FROM KILMARNOCK TO NEWMILNS--THE AYSHIRE
HERMIT--LOUDOUN KIRKYARD AND RUINED CHURCH--THE QUEIR--LADY FLORA
HASTINGS--THE SCOTTISH MILMAID--GALSTON--LOUDOUN CASTLE--THE OLD
CASTLE--LOUDOUN MANSE--DR. LAWRIE AND BURNS--LOUDOUN HILL--NEWMILNS--THE
OLD TOWER--THE PARISH CHURCH AND CHURCHYARD.
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can neer express, yet cannot all conceal.
It is delightful to stroll along a hedge-bordered
country road on a radiant summer day, listening to the hum of the
treasure-ladened bee and the song of the lark. It is truly exhilarating,
and I never enjoyed Natures beauties to greater advantage than I did when
walking from Kilmarnock to Newmilns. The road I selected is not only
secluded, but one of the old sort, winding over heights and through
hollows in a manner very pleasing to the pedestrian who has an eye for the
picturesque. Any little toil, therefore, which I encountered on the way
was amply repaid by the extensive and beautiful prospects obtained from
the heights, and especially of that district,
Where Loudoun Hill rears high its conic form,
And bares its rocky bosom to the storm.
After a walk of two miles or so I reached the river
Irvine at a point where it sweeps round a curve and rushing along its
channel through some beautiful scenery, again emerges and passes
triumphantly on its way to the sea. For a short distance the road winds
along its bank, but is soon diverges and rises over the brow of a steep
hill on which stands a handsome villa. Behind it, in a beautiful holm on
the bank of the stream, is an ivy-mantled, ruined cottage, which was at on
time the residence of Thomas Raeburn, the Ayshire hermit--a personage
whose eccentric habits and peculiar appearance will not readily be
forgotten. His story is as curious as it is brief. It appears that he
inherited the house and a few acres of land from his father, but, strange
to say, the small property was surrounded by that of other people, and
there was no road into it unless one which skirted a field belonging to a
neighbour. In course of time the neighbour closed the road, but Raeburn,
under the impression that use and wont constituted a right, sued him for
a restitution of the privilege of passing through his ground, and, as
might have been expected, lost the case. The result of the trial preyed
upon his mind and mad him morose and gloomy. He declared that he had been
harshly dealt with, and vowed that he would neither shave his beard, cut
his hair, nor renew his clothing until justice was done him, and this vow
he solemnly kept until the day of his death. His hair grew long and
matted, and his beard, likewise unkempt, hung in tangled masses down his
breast. His clothing, too, soon lost its identity, and became so patched
and darned that it was ultimately a manner of difficulty to discover an
original piece of any garment. His strange appearance naturally attracted
many visitors, and in course of time a favourite rural walk with the young
people of Kilmarnock was to his residence and back, for he was no recluse,
but made all comers welcome. To accommodate such he dealt in lemonade and
ginger-beer, and occasionally in a more stimulating beverage, although his
infringement of the excise law did not go unpunished. He was parsimonious
in his habits, lived sparingly, and drank nothing but water when better
cheer could not be procured at the expense of others. He made many
attempts at with in private conversation, of which the following are said
to be fair samples:--Upon being asked if his cloak was with the town, he
replied--No, its twa mile and a half afft. If a visitor asked for a
light for his pipe, he was generally told that Theres no as muckle fire
I the house as wad licht a pipe, buy ye may licht your tobacco. Upon
being asked if he was ever drunk, he replied--Theres naebody wi a
throat bi enou to swallow me. He had a strange influence over animals,
and more especially over the songsters of the grove. Often he go into his
garden for the gratification of visitors and call the robins from the
trees to perch on his beard and take crumbs from between his lips. He was
never married. An old woman kept house for him and managed his dairy, for
he had several cows, and was famed for making cheese of excellent
quality. He died in June, 1843, in the seventy-fourth year of his age,
and the money he so avariciously gathered was divided amongst relatives
who speedily put it into circulation, and his plot of ground now belongs
to a cattle dealer in Newmilns.
Above the ruined residence of the Ayrshire hermit are
Milton Mill, and the millers house and garden, beautifully situated on
the bank of the stream, and beyond them Grougar Row, a collection of
miners dwellings. One obtains occasional glimpses of Galston and the
moors beyond it as he plods onward, but there is little else on the
landscape to attract attention, and the river is soon lost sight of by a
sudden divergence of the road.
The first place of consequence reached is Loudoun
Kirkyard, an ancient place of burial surrounded by a wall and a row of
somber-looking trees. It nestles in a picturesque nook by the wayside at
a point where a burnie jinks beneath over- hanging bushes and steals under
a rude bridge with a gurgling sound which seems to say--
Men may come, and men may go,
But I flow on for ever.
