Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 14 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 14 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ten miles.

[Illustration: INVERARY CROSS]

Loch Fyne, along the edge of which our road ran all the way to Cairndow,
is tidal and about two miles wide at Inverary. We were now on the
opposite side of the castle grounds, and could see another entrance
gate, which had been decorated for the royal wedding. Fine woods bounded
our road on the left until we reached the round hill of Duniquaich,
where it turned rather abruptly until at Strone Point it was nearly
opposite Inverary. From this place we had a magnificent view of the
district we had just passed through; the splendid castle with its grey
walls and the lofty tower on the wooded hill adjoining it contrasted
finely with the whitened houses of the town of Inverary, as it stood in
the light of the setting sun. We journeyed on alongside the loch, when
as the shades of evening were coming on we met a young man and a young
woman apparently in great distress. They told us they had crossed the
loch in a small boat to look for ferns, and as the tide was going out
had thought they might safely leave their boat on the side of the loch,
but when they returned they could not find it anywhere. They seemed to
have been equally unsuccessful with regard to the ferns, as we could not
see any in their possession, but we guessed they had other interests, so
we went to their assistance and soon found the boat, which doubtless was
in the place where they had left it. The tide must have receded farther
than they had anticipated, and they had looked for it too near the
water. We assisted them to launch the boat, and when they were safely
seated the young woman, who had looked far more alarmed than her
companion, smiled upon us sweetly. In response to their looks and words
of thanks we wished them a pleasant and safe journey; but we never saw
any ferns! Our conversation as we resumed our walk was largely upon this
adventure, and we wondered if the ferns could not have been found as
easily on the other side of the loch as on this - but then we knew that
Love is proverbially blind, and we consigned this fern story to the
region of our mythological remembrances, and were still in good humour
and not too tired when we reached the Cairndow inn, where we were
hospitably, sumptuously, and we could safely add, when we paid the bill
next morning, expensively entertained. But was this partly accounted for
by the finely flavoured herrings known as Loch Fyne kippers we had for
breakfast, which were said to fetch a higher price than any others in

(_Distance walked twenty-five miles_.)

_Tuesday, October 3rd._

We left Cairndow early in the morning, and soon afterwards turned away
from Loch Fyne to ascend a rough and lonely road leading towards Loch
Long, about eight miles distant. It was a cold, bleak, and showery
morning as we travelled along Glen Kinglas against a strong head wind,
which greatly impeded our progress. On reaching the top of the glen, we
came to the small Loch Restil, reposing at the foot of a mountain the
summit of which was 2,955 feet above sea-level. The only persons we had
seen on our way up the glen were two shepherds on the slope of one of
the hills some distance from our road; but now we came to two men
mending the road, in which great holes had been caused by the heavy
rainfall. We chatted with them, and they told us that a little farther
on we should come to "The Rest." Though it may seem a trifling matter to
record, we were very glad to see those two men, as our way had been
excessively lonely and depressing, for the pass only reached about 900
feet at its crown, while the great hills which immediately adjoined the
road on either side rose to an altitude of from 2,500 to 3,300 feet!
When we arrived at "The Rest" we found a rock on which were inscribed
the words "Rest and be Thankful," while another inscription informed us
that "This is a Military Road repaired by the 93rd Regiment in 1768." We
thought that at one time there must have been a stone placed there, to
do duty as a travellers' rest, where weary travellers might "Rest and be
Thankful," but nothing of the kind existed now except the surface of the
road on which we were walking. On reaching a short stiff rise, followed
by a sharp double bend in the road, we passed the entrance of a track
leading down to "Hell's Glen"; but if this glen was any worse than Glen
Kinglas which we had just ascended, or Glen Croe which we now descended,
it must have been a very dreadful place indeed. Fortunately for us, the
weather began to improve, and before we reached Loch Long with its lofty
ramparts the sun shone out in all its matchless glory and lighted up not
only the loch but the whole of the amphitheatre formed by the lofty
hills that surrounded it. A passenger steamboat plying on the bosom of
the loch lent additional interest to the scene, and the combined view
quite cheered our drooping spirits. The change, both as regarded scenery
and atmosphere, between this side of the pass and the other was really
marvellous, reminding us of the contrast between winter and summer. The
sight of the numerous little waterfalls flowing over the rocks above to
contribute their quota to the waters of the loch below was quite
refreshing. One of the great hills we had passed without being able to
see its summit - for it was quite near our road - was the well-known Ben
Arthur, 2,891 feet high, commonly spoken of either as "The Cobbler" or
"The Cobbler and his Wife." It was not until we had got some distance
away that our attention was called to it. We walked round the head of
Loch Long and crossed a bridge, some words on the iron fixtures
informing us that we were now passing from Argyllshire into
Dumbartonshire. The coping on the bridge was of fresh, neatly clipped
grass instead of the usual stonework we expected to find, and looked
very remarkable; we saw nothing like it on our further travels.


