Victoria saw Loch Katrine under favourable conditions.

The engineer, J.F.Bateman (1810-1889), gave, at a banquet given in his honour, an eloquent account of the works which, at the time, were the most considerable of their kind in the world. It is still well worth walking the first part of the ‘Pipe Track Road’ in order to see the achievements of these Victorian engineers who built fine stone aqueducts in the heart of an inhospitable countryside:

It is impossible to convey to those who have not personnally inspected it, an impression of the intricacy of the wild and beautiful district through which the aqueduct passes for the first ten or eleven miles after leaving Loch Katrine. After finding the narrowest point at which the ridge between Loch Katrine and Loch Chon could be pierced, the country consists of successive ridges of the most obdurate rock, separated by deep wild valleys, in which it was very difficult, in the first instsance to find a way. There were no roads, no houses, no building materials – nothing which would ordinarily be considered essential to the successful completion of sa great engineering work for the conveyance of water; but it was consideration of the geological character of the material which gave all the romantic wildness to the district at once determined me to adopt that mode of construction which has been so successfully carried out. For the first ten miles the rock consists of mica schist and clay slate – close, retentive material into which no water percolates, and in which, in consequence, few springs are to be found. This rock when quarried was unfit for building purposes: there was no stone of a suitable description to be had at any reasonable cost or distance, no lime for mortar, no clay for puddle, and no roads to convey the material. Ordinary surface water construction was therefore out of the question; but I saw that if tunnelling were boldly resorted to, there would be no difficulty, beyond the cost and time required in blasting the rocks, in making a perfectly watertight and all-enduring aqueduct; there would be no water to hamper and delay us in the shafts and tunnels, and little would require transporting to the country but gunpowder and drill iron. This course was therefore determined upon, and my expectations have been realised to the very letter. The aqueduct may be considered as one continuous tunnel. as long as the work continued in the primary geological measures, we had no water; and even after it entered old red sandstone, and where it subsequently passed through trap rock, there was much less than I expected; so that our progress at no part of the work was very materially interfered with by those incidents which usually render mining operations costly and uncertain.

The scheme was expanded by raising the level of Loch Katrine, by providing a second pipeline, and by including Loch Arklet in the scheme between 1885 and 1914, and after the Second World War, by including Glen Finglas. What is remarkable is that, in spite of the changes, which involved the submerging of ‘the Silver Strand’, for example, the landscape which attracted the Wordsworths and Scott has been preserved rather than spoiled, and continues to attract people from all over the world. The ‘all-enduring’ nature of the project can be confirmed; the impressive aqueducts in the Loch Ard forest appear to be as sound today as they must have seemed to the self-confident Victorian engineers.

 

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

The Lake Poets in Scotland

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

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

Itinerary [1801]: Wordsworth

Visited Hamilton and Glasgow; probably visited Loch Lomond

Itinerary [1803]: Wordsworth with Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Itinerary [1822]: Dorothy Wordsworth and Joanna Hutchinson:

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

Itinerary [1831]: Wordsworth with Dora Wordsworth:

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

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

Charles Wordsworth Annals of My Early Life

They proceeded to Bonawe, Oban, and Mull

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

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

Loch Katrine

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                         

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                   

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

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

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

S.T. Coleridge Letters September, 1803

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                                          

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

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

James Reed Sir Walter Scott: Landscape and Locality 1980

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

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

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

Dorothy Wordsworth Journal                                

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

STEPPING WESTWARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilfred Taylor Scot Free 1953

 

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 6. Upper Loch Lomond and Glen Falloch.

 

Upper Loch Lomond

At first the A82 from Tarbet to Crianlarich clings very closely to the shore of the upper loch; then it climbs Genfalloch. At one point the road is so narrow that only one-way traffic is permitted. There are several sights: Inveruglas is the site of one of the first major hydro electric power stations in Scotland; just to the north of it is a fine viewpoint, and further on one of the first concrete railway viaducts. Opposite are The Falls of Inversnaid and Rob Roy’s cave (dealt with in more detail elsewhere). The hotel at Inversnaid runs a ferry from Inveruglas for hotel guests . Nichol Graham writing in 1747 described the country seen on the other side of the loch:

“The lands in the head of the parish of Buchanan lying between Loch Lomond and Loch Katerin are, of all these in that country, the best adapted for concealments and the most conveniently situate for bad purposes. Theft and depredations were pushed successfully in these places with an intention, either to turn these lands waste, or oblige that lord; the proprietor of them then, by a purchase from the family of Buchanan, to grant leases to those ancient possessors. The scheme purported answered the sons of Rob Roy got one half of those lands in lease, and Glengyle the nephew, the other half. When these people got possession of these places so well fitted for their designs, they found they were able to carry matters one point further; in order to which, it was necessary that thefts and depredations should be carried on incessantly through their whole neighbourhood. As they had now got possession of these high grounds in a legal way, from whence they could vex the whole neighbourhood, the thing was agreed, and a formal blackmail contract entered into betwixt MacGregor and a great many heritors, whose lands lay chiefly exposed to these depredations, and which enabled him, when the troubles of 174 5 began to raise about forty men for that service, and opened the first scene in that fatal tragedy, by surprising the barracks of Inversnaid, and that part of General Campbell’s regiment which was working at the Inveraray roads.”

Edwin Way Teale(1899-1980), the distinguished American naturalist, wrote a classic travel book Springtime in Britain [1970] in which he described an extended tour of Britain. He catches the atmosphere of the upper loch as follows:

Wherever we stopped, somewhere within sight a foaming cataract traced its descending thread or narrow ribbon, chalk-white or shining silver according to the shade or sun, down the steep plunge to the opposite shore. By the time we turned away towards Inveraray – not far from the place where Wordsworth stood while ‘The Solitary Reaper’ sang her plaintive song perhaps .. . for old, unhappy, far-off things, and battles long ago we had counted 25 waterfalls.

The first site with significant literary connections is Clach nan Tairbh, literally the Bull Stone, but long known as Pulpit Rock. It is an erratic boulder of considerable size between Tarbet and Ardlui. Legend has it that two bulls fought a battle on the slopes of Ben Vorlich and disturbed the rock which came thundering down the hillside. A hollow in the rock, which used to be fronted by a wooden platform, was used by local ministers in place of a church. The site impressed the Wordsworths, and was apostrophised by Blackie. It was after visiting Pulpit Rock that Wordsworth was inspired to write two poems about the hermit who inhabited Eilean a Vow — Eilean Bho, the isle of cows, close to Pulpit Rock. Introducing the first poem of 1814 he has a swipe at Burns:

IN this tour, my wife and her sister Sara were my companions. The account of the “Brownie’s Cell” and the Brownies was given me by a man we met with on the banks of Loch Lomond, a little above Tarbert, and in front of a huge mass of rock, by the side of which, we were told, preachings were often held in the open air. The place is quite a solitude, and the surrounding scenery very striking. How much is it to be regretted that, instead of writing such Poems as the “Holy Fair” and others, in which the religious observances of his country are treated with so much levity, and too often with indecency, Burns had not employed his genius in describing religion under the serious and affecting aspects it must so frequently take.

The poem is elaborately titled:

Suggested by a beautiful ruin upon one of the Islands of Loch Lomond . A place chosen for the retreat of a solitary individual from whom this habitation acquired the name of The Brownie’s Cell

It was probably composed in 1814, but it was not published until 1820. It describes both the island and the hermit:

All, all were dispossessed, save him whose smile

Shot lightning through this lonely Isle!

No right had he but what he made

To this small spot, his leafy shade;

But the ground lay within that ring

To which he only dared to cling;

Renouncing here, as worse than dead,

The craven few who bowed the head

Beneath the change; who heard a claim

How loud! yet lived in peace with shame.

 

In 1831 Wordsworth returned to the district and heard that the hermit had died. He penned a lament, The Brownie, introducing it as follows:


Upon a small island, not far from the head of Loch Lomond, are some remains of an ancient building, which was for several years the abode of a solitary Individual, one of the last survivors of the clan of Macfarlane, once powerful in that neighbourhood. Passing along the shore opposite this island in the year 1814, the Author learned these particulars, and that this person then living there had acquired the appellation of “The Brownie.” See “The Brownie’s Cell,” to which the following is a sequel.

