Ben Lomond And The Highland Lakes.
( Originally Published 1889 )
The steamboat Londonderry called the next day at Port Rush, and we left in her for Greenock. We ran down the Irish Coast, past Dunluce Castle and the Causeway, the Giant's organ was very plainly visible, and the winds were strong enough to have sounded a storm-song upon it. Farther on we had a distant view of Carrick-a-Rede, a precipitous rock, separated by a yawning chasm from the shore, frequented by the catchers of sea-birds. A narrow swinging bridge, which is only passable in calm weather, crosses this chasm, 200 feet above the water.
The deck of the steamer was crowded with Irish, and certainly gave no very favorable impression of the condition of the peasantry of Ireland. On many of their countenances there was scarcely a mark of intelligence-they w ere a most brutalized and degraded company of beings. Many of them were In a beastly state of intoxication, which, from the contents of some of their pockets, was not likely to decrease. As evening drew on, two or three began singing and the others collected in groups around them. One of them who sang with great spirit, was loudly applauded, and poured forth song after song, of the most rude and unrefined character.
We took a deck passage for three shillings, in preference to paying twenty for the cabin, and having secured a vacant place near the chimney, kept it during the whole passage. The waves were as rough in the Channel as I ever saw them in the Atlantic, and our boat was tossed about like a plaything. By keeping still we escaped sickness, but we could not avoid the sight of the miserable beings who filled the deck. Many of them spoke in the Irish tongue, and our German friend (the student whom I have. already mentioned) noticed in many of the words a resemblance to his mother tongue. I procured a bowl of soup from the steward, but as I was not able to eat it, I gave it to an old man whose hungry look and wistful eyes convinced me it would not be lost on him. He swallowed it with ravenous avidity, together with a crust of bread, which was all I had to give him, and seemed for the time as happy and cheerful as if all his earthly wants were satisfied.
We passed by the foot of Goat Fell, a lofty mountain on the island of Arran, and sped on through the darkness past the hills of Bute, till we entered the Clyde. We arrived at Greenock at one o'clock at night, and walking at random through its silent streets, met a policeman, whom we asked to show us where we might find lodgings. He took my cousin and myself to the house of a poor widow, who had a spare bed which she let to strangers, and then conducted our comrade and the German to another lodging-place.
An Irish strolling musician, who was on board the Dumbarton boat, commenced playing soon after we left Greenock, and, to my surprise, struck at once into "Hail Columbia." Then he gave "the Exile of Erin," with the most touching sweetness; and I noticed that always after playing any air that was desired of him, he would invariably return to the sad lament, which I never heard executed with more feeling. It might have been the mild, soft air of the morn-mg, or some peculiar mood of mind that influenced me, but I have been far less affected by music which would be considered immeasurably superior to his, I had been thinking of America, and going up to the old man, I quietly bade him play " Home." It thrilled with a painful deli ht - that almost brought tears to my eyes. My companion started as the sweet melody arose, and turned towards me, his face kindling with emotion.
Dumbarton Rock rose higher and higher as we went up the Clyde, and before we arrived at the town I hailed the dim outline of Ben Lomond, rising far off among the highlands. The town is at the head of a small inlet, a short distance from the rock, which was once surrounded by water. We went immediately to the Castle.; The rock is nearly 500 feet high, and from its position and great strength as a fortress, has been called the Gibraltar of Scotland. The top is surrounded with battlements, and the armory and barracks stand in a cleft between the two peaks. We passed down a green lane, around the rock, and entered the castle on the south side. A soldier conducted us through a narrow cleft, overhung with crags, to the summit. Here, from the remains of a round building, called Wallace's Tower, from its having been used as a look-out station by that chieftain, we had a beautiful view of the whole of Leven Vale to Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond and the Highlands, and on the other hand, the Clyde and the Isle of Bute. In the soft and still balminess of the morning, it was a lovely picture. In the armory, I lifted the sword of Wallace, a two-handed weapon, five feet in length. We were also shown a Lochaber battle-axe, from Bannockburn, and several ancient claymores.
