Chester stands a return visit well, and so does the spacious and hospitable Grosvenor Hotel. It was nearly dark when we reached the city and the hotel was crowded, the season now being at its height. We had neglected to wire for reservation, but our former stop at the hotel was not forgotten and this stood us in good stead in securing accommodations. So comfortably were we established that we did not take the car out of the garage the next day but spent our time in leisurely re-visiting some of the places that had pleased us most.
The next day we were early away for the north. I think that no other stretch of road of equal length was more positively unattractive than that we followed from Chester to Penrith. Even the road-book, whose "objects of interest" were in some cases doubtful, to say the least, could name only the battlefield of 1648 near Preston and one or two minor "objects" in a distance of one hundred miles. I recalled the comment of the Touring Secretary of the Motor Union as he rapidly drew his pencil through this road as shown on the map: "Bad road, rough pavement, houses for thirty miles at a stretch right on each side of the street, crowds of children everywhere - but you cannot get away from it very well." All of which we verified by personal experience.
At starting it seemed easy to reach Carlisle for the night, but progress was slow and we met an unexpected delay at Warrington, twenty miles north of Chester. A policeman courteously notified us that the main street of the city would be closed three hours for a Sunday School parade. We had arrived five minutes too late to get across the bridge and out of the way. We expressed our disgust at the situation and the officer made the conciliatory suggestion that we might be able to go on anyway. He doubted if the city had any authority to close the main street, one of the King's highways, on account of such a procession. We hardly considered our rights so seriously infringed as to demand such a remedy, and we turned into the stable-yard of a nearby hotel to wait until the streets were clear.
In the meantime we joined the crowd that watched the parade. The main procession, of five or six thousand children, was made up of Sunday Schools of the Protestant churches - the Church of England and the "Non-Conformists." The Catholics, whose relations in England with Protestants are strained to a much greater extent than in the United States, did not join, but formed a smaller procession in one of the side streets. The parade was brilliant with flags and with huge banners bearing portraits of the King and Queen, though some bore the names and emblems of the different schools. One small fellow proudly flourished the Stars and Stripes, which was the only foreign flag among the thousands in the procession. In this connection I might remark that one sees the American flag over here far oftener than he would traveling in America. We found nothing but the kindest and most cordial feeling toward Americans everywhere; and the very fact that we were Americans secured us special privileges in not a few cases.
After the procession had crossed the bridge, a policeman informed us that we could proceed. We gained considerable time by making a detour through side streets - not an altogether easy performance - and after much inquiry regained the main road leading out of the city. Warrington is a city of more than one hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants, a manufacturing place with nothing to detain the tourist. On the main street near the river is a fine bronze statue of Oliver Cromwell, one of four that I saw erected to the memory of the Protector in England. Our route from Warrington led through Wigan and Preston, manufacturing cities of nearly one hundred thousand each, and the suburbs of the three are almost continuous. Tram cars were numerous and children played everywhere with utter unconcern for the vehicles which crowded the streets.
When we came to Lancaster we were glad to stop, although our day's journey had covered only sixty miles. We knew very little of Lancaster and resorted to the guide-books for something of its antecedents, only to learn the discouraging fact that here, as everywhere, the Romans had been ahead of us. The town has a history reaching back to the Roman occupation, but its landmarks have been largely obliterated in the manufacturing center which it has become. Charles Dickens was a guest at Lancaster, and in recording his impressions he declared it "a pleasant place, dropped in the midst of a charming landscape; a place with a fine, ancient fragment of a castle; a place of lovely walks and possessing many staid old houses, richly fitted with Honduras mahogany," and followed with other reflections not so complimentary concerning the industrial slavery which prevailed in the city a generation or two ago.
The "fine, ancient fragment of a castle" has been built into the modern structure which now serves as the seat of the county court. The square tower of the Norman keep is included in the building. This in general style and architecture conforms to the old castle, which, excepting the fragment mentioned by Dickens, has long since vanished. Near at hand is St. Mary's Church, rivaling in size and dignity many of the cathedrals, and its massive, buttressed walls and tall, graceful spire do justice to its magnificent site. From the eminence occupied by the church the Irish Sea is plainly visible, and in the distance the almost tropical Isle of Man rises abruptly out of the blue waters.
