Friday, August 26th.
We did not set off till between ten and eleven o'clock, much too late for a long day's journey. Our boatman lived at the pretty white house which we saw from the windows: we called at his door by the way, and, even when we were near the house, the outside looked comfortable; but within I never saw anything so miserable from dirt, and dirt alone: it reminded one of the house of a decayed weaver in the suburbs of a large town, with a sickly wife and a large family; but William says it was far worse, that it was quite Hottentotish.
After long waiting, and many clumsy preparations, we got ourselves seated in the boat; but we had not floated five yards before we perceived that if any of the party - and there was a little Highland woman who was going over the water with us, the boatman, his helper, and ourselves - should stir but a few inches, leaning to one side or the other, the boat would be full in an instant, and we at the bottom; besides, it was very leaky, and the woman was employed to lade out the water continually. It appeared that this crazy vessel was not the man's own, and that his was lying in a bay at a little distance.
He said he would take us to it as fast as possible, but I was so much frightened I would gladly have given up the whole day's journey; indeed not one of us would have attempted to cross the lake in that boat for a thousand pounds. We reached the larger boat in safety after coasting a considerable way near the shore, but just as we were landing, William dropped the bundle which contained our food into the water. The fowls were no worse, but some sugar, ground coffee, and pepper-cake seemed to be entirely spoiled. We gathered together as much of the coffee and sugar as we could and tied it up, and again trusted ourselves to the lake.
The sun shone, and the air was calm - luckily it had been so while we were in the crazy boat - we had rocks and woods on each side of us, or bare hills; seldom a single cottage and there was no rememberable place till we came opposite to a waterfall of no inconsiderable size, that appeared to drop directly into the lake: close to it was a hut, which we were told was the ferry-house. On the other side of the lake was a pretty farm under the mountains, beside a river, the cultivated grounds lying all together, and sloping towards the lake from the mountain hollow down which the river came. It is not easy to conceive how beautiful these spots appeared after moving on so long between the solitary steeps.
We went a considerable way further, and landed at Rob Roy's Caves, which are in fact no caves, but some fine rocks on the brink of the lake, in the crevices of which a man might hide himself cunningly enough; the water is very deep below them, and the hills above steep and covered with wood. The little Highland woman, who was in size about a match for our guide at Lanerk, accompanied us hither. There was something very gracious in the manners of this woman; she could scarcely speak five English words, yet she gave me, whenever I spoke to her, as many intelligible smiles as I had needed English words to answer me, and helped me over the rocks in the most obliging manner. She had left the boat out of good-will to us, or for her own amusement. She had never seen these caves before; but no doubt had heard of them, the tales of Rob Roy's exploits being told familiarly round the 'ingles' hereabouts, for this neighbourhood was his home.
We landed at Inversneyde, the ferry-house by the waterfall, and were not sorry to part with our boatman, who was a coarse hard-featured man, and, speaking of the French, uttered the basest and most cowardly sentiments. His helper, a youth fresh from the Isle of Skye, was innocent of this fault, and though but a bad rower, was a far better companion; he could not speak a word of English, and sang a plaintive Gaelic air in a low tone while he plied his oar.
The ferry-house stood on the bank a few yards above the landing-place where the boat lies. It is a small hut under a steep wood, and a few yards to the right, looking towards the hut, is the waterfall. The fall is not very high, but the stream is considerable, as we could see by the large black stones that were lying bare, but the rains, if they had reached this place, had had little effect upon the waterfall; its noise was not so great as to form a contrast with the stillness of the bay into which it falls, where the boat, and house, and waterfall itself seemed all sheltered and protected. The Highland woman was to go with us the two first miles of our journey. She led us along a bye foot-path a shorter way up the hill from the ferry-house. There is a considerable settling in the hills that border Loch Lomond, at the passage by which we were to cross to Loch Ketterine; Ben Lomond, terminating near the ferry-house, is on the same side of the water with it, and about three miles above Tarbet.
We had to climb right up the hill, which is very steep, and, when close under it, seemed to be high, but we soon reached the top, and when we were there had lost sight of the lake; and now our road was over a moor, or rather through a wide moorland hollow. Having gone a little way, we saw before us, at the distance of about half a mile, a very large stone building, a singular structure, with a high wall round it, naked hill above, and neither field nor tree near; but the moor was not overgrown with heath merely, but grey grass, such as cattle might pasture upon. We could not conjecture what this building was; it appeared as if it had been built strong to defend it from storms; but for what purpose?
William called out to us that we should observe that place well, for it was exactly like one of the spittals of the Alps, built for the reception of travellers, and indeed I had thought it must be so before he spoke. This building, from its singular structure and appearance, made the place, which is itself in a country like Scotland nowise remarkable, take a character of unusual wildness and desolation - this when we first came in view of it; and afterwards, when we had passed it and looked back, three pyramidal mountains on the opposite side of Loch Lomond terminated the view, which under certain accidents of weather must be very grand. Our Highland companion had not English enough to give us any information concerning this strange building; we could only get from her that it was a 'large house,' which was plain enough.