How disappeared he? Ask the newt and toad;

Ask of his fellow men and they will tell

How he was found, cold as an icicle,

Under an arch of that forlorn abode

The river Falloch tumbles down an attractive defile at the head of Loch Lomond, which is traversed by both the West Highland Way and the road [A82] to Crianlaraich. Mountain, Moor and Loch [1895] describes the entrance:

Inverarnan, which lies on the bank of the Falloch, consists of only a few houses and the old hotel, which, during the construction of the [railway] line, was turned into houses, the principal [house] being a residence for the engineers engaged  The steamers on Loch Lomond used to come up to Inverarnan, before the pier at Ardlui was built, and the hotel was the old posting establishment. Beside it can be seen the little artificial basin where the vessels lay. From Inverarnan coaches used to run all the way to Fort William, Oban, and Ballachulish.

 

The inn at Inverarnan was for long the focal point for the winter meet of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. One of its members was the distinguished writer about the Scottish countryside Campbell Steven (1911-2002). In 1971 in Enjoying Scotland he recalled:

… those halcyon days of the past when Inverarnan Hotel was  open all year round, with that reputation for hospitality which was to become almost legendary in the world of climbers and skiers

 

The Glenfalloch estate became the property of Colin Campbell of Glen Orchy in the reign of James IV and the lower part of the glen is densely wooded. The trees were probably planted by Colin’s son, Black Duncan of the Cowl, who was one of the first highland lairds to pay attention to the improvement of his estates. For a time Lucy Walford, the novelist, lived in Glenfalloch House, and John Stuart Blackie, among others, called on her there. Walford’s account of Inverarnan and Glen Falloch in her Recollections is instructive:

At the upper end of Loch Lomond steamers are able to penetrate a short way inland, as the river Falloch broadens into a sort of canal before losing itself in the waters of the lake; and the little saloon steamers thread their way up this as far as Inverarnan, where they come to an anchorage at a rustic pier beneath a huge, wide-spreading elm. When we saw the steam arising from this secluded spot (which we could do from the windows of Glenfalloch House), we knew the boat was there, and ten minutes’ walk would take us to it.

Half-way was the boundary between Dumbartonshire and Argyllshire, with a turnpike-gate on the edge of either county. Thus there were two turnpikes within a hundred yards of each other – a queer state of things, which has since passed away.

There being no West Highland Railway at the period, coaches from the north were the only means of conveying tourists and other passengers from Dalmally and Tyndrum to Loch Lomond, Loch Katrine, and the far-famed Pass of the Trossachs; so that every afternoon coaches came in rapid succession, galloping, rocking, and swaying, down the glen.

 

There were dangerous corners to be turned; but of course the bulk of the coach-load did not know this, and were innocently happy as they spun past, though we, who soon grew familiar with every inch of the road, were well pleased when they disappeared among the trees on the plain below.

 

Many other writers, of whom Dorothy Wordsworth is perhaps the most famous, have celebrated Glen Falloch. She gives a memorable account of her walk from the head of Loch Lomond to Glen Gyle at the head of Loch Katrine, with her brother, William:

The most easy rising, for a short way at first, was near a naked rivulet which made a fine cascade in one place. Afterwards the ascent was very laborious being frequently almost perpendicular. Higher up we sat down and heard, as if from the heart of the earth, the sound of torrents ascending out of the long hollow glen. To the eye all was motionless, a perfect stillness. The noise of waters did not appear to come from any particular quarter; it was everywhere, almost, one might say, as if ‘exhaled’ through the whole surface of the green earth. Glen Falloch, Coleridge has since told me, signifies the hidden vale; but William says that if we were to name it from our recollections of that time we should call it the Vale of Awful Sound.

 

Dorothy Wordsworth calls Glen Falloch ‘the Vale of Awful Sound’, because of its waterfalls. At the Falls of Falloch the plunge pool is named ‘Rob Roy’s Bathtub’, and a small cleft above it is called ‘Rob Roy’s Soapdish’. The falls impressed Coleridge as he walked north towards Glen Coe and Fort William after parting with the Wordsworths. . They can be reached from a car park on the right of the road going north.

It was at the Falls of Falloch that W.H. Murray nearly lost his life. He tells the story in Mountaineering in Scotland (1962):

On our way home we visited the Falls of Falloch, which were in full spate and a sight worth seeing. Above the topmost fall was a long narrow gorge through which the congested waters dashed foaming to leap with a thunderous roar into a rock cauldron. At one point the gorge was narrow enough to challenge one’s sporting instinct. Was a leap possible? We measured it up. It would have to be a standing jump from spray-drenched rock….

