John Macculloch.

The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) online

. (page 16 of 37)
Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 37)
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that period, they carried on, against the Lowlands, that
system of plunder and assumed protection which was so
common at various times amonsf the Hishland borderers :
proving- that the indulgence was as useless, as a means of
reform, as they Avere unworthy of it, and justifying- their
claims to some, at least, of the former harsh laws : though
one of them really seems to have been an instance of op-
pression and injustice. I allude to that which followed
the battle of Glen Fruin, hereafter noticed.

It was from their predatory mode of life that the moon
in this country still goes by the name of Mac Gregor's
lantern. And though it does not, I believe, appear at
what time their regular system was first organized be-
tween the two periods just mentioned, we find that there
was a Captain Mac Gregor in 1658, who seems to have
been the pattern to his far better known namesake irj
more recent times. So well understood was his system,
and so acquiesced in, it must indeed be thought, that
the justices of peace met formally at their sessions, to
levy the contributions paid to him for protecting the
western borders of Stirlingshire from the murders and
depredations of their Highland neighbours ; the greater
part of whom were probably his own people, who were
thus always ready, like thorough-bred police officers in
our days, to justify their own necessity, and to take care
that the profitable trade of protection should not expire
for want of offences.

In this manner they seem to have gJone on ; gaining
the upper hand whenever there was a Captain Mac
Gregor who had more courage than the justices and more
wit than the law ; and, at other times, paying back, for
the black mail and the cattle which they had levied
and stolen, the lives of ruffians who were easily spared,
and probably of far less value than so many cows. In


1715 they seemed still to be powerful, though still op-
pressed ; a circumstance accounted for, in some measure,
by the general state of the country down to that time, and
by the interest which some of the neighbouring rival
clans had in making use of them as checks on each

It was thus that the feuds between the great houses of
Montrose and Argyll, induced the latter to protect the
celebrated Rob Roy, now known far and wide, thanks to
the author of Waverley ; the vicinity of the Mac Gregors
to the estates of the former, enabling him to commit
depredations on them with facility, while he could, in no
long time, escape and shelter himself in the lands of
Argyll to the northward. The first important act that we
hear of this worthy, was at the battle of Shirramuir ;
where, it is said, he was kept out of action by the Duke's
influence, having a command in the rebel army ; while it
is even asserted that the strange fortune of this day, was
the consequence of his having left the field. Rob Roy
is said to have been brother to the chief of this tribe, Clan
Alpin ; and, like his immediate followers, generally as-
sumed the name of Campbell, as being under the pro-
tection of that powerful family. His adventures form
the subject of many a tale, as you well know : but of
tales too often told to be repeated again. Captain of
banditti, and, like his great ancestor, protector of those
who submitted to pay for protection, he continued to be
the scourge and,-terror of the surrounding country till the
day of his death.

But the whole tribe of Glenstraes and Jack Straws,
alike, have never wanted good reasons for their conduct;
and when they have, their friends the poets and antiqua-
ries have always been ready to step forward with some-
thing sonorous in their defence : showy if hollow, like


the turbans and well drawn fij^ures, the vigour and the
grace that render the banditti of Salvator Rosa so capti-
vating. Thus did this deep-wronged hero declare, that
the lands on which he chose to levy war, those of the
Buchanans, the Murrays, and the Drummonds, were his
own by inheritance and right, and that he drew the sword
to revenge the wrongs of his ancestors: in other words,
burning the barn yards and stealing the cattle of inno-
cent tenants, who could have no concern in what their
lords had done long before their birth, and thus re-
venging the punishments inflicted by a people long dead
and gone, on his own lawless ancestry, by repeating the
very crimes committed ages before by these very ances-
tors, who seem, by their own showing, to have well de-
served the gallows. Had he confined himself to watch-
ing the Duke of Montrose's steward, as he is said once
to have done, and robbing him of the rents he had col-
lected, this kind of retributive justice would have been
more intelligible ; admitting that his own statement of
the case was the true one.