We walked about a mile and a half over the moor without seeing any other dwelling but one hut by the burn-side, with a peat-stack and a ten-yards'-square enclosure for potatoes; then we came to several clusters of houses, even hamlets they might be called, but where there is any land belonging to the Highland huts there are so many outbuildings near, which differ in no respect from the dwelling-houses except that they send out no smoke, that one house looks like two or three. Near these houses was a considerable quantity of cultivated ground, potatoes and corn, and the people were busy making hay in the hollow places of the open vale, and all along the sides of the becks. It was a pretty sight altogether - men and women, dogs, the little running streams, with linen bleaching near them, and cheerful sunny hills and rocks on every side.
We passed by one patch of potatoes that a florist might have been proud of; no carnation-bed ever looked more gay than this square plot of ground on the waste common. The flowers were in very large bunches, and of an extraordinary size, and of every conceivable shade of colouring from snow-white to deep purple. It was pleasing in that place, where perhaps was never yet a flower cultivated by man for his own pleasure, to see these blossoms grow more gladly than elsewhere, making a summer garden near the mountain dwellings.
At one of the clusters of houses we parted with our companion, who had insisted on bearing my bundle while she stayed with us: I often tried to enter into conversation with her, and seeing a small tarn before us, was reminded of the pleasure of fishing and the manner of living there, and asked her what sort of food was eaten in that place, if they lived much upon fish, or had mutton from the hills; she looked earnestly at me, and shaking her head, replied, 'Oh yes! eat fish - no papistes, eat everything.' The tarn had one small island covered with wood; the stream that runs from it falls into Loch Ketterine, which, after we had gone a little beyond the tarn, we saw at some distance before us.
Pursued the road, a mountain horse-track, till we came to a corner of what seemed the head of the lake, and there sate down completely tired, and hopeless as to the rest of our journey. The road ended at the shore, and no houses were to be seen on the opposite side except a few widely parted huts, and on the near side was a trackless heath. The land at the head of the lake was but a continuation of the common we had come along, and was covered with heather, intersected by a few straggling foot-paths.
Coleridge and I were faint with hunger, and could go no further till we had refreshed ourselves, so we ate up one of our fowls, and drank of the water of Loch Ketterine; but William could not be easy till he had examined the coast, so he left us, and made his way along the moor across the head of the lake. Coleridge and I, as we ate, had what seemed to us but a dreary prospect - a waste of unknown ground which we guessed we must travel over before it was possible for us to find a shelter. We saw a long way down the lake; it was all moor on the near side; on the other the hills were steep from the water, and there were large coppice-woods, but no cheerful green fields, and no road that we could see; we knew, however, that there must be a road from house to house; but the whole lake appeared a solitude - neither boats, islands, nor houses, no grandeur in the hills, nor any loveliness in the shores.
When we first came in view of it we had said it was like a barren Ulswater - Ulswater dismantled of its grandeur, and cropped of its lesser beauties. When I had swallowed my dinner I hastened after William, and Coleridge followed me. Walked through the heather with some labour for perhaps half a mile, and found William sitting on the top of a small eminence, whence we saw the real head of the lake, which was pushed up into the vale a considerable way beyond the promontory where we now sate. The view up the lake was very pleasing, resembling Thirlemere below Armath. There were rocky promontories and woody islands, and, what was most cheering to us, a neat white house on the opposite shore; but we could see no boats, so, in order to get to it we should be obliged to go round the head of the lake, a long and weary way.
After Coleridge came up to us, while we were debating whether we should turn back or go forward, we espied a man on horseback at a little distance, with a boy following him on foot, no doubt a welcome sight, and we hailed him. We should have been glad to have seen either man, woman, or child at this time, but there was something uncommon and interesting in this man's appearance, which would have fixed our attention wherever we had met him. He was a complete Highlander in dress, figure, and face, and a very fine-looking man, hardy and vigorous, though past his prime. While he stood waiting for us in his bonnet and plaid, which never look more graceful than on horseback, I forgot our errand, and only felt glad that we were in the Highlands. William accosted him with, 'Sir, do you speak English?' He replied, 'A little.'
He spoke however, sufficiently well for our purpose, and very distinctly, as all the Highlanders do who learn English as a foreign language; but in a long conversation they want words; he informed us that he himself was going beyond the Trossachs, to Callander, that no boats were kept to 'let;' but there were two gentlemen's houses at this end of the lake, one of which we could not yet see, it being hidden from us by a part of the hill on which we stood. The other house was that which we saw opposite to us; both the gentlemen kept boats, and probably might be able to spare one of their servants to go with us. After we had asked many questions, which the Highlander answered with patience and courtesy, he parted from us, going along a sort of horse-track, which a foot-passenger, if he once get into it, need not lose if he be careful.