The iron gate being securely chained and padlocked, I
sought and gained admittance by a wicket in a cottage garden hard by. The
secluded spot is small, unkept, and the memorials of the departed few and
scattered. In its centre stands a shattered gable and a portion of the
old kirk called the queir, which is kept in repair on account of it
having been the sepulchre of the Loudoun family for nigh four hundred
years. It is a venerable square block with a sloping roof, and is
embellished with the Loudoun arms and other curious devices, and also has
a small barred window through which the coffins of the defunct barons are
seen. Here lie the remains of the gifted but unfortunate Lady Flora
Hastings, who is said to have died of a broken heart on account of a cruel
and umerited slander which was raised against her by one of the ladies of
the bedchamber to H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent. Had her detractors heeded
the advice of Burns--
Gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman--
she would not have been a flower plucked in its
bloom. She was an accomplished poetess, and shortly after her death
--which occurred at Buckingham Palace in July, 1839--her poems, which are
distinguished by much purity of thought, sweetness, and grace, were
collected and published. Indeed, as an able reviewer remarked, such a
deep love of the beautiful, the exalted, and the holy reigns through them
all that it is impossible to repeal the conviction that her actions
accorded with her words, and that her words gave but the utterance to the
calm and sinless feelings of her heart.
There is a curious old stone at the door of the queir
worth attention. It states that it is IN MEMORY OF MATHO FULTUN, MAISTER
MASON-ANE RICHT HONEST MAN WHO DIED IN THE YEAR OF GOD, 1632. According
to the semi-obliterated inscription of rising at the Resurrection. Within
a few yards of it, and near to the gable of the old kirk, is the grave of
the Scottish Milkmaid, Janet Little, author of a small volume of poetry
which never gained any great or lasting popularity, but who is now well
known as the poetical correspondent of Robert Burns. The plain slab, which
marks the spot, bears the following in yet legible characters:--
IN MEMORY OF JOHN RICHMOND, WHO DIED AUGUST 10, 1819,
AGED 78 YEARS; AND JANET LITTLE, HIS SPOUSE, WHO DIED MARCH, 15, 1818,
AGED 54 YEARS; AND FIVE OF THEIR CHILDREN.
Janet belonged to Ecclefechan and came to Ayrshire to
serve in the capacity of a domestic servant in the family of Mrs Hendrie,
daughter of Mrs Dunlop, the distinguished friend of our poet, when she
resided in Loudoun Castle. Having met with a copy of the Kilmarnock
edition, she was so captivated by it that she conceived a partiality for
Burns, and wrote him a poetical address, of which the subjoined is part:--
Fair fa the honest rustic swain,
The pride o a oor Scottish plain;
Thou gies us joy to hear thy strain,
And notes sae sweet;
Old Ramsays shade revived again
In thee we greet.
Lovd Thalia, that delightful muse,
Seemd long shut up in a recluse;
To all her aid she did refuse
Since Allans day;
Till Burns arose, then did she choose
To grace thy lay.
To hear thy sang all ranks desire,
Sae well you strike the dormant lyre;
Apollo with poetic fire
Thy breast does charm;
An critics silently admire
Thy art to charm.
Caesar and Luath weel can speak--
Tis pity eer their gabs should steek,
But into human nature keek,
And knots unravel;
To hear their lectures once a week
Nine miles Id travel.
In the latter part of March (1791), Burns had the
misfortune to come down with his horse and break his right arm. Janet
Little, the poetical milmaid, had come to see him, and was waiting at
Ellisland when the bard returned in the disabled state to which he had
been reduced by the accident. She was related in simple verse her own
painful alarm when the sad intelligence resounded through his hall, the
sympathy with which she regarded the tears of his affectionate Jean, and
the double embarrassment she experienced in greeting at such a crisis the
illustrious poet whom she had formerly trembled to meet al all.
Little else regarding Janet is known. The cottage
where she resided is within a stone-throw of the Kirk yard, and from this
is appears that she married and settled in the district after quitting the
service of Mrs Hendrie.
Near Janets grave there is a handsome monument to the
memory of the late Rev. James Allan, minister of Loudoun, =and a very
chaste stone which Mr. Robert Mackie has raised to the memory of his
sister, Janet, who died at Loudoun Cottage, 24th September,
1872, in the sixty-third year of her age. With the exception of these,
and a humble slab com- memorating THOMAS FLEMMING OF LOUDOUN HILL, WHO,
FOR HIS APPEARANCE IN ARMS IN HIS OWN DEFENCE, AND IN THE DEFENCE OF THE
GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO THE WORD OF GOD, WAS SHOT IN AN ENCOUNTER AT DRUMCLOG,
1ST JUNE, 1679, BY BLOODY GRAHAM OF CLAVERHOUSE. there are no
stone of special interest, but several may be found decked with uncouth
rhymes and shapeless sculpture, which implore the passing tribute of a
Beyond Loudoun Kirk the road is very beautiful and the
scenery most sylvan and picturesque. From the height which the road
attains before entering the policies of Loudoun Castle, there is an
excellent view of Galston, nestling sweetly on the bank of the river
Irvine at the foot of a range of uplands studded with farmsteads and
patches of woodland, which Burns refers to in the opening stanza of the
Holy Fair,. Although it cannot be called flourishing, it is at least a
comfortable country town, with some four thousand inhabitants, but there
is little in it to stay the feet of a rambler--its antiquities being few,
and its building lowly. Its chief objects of interest are its
church--which stands above the town and is a prominent object for a great
distance--and Barr Castle, an old square tower at the top of one of its
streets. It also boasts a boss tree, as the rotten hollow stump of a
gigantic willow is termed. The tradition regarding it is that Sir Wm.
