James Johnson.

The recess, or Autumnal relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands; being the home circuit versus foreign travel, a serio-comic tour to the Hebrides online

. (page 7 of 28)
Online LibraryJames JohnsonThe recess, or Autumnal relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands; being the home circuit versus foreign travel, a serio-comic tour to the Hebrides → online text (page 7 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

globe, by the magic pencil of Sir Walter Scott the TROSACHS.

I was not disappointed on visiting the Trosachs (though very many
are so, if they dared avow their real sentiments) because I knew that the
poet had been there, and that it is the duty of the bard to EMBELLISH.
But it is not the duty of the tourist to exaggerate the beauties of nature ;
and I venture to say that those who do so, injure rather than profit the
objects of their inordinate praise. Let us look with the eye of reason,
rather than through the optics of the poet. Loch Katrine and Loch
Achray were evidently one lake before the Trosachs came into existence.
On each side of this lake stood a high mountain Ben-An and Ben-
Venue. During some convulsion of nature, or from the undermining
operations of time, these two mountains hurled from their shoulders
prodigious masses of rock that rolled into the water beneath filled
up its deep bottom divided the lake into two portions ; and formed a
gigantic breakwater, or bridge of communication, from mountain to
mountain, whose buttresses rise, in some places, five hundred feet into
the air, and whose deep ravines or crevices give exit to the redundant
waters of Loch Katrine, and form paths for man and animals con-
stituting, in short, the " bristled territory" of the Trosachs.

" Crags, knolls, and mounds confusedly hurl'd,
The fragments of an earlier world."

Whether viewed from the road which is formed through their centre,
or from the adjacent mountains, the Trosachs present a very picturesque
and romantic chaos of rocks conglomerated together, and covered, in


many places, >\ith a great variety of trees, underwood, shrubs, heaths,
and flowers. The oak, the ivy, the Alpine pine, the mountain ash, the
weeping birch, and the dark -brown heather, have here associated for
twenty or thirty centuries perhaps much longer diffusing their shade
and their fragrance over sterile rocks and frightful precipices, in silence
and in solitude save the murmuring of unseen rills, winding their way
to the river or the lake below. The view from the summit of Ben-
Venue is the best and it is really " fearful and dizzy" to cast one's
eyes down to the lake and to the Trosachs :

" Where twined tlie path, in shadow hid,
Round many a rocky pyramid,
Shooting abruptly from the dell
Ils thunder-splintei-'d pinnacle ;
Round many an insulated mass,
The native bulwarks of the pass,
Huge as the tower which builders vain
Presumptuous piled on Shinar's plain.
The rocky summits, split and rent,
Form'd turret, dome, or battlement,
Or seem'd fantastically set
With cupola or minaret,
Wild crests as pagod ever deck'd,
Or mosque of eastern architect."

The tourist, while winding his way through the Trosachs, will look
in vain for the cupola, pagoda, or minaret ; though, from Ben- An or
Ben-Venue, the picture of the poet will be recognised, however highly
embellished. The pass itself, as viewed from the road, bears a nearer
resemblance to that called the Pass of Moreau, in the Valle'e d'Enfer,
of the Black Forest, than any place I now remember : but the descrip-
tion of the poet would apply better to some other localities which I have
seen, than to the Trosachs. I will mention one Sandy -bay, with the
Adam and Eve Rocks, as viewed from Diana's Peak, or Sandy-bay
Ridge, in St. Helena. The Trosachs are far from being so stupendous
or imposing as the denies on the Italian side of the Simplon, about the
solitude of Gonda, or even the Pass of the Bracco in Italy ; but they
constitute a scene which has deservedly occupied the pen of the northern
magician, and will continue to attract multitudes of Southrons from
generation to generation.

After what has been said of the inn at Callander, by Dr. MacCulloch,
it will seem strange that there should be a very comfortable one, except
when overcrowded, among the Trosachs. Mrs. Stewart furnished me
with the best and most elegant bed I had slept in between London and



THE newly-risen sun was gilding the turrets and the domes, the cupolas
and the minarets of the Trosachs, as we again entered their mazes on
our way to the Lake. The exhaling dews carried with them into the
balmy air a profusion of odours, such as we inhale in the cinnamon
groves of Ceylon, the spicy valleys of Banda, or the fragrant glades of

" Here eglantine embalm'd the air,
Hawthorn and hazel mingled there ;
The primrose pale,, and violet flower
Found in each clift a narrow bower;
Aloft the ash and warrior oak
Cast anchor in the rifted rock ;
And higher yet the pine-tree hung
His shatter'd trunk.' 1

" Highest of all, where white peaks glanced,
Where glittering streamers waved and danced,
The wanderer's eye could barely view
The summer heaven's delicious blue ;
So wondrous wild, the whole might seem
The scenery of a fairy dream."