The monotony of our previous day's travel was forgotten in lively anticipation as we proceeded at what seemed a snail's pace over the fine road leading from Penrith to Carlisle. We had been warned at Penrith, not against the bold highwaymen, the border moss-troopers or the ranting Highlandmen of song and story, but against a plain, Twentieth Century police trap which was being worked very successfully along this road. Such was our approach in these degenerate days to "Merrie Carlile," which figured so largely in the endless border warfare between the Scotch and English. But why the town should have been famed as "Merrie Carlile" would be hard to say, unless more than a thousand years of turmoil, bloodshed and almost ceaseless warfare through which it passed earned it the cheerful appellation. The trouble between the English and the Welsh ended early, but it has been only a century and a half ago since the closing scene of the long and bitter conflict between the north and south was enacted at Carlisle.
Its grim old castle was the scene of the imprisonment and execution of the last devoted followers of Prince Charlie, and according to Scott's Waverly the dashing but sadly deluded young chieftain, Fergus McIvor, was one of those who suffered a shameful death. In this connection one remembers that Scott's marriage to Miss Carpentier took place in Carlisle, an event that would naturally accentuate our interest in the fine old border city. As we had previously visited Carlisle, our stay was a short one, but its remarkable history, its connection with the stories of Walter Scott, its atmosphere of romance and legend and the numerous points of interest within easy reach - all combine to make it a center where one might spend several days. The Romans had been here also, and they, too, had struggled with the wild tribes on the north, and from that time down to the execution of the last adherents of the Stuarts in 1759 the town was hardly at any time in a state of quietude. As described by an observant writer, "every man became a soldier and every house that was not a mere peasant's hut was a fortress." A local poet of the Seventeenth Century summed it up in a terse if not elegant couplet as his unqualified opinion
"That whoso then in the border did
Lived little happier than those in hell."
But Carlisle is peaceful and quiet enough at the present time, a place of considerable size and with a thriving commerce. Its castle, a plain and unimpressive structure, still almost intact, has been converted into military barracks, and its cathedral, which, according to an old chronicle, in 1634 "impressed three observant strangers as a great wild country church," has not been greatly altered in appearance since that period. It suffered severely at the hands of the Parliamentary soldiers, who tore down a portion of the nave to use the materials in strengthening the defenses of the town. But the story of Carlisle could not be told in many volumes. If the mere hint of its great interest which I have given here can induce any fellow tourist to tarry a little longer at "Merrie Carlile," it will be enough.
Leaving Carlisle, we crossed "Solway Tide" and found ourselves in the land of bluebells and heather, the "Bonnie Scotland" of Robert Burns. Shortly after crossing the river, a sign-board pointed the way to Gretna Green, that old-time haven of eloping lovers, who used to cross the Solway just as the tide began to rise, and before it subsided there was little for the paternal ancestors to do but forgive and make the best of it. But we missed the village, for it was a mile or two off the road to Dumfries, which we hoped to reach for the night. An unexpected difficulty with the car nearly put this out of the range of possibility, but by grace of the long Scotch twilight, we came into Dumfries about ten o'clock without finding it necessary to light our lamps. Our day's journey had been a tiresome one, and we counted ourselves fortunate on being directed to the Station Hotel, which was as comfortable and well managed as any we found. The average railway hotel in America is anything but an attractive proposition, but in Scotland and in England conditions are almost reversed, the station hotels under the control of the different railway companies being generally the best.