Wallace concealed himself in its branches when pursued by a detachment of
Southern soldiers, a statement which verges on the probable, for from its
girth it is of seemingly great age. The old tower possesses no history.
It is said to have been the residence of a powerful family name Lockhart,
and that the reformer, John Know, addressed the people of Kyle from one of
its windows. It was a favourite haunt of John Wright, a gifted bur
erratic local genius, who made some stir in literary circles in his day.
In some verses which he addressed to it, he says:--
Proud edifice! no annals tell
What thou hast brooked, what thou hast been,
Who reared thee in this lovely dell,
What mighty baron--lord, I ween,
Of hardy Kyle; no bordering tower
Possessed more independent power.
Amongst the many excellent things John wrote is a song
entitled Kiss the goblet and live, which I am almost tempted to
reproduce. Unfortunately for him, he kissed it to often and died in the
prime of life, and had it not been for the generosity of a few friends
would have filled a paupers grave.
The quaint byroad which we have followed from Kilmarnock
terminates at the sylvan avenue leading to Loudoun Castle, the magnificent
residence of the Loudoun family. The present Earl succeeded to his mother,
the late Countess of Loudoun, who took up the Scotch title at the death of
her brother, the Marquis of Hastings.
The grounds are thickly wooded, and contain many
beautiful aged trees. Indeed, in the vernal season of the year, the woods
and braes around this famed residence are unsurpassed for grandeur, and
are in every way worthy of the compliment which the poet Tannahill paid
them. To John, fourth Earl of Loudoun, belongs the merit of having made
the scenery what it is, for he not only devoted himself to improving the
estate in many ways, but planted upwards on one million trees which he
brought from various parts of the globe.
Passing up the shady avenue I soon arrived in front of
the Castle, which may be described as combining the gracefulness of modern
architecture with the massive strength of early times. One battlemented
square tower was erected in the twelfth century, and another, which
overlooks the entire building, in the fifteenth. To these antiquated
structures Sir John Campbell, who was created Lord Chancellor in 1642,
made an extensive addition, and in 1811, the whole was augmented by a
large and stately portion which gives to the pile quite a palatial
appearance. The interior is fitted up with great magnificence, and the
walls of several apartments are literally covered with finely-executed
portraits of the Loudoun and Rowallan families. Many of these pictures
are dimmed with age and recal to ones mind stirring events of the good
old times when plain speaking and hard blows were in fashion, and when the
four feet of cold steel which dangled by every gallants side settled
differences and enforced arguments. A picture of Charles I., which is
disfigured and patch-looking, is associated with an incident worth
relating. It appears that the troops of Oliver Cromwell visited the
Castle, and that a company of officers, when straying through its rooms,
stopped before the kings picture, and out of contempt for his majesty
made thrusts at it with their swords by way of joke.
The library is said to contain over 10,000 volumes, and
very many ancient manuscripts and curious documents.
It may be added that few families can boast a more
honorable pedigree, or a more lengthened possession of their property,
than that of Loudoun. Indeed, the whole line, or rather lines, of the
noble house have been distinguished for deeds of patriotism and valour.
A notice of this beautiful domain, be it ever so brief,
would be incomplete without some reference to the old yew-tree which grows
beside the castle wall. Although ages have fled, and generations of men
have passed away since it was planted, it spreads its umbrageous boughs
over the lawn, and seems as likely to withstand the blast as any tree on
the estate. One of the family charters was subscribed under its deep
shade in the reign of William the Lion, and when Scotland and England
became united, Lord Hugh Campbell chose the same place to sign the deed.
It is also memorable for the trifling incident of James, second Earl of
Loudoun, having addressed letters to it, when secretly communicating with
his lady during the period of his banishment.
TO THE GUDEWIFE AT THE AULTON,
AT THE OLD YEW TREE,
was the manner in which they were inscribed, and there
is little doubt that they reached the hand intended.