But to the other qualities of a great man, like the be-
nevolent cut-throat, Rob Roy added the generosity of
Robin Hood ; being a friend to the widow and the
orphan, as the story goes, and robbing the rich to pay
the poor. This is very fine ; particularly if it could be
proved that there was any thing to be got by robbing
widows and orphans who had nothing to give. But it is
the generosity of the whole breed, from 1720 to 1820,
from Italy to the Lennox. The character was cheaply
purchased by a few shillings out of the bag of Montrose's
steward. After all, Rob Roy may have been a most
amiable personage, for aught that any of us may care,
setting aside these trifling peccadilloes ; and who indeed
dare doubt it, with the fear of Clan Alpin before his eyes.


The goodness of his character is tlie more probable, as
he brought up his sons James and Robert in the same
heroic line, dying quietly in his own bed. Poor Rob
the second was not however so fortunate. Escaping the
vulgar punishment of his crimes, by an act of outlawry
for murder in 1736, he was tried in 1753 for the forcible
abduction of an heiress, and hanged in the Grass-market
at Edinburgh: unjustly enough, as it appears, and pay-
ing the penalty, rather of his own general character and
that of his ancestry, than of this particular deed. James,
his brother, concerned in the same act, contrived to
escape, and thus ends the history of the free Mac
Gregors. Every one knows that the name and legal
rights of this race were afterwards restored, in 1775, and
that they are now as respectable as they are ancient.

From Aberfoyle, it is easy to proceed to Loch Lomond
in different modes. By the way of Drymen, there is a
good road along the eastern side of the lake, as far as
the Row of Dennan, situated at the foot of Ben Lomond,
whence there is a carriage ferry across. Or else, the
road by the southern side will lead the traveller to the
same point on the western margin of the lake as if he
had taken the route by Dumbarton. It is not, however,
from the eastern shore that the beauties of this queen of
the Scottish lakes can be appreciated or known ; nor can
any difference well be greater than that of the general
pictures of this lake as seen from the eastern or from the
western bank. I must not, however, be understood to
say that this little frequented side of Loch Lomond is
deficient in beauty. Far from it ; as the road is various
and interesting throughout ; always accompanying the
Jake, generally well wooded, and with many changes of
character produced by the indentations of the shore, and
by the irregular and undulating line which it follows.


It is indeed a more beautiful ride from Balmaha to the
Row of Dennan than from Renton to Luss ; but it pro-
duces few well-marked landscapes : a defect chiefly
arising from the tame and uninteresting outline of the
mountains which bound the western side. I need not
specify the particulars of scenes that are little likely to
become much frequented ; as the western bank of the
lake will find occupation for far more time than is com-
monly allotted to it: but those who may value Loch
Lomond as it merits, will not be content unless they have
examined every point at which it is accessible, or from
which it can be seen. There is one very fine view at the
point where the Inversnaid road descends on the ferry,
not far from Rob Roy's cave.

The attraction of Ben Lomond, however, draws, to this
point at least on the eastern shore, many of those who
take only the more common course. It is the advantage
of this well-known mountain, that its ascent is without
toil or difficulty, a mere walk of pleasure; and that the
views from its summit are exceeded by very few moun-
tain views in Scotland. Many a time have I sat on its
topmost stone, enjoying the magnificent prospect around ;
ranging over the rich and splendid expanse, and tracing
the place of each well-known object, or watching the
wild flight of the clouds as they blew past, around, above,
and beneath my feet. It was at my last visit to a spot
which I never yet quitted without regret, that I wit-
nessed one of those remarkable caprices of the wind,
some of which I have noticed on other occasions in these
letters. It was blowing a fresh breeze below, and the
waters of the lake were rolling down in long billows, and
breaking in a heavy surf on the shore. Armies of white
clouds were sailing in from the west in endless succes-
sion ; now wrapping the mountain's head far down, then


breaking away for a moment, and again settling dense
upon it in silvery heaps, brightly contrasting with the
huge shadowy and dark mass, whose mysterious forms
were dimly illuminated by the light reflected from the
wide-spread fields of snowy vapour. I ascended never-
theless ; enjoying, during the ascent, the magical effects
of the landscape, as its glimpses were occasionally
caught through the dividing clouds, and the splendid
and rapid changes of light and shadow, as the bright sun
now gleamed for an instant on the lake and on its green
islands, or flew like a brilliant and transitory vision
across the mountains, followed, like the flitting joys and
hopes of life, by one broad and universal shade. Half
lost at times, in the universal grey mist, or struggling
with difficulty against the gale, I reached at length the
last summit, cushioned with the bright Silene,an island in
the wide field of air.