Though this portrait is highly flattered, there is some verisimilitude
between it and the original. We found the western side of the Trosachs
indented by several little coves, where the water was as smooth as glass,
reflecting, like a mirror, the surrounding scenery. A narrow road
winds along the margin of these sinuosities to the right; but a pro-
jecting rock prevents all attempts of the pedestrian to the left hand.

Mrs. Stewart, the hostess of the Trosachs, had this morning dis-
lodged from the hostelrie a very large and profitable flock of lake birds,
(of both genders and various genera,) who now crowded into the boat
that was to conduct us over this celebrated Loch. The vessel was
laden to the water's edge, and conveyed a more weighty, if not more
numerous freight, than Charon's bark did ever exhibit on Acheron.
The morning promised well ; but we observed that Ben-Venue did not
doff his bonnet to the strangers who were passing him, and a beautiful
iris was seen to span Loch Katrine. We had scarcely got abreast of
Helen's Bower, however, before the Lady of the Lake, or some of her
Naiads, poured on our heads such a copious libation of the watery
element, that had not the close-compacted shields of umbrellas, cloaks,
and parasols, thrown off great part of the deluge, the boat must have
been swamped. The term RAIN is not at all applicable to this kind of


aqueous precipitation. We seemed to have got entangled in the tail of
a water-spout or rather we felt as if running the gantlet under the
Stauhach or the Giesbach, so heavy and so transitory was the fall of
water. It appeared, indeed, as if one of the reservoir clouds, passing
over our heads, had spning a leak, and emptied its contents between
Ben-Venue and Ben-An. Such phenomena are familiar to those who
travel among Alpine countries. Dr. MacCulloch, on the top of Ben-
Ledi, in this very neighbourhood, got a dripping which he did not
easily forget. " In an instant, and without warning, the shower de-
scended in one broad stream, like a cascade, from the clouds and, in
an instant, it ceased again. We have heard of counting the drops of
rain ; but here there were no drops to be counted it was one solid
sheet of water." In the Highlands of Scotland, more than in any
mountainous country with which I am acquainted, a MACINTOSH WATER-
PROOF CLOAK is peculiarly useful. There is often no time to unfold,
much less to unbutton an umbrella ; for while the sun is shining full
in our faces, and scarcely a cloud to be seen, twenty buckets of water
are dashed on our heads, without the admonition of a sprinkling, or
even a harbinger drop ! As this salutation is frequently accompanied by
a sudden squall, which reverses the umbrella in an instant, the water-
proof cloak and cap are superior to all other parapluies in the world,
though even these are not complete shields against the torrents of rain
that descend from Caledonian skies in autumn.

The four Caterans who rowed us up the Lake seemed to despise any
defence against the water)' deluge that created such apprehension among
their Sassenach passengers. They doffed their bonnets in the midst of
it, and appeared to enjoy the watering-pot of Miss Helen, as much as
ducks in a thunder-storm. And why not? They live so much on fish
and fowl, that they have become a kind of hybrid animal, not exactly
clothed with feathers or scales, but with a skin as impervious to rain
as either of these teguments. Nature has given the Highlander a
covering of caoutchouc, which is a complete defence against winds and
rains the plaid being merely a non-conductor of animal heat from the
body, and totally unnecessary as a bulwark against the cold from with-

At the risk of being called a heathen, I venture to say that, except at
its eastern extremity, where the Trosachs and Ben-Venue give interest
to the scene, Loch Katrine is deficient, both in beauty and sublimity.
In beauty, it is far inferior to some of the English lakes say Derwent
Water and very little superior in grandeur; Skiddaw being much
higher and bolder than any mountain near Loch Katrine. But it is
immortalized in song, and every Cockney who rushes North to see

V 2


Helen's Bower and the Trosachs, returns, as a matter of course, full of
astonishment at the grandeur of a scene, superior, no doubt, to any
thing he had before contemplated ; but very inferior to the Lakes of
Switzerland, Italy, or even of England. It has, however, an aspect of
savage solitude, and romantic wildness, not unaccompanied by some
beautiful features, which leave an indelible impression on the mental
mirror of the traveller.