There are many pleasant rambles to be had amongst
Loudouns bonnie woods and braes, and not the least of them is from the
Castle to Newmilns by the private road. When traversing it I was delighted
with the bosky scene. At one part the rustic way passes a stripe of
woodland, and is overshadowed by the foliage of stately trees; at another,
it merges into the open glade, and winds along a verdant bank, or dips
into a dell where some tiny streamlet murmurs among the brackens, and
ultimately pursues a zig-zag course until it reaches the brow of an almost
perpendicular height over-looking the picturesque hamlet. For a reason
which will be apparent, I left the sequestered roadway at a point where it
is crossed by the Hag Burn, and turned into a bypath which skirts the
stream as it bickers through a beautifully wooded glen. On the one hand a
dark wood stretches away towards the Castle, and on the other a steep
slope--almost a cliff-- which is clad with trees, and tangled masses of
briar and bramble rise from the path in wild grandeur. To ascend this
cliff is a work of some little difficulty, but it can be managed from
several points by planting the foot in ledges or on jutting pieces of
rubble and holding tightly to roots which curl and twist in fantastic
shapes, or to tufts of long hardy grass which grow here and there within
When the laborious ascent is made, the intrepid rambler
will have the gratification of standing on the site of the Old Castle of
Loudoun--a building anterior to any portion of the present magnificent
structure, but of which nothing remains save shattered fragments of
masonry and portions of the foundation, which are partly covered by the
moldering dust of centuries, and clad her and there with ivy. Curiously
enough, the history of the ancient stronghold is wrapped in the shadow of
night, and all that tradition has preserved regarding it is the simplest
statement that it was burned by the clan Kennedy. This may have been, for
it is an historical fact that a deadly feud existed between the Campbells
of Loudoun and the Kennedys of Carrick about the year 1527, and that the
Earl of Cassillis was slain during a foray which the former made into the
territory of the latter. Also, that in retaliation, and to avenge this
noblemans death, the Kennedys devastated the district of the Campbells,
and characterized their raid by deeds of rapine and blood. The stronghold
of the hostile chieftain would most probably be attacked, and therefore it
is within the range of passivity that this Castle of the Campbells
succumbed at that period.
A ballad, which was at one time popular in the
district, ascribes the destruction of the Castle to Adam o Gordon and
his men, but there is nothing to bear out the statement. The following
descriptive extract, however, is not without interest:--
Out then spake Lady Margaret,
As she stood upon the stair--
The fired was at her goud garters,
The low was at her hair--
I would gie the black, says she,
And so would I the brow,
For a drink o yon water
That rins by Galston town.
Out then spake fair Annie,
She was baith jimp and sma.
O row me in a pair o sheets
And tow me down the wa.
O hold thy tongue, fair Annie,
And let thy talkin be.
Four thou must stay in this fair castle,
And bear thy death with me.
I would rather be burnt to ashes sma.
And be cast on yon sea foam,
Before Id give up this fair castel,
And my lord so far from home.
My good lord has an army strong,
Hes now gone to the sea,
He bade me keep this gay castle
Sae langs it would keep me.
Ive four-and-twenty braw milk lye
Gangs on yon lily lee,
Id give them a for a blast of wind
To blaw the reek from me.
O pittie on yon fair castle,
Thats built o stone and lime,
But far mair pittie for Lady Loudoun,
And all her children nine.
The bosky bypath winds along the bank of the wimpling
burnie and terminates in the highway at no great distance from the quaint
village of Newmilns, and near to the Hag Brig turn where the late Rev.
Dr. Lawrie guddled in the burn, and was late for the schule in the
morning. Some boys engaged in the same pastime--or possibly in the more
questionable on of bird-nesting--made the woods echo with shouts and
peals of laughter in such a manner that a pair of jays jabbered round the
summit of a tall fir tree, and a flock of crows wheeled about in evident
alarm. A blackbird ruffling out his feathers on a rail also uttered a
loud cry at the unusual sounds and fled to the security of the thicket,
and the warblers drinking from the stream with dainty sips as though its
waters were the richest wine followed his example.
The highway which connects Galston with Newmilns--and
in which the lane traversed terminates--is draped with hanging boughs, and
fringed on the one hand by the grounds of Loudoun Castle, and on the other
by stripes of plantation trhough which the waters of the Irvine gurgling
sing a continual farewell to Loudouns bonnie woods and braes as they
roll on to the mighty deep.
As one nears the village, and just at a point of the
road where a turn brings it into full view, a snug tree-embowered
old-fashioned looking house with a lawn in front stands on a height a
little to the left. Below the second floor windows in the following
hieroglyphically inscription, which may be intelligible to some
readers:--OL. 1768. M.C. JEHOVAH, IJ REH. The place is called St.
Margarets Hill, and the residenceis that of the Rev. John Roberson,
minister of the parish of Loudoun; but for years it was that of the
Rev. George Lawrie, D.D., the early friend and patron of Robert Burns.
Robert Chambers describes him as having been a remarkably fine specimen
of the old moderate clergy of the Scottish establishment--sensible,
upright, kind- hearted, and with no mean taste in literature. By what
means this worthy clergyman and Burns became acquainted I have been unable
to learn, but one thing is certain, no person was received with greater
cordiality at St. Margarets Hill than the poet. The first time Robert
heard the spinnet played upon, says Gilbert Burns, was at the house of
Dr. Lawrie has several daughters; one of them played; the
father and mother led down dance; the rest of the sisters, the brother,
the poet, and the other guests, mixed in it. It was delightful family
scene of our poet, then lately introduced to the world. His mind was
roused to a poetic enthusiasm, and the following stanzas were left in the
room where he slept:--
O Thou dread Power who reigns above,
I know Thou wilt me hear;
When for this scene of peace and love
I make my prayer sincere!