What was my surprise to find a still and dead calm.
The breeze had ceased ; the nodding rush of the moun-
tain hung its head by me unmoved, gemmed with the
brilliant drops which the thin mists had left on it ; not
an air rustled, but all was silence and repose; a death-
like stillness, a solemn vacuity, as if all nature had
suddenly ceased to be. Above, was the clear blue sky,
but around and beneath was an endless field of vapour,
in which I felt as if suspended, far above the regions of
earth. But soon it all rolled off, displaying for a mo-
ment the majestic landscape ; fresh clouds succeeding,
as, in solid battalions, they continued to arrive from the
west, crowding above and behind each other, and, as
they advanced, swelling out their white and expanding
bosoms, and then again drawing their misty veil at in-
tervals before the bright and changing picture. I then
saw that the calm was mine alone ; as the waves were


still visible, far and deep beneath, whitening- along the
rocky shore of the lake. The same gale that I had left
below, was still also hurrying the clouds past, around, and
overhead ; while, beneath, the thin vapour of their edges
was scudding by with the rapidity of lightning. Yet
all around was still and at peace: the long grass droop-
ed near me unmoved, and the mountain flower that I
threw into the air, fell quiet by my side. The silence
was awful : it was the silence of death amid a thousand
moving forms of confusion and uproar : of turbulence
and commotion, seen, but not heard. All seemed under
the influence of a supernatural power : as if amidst the
fury of the elements and the war of nature, the power
who rules the storm and commands the winds, had said,
they shall not come nigh thee.

Capricious indeed are the winds, in more senses
than the popular one ; and obscure is their philosophy.
The analagous instances which I have elsewhere pointed
out, are sufficiently difficult of explanation ; but this per-
haps more than all, though bearing a strong resemblance
to the case hereafter described in Arran. There was a
single portion of the atmosphere which here, as there, they
avoided. It included the summit of the mountain, but no
more ; and that too, for a very limited space. As I re-
mained upwards of an hour watching this strange appear-
ance, I easily perceived that immediately as the arriving
cloud struck the side of the mountain beneath, it seemed
to recoil and ascend in a perpendicular stream, till again
meeting a horizontal current over my head, it blew on-
wards and passed away with the same stormy velocity that
it had arrived. Other portions, separated by the moun-
tain, flew off* on each side beneath ; while the eddying
breeze which circled round its precipitous eastern face,
brought up from the depths below, masses of curling and


twisting- vapour, which, at the moment they reached the
edge of the precipice, recoiled also to mount aloft and
mingle with the flying rack. Electricity, which accounts
for every thing that is obscure, must account for this too ;
as well as it can.

Next to Ben Lawers, Ben Lomond must, perhaps, be
allowed the pre-eminence as the seat of mountain views in
Scotland. On the eastern side, while it looks down from
its fearful precipice into the deep and dark valley where
the Forth is seen springing from the mountain side, as yet
a trifling rill, it includes the whole mountainous region
about Loch Cateran, with its various lakes : a splendid and
variegated picture, stretching* far away till it is lost among
the crowded hills that include Loch Earn and Loch Tay,
On the same side, further to the northward, the view ex-
tends over the whole range of the low country, from
Stirling even to Edinburgh, the marked and romantic
outline of which is distinctly seen. Pursuing the horizon
in the same direction, the eye is guided to Glasgow,
scarcely recognised except by its smoke, and thus to the
well-known and strongly marked form of Dumbarton
Castle, and to the foot of Loch Lomond. The remain-
der of the lake, however, for a considerable space, is
excluded by the shoulder of the mountain itself; but
the western hills, crowded in along succession of romantic
and fine forms, are seen, even to the sea ; portions of the
deep inlets of Loch Long and Loch Fyne being distinctly
visible, and the eye assigning, without difficulty, the
highly characterized forms of the Cobler, of Cruachan,
and of the other distinguished mountains of this tract.
These, ranging round to the north, unite to a wild and
wide extended region of elevated land ; an ocean of
mountains, in which we discern, among others, the strik-
ing cone of Ben More, and the more distant and towering


summit of Ben Lawers ; while, beneath, the upper and
narrow division of the lake is seen, bright gleaming
among the noble ranges of hills by which it is included,
and on which we now look down, as if at our feet, from
the proud elevation of this monarch of the lake and the
wide landscape.