It now appears that LOCH KATRINE is a misnomer; and that the real
designation is LOCH CATERAN, from its shores being the ha\mts of free-
booters or robbers. The plain English of the business, then, is, that
the name should be LOCH ROBBERY or, if a more classical designation
be insisted on, for the sake of lake poetry and Highland story, we may
call it LOCH ROBROY. This ought to satisfy the most fastidious stickler
for Highland dignity.

A voyage of two hours, amid shower and sunshine, brought us to our
landing-place, where ponies were ready to transport us to the banks of
Loch Lomond. From some little knowledge, in the travelling way, I
would recommend my metropolitan compatriots to go to the expense of
five shillings for the pony, across ROB ROY'S country. Six miles of
mountain may seem nothing' to a Highland tourist; but if the rains
fall, and the floods descend, no uncommon occurrence, the pony will
prove an acceptable companion. There is no clause in the contract to
compel us to ride the pony but merely to pay for it. There were
only three or four Southrons, who, not being acclimate to Highland
mists, preferred four feet to two. The Lady of the Lake pursued us, in
apparent revenge for passing her bower without leaving our cards, and
poured on our heads, every ten or fifteen minutes, a most tremendous
deluge, which roared down the sides of the hills, and flooded the paths,
(for road it could not be called) in every direction. But as the alter-
nations of sun and shower were regular, no possible state of atmosphere
could be better adapted for the scenery around us. As we approached
Loch Lomond, and were at a considerable height above its level, an
ocean of mountain tops presented themselves in every direction ; and,
as the clouds and fogs sailed along on the winds, they seemed to be
rolling, rising, and falling, like the billows of an agitated sea. It is
impossible to convey, by pen or pencil, any adequate idea of this mag-
nificent scene, which I had never seen equalled among the Alps or
Apennines, in any kind of weather. The best description of such a
scene is depicted by Dr. MacCulloch, as observed by that gentleman on
the summit of Ben-Lawers.

" There was a dense mist with rain, unusually dense and dark. I
was alone on this wild ridge ; and all of the few objects which I could


discern, appeared vast, and formless, shadowy, and vague, and uncer-
tain. All was fearfully silent, except the whistling of the winds,
which seemed to sound mysteriously among the whirling and entangling
clouds. As the mists and the showers drove along before the gale, now
rising up, as from an unknown abyss below, and then descending as
from above ; at one moment every object vanished, and all was blank
all empty, around, above, and below ; again, as they passed awav,
huge and shadowy forms seemed to appear for an instant, and, in a
moment again, all was gone ; adding, by the semblance of motion, to
the ghostly and fearful images that seemed flitting and floating among
the dark twisting vapours, and whose voices almost seemed to sound
hollow in the storm."

From what I saw on the high grounds near Loch Lomond, I am con-
fident that Dr. MacCulloch describee! from nature as accurately as
words can convey impressions. At this time, the wind shifted suddenly
to the north-west the clouds broke on the western horizon the blue
sky appeared there and in a quarter of an hour, the sun was shining
clea,r over a magnificent landscape, with Loch Lomond at our feet, and
Ben-Lomond towering to the sky on our left, crowned with a rainbow
of most brilliant colours.

The elements themselves seem to teach the principles of practical
economy in Scotland. Among our fellow-travellers on this mountain
excursion, was a young Caledonian lassie, of good family a Macgregor,
or Macpherson, or Macdonald, I forget which whose handsome Leg-
horn bonnet was defended from the rain, in the boat, by a compact
shield of umbrellas there. On the mountain, hoAvever, the young lady
soon perceived that the delicate straw which had been born and educated
on the smiling banks of the Arno, would prove a poor match for the
storms and mists of Morven. Like many a tall and gallant bark, the
Highland nymph dowsed her topsails, and prepared to scud under bare
poles ; in other words she quickly stripped off her bonny bonnet, and
placed it carefully under a corner of her plaid, leaving her long, black,
and flowing tresses to act as conductors of the rain, during each shower,
and to wave in the winds, during the brief intervals of fair weather. While
this tall, thin, but elegant figure marched in the van of the whole line
of half -drowned Sassenachs, with the firm and elastic step of a chamois
crossing the glaciers of Grindinwalde^her raven locks streaming 'in the
storm, she bore no small resemblance to her namesake, Helen Macgregor,
marshalling her awkward Cateran squad to the Pass of Aberfoyle*.