The hoary sire, the mortal stroke,
Long, long be pleased to spare!
To bless his little filial flock,
And show what good men are.
She who her lovely offspring eyes
With tender hopes and fears,
Oh, bless her with a mothers joys,
But spare a mothers tears.
Their hope, their stay, their darling youth,
In manhoods dawning blush;
Bless him, thou God of love and truth,
Up to a parents wish!
The beauteous seraph sister-band,
With earnest tears I pray,
Thou knowest the snares on every hand,
Guide Thou their steps away!
When soon or late they reach that coast,
Oer lifes rough ocean driven,
May they rejoice, no wanderer lost,
A family in Heaven!
It is recorded that Burns was a good dancer, and on
this occasion kept time admirably; also, that he remarked to the fair
musician that she knew the magic way to a poets eart.
This entertainment took place during the most
melancholy period of the poets history. Being driven to despair by the
consequences of his imprudence, he was about to relegate himself from his
native land and seek a home in the West Indies, or at least an asylum, in
the hope that fortune would smile and enable him to atone for past erros.
When he bade his honored family farewell, he most likely crossed the
Irvine at a point opposite their residence, and ascended the slopes of
Lanfine, which at the time, and long after, were nothing more than a range
of barren, bleak uplands, and steered his course to Mossgiel. In his way
home, says Professor Walker, he had to cross a wide stretch of solitary
moor. His mind was strongly affected by parting for ever a scene where he
had tasted so much elegant and social pleasure, and depress by the
contrasted gloom of his prospects. The aspect of nature harmonised with
his feelings. It was up, and whistled through the rushes and long
spear-grass which bent before it. The clouds were driving across the sky;
and cold pelting showers at intervals added discomfort of body to
cheerlessness of mind. As he plodded onward, doubtless holding fast his
guid blue bonnet, his melancholy thoughts shaped themselves into verse,
and despite his ungenial surroundings, he composed what he considered to
be the last song he should evre measure in Caledonia. Here it is:--
THE GLOOMY NIGHT IS GATHERING FAST.
The gloomy night is gathering fast,
Loud roars the wild inconstant blast;
Yon murky cloud is foul with rain,
I see it driving oer the plain;
The hunter now has left the moor,
The scattered coveys meet secure;
While here I wander, pressed with care,
Along the lonely banks of Ayr.
The autumn mourns her ripening corn
By early winters ravage torn;
Across her placid azure sky
She see the scowling tempest fly:
Chill runs my blood to hear it rave;
I think upon the stormy wave,
Where many a danger I must dare,
Far from the bonnie banks of Ayr.
Tis not the surging billows roar,
Tis not that fatal deadly shore;
Though death in every shape appear,
The wretched have nor more to fear!
But round my heart the ties are bound,
That heart transpierced with many a wound,
These bleed afresh, those ties I tear,
To leave the bonnie banks of Ayr.
Farewell ol Coilas hills and dales
Her heathy moor and winding vales,
The scenes where wretched fancy roves,
Pursuing past, unhappy loves!
Farewell, my friends! farewell, my foes!
My peace with these, my love with those,
The bursting tears my heart declare;
Farewell the bonnie banks of Ayr!
Dr. Lawrie was a sincere friend of Burns. He seems to
have gently scanned his youthful follies, and to have esteemed him for his
talents and many good qualities which constituted his generous
temperament. According to J.G. Lock- hart, he gave him much good
counsel, and what comfort he could, at parting; but prudently said nothing
of an effort which he had previously made in his behalf. He had sent a
copy of the poems (the Kilmarnock edition was then published), with a
sketch of the authors history, to his friend, Dr. Thomas Blacklock of
Edinburgh, with a request that he would introduce both to the notice of
those persons whose opinions were at the time most listened to in regard
to literary productions in Scotland, in hope that, by their intervention,
Burns might yet be rescued from the necessity of expatriating himself.
Dr. Blacklocks answer reached Dr. Lawrie a day or two after Burns had
made his visit, and composed his dirge; and it was not yet too late.
Lawrie forwarded it immediately to Mr. Gavin Hamilton, who carried it to
Burns. In that letter Dr. Blacklock characterizes the perusal of the
poems sent him as one of the finest and perhaps one of the most genuine
entertainments of which the human mind is susceptible, and breaths words
of approbation and encouragement which must have lighted up the gloomy
surroundings of the poet like a gleam of sunshine. Let him describe his
Hungry ruin had me in the wind.
says he. I had been for some days skulking from
covert to covert, under all the terrors of a jail, as some ill-advised
people had uncoupled the merciless pack of the law at my heels. I had
taken the last farewell of my few friends; my chest was on the road to
..when a letter from Dr Blacklock to a friend of mine
overthrew all my schemes, by opening new prospects to my poetic ambition.
The Doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose applause I had not dared
to hope. His opinion that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh
for a second edition fired me so much that away I posted for that city,
without a single acquaintance or a single letter of introduction. The
baneful star that had so long shed its blasting influence in zenith for
once made a revolution to the nadir. Blacklock received him, says a
celebrated writer, with all the ardour of affectionate admiration; he
eagerly introduced him to the respectable circle of his friends; he
consulted his interest; he emblazoned his fame; he lavished upon him all
the kind- ness of a generous and feeling heart, into which nothing selfish
or envious ever found admittance.
It is scarce necessary to add that before he was many
week in Edinburgh his society was courted by the polite and the learned,
and sought after by individuals moving in the most elevated circles of
society. In short, he became the lion of the season, and had the second
edition of his poems published under the most favourable auspices. The
attentions he received during his stay in town from all ranks and were
such as would have turned any head but his own
He retained the same
simplicity of manners and appearance which had struck me so forcibly when
I first saw him in the country, nor id he seem to feel any additional
self-importance from the number and rank of his new acquaintances. No,
his sterling common-sense told him that he had but lately left the stilts
of the plough and was fated to return to them again. In replying to a
letter which he received from Dr. Lawrie during the meteor-like blaze of
reputation which he experienced, he says I thank you sir, with all my
soul, for your friendly hints, though I do not need them so much as my
friends are apt to imagine. You are dazzled with newspaper accounts and
distant reports; but, in reality, I have no great temptation to be
intoxicated with the cup of prosperity. Novelty may attract the attention
of mankind a while--to it I owe my present éclat--but I see the time not
far distant when the popular tide which has come to a height, of which I
am perhaps unworthy, shall recede with silent celerity, and leave me a
barren waste of sand to descend at my leisure to my former station. He
expresses himself in like manner to Mrs Dunlop and others--but there,
space is beginning to fail, and so will the readers patience if I digress
at this rate.
A few steps beyond the garden gate of the old and new
almost classic manse of Loudoun, the respectable and ap- parently
flourishing village of Newmilns comes into view. It is beautifully
situated in a narrow vale through which the river Irvine flows, and from
which broad hills ascend on each side. On the right are the wooded slopes
of Lanfine, and on the left the green braes of Loundoun; while in the far
distance, at the top of the hilly pass in which the village nestles, is
Loudoun Hill looming heavily against the sky. The scene is one of extreme
beauty, and if transferred to canvas would form a striking picture.
I have no intention of going so far as Loudoun Hill in
this ramble, but I can assure the reader who wishes to undertake the
journey that he will be amply repaid for the toil and trouble encountered
by the extensive and interesting view from its summit, including the
scenes of decisive struggles which assisted, in a great measure, to secure
Scottish independence. Near its eastern base Sir William Wallace and a
handful of co-patriots attacked and routed a troop of English soldiers who
were conveying waggon load of provisions from Carlisle to Ayr, and near
the same spot, in May, 1307, Bruce gave the Earl of Pembroke battle, and
with six hundred followers is said to have defeated six thousand trained
Englishmen. These associations are brimful of interest, but one which
remains to be mentioned gives the locality, if possible, still greater
interest. On a fair Sabbath morning in June, 1679, a sentinel, in the garb
of a peasant, who was stationed on the top of the hill, sprang from the
green sward on observing a company of horse men crossing the heights from
the direction of Strathven, and having fired off his carbine, ran towards
a group of worshippers on the plain. We had met, says one of the
assembly, not to fight but to worship the God of our fathers. We were
far from the tumult of cities--the long dark heath waved around us, and we
disturbed no living creature save the peesweep and the heather cock.
When it became known the Claverhouse and a detachment of troopers were
approaching, the preacher, who had been telling his hearers
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heavn the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay His head,
hastily concluded his discourse, and said:--I have
done. You have got the theory--now for the practice. You know your duty.
Self-defence is always lawful. The little company being armed, they
formed themselves into lines under various leaders, and waited the
approach of the foe--first, however, taking the precaution of sending away
their women and children. Refusing to lay down their arms and deliver up
their ringleaders. Claverhouse cried--Their blood be upon their own
heads, and sounded the attack. The battle Drumclog then commenced and
waged fiercely for some time. The following wonderfully graphic account
of this engagement is taken from a letter penned by Claverhouse:-- They
were not preaching, but had got away all their women and children. In the
end they, perceiving that we had the better of them in skirmish, resolved
on a general engagement, and immediate advanced with their Foot, the Horse
following. They came through the loch: the greatest body of all made up
against my troop: we kept our fire until they were within ten paces of
us: they received our fire and advanced to the shock: the first they gave
us brought down the Cornet, Mr. Crawford, and Captain Beith; besides that
with a pitch- fork they made such an opening in my roan horses belly that
his guts hung out half an ell, and yet he carried me off a mile, which so
discouraged our men that they sustained not the shock, but fell in
disorder. Their Horse took the occasion of this, and pursued us so hotly
that we had not time to rally. I save the standards, but lost on the
place eight or ten men, besides wounded; but our dragoons lost many more.
