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 summit, they slew the sentinel before he had time to give the alarm, and easily surprised the slumbering garrison, who had trusted too much to the security of their position. Some of the climbing irons used are shown within the castle.
We now set out from Dumbarton, with its old castle, and the old sword worn by the brave Wallace reposing in the armoury, at the same time leaving the River Clyde and its fine scenery, which, owing to the fog, we had almost totally missed. We proceeded towards Stirling, where we hoped to arrive on the following day; but we now found ourselves passing through a semi-manufacturing district, and gradually it dawned upon us that we had now left the Highlands and were approaching the Lowlands of Scotland. We thought then and many times afterwards of that verse of Robbie Burns's: -
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart
is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild deer and following the roe -
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.
We passed through Renton, where there were bleaching and calico printing works. A public library graced the centre of the village, as well as a fine Tuscan column nearly 60 feet high, erected to Tobias Smollett, the poet, historian and novelist, who was born in 1721 not half a mile from the spot. The houses were small and not very clean. The next village we came to was Alexandria, a busy manufacturing place where the chief ornament was a very handsome drinking-fountain erected to a member of the same family, a former M.P., "by his tenants and friends," forming a striking contrast to its mean and insignificant surroundings of one-storied houses and dismal factories. We were soon in the country again, and passed some fine residences, including the modern-looking Castle of Tullichewan situated in a fine park, and reached Balloch at the extreme end of Loch Lomond, from which point we had a momentary view of the part of the lake we had missed seeing on the preceding evening. Here we paid the sum of one halfpenny each for the privilege of passing over the Suspension Bridge, which gave us access to a very pleasant part of the country, and crossed one spur of a hill, from the top of which, under favourable conditions, we might have seen nearly the whole of Loch Lomond, including the islands and the ranges of hills on either side -
Mountains that like giants stand
To sentinel enchanted land.
But though it was only about a mile and a half from our path to the summit, and the total elevation only 576 feet, 297 of which we had already ascended, we did not visit it, as the mist would have prevented an extended view. It stood in a beautiful position, surrounded by woods and the grounds of Boturich Castle; why such a pretty place should be called "Mount Misery" was not clear, unless it had some connection with one of the Earls of Argyll who came to grief in that neighbourhood in 1685 near Gartocharn, which we passed shortly afterwards. He had collected his clan to overthrow the Government of James VII (James II of England) and had crossed the Leven at Balloch when he found Gartocharn occupied by the royal troops. Instead of attacking them, he turned aside, to seek refuge among the hills, and in the darkness and amid the bogs and moors most of his men deserted, only about five hundred answering to their names the following morning. The Earl, giving up the attempt, was captured an hour or two later as he was attempting to cross the River Clyde, and the words applied to him, "Unhappy Argyll," indicated his fate. We passed Kilmaronock church in the dark and, after crossing the bridge over Endrick Water, entered Drymen and put up at the "Buchanan Arms" Inn, where we had been recommended to stay the night.
(Distance walked twenty miles.)
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