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."
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 described:
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 safety.
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.)
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