We had been attracted to Dumfries chiefly because of its association with Robert Burns, who spent the last years of his life in the town or in its immediate vicinity. Our first pilgrimage was to the poet's tomb, in St. Michael's churchyard. A splendid memorial marks the place, but a visit to the small dingy house a few yards distant, in which he died, painfully reminded us of his last years of distress and absolute want. Within easy reach of Dumfries lie many points of interest, but as our time permitted us to visit only one of these, we selected Caerlaverock Castle, the Ellangowan of Scott's "Guy Mannering," lying about ten miles to the south. In location and style of construction it is one of the most remarkable of the Scotch ruins. It stands in an almost level country near the coast and must have depended for defense on its enormously thick walls and the great double moat which surrounded it, rather than the strength of its position. The castle is built of dark-brown stone, and the walls, rising directly from the waters of the moat and covered with masses of ivy, are picturesque, though in a sad state of disrepair. Bits of artistic carving and beautiful windows showed that it was a palace as well as a fortress, though it seems strange that the builder should select such a site.
In common with most British castles, it was finally destroyed by Cromwell, and the custodian showed us a pile of cannon balls which he had gathered in the vicinity. On one of the stones of the inner wall were the initials, "R.B.," and the date, "1776," which our guide assured us were cut by Robert Burns; and there are certain peculiarities about the monogram which leave little doubt that it was the work of the poet. From the battlements of the castle the old man pointed to a distant hill, where, he told us, the home of the Carlyles had been for many years and where Thomas Carlyle, who was born at Ecclefechan, lies buried. Within a few miles of Dumfries is Ellisland Farm, where Robert Burns was a tenant for several years, and many of his most famous poems were written during that period. And besides, there were old abbeys and castles galore within easy reach; and glad indeed we should have been had we been able to make the Station Hotel our headquarters for a week and devote our time to exploring. But we were already behind schedule and the afternoon found us on the road to Ayr.
A little more than half the distance from Dumfries to Ayr the road runs through the Nith Valley, with river and forest scenery so charming as to remind us of the Wye. The highway is a splendid one, with fine surface and easy grades. It passes through an historic country, and the journey would consume a long time if one should pause at every point that might well repay a visit. A mile on the way is Lincluden Abbey, in whose seclusion Burns wrote many of his poems, the most famous of which, "The Vision of Liberty," begins with a reference to the ruin:
"As I stood by yon roofless
Where wall flowers scent the dewy air,
Where the owlet lone in her ivy bower,
Tells to the midnight moon her care - "
Ellisland Farm is only a few miles farther on the road, never to be forgotten as the spot where "Tam-O'-Shanter" was written. The farm home was built by Burns himself during what was probably the happiest period of his life, and he wrote many verses that indicated his joyful anticipation of life at Ellisland Farm. But alas, the "best laid plans o' mice and men gang oft agley," and the personal experience of few men has more strikingly proven the truth of the now famous lines than of Robert Burns himself! Many old castles and magnificent mansions crown the heights overlooking the river, but we caught only glimpses of some of them, surrounded as they were by immense parks, closed to the public. Every one of the older places underwent many and strange vicissitudes in the long years of border warfare, and of them all, Drumlanrigh Castle, founded in 1689, is perhaps the most imposing. For ten years its builder, the first Earl of Queensbury, labored on the structure, only to pass a single night in the completed building, never to revisit it, and ending his days grieving over the fortune he had squandered on this many-towered pile of gray stone.
We may not loiter along the Nithdale road, rich as it is in traditions and relics of the past. Our progress through such a beautiful country had been slow at the best, and a circular sign-board, bearing the admonition, "Ten Miles Per Hour," posted at each of the numerous villages on the way, was another deterrent upon undue haste. The impression that lingers with us of these small Scotch villages is not a pleasant one. Rows of low, gray-stone, slate-roofed cottages straggling along a single street - generally narrow and crooked and extending for distances depending on the size of the place - made up the average village. Utterly unrelieved by the artistic touches of the English cottages and without the bright dashes of color from flowers and vines, with square, harsh lines and drab coloring everywhere, these Scotch villages seemed bleak and comfortless. Many of them we passed through on this road, among them Sanquhar, with its castle, once a strong and lordly fortress but now in a deplorable state of neglect and decay, and Mauchline, where Burns farmed and sang before he removed to Dumfries. It was like passing into another country when we entered Ayr, which, despite its age and the hoary traditions which cluster around it, is an up-to-date appearing seaport of about thirty thousand people. It is a thriving business town with an unusually good electric street-car system, fine hotels and (not to be forgotten by motorists) excellent garages and repair shops.