We lingered long upon the summit before we forsook the stern fortress for the sweet vale spread out before us. It was indeed a glorious walk, from Dumbarton to Loch Lomond, through this enchanting valley. The air was mild and clear; a few light clouds occasionally crossing the sun, checkered the hills with sun and shade. I have as yet seen nothing that in pastoral beauty, can compare with its glassy winding stream, its mossy old woods, and guard ing hills-and the ivy-grown, castellated towers embosomed in its forests, or standing on the banks of the Leven-the purest of rivers. At a little village called Renton, is a monument to Smollett, but the inhabitants seem to neglect his memory, as one of the tablets on the pedestal is-broken and half fallen away. Further up the vale a farmer showed us an old mansion in the midst of a group of trees on the bank of the Leven, which he said belonged to Smollett-or Roderick Random, as he called him. Two or three, old pear trees were still standing where the garden had formerly been, under which he was accustomed to play in his childhood.
At the head. of Leven Vale, we set off in the steamer Water Witch" over the crystal waters of Loch Lomond, passing Inch Murrin, the deer-park of the Duke of Montrose, and Inch Caillach,
-"where gray pines wave
Under the clear sky and golden light of the declining sun, we entered the Highlands, and heard on every side names we had learned long ago in the days of Scott. Here were Glen Fruin and Bannochar, Ross Dhu and the pass of Beal-mana. Further still, we passed Rob Roy's rock, where the lake is locked in by lofty mountains. The cone-like peak of Ben Lomond' rises fan above on the right, Ben Voirlich stands in front, and the jagged crest of Ben Arthur looks over the shoulders of the western hills. A Scotchman on board pointed out to us the remarkable places, and related many interesting legends. Above Inversnaid, where there is a beautiful waterfall,' leaping over the rock and glancing out from the overhanging birches, we passed McFarland's Island, concerning the origin of which name, he gave a history. A nephew of one of the old Earls of Lennox, the ruins of whose castle we saw on Inch Murrill, having murdered his uncle's cook in a quarrel, was obliged to flee for his life. Returning after many years, he built a castle upon this island, which was always after named, on account of his exile, Far-land. On a precipitous point above Inversnaid, are two caves in the rock ; one near the water is called Rob Roy's, though the guides generally call it Bruce's also, to avoid trouble, as the real Bruce's Cave is high up the hill. It is so called, because Bruce hid there one night, from the pursuit of his enemies. It is related that a mountain goat, who used this probably for a sleeping place, entered, trod on his mantle, and aroused him. Thinking his enemies were upon him, he sprang up, and saw the silly animal before him. In token of gratitude for this agreeable surprise, when he became king, a law was passed, declaring goats free throughout all Scotland-unpunishable for whatever trespass they might commit, and the legend further says, that not having been repealed, it continues in force at the present day.
On the opposite shore of the lake is a large rock, called "Bull's Rock,"-having a door in the side, with a stairway cut through the interior to a pulpit on the top, from which the pastor at Arroquhar preaches a monthly discourse. The Gaelic legend of the rock is, that it once stood near the summit of the mountain above, and was very nearly balanced on the edge of a precipice. Two wild bulls, fighting violently, dashed with great force against the rock, which, being thrown from its balance, was tumbled down the side of the mountain, till it reached its present position. The Scot was speaking with great bitterness of the betrayal of Wallace, when I asked him if it was still considered an insult to turn a loaf of bread bottom upwards in the presence of a Monteith. Indeed it is, sir," said he, ' I have often done it myself."
Until last May, travellers were taken no higher up the lake than Rob Rot's Cave, but another boat having commenced running, they can now go beyond Loch Lomond, two miles up Glen Falloch, to the Inn of Inverarnan, thereby visiting some of the finest scenery in that part of the Highlands. It was ludicrous, however, to see the steamboat on a river scarcely wider than herself, in a little 'valley, hemmed in completely with lofty mountains. She went on, however, pushing aside the thickets which lined both banks, and I almost began to think she was going to take the shore for it, when we came to a place widened out for her to be turned around in; here we jumped ashore in a green meadow, on which the cool mist was beginning to descend.
When we arose in the morning, at 4 o'clock, to return with the boat, the sun was already shining upon the westward hills, scarcely a cloud was in the sky, and the air was pure and cool. To our great delight Ben Lomond was unshrouded, and we were told that a more favorable day for the ascent had not occurred for two months. We left the boat at Rowardennan, an inn at the southern base of Ben Lomond. After break-fasting on Loch Lomond trout, I stole out to the shore whilemy companions were preparing for the ascent, and made a hasty sketch of the lake.