The town of Stravon drew up as we were making our retreat, and thought of
a pass to cut us off; but we took courage and fell to them, and made them
run, leaving a dozen on the place. What these rogues will do yet I know
not, but the country is flocking to them from all hands. This may be
counted the beginning of the rebellion, in my opinion.
In the words of Hugh Brown, a poetical native of
Newmilns, and author of The Covenanters,
The lover of freedom can never forget
The glorious peasant band--
His sires that on Scotias moorlands met,
Each name like a seal on the heart is set--
The pride of his Fatherland."
Newmilns is a very nice rural town. The houses are
mostly small and plain, but pleasant looking and free from squalor.
Weaving is the staple of the place, and the inhabitants--some 3000--are
mostly engaged in it. Male and female take to the loom as naturally as
duck to water, but I cannot help expressing regret with Hew Ainslie that
any bonnie Ayrshire lass should be condemned to make her bread by thumping
and kicking. However, it is only the probationary state with them, for,
like their sisters in Darvel, they generally exchange the box and
bobbins, when married, for a baby and a blanket.
Possibly Newmilns had its origin from grain mills
erected on the bank of the river.* About the centre of its quaint,
old-fashioned looking main street a massive square tower may be seen in a
courtyard which possesses several interesting associations. It was at one
time a residence of the Loudoun family, * [*Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudoun
had a charter of the lands of Newmilns, with the mill and granary, dated 4th
October, 1533.--PATERSONS AYSHIRE FAMILIES. **The master of
Loudoun died in March, 1612. His latter will was made at the Newmulnes,
the sevint day of Merche. His lady also died the same month and year.
Her latter will was made also at Newmylnes, the penult day of Merche.
They seem thus to have resided at the tower of Newmilns.--Ibid.]
and at another the headquarters of Captain Inglis, a notorious scourge of
The writer of the Loudoun article in the Statistical
Account is mentioning the tower says--In one of the expeditions of
Ingliss troops in the search of conventicals, eight men who were
discovered praying in the Blackwood, near Kilmarnock, were taken
prisoners. One of them, it is said, was immediately executed, and the
soldiers in mockery kicked his head for a football along the Newmilns
public green. Inglis was about to shoot the others when it was suggested
to him that it would be prudent to get a written order from Edinbugh for
their execution. The seven men in the meantime were confined in the old
tower. But while the troop was absent on one of its bloody raids, with
the exception of a small guard, a man name Browning, from Lanfire, with
others who had been with him at Airds Moss, got large sledge hammers from
the old smithy (still in existence), with which they broke open the prison
doors and permitted the Covenanters to escape. John Law (brother-in-law
to Captain Nisbet) was shot in this exploit, and is buried close to the
wall of the tower. The dragoons soon went in pursuit of the prisoners,
but they had reached the heather, and where no cavalry could pursue them.
The soldiers, however, having ascertained that John Smith of Croonan had
given the runaways food went to Smiths house, and meeting him at his own
door shot him dead! Within a short period his grave was to be seen in the
garden of the old farmhouse.
Tradition states that only one soldier played
football with the martyrs head, and that he shortly afterwards fell from
the top of the tower into the court below and broke his neck. There is a
tablet in the gable of an old building to the memory of the man shot which
bears the following inscription:--
RENEWED IN 1822. HERE LIES JOHN LAW, WHO WAS SHOT AT
NEWMILNS, AT THE RELIEVING OF EIGHT OF CHRISTS PRISONERS WHO WERE TAKEN
AT A MEETING FOR PRAYER AT LITTLE BLACKWOOD IN THE PARISH OF KILMARNOCK,
IN APRIL, 1685. BY CAPTAIN INGLIS AND HIS PARTY, FOR THEIR ADHERENCE TO
THE WORD OF GOD AND SCOTLANDS COVENANTED WORK OF REFORMATION.
Cause I Christs prisoners relieved
I of my life was soon bereaved,
By cruel enemies with rage,
In that encounter did engage;
The martyrs honour and his crown
Bestowed on me! O high renown!
That I should not only believe,
But for Christs cause my life should give.
Near the old tower is The Institute, as a handsome
two-storied building is termed which Miss Brown of Lanfine pre- sented to
the inhabitants. It contains a library, a reading and a recreation room,
and has a very nice bowling green attached. Close by also is the Parish
Church, a more handsome edifice than is often met with in country towns.
The late Rev. Dr. Norman Macleod preached in it for some time as minister
of the parish, and by the side of its pulpit there is a beautiful
monumental marble tablet to his memory, which the church officer will be
glad to show visitors.
The churchyard is small and unkept, but contains many
interesting monuments. When pensively wandering over its uneven sward I
stumbled upon the family burying-place of Dr. Lawrie, the friend and
patron of the poet Burns. The tablet covering his grave bears a very just
estimate of his character. Here is the inscription:--
UNDER THIS STONE ARE DEPOSITED THE REMAINS OF THE REV
GEORGE LAWRIED D.D., LATE MINISTER OF THIS PARISH, WHO DIED 17TH
OCTOBER, 1799, IN THE 71ST YEAR OF HIS AGE AND THE 36TH
OF HIS MINISTRY.