Ayr is one of the objective points of nearly every tourist who enters Scotland. Its associations with Burns, his birthplace, Kirk Alloway, his monument, the "Twa Brigs," the "Brig O' Doon," and the numerous other places connected with his memory in Ayr and its vicinity, need not be dwelt on here. An endless array of guide-books and other volumes will give more information than the tourist can absorb and his motor car will enable him to rapidly visit such places as he may choose. It will be of little encumbrance to him, for he may leave the car standing at the side of the street while he makes a tour of the haunts of Burns at Alloway or elsewhere.
It was a gloomy day when we left Ayr over the fine highway leading to Glasgow, but before we had gone very far it began to rain steadily. We passed through Kilmarnock, the largest city in Ayrshire. Here a splendid memorial to Burns has been erected, and connected with it is a museum of relics associated with the poet, as well as copies of various editions of his works. This reminds one that the first volume of poems by Burns was published at Kilmarnock, and in the cottage at Ayr we saw one of the three existing copies, which had been purchased for the collection at an even thousand pounds.
We threaded our way carefully through Glasgow, for the rain, which was coming down heavily, made the streets very slippery, and our car showed more or less tendency to the dangerous "skid." Owing to former visits to the city, we did not pause in Glasgow, though the fact is that no other large city in Britain has less to interest the tourist. It is a great commercial city, having gained in the last one hundred years three quarters of a million inhabitants. Its public buildings, churches, and other show-places - excepting the cathedral - lack the charm of antiquity. After striking the Dumbarton road, exit from the city was easy, and for a considerable distance we passed near the Clyde shipyards, the greatest in the world, where many of the largest merchant and war vessels have been constructed. Just as we entered Dumbarton, whose castle loomed high on a rocky island opposite the town, the rain ceased and the sky cleared with that changeful rapidity we noticed so often in Britain. Certainly we were fortunate in having fine weather for the remainder of the day, during which we passed perhaps as varied and picturesque scenery as we found on our journey.
For the next thirty miles the road closely followed the west shore of Loch Lomond, and for the larger part of the way we had a magnificent panorama of the lake and the numberless green islands that rose out of its silvery waters. Our view in places was cut off by the fine country estates that lay immediately on the shores of the lake, but the grounds, rich with shrubbery and bright with flowers, were hardly less pleasing than the lake itself. These prevailed at the southern portion of the lake only, and for at least twenty miles the road closely followed the shore, leading around short turns on the very edges of steep embankments or over an occasional sharp hill - conditions that made careful driving necessary. Just across the lake, which gradually grew narrower as we went north, lay the low Scotch mountains, their green outlines subdued by a soft blue haze, but forming a striking background to the ever-varying scenery of the lake and opposite shore. Near the northern end on the farther side is the entrance to the Trossachs, made famous by Scott's "Lady of the Lake." The roads to this region are closed to motors - the only instance that I remember where public highways were thus interdicted. The lake finally dwindled to a brawling mountain stream, which we followed for several miles to Crianlarich, a rude little village nestling at the foot of the rugged hills.
From here we ran due west to Oban, and for twenty miles of the distance the road was the worst we saw in Scotland, being rough and covered with loose, sharp stones that were ruinous to tires. It ran through a bleak, unattractive country almost devoid of habitations and with little sign of life excepting the flocks of sheep grazing on the short grasses that covered the steep, stony hillsides. The latter half of the distance the surroundings are widely different, an excellent though winding and narrow road leading us through some of the finest scenes of the Highlands. Especially pleasing was the ten-mile jaunt along the north shore of Loch Awe, with the glimpses of Kilchurn Castle which we caught through occasional openings in the thickly clustered trees on the shore. Few ruins are more charmingly situated than Kilchurn, standing as it does on a small island rising out of the clear waters - the crumbling walls overgrown with ivy and wall-flowers. The last fifteen miles were covered in record time for us, for it was growing exceedingly chilly as the night began to fall and the Scotch July day was as fresh and sharp as an American October.