One by one we jumped safely. The gut was narrower than it looked. We had been too impressed with the fury of the water. Thus I was just a trifle less careful in making the return jump; my foot slipped off the wet rock and down I went into the gorge.

 

He was swept over the falls and found it impossible to escape from the whirlpool at their foot. Nearing exhaustion he was finally carried out of the cauldron by an undercurrent. Murray is also one of the best biographers of Rob Roy, and writes well about district as a whole.

Sidney Tremayne (1890-1963), the Ayrshire poet who was a feature writer for the Sun and the Daily Mirror, echoes Wordsworth in his poem The Falls of Falloch‘:

This white explosion of water plunges down

With the deep-voiced rush of sound that shakes a city.

A fine cold smoke drifts across dripping stone

And wet black walls of rock shut in the scene.

 

Now thought hangs sheer on a precipice of beauty

Lifting with leaping water out from the rock.

A gasp of time, flung clear in a weight of falling,

Bursts like a bud above the deep pool’s black

Parted and curled back under by the shock

Where light’s bright spark dives to the dark’s controlling.

 

But the brilliance is not extinguished. The heart leaps up,

The heart of the fall leaps up, an eternal explosion,

Force without spending, form without fetter of shape.

And at the pool’s edge wavelets scarcely lap

Where drifted spume clings with a soft adhesion.

 

Beyond the waterfall, above the road on the left is Clach na Briton, so called because it marks the northernmost boundary of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde. Mountain, Moor and Loch [1895] relates a tale associated with it:

. . . an interesting object presents itself — a boulder of peculiar formation, standing on a gentle eminence on the west side ot the stream. This is the Clach-na-Brton, or, as it is generally called, the ” Mortar Stone,” its shape being exactly like that piece of artillery standing in position. It was here that Robert the Bruce paused to reconnoitre, in his flight after his defeat by the M’Dougals of Lorn, in Strathfillan, otherwise known as the Battle of Dairy — or, to write more correctly, Dail Righ, “the King’s Field.”

 

After climbing through Glen Falloch the road levels off, reaching a plateau which, was, in the words of John Thomas (1914-1982), the distinguished railway historian, and author of The West Highland Railway [1965]‘to become known to generations of West Highland footplatemen as ‘the fireman’s rest’.  After a gentle descent, the village of Crianlarich is reached.

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Literary Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: 5. Into Argyll

 

Arrochar and Glencroe

At Tarbet the A83 leaves Loch Lomond and heads into Argyll proper. Until recently places like Helensburgh, Luss and Arrochar were in Dumbartonshire rather than Argyll, but there is no disputing that, beyond the head of Loch Long, you are in Argyll. The road between Tarbet and Arrochar is not much more than two miles long. Viking raiders took advantage of this portage in 1263 to stage a raid on Loch Lomond from the sea. The crossing, in either direction, is a pleasing one. Visitors evince surprise at the similarities and contrasts which there are between the two lochs. In Written in the Highlands of Scotland Sep 1, 1812 Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), travelling from fresh water to salt expressed his feelings as follows:

Tarbet! thy shore I climbed at last,

And through thy shady region passed,

Upon another shore I stood

And looked upon another flood:

Old Ocean’s self! (’tis he who fills

That vast and awful depth of hills).

 Rogers was, in his day, a highly regarded poet, who visited Scotland on several occasions. In 1803 his visit coincided with that of the Wordsworths. Jeffrey praised his work. Rogers, like other authors relied  on publishers. However, when his  poems did not sell well he produced a lavish edition of them himself, and persuaded Turner to illustrate it.
Loch Lomond 1832 Watercolour for Roger's Poems

Loch Lomond 1832 Illustration for Rogers’ Poems. Drawn: J.M.W.Turner Engraved William Miller

The praise which Robert Southey offers for the inn at Arrochar is praise indeed, since his opinions about other Highland inns was generally unfavourable:

“The country here is well cultivated, well wooded and very beautiful. A line of mountains is on the opposite shore, and behind them Ben Lomond rises in great majesty, Loch Lomond lying, unseen by us, between two ridges. The road turns leftward up the shore of the saltwater loch, and rounds the head: not far from the head stands the Arrochar Inn, more beautifully placed than any inn I have seen in Scotland or elsewhere – a large good house with fine trees about it, not a stone’s throw from the shore, and with the high summit of the grotesque mountain abominably called the Cobbler, opposite and in full view.”