We purposed descending on the northern side and crossing the Highlands to Loch Katrine; though it was represented as difficult and dangerous by the guide who wished to accompany us, we determined to run the risk of being enveloped in a cloud on the summit, and so set out alone, the path appearing plain before us. We had no difficulty in following it up the lesser heights, around the base, It wound on, over rock and bog, among the heather and broom with which the mountain is covered, sometimes running up a steep acclivity, and then winding zigzag round a rocky ascent. The rains two days before, had made the bogs damp and muddy, but with this exception, we had little trouble for some time. Ben Lomond is a doubly formed mountain. For about three-fourths of the way- there is a continued ascent, when it is suddenly terminated by a large barren plain, from one end of which the summit shoots up abruptly, forming at the north side, a precipice 500 feet high. As we approached the summit of the first part of the mountain, the way became very steep and toilsome ; but the prospect, which had before been only on the south side, began to open on the east, and we saw suddenly spread out 'below us, the vale of Menteith, with "far Loch Ard and Aberfoil " in the centre, and the huge front of Benvenue filling up the picture. Taking courage from this, we hurried on. The heather had become stunted and dwarfish, and the ground was covered with short brown grass. The mountain sheep, which we saw looking at us from the rock above, had worn so many paths along the side, that we could not tell which to take, but pushed on in the direction of the summit, till thinking it must be near at hand, we found a mile and a half of plain before us, with the top of Ben Lomond at the farther end. The plain was full of wet moss, crossed in all directions by deep ravines or gullies worn in it by the mountain rains, and the wind swept across with a tempest-like force.
I met, near the base, a young gentleman from Edinburgh, who had left Rowardennan before us, and we commenced ascending together. It was hard work, but neither liked to stop, so we climbed up to the first resting place, and found the path leading along the brink of the precipice. We soon attained the summit, and climbing up a little mound of earth and stones, I saw the half of Scotland at a glance. The clouds hung just above the mountain tops, which rose all around like the waves of a mighty sea. On every side-near and far-stood their misty summits, but Ben Lomond was the monarch of them all. Loch Lomond lay unrolled under my feet like a beautiful map, and just opposite, Loch Long thrust its head from between the feet of the crowded hills, to catch a glimpse of the giant. We could see from Ben Nevis to Ayr-from Edinburgh to Staffa Stirling and Edinburgh Castles would have been visible, but that the clouds hung, low in the valley of the Forth and hid them from our sight.
The view from Ben Lomond is nearly twice as extensive as that from Catskill, being uninterrupted on every side, but it wants the glorious forest scenery, clear, blue sky, and active, rejoicing character of the latter. We stayed about two hours upon, the summit, taking refuge behind the cairn, when the wind blew strong. I found the smallest of flowers under a rock, and brought it away as a memento. In the middle of the precipice there is a narrow ravine or rather cleft in the rock, to the bottom, from whence the mountain slopes regularly but steeply down to the valley. At the bottom we stopped to awake the echoes, which were repeated four times ; our German companion sang the Hunter's Chorus, which resounded magnificently through this Highland hall. We drank from the river Forth, which starts from a spring at the foot of the rock, and then commenced descending. This was also toilsome enough. The mountain was quite wet and covered with loose stones, which, dislodged by our feet, went rattling down the side, oftentimes to the danger of the foremost ones; and when we had run or rather slid down the three miles, to the bottom, our knees trembled so as 'scarcely to support us.
Here, at a cottage on the farm of Coman, we procured some oat cakes and milk for dinner, from an old Scotch woman, who pointed out the direction of Lock Katrine, six' miles distant there was no road, nor indeed a solitary dwelling between. The hills were bare of trees, covered with scraggy bushes and rough heath, which in some places was so thick we could scarcely drag our feet through. Added to this, the ground was covered with a kind of moss that retained the moisture like a sponge, so that our boots ere long became thoroughly soaked. Several considerable streams were rushing down the side, and many of the wild breed of black Highland cattle were grazing around. After climbing up and down one or two heights, occasionally startling the moor-cock and ptarmigan from their heathery coverts, we saw the valley of Loch Con ; while in the middle of the plain. on the top of the mountain we had ascended, was a sheet of water which we took to be Loch Ackill. Two or three wild fowl swimming on its surface were the only living things in sight. The peaks around shut it out from all view of the world ; a single decayed tree leaned over it from a mossy rock, which gave the whole scene an air of the most desolate wildness. I forget the name of the lake; but we learned afterwards that the Highlanders consider it the abode of the fairies, or "men of peace," and that it is still superstitiously shunned by them after nightfall.