Oban is one of the most charming of the north of Scotland resort towns, and is becoming one of the most popular. It is situated on a little land-locked bay, generally white in summer time with the sails of pleasure vessels. Directly fronting the town, just across the harbor, are several ranges of hills fading away into the blue mists of the distance and forming, together with the varying moods of sky and water, a delightful picture. Overhanging the town from the east is the scanty ruin of Dunollie Castle, little more than a shapeless pile of stone covered over with masses of ivy. Viewed from the harbor, the town presents a striking picture, and the most remarkable feature is the great colosseum on the hill. This is known as McCaig's Tower and was built by an eccentric citizen some years ago merely to give employment to his fellow townsmen. One cannot get an adequate idea of the real magnitude of the structure without climbing the steep hill and viewing it from the inside. It is a circular tower, pierced by two rows of windows, and is not less than three hundred feet in diameter, the wall ranging in height from thirty to seventy-five feet from the ground. It lends a most striking and unusual appearance to the town, but among the natives it goes by the name of "McCaig's Folly."
From Oban as a center, numberless excursions may be made to old castles, lakes of surpassing beauty and places of ancient and curious history. None of the latter are more famous than the island of Iona, lying about thirty-five miles distant and accessible by steamer two or three days of each week in summer time. We never regretted that we abandoned the car a day for the trip to this quaint spot and its small sister island, Staffa, famed for Fingall's cave and the curious natural columns formed by volcanic action. The round trip covers a distance of about seventy-five miles and occupies eight or ten hours. Iona is a very small island, with a population of no more than fifty, but it was a place of importance in the early religious history of Scotland; and its odd little cathedral, which is now in ruins - except the nave, but recently restored - was originally built in the Eleventh Century. Weird and strange indeed is the array of memorials rudely cut from Scotch granite that mark the resting places of the chiefs of many forgotten clans, while a much higher degree of art is shown in the regular and even delicate designs traced on the numerous old crosses still standing.
In olden days Iona was counted sacred ground after the landing of St. Columba in 563, and its fame even extended to Sweden and Denmark, whose kings at one time were brought here for interment. We were fortunate in having a fine day, the sky being clear and the sea perfectly smooth. We were thus enabled to make landing at both isles, a thing that is often impossible on account of the weather. This circular trip - for the return is made by the Sound of Mull - is a remarkably beautiful one, the steamer winding in and out through the straits among the islands and between shores wild and broken, though always picturesque and often impressive. Many of the hills are crowned with ruined fortresses and occasionally an imposing modern summer residence is to be seen. Competent judges declare that provided the weather is fine no more delightful short excursion by steamer can be made on the British coast than the one just described.
Three miles from Oban lies Dunstaffnage Castle, a royal residence of the Pictish kings, bearing the marks of extreme antiquity. It occupies a commanding position on a point of land extending far into the sea and almost surrounded by water at high tide. We visited it in the fading twilight, and a lonelier, more ghostly place it would be hard to imagine. From this old castle was taken the stone of destiny upon which the Pictish kings were crowned, but which is now the support of the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. A place so rich in romantic legend could not be expected to escape the knowledge of the Wizard of the North and Scott made more than one visit to this solitary ruin. As a result the story of Dunstaffnage has been woven into the "Legend of Montrose" as "Ardenvohr" and the description may be easily recognized by any one who visits the old castle.
Oban is modern, a place of many and excellent hotels fronting on the bay. So far, only a small per cent of its visitors are Americans, and the indifferent roads leading to the town discourage the motorist. Had we adhered to the route outlined for us by the Motor Union Secretary, we should have missed it altogether. We had made a stop in the town two years before, and yet there are few places in Britain that we would rather visit a third time than Oban.
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