And here I would offer a piece of advice to some of my countrymen

* I conceive that this trait of Inversnaid economy is much more picturesque and


and women, which may possibly be worth more than what they pay a
guinea for to the London doctor. I would recommend those sickly
maidens of the South, who

" Never tell their love,

But let concealment, like a worm i' th' bud,
Feed on their damask cheeks/'

to come to the Highland mountains, for change of complexion, as well
as change of air. They will here find WATER enough to " raze out the
written troubles of the brain," and blanch their memories as white as
the driven snow AIR enough to disperse the " green and yellow
melancholy" that hangs over their countenances and EXERCISE suffi-
cient to transform their spermaceti muscles into something like the
elasticity of youthful living fibre.

To these airy and aqueous mountains I would also invite a certain
tribe of my own sex, who spend a great deal of time and money in the
neighbourhood of Cavendish-square and Dover-street, swallowing large
quantities of peptic precepts and blue pill, under the directions of Drs.
Philip and Paris who always keep a finger on the pulse, an eye on the
tongue, and a sharp look out on every transient sensation in their nerves
a class of people who contrive to imagine real ills till, at length, they
realize imaginary ones ! Let these victims of morbid fancy traverse the
Highland mountains, for a couple of months ; and they will learn to
prefer oat cake to calomel, whiskey to senna draughts, and grouse to
gruel ! But I am myself " travelling out of the record," as we say in

natural than that of Inverness, as recorded by a celebrated modern traveller, and High-
lander to boot Dr. MacCullocb.

" It was Inverness fair. The streets were crowded with little Highland carts and
little Highland ponies, and slots and gingerbread, and ribbons and fishwives ; and
when the fair was over, the great ferry-boat was aground. Twenty damsels, and more,
besieged the ferryman, and the ferryman vowed that the boat would not float for two
hours. They might launch her if they were in a hurry for passage. No sooner said
than done. To lift her out of the mud by force of hands, was impossible ; but, in an
instant, a dozen or more ranged themselves on each side, and at the word of command,
two lines of native fairness w^ere displayed in contrasting contact with her tarry sides,
when, with one noble effort, they bore her on their backs (that is an incomplete word,
too,) and launched her into the sable flood. O for the pencil of Wilkie ! I thought that
my English friend would have died on the spot : so bad a philosopher was he, as not
to know that it was easier to wash the tar out of the other place than out of the clothes."

It must be admitted that some of the Doctor's countrymen and still more of his fair
countrywomen have questioned the truth of the story about the Inverness launch, and
have vowed to duck the narrator in the Ness, should he ever venture there again. " The
greater the truth, the greater the libel ;'' but, after all, the story may be a very good
one, though it may have uo foundation in fact.


The tract which we traversed this day, is the classic ground of Rob
Ruy ; and one of that freebooter's fowling-pieces is kept in a cot on the
road, as a proof. A more substantial evidence, however, of Rob's for-
mer existence and power, is seen on our right, near Inversnaid, in the
shape of a ruined fort, or rather barrack, erected there to check the
phrenological propensities of the son of Gear Mhor, whose protuberances
of combativeness and adhesiveness justly constituted him the leader of
Caterans, and the follower of black cattle from Ben-Lawers to the
Clyde. The fortress appears to be still more weakly manned than at
the time Sir Walter Scott first visited it. When he applied to a peasant
for the means of viewing the fort, he was told that the key was under
the door, and that he would find no difficulty in his explorations !


Descending by a bridle road, little less precipitous than the side of
Ben-Xevis, we brought up at a good specimen of a Highland LOCANDA,
romantically situated at the side of a waterfall, and on the very verge
of the placid Loch Lomond ; sheltered securely from the rude north-
east blast, and open to the southern sun and western breeze. Here the
" mountain dew," the oaten cake, the savour)* herring, and unsavoury
cheese, went their merry rounds, with a zest furnished by the pelting
storm, the drenching rains, and the active exercise of the morning, little
felt in the precincts of St. James's, even after the funereal progression in
Rotten-row, or the formidable excursion to the more distant gardens of

It was quite evident that the pallid beauties of Modern Babylon
(several of whom were in the party) had already put on their travelling
constitutions, and could bear the rains as well as the winds of heaven,
without catching colds, rheumatisms, face-aches, or tooth-aches
laying aside the thousand heart-aches consequent on doctors, apothe-
caries, nurses and undertakers ! As a political economist, or a patron
of the arts and sciences, it is not, perhaps, right to recommend a High-
land campaign to the nobility and gentry of England, since it might
deprive many able operatives among the different classes above-men-
tioned of half their annual incomes besides increasing the population,
already too exuberant. The " miseries of human life" have afforded
themes for philosophers, poets, and novelists; why then (it may be
said) should I suggest any measure that might prolong a drama, whose
five acts are only five scenes of suffering ?