‘The Cobbler’ is a rich joke. Travellers, bred on hills like Grasmere’s Helm Crag with its ‘lion and lamb’, have long supposed they can see a cobbler, his last, and even his wife. It is probably a corruption of the Gaelic for a sensible name for it, ‘forked peak’. However, John Stoddart pointed out:

“This terrific rock forms the bare summit of a huge mountain, and its nodding top so far overhangs its base as to assume the appearance of a cobbler sitting at his work, from when country people call it an greasaiche cróm, the crooked shoemaker.”

The famous ben at the head of Loch Long is, alternatively, and evocatively, called Ben Arthur. One of the sons of Aeden Mac Gabhran, a king of the Scots of Dalriada was called ‘Artur’, and it is sometimes argued that he formed a basis for the legendary monarch.

Coleridge, writing to his wife in September 1803, related how he went ‘ to Arrochar, on purpose to see the Cobbler, which had impressed me so much in Mr Wilkinson’s drawings…’ It was Wilkinson’s Tour which in part persuaded him and the Wordsworths to visit Scotland.

Writing from Arrochar, Burns probably had the Cobbler in mind when he referred to his sojourn in ‘a land of savage hills, swept by savage rains, peopled by savage sheep, tended by savage people.’ However, Turner, and others, thought it sublime.

Neil Munro made Arrochar one of two possible birthplaces of the skipper of the Vital Spark, and the setting for the famous story Mudges, giving the place a reputation of another sort.

Beyond Arrochar the character of the country changes. This is partly due to the fact that Loch Long is a sea loch, but it is also a result of the absence of deciduous trees. The Forestry Commission have excelled themselves in Cowal, where they have planted innumerable conifers. Elsewhere, in contrast to Loch Lomond, are apparently bare hillsides. The road turns into Glen Croe, and, nowadays, climbs steadily across the breast of a hill; the old military road sticks to the valley floor before scrambling in a series of dizzy hairpin bends to the summit. The hills to the south of the road have a splendid name: Argyll’s Bowling Green. In Scotland [1982] Tom Weir offers an explanation:

Argyll’s Bowling Green! How did such a piece of knobbly country, rugged even by Wester Ross standards, get such an undescriptive name?

It was nothing to do with some early duke’s sense of humour, merely the corruption of a Gaelic name Buaile na Greine, which means the sunny cattle fold, a place where the dukes and duchesses used to rest their horses on Loch Longside after crossing from Lochgoilhead.

It was their route to their castle of Rosneath. In 1735 the map maker Carington Bowles applied the name to the whole peninsula, except that he showed it as Argyll’s “Bowling Green.”

And rough as that peninsula is, it was much traversed by cattle drovers coming from Loch Fyne by Hell’s Glen to skirt Loch Goil, cross the ridge to Loch Long, and ferry their cattle across to Portincaple.

In The New RoadNeil Munro states ‘There is not a finer glen in Albyn than Glen Croe.’ Nowadays the traffic still appears to be reduced to insignificance by the mountains, but the spirit of the place has changed. It is not so wild and desolate as when Munro was thinking of it, or when Wordsworth climbed to the Rest and Be Thankful in late August 1803. The weather had brightened as they ascended the Rest, and Dorothy Wordsworth reported that ‘afternoon and evening the sky was in an extraordinary degree vivid and beautiful’ They got to the head of the pass:

At the top of the hill we came to a seat with the well-known inscription “Rest and be thankful” On the same stone it was recorded that the road had been made by Col. Wade’s regiment. The seat is placed so as to command a full view of the valley, and the long, long, road, which, with the fact recorded, and the exhortation, makes it an affecting resting-place.

It is unlikely that the seat, now gone, referred to Wade, since it was built by his successor, Caulfeild. William reflected on the pass in a sonnet Rest and Be Thankful of which the first four lines are:

Doubling and doubling with laborious walk,

Who, that has gained at length the wished-for Height,

This brief this simple wayside Call can slight,

And rests not thankful?