This extreme picture, as it maybe called, is seen par-
tially from different parts of the ascent, and, often, under
more pleasing forms, from the diminished elevation of the
point of sight. Of these partial views, however, I need
only point out one, to be obtained at about a third or
fourth of the ascent ; because it is one of the finest gene-
ral pictures of Loch Lomond, similar in style to that from
the hill of Luss, and not much inferior in magnificence.
It includes the whole of the lower and wide part of the
lake, with all its islands, a splendid and dazzling expanse j
and, with some contrivance in the management of the
nearer grounds, not incapable of being painted, although
approaching to the character of a bird's-eye view. In
quitting Ben Lomond, I may remark that, like Ben Lawers,
it is one of the botanical gardens of the Highlands ; pro-
ducing some of the rarer alpine plants, and containing a
large proportion of those usually met with in these situ-
ations. I need not enumerate the whole t but amons" the
most interesting, are the following ; Salix herbacea, and
reticulata, Silene acaulis, Saxifraga stellaris, oppositifolia,
and hypnoides, Sibbaldia procumbens, Juncus triglumis,^
trifidus, and alpestris, Poa alpina, Carex atrata, Cerastium
alpinum, Gnaphalium supinum, and the beautiful Azalea

As I was about to ascend the hill on this occasion, I
met two young ladies descending, who had most courage-
ously performed this feat unattended. Man speaks to
his fellow man in the desert of Arabia, though they


should even be Englishmen, and though it should be the
meeting of a peer and a porter ; nor indeed would the laws
of chivalry have permitted me to pass. I remarked that
the hill was steep and the ways deep, on which the
youngest and the fairest displayed, for my commisseration,
a delicate silk stocking and a more delicate shoe, which
had suffered what might have been expected, in the cam-
paign. You need not ask me whether the ankle and foot
that bore them were handsome. Had they been other-
wise, it is probable there would have been other shoes and
other stockings spoiled in the bogs of Ben Lomond ; and,
whatever these might have been, it is very certain that my
pity for them would not have been solicited. There is a
dexterity in all this, which is delightful. Anacreon will tell
you better, how nature has provided the dear sex in this
matter. It was not a less ingenious fair who contrived to
discover my name, on a similar expedition, where I had
acted the part of a preux chevalier ; after having tried a
great number of ambages and circumvolutions in vain.
She succeeded at last. " Oh dear, sister, let us write our
names on this rock." The names were written with the
point of a scissars, and the scissars were very politely
handed over to the mysterious beau. Anacreon is right.
I must now return to the western side of Loch Lo-
mond, following the usual track from Dumbarton ; a road
little frequented in my earlier days, but now encumbered
with the idlers who make this lake, like Loch Cateran, a
perpetual fair during the finer months of summer. And
as if there was to be no peace either by land or water,
the steam boat is now to be seen, daily ploughing its fiery
way over the tranquil expanse ; loaded with freights as
intellectual as those of a Margate hoy ; a proof of the in-
crease of taste among the people, if you please, or, what
is much more like the fact, of the spreading of wealth


and idleness, and of that neglect of the drudgery of the
counter and counting-house which was, not long ago, and
in the times of Baillie Jarvie, the characteristic of Glasgow,
as, in the days of the " tall apprentices" of London, it
was the habit of the metropolis. But we must not mea-
sure the enjoyments of others by our own scales; and,
doubtless, the groups which contrive to emerge for a
week from the profundities of the salt-market or the hum
of the jeannies, feel pleasures in eating their cold fowl
and drinking their Madeira on Inch Cailleach or the Point
of Firkin, as captivating, and far more substantial than
the shadowy delights enjoyed by you or me, as we gaze
with rapture on this bright lake of lovely islands, or
follow the bold perspective of its noble mountains, or
watch the sun descending among the brilliant hues of the
west, throwing its crimson rays on the broad sides of Ben
Lomond, and gleaming upon the silent waters.