He discharged the duties of his ministerial office
with a judgment and firmness of mind which no situation could shake. His
piety was exemplary and sincere, devoid of all ostentation. He was an
able scholar, and learned divine. His temper cheerful and steady. His
heart warm and affectionate. Kind and hospitable to strangers, sincere
and hearty in friendship, and fulfilled the duties of husband and parent
with the most indulgent and tender affection.
By his side rests son and successor, Archibald, a man
of great worth. He had twelve children--four sons and eight daughters.
One son died in infancy, but the others rose to distinction, and
proved themselves worthy of such a parent. The late Rev. Dr. Lawrie, M.D.,
professor of surgery in the University of Glasgow. Francis R.H. Lawrie
entered the army in 1822, and retired as Major in 1846.
The churchyard bears ample evidence that the
inhabitants of Newmilns shared the struggle for civil and religious libert.
A plain slab bears the following:--
TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN NISBET OF HARDHILL, WHO SUFFERED
MARTYRDOM AT THE GRASSMARKET, EDINBURGH, 4TH DECEMBER 1685.
ANIMATED BY A SPIRIT TO WHICH GENUINE RELIGION ALONE COULD GIVE BIRTH, THE
PURE FLAME OF CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ALONE COULD KEEP ALIVE, HE
MANFULLY STRUGGLED FOR A SERIES OF YEARS TO STEM THE TIDE OF NATIONAL
DEGENEARCY, AND LIBERATE HS COUNTRY FROM THE TYRANNICAL AGGRESSIONS OF THE
PERJURED HOUSE OF STUART. HIS CONDUCT IN ARMS AT PENTLAND, DRUMCLOG, AND
BOTHWELL BRIDGE, IN OPPOSITION OF PRELATIC ENCROACHMENTS AND IN DEFENCE OF
SCOTLANDS COVENANTED REFORMATION, IS RECORDED IN THE ANNALS OF THOSE
OPPRESSIVE TIMES. HIS REMAINS LIE AT EDINBURGH, BUT THE INHABITANTS OF
HIS NATIVE PARISH AND FRIENDS TO THE CAUSE FOR WHICH BE FOUGHT AND DIED,
HAVE CAUSED THIS STONE TO BE ERECTED.
This martyr was born in Newmilns about the year 1627.
When Claverhouse was advancing against the Covenanting army at Drumclog, a
message was despatched to Hardhill to appraise him of the fact and induce
him to join the little band. Although he had suffered much from prelatic
persecution, he mounted a horse at once and rode with all possible speed
to the scene of action, merely stopped on his way through Darvel to induce
John Morton, the village blacksmith, to accompany him and assist with his
brawny arm to discomfort the foe. Both were of immense service to the
Covenanters, for they fell into their ranks in time to take part in the
successful charge which decided that fate of the battle. In the thick of
fight, the smith encountered a dragoon entangled in the trappings of his
wounded horse, and was about to dispatch him, but being moved by the mans
piteous appeal for mercy, he disarmed him and led him from the field a
prisoner. Many of the Covenanters, however, were less humane, and
demanded the dragoons life, but this the smith strongly objected to, and
declared that whoever touched a hair on his head would suffer, and
having given the man quarter he would defend his life at the risk of his
own. None feeling inclined to cross swords with the resolute blacksmith,
he was allowed to have his own way, and to this day the dragoonss sword
is preserved by his descendants in Darvel.
Besides the above, there are rude memorials of
Covenanting time to the memory of John Gebbie, John Morton, and others.
Gebbie fought a Drumclog, and was carried off the field mortally wounded,
and, like the mighty Nelson, died with the shouts of victory ringing in
his ears. Morton was shot by Claverhouse at the same engagement.
After spending a reflective hour in the churchyard, and
enjoying a look through the town, I sought out the terminus of the Galston
branch of the South-Western Railway. Near it is the scene of Ramsays
popular song, The Lass o Paties Mill. The mill is modern, and
occupies the site of the erection which graced the bank of the Irvine in
Ramsays day, but the field wherein the rustic beauty was making hay when
she attracted the attention of the Earl of Loudoun is still pointed out,
and although one hundred and fifty years have passed since the event the
stranger still stops by the brink of the stream and enquires for the
song-hallowed scene. The story is well known. It appears that the poet
and the Earl were riding along the highway when it occurred to the latter
that the comely appearance of the lass would form a fit subject for
Allans muse. At the suggestion the bard lagged behind, composed the
ditty, and produced it the same afternoon at dinner. The train being due,
I bade Loudouns bonnie woods and braes a fond and somewhat reluctant
farewell, and in a short time reached Kilmarnock, for a seven mile journey
is a mere nothing in these days of railways and telegraphs.