   The answer to this memorable poetic question might have turned out to be John Keats, who thought he was coming to an inn, and was very disappointed when he traversed this famous pass in 1818 :

We were up at 4 this morning and have walked to breakfast 15 Miles through two tremendous Glens – at the end of the first there is a place called rest and be thankful which we took for an Inn – it was nothing but a stone and so we were cheated into 5 more Miles to Breakfast

Southey compared Glencroe with Glencoe:

“The road too is in itself much finer, descending from the immediate summit down a much  steeper inclination; and with such volutions that a line drawn from the top would intersect several times in a short distance. In mountainous countries a fine road is a grand and beautiful work, and never so striking as when it winds thus steeply and skilfully. There has been some improvement of the old military line at this place.” [1819]

The naturalist and traveller, Thomas Pennant, crossing the Rest southbound in 1769 had nothing more to say of it than: “Ascend a very high pass with a little lough on the top of it” but Samuel Johnson called it:

a bleak and dreary region, now made easily passable by a military road, which rises from either end of the glen by an acclivity not dangerously steep, but sufficiently laborious. In the middle, at the top of the hill, is a seat with the inscription “Rest, and be thankful.” Stones were placed to mark the distance, which the inhabitants have taken away, resolved, they said, to have no new miles.

In 1784 a French scientist,Barthélemy Faujas de St Fond, travelled to Scotland, attracted by its remarkable geology. His route took him up Lochlomondside, which delighted him, and then into Glencroe:

I soon found a contrast to the delightful scenes we left. They were succeeded by deserts and dismal heaths. We entered a narrow pass between two chains of high mountains, which appear to have, at a very remote period, formed only one ridge, but which some terrible revolution has torn asunder throughout its length.

This defile is so narrow, and the mountains are so high and steep, that the rays of the sun can scarcely reach the place and be seen for the space of an hour in the twenty-four.  For more than ten miles, which is the length of this pass, there is neither house nor cottage, nor living creature except a few fishes in a small lake, about half way.

In 1796 Sarah Murray, the widow of Captain William Murray, RN, made an extensive tour in Scotland and wrote A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland:

 

The carriage road…turns to the right, up one of the most formidable as well as most gloomy passes in the Highlands, amongst such black, bare, craggy, tremendous mountains, as must shake the nerves of every timorous person, particularly if it be a rainy day. And when is there a day in the year free from rain in Glen Croe? and on the hill called “Rest-and-be-Thankful?” no day; no not one!

Lord Cockburn, returning from administering justice in Inveraray, wrote:

The day was perfect for that glorious stage from Cairndow to Tarbet. Few things are more magnificent than the rise from Cairndow to Rest-and-be-Thankful. The top of it, where the rocky mountain rises above the little solitary Loch Restil, and all the adjoining peaks are brought into view, is singularly fine. As I stood at the height of the road and gazed down on its strange course both ways, I could not help rejoicing that there was at least one place where railways, and canals, and steamers, and all these devices for sinking hills and, raising valleys, and introducing man and levels, and destroying solitude and nature, would for ever be set at defiance.

From the Rest and Be Thankful a lesser road descends to Lochgoilhead.Sara Jane Lippincott[pseud: Grace Greenwood](1823-1904), an American poet, biographer, and author of children’s books, was best known by her pseudonym. InHaps and Mishaps of a Tour in Europe(1854) she describes Loch Goil:

It was not until we had passed from Loch Long into Loch Goil that the true Highland scenery began to open upon us in its surpassing loveliness and naked grandeur. The shores of Loch Goil are rough, barren, and precipitous, but now and then we passed green-sheltered nooks and dark glens of indescribable beauty. I grew more and more silent and unconscious of my immediate surroundings, for my very soul seemed to have gone from me, to revel abroad in the wide, varied, enchanting scene.

The coachman who took visitors through Hell’s Glen gave Sara Jane the impression that Lochgoilhead was the scene of Thomas Campbell’s poem Lord Ullin’s Daughter. The poem is properly associated with Mull, but it is easy enough to see how confusion may have arisen. Campbell’s second verse is as follows:

Now, who be ye, would cross Lochgyle,

This dark and stormy weather?”

“O, I’m the chief of Ulva’s isle,

And this, Lord Ullin’s daughter.—“

In Gaelic Lochgyle is Loch Goill, the forked loch. Mountain Moor and Loch [1895], the handsome guide produced to mark the opening of the West Highland Railway, offers an explanation for the mistake:

Whether this is the scene described in the ballad of “Lord Ullin’s Daughter” is open to question, as that “dark and stormy water” lies a long way off, west of Mull, with “Ulva’s Isle” adjoining, though, strictly speaking, the name is Loch-na-Keal and not Loch Goil; and our Loch Goil may well be the point intended by the poet, because three days from the mainland opposite Mull, would bring “her father’s men” to it.