We asked a gentleman who was standing in the road about the various
objects of interest in the neighbourhood. Pointing to Ben Arthur in the
distance, he very kindly tried to explain the curious formation of the
rocks at the summit and to show us the Cobbler and his Wife which they
were said to represent. We had a long argument with him, and although he
explained that the Cobbler was sitting down, for the life of us we could
not distinguish the form either of him or of his Wife. We could see that
he considered we were very stupid for not being able to see objects so
plain to himself; and when my brother asked him jocularly for the third
time which was the Cobbler and which was his Wife, he became very angry
and was inclined to quarrel with us. We smoothed him down as well as we
could by saying that we now thought we could see some faint resemblance
to the objects referred to, and he looked as if he had, as the poet
says, "cleared from thick films of vice the visual ray."


We thanked him kindly for all the trouble he had taken, and concluded,
at first, that perhaps we were not of a sufficiently imaginative
temperament or else not in the most favourable position for viewing the
outlines. But we became conscious of a rather strong smell of whisky
which emanated from our loquacious friend, from which fact we persuaded
ourselves that he had been trying to show us features visible only under
more elevated conditions. When we last saw him he was still standing in
the road gazing at the distant hills, and probably still looking at the
Cobbler and his Wife.

I asked my brother, as we walked along, why he put his question in that
particular form: "Which is the Cobbler and which is his Wife?" He told
me he was thinking of a question so expressed many years ago, long
before revolving pictures were thought of, and when pictures of any kind
were very scarce. A fair was being held in the country, and a showman
was exhibiting pictures which were arranged in a row alongside his booth
or van in such a way that his customers could pass from one picture to
another and which they could see by looking through slightly magnifying
glasses placed in pairs, one to fit each eye after the fashion of a pair
of spectacles. Before the show stood a number of small boys who would
have been pleased to have a peep at the pictures if they could have
raised the money. Just at that moment a mother with her two little girls
appeared, and when the children came near the show, one of them called
out, "Oh, Ma! may we see the peep-shows? It's only a penny!" whereupon
the mother took out her purse and handed each of the little girls a
penny. When the showman saw them approaching, he shouted angrily to the
small boys who were blocking the entrance; "Get away, you little ragged
rascals that have no money," and then he added in a much milder tone,
"and let the little dears come up what's a-going to pay." When the
children reached the first peep-show, he said: "Now, my little dears,
look straight forwards, blow your noses, and don't breathe upon the
glass! Here you see the combat between the Scotch Lion, Wallace, and the
English Bulldogs, for eight hundred guineas a side, while the spectators
are a-looking on in the most facetious manner. Here you see the lion has
got his paws on one of the dogs whilst he is whisking out the eyes of
another with his tail!"

The little girls could see a picture but could not quite make out what
it was, so one of them called out: "Please, Mr. Showman, which is the
lion and which is the dogs?" and he said: "Oh! whichever you please, my
little dears, and the likes was never seen, and all for the small sum of
one penny!"

My brother said that when he asked the gentleman which was the Cobbler
and which was his Wife he would not have been surprised if he had said
angrily, "Whichever you please," and had walked away, since he seemed in
a very irritable frame of mind.