When he was gone we again debated whether we should go back to Tarbet, or throw ourselves upon the mercy of one of the two gentlemen for a night's lodging. What we had seen of the main body of the lake made us little desire to see more of it; the Highlander upon the naked heath, in his Highland dress, upon his careful-going horse, with the boy following him, was worth it all; but after a little while we resolved to go on, ashamed to shrink from an adventure. Pursued the horse-track, and soon came in sight of the other gentleman's house, which stood on the opposite side of the vale, a little above the lake. It was a white house; no trees near it except a new plantation of firs; but the fields were green, sprinkled over with haycocks, and the brook which comes down the valley and falls into the lake ran through them. It was like a new-made farm in a mountain vale, and yet very pleasing after the depressing prospect which had been before us.
Our road was rough, and not easy to be kept. It was between five and six o'clock when we reached the brook side, where Coleridge and I stopped, and William went up towards the house, which was in a field, where about half a dozen people were at work. He addressed himself to one who appeared like the master, and all drew near him, staring at William as nobody could have stared but out of sheer rudeness, except in such a lonely place. He told his tale, and inquired about boats; there were no boats, and no lodging nearer than Callander, ten miles beyond the foot of the lake. A laugh was on every face when William said we were come to see the Trossachs; no doubt they thought we had better have stayed at our own homes. William endeavoured to make it appear not so very foolish, by informing them that it was a place much celebrated in England, though perhaps little thought of by them, and that we only differed from many of our countrymen in having come the wrong way in consequence of an erroneous direction.
After a little time the gentleman said we should be accommodated with such beds as they had, and should be welcome to rest in their house if we pleased. William came back for Coleridge and me; the men all stood at the door to receive us, and now their behaviour was perfectly courteous. We were conducted into the house by the same man who had directed us hither on the other side of the lake, and afterwards we learned that he was the father of our hostess. He showed us into a room up-stairs, begged we would sit at our ease, walk out, or do just as we pleased. It was a large square deal wainscoted room, the wainscot black with age, yet had never been painted: it did not look like an English room, and yet I do not know in what it differed, except that in England it is not common to see so large and well-built a room so ill-furnished: there were two or three large tables, and a few old chairs of different sorts, as if they had been picked up one did not know how, at sales, or had belonged to different rooms of the house ever since it was built.
We sat perhaps three-quarters of an hour, and I was about to carry down our wet coffee and sugar and ask leave to boil it, when the mistress of the house entered, a tall fine-looking woman, neatly dressed in a dark-coloured gown, with a white handkerchief tied round her head; she spoke to us in a very pleasing manner, begging permission to make tea for us, an offer which we thankfully accepted. Encouraged by the sweetness of her manners, I went down-stairs to dry my feet by the kitchen fire; she lent me a pair of stockings, and behaved to me with the utmost attention and kindness. She carried the tea-things into the room herself, leaving me to make tea, and set before us cheese and butter and barley cakes. These cakes are as thin as our oat-bread, but, instead of being crisp, are soft and leathery, yet we, being hungry, and the butter delicious, ate them with great pleasure, but when the same bread was set before us afterwards we did not like it.
After tea William and I walked out; we amused ourselves with watching the Highlanders at work: they went leisurely about everything, and whatever was to be done, all followed, old men, and young, and little children. We were driven into the house by a shower, which came on with the evening darkness, and the people leaving their work paused at the same time. I was pleased to see them a while after sitting round a blazing fire in the kitchen, father and son-in-law, master and man, and the mother with her little child on her knee. When I had been there before tea I had observed what a contrast there was between the mistress and her kitchen; she did not differ in appearance from an English country lady; but her kitchen, roof, walls, and floor of mud, was all black alike; yet now, with the light of a bright fire upon so many happy countenances, the whole room made a pretty sight.
We heard the company laughing and talking long after we were in bed; indeed I believe they never work till they are tired. The children could not speak a word of English: they were very shy at first; but after I had caressed the eldest, and given her a red leather purse, with which she was delighted, she took hold of my hand and hung about me, changing her side-long looks for pretty smiles. Her mother lamented they were so far from school, they should be obliged to send the children down into the Lowlands to be taught reading and English. Callander, the nearest town, was twenty miles from them, and it was only a small place: they had their groceries from Glasgow.
She said that at Callander was their nearest church, but sometimes 'got a preaching at the Garrison.' In explaining herself she informed us that the large building which had puzzled us in the morning had been built by Government, at the request of one of the Dukes of Montrose, for the defence of his domains against the attacks of Rob Roy. I will not answer for the truth of this; perhaps it might have been built for this purpose, and as a check on the Highlands in general; certain it is, however, that it was a garrison; soldiers used to be constantly stationed there, and have only been withdrawn within the last thirteen or fourteen years. Mrs. Macfarlane attended me to my room; she said she hoped I should be able to sleep upon blankets, and said they were 'fresh from the fauld.'
|To Next Part|