Another Campbell poem sometimes attributed in guide books to Carrick Castle on Loch Goil is Lines on Visiting a Scene in Argyllshire , but it is almost certainly about Kirnan, near Kilmichael Glassary, where Campbell’s family came from.

Bill [W. H.] Murray (1913–1996) lived near Carrick Castle for many years . One of the best, and one of the most affectionate, books about the West Highlands is his Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland [1968]. His mountaineering books, about both the Himalayas and the Highlands are entertaining and authoritative. He was also a novelist, and his biography of Rob Roy is important. In his Companion Guide he maintained that Loch Goil, ‘the only truly mountainous fiord of Argyll’ is the most beautiful sea loch of Cowal or the Clyde Coast.

 

Strachur and Ardentinny

From Lochgoilhead it is worthwhile travelling through Hell’s Glen [B839] to join the A815. Strachur is a small resort where there is a Smiddy Museum. Strachur House was in recent years the residence of the writer of one of the most distinctive books about the Second World War, Eastern Approaches [1949] by Sir Fitzroy Maclean (1911-1996), partly about his work with the Partisans in Yugoslavia. A diplomat, then an MP and a Minister, he is also the author of various serious, and other popular historical works.

From Strachur the A815 crosses to Loch Eck. From Whistlefield a lesser road [signposted Ardentinny] leads to Glen Finart.

Glen Finart was the country residence of George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore (1762-1836). It is situated near Ardentinny in Cowal, and was visited by Samuel Rogers in both 1803 and 1812 (when he encountered a grampus in the loch). Rogers wrote a poem [1812],  reminiscent of Wordsworth. He refers to Fingal’s Falls, near the head of the glen:

Oft shall my weary mind recall

Amid the hum and stir of men,

Thy beechen grove and waterfall,

Thy ferry with its gliding sail,

And Her – the Lady of the Glen.

In his Journal there is a letter to his sister describing the house affectionately, and shedding light on life in Cowal in the C19:

The house is very small and neat, in a narrow rocky glen running up among steep mountains, with its small river, and a beautiful beech grove between it and the lake. A ferry is within sight of the windows; and while we sit at dinner, we see the little boat passing and repassing continually. At the ferry house is kept also a packet-boat, which twice a week sails to Greenock with passengers, and takes and brings back our letters, and brings back grapes and peaches from the gardens at Dunmore….

This is a reference, of course, to the products of the most spectacular conservatory in Scotland, the ‘Pineapple’, erected by the Dunmores in 1761 at Airth near Stirling. Rogers asks ‘What would Fingal and his family have thought of this?’, and tells how an old laird living on Loch Eck who dined once a year with the Dunmores loved their ‘apples with stones’. He goes on to describe the walks he took to the point [Shepherd’s Point] above the ferry from which there was (and is) a stunning view up Loch Long:

. . . sublime, mountain behind mountain receding one behind another, on each side of the lake, till the vista terminates in a point, and these clad in the softest and richest colours that mist and sunshine can give them. Indeed, I think in its way it surpasses everything of the kind we ever saw together.

Turner’s illustrations for Roger’s Poems included one of Loch Long.

Ardentinny is a small holiday resort in Cowal held in high esteem by generations of Glasgow holidaymakers. No small part of its reputation is due to one of Robert Tannahill’s best-known lyrics:

Far lone amang the Highland hills,

‘Mid Nature’s wildest grandeur,­

By rocky dens and woody glens,

With weary steps I wander.

The langsome way, the darksome day 

The mountain mist sae rainy,

Are nought to me when gaun to thee

Sweet lass o’ Aranteenie.

As with some of Tannahill’s other topographical lyrics the evidence that there ever was such a lass in his life is uncertain.

Blairmore was the residence, after his retirement, of John Joy Bell (1871-1934), the journalist and author of the Glasgow equivalent of ‘Just William’, Wee Macgreegor. One of Bell’s between-the-wars travel books about the west coast, Scotland’s Rainbow West was very popular indeed between the wars. 

From Blairmore visitors returning to Loch Lomond will probably find it most convenient to continue via Kilmun to the Dunoon road [A815], and thence by the Younger Botanic Garden to Loch Eck and Strachur.

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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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