Since those "good old times" the character of these country fairs has
changed entirely, and we no longer sing the old ballad:

Oh yes, I own 'tis my delight
To see the laughter and the fright
In such a motley, merry sight
As at a country fair.

Boys on mamma's treacle fed,
On spicy cakes and gingerbread.
On everybody's toes they tread
All at a country fair.

The village of Arrochar stood in a very pleasant position, at the head
of Loch Long amid scenery of the loftiest and most varied description.
Illuminated as it was by the magic rays of the sun, we thought it would
compare favourably with any other watering-place in the Highlands, and
was just the spot to offer irresistible temptations to those who
required a short respite from the more busy scenes of life.


We were in high spirits and inclined to speak to every one we saw, so,
when we met a boy, we asked him if he had seen a cow on the road, to
which he replied, rather seriously, that he had not. We thought
afterwards that we had laid ourselves open to a reply like that given by
the Orkneyman at Stromness, for the loss of a cow in Scotland was looked
upon as a very serious matter, but we escaped for a time. Shortly
afterwards, however, we saw a vehicle approaching in the distance
labelled "Royal Mail," and then another vehicle, similarly marked,
passed us from the opposite direction, in which we noticed the boy we
had just seen. When the two conveyances met, they stopped and a number
of bags were transferred from the one conveyance to the other, so that
it was obvious that they were exchanging their sacks of letters. When we
came up to them, the driver of the one that had overtaken us asked if we
had lost a cow, and when we answered "No," he said, "But didn't you ask
the boy there if he had seen one on the road?" When we answered "Yes,"
and it was found to be all a joke, there was a general laugh all round,
which was joined in heartily by the boy himself, for he had evidently
got a ride on the strength of the story of the lost cow. We observed
that the cart that overtook us had two horses, whilst that we met had
only one, so we conjectured that our further way would be comparatively
level, and this we afterwards found to be correct. The boy did not
altogether miss his opportunity, for when we had reached, as he thought,
a safe distance, we heard him shout: "Ask your mother when you get home
if _she_ has seen a cow!" - but perhaps "two calves" would have been
nearer the mark.

We had a lovely two-mile walk between Arrochar and Tarbet, with a
magnificent view of Loch Lomond on our way; while before us, across the
loch, stood Ben Lomond, a mountain which rises to the height of 3,192
feet above sea-level.

The scene was one that cannot properly be described - the blue waters, of
the loch, with the trees beyond, and behind them this magnificent
mountain, its top covered with pure white snow, and the sun shining on
all, formed a picture beautiful beyond description, which seemed to
lift our hearts and minds from the earth to the blue heavens above, and
our thoughts to the great Almighty Who is in all and over all in that
"land of pure delight where saints immortal reign."

[Illustration: LOCH LOMOND AND THE BEN.]

Our road now skirted the banks of Loch Lomond, the largest fresh-water
lake in Scotland or England, being twenty-four miles long and five miles
in width at its broadest point, and containing over twenty islands, some
of which we saw. At the hotel where we called for tea it was thus

Loch Lomond is the paragon of Scottish lakes. In island beauty
unrivalled, for all that forms romance is here - scenery varying and
increasing in loveliness, matchless combinations of grandeur and
softness united, forming a magic land from which poesy and painting
have caught their happiest inspirations. Islands of different forms
and magnitude. Some are covered with the most luxuriant wood of every
different tint; but others show a beautiful intermixture of rock and
coppices - some, like plains of emerald, scarcely above the level of
the water, are covered with grass; and others, again, are bare rocks,
rising into precipices and destitute of vegetation.

Scotland has produced many men mighty in mind as well as in body, and
their ideas have doubtless been enlarged not only by their advanced
system of education, but by the great things which have surrounded
them - the great rocks and the great waters. So long as these qualities
are turned in a good direction, all goes well, but when in a bad one
like the "facilis descensus" described in George Cruikshank's great
picture "The Worship of Bacchus," then all goes badly. An illustration
of these large ideas turned to a bad account appeared in a story we read
of a degenerate son of the North to whom the gods had granted the
fulfilment of three wishes: First, he would have a Loch Lomond of
whisky; secondly, a Ben Lomond of snuff; thirdly, (with some hesitation)
another Loch Lomond of whisky.