From the next mountain we saw Loch Ackill and Loch Katrine below, but a wet and weary descent had yet to be made. I was about throwing off my knapsack on a rock, to take a sketch of Loch Katrine, which appeared very beautiful from this point, when we discerned a cavalcade of ponies winding along the path from Inversnaid, to the head of the lake, and hastened down to take the boat when they should arrive. Our haste turned out to be unnecessary, however, for they had to wait for their luggage, which was long in coming. Two boatmen then offered to take us for two shillings and sixpence each, with the privilege of stopping at Ellen's Isle; the regular fare being two shillings. We got in, when, after exchanging a few words in Gaelic, one of them called to the travellers, of whom there were a number, to come and take passage at two shillings-then at one and sixpence, and finally concluded by requesting them all to step on board the shilling boat! At length, having secured nine at this reduced price, we pushed off; one of the passengers took the helm, and the boat glided merrily over the clear water.
It appears there is some opposition among the boatmen this summer, which is all the better for travellers. They are a bold race, and still preserve many of the characteristics of the clan from which they sprung. One of ours, who had a chieftain-like look, was a MacGregor, related to Rob Roy. The fourth descendant in a direct line, now inhabits the Rob Roy mansion, at Glengyle, a valley at the head of the lake. A small steamboat was put upon Loch Katrine a short time ago, but the boatmen, jealous of this new invasion of their privilege, one night towed her out to the middle of the lake and there sunk her.
Near the point of Brianchoil is a very small island with a few trees upon it, of which the boatman related a story that was new to me. He said an eccentric individual, many years ago, built his house upon it-but it was soon beaten down by the winds and waves. Having built it up with like fortune several times, he at last desisted, saying, "bought wisdom was the best;; since when it has been called the Island of Wisdom. On the shore below, the boatman showed us his cottage. The whole family were out at the door to witness our progress; he hoisted a flag, and when we came opposite, they exchanged shouts in Gaelic. As our men resumed their oars again, we assisted in giving three cheers, which made the echoes of Benvenue ring again. Some one observed his dog, looking after us from a projecting rock, when he called out to him, " Go home, you brute ! " We asked why he did not speak Gaelic also to the dog.
"Very few dogs, indeed," said he, "understand Gaelic, but they all understand English. And we therefore all use English when speaking to oar dogs; indeed, I know some persons, who know nothing of English, that speak it to their dogs !
They then sang, in a rude manner, a Gaelic song. The only word I could distinguish was Inch Caillach, the burying place of Clan Alpine. They told us it was the answer of a Highland girl to a foreign lord, who wished to make her his bride. Perhaps, like the American Indian, she would not leave the graves of her fathers. As we draw near the eastern end of the lake, the scenery became far more beautiful. The Trosachs opened before us. Ben Ledi looked down over the "forehead bare" of Ben An, and, as w e turned a rocky point, Ellen's Isle rose up in front. It is a beautiful little turquoise in the silver setting of Loch Katrine. The northern side alone is accessible, all the others being rocky and perpendicular, and thickly grown with trees. We rounded the island to the little bay, bordered by the silver strand, above which is the rock from which Fitz-James wound his horn, and shot under an ancient oak which flung its long grey arms over the water ; we here found a flight of rocky steps, leading to the top, where stood the bower erected by Lady Willoughby D'Eresby, to correspond with Scott's description. Two or three blackened beams are all th at remain of it, having been burned down some years ago, by the carelessness of a traveller.
The mountains stand all around, like giants, to "sentinel this enchanted land." On leaving the island, we saw the Goblin's Cave, in the side of Benvenue, called by the Gaels, "Coirnan-Lriskin." Near it is Beal-nam-bo, the pass of cattle, overhung with grey weeping birch trees.
Here the boatmen stopped to let us hear the fine echo, and the names of "Rob Roy," and "Roderick Dhu," were sent back to us apparently as loud as they were given. The description of Scott is wonderfully exact, though the forest that feathered o'er the sides of Benvenue, has since been, cut down and sold by the Duke of Montrose. When we reached the end of the lake it commenced raining, and we hastened on through the pass of Beal-an-Duine, scarcely taking time to glance at the scenery, till Loch Achray appeared through the trees, and on its banks the ivy-grown front of the inn of Ardcheancrochan, with its unpronounceable name,