Loch Lomond is unquestionably the pride of our
lakes ; incomparable in its beauty as in its dimensions,
exceeding all others in variety as it does in extent and
splendour, and 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,the only
one which is much distinguished from it in character, the
only one to which it does not contain an exact parallel in
the style of its landscapes. With all its strange and
splendid beauties, it is a property of Loch Cateran to
weary and fatigue the eye; dazzling by the style and
multiplicity of its ornament, and rather misleading the
judgment on a first inspection, than continuing to satisfy
it after long familiarity. It must be remembered too,
that, splendid and grand as are the landscapes of this
lake, and various as they may appear from their excess
and boldness of ornament, there is an uniformity, even in

VOL. I. p


that variety, and that a sameness of character predomi-
nates every where. It possesses but one style : and nu-
merous as its pictures are, they are always constructed
from the same exact elements, and these frequently but
slight modifications of each other.

As, with regard to the superiority of Loch Lomond
to all the other lakes, there can be no question, so, in the
highly contrasted characters of its upper and lower por-
tions, it offers points of comparison with the whole ; with
all those at least which possess any picturesque beauty;
for it has no blank. It presents no where that poverty of
aspect which belongs to Loch Shin, and to many more,
and which, even at Loch Cateran, marks nearly three
fourths of the lake. Every where, it is, in some way,
picturesque ; and, every where, it offers landscapes,
not merely to the cursory spectator, but to the painter.
Nor do I think that I overrate its richness in scenery,
when I say, that if Loch Cateran and Loch Achray are
omitted, it presents, numerically, more pictures than all
the lakes of the Highlands united. With respect to
style, from its upper extremity to a point above Luss, it
may be compared with the finest views on Loch Awe, on
Loch Lubnaig, on Loch Maree, and on Loch Earn ; since
no others can here pretend to enter into competition with
it. There are also points in this division not dissimilar to
the finer parts of the Trosachs, and fully equal to them in
wild grandeur. At the lower extremity, it may compete
with the lakes of a middle character, such as Loch
Tumel ; excelling them all, however, as well in variety as
in extent. But it possesses moreover a style of land-
scape to which Scotland produces no resemblance what-
ever ; since Loch Maree scarcely offers an exception.
This is found in the varied and numerous islands that
cover its noble expanse; forming the feature which.


above all others, distinguishes Loch Lomond, and which,
even had it no other attractions, would render it, what it is
in every respect, the paragon of the Scottish lakes.

The Leven, covered with manufactories, and its green
banks whitened with cotton and muslin and table cloths,
is no more the pastoral stream which Sraollet sung ; and
his monument, rearing its head among paper-mills and
print-fields and white houses, and modern Gothic castles,
has no longer that interest which it possessed when,
alone in the midst of these lovely and tranquil scenes,
it pointed to the place of the poet's birth and the gliding
waters of the poet's song. The funeral obelisk in the
desert, is affecting and sublime : in the town or the vil-
lage, it is a lamp-post or a mile-stone. Nothing can well
be more striking than the first view of Loch Lomond :
its spacious expanse of silvery water, its lovely islands,
the rich meadows and trees by which it is bounded, and
the distant screen of fading hills, among which Ben
Lomond rears its broad and gigantic bulk, like an Atlas,
to the sky. Still, most of the landscapes belonging to
the lower part of the lake, are meagre ; on account of the
great expanse of the water, and a consequent emptiness
and want of objects in the composition. Yet that does
not prevent the ride, even as far as Luss, where this cha-
racter becomes changed, from being one of the most en-
gaging that can be imagined ; whether from the beauty of
the general views of the lake, as it varies in consequence
of the changes in the relative positions of its islands, or
from the incessant variations of the foreground, both
along the road and along the margin of the water. Had
it no other beauties than those of its shores, it would
still be an object of prime attraction ; whether from the
bright green meadows sprinkled with luxuriant ash trees,
that sometimes skirt its margin, or the white pebbled



shores on which its gentle billows murmur, like a minia-

Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 37)