We did not attempt the ascent of Ben Lomond, as our experiences of
mountain climbing hitherto had not been very encouraging. Nor did we
require the aid of those doubtful articles so ardently desired by the
degenerate Scot as we walked along the good road, sheltered with trees,
that lay alongside Loch Lomond, with the slopes of the high hills to the
right and to the left, the great loch with its lovely islands backed by
the mountains beyond.

Tarbet, which we soon left behind us, was notorious as the port of
Magnus the Norseman, whose followers dragged their boats there from the
sea to harry the islands whither so many of the natives had fled for

Ninnius, writing in the eighth century, tells of the great King Arthur,
who defeated the Scots and drove them for refuge to Loch Lomond, "in
which there were sixty islands and sixty rocks, and on each an eagle's
nest. Every first of May they came together, and from the sound of their
voices the men of that country knew what should befall during the coming
year. And sixty rivers fell into this remarkable lake, but only one
river ran from the lake to the sea." The exactness of every point rather
amused us, for of course the invincible Arthur, like all other
mythological heroes, must ever succeed, and he soon cleared the Scots
from their stronghold.

Sir Walter Scott has made this district famous, and we could have
lingered long in the region of the Trossachs, and should have been
delighted to see Loch Katrine, close by, which the "Lady of the Lake"
had rendered so familiar, but time is a hard taskmaster and we had to be
content with what Loch Lomond provided for us.

We therefore hurried on, and eventually reached the lovely little
village of Luss, where, as we entered, we were welcomed by the warbling
of a robin singing out right merrily, as if to announce our arrival. Our
first impression soon told us that Luss was well patronised by visitors
and by artists ever on the alert for scenery such as here abounded. It
was quite an English-looking village, with a small quarry, not as
extensively worked as formerly, we were informed, for only about twenty
men were now employed.

Before proceeding farther we called for refreshments, and learned that a
steamboat called periodically at Luss. We left this favourite resort by
the Dumbarton road, walking alongside Loch Lomond - one of the finest
walks we ever took and quite baffling description. It was rather
provoking, therefore, when darkness came on just as we reached the
widest part of the Loch where quite a number of islands could be seen.
The road still continued beautiful, being arched over with trees in some
places, with the stars shining brightly above.

Luss, we learned, had its place in history as the home of the
Colquhouns, whose feud with the MacGregors led to such murderous
results. But perhaps its associations with Robert Bruce in his days of
adversity form its greater claim to fame, and the yews on Inch Lonaig,
just above, are said to have been planted by him to supply his bowmen.

Before we reached the end of the loch we turned on the Dumbarton road,
following the road for Helensburgh, as we wanted to see the River Clyde.
This road was fairly level, but about two miles from Helensburgh it rose
to an elevation of about 300 feet. On reaching the top, we saw a sight
which fairly startled us, for a great stretch of water suddenly and
unexpectedly came in view, and across its surface we could see hundreds
of gas lights, twinkling like stars in the darkness. We found afterwards
that they were those of the town of Greenock, on the other side of the
Clyde Estuary, which was some five or six miles across this, its widest
part. We considered this was one of the greatest sights of our journey,
and one well worth while climbing the hill to see. It must, however, be
noted that these were the first gas lights we had seen for what seemed
to us to be ages. We went straight to the Temperance Hotel, which had
been closed for the night, but we gained admission and found comfortable
quarters there.

(_Distance walked thirty-one miles_.)