Meanwhile the long sable banner floating in the air, and the double


line of sparkling foam on the surface of the water, proclaimed die
approach of a visiter, that has given mortal offence to whole tribes of
lake poets and sentimental tourists. What ? A steamer on Loch
Lomond ! Foh ! The offence is rank, and smells or rather smokes
to heaven. How monstrous, say the modern Sternes, to hear the
plashing of paddles, the clanking of engines, and the belching of steam,
where there ought to be no other sounds than the bleating of lambs, the
piping of shepherds, and the cooing of doves ! How horrible to see
smoke, and fire, and furnaces pervading the tranquil lake, instead of the
small, white, and gliding sail, in keeping with the fleecy flocks on the
mountain's side, and the pastoral crook on the projecting rock!

Now, it is all very well for poets, painters, and Syntaxes in search of
the sublime, who, like Thomson, delight to bask on the sunny side of
" some romantic mountain," for days and weeks, meditating on Arca-
dian simplicity and Utopian landscapes, which have never existed,
except within the narrow boundaries of an enthusiast's skull, to declaim
most eloquently and sentimentally against the steamer on Loch Lomond.
For my own part, I think the said steamer is the greatest blessing that
ever was conferred en the Lake. It enables hundreds, or rather thou-
sands, every year, to enjoy the delightful scenery, who would otherwise
never see it at all; and it diffuses many hundred pounds, annually,
among the meanest cottages of the surrounding country, with equal
advantage to the givers and receivers.

Be it remembered, too, that we are not all poets, painters, and vision-
aries. It is very certain that the world will not wag, unless some people
work that those who toil for eleven months of the year have very
little more than thirty-one days for relaxation and pleasure that
STEAM abbreviates labour, saves time, and enlarges the sphere of ob-
servation : therefore, say I, blessed be the man who first invented
steam !

Perhaps this invocation of a blessing on steam was not quite uncon-
nected with the contrast between the luxurious table d'hote of the
steamer, and the sordid accommodation, which we found in the Inver-
snaid Locanda. Not that I throw the slightest shade of reflexion on
Inversnaid ; for there, as almost everywhere in the Highlands, the best
that the house could afford was placed before us, and at a moderate
charge. But in the steamer, we had plenty of every thing except
WHISKEY, which, according to Breadalbane morality (afterwards to be
noticed) was TABOOED interdicted denounced denaturalized ! We
might drink nine fathoms deep of any thing but whiskey, which was an
illegal, as well as irreligious, potation, thirty yards from Inversnaid, but
perfectly legal, and, if I mistake not, very palatable, a few feet from the


steamer ! This is a nice distinction in morals ; but more of this

We are now steaming round Loch Lomond. This most beautiful of
all the Scotch lakes might be compared to a peacock, whose long neck
and sharp head penetrate among the deep recesses of the mountains
whose sides or wings are adorned with exquisite plumage and whose
broad and fan-like tail is studded, not with the eyes of Argus, but with
the Isles of Atlantis, and the gardens of the Hesperides. Loch Lomond
must, perhaps, cede in beauty to Como, Lugano, or even Lake Lemaii ;
but it is equal to Lucerne, superior to Constance and well worth a
journey from London to Dumbarton, were the tourist to see nothing else
before his return to the British metropolis.

A modern traveller, with great and real pretensions to pictorial judg-
ment, has decided that " Loch Lomond is, unquestionably, the pride
of our lakes incomparable in its beauty, as in its dimensions exceed-
ing all others in variety as it does in extent and splendour uniting in
itself every style of scenery which is found in the other lakes of the
Highlands. I must even assign it the palm above Loch Cateran, It must
be remembered that splendid and grand as are the landscapes of Loch
Cateran, there is a uniformity, even in that variety, and that a sameness
of character predominates every where. It possesses but one style.
As to Loch Lomond, it offers points of comparison with all the other
lakes possessing any picturesque beauty, for it has no blank. It presents

Online LibraryJames JohnsonThe recess, or Autumnal relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands; being the home circuit versus foreign travel, a serio-comic tour to the Hebrides → online text (page 7 of 28)