_Wednesday, October 4th._

We had pictured Helensburgh, from its name, as a very old town, and were
rather surprised when we discovered that it was only founded at the
close of the eighteenth century, by Sir James Colquhoun, who named the
place after his wife, the Lady Helen Sutherland. At the time of our
visit it was a favourite resort of visitors from across the Clyde and
elsewhere. We were unable to explore the town and its environs, owing to
a dense mist or fog which had accumulated during the night; and this
probably accounted for our sleeping longer than usual, for it was quite
nine o'clock before we left Helensburgh on our way to Dumbarton. If the
atmosphere had been clear, we should have had fine views of Greenock,
Port Glasgow, Roseneath Castle, the residence of the Marquis of Lorne,
and other places of interest across the Clyde, and of the ships passing
up and down the river. As it was, we had to be content with listening to
the busy sounds of labour and the thuds of the steam hammers in the
extensive shipbuilding yards across the water, and the ominous sounds of
the steam-whistles from the ships, as they ploughed their way along the
watery tracks on the Clyde. We were naturally very much disappointed
that we had to pass along this road under such unfavourable conditions,
but, as the mist cleared a little, we could just discern the outlines of
one or two of the steamboats as we neared Dumbarton. The fields
alongside our road were chiefly devoted to the growth of potatoes, and
the fine agricultural land reminded us of England. We stayed to speak
with one of the farmers, standing at his gate, and he told us that he
sent potatoes to the Manchester market, which struck us with surprise
because of the great distance. We also stayed awhile, just before
entering Dumbarton, as there had been a slight railway accident,
probably owing to the fog, and the officials, with a gang of men, were
making strenuous efforts to remove the remains of a truck which had come
to grief. We were walking into the town quite unconscious of the
presence of the castle, and were startled at its sudden appearance, as
it stood on an isolated rock, rising almost perpendicularly to the
height of about 300 feet, and we could only just see its dim outline
appearing, as it were, in the clouds. We left it for future inspection
and, as it was now twelve o'clock, hurried into the town for a noon
dinner, for which we were quite ready.

As a sample of the brief way in which the history of an important town
can be summarised, we give the following extract: -

Dumbarton, immortalised by Osian, possessed in turns by first Edward
and John Balliol, the prison of William Wallace, and the scene of
that unavailing remorse which agonised the bosom of his betrayer (a
rude sculpture within the castle represents Sir John Monteith in an
attitude of despair, lamenting his former treachery), captured by
Bruce, unsuccessfully besieged by the fourth Edward, reduced by the
Earl of Argyll, surprised, while in false security, by the daring of
a bold soldier, Captain Crawford, resided in by James V, visited by
that fair and erring Queen, the "peerless Mary," and one of the four
castles kept up by the Act of Union.

And we have been told that it was the birthplace of Taliesin, the early
poet of the Celts, and Gildas their historian.

In former times the castle of Dumbarton was looked upon as one of the
strongest places in the world, and, rising precipitously from the level
plain, it appeared to us to be quite impregnable. Captain Crawford's
feat in capturing this castle equals anything else of the kind recorded
in history. In the time of Queen Elizabeth of England, when a quarrel
was raging in Scotland between the partisans of King James and his
mother Queen Mary, and when even the children of the towns and villages
formed themselves into bands and fought with sticks, stones, and even
knives for King James or Queen Mary, the castle of Dumbarton was held
for the Queen; but a distinguished adherent of the King, one Captain
Crawford of Jordanhill, resolved to make an attempt to take it. There
was only one access to the castle, approached by 365 steps, but these
were strongly guarded and fortified. The captain took advantage of a
misty and moonless night to bring his scaling-ladders to the foot of the
rock at the opposite side, where it was the most precipitous, and
consequently the least guarded by the soldiers at the top. The choice of
this side of the rock was fortunate, as the first ladder broke with the
weight of the men who attempted to climb it, and the noise of the fall
must have betrayed them if they had been on the other and more guarded
side. Crawford, who was assisted by a soldier who had deserted from the
castle, renewed the attempt in person, and, having scrambled up a
projecting ledge of rock, fastened the ladder by tying it to the roots
of a tree which grew midway up the rock. Here they found a footing for
the whole party, which was, of course, small in number. In scaling the
second precipice, however, one of the party was seized with an
epileptic fit, to which he was subject, brought on, perhaps, by terror
in the act of climbing the ladder. He could neither ascend nor descend;
moreover, if they had thrown him down, apart from the cruelty of the
thing, the fall of his body might have alarmed the garrison. Crawford,
therefore, ordered him to be tied fast to one side of the ladder, and,
turning it round, they mounted with ease. When the party gained the

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 14 of 66)